A Little Bit of the Bay at Mountain Lake

Save The Bay Presidio Trust Mountain Lake Restoration Volunteer
Our Save The Bay team at one of Presidio Trust’s restoration events at Mountain Lake. Photo by Nissa Kriedler.

This fall, Save The Bay’s Restoration Team had the opportunity to participate in one of the Presidio Trust’s restoration events at Mountain Lake in San Francisco as part of a workday trade. There our team had a chance to learn about freshwater wetlands both through hands-on invasive species removal around Mountain Lake and through a special lecture on wetland soils from UC Berkeley professor Stephen Andrews. In the coming months it will be our Restoration Team’s turn to host the Presidio Trust restoration crew for a day on the Bay, teaching them about salt marshes, and getting them dirty at one of our restoration sites. Rumor has it there may even be a Save The Bay vs. Presidio Trust softball game (I think we all know who would win)! In the end we will all be winners as we learn from one another and strengthen friendships with others working to improve the environment around the San Francisco Bay.

To try and catch the Presidio Trust team out with Save The Bay sign up for one of our restoration events today.

3 Thanksgiving Dinner Icebreakers for a Less Awkward Holiday

Thanksgiving San Francisco Bay Conversation Icebreakers Pollution Bag Ban Plastic Industry Cigarette Butts
Don’t hide from your relatives this Thanksgiving! Our 3 icebreakers will impress everyone at your Thanksgiving table. Photo via Rick Lewis

No one should have to suffer through awkward conversation over a plate of roast turkey and green bean casserole. Because, let’s face it, many of us would give almost anything to escape your siblings’ arguments, or grandmother’s well-meant but still annoying nit-picking over what you’re doing with your life.

Instead, take control of your destiny this Thanksgiving with our list of conversation icebreakers. Break your family out of its Thanksgiving rut and get a healthy debate going by reaching for one of these conversation topics instead of your 5th helping of stuffing.

1. “Hey Grandma, have you heard about California’s horrific drought?”

For the well-connected lot of us, talk of Cali’s drought on social media and various news outlets around the country is hard to escape – and many of us have changed our ways to deal with it. But there are a surprising amount of people who don’t realize our state’s drought impacts everything from ski season in Tahoe to the food and wine on our Thanksgiving tables to the wildlife with which we share our resources. Now is not the time to be bashful when it comes to raising awareness about the drought. Despite recent rains, we need a lot more water. Check out these stark photos of the High Sierras that show the lack of snow.

2. “Did you guys know that 3 billion cigarette butts are littered in the Bay Area every year and many of them flow into San Francisco Bay?”

Your Aunt Margaret still smokes? That’s okay –she probably knows she should quit anyway. Just make sure she knows that cigarette butts are one of the worst pollutants threatening the health of San Francisco Bay, as an affectionate reminder that her butts should end up in trashcans, not the pavement or storm drains. Here at Save The Bay, we’re taking it a step further by offering passionate folks a way to tell our Bay Area leaders to adopt and enforce various outdoor smoking bans. If your family and friends feel the same way you do (doesn’t it seem like everyone has an opinion on smoking?), encourage them to sign our petition here.

3. “So how about that bag ban?”

You take your trusty reusable bags wherever you go. You know that pesky, feather-light plastic bags often end up in our waterways, and stay in landfills forever – which is why California’s new statewide bag ban is the best law ever. Unlike many, you also know that Big Plastic is pouring millions of dollars into armies of paid signature collectors who spread lies in order to get a bag ban referendum on the ballot in November 2016. Their deadline is the end of 2014, so there’s still time for action. Rally your own troops (your family!) and tell them there’s a way to stop Big Plastic in its delusional, money-grubbing tracks by refusing to sign any petitions about the bag ban and telling their friends. They’ll be thankful you gave them an excuse to shake off their tryptophan-induced coma.

Now you’re armed and ready for another (slightly less awkward) family gathering! Only this time, you might just end up the star of the show, instead of your mom’s beloved pumpkin pie.


How Compost Captures Carbon and Helps Heal Rangelands and Wetlands

Carbon Capture Carbon Emissions Greenhouse Gases Compost Restoration Wetlands Rangelands California
Marin rangeland and wetland, Inverness, CA. credit: Philippe Vieux-Jeanton

Scientists are in agreement: Global warming is the result of human-caused emission of greenhouse gases, with carbon dioxide as the biggest contributor. We all know that burning fossil fuels is the major source of human-produced carbon dioxide emissions; however oceans, land and vegetation all emit carbon. Carbon has been increasing in the atmosphere since the industrial revolution, largely due to the burning of fossil fuels, but also due to changes in land use.

Due to the demands of population growth, much of California’s rangelands (vast landscapes that grow native vegetation) and wetlands have been converted to cropland and development. Both rangelands and wetlands emit significant amounts of carbon when degraded, but can be restored relatively easily, turning back decades of mismanagement, and regaining their carbon capturing capabilities. We can use plants’ natural appetite for carbon to safely store it while improving the health of our water and soils at the same time.

Save the Bay is working towards the goal of restoring 100,000 acres of tidal marsh habitat around the San Francisco Bay, in order to regain a healthy bay and all its ecosystem services. The Bay has lost 90% of its original tidal wetlands, releasing over 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide. Save the Bay has previously blogged about the carbon capture qualities of wetlands. Research shows that restored rangelands have the ability to capture carbon as well, and it doesn’t take much to restore them.

In the last quarter of a century, over 1950km2 of California rangeland habitats were lost. Rangelands emit carbon not only when converted to other uses, but also when mismanaged, such as through plowing, overgrazing or poor agricultural practices. Native grasslands, primarily through the plants’ extensive and deep root system, are an effective carbon sink, but plowing and converting that land to annual row crops leads to the emission of 20 to 75 metric tons of carbon dioxide per acre.

The Power of Compost

A one-time dusting of compost can make a big difference in restoring degraded rangeland. A study by Rebecca Ryals and Whendee L. Silver concluded that if a thin layer of compost was spread on a quarter of California’s rangeland, the soil could absorb three-quarters of California’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions. The compost fertilizes the soil and improves the soil’s moisture holding capacity, leading to increased plant growth. Through photosynthesis, the plants transfer carbon dioxide from the air into the soil through their roots and decomposing plant material. More carbon in the soil brings greater fertility and water retaining qualities, leading again to greater plant growth, thus sparking an ongoing cycle of regeneration.

From a single application of compost, they found a 50% increase in plant production, leading to an average increase of 1 ton of carbon sequestration per hectare over 30 years. Not only does this provide a relatively easy, low-tech way to launch a positive feedback loop that could play a role in mitigating the effect we’re having on this planet, but you also get increased soil fertility, improved water absorption and retention, and an increase in native plants which provide food for wildlife. Plus, compost can be used to help restore both grasslands and tidal wetlands.

Tidal wetlands have a similar effect. In fact, wetlands store more carbon per unit area than any other ecosystem. Researchers estimate that while grasslands can sink up to 2,000 pounds of carbon per acre per year, wetlands can store up to 5,100 pounds of carbon per acre per year. Similar to the numerous benefits of restoring grasslands, by restoring wetlands we not only sequester carbon, but also absorb floodwaters, reduce storm damage, preserve open space, provide habitat and feeding grounds for a wide variety of species and improve water quality. What’s not to love?

On dry land and wetland, offsetting carbon while increasing biodiversity, improving water quality, providing habitat and improving the environment’s ability to react to climate change is a win-win solution. Clearly, it’s worth our while to conserve and restore rangelands and wetlands, not only to for long-term carbon storage, but also for the numerous additional services they provide. There’s a speck of hope in a sprinkle of compost.

You can get up close and personal with the magic powers of compost through Save The Bay! We use compost to help our native seedlings to grow at our restoration sites around the San Francisco Bay. Learn how you can volunteer with us here.

Don’t Want Mutant Fish in the Bay? Advocate for Tougher Drug Take-Back Programs in SF

Medication Pills Drug Take-back Programs Legislation Environment
Will San Francisco be the next county to pass sweeping drug take-back program legislation? Photo via Michael Chen on Flickr

As usual, Bay Area counties are ahead of the curve when it comes to making change. Back in 2012, Alameda County became the first in the nation to require pharmaceutical companies to pay for a drug take-back program, upping the ante for giant pharmaceutical companies to take responsibility for their products and raising awareness about the dangers of flushing unused medication into the Bay Area’s waterways.

It was a bold move, and now it looks like San Francisco County is eyeing similar legislation. Instead of taxpayers footing the bill, local Supervisor David Chiu recently began advocating for the funding of drug take-back programs to fall under the responsibility of pharmaceutical corporations. He told the San Francisco Chronicle this month that with this legislation, he seeks to prevent overdoses as well as to reduce contaminants in water – water that all eventually flows into our beloved Bay.

It turns out our wastewater treatment plants don’t have the technology to filter pharmaceutical chemicals ­ – they’re only designed to remove conventional pollutants such as solids and biodegradable materials. Yet for decades, drug companies and doctors told the public to flush unused and unwanted medications down the toilet. That sounds pretty gross in retrospect, but we all know hindsight is 20/20; recent studies have found traces of medications in surface water bodies across the country. The thought of seven-gill sharks and stingrays swimming around the Bay loaded with hormones, codeine and aspirin is pretty depressing, don’t you think?

You might be asking what all that medication does to aquatic life on a biological and physiological level. Scientists know for a fact that increased medications in surface water bodies have led to increased resistance to antibiotics, interference with growth and reproduction in sensitive organisms like fish and frogs – even at low levels of exposure. Effects of exposure can include off-kilter gender ratios (more females than males); the presence of both male and female reproductive organs on individual animals; plummeting birth rates; decreased fertility and growth; and lethargy and disorientation.

Let’s take a break from the icky details. Back in 2010, San Francisco County attempted to pass a law like Alameda County’s, but the plan buckled under industry pressure. The result was a slimmed-down, taxpayer-financed pilot program that consists of drop-off sites at nearly two dozen independent pharmacies and police stations. SFGate.com reports that the program has collected more than 37,000 pounds of medications over the last two years, and costs roughly $162,000 a year to operate – most of which is unreimbursed city staff time.

Fast forward to 2014, and San Francisco County is finally ready to take it a step further, inspired by Alameda County’s victory. If passed, Chiu’s law would establish drug drop-off sites at ALL retail and health care facilities that sell drugs. And, the cherry on top: the law would require drugmakers that make drugs sold in San Francisco to pay all administrative and operational costs of the program.

There are 7 million people living in the Bay Area. While not everyone is flushing medication down the toilet on the regular, our large population (which is booming, by the way), without any public awareness on the issue, still makes for a potentially huge amount of medication contaminants making their way into our waterways. That’s why successful legislation like this in San Francisco (which can lead to a domino effect around California, followed by statewide legislation – fingers crossed!) could be a boon to not only our drinking water supplies, but our streams, waterways, and the Bay – our crowned jewel.

In the meantime, check out our resource guide to Pharmaceutical Disposal Sites to responsibly discard your unwanted and unused medication.

Reality Check for Big Plastic: 60% of California Supports the Bag Ban

Bag Ban Referendum Plastics Industry Pollution Plastic Bags
Plastic bags are a blight on the environment, no matter how the plastics industry spins it. Photo via Anthony Fine on Flickr.

Hot button issues like the passing of recent statewide bag ban – the first of its kind in the nation, thanks to Governor Jerry Brown and the hard work of thousands of like-minded activists (at the state and local level) – never fail to bring out the best and worst in people.

When it was signed into law on September 30th, victory bells rang, birds flew triumphantly through the air, ocean wildlife breathed a sigh of relief, and life went on much as it did before the bag ban passed. Employment rates did not plunge (bag ban opponents claimed they would), and no one except for the grumpiest of grumbly Republicans complained of government overreach. Statewide support for the bag ban remains strong.

Although its impact stands to keep billions, yes, billions of plastic bags out of landfills and our waterways, prevent them from harming the environment for centuries (because plastic literally does not biodegrade), and save Californians millions and millions of dollars collectively each year, plastic bag manufacturers still want the law overturned.

Why? So they can keep making money, of course! If you want a good chuckle, read the comical propaganda manufacturing giants like Novolex have concocted to distract you from their ulterior motives. Some of our favorite bogus statements are outlined in this LA Times’ editorial by columnist David Lazarus, which calls out the plastics industry’s claims and smartly compares its current position to the car industry’s opposition to seat belt laws.

But they aren’t simply spreading misinformation via websites and social media. Bag ban opponents are going full throttle on a referendum to reverse the law. They’ve got street teams all over California collecting signatures (they need 500,000 by the year’s end to make it onto the November 2016 ballot) to reverse all the progress our state has already made. Now, there’s a way to stop them. Californians Against Waste is asking people to report signature gathering using this form. Just last week, Save The Bay spotted a paid signature collector in downtown Oakland outside of our local Rite Aid – and we reported him. CAW will then use this information to put bag ban advocates on the ground to counteract opponents’ efforts, hold media stunts, and inform the public as to why the bag ban is crucial for the health and vibrancy of California.

So yes, even though we’ve won the battle against the bags for now, we have to stay on our toes and keep that victory in our grasp. Help send a message to the plastics industry that they are on the wrong side of history and report any paid signature gatherers here.