Thursday, June 25, 2009

Drought and the San Joaquin Valley unemployment problem

By Mark Rockwell
ESC California Field Representative

Is it really “fish vs. people” as California Governor Schwarzenegger and U.S. Representative Nunes say? To listen to all the rhetoric these days you’d think that people are suffering only because a federal judge and the federal wildlife agencies decided to protect fish. Representative Nunes and our Governor are calling it a regulatory drought and families are suffering as a result. Articles in the L.A. Times and many other papers in California have picked up the story without really checking on data available from the state Employment Development Department records. Here is a link that shows the data pretty clearly.

However, the raw data doesn’t tell the story unless you dig into it. So, here are some of the facts from the data that brings some clarity to the issue. Make no mistake; unemployment is a problem in Mendota and Fresno County. However, it is a problem in almost all of California’s agricultural counties, and Fresno is by far not the worst. If you take the numbers as given for all counties in California for May 2009, and then look at the 9 previous years as well it is quite revealing.
  • For Mendota (the town given as the worst and where the governor has visited twice to rile against the Endangered Species Act and his claim of regulation caused unemployment) it shows 38.8% unemployment for May 2009.
  • For Mendota, the 9 year previous average is 28.1%. Mendota has led Fresno County in unemployment for the past 10 years (all I reviewed).
  • Fresno County, (One of Rep. Nunes's counties, which includes Mendota) shows 15.4% unemployment for May 2009, with a 9 year average of 10.5%.
  • Of the 18 most agriculture dependent counties in California the average unemployment rate is 15.6% for May 2009. Seven other counties have worse unemployment than Fresno (Imperial, Sutter, Alpine, Colusa, Merced, Yuba and Stanislaus), with the highest in Imperial County in the Southern California desert at 26.8%.
  • Six of the seven with greater unemployment than Fresno are not heavily affected by the Central Valley Project (CVP) water cutbacks, and many are able to compensate via groundwater and use cutbacks.
  • Lastly, when looking at the 2008 unemployment figures and averages, Fresno county has the eighth highest increase in unemployment (2008 to May 2009), meaning seven other counties have a greater increase in unemployment over the last year than Fresno ( Imperial, Colusa, Merced, Sutter, Yuba, Stanislaus, Tulare). Six of these have limited impact from Central Valley Project reductions or are not affected at all by them.
What this data clearly shows is that unemployment is chronic in Mendota (28.1% average), worsened by the drought, as with all other agriculture dependent counties. The owners of the big farms there are certainly not sharing their profits well with the labor community that serves them. There is much to be done to improve their plight, and it should not include disaster relief from the tax payers (as requested by the Governor and our Senators).

DWR director Lester Snow testified before Congress nearly two months ago essentially saying if there was no court order to protect fish, there would only be a 5% increase in CVP water to the San Joaquin Valley. This shortage is drought caused, not regulation caused.

An interesting side note regarding subsidies to these farms. In 1978 the taxpayer subsidy to the Federal San Luis Unit of the CVP (which supplies water to the west side San Joaquin) was estimated at $770 million or about $1,540.00 per acre (United States Bureau of Reclamation figures). Today that value would be about $5,227.00 per acre using the Cost of Living Calculator for 2007. Another interesting fact is that people in Madera, Merced and Fresno Counties received about $132 million in farm subsidies in 2006. People in Trinity County, where the water for the Western San Joaquin Valley comes from, received $585.00 ( United States Department of Agriculture figures on the Environmental Working Group’s Website Feb 16, 2009).

Who really gets left holding the proverbial bag? Of course it is the federal taxpayer and the public trust. It is time agri-business took more responsibility for the problem and started to work for a solution, not for the drought but to help the farm workers they sometimes employ. This isn’t “fish vs. people”, it is “fish and people.” Both are suffering in this is the third consecutive low water year.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

White House Report: Climate Change Killing Species

The Obama Administration released a report last week that stated unequivocally that global warming is happening now and impacting our communities, our health and our natural resources. It also confirmed that climate change is already having impacts on animal and plant species throughout the United States.

The report, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, finds that:

About two-thirds of the world’s polar bears are projected to be gone by the middle of this century. It is projected that there will be no wild polar bears in Alaska in 75 years

The pika, a small mammal whose habitat is limited to cold areas near the tops of mountains, is losing suitable habitat and more than one-third of the populations have gone extinct in recent decades.

Many migratory bird species are arriving earlier.

Large-scale shifts have occurred in the ranges of species and the timing of the
seasons and animal migration, and are very likely to continue.

Trees and other plants are shifting ranges. There will be fewer wildflowers as global warming causes earlier spring snowmelt.

Fires, insect pests, disease pathogens, and invasive weed species have increased, and these trends are likely to continue.

Salmon and other coldwater fish species in the United States are at particular risk from warming.

We may loose over half of the wild trout populations from the southern Appalachian Mountains, 60% of western trout populations, and 90% of bull trout.

Climate change already is causing significant alterations in marine ecosystems with important implications for fisheries and the people who depend on them.

Some of these changes have already led to coral bleaching, shifts in species ranges, increased storm intensity, dramatic reductions in sea ice and other significant changes to the nation’s coastlines and marine ecosystems.

Wildlife, birds, fish and plants are going to need lots of help to adapt to a changing world. Programs and funding are needed to rebuild wetlands and coastal marshes, nourish coral reefs, strengthen headwater forests, restore natural floodplains, protect and connect grassland and mountain corridors to serve as migratory paths for wildlife.

Congress is currently debating a climate change and energy bill, which includes programs to safeguard natural resources from the impacts of climate change. Industry lobbyists are trying to weaken the bill, including removing these key natural resources provisions. We are working with our member organizations to secure programs and funding that will safeguard our natural resources and ecosystems from the worst impacts of climate change.

Click here to send a letter to your member of Congress to ask them to support the natural resources adaptation provisions and funding in the climate change bill.

Thank you for help to save polar bears, pikas, pacific salmon, migratory birds, wildflowers, coral and thousands of other endangered species.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Wolverine sighted in Colorado for first time in 90 years

Today, the Wildlife Conservation Society announced that they have tracked a wolverine into Colorado, marking the first time the animal has been found in the state since 1919. The wolverine, named M56, is a young male that was captured in April in Grand Teton National Park. Scientists have been tracking him with a radio collar for the last 2 months as he’s traveled roughly 500 miles.

The sighting comes at an opportune time for the wolverine, as USFWS is reconsidering its ESA status as part of a settlement stemming from a 2008 lawsuit. The suit was filed challenging the agency’s decision not to extend Endangered Species Act protections to wolverines after a Freedom of Information Act request uncovered documents that supported listing. (The suit was filed by Earthjustice, Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Friends of the Clearwater, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Idaho Conservation League, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and Wyoming Outdoor Council.) The documents suggest that biologists within the agency concluded that protection for wolverines was warranted, but were overruled by political appointees within the Bush administration seeking to prevent a second species receiving ESA protection due to climate change. (The polar bear was the first species listed due to the effects of global warming).

The wolverine occupies Arctic and Arctic-like habitat at higher elevations and is dependent upon snow for its survival, making it particularly at risk of further habitat loss due to climate change. Wolverines rely on persistent spring snowpack for their dens, however scientific data indicate a chronic, earlier spring snowmelt in many parts of its range. The settlement calls for FWS to consider the projected effects of climate change on the wolverine’s habitat, including the Rocky Mountains and the North Cascades.

The settlement calls for a new status determination by December 2010. There are currently thought to be less than 500 wolverines in the continental US.

To learn more about the ways species are at risk due to climate change and what can be done to protect them, please visit the Endangered Species Coalition

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ask Congress to Protect Our Natural World from Climate Change

In the next few weeks, Congress will vote on an energy and climate change legislation called the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. It sets a first ever cap on global warming pollution and helps reduce the impacts of climate change on our communities, our health and our natural resources. This bill is a good first step, but needs to be strengthened.

Ask Congress to defend and strengthen the American Clean Energy and Security Act. Go to

This bill is truly the first time that Congress has contemplated comprehensive legislation to protect wildlife, wild lands and all of the ecosystem services they provide from the threat of climate change. It provides a dedicated stream of funding to specifically help wildlife, fish, plants, and birds on land and in the oceans adapt to climate change. Polluters payments would go directly to funding the conservation programs. And although additional funding will be needed to truly protect wildlife from climate change threats, this is an incredibly important first step.

Safeguarding Species
The House legislation includes a section on initiating and expanding a number of efforts to help reduce the impacts that global warming will have on our communities, our health and our natural resources. Endangered species -and species put at risk of extinction due to global warming - would benefit greatly from these efforts. Basically, these efforts include:

Creating national and local strategies
A wide-range of stakeholder agencies would work together to create a federal plan for protecting or adapting natural resources, including vulnerable wildlife and plants, to the impacts of global warming and ocean acidification. Government agencies and states would then create their own plans that implements their portions of this plan.

Ensuring scientific integrity

Centers within NOAA and USGS would help guide adaptation efforts, coordinate needed research, and be a resource for the scientific and technical needs of addressing the impacts of our changing climate.

Providing resources

The House legislation initially approves spending the equivalent of 1 percent of the potential auction values on natural resources "adaptation" efforts starting in 2012, with the money being used to implement the national and state action plans. This money is distributed across federal agencies, states and tribes. The allocation would bump up to 2 percent in 2022 and then to 4 percent in 2027. It is estimated that this would provide roughly $550 million in 2012 and expand to just over $4 billion by 2030.

Improvements Needed
As Congress continues to debate global warming legislation, the Endangered Species Coalition will be working to protect and strengthen the provisions safeguarding species. Most notably, the need for funding for natural resources adaptation far exceeds what is allocated currently. At a minimum, 5 percent of the value of the total potential auction revenues should be directed to natural resources adaptation. The process used to distribute this funding also needs to ensure that the revenues are dedicated to these purposes and cannot be misdirected elsewhere.

This legislation is a good start, but it needs to be supported and strengthened. Industry lobbyists are trying to weaken the bill, including removing key programs and funding that would protect natural resources from the impacts of climate change.

Please send a letter to your member of Congress today and ask them to defend the natural resource adaption programs and funding.

The next few weeks are critical. We need your help to defend and strengthen the American Clean Energy and Security Act so that it adequately addresses global warming and provides resources to safeguard our nation's wildlife and wild places from the impacts of climate change.

Send a letter today to protect our natural world from climate change.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

UN Calls for Ban on Plastic Bags to Save Oceans and Ocean Species

The United Nations Climate Change Director Achim Steiner has called for a world wide ban on plastic shopping bags saying, "Single use plastic bags, which choke marine life, should be banned or phased out rapidly everywhere. There is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere". Mr. Steiner made the plea a day after World Ocean Day, June 8th.

The request came after the U.N. Environment Program released a comprehensive report on litter in the world's oceans, which identified plastics as accounting for over 80% of the debris collected in some regions. This has led to floating plastic debris patches of increasing size, with at least one being nearly twice the size of the State of Texas.

In addition to being the most prevalent component of marine debris, plastic is also a wildlife killer. A recent study published in Marine Pollution Bulletin cited plastics as accounting for one third of leatherback sea turtle deaths. The turtles mistake floating plastic bags for jellyfish due to the similar appearance and movements and subsequently ingest them. Another study found that 94% of fulmars had plastics in their stomachs. Additionally, monk seals and even sperm whales have been known to swallow the bags and suffocate, drown or starve as a result.

In the United States, the regulation of plastic bags is slow but moving forward. The Washington D.C. City Council recently voted unanimously to impose a $.05 tax on plastic (and paper) bags to discourage their use. San Francisco banned their use in 2007 and LA is planning to eliminate them by 2010. Cities and counties in Washington, Connecticut and Iowa have considered or passed plastic bag legislation as well. Some retailers, such as Whole Foods, have stopped offering them as an option to consumers. Attempts to ban or tax them have failed in Baltimore and New York.

Worldwide, China has banned the distribution of plastic bags and Ireland taxed them into scarcity. Israel, western India, Botswana, Kenya, Canada, Taiwan, Tanzania, South Africa, Singapore and Bangladesh have also banned or are considering banning the plastic bag.

Please consider supporting cleaner waters and safer spaces for wildlife by contacting your local and state elected officials to support any legislation to ban or tax plastic shopping bags. While there is currently nothing before Congress pertinent to controlling plastic bags, you may contact your member of Congress by calling the US Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to voice your support for such a resolution.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Endangered Species Day Success for Oregon Chub

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the proposed reclassification of the Oregon Chub on May 15th coinciding with this year's Endangered Species Day. The Oregon Chub was listed as endangered in 1993 after modern dams drastically altered it's habitat and predatory non native fish further stressed the population to near extinction.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service implemented a recovery plan for the Oregon Chub calling for reclassification when 10 large populations were found throughout it's range. The efforts established new populations bringing to 35 the known populations in it's historic range. Amongst those 35 groups, 19 have more than 500 individual fishes.

The 3 inch long minnow is, however, still at risk. It is found only in Oregon and lives in the ponds, marshes and backwater sloughs of the Willamette River basin, an area at significant risk due to climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts via scientific modeling that annual average temperatures in the Upper Willamette will rise 1-3 degrees Fahrenheit by 2040 and by 6 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit by 2080 (full report here). Such a change could then threaten cold-water species such as the steelhead, Chinook salmon and the Oregon chub. While the near term impacts may be nearly unavoidable, the long term severity of the change could be mitigated by actions such as those outlined in the ACES bill. Further, it illustrates the importance of natural resource adaptation funding. It's only with sufficient resources that wildlife and wilderness can be safeguarded from the effects of climate change. You can help by calling your Congressperson and asking them to support HR 2454 (the American Clean Energy and Security Act) and in specific the wildlife adaptation funding provisions as currently contained in the bill.

You can contact your member of Congress by calling the US Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

For more information about safeguarding species in a warming world visit the ESC website.