June 30, 2016

Volunteer signature-gatherers needed for initiative to protect Richmond hills

The Richmond Hills Scenic Area Initiative applies to an undeveloped hillside area of roughly 430 acres (greyed out in map above) surrounded by public and private lands.

The Richmond Hills Scenic Area Initiative applies to an undeveloped hillside area of roughly 430 acres (greyed out in map above) surrounded by public and private lands.

We need your help to qualify an initiative for the ballot that would protect a special stretch of scenic open space in the Richmond hills north of Wildcat Canyon.

To qualify the Richmond Hills Initiative for the ballot, we need to gather 6,000 signatures in the next few months. It’s a big effort, but we can do it if we all pitch in! If you can volunteer a few hours of your time to support this important initiative, please sign up for one or more signature-gathering shifts.

Slump on the Clark-Boas portion of the property. If the city of Richmond approves housing developments here, it could open itself to liability due to geologic instability.

Slump on the Clark-Boas portion of the property. If the city of Richmond approves housing developments here, it could open itself to liability due to geologic instability.

The initiative would protect 430 acres of undeveloped hillside with stunning panoramic views and important ecological value. The area offers a mixture of dense oak forest, rolling hills, stream beds, and pasture — all providing homes for birds and wildlife. Although the land is poorly suited for development (it’s prone to landslides, for one), it has been targeted for large-scale housing projects numerous times over the years. Right now, these misguided developments have to be beaten back one-by-one.

The Richmond Hills Initiative would protect this land forever by rezoning it to preserve scenic views, protect wildlife habitat, and prevent residential subdivisions and other harmful development. The area would be open to recreation like hiking and horseback riding, as well as small-scale agriculture and grazing. This initiative is modeled after similar initiatives that have successfully protected open space in Dublin, Hercules, and elsewhere.

Nine watersheds provide potential habitat for endangered species.

Nine watersheds provide potential habitat for endangered species.

Signature gatherers will work in pairs at high-traffic locations like farmers markets, grocery stores, and special events. It’s a great way to do good and meet new people, so sign up today! If you’re interested in volunteering, or even if you’re still on the fence, come to this Saturday’s volunteer orientation to learn more about the initiative and get trained in signature gathering:

WHAT: Volunteer orientation
WHEN: Saturday, May 28th, 9 – 10 am
WHERE: 3841 Linden Lane, El Sobrante (map)
RSVP: to richmondhills2016@gmail.com

This is our chance to protect our hills for the long-term — but first, the initiative needs to qualify for the ballot. Please sign up to gather signatures, even if you have only a few hours to give. This is a big endeavor and we need your help now to protect our beautiful open space forever!

Greener pastures: East Bay Park District should update grazing policy to protect public lands

Sedimentation runoff due to overgrazing. Photo courtesy William Yragui.

Sedimentation runoff due to overgrazing. Photo courtesy William Yragui.

Nearly two thirds of the 120,000 acres of parkland in the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) are leased to cattle-grazing interests, under the oversight of park managers. Grazing policies have an important impact on plant habitat, riparian areas, the preservation of native species, and sediment runoff into San Francisco Bay. Unfortunately, current grazing policies aren’t adequately protecting our public resources.

Starting in the late 1980s, environmentalists fought to protect grassland and mixed woodlands from the impacts of overgrazing. After years of discussion, a détente was reached among EBRPD, academics, and environmentalists who all agreed to work together on a compromise plan. EBRPD staff and an eight-member Range Management Technical Advisory Committee that included ranchers, academics, park staff, and environmentalists released the “Wildland Management Policies and Guidelines” policy statement in 1992. The document was redrafted in 2001 “to better protect riparian areas, to improve monitoring and restoration activities, to improve conditions for park users, to encourage alternative management techniques, and to improve public understanding about grassland management.”

In the 15 years since, drought conditions have prevailed in Northern California and are ongoing, without historical precedent in terms of duration and intensity. With ecosystems subject to severe stress, environmental stakeholders must join together again to reconfigure grazing policies and practices to face the new epoch of climate extremes. The science of range management has progressed and changed, with a better understanding of interdependencies, a growing acceptance of the use of fire as a management tool, and better economic models for managing open-space preserves.

Grazing licenses set forth management policies for each grazing contractor, and are revised annually. Their objective is to leave enough dry vegetation on the ground to protect the pasture from loss of topsoil, prevent sediment runoff, and retain moisture. Each contract specifies a minimum amount of vegetation, the mass of Residual Dry Matter (RDM) in the pasture at the end of the dry season in early fall. The requirement is greater than 1,000 pounds per acre (10.41 grams per square foot), usually between 6 and 8 inches of standing grass.

Traditional grazing practices such as high-herd densities and year-round intensive foraging are not adapted to intense drought conditions, as shown by widespread shortfalls in Residual Dry Matter measurements. This indicates that grazing management has failed to keep pace with environmental changes and evolving science. Traditional practices have stripped vegetation, terraced steep hillsides, and trampled riparian habitats. In some areas of the EBRPD you can see evidence of cattle damaging wetlands, encroaching on busy trails, and stripping grasslands to less than six inches of dry grass. Overgrazing of grassland creates a bare appearance, like a golf course without the putting greens, interspersed with patches of dense, prickly non-native thistle. Practices that cause such degradation of our public parkland must change.

Maintaining adequate forage cover lessens erosion, increases soil permeability to store moisture, and reduces evaporation losses. Grasslands found throughout the East Bay Regional Park District must be managed as public landscapes to serve diverse stakeholders, including threatened native species. The environmental community should have several seats at the table as the EBRPD Wildland Management Policies and Guidelines are redrafted.

– William Yragui

Submit your comments supporting GGNRA dog rule before May 25 deadline!

The new rule will protect habitat for threatened species such as the western snowy plover, shown here. Photo by Michael Reinhart.

The new rule will protect habitat for threatened species such as the western snowy plover, shown here. Photo by Michael Reinhart.

The National Park Service has proposed a new plan to accommodate off-leash dog walking at Golden Gate National Recreation Area — a unique opportunity offered at no other national park site. The plan would help protect the park’s numerous at-risk species, while creating space for the many forms of recreation that make the park one of the Bay Area’s great public resources.

Take action today!

Submit your official comments on the Proposed Rule before the May 25th deadline! You can submit comments in two ways:

  1. Online at regulations.gov (click on the “COMMENT NOW!” button);
  2. Or via a letter mailed to: Superintendent, GGNRA, Attn: Dog Management Proposed Rule, Building 201 Fort Mason, San Francisco, CA 94123.

Please be specific in your comments and include your personal experiences. For example, you can mention places or incidents where you have seen the impacts of off-leash dogs. You can find sample language below, but your comments will carry more weight if you use your own words to explain why this issue matters to you.

Sample letter:

I support the well-considered Special Rule for dog management at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA). The plan strikes a reasonable balance among recreational uses while fulfilling the park’s responsibility to protect habitats and wildlife. 

GGNRA was established to preserve outstanding natural, cultural, and scenic resources, as well as provide recreational and educational opportunities for all visitors. Many visitors are children, the elderly, and the infirm. People come for many other reasons than to walk or play with a dog, including hiking, strolling, running, bird watching, photography, and sightseeing. All uses should be respected, and not all uses are compatible with off-leash dogs.

Off-leash dogs can hurt children, damage sensitive wildlife habitat, disturb park-goers, disturb wildlife, and leave waste. It’s the park service’s responsibility to protect the natural resources under its care “unimpaired” for all Americans and future generations. It only makes sense to allow off-leash dogs in designated areas where threats to wildlife and park users can be minimized.

Increased visitation and use means that GGNRA’s sensitive natural resources are under greater pressure than ever before. And the fast-growing population of the Bay Area means visitorship will continue to increase in coming years.

Without a balanced rule in place, the park’s landscape has been badly affected in recent years. The proposed Special Rule strikes a reasonable balance between conservation and recreation. I urge you to implement it as proposed.

Thank you.

You can read more about this issue in “Balancing recreation and conservation at the Golden Gate with new rule on dog access.”

The Yodeler wants your #SierraSnapshots!

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Backpackers in Henry W. Coe State Park. Photo courtesy Roger Williams.

Did you see a golden eagle on your last hike? Or maybe a blooming buckeye tree? Snap a selfie on top of Mount Tam? Send your photos to us and you could be featured in the Yodeler in the new Sierra Snapshots series!

Our members spend a lot of time outdoors enjoying the parks and open spaces we’ve all helped to preserve. Now we want you to share your outdoor adventures with us and each other through Sierra Snapshots.

How to submit your photos: You can tag the photo #SierraSnapshots on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, or email it to us at yodedit@sierraclub.org. Be sure it’s a high resolution file, and include the photographer’s name, names of the people in the photo, where and when it was taken, and how long you’ve been a Sierra Club member.

Expanded Peninsula Watershed docent program will increase public access, protect vital water supply

The Crystal Springs Reservoir is part of the Peninsula Watershed, a vital water source for San Francisco and suburban water districts. Photo by David Hallock.

The Crystal Springs Reservoir is part of the Peninsula Watershed, a vital water source for San Francisco and suburban water districts. Photo by David Hallock, www.flickr.com/oruwu.

The Peninsula Watershed in central San Mateo County has the highest concentration of rare, threatened, and endangered species in the nine-county Bay Area — a truly remarkable fact considering the area’s proximity to highly developed urban areas. The 23,000 acres of the watershed lands are protected and managed by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC) with the primary purpose of production, collection, and storage of the highest-quality water for the City and County of San Francisco and its suburban customers. In order to protect this precious water supply in an era of longer and more severe droughts, access to much of the area is restricted to a handful of well-used trails, except under the auspices of a docent program.

Under the docent program, volunteer guides lead hikers, bicyclists, and equestrians into watershed lands three days a week (You can learn more and sign up for a trip here). The docent program has increased public awareness and support for the watershed’s diverse natural habitats and wildlife while at the same time helping to prevent unauthorized off-trail use and trespassing. That in turn reduces the potential for catastrophic wildfires (the area has been designated a “hazardous fire area” by the California Department of Forestry) and degradation of water quality in the four reservoirs.

Mountain bicycle and other advocates are lobbying the PUC to consider opening remote areas of the Peninsula Watershed lands to unrestricted access — not only along the unpaved and unfenced service road on Fifield-Cahill Ridge, but also on numerous other interconnecting service roads and trails. Unfortunately, unrestricted access increases the likelihood of public health impacts, including fire risk and degraded water quality, as well as harm to habitats and wildlife.

Allowing uncontrolled access to the watershed’s remote areas would tremendously increase costs to taxpayers, as people will inevitably trespass into protected, sensitive areas. Fencing to prevent access would interrupt established wildlife migration corridors and would not deter all trespassers.

Rather than opening the area to unrestricted access and the risks associated with it, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups are calling for the successful, existing docent program to be expanded and upgraded. An excellent model for a well-managed and effective docent program is at Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve on Stanford University lands south of Crystal Springs. A similar program could be instituted for the Watershed.

A number of Peninsula Watershed trails are already open every day to unrestricted access. The popular 16-mile Crystal Springs trail east of the reservoirs near Highway 280 serves over 325,000 people each year.

This is not the first time the San Francisco PUC has considered allowing unrestricted access in the watershed lands. In 2002, the PUC considered and ultimately rejected the idea due to serious concerns raised by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Fish and Wildlife, California Department of Health Services, and many environmental groups over water quality, fire, and wildlife. The docent program was created at that time to respond to the call for more public access. Now the docent program should be expanded and upgraded.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors should pass a resolution affirming that the primary function of the watershed is protection of our water supply and preservation of natural resources, while allowing increased public access through an expanded docent program rather than uncontrolled access. The Sierra Club, Golden Gate and Sequoia Audubon Societies, California Native Plant Society’s Yerba Buena and Santa Clara County Chapters, and the Committee for Green Foothills all support this approach.

Lennie Roberts, San Mateo County legislative advocate, Committee for Green Foothills; Mike Ferreira, chair, Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter; Arthur Feinstein, Executive Committee member, Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter

Help us plant 1,500 trees in the next three years

Photo courtesy UC Davis Magazine.

Photo courtesy UC Davis Magazine.

The Sierra Club Tree Team recently received a CAL FIRE grant to plant street trees throughout the East Oakland Flatlands in Districts 2, 5, 6, and 7 — transforming concrete into greenspace in neighborhoods deemed environmentally disadvantaged.

As the new trees grow, they will take in carbon dioxide, helping to combat climate change and provide a number of social and environmental benefits to the surrounding community, including: cleaner air, cooler temperatures (and lower energy bills!), reduced stormwater flooding, wildlife habitat, and increased property values.

Use this map to see if your property falls within our free-tree zone. If your property falls outside the free zone:

  • You can join our waiting list to get free trees (dependent upon our pool of outside donations and grants), or
  • We can plant the trees for you for a small fee-for-service of about $100 per tree.

Find the tree request form on the Tree Team’s website: www.treesforoaklandflatlands.org.

We rely on volunteers to dig the holes and plant 15-20 trees each week during planting season. Plantings usually occur on Saturday mornings between November and May. You can participate as often as you like. We provide the shovels and our experienced team leaders will teach you all you need to know. To volunteer, find upcoming tree-planting and tree-pruning events on our Meetup page, or email SCTreePlanting@gmail.com.

Hetty Chin

Balancing recreation and conservation at the Golden Gate with new rule on dog access

The proposed rule will protect habitat for threatened species such as the western snowy plover, shown here at the GGNRA. Photo by Jessica Weinberg McClosky.

The proposed rule will protect habitat for threatened species such as the western snowy plover, shown here at the GGNRA. Photo by Jessica Weinberg McClosky.

Last year, over 15 million people visited the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), making it the most visited National Park in the U.S. GGNRA’s stunning landscapes offer more than 100 forms of recreation, from surfing to dog walking. Visitors share GGNRA with 1,273 plant and animal species, 35 of which are rare, threatened, or endangered — that’s more at-risk species more than Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks combined! The area also protects important cultural resources including American coastal fortifications and Native American artifacts.

As you can imagine, protecting GGNRA’s natural, cultural, and scenic resources while accommodating so many visitors is no small feat.

To achieve a balance between conservation and recreation, the park service has proposed a new plan to accommodate off-leash dog walking — a unique opportunity offered at no other national park site in the U.S. Parts of the GGNRA have been open to dogs since before the area’s acquisition by the park service in 1972, and the new plan would accommodate this precedent by allowing dog walking in 22 locations, 7 of them for off-leash use.

What’s in the rule?

The rule will create zones for off-leash, on-leash, and dog-free uses (see the map of proposed zones here). All park visitors will benefit from having clarity about where they can go within the park to enjoy a variety of recreation experiences. For example, school groups and other activity leaders will know where they can take students to explore and learn without interruptions from off-leash dogs. And dog owners can choose to prevent their leashed pets from interacting with off-leash pets.

Why do we need restrictions on where dogs can go?

GGNRA was established to preserve outstanding natural, cultural, and scenic resources, as well as provide recreational and educational opportunities for all visitors. Many visitors are children, the elderly, and the infirm. People come for many other reasons than to walk or play with a dog, including hiking, strolling, running, bird watching, photography, and sightseeing. All park uses should be respected, and not all uses are compatible with off-leash dogs.

Off-leash dogs can damage sensitive wildlife habitat, disturb park-goers, and leave waste. It’s the park service’s responsibility to protect the natural resources under its care “unimpaired” for all Americans and future generations. It only makes sense to allow off-leash dogs only in designated areas.

Why is this happening now?

The rule has been in the works for over 15 years, and over 11,400 members of the public have participated in the comment process to help shape it. The proposal couldn’t come at a better time; Increased visitation and use means that GGNRA’s sensitive natural resources are under greater pressure than ever before. And the fast-growing population of the Bay Area means visitorship will continue to increase in coming years.

Without a balanced rule in place, the park’s landscape has been badly affected in recent years. At Fort Funston, for example, areas were degraded by overuse and required restoration of coastal native scrub dune habitat. Cliff erosion required increased restriction for public safety. Under the proposed rule, dogs would stay off of cliffs and steep vegetation, but would be allowed off- and on-leash access to 45 percent (or 35 acres) of Fort Funston’s usable land, including the full length of the beach area.

At Ocean Beach, off-leash dogs have disturbed threatened snowy plovers, upsetting nests, frightening away protective parents, and leaving eggs and chicks exposed to the cold and to predators. Only 2,100 birds remain on the entire Pacific coast, and Ocean Beach is the plover’s most important nesting site in San Francisco. The proposed rules would allow off-leash dogs on a full mile of the northern portion of Ocean Beach while protecting important nesting grounds for the threatened species.

WhatYouCanDo

The Sierra Club supports GGNRA’s well-considered plan for public use of public land. It strikes a reasonable balance among recreational uses while fulfilling the park’s responsibility to protect habitats and wildlife. If you agree, send a message in support of the proposed rule. If you have the time, send letters of support for the rule by mail:

General Superintendent Christine Lehnertz
Golden Gate National Parks
Building 201, Fort Mason
San Francisco, CA 94123

Senator Dianne Feinstein
One Post Street, Suite 2450
San Francisco, CA 94104

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi
90 7th Street, Suite 2-800
San Francisco, CA 94103

Congresswoman Jackie Speier
155 Bovet Road, Suite 780
San Mateo, CA 94402

Congressman Jared Huffman
999 Fifth Ave., Suite 290
San Rafael, CA 94901

Mayor Edwin M. Lee
City Hall, Room 200
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco, CA 94102

Clerk, Marin County Board of Supervisors
3501 Civic Center Drive, Suite 329
San Rafael, CA 94903

Pleasanton’s Lund Ranch development would violate hillside protections

Photo courtesy www.savepleasantonhillsides.com

Photo courtesy www.savepleasantonhillsides.com

In 2008, the voters passed Measure PP to protect hillsides in Pleasanton from destructive steep-slope development. Going against the voters’ wishes, the Pleasanton City Council recently voted to approve a development project in violation of Measure PP. Local activists organized a referendum to block the project that will be on the June ballot as Measure K.

The project in question is a plan by the developer Greenbriar for 43 upscale single-family homes on approximately 17 acres in the southeast hills of Pleasanton. The most controversial project element is the construction of an access road on steep hillsides that is non-compliant with Measure PP. Opponents of the project are also concerned about substantial destruction of heritage oak woodlands.

The Bay Chapter submitted letters of opposition to the Lund Ranch II project to the planning commission and city council. As a result of these efforts and those of other Pleasanton activists, some changes were made to the project to reduce the number of hillside impacts — but the amendments were insufficient to eliminate the Measure PP violation.

In voting to approve Lund Ranch II, Mayor Thorne and council members Narum and Olson pointed to the developer’s promise to donate 174 acres of its property to the city as open space. Yet the land in question is already undeveloped “open space” right now. The vast majority of the land is unbuildable, so under any conceivable future proposed use for the Lund Ranch property, much of it will be open space.

It is worth noting that the one dissenting council member was Karla Brown, who was endorsed by the Sierra Club in the last election.

There is a history of Measure PP violations being successfully defeated at the ballot box. In 2010, the Sierra Club’s Tri-Valley Group opposed a steep hillside and ridgetop mansion development known as Oak Grove, and the project was voted down by Pleasanton voters.

You can read more about the project and Measure KK at www.savepleasantonhillsides.com, a website created by Pleasanton community activists. Remember to vote ‘No’ on K this June to protect Pleasanton’s hillsides!

Richard Pugh, vice chair, Tri-Valley Group

Painting workshops: a great way to experience the Yosemite Valley

Painting by Helen Burke.

Painting by Helen Burke.

Yosemite National Park offers a wonderful, little known service available to all visitors to for a small donation. It’s called the Art Activities program and features workshops led by an Artist in Residence six days a week, Monday through Saturday, from April to September. The art medium (and artist) changes from week to week, from watercolor, to pastels, acrylics, printmaking, etc. No previous art experience or materials are needed.  You meet at the Art Activities Center near the Village Store.

Painting and sketching is a wonderful way to explore and appreciate further the scenic wonders of the Valley. Advance sign-up is recommended, and registration is $10 per student per day.

For more information click here.

Two steps forward, one step back in effort to close polluting gun range

Photo by Richard Bangert.

Photo by Richard Bangert.

The East Bay Regional Park District board made a welcome decision on March 1st to shut down the Chabot Gun Club, which has been leaching toxic lead into the watershed of Lake Chabot. But the board, apparently trying to placate gun owners, gave the club a full year to shut down — six months more than was recommended by park district staff, and far more time than is necessary.

“It’s a sign of progress that the gun range’s days are now finally numbered,’ said Cindy Margulis, director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society, which has advocated alongside the Sierra Club for the cleanup and closure of the range. “However, it’s regrettable that the District’s Board is effectively allowing this public health menace to continue for an entire year.”

The gun range’s lease expired in January 2015 and the EBRPD board granted it an extension until January 2016, then another extension through the end of March 2016. With the board’s March 1 vote, the range can continue operating through March 2017 but then must close.

Park neighbors, park users, and conservation groups have been urging the district to close the range because of its toxic lead pollution and noise issues. It was unfortunate that the issue of noise abatement was not formally condemned by the board or included in the staff discussion as another major reason for shutting down the gun range operations.

Lead was not commonly seen as a health danger when the range opened in 1963, but today it is well documented as causing anemia, brain damage, neurological disorders, kidney damage, reproductive disorders in humans as well as wildlife. In addition to being a popular site for hiking and picnicking, and a home to many wild species including Bald Eagles, Lake Chabot is an emergency drinking water source for the East Bay.

The cost of cleaning up past lead pollution from the gun range is estimated at between $2 million and $20 million. Each additional year of shooting will cost at least $200,000 to clean up — costs that will fall upon the park district and the East Bay taxpayers who support it.

“Those previous extensions provided plenty of time for the club to make plans for closure,” said Norman La Force, chair of the Bay Chapter’s East Bay Public Lands Committee. “The longer it goes on, the greater the cost and the greater the harm. Lead will have more time to leach deeper into the soil and further down in the watershed.”

A number of Sierra Club members testified at the March 1st meeting, and many more emailed the park district board pressing for a final and speedy closure so that cleanup can begin.

But hundreds of Gun Club members turned out at the hearing, urging the board to overrule park district staff and keep the range open. The lease extension gives gun-range advocates another full year to pressure the board to reconsider their decision and keep the facility open.

“I am very concerned that eight or nine months from now the gun range will come back and ask for yet another extension of the lease,” said La Force. “We could end up with the Park District giving annual one-year extensions for another 50 years. This fight is not over and we who love our parks will have to remain vigilant to make sure this gun range is actually shut down for good.”

WhatYouCanDo

Make your voice heard! Email the Park District board and tell them:

  • Thanks for their decision to shut down the Chabot Gun Club
  • Hold fast to the 12-month deadline
  • The gun club should immediately cease use of lead bullets so that the pollution problem doesn’t get worse over the next year
  • Conditions and milestones must be written into the lease extension so that lead cleanup can begin immediately after the lease ends. The conditions should also include a calendar-timed progression of “shutdown” steps, including transitioning range users such as organized police users to other facilities.

East Bay Regional Park District board members are:

Ilana DeBare, Golden Gate Audubon Society, and Norman La Force, chair, East Bay Public Lands Committee