News of the Bay: March 14, 2014

Check out this edition of News of the Bay for breaking news affecting San Francisco Bay

National Wildlife 1/27/14

Harbor Porpoises’ Remarkable Return
On a blustery California August day, researchers are studying some of San Francisco’s least-known residents from an unlikely laboratory: the Golden Gate Bridge. Below in the bay glides a parade of boats—fishing vessels, a tall ship, a slow container barge packed with colorful boxes like giant Legos. Behind the scientists, tourists pause to snap pictures, unaware of the ongoing hunt. Through binoculars, Bill Keener suddenly spots his quarry: a harbor porpoise, its dark gray dorsal fin appearing briefly before resubmerging. Keener predicts the porpoise’s course and, just as it surfaces again, photographs the animal before it disappears. “Got it,” he declares triumphantly.
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News of the Bay

Daily Camera 3/8/14
Boulder: Disposable bag use down 68 percent in wake of 10-cent fee
Six months after Boulder instituted a 10-cent fee on disposable grocery bags, use of plastic and paper bags has fallen 68 percent, city officials said.
That figure is based on a comparison of estimated bag use before the fee was implemented in July and the number of bags paid for by shoppers in the last six months, said Jamie Harkins, business sustainability specialist for the city.
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Sacramento Bee 3/10/14
E-cigarettes face restrictions as cities update smoking ordinances
The electronic cigarettes flooding the U.S. market don’t technically emit smoke, but many cities have decided they’re not much different from ordinary cigarettes.
Last week, Rancho Cordova became the latest local government to pursue restrictions on e-cigarettes; the City Council directed staff members to treat them like regular smokes when they draft amendments to city code sections governing smoking. The Los Angeles City Council also voted last week to restrict e-cigarette use where tobacco smoking is restricted, including restaurants, parks, bars, nightclubs, beaches and workplaces. Similar measures have been approved in a number of Bay Area cities, along with New York and Chicago.
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Reuters 3/13/14
In drought-stricken California court rules smelt fish get water
A California appeals court sided with environmentalists over growers on Thursday and upheld federal guidelines that limit water diversions to protect Delta smelt, in a battle over how the state will cope with its worst drought in a century.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a lower court should not have overturned recommendations that the state reduce exports of water from north to south California. The plan leaves more water in the Sacramento Delta for the finger-sized fish and have been blamed for exacerbating the effects of drought for humans.
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Captain Maggie & the Porpoises

If you’ve ever enjoyed the short ferry ride between Tiburon and Angel Island, it’s likely your boat was captained by Maggie McDonogh, a fourth generation ferry boat captain and owner/operator of the last remaining family-owned ferry service in California.

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Click to view video

Every day Maggie dons her sunhat and prepares to ferry tourists, school children, day-tripping locals, and National Park employees back and forth between Tiburon and Angel Island. She’s been doing this all her life and she’s seen the Bay through many changes.

She learned the business from her dad who took it over from his dad, who took it over from his dad. And it looks like her children will follow in her wake as well. Son Sam is the deckhand and her daughter and other younger son are also on board whenever possible.

Recently, my colleague Tessa and I had an opportunity to hang out by the captain’s chair with Maggie during one of her regular trips to the island. As she steered the boat, she told us stories of her family in Marin, the Bay as it was and is, and the characters and wildlife she’s met along the way.

Because Maggie is out on the Bay every day, she notices changes before almost anyone else does. She was one of the first people who saw that porpoises had returned to the Bay. She shares her story in this video.

We asked her if she thought the Bay was healthier than it used to be. She told us that her grandfather “Sammy the Skiffman” used to take vacationers out on fishing expeditions on the Bay for 25 cents (including tackle and bait). Today Maggie doesn’t see the number and size of fish that she once saw, but in some ways, she says, “the Bay is healthier than I’ve ever seen…but we have to be vigilant, and do the best we can. It’s a delicate balance.”

For Maggie that means interacting with riders in a way that prompts them to appreciate the majesty and wonder of the Bay, while helping them to see its fragility. The porpoises have helped her in that mission because they capture people’s imaginations. “The porpoises give us an in with people. It’s an opportunity to inspire them…right in that moment,” she tells us.

She loves what she does and is proud that she has kept the family business going. She told us about children she’s ferried who come back as teens and asking for summer jobs, or return as adults with their own children. Noting that all the other ferry operators are larger corporations, she told us, “We’re it. I’m still here. I get to make people happy for a living…I’m so privileged I get to do this.”

Guess Who’s Coming Back to the Bay!

I’m always stunned by what I find in my own backyard. Living near and commuting across the Bay, I keep stumbling on local treasures — an amazing view of the harbor from Noe Valley, or the Bay Bridge shimmering against the bright lights of rush hour traffic. I’m also discovering that I share a home with some surprising creatures- buffalo in Golden Gate Park, parrots in North Beach, even a river otter in the Sutro Baths.

But most surprising of all to me are the creatures that made their home here before I ever did, disappeared during World War II, stayed away for decades, and then one day, showed up under the Golden Gate Bridge.

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San Francisco Bay was once home to harbor porpoises, where they dwelt happily for hundreds of years. But in the early 1940s, they fled the Bay, which had become too dangerous and polluted to call home. Since then, a whole generation of Bay Area folks has grown up here, never knowing that porpoises once lived, played, and thrived right in their backyard. Now, more than 70 years later, they’re coming back. 

Why, after all this time, are they returning? Early signs point to better water quality and the overall health of the Bay as the most important factor. So far, nearly 300 porpoises have been spotted under the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge, one of their favorite spots for fishing… and mating.

It’s exciting to think that these porpoises may be the first of many harbor porpoises that make their home in the San Francisco Bay.  But the truth is, this is a small and delicate start. There’s still much to be done to improve the water quality of the Bay. If many of us still don’t want to swim in and fish in it, why would a large mammal, sitting at the top of the food chain?

That’s why we’re asking the San Francisco Water Board to help us clean up the Bay, by standing up to the major corporations- like C&H Sugar and Tesoro Refining- who are polluting our backyard and endangering these porpoises. If you want to see even more porpoises coming home to the Bay, tell the San Francisco Regional Water Board to stand up to polluters right now. Better yet, spread the word. Help us reach our goal of 5,000 signatures by Earth Day (April 22nd).

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The Bay is such a big part of what makes living here special- why we’re some of the happiest people on the planet. But after suffering years of pollution, shoreline encroachment, and neglect, the Bay is not in the shape it used to be in. And that’s why we’ve launched For The Bay: to bring people like you and me together to reclaim the treasure of our region, the San Francisco Bay –our backyard, our playground, home to diverse creatures, like the harbor porpoises.