California Dream 2.0

New Dungeness crab law protects permitted fishermen and crab habitats

Fresh Dungeness crab catch of the day

California’s Dungeness crab fishery is one of the state’s largest and most important commercial fisheries and is an economic foundation for many of California’s ports.  A bill recently passed by the California Legislature, SB 369 (Evans), will cap the number of traps that individual fishermen can use.  This will not only protect crab populations for generations to come, but will protect the economic viability of the fishery and the coastal communities that rely on it.

The problem is that the number of crab traps being used in the fishery escalates each season as fishermen race to catch crab. This “arms race” creates unnecessary ecological impacts and threatens the long-term economic health of the fishery. This frenzied derby effect leads to a glut of crab on the market at the beginning of the season and correspondingly depresses the value of crab. It also leads to significant safety risks as the intense pressure to compete during the initial weeks of the season can lead fishermen to go out in dangerous winter weather.  This resulted in broad recognition among fishermen that trap limits are needed, but until now, agreement on what those limits should be could not be reached.

Bay Area crab fisherman preparing for the catch. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News

To help address this problem, Environmental Defense Fund was approached by a group of crab fishermen in 2008 to help sponsor a bill (SB 1690 – Wiggins) to create the Dungeness Crab Task Force.  The group was charged with developing recommendations to the Legislature to address the challenges facing the fishery, including the “arms race.” It was comprised of an elected group of diverse fishermen from all major crab ports and representing both large and small boats. The group met during 2009 and 2010 and came to consensus on the design for a trap limit in the fishery. The new law incorporates the recommendations of the Dungeness Crab Force. Fishermen are broken out into 7 “tiers” basedon how much crab they’ve landed in the past. Fishermen who have landed the most can fish with 500 traps and those who have historically landedthe least can fish with 175.  The law also includes sufficient fees to cover all of the costs identified by the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) and was passed with bipartisan support by the Legislature. It’s supported by major fishing organizations such as the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and the Crab Boat Owners Association, as well as environmental groups such as EDF, the Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council

Let’s thank Governor Brown for passing SB 369 and helping to ensure the long term biological and economic sustainability of California Dungeness crab fishery, while at the same time promoting fishermen safety at sea.


Also posted in Ecosystem Services, General, Pacific Ocean, Politics / Comments are closed

Sustaining Environmental Capital in the Mokelumne River Watershed

Solar panels power Vino Farms (Mathew Grimm)

In July 2011, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology issued a report to President Obama on Sustaining Environmental Capital: Protecting Society and the Economy that called for a national inventory on the services that ecosystems provide and a better valuation of those services. The report recognized that environmental capital is a key underpinning of public health and economic recovery. Natural systems provide a wealth of services including clean water and air, productive soils and protection from floods and fires, among many others.

Mokelumne River (Mathew Grimm)

We are happy to announce that in late August, Sustainable Conservation, in partnership with Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Incentives, Protected Harvest and the Sierra Nevada Conservancy was awarded a $372,000 Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop a pilot program to measure environmental benefits in California’s Mokelumne River Watershed. Once developed, the program will attract funding to pay farmers, ranchers and foresters to enhance nature’s benefits, including water purification, erosion control and wildlife habitat. In addition, the program could potentially help establish better tools for valuing ecosystem services in watersheds throughout the country as called for in the report to President Obama. To read more about it please visit the Western Farm Press

The Mokelumne Program will provide economic incentives to landowners in the region (Mathew Grimm)

The Mokelumne River, which originates in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and crosses the Central Valley before joining the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, provides significant environmental and economic benefits to California and the region. The Mokelumne watershed produces hydro-electric energy, high value crops, timber, important habitat for wildlife, and recreational benefits like whitewater rafting and popular trout fishing.  Notably, the Mokelumne delivers water to 1.4 million people in San Francisco’s East Bay and provides agricultural water supply and storage within the watershed to irrigate over 800,000 acres of vineyards and other crops. 

In recent years, however, the Mokelumne watershed has faced an increased risk of catastrophic fire, significant development pressures, a lack of economic vitality and diversity in its communities, and high unemployment. In addition, development and poor vegetation management have contributed to fire, habitat degradation, diminished species populations and impaired water quality. Climate change is predicted to decrease the amount of water retained in the snowpack and will require dams to be operated differently to protect communities from increased risk of flooding. To address these threats holistically, EDF, in collaboration with other NGO’s, state and federal agencies, and a broad array of watershed stakeholders, is developing a watershed management approach that focuses on community participation. Specifically, the management approach focuses on compensating landowners for resource stewardship and habitat restoration. 

The Mokelumne Watershed Environmental Benefits Program will create a performance-based environmental accounting system so that public and private land managers can consistently pay for and track environmental improvements, and create a meaningful understanding of how conservation efforts in the upper and lower watershed benefit local communities, water users, hydroelectric power generators, and the California economy. Ultimately, this will raise investor confidence in restoration by showing the “bang for the buck” of each investment.  Investors in restoration, such as the USDA, the State of California and the private sector are particulary interested in improving how they target their limited resources so that there is greater accountability, efficiency and effectiveness.

EDF's Belinda Morris gets a tour of Vino Farms from viticulturist Chris Storm (Mathew Grimm)

The next stage of the Program will focus on developing metrics to better quantify the environmental outcomes associated with restoration activities that provide environmental benefits, such as improved water quality and increased water storage. We will build on current efforts underway in other regions where tools have been developed to measure improvements in habitat, water quality and instream flows, which are critical resource needs of the watershed.  This information will help us target those restoration activities (e.g., riparian vegetation restoration, instream channel stabilization, water conservation, etc.) that can result in the greatest environmental outcomes. We will partner with agricultural landowners to test the quantification tools and to measure the environmental outcomes from restoration activities. In addition, we will aim to demonstrate a watershed-wide approach to achieve conservation actions that will support local communities and other beneficiaries of the services that the watershed provides. Most exciting is the fact that the diverse ecosystems and valuable land uses across the Mokelumne Watershed are representative of many California watersheds, therefore by developing and proving out this innovative model in the Mokelumne, we believe there is huge potential to replicate it throughout California and possibly beyond.

Also posted in Ecosystem Services, Sustainable Agriculture / Comments are closed

EDF and rice partners granted $1.1 million to expand rice GHG offsets effort

The next exciting phase of developing greenhouse gas (GHG) offsets from rice production in the United States is now possible thanks to a $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service.  EDF’s second Conservation Innovation Grant project for rice GHG offsets will expand the first grant’s scope from California, the second leading rice-producing state (550,000 planted acres in 2010), to include Arkansas, the leading rice-producing state (1.8 million planted acres in 2010), as a model for other mid-southern states and will develop innovative technology to enable easier access to carbon markets. 

The new grant includes previous partners involved in the development of the rice methodology—California Rice Commission, Applied Geosolutions, LLC, and TerraGlobal Capital, LLC—as well as new partners—Winrock International, PRBO Conservation Science, USA Rice Federation and other leading rice industry associations and rice producers in each region. 

A Foundation: The first grant resulted in a methodology that provides a foundation for work to continue in California and begin in Arkansas.  California has been a successful testing ground for assessing offset potential because of its groundbreaking climate law co-authored by EDF, The Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), which establishes a cap-and-trade system in 2012.  However, including other rice-producing states will greatly increase the opportunity for GHG reductions and offset credits from rice production.  If the California Air Resource Board adopts a rice carbon protocol, California rice growers stand to benefit in the state’s cap and trade program by selling GHG offsets to capped sectors, and other rice growers outside of California also will be able to participate in the compliance market to help meet California’s demand. 

Phase Two: The methodology is awaiting approval by two leading carbon registries — the Verified Carbon Standard and the American Carbon Registry (where it is now open for public comment)—and it will be adapted as needed for use in two pilot projects, one in California’s Sacramento Valley and the other led by Winrock International in the Delta Region of Eastern Arkansas. These initiatives will demonstrate the process of producing and selling offset credits generated by rice farmers to voluntary and potentially to compliance carbon markets, with particular focus on California’s cap-and-trade program.  Each project will field-test a subset of GHG-reducing practices suitable to the region, such as straw removal or altered water management.  The pilot projects will help determine which additional practices can be added to the methodology. 

In addition to pilot project results, we will analyze rice GHG reduction practices in other states using the De-Nitrification De-Composition (DNDC) model.  DNDC is a computer simulation model of carbon and nitrogen biogeochemistry in agro-ecosystems that can be used for predicting crop growth, soil temperature and moisture regimes, soil carbon dynamics, nitrogen leaching, and emissions of trace gases including nitrous oxide (N2O), nitric oxide (NO), dinitrogen (N2), ammonia (NH3), methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2).  Used to analyze California rice’s GHG reduction potential, DNDC will be applied in other rice-producing states, including Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas.  Practices such as mid-season drainage, which is currently not a feasible practice in California, may be more appropriate in other rice-growing states. 

Concurrently, a user-friendly technology will be developed for growers and aggregators to enable more accurate and cost-efficient quantification of GHG reductions.  Growers will test a tool that is accessible by personal computers and mobile devices, and they will also provide feedback on cost feasibility and process of the overall project.  Lessons learned will be widely distributed to other interested growers and Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Since both rice-growing regions in California and Arkansas (known as a critical stretch of the Pacific Flyway and the rice and duck capital of the world, respectively) are key areas of habitat for waterfowl, shorebirds and other species of wildlife, the project will also strive to understand how rice management practices can minimize GHG emissions and maximize benefit to waterbirds.  PRBO Conservation Science, a bird conservation non-profit, will lead the analysis of potential impacts of selected growing practices in California using habitat quality indicators and optimization models, which can be adapted to other regions. 

Benefit to Farmers: Economic benefit estimates are based on California modeling of potential GHG reductions and cost studies. The three practices currently in the methodology and their potential for GHG reduction are: dry seeding (4%), removal of straw before flooding (8%), and reduced winter flooding (16%).  The break-even costs for these practices range from $3 to $79 per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent. However, though the break-even cost for straw removal, for example, is around $79, this cost can be reduced through sale of the straw, and as carbon prices increase once the compliance market begins, there may be a business advantage for some farmers.  Carbon markets could provide the additional value that enables a rice farmer to access these straw markets. Other practices yet to be analyzed may produce greater GHG savings, such as mid-season drainage in the mid-southern states, in which case economic return could be higher. 

A final goal of the project is to seek out regulatory approval of a rice carbon protocol, so that the GHG emission reductions achieved will have compliance value under a cap-and-trade program.

The project is expected to start in August and will conclude in 2014.

Also posted in Climate, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32, Offsets / Tagged , | Comments are closed

New methodology creates access to carbon markets for California rice growers, model for the rest of the world

By Candice Chow, Agricultural Policy Fellow in EDF’s Sacramento office. 

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), in partnership with the California Rice Commission, Applied Geosolutions, LLC, and TerraGlobal Capital, LLC, have developed a-first-in-kind methodology to quantify greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions from rice production in California.

The methodology, drafted by TerraGlobal Capital, LLC, is a framework for developing offset projects using specific practices in order to sell credits on voluntary and compliance GHG markets.  This is an exciting step forward in reducing emissions from agriculture and the California rice industry is one of the first to lead the way.

“The California Rice Commission hopes to demonstrate how our rice growers can assist in addressing the state’s climate change program goals by voluntarily generating offsets and making them available to other affected industries in California,” said Paul Buttner, Manager of Environmental Affairs at the California Rice Commission.

Modeling Rice Emissions

In 2007 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved a grant for EDF and the California Rice Commission to study practices for reducing emissions from rice production.

Different environmental factors affect rice GHG emissions, preventing a one-size-fits-all solution. A process model like DeNitrification-DeComposition (DNDC) can more accurately predict GHG emissions when given specific parameters, such as soil type, temperature and water regime.  Applied Geosolutions, LLC calibrated and validated the DNDC model using field measurements and was able to identify management practices that reduce GHG emissions without affecting yields and to assess mitigation potential in California. 

Mitigation Practices

Changing water management, such as reduced flooding and altered drainage timing, provides the largest mitigation opportunity to reduce methane emissions. Water cuts off the oxygen supply from the atmosphere to the soil that results in anaerobic fermentation. Methane, a GHG with a global warming potential 20 times that of carbon dioxide, is a byproduct of anaerobic fermentation. 

 As a result of an economic feasibility analysis by UC Davis, GHG reduction practices in California were narrowed down to reduced winter flooding, straw baling after harvest, and dry-seeding (as opposed to seeding while flooded), and these three practices are included in the methodology.

Growers who implement one or more of these practices and produce emissions reductions based on DNDC modeling will be eligible to sell offset credits on carbon markets.  As a result, growers create an additional revenue source while providing GHG offset credits that are real, permanent, additional, and verifiable. 

Global Potential

“The methodology is a first step towards achieving the global mitigation potential for rice,” said Belinda Morris, EDF’s Working Lands Regional Director.  “In the future, expanding the methodology to include other practices and other geographies could provide incentives for substantial GHG emissions reductions from rice production.” 

Rice is grown on approximately 346 million acres worldwide, and 90 percent of rice land is flooded for at least part of the season.   The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that rice production emits between 31-112 million metric tons of methane per year.   Some academic studies have suggested the potential reductions from practices, such as mid-season drainage, in other parts of the world (it is not viable in California) could be in the range of 50 percent. Major emission variables include factors such as production of more than one crop per year and/or farming in certain regions that have higher emissions due to regional soil and weather factors.  

While this is an exciting step forward, more work is needed to accurately estimate reductions given economic and technical constraints in various rice-producing regions.  For example, in California where only one crop per year is produced, costs of production are high and the soils have relatively low emissions characteristics, it is difficult to envision a program that could achieve much beyond a 10 percent reduction level while other regions might deliver much greater initial reductions.

The methodology has been submitted to two registries, and it is currently open for public review through the Verified Carbon Standard before it is approved and available to generate offset credits.  EDF and its partners expect to have protocols approved by the end of 2011.  In the meantime, we will continue to find means of reducing transaction costs and further define the market potential of these emission reduction projects.

Also posted in Climate, Offsets / Comments are closed

EDF Wades into the Sierra Meadows: a photo tour

Whitney. Yosemite. Sequoia. Lake Tahoe. These show-stopping landscapes of the Sierra Nevada mountain range are well known and much loved. Yet nestled above the Sierra’s oak woodlands and amidst the alpine forests lie overlooked gems in the landscape—the Sierra meadows—wide open valleys with once meandering rivers. These working landscapes have the potential to provide high quality forage for the regions’ cattle industry, increased water storage for our cities, farms, and ranches, and key habitat for our state’s distinctive wildlife.

But while the Sierra meadows provide numerous benefits or “ecosystem services”, many are now damaged and degraded – approximately 40-60% or between 130,000 and 200,000 acres of meadows have altered hydrology. A new project of the Environmental Defense Fund is looking to prioritize the restoration of some of these meadows: Working Meadows on Private Lands in the Sierras.

Through a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, EDF is coordinating a partnership of Sierra and rangeland experts to provide robust incentives to revitalize the Sierra meadows. We’re officially collaborating with American Rivers, the Cosumnes, American Bear Yuba Integrated Regional Water Management Group, and county resource conservation districts. The project will be extended through outreach to the larger Sierra community and other organizations such as UC Cooperative Extension, California Rangeland Coalition, and California Cattlemen’s Association.

The goal of this project is two-fold: further the scientific and economic data to illustrate the costs and benefits of meadow restoration in the Sierra and to build a Sierra-wide community in support of this effort.

Restoration has already begun on a small scale on a few sites in the northern reaches of the Sierra. We’ve gone on a series of site visits to learn first-hand from landowners and scientists about meadow restoration. I plan to write more about these site visits in future blog posts – but to give you a sneak peak, below you’ll find a photo tour of our first trip to Perazzo Meadows, in the Tahoe National Forest, taken by my talented colleague Mathew Grimm.

I can learn about meadow restoration from talking to my ecologist colleagues and reading peer reviewed papers. But there’s nothing like pulling on some boots and walking a newly-restored meadow with the aspens showing signs of fall in the granite valleys of the Sierra.

Many thanks to Randy Westmoreland from the Forest Service and Beth Christman from the Truckee River Watershed Council for a great tour of Perazzo Meadows.

Next blog update on the Sierra Meadows? A closer look at meadow restoration and a trip to the Feather River.

Posted in Ecosystem Restoration / Comments are closed

Farmers Clean Up California’s Waterways

Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta: Photo by brothergrimm (CC)

By: Carlee Brown, EDF summer 2010 intern  

In 2008, California waterways in Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin counties ranked among the most polluted in the state. Water draining from these rich agricultural areas carried high loads of pesticides, sediments, and nutrients into the San Joaquin River, threatening ecosystems and wildlife downstream.  

Groups that had monitored the region’s water quality for years – watershed coalitions and the non-profit group CURES (Coalitions for Urban/Rural Environmental Stewardship) – knew that a combination of farm management practices could keep pollutants out of the San Joaquin River. Infrastructure improvements such as sediment basins, drip irrigation, and irrigation tailwater recirculation systems all offered ways to prevent water pollution. These measures are considered best management practices (BMPs) that keep pesticides and sediments  contained on farms, but they can be cost prohibitive to farmers even in profitable years.    

In order to promote these infrastructure improvements, CURES teamed up with local watershed coalitions, EDF, and ten other partner organizations to apply for funding through the federal Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP). AWEP, championed by Congressman Dennis Cardoza (D-CA), was created in the 2008 Farm Bill to help agricultural producers conserve water and improve water quality. The partner organizations secured $10 million from AWEP for infrastructure improvements. Since then, they’ve reached out to farmers and encouraged them to apply for funding to mitigate the cost for the innovative pollution-prevention installations on their farms. 

Through the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, 22 projects were funded in 2009, 23 were approved for 2010, and even more will be added in the coming years. Today, waterways that exceeded recommended levels of agricultural inputs in 2004 have shown dramatic improvement. Of the three priority waterways identified by the watershed coalitions for 2009, two met recommended levels for pesticides and toxicity and the third met water quality regulations for all but one pesticide.  

These extraordinary water quality improvements were largely a result of direct outreach to farmers. CURES has contacted more than 95% of the farmers in the impacted area, instructing them on simple measures to help mend some of the most polluted waterways in the Central Valley. Farmers learned about their direct impact on water quality and many took individual steps by managing and monitoring their land inputs to reduce pollution. 

“The early benefits (in water quality) have come from outreach,” said Chris Hartley of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which administers the program. “Infrastructure improvements we make are going to give them the opportunity to have long term impacts on the resource base.”  

And as farmers learned about their impact on water quality, they also learned about additional infrastructure improvements for which they could apply to receive AWEP funds. So far, more than $3.5 million has been allocated under this partnership. Parry Klassen, Executive Director of CURES, said he was confident that with continued funding, pesticide contamination problems in the Northern San Joaquin area can be eliminated.  

This extraordinary progress shows why conservation programs like AWEP – and its parent program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program – should be preserved rather than cut back. The combination of AWEP funding, innovative farmers and fourteen partner organizations have paved the way for dynamic change in Central California’s waterways.

Posted in Ecosystem Restoration / Comments are closed