Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Celebrate Earth Day -- by eating steak


[ Photo caption: Dinner cook John Mockles keeps ribeye steaks handy for orders at Vic's Branding Iron restaurant in Cottonwood, Calif. ]

With Earth Day coming April 22, the Cattlemen’s Beef Board is urging people to celebrate it by eating steak.

Cattle raised today require less land, water and energy than before and each serving provides nutrients essential to the diet, the board asserts.

From its press release:

Producers can be proud of so many things:

* About two-thirds of cattle farms and ranches have been in the same family for two generations or more.
* On average, each cattleman has 13 different practices in place to accomplish environmental goals such as nurturing wildlife, preventing erosion and conserving and protecting water.
* Thanks to smart practices, raising livestock in the United States today accounts for less than 3 percent of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

Not only that, but the average American farmer feeds about 155 people worldwide, compared to 26 just a few decades ago. And experts estimate global food production will need to increase 70 percent by 2050 to feed a growing world population. Many experts agree U.S. livestock production practices are an environmentally sustainable solution for raising food and should be considered a model for the rest of the world.

“As we prepare to celebrate Earth Day, we’d like to remind beef and dairy producers to share their production story with everyone they know – family, friends, neighbors and even those they just met at the grocery store. We need to let them know that we’re proud cattle producers, providing 20 percent of the world’s iron-rich beef with just 7 percent of the cattle,” says Daryl Berlier Owen, chair of the checkoff’s Joint Public Opinion and Issues Management Group, and cow/calf producer from Amarillo, Texas. “That means people can enjoy a good steak as part of a healthy, balanced diet, knowing that it is being produced in such a way that’s good for their personal health and the health of the planet.”

For my story, check later in the week.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ranchers tout ag at Capitol

From the California Cattlemen's Association:

Despite a full week of rain in the forecast, cattlemen and women from nearly every area of the state made their way to Sacramento on March 23, for Agriculture Day at the State Capitol, where they promoted their product on the lawn of the capitol, visited the offices of their local lawmakers and mingled with legislators and agency representatives at the California Cattlemen’s Association’s 33rd Annual Steak and Eggs Legislative Breakfast.

In a standing-room-only event at the Sutter Club in downtown Sacramento, ranchers enjoyed a hearty steak and eggs breakfast alongside elected officials to help them better understand the issues threatening agriculture and open space in the Golden State.

According to CCA President Kevin Kester, the breakfast boasted its largest attendance ever, which is exactly the type turnout he said is necessary if ranchers hope to get their message out to the state’s decision makers.

“We are very excited to see so many of our state’s cattlemen and women take the opportunity to tell their story. In a time when more and more people are becoming further removed from agriculture, it is vital to share the importance of what we do with the people who can help us fight to stay in business,” Kester said. “What we do matters to everyone and only by speaking out and sharing our way of life with the public and elected officials can we expect to see their support.”

The event was attended by many legislators, several who addressed breakfast attendees about their support of the ranching way of life and shared reasons they intend to help ranchers stay in business. Among the elected officials who spoke were Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres), Assemblymember Connie Conway (R-Tulare), Sen. Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield), and Assemblymember Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco)

Also in attendance during the breakfast were Gov. Jerry Brown and California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross. This year marked the first time in many years that the Governor made an appearance at the breakfast. Both Brown and Ross shared a few words about the importance ranchers have in the state despite a tough economic situation for California.

“Having been raised in the cattle industry, I fully appreciate what you, as ranchers, do for our state, especially by maintaining open space and keeping land in food production.” Ross said. “In what has been a difficult time for California’s economy, I am proud to see that agriculture has proven just how valuable it is to our state.”

Brown, who owns a ranch in Colusa County, also echoed Ross’s comments saying farmers and ranchers are an important part of California’s economy. He also said despite the budgetary challenges in California, running the state as a business – with careful checks and balances – is the only way to get California’s budget back in good condition.

Following the breakfast, more than 50 cattlemen and women made their way to offices throughout the capitol building, sharing with legislators the current initiatives they hope to see support on in the upcoming legislative session.

“We had a terrific turnout with a great deal of positive feedback from legislators and legislative staff,” Kester said. “It is my hope that our members were able to see first-hand the positive impacts of getting involved and sharing their view on the issues that are not just important to them, but also to our state’s economy and the future of agriculture in California.”

Monday, March 28, 2011

California rainfall, reservoirs by the numbers

Redding's 8.39 inches of rain for March is nearly twice the normal 4.63 inches the city has normally received at this point of the month. But we don't hold a candle to the coast; Eureka's 11.61 inches of precip for March obliterates its normal of 4.96 inches.

Here's where everything stands.

March rainfall
Here are the March and seasonal precipitation totals and comparisons to normal for selected California cities, according to the National Weather Service. Totals are as of March 28:
Eureka: Month to date 11.61 inches (normal 4.96 inches); season to date 38.07 inches (normal 32.33 inches)
Redding: Month to date 8.39 inches (normal 4.63 inches); season to date 30.26 inches (normal 28.25 inches)
Sacramento: Month to date 6.94 inches (normal 2.54 inches); season to date 21.4 inches (normal 15.92 inches)
Modesto: Month to date 3.15 inches (normal 2.07 inches); season to date 13.1 inches (normal 11.3 inches)
Salinas: Month to date 4.19 inches (normal 2.13 inches); Season to date 14.54 inches (normal 11.43 inches)
Fresno: Month to date 3.46 inches (normal 1.99 inches); season to date 14.94 inches (normal 9.64 inches)

Reservoir levels
Here are the percentages of capacity for California reservoirs as of midnight March 27, according to the Department of Water Resources California Data Exchange Center:
Trinity Lake: 85 percent
Shasta Lake: 92 percent
Lake Oroville: 81 percent
New Bullards Bar Reservoir: 80 percent
Folsom Lake: 66 percent
New Melones Reservoir: 79 percent
Lake McClure: 74 percent
Millerton Lake: 87 percent
Pine Flat Reservoir: 78 percent
Lake Isabella: 41 percent
San Luis Reservoir: 100 percent

The San Luis Reservoir, near Los Banos, can hold 2,039,000 acre-feet of water and has 2,035,210 in it, according to state figures. The reservoir has bounced all the way back from about two years ago, when it was only about 20 percent full.

Rancher to teach kids about nature

From the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition:

The Pathways to Nature Program announces its second nature day event on April 2, 2011. The program will be hosted by ranchers Chet and Angela Vogt on the Three Creeks Ranch located in western Glenn County. Pathways to Nature is a school-sponsored event designed to give all fourth grade students attending Willows Murdock Elementary, William Finch Charter School and Elk Creek Elementary hands on experience with nature and natural resources.

The all-day event allows the students to connect what they are learning in the classroom with the natural environment. Every student will spend time learning about various aspects of the outdoors and the environment, from hydrology to plant identification. This year will also feature a new career opportunity station. The reaction from the students who have had the opportunity to attend last year’s event in 2010 was overwhelming, they left the ranch inspired.

“It is our hope as teachers involved in the program that the students will learn environmental and agricultural lessons that will last a lifetime on this day,” states Jill Egly, fourth grade teacher at Willows Unified School District. “This event is something that students work throughout the year in the classroom learning and this day, out on a ranch, they will experience it firsthand.”

Event host Chet Vogt states, “It is a pleasure to have more than 200 students visit our property. Each day, as a rancher, I have the opportunity to experience the outdoors, care for the environment and raise food that feeds my family and yours. It is my hope that other ranchers will join me in educating youth and will partner with other schools around the state to hosts similar events on their ranches.”

This is a community-driven event that includes a diverse array of partners including the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Glenn-Colusa CattleWomen, U.S. Forest Service, parents of students and other community organizations and individuals.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Farm bureau to hold scholarship dinner

From the Shasta County Farm Bureau:

The Shasta County Farm Bureau proudly represents over 1200 farming and ranching families, businesses and agricultural supporters in Shasta County. The non profit organization is once again hosting their annual “fun” raising dinner. The dinner dance will be held on April 1, 2011 in Fusaro Hall.

The purpose of the dinner is to celebrate the future of agriculture by recognizing students that have excelled academically as well as served their community through leadership and volunteerism. $4,000.00 in scholarships will be presented to very deserving Shasta County Students. The 2011 Distinguished Service Award and 2011 Elizabeth Albaugh Memorial Outstanding Woman in Agriculture Award will also be presented to two outstanding community members that have contributed many years of service to bettering their industry and their community.

Be sure to join the fun with the live and silent auctions, gun drawing and desert auction. All funds will be used to support countywide agricultural education programs, and improve the Shasta County Farm Bureau. Items that are currently available are: Wilcox Ranch Fishing Trip, Romantic Wine tasting for 2, BBQ Barrel, 1 ton of Grass Hay, Hat Creek Herford Ranch Camp Ground Camping Trip, baskets, books and art work. More items are coming…please contact us for more details.

This night of fun and festivities would not be possible without our sponsors: Platinum Level-, Hat Creek Construction, Sierra Pacific Industries, State Fund Gold Level – Shasta Livestock & Western Video Market, Lassen Canyon Nursery, Wooten’s Golden Queens, Northern Lights Energy/Muse Trucking, WM Beaty & Associates, Shasta Farm and Equipment, Giles Insurance Services, Stayer’s Quality Queens, North Valley Bank, The Law Offices of Gifford and Harr & the Urrecelqui Family, Miller Equipment, Tri Counties Bank, Palo Cedro Silver Level – LoCoco Insurance, Northern California Farm Credit, Cross Petroleum, Plumas Bank, Ed Staub & Sons, VESTRA Resources Bronze Level –Wilcox Ranch, Cottonwood Creek Sand & Gravel, McArthur Farm Supply, HP Livestock & Hat Creek Grown, Cottonwood Vet Clinic, Valley Rentals & Materials, Goose Valley Farming, LLC, Elwood Ranch, Historic Hawes Farms, Redding Rodeo Association, Spanish Oaks Ranch, Leon Landis Livestock, Umpqua Bank, Palo Cedro Feed, Nor Cal Trees, Bank of Commerce – Redding, Pfeiffer Ranch, Eagleville, Ca., Carrel’s Office Machines Sponsorship opportunities are available.

Tickets are $25.00 each and are available at the Shasta County Farm Bureau Office.

For further information, please contact our office at 530/547-7170 or Julie Wold at 530/228-5412 or via e-mail

Friday, March 25, 2011

Storms topple California almond trees


The past week's storms knocked down almond trees in Tehama County and elsewhere. Almond industry and UC Cooperative Extension experts say about 1 to 2 percent of older almond trees were blown over by strong winds, mostly during last weekend's gusts that approached 60 mph.

The photo above is of Rick Buchner, a UCCE farm advisor in Red Bluff, surveying a row of downed trees in an orchard near Gerber. Below, a driver thinks the better of trying to pass through water that flooded out Flores Avenue near Gerber.

Among the state's orchard crops, almond trees are probably the most vulnerable to winds because they leaf up sooner than plum or walnut trees. Older trees are all the more vulnerable because they're bigger and because root decay can undermine their grasp of the ground.

I'll have a full report on how this month's cold and wet weather has affected crop development in next week's Capital Press.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Texas drought hits beef, wheat

From Bloomberg:

The worst Texas drought in 44 years is damaging the state’s wheat crop and forcing ranchers to reduce cattle herds, as rising demand for U.S. food sends grain and meat prices higher.

Texas, the biggest U.S. cattle producer and second-largest winter-wheat grower, got just 4.7 inches (12 centimeters) of rain on average in the five months through February, the least for the period since 1967, State Climatologist John Nielsen- Gammon said. More than half the wheat fields and pastures were rated in poor or very poor condition on March 20.

Dry conditions extending to Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado may cut crop yields in the U.S., the world’s largest exporter, as too much moisture threatens fields in North Dakota and in Canada. Wheat futures in Chicago are up 50 percent in the past year, after drought in Russia and floods in Australia hurt output and sent global food prices surging. Wholesale beef reached a record this week, and the U.S. cattle herd in January was the smallest since 1958. [...]

Cattle futures jumped 23 percent in the past year to $1.1335 a pound yesterday on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, after touching a record $1.18 on March 9. Wholesale-beef prices are up 17 percent in the past year, touching $1.8905 a pound on March 22, the highest since at least January 2004, when USDA began its current price-tracking method. U.S. retail-beef prices were 9.4 percent higher in February than a year earlier, the USDA said last week.

The inflation train chugs on.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Klamath farmers offended by moderator

Some farmers in the Klamath Basin were offended by the way an informational meeting on the progress of the Klamath dam removal studies was moderated last week. They're circulating a video that shows the moderator plying the microphone out of the hand of a farmer who's in his 80s and uses a wheelchair before he was finished asking his question.

"I have been to, I can't tell you how many meetings I've gone to, and last night's meeting was the most appalling I've been to in 25 years," said Tom Mallams, a farmer and vocal critic of the dam removals and the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.

"I thought we were being run through a cattle chute literally," Mallams said. "It was supposed to be a meeting with public comment. They said this was a meeting for public input, not public comment, and there was a big difference there. They didn't record anything there. It wasn't done officially. We were told this was going to be a public comment meeting."

What struck me about their video was a certain level of contempt the moderator seem to have for the crowd, admonishing people to show respect for "your fellow, ya know (pause) ... neighbors" during the meeting. Our fellow what? Fellow backwoods redneck hicks? Is that what you were about to say? I don't know anything about the woman, but it doesn't sound like she gets out much.

Look for my story on the progress of the dam removal studies at later in the week.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Low approval ratings for Vilsack, Salazar

From Rasmussen Reports:

With gas prices soaring, the pressure's on the Obama administration to increase the number of permits for deepwater oil drilling. Right now, just 16% of Likely U.S. Voters have a favorable opinion of the man who'll grant those permits, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, with a scant one percent (1%) who regard him Very Favorably.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 27% view the former Colorado senator unfavorably, including 11% with a Very Unfavorable view of him. But like many of his fellow Cabinet members, Salazar is an unknown commodity to many voters: 57% don't know enough about him to venture any kind of opinion. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

Rasmussen Reports has been regularly asking voters in recent weeks what they think of the president's Cabinet members. Despite the importance of many of their positions and the actions they take, most of these political appointees are little known to voters in general. A list of these findings is available here. With 60% favorables, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is the best-known and most popular member of the Cabinet.

By contrast, only 20% of voters have a favorable opinion of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, with two percent (2%) who view him Very Favorably. The former Iowa governor is seen unfavorably by 17%, including seven percent (7%) with a Very Unfavorable impression. However, 63% don't venture any kind of opinion of Vilsack.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Klamath Republicans target ESA

A press release from Republicans in Klamath County, Ore.:

The following resolution was unanimously passed by the Klamath County Republican Central Committee at its March 10, 2011 meeting:

“Moved that the Klamath County Republican Central Committee resolve to take on the charge and the focus, for the next two years, to rally all Republican Central Committees and all Tea Patriot groups and other appropriate groups in the Western United States to Reform the ESA, (the Endangered Species Act), so that farmers, ranchers, timber industry employees, fishing industry employees, mining employees and other employees can keep their jobs and make an acceptable living. And; so that economic growth, economic recovery and economic stability are given no less than equal status to non-human species.”

Klamath Republican Party leads the charge to reform the ESA

Never in our history, since the implementation of the ESA, has there been a more obvious need for a reform of the ESA. Earlier attempts have been made with no real success. The political climate across our nation is calling for this reform. Our local communities and our entire nation is being held hostage by the heavy handed, one-sided use of the ESA. There is a definite need for a watchdog advocate for our environment, but the ESA has become an out of control, rabid pit bull that needs to be contained. Our entire Nation is suffering from the effects of the ESA, from high fuel prices, loss of timber jobs, agriculture jobs, fishing jobs, mining jobs, development jobs and the list goes on and on. No one is immune from the negative effects inflicted on our citizens by the unanticipated use of the ESA. Our local budget crisis is a direct result of ESA collateral damage.

Our community can be united in this quest. We can survive, with a true balanced approach.

Monday, March 14, 2011

NFU sends condolences to Japan

From the National Farmers Union:

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (March 12, 2011) – At a meeting preceding the National Farmers Union (NFU) 109th Annual Convention in San Antonio, Texas, the NFU Board of Directors signed a letter lending support and condolences to the people of Japan in the wake of the tragic earthquake and tsunami.

“The members of the National Farmers Union of the United States extend our sympathy to the people of Japan and to our friends at JA Zenchu,” said NFU President Roger Johnson. “As farmers, ranchers and fishermen in the U.S., we are saddened to see the tragedy that struck your country. Words cannot express the dismay we feel as we see the destruction that has struck.”

“Our sympathy is with you and our prayers are for you,” said Johnson. “We want to help your members heal from that destruction in an appropriate manner. As the rebuilding and recovery process begins from this horrific tragedy, Farmers Union members from across the United States offer their support.”

Friday, March 11, 2011

Don't mess with the ocean

Fierce waves are now crashing onto the beach near the Yaquina Head Light House in Newport, basically warning people to stay out of their way. Otherwise, it looks to be a pretty nice day. (Photo from The Coast Is Clear, a promotional Web site for Newport.)

Japan quake rattles US ag markets

From the Wall Street Journal:

A severe earthquake and tsunami in Japan rattled U.S. agricultural markets Friday, as traders tried to assess the potential impact on import demand for such commodities as pork and corn.

Corn and lean hog futures saw some of the sharpest declines as most farm products sold off on fears the disaster would slow demand from a key buyer. Further selling came from traders looking to just exit commodity markets because of the overall uncertainty that follows a natural disaster.

"The immediate impact of the earthquake was extreme uncertainty -- the condition most hated by investors," said Bryce Knorr, analyst for Farm Futures, an agricultural publication.

Avoiding the broad sell-off was lumber, with futures for May delivery climbing $6.40, or 2.1%, to $315.50 per 1,000 board feet on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Futures rose $10 in overnight trading, the largest one-day gain allowed under exchange rules. [...]

Hog futures sold off with the April contract, which is the most actively traded, recently falling one cent, or 1.1%, to 88.85 cents a pound. June hog futures were off 1.6 cents, or 1.6%, at 99.85 cents a pound.

Japan is the largest international customer for U.S. pork based on total sales, with the country spending nearly $1.65 billion on imports in 2010 and accounting for more than 34% of total U.S. export sales, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Meat Export Federation.

It is too early to assess the overall damage, yet in the short term "it appears there will be significant disruption to transportation," said Jim Herlihy, a spokesman for the export federation.

Delays of meat shipments from the U.S. may occur, which could temporarily put more pork supplies into the domestic market.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

PLF sues over sturgeon listing

From the Pacific Legal Foundation:

Sacramento, CA; March 10, 2011: The federal government’s 2009 critical habitat designation for the green sturgeon must be withdrawn and reworked, says a lawsuit filed today by attorneys with Pacific Legal Foundation, representing San Francisco Bay Area business and landowners associations.

The suit points out that regulators illegally set aside vast areas as green sturgeon habitat, up and down the West Coast and in California’s Central Valley, without even considering economic impacts in some areas and without properly balancing economic considerations, in violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In addition, the suit was brought because the government utterly failed to comply with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Donor-supported PLF is the leading legal watchdog that litigates, without charge, for limited government, property rights, free enterprise, and a balanced approach to environmental regulations. In this lawsuit, PLF attorneys represent the Building Industry Association of the Bay Area and the Bay Planning Coalition, whose members are directly injured by the illegal government rule.

The case is Building Industry Association of the Bay Area and Bay Planning Coalition v. National Marine Fisheries Service. The complaint may be viewed at PLF’s website: A PLF video on the case also may be viewed at PLF’s website.

"This critical habitat designation was not only illegal, it was reckless, because officials ignored the potential pain for the economy in many of the areas they designated as critical habitat," said Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Ted Hadzi-Antich. "As tens of millions of Americans struggle to find jobs, comfortable federal regulators designated much of the West Coast as critical habitat for the green sturgeon, while refusing to comply with economic balancing requirements in the ESA. The government’s failure to consider the appropriate economic criteria and tests for critical habitat designation under the ESA, and its failure to consider alternatives under NEPA, is, quite frankly, flat-out illegal."

"By definition, critical habitat designations curtail economic activity," Hadzi-Antich continued. "So common sense – and federal law – require regulators to show care, nuance, and balance in making these decisions, but the regulators did not do so in this case."

Green sturgeon critical habitat: More than 12,000 square miles at issue

The green sturgeon has been listed as a "threatened" species under the Endangered Species Act since April 7, 2006. The critical habitat designation for the green sturgeon was issued in its final form by the National Marine Fisheries Service on October 9, 2009, and it covers a vast area in the waters, shorelines, and land areas of California, Oregon, and Washington.

Included are:

1) Coastal U.S. marine waters within 60 fathoms depth from Monterey Bay, Calif. (including Monterey Bay), north to Cape Flattery, Wash., including the Straight of Juan De Fuca, Wash., to its U.S. boundary;

2) the Sacramento River, lower Feather River, and lower Yuba River in California;

3) the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and Suisin, San Pablo, and San Francisco bays in California;

4) the lower Columbia River Estuary; and

5) certain coastal bays and estuaries in California (Humboldt Bay), Oregon (Coos Bay, Winchester Bay, Yaquina Bay, and Nehalem Bay), and Washington (Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor).

In total, the final rule designates approximately 11,421 square miles of coastal marine habitat, 897 square miles of estuarine habitat, and 320 miles of freshwater riverine habitat.

"All responsible Americans care about environmental protection, including protecting the green sturgeon, but a careful, balanced approach is essential, so we don’t derail ourselves economically in the name of protecting the environment," said Hadzi-Antich. "Critical habitat designations have the effect of limiting productive uses of property. Because the harms to human beings can be significant, federal law requires regulators to carefully balance economic impacts against conservation goals before designating any area as critical habitat. The National Marine Fisheries Service simply refused to follow this legal requirement when it decided to set aside as green sturgeon habitat large swaths of territory they viewed as high value areas. In short, the government broke the law in its misguided efforts to implement it."

The Endangered Species Act requirement for considering human economic impacts is set forth at 16 U.S.C. section 1531, et seq.

Additionally, under NEPA (42 U.S.C. section 4332(2)(C)), the Environmental Impact Statement for any regulation that would "significantly affect[] the quality of the human environment" must include an assessment of alternatives to the regulatory action.

"Put simply, the regulators broke the law when they designated critical habitat for the green sturgeon," said Hadzi-Antich. "This lawsuit isn’t just about the importance of a balanced approach to economic regulations. It’s also about the rule of law: Government has to comply with the law, just like the rest of us."

Plaintiffs in challenging the feds’ failure to weigh the economic impacts

PLF attorneys represent two plaintiff organizations in this case.

The Building Industry Association of the Bay Area (BIABA), a nonprofit association of builders, contractors, and related trades and professions involved in the residential construction industry, is bringing this lawsuit on its own behalf and on behalf of its members. BIABA represents the interests of its members and the residential construction industry in areas of California improperly designated by Defendants as critical habitat under the final rules, including the San Francisco Bay Area and the Yolo and Sutter bypasses adjacent to the Sacramento River.

The ability of these owners and developers to use their properties is undermined by the critical habitat designation because of strict land use restrictions that are triggered for the affected property.

Paul Campos, senior vice president and general counsel for the BIABA, issued this statement:

"It is ironic that at a time when there is an emerging consensus that federal regulations must take into account the impact on jobs and economic health, here we have a federal statute that requires just that – yet it is being ignored and undermined by the very federal agency charged with implementing the law. We are fortunate PLF is there to help us fight against this type of illegal government activity and to give us our day in court. The livelihoods of many property owners and businesses are at issue."

The Bay Planning Coalition is a nonprofit membership-based organization whose mission is to ensure a healthy and thriving San Francisco Bay Area for commerce, recreation, and the natural environment. BPC represents the interests of, among others, businesses and property owners in the San Francisco Bay Area whose land has been designated as critical habitat under the final green sturgeon rules.

John Coleman, executive director of the Bay Planning Coalition, issued this statement: "The rules go way too far in designating critical habitat in vast areas without properly considering economic impacts. This legal action is necessary to make sure the government plays by the rules."

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Did the California DFG threaten farmers?

There appears to be a question in some people's minds as to whether California Department of Fish and Game officials actually threatened farmers and ranchers in the Scott and Shasta valleys with prosecution, or whether the landowners merely "claimed" they were threatened. Here's what we reported on May 13, 2010:

Those who don't sign up -- or don't obtain permits on their own later -- could expect inspections by game wardens and face civil and criminal penalties of up to $25,000 per violation and up to six months in jail, said Mark Stopher, the DFG's acting regional manager in Redding, Calif.

"We do have to have a point where we say one way or the another, they need to be compliant with the law," Stopher said. "We can't just let it be open for them to choose ... when they want to comply with the law."

Stopher said he sent a "rather stern letter" to ranchers in April as the irrigation season was beginning to "lay out their options." [...]

Stopher said for everyone who's complaining about the state's requiring the permits, there's an equal number of people impatient with the pace of the state's enforcement efforts.

"If telling people that they actually do have to comply with state law is intimidation, I can't help that," he said. "What we have done is frankly given people a five-year grace period since coho salmon were listed to comply with state law.

"We didn't have to develop this (watershed-wide permit), but we did," he said.

In my interview with him in May, Stopher said agricultural users in the two valleys are "currently out of compliance with state law," adding that Fish and Game Code section 1602 requires landowners to notify the DFG if they're making a substantial diversion from a river or stream.

"Nobody in either valley has agreed with us to substantially divert flow yet they're doing it already," he said. He added later, "The question of whether somebody is diverting in accordance with a water right is moot at this point." Then later, he said there's a "route we don't want to minimize, and that's the enforcement route."

Talk of enforcement actions didn't end when Stopher was replaced by Neil Manji, the DFG's current regional manager in Redding. As we reported on Sept. 9:

Some ranchers who signed up for the blanket permits are being asked to cut back on their irrigation, said Neil Manji, the DFG's regional manager based in Redding.

Holdouts were sent new letters in August again warning them of potential penalties, and wardens have visited the properties of some of the ranchers, he said.

"At this time we're not going out there with billy clubs and mace trying to get this thing done," Manji said. "We're trying to get as many ... permits issued to show the community up there that it's not really pulling teeth, it's just a nice teeth cleaning. I think everybody knows a lot of folks are afraid to go to the dentist to begin with."

Fallout over the threats of penalties prompted complaints from Northern California's state Assemblyman Jim Nielsen and later from Sen. Doug LaMalfa, and it ultimately moved Manji to try to change the department's approach with the landowners.

What we don't know is how heated some wardens' conversations with individual landowners may have become. But when it comes to its stance on enforcement, the DFG as a whole has left little ambiguity.

In the Scott and Shasta valleys, what's changed?

The short answer is, we don't know yet. There seems to be an assumption out there that, because of judge Ernest Goldsmith's smackdown of the California Department of Fish and Game's watershed-wide permits in the Scott and Shasta valleys, ranchers and other water users there are in big trouble. This may turn out to be the case, but for now, the focus is not on them but is on the DFG.

From my story Friday:

"With the lawsuit what we basically wanted to do was have (the DFG) go back to the drawing board and do the proper studies they needed to do to authorize more take in these watersheds," said Wendy Park, an attorney for Earthjustice. "It's really in the agency's hands."

Park declined to say whether the groups would begin targeting individual landowners.

In the interview, Park noted that the ruling was tentative and that Earthjustice is waiting for a final decision, which could take another month. She said it's up to the DFG to do the proper studies to authorize more "take" and come up with mitigation measures to restore coho salmon.

"We are hopeful that if they do have to go back to the drawing board, they will take that seriously and will do the proper science and do the proper studies," Park told me. "We would be watching that process all the way."

If anybody at Earthjustice or another environmental group is thinking, "Those farmers better watch out because we're coming after them," nobody is saying it. And rancher Jeff Fowle isn't assuming such a witchhunt would be successful, although he notes that farmers have faced the threat of individual lawsuits since the coho salmon were listed.

From my story:

Etna, Calif., rancher Jeff Fowle acknowledged there's a risk of such suits, but he said landowners have taken many measures to protect fish and have only diverted water in accordance with their adjudicated rights.

He expressed hope that Goldsmith's decision will cause Fish and Game to take a closer look at water-saving measures taken by landowners, such as replacing old wells with new ones in more strategic places and installing wheel and pivot irrigation devices.

Ranchers have put in Fish and Game-designed fish screens and permanent rock weir structures so they don't have to use push-up dams, Fowle said.

"Is it any higher risk now than it was a year ago? I really don't know," Fowle told me. "From my personal knowledge of a majority of the diversions in the Scott Valley, we have done everything that the Department of Fish and Game has requested when it comes to mitigating for impact on salmonids.

"In order for a third-party lawsuit to come about, the burden of proof is a dead fish," he said. "They have to prove it was a direct action by a landowner that caused the death of that fish and there's always a risk. We have a risk when we get out of bed in the morning. I don't think this necessarily increases that risk any."

Certainly the DFG has the authority to increase scrutiny on irrigators, but what shape that takes is yet to be seen. And judge Goldsmith isn't telling the agency how to go about protecting the fish; he only ruled that the agency's current effort -- the blanket permits -- weren't set up according to state environmental laws. From his decision:

In adjudicating the instant case, the Court does not and should not seek a particular result. Rather, the court's primary goal is to protect the public and ensure all legal and legislative mandates are followed by informed public policy makers. The Court may not "substitute [its] judgment for that of the people and their local representatives. [It] can and must, however, scrupulously enforce all legislatively mandated CEQA requirements."

For his part, Neil Manji, the DFG's regional manager in Redding, said even before the ruling there was no timetable for enforcement actions and that taking "the legal route" with each landowner would be "a no-win." From my story on Dec. 9:

A determination of whether a landowner is violating the state's fish and game code is "not really cut and dry," Manji said, adding there are "several things the department needs to look at to determine whether or not a permit is required."

Some diversions in the Scott and Shasta valleys may not be considered significant, although most agricultural operations there "fall within the category of needing to at least consult with Fish and Game," he said.

For one thing, local law enforcement has shown a reluctance to go along with prosecutions of farmers. I'm told Manji went to Siskiyou County last Thursday to talk with law enforcement officials and the meeting did not go well. And of course there's Assemblyman Jim Nielsen and Sen. Doug LaMalfa, who've taken up the landowners' cause and could persuade other lawmakers to come down on the DFG.

In court, the DFG "pointed out the logistical and practical difficulties in fully enforcing illegal take under CESA," according to judge Goldsmith, who was unmoved by the agency's argument. Now that the tentative ruling has come down, Manji appears ready to come to landowners with hat in hand.

"Our concern is we know and have known that fish are out there," he told me. "We need to rally with the landowners (to protect the fish). Part of that will be trying to incorporate a fix with some consensus with landowners who were engaged ... It would not be in our best interests to make decisions ... without fully vetting the landowners."

So the bottom line is this: At least some of the landowners who were cooperating with DFG may continue to do so. The ones who weren't, aren't about to start. And environmentalists appear to be waiting for the DFG to make its next move, which could take awhile. So again, what's changed, really?

Monday, March 07, 2011

Testicle Festival 'still hangin''

The actual press release for the annual Rocky Mountain oyster-eating fundraiser for the cowboy museum and Rotary club in Oakdale, Calif.:

Some say that the Oakdale Testicle Festival Committee was plain nuts when they came up with the idea to have a slogan contest celebrating the event’s 30th Anniversary. Creative minds threw out witty suggestions, innuendos and otherwise to the events website. There were 129 entries that festival committee members sifted through before coming up with a catchy phrase that was submitted by Escalon resident Jenny Nahhas. A woman? Yes guys, a woman. Jenny coined the slogan “30 Years and Still Hangin!” She found out about the contest on the internet and being a witty person, came up with several suggestions. She has never attended the event where bovine love parts are part of the menu but she’s willing to give em’ a try! Jenny won two tickets to the event and event merchandise!

The Annual Testicle Festival is co sponsored by the Oakdale Rotary Club and the Oakdale Cowboy Museum and will be held on Monday, March 28 at the FES Hall in Oakdale. Tickets are $50 each and includes dinner and a hosted bar. This is a fundraising event for both organizations and a raffle and live auction will also be held. To see more of the slogans submitted, buy tickets and event merchandise go to the website at

No comment.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

The judge's conclusion in the Scott-Shasta case

Here is San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith's conclusion in his opinion on the environmentalists' lawsuit against the California Department of Fish and Game over the watershed-wide permits in Siskiyou County.


The Court notes the record reflects DFG's good faith effort to enforce environmental regulations while accounting for economic realities through the Programs. Pursuant to its manifold mandate, DFG endeavored to manage the expectations of multiple stakeholders in the Klamath Basin while grappling with the harsh truth that water is a widely shared yet severely limited resource in the West. All stakeholders involved here at some point encounter Coho, which course through this shared resource. Consequently, the Coho's listing under CESA will impose hardship on water users, especially agricultural operators, some of whom have been diverting water independent of DFG oversight before and after Coho were listed as endangered. In effect, water users have to adjust from an irregularly enforced ITP and SAA setting to a much higher and stricter plateau set by CESA. Understandably, the Programs seek to lessen the shock of this adjustment and make compliance more economically feasible by lowering permitting costs.

However, while DFG may pursue streamlined permitting processes, it may not do so by attenuating the strict directives of CESA. Given that the legislative mandate is to preserve listed species, the environmental analysis should consider all factors that may jeopardize their existence, including their presently reduced population. Water management is the central element of DFG's efforts to effect the survival of the Coho through the Programs. Water management inevitably has an economic component and water usage will increase or decrease in relation to cost. In the case of Coho survival versus agricultural use, no analysis has considered the economic value of the water and the Coho because there is a legislative mandate to preserve the Coho as a listed endangered species. However, the Programs have a significant fiscal component by offering the incentive of reduced permitting costs while threatening water users with high fees under the old permitting system or the potential of even higher costs and penalties involved in the enforcement process. As most or all agricultural operators inevitably participate in the Programs, more permits will issue, and Coho are at greater risk. CEQA requires analysis of this foreseeable increase of ITPs while CESA requires full mitigation of the increased take that naturally follows an ITP.

Overall, the more lenient effect of the Programs relates back to DFG's enforcement responsibilities. DFG has pointed out the logistical and practical difficulties in fully enforcing illegal take under CESA. This explains DFG's emphasis in creating a more liberal permitting system even though it will result in higher take of Coho under the rationale that an imperfect regulatory program is preferable to the alternative of not fully enforcing against agricultural operators. Respondent argues as justification for increased take under the Programs, the difficulty of detecting violations over a large geographical area and the uncertainty of follow through of prosecution. Nevertheless, the Programs must comply with the mandates of CESA and CEQA, which do not make exceptions for difficulties of enforcement, nor can the Programs relieve Respondent from its statutory enforcement duties.

In adjudicating the instant case, the Court does not and should not seek a particular result. Rather, the court's primary goal is to protect the public and ensure all legal and legislative mandates are followed by informed public policy makers. The Court may not "substitute [its] judgment for that of the people and their local representatives. [It] can and must, however, scrupulously enforce all legislatively mandated CEQA requirements." (Citizens of Godea Valley v. Bd. of Supervisors (1990) 52 Cal.3d 553, 564). In enforcing these legislative mandates, the Court must bear in mind that "the Legislature intended [CEQA] to be interpreted in such manner as to afford the fullest possible protection to the environment within the reasonable scope of the statutory language." (Laurel Heights, supra, 47 Cal.3d at 390 (citation omitted).)

CEQA's most meaningful impact, however, is as an accountability mechanism to ensure informed decisionmaking and informed public participation. The EIR, such as the ones at issue in the instant case, is

[A]n environmental 'alarm bell' whose purpose is to alert the public and its responsible officials to environmental changes before they have reached ecological points of no return. The EIR is also intended to demonstrate to an apprehensive citizenry that the agency has, in fact, analyzed and considered the ecological implications of its action. Because the EIR must be certified or rejected by public officials, it is a document of accountability. (Laurel Heights, 47 Cal 3d at 392 (citation omitted).)

In the midst of conflicting opinions as to whether the Programs are proper, "[t]he ultimate decision of whether to approve a project, be that decision right or wrong, is a nullity if based upon an EIR that does not provide the decision-makers, and the public, with the information about the project that is required by CEQA." (San Joaquin Raptor, supra, 149 Cal. App. 4th at 721-22.) Ultimately, the Court must protect the public interest by upholding CEQA, which "protects not only the environment but also informed self-government." (Laurel Heights, 47 Cal.3d at 392.)

Despite DFG's good faith efforts and potential hardship to water users, the Court must uphold the legislature's mandate to preserve listed species and conduct environmental review of all foreseeable consequences under CEQA and CESA.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

McClintock on the Reclamation budget

Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., who chaired yesterday's House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing on the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, made the following opening statement:

With today’s hearing, the Water and Power Sub-Committee will begin the process of restoring abundance as the principal objective of America’s Federal water and power policy. We meet today to receive testimony from the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Geological Service on their plans for the coming year. We do so in conjunction with our responsibility under the Federal Budget Act to provide guidance to the House Budget Committee as it prepares the 2012 budget and with our responsibility under House Resolution 72 to identify regulations and practices of the government that are impeding job creation and burdening economic growth.

In my opinion, all of these hearings and all of the actions stemming from them must be focused on developing the vast water and hydro-electric resources in our nation. The failure of the last generation to keep pace with our water and power needs has caused chronic water shortages and skyrocketing electricity prices that are causing serious economic harm.

In addition, willful policies that have deliberately misallocated our resources must be reversed.

California’s Central Valley, where 200 billion gallons of water were deliberately diverted away from vital agriculture for the enjoyment and amusement of the 2-inch Delta Smelt is a case in point. These water diversions have destroyed a quarter million acres of the most fertile farmland in America, thrown tens of thousands of farm families into unemployment and impacted fruit, vegetable and nut prices in grocery stores across America.

In Northern Arizona, 1,000 megawatts of hydroelectricity – enough to power a million homes – has been lost due to environmental mandates for the humpback chub.

In the Klamath, the federal government is seeking to destroy four perfectly good hydroelectric dams at the cost of more than a half billion dollars at a time when we can’t guarantee enough electricity to keep refrigerators running this summer. The rationale is to save the salmon, but the same proposal would close the Iron Gate Fish Hatchery that produces 5 million salmon smolt each year.

Meanwhile, funds that ought to be going to water and power development are instead being squandered on subsidizing low-flow toilets, salmon festivals, tiger salamander studies and grants to private associations whose principal activity is to sue the federal government.

We have also thrown hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars into wildly expensive conservation programs that do little or nothing to develop new water and power resources.

Those days are over.

It is the objective of this sub-committee to restore the original – and as yet unfulfilled -- mission of the Bureau of Reclamation – to develop and utilize our nation’s vast water and hydroelectric resources to build a new era of abundance and prosperity for our nation.

And, I might add, to complete the greening of the west, to tame the environmentally devastating cycle of floods and droughts and to assure the perpetuation and propagation of all species through expansion of fish hatcheries and other cost-effective means.

We will seek to inventory all of our potential water and power resources, establish and apply a uniform cost-benefit analysis to prioritize financing for those projects that produce the greatest benefits at the lowest costs, and to restore the “beneficiary pays” doctrine that assures those who benefit from these projects pay for these projects, protecting general taxpayers of one community from being plundered for projects that exclusively benefit another.

With these policies in place, we can fulfill the Bureau’s original mission, to make the desert bloom and to open a new era in America where water and power shortages – and the policies that created them -- are a distant memory.

I also want to acknowledge the past work of the U.S. Geological Survey that produced accurate and reliable data necessary for sound resource policy and management. Today I will merely express the expectation that it will take stronger steps to resist efforts to politicize or compromise its work. I especially endorse Mr. Werkheiser’s statement that “the public deserves to know whether its investments are having tangible results.”

I hope that this administration will become a partner in this new era of abundance rather than an obstacle. The rationing of shortages has never solved a shortage – only a policy of abundance can do that. We have wasted not only money but time, and we can afford to waste no more of either.

As we reported in the Capital Press, McClintock sponsored the amendments stripping nearly $2 million in funding for the Klamath River dam removal studies.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

California walnuts keep making gains

California walnut growers this season have turned out a record yield for the third straight year, producing nearly 502,000 tons. The current season’s crop – an increase from the 436,013 tons harvested and processed in 2009-10 – continues a fairly consistent decade-long trend of increases.

Here are some updated statistics, courtesy of the California Walnut Board.

California walnut production
2010-11: 501,446 tons
2009-10: 436,013 tons
2008-09: 434,301 tons
2007-08: 323,082 tons
2006-07: 344,334 tons
2005-06: 354,218 tons

Top varieties
Here are the leading varieties of walnuts harvested in California in 2010:
Chandler: 208,086 tons (41.5 percent)
Hartley: 70,420 tons (14.04 percent)
Howard: 54,780 tons (10.92 percent)
Tulare: 46,812 tons (9.34 percent)
Serr: 36,367 tons (7.25 percent)
Vina: 35,796 tons (7.14 percent)
Others: 49,185 tons (9.81 percent)
Total: 501,446 tons (100 percent)

Top 10 counties
Here are the top 10 California counties in terms of walnut production in 2010:
San Joaquin County: 88,225 tons
Butte County: 73,570 tons
Tulare County: 63,820 tons
Stanislaus County: 50,225 tons
Sutter County: 46,345 tons
Tehama County: 39,399 tons
Glenn County: 31,110 tons
Yuba County: 23,154 tons
Kings County: 16,547 tons
Yolo County: 13,167 tons

For more details on the state of the walnut industry, check soon.

Governor calls for GIPSA withdrawal

From the National Chicken Council:

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal is right to recommend that the U.S. Department of Agriculture withdraw its proposed rule on the production and marketing of poultry and livestock because it would be “costly and disruptive” and goes beyond the intent of Congress, the National Chicken Council said today.

“Governor Deal’s comments are right on target and should be considered seriously by the Agriculture Department,” said NCC President George Watts. “The proposed rule should be withdrawn and reworked.”

In a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Deal said the rule proposed by USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) would “drastically change” the long-standing contractual relationships between poultry companies and the farmers who work with them to raise birds.

“Such a change would undoubtedly create a very costly and disruptive situation in Georgia and across the country where poultry is grown,” Deal wrote.

Deal, an attorney who served in Congress for 18 years before being elected Georgia’s governor last fall, said the GIPSA rule “goes well beyond” the intent of Congress when it directed the agency to make certain changes in its regulations as part of the 2008 Farm Bill. He said Congress had already considered the issue of what is called “competitive injury” and decided that it was being handled appropriately by the courts.

“It would be not only inappropriate but an action exceeding the Department’s regulatory authority to not honor Congress’ mandate on this issue,” Deal said. He said USDA should craft a final rule that “more closely adheres” to Congressional intent.

“Permit me to suggest that the best way to do this is to withdraw the current proposal and reissue a much more acceptable, pragmatic rule,” he wrote.

USDA is in the processing of considering the thousands of comments that were filed on the proposed rule. The agency has set no deadline for finalizing its process.

The National Chicken Council represents integrated chicken producer-processors, the companies that produce and process chickens. Member companies of NCC account for more than 95 percent of the chicken sold in the Unite

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