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Brown's water export tunnels threaten sandhill crane survival
by Dan Bacher
Monday Nov 4th, 2013 3:00 PM
Ironically, the Phil and Marilyn Isenberg Crane Reserve, named for the former chair of the Delta Stewardship Council who oversaw the release of a Delta Plan that would result in the destruction of the Bay-Delta Estuary, would be negatively impacted. Phil Isenberg also served as the Chair of the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force that recommended the construction of a peripheral canal or tunnel. In addition, he also served as the Chair of the privately-funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative to create alleged "marine protected areas" on the Central Coast.
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Brown's water export tunnels threaten sandhill crane survival

by Dan Bacher

Central Valley chinook salmon and steelhead, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish populations are the not only species imperiled by Governor Jerry Brown's peripheral tunnel plan.

While one of the alleged co-equal goals of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the twin tunnels is "ecosystem" restoration, Sandhill Crane experts on Friday, November 1 revealed that the wildly unpopular plan actually threatens the survival of these beautiful birds.

As thousands of birders convened for the annual Lodi Sandhill Crane Festival, Sandhill Crane advocates held a news conference to warn that harmful impacts from the Brown Administration’s proposed water export tunnels "gamble with the threatened birds’ survival."

According to a joint news release from the three groups, the Brown administration has rerouted the tunnels project directly under the Staten Island Sandhill Cranes’ refuge, lands purchased with public money for the conservation of Sandhill Crane habitat,

“The Sandhill Cranes are already threatened; that’s why Staten Island was preserved with public funds ten years ago," said Sally Shanks, who once worked the land on Staten Island that was later sold to the State so that crane habitat would be preserved in perpetuity. "The proposed tunnels gamble with their survival."

The Save Our Sandhill Cranes Association (S.O.S.), Lodi Sandhill Cranes Association, and Restore the Delta listed negative impacts they’ve identified from the massive, decade-long construction project, and its aftermath.

The Cranes experts said the massive industrial construction project would have negative impacts on the threatened birds not only on Staten Island, but also across their entire Delta habitat area, harming important roosting and foraging area.

Ironically, the Phil and Marilyn Isenberg Crane Reserve, named for the former chair of the Delta Stewardship Council who oversaw the release of a Delta Plan that would result in the destruction of the Bay-Delta Estuary, would be negatively impacted. Phil Isenberg also served as the Chair of the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force that recommended the construction of a peripheral canal or tunnel. In addition, he also served as the Chair of the privately-funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative to create alleged "marine protected areas" on the Central Coast.

Osha Meserve, an attorney for Local Agencies of the North Delta and the Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge Association, stated, "The risks to this majestic species from the BDCP go well beyond Staten Island, as there is crane roosting and foraging habitat throughout the BDCP intakes, forebay and tunnel construction area that will be negatively impacted throughout the 9-year construction period and beyond."

"The BDCP’s currently unfunded plan to eventually create thousands of acres of habitat to benefit imperiled fish will destroy thousands of acres of current crane habitat, which may never be replaced, or may be replaced too late to provide the habitat the cranes need each winter," she added.

Negative BDCP impacts from the tunnel construction include:

• Intense construction activities with ground shaking, noise, night-time lighting, dewatering, and truck trips in areas that are now largely quiet and undisturbed.

• Fifteen miles of new permanent transmission lines right through the Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge could lead to hundreds of bird “strike” deaths each year.

• The BDCP will only further imperil the Sandhill and there is a better solution for Sandhill cranes, as well as for other birds, fish, wildlife, farming, fishing and the communities of the Delta.

• The Lodi Sandhill Crane Association’s board voted to declare their opposition to development that would compromise historic crane roosting and foraging habitat. The Association said the latest water project relocation through Staten Island is of particular concern.

“Staten Island was established to be the Cranes’ last sanctuary, and the BDCP Tunnels threaten that refuge," said Shanks. “Staten Island is literally the heart of the ecosystem that allows the cranes to exist in this area. It’s not credible that this project won’t have negative impacts on the cranes’ habitat. It is essential that the project do no damage to Staten Island. It is not acceptable to do damage and then mitigate that damage, because it will be too late for the Cranes.”

The BDCP Tunnels project, designed to export massive quantities of Sacramento River water to corporate agribusiness, oil companies and Southern California water agencies, also threatens the annual festival, which boosts the local economy by drawing thousands of visitors from the Bay Area and elsewhere.

The revenue from our festival provides funds for buses and tour leaders to take local school children out to learn about the cranes. If the project drives the Cranes away with its noise, power line bird strikes, ground shaking and constant construction, there will be no festival.

“Thousands of people come from out of our area to view the cranes, and bring economic benefit to the area. Are we supposed to shut down the festival for 10 years during this project?” asked Shanks.

Mike Savino, president of Save our Sandhill Cranes, said, “California officials are contemplating running two water tunnels through Staten Island, one of the most important wintering sites for California's Sandhill cranes. This could be an unmitigatable disaster for our cranes.”

“The State cannot do ‘adaptive management’ on Staten Island, because one error and the Cranes will be gone,” said Savino.

“The people of California made a $35 million investment in the Staten Island Cranes’ Refuge, and the tunnels threaten that public investment,” said Shanks. The State is promising that their mitigation will work, but there is no way to tell. There is no literature that assures us that the mitigation measures would work. There needs to be no impact, not impacts that are mitigated.

Sean Wirth, Conservation Chair for the area’s Sierra Club Chapter, said, “We are presently at a critical juncture in the Central Valley when it comes to Sandhill Crane preservation. Decades of rampant sprawl development have permanently removed huge swaths of historic habitat, and increasingly large-scale conversion of agriculture to incompatible crop types has temporarily removed even more habitat."

"At this point, there are so many pressures on the remaining habitat that what might, in an unconstrained landscape, appear to be a good idea, will be an additional burden on a species that is already increasingly shoehorned into ever smaller remnants of its historic range," she explained. "Taking thousands of acres of good foraging habitat for Sandhill Cranes and turning them into what amounts to experimental re-creations of tidal freshwater marsh can only be seen as problematic at best. The construction-related impacts, direct and indirect, permanent and temporary, of the twin tunnels are even more problematic still.”

“The BDCP Tunnels project is unnecessary, unwise, unaffordable and two-thirds of the water exports go to a small number of corporate mega-growers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta. “There is a better solution. Don’t build the tunnels. Reduce the amount of water exported, as the current volume is destroying the Delta and Pacific fisheries.

"Fatten the levees, continue to send the Sacramento River’s fresh water through the Delta to nourish farms that currently provide important foraging habitat to the Sandhill cranes and is needed by the imperiled fish BDCP says it is trying to protect . And use the billions planned for tunnels construction to develop regional water solutions for California," Barrigan-Parrilla advised.

For more information, contact: Steve Hopcraft 916/457-5546; steve [at] hopcraft.com; Twitter: @shopcraft, @MrSandhillCrane, or go to http://www.restorethedelta.org