CBS News Logo 2 More Rare Red Foxes Confirmed in Sierra Nevada

Scientists believe the foxes are related to another that was photographed this summer near Yosemite National Park. More importantly, they say, DNA samples show enough diversity in the Sierra Nevada red foxes to suggest a "fairly strong population" of the animals may secretly be doing quite well in the rugged mountains about 90 miles south of Reno. The first confirmed sighting of the subspecies in two decades came in August when a remote camera captured the image of a female fox in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest near Sonora Pass. Forest Service officials confirmed Friday that two more foxes - one male and one female - were photographed in September in the neighboring Stanislaus National Forest, about 4 miles from the original. That indicates there is the "continued persistence of a genetically unique population of Sierra Nevada red fox in the southern Sierra Nevada, rather than a single individual," the agency said. The DNA samples were obtained from fox feces, or scat, collected at the sites where the two most recent animals were spotted. They were caught on film by motion-activated cameras triggered when the bait - in this case, a sock full of chicken - was disturbed. "There's enough diversity in the DNA that we think there is a fairly strong population there after not showing up in this isolated area for years and years," Forest Service wildlife biologist Diane Macfarlane said Friday. "It shows the male individual has some relationship to that initial female. The data isn't strong enough to say if it was a mother or father or sibling, but it is some level of relationship - aunt, cousin, uncle," she told The Associated Press. "The good news is we definitely have a male and female. We know there are breeding possibilities and there could be others," said Macfarlane, who leads the agency's regional program on threatened, endangered and sensitive species based in Vallejo, Calif. "We anticipate getting a lot more information in the future as we begin to focus Continue Reading

Blizzard warnings in effect for Sierra Nevada as major storm slams Northern California

A frigid storm moving in from the Gulf of Alaska will dump several feet of snow on Northern California mountains over the next few days, bringing whiteout conditions and dangerous wind chills.The storm will span most of the Golden State and has triggered blizzard and avalanche warnings in the Sierra Nevada and flash flood watches and the threat of floods and mudslides across the burn areas of Southern California.“It’s the biggest storm of the season,” said Jim Mathews, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento. “Of course, February was a dud of a month, so March is coming in like a roaring lion.”Forecasters are predicting up to 7 feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada, with up to 10 feet possible in the highest elevations in the mountain range “where no man lives,” Mathews said.“We’re measuring snow by the yardstick instead of by the foot rulers this time,” he said.It’s too early to say whether the storm portends a March miracle capable of pulling California’s snowpack out of the doldrums, said Michael Anderson, the state climatologist with the Department of Water Resources.The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada had a snow-water equivalent of 24% of average on Thursday, state officials said. Sierra snowpack traditionally makes up one third of the state’s water supply.But thanks to the historically wet winter of 2016, the picture isn’t as dire as it could be after the last several months of dry conditions, Anderson said.“In terms of having a base flow coming out of the Sierra into the larger reservoirs, it still seems to be holding up despite the dry winter,” he said.When the current storm passes, the snowpack could see an increase of 25%, he said.By mid-morning Thursday, the Boreal Mountain Ski Resort near Donner Lake had received a foot of snow. The Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows Resort near Lake Tahoe had received 7 inches, and Bear Valley between Lake Tahoe Continue Reading

The Latest: Blizzard, avalanche warnings in Sierra Nevada

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The Latest on California storms (all times local):12:25 p.m.A rare blizzard warning is in effect in the Sierra Nevada as a powerful winter storm moves through California.Authorities also warned Thursday of high avalanche danger for the backcountry around Lake Tahoe.Caltrans reports about 90 miles of Interstate 80 are closed between Colfax, California, and the Nevada state line due to whiteout conditions.Ski resorts, meanwhile, are benefiting from the storm.Stephanie Myers, a spokeswoman for Heavenly Mountain Resort and Kirkwood Mountain Resort, estimates snow is falling at about 2 inches an hour.She says they hope to have a "beautiful bluebird powder day" on Sunday, when the forecast calls for clear conditions.———11:20 a.m.Authorities in California have issued a mandatory evacuation order for areas of the Santa Barbara County coast in advance of overnight rain and the possibility of debris flows like those that devastated Montecito in January.Sheriff Bill Brown said the order issued Thursday affects as many as 30,000 people. It includes Montecito, where 21 people were killed by a massive mudslide.Other areas impacted by the order are Goleta, Santa Barbara, Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria.A winter storm moving south through California is expected to reach the Santa Barbara area 100 miles (161 kilometers) west of Los Angeles early Friday.The evacuation order says residents should be out of the areas by 6 p.m. Thursday. Brown says people won't be forcibly removed if they choose to stay.———6:50 a.m.A major winter storm is moving across Northern California, bringing heavy snow and strong winds to the Sierra Nevada and steady rain through the region that is disrupting the morning commute.The California Highway Patrol says dozens of collisions have been reported Thursday morning on San Francisco Bay Area highways and reminds motorists to slow down.Officials in Southern California recommended people Continue Reading

Time for California to adopt smarter forest fire policies

The Little Hoover Commission, a state watchdog agency that’s long been a repository of common sense, has issued a report that should finally force changes in forest management practices that have the perverse effect of increasing the number and intensity of wildfires menacing California. To respond to “an unprecedented environmental catastrophe” in Sierra Nevada forests, the report called for the state to work in coordinated fashion with the federal government — which owns more than half of California’s forest land — to modify policies that focus on preserving forests through fire suppression by instead promoting policies that lead to thinner, healthier forests. That means acting to remove 129 million dead trees from the Sierra forests and embracing the use of “controlled burns” to clear out the underbrush that can make small blazes explode. These new policies would raise concerns about the air pollution from controlled burns. They could also spur lawsuits from environmental groups that literally can’t see the forest for the trees — reflexively opposing logging without considering the good it can do. But with massive fires now a regular fact of life in the West — with as many as 120 million people living in areas deemed to be at high risk of burning — it’s time for dramatic change. California’s future will be brighter with rational policies and residents who face fewer wildfire nightmares as a result. Twitter: @sdutIdeas Facebook: San Diego Union-Tribune Ideas & Opinion Continue Reading

In the Sierra Nevada, they’re putting the trees to work

By CALmatters | January 24, 2018 at 5:24 pm By Julie Cart, CALmatters This is going to be a big year for one of the state’s smallest agencies. As California redoubles its efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, officials are rooting around for new ways to meet the state’s goals. Included in their plan: recruiting billions of redwood, oak and pine trees to help diminish planet-warming gases by pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It’s a major pivot, from regulating harmful emissions solely from factories and cars to calling on nature to pitch in. Officials say 2018 is the moment for the state to harness, and fully measure, the role forests can play in addressing the pressing problems of wildfires and the dangerous releases of carbon that occur when millions of forested acres burn. Both issues are accelerating in alarming, parallel lines. A good bit of the work will fall to the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, one of 10 conservancies within the state’s Natural Resources Agency. The group—two dozen multitasking scientists, biologists and planners in a nondescript office park in Auburn, an old gold-rush town in the Sierra foothills—was born in 2004 with a mandate nearly as vast as the region. Like the state’s iconic coastline, the Sierra Nevada mountains are a defining feature of California, rising sharply to dizzying elevations, topping out at Mount Whitney’s 14,500 feet, the highest peak in the lower 48 states. The range, tracing the spine of the state across 22 counties from the Oregon border to deep inside the Mojave Desert south of Bakersfield, holds most of California’s forested land and is the source of 60 percent of the state’s drinking water. The conservancy is charged with restoring the Sierra’s environmental and economic health, on a modest $4.5 million annual operating budget derived entirely from the environmental license-plate fund. The bulk of its work, such as facilitating research and Continue Reading

Why millions of dead trees in the Sierra may have helped save water during the drought

The millions of trees that died in the Sierra Nevada during California’s five-year drought may have actually helped the state’s water supply once the historic dry spell finally ended, according to a new study. Scientists led by UC Merced’s Sierra Nevada Research Institute examined how much water was being absorbed by plant life in 1 million acres of Sierra forest along the watershed that feeds into the Kings River east of Fresno. The study, published Friday in the journal Scientific Reports, spanned the years before, during and after the drought, which officially ended last year. Federal forestry officials estimate that during that time, more than 100 million trees in the central and southern Sierra died before the drought ended. So many trees died from wildfire and bark beetles in the study area that once the rains returned, potentially as much as 217,000 acre-feet more water ended up in the Kings River basin than it would have otherwise. The reason? After they’d died, the trees were no longer sucking water up through their roots, leaving more in the watershed, said Roger Bales, the study’s lead author at the Sierra Nevada Research Institute. An acre-foot is the equivalent of flooding an acre of land with water one foot deep. For comparison, Folsom Lake can hold about 976,000 acre-feet when it’s completely full. The effects of California’s drought on the water supply could have been worse if not for the dead trees, but that’s hardly a cause to celebrate, Bales said. “We don’t know what’s going to grow back, and we don’t know how much water what grows back is going to use,” Bales said. “This is an uncontrolled experiment.” He said the findings show why it’s important to thin the Sierra biomass to sustainable levels using controlled burns and logging to ward against future drought die-offs and high-intensity wildfire. Continue Reading

Photos: Pristine Sierra camp spot you’ve probably never heard of

By David Curran Updated 4:00 am, Wednesday, September 20, 2017 window._taboola = window._taboola || []; _taboola.push({ mode: 'thumbnails-c', container: 'taboola-interstitial-gallery-thumbnails-5', placement: 'Interstitial Gallery Thumbnails 5', target_type: 'mix' }); _taboola.push({flush: true}); window._taboola = window._taboola || []; _taboola.push({ mode: 'thumbnails-c', container: 'taboola-interstitial-gallery-thumbnails-10', placement: 'Interstitial Gallery Thumbnails 10', target_type: 'mix' }); _taboola.push({flush: true}); window._taboola = window._taboola || []; _taboola.push({ mode: 'thumbnails-c', container: 'taboola-interstitial-gallery-thumbnails-15', placement: 'Interstitial Gallery Thumbnails 15', target_type: 'mix' }); _taboola.push({flush: true}); window._taboola = window._taboola || []; _taboola.push({ mode: 'thumbnails-c', container: 'taboola-interstitial-gallery-thumbnails-20', placement: 'Interstitial Gallery Thumbnails 20', target_type: 'mix' }); _taboola.push({flush: true}); window._taboola = window._taboola || []; _taboola.push({ mode: 'thumbnails-c', container: 'taboola-interstitial-gallery-thumbnails-25', placement: 'Interstitial Gallery Thumbnails 25', target_type: 'mix' }); _taboola.push({flush: true}); window._taboola = window._taboola || []; _taboola.push({ mode: 'thumbnails-c', container: 'taboola-interstitial-gallery-thumbnails-30', placement: 'Interstitial Gallery Thumbnails 30', target_type: 'mix' }); _taboola.push({flush: true}); window._taboola = window._taboola || []; _taboola.push({ mode: 'thumbnails-c', container: 'taboola-interstitial-gallery-thumbnails-34', placement: 'Interstitial Gallery Thumbnails 34', target_type: 'mix' }); _taboola.push({flush: true}); Photo: Thorston Tichenor Image 1of/34 CaptionClose Image 1 of 34 Island Lake with the Three Sisters in the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness. Island Lake Continue Reading

12 dead this season in torrential Sierra snow melt, Yosemite’s Merced, other CA rivers dangerous

More deaths across the West reported from drownings as massive snowpack melts Scott Smith and Hallie Golden, Associated Press Updated 5:29 pm, Monday, June 12, 2017 Officials fear a surge in drownings following record snowfall this winter as the weather heats up in California and other U.S. western states. The Yosemite National Park Rescue Team recently conducted training drills as a reminder of the risks. (June 12) Media: Associated Press YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (AP) — Massive waterfalls in Yosemite National Park and rivers raging in mountains throughout the western United States are thundering with greater force than they have for years — and proving deadly as warm weather melts the deepest mountain snowpack in recent memory. Record snowfall on towering Western peaks this winter virtually eliminated California's five-year drought and it is now melting rapidly. But it has contributed to at least 14 river deaths and prompted officials to close sections of rivers popular with swimmers, rafters and fishing enthusiasts. In Utah and Wyoming, some rivers gorged by heavy winter snowfall have overflown their banks, and rivers in Utah are expected to remain dangerously swollen with icy mountain runoff for several more weeks. The sheer beauty of the rivers is their draw — and represents a big danger to people who decide to beat the heat by swimming or rafting with little awareness of the risks posed by the raging water. This year's velocity and force of the Merced River that runs through Yosemite Valley is similar to a runaway freight train, said Moose Mutlow of the Yosemite Swift Water Rescue Team. Related Stories Winter in June? Rare fresh powder falls at Lake Tahoe $1 billion startup Automattic is closing its San Francisco office and having everyone work from home "You step out in front of it, it's going to take you," he said. "You're not going to stop that, and that's what people need to get their heads around." Continue Reading

Nevada biologist sues activist group that called him a bear murderer for defamation

RENO, Nev. — A longtime Nevada biologist is suing bear protection advocates at Lake Tahoe he accuses of harassing and threatening him through a “vicious and calculated” social media campaign that paints him as a corrupt bear murderer who should be imprisoned — or worse. Carl Lackey, the state wildlife agency’s chief intervenor in bear-human conflicts, filed the defamation suit against the Bear League, its leader Ann Bryant and two Tahoe-area residents. Although the named defendants didn’t necessarily write the posts, Lackey argues they’re ultimately responsible for repeated comments on their Facebook sites that are false and “designed to incite public rage.” The activists say criticism of Lackey’s trapping and occasional euthanizing of the black bears is constitutionally protected free speech about a volatile public controversy. They maintain the bears have as much right to the woods as the tourists and expansive summer homes that increasingly encroach on their native habitat in the Sierra Nevada. The mountainous area 200 miles northeast of San Francisco has seen a spike in bear conflicts in the past five years fueled by cyclical drought. The dry conditions — on the mend now — make food scarce in the forest and sends bears on the prowl to satisfy a daily caloric intake equivalent to 80 cheeseburgers, sometimes breaking into cars and homes. Some bear advocates in the area recently have adopted more aggressive tactics such as tampering with traps wildlife officials set to capture the animals and singling out residents who notify authorities about bears they think are dangerous. In recent years, an ex-state senator tried unsuccessfully to get a protective order against the Bear League, and a couple won a settlement from bear advocates over alleged threats. Lackey’s lawsuit seeking unspecified damages says he’s suffered extreme emotional Continue Reading

Backpacking the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada range is tough but rewarding

The most arduous endeavors often have the biggest payoffs. That’s how it is with backpacking the John Muir Trail. The 210-mile wilderness trek in the Sierra Nevada range of California, named for Scottish naturalist John Muir, takes a toll. One climb after another — up and down mountains with altitudes ranging from 4,000 to 14,000 feet — taxes your leg muscles and breathing. Shoulders strain from shlepping 25- to 35-pound packs. Weather issues range from snow to rain to hail to heat and cold. But the rewards are legion — pristine alpine lakes, gorgeous meandering rivers and streams, coyote and marmot sightings, lots of wildflowers, and the feeling of traveling in the untamed natural world — surviving and actually thriving without a cell phone. A complete hike of the popular trail, from Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney, can take three weeks or more, so many opt to do sections at a time. That’s what I did late this summer — accompanied by my wife and 19-year-old son. I did about 80 miles over eight days, starting at Tuolumne Meadows. (I’d been inspired by the Cheryl Strayed memoir “Wild.”) Stopping at Yosemite and staying a day or two is a good way to acclimate yourself to the altitude. The Park is a national treasure, with a zillion backcountry things to do (climbing, hiking, riding, fishing, rafting, etc.) and mind-blowing scenery. We stayed a day at Yosemite Lodge and a day at Tuolumne Lodge. The tent cabins at Tuolumne featured wood burning stoves and wool blankets on the beds. (It gets chilly at night, even in late July.) Starting out, we had it “easy” — seven or eight miles along the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River, the only lengthy level area on the trail. Then, the climbing began as we went over Donohue Pass, and began the up and down that marks most of the time on the JMT. The first few days were, in truth, tough: Continue Reading