Respect Tomales Bay – Stewardiness defined

Click on the words above “Respect Tomales Bay – Stewardiness defined” to see this entire post.

Last week The Tomales Bay Watershed Council hosted another fine “State of the Bay Conference at The Inverness Yacht Club.

I was kindly given a few minutes to present some of my findings from the past 3 years of paddling and cleaning Tomales Bay.

See the slides from my presentation, annotated after the fact at the below link:

Download (PDF, 14.13MB)

The main points of my presentation may be distilled to the following:

the coastodian board of directors are very cool

Steven Colbert knows what truthiness is all about

Download (PDF, 63KB)

Aldo Leopold knew what it means to be an environmental steward

the coastodian has witnessed firsthand in Tomales Bay the epitome of stewardiness

Tomales Bay oyster growers, some of them anyhow, over the past 3 years have moved the needle on the stewardometer.

stewardinessgauge-3

The California Fish & Game Commission continues to fail miserably in meeting their responsibility to protect and safeguard the public water bottoms they lease to private entities for private profit. One only need travel the length of Tomales Bay by small boat, from north to south to witness a sad century of dereliction of duty in the form of abandoned oyster farming infrastructure. Infrastructure that continues to pose a serious threat to the health of this jewel we call Tomales Bay.

Invasive plants such as jubata, pampas and ice plant pose a troubling threat to the biodiversity of West Marin. Without a strong, collaborative effort to safely eradicate these unwanted, unwelcome, invasive pests, West Marin will soon look more like Bodega Bay, Stinson Beach, Argentina, South Africa. We love West Marin because of the beautiful and diverse ecosystem. These  invasive plants threaten this beauty and we must act NOW!

Not long ago, one learned of a special beach, fantastic fishing lake/river or magical mushrooming spot from an elder who trusted us with this special knowledge only after we earned their trust.

With the advent of social media and frankly too damn many people, beautiful places like Tomales Bay are being overrun by people who see no difference between the shore of Tomales Bay and the trash-filled Oakland Estuary. These careless visitors venture west, have their fun, then leave a mess in the very place whose beauty brought them on a long journey to visit.

Today myself and a friend participated in an annual litter pickup known as “Litter bugs me”, started by Rigdon Currie 18 years ago. This year the cleanup extended beyond the side of the road into Tomales Bay. Two of us paddled from Chicken Ranch Beach to White House Pool, collecting all manner of trash, including 5 tires, several beach balls, a 5-gallon bucket of broken glass.

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As always, click on an image to see a larger version

Century old bat-ray fence abandoned long ago, now causing sedimentation in the southern bay as well as providing hard substrate for the invasive oyster drill to colonize upon as well as lay many, many thousands of eggs. These oyster drills prey upon the threatened native Olympia Oyster

Century old bat-ray fence abandoned long ago, now causing sedimentation in the southern bay as well as providing hard substrate for the invasive oyster drill to colonize upon as well as lay many, many thousands of eggs. These oyster drills prey upon the threatened native Olympia Oyster

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Chris plucks one of five tires collected from the cherished waters of Tomales Bay

Chris plucks one of five tires collected from the cherished waters of Tomales Bay

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Salvage kayak "Deep Respect" drifts on a flood tide in southern Tomales Bay

Salvage kayak “Deep Respect” drifts on a flood tide in southern Tomales Bay

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Respect Tomales Bay 43 – Best Management Practices in the oyster farming industry

Click the words above “Respect Tomales Bay – Best Management Practices” to see this entire post.

First, there is a name change to these related posts about the health & beauty of Tomales Bay.

Initially, I published some words and pictures under the title “Save our Tomales Bay” meant as a parody on the many black & white & blue signs that sprung up along the coast like toadstools a few years back in support of what is now history, except for the mess that still rests on the bottom of Drakes Estero. From now on, these posts will start out with “Respect Tomales Bay”.

Recently I was contacted by an “Oceanic CSA” in Santa Cruz CA looking to add responsibly farmed oysters to their offerings. They’d been reaching out to various oyster farmers in the Tomales Bay area and my name kept coming up. Read about what a CSA is here, and here.

I explained my connection to oyster farming and Tomales Bay as well as who I thought grew oysters responsibly (few), who I thought grew oysters questionably (most).

The caller was most appreciative. I’ve invited their company to a Tomales Bay kayak tour like never before experienced. They accepted.

If oyster growers used gear that was marked to make it easy for an independent observer to identify who was causing problems for the environment (from said gear being let loose on mother earth by wind, wave and poor design/practices) it would be easier to promote responsible growers and to contact those growers in need of improvement to their practices, instead of painting the entire region as mess-makers. Uniquely marked gear has been suggested to the Fish & Game Commission (FGC) for some time now.

The FGC has been mulling over the implementation of Best Management Practices (BMP’s) for at least a year now, likely much longer than that, with little more than meeting agenda items to show for it. I did hear the President of the Dept. of Fish & Wildlife say at the last meeting I attended (Feb 2016 – Sacto) that they need to update the escrow language in the leases, they need to get BMP’s in the leases, and they need to do it right. Let’s hope they also do it soon!

To be fair, The Commission has, at last count three vacancies. Which means more work for the current three commissioners. I wish them the best in filling those vacant seats with capable commissioners. I’ll do all I can to show The Commission what is actually taking place on the oyster leases in California.

You can read about what I suggested as BMP’s in April 2015 here.

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Click on image to see larger version

Tomales Bay at mouth of Walker Creek - public land leased to private companies to grow Japanese oysters, Atlantic oysters, Manilla clams. ©Richard James - coastodian.org

Tomales Bay at mouth of Walker Creek – public land leased to private companies to grow Japanese oysters, Atlantic oysters, Manilla clams.
©Richard James – coastodian.org

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Next related post maybe found here.

Previous related post may be found here.

See the first post in this series “Save our Tomales Bay” here.

Save our Tomales Bay – 41 Oyster growers put on notice by fish & game commission!

Click the words above “Save our Tomales Bay …” to see this entire post

For the past four years I’ve paddled, snorkled and walked in and around Tomales Bay as I enjoy this jewel of nature. Drawn to the natural beauty, I’ve recorded thousands of images of the bay and those who call it home.

Humans make their home along the shore of Tomales Bay, recreate in the bay and along the shore, as well as extract a living by growing non-native shellfish in the waters of the bay.

Unfortunately, humans are too often careless in how we treat our home, which also happens to be home to thousands of other species too.

I’ve made it a mission of mine to clean up and protect Tomales Bay from further degradation.

In service of this mission, I’ve spent a lot of time over the past year sharing my findings with the growers and government agencies tasked with protecting nature from us humans. This past week I took another day off work (my fifth over the last year) to drive to Sacramento and speak to the Fish & Game Commission (FGC) on the topic of renewing two leases operated by Point Reyes Oyster Company (PROC) to grow oysters & clams in Tomales Bay. PROC is a company whose questionable practices have had a huge and horrible impact on Tomales Bay. I was shocked to hear that these leases were going to be renewed for another fifteen years.

Thankfully, after hearing from myself and others, the FGC decided to NOT renew these leases. Rather, FGC gave a one year lease extension to PROC. Time to correct past mistakes, clean up debris and prove oysters & clams can be grown in Tomales Bay without destroying Tomales Bay.

This happened 8 days ago.

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Click on the image to see a larger version

PROC workers undoing years of neglect in Tomales Bay at Walker Creek. ©Richard James - coastodian.org

PROC workers undoing years of neglect in Tomales Bay at Walker Creek.
©Richard James – coastodian.org

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Five days later, this past Monday, five PROC workers were on their northern lease (lease 17) to pick up bags of dead clams & oysters littering the bay, secure bags of oysters to racks that were long ago pushed off by the tides far and wide. Pick up broken iron racks and bits of racks and hundreds, possibly thousands of lengths of plastic coated copper wire dropped in the bay to rot and leach plastic into the very waters in which these oysters grow. One of their workers assured me that the next day there would be ten workers on this task and that if I came back in two weeks, I’d not recognize the place. I happily took him up on his offer.

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PROC workers undoing years of neglect in Tomales Bay at Walker Creek. ©Richard James - coastodian.org

PROC workers undoing years of neglect in Tomales Bay at Walker Creek.
©Richard James – coastodian.org

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PROC workers undoing years of neglect in Tomales Bay at Walker Creek. ©Richard James - coastodian.org

PROC workers undoing years of neglect in Tomales Bay at Walker Creek.
©Richard James – coastodian.org

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An oyster lease in disarray, leakng plastic into Tomales Bay, the Pacific Ocean. ©Richard James - coastodian.org

An oyster lease in disarray, leakng plastic into Tomales Bay, the Pacific Ocean. ©Richard James – coastodian.org

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An oyster lease tended with pride, showing respect to Tomales Bay. ©Richard James - coastodian.org

An oyster lease tended with pride, showing respect to Tomales Bay. ©Richard James – coastodian.org

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At the same meeting PROC was denied lease renewal, Tomales Bay Oyster Company (TBOC) was given their formal non-renewal (a one year lease extension) for one of their two leases. Since learning of their non-renewal, TBOC has stepped up their efforts in cleaning up the bay in which they make their living.

I applaud and thank TBOC and PROC in stepping up to undo the damage caused by years of shoddy practices. It is my sincere hope each company continues to refine their work practices and strive to grow oysters in a truly responsible, sustainable way.

I also applaud the FGC in not rubber-stamp renewing these leases. Instead, sending a clear message to growers that the public is watching and demanding that growers respect the bay while extracting profit from public waters. They too need to refine their processes, update lease agreements written decades ago, regularly send their staff out to monitor the public lands in their care.

Dept. of Fish & Wildlife staff explained to me that these extensions are for up to 12 months. If these growers can demonstrate by authentic, continual action that they have corrected their many years of neglect in less time, the topic of lease renewal can be brought before the FGC sooner. Let’s hope they do.

This past week has been a huge one. I look forward to reporting on many more successes of a similar nature.

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Next related post may be found here.

Previous related post may be found here.

See the first post in this series “Save our Tomales Bay” here.

Save our Tomales Bay – 36 Please write Calif. Fish & Game Commission NOW

Oyster farming in Tomales Bay has been taking place for well over one hundred years. The nature of farming oysters means it is often done in hard to get to places, where common citizens seldom venture. During this lengthy time, a variety of growers with varying levels of respect for the environment, and poor to no oversight by the agencies tasked with protecting the coastal waters have left a legacy of trash throughout Tomales Bay that few people know is out there. Look here to see the many messes I speak of.
 

In the coming months, a number of oyster growing leases are up for renewal. It is critical that these leases, written decades ago, be updated to include Best Management Practices and that the loopholes in cleanup escrow accounts be closed so that each lease is clear on how Tomales Bay is to be cared for and the escrow funds can and will be used if need be for cleanup as intended.

 

These requests are not critical of Hog Island Oyster growing practices (whose lease is up for renewal at the 9-10 December CFGC meeting) and are intended as improvements to all leases for all growers. Hog Island is an exceptional grower that works hard to minimize lost gear and reduce the negative impacts of oyster growing on Tomales Bay. We want ALL growers held to the same improved standards and request that all future leases and lease renewals include the following language. Tomales Bay deserves improved protection from all oyster growers.

 

We also want the Fish & Game Commission and Department of Fish & Wildlife to use their role as “landlord” and “law enforcer” more effectively. Updating the lease language is a good first step and shows they intend to represent the best interests of the people of California. If California is to have one agency that both promotes oyster farming, as well as protects nature from oyster farming, that agency needs to take more seriously the protection part of their mission.

 

Lease M-430-15 held by Hog Island Oyster Company is up for renewal at the California Fish & Game Commission (CFGC) meeting in San Diego on 9-10 December.

 

Please write the Executive Director of the CFGC and request that all new leases include the Best Management Practices described here and that loopholes concerning the cleanup escrow account be closed.

 

 

Please write this individual now! He needs to hear from you before these meetings.

Mr. Sonke Mastrup
Executive Director
California Fish and Game Commission
P.O. Box 944209
Sacramento, CA 94244-2090

fgc@fgc.ca.gov
phone 916-653-4899

 

Director Mastrup, please include the following Best Management practices in all new leases, sub-lease agreements and lease renewals.

Best Management Practices Required of Tomales Bay Oyster Farmers

 

  1. Each grower must use uniquely identifiable gear
    Collected abandoned gear must have an easily known owner so that habitual litterers may be dealt with individually. To identify gear, growers must use unique bag colors and unique copper wire colors.

 

  1. Have 2 staff positions whose sole role is litter recovery
    One person that does nothing but litter patrol and cleanup. A second rotating position so that all employees see the issues and learn to reduce litter during daily operations.

 

  1. Growers must continually strive to improve gear design to reduce lost gear
    Conduct yearly meetings with third party monitor(s) to learn what is working, what is not.

 

  1. Replace single-use items such as litter-making zip-ties with reusable items such as stainless halibut clips
    If copper wire is used, each grower has assigned colors. Growers will recover all copper wire once bags are collected at harvest.

 

  1. Prohibit the use of plastic wrapped blue foam and other easily degradable floats
    Floats must be durable and resistant to pecking by birds. Floats must be securely attached to the oyster bag.

 

  1. Prohibit the current practice of tossing out loose bags at high tide
    All bags must be securely connected in a string to prevent drifting and loss during the time between mass deployment and being tied to anchor lines.

 

  1. Prohibit leaving of tools and materials leases, inter-tidal areas, and all nearby areas.
  2. Growers must remove all uninstalled PVC pipes, gloves, zip-ties, copper wire, ropes, hay hooks, bags and water bottles from lease areas each day.

 

  1. If a growing idea does not work, remove it promptly within 30 days.
    Abandoned pilings, posts, PVC, machinery and other debris left in and around Tomales Bay are no longer allowed.

 

  1. At a minimum, growers must ensure monthly patrols of lease areas and shoreline for lost gear
    Patrols will be increased to twice a month during high winds or storm events. Effective patrols must include walking shorelines and wetlands, and kayaks or other craft should be used for hard-to-reach areas to avoid damaging eelgrass with propellers.

 

 

Director Mastrup, please have third party, objective cleanup estiamtes done to determine the actual cleanup cost of all infrastructure used by oyster growers in ALL growing areas of California (Tomales Bay, Morro Bay, Humboldt Bay etc.). The Commission has made promises to address this since April, yet nothing has been communicated to interested parties on any progress in this very important matter.

 

 

Tomales Bay deserves strong protection so that future generations can enjoy this jewel.

Tomales Bay deserves strong protection so that future generations can enjoy this jewel.


 

 

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Next related post may be found here.

Previous related post may be found here.

See the first post in this series “Save our Tomales Bay” here.

Save our Tomales Bay – Part 29 Littering is against the law

Click on the text above “Save our Tomales Bay – Part 29 Stakeholders meeting recap” to see this entire post

A public meeting to discuss oyster farming’s impact on Tomales Bay happened!

On Thursday 6 August at the Marconi Conference Center in Marshall CA, perhaps thirty people representing many perspectives on oyster farming in Tomales Bay gathered and talked in a civil forum about the debris left by oyster farming in and around Tomales bay over the past 80 years.

A partial listing of who was there:

California Fish & Game Commission [FGC]
California Department of Fish & Wildlife [CDFW]
—Marine Region Coordinator
—Fisheries Division, Shellfish Initiative
—Law Enforcement Division

California Coastal Commission [CCC]
County Health Department

Hog Island Oyster Company
Marin Oyster Company
Point Reyes Oyster Company
Tomales Bay Oyster Company

Numerous local citizens

Media representatives

Sonke Mastrup, Executive Director of the FGC set the ground rules for the meeting.

I gave a presentation explaining what I’ve been finding in the bay and along the shore over the past 2+ years which you can watch below.

A group discussion followed.

Important items that I came home with:

Many agencies have a say over what happens in Tomales Bay. Clearly, not all agencies exercise their voice.

The past few months some growers have been hard at work patrolling the shores and bay, redesigning gear to reduce loss (more on this in a future post) and removing legacy debris from the leases they run. ( I hope this continues indefinitely)

Some growers would like to see the people from the FGC and CDFW come visit Tomales Bay and perform their oversight duties more often and on a regular basis. Something that has NOT been happening for some time, if ever.

Sonke Mastrup (FGC Executive Director) pointed out that littering is against the law.

This was in response to questions about what laws are on the books to explicitly prohibit the growers from leaving the messes they have been leaving for a long time.

At this time, I am offering a bounty of 2 dozen fresh oysters [small or medium] to the first person that can show me proof positive of a Tomales Bay oyster grower being cited for littering in the last 10 years.

I’ve heard Sonke state that littering is against the law in Marshall at this meeting, and back in April at the FGC meeting in Santa Rosa.

Over the past two+ years of picking up the mess left by Tomales Bay growers, I’ve packed out several hundred pounds of grow-out bags, thousands of zip-ties, hundreds of yards of rope and rope scraps, plastic foam, PVC pipes, shards of PVC pipes, retail oyster bags, remnants of retail oyster bags, gloves, tools, parts of tools, lumber and myriad other items left by growers in Tomales Bay.

Not once have I seen a CDFW game warden, or any other “landlord” of state lands on patrol.

A list of loopholes in the leases signed by the growers “renters” and fish & game commission “landlord” was presented. If you care about Tomales Bay and would like to see the agency tasked with protecting your planet from activities the same agency promotes, please write the Executive Director of the Fish & Game Commission and tell him.

Sonke Mastrup, the Executive Director of the California Fish & Game Commission

Mr. Sonke Mastrup
Executive Director, Fish and Game Commission
fgc@fgc.ca.gov
phone 916-653-4899

California Fish and Game Commission P.O. Box 944209, Sacramento, CA 94244-2090

Download (PDF, 349KB)

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Next related post may be found here.

Previous related post may be found here.

See the first post in this series “Save our Tomales Bay” here.

Save our Tomales Bay – Part 25 Why?

Click the words above “Save our Tomales Bay – Part 25 Why?” to see this entire post.

Over the years I’ve packed thousands of pounds of trash off the beaches of Point Reyes National Seashore and Tomales Bay, one question asked of me often is:

Where does this stuff come from?

Initially, when I found a plastic water bottle labeled “Made in China”, I thought that it had floated from China to make landfall on Pierce Point for me to find and remove.

Then something happened that changed my mind.

During 2010, the craziest year for trash I have ever seen, I cleaned the 2+ mile portion of Point Reyes Beach between North Beach parking lot and South Beach parking lot.

I cleaned it not once, not twice, but three days in a row.

Each day it looked as bad, if not worse than the day before.

On the third day, I found two identical, pristine water bottles from China. By pristine, I mean they looked as if someone had just come from Palace Market, drank the water, then dropped them on the beach.

Brand new.

Not covered with goose-neck barnacles or bryozoan as would a bottle that had spent months or years bobbing around the Pacific Ocean.

Gooseneck barnacle encrusted plastic water bottle - South Beach, 7 June, 2010

Gooseneck barnacle encrusted plastic water bottle – South Beach, 7 June, 2010

These new bottles I’d found hadn’t drifted over from China on their own.

They had likely been tossed overboard by a crew-member of one of the thousands of container ships that bring countless millions of tons of cheap diversions to the world each year.

After contacting the Port of Oakland, I learned the following about container ships visiting Oakland:

       Only 19 hours or less to unload and load all the containers from one enormous ship.
       See here for a time lapse video of the loading of 18,000 containers.

       Less than 20 crew, most from the Philippines.

For a few months I tried to get my “Thirsty” image of 5 large meta-bottles hung in the room where this crew stays during unloading/loading. The woman with whom I spoke at the Port of Oakland really wanted to do this, but her superiors got in the way and in the end I failed in my attempt to educate the crews of these ships to not toss their trash into the sea.

BUT

I learned something that day.

I never really now where the litter I find comes from, I only know where it ends up.

Which is mostly true.

Mostly, because I know where the 6000+ black plastic spacer tubes I have picked up came from (Drakes Estero – oyster farming operations)

I know where the oyster grow-out bags come from.

Abandoned grow-out bags from Tomales Bay Oyster Company returned to them.

Abandoned grow-out bags from Tomales Bay Oyster Company returned to them.

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©Richard James - coastodian.org Abandoned Hog Island Oysters grow-out bags collected adjacent to lease M-430-15 on 22 March, 2015

©Richard James – coastodian.org
Abandoned Hog Island Oysters grow-out bags collected adjacent to lease M-430-15 on 22 March, 2015

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I know where the thousands upon thousands of plastic zip-ties and lengths of plastic coated copper wire and plastic floats pecked by hungry birds that are discarded into Tomales Bay come from.

TBOC oyster bag float, pecked by birds looking for food. Zip-ties, blue foam bits of all sizes and the black plastic cover can be found by the thousands all around Tomales Bay.

TBOC oyster bag float, pecked by birds looking for food.
Zip-ties, blue foam bits of all sizes and the black plastic cover can be found by the thousands all around Tomales Bay.

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Small fraction of the zip-ties (en español: los cinchos) collected from leases of TBOC

Small fraction of the zip-ties (en español: los cinchos) collected from leases of TBOC

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Small fraction of the plastic coated copper wire (en español: cables) collected from leases of TBOC

Small fraction of the plastic coated copper wire (en español: cables) collected from leases of TBOC

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Tiny fraction of the discarded PVC pipes and pipe shards left by TBOC in Tomales Bay

Tiny fraction of the discarded PVC pipes and pipe shards left by TBOC in Tomales Bay

They come from the growers of oysters, clams and mussels in Tomales Bay.

I may not be able to stop the people around the world from polluting our planet.

But I will do all I can in my local area to stop the rampant disregard for the Tomales Bay by local oyster, clam and mussel growers.

And until these growers stop polluting the earth with their trash,

until the Fish & Game Commission takes its responsibility as the “landlord” of these public waters seriously,

I’ll continue to boat the bay and walk the shore, picking up their mess and reporting on it, just as I found it.

If, when I go boating on the bay, all I see are godwits, dowitchers and willets, that is what I’ll share with photos and words.

The true "owners" of Tomales Bay.

The true “owners” of Tomales Bay.

So growers, if you don’t wish to read about your mess, stop making one.


Three leases are coming up for renewal soon. Leases that, as written are pretty loose in terms of holding these companies responsible for the mess they make on a daily basis.

It will end up costing US tax payers more than a few million dollars to clean up the mess left by Johnsons / Drakes Bay Oyster Company in Drakes Estero.

The escrow fund language used in the current leases is over 25 years old. We need a contract worthy of the land it is designed to protect!

If you’d like to see the leases re-written so that growers pay fines if they leave a mess,

If you’d like to see the Fish & Wildlife Department more actively monitor the activities of growers that have made a mess of Tomales Bay for over a hundred years

If you’d like to take an active role in protecting the environment of West Marin

Write Sonke Mastrup, the Executive Director of the California Fish & Game Commission and tell him so.

You can reach him here:

Mr. Sonke Mastrup
Executive Director, Fish and Game Commission
fgc@fgc.ca.gov
phone 916-653-4899

California Fish and Game Commission P.O. Box 944209, Sacramento, CA 94244-2090

Please also ask him when he plans to hold the public meeting in West Marin so that the public can weigh in on how the public lands are being treated (mistreated).

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Next related post may be found here>.

Previous related post may be found here.

See the first post in this series “Save our Tomales Bay” here.