Northern Exposure: Covering issues of Northern California

Published: Sunday, May. 12, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3E

Endangered plan for Clear Lake fish splits community

LAKE COUNTY – Clear Lake is missing its hitch, and that's creating a stir beyond the depths of its lake-bottom home.

This large silvery freshwater minnow, known by its Pomo Indian name, has suffered population declines so precipitous that Department of Fish and Wildlife officials have made it a candidate for the state's endangered species list.

Controversy over the potential listing has divided the Lake County community. "There are those who want to save the hitch at all costs and others who would just as soon see it become extinct," said Terry Knight, an outdoor writer for the Lake County Record-Bee.

Numerous man-made issues are contributing to the population drop, said Kevin Thomas, a Fish and Wildlife senior environmental scientist. The hitch spawn in tributary streams in migrations that resemble miniature salmon runs. Today many of these creeks are blocked by dams and compromised by reduced flows.

Other man-made issues include non-native fish species, some planted to control gnats; and nutrient runoff from grazing and agriculture; and climate change.

Hitch are a traditional food used by Pomo Indians for centuries. Found only in Clear Lake, they were once so populous you could literally walk on their backs, Knight said. Their close cousin, the Clear Lake splittail, was last seen in the early 1970s and is now considered extinct.

The Fish and Game Department is accepting data relevant to the status of the Clear Lake hitch by June 14. It is expected to make a decision in March 2014.

Bid to save nursing home unites Dems, Republicans

LOYALTON – A 39-bed skilled nursing facility in the city has done what few local issues have accomplished in recent history in rural Sierra County: united political polar opposites – at least for now.

Republicans and Democrats are working together to save the clinic, which houses 22 elderly patients, most of them lifelong residents who are eligible for Medi-Cal.

Reductions to Medi-Cal reimbursements statewide threaten to close the facility at the eastern edge of Sierra Valley, said Tom Hayes, administrator of Eastern Plumas Health Care, which manages the Loyalton facility.

The closure would force the residents to move elsewhere and would cost the county 34 local jobs, said Pat Whitley, a former Sierra County supervisor who now serves on the Loyalton City Council.

"This is a nonpartisan issue – something Democrats and Republicans share equally," she said.

Whitley contacted Cindy Ellsmore, a former county treasurer and chairwoman of the county's Democratic Party. The meeting drew 50 people – a big crowd for the county of 3,113 residents – and resulted in a strategy to individually canvass state representatives in support of several bills seeking to reverse the Medi-Cal cuts approved by Gov. Jerry Brown as part of the 2011 budget.

Two Senate bills and one introduced by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, also enjoy bipartisan support, Whitley said. Last month the California Democratic Party adopted a resolution proposed by Ellsmore that opposes the Medi-Cal rate reductions and supports legislation to overturn them.

How long Sierra County's bipartisan coalition lasts is uncertain. For now, however, it is generating universal support for the Loyalton skilled nursing facility.

"Senior citizens are the backbone of our county," Whitley said. "This is their last stop. Republicans and Democrats agree: There are no pros or cons to discuss."

L.A. group's challenge delays Chico's plastic bag ban

CHICO – Ban the bag? Not so fast, said the Chico City Council.

The council delayed action last month on a plastic bag ban after the Save The Plastic Bag Coalition threatened legal action.

The Chico ordinance, which the council has been considering for more than a year, would prohibit specified stores from providing single-use plastic carryout bags and require a 10-cent charge for single-use recyclable paper bags.

That necessitates an environmental impact report, said Stephen L. Joseph, an attorney for the Los Angeles-based coalition. He filed an 800-page legal challenge highlighting nine objections a few days before the City Council was scheduled to adopt the bag-ban ordinance.

"It's a strategy to bury you in paperwork at the last minute," said Councilman Randall Stone, who supports the ban.

Nearly 100 communities in the United States have plastic bag bans, more than half of them in California where 54 adopted ordinances affect 75 cities or counties. Countries that have enacted a total ban on plastic bags include China, South Africa and Rwanda.

The council referred the proposed ordinance to its attorney for a review and is expected to hear it again in mid-May, Stone said. If it is adopted, the Chico ban would take effect Jan. 1, he said.

Jane Braxton Little. Reach her at jblittle@dyerpress.com.

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