SAN JOSE, Calif.—Paper or plastic?

That's a question shoppers won't hear in San Jose starting in 2012, when plastic bags will be banned in California's third largest city.

KTVU-TV reports that the San Jose City Council voted 10-1 Tuesday to ban single-use plastic bags and bar retailers from giving away paper ones.

The ordinance requires stores to charge 10 cents for paper bags in 2012 and 25 cents in 2013 to encourage shoppers to use reusable sacks.

San Jose joins San Francisco and several other California cities in banning plastic bags, which environmentalists say clutter the environment and harm wildlife.

But some shoppers say plastic bags are useful and they can't afford to buy reusable or paper bags. 


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Local residents sounded off at a Wednesday night meeting about the U.S. Navy's plans to boost the frequency of training off the West Coast, accusing the military of downplaying the potential damage to marine life.

Eureka's Wharfinger Building was packed with people looking to air concerns about how sonar might affect marine mammals and fisheries and the potential effects of ordnance that includes depleted uranium used as part of the training exercises. An environmental impact statement on the increased exercises was completed in September, but local worries prompted Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, to ask the Navy to hold the meeting.

Westhaven resident Sylvia De Rooy called the environmental analysis repetitive, obscuring the truth behind sonar use. She said the poor success rate of spotting whales from ships means they are exposed to sonar more frequently than is represented.

”If whales are dying at sea, do they know?” she said.

The Navy's Northwest Training Range Complex has been in use since World War II. It is about 122,000 nautical square miles, stretching from the Olympic Peninsula in Washington to approximately the northern border of Mendocino County. The Navy plans to increase the frequency of training in those waters but not expand the range.

Project Manager John Mosier said that the exercises are small, with single ships or small groups of ships and airplanes, the vast majority of which takes place off Puget Sound. There are some land-based activities in Puget Sound. All training in the southern part of the range occurs out beyond 12 nautical miles. The Navy uses the areas off that part of the range only about four times per year, Mosier said.

Training with active sonar is critical to being able to detect modern submarines, and while sonar operators use simulators to train as well, that is not enough, Mosier said. He compared it to pilots who use simulators in flight training.

”Eventually, they have to fly the airplane for real,” Mosier said.

Sonar would be used for a maximum of 108 hours a year, he said, about a 10 percent increase over previous years. The Navy is not permitted -- per regulations through the National Marine Fisheries Service -- to kill any marine mammals, he said. When challenged on that issue, Mosier said that 13 incidences of injury to whales are expected each year, while 99 percent of the effects of sonar would disturb their behavior.

When Navy lookouts spot whales within 1,000 yards of a ship using sonar, the sonar is required to be powered down, and if whales come within 200 yards, it must be turned off immediately.

But several people in the audience said that the Navy should avoid the use of sonar altogether during the migrations of humpback and gray whales along the West Coast, and not operate in marine reserves and sanctuaries.

Former Arcata City Councilman Dave Meserve asked what would happen if the Navy found that it had killed a whale using sonar -- would it stop using it altogether?

”When does the preservation of life become a part of national security?” he asked.

Speakers also began to question whether their concerns would amount to anything, as the project has already been approved by the assistant secretary of the Navy. Mosier said that there are adaptive management elements of the plan that could potentially be influenced by public concerns but that the Navy personnel at the meeting were not the ones making decisions.

When Beth Werner of Humboldt Baykeeper urged people to continue writing to Thompson, one man said the Navy was there as a red herring and didn't intend to change anything. That man even asked the Navy panel what would happen if the crowd were to detain them there nonviolently.

Ali Freedlund with the Mattole Restoration Council said that there needs to be a much closer look at the Navy operations' effects on other marine life like salmon, which have declined in numbers in recent decades.

”You are jeopardizing everybody's fish by doing what you're doing,” Freedlund said.


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For years, scientists have called the San Francisco Bay-Delta one of the most "invaded" waterways in the world.

More than 240 animal and plant species have hitchhiked here in the ballast tanks of cargo and tanker ships, thriving in waters from Sacramento to the Farallon Islands.

Now scientists are concerned that the exotic critters could pose a growing threat to human health through the transmission of disease and other pathogens.

"The presence of invasive species in the Bay-Delta is one of those areas of biological research that unfortunately has never quite sparked the public's sustained interest," said Deb Self, executive director of San Francisco Baykeeper, a local environmental organization. "Now, that may be changing."

In September, several dozen bathers at Alameda's Robert W. Crown Memorial Beach suffered an outbreak of "swimmer's itch," a rashlike condition caused when microscopic worms carried inside the small Japanese bubble snail burrow into the skin of an unknowing host.

Most people with healthy immune systems quickly reject the tiny invaders, leaving just an unpleasant and temporary skin rash. But Andrew Cohen, director of the Center for Research on Aquatic Bioinvasions in Richmond, said it's not the only time the worms may have caused human sickness at the Alameda beach.

Cohen, one of the nation's leading researchers on aquatic invasive species, recently co-authored an article on the outbreaks for the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. He noted that in 2005, some 90 schoolchildren suffered similar rashes during a picnic trip to the same beach.

In Bay-Delta waters, scientists keep a sharp eye on a variety of plant and animals that do not belong there, including the ubiquitous Asian or overbite clam.

"These guys are huge filter-feeders. They devour much of the phytoplankton and young zooplankton, which in turn compromises the integrity of the food web," Cohen said of the clams. "Those species that cannot change or adapt ultimately perish."

Cohen noted that in addition to snails, anemones, fish, crabs, numerous kinds of worms, shrimp and plants, human diseases such as cholera can also survive trans-oceanic voyages in ballast tanks. He said that a strain of cholera that killed an estimated 10,000 people in Peru in the early 1990s was recently found in the ballast water of South American-flagged ships calling on Mobile Bay, Ala.

Both Cohen and Self, who say the Bay-Delta receives a new exotic species at the rate of one every 14 weeks, lament that the issue is not well known by the public and remains low on the agendas of many environmental groups and scientists.

"I hope we don't get to the point where somebody dies in order to draw attention to this problem," Cohen said. "The other thing that people need to know about is that once an exotic species gets established, it's pretty irreversible. They're here to stay."

Like many of the exotic invasive species that have found good homes in Bay and Delta waters, the snails probably arrived in the ballast water tanks of cargo ships calling from across the globe.

There are other sources of invasive species. One is the importation of live lobsters and marine bait worms flown daily to the West Coast from New England. The lobsters and worms are often packed in wet seaweed to keep them fresh. The problem is that the seaweed often carries non-native insects, mollusks and other creatures that get dumped after the lobsters or worms are removed.

But the lion's share of the problem is borne in ballast tanks of ships. Self said that an estimated 7,000 cargo container ships and some 10,000 tanker ships call on ports in the Bay-Delta region each year. Each of those vessels contains 10 million to 12 million gallons of ballast water, she added.


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In a recent “My Word” piece, Mr. Uri Driscoll expressed a wide range of opinions and observations regarding the current management practices directed at recovering the threatened Snowy Plover. In his essay, he focused especially on dune restoration because he sees it as unnecessarily costly, damaging to wetland habitats, and altering the coastal dunes that protect the county's infrastructure. His rambling essay was filled with phantom opinions attributed to experts, disarticulated bits of information, and poorly explained “facts” derived from a cursory understanding of the ecology of coastal dunes and plovers in particular. We wish to clarify and explain the real situation involving the status of the plover. In doing so, we'll rely on scientific evidence collected and published in peer-reviewed scientific journals rather than presenting anecdotes derived from hearsay.

The snowy plover is widely distributed in North America, where an estimated total population of 1,747 breeds along the West Coast. It is this population, breeding within 50 miles of the Pacific, that was listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1993. The listed population continues to be protected because numbers remain below that necessary for recovery under the ESA. Over the past 10 years, plover numbers in Northern California have varied between 19 and 71, which is well below the number (150 locally and 3,000 along that Pacific coast) that the USFWS determined necessary for the population to be recovered.

Ecologists understand that two important things influence annual variation in the size of animal populations: adult survival and reproduction. Simply put, a population must reproduce enough young to replace those adults that die each year for the population to remain stable. When reproduction exceeds mortality, the population grows; when it does not, numbers decline. Recent evidence shows conclusively that the population of plovers in our region routinely has such poor reproduction that numbers have declined to a low of 19 adults in 2009; the number increased to 31 this past summer. The only thing that sustains the local population is immigration of plovers from elsewhere along the Pacific coast.

In the species' recovery plan, finalized by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 2007, biologists identified three main factors that contribute to poor reproductive success of plovers. They are: 1) predation of eggs and young by mammals and birds, especially the common raven; 2) human-caused mortality of eggs and chicks stemming from encounters with people, dogs and vehicles, as well as the subtle effects of disturbance to breeding birds; and 3) degradation and loss of breeding habitat, in large part due to the spread of introduced plant species, principally European beach grass.

In our area, predators are the leading cause of poor reproduction, based on direct and indirect evidence. For example, we have shown that plover eggs do not survive long on Clam Beach and Mad River Beach where ravens are particularly abundant (probably because garbage left by humans attracts scavenging ravens). Recently, we used video cameras to monitor 25 plover nests on Clam Beach because we wanted to know the cause of nest failure with greater certainty. Our recordings showed that ravens were the culprits at 70 percent of the 20 nests where eggs disappeared. We also showed that humans caused some failures because they took eggs from nests, their dogs trampled eggs, or vehicles ran over them. So, humans have played a direct and indirect role (via garbage) in contributing to reproductive failure of plovers on Clam Beach. Early on, we attempted to increase plover reproduction by building cages around nests to keep ravens from eating plover eggs. But ravens and other predators learned what was inside and ate newly hatched chicks and adults as they left the cages, which caused us to end this practice. We currently do very little to manage predators, which pose a serious challenge to the species' recovery.

Each year, humans cause some nest failures, as shown by cameras. We have tried to ameliorate these negative effects. For instance, our survey data suggested that plovers favored the area between the two parking lots on Clam Beach, an area where human activity is also often high. Accordingly, in each of the past six years we have worked with Humboldt County staff to erect a temporary fence in this area to create a refuge for breeding plovers in an effort to limit direct mortality of eggs and chicks and minimize disturbance from humans during the sensitive period when plovers breed. This approach has been successful elsewhere along the Pacific coast. When we compared the first three years without the fence with the subsequent four years with protection, we found that plover chicks hatched inside the fenced area often restricted their movements to that area, and young reared inside the fence were more likely to reach maturity. This last point is debatable because the number of young reared on the south end of Clam Beach, where there was no fence, also increased. But the south stretch of beach also has less human activity than the north end of the beach. Unfortunately, over the past several years ravens have eaten nearly all plover eggs on Clam Beach so that few young hatch. This limits our ability to evaluate the fenced area for reducing direct impacts from humans, and it underscores the overarching importance of raven predation on reproduction for this species.

Habitat loss was a third factor identified as contributing to the plover's decline. In Humboldt County, a main cause of habitat loss is a reduction in open, sparsely vegetated beaches favored by breeding plovers. European beach grass is an invasive species that has spread rapidly to cover dunes in dense stands. Efforts to restore habitats have removed beach grass (and a few other species) with the aim of restoring the native dune biota, of which plovers are one species. Plovers preferentially nest in the open and rely on early detection of ravens (and humans) to evade predation of eggs. Thus, it is not uncommon to observe plovers nesting in newly restored areas. This happened on Clam Beach in 2008, after Caltrans removed beach grass from a large area below the Vista Point. In response, plovers initiated almost half of the 25 nests on Clam Beach that year in this restored area. This past summer, a similar pattern unfolded within the newly restored habitats managed by California State Parks on Little River State Beach. Unfortunately, predators readily consumed eggs in all but one of these nests. So restoration does attract breeding plovers, but these restored habitats will require additional management of predators and people to ensure that nests and chicks survive well.

In his recent essay, Driscoll attempts to surprise the reader with an ironic suggestion that removing invasive non-native beach grass won't help the plover recover. What he failed to recognize is that we are way ahead of him. We already know that removing beach grass -- by itself -- will not safeguard the threatened snowy plover. That's only a third of the story. Biological research and the USFWS's recovery plan, published more than three years ago, clearly identified three inter-related factors: predators such as ravens, human-caused egg and chick losses, and the loss of breeding habitat from invasive non-native beach grass and other causes. Those factors operate together, so plover conservation must address all three. Enjoying coastal habitats, dunes, and the species that have lived amongst them for millennia will require that people recognize our role as simply one piece of this dynamic ecosystem. We urge everyone to behave in ways that honor the other pieces. Even if one of those pieces is as small, and as beautiful, as a plover.


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San Diego city officials are studying whether phasing out Styrofoam and plastic water bottles at City Hall and city events could lead to cost savings while improving water quality and protecting the coast.

The Mayor’s Office will work with nonprofit group San Diego Coastkeeper to quantify the city’s use of such products and offer alternatives such as urging workers to drink city water and bring reusable cups.

Styrofoam and plastic are the most common debris found at San Diego County beaches following cigarette butts, conservationists say. The petroleum-based products take a long time to biodegrade and pose environmental threats. Styrofoam products, such as egg cartons and packaging foam peanuts, are not included in the city’s recycling program.

Efforts to reduce plastic and Styrofoam have spread throughout California in recent years, with 41 municipalities in the state enacting related measures, according to Coastkeeper. They include Berkeley, San Francisco, Santa Monica and West Hollywood.


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