Sturgeon: Resilient to drought, but still at risk

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service technician Duane Linander releases a white sturgeon after an acoustic transmitter and data collector was surgically implanted. The fish was captured March 26 in the San Joaquin River near Grayson.

Do you read the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s weekly Q&A column? You should — there’s some great stuff in there.

Last week the state responded to an anonymous reader wondering how sturgeon are faring during this drought.

The good news is the fish are especially resilient, the state said, answering in part:

“Sturgeon and salmon are anadromous species, but salmon mature and then die in just two to three years. By comparison, female sturgeon typically mature after 15-plus years, can spawn more than once (though not annually) and can live many decades. These characteristics mean that sturgeon are resilient, but it also means they can easily be overfished. California’s sturgeon fisheries were (with minor exceptions) closed from 1901 through 1953 due to overfishing. Commercial harvest of white sturgeon is illegal and recreational harvest is now managed through area closures, bag limits, size limits and gear restrictions.

“Most sturgeon spawn in the Sacramento River and young-of-the-year fish migrate downstream to rear in the San Francisco Estuary. Large numbers of young sturgeon survive the migration only in years with nearly flooding Sacramento River flows during both winter and spring. For sturgeon it is as though 2014 is the eighth straight year of drought. Although a relatively good “cohort” of white sturgeon spawned in 2006 will soon be harvestable, we expect the fishery to decline substantially.”

Bottom line: Sturgeon populations will ebb and flow along with the hydrology, and have to be managed with those changing conditions in mind.

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Don’t forget the floods

Michael Cockrell, San Joaquin County’s director of emergency services, said Wednesday that only five California counties participated in Flood Awareness Week in late October.

“That’s sad,” he said.

Yes, we’re in a drought, but we know how quickly things change in California. At the same meeting where Cockrell made his comment, a FEMA representative noted the inevitably of floods returning.

“It will flood here at some point,” she said. “People will get wet. It’s only a matter of time.”

If it’s helpful, the Delta Protection Commission compiled a comprehensive list of flood-preparedness resources here.

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Always quick with a snappy quote, Dino Cortopassi was on his game Monday when he spoke to a coffee group about his recent “Liar, Liar” advertising campaign, targeting Gov. Jerry Brown for declaring a “balanced budget” earlier this year.

Here’s my recap from today’s dead-tree edition of The Record, and here are the ads if you missed them. Finally, here are some outtakes from yesterday’s event, most of which didn’t quite make the paper:

DID THE STATE RESPOND?: “Absolutely no feedback. Absolutely zero. Which is good news. The good news is the (expletive) couldn’t deny it.”

DID ANYONE EVEN READ IT?: “Absolutely for sure, the governor read every (damn) one of those messages. How do I know that? Because someone who sits very close to the governor told my friend that. It wasn’t just the governor. They’re all reading it.”

BROWN’S LEGACY: ”He is not the worst governor we’ve ever had. Close, but not the worst.”

‘POMPOUS POLITICIANS’: The state “is ignoring future obligations to pay today’s bills. You might ask how it does that. One of the ways it does that is it doesn’t put the money into the pension funds whenever it can… We have to measure future obligations and the state chooses not to. By doing that you can stand up there like a pompous professional politician and say, ‘We have balanced the budget on June 1, 2014.’ It couldn’t be further from the truth.”

TILTING WINDMILLS: ”It is not a balanced budget. It is balancing cash in and cash out, which is a huge difference. That ignores future liabilities which get dumped not so much on our kids but on our grandkids. It bothers the hell out of me. That’s sort of this crusade that we launched, a crusade perhaps like Don Quixote, tilting at windmills. That’s OK. I’d rather get beat to (expletive) tilting windmills than just sitting around.”

(“You’re taking the same beating,” someone shouted out in response. “Either way, you’re dead,” Cortopassi responded.)

JUST THE FACTS: ”When you’re taking on the governor you’re painting a pretty big target on your back. You’d better be right. We weren’t going to say a damn thing that’s not in state records.”

MUSHROOM HUNTING: ”It’s kind of like looking for mushrooms. You know, Italians look for mushrooms. Where you find mushrooms is under the detritus of leaves. The detritus in finding state records is there, but it’s not leaves.” He sniffs the air and the audience laughs. “I’ll give you a couple of guesses…”

ON POLITICS: “I intended this to be a nonpartisan thing. I am a member of neither party. I was a Republican my whole life. I voted Republican, I gave money to Republican candidates not only in this state but in other states. I got tired of Republicans when George W. Bush was elected president, who I voted for. And he had a Republican majority in both the Senate and the House, and together Republicans acted like the Democrats had and spent money like drunken sailors. I said, ‘Wait a minute, what the hell is going on?’ At which point I decided to leave the Republican party… and I became an unaffiliated voter. We haven’t given any money to Republicans or Democrats since. Because I don’t think there’s much difference, frankly.”

ON REPUBLICANS TAKING THE SENATE: ”That’s good news.” While the west and east coasts are blue, the red states “still have some people that do not believe arithmetic is an opinion.”

ON THE WATER BOND: “Anyone here in this room think that water bond is actually going to do something about water? No. What happens with these bonds is how this governor and the one before him who happened to be a Republican, keep the agencies staffed, which are bloated with folks. They get paid because they use bond funds and put them into the Department of Water Resources or Caltrans or all these agencies. Then they use these agencies, they spend the (damn) money to pay people.”

ON THE MEDIA: ”I knew damn well politicians wouldn’t respond to this. Here’s what I’m disappointed with: What you represent. The media sucks up to that stuff and does not do its traditional job. Its traditional job is to question, to interrogate. To separate its political beliefs of the organization from news. You want to express your opinion? That’s what the op-ed page is for. But on the news side? Hell, it isn’t just the Stockton Record. Look at the L.A. Times. But it’s also electronic media.

ON SOCIAL MEDIA: ”I’m 77 years old. I don’t understand that stuff. That’s not for me… one of the questions is if people that dwell in social media, how much will they pay attention to this. How quantitative are they? It’s a quantitative story. It’s a story about a Ponzi scheme that is evil. You keep living in California, this is going to come home to roost for you.”

HIS INITIATIVE: “General obligation bonds must be put to a vote of the people of California, like the water bond and so forth. Bonds that will be repaid from revenues do not have to be put to a vote, like bridges that start out at $1.2 billion and end up costing $7 billion. Nobody ever voted on that. Our initiative will make it law that revenue bonds have to be voted on by the people. What’s an example of a future revenue bond that might come along? The tunnels through the Delta. All we want is the chance at a fair fight.”

AND WHO WILL BE FIGHTING?: “There’ll be a ton of money that comes in against our initiative. Why? Every single contractor, consultant, union, everyone that looks for public works funds to be spent will be contributing to the opposition to the initiative. On our side some Joan and Dino money and hopefully some other people will have money, and we’ll duke it out. To get the initiative qualified will cost a couple million dollars.”

LOOKING FOR DONATIONS?: “No. Thank you, though.”

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‘Tales of the San Joaquin’

A reader sent this video about the restoration of the San Joaquin River. It’s long-ish (about 20 minutes) but interesting, if you’ve got time.

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Hyacinth: A danger to pets?

Poor pup -- photo from Village West Marina

I’ve heard folks suggest that hyacinth might be as dangerous for dogs as it is for boats.

The theory is that pets frolicking in the Delta with their owners might be tempted to jump out of their boats and onto the floating mats of vegetation, mistaking the hyacinth for dry land.

Hyacinth did endanger a dog last month at Village West Marina, though the circumstances were somewhat different, said harbor master Terry Craig.

Dog rescue -- Village West Marina photo

Marina employees were trying to catch a stray dog, which eluded them by jumping into the water. But then the dog found that it was trapped between a steep, berry-infested bank and the floating hyacinth.

He couldn’t scramble up the bank.

“And he couldn’t swim away either because of the hyacinth,” Craig said. “He was just kind of stuck there.”

Employees cut away the berry bushes and came to the dog’s rescue, pulling him out of the water. The dog’s owner was located on Facebook, which was “pretty neat,” Craig said.

Still, multiple people have suggested that folks should be careful with dogs around hyacinth. Seems wise to me.

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Remembering Steve Stocking

From mice to mountain lions, Steve Stocking was my go-to guy anytime I had a critter question. Steve died on Sunday. In 2010 he took me on a tour at the Delta College campus, showing off the college’s diverse urban forest — below is some video we took on that occasion.

Speaking of trees, Steve’s family says donations in his name can be made to the Calaveras Big Trees Association, the Sequoia Natural History Association and the California Native Plant Society. Or, they suggest, you could plant a giant sequoia in Steve’s memory. I like that idea best of all.

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The analyst vs. the artist

I am your classic, analytical left-brainer. This is my definition of what a complex environmental plan looks like:

Put a highlighter in my right hand, a beverage in my left, prop my feet up on the desk and I’ll devour that bad boy with pleasure (well, maybe that’s going too far).

The artists with the Beehive Design Collective, which visited Stockton last week, see things in a more right-brained way. This is what the state’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan (twin tunnels) looks like in the eyes of beehive activist Ryan Camero, a Stockton native and environmental artist:

I’ll let Ryan explain, because trust me, you don’t want to hear me attempt it:

More work by the collective:

And finally, I can GUARANTEE you’ve never seen a water meeting end this way:

Of course, I’m a reporter, not an advocate. Maybe that’s why I’m more comfortable with a big fat report. Then again, this story suggests I’m unfairly limiting myself. Where’s my paintbrush?

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How the water bond played out

Some tidbits from last night’s water bond vote:

• Twelve counties opposed the bond, 10 of which roughly make up the state of Jefferson territory in far Northern California.

The other two? Calaveras and Inyo.

• San Joaquin County voters were inclined to support the bond (59 percent), but were considerably less enthusiastic than other San Joaquin Valley regions (Fresno County weighed in with 76 percent support).

• The strongest support in California? Kings County, at 76.5 percent.

• Strongest opposition? Water-conscious Trinity County, at 70.4 percent.

Unfortunately for bond opponents, Trinity County accounts for just 3,456 votes, about .0006 percent of the more than 5 million votes cast on the bond.

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At least the birds are happy

Ann and I took a run late Saturday along the levee on the south side of Brookside. Heading south, as we turned the corner and began to run alongside the Calaveras River, we were surprised to see close to two dozen great egrets and snowy egrets perched atop floating mats of water hyacinth.

Each bird was using the hyacinth like a raft. Thanks to the weeds, the birds enjoyed easy access to small fish which they would occasionally pluck out of the water.

“Well,” I thought, ” at least someone’s found a use for this stuff.”

Sadly, we were equipped only with an iPhone. A real photographer with decent equipment might have gotten some great shots out there.

Well-known San Joaquin County birder David Yee said he had never heard of egrets utilizing hyacinth in this manner — at least not around here.

“I would say that yes, they’ve found a way of using the stuff to their advantage,” he wrote in an email. “Most interesting!”

The fact that native species can form beneficial relationships with invasive species is not a surprise, however. I wrote last year about a biologist who opposes a blanket “war on weeds,” arguing that deciding which species are good or bad are human judgments and not scientific ones.

When it comes to hyacinth, I’m not sure many folks around here would agree with him. But at least the egrets are happy.



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‘We have a little more money’

So said Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday to a small group of Restore the Delta protesters at an event in Williams.

Brown asked how the Stockton-based group had paid for its signs opposing Proposition 1, the water bond on Tuesday’s ballot, a measure that the governor has strongly supported.

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Restore the Delta’s executive director, responded that opponents had about 20 donors and had raised $100,000.

“That’s pretty interesting,” Brown responded. “We have a little more money.”

Watch the brief exchange:

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    Alex Breitler

    A native of Benicia, he lives in Stockton with his wife, Ann, who forces him to go backpacking in the Sierra Nevada or Trinity Alps at every opportunity. He has been writing mostly about natural resources since 2003, first in Redding and now in ... Read Full
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