The Center for Biological Diversity is hopeful its lawsuit filed over whale and sea turtle entanglements is nearing its conclusion after a federal judge suggested she may find the California Department of Fish and Wildlife liable for the entanglements, a center spokesman said.


“The judge said she was inclined to grant our motion and find the department liable for allowing these illegal whale entanglements,” spokesman Steve Jones said Friday after the hearing in United States District Court for the Northern District of California. “So the department’s lawyer asked her to delay that ruling for two weeks to see if our settlement talks can arrive at a remedy to the problem.”


The two parties have until March 13 to work out their differences and report back to the judge. If no settlement is reached, the judge will issue a finding.


The Center for Biological Diversity sued the state Department of Fish and Wildlife in October 2017, when the number of whale entanglements was skyrocketing. The peak came in 2016 when there were 71 confirmed whale entanglements.


The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations is a defendant-intervenor in the case and is not taking a position on the liability issue that will be decided in the coming weeks, but is a part of the ongoing talks.


“We are engaging on behalf of the fleet in other factual aspects of the case as they arise and in settlement discussions so we don’t lose any of the progress we’ve made, which has been substantial,” said Noah Oppenheim, executive director of the fishermen’s group. “Fishermen have been doing the hard work necessary to minimize entanglements and promote whale-safe fisheries through voluntary and regulatory measures.”


“To date, to my knowledge, there have been zero entanglements in the Dungeness crab fishery in 2018, the period since major regulatory changes were enacted via state law,” Oppenheim added. “This is a big deal because it indicates that the working group and its risk assessment and mitigation program is working. Throughout this whole process, we can’t lose sight of the fact that fishermen, scientists, and environmentalists came together and put together the most progressive science-based progress of its kind in the country. It would be a shame if we lose our momentum, or worse, were forced to throw all of this progress out the window because of the lawsuit.”


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The North Coast climate assessment warns of higher temperatures, prolonged dry seasons, more extreme weather events and a decrease in river streamflows. Tuesday morning, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors will get an up close and personal look at the report.

The board will hear a climate change assessment coordinated by University of California Berkeley professor Theodore Grantham, a Eureka High School graduate, on the impacts climate change will have on the region. The assessment includes input from local cities and counties across the North Coast region as well as tribes and state and federal agencies.

Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson placed the climate assessment on the agenda and he hopes the report will better inform local governments and residents about the importance of addressing impacts from climate change.

“I saw this as an opportunity to bring this forward so more of the public can be aware of the information available,” Wilson said Monday. “The report has some modeling more specific to our area. We are continuing to update our General Plan process and our zoning maps with a focus on hazards like sea level rise and wildfires. This information is important.”

The potential for increased fire risks in local forestlands is a concern as is sea level rise that will impact communities and properties along Humboldt Bay and that sea level rise will have a direct impact on how local governments plan for future developments.

“Humboldt County has approved a number of flood plain developments where in essence we are saying ‘it’s OK to build on the plain as long as you build 2 feet above the 100-year flood level,'” said Jen Kalt, executive director of Humboldt Baykeeper. “We can’t plan for these things by looking in the rearview mirror anymore. We have to plan moving forward in a time of abrupt climate change.”

The assessment also points out residents might not see a change in the amount of rainfall the region gets but the nature and timing of that rainfall could change with periods of heavy rain during the winter months and then periods of extended drought during the drier months.

The heavier rains could lead to more erosion and then to landslides along with flooding. Streamflows will decline during the dry season combined with increased flows during winter.

“One thing is hard not to notice in the new report is the changes are happening faster than we previously projected and what we are watching for are the fastest changing patterns,” Kalt said. “Just from casual observation, our springs and falls are a lot drier and it seems we are getting the rainfall in a tighter window of the year. How does that impact inland streams where coho salmon spawn? If the rainy season is changing, what other impacts on the environment, the fish, the rivers will we see?”

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The California Coastal Commission approved a six-month extension on legalizing the commercial cannabis industry in the coastal zone at its monthly meeting on Friday in Half Moon Bay. 


Humboldt County commercial cannabis industry is still illicit in coastal zones simply because there have not been any regulations implemented. It could be another six months before those rules are put in place after the commission voted 9-1 Friday morning to extend the deadline by six months.


County Planning Director John Ford send a letter to the commission expressing frustration about the impending delay.


North Coast Commissioner Ryan Sundberg initially pushed Friday morning for a three-month delay, stating the county sought to move forward and noting the lack of rules puts local cannabis farmers in a tough position.


“The request I had from the county this morning was to do a three-month extension and not the one year,” Sundberg told the commission. “We’ve got people in Humboldt who have invested millions of dollars in projects and this keeps getting held up and held up. I understand where they’re coming with a sense of urgency because of many, many jobs and lots of money invested.”


Jack Ainsworth, executive director of the commission, shot down the idea. “I don’t want to bring something to you half-basked,” he said.


Jennifer Savage, who said she was representing Humboldt Baykeeper and Friends of the Eel River, spoke during the public comment period and backed the extension.


“The potential to degrade coastal resources is too great to rush forward without a local public hearing and we hope that lessons from the implementation of the inland cannabis ordinances will be fully incorporated with input from the local communities,” she said.


“And on a personal note, as a 21-year resident of Humboldt County, I know very well how all things cannabis are intertwined with all things Humboldt and I absolutely urge you to give the necessary time and allow the local community to weigh in as it takes to get this right,” she added. 


A motion was made, amended and ultimately approved 9-1 giving a six-month extension.


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A cancer-causing toxic wood preservative found at the site of a defunct lumber mill in the Glendale area has a state agency looking into whether chemicals could seep into the nearby Mad River and affect local drinking water.

The state Department of Toxic Substances Control certified the site in 1998, placing a concrete cap over soil that might have been contaminated. But in late December, the department announced it had determined rising groundwater is contaminated with a toxic chemical, prompting a change in plans.

The chemical, pentachlorophenol, was used in pesticides for logging practices until its ban in 1984. According to the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, the chemical was listed in 1990 as a carcinogen under the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. Meanwhile, the mill went out of business in 2002, and state taxpayers have funded chemical monitoring at the site ever since.

DTSC project manager Henry Wong said his team is still weighing options on how to proceed.

“It’s not like you won’t be able to drink the water next week,” said Jennifer Kalt, director of Humboldt Baykeeper, a local nonprofit that works to protect coastal resources. “But it’s something we really need to keep an eye on and make sure (DTSC) does the best job possible with, instead of cutting any corners.”

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On Tuesday, the Democratic members of the House Committee on Natural Resources elected Huffman to serve as chair for the newly established Water, Ocean and Wildlife Subcommittee.

The chair is the result of a long career championing environmental protections and, for Huffman, it’s both an honor and a welcome added responsibility.
“Offshore drilling is an obvious priority,” Huffman said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “The Trump administration has yet to unveil its new leasing plan and we know they are enthusiastic about drilling off California. We have to be vigilant on that and it’s not going to happen, and we know it’s not going to happen, but we may have to fight that fight.”

Huffman has coordinated closely with communities and tribes across Northern California on water issues related to the ocean and rivers. That coordination will continue as he works to protect salmon species and restore the health of the Klamath and Trinity rivers.

“I think we are running out of time to save our salmon populations and I am thrilled to be in a position to play some offense instead of playing defense,” Huffman said. “Rivers and fish are squarely within this committee’s jurisdiction. There are issues I have spent my entire career working and it’s exciting to hold the gavel and be in a position to make some real progress.”

Environmental groups on the North Coast, including Humboldt Baykeeper, applauded the election of Huffman as chair of the subcommittee, pointing out the health of rivers and oceans is key to our survival.

“The oceans really are at a critical point as far as current conditions (are concerned),” said Jennifer Kalt, director of Humboldt Baykeeper. “Oceans are suffering between decreasing pH and increasing temperatures and toxic algae blooms. We can’t sit around and wonder what it will look like in 10 years. Waterkeepers across the country are looking forward to working with Huffman.”

Kalt pointed out other projects, such as developing offshore wind farms to generate electricity, better protections for whales that get caught in fishing gear and a healthier ocean for commercial fishermen who are losing productive fishing grounds are key.

“It’s not a good time to be a commercial fisherman,” Kalt said. “We need somebody who understands the fishing industry and the biology involved. Trump is pushing to roll back the Clean Waters Act and that’s absurd; we have pollution and declining fisheries and we need to protect fishermen and marine life.”

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