ConsRep 914 C

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead

Announcements

Temperince Morgan as the new executive TNC director in Florida.

The Nature Conservancy is pleased to announce Temperince Morgan as the new executive director in Florida.

A Florida native, Morgan is a scientist by training and has spent the last 17 years working on conservation and water issues in Florida,

most recently as the division director for Everglades policy for the South Florida Water Management District.

Morgan will oversee all aspects of the Conservancy’s work in Florida, including protecting critical linkages and

springsheds, increasing the resilience of our coastline and securing water for people and nature.

The Arthur Marshall Foundation for the Everglades

                                                                                                                                                                                                                           UPCOMING EVENTS

Sequin Palm Beach Reception 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Date:  Thursday, October 9, 2014
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Location:  Sequin, Palm Beach
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Evening reception to benefit the Marshall Foundation

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Annual Cypress Seed Harvest
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Date:  Saturday, October 25, 2014
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Location:  Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatachee Wildlife Refuge

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  River of Grass Gala
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Date:  Saturday, December 6, 2014
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Location:  Lady Windridge Yacht, launching from Palm Beach

For more information about any of these events call the Foundation at 561-233-9004 or email info@artmarshall.org.

2014 Florida Keys Birding and Wildlife Festival

The 2014 Florida Keys Birding & Wildlife Festival is Tuesday, Sept. 23, through Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014.  Save the date, we are currently working hard to get you a complete list of our events, please check back soon.  If you have immediate questions, please contact us at flkeysbirdfest@gmail.com   or phone 305-304-9625 for more information.

Now in its 16th year, the festival offers a variety of programs, field trips, workshops and speakers guaranteed to enthrall nature lovers of all ages. Festival activities span the length of the island chain, from Everglades National Park to the Dry Tortugas, and give participants a unique perspective on the terrestrial and marine habitats of this subtropical paradise.

The festival is anchored at Curry Hammock State Park, mile marker 56.2, which is also home to the annual Florida Keys Hawkwatch, a citizen science effort that monitors the fall migration of raptors over the islands.

The 2014 Festival includes a fantastic selection of birding experts who will lead morning guided walks, mid-day workshops and evening presentations.  The festival features field trips to Dry Tortugas National Park, the National Key Deer Refuge, Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock State Park and other national, state and private natural areas. Additional trips include kayaking and boating ecotours, history, natural history, botanical, photography and butterfly field trips, Think of this event as a backstage pass to the natural wonders of the Florida Keys.

Advance registration is requested, as many trips have limits on participants.

Go to website for more info. http://keysbirdingfest.org/

Tall Cypress Natural Area Monthly Bird Walks

Second Sunday of the Month, September 2014-June 2015, 7:30 a.m.

Broward County Parks will be introducing monthly bird walks at Tall Cypress Natural Area in Coral Springs.

The walks will be led by Bruce Pickholtz who is a Florida Master Naturalist, avid birder and Coral Springs resident.

Tall Cypress has become one of Broward’s major “hotspots”, with 150 different species recorded in and around the park.

This is due to the diversity of habitats within this small (66 acre) patch, along with its location along major migration routes.

Year-round and winter residents include:

Painted Buntings, five species of Woodpecker, Great Horned Owl, Red-Tailed Hawk, Summer Tanager,

Sharp-shinned Hawk, Spot-breasted Oriole, Monk and Nanday Parakeets.

During migration, almost anything is possible!

The Bird Walks will be held on the second Sunday of each month, beginning at 7:30am and will be split into two parts:

The first part of the walk

will include the Boardwalk and parking lot area, which are easily accessible to people of all ages and

abilities and will take 1 – 1 1/2 hrs. The total length is a little over half a mile.

The second part of the walk

will include areas along Turtle Run Boulevard and then along the northern and western perimeter of the park

to explore the ponds and some of the less-visited parts of Tall Cypress.

This part of the walk is quite a bit longer (about 1.5 miles) and requires walking on soft dirt trails and is not appropriate

for very young children or for anyone who might have trouble with either the distance or the uneven surfaces.

Individuals with disabilities requiring accommodations in order to participate in programs, services, and activities must contact the Special Populations Section

at 954-357-8170 or TTY 954-537-2844 at least five (5) business days prior to the scheduled meeting or event.

 First segment of walk:

boardwalk and parking lot area; just over half a mile; fully accessible

Second segment:

about 1.5 miles, including northern and western borders of site and along Turtle Run Boulevard; terrain more uneven, not appropriate for very young children

More than 150 species documented in/around park, including painted bunting, great horned owl, red-tailed hawk,

sharp-shinned hawk, spot-breasted oriole, summer tanager, monk parakeet, and pileated woodpecker

Peak migration periods: September-October and April-May; additional species may include bald eagle, indigo bunting, and yellow-billed cuckoo

The walks will be led by Bruce Pickholtz, a Florida Master Naturalist, avid birder, and a Coral Springs resident

 

Tall Cypress Natural Area
3700 Turtle Run Blvd., Coral Springs, FL 33067 • 954-357-5100

Broward County Board of County Commissioners

Parks and Recreation Division

950 N.W. 38th St., Oakland Park, FL 33309-5982

954-357-8100

1000 Friends of Florida fall webinars

1000 Friends of Florida has planned an exciting fall season of webinars including September’s state planning resources to address sea level rise, October’s Broward County’s planning strategies for sea level rise, and November’s planning for complete streets in Florida.  We will have more details shortly on December’s webinar on Florida greenways.  More information and registration links are available at www.1000friendsofflorida.org/communications/webinars  and below.  These webinars provide a great opportunity to learn about state-of-the-art planning strategies specific to Florida at a cost of only $10 per webinar,  We hope you will join us!

October 8 Webinar
Planning for Sea Level Rise:  Broward County Responds 

REGISTER NOW! October 8, 2014, Noon to 2 p.m.  Cost $10.

Planning for Sea Level Rise: Broward County Responds

Broward County and Fort Lauderdale are national leaders in planning for the impacts of sea level rise. This webinar will cover efforts at the regional, county and municipal levels to develop planning strategies for Broward County and the City of Fort Lauderdale. Dr. Jennifer Jurado, Director of Broward County’s Natural Resources Planning and Management Division, will discuss the development and implementation of the Southeast Florida Climate Change Compact, an alliance between Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties and their municipalities to develop joint baselines, mapping, plans and leadership, as well as Broward County’s process to develop and ensure implementation of the climate change element adopted into the local comprehensive plan in 2013. Next, James Cromar of the Broward County Metropolitan Planning Organization will discuss the Federal Highway Administration’s climate resiliency pilot project in the county. Julie Dennis of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity will discuss that agency’s Community Resiliency Initiative and Adaptation Action Area project and guidance for local governments available through this work. City of Fort Lauderdale Assistant City Manager Susy Torriente and Principal Environmental Strategist Jim Koeth will review planning for climate change at the municipal level, including their involvement in DEO’s Adaptation Action Area project. The cost for this webinar is $10. 1000 Friends has applied for professional certification credits for planners (AICP CM), Florida attorneys (CLE), Certified Floodplain Managers (CEC), and Certified Environmental Health Planners (CEPH) but cannot guarantee that credits will be approved.

November 12 Webinar
Planning for Complete Streets in Florida

REGISTER NOW!  November 12, 2014, Noon to 1:30 p.m. Cost $10.

Billy Hattaway, FDOT’s District One Secretary who is leading the department’s statewide initiative to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety and the implementation of the Department’s new Complete Streets Policy, will discuss how a context based “complete street” design approach will provide for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and public transportation users of all ages and abilities and enhance accessibility, safety and public health. The first community in Florida to adopt Complete Streets guidelines is the City of Deerfield Beach, and Director of Planning and Development Services Amanda Martinez will review the process they have used to adopt and implement those guidelines. BikeWalkLee’s Darla Letourneau, a founder and steering committee member of that coalition, will focus on the role of citizen advocacy in promoting complete street policy. AARP Florida’s Laura Cantrell will discuss that organization’s perspectives on Complete Streets. The cost for this webinar is $10. 1000 Friends has applied for professional certification credits for planners (AICP CM), Florida attorneys (CLE), Certified Floodplain Managers (CEC), and Certified Environmental Health Planners (CEPH) but cannot guarantee that credits will be approved.

Survey on Climate Change/Sea Level Rise

With more than a thousand miles of coastline and low-lying topography throughout of much of the state’s coastal areas, Florida is at ground zero for the impacts of climate change and associated sea level rise. 1000 Friends of Florida is identifying communities in our state which are using planning strategies to lessen their contributions to climate change and/or build community resilience to address the effects of climate change, including sea level rise.

If your community is taking steps to address sea level rise and/or climate change we hope you will take a few minutes to complete 1000 Friends’ 10-question survey. Your responses are anonymous, unless you chose otherwise. Please note, this survey is not intended to be statistically significant but rather is intended to gather information on current planning efforts in Florida. We will post the results at www.1000friendsofflorida.org in October.

1000 Friends is also compiling information on sea level rise and climate change plans and studies around the state. Check our web page out, and contact Vivian Young with links to information we are missing.

Also, check out the results of 1000 Friends recent survey on Developments of Regional Impact in Florida.

1000 Friends of Florida Seeking President 

1000 Friends of Florida is seeking a highly motivated individual with a strong vision and passion for land use planning and with a proven record of successful fundraising in the not-for-profit sector to become its next President. This is a highly visible position and organization, with a strong influence in how smart growth will continue to evolve in Florida. The President will bring inspirational leadership, vision, strategic acumen, sound ethics, outstanding listening abilities, effective management and implementation skills, and public outreach abilities to inspire and collaborate with board, staff, and stakeholders. The deadline is September 30, 2014. Please visit 1000friendsofflorida.org/president.pdf for more information on the position.

1000 Friends of Florida

Of Interest to All

Clouds of water found on “near” planet

Astronomers have found signs of water ice clouds on an object just 7.3 light-years from Earth – less than twice the distance of Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system to the sun. If confirmed, the discovery is the first sighting of water clouds beyond our solar system. The clouds shroud a Jupiter-sized object known as a brown dwarf and should yield insight into the nature of cool giant planets orbiting other suns.

Kevin Luhman, an astronomer at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, recently discovered the nearby object by using images from NASA’s WISE infrared space telescope, which scanned the sky from 2010 to 2011. A brown dwarf is a failed star and has so little mass that it can’t sustain nuclear reactions, so after its birth it fades and cools. This brown dwarf, named WISE J0855-0714, is the coldest known. Its temperature is slightly below the freezing point of water, so it’s colder than Earth’s mean temperature but warmer than Jupiter’s.

“I’ve been obsessed with this object since its discovery,” says astronomer Jacqueline Faherty of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C. The new neighbor resembles a giant planet—it’s as large as Jupiter and three to 10 times as massive—but is solitary, which means it has no sun whose glare interferes with our view of it. Moreover, it’s nearby: the fourth closest system to the sun, after Alpha Centauri, Barnard’s star, and Luhman 16.

Still, because the object is small and cold, it’s so dim that no ground-based observatory had seen it. “I went to battle at the telescope to try and get this detection,” Faherty says. “I wanted to put war paint under my eyes and wear a bandanna, because I knew this was not going to be an easy thing to do. At the telescope, I’ve never been so nervous. I’ve never wanted clear conditions so badly.”

Ken Croswell|Science|September 14, 2014

Read more at Science.

Conservation amendment poised to pass

Will the “Water and Land Conservation” amendment make it harder to balance the state budget?

TALLAHASSEE — Florida voters appear poised in November to pass a constitutional amendment that would require setting aside billions of dollars for land conservation and other environmental projects.

The proposed “Water and Land Conservation” amendment would earmark 33 percent of the state’s documentary-stamp tax revenues — fees paid when real estate is sold — for 20 years. The money would go to buy conservation lands, protect areas vital to the water supply and restore natural systems that have been degraded, such as the Everglades.

But some Republican and business leaders are raising concerns that Amendment 1 could make it harder to balance the state budget in the future.

“In a perfect world, you wouldn’t want it in the constitution,” said incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando. “As a legislator, you want as much flexibility as you can, and it doesn’t belong in the constitution.”

Other critics of the measure include House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Wesley Chapel Republican who has argued that “legislating via constitutional amendments” does not work, and Senate President Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican who has said the amendment would shift too much land to state control.

But supporters of Amendment 1 say it came about after state funding for land preservation dwindled during the last recession.

About Amendment 1:

• Also known as the Water and Conservation amendment

• Will appear on November statewide ballot

• Approval requires a supermajority of 60 percent

• The amendment will earmark 33 percent from the state’s document stamp taxes for the next 20 years to fund conservation and land acquisition

• Polling shows broad public support

“The conservation community took the hit like everyone else when the economy turned south,” said Allison DeFoor, chairman of Florida’s Water and Land Legacy campaign, which backs the amendment. “And then things just didn’t get readjusted when the economy began to turn.”

The proposal appears likely to get the required 60 percent support from voters to pass. According to the Florida Chamber of Commerce — which opposes the measure — 78 percent of the state’s voters support the amendment.

“Little is known about it, but it has a powerfully effective ballot title, in synch with Florida’s pro-environment leanings,” said University of South Florida political science professor Susan MacManus, who expects it to pass.

Supporters point to the Florida Forever program, which uses bonds backed with revenue from documentary stamps and authorizes lawmakers to spend up to $300 million a year for land preservation. The last year Florida Forever’s funding approached that mark was 2008.

Supporters of Amendment 1 say it will generate about $10 billion over 20 years, while the state appears to project higher numbers. A state analysis estimates the total would be $648 million during the fiscal year starting in July 2015 and eventually grow to $1.268 billion by the 20th year.

“You would think that we could at least spend 1 percent of our state budget on water and land conservation,” said Will Abberger, campaign manager for Florida’s Water and Land Legacy. “That’s what Amendment 1 represents: having that constitutional dedication so that no matter who’s in public office, we know that there is going to be funding.”

But others are wary. David Hart, executive vice president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, said Amendment 1 would put state leaders in a bind during an economic crisis.

“It’s hard enough for the Legislature to balance (competing) budgetary needs, but if $20 billion is set aside and untouchable, what else is going to get cut to make up for that?” Hart asked. “Are they going to have to cut education or senior health care? Those are some choices that are very real, should we get another recession.”

DeFoor said the amendment had been carefully crafted to budget for hard times.

“It’s short in duration, it’s only 20 years, it’s reasonable in the amount (and) it puts us kind of back where we were,” he said. “It’s fixed by percentage, so if things get better, we all get better. And if things were, God forbid, to deteriorate, we’d take the hit, too.”

Despite their qualms about Amendment 1, Republican legislative leaders say they respect voters’ support for it.

“If the amendment is passed, then we’re certainly going to scrupulously follow it and put those revenues toward those purposes,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

MARGIE MENZEL|The News Service of Florida|September 12, 2014 

Get the Newsletter from the Conservancy of South Florida

Turbines not top threat to birds

Cats, cell towers kill many more wildfowl, says study

Wind turbines kill far fewer birds in North America than do cats or collisions with cell towers, a new study says.

As wind power expands in the United States, critics often blame giant turbine blades for bird deaths. The new analysis says birds face far greater threats.

Wind turbines kill between 214,000 and 368,000 birds annually — a small fraction compared with the estimated 6.8 million fatalities from collisions with cell and radio towers and the 1.4 billion to 3.7 billion deaths from cats, according to the peer-reviewed study by two federal scientists and the environmental consulting firm West Inc.

“We estimate that on an annual basis, less than 0.1 percent … of songbird and other small passerine species populations in North America perish from collisions with turbines,” says lead author Wallace Erickson of Wyoming-based West.

The study based its estimate on data from 116 studies conducted in the U.S. and Canada, after adjusting for the fact that surveys don’t capture all fatalities. Some carcasses are missed by monitors, disappear because of scavenging or decompose before they’re counted.

The wind energy industry has occasionally been at odds with conservation groups because of bird deaths. They clashed in December when the Obama administration, eager to promote nonpolluting renewable energy as a way to address climate change, announced a new federal rule that allows wind farms to lawfully kill bald and golden eagles under 30year permits.

Yet many environmentalists say wind power ultimately benefits birds. It is a “a growing solution to some of the more serious threats that birds face, since wind energy emits no greenhouse gases that accelerate climate change,” said Terry Root of Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

Earlier this month, a National Audubon Society report said hundreds of bird species in the U.S. — including the bald eagle and eight state birds, from Idaho to Maryland — are at “serious risk” from climate change.
“Our scientists are still reviewing this particular study,” says Audubon spokesman David Ringer.

The study was funded by the American Wind Wildlife Institute, which works with the wind industry, wildlife agencies and environmentalists to promote responsible wind energy.

Wendy Koch|USA TODAY9/16/2014

Estero Council of Community Leaders Meeting 

 Executive Summary

One of the newer concerns that could pose a threat to our water resources is inappropriate oil drilling.  Florida sits on a very open, porous lime rock base with a series of underground aquifers, so it is a very fragile environment with a lot of interconnectivity between the different water resources.  90% of Floridians depend on drinking water from these underground aquifers.

State officials had formerly said that “fracking” would not occur in Florida because of its porous geology.  The first case of “fracking” in Southwest Florida occurred late last year. Three wells are required for this type of oil drilling.  One is a water supply well, as horizontal drilling requires 5 million gallons of water per month per well and often that is being taken from the drinking water source.  The other two wells are the actual oil drilling well and a waste water well, as the water from the supply well becomes so polluted it can’t be treated and has to be deep well injected to be disposed of, which could create serious problems in the future. (Jennifer’s PPT presentation can be viewed here.)

Jennifer Hecker|Conservancy of Southwest Florida|Natural Resources Policy Manager|September 12, 2014

A Company’s Trying to Build a Mall in the Grand Canyon

What springs to mind when you think of the Grand Canyon? The unblemished majesty of 6 million years of nature at work (and, of course, life-affirming sunsets), or grabbing an Orange Julius on the way to Banana Republic?

Unfortunately, that latter image is exactly what Confluence Partners, a Colorado-based environmental insurance firm, foresees for the future of one of our oldest and most cherished natural landmarks.

The Grand Canyon Escalade would sit at the junction between the Colorado River and Little Colorado River, and would include shops, a tramway, restaurants and all other manner of gaudy, touristy miscellany.

In defense of their proposed project, Confluence Partners have offered up such compelling arguments as “Are there really sacred sites (in the Grand Canyon)? Really?” and, in regards to rafting permits being granted by the National Park Service each year, “Where do 24,657 people go to party? Why the Confluence, of course!”

Here’s the proposal for the Grand Canyon Escalade:

proposal

Confluence Partners have argued that their project will help invigorate the local Navajo community, but members of the local population aren’t feeling the same vibe.

Save The Confluence, a group organized by Navajos exiled under the Bennett Freeze for almost 50 years, was formed with the express intent of keeping the Grand Canyon Escalade from becoming a reality.

Fortunately, at this point, Confluence Partners don’t seem to be gaining any momentum for their proposal. Let’s hope it stays that way.

To learn more about both sides of the issue, you can visit the Facebook page for the Grand Canyon Escalade here, and Save the Confluence here.

Johnny Dugan|RYOT|September 18, 2014

This post originally appeared on RYOT.

Turns Out Antibiotic Use on Poultry Farms Is Far Worse Than We Thought

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been under pressure to curb the use of antibiotics on factory farms over concerns that they are contributing to antibiotic resistance, but a new Reuters investigation of the poultry industry has revealed the problem is far more pervasive than either the public or regulators realize.

Adding antibiotics to feed has become a standard practice not only to deal with the unsanitary living conditions animals are forced to live in, but also to promote growth which makes production cheaper. Scientists, health advocates and some lawmakers have raised serious concerns about how giving animals antibiotics in a “non-therapeutic” manner, before they get sick, on a regular basis turns them into reservoirs for bacterial growth that can result in antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria, or superbugs, that modern medicine isn’t equipped to fight.

The problem is serious. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 2 million people are sickened by antibiotic resistant infections every year, with at least 23,000 dying as a result. The World Health Organization estimates that it costs us between $21 billion to $34 billion annually to fight these infections.

Still, even among growing concerns about the trouble this practice causes, an estimated 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used on livestock.

Reuters’ investigation examined internal documents called “feed tickets,” which are issued to producers by the mills that make poultry feed to the companies’ specifications and found that five major poultry producers including Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue Farms, George’s and Koch Foods are all routinely adding antibiotics to feed.

In every instance of antibiotic use identified by Reuters, the doses were at the low levels that scientists say are especially conducive to the growth of so-called superbugs, bacteria that gain resistance to conventional medicines used to treat people. Some of the antibiotics belong to categories considered medically important to humans.

The feed tickets examined represent a fraction of the tens of thousands issued annually to poultry farms run by or for major producers. The confidential information they contain nonetheless extends well beyond what the U.S. government knows. Veterinary use of antibiotics is legal and has been rising for decades.

Some of the antibiotics found included drugs that are considered important for people and were cited to promote growth, or for ‘improved feed efficiency,’ which is contrary to claims from the industry that it’s doing this for the health of its birds. Some were using them solely for that purpose.

More worrisome is that the FDA hasn’t reviewed most of these drugs for the risks their use poses to human health. Reuters found that to date the agency has only reviewed about 10 percent of the approximately 270 drugs containing types of antibiotics the agency considers medically important for treating humans, and has only evaluated the superbug risks of about 7 percent of the approximately 390 drugs containing antibiotics that the agency has approved for veterinary use in chickens, pigs and cattle.

Even with growing concerns, the FDA has failed to take meaningful action in decades. Last year, it announced it would be implementing guidelines to curb their use, but those guidelines were voluntary and unenforceable. The move drew criticism over concerns that the very industries that have been fighting so hard to continue business as usual weren’t just going to roll over and comply.

Now the FDA doesn’t plan on gathering more information on these drugs until 2016, but the investigation has prompted lawmakers to call for action. U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, (D-NY) called the findings “staggering” and announced she is planning on introducing legislation that would authorize the FDA to collect data on “farm-level antibiotic use,” while Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), the only microbiologist in Congress, also denounced the findings and has renewed her efforts to get Congress to act.

Slaughter has been working for years to get the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMPTA) passed without success. Her legislation would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to effectively ban non-therapeutic use of eight critical classes of antibiotics that are currently being used on healthy animals, while ensuring sick animals would still get treatment. In response to the investigation, she stated:

Since 1999, I have been calling for an end to the overuse of antibiotics on the farm. Industry has kept data showing the rampant, dangerous use of antibiotics hidden from the public for one reason: to protect corporate profits at the expense of public health. It is unconscionable but not surprising that the agribusiness and pharmaceutical companies are still calling the shots. Worse yet, federal agencies have been helpless because they are afraid of litigation. Agencies charged with protecting Americans’ health should not have to wait for the opinion of a judge before fulfilling their obligations.

Hopefully, Reuters’ investigation will add fuel to the calls already being made to those in authority who either aren’t taking this issue seriously, or are just bowing to pressure from the livestock and pharmaceutical industries and will result in meaningful action to stop non-therapeutic use of antibiotics on farms.

Alicia Graef|September 18, 2014

Victory in Maine and Progress on Antibiotics ‏

There’s big news on two important efforts to protect everyone’s right to safe food and public water.

1) Victory for Public Water in Maine!

Earlier today, the Public Utilities Commission in Maine released a report, siding with us against Poland Spring and Nestlé, its parent company. Nestlé has been pushing the town of Fryeburg, Maine to turn over its water system in a contract that could last as long as 45 years. After a flood of support from our members, we were able to afford a lawyer to take Nestlé on and stop this contract from going through.
Defeating Nestlé in Maine is a huge victory for everyone’s right to public water, in Fryeburg and around the world. Nestlé is notorious for trying to bully communities to hand over public water rights for their own private gain. Today, we showed Nestlé that we stand on the right side of the law, and that when we come together, they can’t bully us.

2) Obama Acts on Antibiotics but Fails to Curb Factory Farm Use

Yesterday afternoon, the Obama administration announced steps to address antibiotic resistance.¹ This step forward is a testament to the work you’ve been a part of, calling on lawmakers to address this rising public health threat. But we have a lot more work to do.
The measures announced by the President’s office don’t address the abuse of antibiotics on factory farms — which are responsible for 80% of all antibiotics used in the U.S. We’re working to pass a federal law to end the irresponsible use of antibiotics on factory farms, and we’re making real progress. With your help, we’ve been building a groundswell of public support for sensible policies — sending over 70,000 messages to Congress and passing over 25 city council resolutions across the country so far.

Wenonah Hauter|Executive Director|Food & Water Watch|9/19/14

19-Year-Old Develops Ocean Cleanup Array That Could Remove 7,250,000 Tons Of Plastic From the World’s Oceans

19-year-old Boyan Slat has unveiled plans to create an Ocean Cleanup Array that could remove 7,250,000 tons of plastic waste from the world’s oceans. The device consists of an anchored network of floating booms and processing platforms that could be dispatched to garbage patches around the world. Instead of moving through the ocean, the array would span the radius of a garbage patch, acting as a giant funnel. The angle of the booms would force plastic in the direction of the platforms, where it would be separated from plankton, filtered and stored for recycling.

At school, Boyan Slat launched a project that analyzed the size and amount of plastic particles in the ocean’s garbage patches. His final paper went on to win several prizes, including Best Technical Design 2012 at the Delft University of Technology. Boyan continued to develop his concept during the summer of 2012, and he revealed it several months later at TEDxDelft 2012.

Slat went on to found The Ocean Cleanup Foundation, a non-profit organization which is responsible for the development of his proposed technologies. His ingenious solution could potentially save hundreds of thousands of aquatic animals annually, and reduce pollutants (including PCB and DDT) from building up in the food chain. It could also save millions per year, both in clean-up costs, lost tourism and damage to marine vessels.

It is estimated that the clean-up process would take about five years, and it could greatly increase awareness about the world’s plastic garbage patches. On his site Slat says, “One of the problems with preventive work is that there isn’t any imagery of these ‘garbage patches’, because the debris is dispersed over millions of square kilometers. By placing our arrays however, it will accumulate along the booms, making it suddenly possible to actually visualize the oceanic garbage patches. We need to stress the importance of recycling, and reducing our consumption of plastic packaging.” To find out more about the project or to contribute, click here.

Timon Singh|03/26/13

Dragonflies are Dangerous Beauties

Despite their dainty appearance, these backyard visitors are voracious predators

AFRICAN LIONS ROAR AND STRUT and act the apex carnivore, but they’re lucky to catch 25 percent of the prey they pursue. Great white sharks have 300 slashing teeth and that ominous movie sound track, and still nearly half their hunts fail.

Dragonflies, by contrast, look dainty, glittery and fun, like a bubble bath or costume jewelry, and they’re often grouped with butterflies and ladybugs on the very short list of “Insects People Like.” Yet they are also voracious aerial predators, and new research suggests they may well be the most brutally effective hunters in the animal kingdom.

When setting off to feed on other flying insects, dragonflies manage to snatch their targets in midair more than 95 percent of the time, often wolfishly consuming the prey on the spur without bothering to alight. “They’ll tear up the prey and mash it into a glob, munch, munch, munch,” says Michael L. May, an emeritus professor of entomology at Rutgers. “It almost looks like a wad of snuff in the mouth before they swallow it.”

Next step: grab more food. Dragonflies may be bantam, but their appetite is bottomless. Stacey Combes, who studies the biomechanics of dragonfly flight at Harvard University, once watched a laboratory dragonfly eat 30 flies in a row. “It would have happily kept eating,” she says, “if there had been more food available.”

In a string of recent papers, scientists have pinpointed key features of the dragonfly’s brain, eyes and wings that allow it to hunt so unerringly. One research team has determined that the nervous system of a dragonfly displays an almost human capacity for selective attention, able to focus on a single prey as it flies amid a cloud of similarly fluttering insects, just as a guest at a party can attend to a friend’s words while ignoring the background chatter.

Other researchers have identified a kind of master circuit of 16 neurons that connect the dragonfly’s brain to its flight motor center in the thorax. With the aid of that neuronal package, a dragonfly can track a moving target, calculate a trajectory to intercept that target and subtly adjust its path as needed. The scientists found evidence that a dragonfly plots its course to intercept through a variant of “an old mariner’s trick,” says Robert M. Olberg of Union College, who reported the research with his colleagues in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The trick: If you’re heading north on a boat and you see another boat moving, say, 30 degrees to your right, and if as the two of you barrel forward the other boat remains at that 30-degree spot in your field of view, vector mechanics dictate that your boats will crash: better slow down, speed up or turn aside.

In a similar manner, as a dragonfly closes in on a meal, it maintains an image of the moving prey on the same spot—the same compass point of its visual field. “The image of the prey is getting bigger, but if it’s always on the same spot of the retina, the dragonfly will intercept its target,” says Paloma T. Gonzalez-Bellido, an author of the report who now works at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

As a rule, the hunted remains clueless until it’s all over. “Before I got into this work, I’d assumed it was an active chase, like a lion going after an impala,” Combes says. “But it’s more like ambush predation. The dragonfly comes from behind and below, and the prey doesn’t know what’s coming.”

Dragonflies are magnificent aerialists, able to hover, dive, fly backward and upside down, pivot 360 degrees with three tiny wing beats, and reach speeds of 30 miles per hour—lightening fast for an arthropod. In many insects, the wings are simple extensions of the thoracic box and are moved largely as a unit by flexing the entire thorax. In the dragonfly, the four transparent, ultraflexible wings are attached to the thorax by separate muscles and can each be maneuvered independently, lending the insect an extraordinary range of flight options. “A dragonfly can be missing an entire wing and still capture prey,” Combes says.

Dragonflies also are true visionaries. Their eyes are the largest and possibly the keenest in the insect world, a pair of giant spheres each built of some 30,000 pixel-like facets that together take up pretty much the entire head. “They have a full field of vision,” Olberg says. “They can see you when they’re flying toward you and still see you when they’re flying away.”

Their other senses get short shrift. Dragonflies can’t really hear, and with their stubby little antennas they’re not much for smelling or pheromonal flirtations.

For neuroscientists, the dragonfly’s large head capsule, eyes and brain cells hold particular appeal. “It’s that much easier to insert tiny electrodes into single neurons and make neural recordings from inside the brain,” says Steven Wiederman of the University of Adelaide in Australia.

As they reported in Current Biology, Wiederman and his colleague David O’Carroll explored how dragonflies single out one target from a chaotic swarm. Working with the two-inch-long emerald dragonfly often seen darting around Australian ponds, the researchers inserted an electrode about 1/1500th the width of a human hair into a dragonfly neuron known to be involved in visual processing. They then positioned the dragonfly in front of an LCD screen and showed it first one and then two moving targets at a time.

The scientists predicted that the dragonfly’s probed neuron would react to the competing targets as simpler nervous systems do, with the addition of the second target altering and degrading the response to the first. Instead, the scientists were amazed to find that the dragonfly attended to multiple stimuli in primate-like style, concentrating first on one target while ignoring the other, and then suddenly switching full attention to Target B, and then back to Target A—rather as we humans can sequentially shift our focus at a busy party from friend to friend, to a wineglass in need of a refill.

“It suggests the possibility of a top-down process of selective attention of the sort we normally associate with high-order thinking,” Wiederman says. “So here we have a simple brain of less than a million neurons behaving like our own brain of 100 billion neurons.” The scientists have yet to determine what cues might prompt a dragonfly to decide, “ah, there’s the target I will pursue.” Perhaps not surprisingly, much dragonfly research both in this country and abroad is supported by the United States military, which sees the insect as the archetypal precision drone.

Dragonflies are not a very species-rich group. Their order, Odonata, which means “toothed ones” after the notably serrated mandibles that crush prey, includes only some 7,000 species worldwide compared with hundreds of thousands of beetle and butterfly species. (And that 7,000 figure includes dragonflies, with their stiff wings, and the related damselflies, which can fold back their wings.)

Yet dragonflies are rich in history, their ancient lineage dating to the Carboniferous Period, some 300 million years ago. Back then, the atmosphere’s high oxygen content helped give rise to supersize dragonflies with wingspans the length of a human arm, three or four times the dimensions of today’s biggest tropical specimens.

Adults spend the great bulk of their days aloft, and not only to hunt and eat. Males spar with other males in midair and relentlessly swoop after females. Mating takes place on the wing, with male and female forming a circle that can look somewhat heart-shaped but is an awkward, aggressive affair. Grasping the female’s head in his mating pincers, the male first must transfer his sperm from a storage site on his lower abdomen to a copulatory organ inconveniently located on his upper abdomen. Then he must induce his headlocked mate to curl her genitals up toward that loaded midbelly penis. If she’s already mated, the male must pause to expand a little bristled lobe to scrape out the previous suitor’s sperm.

Some dragonfly species migrate long distances each year, a still-mysterious phenomenon not unlike the celebrated flight of the monarch butterfly. Recent studies have shown that green darner dragonflies migrate in sizable swarms each fall and spring between the northern United States and southern Mexico, while the globe skimmer dragonfly lives up to its name: It has been tracked crossing between India and Africa, a round-trip, multigenerational pilgrimage of some 10,000 miles.

Dragonflies migrate to maximize breeding opportunities, seeking warm freshwater ponds in which they can safely lay their eggs. From those eggs hatch dragonfly larvae: astonishing gilled predators that will spend from weeks to years hydrojetting through water and shooting their mouthparts after aquatic prey, until they’re ready to spread their wings and take the hunt to the sky.

Dragonflies and damselflies belong to the insect order Odonata, and most members of this group rely on water throughout their life cycles. The juveniles, or nymphs, live underwater for months and sometimes years before emerging as adults; the adults tend to hunt for insects over water and lay their eggs in water or on adjacent vegetation.

Unless you live in the arid Southwest, your yard may be reasonably close to a stream, pond or wetland with a “source” population of the insects. Dragonflies are strong flyers, and though most individuals stay around their natal pond or stream, some of them will travel. So a backyard pond can attract these aerial acrobats to your yard.

The ideal dragonfly pond should vary in depth, be shallow at the edges and at least 2 feet deep in the center to provide nymphs with a refuge from predators. The British Dragonfly Society recommends building a pond that is about 20 feet in diameter, but under the right conditions, even a smaller pond or water feature will work.

To provide both developing nymphs and adults with perches, place underwater plants in a pond, including emergent vegetation such as sedges and rushes that stick up above the water’s surface. Experts also recommend growing native species of shrubs around the pond to provide more perching places.

Natalie Angier|07-28-2014

Non-target Trapped Animals Represented

Lawsuit Filed Against the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commission

Recently, we told you about an exciting lawsuit that has been filed by two courageous Nevada residents, Mark Smith and Don Molde, against the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners. The lawsuit argues that these officials have failed to protect so-called “non-target” animals, including wild and companion animals from harm caused by recreational trappers.

The press release that accompanied the filing of the legal complaint noted that the state wildlife agency’s own data showed that, “many thousands of unintended or ‘non-target’ animal victims were caught, injured, or killed by trappers over the last ten years.” Some of these trap victims include pack rats, rabbits, golden eagles, domestic pets, and mountain lions.

The plaintiffs have the data to prove that many mountain lions suffer from trap-related injuries before they are killed by hunters. In fact, one out every six mountain lions killed and taken through certain hunter check stations in Nevada show these kind of trap injuries. Mountain lions are injured and killed because they inhabit similar habitats as bobcats, who are being relentlessly pursued and killed by trappers for their fur, which can easily fetch $1000 per bobcat on the global fur market. It goes without saying that what happens to mountain lions (let alone bobcats and other furbearing animals), happens to other animals—wild and domestic—as well.

The plaintiffs argue that the Commission has failed to carry out its statutory obligation to “preserve, protect, manage and restore wildlife within Nevada”—wild animals, who “belong” to all residents of Nevada, including the plaintiffs, and not just to hunters and trappers. However, through the Commission’s recent approval of requiring trappers to check their traps in a mere 96-hour (4 days!) interval, the Commission has placed trappers’ convenience above its general obligation to protect so-called non-target species, including mountain lions and domestic animals, from injury or death from accidental trap and snare encounters.

One desirable outcome of this legal action would be an injunction preventing or delaying the imminent trapping season. The lawsuit was filed on August 28, and the Commission now has 30 days to respond, so we should expect some news at the end of September. We will continue to follow this potentially landmark lawsuit and bring you updates as they occur.

Web Team|September 17th, 2014

Calls to Action

  1. Help avert a disaster for birds in the Klamath Here
  2. Cut Pollution from the Oil & Gas Industry – here
  3. Tell FWS to list the northern long-eared bat as endangered – here
  4. Tell FWS to give Mexican gray wolves the help they need to survive – here
  5. Take Action For Plovers Now – here 

 Birds and Butterflies

Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary Gets Needed Upgrade

This summer, Audubon Florida’s Coastal Islands Sanctuaries installed another 425 feet of offshore breakwater at the Richard T. Paul Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary in Hillsborough Bay, south of Tampa.

The breakwater, created from large pH-balanced hollow concrete pyramids, intercepts waves and ship wakes, slowing erosion of the bird nesting habitats for the nearly 6,000 pairs of colonial waterbirds that nested on the Alafia Bank this spring and summer. The project was funded by a $250,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Shell Marine Grant, funds generated from oil recovered and sold by the government following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. This installation is the second large-scale breakwater placed on the north shore of the Alafia Bank, adding to 800 feet installed in 2011.

The 8,000-lb concrete pyramid units were lowered into place by a large crane mounted on a barge. The pyramids’ hollow structure and overlapping placement dissipate wave energy, creating a quiet shoreline to protect the island from erosion, which has been toppling bird nesting trees. Oysters and barnacles readily attach to the pH-neutral pyramids, providing habitat for fish and crabs.

The Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary, owned by The Mosaic Company and leased to Audubon for management as a bird sanctuary, is a critically important bird nesting site for 16 species of birds, including Brown Pelicans, herons and egrets, White and Glossy Ibis, Roseate Spoonbills, and American Oystercatchers.

Coastal Conservation,FL|Coastal Islands Sanctuaries|August 14, 2014

Are you a Citizen Scientist?

Help the Avian Research Conservation Institute (ARCI) monitor Swallow-tailed Kites and other species such as Short-tailed Hawks, Reddish Egrets and Crested Caracara. Your observations can really help conserve these species for future generations to enjoy.
Report sightings here
http://arcinst.org/arci-report-sightings-2

New Video: Birds and Climate Change

Check out this incredible video illustrating what global warming is doing to our beloved birds. Bird lovers everywhere love this video and are sharing it with others—more than 3,900 views so far. Now it’s your turn. Spread the word that climate change is the No. 1 threat to birds by sharing this video with your Chapter members, friends, and family—and ask them to share it with others. Together we can reach 10,000 views!

   Invasive species

Floridians Would Tax Selves to Fight Invasive Species

Floridians would likely support a 1 percent sales tax bump to prevent and eradicate disruptive invasive species, a new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences public opinion survey shows.

The survey also shows that residents say they’re not as up to speed on endangered and invasive species as they would like to be.

An online survey in July of 515 Floridians found respondents believe environmental conservation is an important issue and ranked it sixth of 10 public-interest topics: well behind the economy and health care, but ahead of immigration and climate change.

For the second annual survey on endangered species, researchers from the UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education, or PIE Center, included questions about invasive species, said Alexa Lamm, the center’s associate director.

The last decade has seen the state struggle with a growing number of non-native species that can wildly disrupt the ecosystem, including the Burmese python, the Argentine black and white tegu lizard and lionfish from the Indo-Pacific.

Florida has 121 animal and plant species listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, including Florida panthers, American crocodiles and aboriginal prickly-apples.

Jack Payne, UF’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources, said as someone whose research centered on wildlife and conservation, the issues are close to his heart.

“I’m thrilled that the people of Florida want to know more about the animals and plants in our state that are imperiled,” Payne said. “That’s what UF/IFAS Extension is for — educating the public on topics critical to the state’s future.”

In the survey, 55 percent of respondents said they would support a 1 percent increase in the state’s sales tax rate to fund prevention and eradication efforts for invasive species. But their support only goes so far, with just 18 percent willing to support a 5 percent sales tax increase for the same purpose.

UF wildlife ecology and conservation professor Frank Mazzotti, one of the state’s scientists on the front lines of the invasive species battle, said if Floridians were ever to approve better funding for his research team’s work, he’d fight in this precise order: prevention, early detection and rapid response, containment, and long-term management.

Ecologists use a term called “the invasion curve” to illustrate why he’d choose that order. The more time a species has to become established and the larger an area it becomes established in, the more expensive control costs will be.

“Keeping them out in the first place is always your best bet,” Mazzotti said. “It’s time to stop playing Dutch boy and the dike.”

To mount such a funding effort would take education, however. Fewer than 15 percent of the survey’s respondents considered themselves highly or extremely knowledgeable about threats to endangered species, how to prevent endangerment or even which species are currently endangered.

Sixty-two percent of the survey’s respondents said they were either not knowledgeable or only slightly knowledgeable on the invasive species topic, with many suggesting they don’t know what types of invasive species are living in Florida or what they can do to prevent invasive species from entering the state.

“It’s interesting that this is one of the topics Floridians have the least amount of knowledge about, but the most passion for,” said Lamm, an assistant professor of agricultural education and communication.

The PIE Center will host a free webinar on the endangered and invasive species topic at 2 p.m. Aug. 20. Register in advance at http://www.piecenter.com/endangered.

Lamm will moderate and Steve Johnson, an assistant professor in wildlife ecology and conservation, will offer insight.

Besides endangered and invasive species, PIE Center survey topics have included public perceptions about water quality and quantity, immigration, food safety, food security and genetically modified organisms.

Mickie Anderson|University of Florida|August 19th, 2014

Endangered Species

Tying conservation with faith to protect a big cat

In a bid to protect the snow leopard, conservation groups are merging western and traditional approaches by teaming up with local monasteries, shamans and indigenous communities who live in the big cat’s habitat.

High up in the cold and rugged mountains of Pakistan, China, Tajikistan and Afghanistan, a smoke-colored cat glides silently and almost invisibly as it hunts blue sheep and ibex. The region’s top predator, the snow leopard, is not just notoriously elusive. It’s also endangered with likely fewer than 7,000 animals left in its vast range across central and South Asia. As one of the top predators in the high mountain food chain of Central Asia, the snow leopard is considered an indicator species

Formal conservation programs focus on designating nature reserves, fighting poaching and creating incentives for herders to protect the snow leopard. But, recent research suggests that an unlikely force has for a long time played a key role in contributing to the cats’ survival – the Buddhist monastery, an influential institution in nearly 80 percent of the snow leopard’s global range spanning 12 countries.

Last year, a study of the big cat’s territory across the Tibetan Plateau found that the region’s more than 300 Buddhist monasteries lie mostly within or near important snow leopard habitats. Carried out by Chinese researchers from Peking University, it focused on the Sanjiangyuan Nature Reserve in north-western China. About 2,000 – 4,000 snow leopards remain in China.

The research found that monasteries make for natural protective grounds with the snow leopard holding a special place in Tibetan Buddhism. “Each monastery is associated with a sacred mountain or forest that they protect,” Tom McCarthy, director of Snow Leopard Programs at the US-based Panthera conservation group who works closely with the Peking University team.

He adds that monks often organize patrols of their sacred landscapes to enforce strict Buddhist edicts concerning the reverence for all life. High-ranking monks or Rinpoches, also play a critical role in educating local communities about environmental protection. “It has a huge impact when senior Buddhist monks stand up during annual festivities and get local people to pledge not to kill wildlife,” McCarthy, says. “That helps preserve both the snow leopard’s prey and habitat. But our associates at Peking University understand that monasteries in the region have been doing this for years.”

McCarthy says Panthera’s approach has been to supplement the traditional ecological knowledge of monasteries and local communities by training them in modern patrolling techniques and providing them with tools such camera traps to monitor wildlife. And, following last year’s study, Panthera also plans to start discussions in other snow leopard countries about including more monasteries in conservation programs.

Taking into account the religious and cultural beliefs of local communities and institutions to preserve species is an increasingly acceptable concept in conservation. In recent decades, an entire field of academic research has sprung up around the idea of strengthening connections between conservation and faith.
Biologists are turning to learn from the tradition, culture and ways of life of people who have, in some cases, lived for thousands of years on the very landscapes they seek to protect.

“Over the past ten years, we’ve seen more people in conservation being receptive to the spiritual dimension that nature has to people and which is, for example, evident in sacred natural sites,” Bas Verschuuren, co-Chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Specialist Group on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas, says.

”These places are some of the oldest protected areas in the world because they inform people’s connection to nature and motivate them to revere and care for the environment,” he says.

Sacred landscapes include groves, forests, mountains and valleys across places like the Himalayas, parts of Africa and Asia and the Andes. Often, they are home to ancient indigenous societies such as the Yanomami in the Brazilian Amazon, the Soliga and the Bishnoi in India or the Kalinga in the Philippines who have for centuries managed vast areas of biologically rich land.

At some of the sacred sites, tree felling or hunting are prohibited; at others resource-use is strictly controlled while some communities fiercely guard water bird nesting sites or fish reserves. They often have detailed knowledge of the flora and fauna; to put it simply, they know things we don’t.
“Many of the cultural and spiritual values of sacred natural sites are intangible and mark people’s relationship with a space, plants, animals or nature, in general,” Netherlands-based Verschuuren, who has written widely on sacred sites, says.

“So it’s easy to overlook if you’re a western-educated conservation biologist or ecologist. It requires respect and willingness to look at the world through someone else’s eyes and to imagine a worldview other than your own. That kind of thinking unfortunately doesn’t come naturally to everyone,” he adds.

But that is changing, especially in the isolated and harsh habitats of snow leopards where conservation groups are heavily reliant on local communities and their knowledge of the area.

The secretive snow-colored cat is the focus of several ancient traditions, legends and beliefs in many mountain regions. The animal is often considered a protector of sacred mountains, a unifying force and a source of spiritual power and wisdom. Some of the beliefs are part of religious rituals practiced by indigenous healers and shamans in Kyrgyzstan, northern Nepal and the Altai mountains that stretch across Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Russia.

“In these places, the snow leopard is a mythical animal that constitutes a link between the spirit and the natural world of which humans are also a part,” Verschuuren, who has met with shamans from the spectacular Altai region, says. “It’s drawn attention to the role of local shamans and traditional healers in these areas in preserving the habitat of the snow leopard.

In a way, their work over many generations has made them real and important conservationists in their own right,” he says, adding “you even have shamans being invited to the table to join conservation biologists and scientists to ensure the spiritual significance of the snow leopard becomes an integral part of their conservation.”

That was evident last year at a meeting in Kyrgyzstan of the 12 Asian snow leopard countries. For the first it included input by local shamans and elders, giving them a direct voice in government level planning for protection of the wild cats.

It seems formally educated conservationists need no nudging to include traditional knowledge systems and insights when it comes to saving the snow leopard. And, that’s good news for the endangered big cat.

Sonia Phalnikar|09.16.2014

Bangladesh lags behind in protection of tigers

Bangladesh lags behind in protection of tigers as compared to other countries.

Not only India and Russia, Bhutan and Myanmar are also far more successful in their tiger conservation programs than Bangladesh.

The Global Tiger Initiative (GTI) has published a report evaluating the progress of nine initiatives taken up in 13 countries of the world. The report comments on this position of Bangladesh.

Evaluating the initiatives for the protection of tigers, GTI has termed the achievements of seven countries as good and satisfactory. Bangladesh is not in that category. India is the most successful in this regard, followed by Thailand. Russia, Nepal, Bhutan and Indonesia have also displayed success in meeting several of the nine targets of GTI.

Along with Bangladesh, the countries which have failed to meet GTI targets for tiger conservation are Nepal, Cambodia, China and Vietnam.

Bangladesh has failed to meet with success in any of the nine targets. Every initiative of Bangladesh in this regard has been termed as “under process”.

The GTI conference began in Dhaka on Monday, to be concluded today with a Dhaka Declaration. While Bangladesh is the host of the conference, it could not even given an update on the number of tigers in its own country.

GTI Operations Officer Andrew Zakharenka tells Prothom Alo, full points for fulfilling the nine targets is 2 and in this regard, 1.24 indicates the minimum points for satisfactory performance. Bangladesh achieved 1 point as it could not complete any of the initiatives. This falls below the average mark.

The progress report presented by Bangladesh depicts its successes in the increase of the Forest department funds by 95 percent, the efficiency of newly appointed personnel and procurement of new patrol boats. However, the GTI report stated that the recovery of three tigers smuggled out by poachers and the treatment of two wounded tigers which were then sent back to the Sundarbans, were examples of success.

Dr. Tapan Kumar Dey, Conservator of Forests, Wildlife Department, says that the measures taken by the Forest Department for the conservation of tigers will soon see success. He said that Bangladesh’s position will be good by the coming year.

Tigers have been identified as a critically endangered species. GTI has recommended a number of targets for the conservation of this animal These include increasing the required infrastructure, ensuring safety of its habitat, involving the local people in tiger conservation, ensuring afforestation of the tiger’s habitat, allocation of adequate funds for tiger conservation, involving businesspersons and industrial institutions in the protection of the tiger, creating awareness and increasing supervision of tiger conservation.

Bangladesh has said it would employ 957 persons over the past two years in the Forest department for tiger conservation purposes. Till last July, 807 persons were appointed. The target for temporary employees was 231, but only 131 were appointment. Despite the commitment, no risk allowance and communication allowance is paid to the forest staff. The Forest Department is yet to procure the two sea trawlers, a launch to oversee tiger safety and two launches for the Forest Department officials.

The Bangladesh Forest Department was also supposed to procure 30 shotguns for the forest guards to protect the tigers and five tranquilizer guns, but have not done so. The GTI report also pointed out that sufficient fuel was not provided for the boats used for overseeing the tiger protection work.

The tiger survey carried out by the Forest Department with the assistance of UNDP in 2004, by monitoring paw tiger marks, put the number of tigers in Bangladesh at 440. In 2006, a survey carried out by photographs taken by Professor Dr. Monirul H Khan of Jahangirnagar University’s Department of Zoology, at the initiative of the Zoological Society of London, showed the number to be 200.

From last June another camera survey, financed by the World Bank and assisted by the Forest Department of India, has been undertaken. It is estimated that there won’t be more than 200 tigers in Bangladesh.

Tiger specialist Prof. Monirul H Khan of Jahangirnagar University tells Prothom Alo Bangladesh is leading the global initiative to conserve tigers by organizing the tiger conference. This will reveal the true picture of Bangladesh’s initiatives for the protection of tigers. This will help Bangladesh is conserving the tigers of the Sunderbans.

Iftekhar Mahmud |Sep 16, 2014

A death sentence for the bees ‏

A massive pesticide company has just asked the U.S. government to increase the legal limit for its bee-killing pesticides by 40,000%.

That’s right. Forty Thousand Percent.

Bees are already facing a massive global die-off. This could be a death sentence for millions more bees.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is accepting public input on the decision for the next 27 days.

Bees fill a crucial ecological role as pollinators and are essential for agriculture, and are responsible for every third bite of food we eat. In other words: No bees, no farms. No farms, no food. These pesticides are already banned in Europe. But rather than phase them out for the sake of our bees, pesticide companies are suing the European Union to overturn the ban. Now, they’re petition the US government to massively increase the limits of pesticide residues — residues that are actively harmful to bees, and can stay in the soil for up to a year.

Pesticide companies are already spending millions to get their way — to beat them, we need to show the depth of public opposition to this move.

So here’s the plan: First, we’ll use social media, our five million member email list, and online ads to alert the public about this dangerous new threat. Then, we’ll organize beekeepers to speak out in the media to put pressure on the EPA to reject the proposal.

We know we can win this. A massive public campaign helped get these bee-killing pesticides temporarily banned in the EU, and SumOfUs members are crowd-funding a legal intervention to protect the ban, too. This is just one battle in a larger fight — but we have to win in the US, now, if we’re going to win for the bees all around the world.

Syngenta asks EPA to raise tolerance level for ‘bee-killing’ chemical, E&E Greenwire, September 5, 2014

Jon Lloyd|SumOfUs.org|9/16/14

USDA’s Controversial Wildlife Services Refuses to Help Endangered Ocelot

Wildlife groups announce plans to sue to protect the rare cat from unlawful snares and traps

Tucson, AZToday, the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and WildEarth Guardians (Guardians), represented by the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC), notified the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Wildlife Services program of their intent to sue over the program’s failure to ensure it is not harming rare ocelots, which are listed as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The potentially harmful effects of Wildlife Service’s lethal wildlife management activities on the endangered ocelot trigger a requirement that the program consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The program failed to do so, violating the ESA.

“Wildlife Services is not above the law,” said Drew Kerr, carnivore advocate with WildEarth Guardians. “The law requires Wildlife Services ensure its activities do not further endanger critically imperiled wildlife like the extremely rare ocelot.”

FWS listed ocelots as endangered under the ESA in 1982. Historically, the beautiful cats inhabited southeastern Arizona and the southern Rio Grande Plain area of Texas. Although once thought extirpated from Arizona, multiple ocelot sightings occurred between 2009 and 2012. In April 2014, a remote camera detected a male ocelot in the Santa Rita Mountains, southeast of Tucson, Arizona, confirming the rare species roams the area. Ocelots are extremely vulnerable, threatened by habitat fragmentation, trapping, roads, development and capture for the pet trade.

Wildlife Services is a relatively unknown federal program of the USDA responsible for the deaths of millions of wild animals each year under the auspices of wildlife damage management. The use of lethal non-discriminate management techniques to remove carnivores in and near areas where ocelots live—including blind sets, baited and scented traps, draw stations, leg and foot snares, and M-44 cyanide capsule ejectors—puts the endangered ocelot at risk of death or injury. With as few as two ocelots in Arizona, the death or injury of just one of the cats represents a major threat to the species’ survival. In violation of federal law, Wildlife Services has never consulted with FWS about the impact of its activities in ocelot habitat in southern Arizona.

“Wildlife Services routinely fails to comply with federal laws like the Endangered Species Act,” said Tara Zuardo, wildlife attorney with AWI. “Few ocelots remain in the U.S. and they require basic protection to ensure that they are not killed by the very devices Wildlife Services indiscriminately uses on public lands to kill predators, like leghold traps and cyanide capsules.”

The fundamental purpose of the ESA is to conserve endangered and threatened species and the ecosystems upon which they depend for survival and recovery. The ESA requires federal agencies consult with federal wildlife biologists to ensure that their activities do not jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species or adversely modify a listed species’ critical habitat.

“It’s exciting that the ocelot, a nearly extinct species, is returning to its historic Arizona habitat. But Wildlife Services’ continued use of lethal, non-discriminate management techniques in the ocelot’s habitat runs the unacceptable risk of killing one of the few returning cats,” said John Mellgren, an attorney with WELC, who is representing the groups. “We are simply asking that Wildlife Services comply with the law and consult with the federal biologists to ensure that its activities do not pose a danger to the cats.”

Drew Kerr|September 3, 2014

Saving elephants ‏

Almost exactly one year ago, the 96 Elephants campaign launched. And it’s grown every single day since. Whether it’s signing petitions, contacting state and federal officials, posting on social media, or making a donation to support elephant-saving programs, this community has come through.

We’ve had more victories than I can possibly list here. Skim through the highlights below to get a sample and get inspired by watching this stunning video. Here’s a look behind all of those emails we send asking for your help, and the wins you’ve helped accomplish along the way.

Ivory sales are now banned in New York – which was the largest market for legal ivory in the United States until now.

The legal market was providing a front to allow the illegal market to thrive. The only way to prevent that was to close the legal market.

For five months, more than 18,000 of you tirelessly sent letters to the New York State legislature and Gov. Cuomo urging a ban.

  • Your letters hit at the most strategic moments: each new wave of messages came during various committee votes, important legislative milestones, and key talks between our staff and state leadership.
  • WCS staff testified before New York’s Committee on Environmental Conservation – a committee that proved critical to securing a legislative win – to educate them on how legal ivory markets kill elephants.
  • We commissioned a poll that found that more than 80% of New Yorkers supported a ban on ivory sales.
  • We personally met with the Governor to make sure that he was on our side and would sign the bill we were pushing so hard to pass.
  • Our New York City team collected elephant drawings with heartfelt messages from more than 7,200 kids, which we hand-delivered to the Governor’s office right as we were asking him to sign the newly passed bill.

And New York wasn’t the only ivory victory, New Jersey also instituted a ban and the Obama Administration announced a proposed federal ban on ivory sales!

35,000 of you asked PBS’s Antiques Roadshow to stop appraising ivory on-air. They listened.

After receiving the first flood of letters, our targets at PBS quickly shut down their email accounts. So we found more ways to reach them and new targets to contact.

  • Antiques Roadshow posted a statement on its website reiterating its ivory policy and removed prominent examples of past ivory appraisals.
  • Unsatisfied, we launched our second round of pressure with a quirky video parody of an appraisal.
  • PBS then agreed to open a dialogue with us.
  • In the meantime, on social media, we took over the Antiques Roadshow hashtag during a Monday night broadcast.
  • After a few rounds of talks, they announced an end to all on-air appraisals of carved tusks, removed past appraisals from the series archive on the Antiques Roadshow website, and added information to the show’s site discussing the severity of the ivory crisis.

Against all odds, elephant populations are holding steady in two parks we help manage in the Republic of Congo.

Elephant numbers in the Nouabale-Ndoki National Park have held steady since 2006. In Conkouati-Douli, the number of elephants has increased by as much as 50 percent since 2010.

  • The parks are becoming safe havens and elephants know it. Researchers on the ground are documenting elephants from surrounding areas relocating to the parks.
  • WCS-trained ecoguards in Conkouati-Douli are so vigilant and effective that elephants now venture into parts of the park they were too afraid to visit a decade ago.
  • Through a combination of your generous support, smart park management, protecting elephants on the ground, and educating the surrounding community we’ve shown we CAN turn the tide against poachers.

Be proud. These are amazing accomplishments. Of course, our work is not complete. Much still has to be done to bring African elephants back from the brink of extinction. However, I’m confident that with you standing with us, the next year of our campaign will achieve even more for these amazing animals.

Check out our 96 Elephants video retrospective and give yourself a pat on the back.

Without a doubt, there’s more left for this community to do in the coming year, but we’re making real, substantial strides. Thank you for being there for elephants.

John F. Calvelli|Executive Vice President, Public Affairs|Director, 96 Elephants|Wildlife Conservation Society

This elephant cried tears of joy ‏

Raju the elephant’s story went viral after he was rescued from a life of pure misery and placed in our Wildlife SOS sanctuary in India. Raju was kept in chains for approximately 50 years, since he was a baby, and was regularly abused for cheap entertainment, rituals, and other events. When we finally removed his spiked chains and introduced him to a kind and caring environment at our sanctuary, he was photographed with what appeared to be tears of joy.

At the time of Raju’s rescue, he was emaciated, dehydrated, and had hundreds of wounds covering his body. He was near death as he was bound in spiked chains and forced to beg on the streets by his owner, Mr. Shahid. Now, despite the Forest Department’s approval to rescue Raju, Mr. Shahid is asking a court in Allahabad to have permission to take him from our rescue center and back into an abusive environment out on the streets.

The court process has been frustrating. Already, the proceedings have been delayed a few times. However, your signature will ensure that they know that the world is watching and that Raju needs to be declared a free elephant once and for all.

Justice needs to prevail for Raju and the many other elephants who are suffering, not just in India, but all over the world.

Nikki Sharp|Executive Director|Wildlife SOS-USA|9/20/14

State tweaks rules to help save the underdog gopher tortoise

Gopher tortoises have been roaming Florida for millions of years. Both the animal and its burrow are protected under state law. Biologists say gopher tortoise burrows can be home to more than 350 species of animals, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects.

TAMPA — A lot of attention gets paid to the sleek and proud Florida panther in its struggle to overcome the odds of survival in a shrinking habitat. And people love the West Indian manatee, a roly-poly caricature of an underwater W.C. Fields.

Not so much love is given to the grizzled gopher tortoise, whose head looks like a craggy rock with eyes.

Still, there is a fascination there with this threatened reptile.

“Most people want to do something to help gopher tortoises in Florida,” said Deborah Burr, coordinator of the state’s Gopher Tortoise Conservation Program. “This to me is very encouraging for the future of this native Florida reptile.”

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which oversees the program, gets hundreds of calls a week about the slow-moving tortoises, known in scientific circles as Gopherus polyphemus. The tortoises have been munching greens in Florida for millions of years, but seven years ago gopher tortoises were declared a threatened species. Both the animal and its burrow are protected under state law.

The reason is a familiar chorus in Florida: Humans are taking over much of the gopher tortoise environment and plowing under those crescent-shaped burrows that also serve as homes for hundreds of other species.

Burr has been overseeing the state’s gopher tortoise protection efforts for seven years.

“This is a funny job,” she said. “I really love it. Gopher tortoises are just an intriguing species. They’ve been around 60 million years and here they are. It’s amazing to see how they adapt over time and still survive.”

The commission’s gopher protection plan, which undergoes review about every year, is being tweaked now, and the state is in the process of taking public comment. The proposal is expected to be presented to the full commission in February.

The plan includes guidelines for landowners whose property contains gopher tortoises, habitat acquisition plans and permitting guidelines. Current rules require builders to get permits to relocate any tortoises — which can live for more than 60 years — found on property about to be developed. Most of those regulations won’t change much.

Among the proposed changes are rules that would eliminate the 1,000-acre minimum standard for new relocation sites, require permitted gopher tortoise relocation sites to include a strategy to deal with multiple tortoise deaths and add a time frame for experience to obtain state certification to handle gopher tortoises.

Burr is working more than ever with state parks, the forestry service and private land owners to save the species and its habitat. There are 28 sites, both public and private, across the state that are designated as relocation sites, and more are being sought. Owners who seek relocation designation forfeit the right to future development, but can, in most cases, continue to cut timber and graze cattle. There are financial incentives as well, she said. And gopher tortoises benefit their environment.

According to the Defenders of Wildlife, when feeding, gopher tortoises only prune the plants they eat, typically leaving a healthy plant ready to regrow new leaves.

Seeds go through the tortoise and sprout elsewhere in its home range afterward.

Other species rely on their burrows.

Biologists say gopher tortoise burrows are regular country inns and can be home to more than 350 species of animals, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects. If gopher tortoises disappear, so will their burrows and thus the habitat of all those other creatures.

A 2006 biological status report estimated there might be 400,000 gopher tortoises wandering around Florida, half of what the population was in the 1920s, when their numbers began to decline.

Because they are slow to reproduce, and even though there is plenty of suitable habitat in North Florida, gopher tortoise numbers never returned to what they were.

“Populations in the Panhandle,” the report said, “likely are still recovering from the heavy harvest of adults for food during and after the Great Depression.”

Naturally, people root for an underdog, and Floridians try to help gopher tortoises at every turn, whether it’s helping them cross roads or moving them from the path of heavy equipment. Unless the beasts are in danger, though, people should leave them alone.

The commission “understands that people’s compassion for wildlife can be a wonderful conservation tool, however sometimes a person’s actions can result in a negative impact on the individual or species of interest,” the state guidelines say. “When encountering a gopher tortoise, the best option is to leave the tortoise where it is found.”

Can a homeowner live with a gopher tortoise in the back yard?

“Yes,” Burr said with enthusiasm. “Gopher tortoises and humans have coexisted for a long time.” She said the state encourages all homeowners with gopher tortoises nearby to observe, learn and enjoy “the front-row seat to nature.”

The plodding reptiles are found in all 67 Florida counties. They like sandhill, scrub and pine flat woods, dry prairies and coastal dunes.

Conservation efforts on behalf of gopher tortoises have increased significantly in Florida since the first management plan was put in place in 2007, and more and more permits are being pulled to relocate gopher tortoises from areas that are being developed. From July 2009 to July 2010, 314 permits were pulled. From July 2013 to July 2014, 683 were issued.

Gopher tortoises could benefit at the polls Nov. 4, when Florida voters cast ballots on Amendment 1, a proposed constitutional amendment that, if passed, would broaden the scope of the Land Acquisition Trust Fund.

The amendment calls for dedicating 33 percent of documents taxes, mostly from real estate sales, to help acquire and improve conservation land and corridors, which could mean more money for gopher tortoise habitat restoration and maintenance.

Julie Morris, a consultant who works with Wildlands Conservation of Venice and who instructs a class on how to become state certified gopher tortoise handler, has had a long-time interest in the species.

“I think they are the poster child for human/wildlife conflicts in Florida,” she said. “They like to live and make burrows where we like to live. The gopher tortoise serves as the face of that conflict.”

Saving the species will require cooperation from many people, she said, including the state, conservationists, county governments and private landowners; developers and ranchers; farmers and timber companies.

But, she said, things are looking up.

“In the past the agricultural and conservation communities were at odds,” she said, “and now that has shifted. They are working together.

“We’ve come a long way,” she said, “since the early days.”

Gopher tortoise facts:

♦  Gopher tortoise burrows average 7 feet deep and 15 feet long but may be more than 40 feet long.
♦  A tortoise may have multiple burrows within the area it spends most of its time.
♦ Burrow openings are half-moon shaped with the curve at the top, and its size is a fair representation of the size of the tortoise. A burrow with a round opening has generally been taken over by an armadillo.
♦ Adult tortoises generally are 9 to 11 inches long and weigh 7 to 9 pounds.
♦ Females begin to reproduce somewhere between nine and 21 years old, depending on local conditions, and males begin slightly younger.
♦ They breed between March and October but usually dig nests in May and June. One clutch is laid per year with an average of six eggs, though many eggs are eaten by mammals, birds and snakes before they hatch.
♦ The biggest threat to the gopher tortoises’ long-term survival is loss of habitat.

Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Got a gopher tortoise living in your yard?

♦  Leave the tortoise alone and keep dogs and small children away from it and its burrow.
♦ Use tortoise-friendly plants to landscape your yard. In addition to providing excellent food for the tortoise, the plants will require very little watering once established.
♦ Allow the tortoise to come and go freely from your yard. Fencing it in or restricting its movements in any way is illegal.
♦ It is acceptable to trim tall grass around the burrow if necessary but leave the burrow and mound alone.
♦ If possible, avoid mowing, digging, driving over or otherwise disturbing the area right around the burrow, which includes the entrance apron and 25 feet beyond the burrow opening.
♦ Never block the entrance to the burrow, it could harm the tortoise or prevent its exit.
♦ Do not put the tortoise in the water. Gopher tortoises are terrestrial turtles, which means they live on land.

Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Keith Morelli|Tribune Staff|Tampa Bay Tribune|September 14, 2014

New Report: Fast-track Permit System for Watercraft Access Ignores Manatee Deaths, Speedily Approving Thousands of New Docks, Ramps

Boat Strikes Remain Lead Cause of Death for Endangered Manatees

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— A new report issued today by the Center for Biological Diversity reveals that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state of Florida have failed to consider cumulative impacts of thousands of recently permitted docks, piers and boat ramps on manatees, slow-moving and gentle endangered marine mammals. Today’s report finds that the government’s fast-track authorization of watercraft-access projects without analyzing their collective impacts is likely a key factor in enabling the boat collisions that continue to be the leading killer of manatees, resulting in an average of 82 manatees every year. 

The report, Collision Course: The Government’s Failing System for Protecting Florida Manatees From Deadly Boat Strikes, details how the Fish and Wildlife Service and Army Corps have sidestepped required cumulative-impact analyses. Instead they have prioritized permits that facilitate watercraft access, leading to deadly manatee collisions with boats and other vessels.

“The manatee has come too far, and Florida has invested too much, to be undermined by the government’s shortsighted permitting scheme,” said Jaclyn Lopez, the Center’s Florida-based attorney. “It can and must do a better job authorizing projects and managing their impacts to avoid these grave results.”

Some of the report’s key findings include:

  • Mortality from collisions from watercraft continues to be the leading cause of death for manatees.
  • Neither the Army Corps of Engineers nor the Fish and Wildlife Service appear to even keep track of how many watercraft permits are issued in Florida.
  • The Corps issued at least 4,086 distinct permits facilitating watercraft access from 2008 to 2013 without considering cumulative impacts on manatees.
  • Hundreds of other permits were issued by the state of Florida that similarly avoided consideration of cumulative impacts.

The report recommends that the agencies rescind the permitting regime, known as the Manatee Key, which circumvents required analyses, including consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on impacts to protected manatees. They should reevaluate areas that are deemed adequately protected and require additional boater education about, and stricter enforcement of, speed zones.

The report comes out only weeks after the Fish and Wildlife Service closed the comment period for a proposal to downlist Florida manatees from endangered to threatened. The Service will consider the comments and review the best available scientific information before announcing its final decision.

A reclassification is not warranted, and the best available science supports the Service’s continued listing and management of the species as “endangered” — particularly in light of the fact that current efforts are insufficient to reduce manatee mortality from watercraft collisions.

Jaclyn Lopez|Center for Biological Diversity|September 12, 2014

Everglades

Fire in Everglades intended to kill non-native plants

Ten thousand acres of Everglades National Park will burn Tuesday, as the park attempts to destroy an infestation of plants from Asia and Africa that can kill native vegetation.

Unless bad weather forces a postponement, a helicopter will drop plastic spheres of combustible chemicals over an area of sawgrass and tree islands just north of the main park road. On the ground, an engine crew will use drip torches to dribble flaming liquid on vegetation along about 200 feet of the road.

The object of this assault by fire is a plant called lygodium, or Old-World climbing fern, a plant that has overrun parts of the Everglades, from the southern end of Everglades National Park to the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in western Palm Beach County.

The fern covers trees and plants with macabre green shrouds, killing them by depriving them of sunlight. It can kill mature trees, climbing up their trunks to smother them with dense green mats.

“It causes landscape-level changes to the ecosystem,” said Jonathan Taylor, restoration program manager for the park.

Some animals may be harmed, some may benefit, he said. But the main problem is that it can transform classic Everglades landscapes into something else entirely.

“You would look at it and say, ‘This isn’t what my grandfather saw,'” Taylor said.

The burn will take place about six miles north of the Flamingo area in a region threaded with wetlands that won’t burn, said Katie Corrigan, a spokeswoman for the park. She said this will leave unburned areas to which animals can escape.

Old-World climbing fern first came to South Florida as an ornamental plant, cultivated at a Delray Beach nursery in 1958, according to a study by the University of Florida. It was found in wild in 1960, and by the late 1970s was well established in South Florida.

“It has the potential to outcompete native plants,” Corrigan said. “By using fire, we can maintain those prairies.”

Fire is one of a trio of control methods used against Old-World climbing fern, including the use of insects and herbicides. But despite years of work to fight it, the plant reproduces very quickly and effectively, with a single leaf sending out more than 28,000 spores.

Of the three methods of attacking the plant, fire is relatively cheap and effective, according to the park.

“We have found that treating Lygodium with prescribed fire at about a dollar per acre is a cost effective technique,” said Jennifer Adams, a prescribed fire specialist at the park.

All areas of the park will remain open during the burn, although the park said visitors, including boaters, should stay clear of the fire and proceed cautiously, with lights on, if there’s smoke.

David Fleshler|Sun Sentinel|September 15, 2014

Legislation filed for CEPP – next phase of Everglades restoration 

Florida lawmakers from both sides of the aisle in both the U.S. House and Senate today signaled they want to accelerate action on a major Everglades project that has been stalled by red tape. Legislation was filed today in both the House and Senate authorizing money for what is called the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), immediately upon final approval by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. (Please find attached a copy of the legislation).

The project itself is intended to reduce harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee overflows into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers by allowing more water to move south.  
“The urgent need for this project is clear,” said Rep. Patrick Murphy (FL-18), a chief advocate of the project and the lead House sponsor of the bill along with fellow Florida House member Rep. David Jolly (FL-13). “This bill would cut through bureaucratic red tape and authorize the project as soon as it is finalized by the Corps.”

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who filed the companion measure to Murphy’s in the Senate said, “we’re going to get this done.

“We’re not only going to restore one of the world’s great environmental assets, we’re going to clean up the rivers and streams that so many in South Florida rely on for clean water,” Nelson said.

The measure has garnered bipartisan support in both the House and Senate with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) joining Nelson’s version and Jolly joining Murphy’s.

“The Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) is critical to restoring the Everglades and will reduce the volume of polluted water devastating the coastal ecologies and economies,” said Jolly.  “This innovative project is a major step towards restoring one of Florida’s greatest treasures and protecting it from future destruction.”

“The Everglades is one of the most beautiful and ecologically diverse places on earth, and Florida is lucky to have this national treasure in our own backyard,” said Rubio. “The Central Everglades Planning Project is not only an important component that will help ensure that future generations of Americans can enjoy all the Everglades has to offer, it is also a project that is essential to water management in our state. It was a shame the recently passed water bill did not include CEPP, but I’m hopeful that Congress, regardless of who controls it, will soon openly consider, debate and approve this important priority.”

Among some of the other House cosponsors are Florida Reps. Corrine Brown (FL-05), Ted Deutch (FL-21), Lois Frankel (FL-22), Joe Garcia (FL-26), Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20), Bill Posey (FL-08), and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23).

“Year after year, our Treasure Coast-Palm Beach community has suffered the devastating consequences of decisions made decades ago that disrupted the natural flow of the Everglades, resulting in toxic discharges and polluted runoff inundating our vital waterways,” said Murphy. “This project is a step towards reversing those damaging decisions.”

Erin Moffet Hale|Washington, Sep 18

Big Sugar turns to mass development, potentially affecting Everglades restoration efforts

 Environmental groups around the state are alarmed at U.S. Sugar’s plans to potentially develop huge tracts of land it owns in Hendry County, which might affect Everglades restoration efforts.

Earlier this month Craig Pittman of The Tampa Bay Times reported U.S. Sugar was looking to change up its business plan by taking on big development projects in  Florida. According to the Times, The company, which has been growing and processing sugar cane in South Florida since the 1930s, has mapped out a way to turn itself into one of Florida’s biggest developers.

On 67 square miles of sugar land southwest of Lake Okeechobee in Hendry County, U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brothers of Florida, another sugar company with adjoining property, have joined forces on a project that would plop down 18,000 homes and 25 million square feet of stores, offices, warehouses and other commercial buildings amid the rural landscape. But the land that U.S. Sugar wants to designate for development is the same land that Florida officials have an option to buy for Everglades restoration.

If the sugar companies’ development plan is approved, that land would be worth a lot more – making it more expensive for the state to purchase.

“It’s good for business but bad for taxpayers,” said David Crawford of the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council.

U.S. Sugar says this is not a problem, because it’s not inclined to develop its land any time soon – only if the market dictates such development would be worthwhile. If approved, the plan could be developed any time before 2060, but some land would remain designated for agriculture, the company said…..

The South Florida Water Management District has the ability to buy 100 percent of U.S. Sugar’s land through October 2020- and there’s an option for the state agency to acquire only 47,000 acres expiring in October 2015. Even though this has been available to the state, Gov. Rick Scott has not dedicated funding to buy the rest of that sugar land.

  ……Dan Christensen with BrowardBulldog.org reports state and local officials will ultimately be key in getting the Sugar Hill plans approved. According to Christensen, various state agencies have been or will be involved in reviewing the giant project by the two Clewiston-based companies. They include Florida’s departments of Economic Opportunity, Transportation, Agriculture and Environmental Protection, as well as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the South Florida Water Management District.

The plan for Sugar Hill, which documents show has been discussed with various state and local officials since July 2013, appears to be on a fast track. The plan was formally submitted to Hendry County on June 2. The county commission gave its initial thumbs-up last week by approving U.S. Sugar/Hilliard’s lengthy development application for transmittal to Tallahassee.

Under a law signed by Gov. Scott in 2011, the state’s sector planning program now lets local governments engage in long-term planning for large areas with minimal state interference. The same law abolished Florida’s Department of Community Affairs, which had overseen state growth management efforts and reviewed local comprehensive plans, and transferred its planning function to the newly created Department of Economic Opportunity.

Christensen also reports that the possible development largely hinges upon whether plans for an airport in Hendry County, called Airglades, gets approved. The hope is that  Airglades- as well as developments such as Sugar Hill- will serve as a means of economic growth in the area, which has been struggling to get on its feet.

In the meantime, future plans depend on approval from various agencies- and possibly the results of the state’s upcoming gubernatorial election.

  Ashley Lopez|Florida Center for Investigative Reporting|FlaglerLive.com|September 17, 2014

Water Quality Issues

Everglades Water Quality Report Shows 19th Consecutive Year of Passing Marks

Everglades restoration – a colossal task starved as much for good press as it is water – received more than a passing grade in one of its indicators Thursday, when water managers announced phosphorus-reduction results for the most recent water year were two times better than expected.

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) reported to its governing board that the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) — the farming region between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades – reduced phosphorus by 63 percent in the water leaving the region. The Everglades Forever Act mandates a 25 percent reduction each year. This is the 19th consecutive year that the region has reduced more phosphorus than the goal, according to the district.

“Everglades restoration relies on a suite of water quality improvement strategies, and BMPs are an essential component,” said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Daniel O’Keefe after the staff presentation. “Reducing phosphorus and exceeding these requirements year after year reflects a long-term commitment to water quality improvements by South Florida’s farmers.”

Sugar farmers, who comprise much of the 470,000-acre region, were quick to react to the good news, crediting their “state-of-the-art farming methods, developed in conjunction with university scientists and unparalleled in the United States” for the success.

Farmers also pointed to the fact the EAA is the only “significant agricultural watershed” in the country that must comply with phosphorus-reduction mandates. According to their statement, the EAA “is the only area that requires each farm to measure and report rainfall, the volume of water leaving each farm and the phosphorus concentration of the water. This requires thousands of laboratory samples every year and the results are without question.”

The SFWMD reports the EAA has averaged 55 percent reduction over the two-decade life of the program. In actual terms, it means 2,854 metric tons of phosphorus have been prevented from reaching the Everglades. The district reported the C-139 basin, west of the EAA, was also in compliance and stopped 28 metric tons of phosphorus from flowing south.

Even so, environmentalists have targeted BMPs, which are part of current litigation. Eric Draper of Audubon Florida, which lost its original challenge against BMPs, said he had not seen Thursday’s report but added, “It’s the annual success story the water management district puts out every year to give themselves a pat on the back.”  He said the “limited success” of the BMP program would not affect the group’s appeal of the ruling.

The last line in the restoration system also showed favorable results. Over the past year, according to the SFWMD, the five stormwater treatment areas (STAs), which encompass 57,000 acres of man-made filter marshes, retained 81 percent of the phosphorus from the 1.3 million acre-feet of water that flowed through them. Since their inception, the STAs have cleansed 14.8 million acre-feet of water and removed 1,874 metric tons of phosphorus.

NANCY SMITH|August 14, 2014

EPA Administrator Won’t Back Down on Controversial Water Rules

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said Monday she’s not backing down on her agency’s efforts to implement a new rule that would assert regulatory authority over many of the nation’s streams and wetlands despite criticisms that it amounts to a federal water grab.

The U.S. House approved a bill last week that would block the agency from moving forward with the rule, which aims to clarify the streams and waterways that could be protected from development under the Clean Water Act.

McCarthy denied the rule would expand the jurisdiction of the act, but she said it’s time — given drought pressures in the West and the effects of climate change — to clarify some of the act’s provisions to make them more understandable and to establish regulatory certainty when it comes to drinking water supplies.

“We’ve seen some things happen with water that made us realize we need to do better and work together,” she said. “But one of the most important things is, as you take a statute that’s over 40 years old and say what it means, that you look at the science and the law and you stay within your boundaries.”

House Republican leaders have said the rule would extend the EPA’s power to include streams, ponds, ditches and even stormwater runoff, with economic consequences for everyone from farmers to small businesses.

McCarthy said her agency will continue talking to states and communities about the need for the rule and what the Obama administration hopes to achieve.

McCarthy made her comments Monday during a visit to New Mexico, where she helped to commemorate the start of a $2 million flood-control project aimed at keeping sediment out the Rio Grande and alleviating flooding concerns for the village of Corrales.

Once the catchment basins and other features are complete, officials say the area along the arroyo where storm runoff currently rushes through will be more like a park, where residents can hike or bike. Boulders and other natural features will be used to slow down the water and catch the sediment before it’s funneled into Corrales and the Rio Grande. Reclaimed water from the nearby city of Rio Rancho will be used to irrigate native vegetation throughout the area.

Funding for the project comes from a federal loan and a grant. Officials said it marks the first time in New Mexico that clean water funds have been used for such a project.

The Aquatic Preserve Society

Working for water

Florida aquatic preserves aren’t as recognizable as the award-winning state park system. You can paddle, fish or cruise these waters, and be unaware of their protected status and value to the region.

That could change: The Aquatic Preserve Society - a new, statewide citizens support organization – is forming. It will be a nonprofit group; details are still being fleshed-out. Goals will include improving public awareness, while gaining leverage to keep Florida’s aquatic preserves in tip-top shape.

Nine of Florida’s 41 aquatic preserves have their own support organizations, said Pine Island resident Liz Donley. She’s a founding member of the Aquatic Preserve Society and president of the Friends of the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves, a citizen support organization for the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves and Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park.

Donley hopes a statewide support organization will:

* Increase volunteer service at preserves throughout Florida;

* Support preserves that don’t have their own friends group;

* Help identify and secure funding to preserve and protect these waters; and

* Make sure protections for aquatic preserves aren’t weakened.

There’s a lot of work to do: Florida’s aquatic preserves encompass more than 2.2 million acres.

“Aquatic preserves are free, and open 24-7,” Donley said, adding that, “as the state budget has tightened, there’s less staff

to manage more (submerged) lands.”

The new statewide group could help recruit more volunteers, including citizen-scientists such as Terry Cain, president and founding member of Estero Bay Buddies.

Cain has a college degree in marine science, and works in land stewardship for Lee County Parks & Recreation. Her volunteer service on behalf of Estero Bay includes leaving home before sunrise one day a month to take water quality samples.

Estero Bay, designated as an aquatic preserve in 1966, was the state’s first, and became a model for Florida and the nation.

Volunteers perform water-quality tests at 46 Southwest Florida locations stretching from Venice south to Fort Myers Beach.

Twenty-nine employees work to protect and manage Florida’s aquatic preserves.

Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection doesn’t have a volunteer count. However, Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve alone benefits from a pool of about 80 volunteers, said Melynda Brown, a state-employed environmental specialist.

Water monitoring at Gottfried Creek, a tributary of Lemon Bay in Charlotte and Sarasota counties, detected a high level of fecal coliform, a potential health hazard and an indicator septic tanks in the area are leaking.

State officials and others are now exploring solutions, Brown said, adding: “We have more than 15 years of invaluable data. with which to assess water quality status and trends.”

Brown added that Charlotte Harbor’s CSO or friends group lends support by finding money for additional staff training and informative field trips for the volunteers, as well as organizing days to rid the area of such wildlife-hazards as discarded monofilament fishing line.

On Estero Bay, Cain said she gives her time out of concern for quality of life and for the economy: “People come here for clean air and clean water.”

There’s no economic impact estimate for aquatic preserves statewide. However, a 2012 report by economist Richard Weisskoff looked at the Estero Bay watershed and found that nearly $1.2 million in tourist spending annually is related directly to the aquatic preserve.

He broke the numbers down even further, suggesting that 18,974 jobs are sustained by the Estero Bay basin’s preserve lands.

What makes aquatic preserves stand out from other waters? Mainly, it’s the monitoring – and the regulatory protections.

For example, if someone applies for a permit to build a dock jutting into an aquatic preserve, it won’t be granted simply because the addition poses no harm to the waters or to the buffer land: “There has to be a public benefit associated with it,” Donley said.

Although many environmental scientists get active in aquatic preserve support groups, Donley thinks there’s room in the statewide organization for such people as fishing guides and even non-expert beach-lovers.

“Any new member of (the Aquatic Preserve Society) should have a passion for the environment,” said Brian Powers, DEP special projects planner, who’s compiling a list of interested persons. “Specialized degrees will not be necessary.”

Getting involved

If you’re interested in joining a local aquatic preserve’s citizens support organization or the statewide Aquatic Preserve Society, contact:

Brian Powers, special projects planner, Department of Environmental Protection, brian.powers@dep.state.fl.us

Florida’s aquatic preserves: www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/sites/

Laura Ruane|news-press.com|July 15, 2014

Florida’s Springs Receive $69 Million Boost

~Legislative approval brings total investment to $100 million in last two years~

On Wednesday, the Joint Legislative Budget Commission approved the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s proposed $69 million in springs projects leveraged by the $30 million Governor Scott secured in the “It’s Your Money Tax Cut Budget.” This approval brings the total investment in springs projects to more than $100 million in the last two years.

“I would like to thank Governor Scott for his leadership in providing record-setting funding for springs restoration. The health of our springs is a top priority for the department, and the Florida Legislature, the water management districts and local elected officials continue to show their commitment to protect and restore springs throughout the Sunshine State,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “Approval of this great plan will enable state and local partners to implement projects that will protect the quality and quantity of water that flows from our springs.”

The project plan is a collaborative effort with the department, water management districts, community leaders and local stakeholders. The contributions and cooperation of these agencies and individuals have been crucial throughout the development process. Combining efforts and resources from various agencies across Florida allows for more efficient and comprehensive water restoration.

A total of 27 projects will benefit the following springs and spring systems:

Northeast Florida – $15,242,175

  • Fanning
  • Ichetucknee, Santa Fe and Suwannee Rivers and associated springs
  • Levy Blue

Northwest Florida – $15,917,210

  • Econfina
  • Holmes Creek
  • Jackson Blue
  • Wakulla

Central Florida – $14,330,000

  • Blue
  • Silver
  • Wekiva

Southwest Florida – $24,156,433

  • Aripeka
  • Chassahowitzka
  • Crystal
  • Panasofkee

The objective of the project plan is to effectively address water quality and water quantity by supporting both urban and agricultural projects across geographic regions of the state where springs occur in the natural landscape. The projects were selected based on pollutant reduction, water quantity conservation, cost effectiveness and available matching grant funding.

For a list of the approved springs projects, click HERE.

latashawalters|DEP|September 16, 2014

The Lake Okeechobee Ecosystem: A Delicate Balance of Water

The marshes of Lake Okeechobee are a paradise of biodiversity. Everglade Snail Kites, Roseate Spoonbills, Tricolored Herons, and a plethora of other wildlife abound in this great ecosystem at the heart of the Greater Everglades.

For this incredible habitat to thrive, Lake Okeechobee’s water levels cannot be too high or too low. Marsh habitat drowns when water is too deep. When water is too low, marsh habitat dries up and is destroyed.

Last century, the Northern Everglades faced serious alterations to its natural system, as developers ditched and drained land.

As a result, the natural system is off kilter and Lake Okeechobee now experiences rapid fluctuations in water levels. This results in harmful effects to the delicate Lake ecosystem.

Water managers send large releases of Lake water to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Estuaries for flood control. These releases have long term negative impacts on their ecosystems and local communities.

In addition, some water users in the south demand the Lake function as a reservoir for their water supply needs, despite the fragile nature of the ecosystem. Lake Okeechobee’s natural balance of life must be protected.

The Audubon Everglades Conservation Team advocates to state and federal partners to manage Lake Okeechobee with its precious ecosystem in mind.

The long term fix is to store more water north of the Lake. Audubon supports Kissimmee River Restoration, easement programs, and partnerships with ranchers and landowners to achieve this goal.

There are many exciting Everglades restoration initiatives that can help. Lake Okeechobee’s water levels require proper management to protect this treasured habitat for years to come.

Click here to download our fact sheet.

Audubon Florida News|June 17, 2014

Managing Lake Okeechobee

At the heart of the greater Everglades ecosystem, Lake Okeechobee historically overflowed its banks, sending a sheet flow of water south through the Everglades. Today, the 730-square-mile lake is part of a massive flood control system known as the Central & Southern Florida Project, which stretches from just south of Orlando to Florida Bay and serves 8.1 million people.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages Lake Okeechobee water levels with the goal of balancing flood control, public safety, navigation, water supply and ecological health. The Corps bases operational decisions – whether to retain or release water in the massive lake – on its regulation schedule and the best available science and data provided by its staff and a variety of partners, including the South Florida Water Management District.

Lake Okeechobee Releases to Coastal Estuaries

In a fixed regional water management system with limited storage, the Corps must sometimes release water from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers to protect public safety when lake levels get too high.

Under its revised 2008 regulation schedule, the Corps strives to maintain Lake Okeechobee’s water level between 12.5 feet and 15.5 feet NGVD, in part to protect the integrity of the aging Herbert Hoover Dike that surrounds the lake. The lake’s water level can rise up to six times faster than water can be discharged. For example, heavy rains from Tropical Storm Isaac in August 2012 raised the lake level by 3 feet in a month.

The Corps continuously monitors the effects of any releases on the estuaries and consults with its partner agencies and stakeholders to modify releases to help minimize impacts to coastal waters.

During dry periods, the Corps may also release fresh water from Lake Okeechobee to help maintain appropriate salinity levels in the Caloosahatchee Estuary. In their advisory capacity, SFWMD water managers use a guidance document known as Adaptive Protocols to make recommendations to the Corps on lake operations in these situations.

Related information:

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Water Accountability Sought for Rio Grande

River Needs Sustained Flows to Thrive

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—To protect essential flows in the Rio Grande and curb depletions from an already stressed ecosystem, WildEarth Guardians today warned the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and the State of New Mexico that the District’s continued excessive and unregulated diversions from the river in central New Mexico and the State’s lack of oversight harm imperiled species in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

The group’s notice highlights the District’s unauthorized Water Bank as a prime example of the excessive pressures placed on the already overtaxed flows in the Rio Grande and the State’s general complacence in allowing such illegal uses to continue unchecked.

“Outrage would ensue if a bank opened its doors and began providing loans without any money in its vaults,” said Jen Pelz the Wild Rivers Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. “Yet, this is exactly what the District is doing with its Water Bank. The District has provided no proof to the State that water actually exists for distribution to additional users.”

In 1997, the State raised significant concerns regarding the validity of the Water Bank and insisted that the District prove-up its water rights before opening the bank. As it has done over the past 80 years, however, the District refused to submit its proof of beneficial use to the State and proceeded to operate its Water Bank. Despite the State’s serious concerns over the validity of the Water Bank, it has not taken any action to curtail deliveries to Water Bank lessees or shutdown the bank until it is authorized.

“Progress toward a living river is not possible with a system of water law that is so lacking in accountability,” added Pelz. “The District is not above the law and we plan to provide order in this system of chaos.”

While the group’s lawsuit targets the Water Bank’s impacts to flows in the river and thereby harming endangered species, operation of the bank also threatens the ability of state and federal agencies to meet their obligations to senior water users—such as the six Middle Rio Grande Pueblos—and may limit the State’s ability to meet its obligation under the Rio Grande Compact.

“The wild west approach to water management can no longer account for the complex demands on and climatic changes to the river and reform is long overdue,” added Pelz. “The Rio Grande is an artery of life that sustains all New Mexicans and its health is essential in order to sustain future generations.”

Jen Pelz|August 20, 2014

Steinhatchee River Designated Florida’s 50th State Paddling Trail

With the addition of the Steinhatchee River, Florida now has 50 state paddling trails. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Greenways & Trails designated the Steinhatchee River during the Taylor County Commission meeting on Sept. 16. The Florida Paddling Trails Association also presented signs designating the communities of Keaton Beach and Steinhatchee as “Blueway Communities.”

“We are proud to add the Steinhatchee River as our 50th designated state paddling trail,” said Florida State Park Director Donald Forgione. “Designation of the river creates well-deserved recognition of this excellent destination for paddling, fishing and wildlife viewing and will promote sustainable tourism and boost the economy for the local communities.”

The scenic Steinhatchee River is the latest of Florida’s outstanding waterways to be designated a state paddling trail. The river’s spring-fed, tea-colored water meanders through a shady corridor of moss-draped trees flanking the river. It widens gradually as it flows through the colorful fishing villages of Steinhatchee and Jena before joining the Gulf of Mexico. The roughly eight-mile designated portion begins just below the historic Steinhatchee Falls, which has been an accessible river crossing for countless travelers through the ages.

Wagon ruts can still be seen today where Native Americans, Spanish explorers and early settlers crossed the shallow limestone shelf that creates the low, cascading waterfall. Steinhatchee Falls offers a pleasant picnic area and hand-launch access for small fishing boats, canoes and kayaks. There is also a three-mile, multi-use trail that can be enjoyed by hikers, off-road cyclists and those seeking vibrant seasonal wildflowers and wildlife.

Fishing from a boat or kayak is an interesting prospect for anglers, as both freshwater and saltwater species may be encountered depending upon the stretch of river. Delicious “pan fish” abound in the upper stretches of the Steinhatchee, while saltwater species appear as the river mingles with the Gulf waters. Improved boat ramps on both sides of the river in the towns of Steinhatchee and Jena mark the lower end of the paddling trail and provide good access for all types of boaters.

Visitors are urged to bring binoculars and a camera to capture photos of the wildlife frequently seen along the river corridor and the Gulf coastline. In the fall, colorful monarchs and other butterflies feed upon wildflowers as they migrate southward. Spectacular flocks of white pelicans and other migrating birds are supported by vast tracts of public conservation land that bracket the Steinhatchee River, providing critical habitat for an array of wildlife species inland and along the coastline.

latashawalters|September 18, 2014

Public input sought on permit request allowing lake restoration in north central Florida ‏

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has applied for a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District to conduct restoration activities on 11 lakes and water bodies in the FWC’s North Central Region.

This permit is required pursuant to Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899. The request is part of an overall initiative in which the FWC is working with the Corps to obtain permits for routine restoration work in 94 lakes and water bodies throughout Florida.

The following water bodies within the FWC’s North Central Region are included in the permit application:

  • Cross Creek, Little Lochloosa Lake, Lochloosa Lake, Newnans Lake and Orange Lake in Alachua County
  • Orange Creek Recreation Area in Alachua and Marion counties
  • Withlacoochee River in Pasco, Hernando, Sumter, Citrus, Marion and Levy counties
  • Alligator Lake in Columbia County
  • Mystic Lake in Madison County
  • Suwannee Lake in Suwannee County
  • Tsala Apopka Chain of Lakes in Citrus County

The FWC is seeking a permit that would authorize all of its routine mechanical aquatic plant maintenance activities related to habitat restoration and navigation maintenance within these water bodies for a period of 15 years. The proposed maintenance techniques include mechanical harvesting and shredding of aquatic vegetation and use of earth-moving and tilling equipment on vegetated areas during dry conditions.

The proposed restoration activities on lakes and other water bodies would improve habitat for fish and wildlife and provide outdoor opportunities for boating, angling and wildlife viewing.

The Corps permitting process requires the opportunity for public comment. On Sept. 18, the Corps published a Public Notice for the proposed work on its website: www.saj.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory/PublicNotices.aspx. To view the notice, click on the following file number to open the Public Notice: SAJ-2014-01962 (SP-JED). If you would like to provide comments or have any questions regarding the Corps permit process, please follow the directions included in the Public Notice. Note that the Web address is case-sensitive and should be entered as it appears above.

Learn more about mechanical control of aquatic plants at http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/manage/control-methods/mechanical-control.

Offshore & Ocean

Newly Discovered Sea Creatures Are Like Nothing We’ve Seen Before

Two new sea creatures discovered off the coast of southeast Australia are unlike anything seen before, according to the scientists that found them.

The New York Times reported that the team from Copenhagen University found that the creatures defy “all existing classifications of life.”

Their findings were published in PLOS ONE, and it outlines the details of these strange, mushroom-like organisms.

“A new genus, Dendrogramma, with two new species of multicellular, non-bilaterian, mesogleal animals with some bilateral aspects, D. enigmatica and D. discoides, are described from the south-east Australian bathyal (400 and 1000 metres depth). A new family, Dendrogrammatidae, is established for Dendrogramma,” the study explains.

These sea creatures have bodies that look like a flat disc with a mouth at the end of a stalk-like growth. They somewhat resemble fossilized life-forms from 635 million to 540 millions years ago.

Apparently, the creatures were found during a scientific cruise back in the ’80s, but researchers only noticed them while categorizing other samples. However, because the samples were preserved in 80 percent alcohol, genetic analysis is impossible.

Co-author of the study Jorgen Olesen told BBC News that, “Finding something like this is extremely rare, it’s maybe only happened four times in the last 100 years… We think it belongs in the animal kingdom somewhere; the question is where.”

These aren’t the first wild sea creatures to be discovered in recent years, but they’re certainly the first to be found that look nothing like anything that currently exists. A pretty crazy find indeed.

This post originally appeared on RYOT.

Viola Knowles|RYOT|September 15, 2014

Federal Protections Proposed for Imperiled Nassau Grouper

Feds Propose Listing the Species as Threatened Due to Overfishing and Habitat Loss

Washington, DC—As a result of WildEarth Guardians’ 2010 petition to list Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus), today the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed the species for protection as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). NMFS identified historic and continued human exploitation, and inadequate regulatory protections from overfishing as primary threats to the species.

“We’re thrilled the Nassau grouper is finally moving closer to the protection it so desperately needs to survive and recover,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians.

“We urge the agency to work quickly to finalize the listing and protect these amazing fish from exploitation.”

Nassau groupers live in coral reefs in the western North Atlantic from Bermuda, Florida, and the Bahamas to the Yucatan Peninsula and throughout the Caribbean to southern Brazil, including occasional sightings in the Gulf of Mexico. They can grow up to four feet in length and live up to 29 years.

Nassau groupers follow the cycle of the moon. Though normally solitary reef-dwellers, they form large spawning aggregations, from a few dozen to historically over 100,000 individuals, on or near full moons between December and March. Unfortunately, these aggregations are vulnerable to intensive fishing since they are always in the same place at the same time. Often, the discovery of a spawning aggregation is followed by heavy exploitation, and the local population can disappear in as little as a few years. Over 60 percent of known spawning aggregations are already gone due to human exploitation, and the rest are reduced.

“Reining in human exploitation of Nassau grouper spawning aggregations is key to protecting these magnificent fish,” said Jones. “The agency should also designate critical habitat in the U.S. portions of the species’ range to protect the coral reefs and spawning sites these fish need to survive.”

Protection under the ESA is an effective safety net for imperiled species. More than 99 percent of listed plants and animals still exist today. The law is especially important as a bulwark against the current extinction crisis; plants and animals are disappearing at a rate much higher than the natural rate of extinction due to human activities. Scientists estimate that 227 species would have gone extinct if not for ESA protections.

Taylor Jones|September 2, 2014

Arctic Cod fishery recovery aided by Norway and Russia

The prime cod fishing grounds of North America have been depleted or wiped out by overfishing and poor management. But in Arctic waters, Norway and Russia are working cooperatively to sustain a highly productive — and profitable – northern cod fishery.
What years of dwelling in the cold Atlantic had amassed, an army of knife-wielding, white-suited Norwegian factory workers were taking apart in just minutes. In a consummate display of optimization, streams of fish parts were whisked along on conveyor belts around and above me, with various cuts destined for their most appropriate markets. Nothing was wasted, not skin, fins, bones, offal, or roe. Fresh tongues went straight to Oslo. Whole heads were bound for Nigeria.

What was most remarkable, though, was the identity of the fish being processed in what seemed like a sheer embarrassment of biomass: The Atlantic cod – a species that many North Americans would recognize as an emblem of overfishing and regulatory failure.

At Georges Bank and other historical cod fishing grounds of New England, stocks of the once plentiful groundfish are at near record lows. In the fisheries of the Canadian Maritimes, the cod population long ago succumbed to overfishing and collapsed. And yet in the Arctic Circle village of Melbu, at one of nine Norway Seafoods cod processing plants, a productive fishing industry is thriving.

John Waldman|Yale Environment360||September 19, 2014

Read more at Yale Environment360.

Red Tide Off Florida Smothering Everything In Its Path; Could Cause ‘Considerable’ Damage

CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) — It’s like Florida’s version of The Blob. Slow moving glops of toxic algae in the northeast Gulf of Mexico are killing sea turtles, sharks and fish, and threatening the waters and beaches that fuel the region’s economy.

Known as “red tide,” this particular strain called Karenia brevis is present nearly every year off Florida, but large blooms can be particularly devastating. Right now, the algae is collecting in an area about 60 miles wide and 100 miles long, about 5 to 15 miles off St. Petersburg in the south and stretching north to Florida’s Big Bend, where the peninsula ends and the Panhandle begins.

Fishermen who make a living off the state’s northwest coast are reporting fish kills and reddish water.

“It boils up in the propeller wash like boiled red Georgia clay. It’s spooky,” said Clearwater fisherman Brad Gorst as he steered the charter fishing boat Gulfstream 2 in waters near Honeymoon Island, where dead fish recently washed ashore.

Red tide kills fish, manatees and other marine life by releasing a toxin that paralyzes their central nervous system. The algae also foul beaches and can be harmful to people who inhale the algae’s toxins when winds blow onshore or by crashing waves, particularly those with asthma and other respiratory ailments.

In 2005, a strong red tide killed reefs, made beaches stinky and caused millions in economic damage. A weaker red tide in 2013 killed 276 manatees, state records show, after infecting the grasses eaten by the endangered creatures.

“This red tide … will likely cause considerable damage to our local fisheries and our tourist economy over the next few months,” said Heyward Mathews, an emeritus professor of oceanography at St. Petersburg College who has studied the issue for decades.

Despite years of study, there is nothing anyone has been able to do about it. In the 1950s, wildlife officials tried killing the red tide algae by dumping copper sulfate on it, which made the problem worse in some ways. But some researchers are working to change that.

Predicting when red tides are going to be especially bad can help fishermen and beach businesses prepare.

Right now, much of the information comes from satellite images, which are often obscured by clouds.

“In this particular red tide, we got a good image on July 23 — then we went weeks without another image,” said University of South Florida ocean scientist Robert Weisberg.

Weisberg is one among a team of researchers developing a prediction model based on ocean currents data, rather than satellite images.

The prediction model tracks the currents that bring natural nutrients like phytoplankton the red tide needs to gain a foothold. Unlike other red tide species, Karenia brevis is not believed to be caused by man-made pollution such as agricultural runoff, and historical accounts of what is believed to be the same red tide date back to the 1700s.

Using his method, Weisberg in March predicted the current late summer bloom that is now causing so much worry. It allowed state officials to issue a warning July 25.

While the project recently received “rapid response” money from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to send a data-collecting robotic glider into the bloom, future funding for this work is in doubt.

Weisberg said the team is still trying to develop a model that can look further into the future.

But the tides often start far offshore, where gathering data and images can be a time-consuming, expensive undertaking. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has tried to stem this data gap by giving fishermen sampling jars to take out to sea with them.

While a good stopgap, Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly, who represents St. Petersburg, has called for more NOAA funding to help prepare for future events.

“Using fishermen to collect samples clearly shows we have a research gap,” Jolly said. “The more we learn about it, the more we can prevent a spread and protect our shoreline.”

NOAA spokesman Ben Sherman said the president’s 2015 budget does ask for a $6 million increase for research related to red tide forecasting, including the Gulf of Mexico, but Congress still has to approve it.

Fishermen say a better warning system could help save time and money.

“If we had more of a head’s up we could plan out where we would go fish,” said Mike Colby, captain of the Double Hook fishing vessel in Clearwater.

JASON DEAREN|AP |09/17/2014

Wildlife and Habitat

Can the World Really Set Aside Half of the Planet for Wildlife?

The eminent evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson has an audacious vision for saving Earth from a cataclysmic extinction event

“Battles are where the fun is,” said E.O. Wilson, the great evolutionary biologist, “and where the most rapid advances are made.” We were sitting in oversized rocking chairs in a northwest Florida guest cottage with two deep porches and half-gallons of butter-pecan ice cream in the freezer, a Wilson favorite. He’d invited me here to look at what he considers a new approach to conservation, a new ecological Grail that, naturally, won’t happen without a fight.

Wilson, 85, is the author of more than 25 books, many of which have changed scientific understanding of human nature and of how the living part of the planet is put together.

Known as the father of sociobiology, he is also hailed as the pre-eminent champion of biodiversity: Wilson coined the word “biophilia” to suggest that people have an innate affinity for other species, and his now widely accepted “theory of island biogeography” explains why national parks and all confined landscapes inevitably lose species. He grew up in and around Mobile, Alabama, and has been at Harvard for over 60 years but still calls himself “a Southern boy who came north to earn a living.” He is courtly, twinkly, soft-spoken, has a shock of unruly white hair, and is slightly stooped from bending over to look at small things all his life—he’s the world’s leading authority on ants. Wilson has earned more than a hundred scientific awards and other honors, including two Pulitzer Prizes. And perhaps his most urgent project is a quest to refute conservation skeptics who think there isn’t enough left of the natural world to be worth saving.

Throughout the 544 million or so years since hard-shelled animals first appeared, there has been a slow increase in the number of plants and animals on the planet, despite five mass extinction events. The high point of biodiversity likely coincided with the moment modern humans left Africa and spread out across the globe 60,000 years ago. As people arrived, other species faltered and vanished, slowly at first and now with such acceleration that Wilson talks of a coming “biological holocaust,” the sixth mass extinction event, the only one caused not by some cataclysm but by a single species—us.

Wilson recently calculated that the only way humanity could stave off a mass extinction crisis, as devastating as the one that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, would be to set aside half the planet as permanently protected areas for the ten million other species. “Half Earth,” in other words, as I began calling it—half for us, half for them. A version of this idea has been in circulation among conservationists for some time.

“It’s been in my mind for years,” Wilson told me, “that people haven’t been thinking big enough—even conservationists. Half Earth is the goal, but it’s how we get there, and whether we can come up with a system of wild landscapes we can hang onto. I see a chain of uninterrupted corridors forming, with twists and turns, some of them opening up to become wide enough to accommodate national biodiversity parks, a new kind of park that won’t let species vanish.”

I had also begun to think about such wildland chains as “Long Landscapes,” and Wilson said he liked the idea that they could meet climate change head on: Those that run north-south, like the initiative in the West known as Yellowstone-to-Yukon, can let life move north as things warm up, and those that run east-west may have the benefit of letting life move east, away from the west, which in the future may not see as much rain. “Why, when this thing gets really going,” Wilson said, “you’ll be so surrounded, so enveloped by connected corridors that you’ll almost never not be in a national park, or at any rate in a landscape that leads to a national park.”

Is this Half Earth vision even possible, I wondered, and what might it look like? The question would send me across the States, to a bison ranch in Montana and to emerging wildlife corridors in New England, but according to Wilson, the pathway to a planet permanently half-protected—something he thinks we could accomplish in half a century—begins right beyond our cottage near the town of Freeport, Florida, in a forest being created by M.C. Davis, a multimillionaire who grew up in a Panhandle trailer and as a young man raised his first stake playing poker.

Like Wilson, M.C. Davis is a tireless, elaborately courteous Southern charmer. But Wilson himself is quick to point out a difference: “I only write about saving biodiversity. He’s actually doing it.”

Davis’ idea has been to revive the “Piney Woods,” the signature ecosystem of the American Southeast. The longleaf pine forest once covered 90 million acres, or about 60 percent of the land, in a virtually continuous 1,200-mile stretch across nine states from Virginia to East Texas. That forest has been reduced by 97 percent, and there are about three million acres of it left. That’s more catastrophic than what has happened to coral reefs (10 percent to 20 percent destroyed) or the Amazon rainforest (more than 20 percent). The longleaf pine forest’s “Big Cut,” as it’s still known, began after the Civil War and left behind what commentators referred to as “a sea of stumps.” Much of the land has since been reforested, but de-longleafed, and is now planted with row after row of faster-growing pines raised for pulpwood.

Davis, a commodities trader in timber and oil and gas rights, who grew up 65 miles west of his forest, is jovial, folksy, forceful, slightly rumpled-looking, unassuming (“I’m a dirt-road, Panhandle guy”). But for the past decade he has been spending half a million dollars a year planting longleaf pine trees and another half million on other parts of a longleaf forest.

Davis remembers his awakening. He got stuck in a big pileup on I-4 near Tampa, saw a high-school marquee with the sign “Black Bear Seminar” and walked in the door: “There was an old drunk, and a politician who’d thought there’d be a crowd, and a couple of Canadians looking for day-old doughnuts and coffee—and, up on the stage, two women talking about saving black bears. They were riveting. The next day I gave those ladies enough money to keep going for another two years, which I think scared them, it was so out of the blue. Then I asked them for a 100-book environmental reading list for me, for my education. I spent a year reading Thoreau, John Muir, Ed Wilson. Then I started buying up land to see what I could do.”

If you were going to save Florida black bears, it was clear from the start, you’d have to save longleaf forests, their preferred habitat. An adult male black bear roams across perhaps a hundred square miles of land. North Florida already had some good-sized clusters of publicly owned longleaf—national forests, state forests, wildlife management areas and, in the western Panhandle, Eglin Air Force Base, a huge facility that back before World War II had itself been a national forest. If you could add in enough territory to put these pieces together, they’d amount to something greater than just a “postage stamp” of the natural world, as conservationists had started calling the national parks. The problem was that 70 miles separated the first two protected longleaf forests—and it was another 95 miles to the third.

As he dug deeper, Davis realized that the coastal Southeast is a “hyper­diverse” biological hotspot with up to 60 different species in a single square yard—though you might not think so when you see it, since a mature longleaf forest looks clipped and kempt, more like a big city park. Without any human intervention, here is a forest with tall, straight trees that are rather widely spaced, plenty of sunlight and lots of open, grassy meadows. Longleaf branches out only after it’s high overhead, where glistening needles up to two-and-a-half-feet long are arrayed in pompon­-like sprays. Below the branches is empty space a hawk can glide through.

Davis’ plan was to buy up and re-longleaf the “in-between” open space east of Eglin and west of a protected river corridor. The available land was close to people, just a few miles inland from the sugar-white sands and high-rise condos of Gulf Coast beach towns. These tourist-driven communities used to be known as the Redneck Riviera, featuring attractions like the Snake-a-Torium, but more recently have been marketing themselves as the Emerald Coast (with slightly confusing slogans like “White Sand, White Wine, White Necks”). There was nothing, however, even remotely upscale about the land Davis had his eye on. It was dismal-looking rather than dazzling, a series of abandoned peanut farms and unproductive pulpwood forests with low asking prices.

Davis’ approach—“M.C.’s folly,” conservationists called it, because it seemed too ambitious—was something that emerged from Wilson’s mid-1960s demonstration that islands of habitat lose species over time. “Ed set the course,” Davis told me, “by showing us that doing something huge is our only hope. We’re all marching under his umbrella, and he’s so inspirational he makes people like me take action.”

Davis bought 51,000 acres of degraded farms and forests, a swath of land up to five miles wide that included barely 1,500 acres of longleaf pine in scattered patches. Basically, he’d be starting from scratch, and would be “rewilding” his property. Davis named his bedraggled purchase Nokuse Plantation. Pronounced “No-GO-see,” Nokuse means “bear” in the language of the Muskogee people who once lived there, but their written alphabet doesn’t have a hard “G.” Nokuse is the biggest private preserve and the biggest restoration project east of the Mississippi.

To honor Wilson, Davis built the dazzling, $12 million E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center at one edge of Nokuse, where thousands of fourth through seventh graders from six counties get free classes that let them hold real baby gopher tortoises and clamber and pose for pictures on a giant ant sculpture.

Wilson regards Nokuse as part of “the final stage of conservation.” Back in 1871, the United States electrified the world by inventing the national park, setting aside 2.2 million acres, an area larger than Delaware, to create Yellowstone National Park as a public “pleasuring ground.” (The world now has 5,000 national parks among its 200,000 protected areas.) Half a century ago, the vision expanded. Fifty years ago this month, President Johnson signed the Wilderness Act, which for the first time permanently protected land for its own sake, establishing a National Wilderness Preservation System of areas where “the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man is only a visitor who does not remain.” This was hailed as securing the “freedom of the wilderness”; Wilson would call it “the conservation of eternity.” The 9.1 million acres of American wilderness protected in 1964 have since grown to 109.5 million acres (4 percent of the country), thanks to citizen groups working on behalf of the rest of life.

The new challenge, as Wilson sees it, is to link up national parks and wilderness reserves and restored landscapes to “protect in perpetuity entire faunas and floras.” He has high praise for several such projects out West—especially the Yellowstone-to-Yukon initiative to join vast areas of the U.S. and Canada, and the even more extensive Western Wildway vision, a tri-national arc of land along the length of the Rockies from Mexico to Alaska sponsored by the Wildlands Network, a consortium of biologists and activists headquartered in Seattle.

In early sketches of some proposed “cores and corridors” systems, the connecting corridors look thin and spindly, like brain cells yoked together by the wiring of narrow, protruding axons. Even the word “corridor” sounds restrictive and unwelcoming, conjuring up images of school and hospital hallways, non-places for hurrying along or skulking through on the way to where you’re really going. Davis’ new longleaf corridor had to be more than just a pass-through place. In a hotspot where so many species are so densely crowded together, each rewilded acre had to be a stopping place, as well—a haven and a highway.

Although, frankly, much of Nokuse is still scruffy. A longleaf reforestation turns out to look a lot like a construction zone, as Davis acknowledged while driving me over bumpy trails in a golf cart. “Well,” he said, “I tell people we’re in Year 13 of a 300-year program. I could easily make 1,000 acres look beautiful, but the extinction clock’s ticking, so I decided to take on the bigger challenge.”

At Nokuse, Davis and his crew of workers have thinned 22,000 acres of pulpwood pines and planted eight million longleaf seedlings. He’s brought flames back to the woods after a half-century absence, setting carefully controlled fires on about 10,000 acres every year. For the past 25 million years, a prominent feature of the weather in this coastal environment has been violent summer thunderstorms and strobe-like lightning strikes. What grew here, uniquely, was a fire-and-rain forest, one that to stay healthy and keep its open glades, thirsts as much for scorching as it does for drenching (the one starts seeds germinating, the other lets them grow). Longleaf itself only thrives because it has evolved a slow, intricate fire dance that lets it evade being burned: An infant longleaf looks like a clump of ground-hugging grass, and it keeps that humble shape for up to 15 years before entering a “rocket stage” and growing four feet straight up in a single burst that takes it beyond a ground fire’s lethal reach.

Something’s going right at Nokuse—bears have reintroduced themselves, having ambled in from Eglin Air Force Base next door and then stuck around. Davis is planning to bring back red-cockaded woodpeckers, and, one starry night out on the guest-cottage porch, he also started talking to Wilson and me about finding a place for bison (the area’s last known woodland bison was shot just before the American Revolution).

“Oh, now you’ve got me dreaming,” Wilson said about the bison. “You’ve set my imagination on fire!”

So far, though, Davis’ proudest accomplishment has been an intense statewide recruitment for a seemingly uncharismatic creature, the foot-long gopher tortoise. Nokuse Plantation director Matt Aresco, a biologist with a PhD in turtle studies, has retrieved 3,500 otherwise doomed gopher tortoises from all over Florida. These “ecosystem engineers,” as one conservation biologist calls them, have the kind of transforming influence on their surroundings that beaver families do—although it’s unseen. Only two-thirds of a longleaf forest ecosystem is visible (trees and ground cover), with the rest underground, and 360 animal species take shelter in the 40-foot-long, 10-foot-deep burrows excavated by shy and dusty gopher tortoises. They retreat down these paths to where fires and hurricanes can’t penetrate, and where temperatures never sink below 55 degrees in winter or get above 80 in summer. The Florida mouse digs side tunnels, and a tiny, tiny ant lives on the eggs of a spider found only in these burrows.

The tortoises, guarantors and guardians of longleaf abundance, have suffered badly at the hands of both rich and poor: During the Depression, they were dug up and eaten (known back then as “Hoover chickens”). Now they’re buried and left there. The sandy soils they dig through are the same soils that developers build on, and gopher tortoises can’t dig up, only down, so to kill a gopher tortoise you only have to stop up the tunnel entrance.

In the luminous glow of intense orange Florida sunsets, Davis and Wilson would sit on the porch, planning. They pored over maps of nearby industrial timberland that if acquired and re-longleafed, could link Nokuse to the protected half-million-acres almost due east, thereby summoning a Long Landscape—more than 160 miles of continuous longleaf in a grand biodiversity corridor. Then there’d be room enough, Davis pointed out, for even the widest-ranging species, like red wolves and panthers.

Davis kindly offered Wilson and me a ride to Boston in his Cessna Citation jet, which had a black bear, the Nokuse logo, emblazoned on its tail. (He has since sold that aircraft.) Wilson, who is indefatigable, had suffered a slight stroke during our April 2013 visit, but he bounced out of the hospital two days later and by the following day was holding his hospital-issued walker over his head like a barbell. He has made a complete recovery, and this year, on our return visit to Nokuse, he spent a morning chasing butterflies. On the plane we talked about a park within the longleaf corridor in Mobile, a project that Wilson is working on with a horticulturist named Bill Finch, who, Wilson says, “is one of the two best naturalists in the world—and the other’s in Mozambique.” The Mobile Delta is a vast and diverse wilderness with over 300 species of birds. You’d think you’d returned to the early 19th century—it has been called “America’s Amazon.” But this would be an urban park, too, since the wild lands begin only 200 yards from the courthouse in downtown Mobile.

Looking out the window as we flew along the Appalachians, I told Wilson that I saw some Long Landscape parallels with the interstate highway system down below. A wilderness Appalachian corridor could run up and down the East Coast. The great, unbroken forests across all of northern Canada could be another. Together with the Western Wildway and a resurgent longleaf forest, this pattern would almost completely enclose the edges of the continent in a sequence of interlocking Long Landscapes bordered by the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans and the Gulf of Mexico. From sea to shining sea and then some. With, of course, additional and more inland routes to be added later, such as the sweeping grasslands of the Great Plains, which cover parts of ten states just east of the Rockies.

It all sounded within reach, from high in the air.

New England would seem to be a Half Earth slam dunk, a landscape on the upswing of a yo-yoing transformation. The region was 90 percent forested when the Pilgrims arrived, but almost 200 years later farmers chopped down all but 20 percent of the trees during a “sheep fever” that can in part be blamed on Napoleon and the first stirrings of globalization.

When Napoleon overran Portugal in 1810, a Vermonter carried off a herd of merino sheep, prized for their soft, premium-priced wool, which until then had been a monopoly of the Portuguese aristocracy. The 30-year wool craze that followed has been called “a mania as powerful as any religious fanaticism.” New England’s famous stone walls, rocks piled up by hand, like the Egyptian pyramids, and with more stones than the pyramids, are a remnant of that period. Then this vast series of sheep pens was abruptly abandoned as farmers and herders moved west.

The forests returned, though no one in the 21st century will see anything like those first forests’ practically sequoia-size Eastern white pines, trees that awed early settlers. Timbering is common in the newer woods, and even if left strictly alone, white pines need 400 years to tower over everything in sight. The “reforests,” if you can call them that, instill their own wonder, though. Self-seeded, they’ve spread again to cover 79 percent of New England, and a recent report refers to the entire six-state region as a “continental-scale habitat corridor.” If the pace of land conservation can be doubled, says this same clarion-call report, “Wildlands and Woodlands,” then 50 years from now New England can stay 70 percent forested forever. The area, it says, is something rare in the biosphere: a “second-chance landscape.”

Some of the conservationists who toured me around give this outcome no better than a 50-50 chance. Most of the land in New England is in private hands, with, in general, larger tracts up north and much smaller holdings as you move south (100-, 60-, or 20-acre lots). Which means that property maps of New England display a fragmented landscape rather than a reunified one. No one is proposing turning New England into a national park. What you can do, though, conservationists say, is ensure biodiversity on private property by paying landowners to protect present and future forests; in technical terms this is known as a “conservation easement.” Approaching thousands of individual landowners about this, one at a time, could defend and define natural corridors so they remain seamless for animals and plants, setting up formal connections between parcels that previously were in a legal sense merely adjacent.

Money is an obstacle—though easements cost less than outright land purchases—and another is finding the people to do the paperwork, which traditionally has been handled by small local groups called land trusts; they’re now amalgamating themselves into larger associations called RCPs, regional conservation partnerships, so as to take on bigger projects. Ed Wilson identified biophilia as the innate affinity for the rest of life within us all. How large a force field can biophilia exert within a second-chance landscape?

One of the most mind-opening aspects of the Half Earth quest is that it’s a reimagining of the possible, bringing into focus what had been a blur. I found one north-south wildlife corridor, about 200 miles in length, that couldn’t be called forgotten because it was never celebrated, although Thoreau wrote lovingly about one mountaintop, Monadnock, up near its northern end. On a satellite-generated nighttime map of New England, now that such things exist, this corridor pops out unmistakably. These maps show city lights as bright white smears separated by a fascinating absence and emptiness, the almost uninterrupted blackness of the “dark landscapes” in between—that dark is where the wild things are.

The column of dark land in the middle of southern New England has a band of light on one side, made by New York and the cities along the Connecticut River Valley, and a splash of white on the other, radiated by Boston and Providence. The dark land itself is a cascade of rolling, wooded hills that course down from the White Mountains through New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut on their way to the marshes along Long Island Sound. It’s a corridor that’s never had a name, except for a geological one, “eastern uplands.” Its hills are humbler than the Taconics and Berkshires to the west, so it has never attracted a school of painters or their wealth or cachet. But because of its intactness, this potential corridor—White Mountains to Whitecaps, it might be called, or W2W—is the single decisive interruption in what is now a 400-mile-long line of cities from Washington to Boston, the so-called Northeast Megaregion.

W2W derives much of its strength from an act of brute force. In the 1930s, Boston drowned four towns, evicted 2,500 people and moved 7,600 graves to create the Quabbin Reservoir, a huge, U-shaped lake in the center of Massachusetts. Further development was banned on 56,000 acres of woodland around the reservoir to keep its water pure. Moose, black bears and bald eagles, all long gone, returned. Anchored by this “accidental wilderness,” as it’s been called, three active RCPs lead off from the reservoir, two to the north, one to the south. The biggest is Q2C, the Quabbin-to-Cardigan Partnership, whose goal is to protect up to half of the two million acres between the reservoir and a mountain at the southern tip of the White Mountains.

Outstandingly and even improbably, W2W offers an older, slower sense of countryside that’s no longer common in the East; it’s a Truman-era setting, a seemingly endless landscape, where towns are like way stations or solitary boats bobbing on what an 18th-century geographer called “an ocean of woods.” Which is what you see today looking down from a small plane—a few towns, a few farms and the ceaseless woods. “There are hawks in my yard,” says Chris Wells, a Q2C coordinator who grew up in suburban New Jersey, studied planning in Manhattan and now lives in tiny Wilmot, New Hampshire. “Bobcats on the front lawn. Some nights you hear coyotes howl—I could be living in the African veld.”

Dan Donahue is director of land protection and stewardship at the Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary, which straddles the Massachusetts-Connecticut border not far south of Quabbin. The core of Norcross’ 8,000 acres has a remoteness to it, a hushed, back-of-beyond quality that encourages you to speak more quietly. The land was bought in the 1930s by Arthur D. Norcross, founder of the Norcross Greeting Card Company (still remembered for popularizing Valentine’s Day cards). His great interest was “rescue work,” relocating plants about to be destroyed—including, as he noted proudly, an entire colony of Hartford fern taken from a doomed Quabbin town just “before the bulldozer and the flame throwers did their work and the area was flooded.”

Donahue told me he sees W2W as a fire wall that can dramatically slow climate change. “Mr. Norcross saw this place as an ark,” Donahue said. “The truth is you can’t make an ark big enough to save species. But you can have arcs instead—arcs of land, like the one we’re standing right in the middle of. ”

In Montana’s Gallatin Valley one July afternoon, a pickup-truck prowl at the Flying D Ranch, near Bozeman, felt like an instantaneous return to an unrecoverable past, to the “seens of visionary inchantment” that Meriwether Lewis came across when he and William Clark made their way across Montana in 1805. Lewis recorded encountering—there was no spell check in the expedition’s equipment—“immence herds of Buffaloe, Elk, deer & Antelope feeding in one common and boundless pasture.” We were on the lookout for wolves; I was willing to settle for bison.

The 113,613-acre Flying D, up at the northwest corner of Greater Yellowstone, is a Ted Turner operation, and only a smidgen of the two million acres he owns in the United States and Argentina. The ranch has almost 2,000 elk and maybe 5,000 bison. Before the 1870s, it has been said, it would’ve been easier to count all the leaves in a forest than to count the bison. After 15 years of mass slaughter, though, there were only 325 bison left in the nation.

Like Nokuse in Florida, the Flying D is a large-scale, long-term experiment in ecosystem restoration. The premise, according to State Senator Mike Phillips (the pickup- truck driver), is that in ranch country, a wildlife refuge can pay for itself if it’s also run as a business. The big bison herd, which replaced a cattle operation, is largely raised for sale—bison burgers are available at all of Turner’s 45 Ted’s Montana Grill restaurants around the country. A few bull elk are hunted annually by high-end outfitters. Other species are welcomed, celebrated: mule deer, grizzlies, cougars, moose, pronghorn antelope, cutthroat trout, the occasional wolverine—nearly all the animals that were present before settlers arrived in Lewis and Clark’s wake. Wolves found their way to the D in 2002, seven years after being reintroduced to Yellowstone. The D’s wolf pack, called the Beartrap pack, is the largest in Greater Yellowstone—or was until a year ago, when it got so big it split into two separate groups.

Phillips, a biologist and a friend of Wilson’s, was elected to the Democratic minority in the Montana Senate two years ago. Since 1997 he has also served as the founding executive director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund (TESF), “the largest and most significant such family-funded initiative that we know of in the world,” he says. I ask him what the D will look like a hundred years from now. “Exactly like now,” he says with a laugh, “providing we get a good June rain.”

Ted Turner was making one of his many visits to the D that afternoon for a private meeting celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the ecosystem’s biggest advocacy group, and made a point of introducing himself. In jeans and a crisp sport shirt, he seemed quite chipper. “Here’s a piece of land,” he said, pointing from his back porch to the high, snowcapped peaks behind him, “that could’ve been a resort—28 minutes from the airport, or downtown, or a good Division II football game. But it’s perfectly placed as a beachhead for wildness. Seemed to me the choice was obvious, and it’s a good thing we stepped in when we did.”

He said the Flying D is the largest private property in Greater Yellowstone—a critically important part of this connected landscape. “It’s clear nowadays that to protect imperiled species we need to operate at enormous scales that make sense to nature but that transcend anything people have assembled,” he said. “And it’s just as clear that no country will ever have the money to buy up all the unprotected pieces. But it doesn’t all have to happen on public land, since private ranches like this one can promote ecological integrity. Private lands are working landscapes; they’re money-making businesses. And I think we’ve invented something entirely new here—call them ‘wild working landscapes’—where we make a profit and so does the planet.”

Large carnivores, Phillips says, are an excellent lens for looking at landscapes. Their movements and migrations define broad corridors that already exist physically. The unanswered question is whether we can develop “socially accepted corridors,” as he calls them, along these same routes, so that the people within this now-inhabited habitat can co-exist with the big creatures in their midst. “The GYC folk talk about moving from tolerance to acceptance to appreciation, though I usually substitute ‘admiration.’” It sounds like Wilson’s biophilia, in bite-size, time-released doses.

The bison weren’t thundering as we moved slowly through them, merely standing around massively, impressively, the calves frisky, the bulls larger than our truck. It seemed to take forever to get past the great herd. Then we struck off cross-country and uphill. “Let’s go howl at the wolves,” Phillips said. A bald eagle perched on a fencepost, a couple of four-foot-tall, reddish sandhill cranes stalked sedately through rolling, grassy slopes filled with purple lupine, white yarrow and yellow blanket flowers. We stopped at a high, sweet-smelling meadow and, once Phillips cut the engine, an enormous silence enveloped us, broken only by the buzzy trill of a song sparrow.

We had to whisper because sounds carried so well in this natural amphitheater. Valpa Asher, the TESF wolf biologist accompanying us, told us some wolves might show up, about a mile away. “You’ll think they’re floating,” she said quietly. “Wolves are all leg.” They’d be at eye level halfway up a steep, rocky slope over on the far side of a deep valley. No guarantees, of course. We were looking at a “rendezvous site,” a kind of aboveground den, where wolf pups that were old enough get brought to learn the landscape.

Farther away, the skyline was dominated by the pointed crests of the Spanish Peaks, snowcapped even in summer. There was a rumble of thunder, and it suddenly started to pour. Wind whistled in our ears. It got colder, and we retreated to the truck, where Phillips broke out deli sandwiches and cans of Jamaican lemonade. Then the sun came out again, and there was a double rainbow to our right. “The D is showing off—this is too cool,” Phillips said matter-of-factly, far more restrained than YouTube’s “double rainbow guy.”

Then—there they were. Dots to the naked eye, but vividly close through a spotting scope. A black adult, a gray adult with a black ruff and six pups, four black and two gray, gamboling, sniffing the ground, chasing each other, dispersing and then regrouping.

Definitely floating. Phillips grinned, threw his head back and howled across the valley. On the other side, the two adult wolves threw back their heads and howled. The sounds were faint but unmistakable. For the moment, at least, Half Earth felt whole.

Tony Hiss|Smithsonian Magazine|September 2014

Forestry

Brutal Quadruple Murder of Anti-Logging Activists in Peru

The brutal murder of four Saweto community members, Edwin Chota Valero, Jorge Ríos Pérez, Leoncio Quinticim and Francisco, has finally hurtled the plight of the Ashéninka indigenous settlement of Saweto (Peru) into the public eye.

For the past 10 years, Chota (54) who was the president of the Ashéninka indigenous settlement of Saweto, a 275-square-mile (712-square-kilometer) headwaters region in the upper reaches of the Alto Tamaya River, rallied and protested against the violations that he saw happening to his people’s land and its forests.

He rallied against drug traffickers who would use the porous border on his land to transport coca paste into Brazil and criminal timber syndicates that have been operating across Peru’s borders with little to no restraint.

Despite the obvious dangers of confronting these people, Chota remained adamant.

Chota’s efforts were far from selfish: They were for the good of his community. On their land they hoped to create one day create an ecological reserve for the their people to live sustainably on, using only the bounty of their land, the forest and the lake as their home and sustenance.

But what Chota was doing was indeed dangerous, and the danger, according to National Geographic reporter Scott Wallace, was very real. Three years previously, Chota had remarked to Scott:

“Welcome to the land without law. The only law here is the law of the gun.”

Chota is referring to his battle with the Ucayali regional government in Pucallpa to gain legal title for his people’s land for the last 10 years. The ongoing petitioning with little or no response, has meant that Chota’s attempts to remove illegal loggers and drug traffickers were made that much more difficult.

Chota remarked that even though “they threaten us, they intimidate, they have the guns” he was still determined that he had to confront the logging crews that came upriver from Pucallpa to cut limber illegally within the borders of Saweto’s land, a land that Chota and his people had no legal title to:

“As long as we don’t have title, the loggers don’t respect native ownership,”

Last year, Chota successfully helped police locate a sawmill outside Pucallpa on the banks of Ucayali River, where they found piles of raw timber that had been illegally harvested from Saweto.

After the timber was impounded, powerful logging bosses threatened that “someone from Saweto is going to die”.

But while he pleaded with the government for more security, those please fell on deaf ears.

To make the whole situation worse, the bodies of the four murdered activists have yet to been recovered.

The widows have pleaded with the Peruvian government to retrieve the bodies and provide more security for the remaining community,but again, their voices have fallen on deaf ears.

“We want the bodies of our husbands that have been left out in the jungle as though they were animals,” says Ergilia López, the widow of murdered community treasurer Jorge Ríos Pérez.

Frustrated with Peru’s slow response to recover the bodies, the Ashéninkas’ Brazilian relatives from Apiwtxa sent their own team of 16 tribal members down. The team arrived at the scene or the murders two days ago, finding only the body of Jorge Ríos, who had been shot in the base of the neck, and nothing but the belongings of the others.

They’re believed to have been washed away by heavy rain.

Sarah Burke|September 15, 2014

Global Warming and Climate Change

Reclaim the Climate Movement

I’m sure you’ve heard that everyone – or, at least, everyone who cares – will be marching for the climate this weekend. If you’re not marching, then you’re not doing anything at all, or so we’re told.

False dichotomies aside though, I won’t be marching this weekend. I’ll be taking action instead. I agree with Chris Hedges: the march is nothing more that street theatre. It won’t lead to any policy changes; it won’t wave a magic wand over corporate ecocide; and it sure as hell won’t get middle-class white folk to iveup their privilege and downshift. It will be a colorful (well, mainly blue t-shirts) climate-themed street parade, complete with back-slapping and high-fiving over how amazing the climate movement is for managing to get so many people outside on a weekend for a stroll around a city.

Here in Australia we’ve watched the situation go from bad to worse in the year since we elected the worst of all possible governments to power. To say Australia lacks the political will to address “the greatest moral and social challenge of our time” is to state the obvious. Instead of being shocked, perhaps our response should be disgust, followed by action.

We should be disgusted by the scrapping of the Climate Commission, the repeal of the carbon tax and mining tax, and the removal of funding for the Environmental Defender’s Offices. The irony of these backward steps, taken while greenhouse gas emissions are increasing faster than at any point in the last three decades, should not be lost on anyone with a finger on the pulse.

For all our polite letter-writing campaigns and clicktivist petitions, for all our colorfully theatrical street rallies, these policy backslides are evidence that this government doesn’t give a damn what ‘we the people’ think, or want. They’re not intimidated – they know there’s no “or else” clause in any of those letters or petitions. They know the rallying troops will never threaten direct action, or show up on their doorsteps to demand action.

Approvals for mega-mining projects in Queensland’s Galilee Basin – including the largest coal mine in Australia, Indian company Adani’s Carmichael mine – and for dredging and dumping on the Great Barrier Reef are a poignant reminder that we are “in the coal business.” So much so, in fact, that Queensland’s newly passed Mineral and Resources bill prohibits anyone not “directly affected” from objecting to carbon-intensive mining proposals while also prohibiting all objections to so-called low-impact mining, effectively exempting some 90% of operations. Concerned citizens have effectively been legislated out of the conversation in an appalling attack on democracy.

One can criticize the incumbent government for many things, but not for failing to cover all bases. A return to witch-hunts against environmental NGOs looms large on the horizon, with a number of organizations facing legal and financial ruin by the very government whose policy gaps they are working so hard to close. Recommendations to strip environmental NGOs of their ability to receive tax-deductible donations and the proposed repeal of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission (ACNC) are effectively moves to de-claw the climate movement, and ensure that business as usual proceeds without so much as a hiccup.

So what can a climate movement with no backbone achieve?

Historically, gaps in policy have been met with strong civil society action. It’s time we rose to our historic moment, as Naomi Klein urges. “We the people” need to reclaim the climate movement.

While mainstream climate activists emphasize market-dependent initiatives such as divestment from fossil fuels, getting behind renewable energy, and putting in place carbon-pricing mechanisms, there are a handful of voices from the margins promoting alternative strategies, including the controversial and challenging measures of economic de-growth, and direct action. A few pariahs are even urging preparation for the tough times ahead.

But these alternative voices are weak, drowned out by the mainstream mantras of “we’ve got to put a price on carbon,” “move your money!” and “100% renewable for the win!” What the climate needs right now is for transitioners, de-growthers, permaculturists, and other resilience-oriented folk to stop watching from the sidelines as the movement is declawed at best, and at worst, co-opted by spurious sales reps for greenwashed industry.

So this weekend I won’t be marching for the climate. And I won’t be sitting around doing nothing either. I’ll be at the sixth annual Australian Climate Action Summit held this year in Queensland, our Sunshine State. And I’ll be delivering some inconvenient truths. My presentation on de-growth is my offering as an apostate from the churches of economic growth and techno-optimism. The climate movement needs to hear this – that the pursuit of perpetual growth is what got us into this mess, and that tech-fixes won’t get us out of it. We are going to have to make major changes to our way of life.

A call to action for Australians to engage with opportunities and solutions, the Summit is also an invitation to debate which tactics will actually work to reduce our collective carbon footprint. Most transitioners, de-growthers and permaculturists are just as guilty of groupthink and huddling together with like-minds, in my view, as the mainstream climate movement is. If we never emerge from our silos then what do we really stand to achieve?

Preaching to the choir is a reassuring experience, well within the comfort zone, but it’s not going to get those inconvenient truths across to the movement in the tiny window of time we have available. We have to transcend comfort zones and network with unlike minds if we are to have a shot at making a real difference. And the more people we can work with, the better chance we’ll all have.

I’m not alone in this view, thankfully.

The climate movement’s pet projects receive plenty of scrutiny and critique from climate deniers and right-wing political pundits, but these are not the only folk who have questions, or challenges. The movement is not without its controversy, and the Summit is an excellent opportunity to place a few cards on the table and get talking about tactics that will really slash emissions.

Consumer actions such as ethical investment and divestment from the fossil fuel industry are presented as simple, empowering moves that anyone can make. Money talks – and those who have the most are heard above all others, thanks to their well-paid lobbyists – so it makes sense to put your money where your mouth is. But divestment as a tactic is not without its critics, and questions need to be asked regarding how far it will get us, and how quickly it will get us there.

The market forces of supply and demand hold sway, revealing two inconvenient truths: fossil fuel supply must be disrupted, and demand must be reduced or eliminated. The extent to which divestment can disrupt supply hinges upon how much money can be pulled out of the industry, while failure to impact demand renders divestment moot. An industry that is still profitable is vulnerable to share buy-outs at fire-sale prices by unscrupulous investors who stand to make a killing. The divestment debate is clearly one that needs to be teased out, and Sustainability Showcase’s David Zwolski will do just that at the Summit.

The push for 100% renewable energy is a major aspect of the climate movement, touted as not only essential, but also entirely possible to achieve within a mere decade. Renewable energy lobby group Beyond Zero Emissions has achieved rock star status in the Australian climate movement with bold claims that 100% renewable energy is achievable, affordable, and can launch Australia to the status of renewable energy superpower. Too good to be true? Perhaps.

The climate movement is not without its renewable energy skeptics, although they are generally considered apostates in the church of fossil-free energy. The skeptics have a point though. Renewable energy delivers low returns on energy invested, is dependent on fossil fuels for its implementation, and brings a series of environmental hazards of its own. Replacing one environmental disaster with another is an approach that would have many old-school environmental activists spinning in their graves. Radical environmental group Generation Alpha’s Ben Pennings may make himself less than popular at this year’s Climate Action Summit by calling into question the ecological viability of aiming for 100% renewable energy in lieu of slashing our energy requirements. He won’t be alone in doing so.

Non-violent direct action is a controversial last resort in our most civilized of civil societies, but let’s not beat about the bush. Wins were inarguably achieved by the Suffragettes, the American Civil Rights movement, and Gandhi’s Indian independence movement, thanks to the willingness of a few brave activists to go a step beyond begging the powers that be to instigate change. Make no mistake: the suffragettes would not have won votes for women had they not taken direct action; they had no recourse through the electoral system. The Civil Rights movement would have achieved little if they’d waited for sympathetic white folks to recognize the rights of African-Americans. India would still be under the rule of the Raj had Gandhi opted for simply imploring the colonial overlords to play nice.

Now that we have been stripped of our policy safety-nets and the right to even object to carbon-intensive mining projects, imploring politicians and polluters to maintain a safe climate threshold seems less than adequate. Generation Alpha’s call for extensive non-violent direct action tactics regarding Queensland’s Galilee basin could well come in handy.

With the recent vindication of the 1970’s Limits to Growth study an even more inconvenient truth than climate change looms large. It’s not news to transitioners and de-growthers that we are set to hit hard limits in the not-too-distant future, relegating perpetual growth to the realm of fantasy. Apostates from the church of economic growth, Sustainability Showcase will explain, in no uncertain terms, that it is precisely our pursuit of infinite growth on this finite planet that is the cause of our climate change predicament. Mother Nature does not negotiate, so it is we who will have to change our ways.

Reaching limits to growth poses a double-edged sword, however – one that can effectively slash our emissions, but also one that poses immense challenges for our economic future, and one that starkly defines techno-fixes as mere wishful thinking. This tough news will be inconvenient indeed for pro-growth true believers and techno-optimists. But one must ask: if we so readily accept what science tells us about climate change, then why is it so hard for us to accept what science tells us about limits to growth, the carrying capacity of our finite planet, and the ability of our biosphere to absorb all that we shock it with?

This year’s Summit features controversial commentary and solutions worthy of consideration, from the fringes not usually present at such events. Sustainable Population Australia’s Dr. Jane O’Sullivan will provide a critique of population overshoot and what can be done to address it. Peak oil and finance analyst Nicole Foss will provide a reality check on financing the future, pouring cold water on claims that we can innovate our way out of the mess we’re in. And Doing It Ourselves’ Theo Kitchener will invite attendees to consider climate action through the lens of a potential economic collapse. One inconvenient truth resonates loud and clear: business as usual is not an option.

Kari McGregor|9/18/2014

Leaders don’t expect much of climate summit
Event about pomp, not action

WASHINGTON New York City will be full of planet-saving pomp this week but short on action to rescue the world. More than 120 world leaders convene Tuesday for a U.N. summit aimed at galvanizing political will for a new global climate treaty by the end of 2015. Environmentalists will take to the streets Sunday in what is being billed as the largest march ever on global warming. Celebrities, CEOs and climatologists will appear at a string of events as part of New York’s annual climate week. The hope is to recapture the momentum lost after the disappointing 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, when world leaders left without a binding treaty.

he one-day U.N. summit, while not part of the formal negotiation process, is the pinnacle of the tenure of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has made fighting climate change his rallying cry and traveled the globe to personally invite world leaders to the gathering.

Yet whatever happens at the U.N. summit is unlikely to bring the Earth closer to a goal set in Copenhagen: preventing Earth’s temperature from rising more than 2degrees Fahrenheit from where it is now.

“Our expectation is this is a political event,” said Zou Ji, deputy director of China’s National Center for Climate Change Strategy.

Rather than firm commitments from closed door negotiations, the summit is expected to jump-start a series of much-publicized initiatives and partnerships.

Six oil companies will join with governments and environmental advocacy groups to slash methane leaks from the production of natural gas. There will be a massive commitment to combat deforestation, as well as initiatives announced to clean up agriculture and make freight shipments greener.
“Ultimately, we are going to need much more ambitious, concerted government action and government policies,” said Nat Keohane, who worked as a special assistant to President Barack Obama o n energy and climate issues before rejoining the Environmental Defense Fund in 2012. “This summit is not going to be one fell swoop where we are going to announce all those policies.”

The U.S. heads into the summit in the strongest position it has been in years. It has cut emissions by10 percent from 2005 to 2012, more than any other country. Officials say about half of that reduction is because of the economic recession, but it puts the U.S. well on its way toward meeting its goal to cut emissions by 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels.

White House officials said Obama will leverage the progress the U.S. has made to pressure other major polluters like India and China to take more aggressive action.

Dina Cappiello|Associated Press|9/20/2014

310,000 people take to the streets of New York City to call for climate action

Today, 310,000 people took to the streets of New York City to call for climate action — the largest climate march in history. And we were joined by hundreds of thousands of others around the world at over 2646 events in 156 countries.

And on Tuesday, the world’s politicians will gather in New York to talk about climate action — 125 heads of state in total. They’ll be gathering with the knowledge that more people than ever are demanding action, not just words, and that their political future is on the line — as well as the future of the planet.

We will bring that message to the top leadership of the UN inside Tuesday’s summit, with a hand-delivered message to top UN climate negotiators.

If you stand with the hundreds of thousands of people who marched today around the world, tell world leaders that you mean business: act.350.org/letter/ready-for-action/

Today people from the communities where fossil fuels are dug up marched alongside people who live where they are burned. Thousands of workers, the people who stand ready to build a clean, renewable energy system, walked alongside indigenous communities that are already leading with their own climate solutions. New Yorkers, including those whose homes were wrecked by Superstorm Sandy, marched in huge numbers, standing alongside international ambassadors from communities responding to climate disasters worldwide.

Organizing a big march is like throwing a rock in a pond: the splash is exciting, but the real beauty is in the ripples. And the ripples of the People’s Climate Mobilization are already spreading. A people’s summit outlining the path to a just transition away from fossil fuels starts tomorrow, along with actions targeting corporate polluters in New York.

Hopefully, Tuesday will  help rock world leaders into action, where they have only offered words before.

We are mobilizing at the scale that science and justice demand, and it is beautiful in a way we could not have imagined.

Now our work continues — and nothing will be the same.

Jamie Henn|350.org|9/21/14

United Nations Makes Leonardo DiCaprio Messenger of Peace

Leonardo DiCaprio’s the king of the world! Well, not really, but being named as the new United Nations Messenger of Peace on Climate Change is a pretty big deal.

As if the Oscar-nominated actor, environmentalist and activist isn’t busy enough, he will now be taking on this new role. His first task? Speaking at the U.N.’s Climate Summit in New York on Sept. 23., where he’ll raise awareness about global warming issues.

DiCaprio released a statement about his new title and said, “It’s an honor to accept the role of UN Messenger of Peace on Climate Change and to support the Secretary General in his efforts to address one of the most important issues we face as a global community. I feel a moral obligation to speak out at this key moment in human history – it is a moment for action. How we respond to the climate crisis in the coming years will likely determine the fate of humanity and our planet.”

This really doesn’t come as a surprise, especially since DiCaprio’s known for his eco-goodness and animal-friendliness. Not only will he be honored at the Clinton Global Citizen Awards, but most recently “The Wolf of Wall Street” star voiced a documentary titled “Carbon” and even tweeted against tar sands oil production in Canada.

Like DiCaprio, Charlize Theron, Stevie Wonder, Edward Norton and George Clooney have all been honored with the title of Messenger of Peace.

Extreme Weather

Calif. wildfire grows; teams assess damage

Assessment teams hope to get an idea Saturday of just how many structures have been damaged or destroyed by a massive wildfire that threatens thousands of homes in Northern California.

Though officials confirmed that several structures have been lost in what is being called the King Fire, dangerous conditions have prevented them from determining an exact number, fire spokesman Mike McMillian said. The blaze began one week ago, and a man accused of starting it is held on $10 million bail.

Although record amounts of retardant have been dropped on the fire that’s about 60 miles from Sacramento, the blaze spread another 6 square miles overnight, and forecasters said smoke from it could be seen in the San Francisco Bay Area. Nearly 5,000 firefighters — from as far as Florida and Alaska — are helping California crews battle the blaze that’s consumed extremely dry tall timber.

“That’s what makes it difficult for a direct attack,” McMillian said. “The main fuel that is burning is the tall timber. We’re making some progress, but it is slow going in some areas as we’re trying to construct more contingency and control lines.”

Also of concern are possible wind gusts of up to 30 miles per hour that could push the fire, which spread north to the south, state fire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff said.

“That would open up a whole new area for it to burn in,” she said.

The fire has spread to the Tahoe National Forest northwest of Lake Tahoe, McMillian said. Also, the fire is threatening a key University of California, Berkeley research station that’s home to scores of experiments on trees and wildlife.

Burning in rugged, steep terrain, the wildfire has consumed about 126 square miles, forced the evacuation of 2,800 people and burned multiple structures. More than 21,000 structures are threatened, and the fire is 10 percent contained.

Associated Press|9/20/2014

California battling wildfires and floods as it hones its disaster response

California is rolling out a textbook response to simultaneous floods in the south and wildfires in the north, backed up by a National Guard back to full strength at home.

LOS ANGELES — The twin perils of fires and floods are hitting both ends of California at the same time.

With at least 20 simultaneous wildfires burning in the north, prompting evacuations and a state-of-emergency declaration from Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on Saturday, flashflood warnings have been issued across several counties in the south.

No stranger to disaster, the state is responding with a studied coordination of local, state, federal and volunteer responders, including the resources of a National Guard that is back to full strength at home.

“I would tell you that, fortunately for us, we are drawing on decades of experience of dealing with floods, fires, mudslides – everything that could happen over 158,000 square miles of terrain from below sea level, to nearly three miles high,” says Kim Zagaris, fire and rescue chief at the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

Should these conflagrations and floods not be contained by current personnel and equipment, the state has contingency plans, including multistate fire compacts in which neighboring states send resources and a National Guard in the rare position of having all 22,000 members inside the state, back from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

No fewer than 74 local, state, and federal fire strike teams are already sharing strategy, tactics and resources, including 377 fire engines, 1,566 firefighters, and 14 Chinook, Blackhawk and Lakota helicopters, equipped with 660-gallon and 2,000-gallon water buckets to help fight the flames. Navy and Marine helicopters are being made available as well, Mr. Zagaris says.

CalFire, the state’s fire agency, is currently training 240 National Guard troops to become on-the-ground hand crews, learning how to use hoses, dig ditches, and scale steep terrain with equipment.

California’s historic drought has not only expanded the firefighting season, but made fires harder to put out once they are started. “We now have the situation where embers are floating out to between a half-mile to a mile-and-a-half ahead of these fires,” says Zagaris.

“Fire behavior for the Oregon Gulch Fire was extreme with rapid rates of spread,” said a statement posted on the official wildfire incident website. “The fire has moved east, deeper into Klamath County.”

The scope of the wildfires is beyond the control of any one local government and thus will demand combined forces of various government entities to combat, Brown said in his Saturday proclamation.

Brown obtained a federal grant on Saturday to cover 75 percent of the cost to fight a wildfire that started in Oregon and crossed into California. The lightning-sparked Oregon Gulch fire destroyed at least three homes and was threatening about 270 structures on both sides of the border.

Meanwhile, a much-needed storm dumped four inches of rain in one hour into parched and steep terrain that stranded about 2,500 people in the San Bernardino area. Six-to-eight homes were deemed uninhabitable, and roads were blocked by several feet of rocks, mud, debris, and washed-away cars.

San Bernardino County Fire Capt. Josh Wilkins told Fox News that dozens of swift-water rescue teams and fire engines had been dispatched to remote areas. One creek, which had not run in the summer for two years, became a torrent of logs and rocks, spilling over its banks and across an adjacent road.

According to the National Weather Service, a single downpour dumped 3.5 inches of rain on Forest Falls, and nearly 5 inches on Mt. Baldy, one of the highest peaks in Southern California.

NWS also said that several other areas in the West have remained under flash flood watch. Heavy rains brought flooding to Albuquerque and other towns in eastern New Mexico. And flooding forced Las Vegas to close streets in its northwest section during the Monday morning commute. Phoenix, also, had to close a stretch of highway for eight hours after a cable line fell across it.

“We are not the only state that is dealing with both floods and fires at the moment,” says Zagaris. “It is making for a shared experience in more ways than one.”

Daniel B. Wood|Staff writer|August 4, 2014

Fire to Flooding: Can California’s Economy Survive Nature’s Fury?

When it comes to disasters, California can’t seem to catch a break.

Wildfires are scorching thousands of acres. Floods and droughts are unleashing havoc on homeowners and farmers. Last month, an earthquake destroyed thousands of barrels of Napa Valley’s world famous Chardonnays, Malbecs and Pinot Noirs.

But while the impact of a spate of natural disasters is being felt unevenly among industries and regions, economists say the Golden State’s economy is unlikely suffer overall.

Like much else that happens in the country’s most populous state, California has been experiencing more than its share of nature’s wrath. After a series of temblors in March, Napa Valley wine growers last month woke up to a 6.0 Richter scale jolt that made a mess of some 120 wineries and inflicted an estimated $300 million in damages.

This weekend, thousands of firefighters are battling more than a dozen wildfires consuming tens of thousands of acres. State officials say this year’s fire season, which runs from May to October, is on track to be the most destructive on record. A devastating three years of drought has dried out brush and trees, helping fuel the flames.

That drought has also left the state’s farm industry scrambling to find water to save parched crops and livestock. In January, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency and called for a voluntary 20 percent cut in water use statewide. Last week, Brown signed a series of bills to help ease water shortages that are expected to cost the state an estimated $2.2 billion in lost crops, jobs and other damages.

Those losses are likely to continue. Climate scientists say California –- along with much of the western U.S. — could be in for a long dry spell. But while individual homeowners and businesses will feel the impact severely, California’s overall economy is weathering the disasters well, economists say.

Dallas-based Comerica Bank, which maintains an index that tracks the California economy, says the indicators are trending higher.

‘While the drought is real, and it will cause economic losses, particularly in certain agricultural quarters, overall the state is not likely to be greatly impacted.’

‘We expect to see ongoing gains for the California economy through the second half of 2014,’ said Robert Dye, Comerica’s chief economist.

One reason is that -– despite the devastating impact on households and individual business — California’s economy remains one of the largest and most diversified in the world. If it were a country, California’s $2 trillion gross domestic product would rank seventh.

‘While the drought is real, and it will cause economic losses, particularly in certain agricultural quarters, overall the state is not likely to be greatly impacted,’ UCLA Anderson economist Jerry Nickelsburg said in a report on the drought’s impact earlier this year.

To be sure, the drought has hit farmers hardest. Agriculture consumes about 80 percent of the state water supplies, and produces about half of all the fruits, nuts and vegetables consumed in the U.S.

But farming represents only about 2.5 percent of the state’s employment. And while the drought has wiped out farmers who’ve run out of water, lower yields of many commodities have raised prices for the majority who are still in business.

That’s helped boost incomes for farmers who still have water. California’s total revenue from agriculture, forestry, farming and fishing jumped to nearly $47 billion last year -– up from $25 billion in 2009.

Overall, the states gross domestic product has bounced back strongly after the Great Recession and housing bust, expanding by 3.6 percent last year –- well ahead of the national pace of just 2.2 percent.

California’s job market remains relatively weak -– with statewide unemployment at 7.4 percent as of last month, higher than the national 6.1 percent level. But that average masks a wide range of job prospects –- depending on where you live.

Among major metro areas, El Centro has the highest jobless rate –- nearly one in four of those in the labor force are out of work.

Meanwhile, thanks largely to an ongoing technology boom, the jobless rate has fallen below six percent in San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Rosa and Napa.

California’s housing market, once the epicenter of the industry’s collapse, has rebounded in many parts of the state. The share of houses seeing prices rise in value is well above the national average, according to data tracked by Zillow.

And after struggling for years to rein in spending and tame a large pile of debt, officials in Sacramento have apparently steered the state’s finances on a more sustainable course. In June, bond rater Moody’s upgraded the state to an A-1 credit rating, citing a ‘rapidly improving financial position,’ declining debt, and strong job growth.

John W. Schoen|21 Sep 2014

Genetically Modified Organisms

What’s the Big Deal about GMOs?

Genetically engineered foods are in almost all processed food products in the United States. A simple reading of the label will reveal one or more of the following ingredients in every one of them: corn or corn oil, cottonseed oil, canola oil (made from rapeseed oil, a GMO product), soy and/or soybean oil, and/or high fructose corn syrup.

Genetically engineered corn and soy are used for most of the animal feed in the United States. And GMO sweet corn is now appearing in stores. There are no current federal labeling laws for GMO products, and two labeling measures in California and Washington have been defeated, in the wake of heavy spending of millions of dollars against the measures by Monsanto, Dow Chemical, Bayer, Kellogg’s, and many others whose name you will see on products on your breakfast, lunch or dinner table. A member of the board of directors of McDonald’s and one from Sara Lee sit on the board of directors of Monsanto.

Government reports from scientists at the FDA, EPA and USDA reporting GMOs as unsafe and calling for toxicology reports and further testing are real, having been accessed through litigation using the Freedom of Information Act, and you can read them on the Internet. Arpad Pusztai conducted the first experiments on lab rats, and whose work was severely discredited until the UK government found out the real truth; that it had rushed into early approval of GMO foods and its ministers had hired Pusztai to do the study in two weeks, after already having approved GMO foods for public consumption.

Since chemical companies invented genetically engineered seeds designed to withstand heavy sprayings of glyphosate, global use of Roundup and related weed killers has jumped to nearly 900 million pounds annually. That is due to the fact that, since the crops are engineered to be resistant to Roundup, it can be sprayed on the entire field, not just on the weeds, making it much easier for farmers to manage weed kills. Glyphosate is a systemic chemical, meaning once sprayed, it travels up inside of the plants that people and animals eat and they consume the glyphosate as well as the nutrients in the plants. As more farm fields have converted to GMO crops, federal regulators at the EPA (and former employees of Monsanto) have quietly allowed an increase in the levels of glyphosate allowed in our food, something from which we should see tragic long term consequences.

According to Stephanie Seneff, PhD, senior research scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, glyphosate acts as a potent bacteria-killer in the gut, wiping out delicate beneficial microflora that helps protect us from disease. Harmful pathogens like Clostridium botulinum, Salmonella, and E. coli are able to survive glyphosate in the gut, but the “good bacteria” in your digestive tract, such as protective microorganisms, bacillus and lactobacillus, are killed off.

Even Monsanto knows about this. About 10 years ago, the company registered a patent for glyphosate’s use as an antimicrobial agent. This damage to your digestive system can cause other problems, including “leaky gut,” where the protective lining of the gut is compromised, allowing for toxins and bacteria to enter the bloodstream. This causes the body to send off an immune response to attack the wayward bacteria, potentially sparking autoimmune diseases.

Moreover, glyphosate interfere with tryptophan, the precursor of serotonin, an important neurotransmitter linked to happiness and well-being. Low serotonin levels have been linked to suicide, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other ailments. Not only does glyphosate hamper tryptophan production in your gut, it also lowers levels of it in plants, causing even more of a deficiency.

Virtually all of the genetically engineered (GMO) Bt corn grown in the U.S. is treated with neonicotinoid pesticides. A 2012 study found high levels of clothianidin in pneumatic planter exhaust. In the study, it was found that the insecticide was present in the soil of unplanted fields nearby those planted with Bt corn and also on dandelions (a favorite of bees) growing near those fields. Once in the soil, the pesticide remains for many years, and is absorbed by any new plant life.

The Bt toxin, which was the subject of Seth’s study in the story, essentially pokes “holes” in the cells of insects’ stomachs, killing them, and has been found to poke holes in human cells as well. In one study, it was found in the blood of 93% of pregnant women tested, and in the blood of 80% of their unborn fetuses, which gets into the brains of the fetuses, due to the fact that there is no blood-brain barrier at that stage of development.

Peer reviewed studies are rare in the case of GMOs, as the only ones who have the desire or the budget to perform them are the same chemical companies which fund most of the scientific research. However, the few independent studies that have been done all point to the danger of GMOs.

Specificity of the association of GMO foods and specific disease processes is also supported. Multiple animal studies show significant immune dysregulation, including up-regulation of cytokines associated with asthma, allergy, and inflammation. Animal studies also show altered structure and function of the liver, including altered lipid and carbohydrate metabolism as well as cellular changes that could lead to accelerated aging. Changes in the kidney, pancreas and spleen have also been documented.

A recent 2008 study links Bt corn with infertility, showing a significant decrease in offspring over time and significantly lower litter weight in mice fed Bt corn. American pig farmers have reported infertility and false pregnancies in their livestock after feeding them Bt corn. The study also found that over 400 genes were found to be expressed differently in mice fed Bt corn. These are genes known to control protein synthesis and modification, cell signaling, cholesterol synthesis, and insulin regulation. Studies also show intestinal damage in animals fed GMO foods, including proliferative cell growth and disruption of the intestinal immune system.

Because of this mounting data, it is biologically plausible for genetically modified foods to cause adverse health effects in humans. In spite of this risk, the biotech industry claims that GMO foods can feed the world through production of higher crop yields. However, a recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists reviewed 12 academic studies and indicates otherwise: “The several thousand field trials over the last 20 years for genes aimed at increasing operational or intrinsic yield (of crops) indicate a significant undertaking. Yet none of these field trials have resulted in increased yield in commercialized major food/feed crops, with the exception of Bt corn.” However, it was further stated that the increase in yields was largely due to traditional breeding improvements.

Therefore, because GMO foods pose a serious health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health, and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health and are without any of their claimed benefits, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) believes that it is imperative to adopt the precautionary principle, which is one of the main regulatory tools of the European Union environmental and health policy and serves as a foundation for several international agreements. The most commonly used definition is from the 1992 Rio Declaration that states: “In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”

The FDA does not test the safety of GMO crops. Instead, all GMO foods are assumed to be safe unless there is already evidence to the contrary. The FDA relies on self-reported data from the companies that manufacture the crops as to their safety. Moreover, due to legal and copyright restrictions surrounding GMO patents, independent scientists must ask for the chemical companies’ permission before publishing research on their products. As a result, almost all of the long-term animal feeding studies that have ever been conducted on GMO feed have been carried out by the biotech companies themselves, with their own rules and using their own standards of reporting. What few independent studies have been conducted have shown a range of adverse health effects from reduced fertility to immune system dysfunction, liver failure, obesity and cancer.

The revolving door between big agriculture, the FDA, the USDA and the EPA is also true. In a classic case of revolving door politics, the Obama administration’s Deputy Commissioner of Foods, Michael Taylor, refuses to make FDA testing of GMO food safety mandatory. Taylor worked for the FDA from 1976 to 1981, when he went into private practice at a law firm who represented Monsanto, only to return through the revolving door to the FDA in 1991. In 1988 he published an article entitled “The De Minimis Interpretation of the Delany Clause: Legal and Policy Rationale ” in the Journal of the American College of Toxicology (now called the International Journal of Toxicology), which he had previously presented in December 1986 at a symposium on Topics in Risk Analysis, sponsored by International Life Sciences Institute Risk Science Institute, Society for Risk Analysis, and Brookings Institution. The paper was delivered and published during the midst of a debate and litigation over federal agencies’ interpretation of the Delaney clause, a part of federal law written in 1958 that on its face, literally prohibits any chemical from being added, in any amount, to food that is processed, if that agent is carcinogenic.

As analytical instrumentation increased in power and more and more agents were found to be carcinogenic at very low levels, the agencies had developed a quantitative risk assessment approach to interpreting the Delaney Clause, which stated that if a carcinogen was present at levels less than 1 in 1,000,000 parts, the risk of that carcinogen was “de minimis” and it could be allowed on the market. In the article, Taylor presented arguments in favor of this approach. Advocates in favor of organic food have criticized Taylor for taking this stance and have attributed the stance not to a good faith effort to reasonably regulate, but to an alleged desire to benefit Monsanto financially.

Between 1994 and 1996 Taylor went back through the revolving door to the USDA, where he acted as Administrator of the Food Safety & Inspection Service. During that term he implemented a science-based approach to raising safety standards for meat and poultry production over the protests from industry, which has been called by food safety advocates “a truly heroic accomplishment” (but that was the only one). Between 1996 and 2000, after briefly returning to King & Spalding, he then returned to Monsanto to become Vice President for Public Policy. In 2009, Taylor once again returned to government through the revolving door as Senior Advisor to the FDA Commissioner, and was appointed by President Obama on January 13, 2010 to another newly created post at the FDA, this time as Deputy Commissioner for Foods.

Former EPA head William Ruckelshaus, spent 2 years on Monsanto’s board of directors. Linda J. Fisher spent a decade working as Assistant Administrator of the EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention, before leaving to head up Monsanto’s lobbying team. Margaret Miller spent her time at Monsanto working on Monsanto’s GMO bovine growth hormone and wrote the report on it that was submitted to the FDA before taking a job as Deputy Director of the FDA, where she approved her own report.

In July 2013, the EPA, under the leadership of former Monsanto employees, increased the allowable levels of glyphosate in food, up to 100 ppm in animal feed and 40 ppm in oilseed crops, and from 0.2 ppm to 3 ppm for sweet potatoes, and 5 ppm in carrots (15 and 20 times the prior allowed rates).

The first version of GMO corn was attacked because it was found to be deadly to Monarch butterflies. That corn has been banned in Poland for where it has been found to be a threat to bees.

Beta carotene producing rice is being pushed in the Philippines, where neighbors near a Bt cornfield have already reported allergy and respiration problems. It is expected to be pushed in India as well. And Indonesia is taking steps to approve GMO corn and soy.

Finally, the world is now suffering from what seven out of ten biologists believe is a sixth mass extinction. The last mass extinction was 65 million years ago when the dinosaurs disappeared from the earth. This mass extinction is being caused by man. The use of non-renewable energy, pollution, deforestation, and the overuse of water and pesticides in agriculture are the primary culprits of what will be man’s demise from the destruction of his environment. We will kill off everything that lives on the earth now, but nature will come back, this time without us. But maybe that’s a good thing for the planet.

Kenneth G. Eade|author of “Bless the Bees: The Pending Extinction of our Pollinators and What You Can Do to Stop It|9/15/14

General Mills buys Annie’s, GMO opponents go berserk

The news broke a week ago: General Mills will buy Annie’s Homegrown for $820 million. This is no big deal, figuratively speaking. Yes it’s a close to billion dollar deal, but companies get bought and sold all the time.

If you’re unfamiliar with Annie’s Homegrown, it makes “all-natural,” “healthy,” organic, GMO-free packaged foods like pastas, cookies, crackers and frozen meals. They’re considerably pricier than their counterparts, and marketed to parents that buy into an all-natural lifestyle. Fair enough. I certainly won’t pay a premium for boxed foods purporting to be “healthier” than other boxed foods, but I certainly don’t knock a business for capitalizing on a demographic that will.

I should have been surprised (but wasn’t) over the raving commotion on social media about Annie’s selling out to a supposedly uncaring, pro-GMO conglomerate. I can’t possibly include all of the hubbub in this post, but here’s a representative Facebook thread.

I broadly categorized much of the backlash after perusing the uproar. I can only broadly categorize because the sheer volume of hostile comments is astounding. I’ll discuss a typical comment from each category. I’m not going to post the screen caps, but feel free to pore over the Annie’s Facebook page, you’ll see them.

  • Buying “all-natural,’ organic food is part of my carefully crafted image

“Sadly, you are missing the bigger picture. We purchased your products as a way to show the world we were anti-GMO…Even if you want to stay true to your mission, you no longer have that control. You gave that up, along with your consumers that chose you over General Mills.”

Of course, nobody openly admits s/he buys certain products to sustain a high-end image. Still, the above demonstrates how important it is for some people to “show the world” their stance. Clearly, for some people it’s not only important to choose so-called healthy foods, but to show that they are connoisseurs of elite brands.

  • GMOs are bad

“GM DOES support GMO harmful ingredients in their foods.”

“I will not support ANY organic food company which is owned by a large corporation intent on killing GMO labeling and killing us with all of the additives in what they have the nerve to call food. Luckily for me, I have a Whole Foods near by and their Mac n Cheese and kid snacks are just as tasty as Annie’s and they have pledged to keep GMOs out of their stores.”

Here we go again with the “GMOs are dangerous” theme. I thought the public was starting to see the light, but apparently Annie’s most outspoken fans still haven’t. I’ll say it again: GMOs are inherently harmless. Here is one of my posts on why GM tech is safe. I also encourage everyone to check out this resource on GENERA (GENetic Engineering Risk Atlas), demonstrating that a whopping half of all research showing the safety of genetic engineering is independently conducted and not industry-funded.

  • General Mills is against GMO labeling, and is therefore evil

“They use their money to try to stop GMO labeling at every opportunity and that is in direct opposition with my beliefs. Sorry Annie’s, I’m gone.”

Ah, the old label GMOs argument. The Annie’s Facebook page comments were saturated with the “label GMOs, let the consumer decide” refrain. In my opinion (a rather conventional opinion in the pro-GM camp), labeling GMOs would prove problematic at best. Genetic modification of food is necessary to sustain and nourish the world’s population with the resources at hand. At worst, mandatory GMO labeling will hinder or halt the GMO technology needed to achieve these goals. As anti-GMO advocate and hawker of pricey organic products Dr. Mercola has stated,

“I believe GM foods must be banned entirely, but labeling is the most efficient way to achieve this. Since 85 percent of the public will refuse to buy foods they know to be genetically modified, this will effectively eliminate them from the market.”

Far from supporting consumers’ so-called right to know, pro-labeling advocates hope to play on stigma of GMOs and effectively prey on the scientifically illiterate subset of the American public to wipe out demand.

Kavin Senapathy|Genetic Literacy Project|September 17, 2014

2,4-D, glyphosate-tolerant corn, soy approved by USDA ‏

USDA approves Doe’s herbicide-resistant corn, soybeans 

The headline speaks for itself. Big Ag is going to be able to dump even more chemicals and pesticides on our food – including one of the primary ingredients in Agent Orange. I don’t need to tell you that our fight for GMO labeling has never been more important.

This week the USDA gave Dow Chemical the green light to sell corn and soybeans that are genetically distorted to be resistant to the toxic pesticides 2,4-D and glyphosate — two of the most potent herbicides available. You know what this means: even more pesticide-drenched GMO crops will be making their way to your plate unlabeled.

No surprise, Dow is one of the chemical companies that is spending BIG to fund the opposition to labeling. They know that if consumers are able to identify their genetically engineered products, many will opt for a more natural choice.

Label GMOs 2014|09/19/2014

Another Independent Study Confirms Monsanto’s RoundUp Chemicals are Lethal, Even in Small Doses

Published just this month in the International Journal of Toxicology, the study “Glyphosate Commercial Formulation Causes Cytotoxicity, Oxidative Effects, and Apoptosis on Human Cells: Differences With its Active Ingredient,” proposes what most of us have already surmised: Glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide du jour – RoundUp – is utterly killing us. What’s more – it kills us in much smaller servings than the Agriculture industry is dishing out in its common GMO and pesticide spraying practices, and it is made stronger by the additional chemicals used in the RoundUp formula.

“Aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA), and a glyphosate formulation (G formulation) were examined in HepG2 cell line, at dilution levels far below agricultural recommendations” and they are causing toxic effects on the human genome. It is the adjuvants in RoundUp working together with the glyphosate which really causes the problem.

“The glyphosate formulation studied also triggered two ‘death proteins’ in human cells known as caspase 3/7, inducing pathways that activate programmed cell death (apoptosis), a clear sign of significant toxicity.”

As many scientists have suspected, glyphosate does not reveal its true toxicity alone – but works in tandem with the other chemicals in RoundUp so that the levels of toxicity on human cells becomes catastrophic.  One plausible cause is that the surfactant polyoxyethylene amine within Roundup dramatically enhances the absorption of glyphosate into exposed human cells and tissue.

Another study published in November of last year points to adjuvants working with glyphosate to cause a particularly lethal concoction. “Ethoxylated adjuvants of glyphosate-based herbicides are active principles of human cell toxicity” states:

“. . . Here we demonstrate that all formulations are more toxic than glyphosate, and we separated experimentally three groups of formulations differentially toxic according to their concentrations in ethoxylated adjuvants. Among them, POE-15 clearly appears to be the most toxic principle against human cells, even if others are not excluded. It begins to be active with negative dose-dependent effects on cellular respiration and membrane integrity between 1 and 3ppm [parts per million], at environmental/occupational doses.

We demonstrate in addition that POE-15 induces necrosis when its first micellization process occurs, by contrast to glyphosate which is known to promote endocrine disrupting effects after entering cells. Altogether, these results challenge the establishment of guidance values such as the acceptable daily intake of glyphosate, when these are mostly based on a long term in vivo test of glyphosate alone. Since pesticides are always used with adjuvants that could change their toxicity, the necessity to assess their whole formulations as mixtures becomes obvious”

Argentina has sued Monsanto for its toxic, cancer causing chemicals and GMO, but if you want to be able to sue Monsanto for their dastardly deeds, you better speak up. It is becoming nearly impossible to sue the company in the US, and legal action is just one way of taking down this eugenically motivated monster.


Other Popular Stories:
  1. Monsanto’s RoundUp Poison 125 Times More Dangerous than Regulators Admit
  2. Totally Safe: China Greenlights Monsanto’s RoundUp After Hiding Safety Studies From Public
  3. Exposing Monsanto’s RoundUp and Glyphosate: Human Blood is Not ‘RoundUp Ready’
  4. Should Monsanto’s RoundUp Herbicide Be Banned?
  5. Monsanto’s Roundup is Causing DNA Damage
  6. New Study Confirms GMO Crops Causing More Pesticide Use, Superweeds

Read: Glyphosate Found to Fuel Cancer Cells Growth

Christina Sarich|September 20th, 2014

Energy

Japan: ‘solar islands’ replace nuclear power

As Japan seeks to end reliance on nuclear power, one of the answers is floating ‘solar islands’, writes Jon Major. A 70MW solar island opened last year, and two additional plants have just been announced.

Two companies in Japan recently announced they are to begin building two large solar power islands that will float on reservoirs.

This follows smartphone maker Kyocera’s Kagoshima Nanatsujima Mega Solar power plant, the country’s largest at 70 megawatts, which opened in late 2013 and is found floating in the sea just off the coast of southern Japan.

The two new solar islands, to be built by Kyocera and commercial partners, will form a network of thirty 2MW stations – adding another 60MW of solar capacity.

The move comes as Japan looks to move on from the Fukushima disaster of 2011 and meet the energy needs of its 127m people without relying on nuclear power.

Before the incident around 30% of the country’s power was generated from nuclear, with plans to push this to 40%. But Fukushima destroyed public confidence in nuclear power, and with earthquakes in regions containing reactors highly likely, Japan is now looking for alternatives.

Solar power is an obvious solution for relatively resource-poor nations. It is clean, cost-competitive, has no restrictions on where it can be used and has the capability to make up for the energy shortfall.

A small fact that solar researchers love to trot out is that enough sunlight falls on the earth’s landmass around every 40 minutes to power the planet for a year. To put this another way, if we covered a fraction of the Sahara desert in solar panels we could power the world many times over.

The technology already exists, so producing enough solar power comes primarily down to one thing: space. For countries such as the USA with lots of sparsely populated land this is not an issue, and there have already been a large number of solar farms installed around the country.

But Japan where space is limited, more inventive solutions are required. This is the principle reason behind the decision to move their solar power generation offshore.

While the land is highly congested, and therefore expensive, the sea is largely unused. It therefore makes a good degree of sense to use this space for floating power plants.

Jon Major|The Ecologist|September 15, 2014

Continue reading at ENN affiliate The Ecologist.

Fantasy Becomes Real: First Commercial Cellulosic Biofuel Plant Opens in US

POET-DSM’s 20 million gallon cellulosic ethanol plant opens with hoopla and heartfelt messages about the spirit of innovation, a time for technology change and policy firmness.

Iowa, USA — “Once, we all lived off the land, sun, wind and water and it provided everything we needed,” said DSM CEO Feike Sijbesma, surveying a crowd of more than 2,000 crowding a biomass storage facility in Emmetsburg, Iowa — converted temporarily into the world capital of advanced biofuels. “Then came our historic shift to a dependence on, and an addiction to, fossil fuel resources.”

And so, the opening of the POET-DSM plant was underway, complete with a light show, royalty, corporate chieftains, a cabinet secretary, a former NATO commander, and a governor.

It was billed as a “grand opening” and biofuels has never had a grander stage. But Sijbesma avoided the temptation to mark a corporate milestone. He was there to tell a story.

“The world will run out of fossil fuels, it is inevitable. we just don’t know when,” he continued. “Meanwhile, our energy needs will grow, and one day $100 oil will seem cheap. And the climate is changing, the consumption of fossil fuels is driving drastic changes.

“We don’t need to wait until we run out. The Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones, but because better technology became available. The first pioneers came to Iowa dreaming of a better life. As pioneers of today, we stand on their shoulders as we bring this new technology.”

POET chairman Jeff Broin joined Sijbesma on stage, as a hush fell over the crowd and Broin related the story of POET and the army of naysayers encountered in the turbulent journey towards cleaner fuels.

“Three and a half hours northwest of here,” Broin recalled, “is the family farm where I grew up, and in Scotland, South Dakota my family bought a foreclosed small ethanol plant. Ever since then, I’ve spent a lot of time talking with farmers about renewable fuels. Some bought in to the vision, many thought we were crazy.

“When we turned to this venture, there were naysayers who said ‘you’ll never get enough biomass’ or ‘you’ll never be cost-competitive’. Some called it fantasy fuel. Today, it’s real.”

The crowd cheered, and Broin paused, before issuing a challenge.

“This marks the beginning, It’s the tip of the iceberg, the foundation for the impending transformation of our energy supply, from a fossil economy to a renewable economy. It may not be completed in our lifetime, but it will happen.”

Deputy Undersecretary of Energy Dr. Michael Knotek then took the stage, and referred back to the fight for reduced emissions, and increased economic opportunity and energy security.

“Biofuels addresses all our challenges. Trust me, this plant is a big, big deal. We’ve invested for 30 to 40 years in these technologies, and we need 1000 of these. Lately, U.S. oil imports have fallen because of increased domestic production, but oil prices are still tied to a global market and our economy is tied to that volatility.”

Turning to climate change, Knoteck was direct: “Climate change is here, it’s real, its caused by humans, and we have to do something about it.”

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was direct — but he refused to see a partisan divide over biofuels, seeing instead a geographic split.

“It’s less Democrat Republican, and more geographic, though some Democrats do not understand the environmental efficiency of these fuels. We just need to get the product out.”

Iowa Governor Terry Brandstad agreed, saying ” If consumers have the access, they will purchase it. It’s not the time to backtrack on renewable fuels. It’s a win-win for Iowa and America.

Asked about the regional naysayers, Branstad pointed to disinformation. “People on the west and east coats are misled. The misinformation on the coasts is phenomenal. Just listen to CSPAN. We’ve got to fight that.”

“Our country fits three and one-half times in the state of Iowa”  remarked His Majesty King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands. Yet we support 17 million people and, after the U.S., we are second in the world in agricultural exports. From that very small place on the North Sea, we are capable of something because of innovation, innovation, innovation.”

DSM Chairman and CEO Feike Sijbesma, Willem-Alexander, King of The Netherlands, and POET Chairman Jeff Broin

Vilsack reflected on what he called “the true message of Emmetsburg. It demonstrates to all the young people living in Smalltown USA that there is nothing that will stand in your way. If you have any doubt about the effectiveness of these fuels, come to Emmetsburg. If you have any doubt about the impact of these fuels, come to Emmetsburg.”

Broin added: “I have a firm belief that farming is the noblest profession. We have been called to this, we have been given a great opportunity to change history. It is my belief that hundreds of years from now it will be said that these people, in a small town in Iowa, changed the world.”

Jim Lane|Biofuels Digest|September 04, 2014

Obama’s International Climate Strategy: More Grease for Renewables

Virginia, USA — It was good news for renewable energy when President Barack Obama in June proposed carbon dioxide restrictions on existing power plants. It is even better news now that he may use the plan to leverage an international climate accord.

That’s the word from renewable energy advocates who are closely watching as Obama works to broker a climate agreement with the world’s largest economies for signature at next year’s United Nations summit in Paris.

“Renewable energy is growing significantly in both developed and undeveloped country markets now. Any kind of international agreements, no matter how informal, just provides more grease in the financial community to sustain the support and direction in growing companies and projects globally,” said Scott Sklar, clean energy policy strategist and president of The Stella Group.

Such international brokering might have been more difficult if the Environmental Protection Agency were not moving forward seriously on the domestic proposal, called the Clean Power Plan, or 111D in Washington parlance. The proposal calls for reducing carbon 30 percent by 2030 over 2005 levels. EPA hopes to have a final rule in place next year.

The U.S. suffers from weak credibility internationally on climate change issues because of polarization in Congress. But now Obama can point to the Clean Power Plan as evidence that he’s figured out how to bypass Congressional gridlock and take action on carbon reduction.

“Having the Climate Action Plan in place helps the administration’s negotiating position, to the extent that they can now credibly say they have a plan in place to meet the U.S.’s short-term emission reduction commitment,” said Evan Juska, who heads U.S. policy at The Climate Group, an international non-profit organization.

Obama is using the same strategy on the international front as he did in pushing forward the Clean Power Plan — he is skirting a need for a Congressional vote, citing his executive authority.

To that end, Obama is pursuing not a treaty, but an international agreement. A treaty would require a Senate vote; an agreement does not. The down side is that an agreement will not carry the force of law. To be effective, the deal relies instead on a kind of public scorekeeping, what some describe as “name and shame” to encourage countries to meet their carbon commitments.

“It’s probably not as effective as a legally binding treaty would be, but it can encourage countries to do more than they otherwise would,” Juska said.

Sklar likens the approach to the kind of labeling and shorthand that are already commonplace in the energy arena. Consumers understand MPG for cars, energy efficiency ratings for appliances, and building benchmarking.

“So it’s not a big step to essentially label what countries are doing and make a ranking public — so as to highlight who is making strides and who is not. I do not see that as a problem, I think just as we do with human rights, scorecards can be helpful,” he said.

In fact, the most important aspects of the international climate proposal center on measurement, said Hilary McMahon, director of research at the Carbon War Room. Countries would measure, report and verify their greenhouse gas emissions reductions, which would make clear the source of emissions and any actions taken to reduce them.

“This is an effective strategy as long as the focus is on supporting, improving and sharing our successes and failures, and not just producing a report that sits on shelf, with little attention or use. This requires a dynamic process, not a static process,” McMahon said.

While the international climate agreement would be a good next step, some question whether it is enough. Poor countries fear they will see little or no financial support to help them in dealing with the consequences of severe weather unless a deal is legally binding.

“Developing countries are especially concerned about climate finance, which has been difficult for the U.S. to deliver to date,” Juska said.

Early findings of a United Nations report recently leaked to Bloomberg say that risk exists of irreversible damage on ecosystems without quicker action on climate change. Should the findings bear out in the final report, they could help accelerate Obama’s efforts.

“The report just piles more international pressure on the world’s players — big and small — and does give the President some political momentum to try to move the ball on international agreements on climate, as well as pursuing more domestic mitigation strategies,” Sklar said.

Others, however, say economics continues to be the key driver to decarbonize the economy, spur more renewables and win over skeptics.

“The only way to give velocity to Obama’s efforts is to highlight the opportunity for companies, governments, and private citizens to bolster the economy,” said the Carbon War Room’s McMahon.

John Kourtoff, CEO, president & director of Toronto-based Trillium Power Wind, sees the climate agreement as important to “turbo charge” renewables. But the U.S. also needs to get energy economics right in its own backyard: the nation does not properly account for greenhouse gas emissions from coal, nor does it fully value renewables. Consumers do not see an “honest price” for energy, he said, because the U.S. socializes the environmental costs of fossil fuels.

“It is a replay of the 99 percent/one percent. You have one percent of the people who are benefitting from their investment in fossil fuels and you have the 99 percent who are paying the price,” he said.

Focusing federal efforts on carbon emissions from transportation — and accelerating the market for electric vehicles — would be a step in the right direction, he said. (The Clean Power Plan applies only to stationary emission sources.) Vehicles account for about 32 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the US, while electricity production is responsible for 38 percent, according to the EPA.

In any case, with or without an international climate agreement, an energy transformation is clearly underway. Renewables are the fastest-growing sector in the power industry, according to the International Energy Agency’s second annual Medium-Term Renewable Energy Market Report issued in June.

Green energy will become almost 25 percent of the global power mix by 2018, including hydro. Not including hydro, renewables will make up 8 percent of the mix by 2018, up from four percent in 2011 and just two percent in 2006, the IEA report said.

That’s a strong trajectory. But Kourtoff points out there is still a long way to go and “knuckle draggers” abound.

“We’re in the top third of the top half of the first inning in renewables. We’re at the beginning of the beginning,” he said. “An international agreement will have a tremendous boost.”

Elisa Wood|Contributing Editor|September 10, 2014

Jatropha Biofuel Around the World: A 13-country Tour of Development Activity

The 2000s-era wonder crop went quiet as “plant anything, anywhere” gave way to the “develop genetics, boost yield” movement, led by SGB. Today, SGB moves forward again with $11 million in new financing.

In California, SGB announced an $11 million Series C financing to drive commercial rollout, after reducing the time to maturity from 5 years to 1-2 years in its latest generation of Jatropha hybrids.

Based on 100 acres of pre-commercial trials of its top 10 hybrids, SGB’s best performing hybrid to date eclipsed an equivalent of 300 gallons of oil per acre in year one with a corresponding protein production of 0.6 metric tons, surpassing protein yield of soybean by more than 30 percent. Total yield also includes 20 metric tons of green biomass per acre.

A white paper released last week authored by Dr. Bob Schmidt, SGB’s chief scientist outlines how SGB has accomplished the domestication of a new crop species.

The $11 million financing is led by SGB’s current investors including Thomas McNerney & Partners, Finistere Ventures and Flint Hills Resources (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries). Concurrent with the raise, SGB’s board has appointed Arama Kukutai as executive chairman and Miguel Motta as president and chief operating officer. Kirk Haney has stepped down as CEO to pursue other opportunities but remains a director of the company. The funding will be used to drive commercial partnerships and project deployments focused on Central America, India and Southeast Asia, and to further advance genetic improvement, and agronomic best practices to maximize the full potential of the crop.

“The yield from our hybrids are stunning, and SGB’s investors clearly recognize the significant opportunity arising from having the first new proven crop for protein and oil since Canola was developed in the 1970s,” said Kukutai, who doubles as managing director of Finistere Ventures. “Our scientific and breeding teams have cracked the code and the technology is now ready for full-scale commercial deployment of Jatropha. This financing underscores that Jatropha has risen from the ashes and will be a major plantation crop and viable alternative to palm and soybean as a sustainable source of oil and protein.”

Five things to note here:

1. The time machine effect. We’re seeing the timeline getting crushed down for a) bringing a crop forward to maturity and b) taking a crop from wild through to hybrid domestication in around 6 years, or about a decade faster than canola, and decades faster than corn or soy in their day. That’s very interesting material to chew on for those who think the venture model is broken.

2. The soybean model. The real breakthrough here is going to be less on the yields, and more on opening up jatropha meal as a protein feed product. That takes this from a fuel play to a soy oil / soy meal play — and if you’re thinking “Asia”, that’s a good direction to point one’s imagination in. Especially for those parts of South Asia where soy has proven problematic. Think India, of course.

But it’s more than geography, it is the model — where you can subsidize the entry into the fuel markets with the protein value — or, when fuel prices are high and food prices low, subsidize the other way. There’s some hedging in there — and, ultimately, two gigantic markets to chase.

3. The land value lift. One of the most interesting aspects of jatropha is how it is likely — because it is not a water or nutrient-hog (though it needs both, don’t kid yourself) — to be deployed into land with lower-intensity agriculture. Possibly abandoned land. Think agroforestry or low-density grazing land. That is to say, not conflicting with food crops — going, rather, the other way. “Changing the class of use is the top strategy of every farmer,” SGB chairman Arama Kukutai told The Digest. “When you have an old low-value use, and a new higher-value use enabled by technology, on Wall Street they call it arbitrage. In the ag world, they call it farming.”

Suggesting that the combination of an emerging land-use technology and underused, undervalued land assets are a classic investment match. We’ll be interested to see how companies like SGB develop business models to enable grower adoption and investment, while retaining for the company a share in all the value-add across the supply chain.

4. Couple of directions to think about for jatropha’s future development. One, think in terms of developing it as an annual, rather than a perennial. Happened with cotton, could happen again. And — in addition to the work done on fruit size and time to maturity — perhaps we’ll see the kind of “transistors on a chip” work done on increasing the number of plantings per hectare. That sums up a lot of the yield increase with corn, could happen again.

5. The idea of a company approaching jatropha as a wild genome that needs technology developed to domesticate, hybridize, stabilize, and develop high-return possibilities. That’s new since  the “plant ‘em if you got ‘em” years, which retiring SGB CEO Kirk Haney described as “the days of jatropha 1.0″. Most of what we still see around the world are jatropha 1.0 efforts — that’s not to say they are doomed to fail, but rather they are likely to succeed, where they do succeed, because of unique conditions pertaining to geography and agronomics.

Jatropha Around the World

The Bahamas. Last November we reported that Grand Bahama Power Company (GBPC) held the opening ceremony on Tuesday for their Biofuel Demonstration Project. Partnering with the Grand Bahama Port Authority, The Grand Bahama Development Company and the Garden of the Groves, the project focuses on the feasibility of cultivating jatropha to make biodiesel fuel that would be burned in the GBPC facilities to make electricity.

Botswana. In August, we reported that the country aims to approve a national energy policy by 2015 that will include a large renewable energy component, including biofuels. The government has been working with the Japanese to develop varieties of jatropha that will be tolerant to the extreme weather shifts experienced in the country. The energy minister admitted that a lack of policy had hindered investment in biofuels thus far.

Costa Rica. Last December, we noted that Alternative Fuels America was beginning a three-phase trial production run of jatropha-based biofuel as the next step toward commercialization of its “seed to pump” vertically-integrated endeavor. The feedstock for Phase 1 will come from AFAI’s plantation in Tempate, Costa Rica.

Ethiopia. In July, we reported that the Ethiopian government is investing US$2.8 million, with the help of funding from the Norwegian government, to produce 500 million liters per year of biodiesel from jatropha. The project will take place in 18 districts in five states and is estimated to help more than 14 million farmers and pastoralists.

Ghana.  In August of last year, we reported that Smart Oil Ltd had signed a license and services agreement with QUINVITA. This agreement provides access to the QUINVITA advanced agronomy know how and to seed of the best QUINVITA (QVP) cultivars of Jatropha curcas. Niqel Lda., a Mozambique based company active in the production of renewable energy from Jatropha curcas, has also signed a license and services agreement with QUINVITA.

Guatemala. Last October, we reported that SGB had signed a mandate letter with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for the debt financing of its 25,000 acre Jatropha bioenergy project in Guatemala. The project cost is estimated at approximately US$76 million. The mandate letter enables the bank and SGB to proceed with financial, technical and environmental due diligence on a project that aims to produce 6.2 million gallons of plant oil and 640,000 metric tons of biomass per year while stimulating rural economic and social development, including the creation of more than 1,000 new jobs, improved infrastructure and health and education programs.

India. In July, we reported that the government regulator Sebi has found Sunshine Global Agro Limited (formerly known as Sunshine Forestry Private Ltd) cheated 40,000 investors who were told that by investing 1,000 rupees in a jatropha seedling, they would be worth 3,000 rupees seven years later. The scheme has also included goats, cows and emu birds in an attempt to shore up investors.

Last September, we shared that Indian Railways’ research arm had approved field trials using jatropha-based biodiesel in two locomotives in Jetalsar. The three to four month trials will start with B10 and will work their way higher. Lab tests have been successful using 100% jatropha biodiesel in locomotives.

In June, we reported that researchers at the Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute (CSMCRI) at Bhavnagar found that jatropha is safer and provides better fuel economy than fossil-based diesel. However, the researchers reported minimal availability of jatropha seeds, despite the 4% lift in fuel economy. This report is here.

Jamaica. In March, we tipped a story that Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica research shows that a variety of castor been that comes from China, Zibo 8, could be the most productive for local production. Following two years of variety trials under the Scale Biodiesel Pilot Project, Zibo 8 had the highest oil yield. A Brazilian variety had slightly higher oil content but the overall yield per acre was higher for the Chinese variety. A total of 16 acres were planted under the trials where five varieties of castor bean and one variety of jatropha were grown.

Kenya. In June, we shared a study from ICRAF this spring showed that jatropha isn’t a viable crop for the country because there is no market for the seeds, the values and yields are low, farmers don’t know how to grow it well and its early reputation as a miracle crop has destroyed most of the farmer appetite for the plant.

Mexico. In July, we reported that Bosques Energeticos EBE S.A. de C.V. has secured 7 more hectares on top of the current 11 hectares it already has in Morelos state to plant its G4J cultivar of jatropha. The cultivar is bred to be early, high-yielding and non-toxic. The company has a total of 28,000 jatropha trees in the ground, half of which are G4J, and 16,000 pongamia trees along with 3,000 castor plants.

Sudan. In late 2012, we reported that Saudi Arabian company Tala had teamed with Canada’s Nova Global on a $650 million sugarcane project that will produce sugar and ethanol in Sinnar state, as well as a jatropha project that will supply oil to Middle Eastern airlines. The project will encompass about 156,000 acres.

USA. In Hawaii, jatropha harvesting began in August 2013 at the Hawaii Pure Plant Oil (HIPPO) farm founded in 2008 by father and son partners Christian and James Twigg-Smith. HIPPO has planted a total of 200 acres of jatropha in the Puna district of Hawaii Island with the intent of harvesting its seeds and extracting the oil for biodiesel production. Now, five years after the farm’s inception, the Twigg-Smiths have formed a direct collaboration with Pacific Biodiesel Technologies under its federally funded Hawaii Military Biofuel Crop project. The project involves developing production models for jatropha and other crops to share with potential biofuel crop growers throughout the state.

Zimbabwe. In June, we shared a report conducted by Environment Africa and WWF did a study on jatropha production at household level and found that it was economically viable even if yields were as low as .5kg per hectare when jatropha cake along with other byproducts and household lighting were the aim. When the model was to sell the seeds to crushers for biodiesel production, the benefits didn’t work out for communities.

SG Biofuels plant biotechnology program is accelerating the improvement of Jatropha through the association of molecular markers with trait genes and the development of plant regeneration, transformation and dihaploid technologies. The company has sold more than 250,000 acres of its hybrid Jatropha seed.

Through its JMax hybrid seed product line, and patent-pending hybrid seed production methodology, SG Biofuels provides growers high yielding, uniform and profitable Jatropha seeds that have been adapted to their growing conditions.  Hybrid seeds result in greater yield, uniformity and vigor while significantly reducing handling and deployment costs.

The yield goal? One metric ton of product per acre per year — competitive with typical rubber yields out of Southeast Asia — by 2018-19. And progress from around half that yield between now and then.

The cost goal? SGB says that its hybrid Jatropha can produce high quality Jatropha crude oil at a cost of between $99 or less per barrel today, with a clear path to reduce production costs through molecular breeding and biotechnology.

In April 2013, Bloomberg reported that jatropha 2.0 developer SG Biofuels is “seeking a partner in Southeast Asia or Africa and expects to complete a cooperation deal within 180 days” to expand its growth in the hot, “growing zone” for jatropha. SGB has signed up partners with more than 250,000 acres signed up in various field trial and deployment agreements – including an agreement to trial jatropha with Bharat Petroleum in India with 86,000 acres for first phase commercial deployment following the trials — and a similar 75,000 acre deal in Brazil with a consortium including JETBIO, Airbus, the Inter-A

Largest City In Vermont Now Gets All Its Power From Wind, Water And Biomass

The 42,000 people living in Burlington, Vermont can now feel confident that when they turn on their TVs or power up their computers they are using renewable energy. With the purchase of the 7.4 megawatt Winooski One hydroelectric project earlier this month, the Burlington Electric Department now owns or contracts renewable sources — including wind, hydro, and biomass — equivalent to the city’s needs.

“We’re now in a position where we’re supplying Burlington residents with sources that are renewable,” said Ken Nolan, manager of power resources for Burlington Electric Department, earlier this month. “The prices are not tied to fossil fuels — they’re stable prices — and they provide us with the flexibility, from an environmental standpoint, to really react to any regulation or changes to environmental standards that come in the future.”

According to Nolan, the utility will get about one-third of its power from the Joseph C. McNeil Generating Station, one-third from wind energy contracts, and one-third from the hydroelectric stations Winooski One and Hydro-Québec. The McNeil power station is a biomass facility that primarily uses wood chips from logging residue leftover from the harvesting of wood for other products.

Vermont has a statewide goal of getting 90 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050, including electricity, heating, and transportation. Christopher Recchia, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service, told the Associated Press that Burlington’s achievement shows that they’re able to make this transition cost-effectively and “in a way that makes Vermonters really positioned well for the future.”

The Washington Electric Co-operative, which has about 11,000 customers across central and northern Vermont, also reached the 100 percent renewable milestone earlier this year. Both utilities acknowledge that when renewable sources aren’t readily available — if the wind isn’t blowing or water levels are low — they will purchase traditional fossil fuel-generated electricity. However, when the wind is strong and water levels are high more than enough electricity is generated and the surplus can be sold to other utilities. On average, they will be selling more than they buy.

In a fancy accounting measure, both Burlington and Washington Electric sell renewable energy credits for the power they produce to utilities in southern New England, where their value is highest, before then buying less expensive credits from other sources to offset those they just sold. While this could be criticized as a questionable practice it also helps keep prices low and adheres to the rules of RGGI.

RGGI, or the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, is a nine-state market-based regulatory program to cap and reduce power sector CO2 emissions across much of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic. A RGGI auction earlier this month sold almost 18 million carbon allowances and generated $87.8 million for reinvestment by the RGGI states in a variety of initiatives including energy efficiency, renewable energy, and greenhouse gas abatement programs. All of the available allowances were sold.

As Vermont takes initiative to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, a new report by a team of University of Vermont and other scientists estimates the local impacts of climate change on the state. In an effort to downscale global climate models to convey local impacts the researchers looked at climate change in northern Vermont and southern Quebec. They found that annual precipitation will increase by between a third and half an inch per decade and average temperatures will rise by around five degrees Fahrenheit by 2050.

They also found that annual snowfall at six major ski resorts in the region could decrease around half by the late this century and that the growing season will get about six weeks longer. Vermonters may be most distraught to learn that these climate changes are likely to significantly reduce the number of days suitable for making maple syrup. Vermont is the largest producer of maple syrup in the country, providing around 40 percent of the entire supply.

American Development Bank, Bioventures Brasil, Air BP and TAM Airlines. SGB has been relatively cagey about yields — pointing out that they will vary substantially depending on geography, but some time ago they pointed to 350 gallons per acre as a suitable target given effective site selection and cultivation processes. Even 200-300 gallons in cold regions like the United States. That’s a huge improvement over the 60 gallons of oil per acre that soybean produces.

Ari Phillips|Jim Lane|Biofuels Digest|September 15, 2014

Experts Call on Obama to Ban Fracking in Lead Up to People’s Climate March

Americans Against Fracking, a coalition of more than 270 national and local groups opposed to hydraulic fracturing, held a media teleconference today to call on President Obama to ban fracking in the lead up to the People’s Climate March.

The press call highlighted a new report by Food & Water Watch, The Urgent Case for a Ban on Fracking, providing a comprehensive compilation of research on the harmful effects of fracking. It makes the case that the huge amount of methane released during the fracking process traps 87 times more heat pound for pound than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

“Gas wells are like chimneys in the Earth and what they leak goes straight into our atmosphere,” said Sandra Steingraber, science advisor to Americans Against Fracking, and national expert on climate change and scientist at Ithaca college. “Fracked gas wells leak heat-trapping methane into the atmosphere which cripples any chance we have to combat climate change—unless we halt fracking. We’ve underappreciated just how powerful a greenhouse gas methane is. That’s why we’re calling methane the new carbon dioxide.”

Actor and anti-fracking activist Mark Ruffalo joined a group of scientists and environmental leaders to launch the #DontFrackOurClimate campaign. The social media campaign is timed to hit ahead of the People’s Climate March on Sunday and UN Climate Summit on Tuesday in New York City. The goal is to focus attention on methane as the new carbon dioxide.

“Climate change is the challenge of our lifetimes, and millions of lives and future generations depend on us meeting that challenge,” said Ruffalo. “By banning fracking, we can move forward with clean energy, the power of the 21st century, and create twice the amount of jobs in the renewable energy sector. We already have the technology; we can make this change today. We need the will and the political leadership.”

“The industry has successfully spun fracking as good for the climate, but the science shows it’s anything but,” said Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter. “If President Obama wants to be a leader in curbing the global climate crisis, he can’t continue to ignore the climate-related effects of methane from fracked gas. The science is now clear that natural gas dependence causes much more global warming than previously thought.”

Food & Water Watch initially called for a ban on fracking in 2011, arguing that it was unsafe. “Since then, scientists have published more than 150 studies that clarify what is known, and what remains unknown, about the risks and harms that fracking brings to communities—the water pollution, air pollution, climate pollution and earthquakes, as well as other drivers of economic and public health problems,” says the report.

“Everything that comes before and after fracking is an opportunity for methane to be emitted,” said Tony Ingraffea, scientist and engineer at Cornell University. “There is far more methane getting into the atmosphere than we thought and the impact of methane on climate change is much higher than we thought. We only have two decades before we reach our tipping point. If we don’t halt the production of shale gas, and slow down the release of unburned methane, we’ll be committing climate suicide.”

Anastasia Pantsios|September 16, 2014

Guardians Calls on Court to Block Public Lands Coal Mining in Northwest Colorado

Secret Mine Approvals Fueling Coal-fired Craig Coal-fired Power Plant, Threatening Clean Air

Denver—In defense of clean air and the climate, WildEarth Guardians today called on a federal court to overturn the U.S. Interior Department’s illegal and behind closed doors approval two coal mine expansions in northwestern Colorado.

“It’s time to put an end to the Interior Department’s practice of secretly approving public lands coal mining,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director.  “Not only does mining take a tremendous toll on our western landscape, it’s fueling coal-fired power plants that are spewing out millions of tons of carbon and other toxic air pollution.”

In an opening brief filed today, Guardians exposed how the Interior Department and the U.S. Office of Surface Mining secretly and illegally approved the expansion of the Colowyo and the Trapper coal mines without analyzing the impacts to clean air or addressing the impacts of coal combustion.

Both the Colowyo and Trapper mines fuel Tri-State Generation and Transmission’s Craig coal-fired power plant, the second largest coal-fired power plant in Colorado.  Annually the three smokestacks of the power plant spew 12,000 tons of smog and haze-forming nitrogen oxide gases, equal to the amount released every year from 1.3 million passenger vehicles.

The power plant also releases nearly 9 million tons of carbon pollution every year, making it one of the largest single sources of greenhouse gases in Colorado. 

In 2007 and in 2009, the Office of Surface Mining Interior Department approved expanded mining at Colowyo and Trapper, respectively.  No public notice of these decisions was provided, even though they green-lighted the mining of more than 50 million tons of publicly owned coal from more than 5,000 acres.

In approving the mine expansions, the agencies relied on environmental reviews prepared in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and asserted that there would be “no significant” impacts to human health or the environment.  Neither decision addressed or even acknowledged the current impacts of the Craig coal-fired power plant, including its air pollution impacts, even though it’s one of the largest polluters in the state of Colorado.

“This is the worst kind of coal industry kowtowing that we’ve seen from the Interior Department,” said Nichols.  “Here, Interior not only kept the public in the dark, they completely turned their back on addressing the environmental impacts of mining and the inevitable impacts of coal burning.”

Today’s opening brief called on the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado to overturn these mining approvals, not only over the failure of the Interior Department and Office of Surface Mining to provide any public notice, but also over the failure of these agencies to limit environmental impacts as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

So far, the Interior Department and Office of Surface Mining have defended their decisions, asserting they provided public notice by shelving documents at an agency library on the 34th floor of an office building in downtown Denver, and that relying on environmental reviews prepared in the 1970’s and 1980’s is appropriate.

Guardians has filed similar challenges over federal coal mining approvals in Montana and New Mexico. A ruling from the court is likely in 2015. 

Jeremy Nichols|Climate and Energy Program Director|WildEarth Guardians|August 22, 2014

Miami-Dade wants more scrutiny of FPL cooling canals, fearing bigger problems

Worried that rising temperatures and a festering algae bloom in Turkey Point’s cooling canals may hint at bigger problems for Florida Power & Light, Miami-Dade County officials said Tuesday they plan to assert the county’s regulatory power to find out what’s ailing the aging canals.

“Clearly the cooling canal water is migrating outside the boundaries of their system,” Lee Hefty, director of the Division of Environmental Resources Management, told county commissioners before suggesting the county take action.

Since June, FPL has been struggling to control the hot canals and an algae bloom that has spread throughout the 168-mile loop. The canals were dug in the 1970s and act like a radiator to help keep the nuclear power plant from overheating.

The utility has twice asked the South Florida Water Management District for more water to freshen the canals. Earlier this summer, the agency signed off on up to 14 million gallons a day from the Floridan aquifer and last week agreed to a temporary permit for up to 100 million gallons of freshwater a day from a nearby canal.

The utility needed the county’s permission to lay pipes across endangered wetlands, a request that could have been granted by staff. But environmental groups asked for a public hearing, warning that a spreading underground saltwater plume potentially worsened by the hot canals posed a bigger risk to Biscayne National Park and area water quality.

“We have the distinction of being the only national park adjacent to a nuclear power plant,” park superintendent Brian Carlstrom told county commissioners. “We really need to understand why this unprecedented event is happening.”

The utility has blamed below-normal rainfall on the rising temperatures and increased salinity. In July and August, temperatures exceeded 102 degrees and twice threatened to shut down the plant. Because of the spike, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission raised temperature limits to 104 degrees to keep the plant operating.

Jenny Staletovich|Sep. 17, 2014

Will China’s great fracking leap help it wean off coal?

Fracking technology has crossed over from the fields of Pennsylvania and Texas to the mountains of Sichuan, but so have risks and consequences, reports Mother Jones.

On a hazy morning last September, 144 American and Chinese government officials and high-ranking oil executives filed into a vaulted meeting room in a cloistered campus in south Xi’an, a city famous for its terra-cotta warriors and lethal smog. The Communist party built this compound, called the Shaanxi Guesthouse, in 1958. It was part of the lead-up to chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forward, in which, to surpass the industrial achievements of the west, the government built steelworks, coal mines, power stations, and cement factories—displacing hundreds of thousands and clearcutting a tenth of China’s forests in the process. Despite its quaint name, the guesthouse is a cluster of immense concrete structures jutting out of expansive, manicured lawns and man-made lakes dotted with stone bridges and pagodas. It also features a karaoke lounge, spa, tennis stadium, shopping center, and beauty salon.

The guests at the compound that week were gearing up for another great leap: a push to export the United States’ fracking boom to China’s vast shale fields—and beyond. Attendees slid into black leather chairs behind glossy rosewood tables, facing a stage flanked by large projector screens. Chinese businessmen wore high-waist slacks with belts clasped over their bellies. I watched as one thumbed through business cards bearing the logos of Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Halliburton. Behind closed doors, a select group of Chinese and American officials and executives held a “senior VIP meeting.” Outside, a troop of People’s Liberation Army guards marched in tight formation.

The US-China Oil and Gas Industry Forum, sponsored by the US departments of commerce and energy, as well as China’s National Energy Administration, has convened for the last 13 years. But the focus turned to shale gas in 2009, when President Obama and then-President Hu Jintao announced an agreement to develop China’s immense resources. The partnership set the stage for companies in both countries to forge deals worth tens of billions of dollars.

Here at the 2013 conference, the first American to take the podium was Gary Locke, the US ambassador to China at the time. He wore a dark suit and a striped red-and-purple tie; his slick black hair glistened in the fluorescent light. “From Sichuan to Eagle Ford, Texas, from Bohai Bay to the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and Ohio, US and Chinese companies are investing and working together to increase energy production in both countries,” he proclaimed. US and Chinese companies were so tightly knit, Air China had recently started offering nonstop flights between Beijing and Houston, “making business trips much quicker for many of you gathered here.”

The soft, static voice of a Chinese interpreter seeped from the headphones as young women in red vests quietly passed through each row, pausing to pour hot tea, their strides almost synchronized. Tiny plumes of steam arose from the teacups lining each table, like miniature smokestacks. It seemed fitting, because underlying all the talk of new energy was an urgency to wean China from its decades-long addiction to coal. Locke promised that shale gas would do just that: “We can make further strides to improve energy efficiency, produce cleaner energy, increase renewables, and increase supply,” he asserted. “Unconventional gas, especially shale gas, is just the start.”

There are two main reasons behind China’s newfound zeal for gas. As Michael Liebreich, the founder of New Energy Finance, an energy market analytics firm now owned by Bloomberg LP, put it, “One is to feed the growth. There has to be energy and it has to be affordable in order to continue the growth machine. But the other one is that they’ve got to get off this coal.”

Constituting a whopping 70% of China’s energy supply, coal has allowed the country to become the world’s second-largest economy in just a few decades. But burning coal has also caused irreparable damage to the environment and the health of China’s citizens. City officials have been forced to shut down roads because drivers are blinded by soot and smog. China’s Civil Aviation Administration ordered pilots to learn to land planes in low-visibility conditions to avoid flight delays and cancellations. Scientists wrote in the medical journal The Lancet that ambient particulate matter, generated mostly by cars and the country’s 3,000 coal-fired power plants, killed 1.2 million Chinese people in 2010.

In late 2013, an eight-year-old girl in Jiangsu province was diagnosed with lung cancer; her doctor attributed it to air pollution. And earlier this year, scientists found that up to 24% of sulfate air pollutants—which contribute to smog and acid rain—in the western United States originated from Chinese factories manufacturing for export.

“The air quality in China has reached a kind of tipping point in the public consciousness,” says Evan Osnos, The New Yorker’s former China correspondent and author of Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China. “The entire Chinese political enterprise is founded on a bargain: We will make your lives better, if you’ll allow us to stay in power.” As more Chinese citizens demand clean air and water, China’s leaders and foreign businessmen have taken drastic measures to get rid of pollution. Some local officials have tried to wash away soot by cloud seeding, a process in which chemicals are rocket-launched into clouds to make it rain. One company is developing a column of copper coils that will use electric charges to suck soot out of the air like a hoover. Environmental officials in the northern city of Lanzhou attempted to level its surrounding mountains to let the wind blow the soot away—not to be confused with the city’s actual plan to demolish 700 mountains in order to expand its footprint by roughly the area of Los Angeles.

But China’s push to wean itself from coal has also triggered a rush to develop alternative power sources. The natural gas that lies deep within its shale formations is now a top contender. By current estimates from the US Energy Information Administration, China’s shale gas resources are the largest in the world, 1.7 times those in the United States. So far, fewer than 200 wells have been drilled, but another 800 are expected by next year. By then, China aims to pump 230bn cubic feet of natural gas annually from underground shale—enough to power every home in Chicago for two years. By 2020, the country expects to produce as much as 4.6 times that amount. It’s moving at “Chinese speed,” as one energy investment adviser put it—the United States took roughly twice as long to reach that volume.

Yet just as fracking technology has crossed over from the fields of Pennsylvania and Texas to the mountains of Sichuan, so have the questions about its risks and consequences. If fracking regulations in the United States are too weak, then in China the rules are practically nonexistent. Tian Qinghua, an environmental researcher at the Sichuan Academy of Environmental Sciences, fears that fracking operations in China will repeat a pattern he’s seen before. “There’s a phenomenon of ‘pollute first, clean up later,’” he says. “History is repeating itself.”

When my colleague James West and I traveled to China last September, it didn’t take long to see the toll of the country’s coal addiction: James had a burning cough by our second day. On a bullet train from Beijing to Xi’an (roughly the distance between San Francisco and Phoenix), we whizzed along at 150 miles per hour through some of China’s most polluted pockets, including the northeastern city of Shijiazhuang, where the smog registers at emergency levels for a third of the year—twice as often as in Beijing. A thick miasma hung heavy, clinging so low to fields of corn that it was hard to see where the earth met the dark, grey sky. Every few minutes we passed another giant coal-fired power plant, its chimneys spewing a continual billow of thick, white smoke.

By the time of our trip, villagers living near fracking wells had already complained about the deafening noise of drilling machinery, the smell of gas fumes, and strange substances in their water. One night last April, in a small southwestern town called Jiaoshi, an explosion at a shale gas drilling rig rattled residents awake, triggering a huge fire and reportedly killing eight workers. In the wake of the accident, an official from the ministry of environmental protection said: “The areas where shale gas is abundant in China are already ecologically fragile, crowded, and have sensitive groundwater. The impact cannot yet be estimated.”

“We call this shale county,” the driver shouted to us in the backseat as he steered the four-wheel-drive SUV up a steep mountain in Sichuan province. The clouds faded as we climbed, revealing a quilt of farmland dotted with pingfang, or flattop houses. We drove down a road lined with new hotels, small restaurants, and hardware stores—the markings of a boomtown. Roughly the size of Minnesota, the Sichuan Basin—where many of China’s experimental fracking wells are located—is home to some 100 million people, many of them farmers. It’s not the only part of China with shale gas, but fracking requires a lot of water, and with a subtropical climate and proximity to the mighty Yangtze River, Sichuan has that, too, making it the nation’s first fracking frontier.

With each turn, the road became narrower and muddier, until we stopped at a gate behind which a tall red-and-white drilling rig shot up as high as the lush mountains surrounding it. We were at a shale gas well owned by China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), one of the nation’s largest energy companies and its leading oil producer. Most of China was on holiday that week to commemorate 64 years since Mao declared the founding of the People’s Republic, but out here there was no sign of rest. Workers in red jumpsuits drove by in bulky trucks. A drill spiraled 3,280 feet underground in search of shale gas, screeching as it churned around the clock.

An engineer whom we’ll call Li Wei greeted us, peering out from under a hard hat. In his mid-20s, with a brand new degree, Li worked for a Chinese energy firm partly owned by Schlumberger, the Houston-based oil service company. Last July, Schlumberger opened a 32,000-sqft laboratory in the region devoted to extracting hydrocarbons from shale gas resources. Like many other engineers at China’s new wells, Li had never worked on a fracking operation before. We watched as he shooed away neighborhood kids playing by a brick structure straddling a pool marked “hazard” as though it were their tree house.

At first, Li said, drilling here didn’t go so smoothly: “We had leaks, things falling into the well.” They had to slow down operations as a result. Still, the team planned to drill and frack about eight other new wells in the area in the coming months.

China’s early fracking operations face many risks, but the incentives to keep drilling are too good to pass up. Based on early sampling, Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s Liebreich estimates that China is currently extracting shale gas at roughly twice the cost of the United States. Analysts expect those costs to fall as China gains experience, but even at current levels, shale gas production has been up to 40 percent cheaper—and geopolitically more desirable—than importing gas. As China’s demand for natural gas continues to grow—between 2012 and 2013 it grew at 15 times the rate of the rest of the world’s—domestic reserves will become increasingly important, says Liebreich: If China can continue to extract shale gas at the current cost, that “would be a game-changer.” The “golden age” of natural gas that took root in North America, the International Energy Agency declared in June, is now spreading to China.

All that growth comes with a steep learning curve. Fracking requires highly trained engineers who use specialized equipment to mix vast quantities of water with chemicals and sand and shoot it into the ground at high pressures, cracking the dense shale bed and releasing a mix of gas, water, and other sediments to the surface. That’s why service companies like Schlumberger and Halliburton have much to gain: China needs technology and know-how—and is willing to pay handsomely. “Selling the picks and shovels for the gold rush would be the analogy,” Liebreich says.

No wonder, then, that multinational oil and gas giants have pounced. In 2012, Royal Dutch Shell inked a contract with CNPC. A company executive pledged to invest around $1bn a year for the next several years in shale gas. BP, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, and Hess also have signed joint ventures to exploreshale prospects with Chinese energy companies. In return, Chinese companies have invested in US fracking operations. Since 2010 the Chinese energy company Sinopec, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), and the state-owned Sinochem spent at least $8.7bn to buy stakes in shale gas operations in Alabama, Colorado, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming. Chesapeake Energy alone got $4.52bn out of its deals with CNOOC.

“The reason Chinese oil companies have gone after Chesapeake in the past year was because they wanted to apply the technology to tap the world’s No. 1 shale gas reserves in China,” Laban Yu, a Hong Kong investment analyst, told Bloomberg News. Whether or not China will be able to replicate the American shale gas revolution, it is clearly determined to try.

One humid and drizzly night, James and I found ourselves in Chongqing, a hilly metropolis on the Yangtze whose population is more than triple that of New York City. Chongqing’s GDP grew an astonishing 12.3% in 2013, 4.6 points higher than the runaway Chinese economy as a whole. Its skyline looks like every major world city smashed into one—including near full-size replicas of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Empire State Building. The area is also home to castles modeled after those in France’s Loire Valley, as well as “Foreigner Street,” a 24/7 theme park where visitors can wander through an Egyptian pyramid haunted house, play mahjong by a Venetian canal, or sing kar­aoke under Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer. Foreigner Street also boasts a 1,000-toilet public bathroom, the world’s largest.

Chongqing is one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, in both height and sprawl, with a half-million new residents arriving each year. It is something of a gateway to China’s vast and relatively undeveloped west, booming like Chicago in the late 19th century. Its per capita natural gas consumption rate is one of the highest in the country and is currently rising by 8.5% a year, according to a report by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Much of the natural gas produced in Sichuan’s fields ends up here. The city’s officials expect that the municipality will need 530bn cubic feet of natural gas by 2015—2.5 times the figure in 2011.

Chongqing’s urban center is only 200 miles from the mountainside fracking fields we visited, but it might as well have been a different planet. From our hostel, we followed the neon lights until we reached Jiefangbei, a glitzy shopping district named after the tower it encircles, built in the 1940s to commemorate victory over the Japanese during the second world war. Now banks, hotels, and skyscrapers dwarf the monument, their electric facades flashing the night sky, their tops fading into the clouds. People clutching umbrellas hurried past the Louis Vuitton, Cartier, and Gucci stores that were studded with giant light bulbs.

Chongqing’s unbridled growth is paralleled by a widening wealth gap and rampant corruption. It’s a place where laobans—bosses—reserve $100 tables and drink $200 bottles of Moët & Chandon at nightclubs mere blocks from where porters haul shipments of clothes or steel goods from the riverbanks to shops atop the city’s steep hills for a few pennies. It’s also so overrun by triads—Chinese mafias sometimes deployed by the government as backup muscle—that when the city cracked down on crime in 2009, one criminologist estimated that at least 77 officials were arrested for colluding with gang members and protecting them from the law.

“Let some get rich first, and others will follow” is the philosophy that has driven China’s economic reforms since 1979. But the disparity between rich and poor has grown so much that, during a meeting of China’s top political advisers earlier this year, one attendee opined that the quality of life for 90% of peasants was no better than it was 40 years ago, in part due to burdensome medical expenses and limited access to education. In April, researchers at the University of Michigan calculated that in 2010, China’s Gini coefficient—a measure of income inequality—was 0.55, compared to 0.45 in the United States. The United Nations considers anything above 0.4 a threat to a country’s stability.

“You’ve got this ‘damn the torpedoes’ development strategy that sets out all sorts of quotas, expectations, and productivity targets that are not constrained or balanced in any way by environmental protection or public participation to hold people to account,” says Sophie Richardson, director of Human Rights Watch’s China program. Throw in corruption, she adds, and you see a toxic mix, one that has contributed to an unprecedented level of social unrest. By the latest official estimate, China has an average of 270 “mass incidents”—unofficial gatherings of 100 or more protesters—every day. In a 2014 study of mass incidents, researchers at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences found that they were usually sparked by pollution, land acquisitions, labor disputes, and forced demolitions.

Fracking may soon join that list. Protests have already stymied drilling operations in Sichuan. From 2010 to March 2013, the Wall Street Journal reported, Shell had lost 535 days of work at 19 of its shale gas wells due to villager blockades or government requests to halt operations. “There are a lot of people in China who don’t want to take political risks—they have too much at stake,” Osnos says. “But when it comes to something as elemental as their health, and that’s what pollution really is about, then they’re willing to take a risk.”

Despite being touted as a cleaner alternative to dirty coal, fracking in China comes with plenty of environmental problems. The country’s shale gas lies deeper underground and in more complex geologic formations than those deposits in the flatlands of Pennsylvania, North Dakota, or Texas. As a result, researchers estimated that the Chinese wells will require up to twice the amount of water used at American sites to crack open the reserves. Indeed, researcher Tian Qinghua points out that it’s hard to imagine how there will be enough water to support an American-style fracking boom in a country with less water per capita than Namibia or Swaziland, where land twice the size of New York City turns to desert every year. Today more than a quarter of the country has already dried up, the equivalent of about a third of the continental United States.

An engineer who formerly designed cigarette and paper factories in the 1990s, Tian—who is in his 50s with spiked hair, rectangular glasses, and a professorial air—traces his environmental conversion back to the time he trained a group of technicians from Burma at a sugar factory in Yunnan province. If they built a factory like this one back home, they asked him, would their river become black like the Kaiyuan River? “I began to doubt my career,” he told us, sipping hot green tea out of a glass beer stein. “All the factories I designed were heavy polluters.” He quit his job and began pursuing environmental research. “I wanted to pick a career I could be proud of by the time I retire,” he said.

In addition to his concerns about fracking’s enormous appetite for water, Tian also worries about its waste: the chemical-laden water that comes back out of the rock with the natural gas. In the United States, it is typically stored in steel containers or open pits and later injected underground in oil and gas waste wells. In China’s early wells, wastewater is often dumped directly into streams and rivers. If fracking—most of which takes place in China’s breadbasket—contaminates water or soil, Tian argues, it could jeopardize the nation’s food supply. In a seismically active area like Sichuan, leaks are a major concern: Even a small earthquake—which, emerging evidence suggests, wastewater injection could trigger—might compromise a well’s anti-leak system, causing more pollution. In the past year alone, more than 30 earthquakes were recorded in the Sichuan area.

In 2012, Tian and his team from the Sichuan Academy of Environmental Sciences proposed environmental standards for fracking in the province. Lacking financial and political support from the government, the proposal languished in the bureaucratic process and never became law. In June, Beijing officials announced that China will adopt new standards for shale gas development before the end of this year. But without proper enforcement, Tian says the standards will not necessarily prevent China’s growing fracking industry from discharging waste and pollution—a cost he fears the environment can’t afford.

Back at the guesthouse compound in Xi’an one evening, after the conference had adjourned for the day, we sat for a lavish banquet of salty braised greens, fried eggplant, steamed fish, and roasted pork. A thin film of soot clung to the marble floors, tablecloths, and curtains.

I shared a table with Ming Sung, a lean, wispy-haired man in his late 60s who serves as the Asia-Pacific chief representative for Clean Air Task Force, a Boston-based partnership between environmental advocates and the private sector that’s focused on reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Sung, who spent 25 years as an engineer and manager for Shell, now splits his time between Texas and China, helping US and Chinese oil and gas companies lower their emissions.

Sung told us that shale gas, despite its reputation as a cleaner fuel, could be a huge pollution problem, if the technology wasn’t handled correctly. For example, he says, if “you don’t seal the wells properly, methane will leak.” Although natural gas can generate electricity at half the carbon dioxide emissions of coal, methane is as much as 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas over a 20-year-period. (Some scientists argue that carbon dioxide is still more potent because it lasts longer in the atmosphere than methane, which has an atmospheric lifetime of 12 years.) The EPA estimates that drilling for natural gas emits 0.04 to 0.30 grams of methane per well per second in the United States, the annual greenhouse gas equivalent of as many as 24 million cars.

But beyond the mechanical risks of fracking, there’s a more fundamental problem: shale gas might not even significantly reduce China’s coal dependence. In the United States, fracking proponents have argued that natural gas is crucial to help with the shift from the dirtiest fossil fuels to renewable resources. But that argument falls apart in China. Unlike what happened in the United States, the Energy Information Administration’s future projections of China’s energy demand suggest that in 2040, coal will continue to dominate while natural gas, even with a golden era, will fuel only 8% of demand. “The whole pie is growing so rapidly that you still see a very carbon-intensive mix,” says Rachel Cleetus, a senior economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. As China continues to grow its economy and expand its cities, it will need every resource it can get—coal, gas, solar, wind, hydropower, and nuclear.James Fallows, a senior correspondent at The Atlantic who spent many years covering China, notes that the Chinese government “is pushing harder on more fronts than any other government on Earth” to develop energy sources other than coal. “The question is, will they catch up? Who will win that race between how bad things are and how they’re trying to deal with them?”

Despite all these unknowns, the Obama administration is now encouraging other countries to tap their shale reserves. A year after Obama and Hu announced their shale gas agreement, in 2010, the State Department launched the Global Shale Gas Initiative, an “effort to promote global energy security and climate security around the world,” as one researcher put it. As a JPMorgan research memo stated, “Unless the popular environmental concerns are so extreme, most countries with the resources will not ignore the [shale gas] opportunity.”

Towards the end of our trip, we visited a village near Luzhou, a port city on the Yangtze with a population bigger than Los Angeles. We met a middle-aged woman named Dai Zhongfu, who told us that in 2011, Shell and PetroChina set up a shale gas well right next to her house. Standing under the shade of her plum tree and sporting a cropped haircut and a navy blue windbreaker, Dai said that occasionally someone would show up here and take a water sample from her well. They never identified themselves or returned with the results. By the time we arrived, Dai and her neighbors had grown wary of outside visitors; when we first met, her neighbors mistook us for water testers and advised her not to bother talking to us.

As the drilling continued, Dai said, her groundwater started to run dry, and now only rain replenished it. She doubted the water was fit for drinking. “After you use it, there’s a layer of white scum clinging to the pot,” she said. They couldn’t even use it to cook rice anymore. “You tell me if there’s been an impact!”

When I asked Dai why she and her neighbours hadn’t protested, she said, “You know that we rural folk really have no recourse,” she said. The drilling was over, and now that the well was producing, all that was left were a few surveillance cameras and a concrete wall. “Now there’s no chance they’ll pay attention to us—where we get our drinking water, how we use it,” Dai said. “People here have been abused so much that they’re afraid.”

Jaeah Lee and James West|Mother Jones|Guardian Environment Network|theguardian.com|18 September 2014

Windmills in the Ocean and the Hamptons May Answer Energy Problems

You may not know this, but about 20 miles off Montauk, just south of Block Island, there are five steel windmills under construction that will soon rise hundreds of feet above the ocean’s surface to start spinning away converting the wind into power.

You won’t see these windmills from Montauk, but you will see them from Block Island. Block Island is one of the windiest places in America, and Block Islanders often proudly tell you to hang onto your hat because of that, so for them to see the windmills offshore spinning away is a matter of pride.

Last month, however, the private power company constructing these windmills applied to build 35 more windmills in the ocean in order to provide power, this time to Long Island from a cable coming under the ocean to attach to a power station here. Don’t get all excited about hearing this. God forbid there should be any windmill paddles spinning away 600 feet up and visible at the horizon off Montauk’s pristine beaches. The 35 additional windmills are to be located 16 miles off Martha’s Vineyard, further from Montauk.

Did I just hear a very soft “hooray!” Yes?

Fact is that we have a simply terrible record about wind power. We all declare ourselves in favor of alternative energy, be it solar, wind or wave power. But when a farm of windmills all in a row sitting on the ocean floor was proposed off Jones Beach a few years ago, the citizenry sounded the alarm and opposition groups formed whose members quickly contacted their congressmen. Fish would accidentally bump into the underground legs of the windmills. Freighters would crash into them, founder, capsize and sink, sending hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of, for example, naked Barbie Dolls bobbing onto our beaches. The windmill people slunk away.

Still other proposals for ocean windmill farms that might have been in Long Island Sound or off Southampton were floated and sent up the flagpole to see if anyone would salute, but all of those were shot down.

The real scandal, however, is that for more than 300 years, we have actually had windmills here in the Hamptons and, in spite of enormous sums of money spent, not a single one of them has ever provided even one single watt of power.

All together we have 11 of them. We have the largest collection of wooden windmills in the United States right here in the Hamptons. We have one on Gardiner’s Island, four in East Hampton, one in Amagansett, one in Bridgehampton, one in Southampton, one on Shelter Island, one in Wainscott, and one in Water Mill, all of them built between 1770 and 1830, a half-century span when the residents here, on the very leading edge of environmental awareness, did their best to make a situation where the energy they consumed equaled the energy produced. Their desire was to harness the wind and create no environmental damage whatsoever, instead of what they correctly felt was the wasteful consumption of consumables such as, over the years, whale blubber, kerosene, wood fires, coal, oil, shale and natural gas, which, as we know, pollute the planet.

Granted, the windmill efforts made during that 60-year period (known today as the East End Spring—like the Arab Spring) were not very effective. But what could you expect? This was long before the invention of the telephone, the light bulb, the automobile, washing machine, airplane, hula-hoop or the internet.

These early experimental efforts did leave us with a legacy, though. All these windmills still stand. It had been the hope, those early pioneers felt, that improvements in the efficiency of these windmills would one day bring a time when all energy problems would be solved with the engines of our wind power and the improvements made could be given away and duplicated elsewhere around the country.

But that did not happen. Over the past 200 years, our governments—village, town, county, state and federal—have poured thousands of dollars, even millions and billions and trillions of untold dollars, to restore, rebuild and improve these windmills so they can do the job. But it has all been just a complete waste of money.

Two years ago, East Hampton Village spent nearly a $100,000 to get the Hook Mill on the Town Green to turn out power. Before that, tens of thousands of dollars were spent in Bridgehampton trying to get the Beebe Mill to produce power. But no. It was a complete waste of money. It’s a scandal.

Who benefits from these clumsy and futile attempts to get these beautiful windmills operational? It’s been said that the tourists like to take pictures of them, sitting there still and inert and doing nothing, so that is good for the economy. But when more of these tourists come out to take these pictures, burning gasoline in their cars, oil and natural gas in their homes and coal in their office buildings, it just adds to the environmental pickle we find ourselves in today.

Why have we not hired scientists and engineers to guide this work, to apply their inventiveness and new ideas to the task at hand? We haven’t done that. Instead, in every case, we hire “restorers” who haven’t a clue on how to make these things work. All they know to do is how to get the windmills repaired to the way they were before when they didn’t work. What an utter waste of time and money.

It might have been money well spent if these funds had been used to at least attempt to provide new experimental ways to harness the wind. I read in The New York Times recently that one scientific group somewhere in the country is sending up giant weather balloons with paddles on them, held fast to the ground with long ropes, so the wind can turn the paddle blades way up there to create the power.

It’s time to put an end to this scandalous waste of taxpayers’ money here on the East End. I’m told that, as another poke in the eye, much of this money is spent to accomplish nothing more than to grind down an occasional husk of corn into flour so the workmen can sit around, snack and drink on their frequent coffee breaks, lunch hours and poker sessions while on the job.

We’ve landed on the moon, built bridges across the Hudson River, gotten airplanes to fly 2,000 miles an hour, created iPhones and television and atomic bombs, and not one single kilowatt of energy in all this time from our windmills.

It’s long past time to begin investigating the wasteful bureaucratic mess that has spawned this two-century-long boondoggle and put an end to it once and for all.

Dan Rattiner| April 19, 2014

[The idea of using wind is one of the best answers to power generation conceivable. However, siting must be the primary consideration. The Atlantic Migratory Flyway, used by millions of birds twice annually, extends into the Atlantic Ocean and must be considered in the placement of windmills. Computer programs are available that will shut down a windmill when birds are in the proximity, and at the very least, should be included in windmills placed near flyways.]

Thousands of U.S. Schools Are Going Solar, Says New Study

The report card is in, and thousands of U.S. schools are bringing home straight A’s for going solar.

In a comprehensive, first-of-its-kind study released today, America’s K-12 schools have shown explosive growth in their use of solar energy over the last decade, soaring from 303 kilowatts (kW) of installed capacity to 457,000 kW, while reducing carbon emissions by 442,799 metric tons annually—the equivalent of saving 50 million gallons of gasoline a year or taking nearly 100,000 cars off U.S. highways.

Brighter Future: A Study on Solar in U.S. Schools was prepared by The Solar Foundation (TSF)—with data and analysis support from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)—and funded through a grant provided by the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot program.

The Solar Foundation’s report is the first nationwide assessment of how solar energy helps to power schools in communities across America. Most importantly, the report shows that thousands of schools are already cutting their utility bills by choosing solar, using the savings to pay for teacher salaries and textbooks. What’s more, the report estimates that more than 70,000 additional schools would benefit by doing the same.

Here are the report’s key findings:

  • There are 3,752 K-12 schools in the U.S. with solar installations, meaning nearly 2.7 million students attend schools with solar energy systems.
  • The 3,727 PV systems have a combined capacity of 490 megawatts (MW), and generate roughly 642,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity each year, which represents a combined $77.8 million per year in utility bills—an average of almost $21,000 per year per school.
  • Despite this promising progress, solar potential remains largely untapped. Of the 125,000 schools in the country, between 40,000 and 72,000 can “go solar” cost-effectively.

And if you think that’s good news, then get a load of this: An analysis performed for this report found that 450 individual school districts could each save more than $1,000,000 over 30 years by installing a solar PV system. That’s right—a million bucks!

In a time of tight budgets and rising costs, solar can be the difference between hiring new teachers—or laying them off. Just as importantly, solar is also helping to fight pollution, providing hope for our children, as well as for future generations of children.

The new report also found:

  • More than 3,000 of the 3,752 systems were installed in the last six years. Between 2008 and 2012, solar installations on U.S. schools experienced a compound annual growth rate of 110 percent.
  • Nearly half of the systems currently installed are larger than 50 kilowatts (kW) and 55 schools have systems that are 1 megawatt (MW) or larger. About a quarter of the PV systems at schools are smaller than 5 kW.
  • As schools system sizes increase, so too does the incidence of third-party ownership.
  • Excluding small demonstration systems, the median system size of K-12 school PV systems was found to be 89 kW (approximately equal to 18 average residential solar PV systems).

As is the case with the solar industry at large, the report found that more schools are going solar as installation costs decrease.   According to the SEIA/GTM Research U.S. Solar Market Insight report, by the second quarter of this year, national blended average system prices had dropped 53 percent since 2010.

So anyway you look at it—from economics to innovation to the environment—more and more U.S. schools deserve high marks for their commitment to America’s future.

Rhone Resch|EcoWatch|9/20/14

New Research Improves on Earlier Bird-Killing Turbine Studies

On the heels of tempering bird mortality accusations in the concentrating solar power industry, a new study also calms the wind critics.

California, USA — The first-ever study using data from modern wind farms throughout North America finds that avian mortality among most species of small passerines (birds) may be biologically insignificant.

The concentrating solar power industry recently faced heavy criticism due to “solar flux” causing bird deaths, which recent studies have tempered. Now, a new study for the wind industry is also adjusting the bird death numbers.

The study, which includes wind farm data across North America (the U.S. and Canada), is the most comprehensive to date, as previous studies over-sampled outdated turbines. The U.S. generates about a third of the world’s wind energy, with 81 GW of capacity, most of which was installed in the last ten years using modern turbines.

The study was supported by the American Wind Wildlife Institute (AWWI), a non-profit focused on bringing together the wind industry, wildlife management agencies, and science and environmental organizations, to facilitate responsible wind energy development while protecting wildlife, for example, in replacing unsafe turbines at Altamont Pass, or use of bird detection and deterrents.

The peer-reviewed study found that an estimated 134,000 to 230,000 small passerines collide annually with turbines across the U.S. and Canada. Using conservative estimates, this amounts to less than 0.01 percent of the population of small passerines, while an estimated 30 percent die of natural causes yearly.

North America’s 5 billion small passerines — a taxonomic group that includes all small songbirds like larks, blackbirds, warblers and sparrows — produce up to eight young annually. “Small passerines have high annual mortality,” said Taber Allison, Director of Research and Evaluation at AWWI. “Two to three years is a typical lifespan, though individuals can of course live longer.”

The avian mortality rate found in the new study updates estimates from previous studies that over-sampled information from the earliest wind farms at California’s Altamont Pass. The faster-turning small kilowatt-level 1980s turbines were low on the hillside, where raptors swoop on updrafts to hunt prey on the ground.

“When you have a sample that is heavily weighted with data from the Altamont and you apply that analysis to the entire country, it may result in an overestimate,” said Allison.

Today’s U.S. wind farms use 1- to 3-MW turbines, are sited on flatter ground, turn much higher on concrete towers — out of the hunting range of raptors, while lower than the migration corridor of small passerines.

To reach the most reliable numbers possible, the authors analyzed data from these more representative conditions, while correcting for missing and scavenged corpses and missed birds due to detection bias.

“This study was the most comprehensive. It includes the most data that is available,” said Allison. “The other studies that came out earlier did not have as many studies to work with.”

Currently these researchers are working with the USGS on a new study, as one of several analyzing the effects of wind farms on birds and bats.

“We are currently conducting similar analyses on data related to the other bird taxa including birds of prey like raptors and water-associated birds, and have plans to publish these studies by the end of the year,” said Erickson.

Susan Kraemer|Correspondent|September 19, 2014

Land Conservation

DEP Surpasses Goal To Sell $40 Million in Land Sales to Benefit Conservation

~The department sold two correctional facilities to raise funds for conservation purchases~

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of State Lands has surpassed the goal of selling $40 million of non-conservation land to purchase new, valuable conservation lands. The division finalized the sale of two more state-owned surplus non-conservation lands on Monday, Sept. 15, increasing the budget for future purchases to $43,991,070. The move supports the vision of the 2014-2015 Legislature, which gave the department the authority to sell up to $40 million worth of non-conservation land. The department can now ask the legislature for authorization to spend the additional funds over $40 million.

Since January 2014, the division has sold 12 state-owned non-conservation lands.

“Acquiring and managing conservation lands is a priority of the department,” said Division of State Lands Director Kelley Boree. “Our team has worked hard with other state agencies to identify and sell non-conservation lands that are no longer needed. This supports the priority and helps the state own and manage property efficiently.”

This week, the division sold the former 66-acre Broward County Correctional Institution for $13,519,470. The Board of Trustees acquired the property in December 1973 and subsequently granted a 99-year lease to Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) in May 1974. The property contains 40 buildings totaling 233,375 square feet.

Additionally, the division sold the former Hillsborough County Correctional Institution for $3,500,100. In July 2014, the sites of the former Hendry County Correctional Institution was sold for $3,750,000, and the Glades Correctional Institute and Work Camp in Belle Glade was sold for $1,224,000. These correctional facilities closed in 2012 as part of DOC’s statewide consolidation plan.

Earlier this month, the division sold the site of the former A.G. Holley State Hospital in Palm Beach County for $15,600,000. The 79.91-acre property ceased operations in 2012. In August 2014, two half-acre parcels were sold in the city of Miami for $4,700,000. A Florida Department of Transportation facility in Volusia County sold for$540,000. In June 2014, a half-acre parcel was sold in Monroe County for $33,000.Earlier in 2014, four additional properties sold for a total of $1,124,500.

To see a current list of state-owned surplus properties for sale, visit the department’s website here.

latashawalters|September 18, 2014

Air Quality

The Top 5 Most Polluted Countries in the World

The World Health Organization has released a new study ranking countries with the worst air pollution. When we consider air pollution most of us will automatically think of China. However, it was nowhere to be found in the top 10 offenders. This, by the way, is not because they’ve suddenly cleaned up their act, but rather because this study ranked countries as a whole, rather than cities.

So here are the top 5 countries with the worst air pollution, and what they are trying to do to combat it.

1. Pakistan

Pakistan made #1 on the list with a PM 2.5 pollution level of 101 ug/m3. Now, that might not make sense so let me break it down: PM 2.5 stands for the size of the particles of pollution. The size (2.5) is frequently cited as the most detrimental because it can travel deep into lungs and cause a variety of ailments. Good examples of these particles are smoke, mold and dust. The ug/m3 part stands for micrograms per unit meter of air. So Pakistan has 101 micrograms of PM 2.5 pollutants per unit meter of air.

This level of pollution can be fatal to certain people with compromised respiratory systems and is blamed for killing thousands each year. Such pollutants also cause at least 80,000 hospitalizations in Pakistan alone. Although Pakistan has hosted a number of green air initiatives, and Coca-Cola has even led the fight in establishing better air quality, the country continues to suffer from some of the worst pollution on the planet.

Part of this is because Pakistan is dealing with crippling security threats on an everyday basis. Recent attacks on Karachi’s International Airport and Taliban offenses from the Afghan border mean that much of the government budget is devoted to security rather than health and the environment. Because of this, Pakistanis will continue to suffer a host of complications due to pollution.

2. Qatar

Qatar ranks in as the second worst country with 92 units of PM 2.5 micrograms per unit meter of air. Heavy construction in a relatively small area, combined with one of the biggest growing international airports have converged to create truly terrible air quality. However, Qatar is doing something about this.

The Sahara Forest Project, which is somewhat oddly named as the desert in Qatar is not the Sahara (not even close), is using state of the art techniques to plant trees, bushes, and bring sustainable water and energy designs to the miles of desert that surround the city’s countryside. Further, by trapping seawater and evaporating it into the air, they are looking to reduce desert temperatures to create a more humid climate. If it is successful, it could help bring down the pollution levels in Qatar substantially.

Although some flinch at the idea of removing a desert ecosystem that has existed for thousands of years, projects such as these have been accomplished before, in desertification areas of Northern Africa. The results have actually been positive, showing little impact on overall environmental stability.

3. Afghanistan

Afghanistan comes in just after Qatar with a PM 2.5 level of 84 micrograms per unit meter of air. Part of this naturally has to do with the recent war. Rubble, creating a mix of toxic building materials in the air, along with bombs, smoke, generators which run on diesel, and air travel in and out of the country have come together in a disastrous mix of toxic pollutants.

Sadly, not a whole lot is planned for invigorating the air quality of the country. Although Afghanistan does have a Green Club, a lot of the activities are simply raising awareness for the problem as actual funds to institute programs are near impossible to find.

4. Bangladesh

This is one of the few nations where air quality has fallen steadily over the past few years, the air here has a PM 2.5 level of 79 micrograms per unit meter of air. Air quality is something which sends thousands of Bangladeshis to hospitals every year, especially in urban areas where massive factories have sprung up.

Part of this is because the country provides very cheap labor and industry, which has led to a deregulation of sorts in the country. Because of loose standards for the environment, companies can save labor money but create a large environmental impact.

Enter the Bangladesh Green Roof Movement. Started by local groups, this is a movement which could have a great impact on the country. By planting gardens they not only help with food sustainability, but help reduce the pollution levels inside the country. While Bangladesh has a long way to go, it’s heartening to see that the citizens are taking it upon themselves to try to create a greener future.

5. Iran

Iran rounds out the top five most polluted countries with a PM 2.5 level of 76 micrograms per unit meter of air. Part of the reason for this is simply a lack of quality products. The gasoline used is often poor quality, the building materials used contain asbestos, and overcrowding and a large youth population has led to congested streets.

However, with such a large youth population, Iran has also started championing some interesting environmental movements. Demonstrations where people line up inside of public parks with breathing masks on have spread on social media. Although environmental issues are often the bastion of upper-middle class people in developing nations, in Iran’s case citizens from all walks of life have gotten involved. This includes villagers renouncing poor cooking methods and poaching.

Although the current president of Iran has remained fairly mum on the environment, most agree he is far more open to it than Iran’s former president. This has given the Iranian youth hope that environmental consciousness improves as their country moves forward.

Lizabeth Paulat|September 14, 2014

Air pollution found harmful to young brains

Findings by University of Montana Professor Dr. Lilian Calderón-Garcidueñas, MA, MD, Ph.D., and her team of researchers reveal that children living in megacities are at increased risk for brain inflammation and neurodegenerative changes, including Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.
Calderón-Garcidueñas’ findings are detailed in a paper titled “Air pollution and children: Neural and tight junction antibodies and combustion metals, the role of barrier breakdown and brain immunity in neurodegeneration.”

The study found when air particulate matter and their components such as metals are inhaled or swallowed, they pass through damaged barriers, including respiratory, gastrointestinal and the blood-brain barriers and can result in long-lasting harmful effects.

Calderón-Garcidueñas and her team compared 58 serum and cerebrospinal fluid samples from a control group living in a low-pollution city and matched them by age, gender, socioeconomic status, education and education levels achieved by their parents to 81 children living in Mexico City.

The results found that the children living in Mexico City had significantly higher serum and cerebrospinal fluid levels of autoantibodies against key tight-junction and neural proteins, as well as combustion-related metals.

“We asked why a clinically healthy kid is making autoantibodies against their own brain components,” Calderón-Garcidueñas said. “That is indicative of damage to barriers that keep antigens and neurotoxins away from the brain. Brain autoantibodies are one of the features in the brains of people who have neuroinflammatory diseases like multiple sclerosis.”

The issue is important and relevant for one reason, she explained. The breakdown of the blood-brain barrier and the presence of autoantibodies to important brain proteins will contribute to the neuroinflammation observed in urban children and raises the question of what role air pollution plays in a 400 percent increase of MS cases in Mexico City, making it one of the main diagnoses for neurology referrals.

University of Montana|via EurekAlert|September 15, 2014

Read more at University of Montana.

Think We Can Do Better?

Power Plants in the US Produced Nearly as Much Carbon Dioxide Pollution as the Amount Collectively Produced by the Following Fifteen Countries

  * Argentina                              * Guyana

   * Bolivia                                    * Mexico

        *Brazil                                        * Paraguay

*Canada                                    * Peru

       * Colombia                              * Suriname

         * Chile                                        * Uruguay

            * Ecuador                                  * Venezuela

                 * French Guiana                                                                

Recycling

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle- 9 Ways to Cut Down on Excess Waste (slideshow)

Miscellaneous

STATEMENT FROM DEP SECRETARY HERSCHEL T. VINYARD JR. REGARDING

Water Management District Support of the Indian River Lagoon

I commend the Governing Board Members of the St. Johns River and the South Florida Water Management Districts for their commitment to provide technical assistance and significant funding to support the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program.

“The Indian River Lagoon is one of the most unique and treasured ecosystems in the world and it deserves our protection. No one knows that better than the thousands of area residents who are fighting to restore the health of the lagoon each and every day, many through the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program. These local stakeholders need our support and I’m confident they will put these state and regional resources to good use on behalf of lagoon restoration.”

latashawalters |September 16, 2014

Benefits of Controlling Nuisance Aquatic Plants and Algae in the United States

New CAST Commentary Examines the Effects of Nuisance Weeds on Our Water Supply

July 16, 2014…Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, Ames, Iowa.  Safe, accessible water resources are essential, but various threats are closing the taps. A growing problem comes from nuisance aquatic plants that invade rivers, lakes, and other aquatic ecosystems. They can affect aesthetics, drainage, fishing, water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, flood control, human and animal health, hydropower generation, irrigation, navigation, recreation, and, ultimately, land values.
Led by Kurt Getsinger (Chair), the authors of
this commentary emphasize the necessity for the skillful management of nuisance aquatic plants–they hope regulators, managers, stakeholders, and legislators gain scientific insights about this important issue. Using specific examples, tables, and detailed explanations of the situation,

the paper thoroughly examines the negative impacts of nuisance plants and the need to be aware, informed, and–when possible–proactive about the problems.
Sections of this paper focus on certain parts of the United States, but the general need is obvious–invasive aquatic plants and algae are progressively disrupting the ecological balance required for maintaining adequate freshwater resources for flora, fauna, and humans. The authors encourage

  • long-term funding,
  • sustained research, and
  • creative problem solving.

They believe that a collaborative push to meet the challenges posed by nuisance aquatic plants will support a sustainable civilization that depends on clean and abundant freshwater resources. 

Task Force Authors:

Kurt Getsinger (Chair), U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, Vicksburg, Mississippi
Eric Dibble, Mississippi State University
John H. Rodgers, Jr., Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina
David Spencer, United States Department of Agriculture-ARS, Davis, California
CAST Commentary QTA2014-1 and its companion Ag quickCAST are available online at the CAST website, www.cast-science.org, along with many of CAST’s other scientific publications. All CAST Issue Papers, Commentaries, and Ag quickCASTs are FREE.

Contacts for this Issue Paper:

Kurt Getsinger–Phone: 601-634-2498; E-mail: Kurt.D.Getsinger@usace.army.mil
Ms. Linda M. Chimenti–Phone: 515-292-2125, ext. 231; E-mail: Ichementi@cast-science.org

CAST is an international consortium of scientific and professional societies, companies, and nonprofit organizations. It assembles, interprets, and communicates credible science-based information regionally, nationally, and internationally to legislators, regulators, policymakers, the media, the private sector, and the public.

Click here to download.

EPA Proposes One Hazardous Waste Site in the Southeast to Superfund’s National Priorities List ‏

Cleaning up hazardous waste sites protects human health, raises property value, and facilitates the economic restoration of communities

Atlanta – Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it is proposing the 35th Avenue site in Birmingham, AL, a site that pose risks to human health and the environment, to the National Priorities List (NPL) of Superfund sites.

The Superfund program, a federal program established by Congress in 1980, investigates and cleans up the most complex, uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites in the country and converts them into productive local resources by eliminating or reducing health risks and environmental contamination associated with hazardous waste sites.

“Cleaning up hazardous waste sites protects our country’s most vulnerable populations, prevents diseases, increases local property values and facilitates economic restoration of communities across America,” said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. “By listing a site on the Superfund National Priorities List, we’re taking an important action to protect human health and encourage economic restoration of communities.”

Recent academic research, from the study Superfund Cleanups and Infant Health, demonstrated that investment in Superfund cleanups reduces the incidence of congenital abnormalities for those living within 5,000 meters (or 5,468 yards) of a site.  Another study conducted by researchers at Duke and Pittsburgh Universities, concluded that making a site final on the NPL may increase housing prices by signaling that a site has been placed on the path towards remediation. Furthermore, the study found that once a site has all cleanup remedies in place, nearby properties have a significant increase in property values as compared to pre-NPL proposal values.

The Superfund program uses remedy effectiveness information to actively manage site operations and refine remedial strategies in order to efficiently move sites to completion. Today, more than 800 Superfund sites across the nation support some type of continued use, active reuse or planned reuse activities.

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), the law establishing the Superfund program, gives EPA the authority to clean up releases of hazardous substances and directs EPA to update the NPL at least annually to protect human health and the environment with the goal of returning these sites to communities for productive use. The NPL contains the nation’s most serious uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites. The list serves as the basis for prioritizing both enforcement actions and long-term EPA Superfund cleanup funding; only sites on the NPL are eligible for such funding.

Federal Register notices and supporting documents for the final and proposed sites: http://www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/npl/current.htm

Information about how a site is listed on the NPL: http://www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/npl/npl_hrs.htm
Superfund sites in local communities: http://www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/index.htm

More information about the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), the law establishing the Superfund program, can be found at: http://epa.gov/superfund/policy/cercla.htm

James Pinkney|U.S. EPA|9/16/14

Fishermen’s Tips for Releasing a Hooked Bird

Wherever fishermen and birds overlap, sooner or later a bird gets hooked or entangled in fishing line. What happens next will determine the fate of the bird:  If the fisherman cuts the line, the bird likely will die from starvation, as its capacity to forage is impaired, or dehydration, if the line becomes entangled in the trees at its roost site.  Or a savvy fisherman will reel the bird in, set it free, and save its life.  But to protect him or her self from the bird, which will flap long wings, squawk loudly, and snap its beak, a fisherman needs to take some basic precautions:

  1. Put on sunglasses or other eye protection.
  2. Enlist a partner to help with controlling the bird.
  3. Grasp the bird’s head firmly and then cover the eyes with a towel, shirt, or even a hat to calm it.
  4. Fold the wings up and secure the feet, holding firmly.
  5. Cut off the hook’s barb and back the hook out. This removes the hook without causing more damage to the bird.
  6. Check the bird for other hooks or line and remove them too. Often a bird has been hooked before.
  7. Put the bird on the dock, facing the water and step back. A feisty bird is likely to survive.
  8. If the bird is seriously injured, has swallowed the hook, or doesn’t fly, it should be taken to a veterinarian or wildlife rehabilitator. Call the Wildlife Commission 1-888-404-3922 for one near you.

Congratulations! You have saved the life of a bird!

Birding|Coastal Conservation|August 13, 2014

Learning in nature is good for teachers and students

Children belong outdoors. We know this intuitively, but now an extensive and ever-growing body of research supports it. Kids who spend time outside every day are healthier, happier, more creative, less stressed and more alert than those who don’t. Several recent studies even show time in nature or green space helps reduce ADHD symptoms.

But what about teachers who take children outdoors, contributing to their learning and growth? More alert, calm and creative students are a plus to them as educators. Could they also benefit as individuals from taking students outside every day?

With most of Canada’s educators back from the summer break, facing the many challenges that contribute to the country’s high rates of teacher attrition — from increasing class sizes to mounting curriculum expectations — it’s a good time to ask: How can “nature as classroom” support teacher well-being?

So far, only a few studies focus on the benefits of green time for teachers, but those indicate that teaching in nature has great effects. A study out of the U.K.’s King’s College London suggests teaching outdoors makes educators more confident and enthusiastic about their work, and more innovative in their teaching strategies. By extension, schools benefit from the leadership and influence of their teachers who take students outside.

Rob Ridley, field center coordinator with Ontario’s Peel District School Board, says he has seen many educators gain confidence and renew their interest in teaching simply from taking their classes outdoors.

“Going outside takes away the boundaries of your classroom walls,” he says. “It opens you up to new ideas and lesson plans. You’ll step outside to study science or social studies, and suddenly you’ll see ways to connect it to math or language arts.”

Hopi Martin, who teaches at the Toronto District School Board’s Forest Valley Outdoor Education Centre, agrees: “Teaching outdoors demands that we respond to the wonder of students and opportunities that arise. I could have a beautiful lesson on tree identification prepared that gets totally derailed by the discovery of ants on a tree. Going outside has made me a stronger, more innovative, more resilient teacher.”

For Michael Mendoza, a teacher-librarian at Wilmington Elementary School in Toronto who regularly takes students outdoors, it’s seeing “an immediate absorption of knowledge, and the students’ contagious eagerness and curiosity” that refreshes and inspires him as an educator. On a personal note, he adds, “Being outside makes me feel more awake and alive.”

“The fact is, teachers aren’t just teachers, they’re human beings,” says Aryne Sheppard, senior public engagement specialist at the David Suzuki Foundation. “And research has shown time and again that nature makes humans happier, less irritable, and more creative and generous. Teaching is stressful work, and nature provides a powerful stress buffer.”

Despite all the benefits for students and educators, moving classes outdoors can be daunting. Teachers cite a host of barriers, from parental concerns to lack of time, confidence and support from administration.

So how can a teacher ease in (or jump right in) to teaching outside?

Ridley suggests joining forces with fellow educators for support and advice. Mendoza also seeks out guidance from outdoor enthusiasts. Several online communities exist to help and inspire, like the popular weekly #EnviroEd Twitter chats.

Organizations all across the country, including the David Suzuki Foundation, offer workshops for educators interested in taking students outside. These often include sample activities, logistical tips and advice for getting parents and administration on-board. And many of the same organizations have published excellent educational resources for teaching outdoors. The Foundation’s own Connecting With Nature guides for kindergarten through Grade 8 are full of lesson plans, step-by-step instructions and ideas for engaging local communities.

So while the idea of moving science or math class outdoors might be unnerving at first, the end result is more than worth it, for the well-being of everyone involved.

“If teachers are happy and connected to nature, they can pass that on to their students,” Sheppard says. “They can be the role models parents want for their children — role models the world needs.”

After all, those who learn to appreciate and love nature are more likely to protect it.

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Connecting Youth With Nature Project Lead Rachelle Delaney

Global Population May Surpass 13 Billion by End of Century

By 2100, over 13 billion people could be walking the planet. That’s the conclusion of a new study published today in Science, which employed UN data to explore the probability of various population scenarios. The new study further demolishes the long-held theory that human population growth will quit growing by mid-century and then fall.

“Analysis of these data reveals that, contrary to previous literature, world population is unlikely to stop growing this century,” reads the paper.

It’s worth noting that 13 billion is at the very high end of the researcher’s projections and, therefore, unlikely, but hardly impossible. The scientists estimated that there is an 80 percent probability the global population fall somewhere between 9.6 and 12.3 billion in 2100, meaning there is a ten percent chance that population will be above 12.3 billion.

Going further, there was a 95 percent probability that the population will be between 9.0 and 13.2 billion, putting the chances of a population exceeding 13.25 billion at 2.5 percent.

The results follow a revision by the UN last year of population projections, which first reported that global population rates were not behaving as expected, due largely to stubbornly high fertility rates in Africa.

“What’s new is that we are able to quantify the confidence that underlie the projected population growth. Earlier projections were strictly based on scenarios, so there was no uncertainty,” explained lead author Patrick Gerland with the Population Division at the United Nation. “This work provides a more statistically driven assessment that allows us to say how likely particular outcomes are.”

So, the most likely scenario? Around 10.9 billion, which is a 55 percent increase over today’s current population.

Prior to recent revisions, many demographers believed global population would essentially take care of itself. Due to declining fertility rates, populations would peak somewhere between 2050 and 2100 before dropping slowly. Increasingly, experts say that’s no longer the case.

“Population growth was a major world concern up to the 1990s, but then fell down the world’s agenda in favor of other important issues such as climate change and the HIV/AIDS epidemic,” co-author Adrian Raftery with the University of Washington told mongabay.com. “This seems now to have been premature, especially as too rapid population growth can make other problems worse. There’s a need for the world to focus again on population issues and policies that can support families and governments in lowering fertility.”

Jeremy Hance|MONGABAY.COM|September 19, 2014

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, MONGABAY.

The Future of Vertical Farming

From big company agricultural farming, to communal farming or even personal agronomy, the business of growing crops for an expanding global population will be crucial in the near future.

The two most important resources needed to run these farms are one, water, and two, land. But these resources often come at a premium, especially with growing populations and increased food demand. Farmers and researchers have already started leaning towards genetic engineering and industrial processing to help with their crop yields, but a new solution in agribusiness is emerging. Vertical farming.

“Vertical farming” was coined back in 1915, but the practice has not yet become mainstream. That is, until now. Stacked greenhouses that use artificial light to grow crops have numerous benefits and the business itself is starting to take off.

Last year, PlantLab began the construction of a $22-million, 200,000-square-foot headquarters, including multiple plant production units (PPUs) and research units.

PlantLab’s claims that a PPU the size of a city block and just a few stories high could produce the same volume of high-quality crops as a large farm, while consuming fewer resources. Water used for the plants does not evaporate or runoff, and because of this, PPUs consume only about 10 percent as much water as traditional farms. Other benefits include no pesticides and that the plants are protected from weather-related problems.

PPUs allow production to occur locally (thereby reducing transport costs and wastage) and on demand, under controllable conditions. In other words, any kind of fruit or vegetable can be grown anywhere, year-round.

Not only do PPUs offer major savings in terms of resources and transportation; they are also not prohibitively expensive to build. Indeed, for something like $100 million, a partner could purchase the required land and construct a 500,000-square-foot (46,450 m2) PPU, with ten growing levels about five feet apart.

The resulting farm would employ about 200 people for seeding, growing, harvesting, packaging, sales, logistics, maintenance, and management. And it would supply 50,000 people with a consistently high-quality seven-ounce daily requirement of fresh herbs, vegetables, and ground fruits like berries for at least ten years—all in less space that the average multi-story parking lot. This might sound expensive. But, at just $2,000 per person, the cost is far lower than the $8,000 the average American spends in annual health-care costs. Given that a PPU will last for at least a decade, and offer considerable health benefits to local populations, it is a small price to pay.

Allison Winter|ENN|September 19, 2014

Read more at Policy Innovations.

Pesticide residue found on nearly half of organic produce

‘I would hope that the products are without pesticides,’ says organic food consumer

Nearly half the organic fresh fruits and vegetables tested across Canada in the past two years contained pesticide residue, according to a CBC News analysis of data supplied by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

Of the 45.8 per cent of samples that tested positive for some trace of pesticide, a smaller amount — 1.8 per cent — violated Canada’s maximum allowable limits for the presence of pesticides, the data shows.

Mathieu Rey, an organic food consumer in Winnipeg, says he did not expect to hear that the produce he buys may contain pesticides. (CBC)

The data released to CBC News under the federal Access to Information Act includes testing of organic fruits and vegetables sampled between September 2011 and September 2013.

The results were not what Winnipeg organic consumer Mathieu Rey was expecting.

“I would hope that the products are without pesticides. That is what I would be looking for,” Rey said in an interview.

“I’m trusting the companies to provide a non-pesticide or pesticide-free product.”

As widespread as the pesticide residues were, they were still considerably less than the 78.4 per cent of non-organic samples the inspection agency found containing pesticide residues, violating the allowable limits 4.7 per cent of the time.

The CFIA told CBC News that none of the test results posed a health risk. The agency did not prevent any of the food from being sold as organic.

Most of the fresh produce sampled was imported, with only one-fifth of it grown in Canada.

Of the domestically grown samples, about 43 per cent tested positive for at least one pesticide — slightly lower than the 46 per cent of imported samples.

Matthew Holmes, head of the Canada Organic Trade Association, says it’s ‘really hard to have a zero pesticide residue any longer.’ (CBC)

Matthew Holmes, executive director of the Ottawa-based Canada Organic Trade Association, called the findings concerning.

“We see pesticide residues throughout our environment. It’s in our soil, they’re in our water, drinking water now, and there’s new reports coming out showing there’s pesticides in fetal cord blood. So unfortunately, it’s really hard to have a zero pesticide residue any longer,” he said.

Pesticides were measured in amounts as little as 0.0001 parts per million (ppm) to greater than three ppm.

“These are very low amounts,” Holmes said.

Rick Holley, an expert in food safety at the University of Manitoba, agreed the residue measurements are small.

But Holley added that the data indicate that consumers who often pay extra to buy organic food might not always be getting their money’s worth.

“If the money is being spent to avoid pesticide residues and have access to food which is healthy, then I think the money is not well-spent,” he said. “[Pesticides] will not be absent.”

Holley said that’s partly because the analytical methodologies are capable of detecting residues in parts per billion or parts per trillion, well below the allowable limits.

He explained that pesticides can get onto organic produce through contamination of water or soil through pesticide spray drift from neighbouring farms, and through contact with non-organic produce after harvest.

But Holley said some of the larger residue measurements suggest an organic producer deliberately used a pesticide that is not allowed.

“Where pesticide residue levels are at or above the maximum residue levels prescribed, then I think that there’s probably reasonable evidence that that has been the situation,” he said.

Take, for example, an organic tomato imported from Mexico, sampled in the Manitoba-Saskatchewan region. It was tested for four different pesticides and contained residues of two of them — both in amounts that exceeded the allowable limits for those pesticides.

In contrast, some of the samples tested positive for numerous pesticides but at lower levels.

An organic pepper imported from Mexico and sampled in Quebec was analyzed for 13 different pesticides and was found to contain minute amounts of 10 of them.

None of the amounts measured on that pepper violated the maximum allowable residue limits for the pesticides in question.

Holmes said past studies have shown the quantity and incidence of pesticide residues in organic produce are consistently lower than those in non-organic.

Analysis of the fungicide thiabendazole in the CFIA’s latest data suggests the amount of pesticide present in the organic produce is lower than on regular produce.

The average quantity of thiabendazole measured on organic apples was 0.02 ppm whereas the average amount measured on non-organic was 0.3 ppm — about 15 times higher.

“I think consumers are looking for not necessarily a zero level, but they’re looking to not contribute to the pesticide residues that are out there and they’re looking to reduce their exposure as much as possible. And I still think we’re seeing in this data that organic offers that,” Holmes said.

He acknowledged there is room for improvement on the part of organic producers, and said he would like to see the amount of pesticide as low as possible.

“The organic sector absolutely believes in continuous improvement, and I would love to see that level go down for all products, not just organic,” said Holmes.

Synthetic pesticides are not allowed under certified organic production regulations, but some other types of pesticides are permitted.

The CFIA did not analyze the data to determine what proportion of the positive tests are for pesticides permitted in organic production.

Some types of organic produce had a higher rate of residue presence than others. For example, 77 per cent of organic grape samples tested positive; apples were in the middle at 45 per cent testing positive; carrots had a lower positive rate at 30 per cent.

‘We’ve soiled our own bed’

Mark Kastel, a farm policy analyst at the Cornucopia Institute in Wisconsin, said even with nearly half the organic samples containing pesticide residues, organics are still better than non-organic produce.

“It’s a dramatically lower figure than conventional food, so it illustrates the advantages of organics. But it’s also very disturbing that it very clearly illustrates the fact that we’ve soiled our own bed,” Kastel said in an interview with CBC News from his farm near Rockton, Wis.

“Since 1950, we’ve seen an exponential increase in the use of synthetic toxic chemicals to grow our food, and that there now is a high level of contamination in the soil, in groundwater, in surface water,” he added.

“Obviously we’re concerned in the organic industry about fraud,” said Kastel, who has been both an advocate and watchdog of the organic industry on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

“I’m very comfortable that the vast majority of all organic fruits and vegetables and other commodities are produced with high integrity, but we do need to protect the ethical farmers that are participating, and businesses in the organic industry — and, most importantly, consumers who are seeking authentic food.”

Kastel called on government regulators to do a better job of scrutinizing organic produce.

The Canadian government brought in the Organic Products Regulations in 2009 requiring organic food producers to have their products certified by an accredited third-party certification body.

The certifiers conduct annual farm and facility inspections meant to ensure the organic producers are following the rules.

Rola Yehia, acting national manager of the CFIA’s consumer protection division, said, “If there is non-permitted substances found in organic products, we would notify the CFIA-accredited certification body who would request the organic operator to take corrective action.”

“So we have the system in place, and we have the confidence in our system, and we have the mechanism to address any non-compliances if they arise,” said Yehia, whose oversight includes the Canada Organic Office of the CFIA.

“We have a good relationship with the industry, so we work together to correct any gaps in the system,” Yehia added.

Despite the presence of pesticide residues, consumer Mathieu Rey said he will continue to buy organic.

“That would encourage me to get to know local farmers more and more, get to know the community-supported agriculture in each neighborhood,” he said, adding that he thinks that’s the best way to know what’s in the food he buys.

Joanne Levasseur and Vera-Lynn Kubinec|CBC News|Jan 08, 2014

FDA tweaks food-safety rules due next year

WASHINGTON The government said Friday that it will rewrite sweeping new food-safety rules after farmers complained that earlier proposals could hurt business. New proposals by the Food and Drug Administration would make it easier for farmers to meet water-quality standards and allow farmers to harvest crops sooner after using raw manure as fertilizer.

The FDA proposed the revised rules Friday. The final rules are due next fall. The FDA has been haggling over how to write them since Congress passed a food-safety law in 2010.

The rules proposed last year would require farmers to take new precautions against contamination, making sure workers’ hands are washed, irrigation water is clean and that animals stay out of fields, among other things. Food manufacturers would also have to submit food-safety plans to the government to show they are keeping their operations clean.

None of those priorities would change in the revised rule. But after complaints from farmers big and small who said the rules were too burdensome, the new proposal would lower some standards for the amount of bacteria that can be found in irrigation water and reduce the frequency with which it is tested. The proposal also reduces the amount of time required between using raw manure and harvest and allows farmers to hold produce in a packinghouse without facing further regulations. The smallest farms would continue to be exempted from the rules. The rules would mark the first time the FDA would have real authority to regulate food on farms. The agency said when it proposed the rules that they could cost large farms $30,000 a year.

The food-safety law was passed by Congress at the end of 2010, weeks before Republicans assumed control of the House. Since then, many GOP lawmakers have said the rules are too burdensome for farmers. Some Democrats advocating for organic farmers have also been critical, saying small farms can’t afford the new standards.

Government inspectors have pointed to dirty equipment, unsanitary conditions and animal feces as likely causes for salmonella, E. coli and listeria poisonings that have sickened hundreds in recent outbreaks.

The rules governing produce are already somewhat tailored to make the changes easier on farmers. They would apply only to certain fruits and vegetables that pose the greatest risk, like berries, melons, leafy greens and other foods that are usually eaten raw.

Mary Clare Jalonick|Associated Press|09/20/2014

Do Airplanes Dump Chemicals when Flying?

Air travel has come a long way since the Wright brothers made the first flight in 1903. Nowadays, we think nothing of jumping on a plane and flying off to the other side of the world. Few of us understand the science and engineering that keep planes in the sky, and why sometimes the sky seems to be full of vapor trails.

Many believe that these trails are in fact chemicals, spread into the atmosphere as the plane flies.

But is there any truth in this theory?

Are Our Governments Using Airplanes to Dump Chemicals?

In the aviation industry, the trails left by some airplanes as they fly across the sky are known as condensation trails, or “contrails” for short. These are caused by the hot, damp air pushed out by the jet’s engines forming tiny ice crystals in the sky. How long the contrails last depends very much on how humid the atmosphere is at that time.

If there is a lot of dampness in the air, the ice crystals will grow and last for a long time once the plane has passed. If the atmosphere is a lot drier, the contrails will disappear more quickly.

As it can be hard to predict how long contrails will last, this has given rise to theories that it’s not just damp air and heat that the planes are pumping out.

The ideas that planes are being used to pump chemicals into the atmosphere come in no small part from a paper published in the 1990s by the American government, looking at whether it would be possible to affect weather patterns by using aircrafts to spread chemicals or other substances into the upper atmosphere. The US military stated that investigations into this went no further than the drafting of the original document, but conspiracy theorists believe that the US government are indeed using aircraft to either modify weather patterns, control the population or cause illnesses, such as breathing difficulties.

Adding more fuel to the theorists’ fire is the fact that military aircraft generally do not create vapour trails as they fly at a lower altitude. Any denial of involvement from the government just makes the theorists sure that they are on the right track with their thinking.

Some of the theories may appear to make sense when you look into the sky and see several trails, all evenly spaced and heading in the same direction. However, there is a simple explanation for this.

Air traffic, especially from Western Europe heading across the Atlantic, follows a number of set flight paths, sort of like motorways in the sky. Planes follow each other at a set distance between them because this makes managing traffic simpler for the air traffic controllers.

This is the reason why contrails look as if they are in regular patterns.

Governments around the world have categorically denied that they are involved in any sort of spreading of chemicals from civilian or military aircraft and all major airlines have denied knowledge of chemical spreading too. Of course, the conspiracy theorists don’t believe the denials and state that the airlines, governments and air traffic authorities are all in cahoots and covering up the truth, but the facts are that there is no hard evidence that chemicals have ever been spread from airplanes in the way that is being alleged.

It seems reasonable to think that if chemicals were being loaded into hundreds or thousands of planes around the world every day, a pilot, airport worker or government employee would have blown the whistle at some point.

Contrary to popular belief, planes don’t drop toilet waste out of the skies either. Waste is sucked into huge tanks which are emptied when the plane reaches its destination. Sometimes ice can form on the outside of planes and this has been known to drop off planes as they start their descent and cause damage to property on the ground.

Finally, there are also special crop spraying aircraft which fly at a much lower altitude and spray fertilizers and pesticides onto growing crops. These do not even fly high enough in the sky to form contrails.

Ant Langston|September 18, 2014

Japanese researchers’ banana peel study wins Ig Nobel award

BOSTON – Researchers who measured the slipperiness of banana peels, the ability of pork strips to stop nosebleeds and the reactions of reindeer to humans in polar bear suits were among the winners of this year’s Ig Nobel prizes for comical scientific achievements.

The annual prizes, meant to entertain and encourage global research and innovation, are awarded by the Annals of Improbable Research as a whimsical counterpart to the Nobel Prizes, which will be announced next month.

A team of Japanese scientists earned the Ig Nobel Physics Prize for detailing the hazards of stepping on a banana peel in their paper titled “Frictional Coefficient under Banana Skin.”

The researchers were identified as Kiyoshi Mabuchi, Kensei Tanaka, Daichi Uchijima and Rina Sakai from Kitasato University in Kanagawa Prefecture. They were awarded for their study of the slipperiness of banana peels.

“When I heard that we had won an Ig Nobel, I was equal parts surprised and pleased,” said Mabuchi, 63, in an interview with before the award ceremony. Mabuchi traveled to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to accept the award on the team’s behalf.

The project had applications in Mabuchi’s area of research, which is human joints.

“The mechanism that reduces friction in joints is the same one that makes a banana easy to slip on,” he said.

At the ceremony, Mabuchi sang about that similarity to the tune of the 1960s pop hit “I Will Follow Him,” including the chorus, “Banana, banana, banana, why are you so slippy, so slippy, so slippy?”

Other teams earned prizes for studying what happens in the brains of people who see the face of Jesus in their toast, how infant poop can be used in the production of fermented sausages and how pork strips can be stuffed into peoples’ nostrils to stop severe nosebleeds.

Ig Nobel prizes this year also went to researchers who measured the relative pain people suffer while looking at an ugly painting, investigated whether cat ownership can be mentally hazardous and studied how people who routinely stay up late can be more psychopathic.

Former winners of real Nobels handed out the spoof awards at a ceremony at Harvard University on Thursday. The ceremony included a three-act mini-opera about people who stop eating food and instead nourish themselves entirely with pills, inspired by the pill-heavy diet of Google engineering director Ray Kurzweil.

A personal favorite of Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals and architect of the Ig Nobels, was a study by a team of Norwegian and German researchers who tested how reindeer react to seeing humans wearing polar bear costumes.

“I’ve never in my life met anyone who disguised himself as a polar bear to frighten a reindeer,” Abrahams said.

Thursday’s winners also included scientists from the Czech Republic, Germany and Zambia who determined that dogs prefer to align their body axis with the Earth’s north-south geomagnetic field lines while defecating, and the Italian government’s National Institute of Statistics for increasing the official size of the economy by including revenues from prostitution, drugs dealing, smuggling and other crimes.

Reuters|AP|Kyodo|Sep 19, 2014

Fort Ross Windmill – The first windmill built in California

Fort Ross had two windmills. The first windmill west of Mississippi was constructed in 1814, not long after the Russians settled Fort Ross. The second mill was built in 1841. The windmills served two purposes: to grind grain into flour for baking bread for both Settlement Ross and the Russians’ Alaskan settlements, and to power the stamping of local tan bark, used in the hide tanning industry. These were California’s first windmills, and very likely the first windmills west of the Mississippi River.

The first windmill was located across the ravine south of the Visitor Center. This windmill reconstruction is located not far from the second mill site, believed to have been located nearby in the cypress grove. However, while we know generally where the mills were located, archaeologists continue to search for their precise locations.

The windmill is a gift to Fort Ross from Link of Times, a Russian-based cultural and historical foundation chaired by Viktor Vekselberg. It was constructed in Vologda Oblast in Russia, where Ivan Kuskov and other RAC employees were from, and then disassembled, put into two containers, and shipped to California, where it cleared customs and was trucked to Fort Ross in September, 2012, as part of the Fort Ross Bicentennial.

The design was based on the 1841 color painting of Fort Ross by Ilya Voznesensky. Research by Russian historical architect Igor Medvedev revealed that the Fort Ross windmills were similar to “stolbovka” (post) windmills made at that time in the northern Russian regions of Vologda and Archangelsk, home to many of the earliest Ross settlers.

While the original windmill was made mostly of redwood, this Russian reconstruction is primarily pine, with birch and spruce gears, bracing and other components. The substantial pine log-frame cribbing base is constructed around a central post sunk eight feet into the ground, backfilled with crushed rock.

The windmill, which measures thirty-two feet high and boasts thirty-eight foot blades, is manually turned on this central post to face into the wind. The main post and the twelve radial bollard posts below grade are fire-charred, a historic technique to reduce wood rot. On top is constructed the swiveling granary story with gears and four blades to face into the wind.

The mill was constructed using traditional woodworking techniques, using axes, adzes, drawknives and wooden pegs. The entire mill sits on 12 boulders; the force of gravity and the interlocking of the logs around the center post provide stability. The bottom logs are scribed to the contour of the boulders. Birch bark provides the water proofing membrane to protect the bottom of the logs from rot where they are in contact with the stones. Hand-forged iron fittings & braces, as well as two 200-year-old millstones from old Russian windmills were added to complete the windmill assembly.

To operate the mill, the mill house is rotated so that the blades face into the wind. To stop the mill, there is a brake to the main gear which stops the blades from rotating. When harvest season ends, the mill house is rotated so that the blades are turned out of the wind. The large yoke that comes from the mill house to the ground allows a team of men or animals to turn the mill house and also allows the orientation of the blades to be set and stabilized.

The mill house has two floors. The lower floor houses the main shaft and the main gear. The upper floor contains the mill stones and the hopper that feeds the grain into the mill stones. The two mill stones sit on top of one another wherein the top stone is supported by its shaft so that it barely touches the lower stone. The blades turn a series of gears which turn the top stone against the bottom stone. Grain is fed through a cloth funnel from a hopper into a center hole in the top mill stone. The grain is pulverized by the stones and exits through a chute into a sack or vessel.Brief History of Windmill

The site of California’s first windmill appears on the 1817 map of Fort Ross. From this map the windmill is located northwest of the fort on a rise midway between the northwest blockhouse, the Visitor Center and Highway One. The windmill is visible on the 1841 watercolor by Russian naturalist and artist, Ilya Gavrilovich Voznesenskii. There were two windmills at Fort Ross in 1841, with their grindstones, as well as an animal powered mill.

The original Russian millstones are now located inside the fort compound.

Grinding stones, up to three feet in diameter and one foot thick, were made of indigenous sandstone. They were once used for grinding flour at Fort Ross.

The windmills highlight the important agricultural aspect of the Russian-American Company settlement at Fort Ross. One important reason for the establishment of the colony was to grow wheat and other crops for the Alaskan settlements.

The coastal fog, wind, rocky terrain, gophers and lack of trained agriculturalists combined to thwart this effort. Although the Company established three farms at inland sites between Fort Ross and Port Rumiantsev (Bodega Bay), and agriculture intensified after sea otter hunting diminished in the early 1820s, production was still insufficient. Trade with Spanish and Mexican California was conducted to increase the food supply to Alaskan settlements, and after 1839 a contract with the Hudson’s Bay Company supplied Russian Alaska with grain and other necessities.

On the hill to the north above the fort, just below the tree line, you can see the Russian orchard. The original Russian orchard encompassed two to three acres, and contained approximately 260 trees at its peak. Fruit trees were planted to provide for the Ross settlement in the early 1800s, and to supplement other agricultural products such as wheat and barley grown in California and shipped to the Russian colonies in Alaska. It has not yet been determined whether the oldest surviving trees date back to the Russian settlement.

Environmental Links

SFAS International Wildlife News Audubon Advocate Audubon Restore Eco-Voice South Florida Wildlife Care Center Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital The Turtle Hospital The Marathon Wild Bird Center Climate change info Audubon’s Coastal Strand Audubon of Florida News Blog Bioenergy News Climate Progress – climate science, politics and solutions Collins Center for Public Policy Comprehensive Everglades Restoration News EcoWatch – feeds from the WaterKeeper Alliance Everglades Foundation – press releases Everglades Hub Fort Myers News – Press Green Front Pages from Florida Newspapers Herald Tribune Newspapers –  Environmental News KeysNews.com Naples Daily News  – Environmental News National Public Radio Eco-News Riverwatch News about the Caloosahatchee Sierra Club Sierra Club Florida South Florida Watershed  Journal South Florida Water Management District Union of Concerned Scientists – news Yahoo News Search: Everglades NASA Climate Information American Littorial Society log NASA Climate Information Sun Newspapers – Lake Okeechobee News Everglades City News  – Mullet Wrapper IFAW’s World of Animals Magazine

Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

ConsRep 914 B

“Nature provides exceptions to every rule.” Margaret Fuller

Announcements

Fall Is The Time to See Raptors on the Move

The best time to see hawks, harriers, eagles, and other raptors is during their fall migration, which will soon be in full swing across the country. 

Raptors tend to fly known routes—which means folks can count on seeing large numbers of them as they head south.

Click here to learn more about raptors and their migrations.

Click here for a list of some of the best sites in the country for hawkwatching

Audubon Assembly 2014

Hutchinson Island. Florida

October 17 – 18

Audubon is proud to announce that our keynote speaker for the 2014 Audubon Assembly will be noted Florida author Leslie Kemp Poole.

Dr. Poole’s presentation at the Friday banquet will explore Florida’s remarkable history of protecting the wildlife, landscapes, and habitat that make our state like no other.

In its early days, Audubon’s fight to conserve Florida was waged with leadership from women before women even had the right to vote.

Today, Florida’s threats are no less dire and our need for inclusion is no less important–

Dr. Poole will share lessons from our past to guide Audubon’s future, reclaiming Florida’s land and water conservation legacy and expanding our reach to enlist new constituencies for conservation.

Early-bird tickets are going fast. Ensure you get the best deal by booking right now – do not delay!

Help Develop the Next Generation of Conservation Leaders

You are invited you to help develop the next generation of conservation leaders. Audubon’s CLI (Conservation Leadership Initiative)

was developed to provide an intergenerational experience and co-mentoring opportunity for Audubon leaders and college students to network, share, and learn from each other.

Audubon will award 25 students with scholarships to attend Friday’s assembly and match them with 25 Audubon leaders for Friday’s CLI program. 

For more information or to sponsor a student visit, please click here. To become a mentor, please contact jsulek@audubon.org or 386-497-4185.

Through nature-inspired walking workshops, dynamic speakers, and thought-provoking learning sessions,

the Audubon Assembly joins people of all ages and backgrounds together in our common interest of protecting Florida’s remarkable natural resources.

The 2014 Audubon Assembly is being held at the Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort & Marina.

Please note, you must book your hotel room by September 26, see below for more information.

This year’s Assembly is going to be the can’t miss conservation event of the year.

Do not delay – click here to register online to reserve the special early-bird rate.

Only a limited amount of these tickets are available.

To register by mail or by phone, contact Jonathan Webber at 850-222-2473.

Join us for the Everglades Coalition’s 30th Annual Conference!

Send it South: Water for America’s Everglades

The Coalition’s Annual Conference seeks to raise critical, timely issues for in-depth debates in an open, accessible forum.

Community leaders and political figures come to discuss their positions, pledge their support and offer challenges to the community.

The conference is attended by decision-makers from federal, state, local and tribal governments, agency representatives,

stakeholders and a vast array of public and private interests including scientists, educators, contractors, conservationists, the media, students and the general public.

The conference is the largest annual forum to advance Everglades conservation and restoration.

The 30th Annual Conference – Key Largo, FL
January 8th, 9th,& 10th, 2015

Early Registration October 5th – December 5th, 2014

Registration Fees Conference Single Day

Early Registration by December 5                     $150.00                                $100.00

Registration Starting December 6                      $190.00                                $120.00

Student Registration with Valid ID (Includes 1 lunch meal)                             $50.00                          

Meal Fees

Breakfast              $20.00

Lunch                    $25.00

Dinner                   $55.00

Hotel Reservations

A limited number of discounted rooms are available for $199/night plus tax. Book by   December 9th to take advantage of this special rate.

Reserve online with our Everglades Coalition Conference Registration link or call the Hilton Key Largo at (305) 852-5553 and reference the Everglades Coalition.

Space is limited, be sure to register and purchase all meals early!

Conference Location

Hilton Key Largo Resort

97000 Overseas Hwy

Key Largo, FL 33037

- See more at: http://www.evergladescoalition.org/conference.html#sthash.5Z82pWpk.aG0bYPrn.dpuf

Amendment 1 Telephone Call with Senator Bob Graham ‏

On Tuesday, September 16th, Florida’s Water and Land Legacy is hosting a telephone conversation with Senator Bob Graham to discuss Amendment 1, the Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment.

Join the call at 6:30 pm to find out how Amendment 1 will help keep Florida’s drinking water clean, protect our rivers, lakes and springs,

restore natural treasures like the Everglades, and protect our beaches and wildlife for future generations.

Just register here to join the conversation!

floridacc|groupspaces.com |9/13/14

National Estuaries Day Sep 27, 2014 10:00 am – 03:00 pm

A national celebration at the country’s 28 estuarine research reserves takes place on the last Saturday of September each year to recognize the importance of the habitat where rivers meet the sea.

Rookery Bay’s event will include staff-narrated boat tours (bus transportation provided to the boat 15 minutes away),

introductory 30-minute kayaking trips, free paddle boarding on Henderson Creek, marine critter touch tank, live animal presentations,

kids games and crafts, behind-the-scenes tours of the science labs, films, food and more.

A special art exhibition by marine life artist Guy Harvey will be on display in the gallery, and merchandise will be available

for purchase in the nature store. In celebration of National Estuaries Day, the Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center offers “free admission.”

Directions

Of Interest to All

A Fungus Discovered in the Ecuadorian Rainforest Can Eat Plastic Pollution

Plastics do not biodegrade, although, under the influence of solar UV radiations, plastics do degrade and fragment into small particles, termed microplastics.

It’s not news that plastic pollution is one of the biggest environmental issues that we are facing in the modern world.

We’ve all read dozens upon dozens of articles about the giant floating island of trash the size of Texas floating around the Pacific Ocean, about the 5 gyres, about the 200+ species that are ingesting plastic on a daily basis.

Images of animals caught in plastics, of pollutant-stuffed birds and fish and of various environments destroyed by plastic-pollution aren’t new to us.

And it doesn’t seem to get any better.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, plastic isn’t even biodegradable.

The problem is: It feels like we’re always promised the next big thing, the next product that will reduce our future consumption of plastic products.

Why is Plastic so Hard to get rid of?

Plastics are rarely seen as food for the environment, and microbes, which are usually so good at breaking down unwanted pollutants, avoid it: Making it practically immortal.

It can take thousands of years before plastic finally degrades.

And we’re piling more and more on the landfills at rates that far outnumber how fast the earth can get rid of it.

But that’s enough doom and gloom.

Things are finally starting to look up, and the answer to this troubling issue might be coming in the form of a fungus.

A Natural Solution to a Natural Problem: Plastic-Eating Fungus

The fungus, named Pestalotiopsis microspore, was discovered in the rainforest of Ecuador by students from Yale’s Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry departments, and is said to be able to eat plastic on a large scale.

Yup, you read that correctly!

The fungus is said to have a healthy appetite for polyurethane. It actually feeds off polyurethane, a polymer that’s commonly found in anything from hard plastics to synthetic fibers.

According to Fast Company, the fungus is the first one that they have found that can survive on polyurethane alone. It’s also said to be able to eat away at polyurethane in an anaerobic environment (oxygen-free), which means that it can be placed at the bottom of landfills to accelerate (or, start) plastic’s decomposition.

Yale Students Might be Able to Breed it

What use is the fungus in the forest, you ask?

Well, accordingly to the group of students at Yale University, there is a high chance that they will be able to breed the fungus in laboratories and place them in highly plastic-polluted zones.

More Science

The researchers behind the discovery, which was published in the scientific journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, also stated that they were able to isolate the enzyme responsible for decomposing the plastic.

From the report:

“The broad distribution of activity observed and the unprecedented case of anaerobic growth using [polyester polyurethane] as the sole carbon source suggest that endophytes are a promising source of biodiversity from which to screen for metabolic properties useful for bioremediation

While it isn’t completely clear how the fungus (or the enzyme) will be applied in bioremediation, it’s becoming more and more likely that the solution to some of our environmental issues might be right in front of our eyes: In the environment itself.”

Sarah Burke|September 11, 2014

How Industrial Ag is Making the Soil–and Us–Unhealthy
Does an apple a day really keep the doctor away? Not anymore, according to soil health experts—unless the apple comes from a tree grown in healthy, organic soil.

According to Australian soil scientist Christine Jones, as reported by Courtney White in his book, Grass, Soil, Hope, apples have lost 80 percent of their vitamin C.

And that orange you just ate to help ward off a cold? It’s entirely possible that it contains no vitamin C at all.

A study looking at vegetables from 1930 to 1980, found that iron levels had decreased by 22 percent, and calcium content by 19 percent.  In the United Kingdom, from 1940 to 1990, copper content in vegetables fell by 76 percent, and calcium by 46 percent. The mineral content in meat was also significantly reduced.

Food forms the building blocks of our bodies and health. Soil forms the basis for healthy food. Unhealthy soil grows poor quality food. And poor quality food means poor health.

Even our mental health is linked to healthy soil, rich in microbes.

So what’s happened to our soil? It’s been under assault since the advent of modern industrial agriculture, with its monocrops, fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides.

The term “biodiversity” evokes images of a rich variety of plants—trees, flowers, grasses, fruits, vegetables—mixed in with an equally diverse collection of animals, insects and wildlife, all co-existing in a lush environment.

But there’s a whole world of biodiversity that lives beneath the surface of the earth—at least in areas where the soil hasn’t been destroyed. And that biodiversity is essential for the growth of nutrient-rich foods.

The Earth’s soil is a dynamic mixture of rock particles, water, gases, and microorganisms. Just one cup of soil contains more microorganisms than there are people on the planet. These diverse microbes compose a “soil food web,” a complex chain beginning with organic residues like decaying plant and animal matter, and ranging from bacteria and fungi to nematodes (worms) and bugs. Just by going about their daily lives in the dirt, these organisms decompose organic matter, stabilize the soil and help convert nutrients from one chemical form to another.

This rich diversity of microbes affects most soil properties, including moisture content, structure, density, and nutrient composition. When microbes are lost, the properties of soil that allow it to stabilize plants, convert chemicals, and perform other vital functions are also reduced.  The microbe content of soil—its biodiversity—is nearly synonymous with soil health and fertility.

As Daphne Millier, physician, author and professor, writes, “soil teeming with a wide diversity of life (especially bacteria, fungi, and nematodes) is more likely to produce nutrient-dense food. Of course, this makes sense when you understand that it is the cooperation between bacteria, fungi, and plants’ roots (collectively referred to as the rhizosphere) that is responsible for transferring carbon and nutrients from the soil to the plant—and eventually to our plates.”

Unfortunately, human interactions have negatively impacted almost all aspects of soil health—we are responsible for the degradation of more than 40 percent of worldwide agricultural land. 

What have we done to the soil? For starters, we’ve destabilized our soil ecosystems through the widespread and reckless use of chemicals—herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers—that destroy nearly everything in sight, except the plants themselves (many of them genetically engineered to withstand herbicides and pesticides). We end up with corn, soy, alfalfa and other crops that may appear “healthy,” but in truth, are nutrient-deficient because the nutrient-cycling quality of the soil has been destroyed.

And we do it as a matter of routine, even though it’s estimated that in the case of pesticides, for instance, only 0.1 percent of pesticides used actually interact with their targets; the rest pollute plants and soil.

As any gardener knows, nitrogen is one of the three essential soil nutrients. (Potassium and phosphorous are the other two). In order for nitrogen to “feed” plants, it must first be converted to ammonium or nitrate. Soil microbes, which are critical to the nitrogen cycle, achieve this conversion by feeding on decaying plant matter, digesting the elemental nitrogen contained in the decayed matter, and excreting nitrogen ions. The newly available nitrogen is taken up by plants, where it becomes available to humans either directly (when you eat the plant) or indirectly (through consumption of grazing animals).

What happens when soil is stripped of the microbes required to complete the nitrogen cycle? Farmers often resort to fertilizers that contain nitrogen. But the over-use of fertilizers leads to nutrients (like nitrogen) building up beyond the capacity of soil microbes to convert it into usable, absorbable nutrients. Too much nitrogen actually kills plant life.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, factory farming, where thousands of animals are confined in small spaces and fed grains (supplemented with antibiotics and hormones), rather than the forage nature intended, is behind much of the damage humans have inflicted on the soil.

At the core of industrial food production is monoculture—the practice of growing single crops intensively on a very large scale. Corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton and rice are all commonly grown this way in the United States.

Monoculture farming relies heavily on chemical inputs such as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

In a monocropping system, what soil organisms aren’t destroyed by chemicals and over-tilling, are edged out when their plant symbionts are lost.

The impact of the loss of soil biodiversity is linked to the increase in asthma and allergies in western societies. The human immune system is developed early in life through exposure to environmental stimuli. When meat or vegetables are lacking in certain bacteria and microbes, children can’t formulate that early immune response and so may develop an allergic reaction later in life. 
If the numbers are any indicator, there’s a crisis in worldwide soil health that is rapidly becoming a crisis in human health. Converting from factory farms and conventional crops to pasture-grazing livestock and organic farming are the solution. According to one study, it’s possible to more than double soil biodiversity by replacing conventional farming methods with organic farming.

But we shouldn’t be satisfied with simply scaling back the problem. Regenerative agriculture is a crucial tool for actively reversing the harm caused by Big Ag practices. And there’s no time to waste—scientists say that a single square centimeter of soil can take from 20 to 1000 years to form.

Hannah Bewsey and Katherine Paul|Organic Consumers Association|September 11, 2014

Wild vs. Farmed Salmon: Can Some Fish Be Bad For You?

Salmon is commonly prized for its health benefits.

It is a fatty fish that is loaded with Omega-3 fatty acids, which most people don’t get enough of.

However … not all salmon is created equal, unfortunately.

Today, a lot of the salmon we eat isn’t caught in caught in the wild, but bred in fish farms.

Wild salmon is caught in the wild, in its natural environment … oceans, rivers and lakes.

But half of the salmon sold worldwide comes from so-called fish farms, also known as aquacultures.

The annual global production of farmed salmon has increased from 27,000 to more than 1 million metric tons in the past two decades.

Whereas wild salmon eats other organisms found in its natural environment, farmed salmon is given a processed high-fat feed in order to produce larger fish.

Wild salmon is still available, but global stocks have halved in just a few decades.

Bottom Line: The production of farmed salmon has increased dramatically in the past two decades. Farmed salmon has a completely different diet and environment than wild salmon.

There Are Some Important Differences in Nutrition Composition

To the left, you see the nutrient composition of a half fillet (198 grams) of wild salmon. To the right, you see the numbers for farmed salmon.

fishcart

As you can see in the table, nutritional differences between wild and farmed salmon can be pretty significant.

Farmed salmon is much higher in fat … it contains slightly more Omega-3s, much more Omega-6 fatty acids and three times the amount of saturated fat. It also contains 46 percent more calories, mostly from fat.

Farmed salmon also contains some Vitamin C, which is added to the feed.

Conversely, wild salmon is higher in minerals, including potassium, zinc and iron.

Bottom Line: Wild salmon contains more minerals. Farmed salmon is higher in Vitamin C, saturated fat, polyunsaturated fatty acids and calories.

Difference in Polyunsaturated Fat Content

There are two main types of polyunsaturated fats … Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.

These fatty acids have important roles to play in the human body.

We need both in the diet, otherwise we end up sick. That’s why they are termed the “essential” fatty acids (EFAs).

However … we need to get these fatty acids in a certain balance.

Most people today are eating too much Omega-6, and the delicate balance between these two types of fatty acids is heavily distorted towards Omega-6.

Many scientists have speculated that this can drive increased inflammation and may play a role in the pandemics of chronic diseases like heart disease and others.

Here’s where it gets interesting … farmed salmon has three times the total fat of wild salmon, but a large part of these fats are Omega-6 fatty acids.

For this reason, the Omega-6:Omega-3 ratio is about three times higher in farmed salmon, compared to wild.

However … I don’t really think this is a cause for concern. Even though farmed salmon contains Omega-6, the O6:O3 ratio is still excellent (at 1:3-4), it’s just less excellent than that in wild salmon, which is at 1:10.

Salmon, both farmed and wild, should lead to a massive improvement in Omega-3 intake for most people, and is often recommended for that purpose.

In a four week study of 19 volunteers, eating farmed Atlantic salmon twice per week increased DHA (an important Omega-3 fatty acid) levels in the blood by 50 percent.

Bottom Line: Farmed salmon is much higher in Omega-6 fatty acids than wild salmon, but the amount is still too low to be a cause for concern.

Wild salmon is still available, but global stocks have halved in just a few decades.

Farmed Salmon is Much Higher in Contaminants

Fish tend to accumulate potentially harmful contaminants from their environment.

These contaminants are found in the water they swim in, as well as the foods they eat.

Kris Gunnars|Authority Nutrition|September 4, 2014

Oil boom could delay agricultural shipments

WASHINGTON At West Central, a farmer-owned Iowa cooperative that depends heavily on trains to move crops, seed and fertilizer, officials had no reason to believe the 2013 harvest would be different than any other. Railroads told executives they had sufficient crews and engines in place to haul the bumper crop on tens of thousands of miles of track across the country.

But a few months after the fields were harvested the Corn Belt was pummeled by a brutal winter, and competing demands among coal, oil, grain and other commodities for space on the country’s clogged rail network left railroads struggling to shift cars around the region.

Initially, West Central — accustomed to waiting a few days to receive hopper cars — had to wait a week, with delays extending to more than six weeks earlier this year. The coop’s average cost to lease a single rail car nearly doubled in January to more than $12,500 from the same time a year earlier, significantly squeezing the warehouse’s profits, which are usually a mere 8 to 13 cents a bushel.

As farmers prepare to harvest this year’s crops, West Central and other agriculture shippers have dramatically lowered their expectations for the railroads.

Farmers, ethanol and other producers in the Corn Belt fear that residual delays plaguing the freight system will worsen as farmers harvest record corn and soybean crops this fall.

“We’re not going off of what they tell us, we’re going off of recent performance. We’re making arrangements to manage around their performance,” said Roger Fray, executive vice president of grain at West Central in Ralston. “We’re planning for the worst, and if it turns out better, then we all benefit.”

Fray said the co-op is adding more storage and, when possible, moving more commodities by truck.

Still, agriculture operators worry that when the bumper crops are ready to transport train car deliveries will be delayed, leaving grain sitting undelivered at farms and elevators and ultimately reducing how much farmers receive for their harvest.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture calls the rail shortages a “serious situation.” In a recent meeting with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the trio expressed “concern” about the ability of railroads in the Upper Midwest to handle the upcoming crop.

“There are a lot of things that need to be done,” Vilsack told reporters “We’re going to keep an eye on this, and we’re going to keep the pressure on the railroads to make sure that they are ready, willing and able to handle what is likely to be a very, very good crop.”

Farmers and operators of ethanol plants and grain elevators have criticized the railroads for favoring the oil industry by siphoning off engines and crew to handle the boom in domestic production in North Dakota.

Christopher Doering|Gannett Washington Bureau

BP May Be Fined Up to $18 Billion for Spill in Gulf

NEW ORLEANS — In the four years since the blowout on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig killed 11 workers and sent millions of barrels of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, BP has spent more than $28 billion on damage claims and cleanup costs, pleaded guilty to criminal charges and emerged a shrunken giant.

But through it all, the company has maintained that it was not chiefly responsible for the accident, and that its contractors in the operation, Halliburton and Transocean, should shoulder as much, if not more, of the blame.

On Thursday, a federal judge here for the first time bluntly rejected those arguments, finding that BP was indeed the primary culprit and that only it had acted with “conscious disregard of known risks.” He added that BP’s “conduct was reckless.”

By finding that BP was, in legal parlance, grossly negligent in the disaster, and not merely negligent, United States District Court Judge Carl J. Barbier opened the possibility of $18 billion in new civil penalties for BP, nearly quadruple the maximum Clean Water Act penalty for simple negligence and far more than the $3.5 billion the company has set aside.

The ruling stands as a milestone in environmental law given that this was the biggest offshore oil spill in American history, legal experts said, and serves as a warning for the oil companies that continue to drill in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where high pressures and temperatures in the wells test the most modern drilling technologies.

“We are pleased,” United States Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said of the ruling. “The court’s finding will ensure that the company is held fully accountable for its recklessness.”

The decision also casts a cloud over BP’s future. Its reputation has already been sullied and important holdings in Russia are at risk because of tensions in Ukraine. In addition to the $28 billion in claim payments and cleanup costs it has paid, BP has been forced to divest itself of more than 10 percent of its oil and gas reserves, along with valuable pipelines and refining facilities to pay claims and increase its profitability. BP shares fell by nearly 6 percent Thursday, closing at $44.89.

In a statement, BP said it “strongly disagrees with the decision” and would immediately appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. BP added that the ruling was “not supported by the evidence at trial,” and that “the law is clear that proving gross negligence is a very high bar that was not met in this case.”

Federal judge Carl Barbier apportioned 67 percent of the blame for the spill to BP.

In a toughly worded 153-page decision, Judge Barbier reconstructed the timeline from the risky decision to drill more deeply before stopping to the hellish final minutes of hissing gas and raining mud, concluding with the deadly fireball that erupted on the night of April 20, 2010.

We the people self-righteously ignore our collective culpability. We bemoan all the impacts of fossil fuel use yet, when it comes down to sacrifice, we are partners with global corporate powers.

The hasty effort to temporarily shut down a drilling operation that was over budget and behind schedule led to what Judge Barbier called “a chain of failures” culminating in the explosion and spill.

Vital seals and stoppers were left leaky along the casing of the well, the judge found, while BP then skimped on tests that might have shown the problems caused by the shoddy work. When tests were run, the results were interpreted with optimism at best and dishonesty at worst, and several critical decisions made by BP were found by Judge Barbier to have been “primarily driven by a desire to save time and money, rather than ensuring that the well was secure.”

In a central episode, Judge Barbier highlighted a phone call between a senior BP employee on the rig and an engineer in Houston that took place roughly 40 minutes before the explosion. In the call, the two men discussed the results of a pressure test that should have prompted quick action to prevent an impending blowout. BP did not mention this call in its own investigative report, an omission Judge Barbier found suspicious.

While acknowledging responsibility for the accident, BP had long argued that the blame should be fully shared with Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, and Halliburton, a contractor that oversaw a critical step in closing up the well.

While Judge Barbier did find the other companies had acted with negligence, he concluded that only BP, which leased the well and was in charge of the operation, was grossly negligent. He apportioned 67 percent of the blame for the spill to BP, 30 percent to Transocean and 3 percent to Halliburton.

“Transocean’s failures,” the judge wrote at one point, “largely concern its inability (due in part to further failures by BP) to stop the catastrophe BP set in motion.”

BP has already pleaded guilty to manslaughter and other charges and agreed to pay $4 billion in federal criminal penalties. But the company’s ultimate civil liability is far from determined.

The ruling only pertains to the first phase of a federal civil trial, concerning the responsibility of the blowout itself. Judge Barbier still must rule on how much oil was spilled in the accident, the subject of a trial that took place in the fall of last year. A third phase, scheduled to start in January, will lead to a final determination of penalties under the Clean Water Act.

This week Halliburton reached a $1.1 billion settlement with individual and business plaintiffs. Last year, Transocean agreed to pay $1.4 billion to settle federal criminal and civil charges, which is likely to cover most of its liability.

Legal scholars said BP faced an uphill struggle in the appeals process.

David M. Uhlmann, a law professor at the University of Michigan, who headed the environmental crimes section of the Justice Department from 2000 to 2007, highlighted the judge’s decision that “the government did not need to show BP was aware of the risks associated with its conduct” to be found grossly negligent.

But the judge went on to say, Mr. Uhlmann said, that “even if they had to show awareness of risk, the government had satisfied that burden.”

CAMPBELL ROBERTSON and CLIFFORD KRAUSS|SEPT. 4, 2014

Gov. Scott pledges major spending on environmental programs if re-elected  

MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. Aug 04, 2014—Governor Rick Scott unveiled his plan to invest $1-billion in Florida’s water supply over the next ten years during a campaign stop in Martin County Monday.

It’s part of Scott’s statewide “Let’s Keep Florida Beautiful” tour highlighting his goals for the environment should he be re-elected for a second term as governor.

Scott is pledging $500-million to invest in alternative water supply and $500-million for springs restoration.

Scott said cleaning up the St. Lucie Estuary is a priority and said he is committed to sending water from Lake Okeechobee south into the Everglades.

The governor plans on creating a position in his office to work with Florida’s congressional delegation to secure federal funding for these projects.

Scott also wants to fund the completion of water storage projects along Lake Okeechobee and lobby Congress to match the funds.

The governor proposed the formation of a renewed Indian River Lagoon Estuary Program, modeled after a similar program in Tampa.

Video: Gov. Scott riffs on budget, light-rail, medical marijuana

[Of course he unveils his plan in an election year after he has spent the last three years dismantling every environmental program he could find. Hopefully, people will recognize it for what it is – too little, too late.]

Calls to Action

  1. Tell the USDA and EPA to protect monarch butterflies and stop approving pesticide –resistant GMO crops – here
  2. MAKE FRACKING COMPANIES COME CLEAN – here
  3. Tell the U.S. to Stop Leasing Mining Rights to Private Companies – here
  4. Help Save the Tiger – here
  5. Help Protect Common Loon from Dirty Oil Spills – here
  6. ‏Protect Drinking Water from Coal Companies – here
  7. Protect communities from toxic drinking water – here

 

 

Birds and Butterflies

The Monarch Butterflies Migrating Now Aren’t The Ones You Saw Last Spring

Fall is just around the corner throughout most of North America. 

You’ve probably noticed that your local birds are preparing for it— and so are our many of our butterflies.

Monarch butterflies are famous for their annual migrations. Some of these insects travel thousands of miles each fall—an astonishing distance for such fragile creatures.

Yet few people realize that the Monarchs we see in the spring are not necessarily the same ones that fluttered past in the fall.

Beginning in late September, the skies along the Gulf Coast of Texas slowly become filled with meandering groups of Monarchs. Their flight, while not hurried, is purposeful, moving southwest toward a small forest in the highlands of Central Mexico. These butterflies travel from southern Canada and the northern United States at a rate of approximately 50 miles per day. They’ll spend the winter in a few small groves of evergreen trees, with each grove containing as many as 20 million butterflies. Sheltered from the wind and snow, the butterflies conserve energy, for they still have a lot of work ahead of them.

The Monarchs become active again in February. Mating begins, and the air fills with swirling masses of copulating pairs. The first warm days of late March trigger their northward flight. A close look at these butterflies, now eight months old, reveals that their wings are faded and tattered. Still, the Monarchs fan out across the southern United States, looking for Milkweed plants on which to deposit their eggs.

Four days later, the eggs hatch, producing small caterpillars that immediately begin to feed on the Milkweed leaves. Ten to fifteen days later, each caterpillar stops feeding and forms its chrysalis—a beautiful soft green jewel flecked with gold. In another ten to fifteen days the chrysalis splits open, and a new Monarch emerges.

This generation of butterflies mates, lays eggs, and dies within the span of a few weeks. During this time it moves north, following the progress of spring and the emergence of Milkweed.

By the end of summer, two more of these short-lived generations will have repeated the process, ultimately coming to inhabit the Milkweed patches in the far north latitudes.

Thus the Monarchs born in the Northeast and Canada in September are the great great grandchildren of the last Monarchs to inhabit the area. These are the ones that will head to Mexico. They’re significantly larger than the three generations that preceded them and still sexually immature. Rather than mate and lay eggs, they seek out nectar-producing flowers. The nectar serves two purposes: some of it fuels the southward migration, and some of it is converted to fat reserves that sustain the butterflies through the winter.

This incredible annual cycle applies to all Monarchs east of the Rockies. The populations in the West follow a similar pattern, though their migratory path is westward, from the Great Basin to overwintering sites along the Pacific Coast.

Since 1992 MonarchWatch has been carefully tracking Monarch Butterflies as they migrate.  Much of their data comes from the work of volunteers who tag and track the butterflies.

eNature|August 28, 2014

A Startling Number of North America’s Birds Are Threatened by Climate Change

A new first-of-its kind study from the National Audubon Society has painted a grim outlook for North America’s bird species, estimating that half of them will be severely impacted by climate change if global warming continues at its current rate.

The study comes on the heels of another report from the World Wildlife Fund that predicted climate change will cause major bird extinctions. As Care2′s Judy Molland wrote earlier this month, scientists have already found declines of up to 90 percent in some bird populations, as well as total and unprecedented reproductive failure in others.

For this study, ornithologists analyzed 30 years of North American climate data and tens of thousands of historical bird observations from the Audubon Christmas Bird Count and U.S. Geological Survey’s North American Breeding Bird Survey, in addition to climate projections from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to figure out where birds are now and what kind of conditions they need to survive.

Of the 588 North American bird species Audubon studied, scientists predicted that climate change will lead to an estimated 314 species losing more than half of their habitat or more by 2080 in the U.S. and Canada.

Of the 314 species at risk, 126 of them are classified as climate endangered, meaning they are estimated to lose more than 50 percent of their range by 2050. Another 188 species are considered climate threatened and are expected to lose more than 50 percent of their range by 2080.

“It’s a punch in the gut. The greatest threat our birds face today is global warming,” said Audubon Chief Scientist Gary Langham, who led the study. “That’s our unequivocal conclusion after seven years of painstakingly careful and thorough research. Global warming threatens the basic fabric of life on which birds — and the rest of us — depend, and we have to act quickly and decisively if we are going to avoid catastrophe for them and for us.”

Ornithologists believe some birds may be able to adapt to changes, but many others will not and we’re now at risk of losing some of our most beloved and iconic species. Bald Eagles are expected to lose more than 75 percent of their summer range over the next 65 years, while a handful of others including Trumpeter swans, White-headed Woodpeckers, Northern Gannets and the Northern Saw-whet Owl could lose more than 99 percent or more of their range.

You can search Audubon’s new climate site by your state or province, or by your favorite bird, to see what the future is estimated to be like for them in 2020, 2050 and 2080.

Audubon and others hope this study, which was funded in part by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will help guide future conservation efforts and management decisions to help these birds survive, and that it will inspire us to take steps now to protect birds in peril and the habitats they rely on, especially for birds who have specialized habitats.

“Millions of people across the country will take this threat personally because birds matter to them,” said Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold. “For bird lovers, this issue transcends nasty political posturing; it’s a bird issue. And we know that when we do the right things for birds, we do the right things for people too. Everyone can do something, from changing the plants in their backyard to working at the community and state level to protect the places birds will need to survive and promote clean energy. We are what hope looks like to a bird.”

While the predictions are sobering, there are things we can do now to help birds survive an ever changing landscape that range from supporting policies that will lower greenhouse gas emissions and increase clean energy to helping birds by creating bird-friendly habitats in our backyards. Simple actions that can include doing things from letting dead trees stay and providing food to planting native plants, abandoning pesticides and learning more about how to help keep birds safe from collisions with windows can all help them survive.

You can also sign up for Audubon’s next citizen science project, which will involve helping track how birds are reacting to climate change, check out other projects here or get involved with efforts to protect your local Important Bird Area.

Cornell University’s Lab or Ornithology also offers a number of ways to get involved, some in partnership with Audubon, from eBird, which supports a globally accessible database on bird observations, and Project Feederwatch to NestWatch, Celebrate Urban Birds, YardMap and the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Alicia Graef|September 12, 2014

11 of the Best Bird-Watching Spots for Fall

Slideshow

Project Puffin – Sharing Success

I am just back from Japan where I attended the 26th International Ornithological Congress (IOC). The conference occurs every four years to share achievements in advancing the study of birds. This year about 1,200 ornithologists flocked to Tokyo from around the world to share a wide range of papers and posters that relate to the study and conservation of birds. The number of conservation papers was notable – 24% of the 925 papers and posters focused on bird conservation- a heartening proportion in a world where every bird is a ‘canary in the coal mine’ and many species struggle to survive because of human caused threats.
I attended the meeting to share a paper reviewing methods for restoring seabird nesting colonies using social attraction (decoys and audio recordings) and translocation of seabird chicks. I reported on a survey that found the methods have been used in 14 countries to benefit at least 47 seabird species. I also participated in a round table discussion about tern colony restoration and met with colleagues that have just completed a very successful season helping the critically endangered Chinese Crested Tern. In part because of that success, plans are now taking shape in Okinawa to restore colonies of Roseate Terns using social attraction methods.
I was proud to discover that three of Project Puffin’s former interns were presenting papers about their research at the IOC. Dr. Lin Cao, an intern in 2007 and now a professor of ornithology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, gave a plenary talk to all attendees in which she discussed waterfowl conservation issues in the East Asian Flyway; Dr. Phil Battley, a 1991 Project Puffin intern, described his ground breaking research about the non-stop migration of Bar-tailed Godwits from Alaska to his home country of New Zealand where he now teaches at Massey University. Also, Alison Kocek, a 2007-2008 island supervisor for Project Puffin (now working on her Ph.D. at Syracuse University) discussed her research about the impact of ocean level rise on salt marsh sparrows in coastal New York.
I left the meeting encouraged that so many ornithologists from around the world are committed to bird conservation. The challenges are enormous, but species by species, new champions are appearing that are stepping up to save wild birds.
Stephen Kress|Director|Project Puffin

 Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers Leaving Their Marks Across More of Polk

Florida panthers are moving through more parts of Polk County, according to state wildlife officials.

In February, a state biologist photographed panther tracks in the Green Swamp not far from U.S. 27 north of Davenport.

A panther was injured after it was hit by a vehicle east of Fort Meade in April. The animal is scheduled to be returned to the wild after its rehabilitation.

In recent years, Florida panthers have been tracked or photographed in the Avon Park Air Force Range east of Frostproof and at Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve State Park east of Haines City.

“Panther Crossing” signs were erected several years ago along State Road 60 east of Lake Wales, not far from where a panther was hit and killed by a vehicle in 2007.

These big cats, which once ranged all over much of the Southeast, declined due to human persecution and loss of habitat to the point that the last surviving animals’ only refuge lay in remote areas of southwest Florida south of the Caloosahatchee River by the time they were classified as an endangered species in 1973.

The more frequent number of confirmed sightings is one measure of recovery efforts that have sought to increase the population of an animal that was once in danger of disappearing from the Florida landscape the way Carolina parakeets and ivory-billed woodpeckers did.

They are the last large native predator roaming Florida’s landscape.

Their extinction would signal the loss of wild Florida, supporters say.

Red wolves also once roamed Florida’s wilds, but the last one was reportedly shot near Lake Kissimmee in the 1920s.

But the increased number of panther sightings is not all good news.

Every panther whose presence has been documented in Central Florida so far has been a male, according to a state wildlife scientist.

“Once they go north of the Caloosahatchee River, they don’t return, which limits the breeding pool,” said Jennifer Korn, Florida panther specialist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Males are more likely to roam for a couple of reasons.

They usually require a territory of at least 200 square miles, an area about 10 percent of the size of Polk County, to avoid conflicts with males that have already established territories.

They also roam in search of mates, unaware that there are none to be found upstate.

Female panthers tend to remain closer to the site where they were born, Korn said, though some have been establishing territories closer to the Caloosahatchee River in recent years.

“The last female panther found north of the river was one captured in Glades County in the 1970s,” she said.

Florida panthers, which appeared on the verge of extinction 40 years ago, have been the focus of an extensive recovery effort.

One of the key parts of the recovery effort was to bring in Texas cougars to improve the Florida cats’ genetic makeup.

Years of inbreeding among a small population had created a situation where undesirable recessive traits, ranging from heart defects to reproductive problems, had become common.

In addition to restoring the population’s genetics, the recovery effort involved constructing wildlife underpasses beneath busy highways, expanding protected habitat and extensive monitoring.

The underpasses were designed to reduce the number of panthers being hit and killed by vehicles.

Nevertheless, 74 panthers have been killed by vehicles within the past five years, according to FWC statistics.

The other measures were designed to provide more room for the remaining panthers to hunt and breed and to track their movements.

Korn said protecting habitat where panthers are likely to disperse continues to be a key part of the recovery strategy.

“There’s a lot of work to create protected corridors,” she said, explaining it has involved a mixture of land purchases and acquisition of conservation easements on large tracts of agricultural land that offers relatively undisturbed lands where panthers can roam.

Scientists have known for decades that Florida panthers occasionally prey on cattle and other livestock.

Recently, there have been increased discussions of coming up with a compensation program for livestock owners when there is a confirmed panther attack.

Meanwhile, as the Florida panther population has increased from fewer than 30 animals in the 1980s to between 100 and 180 today, FWC officials have stepped up efforts to collect valid reports of sightings of Florida panthers and Florida black bears, which also occasionally find their way to Polk County, or their tracks.

According to a recent news release, in the past two years FWC officials report receiving 1,537 panther sightings, 275 of which have been verified.

Even though many of the sightings turn out to be other animals or are unidentifiable, wildlife officials stress they encourage the public’s participation.

“Someone’s excitement about seeing a Florida panther or black bear may translate into important scientific information if that sighting is reported to the FWC,” said Carol Knox, the FWC’s Imperiled Species Management section leader.

“By doing so, they are contributing to conservation of Florida’s largest land mammals.”

To submit photographs of panthers or panther tracks, go to www.MyFWC.com/PantherSightings

Tom Palmer|THE LEDGER|September 13, 2014

 Endangered Species

America’s Heartland: Going, Going, Gone ‏

The wide open prairies of America’s heartlands are disappearing — just as the mighty bison that once roamed them by the millions almost did.

In just a few weeks, wild bison will set foot on prairies east of the Mississippi River for the first time in more than 100 years. And reintroducing them to these critical lands at the Conservancy’s Nachusa Grasslands Preserve could hold the key to preserving the once-decimated prairie for generations to come.

Today prairies are more threatened than the Amazon rainforest.

And our work at Nachusa is the next exciting chapter in our long history of reuniting bison and the prairies that need them to truly thrive.

Because grazing bison keep nature in balance on our prairies like nothing else can. They eat fast-growing grasses that threaten to take over. They break up the ground so native seeds and beautiful wildflowers can take root. All of which makes prime habitat for birds, insects and wildlife that otherwise couldn’t survive.

That’s why reintroducing bison has been essential to our prairie conservation work for decades. And it’s why this release at Nachusa in Illinois is so vital. One of the few thriving grasslands left on the planet, Nachusa was once 400 acres of dingy, brush-filled, overgrown prairie and bison are an important piece needed for its transformation.

Releasing the bison is only the beginning. Just like other Conservancy preserves like Dunn Ranch and Broken Kettle, we’ll study the conservation impact the bison will have on the prairie so the lessons we learn here can be used far and wide. And we’ll need to grow the herd to ensure healthy breeding for years to come.

Jennifer Koper|Associate Director|Digital Membership|The Nature Conservancy

Call for greater protection of endangered lynx in the US

New rules reduce rare wild cat’s critical habitat despite extending legal protection in 48 states, conservationists say

The US federal government will extend protection to all imperiled Canada lynx in the lower 48 states, but wildlife advocates said on Thursday it was ignoring important parts of the rare cats’ range and vowed to challenge the move in court.

Thickly furred lynx roam through high country from Maine to Washington and south through the Rocky Mountains. They are classified as threatened in the lower 48 states under the Endangered Species Act.

Amid calls from conservation groups for greater protections, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) said in a rule to be published on Friday that it was extending the act’s protection to all lynx “where found” in the contiguous United States. The law broadly bans killing or injuring imperiled animals without a special permit.

“Our final rule provides the lynx, one of only seven wild cat species in the nation, with what it needs to persist and thrive for future generations of Americans,” said Noreen Walsh, the service’s regional director for the Mountain Prairie region.

Separately, the service is designating some 38,954 sq. m (100,891 sq. km) in Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Washington and Wyoming, which it said “constitute our current best assessment of the areas that meet the definition of critical habitat” for lynx.

WildEarth Guardians, one of the groups which has sued the federal government over lynx protections in the past, applauded the fact the new rule extended safeguards to all lynx, including a population in New Mexico that had been overlooked.

But it said it was disappointed over the separate issue of critical habitat designation, saying the federal authorities had reduced the overall area by 2,593 sq m (6,716 sq km) from what was proposed by the service last year.

A designation of critical habitat gives greater protections to environments which threatened species rely on to survive, and imposes restrictions on activities such as mining, logging and snowmobiling in the high country where lynx are found.

Drew Kerr, a carnivore advocate for WildEarth Guardians, said the new designation ignored important parts of the cats’ range extending from southern Wyoming, through Colorado, to northern New Mexico. Sections of Washington state, Oregon, Idaho and Montana were also excluded, he added.

His group and the Western Environmental Law Centre plan to challenge the “inadequate” designation in federal court.

“By ignoring huge swathes of currently occupied lynx habitat, the Service is undermining lynx recovery efforts yet again,” Kerr said.

An FWS spokesman said it was the service’s policy not to comment on possible lawsuits.

Conservation groups sued Idaho wildlife managers and the governor in June, saying the state violated the Endangered Species Act by allowing traps and snares set by hunters in habitat favored by lynx.

A similar lawsuit was filed against Montana last year, contending that at least nine of the cats had been illegally caught because of trapping and snaring aimed at animals such as wolves and bobcats.

Reuters|theguardian.com|12 September 2014

Bangladesh meet begins to save endangered tigers

Some 140 tiger experts and government officials from 20 countries met in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka on Sunday to review progress towards an ambitious goal of doubling their number in the wild by 2022.

The nations, including the 13 where tigers are still found in the wild, had vowed at a landmark meeting in 2010 in the Russian city of St Petersburg to double the population of critically endangered wild tigers.

Experts say the number declined to as few as 3,200 in 2010 from 100,000 only a century ago. But since then, poaching has reached critical levels and has emerged as the greatest threat to wild tigers.

Statistics from TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, show that a minimum of 1,590 tigers were seized between January 2000 and April 2014. That represents an average of two per week.

Officials, however, listed some progress in the four years since the St Petersburg summit, including a rise in the wild tiger population in major “tiger range” nations — countries where the big cats are found in the wild.

“There has been some increase in the number of tigers in significant countries such as India, Nepal and Russia,” said Andrey Kushlin, program manager of the Global Tiger Initiative.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina opened the conference, saying efforts to conserve the wild cats have reached a “turning point”.

But her own government has been under fire from experts at home and abroad for setting up a giant coal-fired power plant on the edge of the Sundarbans mangrove forests, home to one of the largest tiger populations.

Local experts fear the 1,320-megawatt power plant now being built will pollute the water of the world’s largest mangrove forest, jeopardizing its delicate biodiversity and threatening the tiger population.

Bangladesh says some 440 Bengal tigers live in its part of the Sundarbans — a figure disputed by local experts who say the number will be less than 200.

Kushlin said at the conference the 13 range nations are expected to agree by 2016 to provide an accurate census of their wild tiger populations.

“We need accurate figures so that we know where we stand,” said Kushlin, who also works for the World Bank.

The 13 tiger range countries are: Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has listed the tiger as critically endangered. Poaching, encroachment on its habitat and the illegal wildlife trade are blamed for the declining number.

The conference will end Tuesday with the adoption of a Dhaka Declaration, which will set actions for the remaining eight years of the goal.

AFP|9/14/2014

Japan Announces Plans to Start Whaling, Despite International Court Ruling

Despite an international court ruling ordering it to stop and pressure from anti-whaling nations around the world, Japan has announced that it’s working on plans to resume whaling in the Antarctic Ocean next year.

Even with a global moratorium on commercial whaling that was put in place in 1986, until this year Japan has continued slaughtering fin, minke and humpback whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary using a loophole that allows for lethal scientific research. Anti-whaling advocates have long argued that Japan has been using this loophole as a cover for commercial whaling.

In March, whales won a huge victory when the International Court of Justice in the Hague issued a long awaited ruling that ultimately ordered Japan to end its JARPA II scientific whaling program and refrain from issuing any permits or licenses in the future.

Among other issues, the court found that Japan had no justification for the quota of whales it was setting every year, had failed to consider non-lethal alternatives and that its research program fell seriously short on science.

Unfortunately, two other hunts have still taken place and it looks like Japan is going to attempt to bypass this ruling too to get its hands on whales from the Southern Ocean. Initial fears that even with the court ruling Japan would overhaul its whaling program and try again became a reality when officials announced Wednesday that it plans to start hunting in the Antarctic again next year.

In June, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sparked outrage when he announced that the country was aiming to start lethal research whaling to learn about whale populations so it could resume commercial whaling, while defending the practice as part of Japanese culture.

An official from the Japan Fisheries Agency told the AFP that now they will be working to collect “data necessary to calculate the number of whale catch allowed (once commercial whaling resumes),” and “construct a model of the Antarctic Ocean ecosystem,” adding that they will only be targeting minke whales now.

The Fisheries Agency hasn’t decided how many whales it intends to kill, but it plans to submit a modified version of its program to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) later this month.

The move is likely to be met with opposition, especially from countries including Australia and New Zealand, which challenged Japan in court. Officials from the U.S. have already spoken out about whaling and dolphin drives in the past and are now urging Japan to reconsider.

“We continue to view lethal scientific research as unnecessary in modern whale conservation and management. We encourage Japan to take this view into account when developing future research programs,” an official from the State Department told Kyodo News on the condition of anonymity.

The continued subsidies to whalers and dwindling demand for whale meat should be enough to prove slaughtering whales is neither a morally or economically smart move. Hopefully, anti-whaling nations and members of the IWC will say enough is enough.

Alicia Graef|September 4, 2014

Wild & Weird

Why Do Rattlesnakes Wear A “Mask”?

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake Crotalus adamanteus

Those dark marks on a rattlesnake’s face are not there to reduce glare. Unlike outfielders and quarterbacks, whose black facial stripes help their vision, a rattlesnake wears a mask for other reasons. One is to disrupt the snake’s facial outline. A snake with stripes across its face is more difficult for predators to see. The effect is akin to wearing camouflage.

A second potential reason for the mask—one still unproven—is that it protects the snake’s venom from ultraviolet radiation. The dark areas on a rattlesnake’s head are above its venom sacs and can absorb UV radiation that might affect the potency of the venom beneath. For proof, wildlife biologists point to the fact that at higher altitudes, where ultraviolet rays are stronger and more harmful, the facial markings on rattlesnakes and other pit vipers are darker than the facial markings on snakes at lower altitudes.

eNature|September 01, 2014

Everglades

Corps releases Central Everglades report for public, state and agency review

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District has released the revised final report for the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) for public, state and agency review today.

A notification has been published in the Federal Register announcing the availability of the report for its required 30-day review.

“All of the recommended revisions to the report have been completed and approved and we’re now moving forward with public, state and agency review,” said Jacksonville District commander Col. Alan Dodd. “The release of this report is a significant milestone for CEPP and reflects the extraordinary efforts of so many to successfully address complex issues and produce this quality report.”

The report is available on the project’s Web page at: www.bit.ly/CentralEverglades_CEPP

.   Comments will be accepted through Sept. 8, 2014. They can be submitted electronically to:CEPPcomments@usace.army.mil

or mailed to:

Dr. Gretchen Ehlinger
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
P.O. Box 4970
Jacksonville, FL 32232-0019

The goal of CEPP is to capture water lost to tide and re-direct the water flow south to restore the central and southern Everglades ecosystem and Florida Bay. The Corps is jointly conducting this planning effort in partnership with the South Florida Water Management District.

Audubon Protects Wetlands and Wildlife in Northern Everglades

Osceola County is home to many of Florida’s Special Places. The Everglades Headwaters, the Econlockhatchee River headwaters, and the forested wetlands and marshes of the St. Johns River system are all located here. Some of Florida’s most iconic birds like Wood Storks and Audubon’s Crested Caracara call this vital area home.

In 2008, Audubon Florida and Kissimmee Valley Audubon worked with Osceola County to establish one of the most environmentally protective Local Government Comprehensive Plans in Florida. That’s why it was so shocking for citizens to learn that the Osceola County Commission voted to strip these important wetlands protections from their Comprehensive Plan, making it easier to advance development in sensitive areas.

In May of this year, Audubon challenged the County’s decision and asked that it be reviewed by an Administrative Law Judge. Today, we are proud to report that our efforts were a success.

Osceola County and Audubon have completed negotiations to restore the county’s important protections for wildlife and wetland habitat.

From the Orlando Sentinel:

In Audubon vs. Osceola, a good environmental deal

Basically, the county was preparing to (literally) paved [sic] the way for development in environmentally sensitive places, putting at risk the Kissimmee River and parts of the entire Everglades Ecosystem – a region taxpayers are already spending $9 billion to restore.

So the Florida Audubon Society sued, saying the county had no right to allow such pollution.

A battle was expected. But this week, Osceola essentially said: “OK.

The county agreed to reinstate many of the protections. And they did so joyfully with Commissioner Fred Hawkins Jr. declaring: “This was a really good day for all and for future generations to come.”

Like many special places around Florida, this beautiful region is likely to be the location of significant development pressure in the future. Maintaining Osceola County’s strong protections for wetland habitat is critical for the future of our state.

Thank you to everyone who makes their voice heard for Florida’s Special Places.

Audubon Florida|Restore|September 2014

Study says U.S. can’t keep up with loss of ecologically-sensitive wetlands

Over a four-year span, the United States lost more than 360,000 acres of freshwater and saltwater wetlands to fierce storms, sea-level rise and booming development along the coasts, according to a newly released federal study.

The disappearance of so much grass and forest marsh on the edge of waterways is a disturbing sign that government projects to restore wetlands are failing to keep pace, environmentalists said, as storms intensify, the sea level creeps up and development paves the way for rising coastal populations.

Saltwater wetlands help buffer sea surges that cause flooding during powerful storms along the coasts – such as Hurricane Sandy last year – and freshwater wetlands soak up storm-water runoff that often causes sewers to overflow. They also serve as nurseries for numerous species of fish and assorted marine life, while providing habitat for three-quarters of the nation’s waterfowl and migrating birds. Nearly half of endangered species depend on them to live.

“They are getting it from all directions,” said Tom Dahl, lead author of the study funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Study areas include the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic and Pacific coasts, the Great Lakes and other fresh inland waters.

In the Chesapeake Bay region, Maryland has lost 60,000 acres of wetlands since the 1940s because of population growth and farming, and in 1997 it launched a bid to restore them, according to the state’s Department of the Environment.

Virginia estimates that half of the wetlands that existed in the colonial period have been lost over time to farming and development. There is an ongoing effort in the state to restore and add to the 1 million acres that remain, according to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

Across the nation, wetlands have been converted to open water in some places and to mud in others. They include mangrove swamps, salt marshes, freshwater forested swamps, shrub depressions and wetlands floating on the edges of rivers.

The disappearance of marshes during the period covered in the study – between 2004 and 2009 – represented a 25 percent increase in the rate of loss in the same areas from the previous survey , which covered the six-year period between 1998 to 2004.

Storms and wetlands have waged an epic struggle on the coasts for eons. What’s relatively new, and detrimental to the wetlands, is an explosion of coastal residential and business development, along with coastal farming, that drain water from the wetlands or fill them with dirt for agriculture, parking lots, housing and retail stores.

As a result, sizeable chunks of wetlands die. Surviving wetlands are battered by rainwater runoff pouring from newly built surfaces such as driveways and roads, and much of that water is polluted with garbage, toxins and fine particle sediment. Wetlands can’t handle the added deluge.

“The plumbing of the whole system is altered,” said Dahl, a senior scientist for wetlands status and trends for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Darryl Fears|Reporter|Washington Post

POST SPECIAL REPORT EVERGLADES RESTORATION

South Florida’s crucial water fix

Everglades restoration is a gamble, but it’s necessary if South Florida is to survive, everyone agrees.

Millions of people consider South Florida home today because thousands of miles of canals, levees and dams were built in the early 20th century to drain the Everglades and make way for neighborhoods, golf courses, malls, condos and farms.

But that monumental engineering feat also turned what was once a clear, shallow sheet of freshwater flowing freely from Lake Okeechobee to the Florida Bay into a toxic stew, slowly ruining the habitat for plants and animals in one of the Earth’s most diverse ecosystems.

It reduced the size of the Everglades by half, leaving fewer wetlands to filter water clear and more farmland and yards to fertilize. That means too little water during droughts and too much during the wet season; aquifers and wells, which provide much of the region’s drinking water, not being sufficiently recharged; and salt water creeping inland without a robust flow of fresh water underground to hold it back.

Unless Florida re-plumbs the massive drainage system and restores clean water to the once soggy region, the long-term likelihood that there will be enough water to drink, irrigate crops, fill swimming pools and make golf courses green is doubtful.

In other words, scientists, bureaucrats and farmers agree, the Everglades must be restored if South Florida is to survive.

“When you consider that 90 percent of the people in South Florida get their drinking water from the Biscayne Aquifer and the Everglades recharges the Biscayne Aquifer… the Everglades touches the lives of everyone by sustaining the water supply of the lower east coast,” said Ernie Barnett, assistant executive director at the South Florida Water Management District who has spearheaded restoration efforts for 25 years.

The envisioned fix, in the works now for nearly 40 years, is to build tens of thousands of acres of shallow wetlands south of Lake Okeechobee and then use “green technology” – plants that thrive on high levels of nutrients – to clean polluted water from farms and urban areas before the water flows to the Everglades. These shallow reservoirs, the largest man-made wetlands in the world, have required massive land purchases and extensive engineering.

Even with the best minds using the most advanced science and engineering to model what will likely happen, no one can guarantee that backfilling canals, re-routing water and building city-sized water storage and treatment areas will work on such a massive scale.

Take projects such as the A-1 Reservoir, about 35 miles west of Boca Raton, and the Ten-Mile Creek Water Preserve, near Fort Pierce. The projects were intended to help the Everglades by providing storage that would enable water managers to control flows for a consistent and reliable supply of water to keep the ecosystem properly hydrated. Taxpayers spent $300 million on the two projects. Neither worked. Both sit idle today, although water managers hope to salvage the A-1 Reservoir site with a shallow-water storage area.

Five constructed wetlands, called stormwater treatment areas, are complete and have retained 3.4 million pounds of phosphorous, according to the water management district, the state agency overseeing restoration.

Already, 14 miles of the once meandering Kissimmee River, straightened by the Army Corps of Engineers during the 1960s to provide flood control, have been restored to its slow, winding path north of Lake Okeechobee. When complete in 2015, the natural flow will be restored to another 16 miles of the river. Already wetlands have emerged and populations of wading birds, ducks and large-mouth bass are up.

And with the completion of a bridge over the Tamiami Trail in Miami-Dade County this year, a flow path was opened to allow more water into Everglades National Park.

But there’s no denying that the several decades of Everglades restoration has been a slow and often invisible process. Most efforts have focused on logistics, litigation, scientific research and negotiating land deals, and so many projects have been revised and so many deadlines missed that no one knows exactly when the restoration will end and how many billions of dollars it will cost.

In 1994, the projected completion date was 2006. In 2003, the completion date was pushed back to 2016. Construction timelines now show the restoration will be complete in 2025 and will cost $8 billion.

Little wonder. Restoration of the Everglades, after all, is the world’s largest environmental restoration project ever attempted, rivaled in size only by efforts to re-plumb the marshes of Mesopotamia, part of the fertile crescent believed by anthropologists to be one of the birthplaces of civilization. Saddam Hussein drained those wetlands in the 1990s to punish its rebellious residents, and now several non-governmental environmental groups in Iraq hope to restore the wetlands.

Early efforts to protect and restore Florida’s water resources, including the Everglades, coincided with a wave of environmental consciousness that swept the country in the 1970s. The first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, harnessed the energy of the antiwar movement.

Besides Watergate, the birth of Microsoft and the end of the Vietnam War, the 1970s saw the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, passage of the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the founding of Greenpeace and interest in restoring the Everglades.

In 1976, Congress approved the first Everglades-related restoration project when it authorized the Army Corps to undo a project it had finished just five years earlier. The straightening of the slow, meandering Kissimmee River was a well-intentioned effort to control flooding north of Lake Okeechobee, but its effect was devastating as it allowed polluted water from crops, dairy farms and cattle ranches to wash quickly into the river, destroying wildlife habitat and contaminating the lake – the liquid heart of the greater Everglades.

Although it took the Corps just 11 years to channelize the river, it has taken more than 36 years to restore the bends and oxbows, a lag time that would be repeated over and over with other restoration projects.

Meanwhile, the population, especially in South Florida, exploded. In 1980 the state’s population was 9.7 million. By 2000, it had jumped to 15.9 million. Today, 19.3 million people call Florida home, each using between 80 and 100 gallons of water every day.

As waterfront property became more scarce, developers gobbled up land farther west, taking out swaths of the wetlands and prairies to build new towns in what once was the Everglades. Undeveloped lands that once absorbed rainwater and recharged aquifers were paved over. A web of canals captured nutrient-laden water from backyards, citrus groves and more than 400,000 acres of sugarcane fields

and dumped it into larger canals, which carried it to Lake Okeechobee and other waterways that flowed directly into the Everglades.

Politicians spent much of the early 1980s passing legislation to protect water and restore the Everglades. A succession of Florida governors put partisan squabbling aside

and built momentum for the cause. For example, Gov. Bob Graham, a Democrat, unveiled his Save Our Everglades plan in 1983. Republican Gov. Jeb Bush championed restoration with an annual commitment of $200 million during his term.

Still, most of the progress was on paper and phosphorous levels continued to climb. Fed up with the slow progress, Dexter Lehtinen, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, sued the water management district on behalf of the federal government in 1988.

The lawsuit, which continues today, accused Florida of failing to enforce its water quality standards in the Everglades. It also established a new costly front: the courtroom. Other lawsuits followed, including one filed by the Miccosukee Tribe, who hired Lehtinen after he left his government position.

More state and federal agencies, environmental groups and sugar growers found themselves mired in the costly litigation. By mid-2011, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection had spent $3.8 million on private lawyers, including one who billed $585 an hour.

A federal judge became so fed up that in April 2011 he issued a scathing order demanding progress in meeting limits on phosphorous pollution.

“None of the governmental agencies involved directly told the public the hard truth: we have not solved the problem, we do not know for sure when the problem will be solved, and we do not know if the Everglades will survive by the time we can meet the 10 parts per billion standard (if at all),” U.S. District Judge Alan S. Gold wrote.

Gold’s frustration and that of another federal judge resulted in an agreement in 2012 between state and federal agencies and environmental groups on how and when the phosphorous limits would be met. If the standard of 10 ppb of phosphorous is found to be exceeded in the Everglades, growers could face stricter methods for controlling phosphorous-rich fertilizers used on crops or the government could be forced to build more filtering wetlands.

Some say this standard came into play this summer in a way that shows that despite a century of efforts to drain, chop up and re-route the greater Everglades, it remains one system.

Billions of gallons of water from Lake Okeechobee and storm-water runoff in the Treasure Coast have been flushed into St. Lucie Estuary and Caloosahatchee River this summer, killing sea grasses, oyster beds and leaving the water unsafe for swimming.

Environmentalists say the district won’t allow more water south from Lake Okeechobee because it fears violating the 10 ppb standard in the Everglades and it doesn’t want to flood crops. The district says its storage areas south of the lake can’t take any more water until other restoration projects are complete. The Army Corps, responsible for the releases into the river and estuary, says it has been forced to release water because lake levels are so high they threaten the dike surrounding the lake.

Although restoration cannot bring back the Everglades to its original state, Barnett envisions a “Xerox reduction – an Everglades with a smaller footprint that functions like the original Everglades did.”

Unlike other construction projects paid by taxpayers, such as dams and highways, if the Everglades is successfully restored, there will be nothing to see but vacant, wet land and water splashing from your tap.

“We’re deconstructing,” said Barnett. “We want to get it to where you don’t see what was done to the Everglades. That’s the ultimate goal.”

Canals and dams were built to drain the Everglades and make way for neighborhoods, golf courses, malls and farms. That reduced the size of the Everglades by half, leaving fewer wetlands to filter water clear.

Christine Stapleton|Staff Writer|Palm Beach Post

Water Quality Issues

Petitioners aim to deep-six Keys shallow effluent injection wells

Injection wells for two Lower Keys water-treatment plants don’t go deep enough to safeguard Florida Keys waters, say environmental and homeowners groups.

Legal petitions seeking an appeal hearing on permits for shallow water-injection wells on Cudjoe Key and Stock Island have been filed with the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“A deep well is the right thing to do and we hope that [the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority] and Monroe County decide to do the right thing,” said Ralf Brookes, who filed the July 25 petition against renewing DEP permits for the county’s regional wastewater treatment plant on Cudjoe Key.

“We have to do everything we can to protect our unique coral reef resources, which are a big part of our economy,” said Brookes, a former Monroe County land-use attorney now practicing in Cape Coral.

Tuesday, the Last Stand environmental group and Key West resident George Halloran filed a similar petition against DEP permits for two new shallow injection wells at a Stock Island wastewater treatment plant run by Key West Resort Utilities Inc., a private business that processes the island’s wastewater.

The Cudjoe petition was sparked by efforts of the Dig Deep Cudjoe group, comprising “a very informal group of citizens” concerned about effects of treated wastewater, or effluent, on nearshore waters, spokeswoman Jan Edelstein said.

The group contends the shallow wells, 12 inches in diameter, will pump effluent down 120 feet into “very porous” limestone.

Even after advanced wastewater treatment, the freshwater effluent could still hold large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous that reach nearshore waters as a result of tidal flow through limestone, the group says.

The legal filing lists the Cudjoe Gardens Property Owners Association and the Sugarloaf Shores Property Owners Association as petitioners, along with commercial fishermen Don DeMaria of Summerland Key and Mike Laudiciana of Big Pine Key.

All petitioners “will suffer adverse effects from the large quantity and poor quality of effluent” that would sent down the shallow injection wells, it says.

“Because of the hydrogeology of the porous limestone in the area, the large volume of low-salinity, partially treated effluent injected into shallow wells will quickly rise to the surface and adversely impact the marine surface waters and ecosystems,” the petition says.

Injecting effluent into bedrock about 2,000 feet below the surface would better safeguard the marine environment, according to Dig Deep Cudjoe.

The estimated final cost of the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System, to serve 9,000 equivalent dwelling units, is $162 million. Part of that is the treatment plant, costing $23 million. Digging a deepwater injection well would add from $6 million to $8 million, engineers said

Four shallow wells have already been drilled at a total cost of about $300,000 at the site of the Cudjoe Key wastewater plant under a 2009 DEP permit now up for renewal. The plant and wells will not be operational until 2015.

Aqueduct Authority managers and engineers who oversee Monroe County’s wastewater projects say the Cudjoe plant will not exceed the state’s legal daily limit of 1 million gallons of effluent sent to the shallow wells. Anything over 1 million gallons per day requires a deep injection well, a mandate in state rules covering the Keys’ designated “Outstanding Florida Waters.”

“We’ll probably run two wells at a time for better dispersal of the effluent injected into the ground,” FKAA engineer Tom Walker said.

The treatment plant also will have four monitoring wells that measure the outflow from the injection wells, FKAA Executive Director Kirk Zuelch said.

“If, in fact, the environment is not being protected because of nitrates or too much freshwater or whatever the issue may be,” Zuelch said, “then we go to the County Commission and say we need to do a deep well.”

Whether the plant output exceeds the state’s 1-million-gallon daily limit will be one of the issues contested in the petition hearing if it goes forward.

“The more our watchdogs dug into the regulatory and legal thicket, the more concerned they got. It seemed the deep-well rule and other regulations had been violated,” says an e-mail sent by Dig Deep Cudjoe.

The state DEP issued its notice of intent to renew the Cudjoe Key application July 14. “The application provided reasonable assurance of compliance with applicable department statutes and rules,” DEP press secretary Tiffany Cowie said. “The department’s proposed permitting action is currently in litigation.”

The debate could reach the Monroe County Commission at its Aug. 20 meeting.

“I think we should put the best system in the ground we possibly can … rather than wait until some time in the future when a future commission will have to bite the bullet,” Commissioner Danny Kolhage said in an Aug. 1 interview with US1 Radio.

Last Stand’s petition on the Stock Island plant contends peak winter use will exceed the million-gallon daily limit by more than 25 percent. The utility says it qualifies for a shallow well because its daily average, calculated over a year, falls below the limit.

KEVIN WADLOW|keynoter.com|August 9, 2014

My View: Let’s keep cleaning up Florida’s water

Floridians love water, whether it’s fishing, boating, swimming or stretching back to soak in a beautiful sunset over Apalachee Bay.

And one might say that our water loves us back. The recreational fishing industry alone supports 79,200 jobs in our state.

Then there’s tourism, a whopping $70 billion industry and a major driver of our state’s economy. Millions of people head to the Sunshine State to relax on our sparkling beaches, boat on our lakes and admire the wonders of the Everglades.

But all these waters are in jeopardy.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection reports:

• The growth in urban development over the past decades has caused extensive habitat loss in aquatic areas and has affected the viability of fisheries in many estuarine areas.

• Right now, 28 percent of the state’s rivers and streams, 25 percent of the state’s lakes and 59 percent of the square miles of estuaries have poor water quality.

• Algal blooms and red tides like one currently threatening the west coast of Florida are increasing in frequency, duration and magnitude and could become an even greater threat in the future.

The message should be loud and clear: We need to do all we can to protect our rivers, lakes and estuaries if we want to keep our economy strong.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is currently taking comments on a proposal to do just that. The Clean Water Act, which passed with strong bipartisan support in 1972, has helped keep much of the nation’s water clean and unpolluted for 42 years. But two controversial Supreme Court decisions have left it unclear if the law applies to smaller bodies of water, such as headwater streams and smaller wetlands.

Why should Floridians care about these small streams and wetlands? All our waters are interconnected. Headwater streams are where our rivers begin. Small streams and wetlands can trap sediments, nutrients and pollutants — keeping our downstream waters clean and safe for drinking and recreation. The health and productivity of the Apalachicola River, the bay and the eastern Gulf of Mexico depend upon sufficient flows of clean water coming from the many small streams and wetlands that feed into the river upstream in Georgia and the Florida Panhandle. When wetlands are filled and streams are channelized and polluted upstream, the entire river system suffers — along with all those who depend on it.

In Bay County, for example, more than 75 percent of the stream miles are currently in this legal limbo and therefore at increased risk of pollution.

Furthermore, one acre of wetland can store up to 1.5 million gallons of flood water. A few more intact wetlands might have helped cities in the Panhandle during the unbelievable rains in May. And while that was an exceptional event, flooding in the Panhandle is not: North Florida’s Escambia and Santa Rosa counties have some of the highest flood damage costs in the U.S.

Why then is Congressman Steve Southerland championing a bill to block this protection of our waterways and wetlands? Furthermore, Congressman Southerland’s inaccurate claims — alleging that the proposal will regulate sprinkler puddles — smacks of election year fear-mongering.

The EPA proposal itself is fairly clear. It specifically carves out exceptions for normal agriculture uses while bolstering protections for our waters. Read the rule for yourself and make a comment to the EPA at http://www2.epa.gov/uswaters.

As a supporter of reduced government spending, Southerland should be backing the proposal instead of attacking it. Healthy streams and wetlands clean our waters and boost our economy. Without those services, government will spend more money to deal with problems caused by flooding and pollution.

Southerland’s constituents benefit daily from clean water and healthy wetlands. The EPA proposal would simply eliminate confusion, reinforce the original intent of the Clean Water Act and protect the waters that benefit Florida’s economy. It deserves Floridians support.

Manley Fuller|president|Florida Wildlife Federation|Jan Goldman-Carter|senior manager|wetlands and water resources|National Wildlife Federation

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Help Protect Common Loon from Dirty Oil Spills ‏


Few sounds are more hauntingly beautiful than the call of the common loon, a bird which has benefitted greatly from conservation efforts.

But now the waters near Lake Superior and in northern Minnesota that provide crucial habitat for loons are at significant risk of being poisoned by a dirty tar sands oil spill.

For the loons that rely on the cold waters of northern lakes and ponds to fish and breed, any oil spill can be a catastrophe. But a nearly-impossible-to-clean-up tar sands oil spill would leave loon and other wildlife habitat devastated for generations.

The recent secret deal between the State Department and oil pipeline giant Enbridge would allow tremendous increases in tar sands oil pumping through the Alberta Clipper pipeline that runs from the North Dakota/Canadian border to Superior, Wisconsin.

This agreement undermines the public process, and allows the oil company to bypass necessary environmental reviews and permitting requirements. It also subjects Great Lakes wildlife to the risks that come with more tar sands.

Last year, the State Department made a commitment to perform a thorough environmental review and require a new permit before any increase in tar sands flow through the pipeline would be allowed. Yet, a few weeks ago, a backroom deal with Enbridge was agreed to. After an outcry from conservation organizations, the State Department is now taking public comments on the impact of this secret deal that would allow more tar sands oil in the pipeline.

It’s crucial that State Department officials hear loud and clear that this deal reached behind closed doors will harm loons and the Great Lakes—and that the State Department must not allow any more tar sands into the Great Lakes region.

Adam Kolton|Executive Director|National Advocacy Center|9/13/2014

Offshore & Ocean

Threatened coral: Climate change puts 20 types at risk

The US government is putting 20 species of threatened coral on a list of threatened species.

The threatened coral are vital to the health of marine ecosystems, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Washington — The US government is protecting 20 types of colorful coral by putting them on the list of threatened species, partly because of climate change.

“Coral reefs are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth, providing habitat for many marine species. Protecting and conserving these biologically rich ecosystems is essential, and the Endangered Species Act gives us the tools to conserve and recover those corals ​most in need of protection,” Eileen Sobeck, assistant administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, said in a press release. “The final decision is a result of the most extensive rulemaking ever undertaken by NOAA. The amount of scientific information sought, obtained and analyzed was unprecedented.”

Five species can be found off the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts of Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The other 15 are in the Pacific Ocean area near Guam and American Samoa.

NOAA originally looked at listing 66 species, but Wednesday listed only 20 for various reasons. All are called threatened, not endangered. Coral reefs, which are in trouble worldwide, are important fish habitats.

Coral reefs are critical to the health of marine ecosystems, and they face severe threats. Coral reefs world-wide have declined significantly — some individual species have declined by at least 90 percent. Healthy coral reefs provide shoreline protection for coastal communities and habitat for a variety of species, including commercially important fish. These benefits are lost when corals are degraded.

 Staff|Associated Press|August 28, 2014

For more information, visit the NOAA site.

Aussies Back Off on Dumping Sludge on Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most beautiful natural wonders in the world — it’s even listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sadly, it’s also in trouble. The reef is facing serious damage as a result of climate change, environmental practices in Australia itself and now, a proposed plan involving a coal depot that has devolved into a complicated boondoggle that highlights the tensions between environmental protections, corporate interests and the environmental movement itself.

Can Australians make the right decision for this fragile and critical environmental site?

It started as a plan to expand an existing coal project, Abbot Point, which already provides deepwater access to ships arriving off the coast of Queensland State to collect coal — a major source of profits for Australia. Developers wanted to expand the port, which would have involved dredging to facilitate ship access. Dredging creates substantial amounts of rock, silt and other material that has to go somewhere when it’s removed, and the first proposal was to dump it alarmingly close to the Great Barrier Reef.

This plan was initially approved by Australia’s federal government, causing immediate concern among environmentalists. It also attracted attention from UNESCO, which had already been considering listing the Great Barrier Reef as a threatened site due to the ongoing environmental issues it’s facing. Environmentalists filed a suit pressuring the government to reconsider the plan, and, finally, the government agreed to shift the dredged material to land.

The story isn’t over yet, though, as environmentalists have concerns about where on land the waste will be dumped. Those concerns are rather valid, given that the volume of material is roughly equivalent to the Great Pyramid of Giza. The government says it will be used for landfilling and community improvements, but the proposed dumping site is perilously near the Caley Valley wetlands, an ecologically fragile site that hosts a number of precious bird species. Environmental advocates want proof that the government really is backing down on the plan to dump dredged materials near the reef — and some don’t want to see dredging at all.

Dredging near reefs has been linked with coral disease, a serious environmental problem. Even if the dredged material isn’t dumped near the reef, minimizing the risk of silt spillage and related problems, disturbances in the ocean floor around reefs aren’t healthy. Worryingly, the coral disease seen most commonly around dredging sites is white syndrome, in which all tissue is effectively stripped, meaning that the remaining coral has no chance of recovery if the site is subsequently protected. Increased ship traffic created by the newly-dredged channel could also present a threat to the health of the Great Barrier Reef, yet another concern for advocates concerned with this precious piece of Australian, and global, heritage.

There are also concerns about the rush associated with the project. The dumping was originally approved by a government staffer with no experience in marine conservation who actually went against advice from scientists, and now that the government is backing down and pushing a land-based plan, it’s attempting to rush the plan through as quickly as possible in the interest of coal mining companies that plan on using the port to expand their operations and increase sales.

The government is also under the gun because of a requested review from UNESCO — the agency wants the Australian government to submit information on the conservation status of the reef next year. Rather than galloping to a conclusion on the controversial project, environmentalists want to bring the government back to the table to discuss whether the site should be dredged at all, and, if so, where the removed materials can be most effectively and safely used.

Of course, the situation brings up a larger issue: Should Australia be promoting its coal industry at all, given the environmental costs of coal mining and the use of coal as a fuel?

s.e. smith|September 12, 2014

Australia’s EPA Rejects Cruel Shark Cull

In a major win for sharks and their advocates, Australia’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recommended Western Australia (WA) end its controversial shark killing program.

After a series of fatal attacks, WA’s government proposed a new program in an effort to keep beachgoers safe that involved setting out baited drum lines, which consist of a large baited hook attached to a buoy and an anchor to hold it in place, in designated zones along popular beaches with the intention of killing great white sharks, bull sharks and tiger sharks who were larger than three meters.

The plan sparked outrage from conservation organizations, local communities. politicians, celebrities and marine scientists from around the world who criticized it for being nothing more than a pointless cull that would have a devastating impact on marine ecosystems, while doing nothing to really keep people safe. Concerned Care2 member Holly Jade decided to do something about it and started a petition demanding an end to the horrible practice. Thanks to Holly’s petition, over 38,000 Care2 members were able to express their frustration by signing her petition.

This past May, government figures that were released showing the death toll added fuel to the opposition. Between January and April, 172 sharks were caught, while 50 tiger sharks longer than 10 feet were killed. Figures also show that 14 sharks measuring less than 10 feet died on the drum line and four more were destroyed because they were too weak to survive the ordeal. Stingrays and mako sharks, who are a protected species, were killed as bycatch on drum lines. Yet not a single great white, who are believed to be responsible for the fatal attacks, was caught.

Thankfully, this week the EPA announced that it recommended against continuing the program, which was supposed to be extended for another three years, over concerns about how it could hurt the population of great whites, who are a protected species, and because of “a high degree of scientific uncertainty” after assessing the program as part of a Public Environmental Review.

“At this stage, the available information and evidence does not provide the EPA with a high level of confidence. In view of these uncertainties, the EPA has adopted a cautious approach by recommending against the proposal,” said the EPA’s chairman Paul Vogel.

The recommendation means no drum lines will be put in the water this summer, which will keep sharks safer and should thrill the thousands of people who have spoken out against the cull. According to news reports, the EPA’s review received a record amount of public input.

“The EPA should be congratulated for listening to the people, listening to the science and giving sharks and future generations the respect they deserve. The worlds children need healthy oceans and healthy oceans need sharks,” said Sea Shepherd’s Managing Director Jeff Hansen.

While there will be a two week window for a public appeal before the EPA releases its final verdict on the matter in October, and a final decision will be up to WA’s Environment Minister Albert Jacobs, Premier Colin Barnett said he was disappointed with the results, but would accept them adding that it was unlikely the government would appeal the decision. It will still also need to be approved by Environmental Minister Greg Hunt, who shark advocates hope will sign-off on canceling the program.

Those who have been working to save sharks from an inhumane death on drum lines are still hoping the government will look to other non-lethal measures to help improve public safety from increased aerial patrols and shark barriers to more education for the public.

If there’s something you feel passionate about and you want to make a difference, you can start a Care2 petition just like Holly Jade. Care2′s community of activists will help rally behind your cause and make it a success.

Alicia Graef|September 12, 2014

Bye Bye Bycatch? Smart Nets That Save Fish

Six years ago, the Norwegian coast guard filmed a Scottish fishing vessel riding gray swells, dumping 5 metric tons of dead fish back into the North Sea. Over the European Union catch quota, and so unable to keep all the fish they’d caught, the fishermen had to ditch some. To the Norwegians, who aren’t part of the EU and hold a strict discards ban, the waste was shocking.

When this news reached Dan Watson, a young British designer, it became the inspiration for SafetyNet, an ocean fishing net that allows certain fish to escape via lighted rings, offering more catch selectivity. The Scottish fishermen’s predicament, he believed, was driven by their lack of control. “There can be no villains, there can be no victims, there are just problems,” Watson says. “I started this project because I wanted to go some way towards solving that problem.”

Watson joins a growing number of innovators designing more selective fishing gear to reduce bycatch—the unwanted fish, dolphins, whales and birds that get scooped up by longlines, gillnets and trawlers each year and then discarded. Globally, the amount of marine life that is wasted or unmanaged—which makes it potentially unsustainable—forms about 40 percent of the catch. “The way we catch now is to catch everything, decide what we want to keep, and discard the rest,” says Martin Hall, head of the bycatch program at the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, which regulates tuna fishing in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Bycatch can result in overfishing, reduces the population of species that might already be endangered and, on the largest scale, interrupts food chains and damages whole ecosystems. It also amounts to an enormous waste of valuable fish protein.

To designers building better nets and lines, bycatch isn’t viewed as an inevitability, but as something we can phase out, piece by piece. It’s also seen as a battle that needs to be fought alongside fishermen, not against them.

Speaking from his trawler, the 45-foot Proud Mary, off the coast of Massachusetts, one such fisherman, Christopher Brown, says that over the years, fishermen have had to “rethink the game.” Brown operates a fishery that’s almost completely free of discards; is the board president of the Seafood Harvesters of America, an organization representing stewardship-minded fishermen; and has designed a squid net that reduces bycatch. The net contains an escape route at its base that exploits the bottom-dwelling behavior of unwanted flounder, encouraging them to flee the net through this gap. “We need to look at things entirely differently than we have in the last 30 years,” Brown says—and new gear is part of that equation. “It’s a matter of enlightened self-interest.”

Brown may seem unconventional, but more and more, fishermen are the ones both driving change and being consulted like clients about new gear. “The main focus has to be the fisherman,” says Watson. “You have to build something the fisherman is going to use.”

For designers, the next challenge is gaining capital. Although Watson has been working on his SafetyNet design for five years, and even though it won the prestigious James Dyson design award in 2012, it’s still staggeringly expensive, and Watson has had difficulty hiring a boat that will try out his net on open water.

Designed to free both young and endangered fish, the SafetyNet works by using fitted LED rings, which flash like exit signs to alert smaller fish. The fish can then escape by squeezing through the rings. There’s also a panel in the net that separates tighter mesh at the top from larger mesh below, allowing nontarget, bottom-dwelling species such as cod to escape through the bigger holes. With lights and panel working in tandem, “You can start almost herding the fish under the water,” Watson says.

There is no silver-bullet solution for a problem as broad as bycatch; instead, each new piece of gear responds uniquely to a species’ size, shape and behavior. “The more we know about the ways we can stop different things being caught, the more we can make bespoke nets,” Watson says. As Hall puts it, “Slowly, you attack the different angles of the problem, and you solve it.”

Of course, there’s the inevitable economic caveat. Just as Watson has fought for funding, money is an obstacle for the industry too, slowing the scale-up of new gear across fisheries. Fishermen support innovation, but they can’t be expected to lose money over it, says Barrie Deas, chief executive for the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organizations, which represents fishermen in the UK. “Technical innovation is one thing. It’s the economic consequences of doing that [that matters],” he says. “People will seek economic ways to fish.”

It’s easy to argue back that changes in gear should just be legislated—but that rarely works, says Deas, if fishermen aren’t already onboard. “It’s not so much the designed gear that’s the problem,” he says. “But if the attempt is made to introduce it in a top-down bureaucratic way with top-down prescriptive legislation, the last 20 years has told us that doesn’t work.”

Going some way to bridge this financial gap and to bring collaborative, bottom-up thinking to gear design, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) runs a regular competition called the International Smart Gear Competition that gives academics, conservationists and fishermen the chance to share their ideas.

“What we have learned is that you need an incentive to get started,” says Hall, who doubles as a competition judge. And that incentive is cash. For each competition cycle, sponsors partner with WWF to generate the prize money. This year, $65,000 will be awarded—the grand prize will be $30,000, with runners-up receiving the rest. “The extent of the support depends on the amount of money we can raise, so in some years, it’s been better than others,” says Michael Osmond, Smart Gear’s senior project officer.

The prize money goes to notable designers to help them build, try out and, they hope, introduce their gear into fisheries. “I think that attitudes have changed a lot over the last decade,” Osmond says. “With our competition, a lot of the winning ideas have come from fishermen themselves.”

This collaborative environment has delivered some serious successes. In 2011, designers hacked LED fishing lights ordinarily used to attract fish and repurposed them to drive turtles away instead. Globally, dense pockets of gillnets unintentionally snare and drown thousands of turtles each year because they’re almost invisible underwater, says John Wang, project leader and a researcher with the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research who works as a fisheries research ecologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But if LED lights are fixed onto nets and tuned to a wavelength turtles can see, turtles recognize the nets as barriers and cruise by. As Wang puts it, “We have a selective communication channel to the turtles.” With this tool, they’ve reduced bycatch by up to 60 percent during trials in Mexico, Peru and Indonesia, and are now working with U.S. fisheries too.

It’s not just about turtles, though: “What we’re beginning to see is that the wavelength has some interesting properties. Different wavelengths affect fish in different ways,” Wang says. Now, he’s working on illuminating nets with ultraviolet light to steer hammerhead sharks away.

Judged by global impact, Smart Gear’s biggest success story is arguably the Eliminator Trawl, a 2007 winner built to address cod shortages by allowing cod to escape nets in New England haddock fisheries.

The brainchild of fishermen, designers and academics—“a real collaborative effort,” says Laura Skrobe, Eliminator team member and fisheries scientist at Rhode Island University—the net frees down-swimming cod through the large mesh at the base, reducing bycatch by 80 percent. A tighter mesh at the top herds in haddock, which tend to swim upward. The net also significantly cuts dogfish, plaice and lobster catch—all without hurting the haddock fishery.

During trials, the team had to sell the catch from the first three trawls just to afford the fourth. But despite hurdles, “the fishermen were really the ones who pushed it,” says Skrobe. “Our fishermen will be conservationists themselves whether or not their managers tell them to. We’re just providing tools for the toolbox.” The net’s straightforward design has made it useful in both the U.S. and the U.K., where it’s now formally part of fishing regulations.

In the quest to scale up smart fishing gear across global fisheries, Hall echoes what designers such as Skrobe feel: large-scale, regulatory change can happen, but only if it’s negotiated with fishermen first, or they’ll resent it. Increased investment is the obvious next step, to spur innovation and to make gear changes easier to phase into fisheries so fishermen don’t carry the costs.

As a longtime WWF Smart Gear judge, Hall adds something else: He craves even greater innovation, ideas that challenge the age-old fishing tradition. “Even though wonderful things are happening, we aren’t innovating in a dramatic way,” Hall says. “I’d really like to see an initiative that goes out of the box, to just shake the concept that because we’ve been doing this for 2,000 years, it’s OK.”

In August, Dan Watson will try his SafetyNet on the open ocean for the first time. After weathering a few challenges, he’s found a trawler that will take him off the southwestern coast of the U.K. and into the Atlantic, pulling his lighted net, to ride the swells just as those Scottish fishermen did six years ago.

For those fighting bycatch, there’s a long road ahead—much of it determined by funding and policy. But for now, innovators need to keep innovating, Watson believes. “You can look at the political world of fish, but that’s going to take 20 years to sort out. We need to create interventions in the meantime.”

Help for Bluefin Tuna!

A multinational organization that coordinates fishing activities in the western Pacific is throwing a lifeline to heavily overfished Pacific bluefin tuna stocks.

Speaking today at a press briefing, Japanese officials provided details on a plan agreed to last week that aims to rebuild the spawning population by halving the catch of juveniles and limiting takes of mature fish as well. The proposal calls for total Pacific bluefin catches to be kept below the 2002 to 2004 annual average levels and for catches of fish weighing fewer than 30 kilograms—juveniles too young to spawn—to be reduced to 50% of those levels.

Conservation organizations see the proposed limits as a step in the right direction. But they are “far from enough,” Wakao Hanaoka, senior ocean campaigner for Greenpeace, tells ScienceInsider. He says that Pacific bluefin tuna stocks have shrunk to just 4% of the historical population, making proper stock management a matter of urgency.

A subcommittee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) agreed to the Japan-sponsored draft at a meeting last week in Fukuoka. The full commission will almost certainly adopt it at a meeting to be held in Samoa starting 1 December, explained Masanori Miyahara, an adviser to the ministry of agriculture who chaired last week’s meeting. Reducing the take of juveniles that haven’t yet spawned is one key to achieving the plan’s initial goal of rebuilding spawning stock biomass—the fish population able to reproduce—to the historical median of 42,592 tons within 10 years. The biomass is now thought to be 26,000 tons, very near its all-time low. “Eating fish before they spawn is very wasteful,” Miyahara says.

Dennis Normile|Science|September 11, 2014

Read more at Science.

Gulf oyster harvest has nose-dived since BP spill

Gulf Coast oyster harvests have declined dramatically in the four years since a BP PLC oil well blew wild in the nation’s worst offshore oil disaster. Even after a modest rebound last year, thousands of acres of oyster beds where oil from the well washed ashore are producing less than a third of their pre-spill harvest.

Source: AP

Smells Fishy: Acidic Oceans Are Bad For Shark Noses

The ocean is vast and meals can be hard to come by. That’s why sharks evolved an excellent sense of smell. Some sharks, like the lemon shark, can smell one drop of blood in an Olympic sized pool.

But a new study shows that ocean acidification, the result of atmospheric carbon being absorbed by the ocean, might rob sharks of the sense they most depend on.

Scientists placed dogfish sharks into water treated with levels of carbon that are expected by mid century and by 2100. They found that sharks’ sense of smell was impaired.

“The sharks’ tracking behavior and attacking behavior were significantly reduced,” Danielle Dixson, an assistant professor in the School of Biology at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, said in a press release. “Sharks are like swimming noses, so chemical cues are really important for them in terms of finding food.”

Instead of swimming towards the odor of a squishy squid meal, the sharks tended to avoid the squid smell completely — even when squid odor was pumped through their waters. Sharks from the control group, who were not exposed to acidic waters, tended to swim towards the source of the smell and spend 60 percent of their time basking in it.

The scientists used odor only so that they could make sure the sharks weren’t using any other senses to detect prey. Dixson says they hope to observe other senses in the future.

This is not the first study to show the effect of higher levels of ocean carbon on predator-prey relations. In a previous study, Dixson observed that fish living near areas where carbon seeped through the ocean floor struggled to detect the odor of predators compared to fish who lived in areas without added carbon.

Though sharks have been around for almost 450 million years and have adapted to changes in ocean carbon levels, the rate at which ocean acidification is occurring as a result of climate change is alarming. Scientists are concerned that they, and many other species of marine life, may not be able to adapt quickly enough.

Manon Verchot|TreeHugger|September 13, 2014

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.

Shark safety among items up for FWC discussion

Goliath grouper, lionfish eggs, shark chum and gun silencers are among the topics top state wildlife regulators will ponder this week.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meets Wednesday and Thursday in Kissimmee.

Melbourne Beach Mayor Jim Simmons plans to speak up Thursday to nudge FWC to ban shark chumming from shore and create other rules to make people safer from the ocean’s top predator.

“Shark fishermen’s rights shouldn’t trump the rights of swimmers and surfers,” Simmons said.

Melbourne Beach officials say “bloodbaiting” is dangerous, potentially putting sharks into feeding frenzies near swimmers. But local governments don’t have the authority to stop chumming. FWC regulates saltwater fishing and chumming.

At Thursday’s meeting, another fish is sure to create a big stir.

Goliath grouper grow up to 800 pounds and can wolf down mid-sized sharks in one gulp.

A recent YouTube video with 37 million views shows a Goliath grouper swallow whole a four-foot-long blacktip shark as a fisherman reeled the shark in offshore of Bonita Springs.

Divers and fisherman say they’ve seen enough. They describe seeing so many of these gargantuan groupers along Florida’s reefs and shipwrecks that it’s high time to remove a long-running ban on harvesting the fish. The Goliaths are sucking up spiny lobsters, reef fish and other marine life, they say, tipping the food web’s balance.

Commissioners will discuss the Goliath’s status and hear results from a University of Florida study of what fishermen and others think about the fish.

“The culmination of it all was that most of the people were supporting of continuing the closure, but felt like there could be some limited take for research purposes,” Amanda Nalley, an FWC spokeswoman said of the study.

The Goliath won’t be open up to fishing until a new study of the fish’s numbers is complete in the fall of next year.

“Right now, we’re not presenting any management measures from them to decide upon,” Nalley said.

Before 1983, there were no state or federal regulations on commercial or recreational harvest of the fish. That year, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council banned spearing of Goliath grouper.

Baitfish swirl around a goliath grouper recently off Lee County. Many people think goliath grouper are wiping out bait fish, grouper and snapper populations, but scientific evidence shows that their main diet is crabs. (Photo: Leonardo Bueno / Special to The News-Press )

Then in 1990, harvest of the fish was banned in state and federal waters.

Although the fish’s status remains unknown, different surveys show substantial recovery since the fishery was closed, a staff report to FWC commissioners says. “However, the extent to which the population has recovered is unclear,” the report says.

The last stock assessment in 2010 found that the 1990 harvest ban cut fishing pressure by about 83 percent and that the stock might be recovered, according to the staff report. But the report also cites a long-term lack of landings data, rendering the assessment inconclusive and the stock status mostly unknown.

Ron Rincones, a fisherman and diver from Grant-Valkaria, knows the grouper reigns supreme along local reefs and shipwrecks, hogging all the spiny lobsters for themselves.

“If I’m diving the big ledges, you see 400- or 500- pounders,” Rincones said. “Every wreck now is loaded with them,” he added. “There’s probably more now than there were in the late 40s and early 50s.”

A much smaller fish on the agenda – though similarly as fearsome to the food web – is the invasive lionfish.

They aggressively gobble up other prized sport and commercial fish and have grown to dominate many offshore reefs. Even the Goliath doesn’t seem to be making a dent.

So on Thursday, FWC will consider a proposed rule to ban breeding lionfish in captivity or possessing their eggs and larvae for any purpose other than destruction or research.

The state agency recently adopted a ban on importing lionfish and other rules to help remove the fish from Florida waters.

Hunters won’t likely stay silent on this agenda item.

On Wednesday, FWC will consider a draft rule to remove Florida’s restriction on the use of silencers for hunting wildlife classified as game.

Silencers on guns, also called suppressors, go on the gun’s barrel to dampen sound.

Hunters asked FWC to look into the issue, and the agency determined restrictions on using silencers for hunting were no longer necessary.

Thirty-two states already allow silencers for all hunting.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meeting

* Time: 8:30 a.m.

* Dates: Wednesday, Thursday

* Place: Embassy Suites Orlando – Lake Buena Vista South, 4955 Kyngs Heath Road, Kissimmee

* Agenda: http://myfwc.com/about/commission/commission-meetings/2014/september/10/agenda/

Jim Waymer|News-Press|September 7, 2014

BP’s cleanup promise broken; oil visible on beaches

The costs and energies of supervising the cleanup of a mess that we did not make should not rest entirely on our shoulders.

A promise was broken.

Maybe it’s all BP’s fault. Maybe the Coast Guard shares the blame. Maybe we’re all suckers for not getting it in writing. But we thought we had a deal.

The deal was that the Coast Guard-led and BP-funded oil spill cleanup would not leave our beaches until there was no more visible oil. But the Coast Guard declared the mission accomplished in 2013. And as we all know too well by now – the oil is still visible.

Pensacola News-Journal reporter Kim Blair spoke with Escambia County’s director of community and environment, Keith Wilkins, an official who has been on the front lines battling the oil spill since the day in 2010 when it began gushing wildly into the Gulf of Mexico. Wilkins summed up the broken promise like this: “At the very beginning of the oil spill, we were all talking about end points for monitoring and cleaning so we’d know when we were done with the whole thing … At the onset of the oil spill, we had an agreement with BP and the Coast Guard that the end point would be no observable oil on the beaches. We still have not reached that point.”

And that’s the bottom line. We have not reached the point of no visible oil. We still see tarballs. We still see tar mats. And under the gaze of a microscope, we can still see traces of the toxic dispersant chemicals that were futilely pumped into the Gulf.

For residents who take pride in leaving only footprints on our unique and beautiful shoreline, the disgusting stain of man-made folly is far from fading. And now, it’s clear that the heavy obligation to monitor the lingering results of BP’s mess has been shoved onto all of us.

BP initially paid Florida $50 million for oil monitoring and cleanup. Blair reported that the money dried up in June. The continued work is now financed by state taxpayers and it is unclear whether reimbursement will come from BP.

DEP workers Joey Whibbs and David Perkinson, the last two-man team left scouting for lingering oil from the 2010 spill, still find oil every day, five days a week. It was Perkinson who discovered the tar mat earlier this year on Fort Pickens beach. But even when they find it, time is of the essence. Rapidly changing surf and beach conditions require quick action before the oil is covered or washed elsewhere. And when the Coast Guard has not been immediately prepared to respond when alerted to discovery of oil, with the cleanup clock ticking, the exhausting work has fallen on the DEP’s two sentinels.

It is a Sisyphean task for just two men, the search for oil like a never ending push of a boulder down the beach. It should not be this way.

Pensacola News Journal|August 8, 2014

Hawaii’s Tern Island Is So Polluted With Plastic That It Might Become a Superfund Site

Ocean plastic and toxic waste left behind by the military threaten sea turtles, seals, and other marine life.

Hawaiian green sea turtles, monk seals, and black-footed albatrosses are all closer to getting a cleaner, plastic-free home as the federal government takes a step toward declaring a remote Pacific atoll a Superfund site.

The designation, which the United States Environmental Protection Agency gives areas severely contaminated by hazardous waste, would be the first granted for a site that was investigated for ocean plastic pollution.

“I’m thrilled the EPA is taking this historic first step to protect Hawaiian monk seals and green sea turtles from dangerous plastic litter,” said Emily Jeffers, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “These animals face enough threats to their survival from sea level rise and habitat loss; the last thing they need is to choke on a floating plastic bag.”

Located about 564 miles northwest of Honolulu, Tern Island is as remote as an island can get. But the atoll is directly in the path of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, catching bits of the billions of pounds of swirling plastic that inundates the area.

That plastic—whether bags, fishing lines, or bottle caps—often ends up in the bellies of marine animals and birds.

“Initial studies conducted by EPA in areas outside of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands indicate that microplastic marine debris can accumulate and transport contaminants in the marine environment into the food chain,” Dean Higuchi, an EPA spokesman, said in an email.

Higuchi pointed out that the Superfund designation wouldn’t come just because of drifting plastic. “The major thing to remember…is the contamination that was left from the military activities on Tern Island,” he said.

From 1942 to1979, the U.S. Navy used the island as an airfield, a missile range, and an aircraft refueling station. The Coast Guard also maintained a facility there.

What did they leave behind? An abandoned airstrip and a landfill filled with generators, electronics, cable, batteries, wires, and a 50,000-gallon neoprene fuel tank.

The government’s initial assessment found toxic substances such as polychlorinated biphenyls and lead in the buried military waste and determined that further action was warranted.

“At this point, no decision has been made on exactly what the next steps will be in designating the site as a Superfund, but the focus will really be on the PCBs and the lead from military activities,” Higuchi said. “Plastics were also looked at because the petition asked them to be reviewed, but as of now, it’s not considered a hazardous substance in and of itself.”

The Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson, Ariz.–based nonprofit, petitioned the EPA to conduct the initial study in 2012. While the environmental group asked the EPA to look at plastic pollution in the entire Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the government agency limited the research to Tern Island.

“I think the EPA is using Tern Island as a test case to better understand the dangers posed to wildlife by plastic and microplastic pollution,” Jeffers said. “We wrote this petition in an attempt to come up with creative ways to address the problem—we know that we can’t possibly designate all the areas heavily affected by plastic pollution as Superfund sites, but hopefully the EPA’s actions will draw more attention to the problem.”

With the ball rolling at Tern Island, are other plastic-polluted sites candidates for Superfund listing? Not yet, says Higuchi, but this could be the start of a new wave of cleanup efforts.

“There are likely many other areas, not only in the U.S., but worldwide, where plastic pollution presents a hazard to the marine ecosystem, the food chain, and potentially to human health,” Higuchi said

Taylor Hill|associate environment and wildlife editor|TakePart|September 12, 2014

The Number of Threatened Coral Species Jumps From 2 to 22. Here’s What YOU Can Do About it

Watch out, Nemo! It looks like you may have to move to a new anemone if the neighborhoods you live in keep getting wrecked.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently set the record for the largest Endangered Species Act ruling by adding 20 different species of coral to their list for protection. Before this addition, only two species of coral were considered, illustrating just how quickly coral populations are decreasing.

According to NOAA’s assistant administrator, Eileen Sobeck, 83 species of coral had been proposed for further listing, but these 20 species received special treatment as they are all at risk of extinction in the near future.

Before the new listing, protected corals (elk horn and staghorn) only inhabited the waters of the Caribbean. The current group of corals is now spread out across a larger geographic span with fifteen species living in the Indo-Pacific. The other five species live in the Caribbean (near Florida), the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.

Corals may cover less than one percent of ocean floors, but they house and support 25 percent of ocean dwelling fish species. If you’re not really interested in coral’s importance to animals, then maybe it’s time for you to realize just how important coral reefs are to humans.

Coral reefs are vital to worldwide fisheries because they serve as living fish nurseries. Corals also play a role in the economy by boosting tourism, and they protect coastlines from devastating erosion.

As marine biologist and National Geographic explorer, Sylvia Earle, once said, “No water, no life. No blue, no green.”

Without coral, the oceans and marine inhabitants will experience a cascading effect that ultimately will harm human life on land.

There are a multitude of dangers facing coral and coral reefs today. A few threats to these fragile organisms include ocean acidification, pollution, overfishing, and elevated ocean temperatures, all of which can lead to the proliferation of disease that easily kill off coral colonies.

Bleaching is the most prevalent disease among the 20 new threatened coral species. Bleaching (a process that basically strips coral of it’s living tissues) occurs when corals lost the symbiotic algae that live on their tissue. These algae die off when water temperatures increase. Global trends show a rapid warming of the world’s oceans which means inevitable devastation for these algae, and subsequently, coral.

Recreational activities can also play a huge role in the plight of coral. Swimmers, snorkelers and divers will often touch, break, or even stand on coral heads without considering the fragility of the organism they are interacting with. Boats will often drop anchors directly on top of coral, thus resulting in the crumbling of both the animal and the other organisms that depend on it for survival.

The commercial fishing industry also has a hand in coral destruction. Fish like to hide in the grooves and caves of coral reefs. To extract fish from these hiding places, fishermen will spray cyanide on corals, rendering the fish unconscious and easy to collect. This causes major damage to the coral that is now coated with this harmful toxin. Another popular method is “blasting,” in which fishermen use explosions to scare fish out of their hiding places. This destroys the delicately balanced coral ecosystem, turning them into deserted, lifeless wastelands.

Hopefully the ruling to protect these additional 20 corals will provide enough time for damaged corals to regenerate and heal from past injuries. However, seeing as it can take 10,000 years for a coral reef to form, the likeliness of a full recovery anytime soon is far-reaching.

Though this listing may be good for the corals in the future, the ruling will potentially affect federal agencies in the present. If an agency wants to work in an area near protected coral, they must first obtain a permit as well as further consultation from NOAA before beginning. This will create some tension between industry and environmentalists.

Furthermore, activities such as fishing and tourism, and anthropogenic (or human caused) pollution such as coastal runoff are unaffected by the ruling. These activities will be allowed to continue without regulation, adding to the destruction of coral at a faster pace than most of us can imagine.

If you would like to help coral, you can start by considering your own contribution to ocean pollution and climate change (and not just by properly disposing your trash.) Start using planet-friendly modes of transportation (such as biking or walking) in order to reduce your carbon footprint. And consider cutting meat and animal products out of your diet as their production is responsible for 51 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

Furthermore, anybody can stop the demise of coral by simply becoming a better traveler. Support hotels, aquariums, and tourist operations that respect the fragility of coral reefs and participate in coral protection initiatives. Never touch any form of sea life (specifically coral), and be wary of where coral may be if you ever decide to take a dip near coral colonies. For those who live near coasts that house coral, volunteer for a coral clean-up crew, and remember to spread the word. With just the click of a button, you can prevent any further additions of our coral friends to the list of protected species.

Madison Montgomery|September 12, 2014

Pew Welcomes Global Ocean Commission’s Recommendations for High Seas Conservation

The Global Ocean Commission, an independent initiative made up of 17 leaders from around the world, today released its proposals for action: a “rescue package” for the high seas aimed at restoring ocean health and protecting the valuable benefits the ocean provides. The commission is co-chaired by José María Figueres, former president of Costa Rica; Trevor Manuel, former minister in the presidency of South Africa; and David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee and former British foreign secretary.

The high seas—which lie beyond the national waters of any country—make up 45 percent of the planet’s total surface area and face increasing threats from overfishing, habitat destruction, biodiversity loss, ineffective governance, and lax enforcement of regulations. Today’s recommendations follow the commission’s June 5 release of the first assessment of the health of high seas ecosystems and their economic value. That report, “The High Seas and Us: Understanding the Value of High-Seas Ecosystems,” identifies 15 services that the high seas provide to humankind, including deposits of oil, gas, sand, and gravel; a conveyor belt for global trade; and a “carbon sink,” mitigating the effects of climate change by storing up to 500 million metric tons of atmospheric carbon per year—the value of which, according to the study, is estimated at US$75 billion to $222 billion per year.

In its recommendations, the commission identifies the lack of adequate governance on the high seas as a key issue and calls for the negotiation of a new agreement under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea to restore ocean productivity; guard against irresponsible, inefficient, and wasteful exploitation; and allow for the creation of high seas marine protected areas.

“A decade ago, I had the privilege of welcoming the recommendations of the Pew Oceans Commission, which helped change the course of ocean conservation in the United States,” said Rebecca W. Rimel, president and CEO of The Pew Charitable Trusts. “Today, I am equally honored as we chart a new course to manage and protect the high seas and to welcome the launch of the Global Ocean Commission’s final report and recommendations.”

The commission’s proposals also include calls for mandatory tracking of all vessels fishing in the high seas, a ban on the transshipment of fish at sea, measures to end pollution from plastic waste, and binding standards for the regulation and control of offshore oil and gas exploration and exploitation.

The commission found that government subsidies for high seas fishing total at least US$30 billion a year for only 10 nations, and should be immediately capped—and then eliminated within five years. About 60 percent of such subsidies directly encourage unsustainable practices such as bottom trawling and the use of fish aggregating devices. Without these subsidies, much, if not all, high seas fishing would no longer be financially viable.

According to the commission, if ocean health does not improve within five years, the international community should consider designating the high seas as a “regeneration zone” to help fish stocks recover. This would mean the prevention of industrial fishing in high seas areas where Regional Fisheries Management Organizations have proved to be ineffective.

The commission is supported by Pew in partnership with the Adessium Foundation, Oceans 5, and the Swire Group Charitable Trust, and was hosted at Somerville College at the University of Oxford.

The proposals represent the culmination of 18 months of exhaustive deliberations and extensive consultation with experts and stakeholders. The complete report is available at http://www.globaloceancommission.org, with a more interactive version and opportunities for action at www.missionocean.me.

Massive Red Tide Off Florida Coast Is 90 Miles Long And Totally Gross

A huge stretch of ocean near Florida has been taken over by Karenia brevis, a microscopic algae that can kill fish and marine mammals, contaminate seafood and turn the water a dark, brown-red color.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported elevated levels of the algae over last week, and said their tipline received multiple reports of thousands of dead fish and marine organisms. According to the FWC, images from the Optical Oceanography Laboratory at the University of South Florida show a bloom 60 miles wide and 90 miles long.

That makes this the biggest bloom in nearly a decade, Hayley Rutger, a spokeswoman with Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, told the Orlando Sentinel.

While the bloom is not yet affecting beaches, boaters have reported respiratory irritation from the algae. The Florida Department of Health says that red tide can also cause skin and eye irritation if you decide to swim in the stuff. Coughing, sneezing and watery eyes can also occur if the toxins are blown onshore, but this bloom remains far enough out that it hasn’t yet bothered beachgoers.

Red tides occur naturally almost every year, but it can be difficult to predict their behavior more than three days in advance.

“The red tide that pops up off the coast of Florida is very unpredictable,” Quay Dortch, an algal bloom researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told NBC News.

NBC also reported that a 2013 red tide killed 273 endangered manatees. The manatees ate the toxic algae when it got too close to shore and settled on sea grass. Dolphins can also be killed when they eat fish containing high concentrations of the toxins. According to the FWC, the largest dolphin die-off from a red tide occurred between 1987 and 1988, when 740 dolphins were found stranded on the coast.

See the video

Katherine Boehrer|Email The Huffington Post|08/13/2014

Plastics Are a Whale of a Problem for Our Ocean

Sei whales are majestic animals and I’ve had the great fortune of witnessing their grace and splendor in the open ocean. Last week, however, a 45-foot sei whale washed up on the shores of the Elizabeth River in Virginia. An 11-foot bruise above her left jaw and two fractured vertebrae led the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Team to believe she was killed by blunt force trauma following a collision with a ship.

However, a necropsy revealed that the whale also had “a large sharp piece of rigid, black plastic” roughly the size of a standard index card lodged in her stomach.

In the days leading up to her death, the Virginia Aquarium team said that she “was thin and its movements were not indicative of a healthy whale.” They believe that the plastic in the whale’s stomach prevented her from feeding normally. This likely weakened the whale and could explain why she swam up the Elizabeth River.

Unfortunately we cannot dismiss this as a tragic, isolated incident. Plastic pollution in the marine environment has become a persistent and proliferating threat to our ocean. Plastics pose a great threat to the animals that live in and around the ocean, and our fight for a clean ocean is just as much for them as it is for us.

While there is no “catch all” solution for ocean trash, you can join the fight for a healthy ocean. This September, Ocean Conservancy is hosting its 29th annual International Coastal Cleanup. The Cleanup will not eradicate the perils of plastics in the ocean, but it can eliminate the chance that items littering our beaches and waterways ever find their way into our marine environment.

Nick Mallos|August 26, 2014

Wildlife and Habitat

Conservation efforts on Archbold

GAINESVILLE–The Archbold Biological Station occupies 5,200 acres of pristine Florida scrub habitat on the southern tip of the Lake Wales Ridge.

Eastern indigo snakes, Florida sand skinks, Florida scrub-jays, burrowing owls and crested caracaras occupy the mosaic of uplands and wetlands found within the confluence of the Kissimmee River and Fisheating Creek Watershed.

“So a chance to add 3,648 adjacent acres of pasture land to protect and restore for these species was an opportunity Archbold couldn’t pass up,” Archbold said in a news release.

“At the same time, it presented an opportunity for new avenues of research balancing ecological restoration with sustainable agricultural use. In 2002 the Archbold Reserve was established.”

To accomplish restoring the wetlands, Archbold entered more than a third of the reserve into four conservation easements through the Wetlands Reserve Program.

Administered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the program provides cost share and technical assistance to establish permanent conservation easements, keep the land from development and restore previously drained wetlands.

Betsie Rothermel, Archold’s research program director for restoration ecology, has been working on the reserve since 2008.

“Our research programs have expanded in recent years to restoration ecology and agro-ecology because of the importance of ranch lands and agricultural lands for conserving so many species in the Northern Everglades watershed,” Rothermel said.

During the last four years, NRCS has initiated hydrological restoration on three of the four easements on the Archbold Reserve: Mary’s Creek, Frances Creek and Cutthroat Seep.

It is a long-term process that can be pretty labor intensive.

“Restoration isn’t a matter of blocking a few ditches and expecting the instant return of a natural functioning community like the one that used to exist,” she said.

In Cutthroat Seep, it took two years of “careful planning” by engineers and biologists, then construction to make the area wetter again.

“This may be one of the first attempts to restore the hydrology and native cutthroat grass communities that are unique to the slopes of the Lake Wales Ridge,” Archbold said.

The groundwater seepage that fed these communities was intercepted by extensive ditching and conversion to pasture in the 1970s. As part of hydrological restoration in 2012, workers blocked or filled in most of the ditches. The Wetlands Reserve Program financial assistance funded the work. NRCS engineers assisted with the designs, and will provide technical assistance to guide long-term management.

Now that the water levels are back, it is a matter of controlling invasive plants, prescribed burning to keep woody species from encroaching, planting natives and waiting, according to Archbold.

“We help NRCS by monitoring the groundwater levels and sampling vegetation communities following restoration.”

Even with monthly visits over the last four years to evaluate the treated sites, it may take 10 or more years to start seeing the desired changes, especially with Florida’s wildly varying weather patterns.

“Restoration is an adaptive process, ‘try this and see if it works,’” she said. The goal is a self-sustaining system and a map for restoring degraded wetlands on other landscapes.

“So much wetland habitat has been lost. To me personally, success is seeing the cascading effects of restoration and how it plays out to provide more habitats for wildlife, from insects to frogs to birds,” Rothermel said. This is especially critical in the Lake Wales area, which has such a high concentration of imperiled plants and animals.

The restoration sites on Archbold, along with conservation easements on ranchlands in the upper Fisheating Creek watershed total almost 40,000 acres. Restoring wetlands on these sites and managing grazing according to best management practices will reduce nutrients that are polluting Lake Okeechobee and the North Everglades.

Experience the sights and sounds of these unique ecosystems in Saving Florida’s Wetlands’ slideshow on http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detailfull/fl/home/?cid=stelprdb1252222

Highlands Today|September 8, 2014

Forestry

Illegal land clearing for commercial agriculture responsible for half of tropical deforestation

A comprehensive new analysis released today says that nearly half (49%) of all recent tropical deforestation is the result of illegal clearing for commercial agriculture. The study also finds that the majority of this illegal destruction was driven by overseas demand for agricultural commodities including palm oil, beef, soy, and wood products. In addition to devastating impacts on forest-dependent people and biodiversity, the illegal conversion of tropical forests for commercial agriculture is estimated to produce 1.47 gigatonnes of carbon each year—equivalent to 25% of the EU’s annual fossil fuel-based emissions.

“We’ve known that the production of agricultural commodities is a principal driving force behind deforestation, but this is the first report to show the outsize role that illegal activities play in the production of hundreds of food and household products consumed worldwide,” said Michael Jenkins, President and CEO of Forest Trends, a Washington-based NGO that published the report.

“Increased agricultural production will be necessary for food security and to meet the demand of the emerging global middle class. However, the world must also wake up to the scale of how much of this agricultural production is taking place on land that has been illegally cleared. Urgent action is needed to help countries where these agricultural products are being grown, both for governments to enforce their own laws and regulations, and for businesses aiming to produce commodities legally and sustainably.”

According to the study, Consumer Goods and Deforestation: An Analysis of the Extent and Nature of Illegality in Forest Conversion for Agriculture, 90% of the deforestation in Brazil from 2000 to 2012 was illegal, primarily due to the failure to conserve a percentage of natural forests in large-scale cattle and soy plantations, as required by Brazilian law. (Much of this occurred prior to 2004, when the Brazilian government took steps to successfully reduce deforestation.) And in the forests of Indonesia, 80% of deforestation was illegal—mostly for large-scale plantations producing palm oil and timber, 75% of which is exported. While other countries also experience high levels of illegal deforestation, Brazil and Indonesia produce the highest level of agricultural commodities destined for global markets, many of which wind up in cosmetics or household goods (palm oil), animal feed (soy), and packaging (wood products).

Forest Trends|September 11, 2014

Continue reading at Forest Trends.

‘Out of Fashion’ Campaign: Preserving the World’s Endangered Forests

As the lavish display of Fall Fashion Week gets under way this week in New York City, Rainforest Action Network (RAN) announced Out of Fashion: a campaign promoting forest friendly fabric.

Big name fashion brands are complicit in the pulping of pristine forests—seizing Indigenous land, driving species loss and threatening the climate—all to manufacture a product that makes its way into the clothes we wear every day.

“Out of Fashion” is RAN’s latest major effort to preserve the world’s endangered forests. With this campaign, RAN is bringing attention to a growing global threat to forests, animals and Indigenous communities—a threat that has been hiding in plain sight for years: dissolving pulp. Dissolving pulp is a little-discussed yet highly influential commodity in today’s marketplace. And the increased demand for this product is accelerating deforestation and exacerbating human rights abuses across the globe.

Big name fashion brands are complicit in the pulping of pristine forests—seizing Indigenous land, driving species loss and threatening the climate—all to manufacture a product that makes its way into the clothes we wear every day.

Over the next few days, RAN will introduce you to this destructive industry—and how Rainforest Action Network is planning to take it on.

Recently, RAN told you about the devastating impact that the production of wood pulp by paper giant Toba Pulp Lestari is having on the communities and forests of North Sumatra. Amazingly enough, this pulp makes its way into countless everyday products, like books, office paper and packaging.

But the production of dissolving wood pulp is an equally problematic issue. Dissolving pulp is an ingredient found in an even wider variety of products such as cosmetics, food, household product, sanitary products—and clothing that we wear every day.

So, wait. Trees are in my clothes?

Shockingly, yes, if you are wearing rayon, viscose, modal or tencel. The most prevalent type of this pulp is Rayon grade pulp, which is a core component of a textile called viscose staple fiber (VSF). This is what we’ll be focusing on, since VSF represents a large market share—and the production of VSF is responsible for 90 percent of the dissolving pulp expansion.

This fiber can be found in blended fabrics or on its own and it has been slowly replacing cotton as a cheaper alternative. It can also be found in polyester to create a more “high-end” feel and is present in many best selling  brands.

The quest for cheaply produced dissolving pulp is leaving an incredibly destructive footprint on the globe and has been a significant driver of human rights abuses, land grabbing, natural forest conversion, the development of carbon-emitting peatlands, climate change, biodiversity loss, and toxics pollution. Every year, more than 70 million trees are turned into clothing through the dissolving pulp process. And the process is almost criminally inefficient: only 30 percent of tree matter is actually useable for clothing. The other 70 percent becomes waste. With pulp mills all over the world, including in Indonesia, Canada and Brazil, the industry is diffuse and the supply chain difficult to pin down.

One of the challenges in confronting this problem is that dissolving pulp is very difficult to trace. When we launched our campaign to eliminate rainforest destruction from books and printed materials, we could perform independent fiber testing of books to determine the species of tree and country of origin. Since the production of dissolving pulp requires a much higher toxic chemical load the trees’ DNA is virtually destroyed, making it practically impossible to pinpoint the origin of the fiber. This creates an “opaque”  supply chain, one in which the companies themselves must be active and responsible in policing to avoid contamination from conflict pulp and the timber used to produce it.

Not sure if you’re wearing rainforest destruction? Go ahead and look in your closet. And definitely have a look the next time you shop—do you see rayon or viscose on the label? Beware: you could be buying rainforest destruction.

RAN will be telling you more about dissolving pulp in the coming weeks and how this driver of rainforest destruction is making its way into your clothes. Join RAN in confronting this global threat to forests and sign the petition to send a clear message to fashion companies: We want deforestation and human rights abuses out of our clothing.

Christy Tennery-Spalding|Rainforest Action Network|September 5, 2014

5 Consumer Products Linked to Rainforest Deforestation

Tropical rainforests are home to rich indigenous cultures and amazing biodiversity. They also play an important role in stabilizing the climate and sequestering carbon. However, tropical deforestation continues to happen around the world at an alarming rate. This loss generates almost 50 percent more greenhouse gases than the world’s entire transportation sector, according to the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

A large amount of tropical deforestation is driven by the creation of agricultural land, but a new report from Forest Trends finds that nearly half of all conversion from primary rainforest to agricultural use happens illegally. A few key agricultural products drive most of the deforestation, and are largely produced for export.

1. Beef Rising demand for beef is driven in part by a growing global population and also an expanding middle class, particularly in the East Asia and China. Beef and leather production are both drivers of illegal deforestation in Brazil, although the country has had considerable success in slowing the rate of forest loss.

2. Soy Sam Lawson, the lead author of the Forest Trends report, said that soy is linked to the rising demand for meat. “Most of the soy is used as feed for cattle and chickens and pigs.” Soy farming drives deforestation in Brazil, as well as Paraguay and Bolivia.

3. Palm oil Palm oil is the most efficient source of vegetable oil, and also one of the most profitable. The deforestation associated with palm oil is vast, particularly in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Malaysia. “You can drive through large areas of Malaysia and see nothing but oil palm plantations,” said Lawson. “And yet the projections are that the world is going to need another Malaysia’s worth of oil palm plantations to be planted to meet growing demand.”

4. Wood pulp Deforestation for wood pulp plantations is a major problem in Indonesia. The pulp used to create paper products, or to make textiles like rayon.

5. Cocoa In many countries, some of the agricultural products grown on illegally converted land are sold domestically. However, in Papua New Guinea, 100 percent of the these products (including both cocoa and soy) are exported, according to Forest Trends. The good news is that ethically-sourced chocolate is one product that’s relatively easy to find.

A number of companies are taking steps to establish more traceable supply chains, with help of third-party verifications systems like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.

However, Forest Trends suggests that governments of consumer countries can also play an important role. “The problem is that the efforts by the tropical forest countries to prevent deforestation for these commodities are being undermined by the fact that the importing countries are basically undiscerning,” said Lawson. Importing countries could create penalties for importing goods not produced on legally created plantations, thereby lowering the incentives to continue illegally clearing forests for these commodities.

Changing consumer behavior might have some positive impact, but with products like wood pulp and palm oil it can be extremely difficult to discern between the good and the bad.

“What individual consumers could probably more effectively do is to lobby their politicians, lobby the companies that produce these goods, and give to NGOs and charities that are campaigning on these issues,” said Lawson. “I think that would probably be more effective than changing your own purchasing practices.”

Kara|Margaret Badore|Treehugger|September 13, 2014

Mangrove Restoration Study Underway in Rookery Bay Reserve

~ Research partnership with USGS will assess natural community’s response to restoration efforts ~

Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve has entered into a research partnership with the U.S. Geological Service (USGS) to conduct a long-term study of a mangrove die-off area near Goodland. USGS awarded funding to this project for a minimum of three years to assess the 225-acre hydrologic restoration, partially underway, at Fruit Farm Creek.

Fruit Farm Creek is a mangrove-forested site located within the boundaries of the Rookery Bay Reserve, near Goodland on the Southwest Gulf coast of Florida. Construction of State Road 92, initiated in 1938, greatly altered natural tidal flushing to mangrove wetlands in the area. In particular, incoming flow from higher tides inundates the forest but cannot readily be flushed out, creating a “bathtub effect” that holds the water for longer periods than these forests would normally experience. Summer rains compound this effect. Following the heavy, flooding rains from Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the area has experienced a slow, steady die-off of approximately 65 acres of mangroves.

The reserve has partnered with the Coastal Resources Group, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and the city of Marco Island to conduct the initial assessment of the area’s hydrology and produce a plan for restoring the affected mangrove forests.

“We have examples of how hydrological restoration works in other locations,” said Kevin Cunniff, research coordinator for Rookery Bay Reserve. “A long-term assessment of forest community change and recovery over the next decade will provide invaluable information regarding the resiliency of our mangrove wetlands and the cost/benefits of restoration.”

USGS has just installed 12 Rod Surface Elevation Tables (RSETs) in order to monitor surface elevation change associated with mangrove forest recovery within the study plots, which span a gradient of dead, degraded and intact forest. Initial assessments of the forest canopy, sediment conditions and plant/animal communities will begin early in 2015. Three reference area study plots, also including RSETs, will be established on the south end of Horrs Island adjacent to Fruit Farm Creek in November 2014. Long-term data collected will provide information on trends in forest canopy structure, sediment chemistry and nutrient cycling, and benthic faunal community and food-web structure.

In August 2013, a series of small trenches were excavated to re-establish tidal connection to one acre of a four-acre die-off area. Within one year, the return of normal tidal flushing has produced a dramatic response – mangrove seedlings are taking root and many of the characteristic fish, crabs, snails and other species have moved in. The project partners are still seeking additional funding to restore flushing to the remaining 224 adjacent acres. It is on the list of projects under consideration for federal funding through the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast Act (RESTORE Act).

LATASHAWALTERS|Sept. 4, 2014

Global Warming and Climate Change

Prescription for health: fight global warming

What if we could reduce worldwide deaths from disease, starvation and disaster while improving the health of people everywhere? According to the World Health Organization, we can.

“Previously unrecognized health benefits could be realized from fast action to reduce climate change and its consequences,” says a news release about WHO’s first global conference on health and climate in Geneva August 27 to 29, adding, “changes in energy and transport policies could save millions of lives annually from diseases caused by high levels of air pollution.” Encouraging people to use public transit, cycling and walking instead of driving would cut traffic injuries and vehicle emissions and promote better health through increased physical activity.

Reducing the threat of global warming and finding ways to adapt to unavoidable change will also help people around the world “deal with the impact of heat, extreme weather, infectious disease and food insecurity.”

Climate change affects human health in multiple ways. Increased extreme weather causes flooding and droughts, which influences food production, water and sanitation. Pathogens that plague humans, livestock and crops spread more widely. WHO notes that diseases such as cholera, malaria and dengue are especially sensitive to weather and climate changes.

According to WHO, “Climate change is already causing tens of thousands of deaths every year from shifting patterns of disease, from extreme weather events, such as heat-waves and floods, and from the degradation of water supplies, sanitation, and impacts on agriculture” — and it will get worse if we fail to address the problem. The poor, elderly and children are most vulnerable.

WHO’s conference was held in advance of UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon’s Climate Summit 2014 for world leaders, taking place in New York September 23, and geared partly toward ensuring world leaders come up with an agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol at the Paris UN climate change conference next year.

Two days before the Climate Summit, on September 21, more than half a million people are expected to gather in New York for the People’s Climate March, with simultaneous events around the world, co-ordinated by a coalition of more than 1,000 organizations, including environmental, social justice, religious, health and labor groups.

WHO’s conference and findings show the importance of getting health-care professionals on board with climate action, as they are with the People’s Climate March. “The evidence is overwhelming: climate change endangers human health,” says WHO director-general Margaret Chan. “Solutions exist and we need to act decisively to change this trajectory.”

In a Huffington Post article, Ban Ki-moon stresses that global warming is an immediate and urgent issue. “Instead of asking if we can afford to act, we should be asking what is stopping us, who is stopping us, and why?” he writes. “Let us join forces to push back against skeptics and entrenched interests. Let us support the scientists, economists, entrepreneurs and investors who can persuade government leaders and policy-makers that now is the time for action.”

Beyond forestalling the almost-certain catastrophic consequences of unchecked global warming, changing our habits, conserving energy and shifting from fossil fuels to clean energy will have many benefits for human health — and for the economy. Reducing the burden of pollution — and global warming-related health care costs is a big factor, but opportunities also exist in the clean technology sector. Climate Summit organizers point to the “growing recognition that affordable, scalable solutions are available now that will enable us all to leapfrog to cleaner, more resilient economies.”

A leaked draft of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment’s final synthesis report concludes that global warming is already having major impacts worldwide and that, unless we do something about it, we can expect “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.” Our news media should be focusing on these issues rather than chasing an endless line of celebrity antics, corporate priorities and political posturing.

Scientists have warned about global warming consequences for decades, but efforts by fossil fuel interests to sow doubt and confusion, combined with intransigent governments and public apathy, have brought us to a tipping point.

The choice is clear: If we want to protect our health, our children’s and grandchildren’s health, and the natural systems that keep us alive and healthy, we must act now.

David Suzuki|David Suzuki Foundation|Senior Editor|Ian Hanington

Hillary Clinton Calls Out Climate Deniers at Clean Energy Summit

As she continues to play a game of “will-she/won’t she” regarding a potential 2016 presidential run, Hillary Clinton called out climate change deniers while delivering a keynote address at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas this week.

She also spoke of the need for America to become the “clean energy superpower of the 21st century,” talking about the benefits of clean energy in creating jobs, competing globally, and reducing greenhouse emissions.

“Clinton began her remarks at the National Clean Energy Summit by laying out the problems climate change is already causing today, including extreme weather and droughts,” reported MSNBC.

Clinton said, “[These are] the most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face. The data is unforgiving no matter what the deniers try to assert. Sea levels are rising. Ice caps are melting. Storms, droughts, and wildfires are wreaking havoc.”

She especially touted the economic impact of clean energy development, saying, “Aside from the deniers and the special interests and all the other folks who want to pretend we don’t have a crisis is the fact that we are leaving money and jobs behind. For those on the other side, they have to answer to the reality they are denying peoples’ jobs and middle class incomes and upward mobility by their refusal to look to the future.”

She praised the work already being done in states like Nevada where Tesla has announced this week it will build a solar- and wind-powered battery factory near Reno, and Iowa, which has been a leader in clean energy, especially wind power. (Naturally, political tea-leaf readers saw her mention of Iowa as a sign that she’s running, since Iowa hosts the first primary of the campaign season.)

Most news reports pointed out that she failed to mention the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. And clean energy advocates will most likely not be happy that she also promoted the benefits of fracking, while cautioning about the need for “smart regulations” to protect the health and safety of communities.

Anastasia Pantsios|September 5, 2014

West Antarctic glacier loss appears unstoppable

A new study by researchers at NASA and the University of California, Irvine, finds a rapidly melting section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet appears to be in an irreversible state of decline, with nothing to stop the glaciers in this area from melting into the sea.

The study presents multiple lines of evidence, incorporating 40 years of observations that indicate the glaciers in the Amundsen Sea sector of West Antarctica “have passed the point of no return,” according to glaciologist and lead author Eric Rignot, of UC Irvine and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The new study has been accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

These glaciers already contribute significantly to sea level rise, releasing almost as much ice into the ocean annually as the entire Greenland Ice Sheet. They contain enough ice to raise global sea level by 4 feet (1.2 meters) and are melting faster than most scientists had expected. Rignot said these findings will require an upward revision to current predictions of sea level rise.

“This sector will be a major contributor to sea level rise in the decades and centuries to come,” Rignot said. “A conservative estimate is it could take several centuries for all of the ice to flow into the sea.”

Three major lines of evidence point to the glaciers’ eventual demise: the changes in their flow speeds, how much of each glacier floats on seawater, and the slope of the terrain they are flowing over and its depth below sea level. In a paper in April, Rignot’s research group discussed the steadily increasing flow speeds of these glaciers over the past 40 years. This new study examines the other two lines of evidence.

The glaciers flow out from land to the ocean, with their leading edges afloat on the seawater. The point on a glacier where it first loses contact with land is called the grounding line. Nearly all glacier melt occurs on the underside of the glacier beyond the grounding line, on the section floating on seawater.

Just as a grounded boat can float again on shallow water if it is made lighter, a glacier can float over an area where it used to be grounded if it becomes lighter, which it does by melting or by the thinning effects of the glacier stretching out. The Antarctic glaciers studied by Rignot’s group have thinned so much they are now floating above places where they used to sit solidly on land, which means their grounding lines are retreating inland.

“The grounding line is buried under a thousand or more meters of ice, so it is incredibly challenging for a human observer on the ice sheet surface to figure out exactly where the transition is,” Rignot said. “This analysis is best done using satellite techniques.”

The team used radar observations captured between 1992 and 2011 by the European Earth Remote Sensing (ERS-1 and -2) satellites to map the grounding lines’ retreat inland. The satellites use a technique called radar interferometry, which enables scientists to measure very precisely – within less than a quarter of an inch – how much Earth’s surface is moving. Glaciers move horizontally as they flow downstream, but their floating portions also rise and fall vertically with changes in the tides. Rignot and his team mapped how far inland these vertical motions extend to locate the grounding lines.

The accelerating flow speeds and retreating grounding lines reinforce each other. As glaciers flow faster, they stretch out and thin, which reduces their weight and lifts them farther off the bedrock. As the grounding line retreats and more of the glacier becomes waterborne, there’s less resistance underneath, so the flow accelerates.

Slowing or stopping these changes requires pinning points – bumps or hills rising from the glacier bed that snag the ice from underneath. To locate these points, researchers produced a more accurate map of bed elevation that combines ice velocity data from ERS-1 and -2 and ice thickness data from NASA’s Operation IceBridge mission and other airborne campaigns. The results confirm no pinning points are present upstream of the present grounding lines in five of the six glaciers. Only Haynes Glacier has major bedrock obstructions upstream, but it drains a small sector and is retreating as rapidly as the other glaciers.

The bedrock topography is another key to the fate of the ice in this basin. All the glacier beds slope deeper below sea level as they extend farther inland. As the glaciers retreat, they cannot escape the reach of the ocean, and the warm water will keep melting them even more rapidly.

The accelerating flow rates, lack of pinning points and sloping bedrock all point to one conclusion, Rignot said.

“The collapse of this sector of West Antarctica appears to be unstoppable,” he said. “The fact that the retreat is happening simultaneously over a large sector suggests it was triggered by a common cause, such as an increase in the amount of ocean heat beneath the floating sections of the glaciers. At this point, the end of this sector appears to be inevitable.”

Because of the importance of this part of West Antarctica, NASA’s Operation IceBridge will continue to monitor its evolution closely during this year’s Antarctica deployment, which begins in October. IceBridge uses a specialized fleet of research aircraft carrying the most sophisticated suite of science instruments ever assembled to characterize changes in thickness of glaciers, ice sheets and sea ice.

Carol Rasmussen, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory|Alan Buis, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory|Janet Wilson, University of California, Irvine|Peter Weiss, American Geophysical Union|May 24, 2014

 Extreme Weather

California Drought: Why Farmers Must Adapt

The entire state of California is in a drought. A big part of the state, including the fertile Central Valley, is experiencing the worst category of drought, exceptional. California supplies much of the fruits, vegetables and nuts the nation eats. In inland areas such as the Central Valley, as well as the combined Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, agriculture truly rules.

While people in Southern California and the Bay Area are largely insulated from the effects of the drought, people in the Central Valley are being hit hard. Some wells in the town of Easton, the small farming community in Fresno County where I was raised, are going dry; and two businesses have closed as a result. Meanwhile, farmers are resorting to over-pumping groundwater. They have no choice. They want to survive. America wants to eat.

Agriculture takes up 80 percent of the state’s water supply. Some crops need more water than others. Tree crops, for example, need more water than vineyards. Almonds are one tree crop that is experiencing great growth, fueled in part by studies that show the health benefits of eating almonds and past drops in the price of raisins. As a result, almonds are California’s largest export; state farmers grow 80 percent of the world’s supply, and 99 percent of all almonds grown in the U.S. hail from California. However, the drought is certain to affect the almond industry. As an opinion piece by Market Watch points out, “This unprecedented drought threatens to slam the brakes on one of the state’s fastest-growing crops and biggest moneymakers.” When the 2014-2015 crop goes to market next year, consumers will certainly be hit with higher almond prices.

The California drought highlights the need for more efficient uses of water by the agricultural sector, including the almond industry. No one knows when this drought will end, but even when it does, Californians, and farmers in particular, must remember that California is prone to droughts. Another drought will come along. The key for the survival of California agriculture is for farmers to adapt. Developing ways to more efficiently use water will enable farmers to effectively cope with water shortages.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman|Triple Pundit|September 12, 2014

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, TriplePundit.

‘Unprecedented’ Flooding Event in Detroit Fits Global Warming Pattern

Detroit received 4.57 inches of rain in just a few hours on Monday, breaking its record for that date and coming in second place for the all-time wettest calendar day, behind a 4.74 inch deluge in July of 1925. The heavy rain — which included more than an inch of rain falling in just 24 minutes — led to some of the most widespread flash flooding on record in the Motor City.

Every major interstate was affected by the flooding, which longtime weather forecasters in the area called an unprecedented event. Several major roadways, including portions of Interstate 94, Interstate 75, and Interstate 696 remained closed as of Tuesday morning. The floods led to numerous high water rescues, and at least one death is being blamed on the flash flooding.

“In about 140 years of record-keeping, only one day in Detroit was wetter,” WXYZ Detroit reported. But “considering how the metro area has changed since [that day in] 1925, this may have been the most serious flooding event ever recorded in Detroit.”

According to The Weather Channel, Detroit residents abandoned 1,000 cars overnight due to the high waters, while others spent a long night in their cars, penned in by floods ahead and behind them.

The Michigan State Police announced it has sent dive teams to search cars for bodies at the bottom of inundated freeways, but no one had been reported missing.

“We’ve got a lot going on. It’s not just the water on the roads. We can’t clean up the roads, we’ve got to get the cars off the roads,” said Michigan Department of Transportation spokesperson Diane Cross, in an interview with the Detroit Free Press. She said the pumping systems used to keep water from piling up on roadways were simply “overwhelmed” by the pace and amount of rainfall.

In Warren, Michigan, which is in the northeastern part of the metro area, there were about 500 people stranded in a Lowe’s store during the height of the storm, due to flooding in the parking lot, according to the Detroit Free Press. The Warren Police Department saw its property and evidence rooms flooded, along with three police vehicles, the paper reported.

The storm, which was the result of a deep flow of moisture northward from the Gulf of Mexico that collided with a cold front moving in from the west, stunned area weather forecasters.

The same storm system is bringing torrential rains to the Mid-Atlantic states on Tuesday, with extensive flooding reported in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. areas. As of 3:30 p.m. ET, Baltimore had recorded its fifth-wettest day on record.

Paul Gross, chief meteorologist for WDIV-TV in Detroit, ” target=”_blank”>wrote on his station’s website that the event was absolutely unprecedented in his long career in the city.

I have lived my entire life and worked my entire career here, and I have never seen as widespread a flooding event. Yes, I vividly remember the May 2004 historic month of rain — our second wettest month ever with 8.46 inches of rain — but that was a bunch of rainy days that really added up.

I also remember some individual intense thunderstorms that flooded ONE freeway. But I don’t ever remember EVERY freeway being flooded out.

The storm, which is likely to have caused tens of millions in damage to a city that is already struggling economically, is an example of the type of event that is already occurring more frequently and severely due to manmade global warming.

One of the major findings of climate science studies during the past several years is that heavy downpours have increased in frequency and intensity during the past three to five decades, particularly in the Midwest and Northeast U.S. Such trends are likely to continue, according to reports like the National Climate Assessment, which was released in May.

That report showed a sharp uptick in heavy precipitation events between 1958 and 2012. As the White House has emphasized in communicating about how the U.S. can better withstand the impacts of climate change that are already here, these precipitation events can lead to expensive and deadly floods that the country’s infrastructure, such as the interstate highway system, is ill-prepared to withstand.

Similar extreme rainfall and flooding events have occurred this year in Pensacola, Florida, in Boulder, Colorado last year, as well as Calgary, Canada.

trendhvyprecip

The map shows percent increases in the amount of precipitation falling in very heavy events (defined as the heaviest 1% of all daily events) from 1958 to 2012 for each region of the continental United States.

Image: National Climate Assessment

Part of the reason why these types of events are on the upswing now is because a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor, which can be wrung out of the sky by thunderstorms and other weather systems. Global average surface temperatures have already warmed by about 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900, with more warming expected during the next several decades or more. Research has shown that global average water vapor is increasing as temperatures rise.

Also, some studies have proposed that weather patterns may be changing in ways that favor prolonged heavy rainfall events lasting for many days.

That emerging research, which links such weather pattern changes to rapid Arctic warming, is still hotly contested within the climate science community, however.

Andrew Freedman|Aug 12, 2014

Higher seas mean extreme floods in SC, NC

(AP) — CHARLESTON, S.C.– Rising sea levels will mean extreme floods along the coast of the Carolinas in coming years with billions of dollars in property in danger according to new reports from a nonprofit group of scientists.

Climate Central of Princeton, New Jersey, released an analysis of the danger faced in South Carolina on Monday. A report for North Carolina was released last week with an analysis for Georgia due next week.

The report found that in South Carolina, the coast is likely to see extreme floods of more than 4 feet above high tide within 40 years. The danger zone includes 54,000 homes and $24 billion in property.

North Carolina has more 2,000 square miles of land and $9 billion in property less than 4 feet above the high tide line.

Continuous News Desk|07.21.2014

Extreme Floods to Cause Major Damage to Property in South and North Carolina

 Extreme floods are expected to cause huge damage worth billions of dollars to property and infrastructure along the coast of the Carolinas in near future. This worrisome warning has come from Climate Central of Princeton, New Jersey, a non-profit group of scientists and journalists. The researchers conducted an analysis of the extent to which South Carolina and North Carolina are threatened by extreme weather events.

South Carolina coast was found to be at risk of experiencing extreme floods within 40 years. What really makes it petrifying is the fact that the floods would be more than four feet above high tide and will hit a danger zone that comprises 54,000 homes and $24 billion in property. On the other hand, North Carolina will be struck by floods less than four feet above the high tide line. About $9 billion in property and 61,000 homes will be at risk in North Carolina because of the floods.

Maps from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were used by the organization two years ago in order to determine how population and housing face threats from flooding in all coastal states, said Ben Strauss, the lead author of the reports.

The quality of the new maps is much higher than previous ones. Also, the maps have been designed after including 100 additional parameters, like property values, infrastructure, schools, churches, power plants and the ones to suffer damages from floods.

The reports should be considered seriously by coastal communities and they must start to devise strategies that can ensure prevention of their communities from different sea level rise scenarios, said Frank Knapp, the president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce.

Andrea Cordell|07/22/2014

World’s Most Extreme Weather Events  in 2014

In just the first two months in 2014, we had a parade of strange weather extremes around the world, from searing heat, to one of the coldest winters in decades, to flooding so severe it hasn’t been seen in more than a century.

Among the most bizarre was the lack of a winter in parts of the drought-stricken West, including California.

January was the warmest and driest on record in San Francisco, San Jose and Los Angeles. Only four other Januaries since 1878 had been completely dry in Los Angeles until January 2014.

Among the number of monthly records set, perhaps none stood out more than the ongoing record warmth in Sandberg, Calif., located in the mountains of northern Los Angeles County. Sandberg crushed the previous January record number of 11 days of 60-degree-plus warmth with 21 such days. In February, it surpassed the previous record number of 70-degree-plus days (four days), tallying seven such days through Feb. 25.

Instead of digging out from heavy Sierra snow and toting umbrellas, parts of the West were battling wildfires in January.

Perhaps the most bizarre of these was a pair of fires in the coastal range of northwest Oregon in late January, a typically wet and/or chilly location in mid-winter.

Tokyo averages only about 4 inches of snow each year, roughly on par with Charlotte, N.C.

In February, two snow events blanketed one of the world’s most populous cities with significant snow in less than a week.

By the evening of Feb. 8, 11 inches of snow blanketed central Tokyo. According to Fuji TV, it was the heaviest snow in 45 years for Tokyo and in 60 years for the city of Kumagaya, northwest of Tokyo. Digital meteorologist Nick Wiltgen (Twitter) says the all-time calendar-day snow record was tied in Kumagaya (43 cm, or 16.9 inches).

The following weekend parts of eastern Japan, including parts of the Tokyo metro area, received another round of snow. Some smaller communities were essentially isolated by more than 3 feet of snow.

Atlantic winter storms are not out of the ordinary for western Europe, but what has taken place in parts of England this year is something not seen since the late 19th century.

With the exception of some intense wind-producing storms, it’s been the number and overall persistence of the Atlantic storms that tipped the scales to a major flood event in the south of England, among other locations.

England and Wales were drenched by their wettest December-January period since 1876-77, and their second wettest such period in the entire period of record, dating to 1766, according to the U.K. Met Office.

Then a succession of storms piled on in early-mid February bringing more flooding rain, wind-whipped waves and high winds.

As of mid-February, more than 5,000 homes and businesses were flooded, and 150 square miles of land were submerged, according to news reports. Prince William and Prince Harry were photographed tossing sandbags. Floodwaters cut off Devon and Cornwall from the rest of England on Feb. 8.

In addition to the rain, each storm’s waves have been destructive along the southwest coast of England and southern Ireland.

The Thames Barrier, built to protect central London from tidal flooding, was closed a record 18 times as of Feb. 16. River levels on the Thames reached flow rates not exceeded since prior to 1950, according to the U.K Met Office.

While California and other parts of the western U.S. have registered record highs and a lack of winter precipitation, that has not been the case in the Midwest and East.

In many parts of the Midwest, this has been the coldest winter since the late 1970s or early 1980s. In some locations, this may be a top three coldest winter on record. Some typically bitter cold locations are even breaking previous records for days with subzero cold.

Then there’s the snow.

This winter is already the record snowiest in Toledo, Ohio, and is the second snowiest season on record in Detroit, topped only by a winter during the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880-81.

Atlantic winter storms are not out of the ordinary for western Europe, but what has taken place in parts of England this year is something not seen since the late 19th century.

With the exception of some intense wind-producing storms, it’s been the number and overall persistence of the Atlantic storms that tipped the scales to a major flood event in the south of England, among other locations.

England and Wales were drenched by their wettest December-January period since 1876-77, and their second wettest such period in the entire period of record, dating to 1766, according to the U.K. Met Office.

Then a succession of storms piled on in early-mid February bringing more flooding rain, wind-whipped waves and high winds.

As of mid-February, more than 5,000 homes and businesses were flooded, and 150 square miles of land were submerged, according to news reports. Prince William and Prince Harry were photographed tossing sandbags. Floodwaters cut off Devon and Cornwall from the rest of England on Feb. 8.

In addition to the rain, each storm’s waves have been destructive along the southwest coast of England and southern Ireland.

The Thames Barrier, built to protect central London from tidal flooding, was closed a record 18 times as of Feb. 16. River levels on the Thames reached flow rates not exceeded since prior to 1950, according to the U.K Met Office.

While California and other parts of the western U.S. have registered record highs and a lack of winter precipitation, that has not been the case in the Midwest and East.

In many parts of the Midwest, this has been the coldest winter since the late 1970s or early 1980s. In some locations, this may be a top three coldest winter on record. Some typically bitter cold locations are even breaking previous records for days with subzero cold.

While much of the central and eastern U.S. was shivering, Alaskans experienced their third warmest January in 96 years of record, according to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center.

Homer, Talkeetna, King Salmon, and Cold Bay (no pun intended) all chalked up their record warmest January. On Jan. 27, Port Alsworth tied the all-time January record high for the state, topping out at an incredible 62 degrees, according to Rick Thoman of the National Weather Service in Fairbanks.

Among the impacts of this warm spell:

  • A closure of the Alyeska Ski Resort for two days.
  • A closure of Fairbanks International Airport on Jan. 23 due to freezing rain. 
  • Schools closed due to rain, not snow.

Warm air and a series of storms with heavy, wet snow, or even rain, triggered several large avalanches. One notable avalanche in late January buried part of the Richardson Highway in up to 30 feet of snow, cutting off access to America’s snowiest city, Valdez, Alaska.

Interestingly, a wind chill of 97 degrees below zero was observed at Howard Pass on Valentine’s Day, setting a new record cold wind chill for the state, previously held at Prudhoe Bay on Jan. 28, 1989 (-96F). The air temperature at that time was -42 degrees with a sustained wind of 71 mph.

Following Australia’s hottest year on record in 2013, a searing heat wave continued into mid-January 2014.

According to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, more than 10 percent of Queensland and almost 15 percent of New South Wales sweated through their record hottest days on Jan. 3.

Another potent heat wave cooked parts of southern Australia in mid-January, during the first week of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne.

Temperatures peaked above 41 degrees Celsius (just under 106 degrees Fahrenheit) for four straight days from Jan. 14-17, reaching a searing 43.9 degrees C (111 degrees F) on both Jan. 16 and 17.

On Jan. 14, Canadian tennis player Frank Dancevic fainted during his Australian Open match, claiming he saw Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s famous dog, in an hallucination. Players resorted to draping bags of ice around their necks to keep cool, and crowds thinned for the tournament’s opening rounds.

The heat was even too much for bats. An estimated 1,000 dead bats were found in Dayboro, just north-northwest of Brisbane, in early January.

First, Winter Storm Kronos brought a rare blanket of snow as far south as Louisiana, and sleet as far south as Harlingen, Texas and Pensacola, Fla. in late January.

That was only an appetizer.

Just days later, the confluence of temperatures well below freezing and thousands of vehicles compacting snow on untreated roads lead to a commuter apocalypse in both Birmingham, Ala. and Atlanta during Winter Storm Leon.

Commutes that normally take minutes took in excess of 20 hours for some and involved walking miles from abandoned cars. Some teachers and students were forced to stay at school overnight.

Leon also spread ice and sleet to the Gulf Coast, including the Florida Panhandle, and the Lowcountry of South Carolina.

One more storm, however, would eclipse the ice from Leon.

Winter Storm Pax deposited an inch or more of ice in a swath from east-central Georgia into South Carolina, including Augusta, Ga. and Aiken, S.C. Pax was the second heaviest ice storm dating to 1947 in Wilmington, N.C.

Accumulated ice from Pax claimed the famed “Eisenhower tree” at the Augusta National Golf Club. Pax marked the first time since January 1940 that Columbia, S.C. saw snowfall for three straight days.

The South Carolina Department of Transportation used 33,300 tons of road salt, more than 2.3 million gallons of salt brine, and 12,700 tons of sand on roads for Winter Storms Leon and Pax combined.

In this case, it was a nightmarish commute for those in the Raleigh-Durham metro area on Feb. 12, while virtually all businesses and schools were closed in Atlanta.

Strangely enough, the week after Pax, Columbia, S.C. tied its all-time February high of 84 degrees. Augusta, Ga. warmed into the 80s two straight days on Feb. 19-20.

Also of note, Pax was the third heaviest snowstorm of record in both Blacksburg and Roanoke, Va. Eight states from western North Carolina to Vermont and Massachusetts had at least one location with 20 inches of snow or more.

Genetically Modified Organisms

GMO crops threatening monarch butterflies ‏

On the heels of recent bee declines, another iconic pollinator, the monarch butterfly, is in serious trouble. The New York Times has reported that the number of monarchs arriving at their ancient overwintering grounds in Mexico has reached the lowest level on record.

The monarch butterfly’s sharp decline has been linked to massive increases in the planting of GMO crops engineered to tolerate huge doses of Monsanto’s Roundup™ herbicide. These herbicide-tolerant “Roundup Ready” crops have encouraged farmers to use ever-increasing amounts of this weed killer — virtually wiping out milkweed, the only food young monarchs eat.

We  must help protect this iconic butterfly.

Over the last decade, the amount of U.S. crops genetically engineered to withstand massive applications of Monsanto’s patented Roundup™ herbicide grew to comprise 83 percent of all corn and 93 percent of soybeans. As a result, the use of Roundup skyrocketed and has virtually wiped out the milkweed that once grew among our farm fields. 

Monarchs, like bees, are a “canary in the coal mine.” This iconic species is only the tip of the iceberg — a wide variety of pollinators and other insects, including many that benefit farmers, are also rapidly disappearing, along with the birds, mammals and other predators that feed on them.

Monarchs are the latest and most visible victims of the chemical-intensive, corporate-controlled, GMO-dominated industrial agriculture system that is harming not only these majestic pollinators, but also the health of people and the environment around the world.  

Peter Stocker|list.moveon.org|Lisa Archer and Dana Perls|Food and Technology program|Friends of the Earth

$27 Million to Defeat Your Right to Know!

Last week Reuters reported that Frankenfood lobbyists spent a record-breaking $27 million in the first half of this year—nearly triple what they spent last year—to stop state GMO labeling campaigns.

And that doesn’t include the unprecedented millions Monsanto, Dow, Bayer and others have spent this year on false advertising.

What happens in November, in Oregon and Colorado, and early next year in Maine and other states, could make or break the anti-GMO movement in this country.

And Monsanto and Big Food know it.

The Pesticide Purveyors and Junk Food Giants have already made their first million-dollar-plus “smoke-and-mirrors” ad buy in Oregon. Their massive media campaign is likely to be full of the usual lies about how labeling will raise food prices, and how GMO foods are “proven” safe.

It will look much the campaigns they ran in California and Washington State, where they narrowly defeated labeling initiatives in 2012 and 2013.

Only worse. Because this time, the stakes are even higher.

The corporations that poison our food and planet are desperate to defeat state labeling initiatives in Oregon and Colorado—because they know if they lose either of these two state battles, they lose the state labeling laws war.

Why? Because Congress is not likely to pass the industry-sponsored DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) ACT, a bill to preempt state labeling laws, if Oregon and Colorado join Vermont, Maine and Connecticut in passing GMO labeling laws.

Even worse for Monsanto, once state laws mandating the labeling of GMOs in our food are the norm, and consumers get a clearer picture of just how prevalent GMOs are in our food, demand for organic foods will skyrocket.

It will be the beginning of the end of Monsanto’s domination of our food supply.

The laws in Maine and Connecticut don’t yet pose a threat to Monsanto and Big Food. Trigger clauses in those laws mean that they won’t take effect unless multiple other states pass labeling requirements.

So far only the Vermont law, passed in May, threatens to unravel Monsanto’s Great GMO Smoke and Mirrors Campaign. Which is why industry, led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, has filed a lawsuit to try to overturn Vermont’s law.

But industry can’t sue every state in the nation. If voters pass GMO labeling laws in Oregon and Colorado in November, Monsanto will need more than smoke and mirrors to perpetuate its crimes against consumers, farmers and the environment.

We know, from years of fighting this battle that our government is going to protect industry profits. Not your health.

This has always been a battle fought by the grassroots. It’s up to us to win it. However long it takes.

Ronnie Cummins|National Director|Organic Consumers Association|Organic Consumers Fund

Press Release from the Campaign to STOP Genetically Engineered Trees

Groups unite to call on Brazil to deny application to legalize genetically engineered eucalyptus trees

New York -Two letters signed by hundreds of organizations from around the world were delivered today to the Brazilian National Technical Biosafety Commission (CTNBio) calling on them to deny a pending request by the FuturaGene Corporation to commercially release genetically engineered (GE) eucalyptus trees in Brazil. This occurred in the capital Brasilia during a CTNBio public hearing on the FuturaGene request. CTNBio is the Brazilian governmental institution charged with authorizing commercial release of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in that country.

The letters were delivered to CTNBio by representatives of Terra de Direitos, The Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST), La Via Campesina Brazil, and the Small Farmers Movement (MPA) -social movements and organizations that represent hundreds of thousands of people in Brazil. They joined the effort to stop commercialization of GE trees due to their potentially serious negative impacts on the environment and biodiversity, local communities, and human and indigenous rights.

FuturaGene’s application is the first ever requesting permission to commercially grow GE trees in Brazil, where they are currently only permitted in field trials. FuturaGene, registered in the UK, is owned by Brazil-based pulp and paper company Suzano.

Due to mounting global concerns about GE trees, in 2008, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity called for the application of the Precautionary Approach regarding GE trees, as well as a comprehensive and transparent assessment of their long-term social and ecological risks prior to any open release into the environment. This risk assessment has not been done.

Any approval by CTNBio of the commercialization of the GE eucalyptus in question would therefore violate the decision of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity to which Brazil is a signatory.

Additional companies such as Fibria (formerly Aracruz) and ArborGen are also heavily invested in the commercialization of highly controversial GE trees. ArborGen has offices in the US, Brazil and Australasia. Barbara Wells, who led ArborGen until 2012, was, for 18 years, the head of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready GE soy division in Brazil.

Dr. Rachel Smolker, Co-director of Biofuelwatch states: “The case of GE trees in Brazil is also highly significant because there is also a request currently pending in the United States by GE tree company ArborGen to commercially release the very first GE trees there – freeze tolerant GE eucalyptus trees. This would be an ecological catastrophe for the Southern US, where they would be planted. It would also intensify climate change. GE trees must be stopped in both Brazil and the US.”

Teresa Perez, of World Rainforest Movement, and the Campaign to STOP GE Trees states: “The threat posed by the release of transgenic trees in Brazil is a warning for everyone in the American continent and peoples of many other countries where companies want to expand large-scale tree monocultures. Companies will benefit from this new and dangerous technology, while communities who already suffer from the negative impacts of monoculture tree plantations will once again suffer the negative social, ecological and economic consequences.”

In the letters that were delivered today, social movements, scientists, lawyers and organizations from around the world are calling for a global ban on the commercial release of genetically engineered trees, due to their unknown but potentially severe social and ecological impacts and incalculable economic risks, which would overwhelmingly accrue to the public.

The Campaign to STOP GE Trees is an international alliance of organizations that includes Indigenous Peoples, scientists, anti-GM food activists, forest protection advocates and social justice organizers from across North and South America, Europe and Australasia – all of which are home to companies and universities developing GE trees.

Energy

10 Ways You Can Burn Less Coal Today

You may not realize it, but you’re probably burning coal – a lot of it it. Even if you don’t have a coal burning furnace at home, you’re consuming coal when you turn on your lights, power up your computer, crank up the air conditioning, or boil water for a cup of tea. If you’re using electricity to do any of these tasks, chances are that electricity is being generated by coal. You may not actually see coal chunks, but you’re probably using them.

It’s great that we have the power to do all these things. What’s not so great is that, when coal, or oil, or natural gas, are used to generate that power, we’re left with air pollution, smog, and climate change. Burning fossil fuels like coal emits all kinds of particles and gases. Among those gases are carbon dioxide, or CO2. When CO2 gets into the atmosphere, it creates a sort of atmospheric blanket that hovers over the earth and warms the ground below it. We need a little bit of CO2 to maintain life on earth as we know it. The problem today is, we’re burning so much coal, oil and gas, that we’re creating way too much CO2 for the earth to handle. You’ve heard of global warming and climate change? They’re due in large part to the excessive amounts of CO2 we’re dumping into the atmosphere because we’re burning so much coal, along with gas and oil.

Since burning coal is used primarily to generate electricity, here are 10 ways you can burn less coal by cutting down on the amount of electricity you use.

1. Turn off the lights. About 25% of the electricity we use at home goes to power our lights. First and foremost, try to remember to turn off the lights when you leave a room. If you’re just dashing in and out, it’s not a big deal. But if you’re going to be gone for at least ten minutes, just flick the light off. It’s easy enough to turn back on when you return.

2. Use energy-saving bulbs. LEDs (light emitting diodes) use 70% less energy than a standard bulb and can last 25 times as long! You can get the same quality light for a fraction of the amount of coal needed to power the old fashioned incandescent. Even if LEDs cost a few dollars more than old-style bulbs, they’ll save you about $80 each in energy costs over the lifetime of the bulb. Isn’t that worth it?

3. Get ENERGY STAR certified appliances. EPA’s ENERGY STAR program has created a set of performance standards to ensure that you can buy highly energy-efficient refrigerators, stoves, washers, dryers, air conditioners and more. When you replace an old appliance, choose a new one that is ENERGY STAR-certified so you save the most energy using the most reliable appliance.

4. Recycle old refrigerators. Refrigerators are energy hogs. Even though yours still might work well, if it is ten years old or older, consider replacing it with an updated model. Many utilities will give you a rebate for replacing an old, energy-wasting refrigerator with a newer on that uses energy efficiently. They’ll also pick up the refrigerator and recycle it for you, and often pay you for the privilege.

5. Unplug computers and other electronics. Did you know that computers and other electronics consume 40% of their total energy use when they’re turned off but still plugged in? That’s why the Department of Energy calls them “vampires.” Get in the habit, not just of turning electronics off, but unplugging them when you’re not using them. This goes for televisions, X-boxes, and sound equipment as well as computers.

6. Plug into a power strip. Energy-saving power strips make it easy to turn off electronics. You can plug all your office electronics into one strip, then turn off the strip when you finish working for the day. The strip also acts as a surge protector in the event of a storm or power outage. Power strips are easily available at your local electronics or hardware store, as well as online.

7. Use a programmable thermostat. Programmable thermostats can be set to automatically adjust temperatures when you leave for work in the morning, return in the evening, and go to sleep at night. That way, you don’t have to remember to adjust the temperature – the thermostat will do it for you.

8. Insulate. Your home could be letting a lot of energy seep out of drafty attics and crawl spaces. In many state, you can get rebates from your utility to add insulation to reduce your overall energy demand.

9. Weather-strip windows and doors. Leaky windows and doors let cold air in in winter and hot air in in the summer. You can buy inexpensive weather-stripping at your local hardware store to plug the leaks and reduce energy demand.

10. Wash and dry full loads. When it comes to your dishwasher, clothes washer, or clothes dryer, the less you use them, the more energy you save. Fill up your washer before you turn it on to use both electricity and water more efficiently. Use the high spin cycle on your clothes washer to pull as much water out of your clothes as possible, which will reduce the amount of energy needed to dry them. And when it comes to drying, consider a drying rack or clothes line and let the sun and air do the job, rather than coal.

Diane MacEachern|September 12, 2014

SAVING THE CLIMATE, FIGHTING FRACKING

In June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a plan to curtail carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants, a powerful step forward in combating climate change. Yet while efforts to confront coal are making progress, an insidious climate threat is mounting in the form of oil and gas fracking.

Worse, it’s taking shape in our most iconic and majestic landscapes here in the western United States and being facilitated by our own federal government.

For more than a decade, the American West has been ground zero in struggles to safeguard public health and the environment from oil and gas. Booms in the 1980s and early 2000s galvanized diverse movements to protect drinking water, iconic landscapes, clean air, and wildlife.

Guardians has been a part of this movement for many years. In 2008, we successfully prevented the oil and gas industry from destroying key wildlife habitat in New Mexico.

In 2012, we spurred the Environmental Protection Agency to adopt the first ever clean air rules for oil and gas drilling nationwide. And earlier this year, we secured an agreement to protect Utah’s Fishlake National Forest from fracking.

Now, however, we face an unprecedented challenge. With the advent of modern fracking technology, past definitions of success are no longer relevant. No area is off limits as industry seeks to tap every last viable source of oil and gas through increasingly complex and dangerous fracking techniques, including horizontal drilling.

As more information comes to light exposing the true life-cycle greenhouse gas impacts of oil and gas development, it’s clear that the climate impacts are enormous.

Let’s start with the end-of-the-line greenhouse gas emissions of oil and gas, otherwise known as “the burning stage.” Both oil and natural gas are produced primarily as fuels, whether for vehicles or power plants, or even the hot water heaters in our homes. Combustion creates carbon, and although emissions are lower than coal, the quantity is staggering.

Oil and gas from Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming alone—where already 25% of the nation’s oil and 20% of the nation’s gas is extracted—produced an estimated 432 million metric tons of carbon in 2013. This equals the amount released by 113 coal-fired power plants.

The real concern, however, is what happens upstream at “the fracking stage.” We’re finding that methane leaks in the oil and gas fields in the West are producing massive amounts of carbon pollution.

Jeremy Nichols|wildlifeguardians.org newsletter

IT’S THE METHANE THAT MATTERS

At the smokestack, natural gas releases 50% less carbon pollution than coal.

But just looking at smokestacks ignores the climate impacts of fracking. When we factor in “upstream” impacts, we find carbon pollution from gas rivals coal.

The reason? Methane leaks.

Methane is natural gas, and while it’s a valuable product, it’s hard to contain. From wells to power plants, studies indicate that nationwide 7.1% of all natural gas produced is leaked.

That’s where things really get messy, because methane is also a potent greenhouse gas with 86 times the heat-trapping capacity of carbon dioxide.

Along the Front Range of Colorado, studies have found that methane leaks may be responsible for as much carbon pollution as four coal-fired power plants.

Another study reports that even under a 7.1% leakage scenario, any climate benefits from converting coal-fired power plants to natural gas wouldn’t be achieved for at least 100 years.

Natural gas may be cleaner than coal at the power plant, but that’s an unrealistically narrow measure of its climate impacts. Taking into account everything upstream, it’s clear a switch from coal to gas makes little sense. As Joe Romm, founding editor of the blog Climate Progress put it, “Perhaps
it is time to stop squandering tens of billions of dollars—and rendering billions of gallons of water unfit for human consumption—on a fossil fuel source that probably has no meaningful net climate benefit in the real world and may well do considerable harm.”

Enough said.

From wildlifeguardians.org newsletter

Ontario Gets 35% of Energy From Renewables As Coal Plants Shut Down

As coal-fired plants have vanished from its landscape, renewable energy has taken off in a big way in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province.

CleanTechnica reports that, with 2,312 megawatts (MW) of wind power, 4,091 MW of hydro and 159 MW from other sources, renewables hit 35 percent of all the energy going into the grid one day this week. That amount will vary, of course, depending on how windy it is on a given day.

CleanTechnica also pointed to a number of projects in development, with wind leading the the way which, when completed, would produce a total of almost 5,000 MW of new renewable energy. Together with existing sources, they could meet almost half the province’s demand.

The surge was undoubtedly pushed by Ontario’s aggressive drive to eliminate coal-fired power plants. Its Nanticoke Generating Station, the largest in North America and Canada’s largest source of greenhouse emissions, closed last year. The Thunder Bay Power Station, its last coal-burning plant, closed in April, making the province entirely coal-free. It was ahead of its target by nearly eight months. And it was ahead of a goal of 2015 announced in 2002 by over a year.

ontariowind

“Ontario is now the first jurisdiction in North America to fully eliminate coal as a source of electricity generation,” a press release from its Ministry of Energy said when Thunder Bay closed.

“The plant is scheduled to be converted to burn advanced biomass, a renewable fuel source. The province has replaced coal generation with a mix of emission-free electricity sources like nuclear, waterpower, wind and solar, along with lower-emission electricity sources like natural gas and biomass. A coal-free electricity supply mix has led to a significant reduction in harmful emissions, as well as cleaner air and a healthier environment.”

Since 2003, according to the ministry, its coal closure plan has eliminated 30 megatons of emissions from Ontario’s environment.

“Getting off coal is the single largest climate change initiative undertaken in North America and is equivalent to taking up to seven million cars off the road,” said Ontario Minister of Energy Bob Chiarelli in announcing the closure.

“Today we celebrate a cleaner future for our children and grandchildren while embracing the environmental benefits that our cleaner energy sources will bring.”

When legislation was announced last November to permanently ban coal, the province’s Minister of the Environment Jim Bradley said, “Coal-fired electricity generation is a major source of health-threatening smog, and of climate-destabilizing carbon dioxide. Our proposed legislation will ensure that dirty coal-fired electricity remains a practice of the past.”

Nuclear energy remains the biggest source of power generation in the province.

Anastasia Pantsios|September 12, 2014

Oil Drilling in Collier

I would like to take a moment of your time to share an important update about oil drilling activities in Collier County with which the Conservancy has been actively involved.  On Tuesday, September 9, the Collier County Commission backed out of its legal challenge intended to address potential groundwater contamination and to stop further inappropriate drilling activity in Collier County. This decision is the latest move related to controversial oil drilling techniques used by the Dan A. Hughes Company at the Hogan Island well and associated Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) oversight. 

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida, on behalf of our 6,000 member families, along with partner organizations and concerned citizens, supported the County’s legal action to compel DEP to properly investigate and enforce against the Dan A. Hughes Company for their questionable activity in Collier County. We have provided hundreds of hours of technical and legal assistance to provide factual and scientific information to the County, as well as had filed a petition to legally intervene in support of the County. 

From the onset of this issue, we asked the County to:

1. Resolve this in a public process with meaningful public engagement

2. Obtain and rely on independent expert opinions not tied to the landowner or the oil company who have a financial interest in this matter

3. Secure the minimum safeguards needed to address all three possible pathways of water contamination (the Hogan oil well itself, two old improperly plugged wells within a mile of the Hogan well, and the disposal of toxic wastewater produced from the drilling at the Hogan well site)

We believe that the County’s decision on Tuesday ignored all three requests. 

In unanimously voting to withdraw their legal challenge, the Commissioners relied solely on information from DEP and a consultant hired by the landowner (who has a financial interest in the potential oil production). This consultant only addressed one of the three possible contamination pathways.  The Commission took this action without prior public notification.  At the meeting, the Commission refused to hear public comments until after their vote – making the Conservancy’s technical and substantive comments meaningless in relation to the Commissioners’ deliberations.  They further denied public input when after the vote only representatives from the Conservancy were allowed to speak. All other citizens and groups, who waited hours to voice their concerns, were denied.

Tuesday’s decision is disappointing as we feel it did not serve the public’s interest. Their actions are a clear violation of public trust and respect for the public process.  Ultimately, we feel Collier County’s groundwater remains at an unacceptable level of risk.

Though we appreciate the efforts of Secretary Vinyard in leading DEP to revoke Dan A. Hughes permits, as we look to the future, the public needs to know that the Dan A. Hughes oil company is legally challenging DEP’s permit revocation.  If successful, work at the Hogan well could resume, including the possibility of an additional well within a mile of the old improperly plugged wells – further threatening the aquifers Collier County uses for drinking water.

To learn more about this issue, please click here.

We thank each of you for continuing to support our work on this very important and ongoing issue of oil drilling. 

Robert Moher|President and CEO|Conservancy of Southwest Florida

Study: U.S. offshore wind goals “feasible” but require regulatory overhaul

The federal government needs to reduce bureaucratic red tape and enact greater regulation if offshore wind power is going to develop in the United States, according to a new study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Six years ago the Obama administration set the goal that by 2030 the United States would get 20 percent of its electricity from wind power, about a sixth of which would come from offshore wind farms.

But while onshore projects in West Texas and Nebraska are booming, offshore has barely gotten off the ground. Last year the U.S. produced 162 kWh from offshore wind turbines – total electricity use in 2011 was 3.9 billion kWh.

The study, whose authors included researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the University of Pittsburgh, found current technology and coastal winds patterns made the goal feasible. But erecting close to 9,000 wind turbines between 10 and 80 miles offshore will require an overhaul of regulations to incentivize construction of a technology that is about twice the cost of onshore wind.

“There needs to be a reason to invest in this,” said John Daniel, lead author of the study and a consultant at the Swiss technology firm ABB. “I think one of the things that would be necessary is for system operators to understand how they can share the benefits and in the costs, which vary region by region.  It would have to be a national discussion in my opinion.”

The study envisions wind power primarily developing along the Atlantic coast between Boston and Washington D.C., both because of that region’s wind patterns and its heavy electricity demands. Significant development would also occur along the Atlantic Coast around Georgia and Texas’ Gulf Coast. The Pacific coast’s deep water makes development there more difficult, Daniel said.

Right now work is beginning on three federally-funded offshore wind farms off the New Jersey, Virginia and Oregon coastlines to be in the water by 2017. The small “demonstration” projects, which are slated to receive up to $46.7 million in federal funding, are intended as the first step in moving towards the 2030 goal.

But many remain skeptical that costly offshore wind projects can compete. Electricity prices have been driven down by the flood of cheap natural gas from the shale drilling boom.

Earlier this year Austin-based Baryonyx pulled back plans to build a wind farm across 41,000 acres off South Padre Island when it failed to win federal funding.

“Eventually offshore wind will be part of the picture. In the long run, the renewable energy price is going to come down and fossil fuels is going to go up. They’re going to coexist,” Wei-Jen Lee, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington, said in an interview last year.  ”The bottom line is it comes down to the price of electricity, and right now electricity is cheap.”

For policymakers, even with its sizable costs offshore wind remains an alluring possibility.

Land-based wind farms tend to generate electricity mostly at night, when demand is lowest. Out in the ocean, wind blows more consistently throughout the day. And while onshore farms tend to be located across sparsely populated plains requiring costly transmission to cities, offshore could be built adjacent to coastal cities.

“In the Northeast they’re importing a lot of wind. Building these resources could make them a net exporter. It could completely change the flow of power,” Daniel said.

James Osborne|dallasnews.com|September 5, 2014

U.S. offshore wind power nears takeoff with 14 projects

Long stymied by high costs and local opposition, offshore wind is finally nearing takeoff in the United States as 14 projects enter “advanced stages” of development, the Energy Department reports.

Two of the projects — Cape Wind in Nantucket Sound off the coast of Massachusetts and Deepwater’s Block Island off Rhode Island — have moved into the initial stages of construction while the others have obtained a lease, conducted extensive studies or obtained a power purchase agreement. Nine are located on the East Coast.

These projects represent about 4.9 gigawatts of possible capacity, according to a new DOE report that was produced by Navigant Consulting. That’s a fraction of the 61 gigawatt capacity of onshore wind turbines, which meet nearly 4.5% of U.S. electricity demand in an average year.

Yet offshore wind holds much greater potential for the United States. At least 54 gigawatts of its power could be produced and transmitted to the grid by 2030, according to another new DOE-funded report done by several groups including DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the University of Pittsburgh.

“We could eventually get there,” says the report’s principal investigator John Daniel of ABB, a power and automation company. He says the biggest obstacle for offshore wind projects are their high installation costs, especially at a time when a boom in U.S. production of natural gas has lowered its price.

Still, his three-year study found that a massive scale-up of 54 gigawatts of offshore wind power could yield long-term savings. It estimates $7.68 billion a year in lower U.S. energy costs, because power generation would be closer to where it’s consumed.

Daniel says a carbon tax, in which fees are levied on the use of fossil fuels that emit heat-trapping carbon emissions, would make it easier for non-polluting wind power to compete economically.

Also essential, say wind supporters, are federal tax incentives. Several, including the Renewable Electricity Production Tax Credit, have expired for projects that did not start construction by the end of 2013. Despite bi-partisan support for wind energy, Congress has not yet renewed them.

Yet wind power could benefit from the recent rise in natural gas prices and the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed 30% cut in carbon emissions from existing power plants by 2030. The EPA proposal, announced in June and slated to be finalized next year, will likely prompt the closure of many coal-fired facilities.

Globally, the costs of offshore wind installations have fallen 6% since 2011, according to the Navigant report. Larger wind turbines are being placed further out to sea where wind speeds are higher and boost production.

Northwestern Europe accounts for most of the world’s 7 gigawatts of installed offshore wind power, but China is also moving ahead. In 2013, global capacity rose 50% over the prior year. Half of that growth occurred in the United Kingdom.

“While this upward trend is encouraging, uncertain political support for offshore wind in European nations and the challenges of bringing down costs means that the pace of capacity growth may level off in the next two years,” the Navigant report says.

In May, the DOE announced that it would provide up to $46.7 million in federal funds for the final design and construction of three pilot projects: Fisherman’s Energy off the coast of New Jersey, Dominion off Virginia and Principle Power off Oregon. Two other projects, by the University of Maine and the Lake Erie Economic Development Company of Ohio, will each receive a few million in federal dollars.

While most of the 14 U.S. offshore wind projects are slated for mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states, one is planned for each of the following states: California, Texas, Ohio and Oregon. Another is slated for the coast of Saint Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The U.S. wind industry, which now has utility-scale turbines in 39 states, has seen substantial growth in the last decade, but it sputtered last year because of tax uncertainties and cheap natural gas. It’s still growing but not as fast, says the American Wind Energy Association. It added a record 13,131 megawatts of power in 2012 but that fell to only 1,087 MW last year — the lowest level since 2004.

Wendy Koch|USA TODAY|September 8, 2014

China Installs Equivalent of Australia’s Total Solar Capacity — In Six Months

In a big push to cut carbon and support industry, China added more than 3 GW of solar in the first half of 2014.

BEIJING — China, the world’s biggest carbon emitter, accelerated solar power installations in the first half, adding enough capacity in the period to equal Australia’s entire supply of power from sunlight at the end of last year.

China added 3.3 gigawatts of solar capacity in the six months ended June 30, double last year’s additions, the National Energy Administration said today in a statement. China now has 23 gigawatts of solar power supply, almost seven times as much as Australia, which is described by its own government as the world’s highest recipient of radiation per square meter.

China’s race to add renewable energy comes as policymakers push for ways to combat the nation’s growing problem of air pollution. Just this week, Beijing ordered official vehicles off the road and urged the use of public transport to ensure smog-free skies for a preparatory meeting ahead of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November.

Utility-scale photovoltaic power plants accounted for 2.3 gigawatts of the new capacity in the first half, with distributed projects comprising the remainder, the NEA said.

The northwestern region of Xinjiang led the way, with 900 megawatts of photovoltaic power plants in the first six months. Xinjiang was followed by Inner Mongolia, Qinghai and Shanxi. The eastern province of Jiangsu added 270 megawatts of distributed solar capacity, according to the NEA.

Distributed generation refers to electricity produced at or near where it’s used. In the case of solar, distributed projects typically include rooftops or ground-mounted panels near facilities such as sporting arenas or municipal buildings.

The agency vows to install 13 gigawatts of solar power capacity this year by supporting the development of distributed solar power generation, Xinhua News Agency reported Aug. 5, citing Wu Xinxiong, the NEA’s head.

China may announce policies as soon as this month to encourage such installations, people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because they aren’t authorized to speak publicly, said earlier this week.

“Demand will be quite positive” from August in China, Xie Jian, president of JA Solar Holdings Co., said in an interview last month.

Feifei Shen|Bloomberg|August 07, 2014  

China’s ‘War on Pollution’ Helps Kick Coal Habit

There are still doubts. The statistics might be proved wrong. But it looks as if China might be starting to wean itself off its coal consumption habit.

China produces and consumes nearly as much coal as the rest of the world combined. Coal, the most polluting of all energy sources, has powered the growth of China’s flyaway economy. But as incomes have risen, so has pollution. The country is now the world’s No.1 emitter of greenhouse gases.

Latest figures indicate that change is on the way, spurred on by a much-vaunted government “war on pollution” campaign. The state-run National Development and Reform Commission reports that domestic coal output shrank over the first five months of 2014—the first such decline since the start of China’s rapid economic expansion back in the late 1980s.

Greenpeace, the environmental NGO, said in a recent analysis of China’s coal sector that growth in coal imports, which had been going up at an annual rate of between 13 percent and 20 percent in recent years, has come to a virtual halt.

Meanwhile, the official Xinhua news agency says Beijing—a city of nearly 12 million people—will ban the sale and use of coal in its six main districts by 2020.

Coal-fired factories and power plants around the Chinese capital are being shut down and replaced by natural gas facilities. Coal generated 25 percent of Beijing’s energy in 2012, and the aim is to bring that figure down to less than 10 percent by 2017. Other cities and regions are following Beijing’s lead.

Just how meaningful these cutbacks in coal use are is difficult to gauge. Air pollution—much of it caused by the burning of low-grade thermal coal—is not only a big environmental issue in China but also a political one as well.

China’s leaders have promised a population increasingly angry about the low quality of the air they breathe and the water they drink that the government is determined to tackle pollution.

Yet coal-fired power plants are still being built at a considerable pace, and many more are planned.

Some analysts argue that the present slowdown in China’s coal consumption is only temporary, the result of a dip in industrial output that will be reversed as soon as the economy roars ahead again.

Others say the decline in coal consumption is part of a long-term trend. As China’s economy matures, becoming less dependent on heavy industrial goods and embarking on more hi-tech and service-oriented projects, the country will become ever more energy efficient—and less reliant on coal.

China might be the world’s biggest emitter of fossil fuel emissions, but it also has fast become a global leader in hydro, wind and solar power.

No one is suggesting that coal is going to be absent from China’s energy mix anytime soon. The lung-jarring pollution of many of China’s cities is likely still to be evident for some years yet. But coal is no longer king.

That’s bad news for big coal exporters to China, particularly Australia and Indonesia. But it’s potentially good news for millions in China who crave clean air. And it’s very good news for the planet.

Kieran Cooke|Climate News Network|September 5, 2014

Groundbreaking Study Shows How Demand for Water Could Impact Fracking Worldwide

On World Water Day, the World Resources Institute (WRI) has released a study that maps for the first time the water resources available to support fracking in the world’s largest shale exploration areas. The study, “Global Shale Gas Development: Water Availability and Business Risk,” found that 40 percent of countries with the largest shale energy resources could suffer from water stress: competing demands on their renewable water supply that could make it problematic to use that water for fracking.

ShaleWorldMapWorld Resources Institute mapped the availability of water resources to support fracking in the biggest shale exploration areas around the world.

“Hydraulic fracturing requires up to 25 million liters of fresh water per well, meaning shale resources can be hard to develop where fresh water is hard to find—including in some of the world’s fastest-growing economies and populations,” said the report. “In general, shale energy production is vulnerable wherever surface or groundwater is limited.”

It cites competing demands for water as an issue in densely populated countries like the United Kingdom, where more than a third of its shale resources face high water stress.

“As water demands increase, other water users like farms and homes around these plays face higher competition for water,” reported WRI. “This could potentially spur water conflicts for the 386 million people who live on land above shale plays, particularly in regions where changes in precipitation and temperature could alter water supplies.”

WRI found high water stress or arid conditions in China, Algeria, Mexico, South Africa, Libya, Pakistan, Egypt and India, while other countries such as Australia, Russia, Colombia, Brazil and Venezuela had low water stress.

waterstressedcountries

It also issued a series of recommendations for evaluating fresh water availability prior to developing potential shale energy resources and maintaining an adequate water supply for other uses. They include conducting water risk assessments; increasing transparency and engagement among citizens, businesses and regulations; ensuring adequate oversight of water supplies; and minimizing fresh water use in shale energy development.

“Water risk is one of the most important, but underappreciated challenges when it comes to shale gas development,” said WRI CEO Andrew Steer. “With 386 million people living on land above shale plays, governments and business face critical choices about how to manage their energy and water needs. This analysis should serve as a wake-up call for countries seeking to develop shale gas. Energy development and responsible water management must go hand in hand.”

Anastasia Pantsios|September 2, 2014

Pipeline Giant Handed Permit to Open Tar Sands Rail Facility

On the Friday before Labor Day—in the form of an age-old “Friday News Dump“—the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) handed a permit to Enbridge, the tar sands-carrying corporate pipeline giant, to open a tar sands-by-rail facility in Flanagan, Illinois by early 2016.

With the capacity to accept 140,000 barrels of tar sands product per day, the company’s rail facility serves as another step in the direction towards Enbridge’s quiet creation of a “Keystone XL clone.” That is, like TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline system sets out to do, sending Alberta’s tar sands all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico’s refinery row—and perhaps to the global export market.

Flanagan sits as the starting point of Enbridge’s Flanagan South pipeline, which will take tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) from Flanagan to Cushing, Okla. beginning in October, according to a recent company earnings call. From there, Enbridge’s Seaway Twin pipeline will bring dilbit to Port Arthur, Texas near the Gulf.

Enbridge made the prospect of a tar sands-by-rail terminal public for the first time during its quarter two investor call.

“In terms of the rail facility, one of the things we’re looking at is—and the rail facility is really in relation to the situation in western Canada where there is growing crude oil volumes and not enough pipeline capacity to get it out of Alberta for a two or three year period,” Guy Jarvis, president of liquids pipelines for Enbridge, said on the call.

“So, one of the things we’re looking at doing is constructing a rail unloading facility that would allow western Canadian crudes to go by rail to Flanagan, be offloaded, and then flow down the Flanagan South pipeline further into Seaway and to the Gulf.”

FERC has given Enbridge the permit it needs to make that happen.

The announcement comes just days after the U.S. Department of State handed Enbridge a controversial permit to move an additional 350,000 barrels of tar sands per day across the U.S.-Canada border without the legally conventional Presidential Permit, public hearings or an environmental review conducted by the State Department.

Enbridge also received a permit from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) the day before FERC’s “Friday News Dump,” locking in the State Department’s legal ruling at the state-level. MPUC voted 4-1 to permit the pipeline after a meeting lasting nearly eight hours.

The commission did so even though the staffer analyzing comments and legal submissions acknowledged he reviewed far more climate and environmental concerns than vice versa, according to MPUC staff briefing papers reviewed by DeSmogBlog.

“Clearly there exists much public opposition to the increased consumption of fossil fuels and diluted bitumen sources in particular,” wrote Michael Kaluzniak, planning director for energy facilities permitting for MPUC.

“Additionally, the Commission received numerous comments expressing genuine concern regarding the potential impact of the project on water quality and overall dissatisfaction with Enbridge’s public safety and spill response actions.”

With the combination of its Alberta Clipper expansion “illegal scheme” (referred to as such by the National Wildlife Federation), Flanagan South and Seaway Twin pipelines, as well as the FERC-approved rail facility, Enbridge now has the capacity to bring roughly 960,000 barrels per day of tar sands product to the Gulf.

For sake of comparison, Keystone XL has the capacity to bring 830,000 barrels per day of tar sands to the Gulf. But TransCanada has also brokered its own deals and made its own chess moves.

As reported on DeSmogBlog, TransCanada may build its own tar sands-by-rail facility while it waits for Keystone XL’s northern leg to receive—or not receive—a State Department permit and accompanying Presidential Permit.

“It is something … that we can move on relatively quickly,” TransCanada CEO Russ Girling stated on his company’s quarter one earnings call. “We’ve done a pretty substantial amount of work at the terminal end and mostly at the receipt and delivery points and that’s really what our key role in here would be.”

Since that call, TransCanada has not discussed its tar sands by rail business plans.

In July, Global Partners and Kansas City Southern announced plans to develop a tar sands by rail facility in Port Arthur, Texas with 340,000 barrels of storage capacity.

If TransCanada opens up its own tar sands by rail facility, the combination of that and Enbridge’s latest tar sands by rail move could feed the Global Partners-Kansas City Southern beast.

With tar sands now “Texas Bound and Flyin” in a major way, and both Enbridge and TransCanada finding a way to get tar sands to the Gulf, the seemingly hyperbolic headline published on July 10 by the Houston Business Journal seems to ring true more now than ever: “Keystone? Who needs it?

Steve Horn|DeSmogBlog|September 2, 2014

Land Conservation

    U.S. Sugar seeks OK for huge development after news it paid for GOP leaders’ trips

The company that paid for Texas hunting trips for Florida Republican leaders has a deal in the works to turn 67 square miles of agricultural land on the northwest edge of the Everglades into housing and businesses.

Weeks after news that Gov. Rick Scott and Florida GOP leaders took secret hunting trips to Texas financed by Florida’s sugar industry, U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brothers are pushing plans for a massive new development in rural Hendry County near the northwest edge of the Everglades.

The Sugar Hill Sector Plan envisions turning 43,313 acres — or more than 67 square miles — of sugar cane fields, citrus groves and pasture lands into a planned community featuring 18,000 residential units and 25 million square feet of space to accommodate manufacturing, warehousing, transportation services and other kinds of businesses.

Development would occur over the next 46 years, until 2060. No price tag for the project is mentioned in plan documents made public by Hendry County. Nor are financial arrangements discussed.

Maps indicate that the Sugar Hill property is part of 46,800 acres of U.S. Sugar land that the state has an option to purchase through October 2015 at fair market value under the Everglades restoration land acquisition program. Changes to Sugar Hill’s current agricultural zoning could significantly drive up the price per acre.

Various state agencies have been or will be involved in reviewing the giant project by the two Clewiston-based companies. They include Florida’s departments of Economic Opportunity, Transportation, Agriculture and Environmental Protection, as well as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the South Florida Water Management District.

The plan for Sugar Hill, which documents show has been discussed with various state and local officials since July 2013, appears to be on a fast track. The plan was formally submitted to Hendry County on June 2. The county commission gave its initial thumbs-up last week by approving U.S. Sugar/Hilliard’s lengthy development application for transmittal to Tallahassee.

Under a law signed by Gov. Scott in 2011, the state’s sector planning program now lets local governments engage in long-term planning for large areas with minimal state interference. The same law abolished Florida’s Department of Community Affairs, which had overseen state growth management efforts and reviewed local comprehensive plans, and transferred its planning function to the newly created Department of Economic Opportunity.

The department had yet to receive the Sugar Hill application by late Tuesday.

A county planning and zoning document presented to commissioners before the Aug. 26 public hearing minimized the environmental impact of the Sugar Hill development. It says that an environmental analysis prepared by the sugar interests “confirmed that there are no regionally significant natural resources within the sector plan” area.

U.S. Sugar is looking for state support for the Sugar Hill plan in the wake of disclosures by the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times in July that it financed hunting trips to Texas’ King Ranch for Gov. Scott and Republican leaders. They include Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam; former House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park; Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, scheduled to become speaker in 2016; Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, who had been set to become speaker this year until he lost his bid for reelection; and House Appropriations Chairman Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland.

The newspapers reported that “since late 2011, U.S. Sugar paid more than $95,000 to the Republican Party of Florida for at least 20 weekend trips — destinations unspecified on public documents — within days of more than a dozen Florida politicians registering for Texas hunting licenses.” The industry also paid for the licenses.

The Sugar Hill property — shorthand for U.S. Sugar/Hilliard — is described as adjacent to the Airglades Airport, Clewiston, and borders on the Glades County line.

According to the county’s planning and zoning department, it “will incentivize businesses and development companies to locate in Hendry County by removing any barrier that may exist with the current land-use designation. As important, this proposal would complement the future expansion of the Airglades International Airport.”

Airglades is a small, county-owned facility where British Royal Air Force cadets trained during World War II. Since 2010, the county has been seeking to sell the airport to private owners in order to turn it into a major hub for cargo shipments. The Federal Aviation Administration must approve any sale.

The airport is working with Airglades International Airport LLC, (AIA), which wants to buy and privatize the airport as part of a $400 million plan that would turn it into an international cargo hub by adding a new 12,000-foot runway. AIA’s directors include U.S. Sugar executive Malcolm S. “Bubba” Wade Jr. and Joe Marlin Hilliard, chairman of the Florida Sugar Cane League.

On Monday, following FAA approval, AIA took over management of Airglades, said AIA President Fred Ford. He said the company expects a decision allowing AIA to purchase the 2,800-acre airport property “within the next 12 months.” The price to be paid would depend on how many jobs are created, Ford said.

According to Ford, the fate of Sugar Hill, which owns much of the land that surrounds the airport, is tied largely to the success of Airglades.

“If the airport isn’t successful, it won’t happen,” Ford said. “Sugar Hill is what could happen if the airport is successful. … The sector plan could be just an interesting document.”

Dan Christensen|BrowardBulldog.org

State Land Sale Garners More Than $15 Million for Conservation Purchases

State closes on former A.G. Holley property in Palm Beach County

Today, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of State Lands closed on the sale of A.G. Holley. The approximately 79.91-acre parcel of improved state-owned non-conservation land was the site of a former state hospital, which closed in 2012. Governor Scott and the Board of Trustees voted to approve the sale of this property on March 6, 2014, to Southeast Legacy Investments, LLC for $15.6 million.

“The closing of the A.G. Holley sale is a significant achievement in our endeavor to purchase high-priority conservation land,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “The substantial revenue coming from this sale alone will allow the department to fund crucial Florida Forever projects.”

The department is in the process of selling many state-owned, surplus, non-conservation lands to increase the budget for future purchases of environmentally sensitive conservation lands. The 2014-2015 Florida Legislature gave DEP spending authority to utilize up to $40 million of the proceeds of non-conservation land sales to acquire valuable land needed for conservation and public recreation.

“It is exciting to see this sale come to fruition knowing how the sale of non-conservation lands will benefit Florida’s precious resources and will assist the town of Lantana in developing a new public sports complex,” said Kelley Boree, director of DEP’s Division of State Lands. “This closing, along with additional imminent sales, will amplify our ability to acquire environmentally sensitive lands.”

Multiple land sales are anticipated to close over the next several months for a total of approximately $43 million. Approximately $22 million will be collected from the sale of four correctional institutes located in Hendry, Broward, Hillsborough and Palm Beach counties. The facilities were closed due to correctional institute consolidations.

“I am delighted to know that the sale of the A.G. Holley property will be used to preserve Florida’s natural beauty as well as promote physical activity with a new sports complex,” said State Surgeon General and Secretary of Health Dr. John Armstrong. “This milestone demonstrates the collaboration and responsiveness of partners across our state who are committed to the health of Florida’s families and the preservation of our environment.”

latashawalters|Sep. 4, 2014

Air Quality

China’s Biggest 74 Cities All Dirtier Than L.A.

Los Angeles has always been held up as the U.S.’s most polluted city. But, the Los Angeles Times reports, all of China’s largest cities make L.A.’s air look crystalline.

Los Angeles became famous for its ozone pollution, and it is still the most ozone-polluted city in the country, says the 2014 State of the Air report published by the American Lung Association. It ranks fourth in the even more dangerous particle pollution, which comes from sources like exhaust smoke and coal, and has serious negative effects on the cardio-vascular system.

With an average particulate reading of 12 considered “good,” the average Los Angeles reading last year was 18. But China’s cleanest city, Haikou, had an average annual reading of 26. Beijing’s was 90. The L.A. Times cited a tracking of China’s 74 largest metropolitan areas by the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection for the figures.

“From February 2009 to December 2013, Beijing’s worst one-day average reading was 569 on Jan. 12, 2013; L.A.’s was 79 on Dec. 9, 2012,” reported the L.A. Times. “In the same period, Beijing had 48 days with an average daily reading in excess of 300, considered by both China and the U.S. to be ‘hazardous’.”

Of course, with tougher environmental standards, L.A.’s air now is cleaner than it was decades ago. And since particulate matters wasn’t being measured back then, it’s hard to say if L.A. back then was more polluted than major Chinese cities now. But experts cited by the L.A. Times didn’t think so.

“Comparing California 30 years ago to China today is apples and oranges,” Eugene Leong, an air pollution expert who teaches at Peking University, told the paper. “How bad was PM2.5 in California in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s? We don’t know. … Was it as bad as what China is experiencing now? My educated guess is probably not as bad.”

If you’d like to follow how polluted the air is in a Chinese city right now, you can do so on this real-time map. It tracks pollution in cities around the world, assigning each a total air pollution score which can be further broken down by types of pollution. It rates L.A.’s current pollution as a “moderate” 78, with Beijing rated “unhealthy” at 187. At the time we accessed the map, two Chinese cities were rated “hazardous” with readings over 500. Shanghai, however, measured only 42, or “good.” The Yosemite Visitor Center in Mariposa, California, had the highest pollution rating in the U.S. at 177.

Anastasia Pantsios|September 11, 2014

Transportation

CNBC’s Squawk Box: FECI President & CEO and Vice Chairman of Business Development talk “All Aboard Florida”

CNBC’s Squawk Box featured a segment on the All Aboard Florida and the benefits to the state. We encourage you to watch the full clip here.

Vince Signorello, President and CEO of Florida East Coast Industries (FECI), All Aboard Florida’s parent company, and Seth Waugh, FECI’s Vice Chairman, spoke about the demand for intercity passenger rail between Florida’s most populated and visited regions, the profitability of other passenger rail systems in the U.S. and world, and how the company is leveraging 100-year-old infrastructure backbone to reintroduce this much-needed transportation alternative. “This project will transform the state and make it a better place in the process,” said Waugh.

“Today, intercity travel between South Florida and Orlando is tremendous. Every single year there are about half a billion intercity trips between Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando. It’s a mix of tourists, local Floridians and business people. It’s a very diverse market,” said Signorello. “The proposition is very simple. You can have a very productive trip, and we can shave at least an hour off your travel time between South Florida and Orlando.”

Additionally, we would like to thank everyone who has submitted a supportive comment using the new tool on our website.

f you haven’t already done so, please click here to submit your letter of support. Send the link to your friends and family, and let them know #ImAllAboard.
Stay tuned as we continue sharing the facts about this important transportation and real estate project.

Copyright © 2014 All Aboard Florida, All rights reserved.
AAF
Our mailing address is:

All Aboard Florida

2855 Le Jeune Road

4th Floor

Coral Gables, FL 33134

Recycling

This Dutch Denim Company Lets You Lease Organic and Recycled Jeans

“We think recycling is fun,” Bert Van Son, the CEO and founder of Mud Jeans, told me.

The Dutch denim company has created a leasing system, called “Lease A Jeans.” Clients have the option of leasing their jeans, for a €20.00 deposit and €5.95 for each month of use for a year. The lease includes repair services, should you rip your jeans. After a year’s lease, the jeans can be swapped for a new pair, bought outright, or simply returned.

The jeans themselves hit just about every box on the ethical apparel checklist. They use GOTS-certified organic cotton or recycled fibers. They’re made in fair-trade factories in Italy, for distribution in Europe.

And of course, the company ensures that every garment that comes back to them gets recycled, and the jeans are made with printed labels instead of leather labels to make recycling easier. The jeans are either re-leased in their used condition, or the cloth is upcycled into other garments, like shoes and sweatshirts. Sweatshirts are also available for lease and purchase.

But the most exciting thing about Mud Jeans is that they essentially close the loop, creating a model for reducing the amount of waste associated with the apparel. According to a report released last year, only about 25 percent of textiles are recycled in Europe. The rest goes to landfill or is incinerated. Van Son said that in the Netherlands alone, 135 million kilos of fabric are burned per year.

Van Son said that the biggest challenge is getting people to accept that clothing can be part of what he calls the “performance economy” and what might also be called the “sharing economy.” He likens the jeans to a washing machine: many people don’t mind not owning a washing machine, particularly in urban areas, and using the machines at a Laundromat instead. But the idea is a harder sell when it comes to clothes.

However, many people are curious and the idea seems to be catching on. According to the Mud website, there are currently 1,500 people leasing their jeans. After the company’s first year, 30 percent of leaseholders choose to keep their jeans, 60 percent swapped for another pair and 10 percent returned the jeans. “We are building an engaged community,” said Van Son.

Van Son is looking to bring the Lease A Jeans concept to the U.S. At a sustainable fashion event hosted at the citizen M hotel in New York City, Mud signed up three customers who want to lease jeans–the first in America. However, Van Son wants to find American manufacturers, so that all of the products can be part of the local economy and continue to be as sustainable as possible.

Margaret Badore|TreeHugger|September 12, 2014

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.

Why It’s Important to Rinse Recyclables

We all know it’s important to recycle and not toss things into the trash or the environment, but how carefully do we need to rinse containers before sending them on their way to the recycling center? Some argue that recycling is a total waste of water when you factor in the amount people are using to get their cans, bottles, and jars squeaky-clean, while others claim containers don’t need to be rinsed at all, and some say that the reality lies in the middle ground.

The real answer is that the rinsing requirements can vary depending on where you are (check this handy guide to get exact deals for your locale), but the bottom line is this: Yes, you still need to rinse recyclables. However, you can do it in an energy-efficient way.

Here’s why recyclers ask you to rinse:

-  It makes it easier to handle recycling. Imagine dealing with containers partially-filled with food scraps and left to sit around for a while. It would get pretty gross pretty fast. For the comfort of workers, it’s nice to rinse things out to keep down mold and mildew and make their working environment more pleasant. (In addition, some molds can cause environmental illness — don’t make recycling workers sick!)

-  It limits pests. Animals like raccoons are very drawn to food waste. If you put out recycling as you generate it, it may take days or even a couple of weeks before the recycling company picks it up. Over that period, animals may knock your recycling bins over, get inside them and make a mess. That’s not fun for you, or for the sanitation workers who have to deal with it.

-  It increases the quality of your recycling. Yes, even recycling is graded these days. Even in municipalities where it’s okay to throw containers with some food residue in (please compost most of your unused or expired food before recycling as opposed to tossing partially-full containers of mayo in the recycling bin), those containers are a little more difficult to recycle. Ultimately, the food will be burned or rinsed off during processing, but it means a little extra work. When workers sort through recycling during the processing stage, they grade and divide it by cleanliness. If it’s clean, it gets a higher grade, and sells for more. Maybe you don’t care about how much the recycling company profits, but you might care about your trash bill — which will go up if recycling isn’t generating enough money to support itself.

S.E. Smith|Care2|September 11, 2014

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, Care2.  

The Swedish Revolution: Turning 99% of Garbage Into Energy

Sweden has a passion for recycling! We know this because 99 percent of the country’s garbage is recycled, and less than 1 percent ends up in landfills.

In fact, the Scandinavian country has become so good at managing waste that it even has to import garbage from the UK, Italy, Norway and Ireland to feed the country’s 32 waste-to-energy (WTE) plants.

The Swedish Miracle — How Does it Work?

It begins with the three R’s, but goes much further. At the core of Sweden’s program is its waste-management hierarchy designed to curb environmental harm: prevention (reduce), reuse, recycling, recycling alternatives (energy recovery via WTE plants), and lastly, disposal (landfill).

Incinerator plants are at the heart of the program, but before garbage is trucked there, it is first filtered by home and business owners; organic waste is separated, paper picked from recycling bins, and any objects that can be salvaged and reused pulled aside. OK, so nothing much out of the ordinary there.

What makes Sweden different is its use of a somewhat controversial program incinerating over two million tons of trash per year, producing about 670,000 tons worth of fuel oil energy. Pretty useful in Sweden’s cold winters!

WTE plants work by loading furnaces with garbage, burning it to generate steam which is used to spin generator turbines used to produce electricity. That electricity is then transferred to transmission lines and a grid distributes it across the country.

“Waste today is a commodity in a different way than it has been. It’s not only waste, it’s a business,” explained Swedish Waste Management communications director Anna-Carin Gripwell in a statement. “When waste sits in landfills, leaking methane gas and other greenhouse gasses, it is obviously not good for the environment,” she added.

In case you’re wondering, this is not about burning trash in the open air.  Instead, Sweden has adopted a regulated, low-emission process for its incineration plants, which means that start-up costs for new plants can get too expensive for some cities.

The incineration process isn’t perfect, but technological advancements and introduction of flue-gas cleaning have reduced airborne dioxins to “very small amounts,” according to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency.

Check out this video to see how this recycling works:

Making Everyone Responsible — Raising Awareness

How has this small country succeeded in involving all its citizens in the recycling plan?

Sweden’s success in handling garbage didn’t happen overnight.

Starting in the ’70s, Sweden adopted fairly strict rules and regulations when it comes to handling waste, both for households and for cities and companies.

Rules introduced in the 1990s forced companies to take a more eco-aware look at what products they market: by Swedish law, producers are responsible for handling all costs related to collection and recycling or disposal of their products.

How Are Other Countries Handling Garbage?

Japan introduced a Home Appliance Law about ten years ago. It places the responsibility of recycling on everyone from the consumers to the manufacturers. If you need to get rid of a large appliance, you are required to pay a recycling fee. The amount of money depends on the appliance, brand and size of the unit. The cost of recycling a small television, for example, would run you about $19, but a refrigerator could be around $32.

In Italy, Rome has become quite strict regarding the whole recycling issue: if you don’t separate your recycling from your waste and you have a recycling bin within 500 meters from your front door, you can be fined up to 619 Euros, or $833.

In the U.S., San Francisco is the clear leader in the field of zero waste. In 2002, the city made a promise that by 2020 it would eliminate all waste that is neither recycled nor composted; in 2014, they are at the 80 percent mark, which is pretty amazing.

San Francisco’s plan does not involve incinerators; rather, it’s all about mandatory composting, compulsory debris recycling, banning plastic bags and plastic bottles, and mandatory recycling for all its residents.

Other cities in the U.S. are not doing so well: on average across the country, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates only about a third of waste is recycled or composted. In Houston and New York the number is 26 percent, while in San Antonio it drops to 18 percent.

Whether we’re looking at the country of Sweden or the city of San Francisco, the driving force must be to raise people’s awareness of our environment, and the need to protect it. Once we humans start respecting Mother Earth, and taking good care of it, we will all be in much better shape

Judy Molland|September 13, 2014

Miscellaneous

When sinkholes open, they swallow fortunes

LOUISVILLE, Ky. Solid ground isn’t always a certainty. Sinkholes can lurk anywhere — beneath suburban homes, city streets or even football stadiums and museums. It’s basic geology: Sinkholes open when soil collapses into large holes, caused by flowing water in underground limestone. Their toll can be dramatic, and the Southeastern U.S. is prime territory for the geological phenomena. In Tennessee, a sinkhole opened during renovations on the football stadium at Austin Peay State University. What started as a small hole turned into a chasm 40 feet deep and 40 feet wide as a repair crew dug to find its source.

In Kentucky, a sinkhole gobbled eight classic cars on display at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green. Corvettes, piled like toys in a heap of dirt and concrete fragments, became an Internet sensation, boosting museum attendance. And in Florida — ground zero for sinkholes — Tina and John Furlow were forced from their home near Tampa when a sinkhole caused so much damage that the repairs would have exceeded the value of the three-bedroom house with a nice pool. They now live in a used recreational vehicle. “It has been miserable,” Tina Furlow said. “It is taking its toll on us. We decided we need to get off this merry-go-round.”

For every sinkhole that causes property damage, scores open in fields and other obscure places. Earlier this year, sinkholes opened at high-profile spots about an hour and a half apart: the Corvette Museum in south-central Kentucky and the football stadium at Austin Peay State in Clarksville, Tennessee. During renovations at Austin Peay’s Governors Stadium, a sinkhole was discovered where the football field meets the track. Workers needed seven days to fix it, said Mike Jenkins, superintendent for Nashville-based Bell & Associates Construction.

The hole was plugged with layers of boulders, concrete, smaller rocks and a layer of cloth-like material to prevent moisture from seeping through. Then came another application of rocks, capped by asphalt. “I’m pretty confident that the work we did won’t become an issue again,” Jenkins said. At the Corvette Museum, the 60-foot-long, 45foot-wide, 30-foot-deep sinkhole opened in the Skydome display area in mid-February. The place that showcases automotive engineering will highlight another engineering feat when workers fix the hole.

Bruce Schreiner|Associated Press

[They couldn’t extract the body of the poor soul whose bedroom was swallowed up with him in his bed, but they got those Corvettes out.]

Manage Honey Bees Now to Prepare for Next Year’s Nectar Flow

Over everything the beekeeper does hangs the honey producer’s main objective: maximizing bee populations in time for major nectar flows. The next major nectar flows in north Florida will be spring; but beekeepers need to start working now in order to be ready for them next spring. Proper management of your bees in late summer and autumn provides for successful colony winter survival.  This in turn will ensure strong populations of bees to work the 2015 nectar flow.

The objective of management at this time of year is to ensure that a viable population of honey bees goes into winter with a good chance of surviving. Young bees are important, but a good, healthy population of “winter bees” is even more important. Winter bees, bees reared in late summer/early fall, are adapted to storing nutrients for a long period of time. Summer bees do this less well.

The queen is the origin of this vital population of winter bees. The beekeeper must, therefore, take pains to ensure she is up to the job. There is a natural slowdown of brood rearing at this time, so a failing queen may not be detected by the beekeeper. If there is any doubt about the queen’s condition, one should seriously consider re-queening the colony. In fact, some beekeepers re-queen in late summer or early fall on a regular annual basis. New queens lay eggs at higher rates than older ones, and the resultant population is larger. In addition, a first year queen is much less apt to swarm the following spring.

Below is a list of Beekeeping Best Management Practices for late summer and fall:

  • Late summer is the time of year in North Florida when Varroa populations begin to grow. Monitor your colonies closely and treat if necessary. Treatment options include: Apiguard, Apilife VAR, Apistan, Mite Away II, Hopguard and Apivar. Follow the product labels when applying these miticides.
  • As a preventive measure, consider treating colonies with Terramycin or Tylan dust to help control American and European foulbroods.
  • September is a good time to treat for Nosema disease using Fumigillin. Always follow product labels.
  • October – December are peak periods for hive beetle infestations. Options for treatment are: Beetle Blasters, Checkmite, GardStar, Hood traps, West beetle traps, and more.
  • Tracheal mites are of little concern to the Florida beekeeper. However, colonies can be treated if there is evidence of tracheal mite infestations during the autumn season. Grease patties are a simple treatment that can be used against tracheal mites. To make the patty, mix vegetable oil and powdered sugar until doughy but not sticky to touch. Place a pancake sized patty on the top bars of frames in the brood chambers.
  • There is a nectar dearth in many areas this time of year. Check colony food stores and feed colonies if they are light. Some areas may be home to plants that bloom in late summer/fall and provide enough nectar for bees to make and store honey. Check the Florida Beekeeping Management Calendar to see if these plants grow in your area.
  • August and September are very hot months. Make sure colonies are adequately ventilated and close to sources of fresh water.

Roy Carter|UF/IFAS Extension|August 8th, 2014

Sand hauling truck route goes before council
Collier County residents are getting ready to hear the roar of trucks hauling sand once more.

Wednesday morning the city council plans to discuss the routes the trucks will take to haul more than 50,000 cubic yards of sand to the shoreline with three drop points at Lowdermilk Park, Third Avenue North and Seventeenth Avenue South.

Peter Stant says the trucks came down his street during the last re-nourishment project and if this route is approved, they will rumble down 4th Avenue North again. Stant recalls what it was like last time.

“Nerve wracking. And it’s just constant.”

Mayor John Sorey said the project should start on November first and be done by Thanksgiving.

“Maybe they could change things up and reroute it, let someone else get some of this interference,” Stant said, although he acknowledged that it’s something that needs to be done.

Ted Davis lives just down the street and called the trucks a”small inconvenience.”

“I’m not going to complain just because I live on 4th Avenue North, it’s nice to have beautiful beach right there,” he said.

Plus, Mayor Sorey said the research shows, more sand, more tourists.

“Surveys that we do with the tourists, the most important thing they say is our beaches.”

Along with FEMA, the tax paid by those tourists is helping to food the approximately $7-million bill estimated by Sorey. Davis says one month of noise is worth it for a year of beautiful beaches.

“At the end of the day I want what’s best for the town and if it’s best for the town let them bring the trucks in.”

For the last re-nourishment project Sorey said trucks drove more than one million miles without an accident, and that the same safety protocol will be used this time around.

They have yet to accept a bid from a contractor, after that happens they will determine the rest of the truck route.

Sophie Nielsen-Kolding|Collier County reporter|Sep 02, 2014

Environmental Links

SFAS International Wildlife News Audubon Advocate Audubon Restore Eco-Voice South Florida Wildlife Care Center Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital The Turtle Hospital The Marathon Wild Bird Center Climate change info Audubon’s Coastal Strand Audubon of Florida News Blog Bioenergy News Climate Progress – climate science, politics and solutions Collins Center for Public Policy Comprehensive Everglades Restoration News EcoWatch – feeds from the WaterKeeper Alliance Everglades Foundation – press releases Everglades Hub Fort Myers News – Press Green Front Pages from Florida Newspapers Herald Tribune Newspapers –  Environmental News KeysNews.com Naples Daily News  – Environmental News National Public Radio Eco-News Riverwatch News about the Caloosahatchee Sierra Club Sierra Club Florida South Florida Watershed  Journal South Florida Water Management District Union of Concerned Scientists – news Yahoo News Search: Everglades NASA Climate Information American Littorial Society log NASA Climate Information Sun Newspapers – Lake Okeechobee News Everglades City News  – Mullet Wrapper IFAW’s World of Animals Magazine

Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

ConsRep 914 A

We must return to nature and nature’s god. Luther Burbank

Announcements

Welcome

A blogger recently decided to follow this newsletter and it turns out that he has an excellent blog of his own that deals with South Florida birding news.

His name is Jonathan Blithe, and, as he is a relative newcomer to the area, I would like to welcome him and his family to South Florida.

Check out his blog at http://soflobirding.com/ 

Mark your calendar:

First meeting of the 2014 – 2015 season

Date:        Thursday, September 18, 2014

Topics / Speaker: 

Paddy Cunningham, of Birding Adventures will speak on Birding, One of Life’s Pleasures

and will go over our exciting, new Birding Schedule

Location:  Anne Kolb Nature Center at West Lake Park

751 Sheridan Street

Hollywood, FL 33019

954-357-5161

Time:        7:30 to 9 p.m.

Our meetings are the 3rd Thursday of each month from 7:30 – 9:00 p.m.

and alternate between the Anne Kolb Nature Center and Fern Forest Nature Center.

Adena Protest Flotilla September 13 in Silver Springs

Say no to cow manure in our beautiful springs and rivers by participating in this year’s paddling flotilla on the Silver River on Saturday, September 13. 

Paddlers should bring their canoe or kayak to Silver Springs State Park.  The group will launch at 1PM to paddle downstream to the Ocala Boat Club at Ray Wayside Park. 

Live music, fun games, food, and SOLIDARITY will be on hand at Wayside Park from 2-8PM. 

A prize will be awarded for the best protest sign. 

Rumor has it that one of Paddle Florida’s favorites–Grant Peeples–will wow the crowd with his entertaining tunes AND his personal fried mullet recipe! 

Other musicians include Ashley Gang, Bob Patterson & Charley Simmons, Johnny Matanzas & the Hombres, Ron Johnson, Tom Ellis, and Wild Shiners.

Event tickets cost $30, and the donation supports the Water Protection Fund. 

They can be purchased at the door (cash/check), at Chiappini’s Gas Station in Melrose, or online through PayPal at: http://tiny.url.kpbk4py.

If you plan to purchase tickets at the door, please still RSVP by calling 352-546-3560.  Paddlers are also responsible for park entry, launch, and shuttle fees. 

More details on shuttle options at: http://www.silverspringsshuttle.com/

Bok Tower Gardens to host Florida Wildflower Symposium on Sept. 19-20

The Florida Wildflower Foundation is proud to partner with Bok Tower Gardens to bring the 2014 Florida Wildflower Symposium to the scenic Lake Wales attraction on Sept. 19 and 20.

The event includes field trips, workshops, walks in the Gardens, and presentations by experts on wildflowers, native plants, butterflies and bees.

There is also a landscaping track for those who want to learn about using natives at home.

Cost to attend the event is $35 for FWF and Bok Tower Gardens members, and $45 for non-members, which includes a $5 donation to the Gardens.

Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, will speak at the symposium banquet, to be held Friday, Sept. 19, at the Gardens.

Cost for dinner is $35 for FWF and Bok Tower Gardens members, or $45 for non-members.

The Gardens also will host a Wildflower Day on Sept. 20, which includes public events such as films, book signings and a presentation by Tallamy.

Click here to see the full schedule and to register.

Algal Bloom Photo Contest

The National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),

and the North American Lake Management Society (NALMS) would like your help to document algal blooms in our waters.

Algal blooms can occur in water bodies as small as a neighborhood pond and as big as the Gulf of Mexico.

When algae grow out of control in our waters, the result can be unappealing, harmful to our health and harmful to the environment.

Submit your photos of algal blooms where you live, vacation, and recreate for a chance to win great prizes.

For more information and official contest rules please visit: http://neefusa.org/algalbloomcontest

The 4th Annual Florida Panther Festival 

November 15 – 16, 2014

Exotic Pet Amnesty Event

Surrender your exotic pet, no questions asked, to be adopted by a qualified individual.

HELD AT FESTIVAL LOCATION

More information  coming soon 

FREE ADMISSION!

Saturday, November 15

10am – 4pm

Florida Panther Festival

North Collier Regional Park

RAIN OR SHINE!!

More Information to come.

Sunday, November 16th

Field Trips Available

Various Locations

Click here to sign-up!

Partners for Panthers

Please join us for a special announcement as long-time neighbors, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and the Naples Zoo,

announce a joint partnership to help advance panther research efforts in Florida.

Monday, September 8, 2014 at 10:30 AM
Conservancy of Southwest Florida
Eaton Conservation Hall

1495 Smith Preserve Way, Naples

In spite of great conservation strides over the past decades, Florida panthers remain at risk of extinction.

Florida panther recovery must be guided by sound science and supported by collaborative efforts in order to ensure

that future generations of Floridians have the privilege of sharing the landscape with this majestic creature.

Please confirm attendance by contacting Lisa Ball at 239.403.4224 or lisab@conservancy.org.

Your Trash Could Be Our Treasure!
Clean out that Closet, Garage and Storage Unit
The Sawgrass Nature Center is having its huge multi-family, indoor

12th Annual “Trash to Treasure” Sale

Saturday & Sunday, September 13th and 14th

from 9 AM to 3 PM

910 University Dr. Coral Springs, Fl.

in the former Office Max Store

(just to the right of Whole Foods, between Atlantic Blvd. & Ramblewood Dr.)

Donated items are greatly appreciated

(and can be dropped off at the store on the following dates & times)

Sat & Sun. August 30 & 31st 10:00AM – 3:00PM
Sat. & Sun. September 6 & 7th 10:00AM – 3:00PM

(Weekdays& evenings by appointment)

For additional information, please call the Center at (954) 752-9453.

Proceeds from the sale will benefit the Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital,

located at Sportsplex Park in Coral Springs. The SNC provides care for injured,

sick and orphaned wild birds, mammals and reptiles and provides environmental

education programs for children and adults.

Red Snook Catch and Release Charity Tournament

October 24-26

New Low Tournament Pricing!
New Kayak Division!

Oliver White, Honorary Chairman!

Food, Drinks, Prizes and More!
Clean Water!
More Fish!
Exciting
Auction Items!

Register your team today! Click here for an Angler Registration Packet.

Submit your packets to Conservancy Director of Events and Corporate Relations Nikkie Dvorchak via:

Email: nikkied@conservancy.org
Fax: 239.430.2904
or
USPS: Conservancy of Southwest Florida
Attn: Nikkie Dvorchak
1495 Smith Preserve Way
Naples, FL 34102

Can’t make the tournament, but would like to attend the Friday Night Kick-Off Party? Please contact Nikkie Dvorchak at nikkied@conservancy.org or call 239-403-4219.

For more information, visit www.conservancy.org/redsnook or call 239-403-4219.

Clean Water! More Fish!

Register Now!

Rookery Bay Reserve Seeks Motivated Volunteers

~Florida residents reach out to help preserve natural resources~

Volunteers provide education and excitement for thousands of visitors.

Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve protects 110,000 acres of coastal lands and waters on the Gulf coast near Naples.

This expansive amount of acreage requires a large team of staff members and volunteers to keep the area pristine.

Rookery Bay Reserve is seeking 10 to 15 new volunteers who are year-round Florida residents.

Volunteering allows participants to learn about the local environment while helping the state of Florida preserve natural resources and cultural heritage for future generations.

Volunteers at Rookery Bay Reserve have the opportunity to assist in many areas including research, education, resource management, facilities and administration.

“We provide training to all volunteers,” says Donna Young, visitor services and volunteer coordinator at Rookery Bay Reserve.

“We are especially looking for people who wish to share their passion for the environment by providing daily programs on topics such as manatees, sharks and shells.

Other tasks include feeding the aquarium fish and showing off the marine life in the Touch Tank, as well as leading guided walks on the Snail Trail.”

Volunteers can also assist with special events, workshops and art gallery receptions, help staff at the front desk and assist the Friends of Rookery Bay in maintaining the merchandise in the Palmetto Patch Nature Store.

The Environmental Learning Center also has a Florida-friendly garden in need of maintenance volunteers.

Volunteers provide a much-needed work force that can expand and enhance the reserve’s potential achievements.

Year-round Florida resident volunteers are needed to meet the commitment level that is crucial for many of the volunteer positions.

Shifts are flexible and hours vary per position.

The Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center serves as an interpretive gateway into the 110,000-acre reserve.

It features interactive exhibits, aquariums, a nature store, art gallery, observation bridge, walking trails and daily programs.

Volunteers help shine a spotlight on the unique native plants and animals, while guided walks and kayak and boat tours provide opportunities to explore the estuary.

Volunteers are encouraged to contact Donna Young, visitor services and volunteer coordinator at 239.530.5974 or

email volunteer@rookerybay.org.

For more information about Rookery Bay Reserve visit www.rookerybay.org.

The Arthur Marshall Foundation for the Everglades

Upcoming Events

Sequin Palm Beach Reception 

Date:  Thursday, October 9, 2014
Location:  Sequin, Palm Beach
Evening reception to benefit the Marshall Foundation

Annual Cypress Seed Harvest and Photo Project

Date:  October 25, 2014
Location:  Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatachee Wildlife Refuge

River of Grass Gala

Date:  December 6, 2014
Location:  Lady Windridge Yacht, launching from Palm Beach

For more information about any of these events call the Foundation at 561-233-9004 or email info@artmarshall.org.

Save the date for 25th annual “Ding” Darling Days

Mark your calendars for this year’s “Ding” Darling Days birding and eco-festival at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida, the week of Oct. 19-25, 2014.

Family Fun Day kicks off the week with free activities on Sunday, Oct. 19.

It features all-free refuge tours, live wildlife presentations, archery clinics, hot dogs, a touch tank and butterfly house, and kids’ nature crafts.

Muppeteer Jim Henson’s daughter, Heather Henson, with Ibex Puppetry, will return with performances featuring life-size endangered animal puppets.

Conservation Art Day winds up the celebration on Saturday, Oct. 25, with visits from Federal Duck Stamp and Junior Duck Stamp winners and nature art workshops.

Free and discounted birding, biking, kayaking, paddleboarding, sea life boating, and interpretive presentations will fill the week between the two events.

The 25th annual “Ding” Darling Days celebrates the birthday of the refuge’s namesake, father of the Federal Duck Stamp program and Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, Jay N. “Ding” Darling.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge (DDWS), and Tarpon Bay Explorers cosponsor “Ding” Darling Days with generous support from the local community and businesses.

Visit www.dingdarlingdays.com for updates on events, information on sponsoring “Ding” Days, or to sign up for e-mail update bulletins. Contact Wendy Schnapp at 239-470-1877 or EcoErler@aol.com to become a sponsor.

People’s Climate March NYC September 21, 2014

Disruption is a short film about how we can change the world — before the fossil fuel industry irreversibly changes the climate.

It looks at how social movements of the past mobilized at decisive moments to shift the course of history, and applies those lessons to the decisive fight of this generation.

It features author and filmmaker Naomi Klein, CNN host and movement leader Van Jones, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes,

plus many more, including some of the key scientific voices sounding the alarm.

Here’s the most exciting part of this story: it’s not finished yet.

The next act will be written in the streets on September 21st, when the People’s Climate March takes over New York (and cities across the globe).

This is the history we’ll tell the next generation — about the end of fossil fuels,

about how the world was in crisis, about how we started to turn it around together.

Click here to see the first act … and get ready to write the next.

The film just went live — click here to watch it online now: watchdisruption.com

Of Interest to All

Coral protection could have wide-ranging impact

A federal decision to protect an unprecedented variety of corals found in South Florida could affect beach restoration work, coastal development, channel dredging and fishing.

The National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration announced last week it would place 20 corals on the threatened species list in response to a petition from an environmental group. Fifteen of these live in the Pacific Ocean and the remaining five can be found in the Caribbean Sea and the South Florida reefs, which stretch from the Florida Keys to Martin County.

The agency said it was attempting to protect ecologically vital species that have suffered severe declines from global warming.

“Coral reefs are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on earth, providing habitat for many marine species,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries. “Protecting and conserving these biologically rich ecosystems is essential, and the Endangered Species Act gives us the tools to conserve and recover those corals most in need of protection.

The five South Florida species include pillar coral, rough cactus coral, lobed star coral, mountainous star coral and boulder star coral. All are reef-building corals, species that help construct the undersea structures that support a vast range of marine life, as well as drawing thousands of tourists to the region to dive, snorkel and fish.

Federal officials said the legal protections mean that federal agencies would be required to take the impact on the species into account in making decisions on whether to do a project, fund work or issue a permit. They offered few specifics, saying the protections could affect decisions by the Army Corps of Engineers, activities in harbors or decisions on coastal development that could risk increasing the amount of sediment washing into the ocean.

But a 2006 decision to protect elkhorn and staghorn corals as threatened species provides some indication of the possible effects. The need to protect them has led the contours of beach restoration projects to be narrowed to prevent the additional sand from washing into the ocean and smothering the corals. It has played a role in the decision to deepen the channel into Port Everglades, where money must be set aside to create additional coral habitat to compensate for the habitat that will be lost.

Shaye Wolf, climate science director of the Center for Biological Diversity, the group that filed the petition to protect the corals, said new protections could affect coastal development, beach renourishment, fishing permits and other federally permitted activities.

At Biscayne National Park, for example, she said people engaged in lobster fishing must now tie up to mooring buoys to avoid damaging elkhorn and staghorn coral by anchoring on the ocean floor.

In addition to taking steps to avoid harming the corals, the federal government will now draw up recovery plans for each species. These will include actions to increase their numbers, such as growing them in protected nurseries and then transplanting them to the reefs.

Wolf said the government must also designate critical habitat for each species, parts of the ocean floor in which any activities would be particularly scrutinized for their potential impact on these corals.

While none of these efforts at the local level would take on global warming, considered among the biggest threats to shallow coral reefs, she said the news that these ecosystems could be harmed by climate change should serve as “a real wake-up call to the public and politicians that we need to take action.”

David Fleshler|Sun Sentinel|August 30, 2014

Pat Neal Gets SWFMD Permit to Destroy Wetlands on Perico

BRADENTON — Biding his time patiently for years, Pat Neal has owned wetlands on Perico Island bordering Sarasota Bay, waiting for the right mix of political connections to get the approval to destroy the environmentally sensitive land for another development. In fact, the 40-acre parcel of land he owns through a trust is mostly wetlands. Most if not all have conservation protection by the City of Bradenton’s development rules, but don’t expect Mayor Poston to ensure those rules are followed. As for the South Florida Water Management District, Carlos Beruff serves on its board and Neal and Beruff have close business ties, so it may be no surprise that they would grant a permit to Neal, allowing him to destroy the wetlands.

The City of Bradenton has some pretty good rules in their land development code and their comprehensive plan for protection wetlands. However, when Neal requested his development, the city found a way to change the rules, or just ignore them. Nowhere on the Neal site plan approval will you find mention of destroying wetlands, something that Bradenton’s rules do not allow.

The city even administratively changed Neal’s land use from the city’s approved maps, avoiding a planned development hearing. Then there are the four lots he was able to get approved on less than four acres. The only problem is that the rules require at least four acres for approving four lots, which Neal does not have in his request. Altogether, this is represented by 19 pages of the city violating their own codes. When confronted, Mayor Poston never responded. Neither did his staff.

The city relies on SWFMD for wetland issues, delegating wetland review to the agency since they do not have the environmental expertise. However, that leads to a situation where SWFMD can issue a permit that is not consistent with the city’s own rules. So what assurances does the public have that the development rules of their community are ultimately followed? None, it would seem. SWFMD does not even seem to consider the city’s rules, which are more restrictive than the water management district’s.

SWFMD spends millions restoring wetlands, but it also permits their destruction, making something of a self-perpetuating business with our tax dollars. There is no lack of data. We have study after study that says avoiding wetland impacts is important for a number of reasons. While the environmental reasons alone should be enough, a wetland can also be worth millions of dollars in economic value to our fishing industry.

Wetlands also protect our homes from floods and storm events, and their absence can help compound the financial costs of natural disasters, from state and federal response costs to escalating insurance premiums. FEMA has rules that prevent destroying natural shorelines, however, developers like Neal still want to build houses by destroying wetlands. Is it any wonder that FEMA wants to raise our flood insurance rates through revised flood maps?

We all benefit by protecting wetlands and natural shorelines. Neal can build at least one home without destroying any wetlands, maybe two. The rules of avoiding wetlands have been around for quite a while. We do not need to change, or even worse, ignore the rules just so that a developer can make a few extra million dollars.

There is hope. The Army Corp of Engineers (ACOE) has a role to protect wetlands using federal rules. If they apply the rules and the avoidance criteria required, then the wetlands Neal wants to destroy have a chance to be preserved.

You may remember a few months ago that Beruff wanted SWFMD to take over the permitting of wetlands from the ACOE. I guess now we can see why. Even though SWFMD must only permit projects in accordance with the federal rules used by the ACOE, it is evident that they cannot be trusted, otherwise the Neal permit would never have been approved.

If Neal gets away with destroying the wetlands on Perico, is Long Bar Pointe next, or maybe Terra Ceia? Did they not get the message last year by way of the historic local opposition to destroying our environment, that these actions are not acceptable to our community?

Joe McClash|Friday, August 29, 2014

Bottled Water Comes From the Most Drought-Ridden Places in the Country

Popular brands like Aquafina and Dasani source from catastrophically dry parts of the West.

Bottled-water drinkers, we have a problem: There’s a good chance that your water comes from California, a state experiencing the third-driest year on record.

The details of where and how bottling companies get their water are often quite murky, but generally speaking, bottled water falls into two categories. The first is “spring water,” or groundwater that’s collected, according to the EPA, “at the point where water flows naturally to the earth’s surface or from a borehole that taps into the underground source.” About 55 percent of bottled water in the United States is spring water, including Crystal Geyser and Arrowhead.

The other 45 percent comes from the municipal water supply, meaning that companies, including Aquafina and Dasani, simply treat tap water—the same stuff that comes out of your faucet at home—and bottle it up. (Weird, right?)

But regardless of whether companies bottle from springs or the tap, lots of them are using water in exactly the areas that need it most right now.

Julia Lurie|Aug. 11, 2014

Mexico closes 88 schools in Sonora after 10 million gallons of acid spills from copper mine into rivers

A faulty holding pond at the Buenavista Copper Mine spilled acid into two major Mexican rivers, affecting about 800,000 people. Up to 5,000 school children will be kept home from class this week as officials de-acidify the water.

Mexico temporarily closed 88 schools due to toxic leakage from a copper mine, keeping about 5,000 students out of the classroom.

School children in the state of Sonora were due to head back to school this week, but their first day was delayed because officials feared they may come in contact with the sulfuric acid-contaminated water, BBC News reported.

On Aug. 6, 10 million gallons of acids from the Buenavista Copper Mine spilled into two rivers posing a threat to much of Northern Mexico.

The Bacanuchi and Sonora rivers spread the leakage throughout northern Mexico. About 800,000 people have been affected.

It’s unclear exactly when Sonora students will head back to class, but they will not be let in until the regions affected have clean drinking water, Sonora state civil protection director Carlos Arias said.

The leak likely stemmed from defects in newly built holding ponds at the mine, Arias said.

The acid was detected in the river a day later and the government cut off water supplies that stem from the river.

Now, officials are working to de-acidify the two rivers by adding heaps of calcium to the water. Acid levels are dropping, Mexico’s National Water Commission said, but the water is still not totally safe.

The agency will continue to monitor water until most of the chemicals are gone.

Arturo Rodriguez, the head of industrial inspection for the Attorney General for Environmental Protection, claimed lax regulations contributed to the problem. The mine should have detected the spill before so much of the acid got out, he said.

Meg Wagner|NEW YORK DAILY NEWS|August 19, 2014

Groundbreaking Study Shows How Demand for Water Could Impact Fracking Worldwide

On World Water Day, the World Resources Institute (WRI) has released a study that maps for the first time the water resources available to support fracking in the world’s largest shale exploration areas. The study, “Global Shale Gas Development: Water Availability and Business Risk,” found that 40 percent of countries with the largest shale energy resources could suffer from water stress: competing demands on their renewable water supply that could make it problematic to use that water for fracking.

ShaleWorldMapWorld Resources Institute mapped the availability of water resources to support fracking in the biggest shale exploration areas around the world.

“Hydraulic fracturing requires up to 25 million liters of fresh water per well, meaning shale resources can be hard to develop where fresh water is hard to find—including in some of the world’s fastest-growing economies and populations,” said the report. “In general, shale energy production is vulnerable wherever surface or groundwater is limited.”

It cites competing demands for water as an issue in densely populated countries like the United Kingdom, where more than a third of its shale resources face high water stress.

“As water demands increase, other water users like farms and homes around these plays face higher competition for water,” reported WRI. “This could potentially spur water conflicts for the 386 million people who live on land above shale plays, particularly in regions where changes in precipitation and temperature could alter water supplies.”

WRI found high water stress or arid conditions in China, Algeria, Mexico, South Africa, Libya, Pakistan, Egypt and India, while other countries such as Australia, Russia, Colombia, Brazil and Venezuela had low water stress.

waterstressedcountries

It also issued a series of recommendations for evaluating fresh water availability prior to developing potential shale energy resources and maintaining an adequate water supply for other uses. They include conducting water risk assessments; increasing transparency and engagement among citizens, businesses and regulations; ensuring adequate oversight of water supplies; and minimizing fresh water use in shale energy development.

“Water risk is one of the most important, but underappreciated challenges when it comes to shale gas development,” said WRI CEO Andrew Steer. “With 386 million people living on land above shale plays, governments and business face critical choices about how to manage their energy and water needs. This analysis should serve as a wake-up call for countries seeking to develop shale gas. Energy development and responsible water management must go hand in hand.”

Anastasia Pantsios|September 2, 2014

Judge Finds BP “Grossly Negligent” in 2010 Gulf Oil Spill

Today U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier ruled that BP acted with gross negligence in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster. Barbier’s ruling also faulted Transocean Ltd. and Halliburton Co. in the disaster, but to a lesser degree than BP.

“Now that BP’s role in the disaster has been clearly identified, it is time for the State of Florida to put together a restoration plan for Florida’s Gulf Coast,” said Julie Wraithmell, Audubon Florida Director of Wildlife Conservation.  

As required by the RESTORE Act, 80% of all penalty fines collected from the 2010 Gulf oil spill disaster under the Clean Water Act must be directed to protect the natural resources and economies of the Gulf Coast. A significant portion of those funds will come to Florida. Today’s ruling makes the planning for the use of those funds a priority.

Audubon has urged state, federal and local government agencies to use RESTORE Act funds to protect coastal birds and wildlife and their habitats.   

“Restoration of the Gulf ecosystem should be driven by science that identifies threats and provides solutions,” Wraithmell said.

Your voice is needed as the RESTORE process continues. Please click here to see a list of public events where you can make your voice heard in defense of our beautiful Gulf Coast Ecosystem. 

RESTORE Florida’s Gulf|September 2014

Shell Announces Aim to Drill for Oil in Arctic Ocean in 2015

Once again Royal Dutch Shell is taking aim at the oil and gas in Alaska’s Arctic Ocean, the company recently announced. This time its plan is to put two drilling rigs in the Chukchi Sea, with hopes to extract more than 16 million gallons of oil a day.

Following years of successful opposition from the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, as well as repeated technical failures that impeded exploration, Shell did not try to drill in summer 2014. It still needs federal approval for the 2015 drilling — so a coalition of environmental groups, including the Center, is prepping a legal challenge to any approval that fails to protect the Arctic’s fragile environment and wildlife.

As the Center’s Brendan Cummings said, “Drilling in the Arctic makes no more sense in 2015 than it did when it was first proposed.”

Read more in The New York Times.

NEPA/BGEPA: Fish and Wildlife Service May Overhaul Rule Permitting Incidental Take of Eagles

Just as the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) issues its first permit under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA) authorizing a wind energy project to “take” golden eagles over the next five years, the agency also has announced that it intends to conduct a comprehensive review of its eagle permitting program under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The questions USFWS intends to address during this review could result in a more workable permitting regime, such as by replacing the “no net loss” and “unavoidable take” concepts of the existing rules with more flexible, practicable standards. However, the outcome of the NEPA process is, by its nature, uncertain and will take time (USFWS optimistically projects 18 months). This raises questions regarding how BGEPA permits will be processed in the interim. USFWS has received at least 13 programmatic permit applications, and is in advanced pre-application discussions with multiple wind energy projects.

The agency’s stated intention to develop a standardized mitigation regime for BGEPA permits will also require close attention. Finally, it is an open question as to whether USFWS can make changes to the permitting rules flexible enough to avoid additional rule revisions in the future. The existing regulations are less than five years old, and yet they have already had a storied and complicated life.USFWS will host scoping meetings in five cities during a 90-day public comment period that ends on September 22, 2014. USFWS aims for a draft NEPA document in early 2015, followed by a final NEPA document and promulgation of revised permitting rules in late 2015.1.

BGEPA prohibits “take” of bald and golden eagles except as authorized under regulations prescribed by the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary).

On September 11, 2009, after preparing an Environmental Assessment (EA) and issuing a Finding of No Significant Impact under NEPA, USFWS published a final rule authorizing take of eagle nests and the non-purposeful take of bald and golden eagles associated with an otherwise lawful activity (Permit Rule).

The Permit Rule established two non-purposeful take permit regimes; one for standard permits authorizing individual instances of take that cannot be practicably avoided, and a second for programmatic permits authorizing recurring take that is unavoidable even after implementation of “advanced conservation practices”. The Permit Rule authorized programmatic permits for a term of up to five years.

In February 2011, USFWS published a draft Eagle Conservation Plan guidance document intended to show how to prepare an Eagle Conservation Plan in furtherance of a BGEPA permit request (Eagle Guidance).

USFWS received extensive comment. Renewable energy developers – wind energy developers in particular – used this opportunity to request extension of the programmatic take permit term from five to 30 years to better correspond to the operational life of renewable energy projects and thereby provide greater certainty for potential project financiers and investors.

However, members of the environmental community strongly recommended retaining the five year rule, asserting persistent uncertainty regarding the effects of wind projects on eagles and the need for continued public involvement.On April 13, 2012, USFWS initiated two additional rulemakings, a proposed rule to extend the maximum term of programmatic permits from five to 30 years (Duration Rule), and, separately, an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) requesting input on all other aspects of the 2009 non-purposeful take regulations except for permit duration. USFWS issued a substantially revised, final version of the Eagle Guidance in May 2013 and, on December 9, 2013, issued the final Duration Rule pursuant to a categorical exclusion under NEPA.

The final Duration Rule included an additional provision for the streamlined review of “low-risk” programmatic permits where an applicant could demonstrate a risk of less than 0.3 eagle mortalities per year. During this time, USFWS initiated a series of eagle research initiatives with the United States Geological Survey and other agencies, in large part to provide baseline information for future BGEPA permitting decisions. Some of those studies are now complete.On June 19, 2014, the American Bird Conservancy made good on a long-standing threat by filing a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against adoption of the final Duration Rule. The complaint alleges that USFWS and the Secretary violated NEPA by issuing the final Duration Rule pursuant to a categorical exclusion instead of an EA or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The complaint also alleges that the Duration Rule violates BGEPA in contravention of its preservation goals and violates the Administrative Procedure Act as an arbitrary and capricious “reversal of position”.

2. USFWS’s Proposed BGEPA Rule Revision.

On June 23, 2014, USFWS issued a Notice of Intent (NOI) for the preparation an EA or EIS to support a full-scale reassessment of the agency’s eagle permitting program. The NOI says that agency staff who have been implementing the permit regulations have identified “a number of priority issues for evaluation,” including: Eagle population management objectives; Programmatic permit conditions; Compensatory mitigation; and Evaluation of the individual and cumulative effects of low-risk (or low-effect) permits.

The NOI started a 90-day comment period during which USFWS will host public scoping meetings in Sacramento, Minneapolis, Albuquerque, Denver, and Washington D.C. The public comment period ends on September 22, 2014. USFWS aims for a draft NEPA document in early 2015, followed by a final NEPA document and promulgation of revised regulations in late 2015.

The following summarizes key aspects of the permitting program that USFWS intends to reassess over the course of the NEPA review.

The eagle management objective under the existing Permit Rule is to “manage populations consistent with the goal of maintaining and increasing breeding populations over 100 years.”

Under this standard, take of bald eagles is limited at five percent of estimated annual productivity. Due to a lack of data demonstrating the extent to which golden eagle populations could absorb take, the Permit Rule set a zero take threshold for the species, meaning that any take of a golden eagle must be equally offset by compensatory mitigation, resulting in “no net loss”.

USFWS intends to consider a range of alternatives to the eagle management objective through the NEPA process, ranging from a qualitative standard, such as “to not meaningfully impair the bald or golden eagle’s continued existence,” to a specific, quantitative take limit for each Eagle Management Unit as informed by newer, improved survey information developed since 2009.

Programmatic Permits: Duration, “Unavoidable Take”, and “Low-Risk”The NEPA process initiated by the NOI appears intended to further the broad rulemaking effort started with the ANPR in 2012.

While the ANPR expressly excluded permit duration because that issue was the focus of the separate Duration Rule, USFWS has since decided to use this most recent NEPA process to “further analyze the effects of longer term non-purposeful take permits,” apparently to address opposition to the Duration Rule. Given that USFWS also has indicated in its scoping materials that “30 years is the appropriate maximum term for programmatic permits,” this latest round of NEPA review may serve as a vehicle for reinforcing the Duration Rule’s rationale.

USFWS also intends to revise the definition of “low-risk” to include projects with higher take probabilities than the current 0.3 eagles per year standard, which, in the words of USFWS, is so low that “it covers only those projects where take is basically negligible”. The extent of the increase will largely depend on the results of the cumulative effects analysis of the NEPA review.

Finally, and most significantly, USFWS will consider eliminating the “unavoidable take” standard for issuing programmatic permits and replacing it with a less stringent requirement “that all permittees take all practicable measures to avoid and minimize take of eagles”.

To date, power pole retrofits to reduce eagle mortalities by electrocution have been the most common form of compensatory mitigation contemplated by USFWS in exchange for eagle take authorization.

Other potential approaches include habitat preservation, construction of nest platforms, lead abatement, carcass removal, in lieu fees, and funding of conservation programs.

USFWS intends to use the NEPA process to identify and evaluate a suite of uniform, scalable compensatory mitigation measures for codification in the revised rule.

USFWS seeks input on when and how much compensatory mitigation should be required (e.g., for any authorized take versus only if take thresholds are exceeded), as well as the kinds of mitigation that should be used. USFWS will also explore the establishment of mitigation funds.

In parallel with this effort, USFWS is actively promoting a new, coordinated public-private eagle research program in which the USGS and USFWS will support research on eagle population dynamics and basic biology while the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) funds eagle take mitigation research and the development of Advanced Conservation Practices. To that end, NFWF hopes to obtain research financing through a recently established National Bald and Golden Eagle Research Fund and a Mojave and Sonoran Desert Fund.

NFWF also proposes to create advisory committees (staffed in part by industry scientists) for the selection of research projects. USFWS plans to seek financial support for the NFWF funds through industry contributions, settlement agreement community service, and federal and state agency support.

It is likely that the NEPA document for the proposed permitting rule revision will include payment of in-lieu fees to NFWF as a form of standardized compensatory mitigation.

The issues that USFWS intends to evaluate through the NEPA process (and the rulemaking that may follow) go to the core of the eagle permitting program. Changing the program elements referenced by USFWS in the NOI could eventually result in a more flexible programmatic permitting regime.

For example, applying a more realistic metric for identifying “low risk” projects and replacing the rigid “no net loss” and “unavoidable take” concepts with standards that give USFWS more discretion in its permitting decisions could improve implementation of the program. Likewise, a standardized, front-loaded compensatory mitigation framework with in-lieu fees could also create greater certainty and perhaps a faster permitting process as well.

But while prospective permittees are likely to support rule changes that would provide greater flexibility and wider agency discretion, wildlife advocates are just as likely to press USFWS to narrow the regulations in the same respects.

Because the alternatives considered in the NEPA document are likely to cover both sides of the spectrum on each of the major issues identified in Section 2 above, it is also possible (but perhaps unlikely) that USFWS may adopt permitting requirements at the end of the process that are more stringent than those in effect today.

The inherent uncertainty of the NEPA process, and the lack of consensus over how to change the permitting program, ushers in a new period of uncertainty that will continue until the NEPA process is concluded and any revised regulations are adopted – a process that the agency acknowledges could take 18 months (and presumably longer, should the Agency decide to prepare an EIS). This may delay the availability of eagle permits, or may open any permits that are issued in the interim to collateral attack, depending on how such permits are structured and how the NEPA and rulemaking processes proceed. Meanwhile, USFWS has begun to actively enforce BGEPA and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).

If enforcement is intended to encourage projects to seek permits, then that objective is undercut by the uncertainty fostered by the NOI and planned rulemaking process.

USFWS could minimize some of this uncertainty by proposing clear “grandfathering” rules in the draft NEPA document and subsequent regulations, much like those of the Bureau of Land Management’s Solar Energy Program and more recent iterations of California’s proposed Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan.

For example, projects might have the option of remaining subject to the existing permitting regime as long as their applications are submitted before proposal or adoption of the new regulations, even if the permits issue after the new rules take effect. Providing the option – but not the requirement – to conform to the new permit rules would at least give those projects in the permitting pipeline a measure of certainty in an otherwise unstable setting.

The agency’s intent to develop a uniform approach to mitigation also could undercut flexibility created by other changes to the program.

Much like squeezing a balloon, imposing more flexible permitting rules on one end of a large-scale regulatory process can sometimes result in overly stringent and inflexible mitigation requirements at the other end. However, the NOI suggests the USFWS recognizes that risk, as it suggests that mitigation be scalable as well as standardized.

To be workable, any standardized mitigation proposals will need to be sufficiently scaled, tiered and qualified to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach.

The apparent plan of USFWS to use settlement agreements as a tool to provide NFWF with research funds also is highly unlikely to encourage industry participation.

The only settlement announced to date was reached under the MBTA’s criminal provisions. Companies are likely to resist admission to criminal violations of the MBTA or BGEPA. The aggressive pursuit of settlements by USFWS may not foster the kind of collaborative relationships envisioned by the Eagle Guidance that are more likely to contribute to sound eagle conservation decisions.The NOI also indicates that USFWS will consider replacing the current “no net loss” golden eagle management objective with either a qualitative standard or discrete numeric take limits for each Eagle Management Unit.

While unit-specific limits are likely to better reflect the most recent population data and would present a marginal improvement over the current “no net loss” standard for golden eagles, unit-specific limits also would likely be rendered obsolete by new data in the future. Adopting a rule that allows the Agency to adjust to changes in baseline data over time and across geographies makes sense, but not if that responsiveness can only be achieved through constant rule revisions. This suggests that a qualitative standard would be a better approach.

USFWS has opened a pathway for material improvements to its eagle permitting program through the June 23 NOI and the process that will follow.

It also has introduced substantial uncertainty for pending permit applications, which is complicated by the Agency’s stepped-up effort to enforce BGEPA and the MBTA.

Prospective BGEPA permittees would be well-advised to actively participate throughout the NEPA process (and any rulemaking that follows).For more information, please contact Andrew Bell in Marten Law’s San Francisco office or Svend Brandt-Erichsen in Marten Law’s Seattle office.

See more at: http://www.martenlaw.com/newsletter/20140701-incidental-take-rule-overhaul#sthash.YPTtSyII.dpuf

5 of China’s Green Initiatives That Will Put Us to Shame

Seeing as China is responsible for more than 25% of the world’s carbon emissions alone, it’s hard to call the nation a friend of the environmental movement. Nevertheless, while other countries like the United States are floundering to make any meaningful reform (if not still outright questioning the validity of climate science), China is at least moving full speed ahead on some initiatives to become a much greener country. Check out some of its latest plans that should contribute to make the world a healthier place:

1. Cap and Trade

China is prepared to introduce the world’s largest cap-and-trade program to help tackle its carbon emission problem. Having already vowed to cut emissions by 40% of its 2005 levels in the year 2010, China expects that the plan will allow them to get a handle on corporate fuel burning and put a financial burden on those companies that exceed their fair share.

The program will roll out in full in 2016. For now, China has been experimenting with the plan in five different markets, and is impressed with the results thus far. China is using this test-run to fine-tune the rules before it rolls out the program throughout the whole nation.

2. Electric Cars

Another way to cut down on emissions is to transition away from gas-guzzlers and start to emphasize pollution-free cars. The Chinese government says that it intends to have 30% of its automobile purchases be electric cars within the next two years.

In order to increase consumer confidence in electric cars, China is incentivizing these purchases by not taxing them. Additionally, the government is said to be committing about $16 billion to creating additional charging centers to provide electric car drivers with more options.

3. No More GMOs

After five years of allowing genetically modified rice and corn, China has quietly decided  to discontinue the permits necessary to grow GMO crops. The lack of explanation for this decision by the government has fueled speculation as to the reasons. While some believe that safety concerns over GMOs was a primary concern, others point to the fact that China has been advanced its traditional agricultural capabilities and can now grow enough rice without genetic modifications, making altering food in the country unnecessary.

4. Solar Power

While plenty of countries have discussed the likelihood that solar power is the way of the future, no country has put its money and resources behind this belief quite like China. Though more of a recent convert to solar energy, China has hit the ground running. In 2014 alone, China will install more solar technology than the United States has installed throughout all of history.

This boost in solar utilization also means that China is taking a lead in the production of such technology. If the United States hopes to be a leader in energy tech development in the years ahead, there’s no time to dillydally.

5. De-Emphasizing Coal

Speaking of energy, one of China’s most destructive habits has been its heavy reliance on coal. Although some estimates thought the nation’s coal consumption would double by 2030, it may have already peaked well ahead of schedule. Concern over pollution and a shift to alternate forms of energy means that reliance on coal has finally begun to decrease in the country. Some caution that it’s too premature to use the latest coal numbers as a definitive trend, but a turning of the tides is exciting news and indicative of the fact that the economy is finding other ways to grow.

Kevin Mathews|September 6, 2014

Time to Celebrate: 50 Years of Protecting the Wilderness

Meysan Lakes, Calif., lies deep within the John Muir Wilderness area at around 11,000 feet. Along with a few friends, I backpacked up a steep mountain trail to reach this idyllic spot last summer, and spent a perfect four days camped there, beside a beautiful lake, gazing up at tall Sierra peaks, and inhaling the clean air.

Thanks to the Wilderness Act, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this past week, there are many such examples of pristine conditions in the midst of nature’s splendor.

On September 3, 1964, nearly 9.1 million acres of wilderness, 54 areas in 13 states, were placed into the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Today’s wilderness system includes:

•    More than 750 wilderness areas from coast to coast
•    109,511,966 acres of protected wilderness
•    Wilderness areas in all but six U.S. states

This may sound like a lot, but in fact only about 5 percent of the entire United States—an area slightly larger than the state of California—is protected as wilderness.

The Wilderness Act recognized wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” The Act further defined wilderness as “an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.”

Today, millions of Americans enjoy wilderness areas for hiking, camping, backpacking, fishing and more. The Wilderness Act continues to protect unspoiled wildlands with the possibility of new designations each year. These wilderness lands all exist within our national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges and Bureau of Land Management lands.

So what’s the difference between backcountry and wilderness?

If you’re a backpacker, you probably don’t see much distinction between the two, but they are governed by different rules.

The wild, undeveloped areas of national parks, often referred to as backcountry, are subject to development, road building and off-road mechanized vehicular use. National park backcountry is protected only by administrative regulations that agency officials can change.

However, once designated “wilderness,” areas are given by the highest level of conservation protection for federal lands. Only Congress may designate wilderness or change the status of wilderness areas. The Wilderness Act prohibits permanent roads and commercial enterprises, except commercial services that may provide for recreational or other purposes of the Wilderness Act. Wilderness areas generally do not allow motorized equipment, motor vehicles, mechanical transport, temporary roads, permanent structures or installations.

While we are celebrating this awesome anniversary, let’s take a look at what wilderness looks like:

John Muir Wilderness, California was one of the original areas designated by Congress in 1964, and it now has a total of 651,992 acres. All of this wilderness is located in California and is managed by the Forest Service. It is a spectacularly beautiful area, named after John Muir, who left his native Scotland in 1849 at the age of nine, and spent his adult life in California advocating for the protection of the wild parts of the Sierra Nevada. The John Muir Wilderness encompasses many of the lands that Muir explored in the late 1800s.

Teton Wilderness, Wyoming

The Teton mountains are unique and incredible. There is no experience to match that of camping in the Teton Wilderness and waking up to peer out of your tent to see those magnificent mountains rising up straight above you. Located in Jackson, Wyo., this is the second largest wilderness area in the state, and is one of the best wildlife areas in the country: grizzly bears, bobcats, porcupines, elk and grey wolves are year-round inhabitants.

Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, Colorado

Like the John Muir wilderness, Colorado’s Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness was designated in 1964 and now encompasses more than 180,000 acres. This is magnificent high alpine country, with 100 miles of trails, nine passes with elevations above 12,000 feet, and six peaks that rise over 14,000 feet. Nor surprisingly, the area is dotted with sparkling alpine lakes, and the Maroon Bells peaks are said to be the most photographed peaks in North America.

Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness, Minnesota

Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness reaches almost into Canada at its northern boundary. The area contains more than 812,000 acres of preserved land, with nearly 1,200 lakes, ranging in size from 10 to 10,000 acres. Its hundreds of miles of streams allow for long-distance travel by watercraft, and visitors can also explore the settlements and lives of Native Americans who settled on the land over 10,000 years ago.

Sleeping Bear Dunes Wilderness, Michigan

This area, designated on March 13, 2014, is the newest wilderness to be added to the National Wilderness Preservation System.  The park has 65 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and numerous inland lakes and streams; however, as you might guess, the most prominent features are the perched dunes above Lake Michigan. The dune overlooks at the Sleeping Bear, Empire and Pyramid Point bluffs are about 400 feet above Lake Michigan. If you like struggling in the sand, you can take a 3.5 mile hike on the Dunes Trail. Good luck!

Hooray for the Wilderness Act!

Judy Molland|September 6, 2014

The super-pollutants in your refrigerator ‏

    Did you know that there are harmful pollutants escaping from your everyday appliances, such as your refrigerator? Whenever you use a vending machine or turn on the air conditioner in your car, you are releasing synthetic chemicals called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

    HFCs are incredibly harmful for the planet — they cause a thousand times more warming than even carbon dioxide.

    In the United States, HFC emissions are growing at a faster rate than any other greenhouse gas emissions. They are projected to double by 2020 and nearly triple by 2030.

    The EPA has proposed rules that would force these industries to switch to climate-friendly alternatives — many of which already exist and are in use in other parts of the world. Despite the fact that this rule only addresses some uses of HFCs, it is estimated to drastically reduce pollution that contributes to climate change.

    The chemical industries that produce dirty HFCs are determined to gut this rule so that it would require too little action, too late. We have to stand up against our industry foes.

    We must ensure that the rule covers the many sectors producing these super-pollutants, and that reductions are made quickly enough to prevent climate change’s devastating impacts.

    The world must reduce its emission of greenhouse gases to avoid these devastating consequences and keep global warming to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. An important step in addressing climate change is reducing the release of HFCs used in many everyday items, such as aerosols and freezers. We must make sure that the EPA sets robust standards that take advantage of the many available technologies to prevent catastrophic climate disruption.

    Kate DeAngelis|Climate and energy campaigner|Friends of the Earth

    Calls to Action

    1. Call for an immediate end to the destruction of Malaysian rainforests – here
    2. Protect the Ogallala aquifer – here
    3. Reject Enbridge’s illegal tar sands pipeline scheme – here
    4. See how you can help the Nature Conservancy help the Florida Panther – here
    5. Protect the threatened monarch butterfly – here
    6. Save the Hyacinth Macaw – here
    7. Tell FWS to List the Northern Long-Eared Bat as Endangered NOW! – here
    8. Keep Toxic New Agent Orange GMOs off Your Plate – here
    9. Stop Plan to Let 195 Lynx Be Trapped in Maine – here
    10. Tell the Obama Administration to stop oil and gas drilling in the Beaufort Sea – here
    11. Tell the EPA- Reduce HFC pollution from our applianceshere

    Birds and Butterflies -

    Big Results for Birds: American Bird Conservancy’s 2013 Annual Report

    Our 2013 Annual Report attests to the strides we’ve made to protect birds across the Americas—from the Blue-throated Macaw to the Long-billed Curlew. On the cusp of our 20th anniversary, we’re proud to showcase our latest summary of results. We thank all of you who have supported these achievements! We couldn’t do it without you.

    Cerulean Warbler Gets Assist From Reserve Expansion

    Hundreds of bird species—including imperiled Cerulean Warblers, which winter in the northern Andes—will benefit from a land acquisition that protects part of an ecologically vital forest corridor in northeast Ecuador.

    ABC, Fundación Jocotoco, World Land Trust, and March Conservation Fund worked together over eight years to achieve this result. The acquisition not only expands the Narupa Reserve by 117 acres, but is a step toward connecting two of the largest protected areas in Ecuador.

    More than 300 bird species, including some seen nowhere else, have been identified in Narupa, which now protects 1,871 acres and lies in the buffer zones of the lower-elevation Sumaco Napo-Galeras National Park and the high-altitude Antisana Ecological Reserve.

    Together the protected areas cover more than 830,000 acres of rain forests, high-altitude grasslands, and other Andean habitats.

    Rocio Merino, Executive Director of Fundación Jocotoco, called the expansion “a milestone” in a long-term effort to protect the birds and other wildlife found in this part of the Andes. ABC President George Fenwick hailed the collaborative effort as “the kind of victory that helps save birds for future generations.”

    “All the time and effort that went into this agreement have been rewarded,” Fenwick added. “Great reserves, like Rome, aren’t built in a day.”

    The flagship species for the Narupa Reserve s is the rapidly declining Cerulean Warbler, a strikingly beautiful migrant that breeds in North America and winters in the northern Andes. Since 1966, this species has declined by nearly 70 percent, due in part to habitat losses throughout its range.

    In Ecuador, large numbers of Cerulean Warblers winter in a narrow band of Andean subtropical forests found at between 2,500 to 5,500 feet above sea level. Rapidly proliferating cattle ranches, settlements, and farms—especially “naranjilla” groves that use large amounts of pesticides—are the biggest threats to the forests.

    ABC is helping Fundación Jocotoco expand the Narupa Reserve, which was established in 2006, as part of a vision to conserve and reconnect forest fragments used by the wintering birds.

    “Finding and protecting the core wintering habitats of migratory birds such as the Cerulean warbler is part of a major new initiative at ABC to benefit birds on all parts of their range and not just in the U.S. when they are breeding for a few months of the year,” said Benjamin Skolnik, who is responsible for ABC’s Ecuador program. “The expansion of the Narupa Reserve is just the beginning of what we aim to be a much larger effort to consolidate forests for wintering warblers and other migrants in Latin America.”

    The Cerulean is far from the only migratory bird found in these forests. Other migrants seen here include Canada Warbler, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Western and Eastern Wood-Pewee, Swainson’s Thrush, and Blackburnian Warbler. Several threatened species unique to the region are also found in the reserve, including Black Tinamou, Military Macaw, Coppery-chested Jacamar, and Foothill Elaenia.

    Through camera trapping and analysis of tracks, several large mammals of note have been detected including puma, ocelot, and tapir.

    By strengthening the connection between the large protected areas on either side of Narupa, the land acquisition is expected to make it easier for birds and other species to expand into new areas and respond to broad environmental changes.

    “Narupa is valuable in part because it connects forests at higher and lower elevations,” said Fenwick. “This will allow birds, including our very own Cerulean Warbler, to move freely up and down slope as forests cope with climate change.”

    Named for an elegant type of palm tree, Narupa is managed by Fundación Jocotoco with support from March Conservation Fund, World Land Trust, and American Bird Conservancy. In 2012, ABC funded mapping work that guided the expansion. Many other partners have supported infrastructure within the reserve, ranging from a guard house and camping platforms to funding forest guards.

    The reserve is located in the Napo Province of eastern Ecuador along what is often called “the Loreto Road,” which connects the communities of Narupa, Loreto, and Coca. This road was recently paved, making it much easier for settlers, farmers, coffee growers—and bird-lovers—to travel to this part of Ecuador.

    American Bird Conservancy|August, 2014  

    Leading National Bird Group Challenges Army Corps Plan to Kill 16,000 Birds

    American Bird Conservancy (ABC), a leading national bird conservation organization, has raised multiple objections to assertions by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in their proposal to kill 16,000 cormorant birds on East Sand Island (ESI), in the Columbia River Estuary, as part of a plan to reduce predation of juvenile salmonids including salmon smolt by the birds.

    The Army Corps plan to kill the Double-crested Cormorants over a period of four years, was outlined in a draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for their Double-crested Cormorant Management Plan to Reduce Predation of Juvenile Salmonids in the Columbia River Estuary. The conclusions reached in the DEIS prompted ABC to send a 23-page comment letter on August 19 to Sondra Ruckwardt at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Portland District Office. The Army Corps had solicited comments to their proposal via a June 12 public announcement.

    According to ABC’s Dr. George Wallace, who wrote the comments and who is also the organization’s Vice President for Oceans and Islands, “We have deep concerns about the DEIS and the preferred alternative… The determination that the breeding population on ESI must be reduced to approximately 5,600 breeding pairs is not based on any rigorous or peer-reviewed analysis.”

    About 15,000 pairs of Double-crested Cormorants (DCCO) are estimated to nest on ESI.  Adult DCCOs are large, brownish-black birds with a small pouch of yellow-orange skin on the throat. The island provides excellent breeding habitat for the birds and a base from which to depart in search of small fish, which they capture in hooked beaks while diving into water.

    Wallace added that, “Salmon smolt consumption by cormorants has varied from levels that are considered acceptable by NOAA Fisheries (2 million smolts in 2005) to those considered highly unacceptable (20 million smolts in 2011), despite little change in size of the ESI DCCO colony. The lack of a direct correlation between smolt consumption and DCCO colony size means that the number of smolts saved from management to reduce colony size is difficult to predict based on colony size alone.”

    ABC asserts that the lethal approach being recommended by the Corps in reducing the numbers of DCCO is offered “…without adequate justification and explanation of why the same result cannot be achieved through non-lethal methods.” ABC says that the expected benefits to salmon hinge not in how cormorant numbers are controlled (through harassment or lethal control), but in the habitat modification that must occur to maintain the breeding DCCO population at the Corps’ target of 5,600 breeding pairs.

    Furthermore, ABC says the recommended alternative would reduce the entire western DCCO population by approximately 25%, constituting a depredation control order going beyond local ramifications to encompass the entire western DCCO population. It is not clear if permits issued under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) for this type of action can be legally used to reduce an entire regional population of a species protected under the MBTA.  ABC says further that the MBTA requires that permits for lethal control not be issued until it has been demonstrated that non-lethal methods are ineffective.

    “Even then, lethal control cannot be the sole method of control and must be used in concert with non-lethal methods. We question the legality of issuing a depredation permit that apparently violates basic operating tenants of the MBTA,” Wallace said.

    ABC also charged the Corps with misinterpreting scientific data to make its case and then completely ignoring other science that offered findings that appear to not support the proposed action.

    MEDIA RELEASE|Robert Johns|August 22, 2014

    Monarch Butterflies need Endangered Species Act protection

    As monarch butterflies are beginning their epic migration from Canada and the U.S. to Mexico for the winter, concerns about the drastic rate at which they’re disappearing from the landscape have led environmental and health organizations to petition the government for federal protection.

    This week, the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Xerces Society and monarch scientist Dr. Lincoln Brower filed a legal petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking protection for monarchs under the Endangered Species Act.

    “Monarchs are in a deadly free fall and the threats they face are now so large in scale that Endangered Species Act protection is needed sooner rather than later, while there is still time to reverse the severe decline in the heart of their range,” Brower, who has been studying the species since 1954, said in a statement.

    According to the petitioners, monarchs have declined by a shocking 90 percent in less than 20 years and “may have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat – an area about the size of Texas – including nearly a third of their summer breeding grounds.” Last winter, the numbers of these iconic butterflies reached a record low, raising worries about their future survival.

    According to the Xerces Society, in the 1990s, an estimated one billion monarchs made their way from the north to the oyamel fir forests where they spend their winters sheltered by the trees, while another million were believed to spend the winter at sites in California. Now, scientists believe there are only 33 million left.

    Alicia Graef|Care2|August 28, 2014

    Of passenger pigeons and coal-mine canaries

    Passenger pigeons were once a remarkable story of nature’s abundance. Despite producing only one chick a year, they were the most numerous bird on Earth, sometimes darkening the sky for hours or even days when they flew overhead. But then they told another tale — about the destructive power of humans. We killed them all. The last wild bird was believed to have been shot in Laurel, Indiana, in 1902. The lone captive survivor was named Martha; she died at the Cincinnati Zoo 100 years ago, on September 1, 1914.

    In some ways, the passenger pigeons’ success led to their demise. According to an article on Yale Environment 360, their abundance made them “the least expensive terrestrial protein available.” Although habitat loss from expanding logging and agriculture played a role, hunting ultimately wiped them out.

    Birds have long been the “canaries in the coal mine” for our destructive ways. Extinction of the passenger pigeon sparked the first large environmental movement in the U.S., and led to restrictions on hunting, as well as federal and international regulations to protect migratory birds.

    The next great environmental movement was also ignited out of concern for birds. For 20 years after Swiss chemist Paul Müller discovered DDT was extremely effective at killing insects, it was the most widely used insecticide worldwide. But in her 1962 book Silent Spring, Rachel Carson explained how the chemical was also killing birds, and accumulating in the environment and up the food chain, to humans.

    Carson’s book inspired me and many others to heed the environmental consequences of our actions, and eventually led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

    Now, birds face a range of new problems, most caused by humans and many serving as further warnings about our bad habits. According to BirdLife International, one eighth — more than 1,200 species — are threatened with extinction. Habitat destruction is a major cause. Birds can’t survive when the places they live, breed and feed are destroyed or altered, and when food supplies are diminished. Chemicals such as PCBs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and pesticides are also killing birds, and, like DDT, also often affect humans.

    Our insatiable energy appetite also puts birds at risk. Reading some energy-related news and blogs, one might conclude wind power is the biggest bird killer. But that’s far from true. Although poorly situated wind farms, especially ones using older turbine technology, do kill birds, it’s an issue that can be addressed to a large extent, as can problems around solar installations where birds have died. By far the largest energy-related bird killers are fossil fuels, especially coal. Heavy metals like mercury and lead from burning coal kill numerous birds — and even change their songs, which can affect their ability to mate and protect territory. And climate change is affecting many species’ breeding and migratory patterns.

    U.S. News and World Report analyzed estimates of how many birds are killed every year by U.S. electricity sources. The numbers are telling: between 1,000 and 28,000 for solar; 140,000 and 328,000 for wind; about 330,000 for nuclear; 500,000 to one million for oil and gas; and a whopping 7.9 million for coal. According to one recent study, between 12 and 64 million birds a year are also killed in the U.S. by transmission lines. The article notes that all those numbers pale in comparison to birds killed by domestic cats: from 1.4 to 3.7 billion a year!

    Not only do birds fill us with awe and wonder, but they also provide food and feathers, and keep insects and rodents in check. Their ability to warn us of the drastic ways we’re changing the world’s ecosystems and climate and water cycles can’t be ignored. By working to ensure more species don’t go the way of the passenger pigeon, we’re also protecting ourselves from the effects of environmental destruction.

    As individuals, we must conserve energy, shift to cleaner sources and demand that our industrial and political leaders address issues such as pollution and climate change. And we can work to protect wetlands and other bird habitat. We can also join the legions of citizen scientists who are contributing to avian knowledge by posting information to sites such as eBird.org.

    It’s not really just for the birds; it’s for all of us.

    By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington

    Hummingbirds Have Sweet Tooths, But They Weren’t Born That Way, Says Study

    There’s been a lot written about the plight of our pollinators and the need to save the bees and the monarchs, but there’s always one pollinator who gets left out. It’s the hummingbird and it’s hard to see why.

    I fell in love with hummingbirds thanks to Disney’s “Pocahontas.” Meeko was everyone’s favorite, but I was always on Team Flit. It didn’t dawn on me then or now, but how and why did these tiny birds develop a taste for sweets usually reserved for bees and butterflies? If you think about it, there’s a major difference between what a hummingbird likes versus what eagles enjoy.

    Science is getting closer to answering that very question as we learn more about the hard to miss teeny jewels flittering in the sky. In honor of National Hummingbird Day, which is today, let’s look at the research.

    Hummingbirds Love Sweets

    It’s actually very ironic. As National Geographic reports, hummingbirds don’t even have a sweet taste receptor, like most birds. But a new study in Science says that the birds that can be as small as some thumbs outsmarted evolution by “repurposing” their umami receptor — the evolutionary receptor responsible for identifying savory meat flavors — to taste and enjoy sweet nectar. It was never in the evolutionary cards for hummingbirds to have a major sweet tooth, but the feisty birds made it happen.

    Maude Baldwin, the Harvard University doctoral student who led the three-year study, said it is definitely not the norm for “such a complicated function being regained over the course of evolution.” In hummingbirds, the umami receptor had a considerable amount of mutations — hummingbirds changed 19 of their protein-building amino acids. That’s a major feat for such a teeny being. Baldwin believes that these mutations helped hummingbirds taste sugar, and to also respond to the artificial sweeteners that are so bad for us. However, they were smart enough not to want anything to do with aspartame — a common substance found in artificial sweeteners and diet drinks.

    Researchers’ curiosity was piqued close to a decade ago when the complete sequence of the chicken genome was published. That research indicated that chickens don’t have a sweet taste receptor, like the hummingbird. But unlike the hummingbird, chickens don’t seek sugary goodness out even though it doesn’t taste bad. The theory is that many birds evolved this way from their tiny four-legged dinosaur ancestors.

    Baldwin plans to take her research further. She wants to know if the umami repurposing is present in all species of hummingbirds. She’d also like to see if this adaptation is in other species of nectar-eating birds. Finally, she’d like to determine how well hummingbirds distinguish savory-meaty flavors from sweet goodness. With only one receptor serving both flavors, “it could be like soy sauce tasting the same as a glass of soda.”

    Although, preliminary findings indicate that hummingbirds can recognize a difference. As reported in The Washington Post, researchers were feeding the birds a sugary-nectar concoction in feeding stations, but they eventually slipped in some plain old water. The hummingbirds had a curious response: they “pulled back their beaks, shook their heads as though to say, ‘What in the world is this garbage?’ and spat it out.” The researchers went as far as to say that birds looked “mad” when the water was slipped in.

    It‘s Not All About Sugar

    But hummingbirds don’t just get happy about sugary-nectar wholesomeness. Don’t be fooled by their small size, hummingbirds are fierce, meat-eating predators, too. Their long, thin and sharp beaks are optimal for grubbing on bugs, and getting in some much-needed protein.

    The Galveston County Master Gardener Association hit the nail on the head. Hummingbirds are very cute, miniature “Frankensteins.” Are hummingbirds birds or insects? They’re kind of both.

    As The Washington Post highlights, the combination of protein (bird half) and sugar (insect half) have fueled the birds’ expansion. While it sucks to be only a pollinator right now — bees and monarchs are in serious trouble — hummingbirds have managed to grow to 300 species across the Americas.

    Pollinators Are Powerful

    We need pollinators to keep growing like the hummingbird. The Canadian Wildlife Federation claims that these pollen-transferring and nectar-drinking animals contribute over a billion dollars every year to the Canadian economy by keeping up food supplies. These hard-working animals also keep our planet healthy by keeping the (genetic) diversity of our plants balanced. They also keep vulnerable species of plants safe. Hummingbirds, in particular, eat flies and gnats and keep parasitoid laying eggs away.

    How You Can Help

    The pollinators can’t do all the hard work. There’s never been a time when they need our help the most.

    If you are in Canada, then you can visit the Canadian Wildlife Federation for more pollinator-friendly gardening tips, how to shop to help pollinators and who to contact to voice your concern.

    United States residents can visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to learn how to help their local pollinators, in addition to activities.

    Happy milkweed planting for the monarchs and bees! The hummingbirds will also appreciate it because they use the floss from the seeds to line their nests. Everyone wins.

    Jessica Ramos|September 6, 2014

     Florida Panthers

    As The Florida Panther Rebounds, Ranchers Face Increasing Cattle Loss

    The endangered Florida Panther is experiencing a slight population rebound.

    While this is good news for recovery efforts, it’s becoming a problem for ranchers in Southwest Florida. That’s because panthers are killing off livestock such as cattle in large numbers, and ranchers are taking a financial hit.

    Charter Boat Captain Teddy Naftal has been living on the edge of the Picayune Strand State Forest in Naples for a couple years. His property is surrounded by sprawling ranch land and a lot of animals.

    “Look there’s a peacock here,” Naftal said while pointing to a bird walking across a pathway on his property. “We also have bears in and out of the yard daily. I see a lot of bobcats back and forth. I have deer come through once in a while.”

    Naftal said he’s used to seeing wildlife. In fact, it’s part of the reason he moved here. Naftal is a hunter. He said he also wanted to move to a property where he could keep a couple animals, mostly for tax purposes, but animals are part of the problem now.

    “There are turkeys here now and then, but mostly cats,” he said. “They are taking over and they are taking all the animals away from us.”

    Naftal’s talking about panthers. More specifically, the endangered Florida Panther.

    A couple decades ago, it was on the brink of extinction. In the 90s, there were less than 30 panthers roaming the state. That’s why biologists bred them with Texas Cougars, which are genetically identical to Florida panthers. The breeding worked. Right now, there are about 160 in the wild.

    However, a lot has changed here in Southwest Florida since the 90s. This area may be a stronghold for the panther, but right outside their refuge, there is heavy development.

    Ken Warren, a spokesman for U.S Fish and Wildlife, said humans spent years encroaching on panther land and now the booming panther population is creating the opposite problem.

    “You see a lot of issues with panthers being hit by cars,” he explained. “In some cases panthers encroaching into neighborhoods where people are living and raising their families.”

    “Every calf that they punch out there is gone. I haven’t been able to save one.” –Teddy Naftal

    Panthers are also particularly drawn to areas like Naftal’s property. Panthers can roam relatively safely there and there’s cattle for them to feed on.

    Naftal said right now he has three calves and a bull. But, he’s losing new cows all the time.

    “Every calf that they punch out there is gone,” he said “I haven’t been able to save one. Definitely it’s getting worse. I’ve seen it in the last three years. It’s terrible.”

    Naftal said his daughter brought in several miniature goats a while back. But, he says they didn’t make it a week before getting picked off by panthers.

    Naftal said he has a few donkeys, too. He bought them to protect the calves. And they’ve been trying – mostly unsuccessfully— to keep the panthers at bay.

    “My oldest one here, Pedro, he’s the male in the bunch,” he said. “He comes with scars all the time fighting off the panthers, or the cougars.”

    Even though Pedro is a little worse for wear and Naftal’s herd is getting smaller, he said larger cattle ranchers in the area have it much harder.

    In fact, around four years ago commercial and small-scale cattle ranchers started noticing a lot of their calves – and other livestock– were missing.

    Ranchers suspected panthers. So, U.S. Fish and Wildlife paid for Caitlin Jacobs, a graduate student at the University of Florida, to conduct a study. Over two years, Jacobs ear-tagged and monitored 200 cows at two different ranches in the area.

    She said in that time one rancher lost about 5 percent of her calves to panthers. The other lost about point-5 percent.

    “They maybe even thought they were losing more,” Jacobs explained. “And they could be because this is a study done just over two years. So obviously factors can change. So, 5.3 percent is really just an estimate of what could potentially happen out there.”

    Now, state and federal officials have to figure out a way to make sure panthers don’t end up seriously hurting ranchers in Southwest Florida.

    “There’s nothing whatsoever that we can do to dissuade the panthers from preying on our calves at this point.” — Florida Fish and Wildlife Commissioner and rancher Leisa Priddy, on federal regulations protecting the Florida Panther.

    Besides the fact that cattle is big business in Florida, Warren points out ranchlands have also helped panthers rebound.

    Florida Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Leisa Priddy owns a cattle ranch in the area. Her ranch was part of Jacobs’ study. She was the rancher that lost 5 percent of her calves. Priddy said dealing with panthers is a tricky situation mostly because of strict federal laws protecting  panthers.

    “There’s nothing whatsoever that we can do to dissuade the panthers from preying on our calves at this point,” she said.

    State and federal officials are trying to figure out a way to offset the cost of living around panthers.

    State panther biologist Darrell Land said there’s a pilot program in the works that will pay ranchers for maintaining land in panther areas. Land said this would be better than paying ranchers for each animal killed by a panther because most of the time it’s hard to prove.

    Ultimately, though, both Land and Commissioner Priddy explain any program should be funded by the federal government since all Florida Panther regulations are federal. Land said that could be another hurdle.

    “We are very hopeful that that pilot program will become a more permanent type of program, but unfortunately that may mean that Congress will have to fund the program and right now they don’t play well together,” Land said.

    Warren said the goal is to have three viable populations with 240 panthers each before the recovery can be called a success, though they are re-evaluating that criteria. He also says they need to find a way to get the panther population to naturally migrate north, which could help Southwest Florida.

    While state and federal officials try to work out a plan, Naftal wants more regulations on the panthers. Specifically, he wants his animals protected from these predators.

    Until then, though, Naftal said he’s thinking of moving.

    Ashley Lopez|August 26, 2014

      Invasive species

    How Not to Spread Invasive Pests

    When hungry insects decide to travel to new areas, they can devastate crops and trees and upset native ecosystems. And we humans often inadvertently provide transportation for these hungry pests.

    According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), invasive pests are a growing problem, costing the United States billions of dollars in losses. Invasive pests are insects or other organisms that have moved beyond their natural habitat into a new environment where they have no natural enemies to keep them in check. If they’re allowed to establish themselves, they can become a threat to native plant and animal species, water systems, and human health.

    How Invasive Pests Spread

    They’re small, quiet, and crafty enough to travel undetected by

    • hitching a ride on our vehicles, clothing, and outdoor gear;
    • hiding on plants or animals as we transport them from one environment to another;
    • coming in on commercial shipments of food, plants, or just about anything else.

    How To Help Prevent Invasive Pests from Spreading

    • After camping or hiking, wash your outdoor gear carefully. That includes RVs, dirt bikes, lawn furniture, and tents. Insects (or their eggs) may even be hiding out on your tires and wheel wells. Remove seeds and other plant parts, too.
    • Don’t transport fruits, vegetables, or plants out of quarantined areas unless they’re properly inspected. Be sure to declare these items when crossing customs.
    • Invasive pests love to hide in firewood, so don’t move firewood from one place to another. Buy locally whenever possible.
    • Buy only certified, pest-free nursery whenever possible. Buy plants from a reputable source and avoid using invasive plant species!

    According to the USDA, the top invasive pests in the U.S. are:

    • imported fire ant (damages plants, stings animals and humans)
    • khapra beetle (destroys grains and seeds)
    • Mediterranean fruit fly (infests fruit and vegetable crops)
    • Asian citrus psylllid (once it infects a tree, there’s no cure)
    • citrus greening disease (Huanglongbing) (ruins fruit and kills trees within a few years)
    • European grapevine moth (damages grapes)
    • sudden oak death (infects a variety of trees)
    • Mexican fruit fly (infests fruit and vegetable crops)
    • Oriental fruit fly (infests fruit and vegetable crops)
    • giant African snail (carries a parasite that causes meningitis, consumes 500 types of plants, damages plaster and stucco)
    • False codling moth (threatens fruits, vegetables, and other crops)
    • light brown apple moth (damages garden foliage and produce)
    • European and Asian gypsy moths (defoliates trees)
    • emerald ash borer (no treatment — trees must be felled)
    • Asian longhorned beetle (threatens hardwood trees, and there’s no cure)

    To learn which invasive pests are a threat in your state, visit the USDA’s hungrypests.com.

    Ann Pietrangelo|September 1, 2014

    Endangered Species

    No More Fireflies? 9 Ways We Can Help Before It’s Too Late

    Fireflies may be Nature’s most magical animals. You can be walking down a street at night, or sitting on your porch, or camping out, and there they are, flitting about right next to you, blinking on and off like tiny fairies. But they’re not fairies – they’re fascinating and vulnerable insects that play an important role in the web of life while reminding us that Nature is a special place.Sadly, firefly populations are quickly shrinking. Some companies actually pay people to capture thousands of these animals so they can harvest the chemicals in fireflies that produce their light, even though the same chemicals, called luciferase or luciferin, can be made in a laboratory synthetically. Urban and suburban development destroys the places where fireflies live and breed. Light pollution also disorients fireflies, making it difficult for them to reproduce over time.

    Here’s how you can help keep Nature’s little light bulbs shining bright:

    * Don’t capture fireflies! Fireflies are very easy to capture because they fly so slowly, and they usually hover within range of an eager hand. Resist the urge to grab them. And whatever you do, don’t try to capture them to ship them off for research. The research kills them in the end, which is totally unnecessary.

    * Turn off outside lights at night. Fireflies flash their lights to signal to each other, attract mates, and warn when they sense danger. Artificial light could throw off their sense of where to flash when. Turn off porch and yard lights, and draw your blinds at night to darken your landscape.

    * Let logs and organic litter accumulate. Some fireflies lay their larva in rotten logs and the organic matter that builds up under trees and bushes. If you’ve got the space, leave sections of logs or thick branches on the ground where they can host fireflies as they decay.

    * Set up a fountain, bird bath, or pond. Most fireflies thrive around water and marshy areas. While you don’t want standing water that will attract mosquitoes, a gently moving fountain or a bird bath or pond could help a lot. Plus, you’ll attract bees, birds and butterflies, as well.

    * Garden organically. Fireflies and their larvae can ingest poison from plants that have been sprayed with toxic chemicals. They may also eat other insects that are contaminated. Organic gardens will breed healthy fireflies!

    * Use natural fertilizers. Like pesticides, fertilizers that contain toxic chemicals may fell fireflies. Use organic compost below bushes and trees and in garden and flower beds. Fertilize lawns with a very slow releasing product and the minimum amount needed to grow a healthy lawn without posing a threat to wildlife.

    * Let your lawn grow a little longer. Fireflies stay mainly on the ground during the day, so mowing the lawn short and frequently can disrupt their life cycle. Let your lawn grow a little longer between mowings, or convert a part of your lawn to taller grasses that will be both beautiful and beneficial.

    * Plant trees. Fireflies do best in pine and native trees and in the litter (pine needles, bark pieces) that fall onto the ground below their canopy.

    * Create a firefly friendly community. As much as you do around your own home, you can magnify the benefits to fireflies by getting others in your neighborhood to do the same thing. Invite your neighbors to a firefly party – no flashlights allowed! – to enjoy these special creatures and talk about how, together, you’ll do your part to keep them blinking.

    You can get more information from Firefly.org.

    Diane MacEachern|August 31, 2014

    Plastic Trash Strikes Again

    A young female sei whale beached along the Elizabeth River in Virginia.

    The report stated: “It’s possible that the large chunk of plastic found stuck in her stomach caused weakness and confusion, causing her to swim up river to her eventual death.”

    This is not an isolated occurrence.

    Sea turtles, dolphins and marine animals of all ages and sizes are victims of plastics every day–from swallowing them as she did or becoming entangled in nets and lines. These animals have no natural defenses against the seemingly harmless predator that is our trash.

    In order to help vulnerable marine animals, we need to increase our beach cleanup operations, reduce and rethink the way we consume disposable plastics and continue our work to create a healthier ocean.

    Marine animals face unnecessary dangers daily, and that is one of the many reasons that beach cleanups are so important. Cleanups can move us in the right direction, but they can’t completely solve the problem.

    Please click here if you would care to help in this effort.

    Allison Schutes|Manager|Trash Free Seas Program|Ocean Conservancy

    Malaysia: pygmy elephants poisoned for palm oil

    14 Borneo pygmy elephants have been poisoned in the Malaysian state of Sabah. The rare animals are considered pests on the oil palm plantations that are rapidly eating into the rainforests.

    It was a shocking sight for the rangers of the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve: a baby elephant trying in vain to wake its mother with its trunk. She had been poisoned, along with 13 other animals. Their carcasses were found over a period of four weeks on land controlled by Yayasan Sabah, the state wood and palm oil group. The elephants all belonged to the same herd, which had been staying at the edge of the rainforest reserve – in close proximity to a logging camp and oil palm plantations.

    “The elephants ate rat poison. That’s how the plantation workers stop the animals from eating the fruit of the oil palm”, suspects Laurentius Ambu, director of the local conservation authority. The Borneo pygmy elephant is a rare forest elephant subspecies, of which no more than 1,500 animals remain – almost all in Sabah.

    Malaysia’s economy continues to rely on exports of tropical timber and palm oil. The last remaining rainforest areas in the states of Sabah and Sarawak are being cleared for plantations. And with those forests, Borneo is losing an incredible wealth of animal and plant species, including endangered rhinos, orangutans and proboscis monkeys.

    Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman is driving the deforestation by personally granting permits to clear the rainforest and establish palm oil plantations. He is also Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the state-owned Yayasan Sabah Group. In late 2012, the company began clearing another 70,000 hectares of rainforest for plantations, leaving no room for the forest elephants.

    The 14 poisoned animals all belonged to the same family. Such groups contain up to 20 individuals, and rangers fear that more animals may have eaten the poison. The family’s territory covers around 400 square kilometers.

    The Borneo pygmy elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis) is the smallest subspecies of forest elephants. These animals are highly threatened, mainly by hunting, habitat loss, and the resulting conflict with humans. 1,500 individuals at the most have survived in the wild to this day – particularly in the Malaysian state of Sabah.

    The elephant is protected under Malaysia’s Wildlife Conservation Law. Hunting or killing them is subject to a fine, up to five years of prison or both.

    The wheeling and dealing of Sabah’s Chief Minister

    Sabah’s authoritarian ruler Musa Aman has been profiting from the clearing of rainforests and the illicit timber trade for years. He and his clan grant illegal logging and export permits in exchange for substantial bribes. They then allow the planting of palm oil plantations on the cleared land – even in protected areas. Since 2007, the Malaysian anti-corruption authorities have been investigating the bin Aman family and its network of corruption and money laundering that extends from Malaysia to Hong Kong, Singapore and Switzerland.

    70 million euros in bribes have allegedly been laundered through accounts of the Swiss bank UBS alone. The Swiss federal prosecutor opened a criminal case against the bank after charges were brought against it by the Bruno Manser Fund, an environmental organization that has supported the Penan people and their fight against the destruction of the rainforest for many years.

    Founded in 1966, the official role of the state-owned Yayasan Sabah Group (formerly Yayasan Sabah Foundation) is to promote development in the state of Sabah. Its Chairman is Sabah’s Chief Minister Musa Aman. The group holds concessions in Sabah covering a million hectares of rainforest. For decades, logging was the mainstay of Yayasan Sabah. Now that the stocks of luxury woods on its land have been depleted, the group has gone over to clearing rainforest for industrial timber and oil palm plantations.

    In late 2012, Yayasan Sabah began felling 70,000 hectares of rainforest for an oil palm plantation. The clearing work will take about 3 years. The conversion of rainforest land offers one last opportunity for fast profit from vast quantities of industrial timber. The area also includes more or less intact protected areas of unique biodiversity that were originally established by researchers. These include the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve (approx. 130 km from Tawau), the Danum Valley Conservation Area and the Maliau Basin Conservation Area.

    Malaysia’s oil palm plantations cover more than 5 million hectares. The Southeast Asian country produces around 20 million tons of palm oil annually, putting it in second place after its neighbor, Indonesia. About four fifths of the production is destined for the world market.

    Earlier this year, the image of a tiny elephant calf trying in vain to awaken his dead mother with his trunk moved people around the world. The poisoning of 14 endangered Borneo pygmy elephants in the Malaysian state of Sabah met with incomprehension and indignation.

    More than 100,000 people took part in our “Malaysia sacrifices its elephants for palm oil” campaign alone – more than ever before.

    The protests are beginning to show results in the Southeast Asian country. The Forestry Director of Sabah took note of our campaign in Malaysian newspaper Daily Express: “[The images have] attracted so much global attention that even the Prime Minister and Chief Minister are receiving ‘blog petitions’ with close to 100,000 hits. Suddenly, Sabah is in the world map for the wrong reasons.” He noted that prestigious international publications are already calling for a boycott of palm oil from Sabah, and that it would take hard work to restore the state’s damaged reputation.

    International support strengthens local environmentalists

    While Indonesia’s destruction of rainforests for palm oil plantations has been in the headlines around the world for years, Malaysia has long escaped such scrutiny. Together, the two countries produce about 90 percent of the world’s palm oil.

    Malaysia is now in the public eye and can no longer conceal its deforestation. Public attention from abroad is strengthening the bargaining position of local environmental organizations against the palm oil companies, which can no longer afford to simply ignore the demands of environmental groups and conservationists. On February 28, Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman met with six environmental groups. The Borneo Post reported on the gathering in an article titled Govt keen to work on environmental protection with organizations.

    The environmentalists’ central demand is for the protection of further forest areas of the state’s Yayasan Sabah concession. Chief Minister Aman was positive about the points raised and said that he wants to work on their implementation. It remains to be seen, however, whether this is a serious intention or mere campaign posturing. Elections will be held in June at the latest, and the political situation in Sabah is very tense. For the first time, the opposition has a realistic chance to win the elections.

    To date, nearly two-thirds of the government’s Yayasan Sabah concession – around 600,000 hectares – has been assigned various protection categories. Once under protection, the complete clearance of the forest and the land’s conversion into palm oil plantations and the like should no longer be possible. Of the remaining 400,000 hectares, nearly 200,000 hectares have been planted with industrial monocultures, in particular oil palm and acacia, and another 200,000 hectares are set to follow.

    For 30 years, the government-owned Yayasan Sabah Group run by Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman has plundered the forests on the concession of the same name – an area of one million hectares. Almost all of the large rainforest trees there have been felled and exported worldwide as tropical hardwood. The supposedly sustainable tropical forest management was a fiction, while the business acted as a pure logging and clear-cutting operation. Musa Aman diverted millions of dollars from the group, depositing the money around the world – in the Swiss UBS bank and elsewhere.

    Industrial plantations spread at the expense of forests

    With its ruthless exploitation of the forest, the Yayasan Sabah Group has destroyed the basis of its own business. Now the group has gone into industrial oil palm and acacia plantations on a massive scale. Its subsidiaries have established around 135,000 hectares of oil palm monocultures alone on rainforest soil – Benta Wawasan Sdn Bhd: roughly 30,000 hectares, Sri Jaya Industri Sdn Bhd: 20,000 hectares, Asas Juta Sdn Bhd: 35,000 hectares, B. W. Plantations Sdn Bhd: 5,380 hectares, Jeroco Plantations Sdn Bhd: 14,000 hectares, and Sabah Softwoods Bhd: 25,000 hectares. Thousands of hectares more have been used for acacia monocultures.

    According to the will of Musa Aman, a further 100,000 hectares of oil palms will be planted in the next three years. The government-run Yayasan Sabah Group that he heads is already clearing the rainforest for the new plantations. Not only are the Borneo pygmy elephants and thousands of other animal and plant species losing their habitat, they are apparently being decimated intentionally.

    Wild animals decimated in favor of industrial plantations

    The 14 dead pygmy elephants were found very close to the new clearings and existing oil palm plantations. “The elephants ate rat poison. That’s how the plantation workers prevent the animals from eating the fruit of the oil palm”, suspects Laurentius Ambu, director of the local conservation authority.

    Moreover, it is an ongoing problem. Individual poisoned elephants are found frequently in the rainforest, yet they do not draw as much attention as the poisoning of an entire herd, as the Daily Express reports in Poisoning of elephants nothing new.

    Environmentalists complain that Malaysia appears to maintain blacklists of critical activists. Foreigners can expect immediate deportation if they openly criticize the palm oil industry and rainforest deforestation. Even an Australian senator was recently expelled.

    Rainforest Rescue urges the Malaysian government to take criticism seriously instead of suppressing it. Not the frank words of citizens and environmentalists are damaging the country’s reputation, but the policy of rainforest destruction and the machinations of timber and plantation companies. These require the government’s scrutiny – not Malaysia’s concerned citizens.

    Mandrills are beautiful and intelligent primates … unfortunately, they are also endangered.

    Wild mandrills are often removed from the forest and either killed by poachers for bushmeat or captured and sold into the illegal exotic pet trade.

    By offering sanctuary and rehabilitation to several rescued mandrills at our Tchimpounga sanctuary in the Republic of the Congo, the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) is reversing this worrying trend. A big part of JGI’s work with rescued mandrills is our pioneering Mandrill Release Program, a unique project which seeks to rehabilitate mandrills and then return them to the forest.

    In March of this year JGI released eight rehabilitated mandrills back into the wild, marking the beginning of a long-term reintroduction program.

    How is JGI releasing mandrills?

    The safety of the mandrills in our care is of paramount importance to JGI. For this reason, the latest mandrill release was meticulously planned to ensure a successful transition from the sanctuary to the wild. The release site, Conkouti-Douli National Park in the Republic of Congo, was carefully selected because the park is a protected area with active law enforcement.

    Prior to their release, each mandrill was given a thorough medical checkup to make sure that he or she was in good physical health. The mandrills were then transported to an enclosure located at the release site, where they lived before being released. Since their release, the mandrills have been closely monitored every day by JGI caregivers who provide them with supplemental food. This ‘soft-release’ approach helps the mandrills get used to the sounds and smells of their soon-to-be forest home in a safe, more controlled environment.

    What will happen to the released mandrills?

    The released mandrills are well on their way to re-learning what it is like to live in the wild African forest. They are now able to forage for insects, play in trees, and socialize with each other in a natural way. In short, these mandrills are now able to live as nature intended rather than ending up as victims of the illegal pet or bushmeat trades. Each mandrill has been fitted with a radio collar so that JGI will be able to monitor each individual for the long-term. The mandrills are also receiving supplemental food from JGI caretakers. Over time, the caretakers will leave less and less food for the mandrills as the monkeys become used to their new environment and eat more and more wild foods.

    Click here if you care to help JGI

    Finding Nemo getting tougher? Protection considered for clownfish

    The orange clownfish is under consideration for listing as an endangered or threatened species.

    The orange clownfish — the striped reef dweller made popular by the Disney cartoon character Nemo — may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act because of ocean acidification and potential over-harvesting for the aquarium trade.

    The National Marine Fisheries Service announced Tuesday that it will conduct a status review in response to a 2012 scientific petition by the Center for Biological Diversity, which cited the fish’s popularity — it is the fifth most popular fish imported in the U.S. for aquariums —and threats from ocean acidity, believed to be caused by carbon dioxide pollution.

    “Finding Nemo’s getting harder as global warming and acidifying oceans destroy the coral reefs the clownfish calls home,” said Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center. “Endangered Species Act protection and meaningful action to put the brakes on greenhouse gas pollution will help make sure these beautiful fish survive in the wild and not just in the movies.”

    The orange clownfish, which inhabits Coral Triangle region of the tropical Indo-Pacific, spends nearly its entire life protected within anemones on coral reefs. Rising ocean temperatures reduce anemone size and numbers. Ocean warming degrades and destroys coral reef habitat by increasing the frequency and intensity of mass bleaching events, while ocean acidification slows coral growth.

    Ocean acidification has also been shown to damage the smell and hearing of orange clownfish. When exposed to the levels of carbon dioxide expected later this century, young clownfish become attracted to their predators and are unable to find their coral reef homes.

    The orange clownfish may also face threats from the global marine aquarium trade. The United States is the world’s largest importer of ornamental marine fish, and clownfish are among the most commonly traded species worldwide. Studies suggest that clownfish and other anemone fish are suffering population declines in the wild because of over-harvesting for the aquarium trade.

    Comments can be submitted online via the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2014-0072. Mail submissions should be sent to Regulatory Branch Chief, Protected Resources Division, Pacific Islands Regional Office, NMFS Protected Resources Division, 1845 Wasp Blvd., Building 176, Honolulu, HI, 96818. The deadline for submitting comments in Nov. 2.

    Christine Stapleton|Staff Writer|Palm Beach Post|Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014

    5 Species We Need to Save

    clip_image001

    The charmingly mellow sea otter spends much of its life in water. It’s where they eat, sleep, hunt, mate, and even give birth. But a changing climate is changing its habitat and threatening the otter’s food source. Ocean acidification prevents the formation of carbonate shells, which put the otters food supply (marine invertebrates like clams and sea urchins) at risk.

    clip_image002

    The American Wolverine is a particularly unique species. They’ll kill prey many times their own size and scare truly intimidating creatures (like mountain lions) away from their own kills. But even these astounding creatures can’t protect themselves from a warming world. They’re already at risk—there are only about 500 left in the lower 48 states—and climate change isn’t helping. These tenacious creatures rely on deep snow for the formation of their protective dens, where they give birth and raise their young until spring. This reduced snowpack could also negatively impact the wolverine’s home ranges, reproductive success, and food availability in the winter and spring.

    clip_image003

    An endearing fur ball, the American Pika is well-known to hikers who hear these hamster-sized mammals whistling from rock piles and talus slopes in Canada and the western Rocky Mountains. But pikas are extremely sensitive to heat—even brief exposures (as little as a few hours) to temperatures above 78 degrees Fahrenheit can be fatal. They also rely on snowpack for insulation in the winter. In the southern portions of its range, some populations already occupy the highest altitudes, with no place to move upward to escape the warming climate.

    clip_image004

    A trip to the beach seems incomplete without the calls of birds, the sight of them soaring overhead, and the entertainment of watching them dive for their catch or scramble along the surf, probing and pecking for food in the sand. But these are among the most vulnerable bird species facing the climate crisis. Their primary climate threat will be loss of habitat and food sources, as they are heavily reliant on marine and estuarine food webs that are facing an uncertain future in the face of sea level rise, coastal storm damage, and shifting food resources. The American oystercatcher (pictured) is among the most susceptible to the effects of climate change because of their limited, low-elevation coastal habitats.

    clip_image005

    This runt-like rabbit is as adorable as it is diminutive—these tiny rabbits weigh less than one pound—but their small size doesn’t help them as their habitat shrinks. Warmer temperatures, as well as more intense and frequent wildfires, are changing their sagebrush habitats and may drive this species to higher elevations, reducing the amount of available habitat. At the same time, reduced snowpack threatens their strategy for escaping dangerous predators, burrowing tunnels through the snow. Lower levels of snowfall leave them exposed, without any cover to save them.

    Manatees prompt cautionary tale of Indian River Lagoon

      Manatees may lose endangered species status

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing the status of the Florida manatee, a species that has been listed as endangered since the federal Endangered Species Act was created. The arguments heard to date to change the species’ classification to “threatened” seem centered around the number of sea cows that now swim in our waters. This is an over-simplification of a complex issue — something that happens all too often. We need only to look at our Indian River Lagoon to see the folly in this logic.

    For decades, because of intense management efforts, not unlike those that have been undertaken for the manatee, seagrass acreages were increasing in the lagoon, and had reached pre-development levels by 2009. Seagrass growth and coverage was used as a proxy for lagoon health. Then came 2010, record cold temperatures, superblooms, and mass die-offs of that precious seagrass that had been doing so well. Today we have an ecosystem in crisis; a lagoon that some fear may never recover. How could this happen? In retrospect, it appears that seagrass acreage may not have been the best metric for lagoon health, just as the current count of our manatees does nothing to indicate what dangers they face today, or could face in the future.

    Over time, our lagoon faced repeated assaults, from loss of salt marshes, to freshwater discharges that degraded shellfish habitat and carried excess nutrients into the lagoon, and wastewater and stormwater discharges that further contributed nutrient loads to the system. Periodic algae blooms indicated that something was awry, but not until 2011’s superbloom did we really come to realize the dire consequences of decades of nutrients loading into the Indian River Lagoon. Not only have these changes affected the lagoon itself, but also the many species that call it home — including manatees. Over 100 manatees have died of a mysterious ailment in Brevard County, believed to be related to the loss of seagrass, and the species’ need to utilize other, potentially toxic food resources.

    As long as seagrass acreages were increasing, the Indian River Lagoon system was thought to be improving and the regulations on such things as septic tanks and stormwater discharges remained more lax than they should have. In other words, we were fiddling while Rome was burning, but we didn’t notice the fire.

    We can’t afford to make the same mistake for our manatees, focusing on the species’ numbers and not on the current and future levels of threat the species faces from such challenges as climate change, sea level rise, Florida’s expected population growth, and the continued degradation of our water quality and water supply. In 2013, we saw unsustainable record levels of mortality for the species, caused in large part by red tide and the mysterious ailment. Manatees are living in a polluted environment. Until the root causes of that pollution are addressed and corrected, having more manatees than we had so many years ago simply means we have more to protect from an uncertain future. Moving to remove manatees from the endangered species list now would be foolish.

    Nathaniel P. Reed|Environmentalist and Jupiter Island resident|Sept. 4, 2014

    Oregon Spotted Frogs Win Protection

    After more than two decades on the waiting list, one of the Northwest’s rarest frogs is finally protected under the Endangered Species Act. As part of a landmark settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week gave Oregon spotted frogs federal protection. Despite being named for a single state, these frogs were once common from British Columbia to California; but in the past 50 years, they’ve disappeared from 90 percent of their former range, mostly due to destruction of their wetland habitats.

    These speckly, short-legged frogs were first deemed in need of protection in 1991, but after they were put on a waiting list instead of protected, the Center petitioned for them in 2004 — along with 224 other “candidates.” Now, thanks to our 2011 agreement to speed protection decisions for 757 species around the country, 133 species have been protected, including the Oregon spotted frog.

    Endangered Earth|Sept. 4, 2014

    Read more in The Seattle Times.

    [Maybe there is still hope for critical habitat for the Florida Panther.]

    Protection for Florida Plants Threatened by Climate Change, Walmart

    This week the Fish and Wildlife Service gave Endangered Species Act protection to two rare Florida plants found exclusively in the disappearing pine rocklands of Miami-Dade County. Their habitat has been fragmented and destroyed due to population growth — and they’re still threatened by climate change and a planned strip mall and Walmart.

    Carter’s small-flowered flax is a foot tall with slender leaves and yellow petals. Florida brickell bush is a white, perennial flower in the aster family that grows to more than 3 feet tall. Small and fragmented occurrences are all that remain of these two flowers.

    Both flowers have been waiting for federal protection since 1985 and were federally protected this week as part of the Center’s historic 757 agreement.

    Read more in our press release.

    [Maybe there is still hope for critical habitat for the Florida Panther.]

    JGI’s Mandrill Release Program … Notes From the Field

    On three of the seven nights I have camped out with JGI’s Mandrill Release Research Team in Conkouati National Park, I have heard the footsteps of men walking just outside my tent. After hearing these noises for two nights, I was not entirely sure what to make of them. Miles Woodruff, the Mandrill Project Research Manager, had warned me that poachers occasionally pass through camp late at night. However, hearing those footsteps wasn’t enough confirmation for me … they could have been the footsteps of fishermen on the night shift for all I knew.

    Fortunately on the fourth night I camped in the park, eco-guards set up camp next to us. Eco-guards are responsible for protecting wildlife and enforcing anti-poaching laws in the park. Around 3 a.m. that morning, there was a lot of movement and talking outside my tent..The next morning, I awoke to see the tragic display of what had unfolded just a few hours earlier. From what I gathered, the eco-guards stopped a poacher who had been carrying the carcasses of various animals. If sold in the markets as bushmeat, they could be worth an estimated $300.

    This encounter would outrage many people who care about the forest and the animals who live there, and for good reason. But let’s take a second to imagine what it’s like living in the Republic of the Congo, a country where the unemployment rate is 26.6 percent.. Imagining what it is like to have no job but to have a family to feed, it becomes easy to see why poaching is so prevalent in this area. Poaching is often economically advantageous for the poacher, and allows them to provide for their family. Sad, but true.

    You’re probably wondering what became of this poacher. After he was caught by the eco-guards, his “catch” was confiscated and he was released shortly thereafter. I’m not entirely sure if this method of punishment is enough of a disincentive to combat poaching, but I suppose it’s more effective than the absence of any consequences at all.

    I believe the solution to the problem of poachers is education. If communities in which people are engaged in illegal hunting are made aware of alternative livelihoods, there would likely be a decrease in poaching.  Luckily JGI has already identified solutions and established effective programs across the Congo basin all of which are geared toward teaching the importance of wildlife and conservation, in addition to improving communities’ quality of life.

    Rori Kameka|University of Maryland student and summer intern at Tchimpounga|September 4, 2014

    Wild & Weird

    Woe is Us - Animal Saboteurs

    See that bushy-tailed rodent chattering in the tree outside your house? It could be preparing to take down the electric grid.

    Last year around Nashville, Tennessee, more power outages–2,257–were caused by squirrels and other creatures sharpening their teeth than by bad weather. This spring, a squirrel knocked out power for 23,000 people in California’s Marin County, and last year one took out the water system in Tampa, Florida. Saboteur squirrels have turned out the lights at a sewage treatment plant, an airport, a hospital, a university, even a baseball game.

    Animals monkey-wrench by chewing, touching wires together, or tripping switches. They almost always die in the process. But there are plenty of replacements. This spring, a raccoon snuffed out the lights for 5,700 households in Opelousas, Louisiana. In Holton, Kansas, snakes in a substation knocked out power citywide twice in five days.

    “Wild animals are anywhere and everywhere and you can’t predict that,” Holton city manager Bret Bauer told the Topeka Capital-Journal. Sometimes they threaten catastrophe: In March, a rogue rat shorted out the cooling system at Japan’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

    The greatest havoc, however, is wrought by crazy ants, who have colonized electrical appliances across the Southeast, shorting out burglar alarms, computers, and televisions. When their wriggling bodies bridge the circuit and they electrocute themselves, they send out a pheromone, calling in reinforcements. In a Waco, Texas, apartment complex, crazy ants took out 90 of the building’s 150 air-conditioning units.

    They’re not doing it on purpose, of course. But if animals were trying to destroy civilization, this is how they’d go about it.

    Dashka Slater|September/October 2014 issue of Sierra Magazine

    SEE MORE Woe is Us STORIES

    Scientists study “talking”turtles in the Brazilian Amazon

    Scientists working in the Brazilian Amazon have found that giant South American river turtles use several different kinds of vocal communication to coordinate their social behaviors, including female turtles calling to their newly hatched offspring.

    This is the first instance ever recorded of parental care in turtles, reports the journal Herpetologica. The study was conducted by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) alongside a number of South American conservation societies.

    “These distinctive sounds made by turtles give us unique insights into their behaviour, although we don’t know what the sounds mean,” said Dr Camila Ferrara, Aquatic Turtle Specialist for the WCS Brazil Program.

    “The social behaviours of these reptiles are much more complex than previously thought.”

    Some behaviours of the giant South American river turtle have been well known for some time, including their tendency to aggregate in huge numbers during the nesting season.

    However, the mechanisms used by turtles to coordinate their activities have yet to be explained. This study focused on the sounds made by the turtles as a possible means of facilitating social interaction.

    Working on the Rio Trombetas between 2009 and 2011, the research team captured 270 individual sounds made during 220 hours of recording.

    These were made with both microphones and hydrophones when the turtles were swimming through the river.

    The scientists then correlated vocalizations with specific behaviours and conducted spectrographic analyses on the repertoire, which they subdivided into six different types of vocalization made by turtles during the nesting season, which begins as the reptiles leave the seasonally flooded forest for nesting beaches along the river banks.

    Sounds made by the turtles while migrating through the river or basking tended to be low frequency sounds, possibly to facilitate contact between other members of their species over longer distances.

    Vocalizations made during nesting tended to be higher frequency sounds, possibly because these travel better in shallow water and in the air.

    The highest diversity of sounds were used by females about to nest and the researchers theorised that the animals use these sounds to decide on a specific nesting site and synchronize their movements, as the turtles leave the water in a single-file procession.

    The hatchling turtles themselves make sounds before they hatch and continue to do so as they clamber out of the nest chamber on the river beach. These sounds may stimulate group hatching.

    The females, in turn, vocalize in response to the nestling calls, perhaps guiding the young into the water.

    Using sonic transmitters, the team also discovered that the hatchlings remain together and migrate with adult females for more than two months.

    “Groundbreaking studies such as this one can help us better understand the complex relationships between both individual animals and their environment,” said Dr Julie Kunen, Executive Director of WCS’s Latin America and the Caribbean Program.

    “Protecting the still sizable populations of giant South American river turtles will also enable us to conserve the behavioral richness of these reptiles for future study.”

    Everglades

    Vast reservoir expected to prevent Everglades pollution

    A gigantic above-ground reservoir – the largest in Florida at 24 square miles – is rising above sugar cane fields in southwest Palm Beach County to help cleanse polluted water before it rushes into the Everglades.

    More than 100 construction workers each day are blasting rock and moving earth to build 12-foot walls and gates around a shallow basin bigger than the cities of Sunrise or Boynton Beach.

    A lot is riding on the $60 million project – the health of the Everglades, the survival of endangered species and the settlement of a legal battle over the state’s failure to meet federal water standards.

    But will it work?

    On a recent tour through the vast expanse, soon to be filled with 4 feet of water, state engineers said they were confident the reservoir and related projects will solve a pollution problem that now sends fertilizer-laden water into the Everglades after heavy rainfalls. Big doses of phosphorus pour into a delicate ecosystem, creating toxic mercury harmful to fish, birds, reptiles and mammals, including the endangered Florida panther.

    “By the time the Everglades sees that water, it will be nice and clean, with the phosphorus taken out of it,” said Alan Shirkey, who oversees the project for the South Florida Water Management District.

    Skeptics who joined a lawsuit to enforce water standards are not so sure. They fear that Obama administration officials – under pressure to relax environmental restrictions during the 2012 election campaign – were too quick to accept the state’s plan to settle the suit.

    “This idea is a completely new one that has not been road-tested,” said David Guest, an attorney in Tallahassee for Earthjustice.

    Gov. Rick Scott sold federal officials on the idea – officially known as a “flow basin” – as the centerpiece of an $880 million plan to remove pollutants that wash off farmland and urban developments. The agreement in June 2012 spared the state from a federal proposal that would have cost nearly twice as much.

    The basin taking shape on farmland acquired by the state on U.S. Highway 27 will cover more than 15,000 acres and store up to 20 billion gallons of water. That’s enough to fill 45,000 football fields a foot deep.

    Pump stations already draw polluted water from the New River and Miami canals into “stormwater treatment areas” – shallow pools lined with underwater plants that filter out phosphorus before the water seeps into conservation areas and flows south into the Glades.

    But to prevent heavy rains from overwhelming the system, water managers sometimes must divert dirty water around the treatment areas and send it south, polluting wetlands, jeopardizing wildlife and violating federal water-quality standards.

    The new flow basin is designed to solve that problem by temporarily storing all the water from the canals, drawing it in through supply canals and gated structures. Cattails along the bottom will filter out some phosphorus. But the main purpose is to hold water, especially during wet seasons, and release it slowly into the treatment areas.

    The construction is marked by explosions that send clouds of dirt and rock into the air as crews blast out sections of limestone to carve out spaces for water to flow in or out. Giant dump trucks haul this material to the perimeter to help form 12-foot levee walls.

    Solar-powered gates will help control the flow. Supply canals will be built at a higher elevation so that water runs downhill into the basin when the gates are opened. And gravity will pull the water through the basin to be released into the treatment areas.

    Anthony Rosato, the project manager, said contractors are on track to complete the flow basin by July 2016.

    A spokeswoman said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is satisfied the plan will meet water-quality standards but that it’s too early to comment on the results.

    Those who work on the site seem confident.

    “I’m a critter lover. And if you go out there, you’ll see the wildlife, the hogs, the deer, the coons. The birds are unbelievable,” said Lori Fox of Clewiston, a pump station operator.

    She fishes south of the treatment areas, where the water is clean and the bass have a golden color, rather than to the north, where the fish are as dark as the water they swim in.

    “To me, you are what you eat. You are what your environment is,” she said “I had no idea of the concept of what they were doing out here. But when you see it, you know it works.”

    William E. Gibson|Washington Bureau|Sun Sentinel|March 29, 2014

    Water Quality Issues

    There is  no shortage of water, just a looming shortage of cheap fresh water – take the $alt out.

    $38M facility supplements potable water

    Newly filtered water from the newest addition to the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority system may be flowing through your pipes right now.

    The Floridan Aquifer Desalination Facility at the FKAA’s main water-treatment plant in Florida City officially opened Jan. 21, 2010.

    “We have been using [water from the desalination plant] as part of the testing phase, so people could have already been drinking it from their tap,” spokeswoman Colleen Tagle said.

    The $38 million plant has the capacity to treat 6 million gallons of brackish water per day to supplement the supply of potable water pumped to the Keys.

    “Because it costs so much more to use desalinated water, the idea is not to use this as the first choice,” Tagle said. “But when the demand exceeds what we are allowed to draw from the Biscayne Aquifer, it’s good to know this is there.”

    The desalination facility was added to the FKAA’s main treatment plant to tap into brackish waters of the Floridan Aquifer, located more than 1,700 feet below the surface.

    For most of its history, South Florida has relied on the Biscayne Aquifer, a thin lens of fresh water 30 to 100 feet below the surface, for its drinking and irrigation water.

    But an ever-growing population combined with long spells of dry weather prompted the South Florida Water Management District to limit the amount of fresh water drawn from the Biscayne Aquifer.

    Water taken from the deeper Floridan Aquifer is mixed with higher amounts of saltwater, which requires desalination in addition to regular water treatment.

    The FKAA now cannot draw more than 17 million gallons per day from the Biscayne Aquifer. Cities in Miami-Dade County also are capped in how much they can take from that source.

    In periods of peak demand during the busy winter tourist season — which coincides with the time of least rainfall — the Keys’ need for fresh water approaches the 17-million-gallon-per-day limit, Tagle said.
    That was a primary reason the FKAA moved forward on the Floridan Aquifer Desalination Facility.

    “The FKAA was the first of all the South Florida water utilities to go this way,” Tagle said. “We’re the poster child for developing an alternate water source.”

    As a pioneer in the field, the FKAA received a number of grants that helped defray costs for local consumers, she said. “Now those grants have largely dried up,” she added.

    The FKAA has existing desalination plants that convert seawater to drinking water on Stock Island and in Marathon. Together, those plants can produce about 3 millions daily, but costs mandate they be limited to emergency situations.

    “It’s a lot more expensive to use desalination on seawater than brackish water,” Tagle said. “Both those [Keys] plants also run on diesel fuel, which costs more. At Florida City, we have a very favorable contract with FPL to supply power.”

    New wells, reaching down some 1,800 feet, will bring the water up to the plant. Reverse osmosis removes salt by forcing the water through fiber membranes.

    “The technology has improved by leaps and bounds since the Stock Island and Marathon plants were built,” Tagle said, “but it’s great to have them in case of a hurricane.”

    The new desalination “came in under budget and ahead of schedule, which we love to see,” Tagle said.

    The FKAA was able to trim the $40 million cost estimate by using its sources to purchase construction material, and doing some engineering work.

    KEVIN WADLOW|KEYSNET.com|January 30, 2010

    Two Districts in India Now Have Access to Clean Water Via ATMs 

    For thousands of people in India, clean water continues to be a scarce commodity — but one revolutionary idea is changing this, one ATM at a time.

    Two districts of Rajasthan, India that are infamous due to the scarcity of potable water are now recipients of water ATMs, thanks to a Scottish energy and technology company. Residents of the two districts have all-day access to clean water with the swipe of a card — 20 litres for 5 rupees.

    The ones who benefit the most are the children in these communities.

    Every year, globally waterborne illnesses are the second leading cause of death for children under five, killing 1,400 children every day, according to UNICEF.

    Now these kiosks with reverse osmosis (RO) plants have been installed to provide safe drinking water in villages like Bhakharpur, Kawas, Guda, Jogasar, Aakdada and Baytu. There, they benefit 22,000 people who can now avoid serious health risks associated with dirty water.

    Reports have noted that with the new access to clean water, the number of water-borne diseases, such as diarrhea in children, has decreased in this region of India. And cases of joint pain caused by high fluoride content in drinking water have also gone down.

    Clean water is not something to take for granted; it’s a human right, and that’s why these ATMs are so essential. It’s unclear how long the water will last, but hopefully that’s something the company who created the ATM took into consideration.

    Either way, we’re looking forward to a day when everyone will have access to clean water, whether they can pay for it or not — but this is a fantastic start.

    Brenda Duran|Care2 Causes Editor|September 2, 2014

    This post originally appeared on RYOT.

    Nestle Has Expanded Its Water Empire to Include Colorado

    Not content with bottling water in drought-stricken California, Nestle has added Colorado to its water empire: the world’s largest food and beverage company has been draining millions of gallons of water from the Arkansas River out of a pipeline near Buena Vista. The water is taken from a pipeline and loaded into tanker trucks and taken to the Nestle bottling plant in Denver.

    There the water is used to fill hundreds and thousands and millions of little plastic Arrowhead Springs water bottles, which are then trucked to convenience markets, grocery stores, movie theaters and sports palaces around the West. Each month, Nestle fills roughly 40.4 million 16.9 ounce bottles.

    It’s not just Colorado that is affected. With 65 million gallons a year being pumped out of the river, there will be long term impacts to Colorado and downstream. The Arkansas River also flows through Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, areas that have also suffered major droughts recently.

    The Colorado proposal elicited fierce opposition from many residents, who feared the company would deplete the local aquifer and that its trucks hauling the water to Denver would snarl traffic on mountain roads.

    There’s plenty of evidence to show that Nestlé’s habits are destructive of small communities.

    The non-profit Stop Nestle Waters has gathered evidence from the 50 spring sites that Nestle operates around the country, and here’s what they found:

    Nestle’s predatory tactics in rural communities divide small towns and pit residents against each other. Nestle reaps huge profits from the water they extract from rural communities – which are left to deal with the damage to watersheds, increases in pollution and the loss of their quiet rural lifestyle. Because Nestle has a pattern of bludgeoning small communities and opponents with lawsuits and interfering in local elections to gain control of local water supplies.

    How does it happen that the bottled water industry can take what is clean, readily available and free, package it in non-biodegradable plastic, and sell it back to consumers at highly inflated prices?

    How could so many customers fall for this trick?

    Not only that, but profits continue to rise. Currently, the annual spending on bottled water in the U.S. is $11.8 billion, while the global sales revenue from bottled water is $60 billion.

    In the United States, an estimated 30 billion plastic bottles are sold annually, bottles that it takes at least 17 million barrels of oil to manufacture (enough to fuel about 100,000 cars for the entire year). The average number of plastic bottles used per person each year in the United States is 167.

    On an even more depressing side note, nearly 8 out of every 10 of those bottles ends up in a landfill, translating to about a 23 percent recycling rate.

    But, guess what? The tap water in San Francisco comes from Yosemite National Park and is so pure the EPA does not require it to be filtered. Indeed, most of the time there is no difference between tap water and bottled water (unless the bottling company chooses to add an extra ingredient). Often the tap water, which we are already paying for with our taxes, is better.

    Nestle has a long history of disgraceful practices. Remember the infant formula scandal? Back in the 1970s, Nestle went into developing poor countries and promoted infant formula, which led to many deaths because of the lack of clean water sources to prepare formula safely. In addition, many families could not afford to purchase formula after the free samples stopped and by that time, the mother’s milk had dried up.

    Boycotts of Nestlé have been going on since the early 1970s, for good reason.

    Perhaps it’s time for another one?

    Judy Molland|September 2, 2014

    SFWMD 2014 South Florida Environmental Report

    Marking the 16th year of consolidated reporting, the 2014 South Florida Environmental Report (SFER) showcases dozens of agency reports in a three-volume publication, complemented by the Consolidated Project Report Database.

    Volume I covers findings derived from regional monitoring and research projects and highlights key financial information during the 2013 reporting period. Volume II provides an annual update on the planning and project status for eight annual reports required of all water management districts. Volume III expands on Volume I by further streamlining unified reporting and fulfilling various federal and state permit-related reporting requirements.

    2014 South Florida Environmental Report: At a Glance [PDF]
    Executive Summary [PDF]
    Volume I: South Florida Environment
    Volume II: District Annual Plans and Reports
    Volume III: Annual Permit Reports
                                                                                                                                                                   Great Lakes & Inland Waters

    Dams vs. Rivers

    A new ‘State of the World’s Rivers’ database shows how the world’s rivers have been impoverished by dams and their ecosystems devastated – and provides a valuable resource to help save river basins that remain in good health.

    International Rivers has launched ‘The State of the World’s Rivers’, an interactive online database that illustrates the role that dams have played in impoverishing the health of the world’s river basins.

    The database shows how river fragmentation due to decades of dam-building is highly correlated with poor water quality and low biodiversity. Many of the world’s great river basins have been dammed to the point of serious decline, including the Mississippi, Yangtze, Paraná and Danube. “The evidence we’ve compiled of planetary-scale impacts from river change is strong enough to warrant a major international focus on understanding the thresholds for ‘river change’ in the world’s major basins, and for the planet as a whole system”, said Jason Rainey, Executive Director of International Rivers.

    For example, in the Middle East, decades of dam building in the Tigris-Euphrates basin have made it one of the most fragmented basins in the world.

    As a result, the basin’s flooded grassland marshes have significantly decreased, leading to the disappearance of salt-tolerant vegetation that helped protect coastal areas, and a reduction in the plankton-rich waters that fertilize surrounding soils.

    Habitat has decreased for 52 native fish species, migratory bird species, and mammals such as the water buffalo, antelopes and gazelles, and the jerboa.

    Meanwhile, some of the lesser-dammed basins, which are still relatively healthy at this point, are being targeted for major damming.

    For example, the most biodiverse basin in the world, the Amazon, still provides habitat for roughly 14,000 species of mammals, 2,200 fish species, 1,500 bird species, and more than 1,000 amphibian species, like the Amazon River Dolphin, the Amazonian Manatee, and the Giant Otter.

    When all dam sizes are counted, Brazil plans to build an astonishing 412 dams in the Paraná and 254 in the Amazon basins. In Asia, China plans to continue to dam the Yangtze basin with at least another 94 planned large dams. At least 153 more dams are planned for the Mekong basin.

    Other basins that are high in biodiversity and water quality which are also targets for dam-building include the Tocantins, the Irrawaddy, the Congo, and the Zambezi.

    Editor|The Ecologist|August 27, 2014

    Continue reading at ENN affiliate, The Ecologist.

    Leaching Lake Superior

    A Native American community stands up to a giant iron-ore mine.

    You’ve probably never heard of Wisconsin’s Penokee Hills, a.k.a. “the Everglades of the North.” But just as in Alaska’s Bristol Bay and the Mexican state of Sonora (where 10 millions gallons of acid spilled and closed 88 schools this week), the people of the Penokee Hills are fighting to protect their watershed from a giant mining project. As seen in this video produced by Midwest Environmental Advocates, a non-profit legal group, those people are a Native American community that has relied on the watershed for centuries.

    Gogebic Taconite—a Florida-based company owned by coal billionaire Christopher Cline—wants to build a four-mile-long open-pit mine in the Penokee Hills that opponents say could become the world’s largest iron-ore operation. The hills are home to the pristine headwaters of the Tyler Forks and Bad rivers, which empty into Lake Superior. At risk are Superior’s largest wetlands and a major source of wild rice for the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa Tribe.

    The four-year battle over the mine has been fraught with political shenanigans, but the most blatant, perhaps, occurred last year when Governor Scott Walker signed a bill that cut state wetlands protections in sensitive environmental areas. Gogebic (which has already started drilling exploratory wells) helped draft the legislation. The governor’s action sparked grassroots rallies against the mine, which included establishing an educational camp on traditional Chippewa lands near the proposed site. In response, Gogebic hired camouflaged mercenaries equipped with assault weapons to guard its property.

    Earlier this year six Chippewa tribes petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to intervene and evaluate the mining project’s impact on fisheries and drinking water. Environmental and Native American groups worry that the mines will become giant caldrons of poisons—such as mercury and arsenic—that could leach into nearby waterways. And for good reason: that’s exactly what happened with similar taconite mines in Minnesota and Michigan.

    Rocky Kistner|August 21, 2014

    US approves expansion of Great Lakes sanctuary

    The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in northern Michigan has received federal approval to expand its size nearly tenfold and boost the preservation of scores of sunken vessels in an area of Lake Huron once known as “Shipwreck Alley.”

    Thunder Bay, the only freshwater national sanctuary, is announcing Friday that the Obama administration approved the years-in-the-making effort to grow from about 450 square miles to 4,300 square miles. The expansion — which incorporates the waters from off Alcona, Alpena and Presque Isle in the northeastern Lower Peninsula and to the maritime border with Canada — also doubles the number of estimated shipwrecks to roughly 200. The effort to expand the sanctuary, originally created in 2000, started with three failed Congressional bids and then the administrative review process through the Commerce Department. The department overs ees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which manages the sanctuary along with the state of Michigan.

    “It’s been a long, long effort,” sanctuary superintendent Jeff Gray said. “It’s a pretty monumental thing. … In a small way we raise the Great Lakes into this national dialogue.”While many spots along the Great Lakes are hazardous, Thunder Bay became known as “Shipwreck Alley” in the 19th century, as it was part of a major shipping channel during an era when the region had few alternatives.

    The sanctuary was established to protect cultural resources and focuses on shipwrecks, but its research often finds dual uses. For instance, the systematic mapping of the lake bottom has helped to identify the wrecks and provide scientific data — such as fish-spawning areas — to share with fisheries biologists.

    Still, the wrecks remain the main attraction. Among the better known is the Isaac M. Scott, a propeller-driven coal carrier that fell victim to the Great Storm of 1913, which scuttled 11 vessels in 16 hours and killed 150 mariners. Another is the New Orleans, a wooden side-wheeler that hit a reef on a fogbound night in 1849. All 300 passengers and sailors were rescued.

    Expanding the sanctuary’s boundaries also fosters further exploration and the possibility of locating other vessels.

    It’s really the timeline of Great Lakes shipping down there,” Gray said. Vessels are found at all depths — some are accessible by kayak or g lass-bottom boat, others can be explored by snorkelers and recreational divers, while the deepest are accessible only to technical, professional diving crews.

    Gray said the sanctuary has worked over the years to iron out concerns and criticisms, such as divers fearing blocked access, but sanctuary officials have encouraged them to visit by placing buoys on sites.

    Officials also worked with the shipping industry, which led to excluding the waters in three area ports, as well as regional Indian tribes to ensure that the expansion wouldn’t affect treaty fishing rights.

    The sanctuary draws about 80,000 visitors annually, and Gray said they hope to hit 100,000 this year.

    Jeff Karoub|Associated Press|Sept.1, 2014

    The ‘Blob’ is gone

    Historic spill changed the way we view the St. Clair River.

    It felt like a stray fishing line scraping across his face.

    It melted the rubber of his goggles.

    Twenty-nine years later, Brian Martin still isn’t certain what kind of chemical he burrowed into at the bottom of the St. Clair River in September 1985.

    But one thing is certain: Martin’s eerie discovery revealed years of pollution along the St. Clair River.

    A month before his discovery, Dow Chemical Canada Inc. spilled more than 2,905 gallons of perchlorethylene — 528 gallons made it to the river.

    In November 1985, divers discovered dark tarry masses — a grouping the size of a basketball court — lying on the river bottom.

    The mass would eventually become widely known as “The Blob,” making headlines throughout the United States and Canada.

    About 29 years later, the blob is gone. A few patches of contaminated sediment are some of the only proof left of years of chemical spills into the river. And the St. Clair River, from Sarnia and Port Huron to Walpole Island and Clay Township, is on its way to recovery.

    “The Dow spill got a tremendous amount of media coverage, and it dramatically focused public awareness on the water quality in the river,” said Fred Kemp, a member of the Binational Public Advisory Council since its formation in 1987.

    “Now, the standards are much higher on both sides of the river, and there’s been nothing but a steady stream of success stories.”

    Martin was exploring the American side of the river near the Bean Dock in Port Huron on Sept. 15, 1985, when he heard an approaching freighter.

    Eager to avoid the propeller blades, he dove into a depression on the river bottom.

    He felt a sensation similar to fishing line scraping across his face. Water began to seep into his goggles. When he exited the river he removed his goggles and the seal pulled away from his face like bubble gum.

    “I think it was some kind of a paint solvent, maybe, that deteriorated the rubber around my goggles,” Martin said. “I really don’t know. I haven’t even dove back there in all these years.”

    A month earlier, Dow Chemical Canada Inc. had reported to Canadian officials it had spilled more than 528 gallons of perchlorethylene, a dry cleaning solvent, into the St. Clair River.

    A spokesman for Dow on Thursday said the company reported the spill as soon as it became aware of the accident. According to Times Herald articles from the time, the spill was one of at least 11 that year for Dow.

    The Dow spill and Martin’s dive were blips on the pollution radar — forerunners to a November revelation.

    According to Times Herald reports at the time, it wasn’t until early November 1985 that Canadian officials announced tarry samples taken in 1984 from the same location as the spill had tested positive for dioxins.

    Divers said it appeared that same tarry substance had mixed with the perchlorethylene, creating a 150- by 200-foot grouping of blob-like deposits.

    In a Nov. 5, 1985, Times Herald article, Jim Dochstader, a Canadian environmental officer, said the blob appeared to be a mixture of several chemicals, including a large concentration of perchlorethylene.

    “It appears it may have come from multiple sources,” Dochstader told Times Herald reporter David Poulson. “It’s a confusing situation. We can’t separate what is at the bottom of the river with what came from Dow.”

    In a Nov. 3, 1985, Times Herald article, John Sawher, then mayor of St. Clair, said the blob was proof of historic pollution in the St. Clair River.

    “I think it points out that this sort of thing (toxic dumping) has been going on for many years. Long before we knew of the dangers,” Sawher told Times Herald reporter Roberta Stevenson.

    “I think we’re just beginning to pay the piper in many situations.”

    The discovery of the blob made headlines across the United States and Canada. A swift cleanup and action followed.

    In early 1987, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement was amended between Canada and the United States. The St. Clair River was named an Area of Concern by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and Environment Canada.

    In the same year, the Binational Public Advisory Council was formed, drawing about 50 people together from a diverse cross section from recreation, industry, environment, municipal and the general public.

    Dow Chemical Canada began to clean up the blob, loading vacuum trucks with extended hoses onto barges to suck up the mixture.

    Kemp said the blob was believed to be more than just the spilled perchlorethylene.

    Reports in early November 1985 said researchers believed the tarry substance found at the bottom of the river had seeped upward to the river bottom through cracks in the earth.

    Kemp, who was a member of Dow’s community advisory board at the time, said the company believed the perchlorethylene spill traveled through the sewer system — dislodging years of hydrocarbon accumulations — before hitting the river.

    “It’s a (dry cleaning) solvent, and so that’s what it does for a living,” Kemp said. “It doesn’t readily mix with water. If you had a film of hydrocarbons on the river bottom, it would have loosened them and released them, and then it would have collected in the low spots in the river where the velocities are lower.”

    Unlike hundreds of other historical spills on the river, Dow’s spill garnered attention because of the blob-like mass it created and the chemical’s staying power.

    “That one probably got more press than just about any release that ever occurred on the river,” Kemp said.

    “The perchlorethylene was peculiar because you had something that didn’t really like mixing with water. There was continuing evidence for months afterward of what had occurred.”

    As the world awoke to what lay at the bottom of the St. Clair River in fall 1985, Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley was elected to the Sarnia council.

    Bradley said the environmental mindset in Sarnia was about to change drastically after decades of misuse of the river.

    “That spill was a defining moment,” Bradley said. “In the past, the issue with spills was that responses to them were very much defensive and very much based on public relations and not the problem.

    “You know what the slogan was here in the ’60s?” Bradley said. “‘Dilution is the solution.'”

    According to records from the Sarnia Lambton Environmental Association, there were between 110 and 120 major chemical spills into the St. Clair River in 1986.

    A major spill is characterized as a spill that resulted in the closure of drinking water intakes further downstream.

    The Dow spill and resulting blob propelled prevention, response, and cleanup efforts, but Kemp said most of the riverside industries were on that track already.

    “About the same time that spill occurred, most of the big industries on both sides of the river were completing advanced treatment systems,” Kemp said.

    “The public awareness that really kind of peaked after the Dow spill pretty much made sure that those plans were put in place and were followed.”

    Patty Troy, U.S. chairwoman for BPAC, said spills before 1986 were off the charts.

    “In the ’50s and ’60s nobody paid attention to it,” Troy said. “In the ’80s, it was recognized there was a legacy of pollution on the St. Clair River.”

    Kemp said that realization spread beyond government agencies, and to the general public.

    “People were just really becoming aware that what were often described as organic wastes did not break down quickly,” Kemp said.

    Bradley said industry was not the only culprit in the pollution of the St. Clair River.

    “The municipality emerged as the biggest polluter of the river,” Bradley said.

    “It’s not appropriate for the municipality to be criticizing industry when they don’t have their own house in order.”

    In Sarnia and Port Huron, millions of gallons of combined sewer overflow — a mixture of storm water and untreated sewage — were streaming into the St. Clair River when rains overwhelmed pumping stations.

    When Port Huron began its sewer separation program in 1998, the city estimated it produced an annual discharge of 309 million gallons of combined sewer overflow a year, according to city engineer Bob Clegg.

    The combination of combined sewer overflows, chemical spills, and urban and rural runoff created persistent pollution on the river and caused the United States and Canada to name the river an Area of Concern.

    The river was one of 43 areas of concern named in the Great Lakes basin, and one of just a few binational areas of concern.

    When it was amended in 1987, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the United States and Canada listed 14 indicators of water quality, according to Jon Gee, manager of the Great Lakes Areas of Concern program at Environment Canada. Those indicators are used to show why a body of water is listed as an area of concern.

    Of the 14 potential indicators, or beneficial use impairments, the U.S. side of the St. Clair River had 10, Troy said.

    The river’s beneficial use impairments included:

    • Restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption
    • Tainting of fish and wildlife flavor
    • Bird and animal deformities or reproductive problems
    • Degradation of benthos, or organisms that live on the riverbed
    • Restrictions on dredging activities
    • Restrictions on drinking water consumption or taste and odor problems
    • Beach closings
    • Degradation of aesthetics
    • Added costs to agriculture or industry
    • Loss of fish and wildlife habitat

    The river’s unimpaired qualities included:

    • Degraded fish and wildlife populations
    • Fish tumors or other deformities
    • Eutrophication or undesirable algae
    • Degradation of phytoplankton and zooplankton populations

    The Canadian side had eight beneficial use impairments, four that required more study, and two indicators that were not impaired.

    Years of study followed the St. Clair River’s prognosis until, in 1995, BPAC released its remedial action plan for the river.

    Rehabilitating the St. Clair River

    New permitting processes that require spill prevention and response plans were imposed on industry.

    Dow Chemical Canada continued its cleanup and returned to the river between 2001 and 2005 to remove all contaminated sediments along the company’s stretch of property on the St. Clair River.

    “A layer of clean gravel, known as ‘fish mix,’ which promotes the return of natural habitat, was spread on the hard clay bottom of the river after all the sediment was removed,” a Dow spokesperson said, in an email.

    Three areas of contaminated sediment remain on the Canadian side of the river, Gee said.

    “We know that there are some residual contaminants in the river that we’ve been working on now for a few years to determine the nature and extent of those contaminated sediments,” Gee said.

    “Nobody would call it a blob these days, but the sediments are contaminated.”

    According to data from the Sarnia Lambton Environmental Association, major chemical spills have decreased from between 110 and 120 in 1986, to a little more than 20 in 1992, and one in 2011.

    “There’s a lot of really positive things happening that are real and are not about public relations,” Bradley said.

    “They’ve done everything possible to ensure that when there are forces of nature or accidents, that that damage doesn’t make it to the river.”

    Bradley said binational spill communication between Sarnia and St. Clair County Emergency Management is improving.

    “On the local level that communication is excellent, and there’s that understanding that there’s no wall in the middle of the river,” Bradley said.

    A large spill in 2005 led to grant funding for a Drinking Water Protection Network for the American side of the St. Clair River. The grant funding was exhausted in 2007, and now only some communities are part of the early detection network.

    Troy said the restrictions on drinking water consumption remain impaired on both sides of the river, but she said the impairment has more to do with a spill than cities’ daily drinking water intake.

    “The St. Clair River is an excellent source of drinking water,” Troy said. “The only problem is if there is a spill.”

    In 1998, Port Huron embarked on a $176 million, 15-year project to separate its sewer system.

    Once a sewer separation project is finished on Nern Street, the city will have reduced the city’s number of discharge locations from 19 to 1 and reduced the gallons of combined sewer overflow from an annual average of 309 million gallons to 1 million gallons, Clegg said.

    “It’s resulted in reduced E. coli loadings to the river, and that has a huge impact to the goals of delisting the St. Clair River,” Clegg said.

    “When the MDEQ came through and did their testing of the Black River, they found that E. coli — which is a measure of organic waste in the water — is actually lower going through the city than it is north or upstream of the city.”

    Sarnia undertook a similar project.

    In 2005, the city put a large focus on sewer separation. Since then, the city has spent more than $60 million on the separation.

    Sarnia has separated about 9.3 miles of its 24.2 miles of combined sewers. The sewer separation project in Sarnia is ongoing.

    Since the late 1980s, Canada has had a 75 percent reduction of contaminants reaching the river from industry, according to Claude Lafrance, remedial action plan coordinator for the St. Clair River in Ontario.

    There also has been an 85 percent reduction of contaminants reaching the river from Canadian municipal sewage treatment plants, Lafrance said.

    About $270 million in grant money from the Great Lakes Legacy Act in 2002, and about $475 million in grant money through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in 2009 acted as a shot in the arm for habitat restoration efforts throughout the Great Lakes.

    The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative financed a restoration project along the Marysville shoreline, a restoration project along the riverside south of Pine Grove Park in Port Huron, and the construction of a fish spawning reef in the Middle Channel of the St. Clair River near Clay Township, according to Rose Ellison, an environmental scientist for the EPA.

    In 2014, the Community Foundation of St. Clair County also completed the Blue Water River Walk — a restoration of the shoreline just south of the Black River.

    Ellison said GLRI money is helping to finance wetland construction at the south end of the river walk.

    Ellison said additional fish spawning reefs are being constructed in the St. Clair River at Harts Light, and near Algonac.

    Other GLRI projects in 2014 will include work on the Cuttle Creek drain, the Marine City drain, Crispin Drain on Harsens Island, riverside property in Cottrellville Township, and riverfront property along Keifer Park in Port Huron.

    “We actually have eight habitat projects happening all at once along the St. Clair River now, and we plan on having everything done by the end of December,” Ellison said.

    “That was the justification to get that infusion of money — these are projects that have been identified as critical in moving forward with delisting.”

    As of August 2014, five of the 10 beneficial use impairments on the U.S. side of St. Clair River have been removed.

    • In April 2010, restrictions on dredging activities were removed as an impairment on the U.S. side of the river; a status review of the impairment on the Canadian side was performed in 2012 and 2013, but the item remains impaired.
    • In March 2011, the tainting of fish and wildlife flavor was removed as an impairment on the U.S. side of the St. Clair River; it was removed from the Canadian side in June 2011.
    • In June 2012, the degradation of aesthetics was removed as an impairment on the U.S. side of the river; the impairment is expected to be removed from the Canadian side shortly.
    • Also in June 2012, added costs to agriculture or industry were removed as an impairment on the U.S and Canadian sides of the river.
    • In March 2014, the degradation of benthos was removed as an impairment on the U.S. side of the river; the degradation of benthos remains an impairment on the Canadian side.

    Troy said BPAC hopes to have most of the river’s beneficial use impairments removed within the next couple of years.

    Canada hopes to announce the removal of another impairment in September.

    Kris Lee, Canadian chair of BPAC, said the challenges Canada has faced have differed from the U.S. side of the river.

    “The U.S. are a little more ahead because they don’t have the same issues,” Lee said.

    “Their issue has mainly been shoreline restoration, and they’ve done a really good job on that. Canada’s has been more contaminated sediment.”

    Lafrance said the removal of three remaining sections of contaminated sediment on the Canadian side of the St. Clair River is one of the larger projects facing Canadian officials.

    The contaminated areas include a 284,167-square-foot area near the Suncor dock, a 95,798-square-foot section near the Shell dock, and a 350,903-square-foot area near Guthrie Park.

    “They’re located in three spots — in areas where the current of the river is slowed down and so the contaminated sediments that are in suspension drop and settle onto the river bottom,” Lafrance said.

    “To be clear, neither Suncor nor Shell were responsible for the contamination. It just stopped in front of their properties.”

    Lafrance said local groups have recommended a hydraulic dredging — or vacuuming — process to Environment Canada and the Ministry of the Environment for the contaminated sediment removal.

    The ultimate goal of all parties involved — to have both sides of the river delisted as an area of concern — seems to be within reach.

    “We’re so close,” Bradley said. “We don’t need to pull back and be proud of our accomplishments. We need to get to that day where the river is officially delisted.”

    So far, only two areas of concern in Michigan have obtained delisting: White Lake and Deer Lake.

    But Troy said the fight for the St. Clair River isn’t finished when it sheds its title as an area of concern.

    “After the St. Clair River is removed as an area of concern, it is going to still need advocates,” Troy said.

    At a BPAC symposium Sept. 18 to discuss progress on the St. Clair River delisting effort, speakers will address new emerging threats to the river, Troy said.

    Among the topics discussed will be the effect of pharmaceuticals and personal care products on the waterway, climate change effects on lake levels, agricultural effects on the river, and invasive species.

    Beth LeBlanc|Times Herald

     

    Offshore & Ocean

    With Apalachicola Bay oysters continuing to suffer, state further tightens harvesting

    APALACHICOLA — The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is sharply reducing the number of oysters that can be taken from Apalachicola Bay because the oyster population there remains low.

    And some seafood workers are warning that oysters soon could be wiped out in a key harvesting area.

    State officials in 2012 requested a federal fisheries disaster declaration because of a continued drought that reduced freshwater flowing into Apalachicola Bay from Alabama and Georgia.

    In 2013, Florida blamed Georgia for misusing water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system and asked the U. S. Supreme Court to divide water fairly among the states.

    The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced Thursday it is reducing the oysters that can be harvested commercially this winter from 20 bags daily to five beginning Sept. 1. Each bag holds 10 gallons of oysters in their shells.

    Jim Estes, deputy director of the Division of Fisheries Management, on Monday told a meeting of seafood workers and dealers in Apalachicola that the reduction is needed because the oyster population “is in real bad shape.”

    “These are just interim measures,” he said. “These are not going to bring these things back.”

    He said the bay’s oysters need more fresh water, which they received this spring and summer, along with oyster shells placed on the bottom of the bay for oyster larvae to attach and grow on.

    The East Hole harvesting area will remain closed, Estes said, and some areas where shells recently were placed on the bottom also will be closed once they are identified.

    Both commercial and recreational oyster harvesting will be closed Fridays through Sundays. The daily recreational harvest is being reduced from two bags to half a bag.

    Several Franklin County oystermen responded with concerns that the bay’s remaining oysters will be decimated once the winter harvesting season begins Sept. 1.

    Shannon Hartsfield, president of the Franklin County Seafood Workers Association, said there are no oysters elsewhere in the bay and very few in the important Cat Point commercial harvesting area. He said it will be “demolished” quickly once winter harvesting begins on Sept. 1

    “I agree with doing something, but I think we’re going to destroy Cat Point,” he said. “It’s going to be worse starting off this year than past years. By the time we get through starting Sept. 1, there’s going to be nothing (remaining) in one month.”

    Estes’ remarks also prompted a wide-ranging discussion about what is killing oysters or preventing new ones from growing in Apalachicola Bay. Among the concerns identified were water pollution from various sources and the continuing effects of the 2011-12 drought.

    Oysterman Danny Smith said he has seen similar shortages of oysters throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Associated Press reported earlier this month on the lack of oysters in Louisiana since the 2010 Gulf oil spill.

    Estes and Kal Knickerbocker, director of aquaculture at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said they didn’t know why there are so few new oysters in Apalachicola Bay or what the solution is.

    “There are many, many questions and there are very few answers at this time,” Knickerbocker said.

    BRUCE RITCHIE|FLORIDAENVIRONMENTS.COM|Aug 28, 2014

    DEP Awards $10 Million for Critical Indian River Lagoon Restoration

    ~Up to 350,000 cubic yards of muck to be removed from Indian River Lagoon~

    The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) awarded $10 million in grant funding to Brevard County today for the removal of up to 350,000 cubic yards of muck in the Indian River Lagoon and its tributaries. The project is a priority of Governor Scott and members of the Florida Legislature who appropriated the funds for this lagoon restoration project and many others during the 2014 Legislative Session.

    “Governor Scott and Florida’s legislative leaders are committed to improving the health of the Indian River Lagoon,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “Restoring this unique and treasured water body is a top priority among our state’s leadership and the department is proud to partner with Brevard County to improve lagoon water quality.”

    Created by decades of runoff, erosion and nutrient loading, the accumulated muck deposits within the lagoon are damaging to seagrass beds, contribute to algal blooms and create bottom conditions that are not conducive to healthy marine life.

    The Brevard County project is also expected to remove up to 672 tons of total nitrogen and 144 tons of total phosphorous contained within the muck deposits. This project joins other lagoon restoration efforts already underway including a $10 million Eau Gallie River muck removal project, $746,000 for water quality monitoring sensors throughout the lagoon, more than $12 million in water quality restoration grants and millions more in support to local lagoon organizations focused on raising awareness of lagoon health.

    “This is a critical point in lagoon restoration where state, federal and local partners realize we have to get started now with projects that will work,” said Ernie Brown, Director of Brevard County Natural Resources Management. “This project serves to bring strong science about muck removal to the conversation while making real progress, and DEP has been a fantastic partner in getting this project expedited.”

    Brevard County staff aims to have some dredges in the water by January 2015 with full deployment and active operations among all dredging resources by July 2015.

    “The ecological health of the Northern and Central Indian River Lagoon and the Banana River are central to our way of life throughout this beautiful region,”said Senator Andy Gardiner. “These restoration efforts are and will continue to be a significant priority of the Florida Legislature and I want to thank Senator Altman for his leadership on this issue.”

    “Communities up and down the Space Coast rely on the lagoon to strengthen their local economies and support their quality of life,” said Senator Thad Altman. “It’s critical we remove these sediments from our waterways and get the Indian River Lagoon on a pathway to health.”

    The Indian River Lagoon is a diverse, shallow-water estuary stretching across 40 percent of Florida’s east coast from Ponce de Leon Inlet in Volusia County to the southern boundary of Martin County. Widespread algal blooms appeared in the lagoon in 2011 when temperatures dropped significantly. This was followed by brown tide blooms in 2012 and 2013. Approximately 47,000 acres of seagrasses were lost, a reduction of about 60 percent of the lagoon’s total seagrass coverage. Removing excessive nitrogen and phosphorus in the lagoon is important to help prevent these events from occurring in the future.

    Dredging projects, water quality monitoring and support for local lagoon awareness organizations are all part of a larger, multi-agency effort to improve the health of the lagoon. The St. Johns Water Management District, the South Florida Water Management District, DEP, Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, local governments and educational institutions are individually and collectively working to identify additional opportunities to speed the lagoon back to ideal health.

    latashawalters|September 2, 2014

    Oceana celebrates the creation of three protected fishing areas in the Balearic Islands

    Today’s Official State Gazette (BOE) announces the protection from trawling of the coralligenous and rhodolith seabeds of the summits of Ausias March and Emile Baudot, two seamounts in the channel of Mallorca, and the Fort d’en Moreu, a coralligenous reef to the east of Cabrera.

    Oceana, which has been demanding this measure since 2006, congratulates the General Secretariat of Fisheries and encourages the government to continue with the protection of other similar seabeds which should also be closed to trawling and other aggressive methods.

    Marine conservation organisation Oceana would like to congratulate the General Secretariat of Fisheries for the protection of the coralligenous and rhodolith seabeds documented by the organisation in the summits of Ausias March, Emile Baudot and the Fort d’en Moreu. These seabeds are considered protected habitats by Regulation (EC) 1967/2006 regarding the sustainable exploitation of fishery resources in the Mediterranean.

    The Mediterranean Regulation establishes the obligation for Member States to close the coralligenous and rhodolith areas of the Mediterranean to trawling, dredging and other methods, given their importance for the conservation of fishery resources in this sea. Xavier Pastor, Executive Director of Oceana in Europe, explains: “Today we celebrate the culmination of several years of insisting that the government comply with the fisheries regulations and protect habitats which are essential for the recovery of fish stocks. Let’s not forget that the order issued today comes 7 years late, since the regulation came into force in 2006, and that what has happened today represents a first step along the road to closing all these protected seabeds to the most aggressive fishing activities, for the benefit of the ecosystem and hence fisheries resources,” adds Pastor.

    The coralligenous and rhodolith seabeds are essential and very characteristic Mediterranean habitats, and these three-dimensional structures formed by calcareous red algae are true “paradises” for many commercial and protected species in the Mediterranean.

    “Specifically, Oceana has documented the seabeds in the Balearic Islands which have been protected today, describing the extremely rich biodiversity that is under threat. In fact, right now we are out at sea documenting rhodolith seabeds which have not been included in this protection, especially in the areas to the north and west of the Fort d’en Moreu,” notes Pastor. “Therefore, we will continue campaigning for both the extension of these zones protected today, to cover the entire area occupied by these habitats, and also for the creation of new areas of protection wherever these habitats are found.”

    Marta Madina|Madrid|August 11, 2014

    Rashida Jones, Cobie Smulders, and Angela Kinsey Help Protect Belizean Reefs

    A trio of Hollywood celebrities recently took their star power to Belize to help Oceana protect the largest reef in the Western hemisphere. Cobie Smulders (“How I Met Your Mother”), Rashida Jones (“The Office”), and Angela Kinsey (“The Office”) traveled to coastal Belize, where they raised awareness for this delicate ocean ecosystem and promoted Oceana’s ongoing work in the country.

    Cobie Smulders filmed a new Oceana Public Service Announcement (PSA) in stunning South Water Caye Marine Reserve in Belize, where she visited a unique island made of mangrove trees. The habitat is critical for juvenile reef fish, providing shelter for them to grow before they settle on the nearby barrier reef.  Smulders remarked on how amazing it was to see such a diverse and important habitat just beyond the surface of the water.

    “Maybe because it’s underwater people don’t really think about it as much, but this reef is Belize and you just want it to always be there,” Smulders said. “It was really interesting to see how necessary these habitats are for the good of the reef. Oceana works really well with local governments and communities to empower them and educate them in how to preserve their local marine habitats.”

    A short ride away to the north, friends and “The Office” co-stars Rashida Jones and Angela Kinsey traveled together to the island of Ambergris Caye, the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. Oceana took Jones and Kinsey snorkeling in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, where they learned about the various pressures facing this reef ecosystem and marveled at the sharks, turtles, fish, and rays that flooded this protected area.

    “You can tell this area is totally protected because every fish is like ‘I’m hanging out here!’” Kinsey commented after her first snorkel. “I felt like I was in a giant encyclopedia of fish. You really see how important protecting their habitat is.”

    “Hol Chan [marine reserve] is like the 405!” Jones added. “There’s every type of creature imaginable. It’s amazing to see that type of diversity in one snorkel.”

    Since opening its Belize office in 2009, Oceana has won a number of impressive victories, including securing a national ban on destructive bottom trawling in all Belizean waters, and advocating against offshore oil drilling in Belize’s incredible marine environment.

    To catch behind the scenes footage of these trips to Belize, and to join Smulders, Jones, and Kinsey in protecting the ocean’s hidden treasures, click here.

    Photos

    Jessica Wiseman|Aug 6, 2014

    The Sting of Climate Change: Jellyfish Invade FL Beaches

    NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. – This Labor Day weekend, thousands of Floridians and visitors may feel more than just the sting of a sunburn. Jellyfish are hanging around beaches, with at least 400 people stung last weekend alone.

    While the toxin-tentacled animal has long been a part of beach-life, “jellyfish blooms” are becoming more common due to warming temperatures at the water surface and other factors related to climate change.

    Billy Causey is regional director of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “What this is telling us is that something is not right in our ocean,” Causey says. “It’s a symptom of a sick ocean. It’s a symptom of pollution. It’s a symptom of elevated sea-surface temperatures.”

    Jellyfish are just one of the “pests” listed in a new report released by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).

    America’s Outdoor Experience and Climate Change found that a variety of pests – including fire ants, stink bugs, ticks and mosquitoes – are proliferating as the climate changes. Dr. Doug Inkley authored the NWF report and says there is mounting evidence of a warming climate and the negative impacts associated with it. “It’s not our imagination, this is already happening,” Inkley says. “We must take action now, for our children’s future and for our outdoor experience future.”

    Algal blooms, according to the report, are another consequence of warming waters. Earlier this month, a “red tide” impacted parts of the Florida coast.

    Causey says reports like this one from the NWF serve to “connect the dots” of climate change and human behavior, something he says has not been done up until this point. “We’ve seen declines in fisheries. We’ve seen declines in various areas, but what we haven’t done is really link human pollution to the health of the ocean,” says Causey.

    The NWF report recommends carbon-emission limits for existing power plants, which the Environmental Protection Agency plans to implement by June of next year. Increasing energy efficiency and investing in clean-energy sources are two other recommendations in the report.Public News Service – FL

    Stephanie Carson|Public News Service – FL|August 2014

    Australia to scrap plan for dumping near Great Barrier Reef

    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia will abandon plans to dump 3 million cubic meters of dredged sand into the Great Barrier Reef area in its effort to create the world’s biggest coal port, the Australian Financial Review reported on Tuesday.

    The fragile reef, which stretches 2,300 km (1,430 miles) along Australia’s east coast, and sprawls over an area half the size of Texas, was the centerpiece of a campaign by green groups and tour operators opposing the plan.

    They feared that dumping soil 25 km (15 miles) from the reef would harm delicate corals and seagrasses and potentially double ship traffic through the area.

    The Abbot Point port is being expanded to accommodate $16 billion worth of coal projects planned in the inland Galilee Basin by two Indian firms, Adani Enterprises and GVK, and Australian billionaire Gina Rinehart.

    On Tuesday, the paper said North Queensland Bulk Ports, Adani Group and GVK would re-submit a proposal as early as this week to Environment Minister Greg Hunt offering alternative dumping sites on land.

    The change is designed to defuse controversy over potential damage to the reef and avoid a court case launched by the North Queensland Conservation Council, it added.

    “If the reports are true, the cheapest, most destructive option for expanding Abbot Point may have been taken off the table,” said Adam Walters, head of research for environmental group Greenpeace.

    A spokesman for Hunt declined to confirm the newspaper’s report, saying no new proposals had been received yet.

    “There was no option available at the time of the decision,” Hunt told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio on Tuesday. “There may well be one opening up. It’s up to the proponents to submit it. We haven’t seen any documentation.”

    A spokesman for Adani said the company was open to viable alternatives to the dredging plan.

    “We are committed to ensuring the best options are in place to ensure this project is achieved, together with the best possible environmental outcomes,” he said.

    In January, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority granted a permit for North Queensland Bulk Ports Corp to dump the dredged material in the park, to deepen Abbot Point for two terminals planned by Adani and GVK-Hancock.

    Adani and GVK have long-term plans to ship a total of 120 million tons of coal through the port each year.

    Last June, UNESCO’s world heritage panel deferred until next year a decision on whether to designate the 300,000-sq.-km reef as a site in danger.

    The reef has the world’s largest collection of coral reefs, with 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish, 4,000 types of mollusk, and is home to threatened species, including the dugong and large green turtle, the World Heritage list says.

    The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation is concerned over the proposed coastal developments, and has asked Australia for an updated report on the state of conservation of the reef by next February 1.

     James Regan|Reuters| Sep 1, 2014|Editing by Clarence Fernandez

    How corals stir up their world

    Coral reefs may look static to the naked eye, but scientists have now seen “violent” activity on their surface.

    Using powerful microscopes, researchers filmed tiny hairs on the surface of corals “stirring up” surrounding water.

    They say that these swirls of water draw nutrients towards the coral, and may also drive away potentially toxic waste products.

    The findings are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Weizmann Institute of Science (WIS) in Israel studied corals grown in a laboratory tank.

    “The general thinking has been that corals are completely dependent upon ambient flow from tides and turbulence [to supply nutrients],” said Orr Shapiro from WIS.

    These detailed observations overturn that idea.

    The researchers added tiny “tracer particles” to the water, which enabled them to see and capture images of the movement and flow near the surface of the coral.

    They also combined powerful microscopes with high speed cameras, capturing footage of the tiny hairs, or cilia, on the corals’ surface.

    The resulting slow-motion footage was magnified by up to 1,000 times. It showed, the researchers reported, the cilia beating and “vigorously stirring a layer of water that extended up to 2mm from the coral surface”.

    “I was very surprised and so was the entire team,” another author of the study, Prof Roman Stocker from MIT told BBC News. “We knew that corals have cilia, but did not expect that they could produce flows that are so violent.”

    Such a close-up understanding of how coral reefs work could help predict how they will cope with a changing ocean environment in the face of climate change.

    “An active control over the environment suggests a potential ability to cope with changing conditions,” said Prof Stocker.

    Read more and see Videos

    FWC, partners see ultimate coral reef-building success

    Researchers at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) observed transplanted nursery-raised staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) spawning for the first time this month at Tropical Rocks, just over 4 miles offshore of Marathon. These corals were supplied by the Coral Restoration Foundation and Mote Marine Lab nurseries and outplanted by the FWC. The project was made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act via The Nature Conservancy.

    The FWC, in collaboration with the Conservancy and other American Recovery and Reinvestment Act partners, began construction on the Middle Keys coral nursery in late 2009 but suffered setbacks due to a coldwater kill and, later, a warm-water bleaching event. The goal of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act project was to expand the current nurseries, develop new nurseries and outplant high numbers of nursery-grown corals throughout the Florida reef tract and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

    “This is the first time that we have seen staghorn coral spawning at the reef tract that included corals grown as part of our nursery program,” said Caitlin Lustic, coral recovery coordinator for the Conservancy in Florida. “This spawning event shows that outplanted corals have the ability to reproduce just like a natural colony and furthers our goal of creating breeding colonies of coral that can repopulate reefs on their own.”

    The FWC and the Conservancy are reseeding coral reefs in efforts to aid recovery of wild staghorn populations. Staghorn coral contributes significantly to reef growth, island formation and coastal protection while providing essential habitat for a number of important reef fish.

    “With this project, we developed excellent working relationships with the Conservancy and the rest of our partners,” said Kerry Maxwell, coral researcher with the FWC. “Together we boosted threatened staghorn populations and realized the ultimate goal of the project: spawning. Even though the project backed by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is complete, I anticipate we will all continue to collaborate toward the common goal of coral reef restoration.”

    To learn more about corals in Florida waters or to learn more about the FWC’s Coral Reef Research and Monitoring Project, visit www.MyFWC.com/Research and select “Habitat” then “Coral Reefs.” To learn more about the Conservancy’s efforts to protect Florida’s coast, including coral reef habitat, visit www.nature.org/floridacoast

    The Deep Ocean Is Crucial to a Healthy Planet, and Now Companies Want to Strip-Mine It for Metals

    Scientists have come together to protect the deep sea before it’s too late.

    Though the deep ocean covers more than half the planet, we know more about the surface of the moon than about life in the far recesses of the sea. But a new study shows just how vital the deep ocean—defined as depths beyond 200 meters, or 656 feet—is for storing atmospheric carbon, nutrient recycling, and marine life support.

    But the deep ocean also holds vast quantities of valuable minerals and metals, such as manganese and cobalt, making it a target for corporations aiming to mine it. The United Nation-chartered International Seabed Authority, which controls activity on the seafloor, has awarded contracts with nations in the central Pacific to explore the deep ocean for metals.

    “Deep-sea habitats receive much less attention than environments closer to home, as they are inhospitable to humans, remote and there are numerous challenges associated with studying this environment directly,” the authors of the study wrote in the paper, which was published in the journal Biogeosciences. “As a result, this has delayed the acknowledgment of the vitally important ecosystem functions and services the deep sea provides.”

    “Unfortunately, this comes at a time when services from the deep sea are in increasing demand and [it is] under great pressure for its products,” they added.

    In response, a group of scientists, lawyers, and policy makers formed Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative.

    Founded in 2013, DOSI aims to help regulators make science-sound decisions.

    “We want to make sure that before massive commercial exploitation happens in the deep oceans, there are discussions about the services and functions of those ecosystems—how to protect them, whether we need protected areas, how to apply precautionary principles, how to bring in economic and ecological considerations before drastic changes happen,” said Lisa Levin, director of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation and a leader of DOSI.

    DOSI is studying the impact of dumping mine tailings—the toxic waste produced by terrestrial mining—in the deep ocean.

    “This use of the deep sea is ramping up, as the thought is that there isn’t much to destroy in the deep sea compared to losses associated with disposal on land,” said Levin.

    Mining is just one of the activities threatening the deep ocean.

    Industrial fishing also poses a threat as bottom trawlers increasingly send their nets farther down into the ocean—the mean depth of fishing activity has increased by 1,150 feet since 1950. Trawlers drag weighted nets along the seabed, effectively clear-cutting the ocean floor. About 20 percent of the ocean floor has already been trawled at least once. That matters because some fish in the deep live to be more than 100 years old, and corals live to more than 1,000 years.

    Scientists are still just starting to discover the unique ecosystems of the deep ocean. “Given our substantial knowledge gaps, any future exploitation of deep-ocean resources must be balanced with lasting protection of habitats, biodiversity, and services,” Levin and her coauthors wrote in a Science policy forum article in May.

    Katharine Gammon|August 26, 2014

    Women and Climate Change

    Long-term impacts of climate change, as well as acute disasters, exacerbate inequalities and make equity issues across the globe painfully apparent. Women particularly are at serious disadvantage. The following posts offer complementary perspectives on how women disproportionately suffer the impacts of disasters, severe weather events, and climate change as traditional gender dynamics play a significant role in determining their proximity, exposure, and ability to respond to climate change impacts.

    In the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, death rates for women across the region were three times that of men. It is believed that these figures reflect that many girls and women lack the upper-body strength to climb to safety, that many had not been taught to swim, and that many mothers tending small children and the elderly were unable to flee and thus were swept away. Although the tsunami was caused by an earthquake, similar impacts can occur resulting from severe weather events, like typhoons and hurricanes, fueled by climate change.

    In the United States and across the developed world, most of us have access to clean drinking water. However, people in certain U.S. communities and in many developing countries struggle to meet daily needs. In developing countries particularly, securing water (as well as food and fuel) for the household is almost exclusively the responsibility of women. When the water is brought home and meals are prepared, it’s expected that men and boys receive the lion’s share, often leaving women and girls undernourished. These chores also keep girls out of school and women from more productive economic activities. Rarely do these women have a voice in community or family decision-making, meaning even some of the basic skills we take for granted (like learning to swim or climb trees) can be denied.

    These gender roles mean women and girls are heavily impacted by climate change, paying the lion’s share for poor access to clean drinking water. During times of drought, the time needed to travel to obtain fresh water increases. For example, women in Africa carry drinking water as far as six kilometers a day (nearly 4 miles), and these distances will only increase as local sources dry up. Compounding the fact that the water brought from these distant sources rarely is enough to meet daily needs, it often is contaminated by poor sanitation or other pollutants. During floods, water sources can be contaminated even further, especially in areas with poor waste management. Polluted water supplies can cause foods, such as rice gruel used to wean infants, to be fatal. This not only has health consequences, but is also very time consuming and thus reduces the opportunity for women to engage in educational and economic activities.

    As a graduate student studying public health, I have come to realize that our health is not determined exclusively by our access to doctors. Rather, some of the social factors that impact an individual’s health include gender, income, and race, as well as environmental determinants involving the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food to which we have access. We must address these root factors of vulnerability, gender equity, poverty, lack of education, and other social determinants of health before we can truly adapt to the changing climate and prevent injury and early death for women. There are growing efforts to focus attention on gender within grassroots-level adaptation projects, and to international negotiations and policy-making at the highest levels. For example, at the 2012 Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the final decision included a provision establishing the issue of gender and climate change as a standing item on future meeting agendas.

    Global climate change will be the most challenging and important issue for public health throughout my career. I realize that preparing for climate change by addressing underlying vulnerabilities, like inequality of w