Dutra and the Petaluma Wetlands

The $32 billion that birders spent generated $85 billion in economic benefits for the nation in 2001. This ripple effect on the economy also produced $13 billion in tax revenues and 863,406 jobs.

-U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Birding in the United States, 2003

Last summer the Ellis Creek trail was opened to the public. Now one can walk over seven miles of trails in the Petaluma Public Wetlands. The contiguous wetlands have much to offer – 200 species of birds, 25 of mammals, reptiles and amphibians and over 100 types of plants. The Greenbelt Alliance and San Francisco Chronicle have described it as a top destination for nature lovers. The study cited above says there are 46 million birders in the U.S. and almost 4 million in California. Petaluma plans to start promoting eco- tourism to the area. Starting next January a part of the National Geographic website on California’s Redwood Coast will feature a section on our local wetlands, for example.

The success of any promotional effort will depend upon maintaining the purity of the 500 acres from harmful development, such as the proposed Dutra plant which would be across the Petaluma River from the heart of the wetlands, Shollenberger Park. That operation would impact scenic vistas, generate pollution, noise and potentially devastate a heron/egret colony on the Dutra property.

According to a 2008 census, on an average day over 400 people (mostly local residents) walk the Shollenberger trail, amounting to some 150,000 day-trips a year. Visitors use the park to bird watch, exercise, ride their bikes, walk dogs or just enjoy a relaxing stroll in a natural surrounding. The level of carcinogens that would be released by the plant will certainly give pause to those who now use the park trails. Anyone with respiratory problems (asthma, etc.) most surely would have to forego walking there.

Every spring park docents escort hundreds of local elementary school children to the fishing pier at Shollenberger across from the proposed Dutra barging operation, to view the heron/egret colony (which produced over 70 chicks in 2009). A healthy colony reflects a healthy environment. The Dutra operation’s noise at that location would exceed the General Plan standard and require its amendment because of this serious problem. It would probably mean that docents will cancel this important part of the children’s learning experience because of the noise and fear of auditory harm.

The colony may no longer be there in any case. The excessive noise and other aspects of the proposed operation, including 100,000 annual truck trips in and out of the site would result in a “substantial risk of colony abandonment” per Dr. John Kelly, Audubon Canyon ranch, the leading expert on colony management in Northern California:

…these birds are apparently most sensitive to changes in human activity…loud noises might disturb a colony if the noise levels are increased dramatically or are associated with new or unpredictable human activities. Noise per se may not cause disturbance if the birds associate the noise with normal conditions under which the nesting sites were selected. [His emphasis.]
~ Analysis submitted to Steve Dee, Sonoma County, February 24, 2008

Bob Dyer

Senior Docent


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