Trash, Invasive Species Left Behind as Controversial Oyster Farm Closes

Remains of a snack at Drakes Bay, July 2014 | Photo: Kris Vera-Phillips/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Northern California environmental activists have a new question about a recently-shuttered oyster farm in a coastal wilderness: who's going to clean up the mess the operators seem to be leaving behind?

The Drakes Bay Oyster Company (DBOC) made national headlines this year when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to force the Interior Department to renew the farm's lease in Point Reyes National Seashore north of San Francisco. Now closed, the 1,100-acre farm in Drakes Estero will become part of a wilderness area designated by Congress in 1976.

But running what amounts to an industrial facility in a designated wilderness has an impact on the land, and that impact is still visible in the piles of plastic and metal oyster growing racks occupying the site. What's more, the farm seems to have introduced highly troublesome invasive species to the protected estuary. And no one seems to be stepping up to restore Drakes Estero to something approaching its original condition.

Animal Control Rescues Endangered Bighorn From Canal

Peninsular bighorn ram climbs a rock face | Photo: Bill Gracey/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A federally Endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep that got stuck in a canal in the Coachella Valley city of La Quinta is back in the wild today, thanks to an assist from an animal control officer.

A security guard reported around 6 p.m. Sunday that the sheep was stuck in a canal near the Arnold Palmer course at the PGA West country club. The animal appeared lethargic and the guard could see hoof marks where the sheep had unsuccessfully attempted to pull himself out of the water, Riverside County Animal Services spokesman John Welsh said.

The animal control officer called to the scene grabbed one of the sheep's horns with his control stick, made sure he had secure footing, and pulled. Some golfers watched Stephens retrieve the sheep, and one woman taped the rescue. The animal appeared tired out, but otherwise OK, and quickly disappeared in some nearby bushes.

Listed as an Endangered Species in 1998, two years after the sheep's population fell to an all-time low of 280, the Peninsular bighorn's numbers have grown in the decades since. The sheep are still threatened by destruction of their desert mountain habitat by off-road vehicles, renewable energy projects, and housing and resort development.

With reporting by KCET

21 Green Groups Will Sue Feds Over Refusal To Protect Wolverine

Wolverine heading to court | Photo: Bethany Weeks/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Mere minutes after the ink was dry on a decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to withdraw a proposal to protect the wolverine under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, environmentalists announced they'd be hauling the agency into court over the decision.

On Wednesday, the environmental law firm Earthjustice formally put USFWS on notice that unless the agency follows the recommendations of its own scientists and listed the wolverine, Gulo gulo, as a Threatened species, Earthjustice will sue USFWS on behalf of nine other environmental groups. A few hours earlier, the Western Environmental Law Center and Wild Earth Guardians said they'd be filing a similar suit on behalf of themselves, ten additional green groups, and an individual wildlife biologist.

Though USFWS scientists have unanimously agreed that the wolverine faces possible extinction as a result of climate change (and we go into why here,) USFWS Regional Director Noreen Walsh ordered the listing process for the species scrapped in late May, an order that was backed up by Director Dan Ashe this week.

Feds Propose Habitat for Imperiled Bird

Yellow-billed cuckoo | Photo: USFWS/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to declare more than 850 square miles of streambanks and floodplains in the western U.S. as critical habitat for an increasingly rare bird, the agency announced Thursday.

The yellow-billed cuckoo, Coccyzus americanus, is currently being considered for protection as a Threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). Under Thursday's proposal, 546,335 acres would be designated as critical habitat for the bird in nine western states.

The attractive yellow-billed cuckoo was once found in abundance in riparian forests of willow and cottonwood throughout the west, where it fed on insects -- including hairy caterpillars eaten by few other birds. But since a century and a half of damming, livestock grazing, and water diversions have made riparian forests one of the West's most-endangered habitats, the cuckoo has declined in numbers dramatically.

Feds Bail on Protecting Wolverines

North American wolverine | Photo: Jeffrey C. Lewis / U.S. Department of Transportation

Overruling the strong recommendations of its own scientists, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is withdrawing a proposal to list the North American wolverine, Gulo gulo, as Threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

USFWS scientists had urged the wolverine be listed due to the likely effect of climate change on the rare predatory weasel's reproductive habits. The animals depend on deep, persistent snow for their breeding, and an increasingly warm planet means that winter breeding habitat will likely become unsuitable for the wolverine.

Nonetheless, USFWS Director Dan Ashe announced Tuesday that the agency will back a call by one of the agency's regional directors to withdraw the listing proposal, citing "uncertainty" over the actual effect of disappearing snowfields on the wolverine's survival.

Invasive Species Week: The Water Hyacinth

Water hyacinth | Photo: Jennifer 真泥佛/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Next week might be Shark Week, but the California Department of Fish and Wildllife has declared August 2-10 California Invasive Species Action Week, an event intended to boost public awareness of the problems some non-native species of plants, animals, and even microorganisms can cause when they're imported into the state. We're celebrating, if that's the right word, by featuring five of California's most prevalent invasive species every day this week. We've already covered blue gum eucalyptus, Argentine ants, bullfrogs, and wild pigs.

Which invasive species poses the biggest threat to California? The answer depends on who you ask. A desert ecologist might point to the Sahara mustard working its way north to fill the Colorado and Mojave deserts with tinder. Her counterpart in Sonoma County might say Scotch broom, or gorse. Urban birders might point at starlings or outdoor cats, anglers at giant reeds, foresters at the sudden oak death pathogen. A jaded environmental activist might say humans since we brought all the other stuff with us, ignoring the minor detail that humans are native to California.

It's a subjective question, and there are just too many candidates. But we thought we'd wrap up Invasive Species Week with a species that's certainly in the Top Ten Worst In California. Its effect on the landscape and native wildlife is truly frightening. And ironically, it's only here because people who love nature brought it into California.

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