August 29, 2014

Wilderness Act 50th-anniversary celebrations in full swing

CA Wilderness_Killion poster 300x400

Get your very own copy of this Tom Killion poster. For details see end of this article.

Update (May 14, 2014): get your own copy of Tom Killion’s wilderness poster; Click here:

or see details at end of article.

Wilderness50, a coalition of 30 non-governmental organizations and federal agencies, is putting on dozens of wilderness-themed events across the U.S.A. this year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act and the creation of the National Wilderness Preservation System. For a full listing see


The Bay Chapter is front and center promoting wilderness. We’ll be sponsoring hikes, backpacks, and stewardship days in nearby wilderness areas, including the beautiful Phillip Burton Wilderness in Point Reyes National Seashore. For announcements of these events, watch the Yodeler and the Chapter Calendar on page A of every Yodeler or at

In this issue’s Calendar, note:

Sun., June 1–Point Reyes (strenuous 3C)

Sat., June 21–Point Reyes summer solstice (strenuous 4C)

Sat., July 12–Central Point Reyes loop (strenuous 3C)

Wed., July 23–Lioness of the Lake (strenuous 3C).

Most of our backpacks are to wilderness areas all over California. See the Calendar in this and following issues for lots of options.

“Visions of the Wild Festival”

September 3 – 6, downtown Vallejo.

Vallejo, known for its cultural and natural diversity and vibrant arts community, is holding the largest single Bay Area event celebrating the Wilderness Act. “Visions of the Wild” will include field trips, art showings, a film series, panel discussions, and more; see

Earth Day events

The Bay Chapter has participated in Earth Day events this year in Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Emeryville, Alameda, El Cerrito, Martinez, Antioch, and Mount Diablo. Chapter volunteers staffed Sierra Club tables and spoke with folks of all ages about wilderness, water conservation, clean energy, ending fracking in California, and other critical issues.

“Wilderness at the Library”

Tuesday, June 3 – Monday, July 7–Berkeley Public Library, Central Library, 2090 Kittredge Street (at Shattuck, near Berkeley BART), Berkeley.

We’ve created an exhibit at the Berkeley Public Library, highlighting the Wilderness Act, wilderness in American literature, and how anyone can get out into nearby natural areas without using a car.


We’ve been working with government officials to issue proclamations commemorating the 50th anniversary. The Berkeley City Council adopted a resolution on March 11, and San Francisco adopted one on April 29. California Assemblymember Anthony Rendon has authored Assembly Concurrent Resolution 90 to formally recognize the anniversary. The resolution has passed the Rules Committee and will soon have a hearing and go to the floor.


Sierra Club executive director Mike Brune and associate executive director Bruce Hamilton are strongly promoting the 50th anniversary in their public appearances. Mike’s keynote address at the Bay Nature annual awards dinner on March 23 focused on the evolving concept of wilderness and the relevance of wilderness to metropolitan areas like the Bay Area. Bruce’s keynote address at the Earth Day/John Muir’s Birthday event at the John Muir National Historic Site on April 26 focused on Muir as a founder of the Sierra Club and as a vigorous proponent of the principles for preserving wild lands that ultimately led to passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964.


Come to any of our coming events. Even better, volunteer to help put them on. To volunteer, contact Anne Henny at or Vicky Hoover at (415)977-5527.

Get your own copy of Tom Killion’s spectacular poster commemorating the wilderness 50th anniversary; see the reproduction above. Posters are available for $10 (tax included) at the Chapter Office, 2530 San Pablo Ave. in Berkeley. You can pay cash or check there, or pay on-line through the link at:

Shipping is available for an additional $7. Proceeds will go towards the conservation efforts of the Bay Chapter.

Join in 2014 anniversary celebrations

At trailhead for Arrowhead Canyon wilderness service day. Photo by Jose Witt, Friends of Nevada Wilderness.

At trailhead for Arrowhead Canyon wilderness service day. Photo by Jose Witt, Friends of Nevada Wilderness.

This year of 2014 marks two special anniversaries–the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, and the 90th of the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter.

Readers of the Yodeler already know a lot about the Bay Chapter and its ongoing work for the Bay Area environment. Less conspicuous in the paper in recent years, but no less dear to the Sierra Club’s heart, is our work for wilderness and wildlands in general.

When the Chapter was first founded, our focus was primarily in defense of wild places all around California and the nation. Over the decades we have added many local concerns such as stopping pollution and changing development and transportation patterns. In the last 15 years, energy and climate change have risen in prominence. But during all these years our Chapter Wilderness Committee has steadfastly kept the Chapter anchored in our original wilderness tradition.

So when the Wilderness Act was proposed, in the 1950s and early ’60s, the Chapter was there working for it, and we joined in the celebration when Pres. Lyndon Johnson signed it in 1964, creating the National Wilderness Preservation System, which today includes over 750 areas totaling nearly 110 million acres within our national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges, and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands. We were there in the following campaign that led to the California Wilderness Act in 1984. We campaigned for many years for the California Desert Protection Act of 1994. Our efforts have not been just for California: we campaigned actively for wilderness in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980, and we continue to work for smaller wilderness bills all over the nation and for other types of protection for the nation’s varied wildlands.

All of these bills establish federal wilderness areas, lands given the nation’s highest level of protection for public lands, where, in the words of the Wilderness Act, “the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

We’re also celebrating new successes: on March 4, ending a five-year hiatus, Congress designated a new wilderness area: over 32,500 acres in Michigan’s beautiful Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. And on March 11 Pres. Obama added the Stornetta Public Lands along the Garcia River near Point Arena to the California Coastal National Monument (see

So help celebrate!


A coalition of some 30 non-governmental organizations and federal agencies, known as “Wilderness50”, is organizing a diverse array of events across the country to highlight wilderness. A key goal is to promote wilderness to a broader public, inspiring more Americans—especially young people and communities of color—to experience wilderness themselves and in time to join in protecting our remaining natural places from development. Learn more about the anniversary at and

To volunteer here in the Bay Area, contact Anne Henny at or Vicky Hoover at (415)977-5527.

The Bay Chapter too is organizing a series of events for its 90th anniversary. To help, contact Joanne Drabek at (510)530-5216 or

For word of the events as they are scheduled, see future Yodelers and the Chapter Calendar at

Ann Henny

Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands added to California Coastal National Monument

Stornetta waterfall. Photo copyright Bruce H. Jensen 2012.

Stornetta waterfall. Photo copyright Bruce H. Jensen 2012.

Today, Pres. Obama took the significant step of designating the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands as part of the California Coastal National Monument.

On the south coast of Mendocino County, these lands include 1,665 acres of majestic views, tidepools, and coastal wetlands that are home to an abundance of sea mammals, seabirds, and abalone. This announcement marks the first designation of a national monument under secretary of the interior Sally Jewell.

This is all happening thanks to the tireless work of volunteers and staff in the Sierra Club Redwood, Mother Lode, and San Francisco Bay Chapters, Sierra Club California, and across the nation. On a personal level, my wife and I visited Stornetta just last month and were awed by its rugged beauty and the scores of harbor seals bobbing in the ocean. The experience inspired me to write a blog for the Huffington Post.

Adjacent to Manchester State Beach and the Point Arena Lighthouse, the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands area includes more than two miles of coastline, portions of the Garcia River, the Garcia estuary, and a five-acre island—Sea Island Rocks. Its wildflower meadows and shifting sand dunes provide a home for otters, seals, pelicans, and a host of other wildlife.

There is broad local support from community members, conservationists, and business leaders for including Point Arena-Stornetta public lands in the national monument–a move also championed by Reps. Thompson and Huffman and California Sens. Boxer and Feinstein, who have helped lead efforts to protect the area.

“Local citizens have been working with the Bureau of Land Management to support appropriate use of the area, but the scarce resources available have been overburdened by the demands placed on this fragile, special place,” said Sierra Club Redwood Chapter chair Victoria Brandon. “Today’s designation will encourage effective management to ensure the permanent protection of the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands for the enjoyment of our children and grandchildren.”

The California Coastal National Monument is comprised of more than 20,000 small islands, rocks, exposed reefs, and pinnacles along 1,100 miles of coast between Mexico and Oregon. Permanently protecting the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands as part of the national monument provides significant conservation and recreation benefits, including the potential for more than 10 miles of California Coastal Trail extending from the City of Point Arena to Manchester State Park.

The designation today is small but builds momentum that encourages the administration to establish a conservation legacy of national monuments. In his January State of the Union address, Pres. Obama pledged that he would use his “authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.” Today’s announcement demonstrates that the president is beginning to deliver on that promise and it is our job to support his ambition so that he will designate more wild landscapes, including some on the top of our list:

  • Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in New Mexico;
  • Boulder White Clouds in Idaho;
  • Greater Canyonlands in Utah;
  • Birthplace of Rivers in West Virginia;
  • Grand Canyon Watershed in Arizona;
  • Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

before his term ends in 2017.

This designation marks the first expansion onto the mainland for the national monument, and it will protect important habitat for migratory birds, salmon, and several endangered species including the Point Arena mountain beaver and the Behren’s silverspot butterfly.

“Once again we see Pres. Obama listening to the widespread desire among Americans for permanently protecting our outdoor heritage for future generations. We hope he will continue to heed the call to protect other special places as national monuments,” said Brune.

Please join me in thanking Secretary Jewell and Pres. Obama at

Dan Chu, senior director for the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America Campaign

“Wonders of the West: A Closer Look” — East Bay Dinner — Thursday, April 24

Ted, leading natural-history hike below Mount Conness near Saddle Bag Lake north of Tioga Pass, at around 10,000 feet.

Ted, leading natural-history hike below Mount Conness near Saddle Bag Lake north of Tioga Pass, at around 10,000 feet.

Thursday, April 24, no-host cocktails/social hour—6 pm, dinner—7:00, program—8:00, Berkeley Yacht Club on the Berkeley Marina, one block north of the west end of University Avenue (ample free park­ing is available in the Marina parking lots).

Join us for a fine dinner and an exciting program, one that you’ve not seen before–could not have seen before–because it has been created especially for the Sierra Club by Ted Kipping. A naturalist and a superb photographer, Ted will take us on a different and strikingly beautiful tour of some of the most gorgeous wild places in the West. The musical soundtrack alone is worth coming for.

Mono Lake, from rim of Mount Dana plateau, around 13,000 feet.

Mono Lake, from rim of Mount Dana plateau, around 13,000 feet.

Ted was educated in natural history at Columbia University and worked at the Arboretum and Botanic Garden in Golden Gate Park before starting his own Bay Area arboriculture venture, Tree Shapers LLC. Ted is an avid outdoor photographer and has been a life member of the Sierra Club for over 37 years. He has led over 100 field trips for botanic and horticultural groups.

Cost of dinner and program is $27, including tax and tip. For a reservation, please send your check, payable to “Sierra Club”, with your name, your telephone number, and the names of your guests, to:

Evelyn Randolph
938 Galvin Drive
El Cerrito, CA 94530

Attendance is limited to the first 115 reservations received. Reserve early, as these programs do fill up. Reservation deadline is Fri., April 18. There is no admittance for program only.

“Last Stand of the Orangutan: How To Stop Conflict Palm Oil from Destroying Our Last Rainforests” — Friday April 11– Green Fridays

Gr Fri April--ran_logo_illust_rgb 300x308Friday April 11–“Last Stand of the Orangutan: How To Stop Conflict Palm Oil from Destroying Our Last Rainforests”

Conflict palm oil, now found in roughly 50% of packaged goods in grocery stores, is destroying rainforests, pushing orangutans and Sumatran tigers towards extinction, displacing indigenous communities, and causing child labor and carbon pollution. But Rainforest Action Network (RAN) has a plan to stop it! Come learn how.

Speaker Laurel Sutherlin, a life-long forest and social-justice advocate, is RAN’s forests communications manager. Laurel is also a passionate naturalist who recently returned from Sumatra, where he got to see wild orangutans and the devastation of industrial deforestation firsthand.

Second Friday of each month, 7 – 9 pm, Chapter Office, 2530 San Pablo Avenue (one block south of Dwight Way) in Berkeley. Note new time and format: no potlucks; doors open at 7 pm for beverages and snacks; presentation begins at 7:30. Suggested donation is $3. Parking is on the street.

Green Fridays, sponsored by the Sierra Club Northern Alameda County Group, is a series of free public presentations by expert speakers on the most important environmental issues of our times. For more information, contact Ken Peter­son at or Joanne Drabek at (510)530-5216.


Happy birthday, wilderness

Happy Birthday Wilderness banner.

Happy Birthday Wilderness banner.

In 1964, 50 years ago, Pres. Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act, creating America’s National Wilderness Preservation System. Sierra Club, other organizations, and the four federal agencies that manage wilderness agencies are celebrating that golden anniversary—now and for the whole year–to educate a broader public about wilderness.

One big Bay Area event will be a Visions of the Wild Festival in early September in Vallejo, a city especially proud of its diverse community. Our goal is to reach out to diverse audiences and work with schools to involve students too.

In our Chapter, we are already planning several wonderful events, including a joint event with the California Historical Society in San Francisco to celebrate the role of wilderness in California’s history–and the role of the Sierra Club in that history. We’re working on promoting wilderness displays/exhibits in Bay Area public libraries, and we plan to have a big “Wilderness 50th” presence at Earth Day events throughout the Bay Area this coming April. The Chapter Wilderness Committee has a list of other great potential Bay Area events to work on, such as:

  • activities with the East Bay Regional Park District—(it was involved in 2004 at the 40th anniversary);
  • a family hike along San Leandro Creek, helping promote the area’s inclusion in a Bay to Ridgeline trail system;
  • additional family-friendly hikes–we need leaders;
  • a joint outing (or outings) with the Oceanic Society to observe birds on the Farallon Islands (the Farallones, within our Chapter boundaries, will celebrate the 40th anniversary of being designated wilderness, in 2014; see;
  • a joint event or events with the National Park Service, to honor Phil Burton, in or near the wilderness named for him within the Point Reyes National Seashore;
  • a series of walks in the national wildlife refuges that ring the Bay;
  • a joint event with the California Academy of Sciences in conjunction with its next year’s theme of biodiversity;
  • hikes to nearby state wildernesses, or at least to the state parks that contain them, e.g. the Orestimba State Wilderness in Henry Coe State Park;
  • a photo contest for children of pictures they take of themselves in wilderness or natural areas;
  • exhibits of wilderness photos at the San Francisco and Oakland Airports;
  • getting city and county governments to issue proclamations or pass resolutions in honor of California wilderness.

This list is still growing–awaiting your additional ideas and involvement. As the Bay Chapter’s newly appointed volunteer coordinator for our Wilderness 50th anniversary events, I’m urging you, and anyone you know who cares about wilderness, to please contact me with your ideas and to volunteer a few hours of your time. Learn more about the anniversary at:

To get involved in putting on the big wilderness celebration, please contact Anne Henny at or Vicky Hoover at (415)977-5527.

Anne Henny

Delta Group — “Pacific Flyway in the Delta and Central Valley” — Wednesday, February 26

birds--millions cropped 300x221Wednesday, February 26, 7:15 pm, Antioch Library, 501 West 18th Street, Antioch.

At the Delta Group’s February meeting, speaker Mike Moran will tell us about California’s great annual fall and winter bird migration on the Pacific Flyway.

He’ll tell us how the migration has been impacted by, and impacts, human behavior here on earth. We’ll share how avian biology, hydrology, water policy, land use, conservation, and restoration all converge in the Central Valley and Delta. We’ll take a look at where we are now, and how all these factors connect to the future for the Pacific Flyway’s fascinating bird travelers.

Mike is supervising naturalist at Big Break visitor center in the Delta in Oakley. He has been a naturalist for over 25 years, with the East Bay Regional Park District for 19 years, and earlier with the National Park Service, California State Parks, and other park agencies. Mike’s specialties include California water, birds and local history.

Do you want to see some of these birds yourself? Join the Delta Group on Sat., Feb. 22, as we car-caravan into the Central Valley to the Cosumnes River Preserve of the Nature Conservancy and Thornton agricultural area to see migrating birds, including sandhill cranes, ducks, and geese. For details see the Chapter Calendar.

Delta Group program meetings are usually held in February, May, September, and November. A newsletter listing Delta Group programs, outings, and activities is available by sending a check for $5, payable to “Sierra Club, Delta Group”, to:

Janess Hanson
431 Levee Road
Bay Point, CA 94565.

For information about Delta Group activities, call Janess Hanson at (925)458-0860. For information about Delta area environmental concerns, call Tim Donahue at (925)754-8801.

Upcoming hikes and activities

For more information about these activities, see the Chapter Calendar.

Sat., Feb. 8, Benicia State Recreation Area, 1A hike

Sat., Feb. 22, Sacramento Valley and Delta, bird-watching safari

Sat., Mar. 22, Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, Antioch, 1A wildflower walk

“Kenya: Wildlife in Four National Parks” with Buff and Jerry Corsi — San Francisco Dinner — Thursday, February 20

Grey-crowned cranes in Kenya. Photo from Gerald and Buff Corsi.

Grey-crowned cranes in Kenya. Photo from Gerald and Buff Corsi.

Thursday, February 20, social hour—6 pm, dinner—7:00, program—8:00, City Forest Lodge, 254 Laguna Honda Boulevard, San Francisco, across from Laguna Honda Hospital and downhill from Forest Hill station; take Muni K, L, M, or 43. No sidewalk parking please: come early for street parking, or park next door at the Forest Hill Christian Church lot, 250 Laguna Honda Boulevard, for $1.50 per car, payable at the Lodge check-in.

Kenya is one of the most exciting destinations for people interested in wildlife. Despite a growing human population needing more living space, the country has managed to maintain a number of large natural areas set aside as national parks and reserves. This presentation will concentrate on four of these parks: Amboseli, Samburu, Lake Nakuru, and the Masai Mara. Elephants, rhinos, Cape buffalo, lions, leopards, and many more animals are found in Kenya, as well as many other species of cats, gazelles, and hundreds of colorful birds. In addition to their stunning photos of wildlife, Buff and Jerry will include suggestions on designing your own personal safari.

Gerald Corsi became a professional photographer upon his retirement as an oral surgeon. He is widely published in national magazines and publications. Buff Corsi took up videography as a way to bring back “everything but the smell” from their travels to international wildlife destinations. They combine Jerry’s still images, to show detail, with Buff’s videos, to show animal behavior. Their home base is Santa Rosa.

Send a check for $16.50 made out to “Sierra Club, S.F. Bay Chapter” to:

Gerry Souzis
1801 California St., #405
San Francisco, CA 94109.

Checks must be received by Fri., Feb. 14. Please send a separate check for each program, and indicate the program date, number of guests, and your phone number. Non-members are welcome. Bring your own wine or soft drinks. Glasses and ice are available. Let us know if you are a vegetarian. Questions? Contact Gerry between 4 and 9 pm at (415)474-4440 or No morning calls please.

The Farallon Islands and the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex

View from Southeast Farallon Island of West End Island, part of the Farallon Wilderness Area. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

View from Southeast Farallon Island of West End Island, part of the Farallon Wilderness Area. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Wilderness Act will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Sep. 3. The year 2014 also marks the 40th anniversary of Congress’ designation of the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness. 

Rocky islands rising vertically out of the ocean do not usually come to mind when we think of wilderness. Yet, the entire Farallon National Wildlife Refuge, with the exception of Southeast Farallon Island, is designated as wilderness, giving the islands the highest level of protection from human impacts and effects of modern civilization.

Every wilderness area has a unique “wilderness character”, which the managing agency must preserve. What is wilderness character, and what does it mean for the Farallon Islands?

Wilderness character is a set of tangible measures that make a place unique and special and helps define each wilderness using 5 qualities drawn from the definition of wilderness in the Wilderness Act itself. The five qualities are untrammeled, natural, undeveloped, solitude and primitive, unconfined recreation, and other features of value. Together, these qualities are like the personality of a place. Examples of wilderness character include the plants and animals that live there, the opportunities for solitude, the lack of development, human impacts, and physical resources such as air quality.

As a wilderness fellow, I was tasked with defining the wilderness character of the Farallon Islands and establishing a monitoring plan for the future. I spent three months immersing myself in the refuge, discovering and identifying the physical qualities that caused Congress to designate the islands as wilderness. For the Farallon Islands, wilderness character is the wildlife, with the islands’ thriving seabird, seal, and sea lion populations whose cacophony echoes around the islands 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. There is no doubt that the ecosystems of the Farallon Islands are intact and thriving with Common murres, Brandt’s cormorants, Northern fur seals, and Steller sea lions.

Another aspect of the Farallons’ wilderness character is the lack of development and human presence on the islands. Wilderness areas are places “where man himself is a visitor who does not remain” (as defined by the Wilderness Act), which fits the islands perfectly. Even refuge and Point Blue Conservation Science (formerly PRBO Conservation Science) staff only visit one wilderness island, West End Island, a few times per year. Wilderness areas are also places “affected primarily by the forces of nature” and “without permanent improvement or human habitation.” Again, the Farallon Wilderness has no permanent improvements and the islands are completely shaped by nature. The islands designated as wilderness are literally untouched by human influence, and any previous impacts have been completely reclaimed by the islands.

Common murre nesting on the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Common murre nesting on the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

My fellowship at the Farallon Islands is part of national program to define the wilderness character of wilderness areas managed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. After this year, only three refuges remain to complete their wilderness character baseline assessment and monitoring plan.

It’s been an amazing experience to be a part of and working with the Farallon Islands. Helping land managers understand and monitor the islands within the frame of wilderness will help preserve the unique character of the Farallon Wilderness. This way, the Farallon Wilderness can continue to be a haven for the seabirds and seals that depend on it and be preserved as iconic islands for their unique wilderness character.

The Farallon National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1909 as a “native breeding ground for birds”. Farallon NWR lives up to this decree. Half the world’s population of ashy storm-petrels breed here, and more than 400 other species of breeding and migrant birds have been tallied at this refuge. Positioned 28 miles west of the San Francisco Bay, the Farallon NWR is an island ecosystem rich with marine wildlife. Six species of marine mammals breed or haul-out onto these rocky islands, and its surrounding waters host one of the highest concentrations of white sharks in the world.

The San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex

The Farallon Islands are one of several national wildlife refuges in central California that are managed together as the San Francisco Bay Complex of refuges. As the only Wilderness in the Complex, the Farallon Islands may hold the greatest interest for our readers, but the other refuges in the Complex are important and also deserve to be publicized during the special wilderness anniversary year of 2014.

From sand dunes to salt marsh, from rocky, offshore islands to golden beaches, the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex offers a glimpse into the biological wonders of the San Francisco Bay Area. Despite booming industries and growing populations, these refuges preserve an incredibly complex ecosystem. In addition to the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge, the other refuges are briefly described here, with their date of establishment. The only refuges open to the public are Don Edwards, San Pablo, and Salinas. Antioch is accessible through docent-guided tours the first Saturday of every month.

Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge (1974). The largest refuge in the complex, Don Edwards SF Bay NWR was created through the efforts of grassroots organizations. This refuge is vital to millions of shorebirds and waterfowl that winter here each year. Two endangered species that live exclusively in the salt marshes of the San Francisco Bay personify this refuge: the California clapper rail and the salt-marsh harvest mouse. Visitors may enjoy this refuge through the visitor center, trails, and large public-use programs.

Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge (1980). The last remaining riverine sand dunes along the San Joaquin River, Antioch Dunes was the first national wildlife refuge created to protect insects and plants. Nowhere else in the world can you find endangered Lange’s metalmark butterflies. This 55-acre refuge also protects endangered Contra Costa wallflowers and Antioch Dunes evening primroses.

Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge (1973). Located on the coast of Monterey Bay, where the Salinas river flows into the ocean, Salinas River NWR is truly diverse in habitats and species in such a small area. Grasslands, salt marsh, sand dunes, salt ponds and riverine habitats make up this 366-acre refuge that is home to endangered Smith’s blue butterflies, western snowy plovers, and California brown pelicans. Another rare species, the black legless lizard, resides quietly beneath a layer of sand.

San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge (1974). Boasting the largest wintering population of canvasbacks on the west coast, San Pablo Bay NWR provides wintering habitat for millions of shorebirds and waterfowl. This refuge contains the largest remaining contiguous patch of pickleweed-dominated tidal marsh found in the northern San Francisco Bay, habitat critical to the endangered California clapper rail and the salt marsh harvest mouse.

Ellicott Slough National Wildlife Refuge (1975). Created to protect and provide habitat for the endangered Santa Cruz long-toed salamander, Ellicott Slough NWR (near Watsonville south of Santa Cruz) consists of upland habitat–the summer range of the salamander. Non-native plants are methodically removed so the salamanders may thrive. The salamander’s existence was only just discovered in 1954.

Marin Islands National Wildlife Refuge (1992). The most recent addition to the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex, Marin Islands NWR supports large colonies of great egrets, great blue herons, snowy egrets and black-crowned night herons. This 139-acre refuge also provides vital habitat to other breeding migratory birds. Its surrounding mud flats and waters are used by shorebirds and harbor seals.

Nyssa Landres

Nyssa Landres is a wilderness fellow working with the Fish and Wildlife Service to develop wilderness character monitoring baselines for refuge wilderness islands along the Pacific coast, including the Farallon Islands. She has also worked as a wilderness ranger for the Forest Service and National Park Service in Alaska and Utah. Also deserving credit for helping prepare this article are Jonathan Shore, wildlife-refuge specialist, Farallon National Wildlife Refuge; Anne Morkill, Refuge Complex manager, San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex; and Carmen Minch, outdoor-recreation planner, San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Both Anne Morkill and Jonathan Shore attended the California/Nevada Wilderness Committee’s June 2013 meeting to give participants a presentation on the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex, with special focus on the Farallon Islands.

From Words of the Wild, newsletter of the Sierra Club’s California/Nevada Wilderness Committee.


Saving sage grouse

Sage grouse.

Sage grouse.

Sage grouse were once prolific in the West. They were seemingly everywhere in the vast Sagebrush Sea. Lewis and Clark reported seeing the “cock of the plains” on their westward expedition in 1805, and huge flocks of sage grouse were still described from across the West before the turn of the 20th century. Montana residents reported that “sage grouse were so plentiful that when they got up they darkened the sky.” In Wyoming, sage grouse were so numerous that people gathered their eggs in spring for table use. In parts of northern Nevada, sage grouse “clouded the sky”, and boys were able to kill sage grouse by simply reaching out and hitting them with a stick.

Sage grouse are a striking and charismatic bird that derives its name, food and shelter from the sagebrush on which they depend. The largest grouse in North America, both males and females are a mottled brownish-gray. White chest feathers and a special headdress distinguish males during the spring breeding season. Males also have long black tail feathers with white tips, while female tail feathers are mottled black, brown, and white.

Sage grouse are well known for their courtship displays, which are often described as among the most stirring and colorful natural-history pageants in the West. In early spring, at dawn and often at dusk, sage grouse congregate on “leks”—ancestral strutting grounds to which the birds return year after year. To attract a hen, cocks strut, fan their tail feathers, and swell their breasts to reveal bright yellow air sacs. The combination of wing movements and inflating and deflating air sacs makes an utterly unique “swish-swish-coo-oopoink!”

Historic accounts of sage-grouse abundance are common, and the species’ subsequent decline is well documented. However, even I, after spending more than 15 years researching sage grouse and advocating for their conservation, was stunned to discover the following from Dr. George Bird Grinnell, a prominent early conservationist working in Wyoming in the mid-1800s:

“Looking up from the tent at the edge of the bluff above us, we could see projecting over it the heads of hundreds of the birds, and, as those standing there took flight, others stepped forward to occupy their places. The number of Grouse which flew over the camp reminded me of the old-time flights of Passenger Pigeons that I used to see when I was a boy. Before long, the narrow valley where the water was, was a moving mass of gray. I have no means whatever of estimating the number of birds which I saw, but there must have been thousands of them.”

The comparison of sage grouse to passenger pigeons is both surprising (passenger pigeons historically numbered in the billions and may have been the most numerous bird species on Earth) and a solemn reminder of the need to protect remaining sage grouse populations and their habitat.

Next September marks the centenary anniversary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon, a species that was extirpated due to a number of factors, and because our country was without a legal framework to save them. Fortunately for sage grouse, Congress learned from the tragedies of the passenger pigeon, Carolina parakeet, heath hen and other species lost to history and enacted the Endangered Species Act to save imperiled plants and animals before it’s too late. This wildly successful law, which marked its own 40th anniversary this year, has saved more than 1,000 species from extinction and is supporting their long journey to recovery.

New listing decision from Fish and Wildlife

Distribution of sage-grouse bi-state distinct population segment.

Distribution of sage-grouse bi-state distinct population segment.

And now, 11 years after conservationists first petitioned for their protection, there is good news for a unique population of imperiled sage grouse in California and Nevada. In October, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced dual proposals to list the bi-state distinct population segment of greater sage grouse (commonly known as “Mono Basin sage-grouse”) as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and to designate 1.8 million acres of critical habitat to support the population’s recovery.

The Mono Basin sage grouse is a genetically unique subpopulation of sage grouse that inhabits the Mono Basin area of east-central California and western Nevada (hence its moniker). Research indicates that, genetically, this population is so different from other sage grouse that it could be a separate subspecies.

Aside from their distinct genetic traits, Mono Basin sage grouse appear and behave as other sage grouse, and have the same habitat requirements. The Mono Basin population occurs at the periphery of greater-sage-grouse range, occupying an especially fragile area of sagebrush steppe. The Mono Basin birds’ isolation, limited range, and small population make them particularly vulnerable to habitat disturbances. At present, only about 5,000 Mono Basin sage grouse remain from a historic population that likely averaged more than twice that number. Many factors have contributed to this population’s decline, including livestock grazing, invasive species, unnatural fire, mining, and off-road vehicle use that degrades sagebrush habitat.

Species listing decisions often generate a lot of (often false) controversy over what species protection could mean for future land use and development, which can distract from the ultimate goal of preventing species extinction. The listing proposal for the Mono Basin sage grouse is likely to attract a lot of attention in the coming months. As the proposal proceeds through the administrative process, both advocates and opponents of listing would be wise to remember the important lessons learned from the passenger pigeon. Every species has value and is inextricably connected to our environment. Protecting species like sage grouse is a gift of biodiversity, beauty, and history that we give to future generations, and ourselves.

What YouCanDo

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently accepting comment on its proposed listing and critical-habitat designation for the Mono Basin sage grouse until Fri., Dec 27. The proposals and additional information are posted at

The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have also drafted a new management strategy for the Mono Basin sage grouse on public lands. Conservationists are encouraged to review and comment on the new strategy. The deadline for comments on this draft is also Dec. 27.

Mark Salvo, director of the federal-lands program for Defenders of Wildlife in Washington DC. He has worked to conserve sage grouse and their habitat his entire career.

The National Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy

The Fish and Wildlife Service will consider three populations of sage grouse for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The agency has already proposed to list two populations under the act: the Mono Basin sage grouse and the Gunnison sage grouse, a separate species of sage grouse that lives in Colorado and Utah. These proposals are under review, and both populations will receive final listing determinations in March 2014.

The third and largest population, the greater sage grouse, will be considered for listing in 2015. Greater sage grouse occur in parts of 10 western states and in areas valued for oil and gas drilling, livestock grazing, gold mining, coal extraction, off-road vehicle use, and other pursuits. Sage grouse are highly sensitive to disturbance and conserving the species may require curtailing these activities in essential habitat.

As might be expected, federal agencies and western states are concerned about how listing greater sage grouse might affect future land use and development. They have initiated multiple planning processes to implement additional conservation measures for the grouse in an attempt to avoid the need to protect the species under the Endangered Species Act. The most important of these is the National Greater Sage grouse Planning Strategy led by the federal Bureau of Land Management, which administers over half of all remaining occupied habitat. The Planning Strategy will produce 15 separate plans to determine sage-grouse conservation on 60 million acres of federal public lands in the West (

One of the sub-regional planning areas in BLM’s Planning Strategy covers Nevada and northeastern California. This draft plan amendment and Environmental Impact Statement is currently available for public comment ( The draft proposes to do some good things for sage grouse, but it would also allow too much grazing, oil and gas development, and mining in sage-grouse habitat. Conservationists are encouraged to submit comments on BLM’s plan before the deadline on Wed., Jan. 29.

From Words of the Wild, newsletter of the Sierra Club’s California/Nevada Wilderness Committee.