Category Archives: California Endangered Species Act

California Sea Otter Numbers Take a Slight Dip From Last Year, but Average Count Exceeds 3,090 for Third Consecutive Year

Southern sea otter numbers have declined off the coast of California since peaking in 2016, but the average population count remains above 3,090 for the third consecutive year. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southern Sea Otter Recovery Plan, the population average count would have to exceed 3,090 for three consecutive years for southern sea otters to be considered for delisting under the Endangered Species Act.

Despite the recent dip in numbers, the population average count this year has reached this three-year threshold.

According to data just released by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), this year’s average count of 3,128 was 58 sea otters lower than the 2017 survey. Southern sea otters, Enhydra lutris nereis, are designated as threatened under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

“Reaching this threshold is a milestone in southern sea otter recovery, but it will be important to review all factors influencing the population to determine whether or not delisting is appropriate using the best available science,” said Lilian Carswell, southern sea otter recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “For the southern sea otter, those factors include ongoing threats such as shark bite mortality, lack of range expansion, and changes in prey.”

In part, this year’s dip reflects a 2.2 percent decrease in the three-year average count of the sea otter’s mainland population, which stretches from about Point Año Nuevo in San Mateo County to a few kilometers west of Gaviota State Beach in Santa Barbara County. In contrast, the small sea otter population at San Nicolas Island continues to increase.

“Surface kelp canopies were abundant this year within the otter’s mainland range compared to last year when they were very sparse,” said Brian Hatfield, the USGS wildlife biologist coordinating the annual range-wide survey. “This may have influenced sea otter distribution and contributed to the higher count in the center of their range.”

Scientists from CDFW, USGS and the Monterey Bay Aquarium have conducted this range-wide census of southern sea otter populations every year since the 1980s, except for 2011, when poor weather conditions prevented completion of the field research. Researchers compute the annual population index and evaluate population trends, providing the USFWS and other resource agencies with insight into southern sea otter abundance and distribution.

The mainland population of sea otters was largest in the central part of the species’ range, which is between Seaside and Cayucos; it increased slightly in the southern part of the range. North of the central region, however, the five-year trend in sea otter populations continued to drop. Changes at the range ends have implications for the long-term outlook for sea otter recovery.

“We continue to recover high numbers of shark-bitten sea otters along the northern and southern ends of the range. These are the same areas we’ve documented a decrease in abundance. This trend is concerning and is likely impacting population expansion and recovery,” said Mike Harris, senior environmental scientist with CDFW.

In addition to the sea otter population along the mainland California coast, USGS and partners also survey the sea otters at San Nicolas Island in the Southern California Bight. This population, established by introducing sea otters back into the area in the late 1980s, struggled at low numbers through the 1990s. However, over the last decade, the population has grown rapidly at an average rate of about 10 percent per year.

The sea otter survey and stranding programs are just one part of a larger research program investigating sea otters and their role as predators in coastal ecosystems. As a “keystone” species, sea otters can give scientists clues on the health of Pacific nearshore ecosystems, which support diverse wildlife species and provide economic support for coastal communities. To keep a finger on the pulse of sea otter populations, USGS researchers monitor changes in the kelp forest ecosystems that provide sea otters with suitable resting and feeding habitat. USGS also collaborates with CDFW and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in running a sea otter stranding network. The findings from these coordinated efforts inform and support effective management of sea otter populations to guide them toward recovery.

Survey Methodology

  • The annual population index is calculated from visual surveys conducted via telescope observations from shore and via low-flying aircraft along the California coastline by researchers, students and volunteers from CDFW’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response, Monterey Bay Aquarium, USGS, UCSC, USFWS and the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
  • This year, the surveyed coastline spanned from Pillar Point in San Mateo County, south to Rincon Point near the Santa Barbara/Ventura County line, and included San Nicolas Island.

About the Sea Otter

  • Sea otters were presumed extinct in California after the fur trade years, but they were rediscovered in the 1930s, when about 50 animals were documented near Bixby Creek north of Big Sur.
  • Sea otters are considered a keystone species of rocky sub-tidal ecosystems because they prey on sea urchins that, if left unchecked, can decimate kelp beds.
  • Scientists also study sea otters as an indicator of nearshore ecosystem health, since sea otters feed and live near the coast and often are the first predators exposed to pollutants and pathogens washed down from coastlands, such as the microbial toxin microcystin.
  • The public can report sightings of stranded sea otters to institutions listed on this webpage.

More detailed survey results and maps are available in the full report “Spring 2018 California Sea Otter Census Results,” which is available online.

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Media Contacts:
Steve Gonzalez, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, (916) 715-9072
Michael Harris, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, (805) 772-1135
Ashley McConnell, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, (805) 320-6225
Robyn Gerstenslager
, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, (805) 701-5751

 

California Fish and Game Commission Meets in Fortuna

At its August 2018 meeting in Fortuna, the California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) took action on a number of issues affecting California’s natural resources. The following are just a few items of interest from the meeting.FGC logo

Commission President Eric Sklar, Commissioner Jacque Hostler-Carmesin and Commissioner Peter Silva were present. Commission Vice President Anthony Williams and Commissioner Russell Burns were absent.

In response to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) findings of declining density and poor ocean conditions, in December 2017, the Commission adopted regulations to close the recreational abalone fishery for the 2018 season. Unfortunately, ocean conditions are not improving for California’s red abalone, and populations continue to decline due to severe starvation conditions. Consequently, on Aug. 22, the Commission voted unanimously to authorize publication of notice of intent to amend regulations to extend the fishery closure sunset date for the recreational red abalone fishery another two years (through April 2021). They will take action on whether or not to extend the closure the season at their December meeting.

On Aug. 23, The Commission voted unanimously to list the Humboldt marten as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act.

The Commission also received an update from CDFW regarding cutting-edge rehabilitation techniques being utilized on wildlife severely burned in wildfires. Typically wildlife finds ways to flee from wildfire and CDFW does not anticipate large scale population declines associated with the fires. However, some animals have been deemed suitable for rehabilitation and have been taken in for treatment. Thus far, three bears and one mountain lion have been treated for burns with sterilized tilapia skin. CDFW released a time-lapse video of one of the bears undergoing the treatment.

The full Commission summary and supporting information can be found at www.fgc.ca.gov. An archived video will soon be available.

The California Fish and Game Commission was the first wildlife conservation agency in the United States, predating even the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries. There is often confusion about the distinction between CDFW and the Commission. In the most basic terms, CDFW implements and enforces the regulations set by the Commission, as well as provides biological data and expertise to inform the Commission’s decision-making process.

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Media Contact:
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937

Coho Salmon Released in Marin County’s Redwood Creek to Boost Spawning of Endangered Fish

In an effort to boost the population of spawning coho salmon in Marin County’s Redwood Creek, biologists from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the National Park Service (NPS) today released nearly 200 adult coho salmon in the creek at Muir Beach.

The released coho salmon were collected as juveniles from Redwood Creek in the summer of 2015 at an age of 6 to 8 months and reared to adulthood at the Warm Springs Fish Hatchery in Geyserville at the base of the Lake Sonoma Dam.

The release of coho salmon this winter is the culmination of the Redwood Creek Coho Salmon Rescue and Captive Rearing Project. This project, a collaborative effort by CDFW, NPS, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the California Department of Parks and Recreation, was initiated in 2014 with the goal of preventing the extinction of the coho salmon, which is listed as an endangered species under both the California Endangered Species Act and the federal Endangered Species Act.

Prior to 2014, fewer than 10 adult coho salmon were estimated to have returned to Redwood Creek annually to spawn. The long decline of coho salmon in Redwood Creek has been accelerated by recent periods of poor ocean survival combined with the prolonged California drought. Coho salmon are more sensitive to habitat degradation and poor water quality than other Pacific salmon species since they rear as juveniles in freshwater for a year or more.

Biologists hope that the released fish will migrate upstream and spawn in the creek. NPS monitoring staff will survey the creek in the summer of 2018 and collect tissue samples from juvenile fish. Genetic analysis of the tissue samples will indicate how many of the released adult fish produced viable offspring.

The first major release of adult coho salmon in Redwood Creek occurred in the winter of 2016. A third and final release of adult coho salmon is planned for the winter of 2018-19.

More information about the Redwood Creek Coho Salmon Rescue and Captive Rearing Project can be found on the CDFW website at wildlife.ca.gov/Drought/Projects/Redwood-Creek-Coho. The Redwood Creek coho restoration project is part of a broader effort to sustain and restore coho salmon runs along the central and northern California coast.

Media Contacts:
Peter Tira, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8908
Manfred Kittel, CDFW Bay Delta Region, (707) 944-5522

Dana Polk, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, National Park Service, (415) 786-8021
Darren Fong, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, National Park Service, (415) 289-1838

CDFW Photo by Peter Tira

CDFW Seeks Information Related to Cascades Frog

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is seeking information relevant to a proposal to list the Cascades Frog as an endangered or threatened species.

The Cascades Frog (Rana cascadae) inhabits a variety of habitats such as large lakes, ponds, wet meadows and streams at mid- to high-elevations range from the Klamath-Trinity region, along the Cascades Range axis in the vicinity of Mt. Shasta, southward to the headwater tributaries of the Feather River.

In March 2017, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) submitted a petition to the California Fish and Game Commission to formally list the Cascades Frog as endangered or threatened under the California Endangered Species Act. The listing petition and CDFW’s petition evaluation described a variety of threats to the survival of Cascades Frogs in California. These include direct and indirect impacts associated with airborne contaminants, climate change, disease, fire suppression, habitat loss and alteration, introduced fish, livestock grazing, recreational activities, small population sizes and Cannabis cultivation. CDFW recommended, and the Commission voted, to advance the species to candidacy on Oct. 11, 2017. The Commission published findings of this decision on Oct. 27, 2017, triggering a 12-month period during which CDFW will conduct a status review to inform the Commission’s decision on whether to list the species.

As part of the status review process, CDFW is soliciting information from the public regarding the Cascades Frog’s ecology, genetics, life history, distribution, abundance, habitat, the degree and immediacy of threats to reproduction or survival, adequacy of existing management and recommendations for management of the species. Comments, data and other information can be submitted in writing to:

California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Attn: Laura Patterson
1812 Ninth Street
Sacramento, CA 95811

Comments may also be submitted by email to wildlifemgt@wildlife.ca.gov. If submitting comments by email, please include “Cascades Frog” in the subject heading.

All comments received by Dec. 22, 2017 will be evaluated prior to submittal of the CDFW report to the Commission. Receipt of the report will be placed on the agenda for the next available meeting of the Commission after delivery and the report will be made available to the public at that time. Following the receipt of the CDFW report, the Commission will allow a 30-day public comment period prior to taking any action on CDFW’s recommendation.

CBD’s listing petition and CDFW’s petition evaluation for the Cascades Frog are available at www.fgc.ca.gov/CESA/index.aspx#cf.

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Media Contacts:
Laura Patterson, CDFW Wildlife Branch, (916) 341-6981
Kirsten Macintyre, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8988

 

Settlement Agreement Signed for Panoche Valley Solar Project

Agreement Resolves Long-Running Disputes, Advances Renewable Energy Goals, Creates Jobs, and Preserves more than 26,000 Acres for Endangered Wildlife

The Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society (collectively the “Environmental Groups”), the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), and Panoche Valley Solar LLC (a subsidiary of Consolidated Edison Development, Inc.), have entered into a settlement agreement concerning the size and location of a solar project currently under development in California’s Panoche Valley. The agreement will help advance renewable energy in the state, create local jobs, and protect the environment. Once final, the settlement will permanently conserve more than 26,000 acres for wildlife habitat.

Initially, 247 MW of solar generation was planned for development in the Panoche Valley, but now approximately 100 MW is instead proposed for development at a site in Imperial County, California. Development at the Imperial County site will have less impact on threatened and endangered species and their habitat. The relocation of that portion of the project is subject to approval by Southern California Edison (SCE) and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). The settlement will also resolve several legal challenges commenced against the project by the Environmental Groups.

The Panoche Valley Solar Project was first proposed in 2009 and as planned would have directly impacted nearly 5,000 acres of high quality and uniquely important habitat. This settlement will reduce the size of the project in the Panoche Valley to slightly more than 1,300 acres and permanently conserve approximately 26,418 acres in and around the Panoche Valley.

The Environmental Groups assert that the Panoche Valley has the last intact, but unprotected, grasslands in the San Joaquin Valley and is home to many rare and endangered species including the giant kangaroo rat, the San Joaquin kit fox, and the blunt-nosed leopard lizard.

The valley is also designated an Important Bird Area of Global Significance by the National Audubon Society and Birdlife International because the grasslands provide essential habitat for myriad resident and migratory bird species. All of these species have been under threat from the expansion of housing developments, agriculture, oil and gas exploration, and drought.

Sarah Friedman, Sierra Club’s Senior Campaign Representative for the Beyond Coal Campaign, said:

 “As we work toward lowering carbon pollution, it’s critical that new clean energy development is not done at the expense of endangered animals and their habitat. The Panoche Valley is critical habitat for three highly endangered species, and the development throughout the valley as originally planned would have been devastating. This settlement agreement came about after years of work to preserve the endangered wildlife and delicate habitat in this valley.”

Kim Delfino, Defenders of Wildlife’s California Program Director, said:

 “The Panoche Valley is a globally important landscape and is the only remaining intact habitat for endangered upland San Joaquin Valley species like the giant kangaroo rat, San Joaquin kit fox and the blunt-nosed leopard lizard. The new agreement recognizes the significant conservation value of the Panoche Valley, reduces the size of the project in this unique valley and moves half of the project to a better site outside of the valley. When projects are planned ‘smart from the start’ it ensures that we will not sacrifice California’s natural heritage to meet our clean energy goals.”

Shani Kleinhaus, Environmental Advocate with the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, said:

“Birds and bird-enthusiasts should applaud this outcome. Our agreement helps achieve California’s goals of energy independence, and at the same time preserves critical grassland habitat that is home to 130 bird species, including species that are suffering steep population decline such as the burrowing owl, the mountain plover, and tricolored blackbirds.”

Charlton H. Bonham, Director of CDFW, said:

 “Con Edison Development’s leadership and the environmental groups deserve a lot of credit for opening a dialogue with the Department and asking whether it was better to negotiate and collaborate than litigate. Now these lands will be conserved in perpetuity for some of California’s rarest animals without a loss of one megawatt. This settlement shows that it is possible to balance the environment and the economy to achieve ambitious renewable energy goals.”

Mark Noyes, President and Chief Executive Officer of Panoche Valley Solar LLC, said:

 “This settlement with the CDFW and the Environmental Groups to lessen the impact of the PVS solar project on Panoche Valley is reflective of Con Edison Development’s corporate value of concern for the environment and commitment to continue the development of clean energy generation in a responsible manner. We will work diligently with the other parties to obtain the

remaining approval of SCE and the CPUC so that the conditions of the settlement can be fully implemented for the benefit of the Panoche Valley ecosystem and the citizens of California.”

Media Contacts:

  • Thomas Young, Deputy Press Secretary, Sierra Club, young@sierraclub.org, (719) 393-2354
  • Catalina Tresky, Communications Associate, Defenders of Wildlife, ctresky@defenders.org, (202) 772-0253
  • Shani Kleinhaus, Environmental Advocate, Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, Advocate@scvas.org, (650) 868-2114
  • Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937
  • Christine Nevin, Director, Business & Media Relations, Con Edison Clean Energy Businesses, nevinc@conedsolutions.com, (914) 286-7094