ConsRep 1510 A

Till now man has been up against Nature; from now on he will be up against his own nature. ~Dennis Gabor


Extinction is forever ‏

Florida panthers need our help. After nearly 50 years of focused conservation efforts to bring them back from the brink of extinction, they are making a slow and steady comeback, but habitat loss continues to threaten their survival.

Click here for video

Simply put, panthers need more connected conservation lands. And the most important thing you can do to help panthers right now is to sign our petition to the Florida Legislature urging them to protect panther habitat.
Before lawmakers come back to Tallahassee for committee meetings next week, urge them to use Amendment 1 funds to buy Panther Glades, expand the boundaries of existing panther refuges, and purchase more conservation easements from ranchers.
Unless we act now to protect panther habitat, they’ll slip back towards extinction.
We can’t allow that. Please ADD YOUR NAME to our petition urging lawmakers to protect Florida panthers by protecting the conservation lands they need to survive.
For our panthers,
Aliki Moncrief|Executive Director|Florida Conservation Voters

1st International Environmental Youth Symposium 2015 to be held in Atlanta, Ga. ‏

Contact Information: Dawn Harris Young, (404) 562-8421 (Direct), (404) 562-8400

ATLANTA – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its Global Partners will host the first International Youth Environmental Symposium

at the Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center in Atlanta, Ga. on October 2, 2015.

The theme for the symposium is “One World, One Environment”.

The event aims to connect students and scholars from across disciplines and cultures to form lasting networks of research and governance.

Together with current stakeholders from universities, government and the industry, participants will discuss the environmental challenges of today to find the solutions of tomorrow.

                                  Who:                EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

                                                                                 What:                1st International Environmental Youth Symposium 2015

When:               October 2, 2015

                                     Where:              Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center
                                61 Forsyth St. SW
                                            Atlanta, Ga. 30303-8960

The goal of the conference is to provide opportunities for students, faculty members, administrators and other environmental and

sustainability stakeholders, to develop partnerships, network, and collaborate on sustainable environmental practices. 

The Symposium will also help to facilitate further dialogue among campus representatives who are committed to

experiencing that environmental sustainable principles are woven into their campus community fabric.

The Symposium will host environmentally related speakers from the around the global (Germany, France, Brazil, and Ghana), academia, industry,

and the EPA. The Symposium is open to academic deans and college and university faculty, students, government, and industry.

Please see symposium agenda for a complete list of experts and presentations:

***Interested media should e-mail an RSVP to or call 404-562-8421.

Please include your name, media affiliation and contact information.

Connect with EPA Region 4 on Facebook:
And on Twitter: @USEPASoutheast, #‎EcoYouth2015

Join Us at the Florida Fracking Summit ‏

The Center for Biological Diversity and allies are pleased to invite you to the 2015 Florida Fracking Summit in Fort Myers Oct. 27-28.

So what do you say — ready for the challenge?

The oil and gas industry is pushing forward with extreme oil extraction in Florida — so we need you to step up.

The fracking boom in other parts of the country has led to documented environmental degradation and harms to public health.

These toxic practices are the very same ones currently proposed

on thousands of acres in our state, including in parts of the Everglades.

At the two-day conference, experts will address the many harms of oil and gas extraction on air, land, water and human health.

We’ll discuss current federal and state laws, local government actions and concrete ways you can get involved.

You may not think you’re ready to lead, but after this conference you will. Join us in Fort Myers Oct. 27-28 at the Florida Fracking Summit.

Click here to RSVP and get more information.

Captive Wildlife Reminder RE: Wildlife Importation ‏

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission banner graphic

Dear Captive Wildlife Stakeholders,

As a reminder, in addition to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Captive Wildlife Import permit,

an Official Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (OCVI) from a veterinarian is required for importation of wildlife into the State of Florida.

More information can be found in Chapter 5C-3, FAC. and

F.S. 570.02

For additional information please contact the Florida Department of Agriculture at or call 850-410-0900.

For questions regarding FWC’s regulations for importing captive wildlife, please visit

or call the Captive Wildlife Office at 850-488-6253. 

Big Data & Decision Making Conference ‏

On December 8 & 9, 2015 Florida Earth will be hosting an international conference on Big Data & Decision Making: The Future of the Water Space, at the University of Florida in Gainesville. This confer

On December 8 & 9, 2015 Florida Earth will be hosting an international conference on Big Data & Decision Making: The Future of the Water Space, at the University of Florida in Gainesville.  

This conference will bring together experts from all over the world to address practical methods of data management and downsizing,

so that decision makers in water-related endeavors can have functional tools with which to make comprehensive and meaningful decisions.  

Highlights of the conference include keynote speakers including:

Peter Williams, CTO of Big Green Innovators, IBM

Mr. Peter Williams, Ph.D. serves as the Chief Technology Officer of Big Green Innovations at International Business Machines Corp.

He is responsible for assembling, maintaining and developing the portfolio of businesses included, and technologies used.

His particular focus areas have been PV technologies; developing greenhouse gas reduction solutions and services; and most intensively,

water management solutions, covering entire water resources, utility infrastructures, and enterprise water management.

Mr. Williams is IBM Distinguished Engineer. He has been heavily involved in creating the intellectual foundation for IBM’s “Smarter Planet“ initiative.

Steve Bourne, Atkins
Steve Bourne is a professional engineer and software developer at Atkins.

He has 17 years of water resources research, engineering, and software development experience involving geographic information systems (GIS),

climate research, water resources decision support system design, and software development and training.

Currently, his responsibilities at Atkins include project management and information solutions design, development, and implementation.

Recent projects include the BMP Assessment Tool, North Slope Decision Support System, WIEB Grid Tracker, StormCaster, and Asset Master Planner.

Greg van der Vink, Terrametrics and Princeton University  Gregory E. van der Vink was a visiting faculty member in the Department of Geosciences

between 1991 and 2015, teaching courses in environmental decision making and investigating natural hazards. 

As the President and CEO of Terrametrics, van der Vink’s specializes in predicting human responses to environmental

change that impact poverty-reduction efforts and that are precursors for conflict.

Terrametrics is a firm specializing in poverty reduction, conflict mitigation, and environmentally-sustainable economic growth in the developing world.

Robert J. Lempert (Invited), Rand Corporation
Robert Lempert is a senior scientist at the RAND Corporation and director of the Frederick S. Pardee Center for Longer Range Global Policy and the Future Human Condition.

His research focuses on decision making under conditions of deep uncertainty, with an emphasis on climate change, energy, and the environment.

Lempert and his research team assist a number of natural resource agencies in their efforts to include climate change in their long-range plans.

He has also led studies on national security strategies and science and technology investment strategies for clients such as the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Conference sponsorships are available at

To see the draft agenda and register for the conference, click here or call Florida Earth at (561) 281-5081 or email at for more information. 

The Hilton UF Conference Center is the conference site and has a special rate of $129 per night.  Click on the Hilton logo to go directly to the hotel reservation page.

Of Interest to All

Shell stops drilling in the Arctic ‏

After months of fighting Shell’s efforts to drill in the Arctic, it’s time to celebrate: the Fossil Fuel Empire announced that it will stop drilling!

As the Arctic drilling season came to a close this morning, Shell announced that it failed to find enough oil and gas to warrant further exploration. It will seal its exploration well and remove all equipment and personnel.

Now, we need you to make sure that once Shell’s out, it stays out!

This is a victory for the people and wildlife of the Arctic, and for our climate. The Obama Administration green-lighted Shell’s plans every step of the way. President Obama may have done the wrong thing, but every email, letter, and phone call you sent to the President helped show our strong opposition to Arctic drilling. That opposition provided enough uncertainty to convince Shell it wasn’t worth continuing.

After the Obama Administration gave Shell permits to discharge pollution into the ocean, threaten walruses and polar bears, and risk a large oil spill, Shell’s decision to cease exploration for the foreseeable future is welcome relief. 

Shell’s decision also gives the Obama administration a chance at redemption — but we have to keep up the pressure. It’s time to put a stop to Arctic drilling once and for all. President Obama has the authority to do just that.

Marice Keever|Friends of the Earth|9/28/15

NASA: Signs of flowing water on Mars

Official says ‘Mars is not the dry, arid planet we thought”

A NASA spacecraft circling Mars has found evidence of flowing water on the Red Planet’s surface — and in our time, not in some dim and more verdant past.

New data reveal that Earth’s close neighbor boasts multiple seeps of salt-laden water that were wet, or at least damp, as recently as last year. The water might be many times saltier than Earth’s ocean, but there could be enough of it to provide a bonanza for humans exploring the surface.

“Mars is not the dry, arid planet we thought of in the past,” NASA planetary science chief Jim Green said Monday. “Under certain circumstances, liquid water has been found on Mars.”

Until now, “we thought of the current Mars as a barren, extremely dry and cold desert,” said SETI Institute planetary scientist Janice Bishop, who didn’t take part in the research. “What is new and exciting here is that this provides evidence for liquid water on Mars in the current environment.”

Eons ago, Mars had enough water to fill enormous lakes and rivers. But scientists prospecting for the wet stuff in recent decades had to content themselves with ice at the planet’s poles, small amounts of water vapor in the atmosphere and water locked up in minerals in the Martian soil. The wet Mars of billions of years ago seemed to have become a desiccated world.

But five years ago, researchers spotted mysterious dark streaks running down the warm slopes of Martian craters and mountains. The lines disappeared in the cold season and reappeared in the warm season, like spring freshets on Earth.

They looked tantalizingly like a sign of liquid water, but landslides or dust couldn’t be ruled out, said study co-author Scott Murchie of the Applied Physics Laboratory.

So Murchie and his colleagues had NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter take a closer look.

Along the mysterious lines, the spacecraft detected the signature of waterlogged molecules of perchlorate, chemicals made up of chlorine and oxygen, the scientists report in this week’s Nature Geoscience.

Something is moistening Mars’s ample deposits of perchlorate, said study leader Lujendra Ojha, a graduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology. And that something must be liquid water.

Maybe the perchlorate itself is pulling water vapor out of the Martian atmosphere. Or maybe water from melting ice flows down hillsides and soaks the perchlorate in the soil. Or maybe water is trickling out of an aquifer.

The amount of water could be huge: The scientists estimated that one dark line contains, at a minimum, enough water to fill 40 of the enormous swimming pools used for international competitions.

Traci Watson|USA TODAY

Recall Alert: Contaminated Cucumbers

We tend to criticize the FDA a good bit here at Living Well, but not without good reason.

But there is one thing they do that I think deserves to be commended: their Recalls, Market Withdrawals and Safety Alerts. is almost impossible to navigate without getting a headache. But with the Recalls, Market Withdrawals and Safety Alerts, you can have all the crucial information about food, drug, and supplement recalls delivered directly to your email. You can adjust the timing so you get the updates immediately, daily or weekly.

As I don’t watch the news, it’s one email I make sure to read to stay in the loop on food recalls.

And for good reason: There is at least one salmonella- or listeria-tainted food being recalled each month. And many times, more than a few.

This month’s major outbreak: contaminated cucumbers. 

Recently, at least 580 people suffered food poisoning and three people died from cucumbers tainted with salmonella.

These cucumbers were produced in Baja California, Mexico, by Fat Boy produce and distributed in 30 U.S. states.

The biggest problem is that these cucumbers are largely unmarked. They don’t have labels on individual cucumbers showing the Fat Boy brand. But they were packed into cartons sporting the brand name:

Another brand of cucumbers is being recalled for potential salmonella contamination as well: Limited Edition cucumbers produced by Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce, of San Diego, California.

These cucumbers also have a wide distribution, to states including Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah.

Again, these cucumbers won’t be individually marked with the Limited Edition brand, but it will be on the carton they come in.

The recall is still ongoing so you’ll have to do your due diligence. Be sure to ask your grocer where they got their cucumbers. Or just avoid cucumbers altogether for a while. 

Every year, approximately 42,000 cases of salmonella poisoning are reported. But not all cases are reported, so the actual number of infections may be closer to a million or more, and it is estimated that approximately 400 people die each year from acute salmonella poisoning.

Salmonella is especially harmful and can be fatal in young children, elderly people, pregnant women, or those with weak immune systems. If you or your loved ones fall into any of these categories, take extra caution. 

Symptoms of salmonella poisoning include diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fever six-72 hours after eating the contaminated food. Chills, headache, nausea, and vomiting can also occur, and symptoms can last up to seven days.

Long-term side effects from salmonella poisoning include reactive arthritis, which is characterized by joint pain, eye irritation, and painful urination. It can also lead to aortic aneurysm, ulcerative colitis, and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.

Cooking meats to the proper temperature can reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

For raw vegetables like cucumbers, you definitely want to give them a wash, but that still may not be enough to get rid of all the bacteria on the produce. 

Your best bet is to make sure you take care of yourself to keep your immune system in tiptop shape and to stay abreast of food recalls. And whenever I’m worried I may be eating something sketchy, I’m sure to take an oregano oil capsule or two.

Other foods recalled this month for salmonella or listeria contamination include specific cheeses, fresh sliced apples, and Safeway deli sandwiches made with cucumber.

The full recall list also includes foods that have been found to have undeclared food allergens, as well as recalled dietary supplements. If you or a loved one have a severe food allergy, I highly recommend you sign up to get the recall alerts to protect yourself from mislabeled food.

You can sign up for FDA’s Recalls, Market Withdrawals and Safety Alerts here.

Jasmine LeMaster|Living Well Daily|9/30/15

Georgia Aquarium Won’t Be Getting Wild Belugas From Russia

In a huge victory for captive cetaceans, a federal court has denied the Georgia Aquarium’s latest attempt to bring 18 wild-caught beluga whales from Russia to the U.S. for public display.

Unfortunately, with a low success rate for breeding and a captive population that won’t sustain itself without new babies, aquariums are going to have to look to the wild to keep their exhibits open and that’s just what Georgia Aquarium has been doing.

The controversy surrounding this case began back in 2012, when the Georgia Aquarium tried to get a permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to import the belugas, who were captured in Russia’s Sea of Okhotsk between 2006 and 2011.

Had the permit been approved, it would have marked the first time in 20 years that the U.S. allowed anyone to bring in wild caught cetaceans specifically for public display.

The belugas in question were supposed to go to six different facilities including the Georgia Aquarium, and SeaWorld parks in Florida, Texas and California, along with the Mystic Aquarium and the Shedd Aquarium under breeding and loan agreements – although earlier this month even SeaWorld changed its stance and announced it would not accept any of them because it pledged not to take any wild-caught cetaceans.

Fortunately, in 2013 the NMFS denied the permit after concluding that the Georgia Aquarium hadn’t met the criteria for import under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), citing concerns about the impact captures would have on wild populations, the demand it would create for further captures and imports that a few were still young enough to be dependent on their mothers.

Despite the decision, consequences of the import and strong public opposition – more than 55,000 people signed a Care2 petition asking it to stop trying – the Georgia Aquarium didn’t take no for an answer and has been fighting to get them ever since, arguing they have a right to import them and arrogantly stating that “maintaining a sustainable population of beluga whales in human care is essential to the survival of belugas everywhere.”

Now advocates for these belugas, and organizations including the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Cetacean Society International and Earth Island Institute, which intervened on their behalf, are celebrating a huge win.

In a ruling handed down this week, a federal judge sided with the NMFS, which means the Georgia Aquarium is not getting its hands on these belugas.

“We are thrilled with the court’s ruling,” said Dr. Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist at AWI. “The MMPA was enacted to protect marine mammals from harm and exploitation and that is exactly what it has done in this case. The US will thankfully not be part of the unsustainable and inhumane trade in belugas out of Russia.”

According to a statement from AWI, supporting organizations are still working to get the NMFS to declare this population of belugas as depleted under the MMPA in an to stop any further captures and increase conservation efforts that will protect them in the wild.

Alicia Graef|September 30, 2015

Science is endangered at USFWS ‏

This week, the Union of Concerned Scientists released a blistering report that shows that many scientists working at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) are gravely concerned by the direction the Service has taken. The survey showed that many government scientists are prevented from doing the critical work of protecting imperiled species by political and business interference. In particular, some at the agency described repeated instances of the Service ignoring their own experts to defer to state wildlife agencies.

The survey of thousands of government scientists found that more scientists at FWS than at any other surveyed government agency feel that political and business interests play an inappropriate role in decision making. More than seventy percent of scientists that responded said that the level of political influence within their agency is too high–with nearly one in five saying the FWS does not adhere to its scientific integrity policy.

Recent proposals from FWS have demonstrated the disastrous impact of this extreme deference to state interests. The proposed stripping of protections of nearly all of the gray wolves in the lower 48 states, the sudden reversal of proposed protections for wolverines, and newly-conceived barriers to public participation in the listing process are just a few of the ramifications of the culture currently in place within the Service.

In order to help the FWS to be able to administer the Endangered Species Act as it is written, the Service must assert its role in safeguarding imperiled species. Just this week, two western governors appeared before Congress to declare that they planned to pursue further state influence in listing decisions. The environment created by this culture of collaboration over science weakens the Service and pushes imperiled species closer to extinction.

The feedback provided by the government scientists was shocking in their appraisal of the agency. Among the comments:

  • The whole agency is embarrassed about regulating the ESA and tries to downplay its role.
  • The current “leadership” of FWS has sold out a “conservation career” for “career conservation and advancement.” Specifically, there is a evolving culture of deference to anyone and everyone with an opinion (especially State Directors), often to the exclusion of the agency’s own experts.
  • Most decisions I’m aware of: wolf, wolverine, American burying beetle, mussels, were the result of political interference.
  • We need to stop hiring “hook and bullet” biologists and managers who have little understanding of ecosystem management.
  • This agency does not like to regulate.
  • We currently have a system that encourages robotic behavior, and “apologists” – people who are embarrassed that we administer and enforce the ESA and MBTA. 
  • Service leadership seems to think collaboration trumps science when making policy decisions related to endangered species management.

The long, proud history of this agency–and of the Endangered Species Act–should not be allowed to be cast aside for political points. The first step to regaining internal and public trust in the FWS is for Director Ashe to exert his agency’s role under the Endangered Species Act and make science-based listing decisions. Please take action by learning more about the report and asking Director Ashe to reject future inappropriate interference in endangered species protection decisions. 

Leda Huta|Executive Director|Endangered Species Coalition

Calls to Action

  1. Tell the Obama Administration to revoke Shell’s Arctic drilling permits – here
  2. Please weigh in now to help clean up dirty trucks and cut global warming pollution – here
  3. Tell the EPA to label glyphosate as cancer-causing and begin the process of regulating its use here
  4. Stop Tragic Koala Die-Off – here
  5. Stop Monsanto’s Desperate Plan to Kill GMO Labeling – here
  6. Stop The Legislature From Telling Communities They Can’t Regulate Fracking – here
  7. Tell Congress it’s time for America to take the climate crisis seriously – here
  8. Please tell your lawmakers to stop the damage and save the Land and Water Conservation Fund – here
  9. Tell FWS Director Dan Ashe to stop playing politics with species protections and carry out the Endangered Species Act. – here
  10. Stop the slaughter – ban the ivory trade now – here
  11. Tell the Obama Administration- No new oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico – here
  12. Stop the hydropower industry bill that is bad for rivers, clean water, and communities – here
  13. Save Threatened Bird from Shellfish Industry Expansion – here
  14. Tell Congress- Give Native Americans back their sacred land – here 

Birds and Butterflies

Huge victory for birds in the Arctic ‏

Last night, Shell announced that it was suspending its efforts to drill in the Arctic Ocean for the “foreseeable future.”  This is great news, and something that the bird lovers of Audubon Alaska can be proud of having helped make happen.  Audubon’s team of supporters, chapters and employees led efforts to document the incredible values of the Arctic Ocean and emphatically made it clear to Shell that oil development wasn’t worth the risk of an oil spill.  This Audubon Alaska fact sheet details the wildlife values of the Chukchi Sea as well as the dangers of oil spills. 

With Shell’s decision, the Obama Administration has a number of opportunities coming up in the next year to protect the Arctic Ocean from future development.  Jim Adams, Audubon Alaska’s Policy Director, said: “First, this is great news for wildlife and for the many, many people who told Shell that Arctic Ocean oil and gas development was unacceptable.  Now, let’s put a halt to Arctic Ocean oil and gas leasing and make sure no other company plants its drilling rigs in the Arctic Ocean.”

Congratulations to all of the people who helped discourage Shell from taking its Arctic Ocean development plans further, and thanks from the walrus, eiders, bowhead whales, and other wildlife of the region! 

David Yarnold|President and CEO|National Audubon Society|9/28/15

Despite Losing 90 Percent of its Population, Feds Say Sage Grouse Not Endangered

Despite Losing 90 Percent of its Population, Feds Say Sage Grouse Not Endangered

Last week the Obama administration said the sage grouse will not be listed as endangered and will not be afforded federal protection, despite the fact that its population has plummeted in recent years. Instead the sage grouse’s future rests in a gray area of state-specific efforts and restrictions where the livestock, energy and construction industries (who have largely contributed to the bird’s decline) are responsible for its survival.

The Sage Grouse Population “Has Plummeted by Up to 90 Percent”

What’s all the fuss about this chicken-like bird? It depends on who you ask.

Conservationists see a bird in peril who gauges the health of our ecosystems. As reported in The Washington Post, scientists estimate that the sage grouse’s population “has plummeted by up to 90 percent as drilling and mining operations disturbed its habitat.” The bird lost 56 percent of its historic range, and its population is down to 200,000 to 500,000 individuals from millions. The bird’s sagebrush habitat is also home to 350 other species. Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist with WildEarth Guardians, described the Obama administration’s decision to the Post as:

The sage grouse faces huge problems from industrial development and livestock grazing across the West, and now the Interior Department seems to be squandering a major opportunity to put science before politics and solve these problems.

Sage grouse advocates also argue that the administration’s “solution” is missing “key conservation measures.”

If you asked the livestock, energy and construction industries about the sage grouse, you’d probably get a different perspective. They see the bird as an obstacle to present and future development. The bird’s territory spans 11 different states and 165 million acres — acres that are also ranches, residential homes and oil and gas gold mines. As the Post reports, over half “of the land that makes up sage grouse habitat is owned by the BLM and Forest Service,” and “1,100 ranchers who farm more than four million acres” are farming on sage grouse habitat; you can bet they have a vested interest in the bird’s status. If the sage grouse had been listed as endangered, Utah estimated that it would’ve lost over $40 billion in economic production from oil and gas. And what’s been a free-for-all dynamic until now could’ve ended if the sage grouse was federally protected.

The Plan to “Save” the Sage Grouse

So what’s the plan to “save” the sage grouse if it’s not federally protected? The three main industries decided to step up for the sage grouse by following state-led efforts and restrictions now that they’re practically being forced to.

Here are some of the ideas to “save” the sage grouse:

– Oil and gas companies told their employees to avoid driving at night, so they don’t interrupt the bird’s breeding hours.

– BLM is creating buffer zones around the bird’s habitat to reduce noise for the easily spooked sage grouse.

– There are plans to suppress cheatgrass, or an invasive grass species that’s driving the bird’s decline by taking over the bird’s sagebrush habitat.

– The industries considered planting slow growing sagebrush that will take years to grow.

– There is talk of using fences with white reflectors instead of the typical barbed wire fences that would pierce the birds trying to fly through it.

The federal government said it will continue monitoring the bird, and it’s set to review the sage grouse’s listing in five years. But they might have to reevaluate the decision much sooner: two Nevada counties and mining companies have already filed a lawsuit against some restrictions citing “total destruction of certain businesses.” Idaho’s governor, Republican Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, has filed a similar lawsuit resisting the restrictions; Governor Otter’s lawsuit speaks volumes about the viability of state-led conservation efforts — if we can’t trust a governor to uphold these restrictions, then who can we trust to put the sage grouse’s survival before state and economic interests? Leave it to states and big business NOT to care about the sage grouse.

Jessica Ramos|September 29, 2015

To download the free Audubon Bird Guide, go to:

Florida Panthers

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

(Having trouble viewing this email? View it as a Web page.)

The FWC has updated the “Panther Pulse” page with mortality information through Sept. 28, 2015 as of 3 p.m. This information can be viewed at:

Biologists gain valuable information by examining panther remains.  Report injured or dead panthers to the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922). 

Invasive species

FWC announces details of 2016 Python Challenge™ with partners

Building on the success of its 2013 Python Challenge™, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida Inc.(Foundation) this week announced additional details of the 2016 Python Challenge™, a conservation effort that includes public outreach on invasive species and a month-long competition to remove Burmese pythons from public lands in Florida.

The Challenge will take place in a larger geographic area than the 2013 Python Challenge. The FWC is working in coordination with several state and federal land management  agencies, including Everglades National Park, to provide access to additional public land areas during the competition. 

According to Everglades National Park Superintendent Pedro Ramos, “We look forward to expanding access into the Park and to providing more opportunities for members of the public to become approved authorized python agents. I hope that our increased participation this year will engage the public and highlight the scientific work that is being done to care for our public lands.”

The dates of the python removal competition in south Florida are set for Jan. 16- Feb. 14, 2016. Participants will be able to sign up as an individual competitor or as part of a team of up to five people.

“We’re launching the 2016 Python Challenge™ because Burmese pythons continue to be a significant issue in the Everglades,” said FWC Commissioner Ron Bergeron. “We hope these efforts will increase sightings and removal of pythons over the long-term in this valuable ecosystem.”

The aim of the 2016 Python Challenge™ is to promote Everglades conservation through invasive species removal, and the FWC and the Foundation are also increasing opportunities for the public to receive training so they can help. Training events will teach participants how to identify, report and then safely and humanely capture Burmese pythons.

“The Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida is proud to partner with the FWC and Everglades National Park on this exciting conservation program,” said Foundation Chairman Rodney Barreto. “If you are interested in learning more or want to help promote or sponsor the 2016 Python Challenge™, we encourage you to visit the Python Challenge website.”

Details about upcoming training events, competition rules, registration, prizes and events will be posted at  as they are finalized.

To report nonnative fish and wildlife, call the FWC’s Invasive Species Hotline at 888-IVE-GOT1 (888-483-4681), report your sighting online at or download the IveGot1 smartphone app.

For more information on Burmese pythons and other nonnative species in Florida, go to

Endangered Species

China and U.S. to Halt Ivory Trade

U.S. President Barack Obama and People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping agreed Friday to end the domestic commercial trade of ivory in their respective countries. This historic accord comes at a time when as many as 35,000 elephants are poached each year for their tusks to supply the world’s growing ivory demand. “We are seeing an important, public commitment from the world’s two largest economies to work together to bring an end to the elephant poaching crisis,” says Dr. Patrick Bergin, African Wildlife Foundation CEO and member of the White House Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking. “President Obama and President Xi are sending a clear message that they intend to throw the weight of their countries behind the elephant crisis.” As part of this agreement, the two governments will cooperate in bringing additional training, technical expertise, information sharing and public awareness to the wildlife trafficking crisis.

> Find out what this means for Africa’s elephants


Manatee Mortality Updates ‏

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission banner graphic

The 2014 January and February manatee mortality reports have been finalized. 

The finalized tables have been posted and the information can be viewed at

The manatee mortality web search is currently offline, but will be updated when it is available again.

Leatherback Visits Bay Area

One of the first confirmed sightings of an endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle this season occurred on Saturday, Aug. 15th near Pedro Point in Pacifica, Calif. Leatherbacks, like the one spotted, migrate across the entire Pacific Ocean, over 6,500 miles each way, to feed on jellyfish along our Pacific Coast. Captain Roger Thomas of the Salty Lady, a sport fishing boat, spotted the leatherback coming up for air, and passenger Peter Winch captured the sighting with his camera.

Turtle Island won protections for these gentle giants in 2001 with the formation of the Pacific Leatherback Conservation Area, which prohibits deadly drift gillnet fishing between peak turtle times along the California and Oregon coasts. This designation has drastically reduced the number of leatherback deaths in the fishery. The sighting of this leatherback along with a recent sighting of an entangled dead leatherback  helps demonstrate the need for continued and increased protections. Sadly, the sighting of the dead leatherback shows we still have work to do to protect this species off our California Coast.

Turtle Island helped draw attention to this amazing species by getting our State Assembly member to introduce legislation that made the leatherback the official marine reptile of California, celebrated on Oct. 15th as Pacific Leatherback Conservation Day.

Turtle Island Restoration Network|9/29/15


A component of the Picayune Strand Restoration Project in southwest Florida is plugging the canals north of Port of the Islands Marina, causing an impact to the existing warm water refugia for manatees populating this area in the Faka Union Canal. A refugia is an area where special environmental circumstances enable a community of species to survive.

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) negotiated a solution with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to mitigate the impacts in accordance with the Marine Mammal Act. By constructing an oxbow along the Faka Union Canal just south of the marina, the warm refugia in the marina will be functionally “replaced.” This Manatee Mitigation Project taps into the warm groundwater in the bottom of the deep pools of the oxbow, providing a warm refugia for the manatees during cold snaps from December through March.

SFWMD staff strategically scouted for manatees and worked with other state and federal resource agencies and the building contractor to develop a safe, approved and successful blasting plan. Take a look at the video.

The Picayune Strand Restoration Project will re-establish natural sheetflow to enhance wetlands in the 55,000-acre Picayune Stand and provide more natural freshwater inflow to the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. The project includes constructing three pump stations with spreader canals, plugging 40 miles of canals and removing 227 miles of roads.


It’s Not Just Shark Fins; Trade In Shark Meat Is Up 42%

Last month, Care2 members witnessed a huge victory when almost 180,000 members signed a petition demanding that UPS stop shipping shark fins.

UPS listened; the company had a conversation with the World Wildlife Fund and subsequently tweeted that it was banning the shipment of shark fins.

This was an awesome success, but as petition author Chris Maddeford wrote in his petition, “Shark populations are declining around the globe, with over 140 species of sharks listed as endangered, threatened, or near threatened by extinction.”

Now a new report from the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) finds that the market for shark meat increased a horrific 42 percent between 2000 and 2010.

“We had a sense that the shark meat trade was increasing,” said one of the report’s authors, Shelley Clarke of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission. “The magnitude of the increase and the extent to which it is concentrated in Brazil for shark meat, and Korea for skate and ray meat, were striking.”

According to the report, the total value of the worldwide trade in shark meat and fins is nearly $1 billion.

“These species are in global crisis,” said Luke Warwick, acting director of the global shark conservation campaign for The Pew Charitable Trusts, which was not affiliated with the study. “Because sharks grow slowly, mature late, and bear few young, they can’t recover from depleted populations quickly enough, especially if they continue to be killed at a rate of about 100 million, year after year.”

All About Sharks

Sharks, skates and rays are all Elasmobranchs, which are a subclass of Chondrichthyes, or cartilaginous fishes. This means they have a skeleton made of cartilage, rather than bone. 

Their population is declining rapidly, making them endangered, largely due to overfishing and getting caught in fishing gear. Some species have lost 99 percent of their population. As apex predators, they are at the top of the food chain; without them, the entire food chain is affected.

Ironically, the same laws that were intended to help sharks by reducing the shark fin trade could also be increasing the trade in shark meat. That’s because these laws now encourage using the entire shark instead of chopping off its fins and throwing the rest back into the ocean. In fact, the report suggests that the anti-finning regulations are specifically responsible for a “considerable” expansion in the market. Interestingly, the report reveals that the market for shark fins is quite different from the market for shark meat.

Saving Sharks And Their Relatives

Since most nations don’t keep statistics on specific shark species, it’s hard to know exactly which sharks are most threatened. A first step, which FAO is advocating, would be to require countries to keep more accurate data.

Even worse, a lack of standards means that a box labelled “shark meat” could contain parts from any shark species, whether dried, frozen or fresh. In the worst case scenario, shark products don’t even merit a unique name; instead, they are labeled as “unidentified fish.”

Some action has already been taken: last year the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species protected five shark species and all related manta rays. In addition, ten new shark sanctuaries have recently been established.

But most regulation doesn’t cover shark’s close relatives, the rays and skates, which comprise 75 percent of the U.S. catch of this family. According to Sonja Fordham, president of the nonprofit Shark Advocates International it is “legal and commonplace” to cut the wings off of live rays and skates. These fish “are being fished as heavily, and are more threatened and much less protected,” she added.

Clearly, in order to conserve all members of the shark family, these fish need to be covered by any new legislation and, most importantly, labels must be species-specific, and data collection needs to improve. These are some of the goals of the FAO report; with the increase of detailed data will come the ability to track the trade in shark meat more efficiently.

Hopefully, this will happen sooner rather than later, while there is still time to save the world’s sharks.

Judy Molland|September 29, 2015

Supermoon Sparked Rhino Killing Spree as Poaching Numbers Skyrocket

Sunday’s supermoon lunar eclipse was absolutely beautiful, but it was also deadly for some African wildlife. Eight rhinos were killed over the weekend at a South African park, Hluhluwe Game Reserve, according to wildlife officials. This puts the death toll for poached rhinos in the area up to 86 for the year. The total for all of 2014 was 99.

"Full moon periods are known as the dreaded 'poachers' moon,' said Simon Bloch of South Africa's Times. Photo credit: Shutterstock

“Full moon periods are known as the dreaded ‘poachers’ moon,” said Simon Bloch of South Africa’s Times, because the brightness of the moon helps poachers

hunt without the use of artificial lighting, which can give away their position to wildlife officials. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Wildlife officials worry that the death toll this year will be even higher than last year because South Africa is “going into summer months, where it gets light at 4:30 a.m. and only dark after 7:30 p.m. now to January,” rhino conservationist Dex Kotze told The Dodo. Kotze is the founder of Youth 4 African Wildlife and one of the strategists for Global March for Elephants, Rhinos and Lions in Johannesburg, which is taking place around the world this weekend.

“The extra light really assists the poachers,” Kotze explains. “There is just so much more time for poachers to be in out in the veld/bush with weather conditions playing in their favor.”

The killing spree this past weekend was, no doubt, brought on by the supermoon. “Full moon periods are known as the dreaded ‘poachers’ moon,” said Simon Bloch of South Africa’s Times, who initially reported on the killings. He told The Dodo “at least six of [the eight] killings took place over the exact period of the supermoon lunar eclipse, which lasted from sunset on Sunday to sunrise on Monday. At least six of the rhinos had their horns hacked out of their faces. Four died from lethal chemical darting; two others were shot by a rifle.”

Wildlife killing often increases during full moons because it allows for increased visibility “thus eliminating the need for unnatural light sources such as flashlights in the bush, which could give their positions away to watchful eyes—it makes it easier to see one’s quarry/target,” said Bloch.

Bloch says the reserve has tried to crack down on poaching, but has little to show for it. “There are some exceptionally dedicated and skilled anti-poaching rangers,” he says. “However, insufficient man-power and budget expenditure makes it difficult to keep rhinos safe from criminal syndicates that operate with inside information, and have the bush-craft skills and weaponry to infiltrate the expansive reserves, which are protected wilderness areas.”

Wildlife poaching has become a massive problem worldwide. Despite heightened awareness of the problem, Louie Psihoyos, award-winning director of The Cove and Racing Extinction, says the “wildlife trade is second only to the drug trade.”

The killing of Cecil the Lion this summer sparked intense Internet outrage, but the problem is truly rampant. Many efforts are being undertaken to put a stop to the illegal trade, including commissioning fake elephant tusks and fitting them with GPS tracking devices, using drones to survey large areas and even using 3-D printers to manufacture fake rhino horns.

Rhinos’ numbers have plummeted worldwide in recent years as poaching has skyrocketed. The Western Black Rhinoceros was declared extinct in 2011. Currently, the Black Rhino, Javan Rhino and Sumatran Rhino are listed as critically endangered. “In Africa, Southern white rhinos, once thought to be extinct, now thrive in protected sanctuaries and are classified as Near Threatened,” says the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

“But the Northern white rhino subspecies is believed to be extinct in the wild and only a few captive individuals remain in a sanctuary in Kenya,” adds WWF. “Black rhinos have doubled in number over the past two decades from their low point of 2,480 individuals, but total numbers are still a fraction of the estimated 100,000 that existed in the early part of the 20th century.” From 2010 to 2015, 4,714 rhino deaths have been reported in South Africa alone, according to Oxpeckers, a group of investigative environmental journalists.

And it’s not just rhinos, of course. Many other species are on the brink of extinction. The killing of two elephants in Zakouma National Park in Chad in August had many wildlife conservationists concerned. It’s the first time an elephant had been killed by poachers in the park in more than three years. Poaching decimated the elephant population there in the early 2000s. Their numbers dropped from some 4,000 in 2006 to just 450 today.

And earlier this year, 68 elephants were killed by armed militants in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 60 days. The militants have aggressively moved into the poaching business to use money from illegal ivory to buy food, weapons and ammunition. At the African Elephant Summit this year, delegates from various Asian, European and African countries predicted that African elephants could go extinct within decades if something doesn’t change.

Cole Mellino|September 30, 2015

700 Beehives Hang Off This Rocky Cliff to Boost Dwindling Bee Populations

The Shennongjia Nature Reserve in central China has an unusual approach to boost the country’s dwindling bee population: a sky-high, vertical apiary.

Roughly 700 wooden beehives hang from a cliff 4,000 feet above sea level on a mountain in the conservation area. According to People’s Daily Online, this vertigo-inducing “wall of hives” is meant to attract the area’s wild bees into settling in the boxes, as it mimics their natural habitats.

To get to the boxes, beekeepers have to climb to each one individually. The hives contain thousands upon thousands of bees.

As you might know, global food production is dependent on pollination provided by honey bees and other pollinators. But in some parts of China, bees have virtually disappeared, forcing some farmers to pollinate their crops by hand with feather dusters.

The website reported (via The Daily Mail), that in China’s north and north east, bees have become extinct. Other areas in China are also seeing bee populations decline, the publication said.

It is suspected that neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides known to have acute and chronic effects on honey bees and other pollinator species, is a major factor in overall global bee population declines. Twenty-nine independent scientists conducted a global review of 1,121 independent studies and found overwhelming evidence of pesticides linked to bee declines.

As beekeepers and conservationists around the world try to solve the plight of colony collapse disorder, this extraordinary apiary in in the Far East seems to be seeing some success, The Daily Mail reported.

Why build an apiary on a mountain? According to the National Commission of the People’s Republic of China for UNESCO, the Shennongjia Nature Reserve is unique in that its location has several different climates zones in a single area—subtropical, warm temperate, temperate and cold temperate—which allows for a rich variety of fauna and flora (as well as ample pollen) to grow.

Along with the bees, approximately 1,131 species of plants grow in the reserve, along with 54 kinds of animals, 190 kinds of birds, 12 kinds of reptile and 8 kinds of amphibian.

The commission said that the main cash income of the farmers living in the reserve is “mainly based on a diversified economy by raising cattle, pigs and beekeeping as well as collecting the Chinese herbal medicine etc.”

See a short Video

Lorraine Chow|September 30, 2015

45,000 Acres Protected for Rare Butterflies in Midwest, Great Lakes

Two rare prairie butterflies — the Dakota skipper and the Poweshiek skipperling — now have some of their most important habitat protected. The skipper (lost from 65 percent of its historic range) was protected under the Endangered Species Act as part of our historic 2011 agreement to speed decisions on 757 species around the country. The Poweshiek skipperling was also added to the endangered species list because it shares habitat with the skipper and is missing from 95 percent of its historic range.

Both of these inch-long, orange-and-brown butterflies have been hurt by the widespread loss of their native prairie habitat. That’s why it was important this week that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized protection for 19,903 acres for the Dakota skipper in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. The Poweshiek skipperling received 25,000 protected acres in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas.

Read more in our press release.

Center for Biological Diversity|9/30/15

[Still no help for the Florida Panther.]

Lifesaver for 49 Hawaiian Plants, Animals

On Tuesday, as part of the Center for Biological Diversity’s 757 settlement agreement, 49 species were proposed for Endangered Species Act protection by the Fish and Wildlife Service. From the band-rumped storm-petrel to the orangeblack Hawaiian damselfly and Maui reedgrass, these Hawaiian plants and animals are threatened by a combination of habitat destruction, invasive species and climate change.

“Many of these species are on the brink of extinction, so I’m relieved to see them moving toward the protection they desperately need,” said Loyal Mehrhoff, the former field supervisor of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office and now recovery director at the Center.
With more endangered species than any other state, Hawaii’s on the front lines of the extinction crisis. The Center petitioned for protection of 27 of the 49 species in 2004; many of them have been waiting years for protection. Our 757 species agreement has already resulted in endangered species protections for 142 species and proposed protection for another 66, including these.

Read more in our press release.

Four Plants in South Florida’s Vanishing Pine Rocklands Closer to Protection

A step up for plants threatened by rising seas: The Center for Biological Diversity’s landmark 757 agreement also pushed the Fish and Wildlife Service to announce Monday that four increasingly rare plants in Florida may qualify for Endangered Species Act protection.

The Big Pine partridge pea, wedge spurge, sand flax and Blodgett’s silverbush have all lost pine rocklands habitat to development and are now at risk of being swamped by sea-level rise, which could be as much as 3 to 6 feet in South Florida by 2100. The four plant species have been candidates for listing since 1980; the next step is a full status review by the Service.

“It’s amazing these four plants have survived the development that’s destroyed nearly all pine rocklands habitat,” said Jaclyn Lopez, our Florida director. “Endangered Species Act protection will help reverse their decline.”

Read more in our press release.

Update: Bees ‏

Bees are dying by the millions, and the USDA just called for the repeal of one of the few limits on bee-killing pesticides currently on the books.

This is outrageous: The U.S. Department of Agriculture just called on the EPA to *weaken* protections for bees.

You read that right. Bees have been dying by the millions—bees that we depend on to pollinate the majority of our biggest food crops.

But instead of leading the charge to protect the bees, which our entire agricultural economy depend on, the USDA is pressuring the EPA to repeal one of the few protections we’ve put in place.

We’re calling on Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to say no to the pesticide lobbyists and help protect the bees.

After years of watching bees die off by the millions, last year President Obama established a special task force to come up with a plan to save the bees.

And now we’re finally starting to see action, with the preservation of some bee habitats and some initial limits placed on the use of bee-killing pesticides. It’s not nearly enough—but it’s a start.

But it seems even these small steps are too much for the pesticide industry. They’ve lobbied against action to protect the bees from the start—and now the Department of Agriculture is taking their side.

It’s time for Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to prioritize the protection of the pollinators that farmers rely on—not pesticide industry lobbyists.

Elizabeth Ouzts|Regional Program Director|Environment Florida

18 African Elephants Destined for US Zoos

Three US zoos have just announced a ‘Conservation Partnership’ with Swaziland officials to relocate 18 African elephants to the Dallas Zoo, Sedgwick County Zoo in Kansas, and the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Nebraska. These three AZA accredited zoos, now working in partnership with each other, have applied for permits for the import.

The reason (justification) given for the import by the zoos? They claim that degraded landscape due to elephant foraging, unprecedented drought conditions, and not enough land for both the elephants and critically endangered rhinos in Swaziland, make this import and subsequent elephant slavery necessary. According to the non-profit, Big Game Parks Trust in Swaziland, the elephants need to either be exported or killed as a solution.

While Swaziland may truly be in a dire situation, the truth-spin by the zoos is mindboggling, with each zoo claiming heroic, 11th hour efforts saving life threatened elephants from being killed. This is not a conservation partnership, it is a profit partnership, being sold as a rescue mission.

Each zoo will take six elephants, and each zoo will spin its predictable tale of lies and manipulated facts, while 18 more innocent elephants are stolen from their homelands and families, and sold off as commodities to the endlessly greedy and exceedingly out of touch zoo industry. All this will be done under the well crafted lie of conservation.

Stay tuned for more updates and what you can do to help.

For more information for now, click here.

In Defense of Animals|10/01/15

First ‘Glowing’ Sea Turtle Discovered in Solomon Islands

Some corals are known to “glow” underwater, as do some jellyfish, eels and more than 180 other fish species.

And now, for the first time ever, it was discovered that reptiles also have the ability to light up like a Christmas tree.

In July, a glowing hawksbill sea turtle — a critically endangered species – was discovered in the Solomon Islands by David Gruber, a marine biologist.

Gruber was on an expedition funded by the TBA 21 Academy, whose mission, according to its website, is to “reimagine the culture of exploration, opening a new chapter in the history of art at sea.” His intention was to film bioflourescent corals and small sharks.

Biofluorescence, as National Geographic explains, is “the ability to reflect the blue light hitting a surface and re-emit it as a different color.”

This is not the same as bioluminescence, which is the ability of animals to emit their own light through chemical reactions or host bacteria.

One night as Gruber was filming a coral reef, the hawksbill sea turtle appeared “from out of the blue,” he said in a National Geographic video. He described the turtle as looking like a “bright red and green spaceship.”

Gruber’s diving partner, TBA 21 Academy Director Markus Reymann, said in the video that he’d never seen a turtle that calm. “He was just hanging out with us. I was loving the light.”

Scientists have only been studying bioflourescence for about 10 years. “As soon as we started tuning into it, we started finding it everywhere,” Gruber said. “First it was in corals and jellyfish, then it was in fish – and there it was, this UFO.”

Most bioflourescent animals display only one color, usually green or red. Corals can display both colors – and apparently, so can sea turtles, although Gruber said the red could be from algae on the shell.

The reason why the hawksbill is bioflourescent remains a mystery. “We know they have really good vision. They go on long and arduous migrations,” Gruber said. He said they could glow to find or attract each other.

It could also be a defense mechanism to protect themselves from predators. Alexander Gaos, director of the Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative (ICAPO), a nonprofit working to bring this species back from the brink of extinction, told National Geographic bioflourescence could serve as a kind of camouflage.

Hawksbills are already sometimes difficult to spot because their shells blend in with their rocky reef habitat, Gaos said.

According to ICAPO, hawksbills are the only species of sea turtle with “a brilliantly colored, keratinous shell consisting of overlapping (imbricated) scutes, colloquially referred to as a tortoise shell.”

Sadly, its unique shell is what has driven the hawksbill to near extinction. Along with the dangers facing all sea turtles, such as getting caught in fishing nets and tangled in plastic bags and other marine pollution, the hawksbills are the only species killed for their shells. For centuries, tortoiseshell was used in jewelry, combs, ornaments and other items.

In 1977, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) treaty generally put an end to the tortoiseshell trade. Japan continued to import the shells until 1991, when it stopped doing so to prevent a U.S. fish embargo. Unfortunately, the tortoiseshell trade still continues underground, according to ICAPO.

Because the hawksbill sea turtle is now one of the rarest species on Earth, finding the reasons for its bioflourescence will be extremely difficult. Gruber will instead study the green sea turtle, which is closely related to the hawksbill but not as close to extinction.

“What’s even more sad about this is these turtles have such a storied history, and now they’re critically endangered,” Gruber said.

But there is some encouraging news: Hawksbill sea turtles are showing signs of recovery in the Arnavon Islands, according to a study earlier this year by the Nature Conservancy. Because of conservation efforts, their population has doubled over the past 20 years.

And that’s something we can all glow about.

Laura Goldman|October 1, 2015

15 September 2015

Corridors for Jaguars

Picture a sleek jaguar tracking a deer through the forest, camouflaged by large spots on its coat (called rosettes) that mimic the dappled sunlight streaming through the trees. Native to North and South America, jaguars are one of the most powerful big cats on the planet. Yet significant habitat loss and fragmentation threaten the survival of these beautiful predators in the southwestern United States.

Jaguars are the largest cat in North and South America and the third-largest in the world after lions and tigers. On average, jaguars weigh 120 to 200 lbs. and the males can tip the scales at a whopping 300 lbs. At four to six feet long (not including the tail) and about three feet tall, jaguars are solid, stocky and powerful. Jaguars are solitary apex predators, putting them at the top of the food chain, where they play an important role in stabilizing the ecosystem.

For jaguars to establish new populations in the U.S., the cats must be able to travel safely across the border from their range in Mexico, and through southern Arizona and New Mexico. Protecting these vital migratory corridors is essential to jaguar conservation. After decades of working to support jaguar recovery and advocating for greater protections, Defenders and other conservation groups succeeded in getting the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to designate 764,207 acres (1,194 square miles) of much-needed jaguar critical habitat in Arizona and New Mexico, which the agency finalized in March 2014. However, a recent lawsuit could strip much of these habitat protections for jaguars in New Mexico. A coalition of New Mexico ranching interest groups filed a lawsuit challenging 51,400 acres of critical habitat in the Peloncillo Mountains and 7,714 acres in the San Luis Mountains. Removing such large swaths of protected habitat simply isn’t acceptable. So Defenders is joining the case to support FWS’ designation of jaguar critical habitat to protect these important corridors.

Historically, jaguars had a wide ranging habitat in the U.S. extending from southern California to the Grand Canyon and across Texas, but deforestation, draining wetlands and hunting by intolerant ranchers drove the cats south, restricting their range to the southernmost edge of Arizona and New Mexico. Jaguars’ current habitat ranges from the southwest U.S. hugging the border, south through Mexico, Central America, and the northern tip of Argentina. The cats prefer forested habitat for camouflage and climbing and streams for swimming, but their build enables them to crawl through and blend into the scrub brush habitat, characteristic of the southwest U.S.

Since jaguars were nearly wiped out from the U.S. in the 20th century, sporadic sightings over the past twenty years in the Peloncillo and San Luis Mountains have excited wildlife-lovers across the country. These sightings emphasize the importance of protecting the very habitat that is now being challenged. Instead of intolerance, we need to encourage coexistence between ranchers and wildlife, including large predators like jaguars. The FWS’ designation of critical habitat for jaguars will help ensure a “right of way” into the U.S. for these amazing cats, and it must be defended.

Anne Russell Gregory|Conservation Law & Endangered Species Coordinator|Defenders of Wildlife

Wild & Weird

Bees’ tongues are getting shorter because climate change

If you think about iconic symbols of climate change, you’ll probably picture a polar bear, emaciated, and clinging to a precariously small chunk of ice. You’re probably not thinking of a bumblebee, flitting about an alpine meadow with a shorter-than-average tongue. And yet, according to new research from Nicole Miller-Struttmann from SUNY College at Old Westbury, these shrinking tongues speak volumes about how nature’s most intimate partnerships might change in a warming world.

In the central Rockies, there are many species of bumblebee, and some have unusually long tongues for their body size. These are adaptations to the deep tubes of certain flowers like Parry’s clover and alpine skypilot, allowing the bees to lap at nectar that smaller-tongued species can’t reach. The tubes, in turn, are adaptations to the long bee tongues, providing exclusive access to nectar in exchange for exclusive pollination services. Both partners are locked in a co-evolutionary dance, held together by beautifully fitting tongues and tubes.

Recently, all has not been right with this dance. Miller-Struttmann’s colleagues, who have been studying the local bees and flowers for decades, started to notice weird changes. Long-tongued bees, which have been declining in many parts of the world, had become relatively rarer in the Rockies, too. Meanwhile, foreign species from farther down the mountainsides were encroaching on their terrain.

To work out what was going on, the team measured the tongues of the two most common bumblebee species, caught at three Colorado mountains in recent years. They then compared these lengths to those of specimens collected from the same mountains between 1966 and 1980.

These archived bees (has-bee-ns?) revealed that the tongues of these species have become 0.61 percent shorter every year, and are now just three-quarters of their former glory. “We were really surprised at the strength of the result,” says Miller-Struttmann. “We obviously asked the question but we weren’t expecting such a large response, especially over just 40 to 50 years.”

Why have the long-tongued bees evolved into long-ish-tongued bees? The team ruled out several possibilities. The bees weren’t becoming smaller overall, at least not to a degree that explained their shrinking tongues. Shorter-tubed plants hadn’t taken over the mountainsides; herbarium collections revealed that they are no more common now than they were in the 1960s. And immigrant bees from elsewhere in the mountains weren’t ousting the locals from their usual long-tubed flowers.

The best remaining explanation is that the changing climate of the Rockies has shifted the balance of flowers than the bees depend upon. Jennifer Geib from Appalachian State University, who was involved in the study, says, “Our field sites are part of what ecologists describe as high-altitude desert.” That is: they’re really dry. And they’ve become drier in the last 60 years, as summers have become 2 degrees C warmer.

Water evaporated more quickly from the soil. Winter snowfalls started thawing out earlier, depriving plants of precious meltwater during the growing season. Many wildflowers that were already eking out a living on the brink of drought were pushed over the edge. On Pennsylvania Mountain alone, the team calculated that “millions of flowers were lost.” As such, today’s bees face about 60 percent less food than their predecessors from the 1970s.

The long-tubed flowers weren’t especially affected, but there were fewer of them — and not enough for long-tongued specialists to subsist on. So the long-tongued bees were forced to broaden their diets, drinking nectar from flowers of every length. Since they were now competing for resources that many other species could plunder, their long tongues no longer conferred any special advantages. So evolution, ever-thrifty and economical, selected for individuals with shorter tongues.

“That’s a really neat discovery,” says Jeremy Kerr from the University of Ottawa, who also studies pollinators. “I haven’t seen other research that suggests we’re likely to see rapid evolution in bumblebee [traits] because of climate change.” Kerr’s own research shows that North American and European bumblebees are being crushed out of their normal ranges by warming climates, seemingly unable to expand into more suitable pastures.

Miller-Struttmann’s study suggests that bees might be able to persist within these contracting habitats by changing their foraging habits and evolving accordingly. How they fare in the long term is anyone’s guess. Certainly, the widespread decline of long-tongued bees, and bumblebees more generally, is a poor portent.

This isn’t the only mutualism at risk in a warming world. In warmer oceans, corals eject the algae that they depend on for photosynthesis, depriving them of both the energy they need to construct their mighty reefs, and the source of their color. Starving and alone, they become weak and ghostly versions of themselves.

Meanwhile, carpenter ants, a hugely successful group with around 1,000 species, depend on bacteria inside their cells to supplement their diets with important nutrients. These microbes are also sensitive to temperature, and it’s possible that a warmer world would crush these ants — and the many other insects that depend on supplementary microbes — into ever narrower niches.

And what of the long-tubed flowers, now decoupled from their partners in pollination? “Alpine plants are very long-lived, so any effects of reduced pollination efficiency from the recent past would likely not be seen in their populations for some time,” says Geib. “But if climate-change models are accurate, these plants are likely to face a multitude of synergistic pressures in the future, including drought, and increased competition as the ranges of lowland species shift upward. The combination of these pressures, coupled with decreased pollination, could forecast a troubled future.”

Ed Yong|25 Sep 2015

Water Quality Issues


A-1 FEB will be first project completed for the State’s Restoration Strategies plan

With water starting to flow across its 15,000-acre footprint, the A-1 Flow Equalization Basin (FEB) is close to becoming the first project completed as part of the State’s Restoration Strategies plan to improve Everglades water quality.

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) will operate the massive, shallow reservoir to help deliver water at the right time and in the right quantity to treatment wetlands that remove nutrients before the water reaches the Everglades. The A-1 FEB features a system of 21 miles of earthen levees and 15 water control structures – 10 with solar power – and will hold up to 60,000 acre-feet of water.

“Completing this significant project and continuing progress on others is how we achieve water quality goals,” said Jeff Kivett, SFWMD Director of Operations, Engineering and Construction. “The A-1 will soon be fully operating and providing its intended critical restoration benefits to the Everglades.” 

For more, read the SFWMD news release or watch video of water filling the basin for the first time.


How Florida uses its water

Florida is known to be the wettest state in the nation, but a 13-day winter cold front in 2010 sent two Hillsborough towns into a water management crisis.

Excessive groundwater pumping by strawberry farmers spraying to keep their produce alive caused wells to dry up, sinkholes to open and the amount of water available to neighboring households to plummet.


Since then, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, or Swiftmud, has taken a hard look at the cumulative effects of groundwater pumping, said Claire Muirehead, water use permit evaluation manager.

“We need to be able to provide water supply for the people that we have in our state now, but we also need to make sure that there is available water supply for future generations while also protecting the environment,” Muirehead said.

Florida pulls almost 15 billion gallons of water per day from fractures and pores beneath the Earth’s surface and from existing surface water, according to data compiled by AP-APME from the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Water-Use Information Program. About 14 billion gallons are used each day in households and factories and for irrigation, livestock, aquaculture, thermoelectric power plants and mining.

Hillsborough County is the biggest consumer, drawing 1.9 billion gallons per day and using 1.6 billion gallons per day on its power plants.

Sarasota and Manatee, by contrast, are among the counties that pump the least amount of groundwater each day. Public consumption and irrigation are the biggest draws.

Public water use in Sarasota County requires about 31.3 million gallons per day, while irrigation takes 10.3 million gallons, according to the USGS. data. The county is now focusing on preparing for population growth, said Christopher Cole, Sarasota County’s public utilities planning supervisor.

“It’s always been a challenging process,” Cole said. “I have reports that go back to the late ’60s talking about planning for future water supply to meet future demands.”

Manatee County, with a large swath of agriculture remaining, swallows 126.5 million gallons on a daily basis, with 84.9 million gallons going to irrigation. It is the ninth largest user of irrigated water in the state. Palm Beach and Hendry top the list.

The statewide picture

Statewide, electric power plants are among the largest users of water.

They boil the precious resource to drive their steam-driven turbine generators, then use it to cool their power producing equipment and the hot water before discharge. They also use water for scrubbing and other forms of pollution abatement.

The counties that pull the most water are the ones fueling and cooling thermoelectric plants. The fact that power plants are such gluttons for water is why they are built along lakes and rivers. But since the 1970s, power plants have relied increasingly on reclaimed water from sewage plants.

“We now have 10 power plants in the district using reclaimed water and we are continuing to encourage anyone who has a power plant to use reclaimed water,” said Anthony Andrade, Swiftmud’s reuse coordinator.

The Big Bend plant in Apollo Beach uses it. So does the City of Tampa’s waste-to-energy facility on McKay Bay and the Duke Energy plant in Bartow.

“The wonderful thing about Florida is that farms and power plants need that water in different seasons,” Andrade said. “Power plants need it most in the summer when it rains and lot, and farms need it in the winter when it’s dry.”

Florida’s five water management districts have encouraged use of reclaimed water across industries in order to reduce demand for groundwater pumping and promote water conservation.

“We have to balance the water use between the environment and our needs,” Cole said. “We can’t use all the water and not leave any for nature.”

Jessica Floum|Herald-Tribune|September 28, 2015

EPA Messed Up Big Time…And the Navajo Need Your Help

The Navajo Nation continues to suffer from the Animas River mine spill. First their main water supply was contaminated and now EPA contracted companies have deliver tainted water to Navajo farmers.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) failed in its mission “to protect human health and the environment” this summer when it allowed three million gallons of toxic mine waste to spill into the Animas River. Worse yet, recent reports indicate that EPA was aware that such a spill was imminent and still did little to warn area residents. And for the Navajo Nation, who depend on the Animas for irrigation and drinking water, the EPA’s failures didn’t stop at the river’s edge.

Since the spill, the EPA was supposed to take care of downstream communities, including Navajo farmers, by delivering clean water. But when the EPA’s contractor showed up, the water for nine Navajo farms in Colorado and New Mexico was tainted with oil. In one video, Navajo President Russel Begaye’s hand comes up brown and oily just after running it through a water delivery container. He responded, “This is totally unacceptable. How can anybody give water from a tank that was clearly an oil tank and expect us to drink it, our animals to drink it and to contaminate our soil with it?”
The Navajo farmers urgently need a delivery of clean water for their citizens and farmers, and want to have independent contractors and testing verify it’s safe before they give the water to their crops, animals or families. But with many Navajo citizens living at or below the poverty line, they’re asking for our help to raise $10,000 for clean water this fall.

In some cases, many Navajo farmers have had no choice but to use tainted water to irrigate their crops. But once they started using water delivered by the EPA’s contractor, they complained that it was, “rust colored, smelled of petroleum and slick with oil.” But without the water delivered by the EPA they have no choice but to “pray for rain,” and with historic droughts punishing the Southwest, that option may not have high success.

You can’t blame the Navajo for losing confidence in the people who delivered fresh water in the same trucks they’d just used to deliver oil to fracking wells. As the old saying goes, “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” The Navajo don’t have the time to be fooled again. It’s critical that they have access to clean water now. Their crops are dying, their livestock are suffering and they’re fighting to sustain their entire way of life. Without your help, this toxic situation could get even worse.

Will you click here to here to donate and help assist our first citizens?

Drew Hudson|Environmental Action

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Lake Mich. seeing plunge in salmon

State’s fishing industry is at risk with population decrease, experts warn

They are the king of the Great Lakes sport fish, luring thousands of anglers to Michigan waters every year for a chance to try to land them — and helping fuel a multibillion-dollar fishing and boating tourism industry.

But the Chinook salmon’s numbers are plummeting in Lake Michigan because of a combination of natural forces, unnatural invasive species, and the state Department of Natural Resources’ own efforts to dial back the population and prevent a more permanent population crash as happened in Lake Huron about a decade ago.

The salmon population on Lake Michigan is down 75 percent from its 2012 peak, said Randy Claramunt, a DNR Great Lakes fishery biologist based in Charlevoix.

A leading cause is a reduction in alewives, a silvery fish up to 10 inches long that is the salmon’s primary prey on the Great Lakes. The alewife population has been decimated by invasive zebra and quagga mussels that have changed the nutrient dynamics of the lakes.

And the salmon population matters for Michiganders, whether they fish or not: The DNR estimates fishermen spent $2.4 billion in fishing trip-related expenses and equipment in the state in 2011.

“We all have a stake — it’s not just the charter boat captains who do this for a living,” said Denny Grinold, owner of Fish ‘N’ Grin Charter Service in Grand Haven. “Coastal communities, hotels, shopping will all be impacted.”

The U.S. Geological Survey’s Great Lakes Science Center in Ann Arbor conducts annual trawling and acoustic surveys on Lakes Michigan and Huron, looking at the populations of prey fish for the Chinook salmon and other sport fish.

“In recent years, basically what we’re seeing is record- or near-record low biomass of alewife,” said Science Center research fishery biologist David Warner. He attributes that to the record numbers of Chinook salmon on Lake Michigan in 2012, and their voracious appetite.

Since reintroducing Chinook salmon to the Great Lakes in 1966, the DNR has collected eggs and sperm from salmon migrating into rivers and streams to spawn every fall. The eggs are fertilized and raised in hatcheries, and juvenile fish — called fingerlings — are then stocked in the lakes in the spring to help boost naturally reproducing salmon populations.

The DNR has reduced stocking rates since 1999, from 7 million to 2.5 million Chinook salmon, as it saw the alewife populations sink.

The goal now is “to try to bring a better balance between salmon and the prey population in the lake,” Claramunt said.

“We’re back to 1970 stocking levels; we almost can’t go any lower,” he said.

In addition to stocking cuts, naturally spawning salmon from that peak year of 2012 also dropped dramatically, due in part to unusually warm conditions and shallow, inaccessible spawning streams that year, Claramunt said. The number of salmon surviving from the spawn that year dropped from 6 million to 1 million, he said.

Further complicating matters, the extremely cold winters of 2013 and 2014 increased the stress on alewife populations.

“We need the warm summers, good precipitation in the spring, and the nutrients coming out into the lakes and getting offshore — like this year,” Claramunt said. Why don’t the Chinook salmon feed on another small fish that are thriving in t he zebra and quagga mussel-changed lake environment — the invasive round goby? While lake trout and steelhead are doing just that, “Chinook are just hard-wired to feed on alewives,” Claramunt said.

“They are meant to feed in open water on open schools of prey fish. They aren’t bottom-feeders, and that’s where the round goby go.”

The DNR has worked closely with state commercial and sport fishing groups on what to do in Lake Michigan.

“They said, ‘Prevent a crash that will keep the fishery down for a decade or more. Take action if you can,’ ” Claramunt said.

A reduced salmon population is a tough reality, but most fishermen understand, Grinold said. “The bottom line is, we don’t want w hat happened on Lake Huron to happen on Lake Michigan,” he said. “To avoid that collapse, this is something we may have to live through for awhile.”

In Lake Huron, DNR officials had an indicator of problems in the lake by 2003, Claramunt said. By 2005, the salmon population had collapsed, and hasn’t recovered.

“The consumption that happened by predators exceeded the ability of alewife to reproduce at a rate that was sustainable. And you had a crash,” Warner said. “Historically, there was a larger biomass of alewife in Lake Huron than there was in Lake Michigan.”

Despite the cuts in DNR salmon stocking and natural spawning, Grinold said fishing charters don’t seem to be down in his area.

“Only time may tell whether or not that impacts clients booking charters; whether they are satisfied with five, seven fish or less; or do they expect those double-digit figures they may have had a couple of years ago.”

There are signs a salmon crash can be averted in Lake Michigan, Claramunt said. After 2013 and 2014 were “a bust,” alewives appear to have rebounded this year.


Crystal River Works to Save Manatees and the Local Economy

Crystal River, Fla., is the self-proclaimed “home of the manatee.” An estimated 300,000 tourists visit Crystal River each year, many of them to see and experience the graceful manatees, the giant herbivores often referred to as “sea cows.” For a town with a population of only 3,100, such an influx of people represents an important economic boon for everyone in the area.

The geography and ecology of the Crystal River region is perfect for manatees, which often weigh up to 1,300 pounds. Because of their low metabolic rate, they can’t tolerate water temperatures below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, so as the gulf waters cool in autumn, the manatees migrate to warmer environments. The city of Crystal River is located on Kings Bay, which is connected to the Gulf of Mexico by the Crystal River, designated a “Florida Outstanding Waterway.” Kings Bay, about five miles inland, is fed by numerous small and large springs and maintains a year-round temperature near 72 degrees, which is perfect for manatees and tourists. The estimated winter count of manatees in Kings Bay is about 700—more than 13 percent of the Florida manatee population, according to recent studies.

The iconic manatees, pleasant climate, scenic beauty and fishing afforded in Crystal River make it a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and snowbirds. The economy is built on naturalism and tourism, so when it became apparent the local ecosystem was being threatened by pollution, community leaders acted decisively to “clean up their act” and reverse the tide of degradation. They took a thorough approach and addressed several problems that were polluting their waterways. Today the bays, springs and rivers in the area are on the mend, the manatees are content, and the tourists just keep coming.

Algae Issue

The story of Crystal River’s environmental awakening began more than 10 years ago and involves several related initiatives. Not long after the turn of the millennium, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection discovered that Kings Bay was becoming “nitrogen impaired.” The abundance of nitrogen in the water was causing abnormal algae blooms. The particular type of algae in Kings Bay is called Lyngbya, a fibrous algae that threatens the natural habitat of the manatee and other aquatic life in the bay.

“The algae growing in Kings Bay floats at the surface for a few days and then settles to the bottom to form a mat that contains high concentrations of nitrogen,” says David Burnell, Crystal River’s city manager. “This mat, which can be six inches to four feet thick, prevents the normal growth of sea grass and other vegetation that manatees like to eat. It destroys their natural habitat and will eventually cause the manatees to die off. It’s also harmful to other aquatic life.”

Biologists have known for some time that high levels of nitrogen in surface waters often are the result of human waste, sometimes caused by an abundance of nearby septic tanks or leaky sewers. Other major contributing factors may include animal waste and fertilizer runoff. If these nitrogen sources are eliminated, the water will likely stabilize, and algae growth will subside. Mother Nature will restore the water to a healthy balance, and the local aquatic life will again thrive.

“We’re a waterfront community that has been blessed with natural environmental beauty,” notes Burnell. “We have to solve our environmental problems to remain economically viable. We didn’t just address the septic-tank issue, we also changed fertilizer ordinances. We repaired gravity sewers to prevent leaks, and we partnered with Duke Energy to use reclaimed water at their plant to help protect the local aquifer. For a small community, we spent a lot of money, and now we are seeing positive results.”

Seeping Septic Tanks

An important step in the Kings Bay restoration effort was a two-phase vacuum-sewer installation. The project’s goal was to rid the area of nearly 600 aging septic tanks that were contaminating groundwater and contributing to nitrogen buildup in the bay. Many of these tanks weren’t located within the city of Crystal River, but rather in Citrus County, so a lot of cooperation between city and county governments was required.

“The vacuum-sewer projects were actually in the county, not the city of Crystal River,” explains Burnell. “The city had the ability to receive a grant that was unavailable to the county. The city was eager to do this project, because a septic-tank abatement program would affect the water quality in Crystal River. It was mutually beneficial.”

Burnell said about 85 percent of the construction work was funded by grants; the remaining 15 percent is covered by a 10-year assessment of county residents, which was met with mixed reviews when first presented to property owners.

“We had a number of town hall meetings, and most of the public’s concerns were addressed at these meetings,” notes Alan Garri, P.E., an engineer with Greenman-Pederson Inc. (GPI) in Ocala, Fla., which was hired to complete the design and manage construction of the vacuum-sewers project. “We explained what we wanted to do and why, and how it would benefit property owners and property values. Most people went from being opposed (to the project) to supportive. A lot of folks were dealing with septic systems that were in disrepair, so they understood the benefit of having a new sewer system. For the most part, the initiative was well received.”

Vacuum Value

Although the need for a new sewer system was generally acknowledged, the concept of installing vacuum-sewer technology was met with reluctance by taxpayers and local public-works officials.

“I didn’t know what a vacuum sewer was when I got here in 2010,” admits Burnell. “In topography like ours, it makes a lot of sense. If I were developing infrastructure for our entire city from scratch, I would likely choose vacuum sewers.”

In Crystal River, as in many coastal communities, the water table is high and the terrain very flat. Gravity sewers require sufficient grade or multiple lift stations to move wastewater. This can mean digging deep trenches, dewatering, and a lot of disruption for home and business owners. The cost of installing a gravity sewer to serve the citizens with septic tanks was prohibitive, so engineers began looking for alternatives.

“The original engineers for this project looked at low-pressure systems (grinder pumps), gravity sewers and vacuum-sewer technology. They chose vacuum sewers, because it was more cost effective,” says Garri. “Vacuum technology allows you to lay the sewer collection lines in shallower trenches. Plus, we can operate the entire system with only two vacuum stations. We would have needed multiple lift stations for a gravity sewer, so the operations and maintenance costs would be higher.”

There was some reluctance to vacuum sewers, because vacuum technology hadn’t been utilized in this region of the state before. Engineers and public-works personnel turned to AIRVAC for advice and support. “AIRVAC has been great to work with,” adds Burnell. “They provided instruction and testing during the installation, and excellent training on how to operate and maintain the system.”

A New Experience

Garri, who began working on the project in 2008, worked with AIRVAC personnel to fine-tune the system’s design prior to construction, which occurred in two phases. It was his first experience with vacuum sewers.

“One of the interesting things I learned about vacuum sewers is that they are gravity assisted,” Garri notes. “The collection lines have a sawtooth profile. Vacuum pressure in the lines assists gravity to help move sewage slugs along to the treatment plant. This type of innovative design allows for the vacuum sewer mains to be installed at a much shallower depth than gravity sewers. The sawtooth profile also allows vacuum pumps to operate more efficiently than traditional force-main or grinder pumps, due to gravity assistance. These characteristics really reduce maintenance costs in the long run.”

Garri also explained that a grinder-pump system was ruled out because the individual grinder pumps would have been located on each individual’s private property, creating an access nightmare for public-works personnel. The valve pits for the vacuum sewer are located in the right of way, so there are no access issues.

Vacuum sewers also presented another significant benefit: they don’t leak. Collection lines maintain constant vacuum pressure, so there’s no infiltration or exfiltration; no sewage escapes into the environment, and no groundwater enters the collection system. If a leak occurs, it can be quickly located and isolated, and because the lines are in shallow trenches, repairs can be made quickly with no large excavation equipment.

No More Apprehension

Installation of the vacuum sewers began with the construction of two vacuum stations in residential areas. The stations emit no odors and were designed to blend in architecturally with the surrounding homes. “When you drive up to them, they look very much like houses,” notes Garri.

Two collection lines proceed outward from each vacuum station. The lines were tested each night to ensure they would maintain vacuum pressure, and AIRVAC sent engineers periodically to answer questions and help solve minor installation problems. Shallow trenches dug by small excavators allowed the crews to work with little disruption to the neighborhoods.

The first of two phases went online about three years ago. Much of phase two went into service 18 months ago. Veolia Water Technologies Inc., a water and sewer-management company, maintains the city’s wastewater system and was tasked to maintain the new vacuum sewer.

“I was a little apprehensive at first,” says John Morris, Veolia’s field supervisor in Citrus County. “I had experience with gravity sewers and low-pressure grinder systems, but vacuum sewers were totally new to me.”

AIRVAC provided training at the company’s Rochester, Ind., headquarters as well as some onsite training in Crystal River. Now, after three years of comparison, Morris says vacuum technology is his preferred sewer-conveyance system. “If I had one choice for sewers, I’d choose vacuum sewers,” he notes. “It gives me the least amount of problems of the three sewer systems I work on. Vacuum sewers are easy to maintain, and AIRVAC supports us very well.”

Morris said his daily vacuum-sewer routine typically begins with about 15 minutes at each of the two vacuum stations. A quick check of the gauges and routine maintenance is all it takes. If vacuum pressure is lost anywhere in the system, it typically shows up at the vacuum station. “If we ever have any problems, they are usually very easy to fix,” he notes.

Morris also appreciates that with vacuum sewers he never comes into contact with raw sewage. He also likes that vacuum pumps are easily accessible, and there are no confined spaces to deal with, as with gravity sewers. He notes that vacuum stations have emergency generators that kick in when power is lost, so there’s never a disruption in sewer service. There are only eight emergency generators to serve the city’s 67 lift stations, so power outages cause significant disruption to service for gravity and low-pressure systems.

Today, it’s clear that Kings Bay is on the mend. “We are now trending in a positive way with regard to nitrogen,” adds Burnell. “Our waters are now very close to dropping below the nitrogen-impairment level.”

No single solution led to this improvement. Removing hundreds of septic tanks helped, as did relining much of the city’s leaky sewer system and instituting new regulations on fertilizers. The combined effect has been to significantly reduce the amount of nitrogen entering the local waterways and groundwater. That’s excellent news for local residents, manatees and the entire economy of Crystal River.

How it works8inLinearGreenPit (1)

Steve Gibbs|September 30, 2015

Offshore & Ocean

A New Way to Manage Our Oceans’ Fisheries

Fish scientist Jason Link says he often feels like he’s living the classic chocolate factory episode of the 1950s TV show “I Love Lucy,” in which Lucy and Ethel can’t wrap candies as fast as the conveyor belt spits them out.

“It’s analogous to fisheries management,” says Link, whose mission at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) is to improve how ocean resources are regulated. “We’re trying to keep up with rules on individual species whose populations are frequently changing. Our conveyor belt is moving faster and faster.”

Link’s job—similar to mine at The Pew Charitable Trusts—is to advocate for a more effective, efficient approach to setting fishing rules, one that takes a big picture view. Instead of establishing catch limits on one species at a time, Link and I want decision-makers to focus on the ecosystem and consider what fish eat, what eats them, their habitat needs, and other conditions that affect fish populations. Our mission is to persuade people that a method called ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM) is the way to go.

“We’ve been managing fisheries on a species-by-species basis. We haven’t been looking at the way that fish and other marine life interact with one another and the impacts on the broader system of removing one or more species from the mix,” said Link, whom I’ve known for 10 years. “It’s really clear we’re missing information that could improve the way we’re managing ocean ecosystems. The oceans are constantly changing. We need adaptive management tools to be able to handle these shifts, particularly climate change.”

Link became interested in the ocean as a child when he found it fun to memorize the scientific names of sea creatures. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in biology from Central Michigan University and a doctorate in biological sciences from Michigan Technological University.

After graduation, he debated whether to pursue a career in academia or a more hands-on scientific path. His choice became a little clearer after he attended both an academic conference and a fisheries meeting. At the conference, he engaged in research talk and was handed a pass for a wine and cheese reception followed by a ballet performance. The fisheries meeting featured on-the-water stories and a casual happy hour.

And so the down-to-earth outdoorsman chose what felt right. He’s been with NOAA Fisheries for nearly 20 years, now in a position focused solely on promoting and researching ecosystem-based management. From his base at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, he spreads his message across the country to fishing groups, fishery leaders, academics, conservationists, scientists, and anyone else who will listen. He reports that most people agree that we need to shift to EBFM—but have questions on how to get it done.

“The perception is that the technical basis for doing EBFM is beyond us. However, there are actually tools and methods that can allow us to implement it,” says Link, who spent many years working on computer models that map out food webs to show how predators and prey interact. Link, who moves fluidly from discussing dense science with experts to using simpler language to carry his message, recently teamed up with a colleague to identify other misconceptions about EBFM in an article in the journal Fisheries, “Myths That Continue to Impede Progress in Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management.” It may not have been this summer’s sizzling beach read, but in fish circles this was hot stuff.

The six myths are:

1. Myth: No one knows what EBFM is or how to get it done.
Fact: The concept is getting more traction and is already in practice in some places. For example, protecting habitat or fish spawning sites are ways to implement EBFM.

2. Myth: The existing fishery management system has to change dramatically to incorporate EBFM.
Fact: More than 90 federal rules already allow for EBFM, and there is nothing to stop fish managers from incorporating it.

3. Myth: There’s not enough scientific information on the ecosystem to know how to manage fisheries in a way that minimizes impacts to the environment.
Fact: It’s not necessary to know every detail. The key is to consider more factors about the ecosystem—beyond just the status of one species—when setting fishing rules.

4. Myth: EBFM means fishermen will be allowed to catch fewer fish.
Fact: EBFM will improve the health of ecosystems, leading to more catch and stability in regulations and the economy.

5. Myth: This management theory is a naive attempt to steward fisheries in a contentious, political, and complex system.
Fact: EBFM is pragmatic because it helps managers meet objectives of multiple parties through an improved system of balancing trade-offs and the needs of all parties.

6. Myth: There aren’t enough resources to make EBFM happen.
Fact: There is evidence to suggest that EBFM may actually reduce administrative complexity and the costs of fisheries management.

Put simply, Link says, EBFM should help address fishery issues that are only growing more complicated.

Taking the “I Love Lucy” comparison further, he explains the importance of seeing the big picture. “Maybe chocolate isn’t the only thing to worry about. Maybe we also have to deal with licorice or gum drops. And the room is warming. And the chocolate is melting, and there are more people coming into the room to eat it.”

It’s food analogies like this that help Link connect with his audiences. He’s feeding his EBFM message to people far and wide. And I hope everyone is hungry to learn, because ecosystem-based fisheries management can help conserve our ocean resources while providing abundant fishing opportunities and seafood for generations to come.

The Pew Charitable Trusts|September 27, 2015

Partnership on Lake Worth Lagoon Restoration Efforts Help Southeast Florida Coral Reefs

A Proclamation Ceremony was held on May 5, 2015 in recognition of the support and partners of Grassy Flats Restoration Project.

The Grassy Flats Restoration Project is part of SEFCRI Local Action Strategy to reduce land-based sources of pollution. This effort was conducted by Palm Beach County Environmental Resources Management and restored 13 acres of valuable estuarine habitat in Lake Worth Lagoon through innovative techniques to cap muck sediment. The fine muck sediment is easily suspended into lagoon waters and transported out the adjacent inlets into the nearshore marine environment.

These sediments in the water column can block sunlight from reaching the seafloor and eventually settle out, blanketing the reefs. Excessive sedimentation on corals can cause direct mortality through burial (smothering), suppress the recovery of surviving adult colonies through increased competition with algae, and reduce the rate of coral larval settlement and early larval survival.

Turbidity reduces photosynthetic ability by limiting the penetration of sunlight though the water column. The muck also inhibits the growth of estuarine vegetation, which is known to help reduce pollutants and stabilize sediments in the Lagoon.

Palm Beach County and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will be coordinating a community volunteer event later this fall to vegetate this newly restored area by planting 3,000+ mangrove seedlings and 25,000 cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) plugs.

Jennifer Baez|Coordinator|Land-Based Sources of Pollution

Preparation Begins for Coral Reef Restoration Project Offshore of Fort Lauderdale

The M/V Clipper Lasco and M/V Spar Orion Grounding Sites Stabilization and Rehabilitation Project will restore coral reef resources (not required by mitigation or regulation) and promote habitat recovery at two ship grounding sites offshore Fort Lauderdale, FL. The M/V Spar Orion, an approximately 594 ft-long cement freighter, and the M/V Clipper Lasco, a 561 ft-long bulk carrier, both independently grounded on inner reef in approximately 30 feet of water in May 2006 and September 2006, respectively. Recent site visits indicated that these sites have only experienced limited regrowth of stony corals and gorgonians. This is partially due to the presence of loose rubble which is continually moved around the area, preventing growth and development. Therefore, direct management action is needed to stabilize the loose rubble and rebuild the substrate to more closely mimic the surrounding reef. This will allow for natural recovery as well as provide an area for restoration through transplantation of stony corals and gorgonians.

In order to achieve these goals, a project team of resource trustees such as local, state, and federal agencies, as well as local experts were brought together. Olsen Associates, Inc. was hired in the summer of 2013 to develop a conceptual engineering plan, secure permits, finalize a design plan, assist with the construction bid process, and provide construction oversight. Additionally, Olsen subcontracted Coastal Eco-Group, Inc. to complete a thorough Biological Assessment and Environmental Assessment, and assist with the permit applications and construction oversight.  Before construction, all stony corals and gorgonians greater than 5 cm in diameter that are in the area will be relocated. The construction contract has been awarded to Callaway Marine Technologies, Inc. who will complete the rubble relocation and boulder and grout placement.

The project will be in full swing by the end of this summer. On-site coral relocation has begun and is primarily funded by The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission’s (FWC) Marine Estuarine Subsection.  FWC has contracted Dr. Dave Gilliam at Nova Southeastern University to lead the relocation work along with members from FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. Partnering with FWC for funding support has been a great help in moving this project along and their efforts are much appreciated. Preliminary preparations are currently underway with Callaway Marine who will start the construction immediately after the coral relocation is complete. Future goals include restoration actions by transplanting (out-planting) nursery corals [e.g. Staghorn coral (A. cervicornis)] and corals of opportunity, as well as gorgonian clippings and sponges into the grounding sites, but additional funding will need to be secured. This project is the first of its kind in the southeast Florida region, and will be a learning experience for all involved to help pursue more restoration efforts in the future.

Mollie Sinnott|Response Coordinator|Reef Injury Prevention

[In Broward County’s typical way, Port Everglades, administered by the County, is preparing to smother the reef with sediment from blasting and dredging in the Port’s entry channel.]

New Zealand Announces it Will Create a Texas-Sized Marine Life Reserve

Many nations are attempting to preserve and encourage their marine habitats, and now New Zealand’s Prime Minister has announced an ambitious project to create what could be one of the world’s largest marine reserves.

Under the plans, the Kermadec region, a subtropical arc of small islands, would be designated as the host of the sanctuary which, in total, will span 620,000km². For comparison that’s just a little short of the size of the U.S. State of Texas which comes in at about 696,241 km².

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key issued a statement announcing the region’s designation as an ocean sanctuary, saying:

“The Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary will be one of the world’s largest and most significant fully-protected areas, preserving important habitats for seabirds, whales and dolphins, endangered marine turtles and thousands of species of fish and other marine life. It will cover 15 per cent of New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone, an area twice the size of our landmass, and 50 times the size of our largest national park in Fiordland. As well as being home to a wide range of marine species, the Kermadec region is one of the most geographically and geologically diverse areas in the world. It contains the world’s longest underwater volcanic arc and the second deepest ocean trench at 10 kilometres deep.”

The sanctuary will require legislation to make the designation official, but it may meet some resistance. Given that the region will be completely protected from mining and fishing operations we can expect some push back as legislation is drawn up over the next year. Indeed, the fishing industry–which, according to the Guardian, takes around 20 tons of fish a year from the area–has already signaled it may oppose the move, and that it is particularly concerned about what this might do to tuna fishing which is a part of the industry that continues to struggle anyway.

George Clement, chairman of industry body Seafood New Zealand, told Reuters that: “With no forewarning from government, the industry needs time to consider the full implications.”

Reuters notes that the more serious threat to the plans may come from international mining operations. Nautilus Minerals, a Canadian mining firm, is currently awaiting a permit to begin operations in the Kermadec region, while many other companies from the U.S. to China all have interest in the region, meaning that pressure to abandon or modify the total ban on mining may be high.

Still, environmental campaigners have welcomed the move. The Pew Environment Group tells the BBC that the sanctuary will result in New Zealand’s protection for marine environments going from 0.5 percent under current regulations to around 15.5 percent, a jump that will have a significant long term positive impact for both species diversity and numbers. ”It’s an extraordinary achievement for all New Zealanders and for the people of the Pacific Islands,” Pew’s campaign director Bronwen Golder is quoted as telling the BBC.

What is interesting here is that, arguably, this sanctuary could actually be good for the fishing industry. Overfishing has radically depleted fish stocks, to the point where some species may never recover. By creating safe areas like this, fish stocks may have a chance to replenish, while protecting marine habitats from mining operations is crucial for maintaining the delicate ecosystems that exist in our oceans. Given that mining is highly damaging to the environment anyway, New Zealand’s decision to not cater to the industry in this instance is also encouraging.

Furthermore, and even while taking steps to protect land habitats, many world governments have all too often ignored marine life and what energy and fishing operations have done to those precious ecosystems. That New Zealand’s government is taking steps to create such protections, albeit after years of campaigning, is a much needed step that the rest of the world will need to emulate if we are to protect some of most beautiful habitats and animal life, as well as the people and industries that depend on them.

In the short term New Zealand’s plans may also encourage other nations toward bold action, an example that is vital ahead of the Paris climate change talks this December.

Steve Williams|October 1, 2015

Paul Watson: If the Ocean Dies, We Die!

A few people have asked me to explain just why it is that humanity will die if the ocean dies.

Billions of people depend upon the ocean for food and I’m not talking about restaurants, sushi bars and fish markets in New York, Paris, London, Tokyo or Sydney. I’m talking about extremely poor people whose lives actually depend upon catching fish.

But food being taken from the ocean is the least of the factors that will kill us.

The ocean is the life support system for the planet, providing 50 percent of the oxygen we breathe and regulating climate. The ocean is also the pump that allows us to have fresh water. It is the driving force, along with the sun, of the global circulation system that transports water from the land to the sea to the atmosphere and back to the land again.

Plankton—the most important group of plants and animal species on the planet (excluding bacteria). Plankton populations have been diminished by 40 percent since 1950, yet there is now commercial exploitation by Norwegian and Japanese fishing corporations to extract millions of tons of plankton for conversion to a protein-rich animal feed.

Every year 65 billion animals are slaughtered to feed humans and some 40 percent of all the fish caught are converted to fishmeal to feed pigs, chickens, domestic salmon, fur-bearing animals and cat food. With fish populations diminishing, the corporations are looking to replace fishmeal with a plankton paste.

Is cheap fishmeal for domestic animals worth robbing the planet of our oxygen supplies?

Where does oxygen come from? Some 50 percent comes from the forest that we are rapidly cutting down. The rest comes from the sea.

Some of this oxygen is produced by seaweeds and sea grasses, but the vast majority of the oxygen is produced by phytoplankton, microscopic single-celled organisms that have the ability to photosynthesize. These tiny creatures live at the surface layer of the ocean (and in lakes and rivers) and form the very base of the aquatic food chain.

During photosynthesis, phytoplankton remove carbon dioxide from sea water and release oxygen. The carbon becomes part of their bodies.

Providing oxygen and sequestering carbon dioxide is the major contribution of plankton, along with forming the foundation for the entire oceanic food chain.

The fish- and animal-killing industries are robbing the seas of oxygen production for short-term profits.

This is one of the things that most likely will not be discussed at the climate change conference in Paris in two months.

Other factors diminishing plankton are acidification from excessive carbon dioxide, pollution, habitat destruction and the radical diminishment of whale populations.

The whales are the primary species that fertilize the phytoplankton. For example, one blue whale defecates three tons of nitrogen and iron-rich feces a day, providing nutrients to the phytoplankton. In return the phytoplankton feed the zooplankton, the fishes and ultimately everything that lives in the sea.

In order to restore phytoplankton populations we need to restore whale populations and we need to abolish the industrialized exploitation of biodiversity in the ocean. We also need to have governments end all subsidization of commercial fishing operations.

The reality is that there are simply not enough fish in the sea to continue to feed an ever-expanding human population. It is a simple concept to understand—more humans eating fish, directly or indirectly (i.e. fishmeal), contributes to further diminishment of fish.

This diminishment means diminished supplies, resulting in increased subsidization to provide more efficient technology to extract even more of the diminishing supplies. Unless the subsidies are cut, this diminishment will result in collapse. I call this the “economics of extinction.”

There must be a global moratorium on all industrialized fishing. And there must be a global cessation on the killing of whales. We need to return whale and fish populations to pre-exploitation levels. The focus must be on revitalizing biodiversity in the sea in order to address climate change and diminishment of phytoplankton oxygen production.

Will it cost profits? Absolutely. Will it costs jobs? Absolutely. But are jobs and profits really worth destroying the planet’s life support system?

Strangely, to many of the world’s politicians, the answer to that question is yes.

The solutions to climate change are simple but, unfortunately, the solutions are not what anyone will be discussing in Paris in two months, at least not at the gathering of world leaders.

The solutions are:

  1. An end to the ecologically destructive greenhouse-gas-producing animal slaughter industry that emits more greenhouse gases annually than the entire transportation industry.
  2. A global moratorium on all industrialized fishing operations.
  3. An end to the killing of whales by anyone, anywhere for any reason.

The collapse of ocean biodiversity and the catastrophic collapse of phytoplankton and zooplankton populations in the sea will cause the collapse of civilization and most likely the extinction of the human species.

And that is why when the ocean dies, we all die!

Paul Watson|October 1, 2015

Dying seagrass and ‘yellow fog’ signal trouble for Florida Bay

The seagrass in Florida Bay is dying, a sign that the ailing bay could be going from bad to catastrophic.

Years of flood control on top of a prolonged drought wilted the bay over the summer, making already hot water twice as salty as it should be. When scientists hustled out to investigate last month, they found miles of dead seagrass: up to 6 square miles in Rankin Bight and 7 square miles in meadows around Johnson Key, a flat once famed for redfish and snook. A cloud of sulfur had spread in water just off the Flamingo Visitor Center, leaving behind a stinky stain scientists call “yellow fog.” It may cover 25 square miles already.

But what really concerns them is this: the last time the bay looked so bad, a massive algae bloom followed. The bloom lasted for years, turning gin clear water a sickly pea green and unleashing a scourge in Everglades National Park that anglers and scientists still regard as a turning point for the bay.

Imagine if a third of Yellowstone National Park suddenly died.

To emphasize the severity of conditions, scientist Fred Sklar, who monitors the Everglades for the South Florida Water Management District, titled a presentation made last month, “Florida Bay Conditions: Another Perfect Storm?”

“I don’t think there’s anything we can do to stop this. The question might be, is there something we can do to slow it down,” he said. “The train is moving and the only thing we can do is put roadblocks in the way.”

Seagrass scientists who began monitoring the bay in 1995 after the unprecedented bloom threatened to derail the region’s $723 million fishing industry are just as worried.

“It looks like this die-off will be every bit as extensive as the episode in the 1980s,” said Paul Carlson, a marine ecologist with the state’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg, who investigated the earlier crash. “There’s places where dead turtle grass…covers the bottom a foot deep.”

And it’s not just the grass that’s suffering. In July, when salinity peaked at 65 parts per thousand, toadfish that lurk on the bay bottom waiting to ambush prey died in Rankin Bight, said Chris Kelble, an oceanographer with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

“My hypothesis is they don’t swim away like other fish and the double whammy of extreme high (salinity) and temperature just took them out,” he said.

This year’s winter fish counts turned up no freshwater minnows, the first link in a complicated food chain. Sea trout, a fish perfectly engineered to reflect the health of the bay, failed to show in last’s year count. Researchers caught juveniles this year, but in numbers “nowhere near where they should be or where their numbers have been in the past,” Kelble said.

How the bay got to this point is as much about human meddling as mother nature. For decades, water managers have been struggling to undo damage from the C-111 canal, which was built in the 1960s to barge rocket engines from Homestead to the coast and shifted a vital flow of Everglades water away from northeast Florida Bay.

Another factor may also be at work: climate change.

With models showing a 10 to 20 percent decrease in rainfall over South Florida, heat waves and droughts will likely become more common, making water scarcer and creating Florida Bay’s equivalent of a California wildfire. Climate forecasts also call for fewer hurricanes, which help flush out salty water by stirring up the bay.

“It’s just like the fire analogy in the west,” said Ben Kirtman, a climate scientist at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School for Marine and Atmospheric Science. “The water managers will have to make decisions based on that.”

And that means the fight for water — and whether to save the fish or keep the farms or both — could become more heated.

“That’s sort of the elephant in the room that we don’t really talk about,” he said.

Because it is such a complex ecosystem, scientists have struggled to understand how to fix the bay. At 850 square miles, it is actually made up of about 24 different basins, divided by mud banks. Each basin has its own distinct level of salinity, influenced by water from the Everglades, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, along with years of man-made changes going back to Flagler’s plans to build a railroad across the bay and drain coastal marshes in an attempt to lure ranchers to the mosquito-infested wetlands. Knowing the right mix of groundwater and surface water could be the key to keeping salinity in check, Sklar said. But so far, the balance remains uncertain, he said.

What scientists do know is that to avert an algae outbreak, they need to get it right before time runs out. In the 1980s, a massive die-off spread across five basins. Five years later, an algae bloom unfolded. Most likely, the dead seagrass loaded the shallow bay with nutrients that triggered the bloom.

It took more than 12 years for the grass, considered a key indicator of the bay’s health, to begin recovering. The grass is also critical to maintaining the ecosystem: the rolling meadows provide both food and shelter for sea life and stabilize the muddy bottom to keep water clear.

“These kinds of things have probably been happening periodically over time,” said Margaret “Penny” Hall, a state seagrass expert overseeing a team investigating the die-off. “It’s not a new phenomenon, but there was a perfect storm where it took off in 1987, probably exacerbated by water management decisions.”

After the 1980s disaster, the state began monitoring 17 spots in the bay, trying to understand what set of conditions might trigger a die-off. They focused on turtle grass, which was hit hardest and grows more slowly, and shoal grass, which can grow faster in harsher conditions. Knowing which grass grows where can give them a good idea of what’s going on in the water. In 1997, as grass began recovering, researchers found the amount of shoal grass had taken over western Rabbit Key basin after the turtle grass died. Overall, shoal grass more than doubled, an indication of harsher conditions.

Over the summer, on the heals of a dry winter that spiked salinity in Taylor Slough, a biologist at Everglades National Park spotted what she suspected was the beginning of a die-off and contacted the researchers who had studied the 1980s event, Carlson said.

When Hall’s team got there, they found two of the five basins hit hardest in the 1980s dead or dying. A third showed signs of trouble.

They think this is what happened: Without rain, the hot water turned saltier and heavier, creating a kind of lid, trapping sulfur in mud and keeping oxygen out. Seagrass can normally tolerate low levels of sulfide, the sulfur that occurs naturally in the mud. But the higher levels caused it to die. Once dead, the decaying grass released even more nutrients and continued the cycle.

“The sulfur is both cause and affect,” Carlson said.

Had more restoration projects been complete, scientists believe the extra water would have helped buffer the harsh drought. But lack of funding, bureaucratic delays and the demands of competing interests have delayed work that might have brought more water south.

This summer, for example, when the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers announced plans to conduct a two-year test on a series of canals, gates and flood control structures to restore water flows, the agency enraged environmentalists by opting for a plan environmentalists say favored farmers. The Corps decided to continue using a pump to keep farmland dry, a decision the Everglades Law Center called as “arbitrary and capricious as it is based on unsupported assertions.”

“We should be doing everything we can to benefit the bay right now,” said staff attorney Julie Dick. The Corps was unable to say whether an environmental study would be done when reached late Friday.

Even with restoration, park superintendent Pedro Ramos said the bay “relies on higher rainfall, which we have not been getting.”

And given climate change projections, he worried that keeping the bay healthy will only become more difficult.

“Things are changing for sure,” he said in a text message. “New territory for everyone, including scientists, and weather seems to just be getting more and more difficult to forecast.”

Recent rain — September had more than 10 inches — is may help some, but also changed conditions too quickly. Monitors at Buoy Key show salinity in parts per thousand dropping from the mid 40s to the high 30s in the last few days. Normal ocean conditions are 30 parts per thousand.

But scientists worry the bay is already in a downward spiral — and anglers have long reported seeing fewer fish.

“It’s the largest fish kill I’ve ever seen in the park,” said Capt. Dave Denkert, a guide who has fished the bay since the 1970s and spotted dead pinfish and snapper through out the summer. “It goes from real salinity to almost completely fresh. It’s extreme one way and extreme the other. It all has to come together.”

When conditions go bad, some fear the fish will simply leave. Already the stock of bonefish, a catch that draws anglers from around the world, are “below the 30 percent threshold considered sustainable,” said Jerry Ault, a University of Miami fish ecologist, who warned that Florida Bay may be a microcosm of bigger problems to come.

“You get to where you really listen to the fisherman because they’re usually the first ones to find something wrong,” Hall said. “They may not know the name of the seagrass, but they know what it looked like.”

Jenny Staletovich|Miami Herald

Wildlife and Habitat

World’s Largest Wildlife Corridor to Be Built in California

Earlier this month an obscure Los Angeles area regional public lands agency—the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority—announced the first stages of a five-year plan to build one of the largest wildlife corridors in the world. The goal is to create a natural looking bridge that will allow a small cougar population in the Santa Monica Mountain National Recreation Area the chance to escape north into much larger public lands, while at the same time allowing northern mountain lions the chance to move south and help out the badly inbred and lethally infighting Santa Monica cougars.

Although a young female from the Santa Monica Mountains, P33, did successfully cross Highway 101 in March this year, her escape north is a rare event. Photo credit: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

Although a young female from the Santa Monica Mountains, P33, did successfully cross Highway 101 in March this year, her escape north is a rare event. Photo credit: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

The proposed bridge will leap over Highway 101, an eight-lane, east-west freeway in LA’s northern suburbs that sees 175,000 car trips a day. The bridge will be built at Liberty Canyon in the suburb of Agoura and when completed will be 200 feet-long and 165 feet-wide. It will be landscaped to blend in with the brushy hills and sound walls along the edge of the bridge will “mitigate traffic noise and block light in order to make the crossing more conducive to wildlife,” says the project study report. The bridge will extend beyond the 101, reaching over an access road south of the highway, necessitating the construction of a tunnel. Estimated cost of the entire project: about $57 million.

Despite the report’s dull bureaucratic language—mountain lion sex is blandly described as “the exchange of genetic material”—at its heart the proposed Liberty Canyon wildlife corridor represents an astonishing effort to reverse decades of suburban sprawl and fragmentation of the region’s surviving open spaces.

The campaign’s iconic poster boy is the famous “Hollywood lion,” also known by its wildlife ID number, “P22.” In 2012, P22 crossed two major freeways and migrated roughly 40 miles from the Santa Monica Mountains along the coast to Los Angeles’s 4300-acre Griffith Park on the city’s eastside. There he took up residence, feeding on the park’s mule deer and soon became a national celebrity of sorts.

Beth Pratt was one of P22’s earliest and most ardent fans. Pratt, the California executive director of the National Wildlife Federation, was fascinated by the lion’s story and contacted wildlife biologists studying the Santa Monica Mountains cougars. One of those biologists was Dr. Seth Riley, who from 2002 to 2012 led a National Park Service team that trapped some 42 cougars: 26 from the Santa Monica Mountains, five from the Santa Susana Mountains north of 101 and the rest from throughout the region. All of the cougars were fitted with GPS transmitting collars. The cougars trapped north of 101 mostly survived. But the 12 young males from the Santa Monica Mountains did not make it. They tried to disperse, going right up to the edges of the region’s freeways. Four who tried to cross died in the effort. Five who turned back were attacked and killed by older male lions. One was shot by police; one died from unknown causes.

The only young male from the Santa Mountain Mountains to escape death was P22—and he is not considered an example of successful dispersal because he will never breed. “The [Santa Monica Mountains] are a population sink,” the park service’s Riley concludes. “The Santa Monica Mountain cougar population is not going to survive in the long run. For mountain lions, there is only room for ten-ish adults. That’s not enough genetically or even demographically. One male hit by a car and one killed by rodenticide and poof, you’re done.”

Beth Pratt became taken with P22 as an icon for all the trapped lions. “I’m a shameless marketer,” she admits. “I saw how P22 could be the absolute poster child. People just love him. Once people get focused on his specific story—the lonely bachelor—you can talk about mountain lions in general.”

For Save LA Cougars’ campaign image, Pratt chose a photo of P22 taken by Steve Winter that appeared in the December 2013 issue of National Geographic. Winter used trail cams equipped with infrared and motion detectors to photograph P22 at night as he hunted in the Hollywood Hills. Pratt picked a photo of P22 facing the camera and appearing relaxed, not at all like a powerful predator. This facial portrait became the model for a tattoo on her left shoulder.

The full body shot of P22 was then adapted for the campaign as a cardboard cut-out. Comedian Rainn Wilson of Soul Pancake fame introduces a YouTube video by saying, “My good friend and homeboy P22 is stuck in Griffith Park!” A montage of clips shows P22 in a convertible, standing on a swimming pool float, riding a kayak down the LA River and taking the merry-go-round in Griffith Park. He’s even become a cartoon character. “You have to anthropomorphize ,” Pratt argues. “It’s not a bad thing. You want people to relate, to have day-to-day relationships with animals. Otherwise, we won’t save them.” At the same time, she worries about her portrayal. “The cat is thinking, ‘What is Pratt up to now?’ He’ll eat me someday.”

Save LA Cougars has already raised $1 million and needs to raise and additional $3 million by April 2018 to pay for a detailed project design and environmental reviews of the proposed bridge for wildlife. Once these documents are completed, the project is considered to be “shovel ready” and eligible for federal funding. A major lobbying effort by the region’s political leaders to help fund the project is anticipated.

P22’s celebrity stature makes the proposed Liberty Canyon Wildlife Crossing a perfect LA story. But this isn’t just about the glamour of charismatic megafauna. Wildlife advocates say the campaign to fund and build the wildlife corridor is essential to bring attention to a second and less famous, trapped cougar population in the Santa Ana Mountains in Orange and San Diego counties, to the south.

Chris Basilevac , director of the Nature Conservancy’s land protection program in Southern California, explains: “That [proposed] crossing has lands already protected on both sides of the 101 freeway. If they can pave the way there with Caltrans [the California highway agency] and other sources, that helps our chances a lot to make it happen down here.” Basilevac has worked for 11 years buying land along a major north-south corridor, Interstate 15, in the hope of creating a regional network of crossings for mountain lions and other animals.

“It’s an emotional roller coaster,” Basilevac says of his efforts to purchase lands. In Orange and San Diego counties, he says, “only a small percentage of the sellers are conservation-minded.” Basilevac deals mainly with investors who bought parcels (about 15 to 100-acres in size) as investment properties and are looking for profits. If they bought at the height of the last real estate boom, their property is often appraised at less now. According to its bylaws, the Nature Conservancy cannot pay more than appraised value. “It’s really a matter of trying to make them an attractive offer. Sometimes we ask them to sell at less than appraised value and try to find a way to make it up, say by making a charitable contribution as a tax write-off.”

Exactly which lands Basilevac and the Nature Conservancy target for buying is informed by the research of wildlife veterinarian Winston Vickers. Vickers works as a UC-Davis based researcher under contract for the Nature Conservancy and several Orange, San Diego and Riverside county transportation and public lands agencies. Vickers and his associates track mountain lions in the Santa Ana Mountains (which run north-south) and the eastern Peninsular Ranges (which run east-west) and intersect the Santa Ana’s near Temecula, in south Orange County. From early 2001 through Dec. 2013 Vickers’s team captured and radio collared 43 lions in the eastern Peninsular Ranges east of I-15 and 31 in the Santa Ana Mountains west of I-15.

Not a single cougar of the 43 collared in the eastern Peninsular Range successfully crossed I-15 to the west into the Santa Ana Mountains during the entire 13-year study. Among the 31 lions tracked in the Santa Ana Mountains, only one, M86, was found to have genes that originated among the eastern cougars. Although three of his descendants are still alive, that’s not enough to overcome the Santa Ana cougars’ genetic bottleneck and isolation. Thus the small population of lions in the Santa Ana’s—no more than 17 to 27 animals at any given time—suffers from the same crisis as do the Santa Monica Mountain cougars. The annual survival rate for that population is even less—56.5 percent. Unless the I-15 can be fitted with underpasses or bridges of some kind, then the Santa Ana Mountains population is “at risk for demographic collapse,” says Vickers.

While Basilevac negotiates with landowners along I-15 to buy land for wildlife corridors, Vickers and his team try to keep the Santa Ana mountain population alive by reducing the high number of animals killed each year crossing the 241 toll way along a stretch of public lands in Orange County. They are building a 11-13-foot-high, 7-mile-long fence to keep cougars and their prey, mule deer, from crossing the toll way and instead channel them into a few underpasses.

When I met Vickers and his assistant, Jamie Bourdon in August, they were fitting Bushnell Trail cameras to the telephone poles at what are called “jump-out” ramps—places where animals who somehow get onto the toll way can jump back into the hills. Jamie wore a White Panther Party t-shirt complete with a pouncing panther logo, a design from the late 1960s. At the time, the White Panther Party was founded as a far-left, culturally revolutionary companion to the Black Panther Party. In 2015, Bourdon’s t-shirt serves the same function as Pratt’s tattoo—a statement of totemic kinship.

While Bourdon stood on a ladder and began to focus the infrared and motion-detector triggered cameras, Vickers bent over at the waist, dangled his arms and shuffled up and down the earthen ramps, performing what was in essence a ritual “deer dance.” No doubt both men saw the dance in the service of science, necessary to aim the trail cams and accurately record which animals used a ramp to escape. But no one from a hunting-gathering society would be confused: Vickers’s deer dance honored the mule deer and their cougar predator.

The intense scientific monitoring and the sophisticated engineering behind the fences, underpasses and bridges is but the physical embodiment of an important cultural change. In Southern California, wild dreams are being acted out in the effort to boost the cougar’s chances of survival. The conservation efforts symbolize that if we let the mountain lions die on the freeways and in their confined territories, then we will also lose part of ourselves.

James William Gibson|Earth Island Journal|September 27, 2015

Now We Can Watch Africa’s Epic Wildlife Migration Live From Anywhere

Now We Can Watch Africa’s Epic Wildlife Migration Live From Anywhere

Every year hundreds of thousands of animals in Africa embark on a migration so vast it’s considered one of the greatest wonders of the natural world.

The migration, which is the largest migration of land animals on earth, includes thousands of wildebeests, gazelles and zebras as they follow the rainy season across the plains, traveling in a circular path of more than 1,000 miles from the Maasai Mara Reserve in Kenya to the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania before starting the cycle over again. They face numerous obstacles along the way from heavy concentrations of lions to making it across the Mara River unscathed by crocodiles.

While seeing it in person might be a once-in-a lifetime kind of opportunity, not everyone is going to get the chance. Now, thanks to technology, for the first time we can watch nature take its course live from anywhere in the world.

Starting this week, the migration will be broadcast live from the ground and will include commentary by experts, along with the opportunity for viewers to ask questions and get answers in real time.

The event is being shared in partnership by Make It Kenya and HerdTracker, an app launched by safari operator Discover Africa that tracks the location of migrating herds using Google Maps in an effort to give tourists the chance to catch the otherwise unpredictable action on trips.

Watching these massive herds travel is also a reminder of the importance of keeping undeveloped corridors open for wildlife, particularly migratory species who need to move freely.

“We are running out of space worldwide due to the increase in human numbers and this has an effect on everything and not just the migration,” said Carel Verhoef, the co-founder of HerdTracker. “Luckily for now, the pressure on the environment has not yet had an impact on the migration or its numbers, but development and loss of habitat and space is always a concern.”

The migration will be live-streaming in twice-daily segments through October 5. You can sign up on HerdTracker to get an alert for when streaming is about to start and catch it on HerdTracker’s Youtube page, or using the Periscope app. In case you miss it live, stunning images of wildlife are being posted on Discover Africa’s website and footage will also be archived on YouTube.

Alicia Graef|October 2, 2015

FWC works with partners on waste management to reduce human-bear conflicts

Suggested Tweet: FWC works with partners on waste management to reduce human-bear conflicts: @MyFWC #conservation

Photos available on FWC’s Flickr site. Go to:

FWC works with partners on waste management to reduce human-bear conflicts

To reduce human-bear conflicts, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is working with multiple partners to achieve a comprehensive approach to dealing with waste management issues related to black bears.

FWC Commissioners at their Sept. 2 meeting in Fort Lauderdale were updated by staff on cooperative efforts underway to work with local governments and waste management companies to help residents secure their garbage and prevent bears from using it as a food source.

The FWC identified 14 counties with the highest level of human-bear conflicts that will be the focus of “Bear Wise” efforts like securing waste, educating residents and businesses, and responding appropriately to bears in communities. Human-bear conflict calls in Florida have increased by 400 percent over the past decade.

“It’s important we’re all working together united with the 14 counties in moving forward on bear-proof containers,” Commissioner Ron Bergeron said. “We can live with bears in sustainable populations. We can reduce bear conflicts by up to 95 percent in Florida. We have to be responsible, all of us.”

The update provided Commissioners and the public with a framework of the approaches that will be used as the FWC moves forward on this issue. The agency plans to finalize its new Waste Management Action Plan, implement the comprehensive approach to waste management and bears, and continue working closely with partners on solutions. Last June, Commissioners signed a Waste Management Resolution and approved a policy paper explaining the need for comprehensive waste management to address human-bear conflicts and improve public safety.

“Our cooperative work with partners in local governments and waste management companies is essential to reducing human-bear conflicts in Florida,” said Dr. Thomas Eason, director of the FWC’s Division of Habitat and Species Conservation. “Many partners already are helping by providing accessible, affordable options for residents to secure their garbage from bears. However, we must broaden these efforts in order to maintain public safety and achieve a more sustainable coexistence with the state’s black bear population.”

“In addition to our efforts with waste management, we have worked with our partners to eliminate the harvest of palmetto berries on state lands,” Bergeron said. “These berries are a critical food source for Florida black bears and other wildlife. By having abundant natural food sources in the woods, and eliminating garbage attractants, we can keep bears out of neighborhoods, which will benefit bears and improve human safety.”

Recent changes to the bear feeding rule and penalties are currently in effect. These changes strengthened prohibitions and increased penalties for feeding bears and are part of the FWC’s comprehensive approach to managing human bear interactions.

For more information on how the FWC is working to conserve bears, visit

Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission sent this bulletin at 09/03/2015


Indigenous Community’s Fight to Save Canada’s Boreal Forest

A metal-hulled outboard motorboat took me the last two hours of my three-day journey to one of the last intact forests in North America, in Canada’s Boreal forest. In the end, I traveled more than 3,000 miles, including a substantial amount of time in a white van with a poor suspension system, experiencing every bump on some very long and bumpy logging roads.

After that long journey—which also included two flights, a 20-hour drive and a helicopter ride—I finally reached the traditional lands of the Waswanipi Cree First Nation. I stood where few humans have ever stood, in one of the last intact forests, in the Broadback Valley.

I made this journey alongside the Cree because even its incredible remoteness has not protected this forest from exploitation.

I endured these three days of intense travel with a mission: to reach one of the last intact forests in Canada, help the Waswanipi Cree First Nation shine a light on the threats to this special place and amplify their leadership in protecting it. Ninety percent of the Waswanipi Cree territory has been logged and fragmented. They are simply asking to leave the last 10 percent alone and intact.

By definition, intact forests have no roads, clearcuts or powerlines, but that does not mean they are devoid of human presence. Quite the contrary—the forest where I stood had been cared for and harvested by the Cree for generations.

The pristine, clear water, miles of dense forest, bald eagles overhead and moose and bear along the shores—all of this special place is at the heart of Cree culture. This is the land the Waswanipi Cree community have fished and hunted on for generations. Elders in the community—including Don Saganash, one of our hosts—each manage areas of this forest delineated by traplines.

This is a healthy place, shaped by local knowledge and stewardship over time. Clearcut logging threatens a connection to this land forged over thousands of years.

Clearcut affected forest in Cree territory, Northern Quebec. Photo credit: Greenpeace

Clearcut affected forest in Cree territory, Northern Quebec. Photo credit: Greenpeace

Despite its remote location, logging companies in Canada are eager to log here, including Don’s trap

Don’s father hunted and practiced his traditional way of life here and Don hopes to pass this trapline to his son. Now he’s not sure that he’ll be able to. Don has repeatedly stood up to ambitious logging companies and has said no to their expansion plans. He was offered money and gifts in exchange for his sign-off and still said “my land is not for sale.”

Greenpeace has had a relationship with Don and the Waswanipi Cree for years. We proudly stand in support of the entire Cree community calling for the protection of their land. The elders withholding consent has been enough so far to keep their forest standing.

But the Cree have petitioned the Quebec government to permanently protect their land, to stop the onslaught of logging companies from trying to infiltrate. The Quebec government recently protected other lands nearby, but not here. Until this land is safe—and safe for good—the fight against exploitation and for traditional culture will continue.

Lessons I Will Carry With Me

My week with the Cree was intense in many ways. As with my long journey there, I had three long days of travel heading back in which to reflect.

The first thing that I will carry with me is how important it is to keep intact forests safe. There are plenty of quantifiable reasons to keep a forest—for wildlife and for the carbon they store that would otherwise add to our climate crisis. But more than that, these are areas where the Cree are able to thrive and practice their traditional culture. Without the forest, they will lose so much more than the trees, they will lose their identity.

There is a special kind of pureness and beauty that only intact forests hold. These are places that hold the future for the Cree people. It was emotional to stand somewhere so purely beautiful and at the same time experience heartbreaking sadness as I fear this place will not exists for Don Saganash’s children and my children both to see.

The second thing I will carry with me is more personal. I proudly stand up next to the Cree. I was humbled by their welcome and am proud to share their story. These are people that have overcome tremendous hurdles to protect their identity. They deserve to live their lives and thrive. They deserve to have a say on what happens to their traditional land.

I will work hard to be a good ally, advancing their story and their future. The kind of person I want to be is one that will not sit idly by as the Cree fight. I want to be the person that stands next to them and does all that I can.

I will also carry with me immense gratitude for our hosts. I am grateful to Stanley, who made his hunting camp on Lake Quenonisca available to us; to Stanley, Don and the entire team from Waswanipi, who were patient and knowledgeable as they watched us Greenpeacers scurrying around and delicately pointed out the more effective way to cut a log, catch a fish or start a fire.

I’d say they have a few stories themselves to tell.

Most of all, I will carry with me gratefulness that places like the Broadback Valley in the Canadian Boreal forest still exist and that Indigenous People like the Waswanipi Cree are still there. Our world is safer, healthier and richer because of them.

line, where I stood just weeks ago.

Amy Moas|Greenpeace|September 24, 2015

Climate action requires halting Europe’s unseen import: deforestation

Between 1990 and 2008, Europe cut down an area of forest the size of Portugal. Why didn’t Europeans notice? Because these trees weren’t disappearing on European soil — they were being cleared in tropical forests far away, to grow crops for European markets.

According to the U.N. Environment Program, 80% of all deforestation is caused by agricultural expansion. A large portion of this is caused by major economies that are “importing” too much deforestation in the form of products like soy, palm oil, beef, coffee and cocoa. Global demand for these products is booming, and this is threatening forests that are vital to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Conservation International (CI) is encouraging the European Union to lead the way in favor of deforestation-free agriculture products. On September 21, CI Europe is organizing an event at the European Parliament in Brussels to call for action ahead of the very important U.N. climate summit taking place in Paris in December.

So far 61 countries have announced their commitments to help reach a global climate agreement in Paris — including major economic powers like the U.S., China, the EU and Japan. Yet all these nations are missing a critical element in their plans: tackling emissions they generate outside their borders.

More farms, fewer trees

Science tells us that the only way to avoid catastrophic climate change is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2050. Unfortunately, current commitments won’t be sufficient to reach this goal. Part of the problem is that developed countries are displacing some of their emission-intensive activities to developing countries, instead of greening their own consumption patterns.

For example, between 1990 and 2008 the EU managed to officially reduce its emissions by 19.2%. Yet according to a study funded by the European Commission, over the same period, it became the largest importer of deforestation in the world. This contributed to a global surge in emissions as demand for agricultural commodities encouraged the large-scale clearing of tropical forests from the Amazon to Indonesia — and increasingly Africa — to make way for farm and pastureland.

Protection and good management of forests could be 30% of the solution to climate change. Disregarding this fact ignores the elephant in the room.

If the EU wants to remain a leader in global efforts to fight climate change, it cannot limit its ambition to reducing emissions within its borders. Rather, it must do something about its massive consumption of commodities whose production directly contributes to climate change.

A booming global demand for agricultural products is not all bad news. In supply countries, agricultural expansion creates jobs and helps people emerge from poverty. However most governments in these countries are becoming aware about the need to reduce deforestation to protect the climate — and their own economic interests.

Finding another way

In most developing countries the cost of cutting emissions from deforestation is relatively low. Sustainable intensification methods (also known as “climate-smart” agriculture practices) allow farmers to increase crop yields while decreasing deforestation. For example, Brazil has prevented more emissions since 2005 than the entire EU by reducing deforestation in the Amazon, partly through the soy moratorium that ruled that soy should be grown on already degraded land, rather than clearing standing forests for production. The solutions exist, but they require strong political will and adequate investment in planning, governance and technology.

It is time for countries to stop pointing fingers at climate conferences and work together to tackle emissions. On agriculture and deforestation, both producers and consumers have to face their responsibilities. Governments of developing countries need to show leadership, but they cannot be expected to take all the action on their own. If they don’t receive adequate political, technical and financial support from donor countries in favor of sustainable production, it’s likely their domestic emissions will remain too high.

In the last few years, several multinational companies have committed to deforestation-free supply chains. It is time for the EU and other major economies to do the same. There are three very useful steps they can take:

  1. Give a clear political signal by announcing an action plan to stop “importing deforestation” with clear criteria to favor sustainable supply chains.
  2. Provide more help to developing countries to modernize their agriculture practices so they can increase production without cutting more forest.
  3. Contribute to sustainable management of remaining forests. Not cutting the forest is good; making sure it remains intact long term is better. This can be achieved with mechanisms like REDD+, which bring financial resources to help keep tropical forests standing.

As the Paris climate conference approaches, the world’s major importers of agricultural products need to commit. The EU is well placed to take a leading role. It is the largest trade power in the world, and the improvements it’s already made to the timber industry have already shown that regulating supply chains is possible.

We hope to see EU leaders come to Paris with a clear message that Europe wants to move away from importing deforestation, and wants to solve this issue in win-win partnerships with all nations involved. Such an announcement would increase the chances of an ambitious climate deal in Paris — something we all need.

Jean-Philippe Palasi|September 20, 2015

Global Warming and Climate Change

World’s richest reef system could soon succumb to climate change

Scientists are predicting the demise of most of the world’s coral reefs by as early as 2050. The Coral Triangle is the richest of them all and could be the first to go.

The publication last week of the Worldwide Fund for Nature’s (WWF) Living Blue Planet report painted a bleak picture of the state of the world’s oceans: marine populations, including reef ecosystems, have halved in size since 1970 and some species are teetering on the brink of extinction. Coral reef cover has declined by 50% in the last 30 years and reefs could disappear by as early as 2050, the report says, if current rates of ocean warming and acidification continue. WWF estimates that 850 million people depend directly on coral reefs for their food security – a mass die-off could trigger conflict and human migration on a massive scale.

100 million of these reef-reliant peoples live in the Coral Triangle – singled out in the report as “richer in marine natural capital” than anywhere else on earth. Currently, fisheries exports from the Coral Triangle – which encompasses the waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Timor Leste – amount to around $5bn (£3.3bn), including 30% of the global tuna catch, and a lucrative trade in live reef fish for food markets, which is worth nearly $1bn (£655m). But there are serious questions about the sustainability of these fisheries.

A report by Greenpeace published on Monday called out 13 Indonesian and eight Philippines tuna canneries, which it says are failing in three key areas – supply chain traceability, sustainability and employee equity. All but one of the businesses surveyed were graded ‘poor’ and none were classified as ‘good.’ Most of these canneries supply brands in the EU, America, Japan and the Middle East.

The live reef fish for food trade – which has a huge market in Hong Kong and mainland China as well as other southeast Asian cities – has sent stocks of key reef predators such as grouper plummeting in many parts of the Coral Triangle. As with tuna, the industry is poorly regulated and destructive fishing methods like cyanide capture – where a milky solution of potassium cyanide is squirted into reefs to stun fish – remain popular across Indonesia and the Philippines.


But the severest threat is to the reef ecosystems themselves. 85% of reefs in the Coral Triangle are classified as threatened, significantly higher than the global average of 60%. The bioregion’s vulnerability to climate change was further underscored in a report on biodiversity redistribution caused by warming seas that was published in Nature Climate Change on 31 August. It is thought that some marine ecosystems will be able to balance themselves out as temperature changes cause species to migrate from one area to another. But the report authors singled out the Coral Triangle as being especially vulnerable to ‘high rates of extirpation’ (ie complete species eradication) based on a key climate model produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

In the face of these threats, The Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries & Food Security (CTI-CFF), a multilateral partnership between Coral Triangle countries, NGOs and the Asian Development Bank, is developing collaborative action plans to try and sustainably manage the bioregion’s natural capital. Nature based tourism – thought to be worth $12bn – has become a key priority, since it dovetails with the urgent need to protect key seascapes in the Coral Triangle.

Raja Ampat off the coast of West Papua, thought to be the global epicenter of biodiversity, is one example of a successful collaborative strategy, bringing together local government, communities, tourism operators and non-profits to manage its ecosystems sustainably. In Malaysia, WWF has been working with government agencies to gazette a 1m-square hectare marine reserve off the north coast of Borneo. The Tun Mustapha marine park aims to balance the needs of various stakeholders from industrial fishers to local communities to tourism businesses within a sustainable framework, rather than strictly controlling a very small zone, which was the prevailing model for marine reserves in the past.


But in the face of the slow-moving juggernaut of global warming, it’s difficult not to regard these measures, worthy as they are, as akin to putting a plaster on a gunshot wound. Only around 4% of the world’s ocean is ‘designated for protection’, compared to between 10-15% of its land surface; many marine reserves are poorly managed and enforcement can be non-existent. There is an urgent need to establish more and to shore up existing ones across the Coral Triangle to maximize the benefits of coral reef ecosystems in the short to medium term.

The UN Sustainable Development Summit is taking place in New York this weekend and oceans are on the agenda for the first time. Hot topics include over fishing, food security for island states and pollution. Action in these areas is needed at the very least so as not to exacerbate the impact of the elephant in the room – climate change. Should warming hit the 2C threshold – a target that’s come to be seen somewhat arbitrarily as an upper limit, but that many scientists now regard as unachievable – most reefs will likely be devastated by coral bleaching, according to the IPCC.

The big decisions will be made of course in Paris at COP 21 at the end of November. On Tuesday, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) stated that existing pledges by the international community would only be enough to cap global temperature increases at 3C by the end of the century.

“3C is much better than 4-5C, but it is still unacceptable,” she said. A cap of 3C may represent progress, but for the Coral Triangle and for reefs around the world, it could be catastrophic.

Johnny Langenheim|24 September 2015

Pope calls for Climate Change Policies

History was made in the United States as Pope Francis became the first pontiff to address a joint session of Congress. In a powerful speech, His Holiness referred to stewardship of our planet as the “common good.” And that makes sense since Earth is the only home we have and taking care of it requires collective action.

Pope Francis also issued a challenge to our Congress when he said, “I call for a courageous and responsible effort to redirect our steps, and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I have no doubt that the United States — and this Congress — have an important role to play, now is the time for courageous actions and strategies.”

The pontiff’s call to action deserves a response: How will our lawmakers respond to the pope’s challenge?

Unfortunately, many of our lawmakers have not responded kindly to the actions of President Obama or the Environmental Protection Agency to tackle humanity’s greatest challenge. Some lawmakers like Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) even skipped the Pope’s speech because of his stance on climate change. Gosar stated, “If the pope plans to spend the majority of his time advocating for flawed climate change policies, then I will not attend.”

We’ve also witnessed lawmakers’ attempts to delay, de-fund and debunk the President’s Clean Power Plan, and some have even contacted international leaders to convince them not to cooperate with the President on any global climate deals. That’s why we need to contact our elected officials and press them on what they plan to do besides dismiss the proposals of their political adversaries. Who knows, maybe there will be some divine intervention and even the most recalcitrant elected officials will actually step up to the pope’s challenge.

The word pope comes from the Latin Pontifex, which means “greatest bridge builder.” Today Pope Francis attempted to build a bridge between our Congress and the courage it will take to stop climate chaos. And we have seen signs even before his visit that his message is resonating. This month nearly a dozen House Republicans broke rank with their leadership and will call for action on climate change.

Amen, that’s a great start, but it will take more than a baker’s-dozen to secure the common good. We will need as many lawmakers as possible heeding the pope’s call and coming up with plans of their own to save our climate, our planet and each other.

Click here to ask your representatives and Senators for their plan to stop climate change.

Global Warming Blamed For South Florida Severe Flooding

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Global warming is being blamed by some for the more severe than usual flooding in South Florida.

At a summit on climate change in Miami being hosted by former Vice President Al Gore, both Gore and U.S. Senator Bill Nelson pointed to the coastal floods.

“Climate change is a reality, and we’re seeing it today on the streets of Miami beach,” said Nelson.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine called on the world to take a lesson from the flooding in South Florida.

“When they see Miami Beach being affected by sea level rise due to climate change, I think that wakes up a lot of people around the world,” Levine said.  “Whatever happens on Miami Beach, the world knows about it.”

Miami Beach resident Carmen Rincon slogged through water to get to her car.

“It’s terrible, terrible,” Rincon said. “I am very worried about what is going to happen after this.”

During the high tide Sunday night, Miami Beach closed southbound Indian Creek Drive between 40th and 29th streets. The city plans to close it again during the high tide periods over the next couple of days – Monday at 10:28 p.m. Tuesday; and 11:03 a.m. and 11:18 p.m. Wednesday.

Another problem spot was along Chase Avenue.

“We still have street flooding, even in a neighborhood where we have pumps that are online and working,” said Robert Wolfarth. “It’s not just this neighborhood. It’s North Beach, it’s South Beach, it’s from the east to the west.”

Collins Avenue also experienced serious flooding. Despite the city’s storm water pump project, the problem for many beach residents is not fixed.

“The pumps were for storm water,” said commission Deede Weithorn, “Not necessarily for what we call, these are ‘King Tides’ which are high tides based on the moon.”

But there’s an even bigger problem than pumps being overwhelmed by water.

“The pumps are working backwards in some areas, basically they are not taking the water, they’re bringing the water up through the drainage and basically flooding our streets,” said Marcos Aleman, with Atlantic Coast Drilling.

Gary Nelson|September 28, 2015

Shark culling and overfishing may be contributing to climate change

New research has found that sharks play an important role in preventing climate change, warning that overfishing and culling sharks is resulting in more carbon being released from the seafloor.

A paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change has found that the culling and fishing of sharks and other large fish is leading to an overabundance of their prey, such as turtles, stingrays and crabs.

Larger numbers of these marine creatures means that vegetation which stores carbon is being eaten in greater quantities.

“Sharks, believe it or not, are helping to prevent climate change,” said Dr Peter Macreadie, an Australian Research Council Fellow from Deakin University and one of the paper’s authors.

Several years ago researchers found that carbon is stored in blue carbon ecosystems in the marine environment.

“They are the seagrasses, the salt marshes, the mangroves and they’re among the most powerful carbon sinks in the world,” Dr Macreadie said.

“So they will capture and store carbon at a rate 40 times faster than tropical rainforests like the Amazon and they’ll store that carbon in the ground for millennial time scales.”

He said as predators were culled and overfished, other marine life consumed more and more vegetation.

“Turtles, crabs, certain types of worms, stingrays — these animals that are overabundant to do with loss of predators used to keep their numbers in check,” Dr Macreadie said.

The researchers used Cape Cod in Massachusetts as an example of where this process had been observed.

“There had been overfishing in the region, so a lot of the big fish had been removed and then what we saw was an increase — a remarkable increase, a huge increase — in the number of crabs that bury and borrow down in the system, in the salt marsh which sequestered all this carbon,” Dr Macreadie said.

“And we’d found that in an area there, the crabs had become so abundant that they had pretty much destroyed the salt marsh, and it was a small area, it was only 1.5 square kilometres, but it liberated 250,000 tonnes of carbon that had been stored in the ground.”

Release of ancient carbon would have ‘catastrophic’ effect

He said with the culling of huge numbers of sharks and other top ocean predators, researchers had discovered many other examples of this occurring.

“There’s been some 90 per cent loss of the oceans’ top predators and so we’ve learnt this link between sharks and other top predators and the cascading effects they will have down to other animals in those ecosystems that are eating themselves out of house and home.

“They’re eating the blue carbon ecosystems that have sequestered so much carbon and this is causing release of ancient carbon as a consequence.”

Dr Macreadie said it would have a catastrophic effect on the environment.

“We’ve only just scratched the surface here,” he said.

“These blue carbon ecosystems are so critical for sequestering carbon and they support these important food webs, and when these food webs are disrupted it’s a bit like playing a game of Jenga — you pull out a few pins and the whole thing falls apart.

“If we just lost 1 per cent of the oceans’ blue carbon ecosystems, it would be equivalent to releasing 460 million tons of carbon annually, which is about the equivalent of about 97 million cars.

“It’s about equivalent to Australia’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.

“So I think it’s time to take a good look at the way in which nature helps mitigate climate change for us and trying to do everything we can to let that natural process operate in full force, and if sharks are a part of that, if predators and a part of that we need to take that into consideration.”

Sarah Sedghi|The World Today||29 Sep 2015

Three Ways Climate Deniers Cherry-Pick Facts about Climate Change

Find out the strategies climate deniers use to cloud the climate change consensus, and how to set the record straight.

For years, oil companies and special interest groups have financed campaigns to make people doubt the reality and seriousness of climate change, funneling money into conservative non-profits, think tanks, politicians, and climate-denial front groups. Let’s take the industrial businessmen and political moguls, the Koch brothers, who have invested tens of millions of dollars over the last fifteen years in efforts to deny climate change.

With the support of Big Oil companies and their allies, a small but vocal group of climate deniers has become as pesky as mosquitos on a summer night. The mystery is how. After all, the facts are clear and when you consider that 97 percent of climate scientists agree that man-made climate change is real, it’s hard to believe that anyone could claim anything else with a straight face.

So how have a few well-funded voices managed to mislead – or at least confuse – millions and block progress on one of the most important issues of our time? One thing these deniers have been good at is cherry-picking facts and misrepresenting data to tell a story with some of the most important points conveniently left out. Imagine a guy buying drinks for everyone at the bar – without mentioning he just mugged a stranger for the cash. You get the picture.

We decided to take a closer look. We hope that by calling out deniers’ strategies, we can begin to debunk their myths and get back to the reason we’re all here: to spread truth and implement climate change solutions.

1. Misrepresenting Data

A common climate denier tactic is focusing on a specific year in a data set, usually one that happens to be an outlier. A great example of this is the year 1998.

Nineteen-ninety-eight was one of the hottest years on record thanks to an unusually strong El Niño. That means when you pull a subset of climate data from 1998–2012 (as deniers often do), you’re starting at a record high point. And when you look at the years that follow – years that vary naturally in temperature with some falling well below the 1998 peak – the upward trend in temperatures wasn’t as visually obvious.

Visual data can be purposefully skewed or misrepresented. Let’s look at the chart below, which shows the global air temperature changes from 1998–2012. The red trend line on the chart isn’t a trend at all — it’s simply connecting the two dots on either side of the chart that show two yearly averages of global air temperature change. A trend line on this chart should, in fact, trend upwards. And if we started this chart with the year 1999, it would look quite different.

Or if we zoom out even further, we see an even more obvious increase in average temperatures over time.

2. Cherry-Picking Facts

This is an especially tough one to crack because climate deniers often cite factual statistics. And factual statistics are factual statistics, right? Except when the statistics are taken out of context or missing pertinent information, making it hard to have an informed rebuttal ready.

Let’s take this statistic that’s often cited out of context: “The global mean temperature was 58.3 degrees Fahrenheit in 1998 (14.6 degrees Celsius) according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. In 2012, it was 58.2 degrees (14.56 Celsius).”

The obvious conclusion here is that global warming stalled or even stopped during this period. And if you look at changing temperatures in just these 14 years, it does look like they rose at a slower rate than they did over the longer period from 1951—2012.

But remember, 1998 was an unusually hot year, which skews the analysis. Plus, when scientists looked at the data again in 2014 after two more years of rising temperatures, the overall picture changed. With a higher average temperature as an endpoint in 2014, the graph shows that overall average temperatures from 1998—2014 rose at nearly the same rate as in the second half of the twentieth century.

The bottom line: global warming didn’t stop between 1998—2012. Far from it. And if someone cites 1998 temperatures to make a point about climate change, chances are there are some missing facts.

That’s why it’s important to remember that when climate statistics are cited, context and complete data are necessary to understanding the full picture.

3. Dwelling on the Weather

Everyone loves to talk about the weather. It’s a safe-zone, and people care about it because it has a direct impact on our feelings and mood. One especially common tactic is for climate deniers to dwell on weather patterns over the course of a few days or even a year to make the case that climate change isn’t happening.

“You know its freezing outside, right?”  they might say, or “How can there be global warming when there’s a polar vortex?”

Weather patterns will always vary, causing temperatures to be higher or lower than average from time to time, depending on factors like El Niño and other ocean processes, cloud variability, volcanic activity, and other natural cycles.

It’s the long-term range (30-plus year cycles) that scientists look at to determine real changes in the climate system, and the changes scientists see are unmistakable. It’s time for climate deniers to stop focusing on the day-to-day weather as an excuse for why the Earth isn’t warming. This will only harm us in the future.

Now You Know

So the next time you hear someone stating climate statistics that attempt to show the Earth isn’t warming or harping on the blizzard outside, you’ll be able to recognize if they are cherry-picking facts or skewing data. Just remember: all the data you need to prove them wrong can be found in the blink of an eye on reputable websites like NASA and NOAA. Or, if you really want to get your point across, you can always send them this article (just don’t expect a holiday card next year).

Want to learn more? Read our blog post on the “10 Clear Indicators of Climate Change” and sign up for our email alerts.

Extreme Weather

Heavy rain, snow wreak havoc around Alaska

Heavy rain and wet snow wreaked havoc on much of southern Alaska on Tuesday, flooding homes and roads. A large swath of Alaska has been under advisories for storms, heavy rain, wind and flooding since the weekend.

On Tuesday afternoon, the National Weather Service issued a flood warning for Anchorage, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Arctic Valley, Eagle River and Potter Marsh. According to NWS, rain over the previous 24 hours “caused streams to rise sharply.”

“Heavy rain has also caused ponding of water on many roads in the Anchorage Bowl and Glenn Highway,” NWS wrote.

NWS warned drivers not to attempt to drive across flooded streets and suggested finding alternate routes to travel.

“It takes only a few inches of swiftly flowing water to carry vehicles away,” NWS said.

NWS meteorologist Mike Ottenweller said the NWS Sand Lake office recorded 1.48 inches of rain in the last 24 hours. Stevens Anchorage International Airport recorded 1.65 inches of snow in the last 24 hours.

Department of Transportation spokeswoman Shannon McCarthy said the wet weather has kept her agency busy.

“Our Anchorage maintenance crews have been working on patching the potholes which are forming in the rain,” McCarthy wrote in an email Tuesday night. “They are also unplugging storm drains and clearing ditches as they become clogged. DOT&PF maintenance forces also removed rocks from the Seward (past Potter Marsh) around 4 a.m. and around the same time helped drain a small lake forming in the road on A Street.”

In an updated forecast issued by NWS at 4:17 p.m., the rain was expected to turn into snow at lower elevations by Tuesday evening. Lower elevations can expect one to two inches of snow, NWS wrote.

But on Anchorage’s Hillside, the rain turned into wet, sticky snow earlier in the day. Joshua and Karli Breduig of Arizona drove to the Glen Alps Trailhead at the base of Flattop Mountain just to find the snow.

Joshua Breduig appeared determined to have a snowball fight. While Karli Breduig explained why the couple plans to move to Anchorage soon, she stopped mid-sentence to avoid a snowball.

The couple took a few pictures and then headed off on a snowy adventure.

In a Bear Valley park, Casey Cawson lay on the ground making snow angels with her tongue poking out of her mouth in an attempt to catch snowflakes.

The East Anchorage 3-year-old heard her mother, Gene Cawson, talking about the snow Monday night and didn’t forget.

“She’s been talking about playing in the snow since last night. She came into my room last night and told me she couldn’t sleep because she was ‘too excited’ about it. So I’ve been driving around looking for snow.”

NWS isn’t predicting snow in the Anchorage area for Wednesday, but on Tuesday morning NWS meteorologist Dave Snider said there could be light accumulations in the middle of the night or in the early morning.

“People could wake up to an inch or two on the ground that could go away — there could be some snow flurries during the morning commute,” Snider said.


Six roads in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough were flooded Tuesday night and at least 10 homes or cabins were surrounded by water in the area of North Burrow Street and River-Aire Drive in Willow, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough reported, adding that some residents chose to leave their homes.

Willow Creek was running at roughly 10 times the volume it had last week and 3 feet higher, at nearly 5 and a half feet, according to a U.S. Geological Survey gauge. Roiling brown water carried logs downstream near Willow-Fishhook Road, eating away at a few roads and flooding others. Mat-Su Borough road crews posted road closure signs at various potentially impassable roads, including West Deneki Drive.

Just off Deneki, Kevin Vance had a creek where his driveway usually was Tuesday afternoon and more water running from Willow Creek through his yard. Vance and his family were getting ready to move their two horses to higher ground from a creekside paddock.  

But Vance said that, at least as of mid-afternoon, flooding didn’t seem as bad as several years ago and he wasn’t too worried. His home is one of the oldest on the creek, he said. “It’s been high before.”

To the south, Houston Mayor Virgie Thompson said Tuesday that one home was threatened, with two more near rising water. She said neighbors in the affected area reported water over the banks of the Little Susitna River near North Maid Marion Drive in Houston.

Emergency officials were monitoring high water along the Little Su in Houston and near Schrock Road.

Carol Gibbs lives along the Little Su off Schrock and told her husband to get ready to move to a neighbor’s property on higher ground if necessary.

“Pack up the dogs, the food, important stuff, and let the rest go,” Gibbs said. She was at the Three Bears on Pittman Road on Tuesday, showing videos of the river eating through her backyard.

Gibbs wasn’t too worried about her home but had already lost property. 

“Land is land, and God’s gonna take it,” she said.

“The Talkeetna River, Montana Creek, Willow Creek, and Little Susitna River will begin to fall more sharply during the day Wednesday,” the National Weather Service reported shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday.


Much of Southeast Alaska is under a coastal flood warning amid heavy rains.

“With the ground saturated from rainfall overnight, a majority of the remaining rain will run off into area rivers and streams,” forecasters wrote. “This will cause rapid rises on the rivers and streams and flooding will be possible from early this morning through late Tuesday night.”

At sea, a storm warning is in place for the Gulf of Alaska near Kodiak through Tuesday night, with winds up to 50 knots and seas reaching 18 feet expected in the area. According to Ahsenmacher, a low system moving into Prince William Sound and propelling the Gulf of Alaska storm was expected to produce nearly hurricane-force winds in the region Tuesday.

“We’re looking at maybe 60-70-mile wind gusts across Kodiak Island by this evening,” Ahsenmacher said. “This strong wind will eventually drift off and subside in the eastern part of the Gulf.”

Small craft advisories were in place along much of Alaska’s northern and western coast Tuesday, with winds from 25 to 35 knots and seas from 5 to 12 feet expected from Barrow to Bethel. Much of the Aleutian Islands and the waters off Southeast Alaska are under gale warnings from Tuesday into Wednesday, with peak gusts from 20 to 35 knots expected.

Megan Edge,Chris Klint,Zaz Hollander|September 29, 2015

How to prepare for a hurricane

Not sure what to do before, during or after a hurricane? We’ve got you covered for when you need to batten down the hatches.

If you’re familiar with hurricane history, you know that anyone living along the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico needs to know how to prepare for massive tropical storms.

And because hurricanes pose a variety of threats — flooding, high winds, storm surges, tornadoes — it is important to prepare in advance and to follow the hurricane safety tips from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other emergency management officials.

Before a hurricane

  • Pack an emergency preparedness kit that will meet the needs of you and your family for three days. The kit, of course, will be handy in the wake of any natural or man-made disaster. An emergency preparedness kit needs to include food and water for each member of your family for three days, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, flashlight, spare batteries, first aid kit, can opener, toilet paper, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation. A complete list of recommended items for an emergency kit can be found at, FEMA’s emergency preparedness website.
  • Store emergency supplies in an easy-to-carry plastic storage container or duffel bag, making them easy to grab and go should local emergency management officials order an evacuation.
  • In addition to the essentials in the emergency preparedness kit, pack sleeping bags or blankets, paper towels, books, puzzles, board games and special foods that will make a stay in a shelter more comfortable.
  • Board up windows using 5/8” marine plywood. Using tape on windows won’t prevent them from breaking.
  • Fill the gas tank of your car.
  • Know emergency routes and make transportation arrangements. Identify a place away from home where you can go if you have to leave.
  • Get a supply of cash.
  • Turn your refrigerator and freezer to the coldest setting so that food will last longer should the power go out. Keep the doors closed as much as possible to hold in the cold.
  • Gather and store inside anything that might turn into a missile: lawn furniture, lawn art, garbage cans, tools.
  • Fill your bathtubs — and other large containers — to make sure you have a supply of water for cleaning and flushing toilets. This is in addition to your supply of drinking water.
  • Follow directions regarding evacuation, especially if you live in a mobile home, a high-rise building, on the coast or in a floodplain.

During a hurricane

  • Brace external doors.
  • Close interior doors.
  • Close all curtains and blinds, even if you have plywood over the windows.
  • Wait out the storm in an interior, windowless room or closet on the ground floor.
  • If the power is out, use flashlights instead of candles.
  • Listen to news and weather reports.

After a hurricane

  • Check everyone for injuries. Administer first aid, but don’t move anyone seriously injured unless they are at risk for further injury.
  • Be alert to hazards created by hurricane damage such as broken glass and downed power lines.
  • Stay off flooded roads.
  • When returning to your home if you’ve been evacuated, walk carefully around the outside and look for damage such as loose power lines and gas leaks. Do not enter the house if it is still surrounded by floodwaters or if you smell natural gas.
  • Throw out any food that was not kept at proper temperatures or that was exposed to flood waters.
  • Take photographs of damage to your house and the contents to show when filing an insurance claim.

This story first appeared on MNN in August 2011. It has been updated to reflect additional information.

Clint Williams|October 1, 2015

Joaquin hits Bahamas with 130 mph winds

Separate ‘life-threatening’ storm threatens Southeast

Hurricane Joaquin battered the Bahamas on Thursday as the U.S. braced for its arrival, as well as historic floods from another weather system.

Regardless of what Joaquin does, an equal concern in the U.S. is a “historic, potentially life-threatening rainfall event expected this weekend” in the Southeast from a separate weather system, the National Weather Service said.

States along the East Coast were bracing for the worst. New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina all declared states of emergency ahead of the predicted bad weather. Forecasters are still uncertain whether Joaquin will make landfall along that Coast.

Joaquin will move northward much of this weekend, roughly paralleling the coast, AccuWeather said. There is a nearly equal possibility that the storm will make landfall along the Mid-Atlantic coast or New England coast or that it will veer out to sea.

“Residents of the Carolinas north should be paying attention and monitoring the storm; there’s no question,” Eric Blake, a hurricane specialist with the National Hurricane Center, told the Associated Press. “If your hurricane plans got a little dusty because of the light hurricane season, now is a good time to update them.”

Ahead of the storm, heavy rains were already soaking much of the eastern U.S. from a stalled front, the National Weather Service said. The rains “are likely to continue for the next few days, even if the center of Joaquin stays offshore,” the weather service said.
Parts of the Carolinas could see over a foot of rain this weekend.
“The resulting inland flood potential could complicate preparations for Joaquin should it head toward the coast, and even more substantial inland flooding is possible,” the weather service said.

Flood watches have been posted in the Carolinas and in Virginia.

Joaquin, with maximum sustained winds increasing Thursday afternoon to 130 mph, lashed the central Bahamas with hurricane-strength winds that extended as far as 45 miles from the eye, the National Hurricane Center in Miami reported.

As of 2 p.m. EDT, the center of the storm was passing over Samana Cays, Bahamas, and moving southwest at 6 mph. It was forecast to turn toward the west-northwest Thursday night, followed by a turn toward the north and an increase in forward speed Friday, according to the hurricane center.

Joaquin was expected to produce rain accumulations of 10 to 15 inches over the central Bahamas; isolated amounts of 20 inches are possible. The Bahamas Department of Meteorology warned of the possibility of flash floods and surf and dangerous rip currents, the Bahamas Press reported.


Torrential rains pound Southeast

Torrential rains that brought flooding to much of the historic peninsula district of Charleston, South Carolina, on Saturday lashed huge parts of the Southeast, giving the region little consolation from the fading threat of Hurricane Joaquin as it moved away from the East Coast.

Police shut down traffic onto the low-lying historic downtown area of Charleston between the Ashley and Cooper rivers. Abandoned cars dotted many roads as cars stalled out.

Retail stores along King Street, a main shopping area in the port city, lined sandbags along the sidewalk as protection from the threat of rising water.

As rain totals by early morning quickly eclipsed the 21-year old record of 3.28 inches for Oct.3, forecasters predicted several more inches for Saturday and extended a flash flood warning until late afternoon.

Officials warned residents to avoid driving in the afternoon during high tide. Heavy rain was forecast for the area into Sunday.

“We cannot stress the importance of not driving around police barricades,” the weather service in Charleston tweeted. “Never drive into an area where water covers the road.”

Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen told the Associated Press that officers were going door-to-door to advise residents to voluntarily evacuate areas at risk.

“Where we normally are dealing with flooding for a few hours, we’re dealing with it in days here, so it’s going to be significantly different,” Mullen said. “It’s impacting much more of the city. We’re seeing areas flood today that did not traditionally flood.” The weather service warned of a high risk of “widespread excessive rainfall” over large parts of South Carolina, far northeastern Georgia, southwest North Carolina and far eastern Tennessee.

The torrential rain is being generated by an unusual confluence of weather events — a stalled front near the East Coast, tropical moisture flowing from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, and the effects of the outer edge of Hurricane Joaquin.

The weather service forecast as much as 10 inches of rain in those areas, with some isolated cases of 15 inches or more. It said the threat of significant flooding in South Carolina and southeast North Carolina would continue for a few days.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency warned of the possibility of flash flooding in areas of the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic through Sunday. The rain came as forecasters said Hurricane Joaquin was no longer a threat to the region.

Doug Stanglin|USA TODAY|Contributing: Jessica Estepa


Genetically Modified Organisms

Activists Arrested at Genetic Engineering World Headquarters of ArborGen ‏

Attempt made to inform ArborGen of quarter of a million petition signers rejecting GE Trees

Police in Ridgeville, South Carolina arrest Anne Petermann (on ground, left) and Ruddy Turnstone (right) after the Campaign To Stop GE Trees activists attempted to inform ArborGen CEO Andrew Baum that over 250,000 people have signed a letter rejecting genetically engineered trees.

Ridgeville, SC (28 September 2015) – A plan by activists to inform Andrew Baum, President and CEO of ArborGen that over 250,000 people signed letters and petitions [1] rejecting Genetically Engineered (GE) Trees was interrupted when police arrested the two people who intended to deliver that message. 

Executive Director of  Global Justice Ecology Project and Coordinator of the international Campaign to Stop Genetically Engineered Trees, Anne Petermann, and Global Justice Ecology Project’s GE Tree Campaign organizer, Ruddy Turnstone were stopped by police and arrested.

The letters and petitions rejecting GE Trees and international protests mark a growing concern about the dangers of GE Trees and the threats they pose to the environment. ArborGen is developing genetically engineered loblolly pine trees with no public input, no risk assessments and no method for the public to receive information about ArborGen’s activities.

Kip Doyle/GJEP

5 Next Steps in the War Against Monsanto and Big Food

“If governments won’t solve the climate, hunger, health and democracy crisis, then the people will … Regenerative agriculture provides answers to the soil crisis, the food crisis, the health crisis, the climate crisis and the crisis of democracy.” — Dr. Vandana Shiva, speaking at the founding meeting of Regeneration International, La Fortuna de San Carlos, Costa Rica, June 8

Degenerate (verb): To decline from a noble to a lower state of development; to become worse physically and morally; (noun) a person of low moral standards; having become less than one’s kind …” — New Webster’s Dictionary, 1997 Edition

Welcome to Degeneration Nation.

After decades of self-destructive business-as-usual—empire-building, waging wars for fossil fuels, selling out government to the highest bidder, lacing the environment and the global food supply with GMOs, pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, toxic sweeteners, artery-clogging fats and synthetic chemicals, attacking the organic and natural health movement, brainwashing the body politic, destroying soils, forests, wetlands and biodiversity and discharging greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere and the oceans like there’s no tomorrow—we’ve reached a new low, physically and morally.

Distracted by know-nothing media conglomerates and betrayed by cowardly politicians and avaricious corporations, homo sapiens are facing and unfortunately in many cases still denying, the most serious existential threat in our 200,000-year evolution—catastrophic climate change, compounded by deteriorating public health and the dictatorial rise of political elites and multinational corporations such as Monsanto.

Unless we move decisively as a global community to transform our degenerative food, farming and energy systems, we are doomed.

To reverse global warming and re-stabilize the climate, we will need not only to slash CO2 emissions by 90 percent or more, taking down King Coal and Big Oil and converting to renewable sources of energy, but we must also simultaneously remove or draw down 100-150 ppm of the excess (400 ppm) CO2 and greenhouse gases that are already overheating our supersaturated atmosphere. How do we accomplish the latter? Through regenerative agriculture and land use.

Fortunately, this is possible because more and more consumers are connecting the dots between what’s on their dinner plates and what’s happening to Planet Earth. They, along with environmentalists, animal rights, food justice, climate and health activists, have created a global grassroots movement aimed at dismantling our destructive, degenerative industrial food and farming system. And despite Big Food’s desperate attempts to maintain the status quo, this powerful movement is escalating the war on degeneration.

Under Siege, Big Food Fights Back

On the food, natural health and anti-GMO fronts, our battles for a new regenerative (non-GMO, non-chemical, non-factory farm, non-fossil fuel) food, farming and land use system are educating and energizing millions of people. The profits of the big junk food, chemical and GMO corporations are falling, while demand for organic and climate-friendly grass fed foods continues to skyrocket.

In the last quarter Monsanto’s profits fell by 34 percent, while the company’s highly publicized attempt to buy out agri-toxics giant Syngenta fell flat, in no small part due to the “worst corporation in the world” reputation that the global Millions Against Monsanto Movement has managed to hang around Monsanto’s neck.

In the U.S., the growing power of the anti-GMO movement has forced the passage of a game-changing mandatory GMO labeling law in Vermont. The Vermont law will go into effect July 1, 2016, forcing national brands to either remove GMOs from their products or label them. The Vermont law will also make it illegal to label GMO-tainted foods as “natural.” Many national brands have already begun removing bogus “natural” or “all natural” claims from their packaging.

Consumer pressure on Whole Foods Market has likewise forced the organic and natural products giant to declare that all 40,000 foods, including meat and take-out, in Whole Foods Market stores will have to be labeled as GMO or GMO-free by 2018. Other chains, such as the rapidly growing Natural Grocer, have already gone GMO-free.

While a number of major food brands and chains, such as Hershey’s and Chipotle’s, have already begun removing GMOs from their products, the impending Vermont law has created panic among the Biotech Bullies, with Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association attempting to ram through the passage of the draconian, highly unpopular DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act (H.R. 1599) in Congress, even though 90 percent of Americans want GMO foods labeled.

The DARK Act will nullify the Vermont GMO labeling law and take away the long-established constitutional right of states to label foods and regulate food safety. But such a blatant attack on states’ and consumer rights will also likely create a major backlash. Even the mass media has warned that the forced passage of the DARK Act, either through Congressional vote or more likely, a backroom-deal rider inserted into a Federal Appropriations bill, will likely enrage health-and environmentally-conscious consumers. As Fortune magazine reports, Big Food may indeed be able to ram through the unpopular DARK Act, but this outrageous maneuver will likely lead to “a classic case of winning the battle and losing the war.”

The Global Grassroots Swarm: Next Steps

Now that we’ve stung Monsanto and Food Inc. (corporate agribusiness) with thousands of campaigns, boycotts, protests, litigation and legislative efforts, what are our next steps in the great 2015 Food Fight?

1. Defeat the DARK Act

Every major anti-GMO and alternative food and farming network in the U.S. is now mobilizing against the DARK Act, which has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives 275-150. We must mobilize, as never before, to stop this outrageous bill in the Senate. But we must also be prepared for dirty tricks, a secret rider inserted into one or more Congressional Appropriations Bills that will not require an open debate or vote in the Senate. And if, despite all our efforts, the DARK Act becomes law, we must be prepared to carry out our own skull-and-crossbones labeling by aggressively testing all of the major (non-organic) U.S. food brands, including meat and animal products and by exposing the GMOs, pesticide residues, antibiotics, hormones and growth promoters that make these degenerate foods unfit for human consumption. Following our exposure of Food Inc.’s dirty little secrets, we must then launch an ongoing boycott to drive these foods off the market.

2. Expand and Deepen the Message

We need to change our campaign message from “Boycott and Ban GMOs” to “Boycott and Ban GMOs, as well as the toxic chemicals, animal drugs and factory farms that are an integral part of the industrial/GMO food and farming system.” GMOs in processed foods are a major threat to our health and the environment, but they are only part of the problem of our degenerate food system. Polls consistently show that U.S. consumers are equally alarmed by the toxic pesticides, antibiotics and synthetic hormones in non-organic foods. We need to emphasize that GMOs are pesticide delivery systems and that GMOs are not only found in most processed foods and beverages, but they are also found in nearly all non-organic, non-grass fed meat and animal products. Every bite of factory-farmed meat, dairy or eggs, every sip of factory-farmed milk, not only contains GMOs, but also the toxic pesticides, antibiotics and animal drugs that are slowly but surely destroying public health. We also need to point out that every time you pull up to the gas pump, you are filling up your tank with not only greenhouse gas-emitting gasoline, but Monsanto’s chemical-intensive, soil destroying GMO corn ethanol as well.

3. Frame the Fight

The battle must be framed as degenerative versus regenerative agriculture and land use. Even before GMOs hit the market in 1994, in the form of Monsanto’s Bovine Growth Hormone, America’s industrial food and farming system was terrible for human health, the for the environment, farm animals and rural communities. If we somehow managed to get rid of all GMOs tomorrow, our (non-organic) food system would still be degenerating our health, biodiversity, water quality and most importantly, our climate. The industrial food and farming system, with its destructive deforestation and land use, is the number one cause of global warming and climate disruption. But at the same time as we expose the hazards of industrial food and farming we must spread the good news that regenerative agriculture is not only better for our health, but that it can fix the climate crisis as well, by sequestering in the soil several hundred billion tons of excess atmospheric carbon over the next two decades. We need to cook organic, not the planet. This requires a new message and a broader coalition beyond simply “GMO-free.”

4. Get Ready to Go to War

Given how desperate Monsanto and Big Ag have become, we must prepare for any eventuality. The reason Big Food and Big Biotech are escalating the war against consumer choice and food safety is because a critical mass of the public no longer believes the lies. Monsanto and Big Food understand full well that they are losing the battle for the hearts and minds and consumer dollars of the majority, not only in the U.S. but globally. That’s why they are pushing the DARK Act and negotiating secret international trade deals, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, deals that would take away consumer rights to label and ban GMOs, pesticides, antibiotics and other dangerous animal drugs. This is no longer simply a food fight, but a war. We need to step up our public education, grassroots mobilization and most importantly, our marketplace pressure and boycotts.

5. Join Forces

We must link together the food, farm, forest, climate and economic justice movements. The climate crisis, even though many people don’t understand this yet, is the most important issue that humans have ever faced. The food and farm movement needs to move beyond single-issue campaigning to challenge the entire system of industrial agriculture, junk food, ethanol production and factory farming. We need to educate people to understand that industrial food and farming, GMOs, destructive deforestation and land use and mindless consumerism are the major causes of global warming and climate destabilization. There will be no GMO-free or organic food on a burnt planet. At the same time the climate movement must move beyond its 50-percent solution (reducing and eliminating fossil fuel emissions), to the 100-percent solution of zero emissions plus maximum carbon sequestration in the soils and forests through regenerative organic agriculture, planned rotational grazing reforestation and land use.

The hour is late, but we, the global grassroots, still have time to mobilize and act, to regenerate the system before it further degenerates us.

Ronnie Cummins|September 28, 2015

Center for Food Safety Update

Together, we passed a landmark genetically engineered (GE) foods labeling law in Vermont. Now, the giant food and chemical corporations are dispatching their armies of lawyers to try and defeat it in court. They want to continue to engineer our food and stop our right to know what’s in it. Next week, the hearings begin.

Since 2013, CFS’s legal team has been instrumental in helping pass and successfully defend the Vermont GE labeling law.  This work resulted in a great victory earlier this year, when the federal district court upheld this groundbreaking law. But, now, the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association, Snack Food Association, and other plaintiffs have appealed the decision, trying to halt the law’s implementation.

So we’re heading back to court on October 8th – and I’ll be there to defend your right to know.

As we have in many other states, CFS advised the State and Vermont groups on the crafting of the legislation for several years leading up to the GE labeling law’s passage in 2014, and has defended the Vermont GE labeling law in court since May 2014.

The Vermont case has huge implications for the rest of the country. Why? Because it’s the first case challenging any state labeling law and as such will set a legal precedent.

Winning this case will establish that state GE labeling laws are lawful, rejecting industry’s claims that they have a constitutional right to keep the public in dark about whether their food is genetically engineered, or that such state laws are preempted by federal law. This ruling could put to rest Big Food and Chemical’s claims that state GE labeling is unlawful. Vermont’s mandatory labeling policy will likely set the stage for more states to introduce and adopt labeling laws.

In addition to the Vermont law, CFS’s legal team is defending several other laws in court, and we have a history of winning: earlier this year, CFS won our case in Jackson County, Oregon to protect that county’s prohibition on GE crop cultivation. We are also currently defending similar laws in other counties.

George Kimbrell|Senior Attorney|Center for Food Safety

Roundup is “known to cause cancer” ‏

Chemical giant Monsanto’s herbicide, Roundup, has all but obliterated the monarch butterfly population. To be more precise, the Center for Food Safety has said that the monarch population has declined by 90 percent in less than 20 years!

And it doesn’t stop there. The key ingredient in RoundUp, glyphosate, has been linked to a host of environmental and health issues. The effects of it are so dangerous that California just became the first state to announce its intent to label glyphosate as a chemical “known to cause cancer.”

The evidence against Monsanto’s Roundup is mounting.

Glyphosate doesn’t just kill weeds. The chemical has also been linked to a rise in celiac disease, Alzheimer’s, obesity, cancer and others conditions. Despite these findings, the EPA still considers the chemical to be safe. This could have something to do with Monsanto’s corporate lobbyists and the company’s financial backing to fight against regulations like these for years.

The benefits for Monsanto are not enough to justify the potential long-term risks glyphosate and Roundup pose to our health and the environment.

Last month, 30,000 SierraRise activists raised their voices to stop a dangerous merger between Monsanto and Syngenta. Without this combined action, the new monster corporation would have owned more than 35% of the world’s seed supply and had more power to put our food, health and the environment in danger.

Now it’s time to help strike another devastating blow to Monsanto before its too late.

Speak up now to protect our crops and the planet from Monsanto’s toxic Roundup. Tell the EPA to label glyphosate as a known carcinogen.

Courtney-Rose Dantus|SierraRise|9/29/15

Monsanto Sued by Farm Workers Claiming Roundup Caused Their Cancers

Two separate U.S. agricultural workers have slapped lawsuits against Monsanto, alleging that Roundup—the agribusiness giant’s flagship herbicide—caused their cancers, and that the company “falsified data” and “led a prolonged campaign of misinformation” to convince the public, farm workers and government agencies about the safety of the product.

The first suit, Enrique Rubio v. Monsanto Company, comes from Enrique Rubio, a 58-year-old former field worker who worked in California, Texas and Oregon. According to Reuters, he was diagnosed with bone cancer in 1995, and believes it stemmed from exposure to Monsanto’s widely popular weedkiller and other pesticides that he sprayed on cucumber, onion and other vegetable crops. Rubio’s case was filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Sept. 22.

That same day, a similar lawsuit, Fitzgerald v. Monsanto Company, was filed in federal court in New York by 64-year-old Judi Fitzgerald, who was diagnosed with leukemia in 2012. She claims that her exposure to Roundup at the horticultural products company she worked for in the 1990s led to her diagnosis.

The plaintiffs have accused the company of falsifying the safety of the product and putting people at risk.

Fitzgerald’s suit states:

“Monsanto assured the public that Roundup was harmless. In order to prove this, Monsanto championed falsified data and attacked legitimate studies that revealed its dangers. Monsanto led a prolonged campaign of misinformation to convince government agencies, farmers and the general population that Roundup was safe.”

The main ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, was listed as a possible human carcinogen six months ago by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer arm of the World Health Organization.

One of Rubio’s attorneys expects more lawsuits against the company, which is the world’s leading producer of glyphosate, will follow.

“I believe there will be hundreds of lawsuits brought over time,” said attorney Robin Greenwald, who brought the case.

Monsanto has furiously denied these claims and says its products are safe.

“Decades of experience within agriculture and regulatory reviews using the most extensive worldwide human health databases ever compiled on an agricultural product contradict the claims in the suit which will be vigorously defended,” spokeswoman Charla Lord told Reuters.

The agricultural and biotech company is battling a string of negative health and safety accusations.

Earlier this month, California’s Environmental Protection Agency issued plans to list glyphosate as known to cause cancer.

Additionally, an appeals court in Lyon, France upheld a 2012 ruling against Monsanto, in which the company was found guilty of the chemical poisoning of a farmer named Paul François. Monsanto plans to appeal the decision to a higher court.

Lorraine Chow|September 30, 2015

How to Tell if Produce is Organic in 2 Seconds

If you’re unsure about the nature of supermarket produce, here’s the giveaway.

Some people have strict standards about eating organic fruits and vegetables. Some supermarket produce sections are poorly labeled or in enough disarray that knowing what was grown in which way can be challenging. If either of these fates have ever befallen you, meet your friend, the PLU sticker.

PLU (or Price Look Up) codes are the 4- or 5-digit numbers on produce stickers that have been used by supermarkets since 1990. They represent a globally standardized system implemented by the International Federation for Produce Standards (IFPS), a group of national produce associations from around the globe. While the long-term objective of the organization is to improve the supply chain efficiency of the fresh produce industry, consumers can glean information from the codes as well.

The PLU number indicates produce items based on a number of factors such as commodity, variety, growing methodology (e.g. organic), and size. Numbers are assigned by the IFPS after rigorous review at both national and international levels.

Organic pear
Joy/flickr/CC BY 2.0

The system is based on 4-digit codes that are within the 3000 and 4000 series. The numbers are assigned randomly, that is, each digit does not imply anything specifically, just an overall identification number. As an example, a small Fuji apple has the code of 4129, a large Fuji apple has the code 4132.

At the supermarket that may not be so helpful in and of itself, until you know this: If the 4-digit number is preceded by a 9, it indicates that it was grown organically. 94416 in the photo above? An organic large Anjou pear; a conventionally grown large Anjou pear would be 4416. So any 5-digit number that starts with a 9 identifies the produce as organic.

At one point the 4-digit number preceded by an 8 indicated a GMO product, but that system is being discontinued because, according to the IFPS, those PLU codes never made it to the retail level anyway and the organization needs more digits to assign for incoming code requests. (I’m guessing I’m not the only one here that would love such an easy way to identify GMO produce, alas.)

Basically, the PLU codes can be helpful to consumers in a few ways. Primarily, as an easy way to identify conventional versus organic produce at the market. But they can also come in handy when you get home and aren’t sure what variety of something you may have purchased. What in the world was that perfect pear? Just type in the sticker’s code at the IFPS database and voila.

All of this said, if you shop at a farmers market, produce there will not be wearing a sticker. But you can also find out in two seconds whether or not the item is organic. Ask the farmer, they’ll tell you much more than a sticker can.

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.

Melissa Breyer|TreeHugger|September 29, 2015

More herbicides!

Monsanto’s new genetically engineered (GMO) corn spells even more trouble than the company’s infamous Roundup Ready GMO corn.

These GMO crops are genetically engineered to survive when sprayed with herbicides designed to kill surrounding weeds. Monsanto has been altering crops to withstand Roundup for years, but over time the weeds have adapted. Now these “super weeds” won’t die with just a spray of Roundup.

Monsanto’s solution? More herbicides!

But spraying more chemicals threatens our food and environment — this is not a solution!

To tackle the super weeds, this new GMO corn has been altered to withstand not only Roundup, but also the herbicide dicamba — a harsh chemical that threatens the health of the public, the livelihoods of farmers and the environment. We don’t need more chemicals on our food! Say no to new GMO corn!

Another dangerous feature of dicamba is that it’s particularly “drift prone” — meaning that it is more likely to move after it’s sprayed. Dicamba would threaten nearby fields, which is a big problem for neighboring crops that AREN’T dicamba-resistant!

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considering Monsanto’s new GMO corn proposal right now and is accepting public comments. We are calling on the USDA to complete a full environmental review before they move forward — a perfectly reasonable request considering we don’t know how this GMO corn will impact farm workers or the general public in the long run, or how making a crop resistant to multiple chemicals will impact the corn.

If the USDA can’t prove that the corn is safe to grow, they should not approve it at all!

We know we don’t need another GMO corn, and we don’t need more chemicals sprayed on our crops.

Caitlin Seeley George|Online Campaign Organizer|Food & Water Watch

Shell Shocker?

Nothing brightens a Monday morning like this kind of news: “Shell pulls the plug on Arctic exploration.” With a single headline, the fight to protect the Arctic from a major offshore oil spill has reached the best kind of ending.  

With hindsight, though, maybe the news isn’t really that surprising. Shell’s decision to push forward with exploratory drilling in the Arctic was so unpopular that even another oil executive criticized it. And that’s nothing compared with the outrage it sparked around the nation. Who could forget the sight of hundreds of activists in Portland and Seattle swarming Shell’s drilling ship with kayaks and dangling from the St. Johns Bridge to block the departure of its icebreaking ship?

Although the Obama administration chose to allow Shell to pursue its leases, the writing was on the wall. Shell acknowledged as much when it said that a “challenging and unpredictable” regulatory environment was part of the basis for its decision. Translation: With each passing year (and Shell’s timetable for Arctic development was measured in decades) resistance was only going to increase, and Shell was going to face even greater losses than the $7 billion it had already sunk into the project. All along, the real question was how long it would take for someone to wake up and pull the plug. Today, we got our answer.

This is a big victory, but I’m ready to predict that it won’t be an anomaly. Yes, oil corporations are some of the richest and most powerful in the world. Yes, they have virtually unlimited resources for launching lies, rejecting reality, and fully funding fear. And yes, there will likely be future foolhardy attempts to drill in the Arctic, whether it’s by Shell or other companies. But over the long haul, we are going to keep winning victories like this one. That’s because, as Shell just demonstrated, Big Oil often acts like its own worst enemy.

Here’s another recent example: In California, the oil lobby managed to kill a proposed legislative goal of reducing oil consumption 50 percent by 2030. As a columnist for the Sacramento Bee wrote: “Using millions of dollars, the [oil industry] consultants warned people in misleading television ads and mailers that there would be rationing and that minivans could be banned.” He also noted: “The oil industry spent no less than $17.2 million on California state campaigns in the 2013-14 election cycle. That kind of money guarantees a great deal.”

But in its desperation to preserve its near monopoly on transportation, what the oil industry really did was light a fire under Governor Jerry Brown. “This is one skirmish,” he said, “but I’ll tell you it’s increasing the intensity of my commitment to do everything I can to make sure we reduce oil consumption in California. My zeal has been intensified to a maximum degree.”

Can there be any doubt that California will continue setting the standard for climate action in the U.S. — while outperforming the nation in job and gross domestic product growth at the same time? My money is on the governor’s zeal, and the movement behind that will make sure no politician’s zeal ever wavers.

Then there is what’s happening up north in Canada. The rush to cash in on dirty tar sands is a case study in reckless greed on a scale so monumental that it becomes impossible to ignore. Yet, this year, voters in Alberta, which is ground zero for tar sands, ended 44 years of Conservative party rule, bringing in a new premier who has pledged to strengthen environmental regulations and take action to curb the province’s rapidly rising greenhouse gas emissions.

Of course, the outrage over tar sands began reaching critical mass more than a year ago, when opposition to the KXL tar sands pipeline helped inspire the largest climate rally in history. And just last week, Hillary Clinton announced that she, like her fellow contenders for the Democratic nomination, is opposed to Keystone XL. Once again, we can see the tide turning.

Still, notwithstanding victories like today’s, the challenge of going up against Big Oil remains daunting. But when you combine the growing promise of clean energy and clean vehicles with the growing power of a diverse, multi-generational movement with the propensity for oil corporations to trip over their own greed, the playing field begins to look a lot more level and the future beyond oil starts to look a lot nearer.

Michael Brune|Sierra Club|September 28, 2015

Public lands are not for private profits

America’s public lands are being sold at bargain prices for oil, coal and gas extraction — making the world’s wealthiest companies richer, and making the world’s climate crisis worse.

Some of the world’s richest energy companies — like ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, and Arch Coal — are exploiting and degrading America’s public lands and offshore waters, causing serious harm to the health of communities and sending massive carbon pollution into the atmosphere through increasingly extreme extraction methods. Today, more than 65 million acres of public lands are already leased to the fossil fuel industry — that’s 55 times the size of Grand Canyon National Park! Mining, drilling, and fracking for coal, oil, and gas on publicly owned lands accounts for an astonishing one-quarter of the United States’ climate change emissions.

The federal government enables this destruction at a tremendous cost to the U.S. taxpayer by selling off our national forests, grasslands, deserts, oceans, and sacred heritage sites for pennies on the dollar — incredibly, for as little as $2 an acre. The antiquated and opaque federal fossil fuel leasing program transfers vast amounts of public wealth into private hands by auctioning off public lands and offshore waters for corporate profit.

Today, Rainforest Action Network is releasing a groundbreaking new report, Public Lands, Private Profits, that pulls back the curtain on this corporate giveaway of America’s treasured public lands. For example, just 15 huge fossil fuel companies — such as Shell, Chevron and BP — control 36% of leased federal land. These “Filthy 15” dirty energy corporations generate millions of dollars of profit every year by abusing our shared national resources, shaping our environmental future for generations to come. Between them, they’re responsible for a horrific legacy of environmental disasters: offshore oil spills, explosions, pipeline ruptures, and household water contamination, resulting in multi-million dollar settlements.

President Obama has the constitutional authority to issue an Executive Order to immediately end the outdated practice of fossil fuel leasing on public lands and offshore waters. With a stroke of his pen, he could stop bankrolling wealthy energy corporations, prevent environmental destruction, preserve the heritage of Indigenous sacred sites, and slow the disastrous effects of climate change. He could keep a staggering 450 billion tons of carbon pollution out of the atmosphere — almost half of all potential emissions from remaining U.S. fossil fuels. By contrast, the president’s Climate Action Plan, if fully implemented, would keep less than 6 billion tons of carbon out of the air. If President Obama wants a truly lasting climate legacy, he should end fossil fuel leasing on public lands.

Ruth Breech|Climate and Energy Senior Campaigner|Rainforest Action Network|9/28/15

What’s next after Keystone? Fighting fossil fuel extraction on public lands

Earlier this month, in New York City, — the organization most associated with the campaign against Keystone XL — nearly filled the 2,090-seat opera house at the Brooklyn Academy of Music for headliners Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein to talk about climate change. That many people listening to a couple of nonfiction writers discuss an environmental problem is an impressive feat. The audience cheered loudly throughout and you could feel the political power in the room.

At one point, McKibben put on the screen above the stage a list of major sources of fossil fuels that must stay unreleased if we are to keep below 2 degrees Celsius of warming and avert the most catastrophic effects of climate change. Almost all of the examples, such as a massive coal deposit in Australia, were abroad. But there was one in the U.S.: federally owned deposits of oil, gas, and coal offshore and on public land.

You could say that was a hint about what will succeed the fight over Keystone as the next major grassroots anti–climate change effort: calling for a presidential ban on extracting fossil fuels offshore and on federal land. “The public lands stuff is emerging as a big focus for all of the groups,” says Karthik Ganapathy, a spokesperson for

Now that Hillary Clinton has announced her opposition to Keystone, the pipeline proposal that seemed like it would never go away now looks like it finally will. The pressure on President Obama to reject it has filtered upward from the climate activists to Obama’s own former secretary of state and his party’s likely nominee to succeed him. Obama is expected to announce his decision on the pipeline in a matter of weeks or months, and it’s widely believed that he’ll say no.

And so that raises a question: What is next? So much energy has gone into stopping this pipeline and so much activist capacity and awareness has been built up to fight it. Stopping the pipeline is only one small part of the larger agenda to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Climate scientists say that 80 percent of the world’s fossil fuels that are already held in reserve by fossil fuel companies cannot be burned if we are to stay below 2C. The Canadian tar sands that Keystone XL would have connected to U.S. pipelines are only one small part of that.

In fact, with the Keystone saga having dragged on longer than anyone expected, environmental groups have already begun their pivot toward focusing on public lands. They have formed the Keep It in the Ground coalition, which includes many of the same groups —, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club — that led the national fight against Keystone. It also includes groups working to protect individual areas such as the Arctic Ocean and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.

About half of unexploited fossil fuels in the U.S. are on federal lands or in federally controlled offshore waters, and 91 percent of those have not (yet) been leased, according to a report commissioned by Friends of the Earth and the Center for Biological Diversity. (The remainder are on private land, so the president does not have direct control over whether they’re drilled or mined.) If all the currently unleased federal fossil fuels were exploited and burned, they would produce 319 to 450 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, which at the high end would constitute “more than a quarter of the total global emissions that can be released if the world is to limit global warming below 2°C.” The report concludes, “The potential emissions from unleased federal fossil fuels are incompatible with any U.S. share of global carbon limits that would keep emissions below scientifically advisable levels.” Already, over the last 10 years, burning fossil fuels from federal leasing has produced nearly 4 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

On Sept. 15, the Keep it in the Ground coalition sent a letter to President Obama calling on him to take executive action to stop all leasing of fossil fuels from federal lands and waters. The member groups also plan to send the letter out as a petition, hoping to get 1 million signatures. They write:

With the stroke of a pen, you could take the bold action needed to stop new federal leasing of fossil fuels, and to keep those remaining fossil fuels — our publicly owned fossil fuels — safely in the ground. …

The science is clear that, to maintain a good chance of avoiding catastrophic levels of warming, the world must keep the vast majority of its remaining fossil fuels in the ground. Federal fossil fuels — those that you control — are the natural place to begin. Each new federal fossil fuel lease opens new deposits for development that should be deemed unburnable.

But thus far Obama has been a disappointment to climate hawks on the issue. As their letter to Obama notes, “Your administration alone has leased nearly 15 million acres of public land and 21 million acres of ocean for fossil fuel industrialization.”

In addition to the fact that these leases need not be sold at all, environmental and public interest advocates are outraged that they are being sold at such low prices. The prices do not even reflect current market prices for the fossil fuels or the social cost of the conventional pollution spewed through their extraction, transportation, and combustion, much less the federal government’s own calculations of the social cost of carbon emissions’ contribution to climate change. They are also often being sold in non-transparent, non-competitive bidding processes. All this adds up to billions of dollars in annual corporate welfare for dirty energy companies.

In March, the Obama administration finally took its first baby steps toward addressing this perverse state of affairs. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said that her department, which manages federal lands, will consider how to reform its fossil fuel leasing programs to better serve the public interest and align with the administration’s climate change goals. But it seems like Jewell is only talking about possibly charging a little bit more for leases. After all, combatting climate change isn’t Obama’s only goal when it comes to energy policy: He is also committed to ramping up domestic production of all forms of energy. That’s why he has not only kept selling off leases for coal mining and oil and gas drilling on federal land, he has even opened up new, highly sensitive areas to drilling, such as the Arctic Ocean.

Two weeks ago, Jewell responded dismissively to the Keep It in the Ground coalition’s letter to Obama. Speaking at a press event hosted by The Christian Science Monitor, she said, “We are a nation that continues to be dependent on fossil fuels. … There are millions of jobs in this country that are dependent on these industries, and you can’t just cut it off overnight and expect to have an economy that is, in fact, the leader in the world.”

Greens reacted exactly as you would expect. “It’s really disappointing to see Secretary Jewell echoing industry talking points to defend fossil fuel extraction,” said Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica in a statement. “If she were serious about fighting global warming, she would use all the power under her discretion to keep fossil fuels in the ground.”

Jewell’s reasoning is certainly flawed. The fact that the U.S. must still burn some fossil fuels as it transitions to clean energy doesn’t mean it has to sell off more leases to extract them. The world’s fossil fuel companies already have proven reserves that contain five times more oil, gas, and coal than we can burn without destroying the atmosphere, so why sell them even more? And if supply were scarcer, prices for fossil fuels would go up, making cleaner alternatives more economically viable and helping them get adopted faster.

There are also practical, strategic reasons to organize on this issue. Like Keystone, it is a straightforward and easily digestible call to arms. It is also something the president can do without Congress — which is critical, because Republicans have ensured through gerrymandering that they will control the House of Representatives through 2022. “What made Keystone [opposition] so successful for the climate movement was it was an easy and simple ask for the president,” says Marissa Knodel, ‎climate change campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

The tactics will also mimic those of the Keystone campaign, including civil disobedience. In Seattle and Portland this summer, kayaktivists and others associated with Greenpeace protested and even temporarily blocked Arctic-bound Shell vessels. Greenpeace is a member of the Keep it in the Ground coalition, and other members organized solidarity actions all over the country. “You will start to see direct action in the streets around every single time there is a public land leasing decision,” says Knodel. “This is going to be the next Keystone.”

The chances of success under Obama look slim. In an interview published in Rolling Stone last week, Obama defended his fossil fuel leasing policies, arguing they are economically and politically pragmatic. “Knowing there’s still going to be some energy production taking place,” Obama said, “let’s find those areas that are going to be least likely to disturb precious ecosystems, and let’s raise the standards — meaning making them more costly — but not shut them off completely, and that allows me then to have a conversation not with folks who are climate deniers, and not with folks who are adamant about their right to drill, explore and extract anywhere, anytime, but with those folks who are of two minds about the issue.”

So climate hawks are already leaning on the candidates who hope to become the next president. And if it’s a Democrat, they may have a fighting chance. Although Bernie Sanders hasn’t addressed the issue, he’s a climate hawk with strong anti-corporate bona fides. Martin O’Malley has proposed an ambitious climate agenda that includes refusing to issue offshore oil drilling permits and increasing fees for fossil fuel leases on land. Hillary Clinton has come out against Arctic drilling and for charging more for fossil fuel leases. Although activists are pushing for a complete ban on leasing, charging more for the leases might actually accomplish the same goal if the prices are raised enough to fully account for the social cost of carbon, because then the leases might be too expensive for companies to buy them.

While it’s unlikely, considering Obama and Jewell’s comments, that the current administration will raise fossil fuel leasing prices that much, never mind ban leasing altogether, climate hawks are holding out hope. With each passing day of his administration, it seems that Obama is taking climate change more seriously. As he told Rolling Stone, “What’s happened during my presidency is each time I get a scientific report [on climate change], I’m made aware that we have less time than we thought, that this is happening faster than we thought.”

Says Knodel, “The president’s visit to Alaska and the Clean Power Plan show he wants to be seen and remembered as a leader on climate change. So I’m optimistic that he’ll do something bigger to address not just emissions but the source of emissions, which is fossil fuels.”

Ben Adler|28 Sep 2015

New Report Exposes Hidden Fracking Subsidy on Public and Tribal Lands

A new, peer-reviewed report from Friends of the Earth brings to light one of Big Oil’s most overlooked subsidies: royalty-free flaring on public and tribal lands.

Bakken flaring gas at night. Photo credit: Joshua Doubek / Wikimedia Commons

Bakken flaring gas at night. Photo credit: Joshua Doubek / Wikimedia Commons

As the fracking boom spreads across the country, companies eager to tap profitable shale oil are burning away—or flaring—natural gas in record amounts. This practice increases air pollution and sends climate-busting carbon dioxide directly into the atmosphere. Last updated 35 years ago, existing federal guidelines allow widespread flaring on public and tribal lands that is almost always exempt from royalties.

“Royalty-free flaring is both a dangerous addition to climate disruption and a de facto subsidy for the oil industry,” said Lukas Ross, climate and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth. “For over a century Big Oil has been subsidized to the hilt with everything from tax breaks to royalty free-leasing. To that list we can now add natural gas flaring—and it has to stop.”


Focusing on the national epicenter of the flaring boom in North Dakota’s Bakken shale, the report, “A Flaring Shame: North Dakota & the hidden fracking subsidy,” uses data directly from Bureau of Land Management to reveal the exact amount of gas wasted by individual companies.

Findings include:

  • Between January 2007 and April 2013, the BLM permitted the royalty-free flaring of 107,573,228 mcfs of natural gas on North Dakota public and tribal lands, producing carbon dioxide equivalent to the annual emissions of more than 1.3 million cars and wasting an estimated $524 million worth of resources.
  • Although more than 50 operators received royalty-free gas, a single company—Harold Hamm’s Continental Resources—was responsible for more waste than all of the others combined, burning a grand total of 55 million mcfs of gas producing carbon emissions equivalent to more than 360 million gallons of gasoline.
  • The venting of natural gas releases methane, a greenhouse gas 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame. In North Dakota Marathon Oil vented the most of any single company with 962, 812 mcfs, equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions from more than 35,000 homes.

“As the Obama administration prepares new rules to tackle venting and flaring, it has the opportunity to end this subsidy for good,” said Ross. “For the sake of taxpayers and the climate, this loophole must be closed.”

The original data provided by the BLM is available here

Friends of the Earth|September 30, 2015

5 Ways to Stop Supporting Big Oil

Shell just abandoned their controversial project to drill for oil in the fragile Alaskan Arctic. While this is something to celebrate, we all need to look in the mirror when it comes to creating demand for such efforts, as Americans still top world oil consumption. Here are a few ways we can stop abetting Big Oil in ruining the environment.

1. Walk, ride your bike or take the bus. Seriously.

Environmentalists have called for people to use alternative transportation for years, but most of us still aren’t listening. According to Green Car Reports, we take only one in five trips without hopping behind the wheel. While interest in cars is waning, especially among millennials, more than 70 percent of petroleum goes toward transportation. That’s an average of 374.74 million gallons a day of gasoline.

Granted, public transportation can be patchy depending on where you live and walking or biking places can sometimes feel dangerous or impractical. As New Zealand activist Meghan Hughes notes, we live in an oil-dependent society. But times when we can, we should avoid driving. And if we can’t, taking steps to drive with more efficiency, like keeping tires properly inflated and disposing of inefficient cars in Cash for Clunkers programs, can save 46 billion barrels of oil, Grist reports.

2. Watch what you eat.

As sustainable food advocate Michael Pollan notes, “When we eat from the industrial food system, we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases.” In fact, he continues, with all the petroleum-based pesticides, farm equipment and processing, packaging and transportation, food production is the second highest consumer of fossil fuels in the country.

Eating locally can help because the food travels less than the typical 1,500 miles a meal takes to get to your plate. Those with lower incomes should know that they can use food stamps at their community farmers markets—and buy twice as much produce thanks to a kickback called “Double Up Food Bucks.”

3. Recognize products with hidden oil.

Alongside most plastics, companies secretly put oil in more than 6,000 products including aspirin, crayons and polyester. While its use has become ubiquitous in most households, we can take creative solutions to avoid at least some of the damage. For instance, try drinking water to relieve headaches, using beeswax crayons to draw with and buying clothing made out of natural fibers instead.

Also, while its use of petroleum is not exactly hidden, when you do use a car, recycle the used motor oil. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, it only takes 1 gallon of used oil to produce 2.5 quarts of new oil, compared to 42 gallons of the crude stuff.

4. Support legislation and politicians who support renewables.

While many voters want their legislators to care for the environment, politicians vary in the quality of their execution on that goal. The Sierra Club released a report earlier this year that reported on various representatives’ support of sustainable energy in Congress. Reelect the ones that make the cut.

You can also sound off personally on pending legislation regarding drilling and other oil issues online. Perhaps with enough support, situations like California’s recently failed bill on reducing petroleum use will have a chance.

5. Use existing information.

Hundreds of pieces advise on how to reduce U.S. oil dependence. Read some. The information isn’t new, and it isn’t any less relevant than when it was first published. Care2 walks you through more simple things you can do to use less oil here. If enough of us make an effort, we can reduce our use of this nonrenewable resource.

Emily Zak|September 30, 2015

[don’t forget, plastic is a by-product of the oil industry. If we can cut down on our use of plastic, we can avoid dumping long-lived plastic in our landfills, rivers, lakes and oceans as well as oil consumption.]

Municipal Fracking Bans

Fracking has been a hot topic in Southwest Florida this past year, with Bonita Springs outright banning the practice within their city limits this past summer with a unanimous vote by the City Council. In doing so, they were aware there was a chance they could open themselves up to lawsuits by those wishing to access resources within their borders. However, a response to the actions of the numerous Florida municipalities like Bonita that have taken a stand against fracking, whether through bans or proclamations, may not be coming through the courts. Instead, the response could be arriving by way of the Florida Legislature.

On September 17, Ray Rodrigues, the Republican Representative of District 76 in the Florida House, filed HB 191. The bill, titled “Regulation of Oil and Gas Resources” seems specifically targeted at the trend of municipalities using home rule to determine what extraction processes can or can’t be used within their boundaries.

“Preempts regulation of all matters relating to exploration, development, production, processing, storage, & transportation of oil & gas; declares existing ordinances & regulations relating thereto void,” the first lines of the summary reads, and the implications seem clear should this make it to the floor and be voted into law: the state can preempt a city’s right to self-govern when it comes to fracking.

A similar bill was filed in the Florida Senate by Senator Garrett Richter, titled SB 318, which also aimed to preempt local ordinances regarding oil and gas extraction processes. This will mark Representative Rodrigues’s third attempt to pass a bill regarding the regulation of oil and gas extraction. The previous two efforts failed.

Fracking (popular shorthand for Hydraulic fracturing) is the well-stimulation process of fracturing rock with pressurized liquid, in order to free natural gas and oil from deep rock formations below the surface of the earth.

Representative Rodrigues says that the bill is meant get out in front of fracking in the state of Florida, and impose regulations and oversight on any sites that are constructed.

“What we learned based on the Hughes Well in Collier County is that there were no requirements for fracking now as far as permitting goes,” Rodrigues said. “All a company had to do was get permitted for conventional oil extraction.”

Rodrigues said that new gas regulations were needed so that the fracking process had to go through permits, and “give the DEP the ability to look at a company’s background in not just Florida, but other states, and give DEP the authority to deny a permit.”

He also states that the bill will have language that would require the companies to disclose the chemicals they put into the ground to the government. However, controversy arises at this point, as the information on some of those disclosed chemicals is not made available to the public due to their proprietary nature.

“Everything gets turned over to DEP,” Rodrigues said. “Legally the state cannot disclose a trade secret. Bottom line is the trade secret protection exists in Federal law and state law.”

Rodrigues is unaware of any state that exempts these laws.

He also feels that the recent municipal bans on fracking are examples of cities exceeding their reach. “The state already retains authority for regulation,” Rodrigues said. “Counties and municipalities do not have the authority to grant or deny permitting in this area.”

“We saw some environmental groups encourage the municipalities to use the powers they have for zoning, to do a backdoor attempt at banning fracking,” Rodrigues said. “That’s an abuse of the limited jurisdiction that municipalities have in this arena.”

Bonita Springs Mayor Ben Nelson disagrees with Rodrigues’ take on the issue.

“I can’t help but believe they’re aware we’re not real happy about it,” Nelson said. “This is pretty repugnant to happen to any city. More so, to make this somehow retroactive to where it wipes out any existing ordinances that are relating to that, I’m not sure I’ve seen that even happen before. We expected something to come out of this, but this seems kind of aimed at what we did.”

“We’ve worked really well with the Senator (Richter) and Representative (Rodrigues) in the past on quite a few different issues,” Nelson said, and he did have a brief phone discussion with Rodrigues on Monday, September 21. He noted that they respectfully disagreed on how much sovereignty a municipality should be able to exercise in situations like these. “I’m hoping that we’ll work through this, too, and allow these city’s ordinances to stay intact.”

“We’re a municipality, in an urban area,” Nelson said. “Do you really think we shouldn’t have a say? Fracking really should come within the realm of a municipality’s ability to regulate. That’s not asking a lot.”

“We thought we had the ability and right to do what we did, and we clearly did,” Nelson said, even though he thought that fracking would never take place within his City’s limits. His aim for the ban was to remove uncertainty that could be caused by speculation. “If people want to move somewhere, and there’s speculation that we may one day have fracking within our community, maybe they won’t move here.”

Nelson feels that a debate still needs to take place on the issues of municipal needs versus the needs of the state, but says that the debate in regards to fracking in Bonita Springs “is over.”

John Scott, Group Chair of the Sierra Club Calusa Group, was also concerned about the bill’s language and what it may mean to municipalities in Florida.

“It actually has stronger language than last session’s bill in eliminating home rule,” Scott said. “You know how people talk about states’ rights, and there should be a same type of thing with local rights. We shouldn’t be told by the state that we can’t ban a particular extraction practice in a community if we don’t want it, and obviously fracking and using acid in stimulation are really bad environmental practices that could affect our drinking water.”

“If you toxify an aquifer, you can’t clean it up,” Scott said, referring to the potential harm chemicals used in fracking could cause if they leaked into drinking water supplies.

In terms of state authority versus municipal authority, Scott was skeptical about the state’s desire to give proper oversight to any fracking projects.

“It’s all well and good if the state would deny permits, but if you checked the number of permits submitted, 39 have been applied for and 37 have been approved,” Scott said. “The state rubber stamps them. If we had a strong state-level DEP that took this matter seriously, it wouldn’t be such a problem.”

Trent Townsend

Harvard Researchers Hail Cost-Effective Battery That Could Store Surplus Wind and Solar Power

The dream of a home battery—cheap, durable, safe and as big as you like—that could store solar or wind power is a step nearer reality.

Researchers from Harvard University in the U.S. report that they have tested a “flow battery” that uses cheap and abundant chemical elements, can be operated with plastic components, will not catch fire and can operate at 99 percent efficiency.

Such batteries could be used to save and store surplus wind and solar power, which could then be used at times when neither form of renewable energy can deliver.

The latest advances are based on technology already tested by the same engineers, but made more attractive with a switch to chemical components that are non-toxic, non-flammable and safe for use in homes and offices.

Electrical Action

Typically, flow batteries have exploited a metal, such as vanadium, dissolved in acid to deliver electrical action.

Kaixiang Lin, a chemistry student at Harvard, Michael Marshak, now assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Colorado, Boulder and colleagues report in Science journal that, instead of costly and difficult-to-handle metals, they have tested naturally-occurring, carbon-based molecules called quinines for the negative electrolyte component of the battery.

They had started their experiments with bromine-based electrolyte for the positive ions, but bromine is toxic and volatile. So they replaced it with a non-toxic, non-corrosive ion called ferrocyanide.

“It sounds bad because it has the word cyanide in it,” Dr Marshak says. “Cyanide kills you because it binds very tightly to iron in your body. In ferrocyanide, it’s already bound to iron, so it’s safe. In fact, ferrocyanide is commonly used as a food additive and also as a fertilizer.”

The combination of a common organic dye and a cheap food additive in alkaline, rather than acidic solutions, meant that the researchers could increase their battery voltage by 50 percent.

It also means—at least in principle—that a domestic residence could store its own surplus solar or wind power and keep the refrigerator or the central heating running after sunset or on windless days. How much a house could store would depend only on the size of the tanks that held the two electrolytes.

“This is chemistry I’d be happy to put in my basement,” says Michael Aziz, a professor of materials and energy technologies at Harvard, who has led the research. “The non-toxicity and the cheap, abundant materials placed in water solution mean that it’s safe. It can’t catch fire—and that’s huge when you are storing large amounts of electrical energy anywhere near people.”

The improved flow battery stores energy in liquids contained in external tanks (here in red and green). Photo credit: Kaixiang Lin / Harvard UniversityThe improved flow battery stores energy in liquids contained in external tanks (here in red and green). Photo credit: Kaixiang Lin / Harvard University

The storage problem has consistently been held against investment in solar and wind energy, but a safe, cheap and capacious technology could change the economics of renewable power generation.

Paradoxically, another group of researchers from the same university have, in the same week, argued that the storage shortfall might be a non-problem.

Hossein Safaei and David Keith, of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard, report in the Energy & Environmental Science journal that the supply of wind and solar power could be increased tenfold without any additional storage.

Energy Shortfall

Even though wind and solar power deliver energy intermittently, relatively-low carbon gas turbines and zero-carbon sources—such as nuclear, hydropower and biomass—could be used to make up the shortfall.

The researchers do not argue that better batteries would be of no advantage. Their case is that the absence of better batteries need not and should not, stop investment in renewables.

They are not the first to argue this. At least one group has calculated that the U.S. could get 99 percent of its energy from zero-carbon sources.

“We’re trying to knock out a salient policy meme that says you can’t grow variable renewables without a proportionate increase in storage,” Professor Keith says.

“We could cut electric sector carbon emissions to less than a third of their current levels using variable renewable, with natural gas to manage the intermittency. But this will require us to keep growing the electricity transmission infrastructure.”

Tim Radford|Climate News Network|September 30, 2015

Land Conservation

The Cost of Land Degradation? $10 Trillion a Year

We’ve long known that land degradation caused by unsustainable production and overconsumption comes at a high cost to people and the planet. Now researchers have estimated just how high that cost is: up to $10 trillion a year.

To come up with that number, 30 international research and policy institutes spent four years studying the economics of land degradation. They assessed a range of tangible ways that people benefit from nature, such as food, clean water, climate and disease regulation, nutrient cycling and poverty reduction, and determined how much these “ecosystem services” are worth in today’s economy. Beyond the lost benefits, land degradation is predicted to force 50 million people from their homes.

As much as 75 percent of this decline is from changes to land in just the past 15 years — much of which is the result of expanded agriculture, industrial development and drought. We need to rapidly shift to more sustainable practices, including eating less meat and keeping fossils fuels in the ground, before we take on any more environmental debt we can’t afford.

Read more in ScienceDaily.

Center for Biological Diversity|9/30/15

Army Corps awards second contract this year for Kissimmee River Restoration

From the Army Corps Press Release:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District has awarded its second construction contract this year for the Kissimmee River Restoration project, a large-scale Everglades restoration project spanning through Highlands and Okeechobee counties.

The $4.7 million construction contract was awarded to BCPeabody Construction Services Inc. of Tampa, Fla. on Monday (Sept. 28). The contract, known as the C-38 Reach 3 Backfill and Bass Embankment Degrade contract, will involve backfilling a portion of the channelized Kissimmee River (C-38 Canal) within the upcoming months.

“Backfilling portions of the C-38 Canal will restore pre-channelized conditions along the Kissimmee River and provide valuable ecological benefits,” said April Patterson, Jacksonville District project manager. “It will enable native plants and animals to return to the area and also restore the floodplain to its natural hydrologic function.”

Once backfilling begins, navigation will be interrupted for approximately 1.5 miles along the channelized Kissimmee River beginning at the US 98 bridge and extending south.  It is anticipated that backfilling operations will take approximately one year to complete.  Access to the river will remain open at the Istokpoga, S-65C and S-65D boat ramps.  However, navigation through the construction zone will be prohibited during this time period.

This is the second construction contract awarded for the Kissimmee River Restoration project this year.  The MacArthur Ditch Backfill construction contract was awarded Jan. 15, 2015 to Herve Cody Contractor from Robbinsville, North Carolina and is currently 22 percent complete.

“Only two additional construction contracts need to be awarded for the Kissimmee River Restoration project, Reach 2 Backfill and S-69 Weir, both of which are scheduled to be awarded within the next two years,” said Patterson. “The entire project is scheduled to be completed in 2019.”

The Kissimmee River Restoration project is a congressionally authorized undertaking sponsored by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District.  Once completed, the Kissimmee River Restoration Project will restore more than 40 square miles of river-floodplain ecosystem, including almost 20,000 acres of wetlands and 44 miles of historic river channel.

Additional information on the Kissimmee River Restoration project available at:

Florida Water Daily|September 30, 2015

How 3,000 holes in the dirt can save a barren land — and alter a social landscape

The temperature hovered near freezing as farmer Katrina Schwartz and I stood before 3,000 shallow holes stretching as far as the eye could see.

A sudden freeze had recently hit Leliefontein, a town in the South African region of Namaqualand, after a long drought, causing major livestock losses for farmers. Land had turned barren; degraded by plowing and dominated by kraalbos and renosterbos, unpalatable plants that quickly dominate the landscape, soil restoration was an urgent priority.

Hence the freshly dug holes.

But this pitted landscape — aimed at catching water and reducing erosion — is about more than rejuvenating barren soil. These tiny holes, it turns out, are small blows against a stubborn social divide in South Africa.

The great divide

Namaqualand, in the west of South Africa, is a landscape of vast open spaces, fields of wildflowers, extreme weather and poor (but tough) farming communities. Local livelihoods are threatened by increasing droughts in summer and freezing cold winters, degraded natural resources, disappearance of wildlife caused by agriculture and mining, and increased poverty — evidenced by rising unemployment levels. Land ownership here is highly polarized by race, gender and culture.

In 1956, thousands of of South African women led a landmark march against apartheid, chanting “Strike a woman and you strike a rock.” This march shook the political landscape and centralized women’s role in democratizing the country; it helped inspire a constitution that enforced human rights and gender equality, promising a better life for all South Africans. Yet decades later, things have not changed as much as many had hoped.

In communities like Leliefontein, traditional land systems and social norms have long favored men as landowners. There are some women farmers, though most farmers and herders are men. Other women in the region have frequent contact with the natural environment, where they collect veldkos (wild food such as roots, bulbs and berries), medicine and fuel wood.

Twelve years ago, when Conservation International (CI) began working in the region, human rights and gender equality were not talked about here. But as we began to talk with local communities, we saw an opportunity to effect broader change.

A new agreement

To encourage communities to take better care of their land, CI formed conservation agreements with local farmers, the majority of whom, like in most countries, are male. Under these agreements, farmers commit to reduce livestock numbers to improve rangeland conditions and to protect fragile wetlands. In return, they receive incentives such as medicine, animal feed and training to improve the health of their livestock.

As part of the agreements, men were required to attend meetings and training workshops, but most of them could not, tending to their fields or working away from home. So the women of Leliefontein began attending the meetings on behalf of their male relatives.

The result: Women began to directly influence decision-making in the community.

“I first attended the meeting and saw the training opportunities, and decided to attend all of them to learn more about farming,” Katrina Schwartz said. Women also began to benefit from the conservation agreements themselves, drawing them more actively into farming and rangeland activities.

The conservation agreements don’t just target natural resources. Supported by the government, they also have a social aspect, aimed at reducing unemployment, increasing gender equity and helping teach valuable skills through ecosystem restoration.

restoration workers dig micro catchments in South Africa

The restoration team digs micro catchments near Leliefontein, South Africa. (© CSA)

The “holes” project on the degraded rangeland is just one example of this restoration work. Schwartz led a team of 26 mostly female workers in the placement and digging of these holes 20 centimeters (8 inches) deep, which are meant to fight erosion. Called “micro catchments,” the holes are covered with red sawdust from recently felled invasive poplar trees. The holes slow the speed of runoff water, allowing more time for the water to absorb into the soil and creating a more suitable environment for native seedlings to germinate. Over the next three years, we aim to restore 274,676 hectares (678,739 acres) of communal rangeland.

Having women like Schwartz on our side has slowly brought about a dramatic change in Namaqualand — for women, men and the fragile ecosystem. After villagers started asking questions about the funny holes in the ground, Schwartz and her team were educating their community the finer points about erosion, water retention and the benefits of improved grazing.

Thanks to their salaries as restoration workers, these women are now breadwinners, and their interaction with livestock and pastureland has been transformed: They can now identify edible plants and treat animal diseases — improving the quality of the stock and enabling the women to negotiate higher prices for their animals.

As the African proverb says, “If you educate a woman, you educate a nation.”

No change overnight

Not everyone sees these changes in the community as beneficial. When a recent survey in Leliefontein asked men what they think women need in order to become more involved in farming, some echoed stereotypes that women lack the physical strength to work with stock and should stick to traditional food- and fuel wood-gathering activities.

These sentiments are not enough to stop the change that has begun. But with new changes come new questions.

The government employment guidelines require that 60% of workers in all government-funded projects be women — but how sustainable is gender equality when we attach quotas to it? If some women are going to work while their unemployed husbands stay at home, is that really better than the other way around? And what of the discontent of young unemployed men?

Government programs that focus on job creation and skill building are usually short-lived. What will it mean for these women when the contracts come to an end, especially those who don’t have livestock? How can we ensure that those lands will continue to be managed sustainably — and that communities will continue to benefit?

Being a black woman born and bred in Namaqualand, I know that as with racial tensions, addressing deep-seated gender inequalities won’t happen overnight. Each community presents a unique set of opportunities and people through which change can happen.

But village by village, women like Schwartz are proving that they are a force to be reckoned with.

Esther Engelbrecht|September 16, 2015

From rice to shrimp: How one unlikely crustacean is helping to save the Amazon

Editor’s note: Deforestation accounts for nearly 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions. As the world’s nations prepare for the U.N. climate change summit in Paris in December — their milestone for creating a global climate agreement — Conservation International (CI) is demonstrating that one of the most effective solutions may also be the simplest: leaving trees standing.

Shrimp farming in rice paddies, San Martin, Peru. (© Conservation International/photo by Alejandra Naganoma)

Shrimp ponds replace a section of rice paddies in the San Martín region of Peru. The water from the ponds is cycled into the paddies

downhill, conserving water and reducing the need for fertilizers. (© Conservation International/photo by Alejandra Naganoma)

Around the world, shrimp farms are getting a bad rap: Widespread destruction of mangrove forests that protect villages from storms. Inefficient water use. Disease.

Yet in the Peruvian rainforest, CI and partners are changing the way shrimp is raised — and helping farmers produce more food without clearing more trees.

It all began about five years ago, when CI started co-managing the Alto Mayo Protected Forest (AMPF), a national park that spans 182,000 hectares (almost 450,000 acres). Previously, resources to patrol the forest had been scarce, and 1,200 families were already living and farming inside its borders. Most of the families were migrants, drawn to the AMPF for its vast and “unclaimed” tracts of land.

“Early on, we decided that the families living within the forest’s boundaries would stay,” says Percy Summers, director of CI’s Sustainable Landscapes Partnership (SLP) in Peru. “But we needed to shift their presence from threatening the forest into being an ally.” This involved providing tools and incentives to reduce deforestation and improve their farming practices — but the incentives also ran the risk of attracting even more farmers into the protected area.

“For the plan to work inside [the AMPF], we needed to provide benefits for those living outside of the protected area as well,” Summers says. “When we looked around, we saw all these rice paddies. So we thought, ‘How can we work with the rice farmers?’”

That’s when Summers and his team found Amazonicos por la Amazona (AMPA), a nonprofit already working in nearby Tarapoto to develop shrimp ponds and a solid supply chain connecting local farmers with high-end restaurants in Lima. Due to the rising popularity of Amazonian cuisine, gourmet chefs in the city often serve dishes that feature the wild freshwater crustaceans. However, the Peruvian government has placed a national ban on the sale of wild shrimp from January to March — in accordance with the species’ reproductive cycle — to ensure a reliable stock from year to year.

Summers began working with AMPA to discuss the feasibility of converting rice paddies to shrimp ponds. By raising shrimp on land that had already been cleared for farming — and continuing to grow rice — locals could increase their incomes and the amount of food they produce while eliminating the need to cut down more trees, and also provide shrimp during the off-season.

Sweetening the deal

“We began surveying rice farmers in the area surrounding the AMPF to gauge their interest,” Summers says. “This is an option that contaminates less, recycles the water used in the shrimp ponds to fertilize the rice paddies and reduces the times during the year when the rice is inundated, thus reducing incidences of mosquito-borne dengue and malaria.” To make things even sweeter, shrimp is three times as profitable as rice.

This wasn’t enough, however, to convince the rice farmers — many of whom had been let down by similar projects in the past. “When we first started the project, nobody believed in us,” says Kelvin Navarro, AMPA’s technician working on the project. “Most people hadn’t even seen a shrimp before.” In order to get the farmers on board, the team held workshops, shared photographs, videos and diagrams, and eventually cooked shrimp from a small test crop and dined with potential beneficiaries. “Now,” Navarro says, “people call me every day.”

The perfect protagonist

The first beneficiaries to receive shrimp were Paulino Morrufo Delgado and his son Nilder. On the day I visit, they are preparing to introduce 20,000 hatchlings into the first pond. Morrufo, a wiry, weathered man with a blue baseball cap and an easy smile, stands on the bank of his freshly dug pond and talks logistics.

“[CI] isn’t the only group to come to us with an alternative to rice,” the elder Morrufo says. “In 2002, there was a macadamia project. A lot of us bought into it, and eventually they abandoned us. There wasn’t a market. If there’s no market, then that’s that.”

That’s why Summers and his team have placed as much importance on ensuring a secure market as developing the shrimp ponds themselves. Not only is the market for pond-raised shrimp wide open for three months of the year, but the team anticipates that the market for other sustainably raised, small-scale produce is on the rise as well.

“We believe the restaurant is an important vehicle for promoting conservation and consciousness in Lima, and shrimp is the easiest way to enter that market,” Summers says. “The idea is that when the restaurant begins buying shrimp to promote a farm-to-table product, they will create a demand for other local products. Then they can say, ‘This entire plate came from one producer,’ and they can tell the story of that producer and how he came to conserve the environment.”

Morrufo makes the perfect protagonist for the restaurant’s story. “I’m not a pessimist,” he says. “After the bad, you can have something good, no? Maybe I didn’t believe it in my youth, but now I believe I can have a future, and at my age, at 72 years old.” He extends his arms, as if to take in the ponds, the stream and his fields all the way down to the road.

At Morrufo’s feet, little green bean seedlings poke out of the embankment surrounding the pond. The dirt requires vegetation to prevent erosion when the rains come, and the Morrufos have ensured that no plant, and no space, is without purpose. Beans, shrimp, rice. As we walk back to the house, his son points out banana trees, mandarins and guavas camouflaged along the edge of the jungle behind their house. And coffee? “Look, it’s right there,” he laughs. The more one diversifies his crops, Nilder explains, the more security he has in the face of a bad season.

As we say goodbye and thank the Morrufo family, it seems that the road to supplying a complete, sustainable gourmet meal in Lima might not be so far away.

Paulina Jenney|September 1, 2015

Florida Forever Plan Approved, Environmentalists Encourage More Land-Buying

State Cabinet officials approved Florida Forever’s annual work plan Tuesday.  It includes several dozen plots of environmentally sensitive land.

Florida Forever is the state’s land conservation program, and Eric Draper of Audubon Florida says preservation is an important investment.

“Florida forever represents an opportunity for us to be able to make sure that the people who come to Florida have an opportunity to experience our beauty as a state,” Draper says.

In the coming year, state officials are focusing on about fifty high priority projects.

“I just want to point out a couple,” Draper goes on, “right on the top of the list is Adams ranch.  I can’t think of a more important place to invest money right now.”

The Adams ranch is a 40,000 acre plot stretching across multiple counties.  The owner, Bud Adams has been putting pieces of the property into agricultural easements for years.  He’d like to put the entirety into the state’s hands, but it might be difficult in light of funding.   

Gary Clark represents the Department of Environmental Protection on the council that oversees Florida Forever, and he explains how they evaluate projects.

“The division of state lands 2015 annual work plan focuses on the projects which protect Florida’s water resources, have funding partnerships, are conservation easements, present unique acquisition opportunities, or are substantially complete,” Clark says.

The thread running through many of these?  They’re on the less expensive side.    In his last budget proposal, Governor Rick Scott asked for $150 million for land acquisition and management, but after a budget fight the appropriation for acquisition was only about $17 million. 

Audubon Florida wants Scott to push for $150 million in the next budget, too.   But so far he’s not committing to anything.

“As you know the session is going to be coming early this year, so we’re working through that budget now,” Scott says, “hopefully we’ll continue to see our revenues grow as we—as you see our economy turning around, where we’ve added now 917,000 jobs.  So I’m optimistic that we’ll have another good budget.”

And all this comes in the wake of Amendment One, a constitutional provision seen as a way to push Florida Forever back toward pre-2008 funding levels.  Between 1990 and 2008, lawmakers gave the program 300 million dollars a year.

Nick Evans|Sep 2, 2015

Air Quality

Moms Clean Air Force sent a whopping 120,000 comments to EPA demanding a rule that would reduce the ozone that contributes to smog—a dangerous pollutant that especially harms the lungs of our children and our elderly.

Today, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy announced a rule that will reduce the allowable level of ozone in our air from 75 parts per billion to 70 ppb.

This is not as strong a protection as we had hoped it would be. This rule is at the least protective end of the range recommended by EPA’s science advisors. We wish EPA had gone further.

However, we cannot lose sight of the new rule’s significance. It is an improvement over the standard of 75 ppb that we have been living with for 7 years.

Moms Clean Air Force is glad, finally, to have a new standard. It joins recent historic achievements: America’s Clean Power Plan, the new mercury regulations, and the “good neighbor rule” that keeps states from polluting their neighbors’ air.

Our air is safer because of the work that was begun decades ago, when America’s Clean Air Act was signed into law. Since 1970, dangerous air pollution in the U.S. has been cut by 70%. And, in that time, our economy has grown by more than 240%. Don’t let polluters—who have spent tens of millions of dollars fighting this rule—tell you that clean air regulations cripple the economy. There is absolutely no proof of this.

All of us at Moms Clean Air Force—and all of you, our members—will continue to fight hard to get the best protections for our children’s, and for everyone’s, health.

Dominique Browning|Co-Founder and Senior Director|Moms Clean Air Force

Community and Environmental Groups Herald Improvements in New Oil Refinery Pollution Standards

All U.S. refineries must measure benzene in communities for the first time

EPA’s standards will give many communities a first look at how much cancer-causing benzene local refineries are releasing into the air, along with other important new health protections. This is a true legacy that this Administration can be proud of.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today released new air standards, tightening restrictions on the pollution oil refineries can emit, reducing the health risks millions of Americans face from breathing toxic air.

Port Arthur, Texas, is surrounded by eight major oil and chemical companies. Data collected by the Texas Cancer Registry indicates that cancer rates among African Americans in Jefferson County, where Port Arthur is located, are roughly 15% higher than they are for average Texans, and the mortality rate from cancer is more than 40% higher. More photos of refineries »

The new rule establishes first-ever national “fence line” monitoring requirements that direct refineries to install air monitors “on the fence” where pollution leaves oil refinery property and pours into neighboring communities. The monitors will measure the dangerous pollutant, benzene, and if benzene is too high, refineries will be required to take action to reduce their emissions.

Some 150 petroleum refineries nationwide spew out more than 20,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants each year, including chemicals linked to cancer such as benzene and toluene.

According to the EPA, the new rule reduces cancer risk and the threats of other health hazards significantly for more than one million Americans by preventing thousands of tons of toxins from being released into the air every year.

Other improvements include:

  • New monitoring and operating requirements to minimize pollution from the harmful burning of waste gas, called flaring.
  • Tighter control requirements on emissions from various parts of refineries like delayed coker units and storage tanks.
  • Removal of an unlawful loophole, which enabled refineries to get away with dangerous, uncontrolled releases of pollutants when refineries are starting up, shutting down, and malfunctioning.

EPA took action to review and update these standards as a result of a 2012 settlement in a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project on behalf of community and environmental groups in California, Louisiana, and Texas when the EPA missed its deadline under the Clean Air Act to review toxic air standards for oil refineries.

Groups involved in the case are heartened to see the EPA finally take action that is more than 10 years overdue. These standards are especially needed to bring new protections for public health to all exposed communities, which are disproportionately lower income and communities of color, in which children are particularly vulnerable to toxic exposure.  Yet they also highlight the need for the EPA to keep working to further strengthen protections for communities from refineries’ pollution and the health and safety hazards they cause.

The groups emphasize that further work will be essential to fully implement the new standards and ensure that all refineries eventually use the best available monitoring technology in place at some facilities to assure communities the protection from pollution that all Americans deserve.   

The EPA should have:

  • Required monitoring technology that would offer reports on air pollution in real time (instead of requiring just passive sampling that collects data on two-week averages).
  • Set a lower, more protective level of benzene at which corrective action will be required.
  • Prohibited all uncontrolled air pollution emissions from pressure relief valves and other similar devices.
  • Prohibited the routine use of the burning of waste gas, through flaring, which releases hundreds of tons of pollution into the air.

EPA has significantly underestimated the harm communities face from refineries because it has not updated its approach to follow the best available current science on the real-world impacts communities face from pollution.  Every extra case of cancer in affected communities is too many.  

Lisa Garcia, Earthjustice Vice President for Healthy Communities, called the new standards a definite benefit for communities but said further strengthening is needed. “EPA’s standards will give many communities a first look at how much cancer-causing benzene local refineries are releasing into the air, along with other important new health protections. This is a true legacy that this Administration can be proud of,” she said, adding, “We will keep fighting so that all refineries comply with the standards and ultimately are required to use the best available safeguards from hazardous pollution so all Americans, from all walks of life, get the protection they deserve to prevent cancer and other safety hazards caused by refinery pollution, before they happen to our children and to our families.”

“We applaud EPA for adopting new regulations that will reduce toxic emissions from refinery flares and better protect communities from unnecessary exposure.  The changes, requiring better monitoring and operation of refinery flares are common-sense requirements and are long-overdue.  At the same time, we believe that EPA underestimated the full toxic burden from refineries and that the Agency should have updated its risk analysis to account for its recent findings that flares and other refinery sources release significantly more pollution than previously reported,” said Sparsh Khandeshi, staff attorney, Environmental Integrity Project, which filed the 2012 lawsuit along with Earthjustice.  

Lisa Garcia|Earthjustice|Vice President for Healthy Communities|September 29, 2015

EPA moves to restrict ozone emissions

Environmentalists, business groups alike find fault

WASHINGTON The Obama administration put new restrictions on smog-causing ozone production Thursday — rules that business groups denounced as job killers yet some environmentalists say don’t go far enough.

The new rules are designed to “protect people’s health, as well as the environment,” said Gina McCarthy, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

While praising the new restrictions as steps in the right direction, the American Lung Association urged the administration to go further in cutting the ozone pollutant that has been linked to asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

“We will continue to push toward a stronger standard that both follows the science and fully protects health,” said Harold P. Wimmer, national president and CEO of the American Lung Association. Manufacturing groups, noting that ozone is a byproduct of power plants, factory smokestacks and vehicle tailpipes, said that the restrictions aren’t as bad as they could have been but will restrict their activity nonetheless.

Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, called the rule “overly burdensome, costly and misguided” and said it will “inflict pain on companies that build things in America — and destroy job opportunities for American workers.”

The new rules, issued just ahead of a court-ordered deadline, would restrict ozone production to 70 parts per billion, lower than the current 75 parts per billion but at the higher end of options considered by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The American Lung Association and other groups had urged the EPA to go as low 60 parts per billion.

The new rules came after battles between the Obama administration and congressional Republicans about other new environmental regulations covering coal-fired power plants and small bodies of water.

David Jackson|USA TODAY


EPA Announces $7 Million in Funding to Reduce Diesel Emissions from School Buses ‏


September 28, 2015

EPA Announces $7 Million in Funding to Reduce Diesel Emissions from School Buses

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is announcing the availability of approximately $7 million in funding for rebates to public and private school bus fleet owners for the replacement and retrofit of older school buses. Replacing these buses that have older engines will reduce diesel emissions and improve air quality. 

“Our kids spend a lot of time on the school bus, and buses spend a lot of time in our neighborhoods and schoolyards.  They are a national symbol of safety,” said Janet McCabe, Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “Significantly improving school bus fleets across the country with retrofits, replacements, and idle reduction practices is imperative in meeting the Agency’s goal of reducing children’s exposure to air toxics.”

New to this year’s program is the option of implementing retrofit technologies.  Fleet owners can install Diesel Oxidation Catalysts (DOC) plus Closed Crankcase Ventilation (CCV) systems to reduce emissions by up to 25 percent, and they can replace older buses with newer ones that meet the latest on-highway emission standards as in previous EPA rebate programs.  EPA will pay up to $3,000 for each DOC plus CCV, and between $15,000 and $25,000 per replacement bus, depending on the size.

Applicants may request up to 10 buses for replacement and up to 10 buses for the retrofit option on each application.  Fleets with more than 101 buses currently in operation may submit two applications.

Many of the nation’s school buses are powered by diesel engines. EPA standards for new diesel engines make them more than 90 percent cleaner than older ones, but many older diesel engines remain in operation and predate these standards.  Older diesel engines emit large quantities of pollutants such as particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). These pollutants are linked to health problems, including aggravated asthma, lung damage and other serious health issues.

Public school bus fleets and those owned privately but contracted with a public school system are eligible to apply for rebates to replace school buses with engine model years of 2006 or older.  They may also apply to install DOC plus CCV technology on school buses with engine model years 1994-2006.

EPA will accept applications from September 28 to October 30, 2015. 

This is the third rebate program offered under the Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA) reauthorization to fund cleaner school buses.  Nearly 25,000 buses across the country have already been made cleaner as a result of DERA funding.

To learn more about the rebate program, applicant eligibility and selection process, and informational webinar dates:

Questions may be directed to

Connect with EPA Region 4 on Facebook:
And on Twitter: @EPASoutheast

CONTACT: Dawn Harris Young (News Media Only) 404-562-8421 404-562-8327 (Non media only)

Volkswagen CEO Resigns as NOxGate Crisis Spirals


In Germany, Dr. Martin Winterkorn has resigned as CEO of Volkswagen Group AG. No successor has yet been named.

The VW board indicated that a new CEO will be named by Friday, and that further changes in personnel would happen rapidly as an investigation into a scheme to defraud emissions regulators on NOx emissions unfolds.

“I am shocked by the events of the past few days,” Winterkorn said in a statement distributed via the company website. “Above all, I am stunned that misconduct on such a scale was possible in the Volkswagen Group.

“As CEO I accept responsibility for the irregularities that have been found in diesel engines and have therefore requested the Supervisory Board to agree on terminating my function as CEO of the Volkswagen Group. I am doing this in the interests of the company even though I am not aware of any wrong doing on my part.

“Volkswagen needs a fresh start – also in terms of personnel, I am clearing the way for this fresh start with my resignation. I have always been driven by my desire to serve this company, especially our customers and employees. Volkswagen has been, is and will always be my life.

“The process of clarification and transparency must continue. This is the only way to win back trust. I am convinced that the Volkswagen Group and its team will overcome this grave crisis.”

As Biofuels Digest reported, a six-year Volkswagen scheme to defraud emissions regulators, uncovered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and disclosed publicly in recent days, is leading to more investigations.

In Washington, EPA issued a notice of violation of the Clean Air Act to Volkswagen AG, Audi AG, and Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. alleging that four-cylinder Volkswagen and Audi diesel cars from model years 2009-2015 carry a “defeat device” which circumvents EPA emissions standards for certain air pollutants.

Specifically, the EPA alleges that a sophisticated software algorithm on certain Volkswagen vehicles detects when the car is undergoing official emissions testing, and turns full emissions controls on only during the test.

The German Government is denying reports that it “knew about VW emissions rigging but did nothing to stop it” according to a report in the UK’s Daily Telegraph. The charges stem from allegations by the German Greens that the government knew of the emissions controls devices, which prompted an ambiguous answer from the government until Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt flatly denied personally knowing of the scheme, without denying that the government as a whole was uninformed.

In Italy, regulators are not waiting on calls for an EU-wide investigation and have launched their own.

VW, meanwhile, confirmed that as many as 11 million of its cars are carrying “defeat devices” designed to evade pollution controls. The company said it has established a 6.5 billion euros pool to cover costs associated with the scandal, which could include fines, recalls or other measures aimed at restoring public trust in VW. 

Volkswagen Group share prices have fallen 35 percent this week, trading at $109.50, down from a high of $169.50 last week.

In Washington, the EPA has not yet ordered a recall of as many as 482,000 vehicles equipped with defeat devices, but is expected to do so.

Biofuels Digest previously reported on earlier announced investigations in South Korea and Switzerland, and reaction from components maker Bosch, who said it was VW’s role to integrate and design the use of any component it ordered for its vehicles.

This article was compiled from reports by Biofuels Digest and was reprinted with permission.

Jim Lane|September 24, 2015

Volkswagen scandal is a sorry sign of the times

Volkswagen was caught cheating on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency emissions tests by installing “defeat devices,” which allowed its diesel vehicles to pass nitrogen oxide emissions checks but spew up to 40 times allowable pollutants once they were completed. The scandal has resulted in plummeting share prices, CEO Martin Winterkorn’s resignation and up to $18 billion in fines, as well as recalls, stop-sale orders, impending lawsuits and possible criminal charges.

Beyond the betrayal and legal and financial issues, the effect on global pollution is massive. Volkswagen is the world’s largest automaker by sales, and as many as 11 million of its diesel vehicles are implicated. According to the Guardian, “The rigging of emissions tests may have added nearly a million tons of air pollution by VW cars annually — roughly the same as the UK’s combined emissions for all power stations, vehicles, industry and agriculture.”

Nitrogen oxide pollution creates particulate matter that causes respiratory problems and is linked to millions of premature deaths every year worldwide. It’s also a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide and so contributes to global warming.

The Volkswagen debacle is bad enough in itself, but it also raises questions about automaker practices, pollution, emissions standards and testing and the implications of our rampant car culture. Volkswagen cheated on regulations designed to protect human health and the environment, and the consequences are increased rates of asthma, lung disease, cancer and death. But it’s not just diesel cars and it’s not just vehicles from one company. Cars kill and harm millions of people every year, with accidents, pollution, climate change and other environmental damage. And car-makers have in the past resisted safety improvements such as seatbelts and air bags.

Illegally rigging vehicles to pass emissions tests hurts everyone, but legal loopholes create similar problems. Just look at SUVs. I did a quick count of the many passing my office during the afternoon, and almost all contained a single driver — no passengers or even pets! Under emissions laws in Canada, the U.S., Japan and elsewhere, SUVs are classified as “light-duty trucks” and are subject to less strict emissions standards than cars. Yet, most people treat them the same as cars.

This creates incentives for manufacturers to produce more heavy vehicles or even to design cars as trucks, such as Chrysler’s PT Cruiser. According to the Economist, “As vehicles above 3.8 tons were long exempted from the American regulation, manufacturers started producing enormous vehicles such as the Hummer to avoid any fuel-economy rules.”

Even with fuel-efficiency improvements, vehicle emissions have more than doubled since 1970 and will increase as demand rises in countries like China, India and Brazil, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Studies show that because fuel efficiency makes it less expensive to drive, people drive more. Clearly, we need better solutions.

It’s easy to say it starts with individuals. We can all find ways to reduce private automobile use. But individuals aren’t entirely to blame for our fossil-fuelled lifestyles. Incentives, regulations, policies and infrastructure are needed to create the necessary shift away from reliance on wasteful, inefficient transportation and fuel options.

We’ve seen many positive developments in recent years. In my hometown, Vancouver, and many other cities, car-sharing programs and cycling and pedestrian infrastructure are expanding rapidly. Hybrid and electric vehicle technologies are making great inroads. Recognition of the need for efficient public transit is also spreading around the world. And fuel taxes and carbon pricing have been proven effective at reducing reliance on private automobiles.

Taxing fossil fuel consumption may be more efficient than emissions standards because, as the Economist points out, fuel taxes encourage people, especially those who drive a lot, to buy more efficient cars and to drive less. And, “A fuel tax does not rely on dubious testing nor does it create distortive loopholes.” Revenue from taxes can be invested in cleaner transportation alternatives or, as with B.C.’s carbon tax, used to reduce income taxes or provide rebates to people with lower incomes.

It’s outrageous that a car manufacturer like Volkswagen would stoop to devious practices to get around laws designed to benefit all people, but in our car-driven culture, it’s not entirely surprising — just another signal that it’s time to rethink the way we move ourselves around.

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington


25% of Fish Sold at Markets Contain Plastic or Man-Made Debris

Roughly a quarter of the fish sampled from fish markets in California and Indonesia contained man-made debris—plastic or fibrous material—in their guts, according to a study from the University of California, Davis and Hasanuddin University in Indonesia.

The study, published last week in the journal Scientific Reports, is one of the first to directly link plastic and man-made debris to the fish on consumers’ dinner plates.

“It’s interesting that there isn’t a big difference in the amount of debris in the fish from each location, but in the type—plastic or fiber,” said lead author Chelsea Rochman, a David H. Smith postdoctoral fellow in the Aquatic Health Program at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “We think the type of debris in the fish is driven by differences in local waste management.”

“Waiter, There’s Some Plastic in My Fish”

The researchers sampled 76 fish from markets in Makassar, Indonesia and 64 from Half Moon Bay and Princeton in California. All of the fragments recovered from fish in Indonesia were plastic. In contrast, 80 percent of the debris found in California fish was fibers, whereas not a single strand of fiber was found in Indonesian fish.

Indonesia has little in the way of landfills, waste collection or recycling and large amounts of plastic are tossed onto the beaches and into the ocean. The problem is made worse by a lack of purified drinking water that forces its residents to drink bottled water.

“Indonesia has some of the highest marine life richness and biodiversity on Earth and its coastal regions—mangroves, coral reefs and their beaches—are just awash in debris,” said co-author Susan Williams, a professor with the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory who has worked on projects in Indonesia for the past several years. “You have the best and the worst situation right in front of you in Indonesia.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. has highly advanced systems for collecting and recycling plastics. However, most Californians wash their clothing in washing machines, the water from which empties into more than 200 wastewater treatment plants offshore California. The authors theorize that fibers remaining in sewage effluent from washing machines were ingested by fish sampled in the state.

“To mitigate the issue in each location, it helps to think about local sources and differences in waste management strategies,” Rochman said.

It Takes Guts

The scientists emphasize that the plastic and fibers are found in the fishes’ guts. That means humans are likely to ingest the debris only if the fish is eaten whole, as it is in Indonesia or such as with sardines and anchovies, rather than filleted. However, researchers are still studying whether chemicals in plastic can transfer into the meat.

Marcus Eriksen, co-founder of 5 Gyres Institute, caught this fish, which had particles of plastic in its stomach.

Marcus Eriksen, co-founder of 5 Gyres Institute, caught this fish from the bank of the Mississippi River, which had particles of plastic in its stomach. Photo credit: Marcus Eriksen

The study was funded by a UC Davis Outreach and International Program SEED Grant, the National Science Foundation’s Graduate K-12 and IGERT programs and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ Superfund Research Program.

University of California, Davis|September 30, 2015

Styrofoam-eating worms can fight plastic waste

Mealworms are able to safely subsist on a diet of polystyrene, researchers have found, raising hopes for more effective ways to rein in the worldwide plague of plastic pollution.

mealworms eating Styrofoam

Researchers have discovered that darkling beetle larvae, aka mealworms, can subsist on Styrofoam. (Photo: Yu Wang/Stanford University)

Plastic waste is piling up in ecosystems around the world, especially oceans. One of the most vexing types is Styrofoam, as well as other polystyrene foams, which are rarely accepted by recycling programs and can take centuries to break down. In the U.S. alone, an estimated 2.5 billion plastic-foam cups are discarded every year.

Like other plastic, polystyrene is dangerous to many animals that mistake it for food. But according to new research, at least one animal can safely eat this ubiquitous litter. That animal — the larvae of darkling beetles, better-known as mealworms — is now raising hopes that nature may yet give us a hand cleaning up our mess.

Scientists at Stanford University have discovered that mealworms can subsist on a diet of Styrofoam and other polystyrene, which is then biodegraded by microbes in the worms’ digestive systems. This is among the first detailed evidence of bacteria degrading plastic in an animal’s gut, the authors say, and if we can figure out the details, it could be a game-changer for our efforts to manage plastic waste.

“Our findings have opened a new door to solve the global plastic pollution problem,” says co-author Wei-Min Wu, a senior research engineer at Stanford, in a statement.

The researchers gave Styrofoam to 100 mealworms in a lab setting, where the larvae ate between 34 and 39 milligrams per day. They converted about half of that material into carbon dioxide — as they would any food source — and excreted most of the rest as tiny pellets that reportedly resemble rabbit droppings.

Mealworms that ate a steady diet of Styrofoam remained as healthy as those fed bran flakes, the study’s authors report, and their droppings are even safe enough to use as soil for growing crops. Yet while all the signs are promising so far, the researchers will still keep track of the how these plastic-eating mealworms fare over time — and how they affect larger animals that eat them.

In previous research, Wu and others found that waxworms (the larvae of Indian meal moths) also harbor gut microbes than can biodegrade polyethylene, a plastic commonly used in trash bags. But the new research seems particularly promising, given the durability and abundance of polystyrene, as well as the apparent lack of toxic byproducts from mealworms after they ingest it.

“There’s a possibility of really important research coming out of bizarre places,” says Craig Criddle, an engineering professor who leads a team of Stanford researchers in an ongoing collaboration with Chinese scientists to investigate the biodegradation of plastics. “Sometimes, science surprises us. This is a shock.”

Now that mealworms have pulled off this feat, the researchers hope to learn what else the larvae can eat. They plan to study whether microbes in mealworms and other insects can break down plastics such as microbeads or polypropylene, a common ingredient in products ranging from textiles to car parts. By studying this process in detail, their goal is to devise more potent enzymes for breaking down plastic waste, or to produce plastics that are easier to biodegrade.

They’re also looking for “a marine equivalent of the mealworm,” they add, to take a bite out of the roughly 8 million tons of plastic that enter Earth’s oceans every year.

It’s encouraging that mealworms and other bugs might make a dent in plastic waste, but they’re still no substitute for recycling, the researchers say. The U.S. produces about 33 million tons of plastic every year, only 10 percent of which is recycled. It would take a lot of larvae to eat the remaining 29.7 million tons, so as Wu tells CNN, the immediate answer to our plastic problem is to throw less away.

“We need to be better at recycling,” he says. “We shouldn’t waste plastic anywhere.”

Russell McLendon|October 1, 2015

Major Fertilizer Producer Mosaic Fertilizer, LLC to Ensure Proper Handling, Storage & Disposal of 60 Billion Pounds of Hazardous Waste

Manufacturer committing close to $2 billion in funding to address environmental impacts from fertilizer production

WASHINGTON The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) today announced a settlement with Mosaic Fertilizer, LLC that will ensure the proper treatment, storage, and disposal of an estimated 60 billion pounds of hazardous waste at six Mosaic facilities in Florida and two in Louisiana. The settlement resolves a series of alleged violations by Mosaic, one of the world’s largest fertilizer manufacturers, of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which provides universal guidelines for how hazardous waste must be stored, handled and disposed. The 60 billion pounds of hazardous waste addressed in this case is the largest amount ever covered by a federal or state RCRA settlement and will ensure that wastewater at Mosaic’s facilities is properly managed and does not pose a threat to groundwater resources.

At Mosaic’s eight facilities in Florida and Louisiana, hazardous waste from fertilizer production is stored in large piles, tanks, ditches and ponds; the piles can reach 500 feet high and cover more than 600 acres, making them some of the largest manmade waste piles in the United States. The piles can also contain several billion gallons of highly acidic wastewater, which can threaten human health and cause severe environmental damage if it reaches groundwater or local waterways.

Under the settlement, Mosaic Fertilizer will establish a $630 million trust fund, which will be invested until it reaches full funding of $1.8 billion. These funds will cover the future closure of and treatment of hazardous wastewater at four Mosaic facilities—the Bartow, New Wales and Riverview plants in Florida and the Uncle Sam plant in Louisiana—as well as the long-term care of those facilities and three additional facilities that are already undergoing closure. The Mosaic Company, Mosaic Fertilizer’s parent company, will provide financial guarantees for this work, and the settlement also requires Mosaic Fertilizer to submit a $50 million letter of credit.

Mosaic will also spend $170 million on projects to reduce the environmental impact of manufacturing and waste management programs at its facilities and $2.2 million on two local environmental projects. Mosaic will also pay a $5 million civil penalty to the United States and $1.55 million to the State of Louisiana and $1.45 million to the State of Florida, who joined EPA and DOJ as plaintiffs in this case.

“This case is a major victory for clean water, public health and communities across Florida and Louisiana,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Mining and mineral processing facilities generate more toxic and hazardous waste than any other industrial sector. Reducing environmental impacts from large fertilizer manufacturers operations is a national priority for EPA, as part of our commitment to pursuing cases that have the biggest impact on protecting public health.”

“This settlement represents our most significant enforcement action in the mining and mineral processing arena, and will have a significant impact on bringing all Mosaic facilities into compliance with the law,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.  “Moreover, through this settlement, we establish critical financial assurance to cover the enormous closure and care costs at all these facilities.  This sets the standard for our continuing enforcement of RCRA in the entire phosphoric acid industry. And, it reflects our emphasis on working jointly with impacted states.”

The alleged violations in this case stem from storage and disposal of waste from the production of phosphoric and sulfuric acids, key components of fertilizers, at Mosaic’s facilities in Bartow, Lithia, Mulberry and Riverview, Florida and St. James and Uncle Sam, Louisiana. Mosaic failed to properly treat, store, and dispose of hazardous waste, and also failed provide adequate financial assurance for closure of its facilities.

As part of EPA’s National Enforcement Initiative for mining and mineral processing, the agency has required phosphate fertilizer production facilities to reduce the storage volumes of hazardous wastewaters, ensure that waste piles and ponds have environmentally-protective barriers installed, and verify the structural stability of waste piles and ponds.

Mosaic has committed to spending approximately $170 million over the next several years to implement an innovative reconfiguration of their current operations and waste management systems. The development of these of industry-leading technologies will optimize resource efficiency and decrease the amount of raw materials required to produce fertilizer. This case spurred Mosaic to develop advanced engineering controls and practices to recover and reduce some types of acid wastes that result from fertilizer production, which will reduce the amount and toxicity of the waste materials stored at Mosaic’s facilities and the severity of potential spills while cutting Mosaic’s costs for treating material at closure, which would otherwise have been categorized as hazardous waste.

Under the settlement, Mosaic will also fund a $1.2 million environmental project in Florida to mitigate and prevent certain potential environmental impacts associated with an orphaned industrial property located in Mulberry, Florida. In Louisiana, Mosaic will spend $1 million to fund studies regarding statewide water quality issues.

Mosaic produces phosphorus-based fertilizer that is commonly applied to corn, wheat and other crops across the country. Sulfuric acid is used to extract phosphorus from mined rock, which produces large quantities of a solid material called phosphogypsum and wastewater that contains high levels of acid. EPA inspections revealed that Mosaic was mixing certain types of highly-corrosive substances from its fertilizer operations, which qualify as hazardous waste, with the phosphogypsum and wastewater from mineral processing, which is a violation of federal and state hazardous waste laws.

A consent decree formalizing the settlement was lodged yesterday in the U.S. District Courts for the Middle District of Florida and the Eastern District of Louisiana and is subject to a 45-day public comment period in Louisiana, a 30 day public comment period in Florida and approval by the federal court.

For a copy of the consent decree, visit

Julia P. Valentine|U.S. EPA Media Relations


5 Myths About Shelter Cats That Are Completely Wrong

My local pet store is always crowded on Saturday mornings, when the nearby shelter brings its adorable kittens and cats, in the hopes that they will be adopted. Yet however lovable the animals are, some people hesitate because they’ve heard all kinds of myths about shelter cats, most of them just plain wrong. Let’s clear up a few misconceptions.

1. Shelter Cats Are Damaged Cats

It’s a common belief that there must be something wrong with cats that are up for adoption. Not true! Most cats end up in a shelter when their owner can’t keep them anymore; there may be financial issues, a divorce, or even a death. Whatever the problem, it becomes impossible for this person to keep caring for a kitty. In other words, these cats are often homeless through no fault of their own, and they are healthy, active animals hoping someone will take them home.



Photo Credit: thinkstock

2. It Takes A Long Time To House-Train A Shelter Cat

Along with the idea of shelter cats being damaged comes another myth: those cats are in shelters because they behaved badly, so their owners kicked them out of their homes. Again, not true. Even if a cat was brought to a shelter due to a behavior problem, there could be many reasons for that, including the previous owner’s treatment of the animal. In addition, most rescues and shelters work with cats to socialize them with other animals and often use foster homes to accustom them to both other pets and children. Don’t assume the worst about shelter kitties.

3. I Could End Up With The Wrong Kitty

This is unlikely to happen with a good rescue or shelter, since shelter workers strive to make sure your cat adoption goes smoothly and that you and their cat are a good match. This is, after all, their main objective, and since they spend a whole lot of time with their cats, they take pride in matching you up with the right kitty companion. They also may do follow-up visits; when I adopted my wonderful black cat Jaspar from a shelter in Los Angeles, a volunteer visited my home several times to make sure everything was going smoothly. To further ensure you get the right cat, many rescues even specialize in specific types, such as small cats, bigger cats, or particular breeds of cat.

4. Shelters Will Make Me Jump Through Hoops To Adopt A Cat

It’s true that there are certain procedures to follow, but this is to protect both the cat and the companion. Shelters want to make sure that their kitty is going to the best possible home; the staff working with those animals come to know them well, and want the best for them. Adopting Jaspar involved several visits to the shelter, a detailed application form to fill out, a staff member visiting my home to make sure it was suitable for Jaspar, a waiting period of 24 hours, and finally signing a contract and paying a fee. At age 14 months, Jaspar had already been abandoned twice in his life, so I understood why it was important to make sure I would be a good mom. That said, if you don’t like the way a shelter is treating you, you can always try a different shelter or rescue.


Photo Credit: thinkstock

5. A Shelter Cat Probably Has Health Issues That I’ll Have To Pay For

In my experience, quite the opposite is true. When I adopted my adorable but feisty cat Jake from a rescue in Rockville, Maryland, he had already been seen several times by a veterinarian. As a kitten, he had suffered some respiratory problems; these had been treated and I was given all the details of his medical history. I never had any health issues with him. That’s unusual, since most animals will have a health problem at some point, but I was happy to know that he had received excellent health care before he became mine. If you’re concerned, ask the people at the shelter how they evaluate the animals that come to them. Be sure to get a written copy of the evaluation and any veterinary care to keep as part of the animal’s medical record.

Have fun selecting your shelter cat!

Judy Molland|September 27, 2015

Former WWII Bomb Shelter Now World’s First Underground Farm

It’s probably the last place you would think of for growing food, but about 100 feet below London, the one-year old startup Growing Underground is producing what it calls “sustainable and mouth-wateringly fresh micro greens and salad.” It’s the world’s first subterranean farm. The site, a bomb shelter during World War II, was abandoned for 70 years until entrepreneurs Richard Ballard and Steven Dring came along.

Growing beds are stacked on top of each other inside this former World War II bomb shelter. Photo credit: Zero Carbon Food

Growing beds are stacked on top of each other inside this former World War II bomb shelter. Photo credit: Zero Carbon Food

Once fully operational, it’s estimated that the system will be able to produce between 11,000 and 44,000 pounds of produce each year. “The whole system runs automatically, with an environmental computer controlling the lighting, temperature, nutrients and air flow,” Steven Dring, co-founder of the parent company, Zero Carbon Food, told Bloomberg.

The company says, “using the latest hydroponic systems and LED technology, our crops can be grown year-round in the perfect, pesticide-free environment that these forgotten tunnels provide.” The company is currently growing radish and mustard leaf and also grows watercress, Thai basil, rocket, red vein sorrel, red amaranth, pea shoots, mizuna, micro rocket, garlic chive and coriander.

Growing Underground claims it is carbon neutral and is working on certification. And it touts a number of other environmental benefits. “Our hydroponics system uses 70 percent less water than traditional open-field farming, and because all the nutrients are kept within the closed-loop system we run no risk of contributing to agricultural run-off,” says Growing Underground. They’ve pledged that their produce will travel no further than the M25 motorway that encircles Greater London.

It’s already partnered with local food delivery company Farmdrop and is in discussions with Whole Foods, says Bloomberg. And thanks to a partnership with chef Michel Roux, Jr., the company is partnering with local restaurants to deliver farm-to-table produce in under four hours. “It’s great to be involved in this ambitious project, for which we have ambitious growth plans,” says Roux. “Above all it’s fantastic to source produce so fresh in the heart of Britain’s largest city.”

The project is just one of the many creative ways cities around the world are re-localizing agriculture. For cities with a vast underground network like London, subterranean farming makes sense. In the U.S., many cities are turning abandoned warehouses into indoor vertical farms. Sky Farms in Singapore has been heralded as “the world’s first low-carbon hydraulic driven urban vertical farm.” Mirai, a vertical farm in Japan, is producing up to 10,000 heads of lettuce a day. Newark, New Jersey will soon be home to the world’s largest indoor vertical farm, which is set to launch in November.

Cole Mellino|September 28, 2015

 Farmworkers will now be safer on the job

On Monday afternoon, EPA released new, stronger rules protecting farmworkers from on-the-job exposure to pesticides. These new rules represent a giant leap forward for the health and safety of more than two million U.S. farmworkers.

This is a huge win. And make no mistake, it would not have happened without powerful, consistent pressure from our national coalition — and the engagement of thousands of supporters.

When you sign a petition, make a phone call or email decision makers, you help create wins that matter — like this one. And donations fuel the science, organizing and communications that make it all possible.

From field hearings across the country to farmworker fly-ins for meetings with Congressional leaders, PAN and our partners worked for years to make sure that the pesticide harms farmworkers and their families face weren’t swept under the rug.

Last August, we delivered more than 200,000 petition signatures to EPA. Then we kept the pressure on with postcards, Thunderclaps, Twitter storms and more throughout the year.

Again and again, we see how powerful collective action can be. That’s exactly why PAN is a grassroots network — and with your support, we’ll keep working together to build the healthy, thriving system of food and farming we all deserve.

Judy Hatcher|Executive Director|Pesticide Action Network

  In Memoriam

  Nancy Boyle Webmaster for SFAS and a dear friend passed away on October 3 after long battle with multiple illnesses. I had the good fortune to work with Nancy on a variety of projects. Her death saddens me  and I will miss her deeply.

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 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

Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

ConsRep 1509 D

Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the earth. ~Albert Schweitzer


October 15, 2015

Registration begins October 15th for Hog Island Audubon Camp’s 6-day birding and nature programs
for adults, teens, and families at the legendary Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine.
Perennial favorites such as Field Ornithology, Joy of Birding, and Raptor Rapture return along with new expanded
weeks including two Family Camp weeks and two Fall Migration and Monhegan Island weeks.

Visit the Hog Island website for the full schedule and detailed program information. 

Spaces can be reserved with a $100 deposit as soon as sign-up links go live Oct. 15th. 

Involve your Organization

In 2015, over 60 Audubon chapters and other organizations offered scholarships to inspire their members with new experiences and leadership training.

If you are affiliated with such a group, please consider sending someone to a Hog Island program in 2016.

Space can be reserved in the organization’s name until you choose a participant.

Contact information has changed this year to our new phone number at 843-340-8673.

2016 Schedule and Camp Information

Save $50 by typing “EARLYBIRD” into the code field during registration.

Expires Dec. 15th

December 8-9, 2015 • Hilton UF Conference Center • Gainesville, Florida

The term “big data” has clearly come into the limelight recently as the capacity of organizations that collect water-related data grows at an exponential rate. 

This conference looks at efforts, both nationally and internationally, to harness the mass of information collected in the water space and convert it to

tools useful to make decisions that can efficiently manage systems, especially those that are coastal, that interconnect ecology, water resources and society. 

The interdisciplinary nature of this conference is intended to engage many areas of expertise as we grapple with mountains of information we are now capable of generating.

To become a sponsor click here

Scroll down to register

Keynote Speakers

Peter Williams, CTO of Big Green Innovations, IBM

Mr. Peter Williams, Ph.D. serves as the Chief Technology Officer of Big Green Innovations at International Business Machines Corp.

He is responsible for assembling, maintaining and developing the portfolio of businesses included, and technologies used.

His particular focus areas have been PV technologies; developing greenhouse gas reduction solutions and services; and most intensively,

water management solutions, covering entire water resources, utility infrastructures, and enterprise water management.

Mr. Williams is IBM Distinguished Engineer. He has been heavily involved in creating the intellectual foundation for IBM’s “Smarter Planet“ initiative.

His particular areas of focus are water management solutions, enterprise water management and utility infrastructures.

As such, he has had a major role in developing IBM’s water management solution framework and a number of specific areas of intellectual property within that framework.

He is a Member of Advisory Council of Emerald Technology Ventures AG. He serves as Member of Advisory Board of McRock Capital.

He holds or co-holds nine US patents with others pending. By background, he is a management consultant with over 20 years of experience in technology

and business issues together to develop novel solutions and business models. His PhD was awarded by the School of Management at the University of Bath, England, in 1986.

Steve Bourne, Atkins

Steve Bourne is North America Research and Development Chair at Atkins, one of the world’s leading design, engineering, and project management consultancies.

His climate research, water resources decision support system design, and software development and training are helping

to establish resilient cities that can react, recover, adapt, and transform to meet future needs.

A key player in Atkins’ Future Proofing Cities initiative, Bourne focuses on helping communities understand their city’s

strengths and risks, while building consensus and ownership of solutions.

Active in national water resources and GIS communities, Steve also leads cross-disciplinary teams represented by academia,

government, and private industry in developing resource management solutions.

Steve’s recent projects have focused on reviewing climate change impacts on the arctic, forecasting climate change impact on the 100-year storm in individual communities,

enabling residents to design their own stormwater systems, and examining 100-year infrastructure cost forecasting and optimization.

Greg van der Vink, Terrametrics and Princeton University

Gregory E. van der Vink was a visiting faculty member in the Department of Geosciences between 1991 and 2015,

teaching courses in environmental decision making and investigating natural hazards. 

He remains an advisor for the Ghana Project undertaken by Princeton University’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders. 

As the President and CEO of Terrametrics, van der Vink’s specializes in predicting human responses to

environmental change that impact poverty-reduction efforts and that are precursors for conflict.

Terrametrics is a firm specializing in poverty reduction, conflict mitigation, and environmentally-sustainable economic growth in the developing world.

The company is also developing a solar salt facility in Ghana to help eliminate Iodine Deficiency Disorder and the associated mental impairment among infants and children.

Robert J. Lempert (Invited), Rand Corporation
Robert Lempert is a senior scientist at the RAND Corporation and director of the Frederick S. Pardee Center for Longer Range Global Policy and the Future Human Condition.

His research focuses on decision making under conditions of deep uncertainty, with an emphasis on climate change, energy, and the environment.

Lempert and his research team assist a number of natural resource agencies in their efforts to include climate change in their long-range plans.

He has also led studies on national security strategies and science and technology investment strategies for clients such as the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Tentative Agenda

Tuesday, December 8: Ecology and Big Data

8:00 Registration Opens

9:00 AM  Welcome & Introductory Remarks – Jack Payne, VP, University of Florida IFAS

9:15 AM Keynote Address – Peter Williams, CTO of IBM’s Big Green Innovations

9:45 AM Using Big Data for Ecology – Moderator, Tom Frazer, Director of UF’s School for Natural Resources, Frank Davis, Director, National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) (Invited)

10:45 AM Break

11:00 AM Federal Perspectives on the Big Data Dilemma – Eric Bush, Chief of Planning, USACE South Atlantic Division, 

12:00 PM Lunch with Rob Lempert, Rand Graduate School of Public Policy

1:00 PM Data Research Efforts – Moderator, Gerald Corzo, UNESCO-IHE, David Tarboton, Utah State University, Dan Ames, Brigham Young University, David Maidment, University of Texas

5:30 PM Reception with NOAA’s Tools Showcase

Wednesday, December 9, Big Data and Water Management

8:00 AM Registration and Coffee

9:00 AM Keynote – Steve Bourne, Atkins – Making Data Fun

9:30 AM An International Case Study – The Dutch Digital Delta Initiative – Joost De Haan, Delfland Water Authority, 

10:45 AM Break

11:00 AM Big Data and Decision Making in Practice – Akin Owosina, or Matahal Ansar, South Florida Water Management, Donna Page, Deputy Director, NOAA National Water Center, Al Karlin, Southwest Florida Water Management District

12:00 PM Lunch with Greg van der Vink, Princeton and Terrametrics – What’s all this Noise?

1:00 PM Data and US Higher Education – Wendy Gram, Director of Educational Programs, NEON, Jay Martin, Director, OSU Global Water Institute, Kirk Hatfield, UF Engineering School for Sustainable Infrastructure & Environment

2:00 PM Integration of Data and Adaptation

Audubon Florida Naturalist Magazine Summer 2015 Now Availablehere

Save the Date!

The Forgotten Coast: Return to Wild Florida
Film Premiere
November 12, 2015
Tampa Theatre
711 N Franklin St, Tampa, FL 33602

Time and ticket details TBA!

The Florida Wildlife Corridor is pleased to partner with WUSF Public Media and the Tampa Theatre to bring

you the world premiere of the film The Forgotten Coast: Return to Wild Florida.

Join the Glades to Gulf Expedition team and the filmmakers from Grizzly Creek Films

as they share the story of a journey through forgotten Florida.

Stay tuned for the film trailer release and more information on how to get your tickets to the premiere!

Thank you to all our Expedition and Film Sponsors!

Save the Date

Join us for the Everglades Coalition’s 31st Annual Conference,

to be held January 7-10, 2016 at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, FL.

The conference’s theme: “Voices of the Everglades: All for Restoration”

Visit our website for event details, including how to make hotel reservations.

Reserve your room early to take advantage of discounted conference rates.

Conference early registration will begin Oct 15th.

Seventh Annual Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Summit Program ‏

December 1-3, 2015

Click here to view the

Seventh Annual Southeast Florida



Of Interest to All

Sunday’s lunar eclipse will feature a ‘Supermoon’

It hasn’t happened in 32 years, and won’t for another 18 years: Sunday evening, a total lunar eclipse will coincide with a “Supermoon.”

A lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth is between the full moon and the sun. The Earth’s shadow covers the moon, which often has a red color, hence the “blood” moon nickname.

Although it’s completely in the shadow of Earth, a bit of reddish sunlight still reaches the moon. The total eclipse will start at 10:11 p.m. EDT Sunday evening and will last one hour and 12 minutes. It will be visible across North and South America, Europe, Africa, and parts of West Asia and the eastern Pacific, NASA said.

Weather permitting, folks in the eastern half of North America can watch every stage of the eclipse, from beginning to end of the partial phases, with the moon mostly high in the sky, Sky and Telescope magazine reports.

And what does a Supermoon mean? It just means the moon looks a bit bigger than usual since it’s a bit closer to the Earth than usual. It’s about 14 percent larger than normal, NASA says


You Can’t Go to Prison for Destroying the Economy, But Bad Peanut Butter Is Another Story

This is “a stiff, cold wind through board rooms across the U.S.”

Peanut Corporation of America’s former president Stewart Parnell was sentenced to 28 years for his role in a Salmonella outbreak. Don Petersen/AP

Food company executives who play a role in outbreaks that sicken and kill consumers now face the prospect of decades in prison because of a recent precedent-setting case and a crackdown by federal prosecutors.  

Stewart Parnell, an executive from Peanut Corporation of America, a now-defunct company behind one of the worst Salmonella outbreaks to hit the US, was sentenced Monday to 28 years in prison.  He sold contaminated food products that claimed nine lives and sickened more than 700 people in 46 states.

“This sentence is going to send a stiff, cold wind through board rooms across the U.S.”

It is by far the most severe punishment ever given for criminal food safety violations. His brother, Michael Parnell, also a top official at PCA was sentenced to 20 years and quality assurance manager, Mary Wilkerson was sentenced to five.

The hefty sentences signal that the feds are stepping up prosecutions against high-ranking officials and underscores some of the challenges agencies face when they want to hold companies accountable. Still, the crimes committed by the Parnells could have led to much stiffer sentences. Stewart Parnell was convicted of 47 offenses, which qualified him for a sentence of up to 803 years—and he was facing life behind bars.

“Honestly, I think the fact that he was prosecuted at all is a victory for consumers,” says Bill Marler, a foodborne illness lawyer who represents more than 50 victims of the outbreak. “Although his sentence is less than the maximum, it is the longest sentence ever in a food poisoning case. This sentence is going to send a stiff, cold wind through board rooms across the US”

The massive 2008 Salmonella outbreak prompted officials to strip 4,000 products made by 361 companies from store shelves, resulting in roughly $200 million in losses. Ultimately, the tainted food was traced back to PCA—a manufacturer that sells peanut-based-products to companies like Kellogg, Sara Lee, and Little Debbie, as well as  government programs that produce food for poor children and the military. According to a federal investigation, company officials spent years covering up unsanitary production conditions, faking test results, and lying to customers and consumers when salmonella was detected in their facilities.

Jacob Hurley was one of the victims infected with salmonella in 2008 after eating one of his favorite snacks—peanut butter crackers. At the time, he was only 3-years-old. Hurley, now 10, survived and traveled with his father to the sentencing on Monday. “I think its OK for him to spent the rest of his life in prison,” he told the judge.

Nine victims, such as Clifford Tousignant, a Korean War hero with three Purple Hearts who became ill after eating a peanut butter sandwich died from their infections caused by contaminated food. 

The indictment against Parnell, which relied on uncovered emails and investigations, revealed that between 2003 and 2009 PCA shipped products before the results of tests were complete. Parnell green-lighted the use of faked and fabricated certificates of analysis, documents that certify food has been properly tested. Even after Salmonella had been detected numerous times, the company continued to claim that their products were safe and sell them to customers.

In several emails Parnell instructs his employees to violate standards. After being told in 2007 that salmonella testing results would take longer than expected and shipping would be delayed, he responded, “Shit, just ship it.” Soon after an employee sent an email saying that some peanut totes were “covered in dust and rat crap,” to which Parnell responded “Clean em all up and ship them.”

After the outbreak, PCA was liquidated through bankruptcy proceedings.

“Our prosecution is just one more example of the forceful actions that the Department of Justice, with its agency partners, takes against any individual or company who compromises the safety of America’s food supply for financial gain,” said Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart Delery in statement after the sentence was announced.

Parnell’s response to employees who told him salmonella testing would cause delays: “Shit, just ship it.”

While victims and advocates are pleased that the case is finally coming to a close and the Parnells are on their way to prison, Marler says he hopes more will be done to stop shoddy business practices that could lead to future infections. 

Largely because of the outbreak linked to Peanut Corporation of America the FDA has introduced new rules, along with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)—a bill signed into law in 2011 intended to crack down on contamination before it reaches consumers. However, so far the agency has lacked the resources to fully implement them. Congress has appropriated less than half of what the Congressional Budget Office recommended was necessary to fund implementation of FSMA.

To make up for investigations into potential risks, Marler says the FDA has beefed up its prosecution of law-breakers.

And, in some cases, like Parnell’s it’s warranted, he added.

“I am not a huge fan of criminalization of things but I think there are instances where it’s necessary,” he says. “This is one of those necessary cases—the facts are so horrific and the clear knowledge that they had that they were shipping contaminated product.” But, he adds, “We would all be better served if we spent more money to have more FDA inspectors—and just avoided these problems to begin with.”

Gabrielle Canon|Sep. 22, 2015

China takes a huge step forward ‏

Among other new commitments: China will establish a new policy to cap carbon emissions.

China just stepped up big time. At the White House this morning, Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Obama announced bold new climate commitments.

Among the new commitments: China will establish a new policy to cap carbon emissions, limit government financing of dirty fuel projects at home and abroad, and invest $3.1 billion to help developing countries combat climate change.

For its part, the United States committed to finalizing existing key climate initiatives, including the Clean Power Plan, fuel efficiency standards for heavy-duty vehicles, and methane emissions standards.

These significant new commitments come two months before the U.N. climate summit in Paris. U.S. and Chinese leadership is critical for moving our world to a clean energy economy and President Obama and President Xi pledged to work together to secure a strong international climate agreement.

Today’s commitments will challenge world leaders to do more ahead of the Paris climate summit. Some countries have already set ambitious climate agendas, while others continue to lag behind. Continued grassroots support for climate action is essential to building the broad global consensus necessary to respond to the climate crisis.

Maura Cowley|Sierra Club||9/25/15

25 Walruses Killed on Alaskan Beach, Beheaded and Missing Tusks

It’s a bad time to be a walrus. Authorities have launched a federal investigation into the deaths of 25 walruses on a beach off the Chukchi Sea in northwest Alaska last week. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) believe that the walruses did not die of natural causes.

“The carcasses, nearly half of which were cubs, seem to have been shot—some were even beheaded,” says Bustle. Investigators suspect that they were poached for their ivory because some of their remains lacked tusks.

“The missing heads and tusks don’t necessarily indicate illegal activity,” FWS spokesperson Andrea Medeiros told CBS Seattle. “The animals could have died in the ocean and washed ashore,” she said. “Federal regulations allow anyone to collect bones, teeth and ivory of dead marine mammals found on beaches or land within a quarter-mile of the ocean, though they must follow certain rules,” says CBS Seattle. “Walrus skulls with tusk attached are collectors’ items. The ivory often is carved and made into jewelry. However, walrus killed only for the collection of ivory is considered wasteful, and ‘head-hunting’ is illegal.”

As if that wasn’t bad enough, about 100 miles away at Point Lay, where some 35,000 walruses were hauled out yet again this year due to record low sea ice, an estimated 37 walruses were also found dead last week. In that case, FWS said that “they do not appear to have died as a result of foul play,” according to Alaska Dispatch News.

“We haven’t had a chance to go out there and confirm whether they’re from this year or last year or identify the cause of death,” said James MacCracken, a supervisory biologist and walrus specialist at FWS.

As of last week, the Point Lay area haulout was estimated to include 10,000 walruses, said Medeiros. Earlier this month, the National Snow and Ice Data Center announced that this summer, the Arctic sea ice hit the fourth-lowest level on record. Since 2007, diminishing sea ice in summer and fall has forced more and more female walruses and their pups ashore. Typically, they use the ice floes for resting and nursing in between dives for food. The overcrowding on beaches results in dangerous conditions, especially for the pups. They can be crushed to death when a herd stampedes due to disturbances from polar bears, people, aircraft or boat traffic.

Cole Mellino|September 25, 2015

[Are walruses to be the next elephant massacre?]

Florida woman arrested for ‘riding ’ sea turtle

A Florida woman who was photographed “riding ” a sea turtle in July was arrested Saturday, according to police.

Stephanie Marie Moore, 20, of Melbourne, Florida, was arrested on a felony warrant early Saturday, Melbourne Police Department said in a Facebook post.

Police were responding to a disturbance call at a home about 5 a.m. During the investigation, officers found Moore, who they said was one of two women photographed sitting on a sea turtle in July. Moore was arrested on an active felony warrant for molesting a marine turtle. In early July, two women were seen in photographs where they appeared to be sitting on sea turtles. The pictures flooded social media, and multiple complaints were forward to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Moore was arrested on the active warrant and taken to the Brevard County Jail. Bond was set at $2,000.

Florida Today

Calls to Action

  1. Support Funding and Reauthorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund – here
  2. Ban the preventative use of antibiotics in livestock farming – here
  3. Please ask your members of Congress to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund – here
  4. Enforce the MMPA ban on illegally caught fish – here

Birds and Butterflies

Greater Sage-Grouse Listing Announcement ‏

Today the Fish & Wildlife Service made a major announcement about their decision not to list the Greater Sage-Grouse under the Endangered Species Act. This decision, which will also lock in new, more protective management plans on 65 million acres of public land across the West, promises new hope for conservation of the Greater Sage-Grouse and rests on years of work by state and federal agencies, Western governors, private landowners and conservation groups, including Audubon.

Everyone agrees that the Greater Sage-Grouse (and the whole fragile sagebrush ecosystem it represents in 11 Western states) needs help. The question is what to do about it. Putting the bird on the Endangered Species List is the most extreme measure the Federal government can take. That triggers an avalanche of regulations about how almost any plot of land will be used for decades to come. It drives landowners into hiding and ends any conversation aimed at serving mutual interests. And it would have a chilling effect on western state economies that would cause a massive backlash against both sage-grouse protections and the Endangered Species Act itself.

A different approach started with Audubon a decade ago in Wyoming. Brian Rutledge, Audubon’s VP/Central Flyway Policy Advisor, and his team worked with the governor and the administration to protect 15 million acres of sagebrush lands—home for more than 80% of the Greater Sage-Grouse in the state. We followed a vulnerable bird to a win-win solution ten years ago and we’ve done that again today.

The bottom line: with today’s announcement, the Bureau of Land Management will expand a 15 million-acre win in Wyoming to a total of 65 million acres across Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and the Dakotas. And because 40 percent of remaining sage-grouse habitat in the U.S. is found on private lands, Audubon is a partner in the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Sage Grouse Initiative, a powerful public-private cooperative effort that has worked with more than 1,100 ranches in 11 Western states to improve and protect 4.4 million acres with more than $500 million in conservation investments on the ground. (Read the Op Ed I co-authored with NRCS Chief Jason Weller.)

The vision and tenacity of our Audubon Rockies and DC policy teams, along with the passion and commitment of the entire Audubon network, have helped drive this success. Last December, 160 Audubon Chapters from 37 states sent a letter to Secretary Jewell in support of the unprecedented, collaborative effort to put plans in place to save the sage-grouse and its habitat — conservation plans that will also benefit 350 other bird and wildlife species dependent on the sage steppe landscape. The Endangered Species Act itself has also helped to fuel the success of this effort: it got diverse stakeholders to gather at the table, come together around their love for these Western lands and wildlife, and hammer out real, centrist solutions.

Of course, now all of these stakeholders have to fulfill their commitments in order to make today’s decision stick, and Audubon will continue to play a central, pivotal role in ensuring this plan’s future success.

Learn more about how Audubon is protecting this iconic species and the sweeping landscapes it depends on.

David Yarnold|President & CEO|National Audubon Society

Peregrines—and a Photographer—Bunk Out at Chicago Man’s Apartment

A flower-box nest provides the perfect opportunity for some close-up shots of a plucky falcon family.

Getting an in at a high-rise condo building is never easy—but it’s even harder if you’re a bird. The pair of Peregrine Falcons fought an uphill battle to make their home on a 28th floor Chicago balcony, but they ultimately prevailed (with a little help from a tenant on the inside), and this spring successfully raised four chicks.

It all started four years ago, when the birds began dropping by the building’s balconies early each spring. In April 2014, the couple got pretty cozy on Dacey Arashiba’s terrace. Arashiba, an I.T. consultant, was delighted, but his neighbors, put off by the birds’ loud noises and poop, complained. “My building manager told me the birds had to go. Maintenance staff shooed them off the balcony,” Arashiba says. “And that was it. For a while.”

But in June, the birds came back. A week later, the pair had laid three eggs in Arashiba’s flowerbox (“I am an occasional, lazy gardener and hadn’t replenished the dirt in a few years,” he admits.)

Now on the offensive, Arashiba called Mary Hennen, director of the Chicago Peregrine Program, who told him that falcons are federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (and had previously been on the state and federal endangered species lists). It’s highly illegal to harass them (building management complied). 

Becca Cudmore|August 12, 2015|From Audubon Wingspan

Joulter Cays National Park

Audubon’s work in the Bahamas leads to protection of critical habitat for plovers and other threatened birds.

The Bahamas’ Joulter Cays, a series of mangrove covered Cays connected with miles of sand flats on the edge of the Bahama Bank in the northwest of the archipelago, are a critical wintering area for 13 shorebird species including the endangered Piping Plover. On Monday, August 31, 2015, the Bahamas National Trust and Bahamian government announced it would be designated as a national park, in part thanks to Audubon’s efforts. This designation will protect this critical area from development and ecologically damaging activities like sand mining.

In 2012, Audubon researchers discovered that the Cays provide important habitat for 10% of the overwintering Piping Plover population that breed along the Atlantic Coast of the United Stated and Canada. In addition the area is important for the threatened Red Knot, and declining shorebird species like the Semi-palmated Plover, Short-billed Dowitcher and wading birds like the Reddish Egret. Since the initial shorebird discoveries, the Joulter Cays and the surrounding areas has been identified as a globally significant Important Bird and Biodiversity Area by BirdLife International. In addition to the birds, the area supports local economies through sports and commercial fishing and offers great opportunities for eco-tourism. Audubon began working in the Bahamas in the 1950s, when populations of the American Flamingo, the national bird of the Bahamas, had declined precipitously and the birds faced extinction. Building on the success of saving the American Flamingo, which today number 60,000 or more, Audubon has partnered with the Bahamas National Trust since 1959 to protect the Bahamas’ natural heritage.

The designation of Joulter Cays National Park isn’t the end of Audubon’s work in the Bahamas, either. In November 2015, scientists from around the Audubon network will travel there again to survey birds, map roosting sites. Audubon is also training Bahamians in bird identification and guiding skills so that they can act as bird guides in the area. And in January 2016, an international team of ornithologists—Audubon researchers among them—will travel to Bahamas for a once-every-five-years census of Piping Plovers in the archipelago.

The National Audubon Society and the Bahamas National Trust are both members of the BirdLife International Partnership, the world’s largest nature conservation partnership.

From Audubon Wingspan

Watching Migrating Hawks Makes For A Perfect Fall Day— And Here’s Where See Them

Every fall, millions of birds fly south to spend the winter in sunny places with mild climates and plentiful food.

Most smaller birds migrate under the cover of darkness, stopping to fuel up on insects or seeds by day and using the stars to guide them at night.

Hawks, by contrast, are diurnal migrants; they depend on currents of rising warm air to lift them to high altitudes where they glide on their broad wings without flapping, thereby conserving energy.

During these flights, hawks use their keen eyesight to recognize landmarks, follow landforms that provide rising thermals, and steer a course to their ancestral wintering grounds. In some places these migrating hawks gather in huge numbers, and people gather to watch them with binoculars and data sheets in the phenomenon known as the hawkwatch.

A Special Kind Of Bird Watching

Counting hawks during migration is more than a competitive pursuit for list-oriented birders. The data collected at hawkwatches helps experts monitor the health of various ecosystems. Because hawks are top predators—that is, they occupy the top of the food chain—they’re very sensitive to changes that affect prey species. Comparing hawk numbers from year to year reveals trends that offer insight into the well-being of the environment in both the breeding and wintering areas.

But more than simply counting hawks, there’s the spectacle of it all. Standing atop a ridge on a crisp autumn day while hundreds of hawks circle and stream past is an unforgettable experience, which helps explain why people return to these sites day after day and Hawkwatch programs across the country attract volunteers by the dozens.

Visit any Hawkwatch site, and you’ll find people who came one day out of curiosity and soon became regulars.

Click here for a guide to some of the top hawkwatch sites in North America. »

Here’s link to Hawkwatch International’s homepage if you’d like to learn more or get involved. »

eNature|September 08, 2015

Kite Tales Newsletter Summer 2015

Florida Panthers

FWC’s Panther Mortality Update

The FWC has updated the “Panther Pulse” page with mortality information through Sept. 22, 2015, as of 3:45 p.m.  This information can be viewed at:

Biologists gain valuable information by examining panther remains.  Report injured or dead panthers to the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922). 

Endangered Species

Why Saving the Panda Matters to Other Animals

Pandas are a lot of trouble. They eat a lot, refuse to reproduce and have difficulty surviving on their own in the wild. It takes so much human intervention to keep pandas alive that, every so often, even some animal lovers acknowledge it might be a good idea to just let the bears go extinct.

This argument may sound cruel, but it comes from a practical perspective. People spend a lot of money, time and effort keeping pandas alive – resources that could be assigned to other endangered animals instead. From a conservationist standpoint, it can be hard to justify saving one species (albeit a very cute one) when the same resources could adequately preserve dozens of other endangered critters.

However, researchers from Duke University have found a really solid reason to validate panda conservation: Saving the panda inadvertently saves all sorts of other animals. While the resources might specifically be going to keeping the panda alive, there are plenty of other endangered animals that benefit from the environmental protections and reserves China has established.

Researchers searched for all other vulnerable species that are native exclusively to China. In this hunt, they discovered that 70 percent of birds and mammals and 31 percent of amphibians lived in the same habitats as the giant panda. Since the pandas are not predators, they can coexist in the same space with these other threatened species just fine.

While it’s a bit silly that the Chinese government has prioritized the panda’s survival over hundreds of other animals, it’s as good a way as any to protect lesser-known Chinese creatures. The panda’s enduring popularity is safeguarding animals that might not otherwise receive a second thought.

The panda population might be small in number, but it remains a powerful commodity. As the BBC points out, the government planned to build railroad tracks through a non-protected habitat where panda bears resided. Within two weeks, though, the Forestry Department established nature reserves for the pandas in this location, forcing the government to reroute the railway. Although hundreds of animal species would have been displaced by this construction, it was the pandas that had the clout.

The Duke researchers also looked at which threatened Chinese-only species lived outside of the panda’s habitat. They identified 116 species, mostly amphibians, that do not overlap with pandas geographically, but that would probably benefit from cohabitating in the protected space. Seeing what a good “umbrella” animal the panda has been to other creatures, the researchers suggested rallying behind other higher profile animals like the tiger and the snow leopard that share habitats with less known but equally threatened species.

The bottom line is that while panda conservation may seem disproportionate to the attention other endangered animals receive, it’s a victory for all of the animals that share the panda’s habitat. Should pandas actually go extinct, there’s no guarantee that another animal in this region would be considered popular enough to maintain these nature reserves. If not for the pandas themselves, let’s keep up the difficult exercise of panda conservation for the sake of hundreds of endangered Chinese animals.

Kevin Mathews|September 20, 2015

Half of world’s turtles have digested plastic

More than half the world’s sea turtles have ingested plastic or other human rubbish, a new study has found.

The study, led by Dr Qamar Schuyler from the University of Queensland, found the east coasts of Australia and North America, Southeast Asia, southern Africa, and Hawaii were particularly dangerous for turtles due to a combination of debris loads and high species diversity.

“The results indicate that approximately 52 per cent of turtles world-wide have eaten debris,” said Dr Schuyler.

The study examined threats to six marine turtle species from an estimated four million to 12 million tons of plastic which enter the oceans annually.

Plastic ingestion can kill turtles by blocking the gut or piercing the gut wall, and can cause other problems through the release of toxic chemicals into the animals’ tissues.

“Australia and North America are lucky to host a number of turtle species, but we also therefore have a responsibility to look after our endangered wildlife,” Dr Schuyler said.

“One way to do that is to reduce the amount of debris entering the oceans via our rivers and coastlines.”

This research echoes the results of a similar study on seabirds published two weeks ago, which found that more than 60 per cent of seabird species had ingested debris, and that number was expected to reach 99 per cent by 2050.

“We now know that both sea turtles and seabirds are experiencing very high levels of debris ingestion, and that the issue is growing,” said lead author of the seabird study Dr Wilcox.

“It is only a matter of time before we see the same problems in other species, and even in the fish we eat.”

From Wildlife Extra

New species of deadly adder discovered in Australia

A new species of the highly venomous Australian death adder has been discovered in the Kimberley region of Australia

According to the team of scientists from Bangor University, the Western Australian Museum and the Natural History Museum. the Kimberley death adder, Acanthophis cryptamydros, is a ‘sit-and-wait’ predator, staying camouflaged until it can ambush any passing frogs, lizards or small mammals

Like other species in the Acanthophis genus, the deadly snake has a diamond-shaped head and stout body, but can be recognised by the slightly higher number of scales on its underbelly, which are typically unpigmented.

‘Surprisingly, the snakes it most closely resembles aren’t its closest genetic relatives,’ says Simon Maddock, the PhD student at the Natural History Museum and University College London, who led the study.

This could mean that similarities between the Kimberley death adder and others in the region came about through evolutionary convergence, where species that aren’t close genetic relatives end up with the same traits because they share similar environments.

It’s not clear how many Kimberley death adders there are in the wild, Maddock says, but they’re ‘probably quite rare’. And given the number of new species found in Kimberley recently – including frogs, lizards and many plants – it’s likely to be just one of many currently undescribed snakes in the west of Australia.

From Wildlife Extra

Last attempt to save wild Sumatran rhinoceros from extinction

In what may possibly be the last attempt by conservationists to prevent the critically endangered Sumatran rhinoceros from going extinct researchers have recommended that the small population left is consolidated, given strong protection, and that the percentage of breeding females remaining be determined.

The scientists from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Indonesia Program have carried out an island-wide survey of the last wild population of Sumatran rhinoceros.

The study for the first time identifies priority forest protection zones “irreplaceable for saving the critically endangered species,” the authors say, and identifies small and scattered populations that should be consolidated if they are to become viable.

Lead author Wulan Pusparini says the new study provides vital data to support a final attempt to prevent the Sumatran rhino’s extinction.

“Sumatran rhinos can still be saved in the wild, but we must secure these protection zones, which would require significant investments in additional law enforcement personnel.

“With so many unknowns on how to manage Sumatran rhinos, in the wild or captivity, our study definitely shows where we must protect them at source.”

Using rhino sign data and probabilities of site occupancy collected in three areas where the animals were presumed to live, the researchers developed a habitat model which predicted that rhinos now only occupy 13 percent of the surveyed area.

They identified five specific areas that are critical to saving the animals but report only a general overall estimate of occupancy and location to reduce the risk of poaching.

The scientists recommend that Indonesia formally establish five “Intensive Protection Zones” identified in this study to ensure zero poaching by “significantly scaling-up law enforcement efforts.”

They also recommend that new roads planned in two of the protection zones not be built. Further, the researchers urge that all remaining small populations and scattered individuals of healthy rhinos should be consolidated.

Finally, that governments recognize that the “Sumatran rhino is likely to go extinct if no actions are taken, as happened with the last Javan Rhino in Vietnam in 2010”.

In the 200 years since the Sumatran rhinoceros was first described in 1814, its range has contracted from a broad portion of Southeast Asia to three areas on the island of Sumatra and one in Kalimantan, Indonesia, say Pusparini and colleagues.

“Assessing population and spatial distribution of this very rare species is challenging because of their elusiveness and very low population number.”

Worldwide, the Sumatran rhino population is critically endangered, having decreased from 600 animals in 1985 to less than 100 in 2013.

Today estimates put the number between 87 to179, with sub-populations from 2 to 50 rhinos. The demand for rhino horn in traditional Chinese medicine has reduced their numbers; now there are no viable populations outside Sumatra.

WCS says that this study, “provides urgently needed information on where the remaining rhinos are distributed.”

Joe Walston, WCS’s vice president for global programs, says, “For the first time we have a clear idea of where the priority rhino’s sites are, we have the tools and techniques to protect them, and now must ensure a concerted effort by all agencies to bring the Sumatran rhino back from the brink of extinction.”

From Wildlife Extra

Groups Launch Lawsuit To Protect Threatened Bats From Mountaintop Removal

Coal River Mountain Watch and other groups have filed a notice of intent to sue federal agencies for failing to protect the threatened northern long-eared bat from mountaintop removal sites in Raleigh and McDowell Counties.

CHARLESTON, W.Va.— The Center for Biological Diversity, Coal River Mountain Watch, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and the Sierra Club filed a formal notice of intent to sue the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for their failure to protect threatened northern long-eared bats at two proposed mountaintop-removal coal mines in West Virginia. The mines will clear more than 1,000 acres of hardwood forest that are home to the rare bat, which was protected under the Endangered Species Act in April. The agencies have not put any specific measures in place to protect the bats from the mining activities, as required by law.

“The failure to protect these bats is the latest example of coal companies getting a free pass in Appalachia when it comes to complying with the Endangered Species Act and other laws designed to protect the health of people and the environment,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “The wink-and-a-nod compliance with the law is having devastating effects on wildlife and human communities in Appalachia.”

The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned for Endangered Species Act protection for the northern long-eared bat in 2010. The species has declined by 96 percent in its core range due to a lethal disease called white-nose syndrome. Because of the drastic impact of this disease, the bat is extremely vulnerable to habitat destruction.

The bat is found at both Republic Energy’s proposed Long Ridge mine on Coal River Mountain in Raleigh County, which will clear 664 acres of forest, and Jim Justice’s Big Creek mine in McDowell County, which will destroy 468 acres of forest. Under the Endangered Species Act, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement and Fish and Wildlife Service are required to ensure that mining does not jeopardize the survival of the bats.

“Federal agencies need to do a better job of protecting both the northern long-eared bat and the people who live around these mines,” said Vernon Haltom, director of Coal River Mountain Watch. “Mountaintop removal is destroying wildlife and human communities in Appalachia and it is time for that to end.”

“The lack of effective protections for bats and other endangered species mirrors the lack of protection for Appalachian residents from surface mining impacts,” said Dianne Bady, founder and project coordinator at the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

To try to address impacts to endangered species from surface mining, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement consulted with the Fish and Wildlife Service in 1996, resulting in a “biological opinion” that established very minimal requirements that must be met. According to today’s legal notice, the two mines in question have not established specific measures to protect northern long-eared bats as is required by that biological opinion. The groups also put the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement on notice that its continued reliance on the 1996 document to avoid impacts to imperiled species is illegal. The outdated biological opinion fails to ensure the survival of the northern long-eared bat and many other species that have required the Endangered Species Act’s protection since 1996 and, that like the bat, are being affected by surface coal mining.

“Today’s notice is another example of how critical it is to have increased protections in Appalachia from surface mining,” said Liz Wiles with the West Virginia Sierra Club. “Federal agencies need to revamp protections for endangered species when it comes to surface mining, which will benefit both wildlife and people.”

Much new scientific information has been published recently documenting the devastating effects of surface coal mining in Appalachia on wildlife and people. Mining has now been linked to declines in birds, fish, salamanders, crawdads, insects and freshwater mussels. Mining threatens nearby communities with air and water pollution and risk of flooding. More than 20 peer-reviewed scientific studies have now linked mining pollution in Appalachia to health problems, including increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and birth defects.

The proposed Big Creek mine is a case in point. In addition to destroying nearly 500 acres of native hardwood forest used by the bat, it is directly above a church and upstream of a Head Start center. It will also destroy more than five miles of streams, threatening another species that has been proposed for protection, the Big Sandy crayfish. More than 1 million acres of hardwood forest and more than 2,000 miles of streams have already been destroyed by surface coal mining in Appalachia.

Disappearing Bumble Bee is One Step Closer to Getting Protection

Disappearing Bumble Bee is One Step Closer to Getting Protection

Conservationists have been pushing for protection for a bumble bee that’s disappearing at an alarming rate and are now hopeful that it will get the help it needs as the first bee species to be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The rusty patched bumble bee, which can be identified by a rust-colored patch on its abdomen, was once a commonly seen pollinator from the midwest to the east coast, but scientists believe that it has disappeared from 87 percent of its historic range and that its population has declined by a startling 95 percent in just the past few decades.

According to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation their main threats include pesticides, habitat loss, climate change and disease, but one of their biggest problems now may also be attributed to the spread of pathogens from bees who are raised and sold commercially to wild bumble bees.

The rusty patched bumble bee is listed as Endangered under the Species at Risk Act in Canada and as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. They’re also listed as a Species of Special Concern in Wisconsin, Michigan and Connecticut, but there are no regulations there, or anywhere else in the U.S., to ensure that these bumble bees and their habitat are protected. No action has been taken to ensure their survival across the nation.

In 2013, the Xerces Society the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) petitioned to get them listed as endangered over concerns that they would go extinct if we didn’t take immediate action, but got no response. Last year the organization, along with the Natural Resources Defense Council, filed a lawsuit against the Department of the Interior and FWS to get things moving.

As the result of a settlement that was reached, the FWS has finally agreed and announced that these bees may warrant protection. The agency still has to conduct a 12-month status review, but the announcement is offering hope to those who have been advocating for protection.

If this bumble bee disappeared, it wouldn’t just be a devastating loss, but really bad news for a world that depends on pollinators. Not only do these bumble bees pollinate a wide variety of wild plants that other species depend on for survival, but also important food crops including cranberries, blueberries, apples and alfalfa, among many others. They, and other native pollinators, provide agricultural services that are estimated to be worth $3 billion annually.

“Bumble bees are critically important to agriculture, and their decline poses a threat to farmers of bee-pollinated crops across the U.S.,” said Sarina Jepsen, lead author of the petition and Endangered Species program director at the Xerces Society. “Expanding habitat for the rusty patched bumble bee is essential for its future. ESA protection will provide greater support for people who want to create habitat for this bee.”

Hopefully the FWS’ next move will  be to take action on behalf of these bees to ensure they don’t go extinct.

Alicia Graef|September 24, 2015

Wild & Weird

First Sea Otter With Asthma Trained to Use Inhaler

First Sea Otter With Asthma Trained to Use Inhaler


Humans aren’t the only species that can suffer from asthma. Land animals like cats, dogs and horses can have it. It can apparently affect marine life as well: For the first time ever, a sea otter, named Mishka, has been diagnosed with this respiratory disease.

“Mishka began having trouble breathing when smoke from the eastern Washington wildfires moved into the Puget Sound area last month,” notes the Seattle Aquarium’s blog regarding the sea otter, who’s been at the facility since January.

The aquarium’s veterinarian, Dr. Lesanna Lahner, made Mishka’s diagnosis based on blood work, X-rays and “actually listening to her chest just like an M.D. would listen a child’s lungs to help diagnose asthma,” according to the blog.

To make breathing easier for the 1-year-old sea otter, aquarium biologist Sara Perry is teaching her how to use an inhaler.

“We try to make it as fun as possible,” Perry told KING 5 News. She uses food rewards to encourage Mishka to push the inhaler with her nose and take a deep breath. “Anytime you’re training a medical behavior, you want to make it nice and positive.”

Just like one for a human, Mishka’s inhaler releases medicine that helps her to stop wheezing and coughing. In fact, it’s the very same medicine used in human inhalers.

Who knows, she could become a “spokes-otter” to encourage asthma sufferers, especially children, to use their inhalers. As Dr. Dave Stukus, a pediatric allergy and asthma specialist, tweeted, “Look, people — if an otter can learn how to use a spacer w its #asthma inhaler, you can too.”

This brief video of Mishka using the inhaler is going viral.

Sure, it’s certainly heartwarming, but the bigger picture? Not so much.

“More and more, there starts to be this concept of what we’re calling ‘One Health,’ which really is that there’s a connection between health of people and the health of other species,” Dr. Peter Rabinowitz, a professor and director of the University of Washington’s Center for One Health Research program, told KING 5 News.

“Sometimes those species can tell us there is a problem in the environment that could be important for human health as well.”

That’s really eye-opening in Mishka’s case because, in just the past 10 years, cases of asthma in humans have increased by 25 percent, according to KING 5 News. Air quality, or lack thereof, is believed to be one of the causes.

Besides her inhalation of wildfire smoke, another possible cause of Mishka’s asthma is the reduced genetic diversity in sea otters, which “can affect their immune system, ability to fight off diseases or deal with environmental contaminants,” Lahner told KING 5 News.

The pathetic cause of this lack of genetic diversity? Although sea otters lived along the coast of Washington state for thousands of years, they were hunted out of existence by 1910, thanks to the popularity of their pelts. A year later — but tragically a year too late for the native Washington sea otters — an international fur seal treaty protected fur-bearing marine mammals.

Fast-forward about six decades. In 1969 and 1970, 59 sea otters from Alaska were reintroduced to Washington state. But since most of them died, the state’s current population of sea otters may be descended from only 10 of those 59 otters.

According to the Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife’s publication, “Washington State Recovery Plan for the Sea Otter,” the sea otter was still listed as a state endangered species in 1981 because of its “small population size, restricted distribution and vulnerability.”

There is some good news: The population of Washington sea otters has been increasing at about 8 percent each year, “one of the highest growth rates for otter populations anywhere,” according to the Seattle Aquarium’s blog. Last year the aquarium counted a high of 1,573 otters.

As for Mishka, she will probably need to use the inhaler for the rest of her life in order to survive. The efforts of the Seattle Aquarium staff to save her are truly commendable. Let’s just hope Mishka is the first — and last — sea otter that suffers from asthma.

Laura Goldman|September 23, 2015

This Selfie May Set a Legal Precedent

A few years ago in Indonesia, a photographer left his camera unattended. That was tempting for a curious male crested black macaque, who took the camera and began taking photographs—some of the forest floor, some of other macaques, and several of himself, one of which resulted in the now-famous “monkey selfie.”


The macaque, named Naruto, is known to field researchers in Sulawesi, who have observed and studied him for years as they work in the region. Acting as Naruto’s “next friend” (or representative), PETA has filed a lawsuit in U.S. federal court in San Francisco against the owner of the camera, photographer David J. Slater and his company, Wildlife Personalities Ltd., which both claim copyright ownership of the photos that Naruto indisputably took. Also named as a defendant is the San Francisco–based publishing company Blurb, Inc., which published a collection of Slater’s photographs, including two selfies taken by Naruto. The lawsuit seeks to have Naruto declared the “author” and owner of his photograph. Our argument is simple: U.S. copyright law doesn’t prohibit an animal from owning a copyright, and since Naruto took the photo, he owns the copyright, as any human would.

Why is this so important, and what does it all mean? If this lawsuit succeeds, it will be the first time that a nonhuman animal is declared the owner of property (the copyright of the “monkey selfie”), rather than being declared a piece of property himself or herself. It will also be the first time that a right is extended to a nonhuman animal beyond just the mere basic necessities of food, shelter, water, and veterinary care. In our view, it is high time.

We are also asking the court to allow PETA to administer the proceeds of “monkey selfie” sales for the benefit of Naruto and his community, without compensation to PETA.

This case exemplifies what PETA has championed for 35 years: Animals deserve recognition of appropriate rights for their own sake, and not in relation to their exploitation by humans.

 PETA|September 22, 2015


The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) approves canal upgrades

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) has approved construction of canal upgrades to enhance flexibility for moving stormwater from the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) into wetlands that improve the quality of water before it reaches the Everglades.

Improvements on the Bolles East Canal, which runs east /west in the EAA south of Lake Okeechobee, will also help reduce the potential need for emergency pumping of excess stormwater into the lake.

“Expanding the District’s flexibility for managing water south of Lake Okeechobee provides multiple benefits across the entire region,” said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Daniel O’Keefe. “Further, this project reflects our commitment to ensure that our flood control mission is integrated with achieving Everglades water quality goals.”

The Bolles East Canal currently provides a link between the Hillsboro and the North New River canals, serving adjacent agricultural landowners by supplying irrigation and drainage. As currently configured, the canal has limited capacity to convey water, because it is shallow and has constrictions at a bridge and culvert.

Work that includes expanding the canal bottom width to 40 feet will improve water flow east /west across the EAA. This in turn will provide increased flexibility for moving water into the Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs), which use aquatic vegetation to remove excess nutrients in the water before it reaches the Everglades.

The STAs are an integral part of the Governor’s Restoration Strategies to improve Everglades water quality.

Canal upgrades will also have the ancillary benefit of providing water supply and flood protection for nearby farms.

Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company, LLC, the lowest responsive and responsible bidder, will soon begin work on the approximately $3.8 million project. Work is expected to be complete by early 2017.

SFWMD 2016 Budget Supports Unprecedented Environmental Progress

Construction is complete or underway on a record number of projects

West Palm Beach, FL – At a public hearing tonight, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board adopted a $749.6 million budget for Fiscal Year 2016 (Oct. 1, 2015 – Sept. 30, 2016). The annual budget funds the agency’s core flood control and water supply missions as well as its continued progress to restore and protect the South Florida ecosystem.

“We have a robust budget that supports flood control and hurricane response, improves Everglades water quality, protects the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries and meets water resource needs,” said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Daniel O’Keefe. “These goals were achieved with a continued commitment to maintain lower taxes for South Floridians for a fifth consecutive year.”

Nearly 84 percent of the District’s FY2016 budget is dedicated to enhancing operations, maintaining lands and $13 billion of infrastructure and advancing ecosystem restoration goals.

Key Projects

The FY2016 budget supports implementing the next phases of the Governor’s $880 million Restoration Strategies plan to improve Everglades water quality, including:

  • $46 million to increase capacity at Stormwater Treatment Area (STA) 1 West
  • $9 million to continue implementation of the Science Plan to help improve the water cleaning performance of the STAs
  • $6.9 million for design of the Mecca Shallow Impoundment and Lainhart and Masten Conveyance Improvements for the Loxahatchee River

A host of priority projects will provide significant benefits to South Florida’s extensive flood control system and protect coastal estuaries, including:

  • $55.7 million for continued refurbishment of South Florida’s flood control system
  • $27.7 million for design and initial construction of the Caloosahatchee River C-43 Western Basin Storage Reservoir
  • $45.6 million for construction progress on the C-44 Reservoir and STA to protect the St. Lucie River and Estuary
  • $7.2 million for construction and repairs to the Ten Mile Creek project
  • $31.4 million for Kissimmee River restoration

The approved budget contains a significant infusion of state revenues, totaling $126.6 million, appropriated by the Florida Legislature this year to continue and to accelerate the pace of restoration progress.

The District’s annual budget is funded by a combination of ad valorem (property) taxes and other revenues such as state appropriations, federal and local sources, balances, fees, investment earnings and agricultural privilege taxes. For FY2016, $266.9 million (about 36 percent of total revenues) are provided by property taxes and $226.4 million are from accumulated reserves.

The approved millage rates for FY2016 represent $35.51 per $100,000 of taxable value in 15 of the District’s 16 counties (the Okeechobee Basin). In Collier County and mainland Monroe County (the Big Cypress Basin), the tax rates represent $28.88 per $100,000 of taxable value.

For More Information:

Army Corps Awards $50M Contract for Hoover Dike Rehab

From the Army Corps Press Release:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District has awarded a contract to replace a water control structure within Herbert Hoover Dike (HHD) as part of the ongoing rehabilitation project for the earthen structure surrounding Lake Okeechobee.

The Corps awarded the contract Sept. 11 for $49.9 million to Harry Pepper & Associates of Jacksonville, Fla. The contract calls for replacement of Culvert 10A (S-271) near Canal Point along the east side of the lake. The water control structures provide irrigation and drainage to landowners in the area. Work on this project is expected to be complete by the summer of 2020.

“With this award, we now have all water control structures on the southern half of the dike under contract for replacement,” said Tim Willadsen, Herbert Hoover Dike Rehabilitation Project Manager. “These water control structures were identified as potential sources of failure due to loss of material around them. Replacing these structures reduces the risk of dike failure.”

In 2011, the Corps began to replace or remove 32 federally-owned water control structures around the dike. With this contract, the Corps has taken action to address 20 of the structures, including all structures between Moore Haven and Port Mayaca on the southern shore of the lake. Other risk-reduction measures include installation of a partially penetrating cutoff wall between Port Mayaca and Belle Glade, the filling of a quarry near Pahokee, and removal of vegetation on the dike. The total investment since 2007 is more than $500 million.

Hebert Hoover Dike is a 143-mile, earthen levee that surrounds Lake Okeechobee, the second largest freshwater lake completely within the United States.

For more information on the Herbert Hoover Dike project, visit the Jacksonville District website at

Will Gov. Scott’s tantrum threaten Everglades restoration?

Scott shredded any notion that appointed governing boards are independent

Florida Gov. Rick Scott staged a Tallahassee tantrum this month aimed at the South Florida Water Management District.

In short order and with no public explanations, Scott shredded any notion that appointed governing boards are independent, forced the resignation of the district’s Executive Director Blake Guillory, whom he once recruited from a national engineering firm, and demanded Peter Antonacci, his lawyer, replace Guillory.

Why? Because the board briefly considered maintaining the district’s current tax rate? (For five consecutive years the South Florida board has been cutting the district’s budget, eliminating 525 jobs.) And because the governor is still mad he couldn’t get the money or water-policy support he wanted from the Legislature this year, and is trying to shift the blame?

\What’s important to those of us living in South Florida is that the district retains the staff and capacity to maintain the region’s flood-control system, protect our water supplies and capably continue implementing the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. Bob Graham, former Florida governor and U.S. senator, famously compares implementing CERP to open-heart surgery warning: “Once you start, you can’t just quit halfway through.”

Officially CERP is a “modification” of the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control Project, the network of drainage canals, pumps, gates and dikes built by the Army Corps of Engineers after widespread flooding in 1947 put downtown Fort Lauderdale waist-deep in water. The modifications aim to store water in the rainy season for use in the dry season, re-establish natural water regimes to sustain the sawgrass marshes of Everglades National Park and the state’s conservation areas and reduce destructive drainage discharges into South Florida’s estuaries.

Getting things “just right” isn’t easy and it isn’t cheap. The CERP plan detailed 68 projects to be built over 30 years at a projected cost of $7.8 billion. Costs are shared 50/50 by the state and federal governments. Fifteen years after starting, costs are projected at $17.5 billion. So, it’s fair to ask: Are we halfway through yet?

The quick and short answer is “no,” but it’s a trick question because the answer depends on what’s counted.

For example, under Gov. Jeb Bush the state moved quickly to buy land; 63 percent of what’s needed has been bought. CERP also presumed “foundation projects” would be completed. These include Kissimmee River and Picayune Strand restorations and a series of projects to improve freshwater deliveries to Everglades National Park.

All are scheduled to be complete in the next four years, but they’re not CERP projects and won’t be counted on that ledger. Lastly, CERP presumed an annual construction revenue stream of $400 million ($200 million from Congress, another $200 million from the state) that hasn’t been sustained.

“The start was slow,” concedes Shannon Estenoz, director of the U.S. Department of Interior’s Everglades Restoration Initiatives office in Davie, “We didn’t have a problem solving capacity … now that we’ve figured out how to bundle projects, we’re moving at a faster clip. I think we can get it done in 15 years.”

In the last three weeks, the Army Corps of Engineers sped up, issuing a $197-million construction contract to build a CERP reservoir in the Treasure Coast and asking Congress to authorize the Central Everglades Project. That project bundles six CERP projects to improving the flow of water through Conservation Area 3 in western Broward County. Next year contracts will be let to design the Broward County Water Preserves, a buffer to prevent flooding in the county’s western suburbs as water levels increase in the conservation area.

“We’re going to have more ribbon-cuttings and ground-breakings in the next year than ever before,” Guillory had told the district governing board last month. Ironically on the day he announced his resignation, restoration-water discharges began in the Picayune Strand and, in the Everglades Agricultural Area, water was finally filling the A-1 Flow Equalization Basin. The FEB is a key feature of the governor’s “Restoration Strategies” program to meet state water-quality standards and settle a pending lawsuit.

I don’t know how long it will take to check off 6Charles M. Murphy|Sep 23rd, 20158 projects, but there’s no magic in establishing 2030 as the goal. The magic is in the very concept of Everglades Restoration – the recognition that South Florida’s water is a vital natural resource to be preserved and protected, used but not abused – that survives the politics du jour.


Millions planned in Lake Okeechobee watershed projects

Reports from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the South Florida Water Management District and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on accomplishments in the past year around Lake Okeechobee highlighted the agenda of the 16 County Lake Okeechobee Coalition meeting Sept 18.

Colonel Jason Kirk of the Army Corps, Commander of the Jacksonville District reported $102 million had been spent in fiscal year 2015 on the Herbert Hoover Dike. The Corps fiscal year 2016 requests include $59.52 million for the C-44 reservoir in Martin County and $16.96 million for the Kissimmee River restoration. The Corps just approved a $197 million contract for the C-44 project.

The intake canal and Citrus Boulevard Bridge was constructed as part of the Corps’ first construction contract for the C-44 project. (Photo courtesy USACE)

Tom Teets, Division Director for the SFWMD reported a total of 1,772 acres has been purchased for the Kissimmee River project in the past year.

He said construction of a storm water treatment area, discharge system and a pump station at the C-44 should be completed in 2018.
Phase one of the C-43 project in Hendry County is expected to store 90,000 acre feet of water. The state committed $18 million in 2015 for this project.

Commissioner Jack Ritchie of Highlands County said his county has some flooding problems. He said they try to emphasize cleaner storm water runoff. “That is one of our key issues right now,” he said.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection reported that nutrients must be reduced by 343 metric tons per year to meet TMDLs or total maximum daily loads for Lake Okeechobee. The DEP expects current projects like the Kissimmee restoration, water farming, and storm water treatment areas to reduce the nutrients by another 145 metric tons.

Okeechobee Commissioner Frank Irby praised ongoing best management practices in Okeechobee County. He said in Okeechobee county 279,000 acres use BMPs.

Mr. Irby said the agriculture community also has reduced the use of fertilizers through GPS and more precise farming. “Agriculture is very focused on improving the water quality in our area,” he added.

Matthew Tibbs is a project engineer on the C-8 and C-13 Culvert Replacement project at Lake Okeechobee in south Florida. His main duties are contract administration and quality assurance.

Commissioner Sarah Heard of Martin County praised the work done on C-44 and the work of the Corps of Engineers, “The coalition is extremely powerful,” she said. “Our strategy to focus on a small number of critical projects has been successful. All our projects were funded at the federal level.”

She said she was saddened by the recent resignation of Blake Guillory, the Executive Director at the SFWMD, and praised the job he did.
The DEP funding priorities for 2016 includes $16.9 million for the Lake Hicpochee North Hydrologic Enhancement Project in Glades County. $25 million has been requested for projects like the Brighton Valley storm water storage and treatment project and for Phase II of the Lakeside Ranch STA.

St. Lucie County Commissioner Frannie Hutchison reported that county has budgeted $70 million in storm water projects in the 2016 fiscal year. Hendry County Commissioner Carson Turner said he had concerns about the change in leadership at the SFWMD. He said he wants the policy of moving dirt and building projects to continue. He also encouraged the counties to send representatives to Washington, D.C. on October 21 when they lobby legislators.

Col. Kirk said he wants to continue momentum on current projects. He said the focus should be on accomplishments. He said the Kissimmee River restoration is about 86 percent complete with only two contracts left to approve.

The 2016 budget proposal also includes $64.14 million for the dike. He said 22 miles of dike has been improved so far with six miles being worked on now between Belle Glade and Lake Harbor. Last week the Corps approved a $49 million to replace a water control structure north of Canal Point. A draft dam safety modification study report on the dike is expected to be released for public review and comment before Thanksgiving.

The coalition set the continued repairs of the Herbert Hoover dike as their top federal priority this year. The Kissimmee River Restoration was ranked second and the C-44 reservoir was ranked third.

Their top priorities for the Florida State Legislature include support for the Governors environmental budget, state funding for the Kissimmee River and money for projects the benefit the Indian River Lagoon.

Dr. Paul Gray of the Audubon Society of Florida saluted the work to send 1 foot of Lake Okeechobee water south into water retention areas last year. He said money was spent to purchase pumps that allowed the water to be pumped into these areas.

Martha Musgrove of the Florida Wildlife Federation said the coalition should lobby to insist the legislature uses Amendment I dollars strictly for the purchase of land and land management.

Mark Perry with the Florida Oceanographic Society said 1 million acre feet of water storage is needed north of Lake Okeechobee. He said there is no study planned for this storage until 2020 and construction might not be complete to 2025 or later. He praised the water management district for sending more water south but worried that an El Nino affect could raise the level of Lake Okeechobee considerably this winter.

Charles M. Murphy|Sep 23rd, 2015

Water Quality Issues

Cleaning the Water, Healing the Forest ‏

A landmark legal settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency last week requires the agency to finally develop a plan to regulate pollution from forest roads that clogs streams and rivers killing fish and pollutes our drinking water supplies.

The spider web of dirt roads that spread across our landscapes are a cancer to clean water, dumping tons of sediment into waterways with every rainstorm. Across the U.S., 67% of watersheds on Forest Service lands ranked as poor or fair condition due to roads.

We’ve been pressing them in the forests, in the nation’s capitol, and in the courts to control runoff from forest roads for over a decade.

Because of the settlement, EPA has agreed to new deadlines to shore up rules on storm water pollution from forest roads and urban areas. WildEarth Guardians’ advocacy for these rules helped to bring this problem to the court’s attention. 

In the settlement, EPA agreed to lay out options to best fix the forest road storm water problem by May 2016. 

More than 43 years—and still counting—after Congress passed the Clean Water Act the promise of clean water is still unfulfilled in streams and rivers across our nation. The EPA’s plan to deal with pollution from forest roads—and our and your participation in it—can make a real difference to fulfill the promise of clean water.

WildEarth Guardians and our Rewilding Team will be there every step of the way demanding the strongest rules for preventing polluted runoff from roads.

Bryan Bird|Wild Places Program Director|WildEarth Guardians

This video explains how those plastic bits in face washes, scrubs, and toothpastes can hurt ecosystems

By now, most of us know that if we want our consciences to be as squeaky clean as our faces, we have to ditch our most beloved scrubbing products. While microbeads — the tiny plastic bits most commonly found in face washes, scrubs, and toothpastes — might do great things for your pores, they could also quietly wreak havoc on the environment by steadily streaming into the Great Lakes and oceans.

Couldn’t care less about fish? Get this: Through the magic of the food chain, these little plastic beads actually carry the potential to come back around and screw with human health. We turned to Andrew Maynard, mastermind behind the Risk Bites YouTube channel and director of Arizona State University’s Risk Innovation Lab, to figure out just how hazardous an exfoliator could be. Check out his findings in the video above!

Ana Sofia Knauf|18 Sep 2015

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Officials say sea lamprey numbers down across Great Lakes

TRAVERSE CITY — Populations of invasive, fish-killing sea lampreys have fallen to their lowest point in decades a cross the Great Lakes, showing that control measures costing millions of dollars a year are paying off, officials said Wednesday.

Lamprey numbers have reached a 30year low in Lake Huron and a 20-year low in Lake Michigan, according to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, a U.S.-Canadian organization. Numbers also are down significantly in the other lakes.

“Sea lamprey control is worth the effort and is the foundation of the fishery we enjoy today,” said Robert Hecky, chairman of the commission. “Before control, sea lampreys caused major economic and ecological harm. Today, fish communities are on the rebound and the fishery is worth $7 billion annually to the people of Canada and the United States.”

The lamprey is an eel-like creature that uses its suction-cup mouth and sharp teeth to fasten itself to other fish and suck out their bodily fluids. The average lamprey kills up to 40 pounds of fish in its lifetime.

The invader made its way from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes through shipping canals and had spread across the freshwater seas by the late 1930s. The infestation was especially devastating to prized native species such as trout and whitefish, although lampreys also feast on smaller fish such as walleye and perch.

A turning point was the development of a poison that kills lampreys in their larval stage, as they develop in rivers before migrating to the lakes as adults. Barriers and traps also have been effective. The commission is experimenting with sex pheromones that would lure lampreys away from spawning areas.

Lampreys killed about 103 million pounds of fish per year in the lakes before control measures began, Hecky said. Now, the annual toll is below 10 million pounds.

Lake Huron’s lamprey population, once the largest in the Great Lakes, has dropped from 440,000 in the early 1990s to about 69,000 — an 85 percent decline, commission spokesman Marc Gaden said. The population is estimated at 80,000 in Lake Superior, 27,000 in Lake Michigan, 24,000 in Lake Ontario and 10,000 in Lake Erie.

Although falling, lamprey numbers are still high enough in Lakes Erie and Superior to pose a significant risk to other fish species, Gaden said.


What if oil spewed into Great Lakes?

Response test went well, but many want line shut

ST. IGNACE — Canadian oil transport giant Enbridge, the U.S. Coast Guard and several other federal, state and local agencies took to the waters of the Great Lakes Thursday in boats big and small, testing their preparedness and capabilities to contain what many consider as the worst of nightmare scenarios for the Great Lakes: a leak in Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline that runs along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac.

The line includes twin, 62-year-old pipelines at the bottom of the Straits, through which Enbridge transports light crude oil and other petroleum products between Michigan’s peninsulas. Many fear that a rupture on Line 5 similar to Enbridge’sLine6Boilpipelinerupturein Marshall in July 2010 could devastate a wide swath of the northern Great Lakes, harm island and shoreline communities and their water supplies, as well as damage Michigan’s $7.4-billion boating and fishing industry.

Concern about a spill in such a critical area of the Great Lakes was heightened by a report from University of Michigan researchers that showed a spill there could be catastrophically far reaching, prompting state officials to form a committee to study what could be done preemptively to ward off a disaster.
That committee recently reached an agreement with Enbridge to make sure heavy crude — the substance involved in the Marshall spill — would never be transported through Line 5. The company notes it has never transported heavy crude through Line 5, nor does it plan to do so.

Enbridge officials say the chances of a spill on Line 5 are slim. Still, the company along with the other local, state and federal agencies wanted to show what they were prepared to do in the event the unthinkable were to happen.

Thursday’s exercise included about 24 boats, from the Coast Guard cutter Alder deploying its spilled oil removal system to “vessels of opportunity,” tugs and barges in the Straits area put into service to pull booms, the floating, net-like spill containment devices, said Steven Keck, the Coast Guard’s oil spill contingency specialist based in Sault Ste. Marie.

Shoreline protection booms also were deployed near St. Ignace; the imaginary spill funneled into small bays and inlets around the area’s little islands for collection by rotating, squeegee-like skimmers that move the oil into vacuum t rucks onshore.

Helicopters and drones from Enbridge and other responding agencies patrolled the skies overhead.

“This is pretty much what you’d see after the first 24 hours,” Keck said. “If t he incident went beyond that, a lot more assets would be coming in.”

But the staged response drill was of little comfort to some residents who live nearby. Mackinaw City resident Anabel Dwyer rejected the premise of Thursday’s exercise. It’s not about showing how well Enbridge and responders can address a burst pipeline, she said.

“We must not have spill,”she said.“A spill would be catastrophic. This section of the line should be closed, and before another winter.”

Charles Usher, president of Detroit based Marine Pollution Control, is Enbridge’s contracted oil spill responder in the Straits and elsewhere. While some of the response equipment needed to address a Straits oil spill is kept in the area, much would have to come from Detroit, a nearly five-hour drive, he said.
A spill would likely make its way to shoreline areas along the northern tip of the Lower Peninsula — and that’s helpful for Usher’s purposes, he said.

“If you’re near shore, you can get more assets out there,” he said.

Environmental advocacy groups were quick to point out that Thursday’s exercise was planned for months, with necessary boats and equipment convening on a schedule — far from the scenario o f a real spill, in which key containment equipment would take hours to arrive. The Alder, for example, is docked in Duluth, Minn., more than 400 miles from the Straits.

The Straits of Mackinac, the stretch of water where Lakes Michigan and Huron converge and over which the Mackinac Bridge spans, was called by University of Michigan research scientist David Schwab “the worst possible location for an oil spill on the Great Lakes.” The area’s complex water currents can move in different directions at different lake depths, and can change from one direction to another in a matter of hours.

Twenty-four hours into a Straits oil spill, “you can be all the way from Rogers C ity to Beaver Island. The affected area is enormous,” said Mike Shriberg, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center.

The nearly pristine weather of Thursday’s exercise belies the harsh conditions that can often occur in the area, said David Holtz, chair of the nonprofit Sierra Club’s Michigan chapter.

“What happens when the Straits freezes over, and there’s up to several feet of ice?” he said. “Nothing I’ve heard from Enbridge, the Coast Guard or any of the other agencies involved suggests they have anything like a response in winter that is credible.”

Keck said a winter oil spill response exercise at the Straits in February 2013 proved “very challenging.” Winds can be severe, and temperatures can drop to around -20 degrees Fahrenheit in winter conditions, he said.

“The equipment wasn’t robust enough to deal with those conditions,” he said.

Enbridge plans another winter exercise at the Straits early next year, company spokesman Michael Barnes said.

Usher said if a spill coincided with rough waters and unsafe conditions for the company’s response boats, “We’d have to wait. You can’t put assets out on the water, and put lives and vessels at risk.”

How quickly Enbridge and emergency agencies recognize a spill is occurring and begin a response can also be critical. After the company’s Line 6B oil transmission line ruptured near Marshall In July 2010, Enbridge continued for 17 hours attempting to push through the line diluted bitumen — or dilbit — a heavy, sludgy oil mixed with other petroleum products. It resulted in the worst inland oil spill in U.S. history, devastating Talmadge Creek and a stretch of the Kalamazoo River, prompting a more than $1billion cleanup that took more than four years.

Enbridge officials pointed to intense, constant scrutiny of Line 5, including underwater inspection of the pipe and evaluation of its integrity from within the line. Leak detection systems are designed to shut down the line within three minutes in the event of a pressure drop, Barnes said.

The Marshall spill “really shook us to the foundation,” Enbridge President and CEO Al Monaco said. The years since have prompted “the largest integrity management and maintenance program in the history of pipelines” within the company, as well as enhanced monitoring and a change in culture and mind-set.

“If we think we have an issue, we are going to be cautious. We are going to be shut down,” he said. “If we thought there was an issue to be operating Line 5, we would be shutting it down. I can assure you, we are doing everything in our power to operate it safely.”


Offshore & Ocean

Ambitious 5 years ahead for South Carolina Ports

In this Feb. 18, 2015 photo, a container ship is docked at the Wando-Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant, S.C. Jim Newsome, the president and chief executive officer of the South Carolina Ports Authority announced Sept. 14, 2015 that the agency has embarked on an ambitious plan that will see the Charleston Harbor shipping channel deepened, a new container terminal open and other improvements to port infrastructure by 2020.   AP Photo/Bruce Smith

AP Photo/Bruce Smith

In this Feb. 18, 2015 photo, a container ship is docked at the Wando-Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant, S.C. Jim Newsome,

the president and chief executive officer of the South Carolina Ports Authority announced Sept. 14, 2015 t

hat the agency has embarked on an ambitious plan that will see the Charleston Harbor shipping channel deepened,

a new container terminal open and other improvements to port infrastructure by 2020.

CHARLESTON, S.C. — South Carolina’s ports are embarking on an ambitious five-year plan that will see the Charleston shipping channel deepened, a new container ship terminal come on line, a new rail transfer terminal begin operating and continued planning for a massive new container terminal the state will operate with Georgia.

The agenda for the ninth-largest container port in the nation was outlined this month in the latest State of the Port message by Jim Newsome, the chairman and chief executive officer of the South Carolina Ports Authority.


An estimated $1 billion needs to be invested in port infrastructure projects during the next five years to keep the South Carolina Ports Authority competitive, Newsome said. That money includes such things as spending on a new container terminal in North Charleston, buying bigger cranes and strengthening the wharfs at the authority terminal in Mount Pleasant to handle larger ships.


The deepening of the Charleston Harbor shipping channel to 52 feet is expected to be completed in 2020. The $510 million deepening is needed so the harbor can handle a new generation of larger container ships. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave key approval to the project this month, opening the way for engineering studies and for getting money from Congress to help pay for part of the work.


South Carolina’s $50 million inland port, which opened two years ago, has been a success and will likely need to be expanded in 2017, Newsome said. There are about 60 acres at the 100-acre site near Greer that can still be developed. The inland port provides a direct rail link between the Upstate and South Carolina Ports Authority terminals on the coast. It also takes thousands of trucks off busy Interstate 26 that crosses the state. Newsome said more such inland ports are needed.


By 2020, the first phase of a $700 million container terminal on the old Navy base in North Charleston should be operating. Newsome said at the same time a new rail transfer terminal nearby to serve the container ship terminal should also be on line. That terminal has been decades in the making. In the 1990s, the authority announced plans to build a massive $1.2 billion Global Gateway shipping terminal on nearby Daniel Island. But there was public opposition and state lawmakers directed the agency to build a smaller terminal, now under construction, at the old Navy base.


The federal permitting process is expected to begin later this year for a $5 billion container terminal South Carolina is building with Georgia on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River. The terminal will be needed because existing capacity at both Georgia and South Carolina container terminals is expected to run out around 2030 or so. The long planning process must begin now to have the terminal built by then. Newsome said there are still significant challenges facing the project including dredging the river, figuring out the financing and working on highway and rail access.

BRUCE SMITH, Associated Press|September 20, 2015

[This is the reason that Port Miami and Port Everglades have jumped the gun in their expansion plans. The South Carolina and Middle Atlantic Coast ports already have their over-road infrastructure in place and are more centrally located. Goods shipped to Florida have 400+ miles of overland roads to travel just to get out of Florida. I really believe the only goods Florida ports will receive are goods destined to be consumed in Florida.]

Port Expansion Damaged Unique Coral Reefs

The PortMiami expansion is nearly complete, making Miami the first port in the State of Florida capable of accepting the supersized ships that will soon sail through the expanded Panama Canal. But we do not believe that the PortMiami dredging project has been the unmitigated success its proponents claim it to be. The evidence is clear that the dredging operation, which began in November 2013, has deposited an asphyxiating blanket of sediment atop our coral reefs—the same reefs that protect Miami Beach’s imperiled coastline from storm surges; support our teeming fish populations; and help sustain our booming tourist industry. Many Americans do not know that South Florida is home to the only coral reef tract in the continental United States—as unique as the sequoias of California or the geysers of Wyoming, and no less deserving of our protection.

And yet, in recently disclosed documents, the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”), the federal agency charged with protecting our reefs, confirmed that the damage the Army Corps of Engineers and its contractor, Great Lakes Dredge and Dock, have caused to our reefs is neither “temporary” nor “insignificant” and, contrary to the Corps’ repeated assertions, “greatly exceeded” expected levels of environmental harm. NMFS went further, concluding that the Corps and its contractor harmed and killed corals protected by the Endangered Species Act.

Rather than mitigate the negative impacts of dredging and safeguard the only coral reef tract in the continental United States, the Corps and its contractor cut corners at every turn: allowing transport ships to leak sediment plumes that are strangling our reefs; refusing to replace ineffective monitoring devices; ignoring survey data that indicated, beyond doubt, that the reefs were dying; and casting aside the suggestions of local, state, and federal experts. What’s worse, as the project’s sponsor, Miami-Dade County and its taxpayers, not the Corps, will ultimately bear the burden of paying for the repair of our reefs.

For the last few years, we at Miami Waterkeeper and our allies have been pressing local, state, and federal officials to enhance coral reef protections during this project. We have filed two lawsuits to force the Corps to implement better management practices. Last October, after months of resisting, the Corps finally agreed to pay NMFS over $400,000 to relocate several-hundred Endangered Species Act-listed staghorn corals from the dredging site to a secure nursery run by the University of Miami. But, when the NMFS divers arrived on site, the Corps and its contractor had anchored the dredge ship directly atop the reef, preventing the divers from accessing most of the threatened corals. Despite repeated pleas from NMFS, the Corps refused to move its ship, even for one day, claiming the diversion would be too costly. At some point, the dredge ship suffered a malfunction that required it to leave the reef for repairs—a stroke of luck that gave the divers a small window within which to rescue a fraction of the threatened species. Those corals that were within reach are now thriving at University of Miami’s coral nursery. The rest are still struggling to survive.

We now call on Miami-Dade County to address the damage. Initial reports and letters indicate that the County is also looking to dismiss the impact as “insignificant” and “temporary”. This would be a mistake. The County should take swift action to clean up the Corps’ dredging mess and demonstrate its commitment to Miami’s irreplaceable natural resources and clean water economy.

In the end, there may be a silver lining here—what, we might say, our reef had to die for: A similar expansion of Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale (where another population of threatened staghorn corals resides) is in the works. The Corps has almost cleared its environmental approvals for that project, and Congress will soon appropriate funding.

But history does not have to repeat itself. Broward County and the State of Florida should insist, before granting the Corps’ permit, on more effective monitoring plans, more frequent underwater surveys, and more accurate estimates of the anticipated damage. In Port Everglades, we must demand a plan that does not deposit the thick, immovable sediment that, in just twenty months, has destroyed the unique coral reef that had thrived here for several millennia.

Rachel Silverstein, Ph.D.|Executive Director & Waterkeeper|Miami Waterkeeper

Marine life numbers fall by 50% in just four decades

Populations of marine life have halved over the last four decades with some at risk of total collapse, the WWF’s Living Blue Planet Report shows.

The updated study of marine mammals, birds, reptiles and fish shows that populations have been reduced on average by half globally in the last four decades, with some fish declining by close to 75 percent.

“We urgently published this report to provide the most current picture of the state of the ocean,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International. “In the space of a single generation, human activity has severely damaged the ocean by catching fish faster than they can reproduce while also destroying their nurseries.  Profound changes are needed to ensure abundant ocean life for future generations.”

Research in the WWF report indicates that species essential to commercial and subsistence fishing  – and therefore global food supply – may be suffering the greatest declines. Underscoring the severe drop in commercial fish stocks, the report details the dramatic loss of 74 per cent of the family of popular food fish that includes tunas, mackerels and bonitos.

“We are in a race to catch fish that could end with people starved of a vital food source and an essential economic engine. Overfishing, destruction of marine habitats and climate change have dire consequences for the entire human population, with the poorest communities that rely on the sea getting hit fastest and hardest. The collapse of ocean ecosystems could trigger serious economic decline – and undermine our fight to eradicate poverty and malnutrition,” said Lambertini.

The report shows a decline of 49 per cent of marine populations between 1970 and 2012. The analysis tracked 5,829 populations of 1,234 species, making the data sets almost twice as large as past studies and giving a clearer, more troubling picture of ocean health.

Adding to the crisis of falling fish populations, the report shows steep declines in coral reefs, mangroves and seagrasses that support fish species and provide valuable services to people. Over one-third of fish tracked by the report rely on coral reefs, and these species show a dangerous decline of 34 per cent between 1979 and 2010.

Research shows that coral reefs could be lost across the globe by 2050 as a result of climate change. With over 25 per cent of all marine species living in coral reefs and about 850 million people directly benefiting from their economic, social and cultural services, the loss of coral reefs would be a catastrophic extinction with dramatic consequences on communities.

“The ocean is an integral part of our lives. We are kept alive by the clean air, food and other services it provides. More than that, we are simply drawn to the ocean and its wildlife, whether a trip to the seaside or an encounter with the penguins at the ZSL London Zoo. This report suggests that billions of animals have been lost from the world’s oceans in my lifetime alone. This is a terrible and dangerous legacy to leave to our grandchildren,” said Ken Norris, Director of Science at ZSL.

However Lambertini says there is good news.

“The fortunate news is that solutions do exist and we know what needs to be done. The ocean is a renewable resource that can provide for all future generations if the pressures are dealt with effectively.

“If we live within sustainable limits, the ocean will contribute to food security, livelihoods, economies and our natural systems. The equation is that simple. We must take this opportunity to support the ocean and reverse the damage while we still can.”

From Wildlife Extra

The World’s Deadliest Bycatch ‏

Did you know that around the world each year more than 650,000 whales and dolphins are killed in fishing gear? Ensnared in nets or hooked on longlines, these intelligent marine mammals are reduced to “unintentional bycatch,” and either drown or are tossed overboard to die — a grim detail you won’t find on any menu.

Reducing the demand for unsustainably caught seafood is one way to address the problem. But another is to simply enforce the laws on our books: In 1972 Congress banned the import of fish caught in foreign gear that doesn’t meet U.S. standards for protecting whales and dolphins.

Unfortunately for decades that ban has been ignored — but after litigation by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. government is finally issuing new rules to halt seafood imports from places with bycatch violations. Shrimp from Mexico? Not if a vaquita was killed.

Center for Biological Diversity

Senegalese Women Strive for the Sustainable Use of Sea Resources

In Casamance, a region located in the south of Senegal, women play a fundamental role in artisanal fish processing, a traditional way of storing and adding value to fresh fish when the catch exceeds what can be consumed.

There are many steps involved. It entails re-purposing the excess fish into products such as dry or smoked fish, which can significantly reduce post-harvest losses. According to local estimates, the activity absorbs on average 30-40 percent of fish landings, and in some areas, can save up to 75 percent of fish destined to waste.

Fish processing has been recognized as a high-potential sector in Senegal, where 90 per cent is controlled by women. They have relied on traditional ovens, which are inefficient and have negative health and environmental consequences due to the burning of firewood to cook the fish.

“The use of traditional ovens has significantly impacted our living environment,” says Bineta Mané, President of the Women’s Union of Fish Processors. “This area used to be very green. Due to the substantial quantity of wood needed for traditional ovens, you can witness the deforestation and degradation of our surroundings.”

Ms. Mame Binta Demba, Executive Secretary of the Women’s Union of Fish Processors, adds that the smoke from traditional ovens has contributed to heart disease among several women and children involved. The use of traditional equipment also slowed production.

“Since we can’t truly control the temperatures of traditional ovens, we often burn our products and have to get rid of them, as they are not marketable,” says Ms. Demba, Executive Secretary of the Women’s Union of Fish Processors.

As a result, fishers are expected to deliver more fish, which is progressively leading to overfishing. Signs of fish shortages have already been reported by Kafountine fishers.

The Women’s Union of Fish Processors says it had not received aid from any development organizations for more than two decades. That changed recently with support from UN Women and the World Food Program (WFP) in 2014.

Ms. Demba adds: “When UN Women and WFP decided to implement this project here, we knew that our lives would be transformed. We can already see how we will be able to increase our production in a more efficient way and market better-quality products. Most importantly, we are thrilled to see the improvement of our working conditions and the impact on our health.”

Currently the construction of a modern fish-processing site in Kafountine, a rural area in Casamance, is underway. The project aims to strengthen the resilience of women in fish processing, increase their socioeconomic empowerment and foster the eventual development of environmentally friendly products.

Modern equipment will also seek to significantly decrease the negative health and environmental effects, and contribute to the sustainable use of sea resources by limiting overfishing and waste.

Introducing new processing technologies will enable these women to benefit from a reliable income-generating activity through the savvy use of sea resources. They will also be better-equipped to truly fulfill their roles of reusing sea products previously destined to waste, thereby contributing to the conservation and sustainable use of sea resources in Casamance.

Through this project, UN Women hopes that small-scale food processing will be more recognized as a powerful tool in the fight against the impoverishment of populations, including the most disadvantaged, as it contributes to the democratization of access to food and increases the economic empowerment of women,” said  Marie Pierre Raky Chaupin, UN Women Senegal Country Coordinator.

With better-quality products, WFP plans to buy the fish products these women produce to supply school canteens, which will in turn significantly increase the women’s income.

The inauguration of the new transformation site with modern ovens will take place in December 2015.

UN Women|September 25, 2015

3 Ways UN Leaders Can Restore the World’s Oceans

The ocean is in trouble. It’s being overfished, under-managed, polluted and altered in ways we’re still just beginning to understand. Environmental pressures could worsen as demand for marine resources grows.

This week, United Nations (UN) members will gather in New York for the Sustainable Development Summit, where they are expected to adopt a framework aimed at ending poverty and promoting prosperity—all while protecting the environment. Of the document’s 17 goals, one in particular calls on governments to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources”—including effectively regulating harvesting, ending overfishing and illegal fishing and protecting at least 10 percent of coastal and marine areas.

Right now, UN leaders can help transform these aspirational goals into measurable action by:

1. Adopting Robust Port Measures to Combat Illegal Fishing

Experts estimate that illegal and unreported catches of ocean fish account for up to $23.5 billion in stolen seafood yearly—or about 1 in every 5 fish taken from our oceans.

Crew of an illegal fishing vessel paint a new name on the hull at sea in an effort to avoid enforcement for crimes committed under a prior name. Photo credit: Australian Fisheries Management Authority

It’s far from practical for authorities to patrol every square mile of water, but new technologies—such as the satellite-based Project Eyes on the Seas—are making it easier to spot vessels that routinely skirt the rules. Once suspicious activity is identified, the most practical time to follow up is when a vessel is in port—through which almost all commercially caught fish, whether landed legally or not, must pass to reach market.

The UN has already shown a commitment to improved governance by adopting the Port State Measures Agreement, a treaty to cost-effectively strengthen port inspection standards for fishing vessels. The pact will take effect once 25 governments ratify it; to date, 14 have done so.

2. Setting Science-Based Catch Limits

Populations of marine species are being fished to their limits globally. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, 90 percent of fish stocks are being taken from the world’s oceans at or beyond sustainable levels. Large migratory fish species, such as Pacific bluefin tuna, have seen some of the greatest declines.

In traditional fisheries management, scientists conduct stock assessments, which managers use to set quotas and other policies designed to ensure that overfishing does not occur. But too often, politics derail multilateral negotiations to set science-based limits, especially when multiple countries are collectively setting catch limits and other fishing policies for a stock. Collaboration on catch limits is often elusive even when a population’s health reaches a crisis point. That’s where harvest strategies can help. These pre-agreed upon frameworks for making fisheries management decisions can help governments plan ahead.

3. Establishing a Global Network of Large-Scale Marine Parks

Sometimes the best way to protect the most extraordinary ecosystems from illegal fishing and overfishing is to bar all fishing and other extractive activities. After all, we do this for our most special places on land, so why not at sea?

Peer-reviewed studies have found more marine species and significantly larger populations, within marine reserves than in similar areas that are unprotected. Research also has concluded that populations of predatory fish increase exponentially for up to 18 years after a reserve is established.

Despite this evidence, only 1 percent of the world’s oceans are fully protected. But there are signs that the tide is turning. The U.S., Palau and the United Kingdom, among others, have recognized that reserves provide invaluable protection for marine life. And governments aren’t going it alone. In June, U.N. members agreed to move forward with negotiating a new international agreement that could lead to the establishment of large-scale marine reserves in areas that are beyond national jurisdiction.

By recognizing the vulnerability of the ocean and setting a Sustainable Development Goal to protect it, the U.N. has taken an important step. No one solution can overcome all of the challenges facing our marine environment, but by using the available suite of tools, U.N. members could make significant progress toward ensuring healthy, sustainable and productive seas for years to come.

Elizabeth Wilson|The Pew Charitable Trusts|September 25, 2015

Wildlife and Habitat

Victory on the Xingu: Belo Monte Denied Operational License

Recently we asked the international community to take action by urging the Brazilian environmental agency IBAMA to reject the dam-building consortium Norte Energia’s request for Belo Monte’s operational license. In a stunning victory for social and environmental accountability – and thanks in part to the many thousands of you that took action – it worked! Yesterday’s decision by IBAMA effectively paralyzes the mega-project as a result of its egregious legal violations, while sparing the region and the city of Altamira devastating flooding, at least for now.

It’s been over five years since the first license was granted for Belo Monte. Despite countless setbacks in the battle to protect this precious region, yesterday’s decision is a victory of justice, which should be celebrated by all.

IBAMA technicians needed only to open their eyes and assess the spiraling chaos that Belo Monte is wreaking on the Xingu River and its people. More importantly, the recent chorus of voices emanating from local organizations and their national and international supporters undoubtedly swayed the institution to do the right thing. As Belo Monte’s flooding appeared imminent, dozens of campaigns including Amazon Watch’s own, called on IBAMA to halt licensing, demonstrating the tenacious power of the Xingu Alive Forever Movement (MXVPS) and its allies around the world.

According to reports, IBAMA based its judgment on careful analysis of a series of compulsory socio-environmental measures that Norte Energia (NESA) must fulfill prior to obtaining permission – which comes in the form of an operational license – in order to flood Belo Monte’s reservoir and begin producing electricity. Anticipating approval of a license by mid-September, NESA scrambled to prepare the region for a vast flood, razing entire neighborhoods in Altamira without first guaranteeing suitable compensation – including housing – for displaced people, and by clearcutting over 400 islands of the Xingu’s rich forests so as to submerge them in a stagnant reservoir. Yet the consortium’s hopes were dashed this week as the reality of its criminal irresponsibility was publicly acknowledged.

Explaining IBAMA’s decision, licensing director Thomaz Miazaki cited “pending obligations” that remain unfulfilled by the consortium. These obligations include ensuring basic sanitation, health, and resettlement projects are completed, in addition to the construction of a series of bridges that would allow displaced peoples to cross the dam’s artificial waterways once it floods huge swaths of the region’s lowlands.

This eleventh hour decision presents NESA and its champions in the Dilma Rousseff government with a serious dilemma – complying with long-flouted obligations to mitigate Belo Monte’s disastrous impacts will not only be highly costly, but could also continue to delay the project for months. Meanwhile, the wanton impunity to which NESA has grown accustomed has suffered a major blow given that IBAMA has finally upheld its role as an institution that safeguards basic Brazilian environmental and social standards.

This decision must not be ignored by governmental leaders as they have done previously. No matter what happens, we’ll continue to stand strong with our indigenous allies on the ground who demand justice. Whatever lies ahead, today Xinguanos celebrate the triumph of accountability over impunity. Xingu Vivo Para Sempre!

Palm Beach County to Receive $300,000 to Clean up and Redevelop Contaminated Brownfields Sites ‏

ATLANTA – Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that Palm Beach County will receive $300,000 to clean up and redevelop contaminated brownfields sites in Florida.

Nationally, approximately $13.2 million in supplemental funding to help transform communities by cleaning up contaminated Brownfields properties. Supplemental funding of the Revolving Loan Funding (RLF) will be given to 31 successful RLF grantees helping 44 communities carry out cleanup and redevelopment projects. These projects will help communities create jobs while protecting people’s health and the environment. Many of the RLF cleanups are in under-served and economically disadvantages neighborhoods – places where environmental cleanup and new jobs are most needed.
“These funds – granted to communities who have already achieved success in their work to clean up and redevelop brownfields – will help boost local economies, create local jobs and protect people from harmful pollution by expediting Brownfield projects,” said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. “The RLF supplemental recipients are some of the nation’s top performers. Collectively, these communities have already leveraged more than $5 billion in clean up and redevelopment investment – the RLF funding announced today will help sustain that incredible progress.”

The RLF grantees provide a level of funding for cleanups that isn’t available through traditional financing options or through other brownfield grants, serving as the critical gap financing needed to jump-start the redevelopment process. RLF funding is often the last key piece of funding needed to make the cleanup and reuse of the property happen. RLFs specifically supply funding for loans and sub-grants to carry out cleanup activities at brownfield sites. When these loans are repaid, the loan amount is then returned to the fund and re-loaned to other borrowers, providing an ongoing sustainable source of capital within a community for additional cleanup of brownfield sites. The supplemental funding to each grantee ranges from about $250,000 to $700,000.

EPA continues to engage and help new communities address barriers to redeveloping sites which are plaguing their communities. All of the grantees selected for funding have significantly depleted their RLF funds and need supplemental funding in order to recapitalize their loan pool to continue making loans and subgrants to clean up brownfields properties. The supplemental funds help keep the cleanup momentum going so that more cleanups can be completed. To date, RLF grantees have completed over 400 cleanups, leveraged approximately 15,000 jobs and over $5 billion of public and private funding.

The grantees receiving supplemental funding this year continue to demonstrate a high-level of preparedness to undertake specific shovel ready projects and have the committed leveraged funds necessary to move projects forward. This year’s supplemental funds will support an array of cleanup and redevelopment projects across the country.

There are an estimated 450,000 abandoned and contaminated sites in the United States. EPA’s Brownfields program targets these sites to encourage redevelopment, and help to provide the opportunity for productive community use of contaminated properties. Since the inception of the EPA’s Brownfields Program in 1995, cumulative brownfield program investments have leveraged more than $23.3 billion from a variety of public and private sources for cleanup and redevelopment activities. This equates to an average of $17.79 leveraged per EPA brownfield dollar expended. These investments have resulted in approximately 109,787 jobs nationwide.

More information on EPA’s Brownfields program:

More information on Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund grants:

Contact Information: Dawn Harris Young, (404) 562-8421 (Direct), (404) 562-8400 (Main),

How Do Animals Survive Wildfires?


It’s been a bad year for wildfires in the Western United States.  The drought conditions and high temperatures across much of the region have combined to bring fires that arrived earlier and burned larger than most years. 

While the impact on humans is dramatic, many folks are concerned about the impact of these fires on wildlife.

Thanks to the Disney classic Bambi, many Americans carry a distinct image with them of the way animals react to wildfires: thousands of terrified creatures dashing madly for a river as a wall of flames approaches. Unfortunately, this image is hardly accurate.

The truth is that while some animals die—more often as a result of suffocation than from immolation—most wild creatures possess survival skills that help them avoid the fatal consequences of fires.

It’s Best To Fly
Birds have the most obvious advantage—the ability to fly to safe locations when flames appear. The fact that most fires strike during late summer or fall, after breeding season, means that few species of birds still have flightless young or nests to protect.

Unfortunately, some of this year’s fires were so early in the season they were an exception. Because some occurred as early as mid-May, many nests with eggs or young birds were lost.

But Walking Can Keep An Animal Safe Too
Large mammals can usually stay ahead of fires by walking. Even huge blazes seldom move faster than two miles per hour, so these animals can safely flee the advancing flames.

Also, most fires don’t burn evenly across a landscape, and animals can seek refuge in the areas of unburned terrain.

In the 1988 fire that swept across Yellowstone National Park, the confirmed count of large mammals killed, according to one report, was five Bison, one Black Bear, two Moose, four deer, and two hundred forty-five Elk—a surprisingly low body count when you consider the fact that the fire involved almost 1.5 million acres.

It’s Tougher If You’re Not Mobile
Small animals, by contrast, most often seek refuge below ground in burrows or other cavities. Even flightless insects dig their way into the upper soil or humus as the flames pass. The fire may be burning out of control, but the temperature just a few inches below the surface remains unchanged.

One small mammal that doesn’t fare well is the Wood Rat. In forested areas these rodents live in nests made of sticks and other dry vegetation placed just above ground level or low in trees, and these sites are extremely vulnerable to understory fires.

What About Insects?
Invertebrate populations tend to decrease after a fire because eggs, food supplies, and shelter are destroyed. Flying insects are especially vulnerable because they are attracted to fire by heat or smoke and are incinerated in great numbers.

Surface insect populations, such as grasshoppers, also tend to decrease. Other insect populations, especially bark beetles, increase after a fire, as trees damaged or killed provide large amounts of suitable habitat.

Sadly, some of the worst damage associated with fires is caused by human efforts aimed at fire control. Firebreaks created by bulldozers result in more long-term habitat degradation and associated impact on wildlife than the fires themselves. Likewise, fire retardant dropped by aircraft can poison fish and other aquatic creatures.

To make matters worse, the presence of low-flying helicopters, droning bulldozers, and fire crews often confound the efforts of animals trying to escape.

In fact, one report on the Yellowstone fire states that about a hundred of the large mammals listed as killed during the fire died as a result of collisions with fire-fighting vehicles.

Not All The News Is Bad
Yet plants and animals are more resilient and resourceful than most people think. Not only do many creatures survive wildfires, some even thrive in the wake of conflagrations.

In natural conditions, fires burn away tree and shrub seedlings on prairies and other open grasslands. In woodlands and large forests, periodic fires keep sapling trees and shrubs from overcrowding the understory and thereby fueling major conflagrations.

Fires also release necessary minerals into the soil, open the cones on Lodgepole Pines, Giant Sequoias, and several other evergreens, and generally promote good health to the environment.

eNature|September 21, 2015


Walbran Valley conflict escalates 

Port Renfrew, B.C. –  Conservationists are employing a new tool in the battle to protect BC’s endangered old-growth forests – remotely-piloted drones. The Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA) is using a small drone equipped with a GoPro camera to monitor and document the endangered old-growth forests of the Central Walbran Valley on Vancouver Island. This has allowed the organization to capture aerial video footage of old-growth forests threatened by logging on steep, rugged terrain that otherwise would take hours to hike to. Helicopter-based logging, or heli-logging, is expected for several of the eight proposed cut-blocks in the Central Walbran Valley, including the first approved Cut-block 4424 (approved last Friday by the BC Forest Service), due to the difficulty of road access in the mountains.

“Drones are a new tool in the tool box that are helping us raise the environmental awareness about remote endangered areas that are normally out of the public spotlight, where companies believe they can log with little scrutiny. Plus it allows us to get some spectacular footage of our magnificent but endangered old-growth forests from vantage points rarely seen”, stated TJ Watt, Ancient Forest Alliance photographer and campaigner who shot the Walbran videos.

The AFA’s drone cost just over one thousand dollars and has been used by Watt half a dozen times to explore and document ancient forests since he purchased it late last year. Other conservationists are also starting to use them to help document endangered areas.

“Teal-Jones and the BC government have committed themselves to an intense battle by aggressively moving to log southern Vancouver Island’s most contentious ancient forest. The logging companies have already clearcut the vast majority of the richest and grandest old-growth forests on Vancouver Island – over 90% – and now they’re complaining that they’re running out of options. They’ve boxed themselves into a corner through their own unsustainable history of overcutting the biggest and best old-growth stands – and now they’re contending that it’s the conservationists’ fault and that they must log the last unprotected lowland ancient forests to survive. The one thing the BC government must not do is to reward unsustainable practices with more unsustainable practices – but that’s just what they’ve done by granting the first cutting permit to Teal-Jones in the Central Walbran Valley. It’s a myopic government facilitating the demise of an ecosystem for a company intent to go just about to the very end. Instead they need a quick transition or exit strategy to get completely out of our last ancient forests and into a sustainable, value-added, second-growth forest industry,” stated Ken Wu, Ancient Forest Alliance executive director.

The 500 hectare Central Walbran Valley is one of the largest contiguous tracts of unprotected old-growth forest left on southern Vancouver Island (south of Barkley Sound) where about 90% of the original, productive old-growth forests have already been logged. It is home to the Castle Grove, perhaps the most extensive and densely-packed monumental western red cedar groves in Canada. The upper reach of the Castle Grove is threatened by several of the proposed Teal-Jones cut-blocks. Species at risk include Queen Charlotte Goshawks, marbled murrelets (several of which were recorded by AFA campaigners near the Castle Grove in June:, screech owls, and red-legged frogs, while Coho salmon and steelhead trout spawn in the rivers.

The Central Walbran is popular for hikers, campers, anglers, hunters, and mushroom pickers, and is located on public (Crown) lands in Tree Farm License 46 near Port Renfrew in Pacheedaht Nuu-chah-Nulth territory. About 5500 hectares of the Lower Walbran Valley were included in the Carmanah-Walbran Provincial Park in 1994, while about 7500 hectares in the Central and Upper Walbran Valleys were left unprotected.

Conservationists are escalating pressure on the BC government and the company through protests and public awareness campaigns, calling on the company to back off and the BC government to protect the two ancient forests. Teal-Jones Group is a Surrey-based company that logs and sells endangered old-growth forests – including ancient red cedar trees – for pulp, paper, and solid wood products.

Environmentalists are calling on the BC government to protect these areas from logging through expanded Old-Growth Management Areas (OGMA’s), core Wildlife Habitat Areas (WHA’s), and Land Use Orders (LUO’s).

On BC’s southern coast (Vancouver Island and SW Mainland), satellite photos show that about 75% of the original, productive (moderate to fast growth rates, forests of commercial value) old-growth forests have been logged, including over 91% of the valley bottoms and high-productivity, lowland forests where the largest trees grow. Only 8% of the original, productive old-growth forests on BC’s southern coast are protected in parks and Old-Growth Management Areas. See maps and stats on the remaining old-growth forests on BC’s southern coast at:

In a recent Vancouver Sun and Province article (see the Teal-Jones spokesperson was quoted as claiming that “only 11,080 hectares of [the] 59,884-hectare tree farm licence…can be logged” – while failing to mention that tens of thousands of hectares have already been logged and thousands more are on low productivity sites (small trees) of little to no commercial value or inoperable conditions. In addition, the article stated that “…the company gave up more than 7,000 hectares to create the Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park”. In fact, the Carmanah-Walbran Provincial Park was established in 1994, while it wasn’t until 2004 that Teal-Jones acquired Tree Farm License 46 (where the park is) from TimberWest – 10 years after the park’s creation and for a price that already reflected the deduction of timber from the park. In addition, the province has stated that the 500 hectares in the Central Walbran is small compared to the 16,000 hectares within the Carmanah-Walbran Provincial Park – failing to provide the context (a common PR-spin technique) that about 670,000 hectares of about 760,000 hectares of the original, productive old-growth forests on southern Vancouver Island (south of Barkley Sound) have already been logged.

In addition, the BC government itself, in order to placate public fears about the loss of BC’s endangered old-growth forests, typically over-inflates the amount of remaining old-growth forests in its PR-spin by including hundreds of thousands of hectares of marginal, low productivity forests growing in bogs and at high elevations with smaller, stunted trees, lumped in with the productive old-growth forests, where the large trees grow (and where most logging takes place). “It’s like including your Monopoly money with your real money and then claiming to be a millionaire, so why curtail spending?” stated the Ancient Forest Alliance’s Ken Wu. 

“The Walbran Valley was the birthplace of the ancient forest protest movement in Victoria decades ago. Logging there has repeatedly triggered protests, beginning in 1991 and flaring up regularly for more than a decade thereafter. Thousands of British Columbians love the ancient forests of the Castle Grove, Emerald Pool, Bridge Camp, Summer Crossing, and Fletcher Falls in the Central Walbran Valley,” stated Ken Wu, Ancient Forest Alliance executive director. “Both the province and the company will be held accountable for what happens in these areas.”

“Because of the ideal growing conditions in the region, Canada’s temperate rainforests reach their most magnificent proportions in region of the Walbran Valley. It’s Canada’s version of the American redwoods. Given this fact – and that virtually all of the unprotected ancient forests are either clearcut or fragmented by logging today on southern Vancouver Island – it should be a no-brainer that the grandest and one of the largest contiguous tracts here, the Central Walbran, should be immediately protected”, stated TJ Watt, Ancient Forest Alliance campaigner and photographer.

Old-growth forests are vital to sustain endangered species, climate stability, tourism, clean water, wild salmon, and the cultures of many First Nations.

The Ancient Forest Alliance is calling on the BC government to implement a comprehensive science-based plan to protect BC’s endangered old-growth forests, and to also ensure a sustainable, value-added second-growth forest industry.

Ancient Forest Alliance, September 22, 2015

Global Warming and Climate Change

Global Warming ‘Hiatus’ Never Happened, Scientists Say

Global warming has not slowed. The so-called hiatus remains just that—so-called. The world is warming as predicted and any apparent evidence that it is not doing so is a statistical illusion, according to U.S. scientists.

They report in the journal Climatic Change that they applied “rigorous, comprehensive, statistical analysis” to the global temperature data and came up with this unequivocal conclusion.

And although normally scientists like to spell out the caveats, the margins of error and the uncertainties in their conclusions, the team get to the point with unprecedented firmness.

“We find compelling evidence that recent claims of a ‘hiatus’ in global warming lack sound scientific basis. Our analysis reveals that there is no hiatus in the increase in the global mean temperature, no statistically significant difference in trends, no stalling of the global mean temperature, and no change in year-to-year temperature increases,” they write.

The very-much discussed and so-called pause, hiatus or slowdown in global warming has puzzled climate scientists for years. During the 1990s, annual global temperatures increased palpably, and at a measurable rate. In the early years of this century, the rate of increase began to slow.

Non-stop Warming

It did not, as some have claimed, stop. Thirteen of the hottest 14 years ever have occurred this century, and 2014 was the warmest on record. But the rate of increase, expressed as fractions of a degree Celsius, averaged over the whole planet, certainly seemed to have slowed.

Since the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had continued steadily to increase, as a consequence of the combustion of fossil fuels, the rise in global temperatures should have kept pace, and scientists began to puzzle over the process.

One favorite explanation—and there have been many—was that some long-term natural oceanic or atmospheric cycle had been at play, taking any new atmospheric warmth to the deepest parts of the seas.

Another proposed that an increase in small volcanic eruptions had polluted the atmosphere and imperceptibly blocked incoming sunlight to cool the Earth from above. A third strand of argument proposed that even if there had been a slowdown, there was greater warming to come.

Yet others had begun to wonder about the completeness of the available data. And in June, a team led by the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) re-examined the available data, applied corrections they thought necessary, and reported that there had been no slowdown at all. 

Now Bala Rajaratnam of Stanford University in California and colleagues have come to the same conclusion. They did some advanced mathematical homework, using both the measurements corrected by the NOAA group and a set of older, uncorrected temperature measurements. They also devised a new statistical framework to apply to them.

“By using both datasets, nobody can claim that we made up a new statistical technique in order to get a certain result,” said Dr Rajaratnam. “We saw there was a debate in the scientific community about the global warming hiatus, and we realised that the assumptions of classical statistical tools being used were not appropriate and thus could not give reliable answers.”

Collected measurements of any kind, made at different times with different techniques, tell scientists nothing: they must use statistical tools to eliminate possible bias, smooth other distortions and allow for human error. So all debate about climate change has, at bottom, been about how to interpret information.

The Stanford team’s approach involved thinking again about how to make sense of temperature readings collected unevenly from ocean and surface atmospheric temperatures, all of them influenced by chaotic weather systems, seasonal variations and long-term natural cycles.

They applied another approach that could equally be used with climate data or stock market prices, and they report that their statistical confidence in their conclusions is 100 times stronger than what was reported by the NOAA group. Once this approach was applied, the apparent alteration in the rate of warming disappeared.

“Global warming is like other noisy systems that fluctuate wildly but still follow a trend. Think of the U.S. stock market. There have been bull markets and bear markets but overall it has grown a lot over the past century,” said Noah Diffenbaugh of the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford.

“What is clear from analyzing the long-term data in a rigorous statistical framework is that, even though climate varies from year to year and decade to decade, global temperature has increased in the long term, and the recent period does not stand out as abnormal.”

Tim Radford|Climate News Network | September 20, 2015

Mayor Gimenez Bows to Environmentalists, Creates Sea-Level-Rise Position

"With less than a foot of sea-level rise, which is anticipated in the next 10-15 years, the entire drainage system of Miami-Dade County will be imperiled," the letter states.

“With less than a foot of sea-level rise, which is anticipated in the next 10-15 years, the entire drainage system of Miami-Dade County will be imperiled,” the letter states.

Photo by siralbertus/Flickr CC

Earlier this week, environmentalists raised a sea-level-rise rallying cry with Miami-Dade County commissioners. Their demands: a $500,000 pool for engineering solutions and a new “chief resiliency officer” for the county who would act as a point person for new infrastructure to keep Miami dry.

“The eyes of the world are looking to see what Miami-Dade County will do to build climate resilience and protect us and our homes from drainage system failures, saltwater intrusion, and other climate-related disruptions,” the environmentalists declared in a letter sent to officials. “Effective engineering solutions are needed now.”

Last night, County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and commissioners listened. In a new $6.8 billion budget that passed last night, they affirmed a plan very similar to the one local environmentalists suggested: $75,000 will pay the salary of the new resiliency officer with a $300,000 budget to tackle sea-level rise. That’s $200,000 less than environmentalists proposed.

The move comes after weeks of mounting pressure. Environmentalists protested the first budget hearing earlier this month, pointing to the size of the county’s sustainability office, which is ten times smaller than Broward’s similar division of environmental planning and community resilience, which has four full-time employees.

This week, Gimenez attended a climate change summit in Los Angeles, where he declared that county government “continues to be committed to making the necessary investments” on environmental issues. Gimenez was the only county mayor invited.

According to his spokesperson, Michael Hernandez, Gimenez returned with a “renewed focus” on the environment. He says this push wasn’t reactionary because of environmental groups’ pressure but that the $300,000 only recently became available.

“Mayor Gimenez shares their concerns and understands from a global perspective as chief executive officer of a county government of 26,000 employees,” Hernandez tells New Times. “Now, as the fiscal outlook for Miami-Dade has improved, funds have been allocated to areas of need, this being one of the top concerns for Gimenez and residents. We are ground zero in the U.S. (quite possibly the world) for climate change.”

South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard also signed the letter to commissioners. He’s also a biology professor at Florida International University. He fears that if the county doesn’t begin implementing engineering solutions now, there’ll be financial repercussions down the line.

“We in South Florida need to change our building codes and start our infrastructure improvements now so we can show the credit agencies we are ahead of the curve and not behind it,” Stoddard says. “If we delay, we won’t have the 30 years we need to pay back the bonds, and we won’t be able to afford the projects we can afford if we act today.”

Jess Swanson|September 18, 2015

We Stand with Pope Francis on Climate Action

Pope Francis says that we all have an obligation to take action. We can’t let complacency or politics stand in the way of progress.

As the CEO of The Climate Reality Project, I’m working along with our chairman, Al Gore, to unite people like the thousands gathered at the National Mall today to stop climate change and create a safe and healthy future for our planet. A future we’re proud to give our children. A future where everyone has the chance to thrive.

We know that climate change is the moral challenge of our time. Together, we need to make sure world leaders know it too and understand Pope Francis’s message that we all have an obligation to take action. We can’t let complacency or politics stand in the way of progress.

We stand with Pope Francis in telling our leaders that we have a moral imperative to act on climate change. For the sake of our families. For the sake of the most vulnerable. For the sake of the beautiful planet we share.

Today, you can help. By clicking here, you can sign a petition demanding a strong international climate agreement at the upcoming UN talks in Paris. If we speak with one voice and one message, our leaders have to listen. So please add your name here to demand climate action from world leaders.

Today, we’re sending a strong message to Congress that Americans from all walks of life demand action on climate change. By signing our petition, you’ll send this same message to world leaders too.

Thank you for making your voice heard. Working together, we can – and will – solve the climate crisis!

Governor Undermines Climate Action Plan in Colorado

Over the last few years, Colorado has been ravaged by near cataclysmic climate-change caused disasters—floods, wildfires, and drought—and so you’d think that when the state unveiled its new “Climate Action Plan,” as it did last week, the plan would take a very aggressive approach to fighting and mitigating climate change.

But that’s not what the plan does, which was spearheaded by Colorado Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper who used to work for the oil and gas industry. Gov. Hickenlooper is known far and wide for drinking Halliburton’s fracking fluid and suing local cities that banned fracking.

With this final Climate Action Plan, Gov. Hickenlooper is sending a new message to Colorado citizens: climate change is coming, the state is not going to do much to try and stop it, and you need to adapt, baby, adapt.

Weighing in at 93 pages, Colorado’s new Climate Action Plan is a slick, glossy, amalgam of smooth rhetoric, pretty pictures and soft-ball recommendations. In addition the plan purposely obscures uncomfortable facts. For example:

  • On page 3, the plan says that greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado will decrease “per unit of Gross State Product” but omits discussing that actual greenhouse gas emissions have and will continue to increase due to population growth and increased fracking for oil and gas.
  • Later on page 19, the plan finally shows a graph indicating that actual greenhouse gas emissions will increase by 77 percent from 1990 to 2030—and all through Hickenlooper’s eight-year reign as governor—but completely fails to mention or discuss this startling fact.
  • Throughout, the plan discusses the impacts that climate change will have on Colorado—on water, public health, agriculture and ecosystems—but fails to sound any kind of alarm bells that bold and immediate action needs to take place.
  • Most of the plan focuses on soft-ball recommendations for “adaptation,” which means that Hickenlooper pretty much accepts that climate change will happen rather than that he will be working to stop it.
  • Finally the plan has the audacity to actually say, “Colorado is on the right track.”

Colorado climate change emissions will increase by 77 percent from 1990-2030, but the Climate Action Plan says "Colorado is on the right track."Colorado climate change emissions will increase by 77 percent from 1990-2030, but the Climate Action Plan says “Colorado is on the right track.”

A draft of the Climate Action Plan was secretly sent out for review a few months ago to “selected stakeholders,” rather than opened up for broad public comment. This decision to keep the public outside the process continues in a long line of Hickenlooper’s actions to circumvent authentic public input about his aggressive pro-fossil fuel policies and drill, baby, drill mindset.

Colorado is a political swing state that is often in the crosshairs of national elections. As we head into the 2016 election, the level of caution of state level Democrats is increasing as the months go by, and so we should expect even more tepid responses, or worse, to climate change and other fossil fuel controversies. And now with this final Climate Action Plan, Gov. Hickenlooper is sending a new message to Colorado citizens: climate change is coming, the state is not going to do much to try and stop it, and you need to adapt, baby, adapt.

Gary Wockner|September 21, 2015

Genetically Modified Organisms

4 Ways Monsanto Might Launch ‘Sneak Attack’ to Get DARK Act Passed in Senate

“Something is going to happen. If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

So we were told recently by a Senate staffer, during one of the many meetings we’ve held with Senators to urge them to reject H.R. 1599 or what we refer to as the DARK—Deny Americans the Right to Know—Act.

Could that comment mean Monsanto is cooking up another “sneak attack,” similar to the one it conducted in 2013, that led to passage of the Monsanto Protection Act? Only this time, the sneak attack would be aimed at stomping out the GMO labeling movement?

It wouldn’t surprise us. A quick look at the lay of the land reveals that Monsanto and Big Food have several opportunities to rush the DARK Act into law, without a hearing or a full vote in the Senate.

How likely is that to happen? We don’t know for certain. But it’s worth remembering that Monsanto and Big Food are nothing if not opportunists.

A Bill to End GMO Labeling for Good

In case you’re still in the dark about the DARK Act, here’s the Readers Digest backgrounder. (There’s plenty more here, including fact sheets, leaflets, talking points and toolkits).

Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) introduced H.R. 1599 earlier this year. He then managed to rush it through the House, where it passed by a vote of 275 to 150 on July 23.

The bill is a sweeping attack on states’ rights to self-govern on the issue of GMO labeling and on consumers’ right to know if their food has been genetically engineered. If the Dark Act becomes law, there will never be GMO labels, safety testing of GMOs, protections for farmers from GMO contamination or regulations of pesticide promoting GMO crops to protect human health, the environment or endangered pollinators.

Under what most of us would consider a fair and democratic process, the bill would move next to the Senate, where there would be the opportunity for debate, amendments and a stand-alone vote.

But with the July 1, 2016, enactment of Vermont’s GMO labeling law, Act 120, looming, Monsanto is probably thinking it doesn’t have time to slog through a Senate hearing and stand-alone vote, especially as the Senate has yet to introduce its own version of the bill. And perhaps even more daunting than the July 1 deadline, is the prospect that the DARK Act might get watered down or worse yet killed in the Senate—a risk Monsanto would likely prefer to avoid.

Four Potential Sneak Attack Scenarios

So, what are the potential “sneak attack” scenarios that would allow Monsanto to push through the DARK Act this year, without going through the normal Senate process?

There are several. They all take advantage of the fact that Congress is seriously behind on its work and that the threat of a government shutdown looms.

When Congress leaves its must-pass legislation to the last minute, bills don’t go through the normal legislative process where votes and amendments take place in committee hearings and floor debates. Instead, bills are negotiated behind closed doors, then, to increase the likelihood they’ll pass, brought to votes with only limited debate and amendments.

In a skit titled “You Stuck What Where?” the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart described how this last-minute legislating makes it easy for lawmakers to sneak provisions into bills, with no accountability:

It turns out, members of Congress involved in writing a bill while the bill is in subcommittee, are allowed to add any provision they want, anonymously. No fingerprints. The laws of the most powerful nation are written with the same level of accountability as internet comments.

This year, Congress could procrastinate until December and then cram all of its must-pass legislation into one “grand bargain.” This would be the perfect opportunity for Monsanto to launch a “You Stuck What Where?” sneak attack. We might not even know until it’s too late, if unscrupulous House and Senate leaders were to slip the DARK Act into a “grand bargain” that included appropriations, reauthorizations, extensions of expiring legislation and an increase in the debt ceiling.

But, even if these bills are dealt with individually, there’s still ample opportunity for sneak attacks.

How could Monsanto sneak the DARK Act into law? Here are what we believe are the scenarios industry lobbyists are probably considering.

1. They’ll sneak it into a must-pass spending bill.

The government needs to be funded by Sept. 30. But Congress is way behind in its work on its spending bills. Not a single one of a dozen annual appropriations bills has passed both chambers yet this year. That increases the likelihood that lawmakers will try to pass another Continuing Resolution to keep spending at basically the same level as last year and keep the government open.

This would give Monsanto a chance to launch the same “sneak attack” strategy it used in 2013, when the Monsanto Protection Act (Monsanto called it the Farmers Assurance Provision) was slipped into a six-month Continuing Resolution cobbled together at the 11th hour to avert a government shut-down.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) played a big role in the 2013 Monsanto Protection Act “sneak attack.” He could do it again with the DARK Act, especially if he convinces Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, to help him.

The only question for Monsanto is if the Continuing Resolution will last long enough to block the July 1, 2016 implementation date of Vermont’s new GMO labeling law. Continuing Resolutions are normally short-term, 3 months or as long as 6 months. This wouldn’t help Monsanto.

But, Congress may choose to meet its end-of-the-fiscal-year deadline (Sept. 30) by passing a full-year continuing resolution. If this happens, any riders that get attached to the resolution would have a twelve-month lifespan. That could mean a DARK Act that would delay the implementation of Vermont’s GMO labeling law.

2. They’ll sneak it into the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization bill.

On Sept. 17, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) brought the Senate version of the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization bill to his committee for amendments, debate and vote. The Child Nutrition Act expires on Sept. 30 and should be reauthorized before then for another five years. But, as with the spending bills, if Congress doesn’t finish its reauthorization work it can opt for a short-term extension.

If Sen. Roberts, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, wanted to do a favor for his Big Ag donors who have given him nearly $800,000 so far this election cycle, he could let Sen. Blunt slip the DARK Act into the Child Nutrition Act. There would be little anyone could do about that, unless they were willing to risk the future of the school lunch program past Sept. 30, when the legislation expires.

If Monsanto can’t get Sen. Roberts to act alone, the other Senators on the Agriculture Committee could be enlisted in a team effort. With a two-person majority, the committee’s 11 Republicans could vote to attach the DARK Act to the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization without any Democrat’s support.

3. They’ll sneak it into another bill as an amendment

If Monsanto doesn’t manage to stick the DARK Act into an appropriations or reauthorization bill anonymously, it can try for an amendment to one of these bills, once either of the bills hits the Senate floor.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hasn’t been given $1.1 million from agribusiness so far this election cycle for nothing. Monsanto and its allies know that the DARK Act could live or die depending on how important it is to Sen. McConnell. As the Senate Majority Leader, he controls which bills go to the floor and which amendments may be offered.

If the DARK Act doesn’t get attached to another piece of legislation by a committee chair or by a vote in committee, it could be brought to the floor as stand-alone legislation. This rarely happens in the Senate, because it takes 60 votes (a bipartisan effort) to cut off debate and avoid a filibuster.

But amendments to legislation are different. An amendment requires only 51 votes to pass—as long as the amendment is germane. (Non-germane amendments require 60 votes.) Of course, what’s “germane” is largely up to the Senate Majority Leader.

The ability to wield these parliamentary tactics gives Sen. McConnell enormous power and will make him the top target of Monsanto’s lobbying machine.

4. They’ll sneak it into the budget reconciliation bill.

The President’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget passed by Congress earlier this year allows for a “budget reconciliation” bill to be considered and passed by majority vote—only 51 votes in the Senate. The bill can also be amended with only 51 votes.

For Monsanto’s sneak attack strategy, the catch is that, under the rules of this reconciliation, the underlying provisions of a reconciliation bill must have a “budget effect.” It’s very difficult to imagine Monsanto being able to make the case that passing the DARK Act could save the government money. However, the rule can be broken with 60 Senators voting to override an objection.

The “budget reconciliation” bill is optional, so it’s likely that Congress won’t act on it until 2016.

When it comes to the DARK Act, will consumers be at the table? Or, as our Senate staffer friend suggested, on the menu? We don’t know yet. But we do know which Senators might be able to give Monsanto a hand with a “sneak attack.”

Ronnie Cummins and Alexis Baden-Mayer|September 21, 2015

Northern Ireland Bans GMO Crops

The politics of genetically engineered foods (GMOs) are being redrawn in Europe, where a near complete disapproval persisted until earlier this year. Now, it’s up to individual nations to say whether or not they want GMO crops grown on their soil.

So far, it hasn’t been the leading farming countries that are saying no to the controversial technology. On Monday, Northern Ireland became the second European Union member state to pass a national GMO ban. In August, Scotland announced its own such measure, the first country to do so following the change in EU rules that allows individual members to ban crops from being grown within their sovereign borders even if they’re approved for production within the wider union. All told, the UK produces less than 8 percent of the EU’s agriculture output, compared to nearly 18 percent from France, an industry leader in the 28 nation bloc.

Ministers in both Scotland and Northern Ireland couched the bans in terms of marketing.

“We are perceived internationally to have a clean and green image,” Mark H. Durkan, Northern Ireland’s environment minister, told the BBC. “I am concerned that the growing of GM crops, which I acknowledge is controversial, could potentially damage that image.”

Activists have argued that the island of Ireland—including the Republic of Ireland—is too small to safely grow GMO crops without them cross-pollinating with non-GMO ones—a point that Durkan echoed in his interview with the BBC.

But the point is academic: No GMO crops are grown in Northern Ireland, which has a limited farming industry. The country, which is slightly larger than Maryland, counts grains, potatoes and hay and pasture as its leading crops, according to the 2014 agricultural census. The cool, northern climate makes barley and wheat the dominant grain crops and just a tiny amount of land is planted in corn—for which GMOs are the status quo in the U.S. and other leading producers, but those engineered varieties are not grown in Northern Ireland. Potatoes, historically a very important (and tragic) crop in the region, have been genetically engineered—including a blight-resistant variety that has been field tested across the border in Ireland—but aren’t yet grown commercially.

Northern Ireland—population, 1.8 million humans—is home to 1.5 million cows, nearly 2 million sheep and 20 million chickens and despite the new ban, all of that livestock will continue to be fed, in large part, with imported GMO feed.

Willy Blackmore|TakePart|September 22, 2015

Find out how Monsanto controls the FDA

[This is a long video and they will ask you to spend $49.00 for a year subscription to a newsletter and some “free books”. I did, for the research for this section of this blog. It is not necessary to accept the offer, but the video is worth watching for it’s informative value. Report:]

“GE Trees Fall” Launches today with Action Camp in North Carolina ‏

Genetically Engineered Trees Action Camp and Organizing Tour Target Key Regions Threatened by GE Trees in the US

Asheville, NC (24 September 2015)-As part of “GE Trees Fall,” activists from across the United States are converging on two key regions involved in the genetic engineering of trees this fall, the US Southeast and the Pacific Northwest. Beginning today, activists are gathering near Asheville, NC for a Genetically Engineered Trees (GE trees) Act ion Training Camp, organized by Global Justice Ecology Project, and including the participation of Indigenous Environmental Network and Dogwood Alliance [1]. In October, GJEP and other groups are organizing an educational tour on the problem of GE trees in the Pacific Northwest.

The four-day action camp is being held in the US Southeast because the region is considered ground zero for GE trees in the US. Applications for GE eucalyptus plantations from South Carolina to Texas are pending with the US Department of Agriculture, and the USDA has given GE tree company ArborGen the green light to pursue genetically engineered loblolly pine trees there [2]. The USDA’s unprecedented decision allows for the development of GE pine plantations with no government oversight, no environmental or social risk assessments and no ability for the public to give input or obtain information-including neighboring landowners.

“Industry is ramming ahead with plans to commercialize GE trees with the collusion of the US government, which is ignoring its responsibility to protect the public and the environment from the threats of GE trees,” stated Anne Petermann, Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project and Coordinator of the international Campaign to STOP GE Trees. “This means if the average US citizen wants to be involve d in decisions about GE trees that impact their forests or communities, they have to take matters into their own hands – to go back to the time honored traditions of civil disobedience and direct action. We are helping people do this with our GE trees action camp.” And we are in good company. Pope Francis, in his recent Encyclic on the Environment, came out strongly against GMOs due to their impacts on communities, land and the environment-the same impacts we would see from GE tree plantations,” she added. [3]

The USDA cited new technologies for engineering trees as the rationale for not regulating ArborGen’s GE loblolly pines, but a coalition of scientists explains that, “Most of these techniques are so new that there is not sufficient information to properly assess the risks. Some also allow more radical changes to plant genomes than genetic engineering methods currently used in commercialized products,” which “could threaten the environment and our health…” [4]  This position was backed up by the release today of a legal dossier [5].

“The native forests of the Southern US, some internationally recognized as biodiversity hotspots [6], are already under dire threat,” explained Danna Smith, Executive Director of Asheville-based Dogwood Alliance. “Between the growing export of our forests as wood pellets to Europe to burn for electricity and the threat of an expanded domestic biomass industry, we are already losing our forests at an incredible rate. The absolute last thing our forests need are genetically engineered loblolly pine plantations.”

In October, GE tree organizers and scientists from several organizations [7] will tour the Pacific Northwest, another key region for GE trees development in the US. This tour will travel through the US states of Oregon and Washington and into British Columbia, Canada over the course of two weeks, stopping in more than a dozen locations to discuss the social and ecological dangers of genetically engineering trees. Several of these events will be held in locations where GE trees research is actively underway.

Scientists point out that the risks associated with genetically engineered trees are especially serious and almost impossible to properly assess [8]. The longevity of trees, the complex interactions of trees in forest ecosystems, and the large numbers of native wild relatives of trees like the loblolly pine that could be contaminated by long-ranging tree pollen create scenarios that are impossible to predict. Unanticipated and potentially damaging consequences of releasing GE trees into the environment in large numbers are virtually assured.

1] Global Justice Ecology Project, Indigenous Environmental Network, Dogwood Alliance

2] Center for Food Safety, “New Genetically Engineered Tree To Avoid Federal Oversight Completely”

3] The points on GMOs in the Pope’s Encyclic mirror many of the concerns about development of GE tree plantations: “In many areas, following the introduction of [GMOs], there has been a concentration of productive land in the hands of the few, due to the gradual disappearance of small producers, who, as a consequence of the loss of cultivated land, have been forced to retreat from direct production.

“The most fragile among them become temporary workers and many farm workers migrate to end up in miserable urban settlements. The spread of these (GM) crops destroys the complex web of ecosystems, decreases diversity in production and affects the present and the future of regional economies. In several countries there is a trend in the development of oligopolies in the production of seeds and other products needed for cultivation, and the dependence deepens when you consider the production of sterile seeds, which end up forcing farmers to buy (seeds) from producers.”


5] “Any attempt to engineer genomes by invasive methods can cause unexpected and unpredictable effects. For example, ‘cisgenesis’ – a genetic engineering technique that uses genes from the same species – is still genetic engineering and is therefore subject to unexpected and unpredictable effects caused by the genetic engineering process itself, and not by the trait or sequence inserted. New techniques to genetically engineer plants and animals, such as so-called DNA scissors (nucleases) and interventions in gene regulation, raise additional concerns.

6] Maintaining species in the South

7] Global Justice Ecology Project, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, Northwest Resistance Against Genetic Engineering, Cascadia Forest Defenders, GMO Free Josephine County

8] Genetically Engineered Trees and Risk Assessment:

Anne Petermann|Global Justice Ecology Project|Campaign to STOP GE Trees|9/24/15


 Exxon Doubled Down on Climate Denial and Deceit

Thanks to a months-long investigation by the Pulitzer-prize winning InsideClimate News, we learned last week that ExxonMobil’s own scientists had secretly confirmed the science behind human-caused climate change as early as the late 1970s.

Yes—this is the same ExxonMobil that has funded efforts to attack the science of climate change for more than two decades. As I recount in The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, I found myself at the center of those attacks because of the iconic Hockey Stick graph my co-authors and I published back in the late 1990s. The graph highlighted, in an easily understandable way, the unprecedented nature of modern global warming. As a result, it proved greatly inconvenient for vested interests, like ExxonMobil, who are opposed to regulation of carbon emissions—from the burning of fossil fuels—that are behind the warming of the globe and the associated changes in climate.

The parallels with the tobacco industry, which knew about—and hid from the public—the health dangers of cigarette smoking, are staggering. Indeed, the industry-funded climate change denial campaign, as I discuss in The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, has its roots in the earlier tobacco industry disinformation campaign.

In their blockbuster new article, InsideClimate News details how key senior Exxon scientists had warned top executives about the reality and threat of continued fossil fuel burning and the associated warming of the planet and changes in climate “well before most of the world had heard of the looming climate crisis.” They describe a rather prescient presentation made by one of Exxon’s senior scientists as far back as July 1977:

At a meeting in Exxon Corporation’s headquarters, a senior company scientist named James F. Black addressed an audience of powerful oilmen. Speaking without a text as he flipped through detailed slides, Black delivered a sobering message: carbon dioxide from the world’s use of fossil fuels would warm the planet and could eventually endanger humanity.

“In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels,” Black told Exxon’s Management Committee, according to a written version he recorded later.

ExxonMobil, we learn from InsideClimate News, chose as a result to fund an internal research effort over the next few years to assess the threat posed by climate change:

Exxon budgeted more than $1 million over three years for the tanker project to measure how quickly the oceans were taking in CO2. It was a small fraction of Exxon Research’s annual $300 million budget, but the question the scientists tackled was one of the biggest uncertainties in climate science: how quickly could the deep oceans absorb atmospheric CO2? If Exxon could pinpoint the answer, it would know how long it had before CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere could force a transition away from fossil fuels.

They even worked closely with outside climate researchers, ultimately reaching the conclusion that the potential threat was indeed great (emphasis added):

Exxon also hired scientists and mathematicians to develop better climate models and publish research results in peer-reviewed journals. By 1982, the company’s own scientists, collaborating with outside researchers, created rigorous climate models—computer programs that simulate the workings of the climate to assess the impact of emissions on global temperatures. They confirmed an emerging scientific consensus that warming could be even worse than Black had warned five years earlier.

ExxonMobil executives were informed in no uncertain terms, by their own science division, that climate change impacts could be “catastrophic” and potentially “irreversible” unless there were major reductions in fossil fuel burning:

Exxon’s research laid the groundwork for a 1982 corporate primer on carbon dioxide and climate change prepared by its environmental affairs office. Marked “not to be distributed externally,” it contained information that “has been given wide circulation to Exxon management.” In it, the company recognized, despite the many lingering unknowns, that heading off global warming “would require major reductions in fossil fuel combustion.”

Unless that happened, “there are some potentially catastrophic events that must be considered,” the primer said, citing independent experts. “Once the effects are measurable, they might not be reversible.”

ExxonMobil scientists, furthermore, recognized that the company had an ethical obligation to come forward with what they had learned. Staff scientist Roger Cohen stated as much in a September 1982 memo described by InsideClimate News:

He warned that publication of the company’s conclusions might attract media attention because of the “connection between Exxon’s major business and the role of fossil fuel combustion in contributing to the increase of atmospheric CO2.”

Nevertheless, he recommended publication.

Our “ethical responsibility is to permit the publication of our research in the scientific literature,” Cohen wrote. “Indeed, to do otherwise would be a breach of Exxon’s public position and ethical credo on honesty and integrity.”

A good faith effort on their part to acknowledge and communicate the scientific basis and the risks involved would, their own researchers argued, grant them legitimacy when it comes to the honest debate that is to be had about policy prescriptions for dealing with the climate change problem. According to InsideClimate News:

In the early 1980s Exxon researchers often repeated that unbiased science would give it legitimacy in helping shape climate-related laws that would affect its profitability.

So let’s be clear. ExxonMobil chief executives could have heeded that advice. They could have gone down in history as heroes who helped save the planet from the ravages of climate change.

But that was not to be.

InsideClimate News quotes me at the end of the article:

Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, who has been a frequent target of climate deniers, said that inaction, just like actions, have consequences. When he recently spoke to InsideClimate News, he was unaware of this chapter in Exxon’s history.

“All it would’ve taken is for one prominent fossil fuel CEO to know this was about more than just shareholder profits, and a question about our legacy,” he said. “But now because of the cost of inaction—what I call the ‘procrastination penalty’—we face a far more uphill battle.”

Economic pressures, InsideClimate News notes, led Exxon to dissolve their climate research division by the late 1980s. In his famous July 1988 congressional testimony, NASA scientist James Hansen had meanwhile announced to the world that human-caused climate change had arrived, and that the cause was the burning of fossil fuels. ExxonMobil had to make a decision: would they choose to be part of the solution, or part of the problem? InsideClimate News lays out the answer for us:

Exxon helped to found and lead the Global Climate Coalition, an alliance of some of the world’s largest companies seeking to halt government efforts to curb fossil fuel emissions. Exxon used the American Petroleum Institute, right-wing think tanks, campaign contributions and its own lobbying to push a narrative that climate science was too uncertain to necessitate cuts in fossil fuel emissions.

Perhaps nothing better conveys the dramatic shift in ExxonMobil’s attitude toward climate change than the subsequent activities of the aforementioned staff scientist Roger Cohen, who had once warned of the potentially “catastrophic” future impacts of climate change and had expressed concern about the implications for Exxon’s “honesty and integrity” were it not to come forward with it’s knowledge that human-caused climate change is real and a threat. You see, Cohen went on to work for industry front groups like the George C. Marshall Institute that advocate for fossil fuel interests like Exxon by denying the reality and threat of climate change. Austin is one of a small fringe group of scientists who sought to sabotage the American Physical Society’s position statement affirming the science of human-caused climate change. One is reminded of the famous Upton Sinclair quote “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

One might think that the latest revelations about ExxonMobil and their tobaccoesque decades-long effort to hide the findings of their own scientists, would end climate change denialism for good. If you’re a hardcore climate change denier, after all, it must be rather demoralizing to learn that ExxonMobil’s own scientists expressed contempt for your views behind your back. If you’ve lost ExxonMobil’s own scientists, you’ve lost the scientific debate.

But let’s remember that climate change denial isn’t actually about the science. That was settled long ago—including by Exxon’s own scientists no less. Climate change denial is about opposition to regulation. It is about science-denying front groups, industry shills, bought-and-sold politicians, and other bad faith actors who continue to provide cover for corporate polluters like ExxonMobil by fooling the public.

By any reasonable measure, just about every conceivable climate change denier talking point had been shot down by 2007 (and arguably much earlier). As I explained in chapter 12 (“Heads of the Hydra”) of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars:

The complete or near collapse by 2007 of the pillars of defensible climate change skepticism represented a critical juncture in the debate over the science. Would climate change contrarians throw in the towel and at least concede the reality of human-caused climate change? Would they engage constructively in the discourse, focusing their efforts on the legitimate remaining uncertainties, such as the uncertain nature of climate change projections and the worthy debate to be had regarding what to do about the problem? Or would they retrench and continue to contest the ever-accumulating evidence supporting the reality of the climate change problem? The question is of course rhetorical; we already know the answer.

As we know, of course, the climate change disinformation campaign simply ratcheted the denial machine up a notch. Attack dogs doubled down in their campaign of denial and deceit, and so we soon got the ironically-termed “climategate“ campaign, wherein climate scientists emails were stolen, combed through, cherry-picked, and misrepresented through out of context quotations in an effort to call the scientific evidence for climate change into question on the eve of the December 2009 Copenhagen climate summit (read chapter 14, “Climategate: The Real Story” of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars for further details).

The irony, of course, is that rather than uncovering any wrongdoing or indiscretion by climate scientists, the “climategate” affair simply revealed that climate change deniers were now more than willing to engage in criminal behavior in their efforts to misrepresent the science and scientists and deceive the public. Like Watergate before it, the real scandal was the criminal theft, not the content of the stolen materials—a fact that was oddly lost on many media organizations who readily bought into the denialist framing of the matter. As I note in the epilogue of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars:

While the campaign did have the immediate impact of casting doubt over climate science, it also marked a critical juncture, and indeed potentially a turning point, in the climate change debate. Perhaps “climategate” was the moment when the climate change denial movement conceded the legitimate debate, choosing instead to double down on smear and disinformation, a tacit acceptance that an honest, science-based case for denying the reality of human-caused climate change and the threat it presents could no longer be made. Maybe it was the moment when the seamy underbelly of the climate change denial movement became exposed for all to see.

So one might well wonder as we head toward the critical December 2015 climate summit in Paris, have the latest revelations about ExxonMobil caused climate change deniers to see the light, to reconsider their position? And one might well suspect the answer.

Since the ExxonMobil story broke, the “merchants of doubt” have instead engaged in a campaign of misdirection, presumably hoping they can distract the public and policymakers from the stunning new revelations. Among other things, we have seen these events unfold in the few days since the story broke:

  1. The right-wing Canadian newspaper National Post engaged in a reprehensible personal attack against climate advocate Naomi Klein and her opposition to mining the Canadian tar sands (something James Hansen has warned would be “game over for the climate”). The piece included a false and libelous allegation of “fraud” against yours truly. It is worth noting that the National Post has previously lost a defamation suit brought by a climate scientist. It is also worth noting that the columnist who penned the piece, Conrad Black, is best known for having served a prison term for actually committing fraud. Chalk one up for chutzpah.
  2. Conservative commentator George Will, known for his serial distortions when it comes to the matter of climate change, has attacked Pope Francis for his efforts to raise awareness about the threat of climate change. Though Will’s commentary is filled with half-truths, falsehoods and innuendo, what is most cynical and pernicious about the piece is the pretense of concern that acting on climate change “would devastate the poor” when precisely the opposite is known to be true.
  3. Professional climate smearmonger Marc Morano joined with Koch Brothers-funded attack dog John Hinderaker and others in the conservative media and blogosphere accusing climate scientists of wanting to “arrest climate skeptics”. As with just about anything that comes out of the climate denialosphere, the allegation is of course completely untruthful. The reality is that a small group of climate scientists recently suggested that the department of justice investigate the possibility that certain fossil fuel companies (not individuals) might be subject to civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (“RICO”) charges. Civil RICO seeks the payment of fines (not imprisonment of any individuals) by corporate entities that knowingly hid the damages done by their product. That is precisely what happened with big tobacco, and the same Department of Justice lawyer who successfully brought a civil RICO suit against tobacco companies more than a decade ago has recently argued that Exxon and other fossil fuel companies might suffer similar liability given the latest revelations over what they knew about the dangers of climate change, and when they knew it.

As the curtain continues to be lifted on the climate change denial machine and its deceitful tactics, we must assume that the smears and distortions will simply grow more desperate, the misdirection and distraction more brazen. Expect the worst as the 2015 Paris climate summit—potentially the last opportunity to reach an international agreement that will stave off dangerous and irreversible changes in climate—approaches. Bad faith actors have shown they will do anything they can—including engaging in criminal actions—in their efforts to sabotage global agreements aimed at limiting carbon emissions.

Let’s not allow their cynical efforts to be successful. Call out climate change disinformation when you encounter it, and do what you can to correct the record. Explain to your family, friends, coworkers and classmates the importance of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations below dangerous levels. And most of all, keep your eye on the prize—a binding international treaty to reduce carbon emissions later this year in Paris.

Michael Mann|September 21, 2015

How Better Battery Storage Will Expedite Renewable Energy

“The worldwide transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy is under way …” according to the Earth Policy Institute’s new book, The Great Transition.

Between 2006 and 2012, global solar photovoltaic’s (PV) annual capacity grew 190 percent, while wind energy’s annual capacity grew 40 percent, reported the International Renewable Energy Agency. The agency projects that by 2030, solar PV capacity will be nine times what it was in 2013; wind power could increase five-fold.

Electric vehicle (EV) sales have risen 128 percent since 2012, though they made up less than 1 percent of total U.S. vehicle sales in 2014. Although today’s most affordable EVs still travel less than 100 miles on a full battery charge (the Tesla Model S 70D, priced starting at $75,000, has a 240-mile range), the plug-in market is projected to grow between 14.7 and 18.6 percent annually through 2024.

The upward trend for renewables is being driven by concerns about climate change and energy security, decreasing solar PV and wind prices, rising retail electricity prices, favorable governmental incentives for renewable energy, the desire for energy self-sufficiency and the declining cost of batteries. Growing EV sales, also benefitting from incentives, are affecting economies of scale in battery manufacturing, helping to drive down prices.

Sun and wind energy are free, but because they are not constant sources of power, renewable energy is considered “variable”—it is affected by location, weather and time of day. Utilities need to deliver reliable and steady energy by balancing supply and demand. While today they can usually handle the fluctuations that solar and wind power present to the grid by adjusting their operations, as the amount of energy supplied by renewables grows, better battery storage is crucial.

Batteries convert electricity into chemical potential energy for storage and back into electrical energy as needed. They can perform different functions at various points along the electric grid. At the site of solar PV or wind turbines, batteries can smooth out the variability of flow and store excess energy when demand is low to release it when demand is high. Currently, fluctuations are handled by drawing power from natural gas, nuclear or coal-fired power plants; but whereas fossil-fuel plants can take many hours to ramp up, batteries respond quickly and when used to replace fossil-fuel power plants, they cut CO2 emissions. Batteries can store output from renewables when it exceeds a local substation’s capacity and release the power when the flow is less or store energy when prices are low so it can be sold back to the grid when prices rise. For households, batteries can store energy for use anytime and provide back-up power in case of blackouts.

Batteries have not been fully integrated into the mainstream power system because of performance and safety issues, regulatory barriers, the resistance of utilities and cost. But researchers around the world are working on developing better and cheaper batteries.

Every battery consists of two terminals made of different chemicals (usually metals)—a positively charged cathode and a negatively charged anode—and the electrolyte, the chemical medium that separates the terminals. When a battery is connected to a device or an electric circuit, chemical reactions take place on the electrodes, causing ions (atoms with a positive electrical charge) to flow from the anode through the electrolyte to the cathode. Electrons (particles with a negative charge) want to move to the positive cathode too, but because the electrolyte blocks them, they are forced to do so via the outside circuit, creating the electric current that powers the device. After all the electrons move to the cathode, the battery dies. In rechargeable batteries, electricity from an outside source can reverse the exchange, but since the chemical reaction is not perfectly efficient, the number of times a battery can be recharged is usually limited.

Batteries vary in their attributes. The charge time determines how long a battery takes to get back to its charged state. Energy density is the amount of energy that can be put into a battery of a given size and weight, which matters depending on application. Cycle life refers to how many times a battery can be recharged before it drops below 80 percent of its ability to hold a charge, which is when it begins to be depleted. Other aspects of a battery include its toxicity, recyclability and how easily it can be kept in its required temperature range. Cost has been the major limiting factor for widespread use.

There are many kinds of batteries available today and depending on the function a battery serves, many different requirements for storage capacity, charging and discharging performance, response time, maintenance, safety and cost. Here are a few examples of battery types.

Lead-acid batteries are already used worldwide to support renewable energy. Many have a short cycle life and last only three to four years. Nickel cadmium batteries have good cycle life and can discharge quickly, but the materials are more expensive than those in lead acid batteries. Lithium-ion batteries have high energy density for their size, which is why they are widely used for consumer electronics and electric vehicles. They are good for short discharge cycles and high power, but because of the energy density and combustibility of lithium, they can potentially overheat and catch fire. Sodium-sulphur batteries, with molten salt as the electrolyte, must operate at high temperatures, but can discharge for six hours or more.

Flow batteries, with the chemicals to produce electricity dissolved in water in separate tanks, can be charged and discharged limitlessly and can provide steady energy over time. Because the use of bigger tanks allows flow batteries to store more energy, they have great potential to help the grid deal with utility-scale electricity storage.

Battery researchers are trying to advance existing technologies and develop novel ones, as well as enhance materials and manufacturing processes. They are manipulating chemicals and experimenting with new ones, trying to improve the scale of batteries, the duration of their discharge, their efficiency, response time, sustainability and cost, as well as addressing safety issues. Japan and the U.S. are global leaders in the use of battery storage, with China and Germany close behind. India, Italy and South Korea are also implementing battery storage.

Some examples of new batteries being developed include Japan’s dual carbon battery that charges 20 times faster than ordinary lithium-ion batteries with comparable energy density, doesn’t heat up and is fully recyclable. Researchers at Stanford University are using nanotechnology in a pure lithium battery to hopefully triple the energy density and decrease the cost four-fold. At the University of Illinois at Chicago, lithium ions have been replaced with magnesium ions, which can move twice as many electrons; this allows the battery to be recharged more times before degrading. The Joint Center for Energy Research at Argonne National Laboratory is researching technologies other than lithium-ion that can store five times more energy at one-fifth the cost.

Eric Isaacs, a Columbia University Ph.D. candidate in Applied Physics, is studying how to improve cathode materials. Featured in the 2015 Earth Institute Student Research Showcase, his research focuses on lithium iron phosphate as a candidate for cathode material. It has high energy density and can be heated to hotter temperatures, so it is safer than typical lithium-ion batteries and since iron is abundant, it could potentially be used to produce a cheaper and more sustainable battery. But Isaacs explained that the basic material is unstable when it’s partially charged and “playing tricks” in processing it to help stabilize it lowers the energy density. His research aims to understand and remedy the instability and could also eventually help identify and evaluate other new materials for cathodes.

More than $5 billion has been invested in battery development over the last decade. Bill Gates has backed MIT’s liquid metal battery, made up of two common molten metals separated by a molten salt that is cheap, easy to assemble and long-lasting. The venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers invested in an aqueous-ion battery, an updated saltwater battery being developed at Carnegie Mellon with potential to become the cheapest non-toxic and long-lasting battery for homes and hospitals. Khosla Ventures is behind Berkeley Lab’s dry lithium battery that uses porous material and has two to three times the energy density of today’s liquid lithium battery.

“The issue with existing batteries is that they suck,” said Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO when the company launched its new Powerwall and Powerpack products at the end of April. Tesla’s solution is the Powerwall, a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, 7 inches thick and 3 feet by 4 feet, that can be mounted on a wall. The 7kWh version sells for $3,000, the 10kWh costs $3,500 and they are guaranteed for 10 years. Up to nine of them can be stacked in a home, providing up to 90 kWh of power. The 10kWh model could power the average American home, which uses about 30kWh per day, for 8 hours, according to one analyst. 38,000 Powerwalls units were reserved the first week after the launch and they are already sold out until mid-2016.

The Powerpack is a 100 kWh battery for utility scale use, which can be combined to “scale infinitely,” said Musk. Ten thousand Powerpacks would produce 1GW of electricity. To move the world to sustainable energy and curb climate change, Musk envisions a scenario where 160 million Powerpacks could enable the U.S. to transition to renewable energy; 900 million Powerpacks could make it possible to make all electricity generation in the world renewable.

“The goal is complete transformation of the entire energy infrastructure of the world,” said Musk.

To produce the Powerwall, Powerpack and its electric vehicle batteries, Tesla is building a $5 billion “gigafactory” in Nevada, the first of many. The factory will produce the energy it needs from geothermal, solar and wind and one expert projected that it will actually generate 20 percent more than it needs.

In the U.S., battery storage is already used in places like Notrees, Texas, where thousands of lead-acid batteries store wind energy. In Laurel Mountain, West Virginia, a lithium-ion battery storage plant with 32MW of capacity is so far the largest in the world. Southern California Edison has the nation’s biggest battery storage system, with plans for an additional 264 MW of storage, using Tesla batteries. California’s large utilities are required to collectively add 1,325 MW of storage by 2024.

A battery that costs $100 per kWh is the Holy Grail for battery researchers around the world. Electric vehicle batteries cost between $300 and $410 per kWh in 2014; analysts generally agree that batteries must reach $150 per kWh or less for those vehicles to be competitive with gasoline-powered vehicles. The cheaper the battery, the more electricity can be stored and the farther the car can go on a charge.

Last year, the cheapest utility scale batteries cost $700 or more per kWh. The Tesla Powerpack is currently estimated to cost $250 per kWh, with the “gigafactory” expected to cut battery prices by 30 percent. The Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) is funding 21 different grid-scale battery technologies, hoping to lower battery costs to $100 per kWh, the point at which storage becomes competitive with conventionally generated electricity.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, annual battery storage capacity is expected to grow from 360MW to 14GW between 2014 and 2023. Global sales of light duty electric vehicles are projected to go from 2.7 million in 2014 to 6.4 million in 2023. With so many striving for a significant battery breakthrough, more economies of scale and improved manufacturing processes, the world just might see a $100 per kWh battery within the next few years.

Renee Cho|Sponsored content by Columbia University’s Earth Institute|September 21, 2015

Fracking Increases Oklahoma Earthquakes from Two a Year to Two a Day

Earthquakes continue to rattle the frack-happy state of Oklahoma. The Sooner State has jumped from two earthquakes a year to roughly two a day, with scientists once again pinning the recent uptick on fracking.

Scientists have identified that the injection of wastewater byproducts into deep underground disposal wells from fracking operations are very likely triggering the major increase of seismic activity in the central U.S. state.

Oklahoma, which is not near any major fault lines, has felt 585 earthquakes that were a 3.0-magnitude or greater in 2014—three times the 180 quakes felt by California last year, the AFP reported. Last month alone, Oklahoma experienced more than 600 quakes that could shake homes and cars, with the town of Crescent hit hardest with a 4.5 whammy, the AFP said.

“It’s completely unprecedented,” George Choy, a seismologist at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), told AFP about the spate of recent tremors.

“What’s at risk is that when you put water into the ground, it’s never going to come back out. You’re putting it in places it has never been before,” Choy told AFP.

Oklahoma has about 4,500 disposal wells. Last week, the state’s public utilities commission shut two wells and slowed the disposal volume of three more, a local news station reported, after a series of earthquakes, including a 4.1, hit the city of Cushing, which holds one of the largest crude oil storage facilities in the world.

The energy industry is, in a word, everything for Oklahoma. The state is one of the top natural gas-producing states in the nation. One-quarter of all jobs are either directly or indirectly tied to the energy industry.

The scientific evidence, however, continues to mount against the oil and gas sector. Oklahoma has seen a 50 percent increase of quakes the last two years, according to the USGS.

“We are the only state where once this problem came up, we just kept going [with fracking],” Johnson Bridgwater, the executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Sierra Club, told the AFP. “We want public safety to come first, rather than treating this state as a giant lab.”

Even pro-business state Gov. Mary Fallin changed her tune about the link between fracking and earthquakes for the first time at the state Capitol last month.

“I think we all know now that there is a direct correlation between the increase of earthquakes that we’ve seen in Oklahoma [and] disposal wells,” Fallin said.

Lorraine Chow|September 21, 2015

Hillary Clinton Breaks Keystone XL Silence, Announces Her Opposition to the Pipeline

Joining political rival Bernie Sanders in his long-held opposition and distancing herself from the reluctance of the Obama administration to reject the project outright, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton came out publicly against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline for the first time on Tuesday.

“I think it is imperative,” Clinton said during a campaign stop in Iowa, “that we look at the Keystone pipeline as what I believe it is—a distraction from important work we have to do on climate change.”

Citing her personal perspective, Clinton continued by saying the controversial project is “one that interferes with our ability to move forward with all the other issues. Therefore I oppose it.”

Climate action groups such, which has fought fiercely against approval of the project, welcomed the comments and claimed responsibility for making such positions possible—especially for the former secretary of state who was previously supportive of the pipeline’s construction and as one who played such a central role in the federal government’s consideration of the project.

“Make no mistake,” said 350’s executive director May Boeve, Clinton’s announcement “is clear proof that social movements move politics. Thanks to thousands of dedicated activists around the country who spent years putting their bodies on the line to protect our climate, we’ve taken a top-tier presidential candidate’s ‘inclination to approve’ Keystone XL and turned it into yet another call for rejection. Her position on Keystone should set an important precedent for her policies going forward: we cannot afford to approve projects that make climate change worse.”

Jane Kleeb, head of Bold Nebraska, championed the decision as a win for farmers, local ranchers and other landowners in her state and along the pipeline’s proposed route. “All front runners in the Democratic Party,” said Kleeb, “see the lies Big Oil tried to tell in order to shove this export pipeline down our throats. Now all that is left is for President Obama to reject the permit so landowners and Tribal Nations can get on to producing food with clean water.”

Even as Clinton has had to contend with widespread mistrust among environmentalists and climate campaigners over her troubling ties with the fossil fuel industry, including specific questions about her members of her team who have lobbied on behalf of the company behind Keystone, Boeve echoed the idea that Clinton’s public statements against the project serve to build pressure on the Obama administration to reject it once and for all.

“Today’s news is a huge win for our movement,” said Boeve. “As the President himself has noted, building Keystone XL would worsen climate change, unlock development of Canada’s tar sands oil and threaten the safety of farmers and landowners in America’s heartland—all so an oil company can profit by sending oil to the rest of the world. That’s why this pipeline has drawn such intense opposition from every part of American society, ranging from landowners along the route to scientists, farmers, tribal communities and major politicians. President Obama has all the information he needs: it’s time to end this and reject Keystone XL for good.”

An aide to Clinton admitted to CNN on Tuesday that her campaign “had been taking on water” by refusing to take a position on Keystone XL. As the Des Moines Register noted Tuesday, Clinton’s campaign events in New Hampshire and Maine last week were attended by activists who held signs that read “I’m Ready for Hillary to say no KXL,” demanding she oppose the pipeline.

Last week, Clinton hinted that despite her previous refusals to say one way or another about her position, she wouldn’t wait or defer to the White House or her successor, Secretary of State John Kerry, much longer before voicing her opinion.

Writing at the Guardian on Tuesday and citing the arrival of Pope Francis in Washington, DC, co-founder Bill McKibben offered this perspective on Clinton’s shift on the issue and the timing of her subsequent public announcement:

Literally as the papal plane landed, Hillary Clinton completed her long-running metamorphosis on the Keystone pipeline. Before the pipeline review even began, many long years ago, she said she was “inclined to approve” this fuse to one of the planet’s biggest carbon bombs. But as KXL turned into the defining environmental fight of the decade, she went mum. And now, faced with the clear understanding that climate will be a defining issue in next year’s election, she came out in firm opposition to the plan.

It’s not really divine intervention that moved the former Secretary of State (who had originally gamed the State Department review process to approve the project). It was hard hard organizing—thousands went to jail, hundreds of thousands marched, millions wrote public comments. And that work has gone far beyond this one pipeline: its helped turn almost every fossil fuel infrastructure project on the planet into a full-on battle.

Bernie Sanders played his part too. He’s made no direct criticism of Hillary, but he has pointed out regularly how odd it is she has no position on this key issue. As he rose in the polls, her determination to dodge the issue clearly wavered.

But the pope did help too: his powerful encyclical last summer is a reminder to every politician of exactly which way the wind is now blowing. That wind is in the sails of the climate movement now and so there will be more days like this to come. Whether they come in time to slow the planet’s careening new physics is an open question, but at last the political and financial climate has begun to change almost as fast as the physical one.

Jon Queally|Common Dreams|September 23, 2015

Air Quality

Why Is Microsoft on the Board of the Dirty-Air Lobby?

Last week, the Sierra Club wrote to the leaders of Microsoft, Verizon, Deloitte and PricewaterhouseCoopers asking them to terminate their relationships with the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). Our members are now making the same request through a public petition to which you can add your voice.

Although may never have heard of NAM, a polluter lobby group in Washington, DC, it’s the leading (and highly public) opponent of new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) safeguards against air pollution, which are designed to protect children, the most vulnerable communities and all American families.

Sierra Club re-branded NAM the "National Association of Polluters." Image credit: Sierra Club

Sierra Club re-branded NAM the “National Association of Polluters.” Image credit: Sierra Club

Unfortunately, each of the companies we wrote to currently has senior executives on NAM’s Board of Directors. With each new week, as the EPA gets closer to finalizing these important new clean air protections, NAM throws more money into deceptive advertising campaigns that cloud the debate around commonsense protections that, according to polls, have “overwhelming” public support.

This isn’t a simple case of “polluters gotta pollute.” While NAM certainly counts many notorious polluters in its ranks, including fossil fuel giants like Exxon, BP, and Koch Industries, we also believe that many of the companies currently associated with NAM actually care about clean air, children’s health and the views of the medical community.

That’s why we’re engaging Microsoft, Verizon, Deloitte and PricewaterhouseCoopers. As we told them in our open letter: “We can hardly imagine that these are actions you support, as they are certainly at odds with the standards of contemporary corporate social responsibility. Still, your leadership role and relationship with the National Association of Manufacturers gives these positions more weight than they deserve.”

NAM’s lobbying efforts are directly opposed to the recommendations of scientists and expert medical organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Heart Association, American Medical Association and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, all of which have advocated a standard no higher than 60 parts per billion. Compared with the current standard of 75 ppb, a revised standard of 60 ppb would save an estimated 7,900 lives and prevent 1.8 million juvenile asthma attacks. It would also save up to $70 billion in health care costs, and result in 1.9 million fewer missed school days due to health emergencies triggered by high smog levels each year.

Despite all this, after our letter went public NAM CEO Jay Timmons told E&E News in response that if these new smog protections are finalized, “you actually create a situation where Americans are less healthy and less able to fend for themselves.”

That’s right—read it again—NAM’s CEO said cleaner air will make Americans “less healthy.” Unfortunately for Timmons, words still have some meaning even in the face of the slickest PR ad blitz. His statement is a blatant affront not just to basic science but also to every public health organization that has come out in support setting the strongest possible standard for clean air protections. His ridiculous comments should provide even more motivation for companies like Microsoft, Verizon, Deloitte and PricewaterhouseCoopers to cut their ties with this outrageous polluter lobby and demonstrate true corporate responsibility.

If you agree, then please join me and add your voice today.

Michael Brune|Executive Director|Sierra Club|September 20, 2015

Study: EPA May Be Underestimating Landfill Methane

Landfills may be emitting more methane than previously reported because the Environmental Protection Agency may be drastically underestimating how much garbage is being deposited in landfills across the U.S., according to a new Yale University study.

Banana peels, coffee grounds, plastic bottles and other detritus tossed in the garbage usually ends up in a landfill and emits methane as it decomposes. Methane is a greenhouse gas up to 35 times as potent as carbon dioxide as a driver of climate change over the span of a century, and landfills are the United States’ third largest source of methane emissions, according to the EPA. The Obama administration is focusing on cutting methane emissions as part of its Climate Action Plan.

The study, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, examined more than 1,200 solid waste landfills, including those that are open and those that are closed and no longer accepting waste.

Using previously unavailable data from individual landfills, the study found that in 2012, about 262 million metric tons of waste were deposited in landfills across the country, more than double the 122 million tons estimated by the EPA. The agency may be underestimating the amount of waste landing in landfills because small waste disposal facilities are not required to report how much refuse they accept.

The study also found that open landfills emit 91 percent of all landfill methane emissions, while closed landfills are 17 percent more efficient than open landfills at capturing methane so it does not escape into the atmosphere.

EPA spokesman Robert Daguillard said the EPA has not yet reviewed the study.

“Our principal findings provide a more accurate estimate of municipal waste disposal in the United States compared to previous estimates,” study co-author Jon T. Powell, a Yale doctoral student, said.

The study’s primary goal was to learn more about the efficiency of methane capture systems at landfills, which are more effective after a landfill stops accepting new waste, he said.

“When a landfill reaches the end of its life, an engineered cap or barrier system is installed to seal off the waste material from the environment,” Powell said. “Open landfills typically have some areas that are ‘closed’ in this manner, but also have areas that do not have permanent caps, and it is more difficult to extract methane and other gases that are generated in these areas.”

Methane capture systems at open landfills aren’t installed quickly enough to capture methane from rotting food waste, he said.

Scientists unaffiliated with the study said it shows better data is needed to fully understand the extent of the climate challenge posed by landfill methane emissions.

“The overall significance is that although we already know that reducing methane emissions can bring great societal benefits via decreased near-term warming and improved air quality, and that many of the sources can be controlled at low or even negative cost, we still need better data on emissions from particular sources,” Duke University climate sciences professor Drew Shindell said.

The study implies that the solution to landfill methane emissions is better gas capturing technology, but there’s a simpler solution, Shindell said: Composting.

“We could simply not throw organics into the trash,” Shindell said. “So, behavioral change by composting our organics could prevent virtually all the methane emissions from landfills without requiring any of the technological fixes and complex regulations.”

Oxford University atmospheric physicist Raymond Pierrehumbert, who is among the scientists who believe cutting methane should be less of a priority than cutting carbon dioxide to tackle climate change, said the study is useful in evaluating methane capture systems at landfills. But it primarily underscores that landfill gas should be used more widely as an energy source and that people should throw less in the trash, especially organic matter.

“This study focuses on what comes out of landfills,” he said. “But what is more important is what goes into them. The less readily decomposable organic materials that go into landfills, the less methane will be produced.”

But improperly managed compost heaps produce methane, too. In Europe, many compost facilities use the gas they produce to generate electricity, he said.

“So, there is a very intimate connection between what people put in their trash and what comes out of landfills, but people also need to think about the fate of what doesn’t go into the trash,” Pierrehumbert said. “Plastic also decomposes, and worse, some of it only decomposes well in anaerobic conditions. Recycling helps, but the first line of defense is making less waste to begin with.”

Bobby Magill|September 21st, 2015

A huge amount of air pollution comes from farming, not just power plants

A new study pegs a number to one of the trickiest scourges of industrialism: premature deaths caused by air pollution. Using high-resolution health statistics and a slew of mathematical models, researchers from Germany, Cyprus, Saudi Arabia, and the United States estimate that smog and soot kill 3.3 million people annually.

But the study, published in Nature, also reveals a counterintuitive insight. In industrialized countries, a huge number of these deaths can be attributed to air pollution due to agriculture — regular old farms. The Star Tribune reports:

The United States, with 54,905 deaths in 2010 from soot and smog, ranks seventh highest for air pollution deaths. What’s unusual is that the study says that agriculture caused 16,221 of those deaths, second only to 16,929 deaths blamed on power plants.

In the U.S. Northeast, all of Europe, Russia, Japan and South Korea, agriculture is the No. 1 cause of the soot and smog deaths, according to the study. Worldwide, agriculture is the No. 2 cause with 664,100 deaths, behind the more than 1 million deaths from in-home heating and cooking done with wood and other biofuels in developing world.

The problem with farms is ammonia from fertilizer and animal waste, [lead author Jos] Lelieveld said. That ammonia then combines with sulfates from coal-fired power plants and nitrates from car exhaust to form the soot particles that are the big air pollution killers, he said. In London, for example, the pollution from traffic takes time to be converted into soot, and then it is mixed with ammonia and transported downwind to the next city, he said.

If air pollution levels continue to rise at current rates, the authors estimate that the premature deaths from soot and smog exposure will amount to 6.6 million annually by 2050. Even without the projections, air pollution kills more people per year than HIV and malaria combined, said Lelieveld.

However, current regulatory efforts targeting greenhouse gas emissions are expected to reduce smog levels, as well. If you’re a power plant, reducing carbon emissions also means reducing nitrogen oxide emissions, which are a chief component of surface-level ozone smog. Unfortunately, as the Nature study reminds us, power plants are only one part of the story.

One upside to the dilemma is that cutting ammonia pollution on farms can be accomplished at fairly reasonable costs — and in some cases, it could be cost saving or revenue neutral. Cutting down on excess protein in feed (that is, in excess of what is required for, say, a target level of milk production), reduces the amount of nitrogen that ends up in animal waste. Nitrogen in farm animal urine — well, really, any urine — is mostly converted to ammonia. Other solutions include careful and conscious application of fertilizers, slurries, and manures.

Keeping animal housing clean and dry can help reduce ammonia emissions, too, and dry housing is better for the animals, anyway. If you’re not doing it for cleaner air, at least do it for Babe.

Clayton Aldern|18 Sep 2015

Dutch tower sucks smog out of the air

Until we collectively decide to give up fossil fuels and power the world with giant hamster wheels, this planet has a bit of an air pollution problem. Now, a team in the Netherlands wants to help.

The Smog Free Tower, designed by Daan Roosegaarde, Bob Ursem, and European Nano Solutions, is a 23-foot metal tower stationed in a park in Rotterdam that sucks pollution out of the air. Wired reports:

It does this by ionizing airborne smog particles. Particles smaller than 10 micrometers in diameter (about the width of a cotton fiber) are tiny enough to inhale and can be harmful to the heart and lungs. Ursem, who has been researching ionization since the early 2000s, says a radial ventilation system at the top of the tower (powered by wind energy) draws in dirty air, which enters a chamber where particles smaller than 15 micrometers are given a positive charge. Like iron shavings drawn to a magnet, the positively charged particles attach themselves to a grounded counter electrode in the chamber. The clean air is then expelled through vents in the lower part of the tower, surrounding the structure in a bubble of clean air. Ursem notes that this process doesn’t produce ozone, like many other ionic air purifiers, because the particles are charged with positive voltage rather than a negative.

And it’s efficient. The Smog Free Tower can purify up to a million cubic feet of air in a single hour. “When this baby is up and running for the day, you can clean a small neighborhood,” says Roosegaarde.

As an added bonus, the pollutants extracted from the air are then turned into rings — turns out smog is kind of pretty when it’s not killing you:

But even the designers know the Smog Free Tower is a Band-Aid, and what we really need to do is stop putting pollution into the air in the first place. “How can we create a city where in 10 years these towers aren’t necessary anymore?” he says. “This is the bridge towards the solution.”

Here’s hoping.

Katie Herzog|18 Sep 2015


EPA to road-test cars after VW emissions scandal

The Environmental Protection Agency told automakers Friday it will begin road tests of all new and used models to examine emissions claims after the exposure of Volkswagen’s regulation cheating scandal.

The agency sent a letter to manufacturers notifying them it will no longer rely exclusively on laboratory testing to validate emissions performance.

The EPA also plans to begin testing all light vehicle models already on the road in the U.S. for similar violations.

“EPA may test or require testing on any vehicle at a designated location, using driving cycles and conditions that may reasonably be expected to be encountered in normal operation and use, for the purposes of investigating a potential defeat device,” the EPA told automakers in the letter.

The agency warned that the new process could mean it will take longer for automakers to secure certification to sell new vehicles in the U.S.

“We aren’t going to tell them what these tests are,” said Christopher Grundler, director of the EPA Office of Transportation and Air Quality. “They don’t need to know.”



America’s Deadly Love Affair With Bottled Water Has to End

This spring, as California withered in its fourth year of drought and mandatory water restrictions were enacted for the first time in the state’s history, a news story broke revealing that Nestlé Waters North America was tapping springs in the San Bernardino National Forest in southern California using a permit that expired 27 years ago.

Of the billions of plastic water bottles sold each year, the majority don’t end up being recycled. Those single-serving bottles, also known as PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles because of the kind of resin they’re made with, are recycled at a rate of about 31 percent in the U.S. The other 69 percent end up in landfills or as litter. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Of the billions of plastic water bottles sold each year, the majority don’t end up being recycled. Those single-serving bottles, also known as PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles because of the kind of resin they’re made with, are recycled at a rate of about 31 percent in the U.S. The other 69 percent end up in landfills or as litter. Photo credit: Shutterstock

And when the company’s CEO Tim Brown was asked on a radio program if Nestlé would stop bottling water in the Golden State, he replied, “Absolutely not. In fact, if I could increase it, I would.” That’s because bottled water is big business, even in a country where most people have clean, safe tap water readily and cheaply available. (Although it should be noted that Starbucks agreed to stop sourcing and manufacturing their Ethos brand water in California after being drought-shamed.)

Profits made by the industry are much to the chagrin of nonprofits like Corporate Accountability International (CAI), a corporate watchdog and Food & Water Watch, a consumer advocacy group, both of which have waged campaigns against the bottled water industry for years. But representatives from both organizations say they’ve won key fights against the industry in the last 10 years and have helped shift people’s consciousness on the issue.

In 2014 bottled water companies spent more than $84 million on advertising to compete with each other and to convince consumers that bottled water is healthier than soda and safer than tap. And it seems to be paying off: Americans have an increasing love of bottled water, particularly those half-liter-sized single-use bottles that are ubiquitous at every check-out stand and in every vending machine. According to Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC), a data and consulting firm, in the last 14 years consumption of bottled water in the U.S. has risen steadily, with the only exception being a quick dip during the 2008-2009 recession.


In 2000, Americans each drank an average of 23 gallons of bottled water. By 2014, that number hit 34 gallons a person. That translates to 10.7 billion gallons for the U.S. market and sales of $13 billion last year. At the same time, consumption of soda is falling and by 2017, bottled water sales may surpass that of soda for the first time.

But there is also indication that more eco-conscious consumers are carrying reusable bottles to refill with tap. A Harris poll in 2010 found that 23 percent of respondents switched from bottled water to tap (the number was slightly higher during 2009 recession). Reusable bottles are now chic and available in myriad designs and styles. And a Wall Street Journal story tracked recent acquisitions in the reusable bottle industry that indicate big growth as well, although probably not enough to make a dent in the earnings of bottling giants like Nestlé, Coke and Pepsi.

Why the Fight Over Bottled Water

“The single most important factor in the growth of bottled water is heightened consumer demand for healthier refreshment,” says BMC’s managing director of research Gary A. Hemphill. “Convenience of the packaging and aggressive pricing have been contributing factors.”

That convenience, though, comes with an environmental cost. The Pacific Institute, a nonprofit research organization, found that it took the equivalent of 17 million barrels of oil to make all the plastic water bottles that thirsty Americans drank in 2006—enough to keep a million cars chugging along the roads for a year. And this is only the energy to make the bottles, not the energy it takes to get them to the store, keep them cold or ship the empties off to recycling plants or landfills.

Of the billions of plastic water bottles sold each year, the majority don’t end up being recycled. Those single-serving bottles, also known as PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles because of the kind of resin they’re made with, are recycled at a rate of about 31 percent in the U.S. The other 69 percent end up in landfills or as litter.

And while recycling them is definitely a better option than throwing them away, it comes with a cost, too. Stiv Wilson, director of campaigns at the Story of Stuff Project, says that most PET bottles that are recycled end up, not as new plastic bottles, but as textiles, such as clothing. And when you wash synthetic clothing, microplastics end up going down the drain and back into waterways. These tiny plastic fragments are dangerous for wildlife, especially in oceans.

“If you start out with a bad material to begin with, recycling it is going to be an equally bad material,” says Wilson. “You’re changing its shape but its environmental implications are the same.” PET bottles are part of a growing epidemic of plastic waste that’s projected to get worse. A recent study found that by 2050, 99 percent of seabirds will be ingesting plastic.

Ingesting plastic trash is deadly for seabirds, like this unfortunate albatross. Photo credit: USFWS

Ingesting plastic trash is deadly for seabirds, like this unfortunate albatross. Photo credit: USFWS

“We notice in all the data that the amount of plastic in the environment is growing exponentially,” says Wilson. “We are exporting it to places that can’t deal with it, we’re burning it with dioxins going into the air. The whole chain of custody is bad for the environment, for animals and the humans that deal with it. The more you produce, the worse it gets. The problem grows.”

Even on land, plastic water bottles are a problem—and in some of our most beautiful natural areas, as a recent controversy over bottled water in National Parks has shown. According to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, more than 20 national parks have banned the sale of plastic water bottles, reporting that plastic bottles average almost one third of the solid waste that parks must pay (with taxpayer money) to have removed.

After Zion National Park in Utah banned the sale of plastic water bottles, the park saw sales of reusable bottles jump 78 percent and kept it 60,000 bottles (or 5,000 pounds of plastic) a year out of the waste stream. The park also made a concerted effort to provide bottle refilling stations across the park so there would be ample opportunity to refill reusable bottles.

There might be more parks with bans but 200 water bottlers backed by the International Bottled Water Association have fought back to oppose measures by parks to cut down on the sale of disposable plastic water bottles. The group was not too happy when National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis wrote that parks “must be a visible exemplar of sustainability” and said in 2011 that the more than 400 hundreds entities in the National Park Service could ban the sale of plastic bottles if they meet strict requirements for making drinking water available to visitors.

Park officials contend that trashcans are overflowing with bottles in some parks. The bottling industry counters that people are more apt to choose sugary drinks, like soda, if they don’t have access to bottled water. The bottled water industry alliance used its Washington muscle to add a rider to an appropriations bill in July that would have stopped parks from restricting bottled water sales. The bill didn’t pass for other reasons, but it’s likely not the last time the rider will surface in legislation.

Changing Tide

Bottlers may be making big money, but activists have also notched their own share of wins. “When we first started, really no one was out there challenging the misleading marketing that the bottled water industry was giving the public,” said John Stewart, deputy campaign director at CAI, which first began campaigning against bottled water in 2004. “You had no information available to consumers about the sources of bottling and you had communities whose water supplies were being threatened by companies like Nestlé with total impunity,” added Stewart.

If you buy the marketing, then it would appear that most bottled water comes from pristine mountain springs beside snow-capped peaks. But in reality, about half of all bottled water, including Pepsi’s Aquafina and Coca-Cola’s Dasani, come from municipal sources that are then purified or treated in some way. Activists fought to have companies label the source of its water and they succeeded with two of the top three—Pepsi and Nestlé. “We also garnered national media stories that put a spotlight on the fact that bottling corporations were taking our tap water and selling it back to us at thousands of times the price,” said Stewart. “People finally began to see they were getting duped.”

When companies aren’t bottling from municipal sources, the water is mostly spring water tapped from wilderness areas, like Nestlé bottling in the San Bernardino National Forest or rural communities. Some communities concerned about industrial withdrawals of groundwater have fought back against spring water bottlers—the biggest being Nestlé, which owns dozens of regional brands like Arrowhead, Calistoga, Deer Park, Ice Mountain and Poland Spring. Coalitions have helped back communities in victories in Maine, Michigan and California (among other areas) in fights against Nestlé.

One the biggest was in McCloud, California, which sits in the shadow of snowy Mount Shasta and actually looks like the label on so many bottles. Residents of McCloud fought for six years against Nestlé’s plan for a water bottling facility that first intended to draw 200 million gallons of water a year from a local spring. Nestlé finally scrapped its plans and left town, but ended up heading 200 miles down the road to the city of Sacramento, where it got a sweetheart deal on the city’s municipal water supply.

CAI and Food & Water Watch have also worked with college students. Close to a hundred have taken some action, says Stewart. “Not all the schools have been able to ban the sale of bottled water on campus but we’ve come up with other strategies like passing resolutions that student government funds can’t be used to purchase bottled water or increasing the availability of tap water on campus or helping to get water fountains retrofitted so you can refill your reusable bottle,” says Emily Wurth, Food & Water Watch’s water program director.

Changes have also come at the municipal level. In 2007, San Francisco led the charge by prohibiting the city from spending money on bottled water for its offices. At the 2010 Conference of Mayors, 72 percent of mayors said they have considered “eliminating or reducing bottled water purchases within city facilities” and nine mayors had already adopted a ban proposal. In 2015, San Francisco passed a law (to be phased in over four years) that will ban the sale of bottled water on city property.

These victories, say activists, are part of a much bigger fight—larger than the bottled water industry itself. “We are shifting to fight the wholesale privatization of water a little more,” says Stewart. He says supporters who have joined coalitions to fight bottled water “deeply understand the problematic nature of water for profit and the commodification of water” that transcends from bottled water to private control of municipal power and sewer systems.

Currently the vast majority (90 percent) of water systems in the U.S. are publically run, but cash-strapped cities and towns are also targets of multinational water companies, says Stewart. The situation is made more dire by massive shortfalls in federal funding that used to help support municipal water and now is usually cut during federal budget crunches.

“Cities are so desperate that they don’t think about long-term implications of job cuts, rate hikes, loss of control over the quality of the water and any kind of accountability when it comes to how the system is managed,” says Stewart. “We need to turn all eyes to our public water systems and aging infrastructure and our public services in general that are threatened by privatization.”

Tara Lohan|AlterNet|September 24, 2015


Removing wildlife from US vegetable crops has not cut down on human diseases

A move in the US to safeguard people from digestive diseases in the salad vegetables they eat, by removing wildlife from the fields where they grow has been deemed a failure by a new study made by scientists from the University of California, Berkeley.

It was thought that disease-causing germs came from birds, rabbits and other animals that wander in and near fields where crops are growing.

Keeping animals out of the fields should therefore prevent major outbreaks of illness, was the conclusion drawn and so steps were taken on some farms to limit wildlife’s access to crops.

But a new study finds that fencing out animals and removing their habitat isn’t working. It doesn’t make salad greens less germy.

The findings, reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, were striking. Removing wildlife habitat, such as brush, trees and shrubs, did not improve food safety. In fact, it seemed to increase levels of germs, not reduce them.

A major push to keep wildlife out of farms began in 2006. It followed an outbreak of E. colibacteria that sickened more than 200 people and killed five.

Raw spinach sold and eaten in 26 US states had hosted the germs and investigators eventually traced the bacteria to a farm in California.

There, the same strain of E. coli was found in the soil, water and feces of both wild pigs and nearby cattle. The natural conclusion was that animal feces must be behind the spinach contamination.

Under pressure from retailers and customers, farmers began to remove wildlife from their fields. They put up fences to keep deer, pigs and other animals from getting near crops and cleared nearby areas of trees, shrubs and other non-crop plants, leaving behind bare ground. 

The changes worried conservation biologists working to preserve ecosystems and species threatened or endangered with extinction. One big concern was for pollinators, such as bees. 

To prove the efficacy, or otherwise, of the clearance policy, ecologist Daniel Karp and his colleagues examined data collected at a large farming operation over seven years.

During that time, the farmers collected a quarter of a million samples from their produce and biologists tested each sample looking for various strains of E. coli, as well as for Salmonella, which causes nearly one million cases of food poisoning in the US each year.

Sampling for the germs began shortly after the 2006 E. coli outbreak. It continued as farmers evicted wildlife and their habitat from areas in and around crop fields.

This gave Karp and his team the chance to see whether the changes affected levels of disease-causing germs, or pathogens.

The scientists also sampled for these germs in nearby streams and wells, and used aerial surveys to map and measure how much wildlife habitat bordered the farms.

They now report that removing wildlife habitat has not improved food safety. In fact, pathogen levels seem to increase.

This was seen to be particularly true in crop fields located near grazing livestock, which suggests rain water might have washed tainted cow dung onto the nearby fields. Or it might indicate that removing habitat hasn’t had the effect of stopping wild animals from visiting farms.

Karp and his team now recommend adding more wildlife habitat to farms. For instance, they advise planting non-crop barriers between livestock and crops.

These barrier plants, Karp explains, may clean and filter water before it passes into crop fields. Keeping livestock and wildlife away from shared waterways also could limit fecal germs from reaching crops.

Finally, the researchers suggest surrounding crops of salad vegetables that are eaten raw with others that require cooking.

Animals may tend to stay near the edge of a field, the scientists note. This should keep their feces — and germs — from spreading beyond the outer crops.

Any pathogens that do end up on these outer vegetables would later be killed during cooking. 

From Wildlife Extra

Michigan lost 4.3M wetland acres in 200 years

The drop is credited to farming and development

LANSING — When 19th century surveyor Lucius Lyon first clapped eyes on Michigan, he excitedly wrote his friends back east to tell of a pristine wilderness that had been “undervalued” by a poor 1815 report.

“Michigan has been considered but little better than the waste land of the United States, but when the country was explored and surveyed… it was found to possess as good a soil and greater advantages than the famed Ohio.”

At the time of Lyon’s 1822 letter, there was about 10.7 million acres of wetlands across Michigan, then just a territory of the expanding United States. Today, nearly 200 years later, that acreage has dropped to about 6.4 million.

According to a new report authored by Chad Fizzell at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Michigan has lost more than 4.2 million acres of wetlands to farming and development since European settlement began in the early 1800s.

Ducks Unlimited helped the state with the National Wetland Inventory update, according to The Grand Rapids Press.

Most of that loss occurred prior to 1978, a year before the state passed the Geomare-Anderson Wetlands Protection Act, a strong law that partially resulted in Michigan becoming the first state in the U.S. to receive delegated authority to regulate most wetlands and streams considered “Waters of the U.S.” and approve or deny wetland development permits on behalf of the fed­eral government.

Michigan’s total wetland loss since 1978 is estimated at 41,000 acres, with the rate of decline slowing since then. Unfortunately, the inventory data is at least a decade old, collected in 1978, 1998 and most recently in 2005.

Nonetheless, the report says about 17 percent of the state is covered by wetlands, which act as a kind of natural biological water filter that aids in flood control, shoreline stability and provides diverse wildlife habitats.

Between 1998 and 2005, about 8,000 acres of wetland were lost. The loss rate during that period was about 1,150 acres per year, down from about 1,600 acres per year between 1978 and 1998.

The rate of decline has tapered, but not abated, the report notes.

“However, while state wetland regulations have helped to slow the destruction of wetlands in Michigan from a quantitative perspective, watershed related wetland studies completed around the state have consistently shown a decrease in wetland function and overall quality for the wetlands that remain.”

The state’s diverse geography, which includes large industrial areas near Detroit, miles of freshwater shoreline and huge tracts of forest in Northern Michigan, has resulted in higher wetland losses in certain areas.

— Upper Peninsula: 17 percent loss (638,000 acres).
— Northern Lower Peninsula: 20 percent loss (387,000 acres).
— Southern Lower Peninsula: 66 percent loss (3,320,000 acres).
— Great Lakes coastal wetlands: 71 percent loss.

“Overall, trends show a substantial loss in coastal wetlands from historic estimates, but also indicate significant variability due to (Great Lakes) water level


[This is not just a Michigan problem, all states suffer from the same malady. Wetlands are continually being eradicated in spite of President Clinton’s 1995 “No Net Loss” policy.]

Farmers Are Finally Saying No to Plasticulture

Farmers Are Finally Saying No to Plasticulture

There’s something growing on your favorite farm that you might not know about: Plastics. Every year, even small farms spend thousands of dollars on agricultural plastics, which are used for a huge variety of needs across the farm, and once they’ve outlived their function, they’re sometimes discarded around the farm or burned to avoid landfill costs or the expense of sorting them for recycling. The growing use of agricultural plastics is known as “plasticulture,” and it’s a big problem in addition to a global industry. Some farmers, however, are starting to question whether it’s such a good idea.

Some common uses of plastics include: mulch sheeting to trap moisture and keep weeds back; irrigation lines and drip tape; greenhouse sheeting; and plastic pots or seed trays used for raising seedlings before planting. For farmers, it’s pitched as a cost-cutting efficiency measure that will help them maximize profits from crops, a concern for many in an era where some crops have a very low profit margin. If plasticulture sounds like the stuff of industrial agriculture, think again. Many organic and natural farms use it as well, because there aren’t any restrictions on the use of agricultural plastics, and some argue that they have to resort to things like plastic weed barriers if they want to remain competitive with other farms.

However, attitudes about farming plastics are starting to change, at least in some corners of the farming community, an illustration of the fact that it’s possible for an industry to identify a problem and change it, even if doing so may expose them to financial risk. Fixing the plasticulture problem will create small cost increases for some farmers, but in the long term, it’s beneficial for the environment.

Plastic sheeting for mulching is one of the most challenging things to replace. Mulch keeps weeds and unwanted pests down, in addition to trapping moisture so crops don’t need to use as much water — a particularly big concern in drought-torn regions like California. In addition, mulch can prevent fertilizer runoff and promote the development of beneficial fungi that will enrich the soil, while lifting fragile plants away from the soil so they don’t rot or mold — squash and strawberries are two examples. Plastic sheeting is cheap and easy to apply, making it extremely appealing.

However, there are alternatives. One option is to use a cover crop that can be grown over the winter and simply left in place to act as mulch. Farmers can plant right over the mulch in the spring, and at the end of the year, they can leave the remains of their planting behind and reseed a cover crop, creating an endless cycle of mulch. In addition to addressing concerns about weeds and moisture retention, natural mulches also enrich the soil. As another alternative, farmers can use straw, shredded wood and other natural products to accomplish the same goal — and all of these components can be applied mechanically, just like plastic sheeting.

Equally biodegradable materials are also available for silage — animal feed used during the winter — and planting trays. Instead of using plastics, farmers can grow seedlings in planters that are lowered directly into the soil, where they naturally break down as the plant grows.

Instead of greenhouse plastics, glass and recycled durable plastic are possible alternatives. While hoop houses and other quasi-temporary structures are often made with short-lived plastic sheeting to retain warmth and moisture for fragile plants, more robust greenhouses provide a number of advantages. The initial outlay of cash needed is higher, but they last longer, and can better withstand storms, freezing conditions and other harsh weather.

Irrigation can be more challenging, as a farm cannot be practically watered without irrigation lines. Open irrigation trenches are expensive to maintain and they’re not very environmentally friendly, as evaporative loss is a concern along with water loss during the irrigation process. As an alternative, some farmers are taking an innovative approach: giving up on watering altogether. “Dry farming,” as it’s known, eliminates the need to run irrigation lines — and it also saves water in addition to yielding crops with a concentrated flavor and very high quality. While the concept is ancient, it hasn’t been in widespread use for hundreds of years, and advocates are working to change that.

Meanwhile, organizations concerned about plasticulture are addressing the fact that some farms will continue to use it by developing recycling programs that encourage farmers to bale their plastics and send them in for processing. Agricultural plastic can be repurposed for a variety of things, including products made with recycled products and even fuel production. Historically, it’s been challenging to recycle because it’s harsh on machinery and it can be contaminated with dirt, rocks and agricultural chemicals. Creating purpose-built programs to address these problems aims to get around them and create an incentive to get plastics off farms and into safe hands when they’ve outlived their usefulness.

Through a combination of awareness efforts, training and outreach, the face of plasticulture may change radically in coming years — and that’s a good thing.

s.e. smith|September 22, 2015

5 Products Cities Have Tried to Ban to Save the Environment

It’s official: New York City’s Styrofoam ban is over. After three months devoid of clamshells, foam cups or coolers, courts ruled Tuesday that the ban was “excessive,” arguing the impossible-to-decompose material can, in fact, be recycled. Here are five other products cities have tried to ban to save the environment.

1. Lawn Sprinklers

A southeastern Massachusetts town said see you to sprinklers this week after a month-long water shortage. Sometimes known as the “Jewelry Capital of the World,” Attleboro has seen rain seven inches less than normal. Residents face fines up to $200 for repeat offenses, but can get away with using garden hoses and well water to keep their grass green. Perhaps they should consider breaking out the spray-paint, as a handful of Californians did last year when frustrated with their drought-stricken front lawns.

2. Alcohol Minis

Citing litter problems, Santa Fe, N.M., banned miniature bottles of alcohol this spring. Predictably, area liquor stores immediately threatened lawsuits.

“We’re going to lose some business,” a local shop owner told the Santa Fe Reporter, claiming sales of the eight ounces or fewer containers made up a significant portion of his profits. Other claimed the city had singled out booze in particular, in lieu of attacking other forms as litter.

While a city councilor insisted to the Reporter that the ban is indeed an effort to, “Keep Santa Fe Beautiful,” she said reducing drinking problems in the area would be a welcome side effect.

3. Plastic Water Bottles

Concord, Mass., was the first to put a dent in the multibillion-dollar industry when the city purged itself of plastic water bottles three years ago. Places like San Francisco eventually followed suit.

“We all know with climate change, and the importance of combatting climate change, San Francisco has been leading the way to fight for our environment,” said the bill’s author to SFGate. “That’s why I ask you to support this ordinance to reduce and discourage single-use, single-serving plastic water bottles in San Francisco.”

While advocates say Americans throw away 38 billion water bottles each year, wasting more than $1 billion in plastic, opponents call such bans “an intrusion on corporate interest,” Care2 reports, and “an attack on freedom.”

4. Microbeads

As of this summer, microbeads, the plastic you find in face wash and toothpaste, are prohibited in Buffalo, N.Y., and the surrounding county. Experts estimate the small beads are the source of nearly all new plastic pollution because they float through water treatment systems, which can’t filter them out, into our waterways.

While the ban took more than 100 products off store shelves in the county, residents have seemingly embraced the new rule.

“I have not had one person come up and complain to me that it’s a hardship,” a bill sponsor told The Buffalo News. “Folks really want to know which products have microbeads, so they don’t purchase them anymore.

This ban is part of an ongoing trend towards eliminating microbeads. Six states, including Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, Colorado, Indiana and Maryland, already have laws restricting the use of microbeads. And just this month, the California State Assembly passed a bill banning microbead use. The bill is now headed to Governor Jerry Brown for final approval.

5. Pesticides

Eugene, Ore., committed to protect bees last year when officials barred use of a type of pesticide harmful to them. Studies found that use of neonicotinoids reduced wild bee populations by 50 percent, which is quite important as the pollinators are dying in droves.

While some residents say the ban on neonicotinoids wasn’t enough and request greater restrictions on herbicide and pesticides, the city argues their use is only a small part of managing noxious species. Eugene probably won’t be going nearly as far as South Portland, which is now trying to ban all herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilizers in the city.

Emily Zak|September 25, 2015

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 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

Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

ConsRep1509 C

The insufferable arrogance of human beings to think that Nature was made solely for their benefit, as if it was conceivable that the sun had been set afire merely to ripen men’s apples and head their cabbages. ~Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac


Independent Scientific Review of Everglades Restoration Progress

The 1st meeting of the newly reconstituted NRC CISRERP committee is rapidly approaching. 

The draft agenda for the open session portions of the meeting, which are taking place on September 29, 2015 at the Miami Airport Marriott in Miami, FL, is attached.

For those of you interested in attending, please register at your earliest convenience via this Eventbrite link:

more info

Power Through Paris Workshop, & Election for 350 South Florida

Power Through Paris Workshop, & Election for 350 South Florida

Sunday, September 20, 2:00 PM Catalyst Miami

Miami, FL 33132

(We’ll show you the exact address once you RSVP)

Celebrate with us and prepare for next steps in South Florida.

We’re gearing up for the 2nd People’s Climate March in Miami (Oct. 14) and an international effort to put pressure on the Paris climate talks. 

2015 is on track to be the hottest year in recorded history.

Yet momentum is growing to stop this climate change crisis.

Political and religious leaders are beginning to get the message—that people like you have been voicing for years.

We are carrying this momentum to the global gathering of governments at the Paris climate change talks — and beyond.

We are organizing events across the world in November and December, and in order to make them beautiful and powerful we need everyone to work together.

The workshop will help us build energy, learn how movements build momentum, and lay out 350’s plans of “Power Through Paris”—

including how we’re planning now to escalate after the Paris climate talks, regardless of their outcome.

Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

Announces Proposed Expansion of Public Uses  

The Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge is proposing to expand the walking,

hiking and bicycle riding public access on the A.B,C impoundments as well as on the L-40, L-39, and L-7 levees. 

The proposed expansion of uses will provide visitors additional areas to experience the myriad of wading birds,

waterfowl, hawks, and alligators that use the Refuge and surrounding natural areas. 

The Refuge interior is bounded by a perimeter canal and levee system. 

The draft compatibility determination (CD), based on sound professional judgment, is a written determination that proposed uses will not interfere

with or detract from the fulfillment of the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System or purpose of the Refuge.  

A copy of this draft CD can be downloaded from the following web site:

The National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act of 1997 identifies six priority public uses that are appropriate on National Wildlife Refuges,

including hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, wildlife photography, interpretation, and environmental education. 

The overall goal for the hunt program at the Refuge is to develop and conduct a quality and biologically sound program that:

1) leads to enjoyable recreation experiences;

2) leads to greater understanding and appreciation of wildlife resources; and

3) aids in the conservation of wildlife populations and their habitats.

The refuge is located off U.S. 441/SR 7, two miles south of SR 804 (Boynton Beach Blvd.) and three miles north of SR 806 (Delray Beach’s Atlantic Avenue). 

The refuge is currently open from 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., seven days a week. 

Refuge hours are posted at each entrance. 

The Visitor Center hours are 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., seven days a week. 

An entrance fee of $5.00 per vehicle or $1.00 per pedestrian is charged. 

A variety of annual passes, including a $12.00 refuge specific annual pass, are available. 

Please visit the refuge website at

or call the Administration Office at (561) 732-3684.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve,protect, and enhance fish,

wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of  the American people.

We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources,

dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit

Gopher tortoise stakeholder meeting ‏

Gopher tortoise interests: A meeting of the Gopher Tortoise Technical Assistance Group (GTTAG) will be held at the Division of Plant Industry Auditorium, 1911 SW 34 Street, Gainesville, FL 32608 on Se

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission banner graphic

Gopher tortoise interests:

A meeting of the Gopher Tortoise Technical Assistance Group (GTTAG) will be held at the Division of Plant Industry Auditorium,

1911 SW 34 Street, Gainesville, FL 32608 on September 25, 2015 from 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. The public is welcome to attend. 

Meeting materials (agenda, handouts, presentations) can be accessed on the GTTAG SharePoint site:


Password:  Tortoise0815

Please note that some materials may not be available on the website until the day of the meeting. 

Deborah Burr|Coordinator|Gopher Tortoise Conservation Program|Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

The 2015 Audubon Assembly is just around the corner!

Do you have your tickets yet?

One of the best parts of the Assembly experience is the ability to participate in Audubon staff-curated workshops and learning sessions.

This year, each of our three dynamic sessions will be focused around different aspects of Florida’s parks and public conservation lands.

Audubon leaders are putting together programs that will engage and inspire you to take action for our parks.

Each session will feature cutting-edge scientists, biologists, conservationists, and leaders from across Florida.

You don’t want to miss this one-of-a-kind conservation opportunity. 

Early-bird tickets are limited Click here to reserve your seats right now.


This is a “must attend” program for Florida water professionals!

American Ground Water Trust’s 15th Annual


Holiday Inn Hotel, Orlando Airport, Orlando, FL – Sept 21 and Sept 22, 2015
Day one 8:30 to 5:00 – Reception 5:30 to 6:45  Day two 8:30 to 4:00

The AGWT will issue certificates of attendance

Approved – Water Well Contractors – 10 Credits – 4 S/B & 6 R/R (Day 1- 3RR/2SB; Day 2- 3RR/2SB:
Course 124-092115-101
Approved – Professional Engineers – Provider #306 – 13 PDH – Day 1-6.75-#0009166/Day2-6.25-#0009941
Water/Wastewater Operators – 12.5 PDHs (Day 1 – 6.5/Day 2 – 6.0)

Water Managers, engineers, geologists, hydrogeologists, utility operators, water re-use and aquifer recharge consultants, water treatment specialists,
water well contractors, groundwater end-users, city & county government, regulatory authorities, environmental NGOs, water attorneys and interested citizens.

Topics to be covered include:

National & state score-sheet for ASR
New USGS Assessment of Floridan Aquifer
Updates on Florida’s Aquifer Storage Recovery projects
Aquifers for thermal energy storage – best way to save energy
Aquifer Recharge as a feasible antidote to climate change effects
What are the implications of “sole source aquifer” designation of the Floridan?
How serious is the threat to Florida’s groundwater from Oil & Gas well stimulation?
Does aquifer recharge have a future in managing Everglades environmental flows and water quality issues?

Register Now

EPA and Partners to Host Free Environmental Justice Workshop in Gulfport, Miss.

Contact Information: Davina Marraccini, 404-562-8293 (direct), 404-562-8400 (main),

ATLANTA – Representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) together with Oxfam America and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ)

will present a Mississippi environmental justice workshop on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, at the Westside Community Center in Gulfport.

The workshop is free and open to the public, and participants may register through Sept. 18, 2015.

The workshop will provide a forum for capacity building and resource sharing relative to promoting just practices and improving conditions in environmentally overburdened communities across Mississippi.

The theme, “Encouraging Just Practices in Vulnerable Communities,” is critical to understanding and advancing environmental justice.

WHO: EPA, Oxfam America and MDEQ

WHAT: Mississippi Environmental Justice Workshop

WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015 from 8:30 am to 5 p.m. CST (Registration will open at 7:30 a.m.)

WHERE: Westside Community Center

4006 8th Street, Gulfport, MS 39501

Community members interested in obtaining additional information are encouraged to contact LaKeshia Robertson at or Keala Hughes at

For more information and to register, visit  and select “view” after entering your data.

National Public Lands Day is on Saturday, September 26

National Public Lands Day (NPLD) is the nation’s largest, single-day volunteer effort for public lands.NPLD began in 1994 with three sites and 700 volunteers.

It proved to be a huge success and became a yearly tradition, typically held on the last Saturday in September. 

In NPLD 2014, about 175,000 volunteers worked at 2,132 sites in every state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Highlands Hammock State Park (Sebring) has asked the Ridge Rangers to participate in three events on NPLD –  See details below and come join us!

Highlands Hammock State Park/Sebring not convenient for you?

There are thousands of other National Public Lands Day sites on September 26, please see their locator page at

NPLD’s mission is Helping Hands for America’s Lands.

Exotic Pet Amnesty Day set for Oct. 3 in Fort Walton Beach ‏

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

(Having trouble viewing this email? View it as a Web page.)

Suggested Tweet: Next free Exotic Pet Amnesty Day set for Oct. 3 in Fort Walton Beach! #Gulfarium @MyFWC

Photos available on FWC’s Flickr site:

Exotic Pet Amnesty Day set for Oct. 3 in Fort Walton Beach

Do you have any exotic pets you can no longer care for?

Would you like the opportunity to surrender those pets without any penalties or fines?

Then join the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park

for an Exotic Pet Amnesty Day on Oct. 3 in Fort Walton Beach.

This free event is open to the public and will be held in front of Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park,

1010 Miracle Strip Parkway SE, Fort Walton Beach. Admission to the park is not included.

Surrendered animals will be accepted between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

These animals will be checked by a veterinarian and made available for adoption by experienced individuals who are capable of caring for them.

Animals that will be accepted for surrender include reptiles, amphibians, mammals, birds, fish and invertebrates.

Domestic animals, such as cats and dogs, will not be accepted. For each animal surrendered, individuals will receive two free admission passes to the Gulfarium.

Animals will be available for adoption after 2 p.m. Exotic pet adopters must be experienced and must have already applied and been approved by the FWC prior to the event.

Potential adopters need to bring their acceptance letters with them.

People can find adopter applications at

Becoming an adopter is free, but people are required to register a minimum of five days prior to the event to adopt an animal.

Experts from the FWC, Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park and other local organizations will be on hand with information about caring for exotic pets,

responsible pet ownership and potential ecological impacts of invasive species in Florida.

Families can enjoy the opportunity to see several species of exotic animals and participate in crafts and games.

For additional information about this event, call the FWC’s Exotic Species Hotline at 888-Ive-Got1 (888-483-4681).

Exotic pet owners who cannot attend this event may call this number for assistance in finding a new home for their animal.

For more information about Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, call 850-243-9046 or visit

Of Interest to All

Final Management Plan Released for Everglades National Park

Plan makes strides to improve habitat conservation while maintaining reasonable boating and fishing access

Alexandria, VA– September 1, 2015 – The National Park Service recently released the final General Management Plan (GMP) for Everglades National Park, which includes several changes that will affect recreational boating and fishing access and habitat conservation in the park. The recreational fishing and boating community expressed its collective appreciation to Everglades National Park officials for meaningfully addressing concerns that were raised during the GMP development process.

“Covering much of the southern tip of mainland Florida and nearly all of Florida Bay, Everglades National Park is home to some of the best recreational fishing opportunities that Florida has to offer,” said Trip Aukeman, director of Advocacy for Coastal Conservation Association Florida. “Given that this GMP will guide management actions for the next 20 to 30 years, it’s critically important that we get it right. Overall, we believe the GMP strikes an appropriate balance of management measures to safeguard resources while allowing for reasonable boating and fishing access.”

Everglades National Park officials have been working on the GMP update for several years. After serious concerns were raised over the draft GMP and the potential for reduced public access to the park’s waters, park officials worked closely with members of the recreational fishing and boating community to identify ways to better facilitate access while minimizing boating impacts to important habitat, namely seagrass. As a result of those discussions, many significant changes were made from the draft GMP to the final GMP.

“The recreational fishing community recognizes pole and troll zones are an important management tool to conserve shallow water habitat, but these zones must be established at a reasonable size and with access corridors to allow anglers to still reach the area,” said Mike Leonard, Ocean Resource Policy director for the American Sportfishing Association. “In working with the recreational fishing community, Everglades National Park officials modified tens of thousands of acres of the park’s waters to better facilitate boating access, and included 29 new access corridors in the final GMP compared to the draft GMP. The level of responsiveness of Everglades National Park officials to our community’s input is reflective of how good public policy should be developed.”

One significant change that boaters in Everglades National Park will experience in the future is a mandatory boater education and boating permit system. Operators of motorboats and non-motorized boats, including paddled craft, would complete a mandatory education program to obtain a permit to operate vessels in the park.

“We are pleased to see a cooperatively developed plan that protects our natural resources as well boater access in a balanced manner,” said Nicole Vasilaros, vice president of Federal and Legal Affairs for the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “While we believe that boater education is best administered on the state level, we appreciate the collaborative work the Park has done to include stakeholders in this process and we agree that education is the best way to ensure a safe and fun day on the water. Utilizing state of the art technology, including updated maps and navigational charts, we hope boaters will have an improved experience operating within park waters while ensuring visitors maintain robust access.”

“It’s hard not to recognize the clear contrast between the degree to which stakeholder input was considered for Everglades National Park’s GMP compared to that of Biscayne National Park, where the recreational fishing community was resoundingly ignored,” noted Leonard. “By recognizing that habitat conservation can be achieved while still allowing the public to get out on the water and enjoy our public places, Everglades National Park officials set a positive example that we hope other National Park Service units will follow.”

Bees Win Big in Court, EPA’s Approval of Toxic Pesticide Overturned

A federal court has overturned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) approval of sulfoxaflor, a pesticide linked to the mass die-off of honeybees that pollinate a third of the world’s food supply.

The three-judge panel said the EPA green-lit sulfoxaflor even though initial studies showed the product was highly toxic to pollinators such as bees. The chemical compound belongs to a class of insecticides, known as neonicotinoids, that scientific studies have implicated in bee deaths.

“Because the EPA’s decision to unconditionally register sulfoxaflor was based on flawed and limited data, we conclude that the unconditional approval was not supported by substantial evidence,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit panel wrote in its opinion.

In her opinion, Judge Mary M. Schroeder wrote that the EPA had initially decided to conditionally approve the chemical but ordered more studies done to better understand the effects the systemic insecticide would have on bees.

“A few months later, however, the EPA unconditionally registered the insecticides with certain mitigation measures and a lowering of the maximum application rate,” Schroeder wrote. “It did so without obtaining any further studies.”

The product, sold in the U.S. as Transform or Closer, must be pulled from store shelves by Oct. 18.

Gregory Loarie, lead counsel for environmental group Earthjustice, which represented beekeepers and beekeeping groups in the case, said the ruling could lead to reviews of other EPA-approved pesticides.

“The EPA rarely, if ever, has reliable information regarding the impact that insecticides have on honeybee colonies writ large, as opposed to individual, adult worker bees,” Loarie said in an email. “With the findings in this case, EPA should move quickly to re-examine other registrations for possible flawed and limited data.”

Sulfoxaflor, created by Indianapolis-based Dow AgroSciences, is a systemic insecticide. When it’s sprayed on soybean, cotton, citrus, fruit and vegetable crops, it kills bugs on contact and is also absorbed into the plant’s flowers, stems and roots. When insects ingest any part of the plant, they die too.

Paul Towers, spokesperson for advocacy group Pesticide Action Network, said that because sulfoxaflor was only approved in 2013, it hasn’t been widely used. “The prospect of greater use loomed, especially as other neonicotinoids are under increased scrutiny and pressure for phase-out,” Towers said.

That phase-out already has started in Europe; EU member nations banned three neonicotinoids in 2013 for two years after the chemicals were linked to the dramatic decline in bee populations there.

“This is the classic pesticide industry shell game,” Towers said. “As more science underscores the harms of a pesticide, they shift to newer, less studied products. And it takes regulators years to catch up.”

Taylor Hill|TakePart|September 14, 2015

Bigger terminal planned for Port of Miami?

A new terminal in Miami would accommodate Royal Caribbean\'s biggest ships

A new terminal in Miami would accommodate Royal Caribbean’s biggest ships

Cruise lines are spending a lot of money building their own ports. The latest is Royal Caribbean, which has plans to build a $100-million cruise terminal at the Port of Miami.

It’s a serious move, accompanied by a 20-year lease with an option to extend it by 60 years!

Royal Caribbean will finance, build, operate and maintain the terminal while the port will be responsible for some of the infrastructure, like roads and dredging.

One of the berths will be 400 metres long, space enough to operate Oasis Class ships and beyond. Previously, these giant ships have operated out of Fort Lauderdale.

Royal Caribbean’s fourth Oasis Class ship arrives in 2018, the target year for the new port.


The “memorandum of understanding” will be considered by county commissioners this week.

Royal Caribbean’s news is an add-on to lot of news regarding the Port of Miami. Norwegian’s newest and biggest ship, the Escape, starts year-round service in November. The new Carnival Corporation brand fathom begins sailing in the spring with the first direct-to-Cuba cruises from the U.S. in decades. And the Carnival Vista joins the full-calendar roster in late 2016.

All for now.

Phil Reimer|Ports And Bows|September 13, 2015

Florida Cities Most Vulnerable to Storm Surge

Four of the top eight cities most vulnerable to a major storm surge are located in Florida, according to a new report released by Karen Clark & Company (KCC).

The 2015 “Most Vulnerable U.S. Cities to Storm Surge Flooding” study released by the company in August names Tampa as the most vulnerable U.S. city with loss estimates of $175 billion to residential, commercial and industrial properties in the event of a 100 year hurricane. Miami came in at no. 4 with estimated losses of $80 billion; Fort Myers came in at no. 5 with estimated losses of $70 billion; and Sarasota came in at no. 7 with losses estimated at $50 billion.

The other cities identified in the study included New Orleans (no. 2); New York (no. 3); Galveston-Houston, Texas (no. 6); and Charleston, S.C., (no. 8).

“While much attention has been focused on New York and New Orleans, the Tampa/St. Petersburg metropolitan area is the most vulnerable to large losses from storm surge flooding,” the report states. “This is due to unique coastline features, local bathymetry, and the low coastal elevations.”

The KCC report, which determined the most vulnerable cities using its KCC RiskInsight high resolution coastal flooding model, defined storm surge as the rise in sea surface along the coast caused by a tropical cyclone. Factors that influence the magnitude of the increase in water level – i.e. the height of the storm surge – include the intensity of the winds, the track angle relative to coastal orientation, and the local bathymetry, according to the report.

“Interestingly, while the intensity of the winds is the strongest meteorological impact on the increase in the sea surface, there is not high correlation between wind speed and the magnitude of storm surge,” the report states.

The report also found that wider, more gently sloping continental shelves with large shallow water areas – such as Florida’s coastline – will produce larger storm surges, as will the shape of the coastline and the presence of inlets and bays, which can create a funneling effect.

“When water is forced into these narrow channels by the power of strong winds, it has nowhere to go but up,” said the report. “This is one reason why the storm surge potential changes so rapidly along the coastline.”

In Tampa, the 100 year hurricane would be a strong category 4 storm with peak winds of 150 mph, according to the report. The city’s continental shelf is relatively wide off the coast, which means the local bathymetry will accentuate the rise in sea surface from a major hurricane, according to the report. It also notes that Tampa Bay creates a large funnel, particularly for a hurricane with its radius of maximum winds near the mouth of the bay.

“A severe storm with the right track orientation will cause an enormous buildup of water that will become trapped in the bay and inundate large areas of Tampa and St. Petersburg,” with 50 percent of the population in the area living on ground elevations less than 10 feet.

Miami’s coastal features are actually less favorable to storm surge than many other areas because the continental shelf falls off very steeply and the coastline is “relatively free of significant bays or other features that would create channeling effects,” the report says. But the high property values near the coast along with low coastal elevations perpetuate its vulnerability. It is also one of the most likely areas for a direct hit from a severe Category 5 storm.

In Fort Myers, its location on the west coast of Florida where the continental shelf is wide means that Fort Myers will “likely experience very high surge heights from a major hurricane making landfall north the city. Its population also mostly resides below 10 feet elevation.

The amount of property value at low elevation is also a factor that makes the no. 7 city Sarasota vulnerable to storm surge losses.

KCC said the report’s decision on the top cities was based on the magnitude of the property losses resulting from storm surge caused by the 100 year hurricanes. The RiskInsight model provides 30 meter resolution flood footprints for over 2,000 events that can be superimposed on an insurer’s portfolio of properties to estimate losses.

The 2015 storm surge study used KCC’s RiskInsight high resolution coastal flooding model and databases of property exposures to estimate the storm surge impacts for over 300 events at 10 mile spaced landfall points. Cities were then ranked by the estimated property damage, including building, contents, and time element losses.

Amy O’ Connor|September 15, 2015

The World’s Biggest Man-Made Wildlife Reserve Reaches a Milestone

On Friday, September 11, the European Commission together with representatives from the British Government opened the groundbreaking Jubilee Marsh, marking the end to the first phase of what has been dubbed the Wallasea Island Wild Coast project which, when complete, will be the biggest man-made wildlife reserve of its kind.

The project, which is being developed just north of Southend, Essex, is backed by the RSPB group BirdLife and Crossrail, the company that is responsible for developing new train lines across London. The initiative was devised as a way to fuse redevelopment of transport together with repurposing now unused land for conservation and general habitat improvement. When it is completed the project will provide a habitat for migratory wetland species who have been displaced or face being displaced due to climate change. The project also takes into account what might happen after climate change warms Europe and is ideally placed to provide habitats for birds that leave Europe as a result.

Wallasea Island was originally home to farmland but because Wallasea was below sea level it was becoming increasingly harder to protect from rising sea waters. In order to combat this, more than three million tons of material that was excavated as part of Crossrail’s railway network overhaul has been shipped to Wallasea where it and other donated materials were then put to use for the Jubilee Marsh project.

The land was then purposefully flooded under controlled conditions by breaching the old seawall. This allowed saltwater onto the land. This means that in around two years time the land will have adopted many of the characteristics of salt marshes and mudflats. Altogether, this has served to support the formation of around 170 hectares of what is known as “inter-tidal” habitat or salt marshes. This kind of habitat is vital for many wading bird species, as well as a number of invertebrates and other species. Unfortunately, global sea level rise means that the inter-tidal habitat has already declined and will continue to decline in the future unless projects like this are put in place.

Chris Tyas, manager of the Wallasea Island RSPB Project, is quoted as saying:

“What we are recreating is coastal habitats so it’s the waders and wildfowl that you’d expect to see along the Essex coast. Things like geese, shell duck, a range of different wetland birds. But we’ve engineered a lagoon specifically made for spoonbills and we create the salt pan habitat for black wing stilts who are just colonizing the UK.”

It is hoped that this project will inspire future cooperation among business and conservation organizations so that surplus materials like soil can be repurposed for environmental benefit.

The UK’s Environment Minister, Rory Stewart, is quoted as saying:

“The Wallasea Island project is a fantastic example of how creative thinking can bring development and environmental protection together, delivering win-win solutions for both. This kind of sustainable growth allows us to protect our natural environment while putting in place the infrastructure our country needs to grow. The Essex estuaries are one of our most beautiful natural assets and thanks to the vision and hard work of RSPB and Crossrail, the area will continue to flourish and support our diverse wildlife for decades to come.”

Crossrail’s tunneling project has now come to an end. The Wallasea Island conservation initiative, on the other hand, will require a further seven million tons of soil and so will need a new partner, but with the backing of the Environment Agency and Defra, its future looks solid and there are reportedly a number of development businesses that are lining up to help.

Steve Williams|September 15, 2015

Update on oil drilling in the Everglades of Broward County! ‏

Time for a full update on oil drilling in the Everglades of Broward County. Thanks to a powerful group of volunteers, community activists, and elected officials throughout Broward (drawing support from all of you), South Florida Wildlands is proud to announce that 20 municipalities within the county have now passed resolutions opposing Kanter Realty’s application to drill for oil in the Everglades. This is what it looks like when a community comes together.

The Kanter application itself is on the shelf. The DEP has deemed the application “incomplete” – and is requesting a great deal of additional information from the company. Broward County government has determined that the application will require both land use and zoning changes in the unincorporated section of Broward’s Everglades where Kanter’s oil drilling would take place. No application for those changes have come in to the county so far.

We are hoping that Kanter Realty realizes at this point how steep a hill they would have to climb to begin oil drilling operations inside the Broward Everglades – and within the boundaries of the Biscayne Aquifer – the sole source of drinking water for all of Broward, Miami-Dade, and the southern end of Palm Beach County. And of course inside the habitat and ecosystem of the Everglades itself. However if this application is pursued, SFWA and our many allies will be prepared to respond.

See a complete list of municipalities in Broward County below – listing those who have passed resolutions, those who have one in the works, and those who have yet to act. See also this file which contains copies of many of the resolutions which have already been adopted.

Matthew Schwartz|South Florida Wildlands Association|9/16/15

Massive Earthquake Triggers Tsunami, Claims Lives in Chile

A tsunami warning has been lifted in Chile, but the country is still assessing the damage after a massive 8.3 magnitude earthquake shook buildings, claimed lives and did trigger large waves that swept into coastal towns overnight.

Strong aftershocks rippled through Chile on Thursday after a magnitude 8.3 earthquake that killed at least eight people and slammed powerful waves into coastal towns, forcing more than a million people from their homes. Image credit: VICE/with overlay

Strong aftershocks rippled through Chile on Thursday after a magnitude 8.3 earthquake that killed at least eight people and slammed powerful waves into coastal towns,

forcing more than a million people from their homes. Image credit: VICE/with overlay

After the initial quake late Wednesday night, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) issued a series of warnings for low-lying island states across the Pacific, including Hawaii and French Polynesia. Though waves did wash ashore in Chile, the impact across longer distances have reportedly been slight.

According to the most recent update from Reuters:

Strong aftershocks rippled through Chile on Thursday after a magnitude 8.3 earthquake that killed at least eight people and slammed powerful waves into coastal towns, forcing more than a million people from their homes.

The government ordered evacuations from coastal areas after the powerful quake hit on Wednesday evening, seeking to avoid a repeat of a quake disaster in 2010 when authorities were slow to warn of a tsunami that killed hundreds.

As the risk subsided, the government lifted its tsunami warning on Thursday morning.

The quake and heavy waves afterward caused flooding in coastal towns, damaged buildings and knocked out power in the worst hit areas of central Chile. It shook buildings in the capital city of Santiago about 280 km (175 miles) to the south.

Agence France-Presse provided this news footage from Chile:

Common Dreams|September 17, 2015

New mega-yacht marina planned for Dania Beach

With demand for yacht parking on the rise in South Florida, a new marina for mega-yachts is being planned in Dania Beach at a cost estimated to top $12 million.

Edelman Development Corp. plans to buy a nearly five-acre portion of a waterfront parcel owned by the Archdiocese of Miami and excavate land to develop the marina, said Ken Edelman, president of the real-estate group based in Weston.

Plans call for creating about 2,400 lineal feet of dock space and renting out that space on a daily, monthly or even yearly basis for smaller vessels or yachts 200 feet long, Edelman said.

The proposed dock space can accommodate roughly 40 smaller boats or 20 mega-yachts, said environmental consultant Tyler Chappell of The Chappell Group, based in Pompano Beach.

Mega-yachts will be able to reach the new marina from the Atlantic Ocean, thanks to deeper waters dredged in the Dania Beach Cut in a $7 million project completed last year, Chappell said.

Pending final approvals from Dania Beach, developers hope to buy the northern part of the parcel at 441 NE 2nd St. by early next year and then complete excavation and install fixed and floating docks over about a year. That timeline would put the opening date in 2017, Edelman said.

“We’re targeting the larger boats, because they have very few choices to park,” Edelman said. “To get to our Dania Beach Mega Yacht Marina, they’ll have unobstructed, deep-water access with no bridges.”

Economic recovery after the Great Recession is fueling demand for mega-yachts and for their parking in the Fort Lauderdale area, dubbed the “Yachting Capital of the World.” Parking is especially tight in the fall, when super-yachts return from summers in Europe or the U.S. Northeast and prepare for the annual Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show and for winters in the Caribbean region, industry leaders say.

To meet growing demand, a separate developer plans a “dockominium” project in Fort Lauderdale. That venture calls for mega-yacht owners to buy covered parking spots and pay monthly maintenance fees and yearly property taxes, much like a condominium. Prices start at $1.8 million and run up to $3 million for each of the 26 dockominiums.

Edelman said his proposed Dania Beach marina provides rental space, instead of dockominiums, to ensure flexibility for yacht owners. Many owners move their yachts around the world and like short contracts to park, instead of buying spots. Plus, many owners trade up in the size of their yachts, so buying a spot for a specific boat and then selling it later may not make sense for them, Edelman said.

Plans for the mega-yacht marina underscore the growing strength of boating industry in Broward County, which last year supported more than 110,000 jobs and produced an economic impact topping $8.8 billion, said Phil Purcell, executive director of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida.

“This project shows the opportunity in the marine community,” Purcell said. “It’s big.”

Doreen Hemlock|Sun Sentinel

Feds Issue Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Sabal Trail Gas Pipeline

From the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Notice of Availability of the Draft Impact Statement:

The draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) assesses the potential environmental effects of the construction and operation of the  Project in accordance with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The FERC staff concludes that approval of the  Project would have some adverse environmental impacts; however, these impacts would be reduced to less-than-significant levels with the implementation of the applicants’ proposed mitigation and the additional measures recommended in the draft EIS.

The Sabal Trail Route. Source: Sabal Trail Transmission, LLC

From the Gainesville Sun:

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has already released its notice of intent to issue an environmental resource permit for the project and to allow the pipeline to run across the state’s “sovereign submerged lands” and under four rivers, including the Suwannee and the Santa Fe.

A south Georgia-based environmental group with members in north Florida, the WWALS Watershed Coalition, has an active challenge against that DEP permit that’s been assigned to administrative law judge with Florida’s Division of Administrative Hearings.

The report is available by clicking on this link. Any person wishing to comment on the draft EIS may do so. To ensure consideration of your comments on the proposal in the final EIS, it is important that FERC receive your comments by October 26, 2015. Click here for instructions on filing comments with FERC.

Detailed route maps are available on this page.


Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council Approves FPL plant in Panther Habitat

The SWF Regional Planning Council staff recommended and the Council unanimously approved the plan for a combined solar/natural  gas electric generating power plant in south east Hendry county at its meeting Thursday.

Calls to Action

  1. Please urge lawmakers to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund – here
  2. Don’t Slaughter the Last Florida Panthers – here
  3. Protect Ghana’s Birds, Stop Illegal Logging – here

Birds and Butterflies

Female cowbirds found to be better mothers than previously thought

Researchers observed the results when female cowbirds laid their eggs in the nests of prothonotary warblers

The reputation that brown-headed cowbirds are neglectful parents, leaving their eggs in  other bird nests and the subsequent care and feeding of their offspring to an unwitting foster family, could be ill-deserved a new study has found.

For rather than forgetting all about their offspring the researchers have found that cowbird mums actually pay close attention to how well their offspring do, and return to lay their eggs in the most successful host nests, and avoid those that have failed.

“Cowbirds may be paying attention not only to their own reproductive success, but to other cowbirds’ as well,” said lead author and Ph.D. student Matthew Louder, from the University of Illinois.

“No one’s ever suggested before that cowbirds or even other brood parasites pay attention to their own reproductive success.”

Cowbirds are native to North America and are one of only a few bird species that engage in brood parasitism, the practice of tricking other species into raising one’s young, the researchers said. Other brood parasites include the cuckoo, which targets nests with eggs that look very similar to its own. Some host species recognize foreign species’ eggs and roll them out of the nest.

The team found that the nests that successfully hosted cowbirds were much more likely to be parasitized again, while those that failed to fledge cowbirds were significantly less likely to be targeted by cowbird females the next time around.

While they are unable to say whether the same females are targeting the same nests again and again, the researchers said it is likely that that is the case.

“Our results mean that somebody’s paying attention, and it makes the most sense that the female that’s laying the eggs would be paying attention to her own reproductive success,” Louder said. “We think that other females are also paying attention.”

From Wildlife Extra

Cornell Lab of Ornithology Nestwatch E Newsletter

Epic Monarch Migration Begins

This week the monarch butterflies of Canada and the United States began their stupendous annual migration south to Mexico — so keep your eyes open for these black-and-orange beauties flitting over your gardens. It’s an extraordinary spectacle.

The arrival of the monarchs in Mexico in late October and early November coincides with that country’s “Dia de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead) holiday. Many locals believe the butterflies represent the souls of their departed loved ones, returned to gather in trees and stretch out in a shimmering carpet on the forest floor.

Over the past 20 years, monarchs’ numbers have declined by 80 percent due to pesticide use, development and climate change driving habitat loss. So in August 2014 the Center and partners petitioned to protect these beautiful butterflies under the Endangered Species Act.

Check out some great maps of this year’s southward monarch migration and read more about the Center for Biological Diversity’s work to save monarchs.

Ghana’s Illegal Logging is Destroying Wild Bird Populations

Ghana’s Illegal Logging is Destroying Wild Bird Populations

Ghana‘s Upper Guinea rain forests are home to some of the most ecologically diverse places on earth. But new research, from Drexel University published in Biological Conservation, reveals that Ghana’s rain forests are under threat.

Some Bird Species Declining by 90 Percent

As reported in Science Daily, the birds in Ghana’s Upper Guinea rain forests are paying the ultimate price for legal and (mostly) illegal logging practices. Keep in mind that Ghana’s forests are already “one of the world’s 25 ‘biodiversity hotspots’ where the most biologically rich ecosystems are most threatened.”

From 1995 to 2010, logging in Ghana jumped over 600 percent, or “six times greater than the maximum sustainable rate.” The authors of the study wanted to see what this logging spike meant for wildlife, particularly birds. Unsurprisingly, Ghana’s wild birds haven’t coped well with losing their homes so aggressively, in 15 short years.

In the same time frame, their research shows over 50 percent (half!) of all understory birds declined. Coincidence? I doubt it. The forests’ diversity is following that same declining trend. The birds also show no sign of recovery, and the logging industry shows no signs of slowing down. Nicole Arcilla, a lead author of the study, described the bleak situation as:

If things continue as they are, in a few decades, these incredibly beautiful forests and their unique wildlife will be largely depleted, which would be a huge loss to Ghana, Africa and the world.

Some species of birds were hit hard. For instance, the “yellow-whiskered greenbul declined by 73 percent, and the icterine greenbul declined by 90 percent.” The drastic numbers reflect how pervasive illegal logging is in Ghana. While illegal logging is a worldwide problem, current estimates say “80 percent of timber harvested in Ghana is illegal.”

Birds are natural barometers in nature — what happens to them is a preview of what’s to come for the rest of us. As Arcilla notes, it would be naive and irresponsible to assume this is just a problem for birds; other “mammals, reptiles, amphibians and arthropods” have to be affected too. We are already seeing reports of declining large herbivores, who live in Africa, and the sixth mass extinction.

“This Can be Stopped, It Should be Stopped”

There are lots of things not in our direct control: a warming planet, melting glaciers, rising sea level, etc. But we can stop fanning the (loss of biodiversity) fire by stopping illegal logging. The researchers agree that Ghana’s rain forests can be regenerated and the birds can recover if action is taken now.

Ultimately, it falls on the shoulders of Ghana’s government to stop this illegal logging. What steps can they take? For one, they could introduce more forest ranger patrols and forest law enforcement. They could also help prevent the illegal practice by adding deterrents such as physical roadblocks in roads.

The authors of the study call Ghana’s government to “fundamentally reform the logging system,” from one that’s focused on export to one that’s focused on selling to its own people. Changing a system isn’t easy, but saving biodiversity is worth it. As Arcilla explains: “This can be stopped, it should be stopped and we hope it is stopped before it’s too late.”

Jessica Ramos|September 18, 2015

7 Clever Birds That Use Tools To Find Food

Watching birds is one of my favorite nature activities; to indulge that pursuit, I currently have five bird feeders hanging in my backyard. However, while it’s fun to watch the chickadees and black-headed phoebes flit back and forth outside my window as they feed, there are several clever birds who use tools to find their food.

7 Clever Birds That Use Tools To Find Food

Green Heron

You’ll most likely see this small heron (seen above) alone, and standing close to a small river or other body of water. However, green herons are hard to spot since they often frequent densely vegetated areas, where they seem to be hiding. They also love to catch fish, and sometimes they use tools to do that.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “The Green Heron is one of the world’s few tool-using bird species. It creates fishing lures with bread crusts, insects, earthworms, twigs, feathers, and other objects, dropping them on the surface of the water to entice small fish.”


Photo Credit: thinkstock


The rook is a member of the corvid family, and they look very similar to crows. If you get close enough,  you’ll see that rooks have a patch of grey-white skin at the base of their bill, which distinguishes them from a crow. Also, the feathers around the legs looks shaggier.

Rooks are also very smart: even though they have a brain the size of a walnut, they know how to use tools to get their food. In this video with Dr. Chris Bird, a rook, who sees a worm floating on top of water but just out of reach, figures out that he can raise the level by putting stones into the water and get his worm.


Photo Credit: thinkstock


There are several parrots that use tools, but the kea is an unusual one, as the only truly alpine parrot in the world. Native to New Zealand, the kea is hated by farmers for its habit of attacking their sheep. It is found uniquely on the South Island of the country.

In this case, the kea uses a tool just for fun, and not just for food. In an effort to preserve the flightless birds of New Zealand, the Department of Conservation has installed numerous box-like stoat traps; keas have been filmed several times triggering these traps by stripping twigs and inserting them into gaps in these traps. Apparently they like the loud bang that happens when the trap is set off.


Photo Credit: thinkstock

Hyacinth Macaw

Another parrot that uses tools is the brilliant-blue hyacinth macaw, and this time it is for food. Macaws are the giants of the parrot world, and the hyacinth macaw is the largest species of macaw, growing to be up to 40 inches long. 

You can find these birds in three distinct areas today: southern Brazil, eastern Bolivia, and northeastern Paraguay. Experts believe it’s possible that there may be other smaller populations outside of these areas. Although they have enormous beaks, hyacinth macaws have often been observed using tools to break open nuts. One way they do this is by using a piece of wood as a wedge to get at those nuts.


Photo Credit: Kovsik Nandy

Egyptian Vulture

Between 23 and 28 inches long, these are the smallest of all vultures. They have a wingspan of just 5.6 feet. These birds were worshipped in Egypt because of their ability to remove trash and remains of dead animals.

And they are very clever at obtaining food. They seem to understand that the shells of ostrich eggs are too hard to break by just pecking at them, so they use rocks to assist them. Jane Goodall, watching these birds in Tanzania, reported that the vultures will go as far as 50 yards away from the egg to find a good smashing tool.


Photo Credit: US Forest Service – Southern Region

Brown-headed Nuthatch

Returning to the United States, we find this bird, found almost exclusively in the pine forests of the southeastern states. There is also a small but declining population in the Bahamas.

How do they use tools? Brown-headed nuthatches use large pieces of bark to remove other flakes of bark from a tree, in order to expose hiding insects, which they then gobble up. Sometimes they use that piece of bark more than once and have been seen flying with the precious tool in their beak.


Photo Credit: thinkstock

Burrowing Owls

Who doesn’t love these cute faces? True to its name, the burrowing owl nests in a hole in the ground. Although it is perfectly capable of digging its own burrow, it often prefers to use one already provided, whether by prairie dogs, skunks, moles, or tortoises.

As a “tool” they frequently collect mammalian dung, which they use as a bait to attract dung beetles, one of their favorite foods.

Judy Molland|September 18, 2015

Florida Panthers

  Panther depredation update ‏

The FWC has updated the “Panther Pulse” page with depredation information  through Sept. 13, 2015. Panthers are a top predator and prey on a variety of wildlife such as deer, hogs, raccoons, armadillos and rabbits. Unfortunately, they sometimes prey on domesticated animals such as goats, sheep, calves and even pets. When a panther or other wild animal preys upon or injures a pet or domestic livestock it is called a depredation. Depredation information can be viewed at:

People can protect pets and other backyard animals from panthers and other predators by following the advice available at:”

Landscape Analysis of Adult Florida Panther Habitat

Historically occurring throughout the southeastern United States, the Florida panther is now restricted to less than 5% of its historic range in one breeding population located in southern Florida. Using radio-telemetry data from 87 prime-aged (≥3 years old) adult panthers (35 males and 52 females) during the period 2004 through 2013 (28,720 radio-locations), we analyzed the characteristics of the occupied area and used those attributes in a random forest model to develop a predictive distribution map for resident breeding panthers in southern Florida. Using 10-fold cross validation, the model was 87.5 % accurate in predicting presence or absence of panthers in the 16,678 km2 study area. Analysis of variable importance indicated that the amount of forests and forest edge, hydrology, and human population density were the most important factors determining presence or absence of panthers.

Sensitivity analysis showed that the presence of human populations, roads, and agriculture (other than pasture) had strong negative effects on the probability of panther presence. Forest cover and forest edge had strong positive effects. The median model-predicted probability of presence for panther home ranges was 0.81 (0.82 for females and 0.74 for males). The model identified 5579 km2 of suitable breeding habitat remaining in southern Florida; 1399 km2 (25%) of this habitat is in non-protected private ownership. Because there is less panther habitat remaining than previously thought, we recommend that all remaining breeding habitat in south Florida should be maintained, and the current panther range should be expanded into south-central Florida. This model should be useful for evaluating the impacts of future development projects, in prioritizing areas for panther conservation, and in evaluating the potential impacts of sea-level rise and changes in hydrology.


Robert A. Frakes,Robert C. Belden,Barry E. Wood,Frederick E. James |July 29, 2015

Panther Position Paper & FAQs ‏

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

(Having trouble viewing this email? View it as a Web page.)

The FWC approved a panther position paper at its September Commission meeting to provide strategic direction to staff moving forward with panther management and conservation efforts. Florida panther conservation has reached major milestones and is an impressive success story. This position paper reaffirms the FWC’s commitment to work with partners to conserve and protect panthers.

Both the Panther Position Statement and the associated FAQs can be found in the “Field Notes” section of Florida

Invasive species

Heat helps big reptiles invade

If Floridians ever want to rid the state of Burmese pythons, tegus and other slithery invaders, they should hope for cold.

A new University of Florida study has confirmed what scientists have long suspected: Temperature, more than habitat, determines where reptiles invade. Using the kind of risk assessment strategy normally used in business, researchers modeled where invasive lizards and geckos were likely to live based on native habits, and then compared that to where they live in Florida. Temperature creates an invisible barrier.

And that means South Florida is likely to remain the nation’s hottest spot for invasive species. Scientists started thinking about the power of temperature after a severe 2010 cold snap froze iguanas and wiped out pythons in unprecedented numbers, said Frank Mazzotti, a biologist and one of the study’s five authors..

“That’s when people really began to appreciate that acute cold events may often be as important or more important than regular cold weather,” he said. “It’s not how cold it gets all the time. It’s how cold it gets when it really gets cold.”

To test their theory, researchers looked at the invasive reptiles on the Florida landscape. They then whittled down the list to include only reptiles that are well understood in their native ranges, which could provide enough data to feed into their models. Pythons, while a bigger threat, didn’t make the cut. Neither did tegus or Nile monitor lizards, two more aggressive egg-eating, cat consuming invaders.

Instead, they came up with 14 geckos, lizards and anoles, everyday invaders like the Hispaniola green anole and common wall gecko. They then compared their native ranges to their appearance in Florida.

The models showed that for reptiles, temperature – in particular, low temperatures – matter most. Although temperatures most accurately predicted location for the whole group, the type of land played a varying role, depending on the species. Mediterranean house geckos, for example, were less picky about whether they lived in wetlands or a pine rockland.

Star lizards were far more finicky, leading researchers to conclude that adding land type improves predictions. Researchers also found that most exotic species thrive in South Florida’s steamy tropics, which tend to more closely match their native ranges.

Being able to target likely hot spots could be valuable in slowing the spread of invasive species, which can kill native wildlife and cost much more to remove after they become established, Mazzotti said.

“It helps us set our priority on where to look in South Florida,” he said.

Jenny Staletovich|Miami Herald

FWC announces details of 2016 Python Challenge™ with partners

Building on the success of its 2013 Python Challenge™, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida Inc.(Foundation) this week announced additional details of the 2016 Python Challenge™, a conservation effort that includes public outreach on invasive species and a month-long competition to remove Burmese pythons from public lands in Florida.

The Challenge will take place in a larger geographic area than the 2013 Python Challenge. The FWC is working in coordination with several state and federal land management  agencies, including Everglades National Park, to provide access to additional public land areas during the competition. 

According to Everglades National Park Superintendent Pedro Ramos, “We look forward to expanding access into the Park and to providing more opportunities for members of the public to become approved authorized python agents. I hope that our increased participation this year will engage the public and highlight the scientific work that is being done to care for our public lands.”

The dates of the python removal competition in south Florida are set for Jan. 16- Feb. 14, 2016. Participants will be able to sign up as an individual competitor or as part of a team of up to five people.

“We’re launching the 2016 Python Challenge™ because Burmese pythons continue to be a significant issue in the Everglades,” said FWC Commissioner Ron Bergeron. “We hope these efforts will increase sightings and removal of pythons over the long-term in this valuable ecosystem.”

The aim of the 2016 Python Challenge™ is to promote Everglades conservation through invasive species removal, and the FWC and the Foundation are also increasing opportunities for the public to receive training so they can help. Training events will teach participants how to identify, report and then safely and humanely capture Burmese pythons.

“The Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida is proud to partner with the FWC and Everglades National Park on this exciting conservation program,” said Foundation Chairman Rodney Barreto. “If you are interested in learning more or want to help promote or sponsor the 2016 Python Challenge™, we encourage you to visit the Python Challenge website.”

Details about upcoming training events, competition rules, registration, prizes and events will be posted at as they are finalized.

To report nonnative fish and wildlife, call the FWC’s Invasive Species Hotline at 888-IVE-GOT1 (888-483-4681), report your sighting online at  or download the IveGot1 smartphone app.

For more information on Burmese pythons and other nonnative species in Florida, go to .

Endangered Species

Fishing Line Puts Endangered Blue Whale’s Life in Danger

People on a whale-watching cruise off the coast of Palos Verdes, Calif., on Sept. 4 were probably thrilled when they spotted an 80-foot-long blue whale – the largest animal that has ever existed on earth.

But their excitement quickly turned into concern when they saw the whale was towing a 400-foot-long fishing line and a crab pot.

“The whale just wasn’t acting right,” Harbor Breeze Cruises Capt. Danny Salas told CBS News. “It looked like it was a little tired. Swimming extremely slow.”

The U.S. Coast Guard and other rescue teams were summoned, but by nightfall they were unable to disentangle the fishing line. While they had freed other types of whales before, it was the first time any of the rescuers had to deal with a blue whale.

“We would have loved to cut it all off and free the whale, but sometimes things are impossible and it endangers the rescuers as we’re doing it,” Peter Wallerstein, director of Marine Animal Rescue, told CBS News. “It could ram us, it could hit us with its tail, it could do some major damage. It’s a really, really dangerous situation.”

They attached a red buoy to the fishing line to make the blue whale easier to spot. They did not, however, attach a 50-pound tracking device since it would have only added to the extra weight the whale was already towing.

Boaters and pilots were asked to keep an eye out for the blue whale over Labor Day weekend, but it disappeared until Monday, when it was spotted in Mexico, more than 100 miles south of where it was first discovered three days before.

“Rescuers in Mexico say they are too far from the last sighting to head out,” the Associated Press reported Sept. 8.

Hopefully the elusive blue whale will be spotted again and freed from its burden soon. The weight of the fishing line could eventually exhaust it and cause it to drown.

Blue whales are an endangered species – there are believed to be only about 10,000 still in existence.

After they nearly became extinct, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) banned the hunting of blue whales in 1966 and gave them worldwide protection. They’re also protected in the U.S. by the Marine Animal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act, which both make it illegal for anyone to kill, hunt, injure or harass them. Two years ago, a new California law was enacted that moved shipping lanes to prevent whales from being struck by large container ships.

But what’s being done to prevent whales from becoming entangled in fishing lines? It’s a growing problem on the Pacific Coast, according to a National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) report published earlier this year.

Only five entanglements of humpback, gray and other whales were reported in 2005. In 2014, more than 30 were reported. At least 26 have already been reported this year, including the blue whale.

Most entanglements, like that of the blue whale, are caused by Dungeness crab fishing gear. Whales caught in lobster, spot prawn gear and gillnets have also been reported.

“The industry has shown a willingness to address and minimize these sorts of issues,” Rachelle Fisher, who administrates a California task force comprised of commercial fishermen, told Reuters in April. She said during the past few years the commercial fishing industry has been attempting to lessen the harm to whales by restricting the amount of gear in the water, among other measures.

Based on the troubling statistics, even stronger measures need to be taken. Five months ago, a coalition of three conservation groups — the Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice and Oceana — sent a 14-page letter to California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife officials, urging the implementation of entanglement-prevention measures such as using sinking fishing lines instead of ones that float on the ocean’s surface; minimizing the line’s slack between the crab pot and the buoy; and retrieving lost fishing gear.

On Aug. 20 – just two weeks before the blue whale was spotted – a public meeting hosted by representatives from the Ocean Protection Council, California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife and NOAA Fisheries was held in Oakland to discuss these measures and other ways to reduce the risk of entanglements.

A working group is in the process of being created “to further discuss and develop short-term strategies and begin exploring long-term options for reducing the risk of whale entanglements in California Dungeness crab fishing gear,” according to the meeting’s hosts.

This seems like a step in the right direction, although it’s already September and the Dungeness crab fishing season is about to begin. The sooner those short-term strategies can be implemented, the better.

In the meantime, should you happen to see the blue whale with a red buoy – or any other whale entangled in fishing line off the West Coast – call the Whale Entanglement Team (WET) hotline at 877-SOS-WHALE (877-767-9425).

Laura Goldman|September 13, 2015

Human Activity is Killing Off Half of the World’s Crocodiles

Crocodiles are stealthy sea monsters and one of the few predators to still eat humans. But most people might not realize that these fearsome creatures are under attack — by humans. Professor Gordon Grigg of the University of Queensland cautions that feared crocodiles have a “bleak future” ahead of them.

Human Activity Killing Half of World’s 27 Crocodile Species

As reported in The Guardian, as much as half of all 27 crocodile species across the world could be gone thanks to us. The main threats to crocodiles worldwide are: “[l]and use changes, pollution, culling and feral animal invasions,” e.g. feral pigs who consume croc eggs. In some parts of the world, crocs are also still exploited for their meat and skin.

Some crocs are better off than others. For example, crocs in Australia are recuperating after a hunting ban in the 1970s. And climate change may actually benefit some crocs as they’ll “move to habitats further north and south,” and get more habitat along the way. Crocs in the U.S. are expected to survive thanks to hunting bans and “their marshland habitat is probably too wet for agriculture.” And freshwater crocs have an advantage over saltwater crocs, or “salties,” since they’re less “despised,” according to Professor Gordon Grigg in his interview with Guardian Australia. Salties are probably the most “despised” crocs because they attack the most humans, even though the Nile crocodile has the most fatal attacks.

However, an attack by any crocodile is still quite rare. CrocBITE explains:

Attacks on humans by crocodilians are, statistically speaking, extremely rare. For instance, going swimming in northern Australia means you are roughly a hundred times more likely to drown than to be bitten by a crocodile. Furthermore, less than a third of such bites prove fatal.

When pressed for a figure of the number of fatal crocodile attacks, CrocBITE roughly estimates 1,000 deaths annually. To put that into perspective, that’s 1,000 out of more than 7 billion people, while we’re on our way to exterminating half of all crocodile species.

3 of the World’s Most Threatened Crocodiles

Their stealth, sharp teeth, strength and speed make them frightening, but it’s an even scarier idea to lose them in our ecosystems. They’re predators, prey and a keystone species. In the past, scientists have recruited them to save our wetlands, like Florida’s iconic Everglades. They clean up rivers by eating dead carcasses floating by and by keeping other populations in check.

Meet three of the world’s most threatened crocodiles today:

Cuban Crocodile

Native to Cuba, the Cuban crocodile is classified as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. After losing most of its historic habitat, the Cuban crocodile is limited to two swamps in Cuba. With an estimated 3000-5000 mature individuals remaining, the Cuban crocodile is under constant stress from hunting (for their meat to serve to tourists and locals alike) and “hybridization with native American [c]rocodiles.”

Siamese Crocodile

The Siamese crocodile can be found in parts of Southeast Asia, e.g. Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Lao People’s Democratic Republic. The species is also critically endangered with only 500-1000 mature individuals. The population trend is declining and severely fragmented. Current threats to the Siamese crocodile include: “the illegal collection of eggs and crocodiles, habitat loss and degradation, and incidental capture/drowning in fishing gear.” Future threats to the crocodiles could include climate change, hybridization and weak genetic diversity.

Slender-Snouted Crocodile

Native to Africa, the critically endangered slender-snouted crocodile’s population is declining with an estimated 1,000-20,000 mature individuals remaining. Some hunting, small-scale, subsistence fisheries (which means less prey for the crocs and more fatal incidents of fishing net accidents) and habitat destruction prevent the slender-snouted crocodile from recuperating.

For more information on how you can help save crocodiles, visit Defenders of Wildlife.

Jessica Ramos|September 14, 2015

Three critically endangered Javan rhinoceros calves spotted in Indonesia

Three critically endangered Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus sondaicus) calves have been seen on camera in Ujung Kulon National Park, Indonesia, the WWF have reported. This discovery of the calves raises the number of critically endangered Javan rhinos from 57 to 60. 

Javan rhinos are the most threatened of the five rhino species, and according to the IUCN  there are three recognised subspecies Rhinoceros sondaicus sondaicus, Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus, and Rhinoceros sondaicus inermis (Extinct) The subspecies Rhinoceros sondaicus sondaicus formerly occurred from Thailand through Malaysia, to the islands of Java and Sumatra (Indonesia). However today the only remaining population occurs on the Ujung Kulon Peninsula (which forms the westernmost extremity of the island of Java. They are a dusky grey colour and have a single horn of up to about 10 inches.

See a video

From Wildlife Extra

Big Season for Sea Turtle Nesting

Historically, the East End of Sanibel (Lighthouse Beach to Tarpon Bay Road) has been the lowest density nesting beach surveyed by SCCF’s Sea Turtle Program. An average of 38 nests per year have been laid on the East End between1996-2013. 2014 was a record year for the East End, with 110 nests laid on the five-mile stretch of beach. This year, in mid-June, the East End had already documented over 70 nests. Loggerheads (Caretta caretta) typically nest from May-August, so we anticipate many more to come! Mid-season nest counts also suggest that the West End and Captiva are on track for an above-average nesting season.

We are also excited to report that green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) have returned to nest on our beaches in 2015. You may remember that a record 23 green nests were laid on Sanibel and Captiva in 2013. Sea turtles nest at intervals of about every two years, so another pulse of green nests in Sea Turtle Nesting: So Far, an Amazing Season! By Kelly Sloan, Sea Turtle Coordinator The second leatherback nest ever documented on Sanibel was found May 29 on the west end. 2015 coincides with their biennial nesting pattern. But it gets even better – early in the 2015 nesting season, a leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) nest was laid on Sanibel!  

Leatherbacks do not commonly nest on the west coast of Florida. The largest nesting population for Atlantic loggerheads is French Guiana, and there are also nesting colonies in the Caribbean and the east coast of Florida. The only other leatherback nest documented on Sanibel was laid in 2009.  

Leatherbacks are the largest species of sea turtle, weighing up to 2,000 pounds. They can dive deeper than any other sea turtle (up to 3,900 feet) and they migrate extreme distances. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to protect a nest laid by this remarkable species! Throughout the nesting season, volunteers and staff have been screening nests to protect the eggs from predation by coyotes. As we enter the hatching season, the City of Sanibel and SCCF will partner to promote the “lights out” message in an effort to reduce hatchling disorientation.

Kelly Sloan|Sea Turtle Coordinator|SCCF

Beautiful Orchid Proposed for Protection After 40 Years

Under the Center FOR Biological Diversity’s 757 species agreement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has finally proposed federal protection for the white fringeless orchid — sometimes called the monkey-face orchid for the flower’s shape — after it spent an astonishing four decades as a mere “candidate” for Endangered Species Act protection.

The white fringeless orchid is a 2-foot-tall plant found in swampy areas at just 58 sites in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee. Pollinated by certain butterflies, the orchid doesn’t photosynthesize and instead depends on a symbiotic relationship with one specific fungus to provide nutrients. This leaves it particularly vulnerable to climate change, because — in addition to threatening its wet habitat with drought — global warming imperils the fungus and pollinators. Other threats to the orchid’s survival are logging, sprawl, mowing and herbicide spraying, wetland draining, invasive plants and feral hogs.

“Protecting this tall, monkey-faced flower will also protect the swampy habitats that are such a special but threatened part of the natural heritage of the Southeast,” said the Center’s Tierra Curry.

Read more in our press release.

No doubt: Gray wolf in Emmet Co.

Last Lower Peninsula sighting was in 1910

It took a year and a half, but there’s now no doubt: The animal spotted on a trail camera in Emmet County in the northwestern Lower Peninsula was indeed a gray wolf — only the second one confirmed in the Lower Peninsula since 1910.

The wolf was confirmed on the reservation land of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. After spotting wolf-like tracks and seeing what appeared to be a wolf on a trail camera in March 2014, tribal biologists were able to collect scat and send it to Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, for analysis. The results came back last week and confirmed a gray wolf. They also show it is not likely an escaped captive wolf, as its genetic information closely matches that of wolves in northeast Ontario.

Tracks found on reservation land indicate there could be two wolves, said Kevin Swanson, the state Department of Natural Resources’ bear and wolf specialist based in Marquette.

The DNR has regularly conducted wolf track surveys in the northern Lower Peninsula since 2003, anticipating the possibility of a southern migration of wolves as numbers rebounded in the Upper Peninsula. The most recent winter wolf survey by the DNR in 2014 showed 636 wolves in the U.P.

“It was predictable that this would eventually happen,” Swanson said.

“Wolves are natural dispersers. Anytime an ice bridge forms between the Upper and Lower peninsula, it’s possible wolves are going to move from the upper to the lower, partially in search for food, as well as in an effort to create new packs.”

It’s exciting news for the Little Traverse Bay Bands’ 4,500 members, said Doug Craven, director of the tribe’s Natural Resources Division.

“This is absolutely something our members have been reporting for a number of years,” he said. “There is cultural significance to Ma’iingan, the gray wolf. It’s part of our creation story.” In the Anishinaabe — or Ojibwa First People — creation story, when Gzhemnidoo, the Creator, put Nanaboozhoo, the original man, on Earth, he asked for a companion. So the Creator gave him Ma’iingan, the gray wolf. The pair were tasked with naming all the plants and creatures and places of the Earth. When their task was finished, Gzhemnidoo directed that they would travel separate paths but remain linked.

“It’s our tradition, our history,” Craven said.

The tribe has prepared for the possible return of wolves in recent years, developing a wolf management plan with the help of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant that was approved in 2009, he said. And Swanson said the DNR’s wolf management plan won’t require any revision with the arrival of wolves to the Lower Peninsula.

In 2004, a gray wolf that had been previously captured and collared in the U.P.’s Mackinac County was caught and accidentally killed by a coyote trapper in Presque Isle County in the Lower Peninsula. This marked the first verified wolf report from the Lower Peninsula since 1910, DNR officials said. In 2010, animals that appeared to be wolves were trapped and collared in Cheboygan County. Later, DNA analysis confirmed the animals were coywolves — coyotes with some wolf DNA from crossbreeding.

Michigan held its controversial first, firearm-only wolf hunt in November and December 2013, with hunters killing 23 wolves in designated areas of the U.P. Future hunts were stalled when a federal judge in December 2014 restored the wolf’s status as endangered in Midwestern states, including Michigan.

“Our hands are really tied right now,” Swanson said. “We don’t agree with that federal ruling. We have a viable wolf population and great scientists who are capable of managing them sustainably.”

There’s no evidence of a breeding pair of wolves in the Lower Peninsula yet.


Killer Starfish Threaten Bizarre Australian Fish Species

Killer Starfish Threaten Bizarre Australian Fish Species

Australia’s spotted handfish have a lot to frown about. The critically endangered species is facing new challenges as its population rapidly dwindles and it struggles to adapt to changing conditions, some brought about by the northern Pacific sea star, which happens to be one of the world’s most invasive species. Starfish look compelling, but when they end up where they don’t belong, these fascinating animals wreak havoc on environments around the world. They’re a particular issue for delicate marine species with limited ranges, an issue recently explored by researcher Jennifer Sunday and her colleagues in a study about how well species adapt to environmental changes. For the adorably strange spotted handfish, this may be the end of the line.

This fish has a unique physical trait — a pair of fins that allow it to effectively walk along the ocean floor, where the benthic fish spends much of its time. Their “legs” come in handy; when spotted handfish lay eggs, they hover around the site to protect them until they hatch. That same trait, however, is what may be dooming them, because invading sea stars are eating much of the cover on the ocean floor, including the organisms handfish lay their eggs on as well as surrounding plants that hide spawning spots. As they spread across the estuary the handfish call home, they’re making it impossible for the fish to hide while their eggs incubate — when those eggs aren’t hoovered up by starfish. A recent survey spotted 79 fish in the Derwent estuary, which may the last place the fish can be found in the wild, and while there are more out there, the rapid decline in numbers from earlier surveys is an indicator that the population may be reaching a tipping point.

For the spotted handfish, the only hope may be the establishment of a captive breeding colony in the hopes of preserving a population of the fish in the event it becomes extinct in the wild. Feeding fish in captivity is a major challenge, though, as it’s difficult to determine which foods are appropriate and to provide the right amount. However, extinction would be a tragedy — and it can be difficult to reintroduce captive-bred fish and other animals back to the wide world. Researchers have already tried seeding the ocean with habitat like shells and other materials that starfish can’t eat in the hopes of creating a safe space for spawning, but these materials get covered by sand and leave the spotted handfish just as exposed.

Starfish aren’t the only thing handfish are up against. Agricultural discharge is another issue, as fertilizers and topsoil are creating fertile ground for green algae. The algae coats the ocean floor, making it impossible to feed and lay eggs, an issue that’s affecting a variety of other species as well. In addition, pollution from boats and other watercraft is another challenge for the handfish and other delicate residents of Australian waters. These tiny creatures don’t stand much of a chance against the perils of the world without a little help from their friends — which would be us.

The situation highlights the huge dangers that can be presented by a single invasive species. As the starfish travels around the world in the bellies of container ships, it sows havoc in its wake. In Australia, the environment is particularly vulnerable to invasives, as the continent includes a huge array of very unique creatures that evolved far from the influences of the rest of the planet. The nation’s environmental conservation agencies and groups work hard to protect delicate and irreplaceable species — like the assortment of truly bizarre animals Australia hosts, from the platypus to the wallaby. That biodiversity isn’t a coincidence, but it’s also very fragile, which is why government agencies keep such a close eye on species like the handfish. All isn’t necessarily lost for these curious creatures, but it will take a concentrated effort to address the problem.

s.e. smith|September 18, 2015


SFWMD Awards Contract for Caloosahatchee Reservoir Construction

Work will help achieve early water storage benefits for estuary

Fort Myers, FL – The South Florida Water Management District approved a contract authorizing the start of early construction on the massive Caloosahatchee River (C-43) West Basin Storage Reservoir project. The work is a precursor for achieving water storage benefits before the entire reservoir is complete.

“While just the first step in construction of the reservoir, this work is crucial to making tangible improvements in the health of the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary,” said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Daniel O’Keefe. “This is yet another example of the recent progress that is being made on restoration projects throughout our region.”

The $10.8 million contract awarded to Blue Goose Construction, LLC, begins the first phase of work on the reservoir. The contract includes:

· Demolishing existing agricultural features such as buried pipes, culverts, irrigation pump stations and above-ground facilities across the 10,000-acre reservoir site

· Construction of 7 compacted, above-ground earthfill mounds reaching 56 feet high at select locations to help compact the ground to support future structures

· Moving approximately 1.8 million cubic yards of fill for the mounds, enough to fill 1 acre of land to a height of 1,100 feet, or 120 feet higher than the Eiffel Tower

· Preparation of the foundation for construction of the 16-mile dam that will surround the reservoir

The work is the first step for the SFWMD to undertake expediting construction of the facility as part of Governor Rick Scott’s commitment to South Florida ecosystem restoration. The project as a whole is a joint effort between the District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP).

Today’s action follows a June vote by the SFWMD Governing Board that authorized entering into an agreement designed to help the District receive federal cost credit for expediting construction.

C-43 Project Overview 

The C-43 reservoir project was authorized by Congress in the Water Resources and Reform Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014.

It will one day hold approximately 170,000 acre-feet of water to be used during dry periods to help maintain a desirable minimum flow of fresh water to the Caloosahatchee Estuary. During the rainy season, the reservoir will capture and store excess stormwater and regulatory releases from Lake Okeechobee, helping to prevent excessive freshwater flows to the estuary.

Since 2012, the SFWMD has put the reservoir property to use with emergency water storage of summertime rainfall and high runoff. Temporary pumps and levee improvements have helped capture approximately 4.2 billion gallons of water that would have otherwise flowed to the river.

Words of Support for Early Construction on the C-43 Reservoir

“As the Lee County Board of County Commissioner liaison, I am honored to be a part of this process and improving water quality in the Caloosahatchee and the surrounding waterways. I look forward to continuing working with the SFWMD and state and federal officials to continue our efforts to preserve Florida’s natural resources.”

Cecil Pendergrass, Commissioner, Lee County Board of County Commissioners:

“We are very pleased that the District awarded the first contract for early construction of the C-43 Reservoir Project. This will be the first step towards getting the critical water storage that we need within the Caloosahatchee basin.”

Good News for St. Lucie River Estuary:

$197 Million Contract Awarded for C-44 Reservoir

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District awarded a $197 million construction contract Friday for a reservoir that will clean water bound for the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.

The reservoir component of the Indian River Lagoon-South’s C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area (STA) project is in Martin County — one of the counties devastated in 2013 by Lake Okeechobee water releases. During periods of prolonged rainfall, millions of gallons of fresh water from the big lake infuse brackish waterways, releasing dangerous toxins and carrying them into local rivers. 

Though the massive project won’t be completed overnight — it will take five years to build and another two more years to test — the end product will function exactly as beleaguered citizens of Martin hope to restore their sick waterways. The only pollution it won’t clean will be from local basin run-off. 

C-44 Canal, Martin County

The $197 million construction contract was awarded to Barnard Construction Co. Inc. of Bozeman, Mont. According to a Corps news release, the contract involves construction of a 3,400-acre reservoir that will store up to 15 feet of water and provide 50,600 acre-feet (16 trillion gallons) of storage capacity. Construction is anticipated to begin this winter.  

“The reservoir is the largest component of the C-44 project and a key storage component of the entire Indian River Lagoon-South project,” said Orlando Ramos-Gines, Jacksonville District senior project manager.  “Getting this contract awarded is a major step forward toward being able to store local basin run-off and improve conditions in the St. Lucie Estuary and Indian River Lagoon.”

The contract also includes the construction of the these features:
The 35,000-foot-long Western Reservoir Perimeter Canal, which runs parallel to most of the northern, western, and southern embankments of the reservoir. It will be used to transmit surface runoff and seepage flow from the embankment internal drain and the trench drain systems.
A corresponding 50-foot-wide spillway for the Western Reservoir Perimeter Canal that will discharge into the intake canal, which was completed as part of the Corps’ first construction contract for the project, in July 2014.

The 15,000-foot long Eastern Reservoir Perimeter canal, which runs parallel to the eastern embankment of the reservoir. It will convey runoff and seepage from the embankment internal drain and the trench drain system. 

A reservoir discharge tower structure comprised of three slide gates to convey a maximum of 1,100 cubic feet per second (cfs) (600 cfs under normal operations) through two culverts to the system discharge canal.
Two miles of the system’s discharge canal that will convey flows from the reservoir through the Distribution Canal to the Eastern Stormwater Treatment Area (STA) Collection Canal. 

The installation of several box culverts in various locations around project footprint to provide vehicular access across canals. Additionally, the reservoir embankment includes the construction of several boat ramps for access inside the reservoir. 

“The reservoir contract will complement the construction already initiated by the state on the reservoir intake canal and associated Stormwater Treatment Area,” said Ramos-Gines.  “Collectively, these features will work together to provide additional storage and treatment, while attenuating damaging flows discharged to the St. Lucie Estuary.”

In an effort to construct the project as expeditiously as possible, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) has awarded construction contracts for the discharge canal, pump station and STA. The shared efforts on construction contracts will reduce the time needed to fully-construct the project by at least two years.

Construction of the C-44 Reservoir and STA is scheduled to be completed in 2020. Upon construction completion, up to two years of operational testing will occur. Once all work is complete, the project will capture local run-off from the C-44 basin, reducing average nutrient loads and improving salinity in the St. Lucie Estuary and the southern portion of the Indian River Lagoon. It will provide, in total, 60,500 acre-feet of new water storage (50,600 acre-feet in the reservoir and 9,900 acre-feet in the STAs) and 3,600 acres of new wetlands. 

The Indian River Lagoon is considered the most biologically diverse estuarine system in the continental United States and is home to more than 3,000 species of plants and animals. The C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area is the first component of the multi-billion-dollar Indian River Lagoon-South project, an element of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). 

Additional information on the C-44 Reservoir and STA is available by clicking here.

Nancy Smith|September 14, 2015

Water Quality Issues

Construction Nears Finish on Major Everglades Water Quality Project

With 16,500 cubic yards of concrete, 2,100 tons of steel and 21 miles of levees, a massive new South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) project to improve Everglades water quality is nearing completion and set to start operations.

Water already has begun flowing into the A-1 Flow Equalization Basin (FEB), which will help optimize wetlands that clean phosphorus from water before it reaches the Everglades. The basin will be the first project completed as part of the State’s Restoration Strategies plan to improve water quality for the River of Grass.

“Completing this significant project and continuing progress on others is how we achieve water quality goals,” said Jeff Kivett, SFWMD Director of Operations, Engineering and Construction. “The A-1 will soon be fully operating and providing its intended critical restoration benefits to the Everglades.”

Watch a recent presentation to the SFWMD governing board on the status of the project with the player below.

A-1: How it Works

With the capacity to hold 60,000 acre-feet of water at a site west of U.S. 27 in Palm Beach County, the A-1 was designed to capture and store peak stormwater flows during the wet season or during heavy rainfall events.

Emergent vegetation such as bulrush and cattail planted within the site will help reduce the concentration of phosphorus in the water.

A system of 21 miles of earthen levees and 15 water control structures — 10 with solar power — within A-1 gives water managers the new ability to deliver water at the right time and in the right quantity to the vast Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs) 2 and 3/4 to the south and east.

Achieving optimal water flow to these constructed wetlands enables emergent and submerged aquatic vegetation such as southern naiad to most effectively and naturally remove nutrients from the water that eventually flows to Everglades National Park.

The District operates a network of five STAs south of Lake Okeechobee with an effective treatment area of 57,000 acres. Since 1994, the treatment areas have retained more than 2,012 metric tons of total phosphorus that would have otherwise entered the Everglades.

A-1 FEB Construction

Fast Facts

Construction of the A-1 required massive amounts of land, material and heavy equipment, including:

  • 15,000-acre footprint
  • 1.6 million cubic yards of fill material, all mined on-site
  • 3.1 million cubic yards of muck was degraded and used as topsoil
  • 23 massive, 40-ton articulated dump trucks
  • 150 construction personnel on-site each day

Construction of the A-1 benefited from significant work already completed at the site for a reservoir originally planned to provide deep water storage, known as the EAA Reservoir.

Restoration Strategies Background

In June 2012, the State of Florida and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reached a consensus on new strategies for improving water quality in America’s Everglades.

Based on months of scientific and technical discussions, these strategies will expand water quality improvement projects to achieve the ultralow phosphorus water quality standard established for the Everglades.

Key features of the plan include:

  • Design and construction of 116,000 acre-feet of additional storage adjacent to existing Everglades STAs, better controlling water flow into the treatment wetlands and thereby improving their performance. These storage areas, known as Flow Equalization Basins, will be designed to assist all five Everglades STAs.
  • Design and construction of the Stormwater Treatment Area 1 West expansion, increasing by 50 percent the treatment capacity of water quality facilities currently discharging into the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.
  • Additional sub-regional source controls in areas of the eastern EAA where phosphorus levels in runoff have been historically higher, building on the District’s existing Best Management Practices (BMPs) Regulatory Program.

For more information:

Tool Tracks Water Quality in the Nation’s Rivers and Streams

A new USGS online tool provides graphical summaries of nutrients and sediment levels in rivers and streams across the Nation.

The online tool can be used to compare recent water-quality conditions to long-term conditions (1993-2014), download water-quality datasets (streamflow, concentrations, and loads), and evaluate nutrient loading to coastal areas and large tributaries throughout the Mississippi River Basin.

“Clean water is essential for public water supplies, fisheries, and recreation. It’s vital to our health and economy,” said William Werkheiser, USGS associate director for water. “This annual release of water quality information in graphical form will provide resource managers with timely information on the quality of water in our rivers and streams and how it is changing over time.”

Graphical summaries of nutrients and sediment are available for 106 river and stream sites monitored as part of the USGS National Water-Quality Network for Rivers and Streams.

This tool was developed by the USGS National Water-Quality Assessment Program, which conducts regional and national assessments of the nation’s water quality to provide an understanding of water-quality conditions, whether conditions are getting better or worse over time, and how natural processes and human activities affect those conditions.

Water Hazard: Aquatic Contamination by Neonicotinoid Insecticides in the United States

Center for Food Safety’s (CFS) report, “Water Hazard: Aquatic Contamination by Neonicotinoid Insecticides in the United States,” shows widespread water contamination with neonicotinoid insecticides and threatening a range of aquatic invertebrates including crabs and insects. In particular, the report draws attention to the use of neonicotinoid seed coatings, up to 95 percent of which ends up in the environment, not the crop. Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticide known to have acute and chronic effects on honey bees and other pollinator species and are considered a major factor in overall bee population declines and poor health.

The report examines representative case studies from Maryland, Iowa, and California, each of which is experiencing widespread neonicotinoid contamination exceeding recommended standards as determined by leading experts in aquatic species toxicology. The report also highlights contamination elsewhere, including New York, South Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin. It describes the key roles of irrigation and field drainage and discusses the growing risks to aquifers, vulnerable wetlands and the valuable wildlife inhabiting those areas, such as migratory birds and sport fish.

Download the Report


Offshore & Ocean

Whales got their day in court — and WON ‏

After more than a decade of fighting us in and out of court, the U.S. Navy has agreed to save whales, dolphins and other marine mammals by limiting deadly sonar and explosives during training exercises.

For a decade NRDC has been watchdogging the U.S. Navy and pursuing it through the courts on behalf of whales in the Pacific. Today the whales won!

The Navy has finally agreed to meet its obligation under the law and end the needless sonic assault on whales, dolphins and other marine mammals — agreeing for the first time to put vital ocean habitat around Southern California and Hawaii off-limits to destructive sonar use during training exercises.

Make no mistake: it wouldn’t have happened without you. Together with high-profile advocates like Pierce Brosnan, we ignited a public outcry and flooded President Obama and the Secretary of Defense with hundreds of thousands of messages demanding action. And your generous financial support gave us the vital funds needed to keep our lawyers in court for as long as it took to win.

I can think of few movements with the energy, determination and above all, public support, to get this far against such a powerful adversary.

For marine mammals — whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and sea lions — hearing is essential. They use sound to communicate, to navigate, to feed and to find a mate. So when sonar occurs nearby, producing sound of extraordinary intensity, the effects on these acoustic creatures can be terrible.

The Navy’s own Environmental Review concedes sonar could kill nearly 1,000 marine mammals over the next five years and cause more than 13,000 serious injuries, such as permanent hearing loss or lung damage.

As you know, NRDC filed a lawsuit last year challenging the Navy’s massive sonar and high explosives program off Southern California and Hawaii. In March, a federal court ruled in our favor on every count. And now, that hard work has paid off in a strong settlement that protects both our naval security and our environment.

This victory is as massive as the animals we’re protecting, including endangered blue whales — the largest animal ever to have lived on the planet. Not to mention the array of small, resident whale and dolphin populations off Hawaii, for whom the islands are literally an oasis — their only home.

Of course, as critical as this win is, it’s a far cry from the end of our fight to protect marine mammals from Navy sonar. Our job now is to expand this victory to the Navy’s other ranges, off the Pacific Northwest, in the Gulf of Alaska, off the southeast coast and elsewhere.

We’ll need your strong support, as always, but for now — you deserve to celebrate.


Rhea Suh|Frances Beinecke|NRDC 9/14/15

Hawaii on Verge of Worst Coral Bleaching in History as Water Temperatures Soar

Hawaii’s majestic coral reef, which makes up roughly 85 percent of all coral reefs in the country, could be entering a perilous state. The state’s corals could experience the worst bleaching its history this year as surrounding water temperatures rise at abnormal rates, scientists warn.

Water temperatures around Hawaii are currently about 3 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal, Chris Brenchley, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Honolulu, told the Associated Press.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), coral bleaching is a phenomenon that occurs when warm water temperatures expel the algae living in their tissues, causing the coral to turn completely white.

It appears that this year’s especially warm waters are already causing harm to Hawaii’s precious coral. Ruth Gates, the director of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, told Buzzfeed that on a recent trip to see the corals, about 10 percent were white.

She told Buzzfeed that climate change and local conditions, such as plenty of sun, are to blame for higher-than-usual water temperatures.

According to the AP, bleaching has been spotted in Kaneohe Bay and Waimanalo on Oahu and Olowalu on Maui. On the Big Island, bleaching is reported from Kawaihae to South Kona on the leeward side and Kapoho in the southeast.

Courtney Couch, a researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, told the AP that an entire mile and a half of reef on the eastern side of Lisianski Island was essentially dead.

The coral further out from the atoll handled the warm temperatures better, she added.

These current sightings follow earlier warnings from NOAA, which predicted a severe coral bleaching event from August to October 2015 in Hawaii.

Of particular concern, since many of Hawaii’s corals are still recovering from last year’s mass bleaching, a second year of warm temperatures would only cause more stress to the organisms.

“You can’t stress an individual, an organism, once and then hit it again very, very quickly and hope they will recover as quickly,” Gates told the AP.

Gates also explained to Buzzfeed that this year’s conditions are “unprecedented” and “very worrying.”

“I’m struggling to find an example where we’ve had two back to back bleaching events,” she added. “This double whammy is not really common.”

Coral bleaching not only increases the corals’ risk for disease and/or death, it also has a serious effect on the fish and other marine life that live in the reefs, as well as local fishing and tourism operations. While bleaching isn’t the main culprit of reef decline, the U.S. lost half of its coral reefs in the Caribbean in 2005 alone due to a massive bleaching event, NOAA pointed out.

“You go from a vibrant, three-dimensional structure teeming with life, teeming with color, to a flat pavement that’s covered with brown or green algae,” Gates told the AP. “That is a really doom-and-gloom outcome but that is the reality that we face with extremely severe bleaching events.”

So what can we do to help? In the video below, aquatic biologist Brian Neilson, who works for Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources, explains that bleached coral can recover, and we can all help make a difference.

“Climate change impacts threaten coral reef ecosystems by increasing ocean temperatures, storm activity, ocean acidification, and sea-level rise … Therefore it is essential that we not only reduce emissions, but take urgent actions to reduce the impact of elevated greenhouse gases on coral reef ecosystems,” NOAA advises.

Lorraine Chow|September 14, 2015

850 Tons of Treated Fukushima Water Dumped Into the Pacific

Despite the objections of environmentalists and after overcoming local opposition from fishermen, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) pumped more than 850 tons of groundwater from below the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean on Monday.

More than four years after a tsunami destroyed the plant and triggered a meltdown, the cleanup effort remains fraught with numerous difficulties, including the nearly impossible task of dealing with the millions of gallons of contaminated and radioactive water—both treated and untreated—that have accumulated in thousands of tanks constructed in the shadow of the destroyed power station. On a daily basis, approximately 300 tons of groundwater are pumped to the surface to undergo treatment before being placed into storage.

According to Asahi Shimbun:

The discharge marks the first release under the utility’s “sub-drain plan,” an additional measure conceived to help diminish the build-up of contaminated groundwater at the crippled facility.

TEPCO began discharging water after a third-party panel confirmed that the radioactive content was below the standard set by the utility.

The plan utilizes sub-drains, which are essentially wells set up around the main buildings of the power plant to collect groundwater flowing into the complex. Once the groundwater has been pumped from those wells, it undergoes decontamination in a special facility for release into the ocean after being checked for radioactive content.

And Agence France-Presse adds:

The move is a milestone for the company, which said its Advanced Liquid Processing System, which removes highly radioactive substances like strontium and cesium, meant the ground water was now safe to release into the natural environment.

Fishermen had argued that the discharge even of the groundwater would heighten contamination concerns and hurt their already battered reputation.

They had fought to stop the water being released into the sea, even after it is filtered, but eventually bowed to pressure from TEPCO, which is struggling to find space to store the tainted supplies.

But it has yet to find a solution to deal with another highly radioactive 680,000 tons of water that was used to cool the reactors during the meltdown, which is still stored on site.

Fishermen are opposed to the fluid being released into the sea, even after it is filtered.

Common Dreams|September 15, 2015

Is another bay disaster on the horizon?

SOUTH FLORIDA – An extremely dry start to South Florida’s rainy season, which typically begins in June with hurricane season, has caused worry among some environmentalists who wonder how a continued lack of fresh water and rising salinity levels will affect marine life in the Florida Bay going forward.

Stephen Davis, a wetland ecologist with the non-profit Everglades Foundation who has been conducting research on the bay since the mid-1990s, said it’s likely a bay catastrophe, such as a toxic algae bloom, could occur in the near future. “Even if we can dilute it some, we are still likely to see a disaster,” he said.

Lake Okeechobee, which state water managers use as a reservoir to furnish the Everglades and Florida Bay with fresh water, had its levels lowered earlier this year by the South Florida Water Management District in anticipation of the wet season. But, so far, that period has yet to begin.

Around 6 inches of rain, following a dry spring season, has fallen across the SFWMD’s 16-county region which includes the Florida Keys. That’s more than 2 inches below the average.

The lack of fresh water, in turn, causes saltier conditions in the bay. That problem is supposed to be corrected by the state-federal Everglades restoration plan, a slow-going affair among whose objectives is to increase the flow of fresh water to the South Florida estuary.

Salinity levels are monitored by many entities including the National Audubon Society and the SFWMD, which both have buoy systems in place from Biscayne Bay to Cape Sable. A heavily-used reference point to gauge salinity levels is located on the southeastern part of the Everglades in Taylor Slough, a natural channel that SFWMD uses as a major pipeline for funneling water into the bay.

Currently, Davis said, salinity levels are around 35 parts per thousand and climbing there. Since seawater is 35 parts per thousand, the normally brackish bay should fall below that level, he said.

“It is a cause for concern. We’ve only seen a few years like this,” Davis said. “It’s not optimal conditions for plants and animals [in the bay].”

Peter Frezza, a research manager with the Tavernier branch of the National Audubon Society, shared Davis’ unease.

“Levels are extraordinarily high in the bay,” Frezza said. “They are comparable to when we had the algae bloom in 1990-91.” That drought-caused bloom, which flourished when overly salty water caused seagrass meadows to die and release their nutrients, decimated popular fishing grounds and staggered the ecosystem for a few years.

Another algae bloom, which happened in the eastern part of the bay in 2005-06 during reconstruction of the 18-Mile Stretch, saw levels in the 30 parts per thousand. But Davis said now levels there are 50 parts per thousand.

That, though, does not necessarily mean an algae bloom is inevitable.

Davis said a number of factors come into play when talking about algae blooms, not just hyper-salinity. The abundance of nutrients, caused by sediment stir-up when water enters the bay, is another factor as is seagrass die-off. But Davis did note that the majority of seagrass in the bay can withstand high levels of salinity. Other denizens of the bay may not be so adaptable.

Recent research compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed that a decline in the number of juvenile spotted seatrout in the western waters, the second most commonly caught fish there, had a direct correlation to hypersalinity in the bay. The population of the fish over the last five to 10 years has dropped significantly because of the rise. Their larvae have increased mortality rates at salinity levels less than 5 and greater than 50 parts per thousand.

Chris Hanson, a longtime Upper Keys fishing guide, has noticed the population decline of seatrout over the years. But he said the salty bay and diminished fish numbers don’t bother him too much, yet.

Frezza, meanwhile, noted that the drought provides adequate conditions for wading bird nesting, due to low water levels, but said it hurts their fish-centric food supply. It, he said, is a bit of a double-edged sword.

The drought also has the potential to affect South Florida’s drinking water supply in the Biscayne Aquifer, which could be threatened by saltwater encroachment from underground.

“Right now, we can’t do anything about the salinity levels [except hope for some tropical storms to roll through],” Davis said. “We are at the mercy of Mother Nature.”


Marine Species on ‘Brink of Collapse,’ Says WWF Report

A new report on the health of the ocean finds that the marine vertebrate population has declined by 49 percent between 1970 and 2012.

WWF’s Living Blue Planet Report tracks 5,829 populations of 1,234 mammal, bird, reptile and fish species through a marine living planet index. The evidence, analyzed by researchers at the Zoological Society of London, paints a troubling picture. In addition to the plummeting number of marine vertebrate species, populations of locally and commercially fished fish species have fallen by half, with some of the most important species experiencing even greater declines.


These findings coincide with the growing decline of marine habitats, where the deforestation rate of mangroves exceeds even the loss of forests by 3-5 times; coral reefs could be lost across the globe by 2050 and almost one-third of all seagrasses have been lost.

Mangroves provide spawning grounds and nurseries for fish, protect coastlines and store carbon—but a fifth of global mangrove area was lost between 1980 and 2005. Photo credit: Jürgen Freund / WWF

Mangroves provide spawning grounds and nurseries for fish, protect coastlines and store carbon—but a fifth of global mangrove area was lost between 1980 and 2005. Photo credit: Jürgen Freund / WWF

Global climate is one of the major drivers causing the ocean to change more rapidly than at any other point in millions of years. The oceans store huge quantities of energy and heat, but as the climate responds to increasing carbon emissions, the exchange intensifies. This may result in extreme weather events, changing ocean currents, rising sea temperatures and increasing acidity levels—all of which aggravate the negative impacts of overfishing and other major threats such as habitat degradation and pollution.

Mass-fishing on an industrial scale must be curtailed, WWF argue. Photo credit: WWF

Mass-fishing on an industrial scale must be curtailed, WWF argue. Photo credit: WWF

Finding Solutions for Saving Oceans

Though the challenge seems immense, it’s possible for governments, businesses, communities and consumers to secure a living ocean. To reverse the downward trend we need to preserve the oceans natural capital, produce better, consume more wisely and ensure sustainable financing and governance.

Our ocean needs a strong global climate deal and work is already underway as President Obama and leaders of the Arctic nations recently pledged to work together to boost strong action on climate change. But more needs to be done to prioritize ocean and coastal habitat health.

World Wildlife Fund|September 16, 2015

Landmark Drift Gillnet Fishery Decision ‏

I just returned from the Pacific Fisheries Management Council meeting in Sacramento, Calif. where we won several significant victories against California’s deadly drift gillnet fishery for swordfish.

This fishery has been setting nets the size of the Golden Gate Bridge adrift off our beautiful coast for decades, the whole time entangling and killing sperm whales, humpback whales, fin whales, green sea turtles, leatherback sea turtles, loggerhead sea turtles, olive ridley sea turtles, pilot whales and bottle nosed dolphins.

This week the Council finally voted to put ‘hard caps’ in place limiting the killing of sea turtles and whales, while also postponing plans to introduce equally destructive longline fishing into California. Furthermore, the drift gillnet fishery will be subject to strict new scrutiny in the form of on-board observers who will monitor the vessels on every trip.

This victory would not have happened without your support. Period.

Over 11,000 of you signed on to our petition to the Council calling for stricter protections for rare, threatened and endangered marine wildlife from the deadly fishery. You also sent over a thousand postcards to the Council calling for the end to destructive industrial fishing in California. And you have generously supported Turtle Island Restoration Network in our long efforts to end the use of drift gillnets.

As I was returning from Sacramento, I felt profoundly honored to speak for you and deeply grateful for your financial support as both allowed us to reach this victory.

This hard won victory is a good first step towards phasing out the deadly fishery, but the fight is not yet over.  Sea turtles, whales, dolphins and sharks all deserve to swim free of deadly curtains of deaths.

Turtle Island Restoration Network will not stop until this fishery is closed down once and for all.

Doug Karpa|Legal Program Director|Turtle Island Restoration Network|SeaTurtles.Org

Banning Microbeads Offers Simple Solution to Protect Our Oceans

An outright ban on the common use of plastic “microbeads” from products that enter wastewater is the best way to protect water quality, wildlife and resources used by people, a group of conservation scientists suggest in a new analysis.

These microbeads are one part of the microplastic problem in oceans, freshwater lakes and rivers, but are a special concern because in many products they are literally designed to be flushed down the drain. And even at conservative estimates, the collective total of microbeads being produced today is enormous.

In an article just published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, scientists from seven institutions say that nontoxic and biodegradable alternatives exist for microbeads, which are used in hundreds of products as abrasive scrubbers, ranging from face washes to toothpaste. Around the size of a grain of sand, they can provide a gritty texture to products where that is needed.

“We’re facing a plastic crisis and don’t even know it,” said Stephanie Green, the David H. Smith Conservation Research fellow in the College of Science at Oregon State University and co-author of this report.

“Part of this problem can now start with brushing your teeth in the morning,” she said. “Contaminants like these microbeads are not something our wastewater treatment plants were built to handle and the overall amount of contamination is huge. The microbeads are very durable.”

In this analysis and using extremely conservative methodology, the researchers estimated that 8 trillion microbeads per day are being emitted into aquatic habitats in the U.S.—enough to cover more than 300 tennis courts a day. But the other 99 percent of the microbeads—another 800 trillion—end up in sludge from sewage plants, which is often spread over areas of land. Many of those microbeads can then make their way into streams and oceans through runoff.

Microplastic poses a growing concern in oceans and other aquatic habitat. Photo credit: 5Gyres

Microplastic poses a growing concern in oceans and other aquatic habitat. Photo credit: 5Gyres

“Microbeads are just one of many types of microplastic found in aquatic habitats and in the gut content of wildlife,” said Chelsea Rochman, the David H. Smith Conservation Research postdoctoral fellow at the University of California/Davis and lead author on the analysis.

“We’ve demonstrated in previous studies that microplastic of the same type, size and shape as many microbeads can transfer contaminants to animals and cause toxic effects,” Rochman said. “We argue that the scientific evidence regarding microplastic supports legislation calling for a removal of plastic microbeads from personal care products.”

Even though microbeads are just one part of the larger concern about plastic debris that end up in oceans and other aquatic habitat, they are also one of the most controllable. With growing awareness of this problem, a number of companies have committed to stop using microbeads in their “rinse off” personal care products and several states have already regulated or banned the products.

The researchers point out in their analysis, however, that some bans have included loopholes using strategic wording. Many microbeads are used in personal care products that are not “rinse off,” such as deodorants and cleaners. And some regulations use the term “biodegradable” to specify what products are allowed—but some microbeads can biodegrade just slightly, which may allow their continued use.

If legislation is sought, “new wording should ensure that a material that is persistent, bioaccumulative or toxic is not added to products designed to go down the drain,” the researchers wrote in their report.

“The probability of risk from microbead pollution is high, while the solution to this problem is simple,” they concluded.|September 17, 2015

Marine Species Have Been Cut in Half in Just 40 Years

The sheer vastness of the oceans on this planet make it seem almost impossible that our actions could bring them to the point of no return, but a new report has found that we are causing an alarming decline of marine ecosystems and the species who rely on them.

According to the World Wildlife Fund‘s (WWF) recently released Living Blue Planet Report, marine populations have declined by an astonishing 49 percent between 1970 and 2012, with with some fish species, including tuna, declining by almost 75 percent.

The report is based on trends of 5,829 populations of 1,234 mammal, bird, reptile and fish species found in the Living Planet Index, which is maintained by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

“The ocean works hard in the background to keep us alive, generating half of the world’s oxygen and absorbing almost a third of the carbon dioxide produced from burning fossil fuels. It also feeds billions of people around the globe, some of whom rely solely on the oceans to survive. These devastating figures reveal how quickly human beings are changing the wildlife in our oceans and are a stark warning of the problems we might face as a result,” said Professor Ken Norris, Director of Science at ZSL.

The dramatic decrease is unsurprisingly driven mainly by human activities ranging from overfishing, resource extraction, pollution and development to climate change, which is causing warming and acidification.

While fish are declining at a worrying rate, they’re not the only ones we should be worried about. The report also explores the impact losing coral reefs, mangroves and seagrasses would have not only on the species who rely on them for food and shelter, but on us.

The loss of marine life threatens food security and the livelihoods of coastal communities who depend on healthy ecosystems, in addition to impacting the ever-growing tourism industry.

Conservationists hope that raising awareness about the devastating impact we’re having also means there’s still hope we can work to change course before it’s too late.

WWF and ZSL both point to the need for making immediate changes, including increasing Marine Protected Areas, which could have huge environmental and economic benefits well into the future. Currently, less than 4 percent of the earth’s oceans have been protected.

World leaders will meet later this month at the United Nations headquarters in New York City to agree on a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), one of which focuses specifically on conserving the ocean. They’ll also meet again later this year in Paris for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, where they will try to reach a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“The good news is there are abundant opportunities to reverse these trends,” said Brad Ack, senior vice president for oceans at WWF. “Stopping black market fishing, protecting coral reefs, mangroves and other critical ocean habitats, and striking a deal in Paris to slash carbon pollution are all good for the ocean, the economy, and people. Now is the time for the US and other world players to lead on these important opportunities.”

For more info, check out the Living Blue Planet Report.

Alicia Graef|September 18, 2015

Wildlife and Habitat


Xerces Society staff present dozens of training workshops each year offering practical, hands-on advice about habitat creation or understanding insects. You likely have seen those advertised. Less well-known is that we also travel nationally and internationally to speak at professional conferences and meetings. These opportunities allow us to influence the work of thousands of individuals and organizations. Here’s an overview of the places we’ll be visiting in the next few months, work that we can achieve thanks to the support of our wonderful members and funders.

Natural Areas
Caring for the remaining natural areas is an essential part of sustaining insect populations, whether common or rare. Jennifer Hopwood will be talking at the Nebraska Natural Legacies Conference this month and Scott Hoffman Black will be the keynote speaker at the Cascadia Prairie-Oak Partnership conference next month.

Roadside Habitat
The Xerces Society has become widely recognized for its work on managing roadsides for pollinators. This month, Jennifer Hopwood will be presenting best management practices for roadside pollinator habitat at the International Conference on Ecology and Transportation in Raleigh, NC, and Scott Hoffman Black will be speaking about protecting monarch butterflies at a statewide meeting of California Department of Transportation biologists. Jennifer will also be giving the keynote presentation at Iowa’s Living Roadways Trust Fund conference in November and speaking at a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-organized meeting on the I-35 “Monarch Highway.”

Working Lands
Our pollinator conservation program is the largest of its type in the world, with a particular expertise in conservation on working lands. In the coming months, we’ll be at the Organic Valley “Grass Up Expo” in Washington, D.C., the 2015 Quivira Conference in Albuquerque, NM, and the 7th Annual Agroforestry Symposium the University of Missouri. Looking ahead a little further, in February, Eric Lee-Mader will be giving the keynote presentation at MOSES, the largest organic and sustainable farming conference in the U.S. With a potential audience of 4,000 people, it should be quite an event!

Aquatic Conservation
We are also involved with watershed health, particularly through protection of freshwater mussels in urban streams and conservation of dragonflies. Celeste Searles Mazzacano will be speaking at two events in the Pacific Northwest, the Johnson Creek Watershed Council/North Clackamas Urban Watershed Council Science Talk in September and the River Restoration Northwest Speaker Series in October.

Entomological Society of America
As the largest insect conservation organization in North America, it should be no surprise that we will be at the annual conference of the Entomological Society of America in November. In addition to helping to organize a symposium on conserving rare butterflies, our staff will be presenting two talks during the symposium on managing roadsides for butterflies and the impacts of fire on butterflies. Staff will also be giving two talks in a citizen science symposium on how Bumble Bee Watch works with citizens to track and conserve North America’s bumble bees and on how the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership tracks dragonflies over long distances. Scott Hoffman Black will be giving a “premier presentation” to the entire conference on the status of North American butterflies.

And finally, Sarina Jepsen is currently in Abu Dhabi participating in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission meeting. She is representing our work on both the IUCN Bumblebee Specialist Group and Butterfly Specialist Group.
If you will attend any of these gatherings, we’d love to meet you! Please do take a moment to stop and say “hello.”

As California Burns, What’s Happening To The Animals?

The devastation in California is very real and very scary: a total of 12 fires are burning in the state, as of September 16. The largest of these is the Rough Fire, which has destroyed 139,000 acres near Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks. More than 3,700 firefighters are battling this blaze, which is 40 percent contained, according to the US Forest Service. The biggest fear in this scarcely populated area is not people, but landscape: the flames are currently threatening California’s famed Sequoia trees, with firefighters scrambling to protect them.

The Valley Fire, located roughly 50 miles west of Sacramento, the state’s capital, has so far consumed 70,000 acres and is about 30 percent contained; at least 585 homes have been destroyed, while 9,000 remain threatened.

The Butte fire, raging about 65 miles southeast of Sacramento, has destroyed 71,780 acres and is 45 percent contained. So far 233 homes have gone up in flames in this Gold Rush area of the state, and another 6,400 are still threatened.

The good news is that firefighters are slowly gaining ground on these fires, and that weather conditions in Northern California are changing. Some areas have seen a few drops of rain, and more could be on the way.

Where Are The Animals?

But with the speed that these two fires have spread, many residents have had almost no time to flee, and have often had to leave their pets behind. Thousands of animals are at risk.

For the Valley fire area, officials have warned that with downed power lines, burned-out cars, and other hazards, they can’t allow people whose homes may still be intact to move back in yet. However, they are allowing residents to return to their homes for 15 minutes to feed and give water to the animals.

Here are some amazing photos, courtesy of The Guardian, of humans reuniting with their animals.

In many cases, people had no choice but to open the gates and let their farm animals run free, in hopes they would be able to escape the flames.

Locating these animals will be an extremely difficult task. My own house burned down three years ago, and I have never seen my cat, Sargent Pepper, race so fast at the first sight of flames. I have no idea where she hid, but I was lucky: she crept back the next day, when only the charred remains of our home still stood.

But that was only one house, not an entire town.

Caring For Butte Fire Animals

At the Calaveras County Animal Services shelter in San Andreas, where the Butte fire has been raging, more than 400 pets, mostly cats and dogs, were being cared for, some at the shelter and others by groups working with the shelter.

Here’s a typical story, from the Calaveras Enterprise:

“In San Andreas, Kitty McWilliams, 70, and her housemate were ordered to evacuate. They took with them their 15 cats and rabbit. The entire family, both animals and humans, is living at the county Animal Shelter, where McWilliams is serving as a volunteer.

‘We have no place else to go,’ she said.

She took a brief break from cleaning cat cages on Sunday afternoon to cuddle Ebby, her black rabbit.”

Meanwhile, at the San Andreas fairgrounds, Calaveras County Supervisor Debbie Ponten said that roughly 350 horses, goats and other livestock were being housed.

Joe Whittle, a livestock volunteer, explains that they have started a database, called, to document each animal and paint a temporary identifying number on each animal, so that owners can go to the site and see if their animal is there.

Caring For Valley Fire Animals

On September 15, the Petaluma Animal Services in Sonoma County announced on Facebook that it was “briefing a strike team of expert animal handlers to go into burned out areas and handle injured, sick, or fearful/hysterical animals — and get them out of there safely.” The post continued, “Working with law enforcement and other non-profits we are using our expertise and equipment to deal with what is certain to be an astonishing misery. We’ve learned overnight that there are dogs and cats everywhere, livestock-horses, too.”

Dr. John Madigan is one of those expert animal handlers. A professor at the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Madigan has been out driving through burned-out communities in northern California searching for any animals left behind by desperate residents who fled in terror.

Over the past several decades, Madigan has worked with hundreds of animals in emergency situations, and on September 15 he went with UC Davis veterinarian Patricia Andrade to Hidden Valley Lake, to care for a horse that had been injured. Then the pair continued their rounds, checking on animals who had been reported stranded.

The situation is tragic, but numerous organizations are providing help. In addition to going into fire-ravaged areas to look for lost animals, they are keeping hundreds of pets fed and hydrated, as well as comfortable. There has been an amazing response: over the September 12 – 13 weekend, requests were made for donations such as food, collars, leashes, and other supplies. By the evening of September 13, the animal rescuers announced that they had already received enough donations.

Hundreds of animal lovers have opened their homes to animals with nowhere to go.

It is beautiful to see the huge numbers of people rallying to help animals in need after these devastating fires.

If you would like to learn more, Petaluma Animal Services, Sonoma Humane Society, Wine Country Animal Lovers, Compassion Without Borders, the Moose Lodge and the Jameson Rescue Ranch are just a few of the groups posting regular updates to Facebook. There you can learn what supplies are currently needed and how to help them protect pets affected by the fire.

Judy Molland|September 16, 2015


Deforestation is decreasing but more needs to be done say conservationists

Global deforestation has slowed down by more than 50 percent, the latest report from the Global Forest Resources Assessment shows.

The report shows that 129 million hectares of forest – an area almost equivalent in size to South Africa – have been lost since 1990, according to FAO’s most comprehensive forest review to date, however  an increasing amount of forest areas have come under protection and more countries are improving forest management.

“The management of forests has improved dramatically over the last 25 years. This includes planning, knowledge sharing, legislation, policies – a whole range of important steps that countries have implemented or are implementing,” said Kenneth MacDicken, leader of FAO’s Global Forest Resources Assessment Team.

“The direction of change is positive, but we need to do better,” said the FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva. “We will not succeed in reducing the impact of climate change and promoting sustainable development if we do not preserve our forests and sustainably use the many resources they offer us.”

Africa and South America had the highest net annual loss of forests in 2010-2015, with 2.8 and 2 million hectares respectively, but the report notes how the rate of loss has “substantially decreased” from the previous five year period.

Over the last five year period Africa reported the highest annual increase in the area of forest for conservation while Europe, North and Central American and North America reported the lowest compared to previous reporting periods, while the increase reported by Asia for 2010-2015 was lower than that reported for 2000-1010 but higher than the increase reported in the 1990s.

Rod Taylor, Director, of the WWF Global Forest Program, agrees with José Graziano da Silva that more needs to be done.

“FRA2015 confirms the huge loss of tropical forests over the last 25 years. WWF’s analysis shows that this trend will continue with future losses concentrated in 11 ‘deforestation fronts’, unless bold and urgent action is taken to address the drivers of deforestation. Without such action, up to 170 million hectares – the size of Germany, France, Spain and Portugal combined – will be wiped out in just 20 years.
“A suite of solutions – ranging from expanded protected areas to more sustainable consumption patterns – are needed to ensure that forests survive the ‘land squeeze’ creating by the rush to supply humanity’s growing demand for food, energy and materials.
“For example, WWF’s analysis shows that the amount of wood we take from forests and plantations each year may need to triple by 2050. 

“We call on world forestry leaders to join WWF’s Forests for Life campaign at the World Forestry Congress and back innovative solutions to tackle deforestation and forest degradation. We all know that no one organization can tackle the momentous task of forest conservation alone. Let’s join together to ensure that we sustain forests for life.”

Forests are rich in biological diversity, and home to more than half of the terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects. FAO warns that despite conservation efforts the threat of biodiversity loss persists and is likely to continue with deforestation, forest degradation – a reduction in tree biomass density from human or natural causes such as logging, fire, wind throws and other events – pollution and climate change all having negative impacts.Currently, forest area primarily designated for biodiversity conservation accounts for 13 percent of the world’s forest, or 524 million hectares, with the largest areas reported in Brazil and the United States.

From Wildlife Extra

Global Warming and Climate Change

Global warming to pick up in 2015, 2016

LONDON: Man-made global warming is set to produce exceptionally high average temperatures this year and next, boosted by natural weather phenomena such as El Nino, Britain’s top climate and weather body said in a report Monday.

“It looks very likely that globally 2014, 2015 and 2016 will all be amongst the very warmest years ever recorded,” Rowan Sutton of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, which contributed to the report, told journalists.

“This is not a fluke,” he said. “We are seeing the effects of energy steadily accumulating in the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere, caused by greenhouse gas emissions.”

The rate at which global temperatures are increasing is also on track to pick up in the coming years, ending a period of more than a decade in which the pace of warming worldwide had appeared to slow down, the report said.

This “pause” has been seized upon by sceptics as evidence that climate change was driven more by natural cycles than human activity.

Some scientists, however, argue that there was no significant slowdown, pointing instead to flawed calculations.

The 20-page report from Britain’s Met Office, entitled “Big changes underway in the climate system?”, highlights current transitions in major weather patterns that affect rainfall and temperatures at a regional level.

An El Nino weather pattern centered in the tropical Pacific Ocean is “well underway”, the report says, and shaping up to be one of the most intense on record. Very strong El Ninos also occurred over the winters of 1997 and 1982.

Set to grow stronger in the coming months, the current El Nino — a result of shifting winds and ocean circulation — is likely to result is dry conditions in parts of Asia and Australia, as well as southern and sub-Saharan North Africa, the Met Office said.

By contrast, the southwestern United States — including parched California, suffering from an historic drought — has a strong chance of seeing higher-than-average rainfall.   El Ninos also affect tropical storms, making them less likely in the North Atlantic and more intense in the West Pacific, where they are known as typhoons.

Overall, an El Nino is also likely to add a little heat to the general impact of global warming.

Meanwhile, warming sea surface temperatures along the North American west coast point to a reversal of another natural pattern called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.

This, too, could temporarily nudge regional temperatures higher, but has yet to be confirmed, the report said.

Finally, the interplay of ocean currents and atmosphere in the Atlantic — another multi-decade oscillation — is moving the other way, and will have a cooling effect.

“The current warm phase is now 20 years long and historical precedent suggests a return to relatively cool conditions could occur within a few years,” the report says.

By itself, that would mean cooler and drying summers in northern Europe, and increased rainfall in the northeastern United States.

While all of these cyclical forces affect weather and temperatures trends, global warming is the main driver of change today, the report concluded.

“We know that natural patterns contribute to global temperature in any given year, but very warm temperatures so far this year indicate the continued impact of increasing greenhouse gases,” said Stephen Belcher, director of the Met Office Hadley Centre.


Study: Fossil fuel burn-off will submerge populous cities

Scientist warns of ‘unacceptable’ outcome

If the globe continues its unabated use of fossil fuels, global sea levels will swamp populous regions much sooner than previously anticipated, a new study out Friday concluded.

If the currently attainable coal, natural gas and oil deposits are burned, the entire ice sheet covering Antarctica will melt into warming oceans, the authors of the Science Advances study claim.

The new projections say the first 100 feet of sea level rise would happen in the next 1,000 years, at more than an inch a year, said Ken Caldeira, one of the study’s authors and a professor at the Carnegie Institution for Science.

“In the ‘burn it all, melt it all’ scenario, the environmental consequences are unacceptable,” Caldeira said Saturday. “Sooner rather than later, the energy system is going to have to be rebuilt so it doesn’t dump carbon dioxide into the air.”

In total, that projected 200-foot rise would devastate low-lying coastal regions across the world.

Consider New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, from which the 20-foot storm surge nearly wiped the city off the map. Los Angeles, New York City and nearly all of Florida would flood and disappear.

“Most projections this century are 2 to 3 feet of sea level rise, which we can deal with,” Caldeira said. “But 100 feet basically means abandoning London, Rome, Paris, Tokyo and New York.”

The paper’s apocalyptic conclusions are similar to the scenes recently painted by President Barack Obama on his trip to Alaska. He stressed at the Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic that time is running short to change course.

“On this issue — of all issues — there is such a thing as being too late,” Obama said. “And that moment is almost upon us.”
Obama called on nations to make commitments to reduce carbon emissions at the United Nations climate summit later this year.

“This year in Paris has to be the year that the world finally acts to protect the one planet that we have while we still can,” he said.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met with Obama at the White House in August to discuss renewable energy a nd aggressive targets that will be set out in Paris.


Arctic sea ice melts to 4th-lowest level on record

Arctic sea ice shrank to its summer minimum — and fourth-lowest level on record — on Sept. 11, according to data released Tuesday by the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Sea ice “extent” on Sept. 11 was measured at 1.7 million square miles, which is 699,000 square miles below the average.

September is the month Arctic ice reaches its lowest extent of the year, toward the end of the Northern Hemisphere summer.

Sea ice is frozen ocean water that melts each summer, then refreezes each winter. The refreezing process has now begun, the data center said.

It reaches its largest area in March of each year.

The extent ranked behind 2012 (lowest), 2007 (second lowest), and 2011 (third lowest). Moreover, the nine lowest areas in the era of monitoring by satellite have all occurred in the past nine years.

The amount of summer sea ice in the Arctic has been steadily shrinking over the past few decades, because of manmade global warming, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


Arctic Warming Produces Mosquito Swarms Large Enough to Kill Baby Caribou

Some Alaskans joke that mosquitoes are “Alaska’s state bird,” but the pesky insects are becoming no joke. Warming Arctic temperatures have caused their numbers to swell immensely in the region in recent years. Lauren Culler has been studying insects in Greenland for the last several years. Culler, a postdoctoral researcher for Dartmouth College’s Institute of Arctic Studies, along with a team of researchers published a study yesterday in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Their findings are not good for the humans, caribou and other mammals that call the Arctic home. The study answers why this is happening. With the Arctic warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, the Arctics waterways (mosquito breeding grounds) are melting up to several weeks sooner. Thus, mosquitoes are hatching earlier and earlier.

“It was really when the pond thawed that triggered the hatch,” Culler told National Geographic. “That’s not unexpected. Lots of biology is triggered by these melting events.” But that’s not all Culler found. The warmer environment also allowed mosquitos to reach maturity faster, thus allowing more and more to survive to adulthood. Mosquitos are most vulnerable and most likely to be picked off by predators in their early stage of life as most animals are.

“The faster they go through these life stages, the better off they are,” Culler says. “If you’re only exposed for 20 days instead of 24, that’s good for you. That’s four days you don’t have to worry about being eaten.”

Caribou—mosquitoes’ main food source—and other arctic animals might be able to cope with these swarms if they weren’t already threatened by a changing climate. Ross Andersen at The Atlantic said that climate change has wreaked havoc on the natural cycles of the Arctic environment. Plants, which the caribou rely on for a food source, are emerging earlier and earlier because of warmer temperatures. But caribou are still calving based on the cycle of the sun. By the time caribou calves are born in May or June, there is not enough food to go around.

“Mothers are becoming malnourished. Fewer calves are being born, and fewer are surviving their crucial first few months,” says Andersen. “And even when they do survive, they are still vulnerable, to overhunting, and to diseases carried north by deer that would never have survived the Arctic chill of yesteryear.” Now add to that the growing swarms of mosquitoes and you see why it’s a real problem.

“Arctic mosquito swarms are the stuff of legend,” says Andersen. “Some of them contain hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of insects. That’s enough to harass a pregnant caribou until she stops worrying about food. And it’s enough to kill caribou calves outright.” They inundate entire herds and the caribou’s only defense is to flee, leading to decreased eating and further stress on the population. Research from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has found that “insect harassment interferes with caribou foraging, which also decreases survival.”

In high enough numbers, “they can drain enough blood to fell a caribou and sometimes even kill it,” says the video below. “The caribou are forced off their grazing grounds by a predator 10 million times smaller than they are.” That’s got to sting.

And it’s only expected to get worse. Culler took some of the mosquitoes into her lab and placed them into slightly warmer water to simulate Arctic waters in the near future. Her results: the mosquitoes hatched even earlier and grew even faster.

With the Arctic sea ice hitting its fourth lowest level on record last week, the Arctic can expect more and more swarms of mosquitoes in the future.

Humans in the Arctic are feeling the pinch as well. Culler told National Geographic that a colleague in Greenland was assaulted by more than 100 mosquitoes at once. And the bugs in that region were mild for the Arctic. “You can be completely covered in a matter of seconds,” Culler says.

Watch video of Arctic Mosquito Swarm

Cole Mellino|September 16, 2015

10 Largest Companies ‘Obstructing’ Climate Policy

New research reveals that nearly half (45 percent) of the world’s 100 largest companies are “obstructing climate change legislation.” And those that aren’t actively obstructing climate policy are members of trade associations that do. A full 95 percent of these companies are members of trade associations “demonstrating the same obstructionist behavior.”

With help from the Union of Concerned Scientists, UK-based nonprofit InfluenceMap has released a report identifying the best and worst of the world’s major companies when it comes to climate policy.

“More and more, we’re seeing companies rely on their trade groups to do their dirty work of lobbying against comprehensive climate policies,” said Gretchen Goldman, lead analyst at Union of concerned Scientists. “Companies get the delay in policy they want, while preventing nations from acting to fight climate change. It is unacceptable that companies can obstruct climate action in this way without any accountability.”

The researchers found that corporate influence over climate policies extended “beyond the activities normally associated with lobbying, including intervention in the public discourse on climate change science and policy via advertising, PR, social media, and access to decision makers, as well as the use of influencers, such as trade associations and advocacy groups.”

The companies were graded on an A to F scale. None of the companies received an A. The top three companies, which all received a B, were Google, Unilever and Cisco Systems. GlaxoSmithKline, Deutsche Telekom, National Grid, Vodafone Group, Nestle, Apple and Anheuser Busch InBev rounded out the top 10. But even Apple, which has been praised in recent months for its sustainability efforts received a paltry C+. It should also be noted that of those top 13 companies, only three are headquartered in the U.S.: Google, Apple and Cisco Systems. The rest are headquartered in Europe.


“There is a lack of detailed analysis available in this area and sadly great companies sometimes do bad things by lobbying against government action to avoid dangerous climate change,” said Paul Dickinson, executive chairman of CDP.

As mentioned early, nearly all of the companies (95 percent) are members of trade associations that are fighting against climate action. Those associations include BusinessEurope (recently under attack in the UK for their obstructionist stance towards climate legislation) and the secretive U.S. industry group, NEDA/CAP, “who have been suing the U.S. EPA to prevent them using the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions,” according to InfluenceMap.

Other trade associations include the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC), European Automobile Manufacturers Association, American Petroleum Institute, National Association of Manufacturers, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Council of Australia and Japan 2 Business Federation.

InfluenceMap’s research found that “despite their public communications, few corporations have actually supported the progressive climate policies being proposed by governments globally. There also remains a lack of transparency around their relationships with trade associations, with very few companies willing to publicly challenge them despite clear misalignment between their climate positions and the actions of the associations.”

The companies receiving the lowest grades come as no surprise. Among them are major fossil fuel companies such as Chevron, BP, Duke Energy and Phillips 66. And at the bottom of the list is climate denying extraordinaire Koch Industries. Interestingly, two media companies even make the list: 21st Century Fox and Comcast.

Here are the 10 worst companies on InfluenceMap’s list:



Cole Mellino|September 17, 2015

As Arctic Ice Melts, Orcas Move in

Arctic sea ice reached its lowest extent on September 11

The National Snow and Ice Data Center announced Arctic sea ice extent reached its fourth lowest level on record.

“The dramatic loss of summer sea ice during the warmest year on record is further evidence of our dangerous dependence on fossil fuels,” Margaret Williams, managing director for US Arctic programs, said. “Dwindling sea ice is a stark reminder of the destruction climate change wages on our most vulnerable wildlife and communities.”

For another year, Arctic sea ice will cover much less of the Arctic Ocean than it used to. And with less ice comes more killer whales—predators that feed on other whales, including some recovering species.

In the Canadian Arctic there are increasing sightings of killer whales or orcas. The climate-change driven pattern of lower-than-average ice is leading to major changes in the Arctic Ocean, including an influx of orcas in waters they don’t normally inhabit for lengthy periods of time.
The orcas are not typically seen in heavily-iced waters, as they are not well-adapted to life there. Unlike Arctic whales, orcas have big dorsal fins. As sea ice covers less area than formerly, and for a shorter time, it allows the orcas longer and wider access to the Arctic.

“Receding sea ice and the resulting increase of orcas in the Arctic are ecosystem impacts we are already experiencing as a result of climate change,” said Pete Ewins, WWF Arctic species specialist. “When new predators like orcas move in, they can change the entire ecosystem. In the face of these ever increasing, deeply concerning changes, we need leadership and action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to protect the best interest of people, the Arctic and the entire planet.”

The studies of the increasing incidence of orcas in the Arctic are so far mostly confined to the Canadian Arctic. It is entirely possible that orcas are increasingly moving in to other parts of the Arctic also, but more research is needed to confirm their movements.

And climate change is impacting other Arctic species, too. In August, Pacific walruses hauled out in their thousands on Russian and Alaskan coasts. Recent research suggests fish in the Barents Sea are moving north at a rate of as much nearly 100 miles a decade.

The changing climate affects all of us. And in the Arctic, changes are happening to the climate and oceans faster here than anywhere else on the planet. WWF is working with communities, other NGOs, Arctic Council, and researchers and scientists to protect wildlife and oceans, while securing the culture and prosperity of Arctic communities.

Laura Margison|September 10, 2015

Extreme Weather

Strong El Niño could mean weak winter

Blue Water Area might see less snow this year

After the past two polar vortex winters, you might be tempted to buy a 20-below parka with fur-lined hood, bulky boiled-wool mittens and new pacs.

But you might better be served this winter by investing in a Gore-Tex rain slicker and a pair of rubber wellies — more stylish, too.

El Niño, a band of warm water that develops in the central and east-central Pacific near the equator, is back — and that normally means warmer winters in Michigan.

“Back in March, we declared El Niño here, but it was weak,” said Maureen O’Leary, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spokeswoman.

“In the past couple of months, we’ve seen the water in the Pacific Ocean warming a lot and staying warm.”

NOAA defines El Niño as a three month average warming of at least 1.5 degrees Celsius above normal in the east-central tropical Pacific. On Thursday, NOAA released its monthly El Nio forecast which indicates that this year’s El Nio could be one of the top three on record.

“The news is that we now have a strong El Niño with a 95 percent chance El Niño will last through the winter,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

He said surface water temperatures in part of the El Niño area of the Pacific have exceeded 2 degrees above Celsius several times in August. It’s the first time that’s happened since 1997-98, which was the strongest El Niño on record.

Tropical impacts on Michigan winters

Jeff Masters, director of meteorology for Weather Underground in Ann Arbor, said El Niño alters the trajectory of the jet stream and impacts winter weather in Michigan and the rest of North America.

“The El Niños as strong as this one, 1997-98 and 1982-83, brought record warmth,” Masters said. “The winter of 1997-98 was the third warmest on record and 1982-83 was the fifth warmest.

“Both those winters had above normal precipitation,” he said. “A lot of that fell as rain because it was so warm.”

Both the Farmers’ Almanac and the Old Farmer’s Almanac disagree, however. They’re predicting a cold and snowy winter for most of the U.S.

A weather map released by the Old Farmer’s Almanac in mid-August shows Port Huron and the Thumb in a band of cold and dry weather. The Farmers’ Almanac calls for unseasonably cold weather in the Lower Peninsula.

NOAA’s El Niño update calls for warmer temperatures but less moisture, which could affect Great Lakes water levels that have benefited from heavy ice cover the past two winters and large amounts of rain the past spring and summer.

Masters said conditions in the Arctic Ocean could counter the El Niño in the Pacific Ocean.

“All bets are off because we’ve got things going on in the Arctic that might be trying to throw a monkey wrench into the works,” he said.

H e said less ice in the Arctic Ocean could also affect the jet stream, bringing bone-chilling temperatures into Michigan.

“It’s a pattern where we could see much colder temperatures along the eastern half of the United States as we have the last two winters,” Masters said.

“My bet is we will have another warm winter,” he said. “I think the El Niño influence is going to be pretty strong.”

Locals hope for milder winter

Kirk Weston is hoping Master’s bet is correct. The managing director of the St. Clair County Road Commission said the winter of 2014-15 was close to normal — but the previous winter was a doozy.

He’s been trying to push winter out of his mind.

“You get these 90-degree days, you forget about this stuff,” Weston said.

In 2014-15, the road commission used 19,433 tons of salt and 38 tons of sand. Weston said the 10-year average for salt is about 20,000 tons.

“We spent $1,332,246 on our primary system and on our local system, $717,524,” he said. “Normally, between the two of them, we’re at $2 million per year.”

He said the county contract with the Michigan Department of Transportation to clear snow is $1.5 million — the figure came in at $1.6 million in 2014-15.

“We had about 24 call-outs for snow events and about 50 inches of snow total,” he said, noting that snowfall totals come from the Port Huron Wastewater Treatment Plant.

In 2013-14, the road commission spent close to $3 million maintaining local and primary roads. Snowfall was 67 inches, and crews were called out 34 times to clear roads.

During several snow events, which last until the snow stops falling, “these guys ran about 24/7,” Weston said.

“We’re looking for no snow this year,” he said. “We would want to put all that snow money into roads.”

Kristi Nichols-Shopbell also wants a milder winter. She owns 3 North Vines, a vineyard and winery near Croswell. The past two winters have been rough.

“We got knocked down to the snow line,” she said. “It set us back from being established to being a re-established vineyard.”

She said she heard the coming winter could be milder “but I’m not counting my chickens before they’ve hatched.”

“We’re hoping we have a milder winter,” she said. “Last winter started out mild … it wasn’t until February when we got the record-breaking cold. We’re going to wait and see, but we’re hoping for a normal winter.

“We hope that it comes through and it all works out. I hope that is true, but I was hoping last year would come through as well.”

Masters said although the winter could be warmer on average, Michigan residents always can count on a blast of Arctic cold.

“We’ll get a couple of one-week periods of pure Arctic chills,” he said.

“But really the El Niño signal is very strong and we are confident that it is going to last through the winter,” Masters said. “El Niño very heavily weights the weather dice in favor of much warmer and wetter winters in Michigan.”


2015 is on track to be the hottest year in recorded history

This December hundreds of world governments will meet in Paris to try to strike a global climate agreement. It will be the biggest gathering of its kind since 2009, and it’s potentially a big deal for our global movement.

In Paris our governments are supposed to agree on a shared target for climate action, based on the national plans governments have been putting together all year — but the numbers just aren’t adding up. Everything being discussed will allow too many communities that have polluted the least to be devastated by floods, rising sea levels and other disasters.

This has the makings of a global failure of ambition — and at a moment when renewable energy is becoming a revolutionary economic force that could power a just transition away from fossil fuels.

Summer sizzles to hottest on record worldwide

If you sweated out the summer, you weren’t alone.

The months of June, July and August were the planet’s hottest on record, according to a report Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This year remains on track to beat the hottest on the books worldwide, crushing 136 years of records.

“The world is dominated by areas that are record warm or more than average right now,” said NOAA climate scientist Deke Arndt. “The warmth has truly been widespread across the oceans and land.”

From January to August, global temperatures soared 1.51 degrees above average. The Middle East suffered a stifling heat wave, with Iran soaring to a heat index of 163 degrees in July.

An earlier report found a 97 percent chance that the El Nino effect will continue through the 2015-16 winter, rivaling the strongest one on record in 1997. The climate pattern is defined as warmer-than-average water in the tropical Pacific Ocean. It typically brings wetter-than-average conditions to the Southwest.


California Epic Drought Leads to Lowest Snowpack in 500 Years

The snowpack for the state of California—a critical source of drinking water for the state—hit its lowest level in the last 500 years, according to a study published yesterday in Nature. When the snowpack was measured in April—historically the high point for the season’s snowpack—it was just 6 percent of average for the past century.

Now, thanks to this latest study, we know that the snowpack hasn’t been this low in at least five centuries. The study used tree-ring data from centuries-old blue oaks to provide historical context for this year’s extremely low snowpack. The paper is the first of its kind in describing temperature and precipitation levels in the Sierra Nevada “that extends centuries before researchers started measuring snow levels each year,” says The New York Times.

“The 2015 snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is unprecedented,” Valerie Trouet, one of the authors of the study, told The Times. “We expected it to be bad, but we certainly didn’t expect it to be the worst in the past 500 years.”

Last winter was the hottest on record for California, so the little precipitation the state received often fell as rain and not snow. This has grave implications for the state’s water supply because snowmelt provides one-third of the state’s drinking water and is also critical for fighting the state’s increasing wildfires. California is in the midst of a four-year drought that has produced devastating wildfires like the Valley Fire in Northern California, which is happening right now. This past spring, NASA scientist Jay Famiglietti warned that Californians only have one year of water left in the state’s reservoirs.

“The scope of this is profound,” Thomas Painter, a snow hydrologist with NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory, told The Times. “This has been a very bad drought, and being able to understand the context of it is extraordinarily important.”

To determine snowpack levels that far back, researchers combined two data sets of blue oak tree rings. “The first set provided historical precipitation levels from more than 1,500 blue oaks from 33 sites in California’s Central Valley,” explains The Times. “The team compared part of that data from the years 1930 to 1980 with actual snowpack measurements and found that both findings matched. Using this correlation, the team combined the precipitation data with a second data set of tree rings that looked at winter temperatures from 1500 to 1980.” Based on the 500-year record, researchers estimated the odds of such a low snowpack happening more than once over that time period were less than five percent.

While the April 1 assessment finally goaded state officials into action with Gov. Jerry Brown issuing the state’s first-ever mandatory water restrictions, many scientists saw this coming. Peter Gleick, president and co-founder of the water policy-focused Pacific Institute began investigating the impacts of climate change on California’s water supply 30 years ago.

“It’s shocking in a historical context because we’ve never seen this bad of a snowpack. It was not shocking in the sense that we sort of knew this was coming, and we just didn’t know when,” Gleick told Climate Central. “This is the new unpleasant reality” for Western water, not just California.

And don’t expect the strong El Niño to “solve the drought” as warmer Pacific Ocean waters are expected to bring lots of precipitation to California this winter. Even if the state receives the much-needed rainfall, the storms might not produce a larger snowpack. If temperatures remain above-average as expected, much of that precipitation could fall as rain and not snow even at higher elevations—just as they did this past winter. Furthermore, Kirsten James at Ceres explains that because of climate change and poor water management, El Niño—not even a Monster El Niño—can’t save California from its epic drought.

Cole Mellino|September 15, 2015

It’s Official: Summer 2015 Hottest Ever in Recorded History

After Republicans sputtered about human’s inability to “fix the climate” at the second GOP primary debate Wednesday night, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that this past summer was the hottest on record globally. It was the hottest June-August period in the global record.


Global average temperatures for 2015 are far above those of the six warmest years on record. Photo credit: NOAA

NOAA’s latest monthly State of the Climate Report found that August “marked the sixth month in 2015 that has broken its monthly temperature record.” Every month this year except January and April have broken the previous record. And collectively, it’s the warmest January-August period on record. The findings show it’s all but certain that 2015 will not only be the hottest year, but, in the words of Joe Romm at Think Progress, “2015 will crush 2014,” which holds the current record for hottest year. And already, experts are predicting that 2016 will be even warmer than 2015 because the current strong El Niño is expected to carry into the spring.

This summer, 11 states across the West and Southeast were much warmer than average, according to NOAA. Oregon and Washington each had their warmest summer on record. Those two states along with California and Nevada are likely to have their hottest years on record.

Eleven states saw temperatures much above normal and Washington and Oregon set records. Photo credit: NOAA

Eleven states saw temperatures much above normal and Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada are likely to have their hottest years on record. Photo credit: NOAA

India endured a brutal heat wave that killed more than 2,300 people at the end of May, making it the 5th deadliest in recorded world history. Pakistan, Europe and the Middle East also suffered through intense heat waves. The heat index in Iran hit 164 Degrees, which is among the hottest urban temperatures ever endured by humans.

Cole Mellino|September 18, 2015

5 Animals at Risk of Extinction Because of Climate Change (Besides Polar Bears)

We’ve all seen the picture of the emaciated polar bear. It’s a painful image to look at. But while the polar bear is the poster child for the most harmful effects of climate change, there are many more animals the world may have to do without if we can’t get our carbon dioxide levels under control.

North Atlantic Right Whale

Credit: Wikipedia

Credit: Wikipedia

The North Atlantic Right Whale is one of the most endangered animals on the planet, with only between 300-350 individuals left. These whales have been exploited by humans since the 10th century, and because their habitat is coastal, they are more vulnerable to human activity than some other whales. In addition to human-caused threats like fishing nets and collisions with ships, the small North Atlantic Right Whale population can be particularly affected by climate change. Warmer oceans tend to have less zooplankton, a primary component of the North Atlantic Right Whale diet. Even one particularly bad year for food can have effects for years.

Sea Turtles

Credit: Wikipedia

Credit: Broken Inaglory via Wikipedia

Sea turtles, like other marine animals, will likely be affected by climate change. In fact, sea turtles are getting hit by climate change on several fronts. As sea levels rise, the sea turtle’s nesting beaches will likely erode, warmer oceans will alter the sea turtle’s ocean habitat, and changes in ocean current can disrupt migration and feeding patterns. Climate change could even change the ratio of male-to-female sea turtles. Warmer nest temperatures yield more females. A study published last year in Nature Climate Change found that nests that were around 84.2 degrees had about a 50-50 sex ratio. When that temperature was increased to 87.8 degrees, almost all the hatchlings were female.


Credit: Toby Hudson

Credit: Toby Hudson

I know coral just looks like a bunch of rocks, but they are animals, and crucial ones. They are tiny invertebrates with a hard calcium carbonate skeletal system that forms important marine ecosystems. Coral reefs are home to beautiful structures and extensive biodiversity. Unfortunately, climate change is causing a lot of problems for coral. Coral respond to stress from changes in temperature, light, and nutrients by bleaching, or expelling symbiotic algae that turns the coral white. While this isn’t fatal in itself, it indicates that the coral aren’t doing well and are more vulnerable to infectious disease. In addition, carbon dioxide absorbed by the oceans is causing ocean acidification that has already begun to reduce calcification rates of reef-building organisms.

Adélie penguin

Credit: Jason Auch via Wikipedia

Credit: Jason Auch via Wikipedia

These are Antarctic birds that subsist mostly on krill. Krill live on the underside of ice sheets. Adélie penguins are “sea ice obligate” birds,meaning that they only exist with sea ice. As global temperatures increase and sea ice melts, this becomes a problem. As sea ice becomes more sparse, it becomes more difficult for these penguins to find food and ultimately reproduce.


Credit: Kenneth Dwain Harrelson via Wikipedia

Credit: Kenneth Dwain Harrelson via Wikipedia

One might not think of insects as particularly sensitive to climate, but they are. A paper published earlier this year indicates that severe droughts caused by climate change could be catastrophic for some species of butterfly in the United Kingdom. While the butterflies would likely not be eradicated from the island, it might fragment the butterfly populations. The study found that butterflies predicted to be OK under more gradual warming wouldn’t fare so well if the warming was more rapid.

In addition, the famous Monarch butterfly is also put at risk because of climate change. Monarchs have been under threat for years because of habitat loss, but climate change could affect the butterfly’s summer and winter breeding grounds, as well.

Mindy Townsend|September 18, 2015

El Nino rains could bring uptick in snakebites

“Watch out for rattlesnakes!” is an often-tossed warning from one hiker to another during spring and summertime in the West. But this year, winter may bring more dangers from venomous reptiles. In a recent study, researchers found snakebites peak during El Nino events. This winter is expected to produce one of the most intense El Nino weather patterns in history, bringing heavy rain and aiming much of its wrath on the west coasts of North and Central America. It could bring welcome relief to drought-stricken regions.

Snakebites affect more people than one might think: 2.5 million are bitten annually worldwide. Nearly 100,000 are killed by the bites and an additional 500,000 suffer serious medical complications.

Heavy rains often disturb snake populations, placing them into closer contact with humans. In 2013, Georgia reported an increase in snakebites after rainfall plagued the area. Half the bites were from venomous snakes.

Many times, snakes find their way into homes after floods in an effort to stay dry.


Genetically Modified Organisms  

Support Mandatory FDA Labeling of GMOs ‏

[I received this email today.]

To: (

Thank you for your email.

General Mills believes food labeling regulations should be set at the national level, not state-by-state – and most companies hold the same view.

General Mills supports a national standard for labeling of non-GMO products. The U.S. standard for organic food products is an excellent model in our view. Organic certification and labeling standards are established at the national level, not state-by-state, and that enables organic food producers to reliably certify and label products as organic – regardless of the state they’re produced in or where they’re sold. 

That works for organic farmers – and it also provides a clear, consistent label upon which organic consumers in all 50 states can rely. National labeling standards just make sense.

We do know that some consumers may prefer products made without GMO ingredients. That’s why General Mills offers our consumers a choice of organic and non-GMO alternatives in most of our major categories in the U.S. In effect, the national organic certification and labeling standards enable us to reliably offer consumers non-GMO product choices in all 50 states. We believe consumers looking for non-GMO products would be helped by a national labeling standard for non-GMO products as well.


General Mills Consumer Relations

Glyphosate in Monsanto’s Roundup Is Linked to Cancer, But Big Ag Wants it in Your Food Anyway

In Europe, the amount of pesticide residues that are allowed on food is determined by recommendations from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) at a Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR). Right now their big discussions are all about glyphosate. Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world and is the main ingredient in the weed killer Roundup, which is applied to more than 150 food and non-food crops. In addition to its agriculture uses, glyphosate is also commonly used on lawns, gardens and parks where pets and kids play.

Unfortunately, glyphosate is linked to cancer (Group 2A ‘probable’ human carcinogen) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the prestigious cancer assessment arm of the WHO. But, cancer-causing chemicals have friends in high places. Monsanto is the world’s leading producer of glyphosate, with annual sales of Roundup netting about two billion U.S. dollars. Unsurprisingly, the company quickly fired back with a statement on how the company is “outraged” at IARC’s “agenda-driven bias” in its “irresponsible” decision-making. [As a side, since IARC announced its decision, a group of U.S. citizens have filed a class action lawsuit against Monsanto for falsifying safety claims and a group of Chinese citizens have filed a lawsuit against the Chinese government for hiding Monsanto’s toxicity studies from the public].

In Europe, if a chemical is linked to cancer, then absolutely none of the chemical is allowed to remain as residue on our food. Zero tolerance. That seems reasonable—like zero tolerance for cancer. So, JMPR has assembled a task force to reevaluate IARC’s assessment and advise whether or not JMPR’s assessment from 2011 should be revised. Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and colleagues sent a letter to JMPR raising two main concerns:

  • First, JMPR should not over-turn or attempt to re-do IARC’s cancer assessment. IARC’s conclusions were the result of an international panel of experts that conducted a comprehensive scientific review of evidence from laboratory animal studies, mechanistic cell studies and epidemiological evidence of cancers in people (see details in a previous blog). IARC found links between non-Hodgkin lymphoma and glyphosate exposure.
  • Second, JMPR advisory panel members have financial ties to Big Ag. According to publicly available documents, three of eight panel members have financial and professional ties to the chemical industry, including Monsanto.

Our concerns are further detailed in our letter, which was mailed to the WHO and shared with the public (see press release) on June 29. Unfortunately, our concerns seem to have fallen on deaf ears. The WHO sent us a five paragraph response letter that does little more than acknowledge the receipt of our letter and remind us that the WHO systematically “evaluates any declared interest carefully.” No explanation was given to us as to whether or how our particular concerns were taken into consideration.

JMPR’s advisory panel is due to report back to JMPR later this month. How could the financial conflicts of interest not cloud the panel’s evaluation of glyphosate’s cancer classification? That’s why NRDC is concerned that the panel’s recommendation to JMPR could seriously undermine IARC’s conclusions and result in the continued exposure of the public to glyphosate.

Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide that kills any plant it comes into contact with, regardless of whether it is a weed or a crop. “Roundup ready” crops, including soy, corn and cotton have been genetically modified to tolerate glyphosate, meaning that farmers can apply as much of the herbicide as they want without worrying about hurting their crops. As a result, glyphosate use has increased tenfold since it was last approved by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the early 90s. With the use of glyphosate steadily increasing, it is imperative that JMPR acts to protect the public from being exposed to this probable human carcinogen in their food.

Erik Olson, the director of NRDC’s Health Program, nicely sums this all up with the following quote:

“The WHO is highly respected for protecting public health around the world and it should move forward immediately to safeguard people from being harmed by glyphosate. At the same time, the WHO should make absolutely sure that its expert review panel is free of conflicts of interest so it can make science-based evaluations of herbicide and pesticide residues on food and advise what levels are safe for people to be exposed to.”

Nina Hwang|Natural Resources Defense Council|September 16, 2015

Shocking GMO Ingredient Found in Baby Food

A shocking new report released Tuesday by the organization GMO Free USA found that Gerber’s food product known as “Graduates Lil’ Crunchies” contain Roundup Ready corn—a type of genetically-modified corn that actually produces insecticides.

“We sent a package of Gerber Graduates Lil’ Crunchies Veggie Dip Baked Whole Grain Corn Snack to a certified lab to test for the presence of GMO material. The quantitative PCR test verified, by DNA analysis, that 100 percent of the corn in the Lil’ Crunchies Veggie Dip was GMO. All of the corn has been genetically-engineered to be herbicide tolerant (Roundup Ready) and the corn contained DNA sequences known to be present in Bt insecticide-producing GMO corn.”

PCR is short for polymerase chain reaction, which is a method of analyzing genetic material.

The organization adds that Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) corn “produces insecticidal toxins from inside every cell of the plant.” In other words, these pesticides cannot be washed off the plant. Little testing has ever been done on Bt corn’s capacity to continue producing insecticides once eaten, but studies suggest that it might.

According to research published in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, scientists found that the genetically-modified corn was linked to liver and kidney damage in animals.

In an in vitro study on human cells published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology, scientists found that the corn may be toxic to human cells. In this study, the researchers found that Roundup killed cells or tissues or caused the cells to kill themselves from 50 parts per million, which the scientists indicate is “far below agricultural dilutions” used in the growing of the genetically-modified corn.

Further research in the Journal of American Science confirmed the liver and kidney damage found in other studies and also found that animals fed a partial diet of genetically-modified corn had male reproductive organ damage, spleen damage and damage to the intestines. The scientists added that “the risk of genetically modified crops cannot be ignored and deserves further investigation.”

While scientists continue to recommend further testing, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have all allowed Bt corn to be commercialized without any human safety tests. The same is true of the respective Canadian agencies Health Canada, Environment Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Industry continues to cite the genetically-modified corn as safe, claiming that it is broken down before or during consumption. Yet, Canadian research by scientists at the University of Sherbrooke, Quebec, published a study in the medical journal Reproductive Toxicology that found GMO proteins circulating in the bodies of non-pregnant women, pregnant women and the blood supply to fetuses.

Michelle Schoffro Cook|Care2|September 16, 2015

France & Russia Ban GMOs

Russia and France have joined the growing list of European countries crusading against genetically modified (GMO) food and crops.

According to RT, Russia is stamping out any GMOs in its entire food production.

“As far as genetically-modified organisms are concerned, we have made decision not to use any GMO in food productions,” Russia’s Deputy PM Arkady Dvorkovich announced at an international conference on biotechnology in the city of Kirov.

Dvorkovich added that there is a clear difference between the use of GMO-products for food versus scientific or medicinal purposes, RT reported.

“This is not a simple issue, we must do very thorough work on division on these spheres and form a legal base on this foundation,” he said.

Russia already has hardline policies against GMOs. In 2012, Russia banned imports of Monsanto’s corn after a French study linked the company’s GMO-product to tumors in lab rats (the study was later retracted). Last year, the country banned imports of GMO products, with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev saying the nation already has the resources to produce its own non-GMO fare.

“If the Americans like to eat GMO products, let them eat it then. We don’t need to do that; we have enough space and opportunities to produce organic food,” said Medvedev. (And in case you’re wondering, Russian president Vladimir Putin is also anti-GMO).

The percentage of GMOs currently present in the Russian food industry is at a mere 0.01 percent, RT observed.

Russia’s latest move comes after similar news pouring in from Western Europe in recent weeks.

On Thursday, France followed in the footsteps of other European Union countries—Scotland, Germany, Latvia and Greece—and has chosen the “opt-out” clause of a EU rule passed in March that allows its 28-member bloc to abstain from growing GMO crops, even if they are already authorized to be grown within the union.

Specifically, the country wants to shut out the cultivation of nine GMO maize strains within its borders, according to yesterday’s joint statement from Ségolène Royal, France’s Minister of Ecology and Sustainable Development, and Stéphane Le Foll, the Minister of Agriculture and Energy.

“It is part of the very important progress made ​​by the new European framework on the implementation of GMO cultivation in which France played a leading role,” the statement reads (via translation from Sustainable Pulse). “This directive makes it possible for Member States to request the exclusion of their territorial scope of existing authorizations or of those under consideration.”

France’s latest GMO-sweep also singles out Monsanto’s MON 810 maize, the only GMO crop grown in Europe, and is currently under review at the European level, Reuters reported.

France, which is the EU’s largest grain grower and exporter, is further cementing its anti-GMO sentiments with this latest move. The country already prohibits the cultivation of any variety of genetically modified maize due to environmental concerns.

Monsanto, which maintains the safety of their products, has said it will abide by the requests from the growing wave of European countries turning their backs on these controversial crops. The agribusiness giant, however, recently accused Latvia and Greece of ignoring science and refusing GMOs out of “arbitrary political grounds.”

In a statement, Monsanto said that the move from the two countries “contradicts and undermines the scientific consensus on the safety of MON810.”

Meanwhile, much-maligned company didn’t have a total loss this week. According to Politico EU, the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety—a key committee in the European Parliament—”rejected a proposal Tuesday to halt an extension in the use of the world’s most popular weedkiller,” aka Roundup, Monsanto’s flagship herbicide.

Politico EU added in its report: “Sales of the herbicide, which is contained in 750 products, must stop in December if not given re-authorization. The Commission proposes to extend marketing to June of next year.”

Roundup contains an active ingredient called glyphosate which the World Health Organization’s cancer arm famously classified as a possible carcinogen.

Despite the health concerns of the product, a Commission spokesman defended the decision. “Extending the approval period by six months will give EFSA [the European Food Safety Agency] time to finalize its scientific conclusions on glyphosate,” Enrico Brivio said in a statement.

“On the renewal of the authorization, the Commission, in consultation with Member States, will take appropriate risk management action following the publication of the EFSA opinion,” he added.

Lorraine Chow|September 18, 2015


Earthquake and Tsunami Risks Ignored at Proposed LNG Facility on Oregon Coast

The most shocking fact about earthquake and tsunami risks on the coast of Oregon is their inevitability. We buy fire insurance—spending good money though our house is unlikely to burn. Meanwhile, the geologic record indicates beyond scientific doubt that a major tremor and Fukushima-style tidal wave is due. And it’s going to be the big one. The really big one—many times greater than the infamous 1906 San Francisco disaster. All credible science indicates that a major event approaching or exceeding magnitude 9 at Coos Bay, on the coast of Oregon, has a return cycle of 243 years. The last one was 315 years ago. We’re not just due, we’re overdue.

For a chilling account of our seismic fate, read the article that many North westerners are talking about: the July 20 New Yorker, “The Really Big One.”

As an Oregonian who lives in the danger zone, I have to say that denial is our most common modus operandi. We hope it won’t happen. But taking a personal risk, with knowledge of the consequences, is one thing and taking a public gamble by forcing the entire community and region to be at risk is quite another.

That’s what’s happening at Jordan Cove just north of Coos Bay. Three years ago the State Department of Geology and Mineral Industries provided maps to the county that clearly define the area of the LNG proposal as a “hazard” zone. Yet planning for the facility proceeds on a path greased by the county and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The inevitable earthquake and tsunami will shatter and pound at full force directly on the LNG site with its tanks, tankers and pipelines loaded with one of the most explosive and flammable substances known.

According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement, nearly 17,000 people live or work in the project’s hazardous “zones of concern.” Picturing the outcome of a tidal wave at Jordan Cove doesn’t require much imagination; just look to Fukushima in 2011.

We all make personal decisions to live in areas of known danger and—at least until it happens—we think the risk is worth it. But the LNG facility puts many thousands of people at far greater risk. Why would this be worth the cost?

After the short-term building boom, project boosters claim that 146 LNG jobs will result. Even if that number is accurate, it’s only one-third the number that work at Coos Bay’s Mill Casino, posing no danger to those around them.

The other reason for Jordan Cove’s risk is the export of natural gas. Export. We might have all been persuaded by the drive for “energy independence” that has justified fossil fuel development for 40 years across America. But now, at Jordan Cove, our own resources will be depleted in order to fuel China’s rise in the world economy. And in the process, we march down the road of global warming by enabling the fracking of gas across the West and the burning of more fossil fuel for decades to come.

After the inevitable disaster, everyone will say that we should have known better, that the officials on our watch shirked their responsibility, that the risks we all shouldered to make the gas industry richer were not worth the cost.

Goal 7 of the Oregon state land-use law requires “prohibiting the siting of … hazardous facilities … in identified hazard areas, where risk to public safety cannot be mitigated.” Yet one of the most hazardous facilities possible is being planned for the most hazardous landscape in America.

The hazard maps are unambiguous. After several years of LNG preparations, Coos County finally adopted the maps on July 30, but has delayed their effective date for a year. Meanwhile the Goal 7 directive remains unaddressed. Consequences will ripple or explode out to the region, the state and the nation.

Some risks are necessary and worth the cost. This one is not.

Tim Palmer|September 6, 2015

What the Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know About Fracking

When we hear politicians and gas companies extoll the virtues of fracking, jobs created by drilling is usually high on their list of talking points. But the jobs created by fracking are not the kind of quality jobs American workers deserve.

They are not the kind of jobs American laborers have fought and died for throughout our country’s history.

They are extremely dangerous, exposing workers to chemicals whose long-term impacts on human health are yet unknown. In fact, the fatality rate of oil field jobs is seven times greater than the national average.

In our new short film, GASWORK: The Fight for C.J.’s Law, we conduct an investigation into worker safety and chemical risk. We follow Charlotte Bevins as she fights for CJ’s law—a bill to protect workers named for her brother CJ Bevins, who died at an unsafe drilling site.

We interview many workers who have been asked to clean drill sites, transport radioactive and carcinogenic chemicals, steam-clean the inside of condensate tanks which contain harmful volatile organic compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and other chemicals, and have been told to do so with no safety equipment.

A lot of reporting has been done on the health impacts fracking and drilling have on local communities, but often the story of the workers, the folks who are exposed to fracking chemicals and unsafe working conditions around the clock, goes untold.

GASWORK has rare interviews with oil and gas workers who have come forward to speak out about the unsafe conditions.

One worker from western Pennsylvania told us he was hired by the fracking industry in the early days of the rush to drill the Marcellus Shale to cover up toxic spills in his own community, near the forests and streams where he would hunt and fish, near the front yard where his children play.

The industry won’t tell you that the “good” jobs created by fracking are paying men to poison their own communities in order to feed their families. They won’t tell you that those jobs are not union jobs and if you get hurt, you are on your own. And they won’t tell you that the transition to 100 percent renewables will create hundreds of thousands of safer jobs.

That is one reason we joined workers from the renewable energy industry in an act of civil disobedience on the banks of Seneca Lake in May. Along with 19 others, we blockaded the gates of Crestwood Midstream, a Houston based company whose plan to turn the Finger Lakes into the gas storage and transportation hub for the northeast includes storing gas in rickety salt caverns under Seneca Lake.

One of the men we were arrested with was Joe Sliker, CEO of Renovus Energy, a local renewable energy company. As he stood in front of a large truck being driven by a fossil fuel industry employee, Joe offered the workers at Crestwood a chance to join the energy revolution American workers deserve.

“I’m here to offer them a choice. I’m here to offer all of those people a better job. Today. Right now. Solar is rapidly expanding. These are real, good jobs. We pay better wages. It’s safer. We offer full benefits and paid time off and we respect our team,” says Sliker.

It was an amazing thing to witness, a table full of job applications, ready for workers who want to switch employers. The solar revolution is ready to build a new workforce right now.

According to a study done by Professor Mark Jacobson at Stanford University, transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy would create 174,775 construction jobs and 94,644 operation jobs in New York state alone. The state where Crestwood wants to turn a rural wine making region into a fossil fuel energy hub. The state where C.J. Bevins was killed at an oilrig site.

We know many of the labor laws we have today we’re won by fossil fuel industry workers. They risked everything, often facing violent retribution from their own government, because they dared to believe they deserved safe working conditions and fair compensation.

We know we stand on the shoulders of those great men and women and that we must continue the fight for safe, good paying jobs in this country. We must have a fair and just transition from fossil fuels to clean energy and support the workers and communities that have for so long powered our lives.

The industry doesn’t want you to know that we care deeply about its workers. That we thought about them this past Labor Day Weekend, knowing people are still working unsafe jobs in America today, all the while feeling the warm summer sun and cool breezes that could be powering our country and a new revolution of safe jobs.

We thought about them and all those who came before. The coalminers, the steel workers, the men and women who worked in the factories, they taught us a very important lesson, one that has echoed throughout history only gaining strength as it has been proven to be true again and again.

They taught us that to challenge the powers at be, we must unite.

A new study shows that GASLAND screenings played a pivotal role in growing the anti-fracking movement and passing fracking bans. We believe the number one reason that is true is because those screenings brought people together.

Josh Fox and Lee Ziesche|September 12, 2015

How Plants Could Inspire a Vital Energy Source of the Future

Nature has inspired some of our best technological innovations and that looks set to continue as scientists say they believe so-called artificial synthesis could be used to create natural gas and energy to one day power our cars.

Scientists have long been interested in perfecting a synthetic form of photosynthesis so that they could mirror a plant’s ability to take in sunlight, carbon dioxide and produce energy. Now, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, have announced that they have successfully been able to produce the primary component of natural gas, which is methane, and that they believe they could produce key components of fuel and small plastics. 

The researchers, publishing recently in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, say that by essentially hacking bacteria so that they’d feed on CO2 and then introducing a small solar panel to provide an energy source, they’ve been able to create experiments that are analogous to photosynthesis. In this case they used the modified bacteria–which, for this process, reside in what is essentially a cup with semiconducting nanowires running through it–to produce methane. Methane is certainly not good for the environment as it is an insulating gas, but in this case its environmental impact has been cut significantly because scientists didn’t have to extract the gas from underneath the ground.

If you’d like to understand more about this process, here’s a video that explains it more fully:

Professor Peidong Yang, speaking during a recent roundtable discussing the technology, says that this experiment is among the first to show that this technology can work, and potentially at a larger scale. “We’re good at generating electrons from light efficiently, but chemical synthesis always limited our systems in the past. One purpose of this experiment was to show we could integrate bacterial catalysts with semiconductor technology. This lets us understand and optimize a truly synthetic photosynthesis system,” he said in statements made to The Kavli Foundation roundtable.

Why is synthetic photosynthesis so attractive? There are a couple of reasons. Chiefly, the process would fit in seamlessly with our current use of fossil fuels and, if scientists can work out the logistics, could conceivably be used to repurpose some of the carbon dioxide released by fossil fuels, creating a new carbon neutral energy source. As we’ve previously mentioned when talking about other carbon dioxide capture-and-use technologies, the prospect is exciting because it doesn’t feel like a massive leap from the infrastructure that is already in place, and it could be used as a way to transition toward greener fuels, particular for major industries.

Certainly, the researchers in this case believe that in a few decades this technology might provide fuel for our cars or for other appliances. However, for that to happen scientists will need to go beyond the photosynthesis in nature and create an entirely synthetic system that, when it comes to harnessing sunlight and carbon dioxide for energy production, could be more robust and efficient than its natural counterpart.

To do that, the researchers say they will need to “learn nature’s guidelines,” and there are significant hurdles ahead to making this technology an answer to our energy needs. At the moment, the energy conversion rate from solar to chemical stands at about three percent. That’s a long way off the 10 percent rate at which this process would be deemed commercially viable, but it is a start.

The encouraging thing is, we know that nature can do it, so we have the example ready to hand.

Steve Williams|September 13, 2015

Fracking Boom Bursts in Face of Low Oil Prices

The oil cartel, OPEC, has confirmed what has been obvious to many for months: U.S. shale production is in deep, deep trouble as the fracking boom bursts in the face of low oil prices.

The cartel published its latest monthly oil market report yesterday revealing that it believes it is winning the price war it started with the U.S. shale industry.

The numbers speak for themselves as the U.S. drilling rig count continued its decline this month, dropping 13 rigs to 662. The overall rig count is now down 864 units year on year.

The report is seen as a must-read for people within the oil industry.

“In North America, there are signs that U.S. production has started to respond to reduced investment and activity,” says the report. “Indeed, all eyes are on how quickly U.S. production falls.”

The numbers speak for themselves as the U.S. drilling rig count continued its decline this month, dropping 13 rigs to 662. The overall rig count is now down 864 units year on year.

As if to re-iterate the point, OPEC cut its forecast for U.S. production in 2015 by 100,000 barrels a day to 13.75 million and is also revising downwards U.S. shale production for next year by about 100,000 barrels a day, too.

OPEC’s warning is the second in a number of days outlining the trouble facing the U.S. fracking industry and comes hot on the heels of similar sentiments from the International Energy Agency (IEA) last week.

The IEA said, “On the face of it, the Saudi-led OPEC strategy to defend market share regardless of price appears to be having the intended effect of driving out costly, ‘inefficient’ production.”

The IEA outlined how “U.S. oil production is likely to bear the brunt of an oil price decline that has already wiped half the value off,” the main international oil contract.

It predicted that a rebound in production from U.S. shale over the next few months was “elusive.”

“This will be music to OPEC’s ears,” argues the OilVoice website: “There have been many that have doubted the OPEC strategy and there are many that will continue to do so. Some observers even doubt the relevance of OPEC as an organization, given its reluctance to intervene and balance the market by reducing production.”

However, due to declining shale, the IEA warned that the world faces the biggest drop in oil output in nearly a quarter century. This said, OPEC is predicting stronger than expected demand than previously forecast for its own oil next year, as U.S. fracking companies continue to struggle with low costs.

So for now, at least, it looks like OPEC is winning the oil price war.

Andy Rowell|Oil Change International|September 15, 2015

400 Groups Ask Obama: Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground

With a passionate press conference outside the White House on Tuesday, a sweeping coalition of climate, labor, indigenous and public health groups and leaders called on President Barack Obama to make the U.S. the first nation to commit to keeping all of its remaining, un-leased public fossil fuels in the ground.

"Each new federal fossil fuel lease opens new deposits for development that should be deemed unburnable," reads a letter delivered Tuesday. Photo credit: WildEarth Guardians / Flickr

“Each new federal fossil fuel lease opens new deposits for development that should be deemed unburnable,” reads a letter delivered Tuesday. Photo credit: WildEarth Guardians / Flickr

Such a move is imperative, the more than 400 organizations and individuals wrote in a letter outlining their demands.

“The cost of continuing federal fossil fuel leasing to our land, climate and communities is too high,” reads the missive delivered Tuesday. “The science is clear that to maintain a good chance of avoiding catastrophic levels of warming, the world must keep the vast majority of its remaining fossil fuels in the ground. Federal fossil fuels—those that you control—are the natural place to begin.”

Speaking to Obama’s ability to set an international precedent, the letter continues: “Each new federal fossil fuel lease opens new deposits for development that should be deemed unburnable. By placing those deposits off limits, stopping new leasing would help align your administration’s energy policy with a safer climate future and global carbon budgets.”

The campaign comes just days after the Obama administration announced it would open nearly 40 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to new oil and gas drilling leases and one month after it approved a permit for Royal Dutch Shell to drill in the Arctic.

Of course, significant damage has been done on the more than 67 million acres of public land and ocean already leased to the fossil fuel industry.

“Dirty energy companies ruin our lands, while the profit goes elsewhere,” said indigenous activist Louise Benally, of Big Mountain Diné Nation, in a statement. “Environmental concerns are not being addressed properly by agencies that should be accountable. Groundwater tables have dropped by big drops, the greenhouse gases being released into the air are not monitored correctly and health impacts are not monitored at all. This devastation of our communities is a kind of terrorism made possible by senators like John McCain, all while President Obama turns a blind eye. These industries are not accountable to the land, the natural world or the people living here. Their destruction has to stop now.”

As the Washington Post wrote on Monday, “the statement is significant because it represents the latest stage in the development of a climate grassroots movement that has already brought us the Keystone XL pipeline battle.”

Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, which backed the statement, agreed. “I think that this is the next frontier of climate advocacy,” he told the Post. “We know that we have made genuine progress in cutting carbon from cars and trucks and increasingly from the electric sector. And all of that is important, it’s necessary—and it won’t get the job done unless we begin to curtail development of fossil fuels, particularly in sensitive areas.”

The letter’s signatories claim Obama has the power to dub untapped oil, gas and coal reserves “unburnable” under existing federal laws.

“Such leadership is necessary to ensure a livable climate and planet for both present and future generations,” they wrote.

Deirdre Fulton|Common Dreams|September 16, 2015

Arctic Drilling Is Stupid Business, Says New IEA Chief

The demand to keep Arctic oil and gas in the ground has become a rallying call of climate campaigners worldwide. Now, Fatih Birol, the new executive director of the powerful International Energy Agency, is questioning the global race to drill from a purely business perspective—arguing that geological and technological limitations, as well as rising costs of production, make such extraction simply unprofitable.

“I believe that Arctic oil is not for today, and not for tomorrow—maybe for the day after tomorrow,” Birol told the Guardian in an article published Friday. “It’s geologically difficult, technologically difficult, lots of environmental challenges, and the cost of production is very, very high, especially if you look at the current oil price levels.”

Birol did not call for a ban on the controversial drilling, but instead urged caution from a profit-making perspective.

“It should be an assessment of the oil company, whether or not they see [a business case] at those prices [for oil], or at those costs [of production]—whether or not it could be a profitable project,” he stated. “I think the companies should look at all these risks combined. It is up to them to make or lose money.”

Birol’s statements come amid growing calls to place people and the planet over profit by leaving fossil fuels in the ground.

Such demands follow numerous scientific findings that, in order to stave off climate crisis, such resources must remain almost completely untapped. A study published earlier this year in the journal Nature by University College London researchers concluded that, in order to prevent a temperature rise of 2 °C above the average global temperature of pre-industrial times, almost all fossil fuels must stay in the ground—including 100 percent of Arctic oil and gas.

Shell’s Arctic drilling bid has been met with fierce protest and direct actions, but despite these efforts, the oil giant is currently moving forward with plans for exploratory drilling. Earlier this week, Shell’s chief executive Ben van Beurden told BBC that he does not expect to begin commercial drilling until at least 2020.

In response, Bill Snape, senior counsel to the Center for Biological Diversity, told Common Dreams: “When a U.S. permittee is admitting they are still half a decade away from commercial drilling, you have to wonder from an environmental point of view why we are entertaining this folly at all.”

Snape added that “it is not surprising that outside the political context of campaign contributions or even outright corruption,” Birol would reach the conclusion that “drilling for oil in the Arctic is absolute folly.”

Sarah Lazare|Common Dreams|September 19, 2015

Land Conservation

New conservation political arm started by Amendment 1’s sponsors

Florida’s Water and Land Legacy, the group that sponsored Amendment 1 in the 2014 election, has shuttered its doors and re-launched as Florida Conservation Voters, which backers say will have a broader mission of political activism on environmental issues.

The change comes after a “disappointing 2015 session” of the Legislature, according to an announcement Wednesday by the group’s executive director, Aliki Moncrief. Environmentalists faced pretty significant losses in the state budget process, as lawmakers used funds set aside for conservation by voters in Amendment 1 to offset administrative costs of existing state programs.

“Florida has a long history of bipartisan support for the environment, and we know that Florida voters — Republicans, Democrats, and Independents —  value conservation, as evidenced by the 75% voter mandate on Amendment 1,” Moncrief said in a statement. “Our mission will be to make sure that legislative priorities on the environment match up to those of Florida voters.”

The new group, which will be based in Tallahassee, will have a mission focused on electing people who support conservation to offices in Florida, Moncrief said. The group is setting up as a 501(c)(4), which will allow them to endorse and contribute to candidates for Congress, the state Legislature and local office.

Florida’s Water and Land Legacy officially disbanded in June, according to records filed with the state Division of Elections. Florida Conservation Voters hasn’t yet established a committee with the state.

Michael Auslen|Aug. 12, 2015

District receives NOAA grant for coastal marsh restoration

PALATKA, Fla., Aug. 12, 2015 — The St. Johns River Water Management District has received a $263,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to continue restoring coastal marshes in Volusia and northern Brevard counties.

The NOAA Coastal Habitat Restoration Grant provides funding for three projects, with the District and its partners contributing $126,681 in matching funds and services. These projects include:

  • Removing nearly a mile of earthen dike at Indian River Lagoon Preserve State Park, which will result in the restoration of approximately six acres of wetlands
  • Restoring a subsided marsh in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge by raising the elevation of the marsh bottom and reestablishing wetland vegetation
  • Stabilizing an eroded shoreline at North Peninsula State Park by introducing oyster shells and planting vegetation

    The District has worked over the past several years with the multi-agency Northeast Florida Estuary Restoration Team to implement coordinated restoration from Sebastian Inlet north to the St. Marys River. This is the third year the District and its partners have received the NOAA Coastal Habitat Restoration Grant.

    “Coastal wetlands prevent flood damage and are important habitats for fish, wildlife and plants,” said Ann Shortelle, District executive director. “The NOAA grant helps us to preserve and restore wetlands that were altered decades ago, mostly as a way to control the mosquito population.”

    Over the last two years, NOAA has awarded the District $250,000 for three marsh restoration projects and an additional $750,000 for restoration at North Peninsula State Park.

    “The expertise of District staff, their extensive partnerships in northeast Florida, and their large-scale project approach are integral components in assisting NOAA to meet our fisheries restoration goals,” said Howard Schnabolk, Habitat Restoration Specialist, NOAA Restoration Center.

    Teresa Monson|St. Johns River Water Management District


    Air Quality

    Air Pollution Kills More Than 3 Million People Every Year

    Fine particulates and ozone have been linked to deaths from heart disease, stroke and lung cancer around the globe

    Tiny particles and troublesome gases in the outdoor air are ultimately responsible for some 3.3 million premature deaths annually, according to a comprehensive new look at the health effects of air pollution.

    The data suggest that globally, more people die from outdoor air pollution than from malaria and HIV/AIDS combined. And if there is no change to our current control measures, outdoor air pollution could cause around 6.6 million early deaths each year by 2050.

    “Air pollution appears to be a very significant source of premature mortality,” the study’s lead author, Jos Lelieveld of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, said this week in a telephone press conference.

    Low-altitude ozone and fine particulates in the air have been linked to heart disease, strokes, respiratory illnesses and lung cancer. But global data on this pollution has been lacking because air quality is not monitored in many parts of the world.

    Lelieveld’s team combined atmospheric modeling with population data and health statistics to create estimates of air pollution levels, where it was coming from and how many people it was killing.

    Particulates can come from natural sources such as dust as well as unnatural ones, including burning wood and charcoal, large-scale power generation, vehicles and agriculture. Agriculture may seem like an odd source of air pollution, but fertilizer and domesticated animals both produce ammonia, which mixes with other types of emissions in the atmosphere to produce particulates.

    The source of the particulates—and thus deaths from air pollution—varies from region to region, the study demonstrates. In the United States, for instance, where air pollution accounts for some 55,000 deaths annually, traffic and power generation are big contributors. In the eastern half of the country, the combination of agricultural fields and dense cities and suburbs combines to produce many deaths, Lelieveld says.

    But the majority of deaths from air pollution occur in China and India, mostly from residential heating and cooking, which is often inefficient and produces a lot of particle-filled smoke. Researchers already knew that this type of pollution, when breathed indoors, causes around 3.5 million deaths. But Lelieveld and his colleagues found this source is also a huge contributor to outdoor air pollution, responsible for killing another million people globally.

    “You cannot stop people from eating and cooking, but you can provide better technologies,” Lelieveld said during the press conference. He noted, however, that though inventors have tried to lessen this source of pollution with more efficient cookstoves, it has often been difficult to convince people to give up their traditional methods.

    Lelieveld admits that his group’s dataset is not perfect. For instance, there is some research that shows that black carbon—the main component in soot—is worse than other types of particulates. If that is true, than the scope of deaths from various sources of air pollution would change. But Lelieveld and his team hope that their research will help guide governments in creating better control measures.

    Evidence that such measures can reduce deaths comes from another study published today in Nature Geoscience. Dominick Spracklen of the University of Leeds and colleagues looked at the health impact from a reduction in fires linked to Amazon deforestation. They estimate that fewer fires lessened airborne particulates enough to prevent some 400 to 1,700 premature deaths in South America each year.

    Sarah Zielinski||September 16, 2015


    California ‘Firestorm’ Scorched Area Twice the Size of Manhattan in 24 Hours

    It’s officially one of the most destructive fires in California history. The Valley Fire, which ignited in Northern California on Saturday afternoon, scorched 50,000 acres—an area more than twice the size of Manhattan—within 24 hours, according to Napa Valley Patch. It has since grown to 67,000 acres and is only 15 percent contained.

    “It’s a true firestorm—extremely fast moving, generating its own weather conditions, and burning literally everything in its path,” Daniel Swain, a climate Earth system scientist at Stanford University, told Climate Central. “The Valley Fire is breaking all the rules in the midst of a fire season that had already rewritten the rulebook. What’s going on in Lake County is a direct manifestation of California’s record-breaking drought, and it’s pretty sobering.”

    Stoked by high temperatures and strong winds, the devastating fire comes amid the state’s epic four-year drought made worse by climate change. Just yesterday, researchers published a study in Nature that found that last winter’s snowpack was the lowest in the last 500 years.

    This wildfire season has been truly historic with several Western states juggling multiple large wildfires simultaneously. More than 7.5 million acres have burned—an area roughly the size of Massachusetts. Washington saw its largest wildfire on record and the season could still set the record for total acreage burned for the entire country. Wildfires have been getting worse and they are only expected to keep getting worse. Climate Central research shows that “on average, wildfires burn six times the acreage they did 40 years ago, while the annual number of wildfires over 1,000 acres has doubled from 50 during an average year in the 1970s to more than 100 each year since 2002.”

    The Valley Fire, which spread to Lake, Napa and Sonoma counties, has forced the evacuation of 13,000 residents as an estimated 585 homes and buildings burned and firefighters battled the blazes. At least one person has been killed and four firefighters were injured.

    Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency in the two counties affected by the Valley Fire, freeing up funding and resources to battle the blaze. The Valley Fire “destroyed homes and buildings as it burned through the town of Middletown, where authorities told NBC News fire hydrants had run dry,” reports NBC News. “Explosions could be heard all over town as propane tanks burst into flames, indicating that another building was being engulfed in flames.”

    Meanwhile, in Amador and Calaveras counties, another large fire, the Butte Fire, has now burned 71,660 acres—forcing the evacuation of 6,000 people and destroying more than 200 homes and buildings. It is currently 37 percent contained.

    Cole Mellino|September 15, 2015

    Is Abandoning a Pet a Crime?

    Snowflake never saw it coming. She was a 3-month-old Maltese puppy, fluffy, white and adorable. She had a home, her life was just getting started, and then she broke her leg. It should have been a quick fix but her owner, Alsu Ivanchenko, didn’t see it that way. Ivanchenko grabbed Snowflake, put her in a plastic bag and tossed her from the window of her moving car leaving the pup of just under one pound with a broken leg, a broken skull from the impact after she hit the cement, and a broken heart.

    Ivanchenko was convicted of felony animal abuse charges for her heartless actions against Snowflake, who was eventually found, rushed to the hospital and is now living in a truly loving home. In court, her former owner turned assailant argued she couldn’t afford to pay for the pet’s veterinary care for the broken leg so she disposed of her problem.

    Snowflake’s story is heartbreaking but it certainly isn’t unique. People give up their pets every single day. Maybe they aren’t injured and violently disposed of, which makes it more socially acceptable. People post on social media that “I’m moving and can’t take Waldo” or “Turns out my boyfriend is allergic to Missy.” In many cases the excuse is just a plain “I don’t have time for it anymore.” Just like Ivanchenko, those people are abandoning a pet that was supposed to be their responsibility, but is that a crime?

    It depends. Most states have laws against animal cruelty and neglect, making it illegal for people to knowingly cause harm to an animal, but not all states mention abandonment as part of that. In those cases, it’s then perfectly legal to leave an animal behind once it doesn’t fit into the guardian’s lifestyle any longer.

    In the state of California, however, “Every person who willfully abandons any animal is guilty of a misdemeanor.” In Florida, anyone who “abandons any animal in a street, road, or public place without providing for the care, sustenance, protection, and shelter of such animal is guilty of a misdemeanor.” Other states like Colorado, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Kansas all have similar protections for pets that could get the person abandoning them up to one year in jail for their first offense but, unfortunately, there are loop holes.

    “Companion animals are treated as property in the law,” explains Patricia A. Bolen, an attorney in an article for the Michigan State University College of Law. “If an owner brings an animal directly to a shelter, that owner is transferring title of the animal to the shelter. Shelters are immune from civil liability for disposing of a pet that is brought in by the owner.”

    Owners think by leaving their pets at a shelter, they’ll have another chance for a home but that’s not always the case. Over 30 percent of animals that enter a shelter are euthanized.

    When I worked in an animal shelter, I’d often hear cats meow for days in anguish, not knowing why they were left behind by the one person they trusted to take care of them. Even if they lived and eventually found another home, what they went through was not only heartbreaking but inhumane. No one wants to be left behind terrified, alone and betrayed.

    The best solution for the problem of animal abandonment then becomes prevention through education on responsible pet ownership.

    “Many animal shelters now have printed information on coping with the most common behavioral problems, and some even provide telephone hotlines to help people work through issues,” wrote Lisa Towell, who’s worked as a shelter volunteer for 10 years in an op-ed for Peta Prime. “Shelters can help to educate adopters about the commitment involved in being an animal caregiver.”

    According to the American Humane Association, the most common reason why people relinquish or give away their dogs and cats is because their place of residence does not allow pets (29 percent for dogs and 21 percent for cats). Allergies are the second most common reason for cats (11 percent), while not enough time, divorce/death and behavior issues each make up the reasoning for 10 percent of relinquishments.

    Through those resources people would learn that allergies can in most times be managed or that a cat missing the litter box is an issue easily fixed. A recent study showed that 96 percent of dogs relinquished for behavior problems never received any behavior training.

    People simply give up on their pets because they don’t see them as a family member. They wouldn’t leave their kids behind if they misbehaved, would they? But they don’t equate the responsibility of caring for an animal to the one of caring for a child even though both rely solely on them for food, guidance and affection. Education could lead the way to a shift in that mindset and hopefully one day stories like Snowflake’s will be just a nightmare from long, long ago.

    Natalia Lima|September 19, 2015

    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 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

  • Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

    ConsRep 1509 B

    Waste not the smallest thing created, for grains of sand make mountains, and atomies infinity. ~E. Knight


    Sierra Club Rally for the Rocklands Part 4

    Join us in our efforts to preserve the endangered Richmond Pine Rocklands continues!

    With a New President and New Freshman Class, it’s the time to remind the U of Miami selling endangered lands,

    home to dozens of rare plants and animals to be bulldozed for more urban sprawl, is a Crime Against Nature.

    Stand Up for Saving the Pine Rocklands and give a voice to the residents there that can’t speak for themselves.

    Join the Miami Pine Rocklands Coalition on September 8, 2015 at 4 pm along Ponce de Leon Drive

    at U.S. 1 and Stanford Drive at the Main Entrance to the U of Miami.

    Read more and sign up  here

    New edition of Florida Wildlife now online ‏

    Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

    (Having trouble viewing this email? View it as a Web page.)

    The newest edition of Florida Wildlife Magazine is now available online as an interactive epub, viewable/printable PDF and – NEW – as an interactive stand-alone website created automatically by Adobe InDesign.

    Sept. 16: Miami talks climate ‏

    Join UCS for a town hall on climate change and South Florida.

    Town Hall Please join UCS, Science Network members, and supporters for a town hall on climate change at Miami-Dade College. Come prepared

    Please join UCS, Science Network members, and supporters for a town hall on climate change at Miami-Dade College.
    Come prepared to ask questions and hear from elected leaders, scientists, and community leaders on South Florida’s vulnerability to climate impacts.

    RSVP Today!

    September 16: Miami Talks Climate

    Miami is already experiencing the impacts of heavier rains, warmer weather, and higher seas.

    Elected officials in South Florida are working across city and county lines to plan for the climate impacts we can’t avoid, and to seek to avoid the very worst impacts.

    As we go into the 2016 election year, it’s important to bring these issues to the front of the national conversation, and there’s nowhere better suited than Miami to do so.

    Please join the Union of Concerned Scientists in Miami for a town hall on climate action, organized by our local partners at the CLEO Institute.

    The event is free, but registration is required.

    Town Hall: Miami Talks Climate

    Date: Wednesday, September 16

    Time: 6:30-8:00 p.m.

    Location: Miami-Dade College – Kendall Campus, Dante & Jean Marie Fascell Conference Center, Building K, Room 413, 11011 SW 104 St., Miami, FL 33176

    • Dr. Harold Wanless, professor and chair, Department of Geological Sciences, University of Miami• Mitchell Chester, Miami-area attorney
    • Nicole Hernandez Hammer, Southeast climate advocate, Union of Concerned Scientists

    Florida senators and congressional representatives have been invited and need to hear from you about the importance you place on the climate.

    Please register today—we look forward to seeing you there.

    Of Interest to All

    Zoning issue may thwart Everglades oil well

    Controversial proposal to drill for oil in the Everglades west of Miramar has run into trouble.

    An attorney for Broward County says the land carries a strict conservation zoning classification that would exclude oil drilling, according to documents released this week as part of the proposal’s environmental review.

    The Kanter family of Miami, which owns 20,000 acres in the Everglades, would have to ask the Broward County Commission for a zoning amendment, a dubious proposition, considering the growing opposition to the proposal.

    County Mayor Tim Ryan said he would need to see a detailed study of the risks. But based on the site’s proximity to residential areas and the possible impact to the region’s water supply, said, “I would be very, very concerned, and I am initially very reluctant to allow such a rezoning.”

    A spokeswoman for the family declined comment.

    The zoning issue was raised in an email from senior assistant county attorney Michael Owens, released this week by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, along with comments from other government agencies on the Kanters’ application for an oil drilling permit.

    He said the land is zoned Conservation – 1, Conservation District-Water Supply Areas.

    “Permissible uses are limited to utilities, transportation and communications facilities, specifically excluding hazardous liquid pipelines and electrical power plants,” he wrote, adding it “does not include exploratory oil well drilling.”

    The land was accumulated by family patriarch Joseph Kanter, a Miami banker and real estate developer who helped found Lauderhill and several other communities. He acquired the Everglades land with plans to found a community there, too, but the plans never materialized.

    The family has applied for a permit to drill a single exploratory well more than two miles deep. The land, located about five miles west of Miramar, sits along a series of oil deposits called the Sunniland Trend, which runs from east of Fort Myers to Miami and sustains a series of modest oil wells, the first of which were established during World War II.

    Since the announcement of the family’s plans last month, opposition has arisen among the cities along the Everglades. Miramar and Sunrise adopted resolutions in opposition to the plan, and Pembroke Pines commissioners directed their attorney to draft one. A town hall meeting on the proposal will be held 7 p.m. Aug. 20 at the Pembroke Pines Theater of the Performing Arts, sponsored by Pembroke Pines and the South Florida Wildlands Association.

    State regulators are giving the application an extremely detailed review, and are asking for technical details on the proposed drilling process, what evidence there is for the existence of oil at the site and for further explanation of environmental safeguards that would be put into place.


    The Interior Department is Still Selling Our Coal and Fueling Climate Change

    It’s Time to Put the Brakes on More Coal Mining in Southern Utah

    I think this is as bad as it gets.

    In the fact of our mounting climate crisis, the U.S. Department of the Interior is proposing to auction off more coal on our public lands. It’s akin to throwing gasoline on a fire.

    Well, I think it’s time to put out the fire. Tell the Interior Department today to reject the Alton coal lease.

    The Alton coal lease would open the door for more than 3,600 acres of strip mining in southern Utah’s iconic red rock country. The mine not only threatens nearby gems like Bryce Canyon National Park, but also threatens imperiled wildlife like the sage grouse.

    And we know coal is mined for one reason: to be burned. All told, 49 million tons of coal will be stripped from the ground as part of the Alton lease. Mining and burning this coal will flood our atmosphere with nearly 250 million tons of carbon, equal to the amount released annually by 47 million cars.

    It’s time for Interior to keep our coal in the ground and stop giving the fossil fuel industry more incentive to destroy our climate. Tell them to say no to the Alton coal lease.

    40% of all coal produced in U.S. comes from our public lands, which are managed by the Interior Department. This coal produces more than 10% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

    We can’t meaningfully combat climate change unless Interior starts keeping our coal in the ground.

    The Alton coal lease must be denied for our public lands, our wildlife, and our climate.

    Jeremy Nichols|Climate and Energy Program Director|WildEarth Guardians

    Groups say Florida port expansion plan is flawed

    Letter to Corps of Engineers details serious problems

    Citizen groups and environmental activists say a plan to expand Port Everglades, in Fort Lauderdale, will harm unique coral reef ecosystems.

    Staff Report

    FRISCO — Community and environmental activists in Florida say a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan for expanding Port Everglades is flawed, especially considering the damage caused to reefs near Miami during the expansion of that port.

    More than a dozen South Florida businesses and environmental organizations joined Miami Waterkeeper and the Center for Biological Diversity last week to demand that the Corps reevaluate its Port Everglades expansion plan.

    The group outlined their concerns in a 15 page letter to the Corps. The letter said the agency failed to protect coral reef resources. As a result, hundreds of acres of corals were smothered. Those lessons need to be applied to Port Everglades, the groups said.

    The marine waters and reefs of Port Everglades — Fort Lauderdale, Dania Beach and Hollywood — contain invaluable, highly sensitive habitats and species that live in the only coral reef in the continental United States. They support fisheries, water sports and tourism industries, and are the first line of defense against hurricane waves and surge.

    “The Corps claims it’s a ‘learning agency,’ but all plans so far show that the Corps is not intending to improve its practices in Port Everglades after destroying over 200 acres of reef in Miami, and with this letter we show our intent to push for better protection for Fort Lauderdale’s reefs,” said Rachel Silverstein, executive director of Miami Waterkeeper.

    “It’s outrageous that the Army Corps would stubbornly refuse to learn from its recent mistakes. Florida’s coral reefs are a national treasure that deserve to be protected,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Rather than diving headlong into the Port Everglades project, the Army Corps needs to step back, learn the lessons of the fiasco at the Port of Miami, and do right by our coral reefs.”

    The letter cites reports from NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, the EPA and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, each documenting severe coral mortality and damage to the reef habitat that far exceed what had been permitted for during the Miami dredge project.

    Since the Port Everglades dredging project is based on the same now-disproven assumptions as the Miami project, the groups are asking the Army Corps to reinitiate Endangered Species Act consultation with the expert agency, the Fisheries Service, about the effects of the Port Everglades expansion on protected corals in the area, and apply the lessons learned from the Miami dredging project.

    Bob Berwyn|September 7, 2015

    Political insider takes the reins at South Florida water district

    A political insider who served as general counsel to Gov. Rick Scott will take over the state’s largest water management district.

    On Thursday, the South Florida Water Management District’s governing board named Pete Antonacci to run the sprawling agency after announcing that executive director Blake Guillory, an engineer, would resign at the end of the month. Antonacci becomes the only director overseeing one of the state’s major districts without a background in science.

    South Florida Water Management District announced the resignation of Director Blake Guillory, above, on Thursday and appointed Pete Antonacci to take his place. South Florida Water Management District

    “It appears that Antonacci’s primary qualification is his close relationship with Gov. Scott,” Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper said. “But it doesn’t change the fact that the water management district is facing a budget crisis that will undermine Everglades restoration, water supply and flood protection.”

    Guillory’s resignation follows a contentious summer in which the board flip-flopped on a tax cut. In July, board members agreed to maintain the tax rate, ending four years of cuts and keeping the district from dipping into reserves to balance its $754 million budget. The agency, which employs 1,550, handles flood protection for a third of the state along with overseeing decades-long efforts to restore the state’s ailing Everglades.

    But the decision defied Scott’s longstanding order to cut taxes. Two weeks later, the board called a second meeting and reversed the vote. Last week, Guillory’s chief of staff resigned.

    On Thursday, after hastily adding the item to their regular meeting agenda the evening before, the board authorized chairman Dan O’Keefe to negotiate a severance package for Guillory and praised his work.

    “It’s absolutely no secret the executive director position at this agency is one of the most challenging in the state,” board member Kevin Powers said. “You get pulled in every direction … and pushed to the front line of some very contentious issues.”

    Guillory, an engineering executive who focused on water projects, took over the 16-county district in 2013 after running the Southwest Florida Water Management District for two years, where he oversaw Scott-ordered cuts. He arrived at the West Palm Beach-based district to find an agency struggling after its budget had been cut in half and staff slashed by more than 300 positions.

    In nominating Antonacci, 67, board member Jim Moran said the attorney’s “expertise and experience, particularly in Tallahassee, would be a tremendous asset.”

    Antonacci, a Democrat-turned-Republican, spent much of his political career as a top assistant to former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, a Democrat who left office in 2002.

    In 2012, Scott made Antonacci his general counsel, a position that put him in a small circle of advisers and, last year, in the middle of the controversial ouster of Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey.

    After he resigned, Bailey said Antonacci forced him out under Scott’s orders, allowing the governor to sidestep the state Cabinet to appoint a handpicked successor. The move led to a public records lawsuit that eventually cost the state $300,000 in settlement costs and legal fees. The settlement is just a fraction of more costly legal bills that stem from Antonacci’s stance on public records.

    During the governor’s 2014 reelection campaign, Antonacci refused to produce records from former staffers, prompting Tallahassee lawyer Steven R. Andrews to expand a public records lawsuit against the governor to include the staffers, which bumped up costs. Andrews’ legal disputes led to a settlement and legal fees that cost the state $1.2 million.

    Antonacci has repeatedly declined to discuss his role in Bailey’s departure, which forced Scott and the Cabinet to institute changes that require more detailed public job reviews of the leaders of nearly a dozen state agencies.

    For much of Scott’s tenure, Antonacci also played an important behind-the-scenes role in the selection of judges to Florida’s trial courts and the appointees to the state’s 26 judicial nominating commissions. He advised Scott on a wide range of legal issues, from executions of Death Row inmates to lawsuits involving the state on issues such as regional water use, voting and drug testing of public employees.

    Antonacci was also among the governor’s chief negotiators with the Seminole Tribe in 2014 when it sought to expand gaming options, which legislators rejected.

    Shortly after returning to Gray Robinson, one of the state’s most politically engaged law firms, Antonacci signed up as a lobbyist working with the private prison healthcare company, Corizon. The company has been under fire by legislators for providing inadequate healthcare to inmates and overcharging the state for those services for inmates.

    Antonacci also served, at Scott’s request, on the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission, which will recommend a replacement for Justice James E.C. Perry, who must retire in 2017. In May, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio appointed Antonacci to Florida’s Federal Judicial Nominating Commission, which recommends candidates to be federal judges.

    Between 1996 and 2011, Antonacci personally made nearly $16,000 in campaign contributions to politicians in both parties, from liberal Democrats such as Sen. Eleanor Sobel of Hollywood to conservative Republicans including Scott, records show. He also gave thousands of dollars to judges’ nonpartisan political campaigns.

    “He’s not an ideologue. He’s just a really smart guy,” said Earth Justice attorney David Guest, who has battled the state over environmental issues for decades.

    Antonacci represents a break from the past when scientists and engineers rose through the ranks to run agencies filled with fellow scientists. While critics say his appointment weakens the agency’s independence, Guest said the practice sometimes led to the concentration of too much power.

    “Back in the ’80s, [former director] Woody Wodraska bragged that they had an airport bigger than seven countries. They had their own flag,” he said. “They had a larger presence in Washington than the governor did.”

    Antonacci, who referred questions to board chairman Dan O’Keefe, also sat on the governing board of the Northwest Florida Water Management District from 2006 to 2012.

    “The challenge Pete’s going to have is handling the staff he’s got,” Guest said. “Trying to control the staff at the South Florida Water Management District is like trying to control a waterbed rolling downhill. You don’t have to be that much of an expert on waterbeds.”

    Scott praised the appointment after a luncheon in Leon County, telling reporters, “He did a great job as my general counsel. I’m sure he’ll do a great job there, but that was a decision by the board.”

    Antonacci, a Democrat-turned-Republican, spent much of his political career as a top assistant to former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, a Democrat who left office in 2002.

    In 2012, Scott made Antonacci his general counsel, a position that put him in a small circle of advisers and, last year, in the middle of the controversial ouster of Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey.

    After he resigned, Bailey said Antonacci forced him out under Scott’s orders, allowing the governor to sidestep the state Cabinet to appoint a handpicked successor. The move led to a public records lawsuit that eventually cost the state $300,000 in settlement costs and legal fees. The settlement is just a fraction of more costly legal bills that stem from Antonacci’s stance on public records.

    During the governor’s 2014 reelection campaign, Antonacci refused to produce records from former staffers, prompting Tallahassee lawyer Steven R. Andrews to expand a public records lawsuit against the governor to include the staffers, which bumped up costs. Andrews’ legal disputes led to a settlement and legal fees that cost the state $1.2 million.

    Jenny Staletovich, Mary Ellen Klas and Steve Bousquet|

    Calls to Action

    1.   Stop the Hydropower Industry From Rolling Back Our Environmental Protections – here
    2. Tell your members of Congress to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund – here
    3. Ban Gillnets And Trawling In Endangered Dolphin Habitat – here
    4. Monarchs need our help before it’s too late – here
    5. Tell Congress it’s time to protect our waterways and wildlife from future disasters – here
    6. Tell Congress- MORE OIL = MORE GLOBAL WARMING – here

    Birds and Butterflies

    Restoration efforts for sage grouse habitat shown to benefit at-risk songbirds
    WASHINGTON, September 9, 2015 – Restoring habitat for sage grouse also helps many other sagebrush-dependent species, including two at-risk songbirds, according to a new report released today by the Sage Grouse Initiative. SGI, a partnership led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), found that populations of Brewer’s sparrow and green-tailed towhee climbed significantly in places where invading conifer trees were removed in an effort to restore sagebrush habitat.

    The study shows that three years following the removal of invading conifers in a project area in southern Oregon, the number of Brewer’s sparrows increased by 55 percent, while the number of green-tailed towhees increased by 81 percent, as compared with sites not restored. These two songbirds, both identified as species of conservation concern by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), serve as early indicators of the effectiveness of restoration work.

    “This research shows that the comprehensive sagebrush conservation efforts, which are strengthening operations on working lands across the West, have benefits for all the wildlife that depend on the ecosystem, not just sage grouse,” NRCS Chief Jason Weller said. “The Sage Grouse Initiative continues to demonstrate that by working together, we can deliver conservation that is good for wildlife, good for ranching operations and good for rural economies across the West.”

    More than 350 species of wildlife depend on sagebrush habitat, and many species have suffered population declines because of threats like invading conifers. Conifers invade and degrade sagebrush ecosystems, dispersing the wildlife that once called the habitat home. Over the past two centuries, fire suppression, historic overgrazing and favorable climate conditions have led to spread of conifers into sagebrush habitat.

    Aaron Holmes, director of Northwest Wildlife Science and a research associate with Point Blue Conservation Science, led the research for SGI, assessing the biological outcome of conifer cuts on songbirds in the Warner Mountains near Adel, Oregon.  The study was funded by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Intermountain West Joint Venture, all of which are SGI partners.

    Population increases each year after trees were removed suggest that growth in the populations of these two species may increase even more with time as displaced birds increase use of restored habitat.

    Roughly 80 percent of invading conifers in sagebrush habitat are in early phases of woodland succession. Through SGI, NRCS helps ranchers remove invading conifers in places where trees are younger and sagebrush is still dominant. Since 2010, ranchers have restored 400,000 acres of sagebrush habitat through cuts. Nearly half of cuts are in Oregon, where conifer removal during SGI has increased 14-fold. Threat alleviation on private lands in Oregon is two-thirds complete inside of priority areas.

    Ongoing conifer removal is part of a larger four-year strategy, called Sage Grouse Initiative 2.0, which NRCS unveiled last month. Under SGI 2.0, an additional 246,000 additional acres will be cut by 2018. In Oregon, the conifer threat on private lands will be removed in all sage grouse priority areas.  The strategy also addresses other key threats to sage grouse by focusing on reducing the threat of wildfire and spread of invasive grasses after fires, protecting rangeland from exurban development and cultivation, protecting mesic habitats like wet meadows and reducing fence collisions. 

    Songbirds are not the only other sagebrush wildlife shown to benefit from sage grouse conservation efforts. In a companion study on mule deer, scientists in Wyoming found that conservation measures implemented to benefit sage grouse also doubled the protection of mule deer migratory corridors and winter range.

    The deteriorating health of the sagebrush habitat and the greater sage-grouse has sparked an unprecedented, collaborative federal-state partnership. This comprehensive approach includes strong conservation plans for state and private lands, strong federal conservation plans and an effective strategy to reduce rangeland fire risk.

    Justin Fritscher

    Download SGI’s report. (PDF, 3.45 MB)

    10 Cool Facts About Climate-Threatened Birds

    How is a hummingbird like a Ferrari? Plus more weird facts.

    Birds are beautiful, captivating, and sometimes just downright weird. They decorate their nests with cow pies, use their feet like snowshoes in the winter, or swallow rats whole. And if these odd habits don’t catch your interest, there are avian feats of speed and agility that put our Guinness World Records to shame.

    The species below are all unique and peculiar in their own way, and they’re also at risk from our changing climate. Check out these nifty birds and their strange habits (and what you can do to help them):

    1. During courtship, the male Allen’s Hummingbird zips back and forth through the air, then dives at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour from 100 feet high—all to impress a potential mate.
    2. The Burrowing Owl lines its burrow with cow or horse manure to attract dung beetles—nothing like a crunchy, poop-flavored snack while relaxing in your nest.
    3. The Eastern Whip-poor-will and related birds have the family name of Caprimulgidae, Latin for goat-milker or goatsucker. Popular lore claimed that goatsuckers could drain a goat’s udder dry of all its milk.
    4. You don’t want to mess with a Bald Eagle: They have razor-sharp talons that can penetrate or crush bone. However, eagles also have a playful side and have been known to toss prey or sticks back and forth to each other in mid-air.
    1. Winter sports? Bring it on. The toes of the Ruffed Grouse grow projections in the winter to form comb-like snowshoes that allow them to walk over the snow.
    2. Female Northern Shovelers may defecate on their own eggs when flushed from the nest. The purpose of this stinky defense mechanism is to divert predators—which, not surprisingly, works wonders.
    3. The Common Loon has gleaming red eyes and has four distinct calls: the wail, the hoot, the tremolo, and the yodel.  
    4. Female Cerulean Warblers steal caterpillar silk and spider webs to add to their nests. Meanwhile, the Baltimore Oriole gobbles up hairy and spiny caterpillars that most other birds avoid. Now who’s hungry, caterpillar?
    5. The plumage of the Tundra Swan contains more than 25,000 feathers, more than any other species of bird.
    6. Think that your cat’s hairballs are kinda gross? A Barn Owl can swallow an entire rat whole. Afterwards, it coughs up a pellet of bones and fur. Yum!

    From Audubon Advisory

    Endangered Species

    Why Did 60,000 Endangered Antelopes Mysteriously Die in 4 Days?

    This past May, a large herd of saigas—a critically endangered antelope in Kazakhstan—died en masse, to the horror of conservationists worldwide. More than 120,000 of these creatures had mysteriously died across the Central Asian country in two weeks, including a whopping 60,000 saigas in central Kazakhstan in just four short days.

    In a few short weeks, one-third of the worldwide population of saigas—known for its distinctive bulbous nose and for its key role in steppe grassland ecosystems—were found dead. Scientists had no idea why.

    “I’m flustered looking for words here,” Joel Berger, a senior scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society, told The New York Times in June. “To lose 120,000 animals in two or three weeks is a phenomenal thing.”

    The horrendous population dive stopped suddenly that June, causing even more confusion.

    But now, as Live Science reported, scientists believe they have pinpointed the culprit—a common and normally harmless bacteria that lives in the animals’ bodies.

    According to Live Science, an extensive analysis revealed that that toxins produced by Pasteurella and possibly Clostridia bacteria caused extensive bleeding in the animals’ organs. Pasteurella, a gut bacteria found in all ruminants such as saigas, is harmless unless the animal already has a weakened immune systems.

    Scientists have yet to figure out why this typically harmless bacteria has led to mass death.

    One possible theory, according to wildlife vet and lead investigator Steffen Zuther, is an exceptionally cold winter followed by a very wet spring that could have caused the bacteria to become widespread in the environment, Live Science reported.

    Zuther said that female saigas, which cluster up to calve their young, were hit the hardest. The mothers died first followed by their calves, as they are too young to eat any vegetation. This suggests mothers’ milk transmitted whatever was killing the animals.

    Mass die-offs of the antelope—as well many other animal populations—are not unusual in nature. As Inquistr noted, about 270,000 saigas died in 1988, and 12,000 in 2010, but scientists are concerned that another hit could devastate the entire saiga population.

    Saigas are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. A few herds live in Kazakhstan as well as one small herd in Russia and Mongolia. It’s currently estimated there are around 50,000 left.

    E. J. Milner-Gulland, a conservation biologist at Imperial College London, spoke to The Guardian about the saiga die-offs in June, and the importance of future research into this area.

    “If we understand the factors that contribute to these events, we may be able to mitigate or prevent them in the future,” she said. “This is important because three of the four remaining populations of saiga are at such low levels that an event like this could wipe them out completely.”

    She also spoke about another very common but serious threat: humans.

    “Hunting is a serious problem,” Milner-Gulland said. “We need to get all these populations to a level that is actually resilient enough to cope with the natural mass mortalities that happen in the saiga antelope. Anti-poaching needs to be a top priority for the Russian and Kazakh governments.”

    According to the Saiga Conservation Alliance, poaching is a main factor driving the animal’s population decline. “The saiga’s meat and hide are traditionally valued, but nowadays saiga are primarily hunted for their translucent amber horn, which is used Southeast Asian countries for Chinese Traditional Medicine,” the alliance said.

    Lorraine Chow|EcoWatch|September 9, 2015

    Wait No More: Protection Decisions On the Way for 10 Species

    Important news in our work to save species threatened with extinction: This week the Center for Biological Diversity and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reached an agreement setting legally binding deadlines for the agency to decide whether to protect 10 species under the Endangered Species Act.

    The species are scattered throughout the country, including the black-capped petrel, a seabird along the Atlantic Coast threatened by oil drilling; six imperiled fish and a mussel in the Southeast being hurt by water pollution; a stonefly in Montana’s Glacier National Park suffering because of shrinking glaciers; and a snail that’s threatened by an open-pit gold mine in California.

    The Endangered Species Act only works if it’s used to protect the wildlife that need it most. These 10 species have waited years for help, so this agreement will finally spur the agency to decide whether they’ll get federal protections. Depending on the species, those decisions will be made between 2016 and 2020.

    Read more in our press releases.

    [We need this kind of help for the Florida Panther.]

    Lawsuit Launched to Save Marten in Northwest

    The Center for Biological Diversity and allies have notified the Fish and Wildlife Service of our intent to sue the agency for failing to protect the coastal marten — a secretive, mink-like carnivore in the weasel family — under the Endangered Species Act. Represented by Earthjustice, we first petitioned for protection in 2010, but the Service denied it earlier this year.

    Dwelling in old-growth forests along the coast of Northern California and southern and central Oregon, coastal martens were once trapped extensively for their plush fur; now they’re under dire threat from habitat destruction — 95 percent of their habitat is gone. Fewer than 100 of these cat-like mammals remain in California, with an unknown (but also tiny) number surviving in Oregon. In fact coastal martens were believed extinct for many years.

    “The science clearly shows that these irreplaceable creatures are some of the most endangered in the United States,” said the Center’s Tierra Curry, lead author of our marten petition. “Denying protection is a blatant example of the feds caving to the timber industry.”

    Read more in the Eureka Times-Standard.

    Fishing cat found in coastal Cambodia for first time in 12 years

    Camera traps have captured footage and images of the endangered fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) in Cambodia for the first time since 2003.

    Researchers from the CBC, a partnership between Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the Royal University of Phnom Penh, were thrilled by the findings which have allayed grave fears about the status of these animals in Cambodia.

    FFI project leader, Ms Ret Thaung said that the fishing cat’s preference for wetland habitat had led to severe population declines throughout much of its Asian range.

    “Asian wetland habitats are rapidly disappearing or being modified by human activity, so fishing cat numbers have declined dramatically over the last decade and the remaining population is thought to be small,” she said.

    “Fishing cats are believed to be extinct in Vietnam, while there are no confirmed records in Lao PDR and only scarce information about the species in Thailand and Cambodia.

    “It is clear that urgent steps are needed to protect these cats from snaring and trapping and to conserve their wetland habitats – but to do this effectively we needed to get a better idea of where they live.”

    The team  discovered fishing cats at two sites in south-west Cambodia: Peam Krosaop Wildlife Sanctuary (Koh Kong Province) and Ream National Park (Sihanoukville Province).

    “This is a remarkable discovery as fishing cats are very vulnerable to human persecution,” Ms Thaung said. “We are especially pleased to see both a male and female cat from Peam Krosaop Wildlife Sanctuary. When working with Endangered species, every animal is important and the excitement of such a discovery is overwhelming.”

    As both of these sites are protected areas, the resident fishing cats should be afforded some protection.

    Alongside the fishing cats, the cameras also recorded a variety of other threatened species including the Critically Endangered Sunda pangolin, the Endangered hog deer, and the Vulnerable smooth-coated otter, large-spotted civet and sambar deer.

    From Wildlife Extra

    Large haul of illegal wildlife parts seized in Malaysia and three arrested

    A syndicate claiming to sell tiger and other wildlife parts has been busted by authorities in Malaysia who arrested three Indian nationals.

    The  authorities seized five skins, 471 claws, 25 canines, 309 fragments of skin and 17 paws, all claimed by the syndicate to be tiger parts.

    The Department of Wildlife and National Parks’ (Perhilitan) Wildlife Crime Unit also found dozens of unidentified wildlife skin, 22 parts of various other animals as well as 120 and 242 bangles said to contain elephant hair. All items will be subjected to DNA forensics testing.

    Two men and a woman from India have been remanded for four days and are being investigated under Section 68 and 87 of the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 which relate to possession and claims to contain totally protected species.

    Following a tip off, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks’ (Perhilitan) Wildlife Crime Unit investigated the suspects and organized a bust. The traders and suppliers of the gang were arrested on 26th August in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. The investigation and raid was part of Perhilitan’s Ops Geng Rajja.

    “This case is a true reflection of how law enforcement and investigations can crack down on trafficking,’’ said Kanitha Krishnasamy, TRAFFIC Program Manager in Southeast Asia.

    “TRAFFIC particularly welcomes the Department’s achievement in helping shut down this syndicate’s operations. Very often items for sale purporting to be Tiger parts are not genuine, but regardless of their authenticity, those purchasing such items help to fuel the demand for endangered species.”

    Perhilitan Law Enforcement Director Abdul Kadir Hashim said: “The fact that groups like this keep substantial stocks and operate in the open means that people are buying tiger parts despite knowing that it is against the law. We urge the public to stop creating the demand that drives poaching and illegal trade.”

    From Wildlife Extra

    Sea Turtles Are Making a Big Comeback in the Southeast

    Conservationists are celebrating news that endangered sea turtles are nesting in record numbers in the southeast from North Carolina to Florida, offering a promising sign that efforts to help protect them are paying off.

    Last week, researchers from the University of Central Florida (UCF) studying green sea turtles at the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge declared that for the second time in the past three years they’re setting records after they counted 12,026 nests.

    “This is really a comeback story,” said Kate Mansfield, a UCF assistant professor of biology and lead of the Marine Turtle Research Group, which monitors the turtles during their nesting season that lasts from May 1 to October 1.

    The refuge, which was established in 1991, has become a vital haven for sea turtles. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it’s the most significant area for green turtle nesting in North America, but they’re not the only ones benefiting.

    The refuge is also used by leatherback turtles, who are now one of the world’s rarest sea turtles, and it is believed to be the most significant area for loggerhead sea turtle nesting in the Western Hemisphere.

    “Back in the 1980s the beaches UCF monitored hosted less than 50 green turtle nests a year,” said Mansfield. “It is a really remarkable recovery and reflects a ‘perfect storm’ of conservation successes―from the establishment of the Archie Carr, to implementing the Endangered Species Act, among many other conservation initiatives. It will be very exciting to see what happens over the next 20 plus years.”

    The good news from Florida was followed by more this weekend from North and South Carolina, in addition to Georgia where loggerhead sea turtles nest from May through August. Scientists and volunteers counted 2,292 nests, which sets a new record for the fifth season in six years.

    “Every big year we get, the more confident we are in that conclusion that we’re in a recovery period,” Mark Dodd, a biologist who heads the sea turtle recovery program for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, told the AP. “So we feel really good about it.”

    Researchers are crediting a number of actions taken on our part to help keep sea turtles safe — from protecting their habitats and implementing lighting ordinances to help prevent them from getting disoriented to covering nests to protect them from predators, along with requiring shrimp boats to use fishing nets equipped with special trapdoors that allow them to escape.

    Still because they’re long-lived and so very slow to reproduce, we still have to wait and see if the upward trend continues.

    “It’s promising and exciting, but the long term perspective is needed and helps put what we see now in a broader perspective,” said Mansfield. “For the past five years we’ve had good years, but we have to look at this over 25-plus years.”

    Alicia Graef|September 8, 2015

    Good News for Orangutans

    Thanks to a recent announcement from Sarawak’s Chief Minister, orangutans are poised to receive a major boost in Malaysia.

      Orangutans are getting a major boost in Malaysia! The Chief Minister of the Malaysian state of Sarawak released a video announcing a plan to protect orangutans in the area. Sarawak is home to 1,800-2,500 orangutans that are threatened by logging, oil palm plantations, and clearing of forests.

      To help save these beloved primates, WCS agreed to promote and implement conservation projects in the area. The Malaysian government has already declared a war on logging in order to achieve these goals.

      Melvin Gumal, Director of the WCS Malaysia Program praised the Chief Minister saying, “The message by the Chief Minister is powerful and sends a clear message that orangutans and other wildlife are a priority in Sarawak. This statement gives conservation much hope especially at a time when a lot of wildlife across the region face doom and gloom as forests are cleared in a wanton, needless, and greedy manner.

      Daniel Kong|WCS|August 20, 2015

      Sightings of Critically Endangered Baby Rhinos Raises Hope for the Species

      The recent sightings of three adorable Javan rhino calves in Indonesia have raised hope for the future survival of this elusive and critically endangered species.

      The three calves – one female and two males – were captured by camera traps set up to monitor them in a sanctuary. The sanctuary was recently established in Indonesia’s Ujung Kulon National Park, which is now the only place where they can be found.

      Mohammad Haryono, head of the park, said based on the video both the calves and their mothers appear to be healthy.

      Today there are only believed to be 57 Javan rhinos left in existence, who are listed as Critically Endangered on the Red List of Threatened Species. Needless to say the recent sightings of new additions is huge for them, with the three newcomers bringing their numbers up to 60.

      “This is wonderful news, now we just need to ensure their protection,” Widodo Ramono, head of the Indonesian Rhino Foundation, told the AFP.

      According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Javan rhinos were once found from the foothills of the Himalayas to Java and Sumatra, but they have been wiped out by habitat loss and poaching for their horns and other body parts.

      Ramono credited the creation of the 12,600 acre sanctuary inside the park, which was established last year, for helping them. He added that they’re still just beginning to get comfortable there as they explore the new habitat.

      While they got a boost, they’ve still got a ways to go. The small population inside the park has raised concerns about low genetic diversity, the threat of disease and natural disasters. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) notes that the park is also vulnerable to tsunamis and a nearby volcano that could potentially wipe them out if it erupts.

      Conservation organizations including WWF and International Rhino Foundation believe establishing another population elsewhere in Indonesia will help boost their chances of survival.

      While rhinos continue to make headlines for being senselessly slaughtered for their horns, the news of three new calves brings hope that conservation efforts can still help them survive.

      The news also comes just in time for World Rhino Day. Later this month on September 22, wildlife lovers and rhino advocates from around the world will be joining forces to support conservation efforts for the world’s five rhino species in Africa and Asia, including black, white, greater one-horned, Javan and Sumatran.

      Alicia Graef|September 11, 2015

      Wild & Weird

      How Elephant Seals Play a Part in Adding Mercury to Our Oceans

      How Elephant Seals Play a Part in Adding Mercury to Our Oceans

      Researchers from UC Santa Cruz say that elephant seals lose a lot more than their skin and hair during their annual molting process: They’re also shedding alarming levels of mercury and contaminating our coastal waters in the process.

      An “Unrecognized Source of Mercury Contamination” Until Now

      In previous studies, researchers collected the poop of elephant seals to determine mercury levels. But recently, they started to examine skin and hair left behind from their molting.

      The most surprising discovery of the research was the “elevated concentrations of the toxic metal in coastal waters near the elephant seal rookery.” According to the Washington Post, methylmercury levels were about eight times higher in Año Nuevo State Reserve, a spot where many elephant seals live, than other areas along the California coast. And the concentrations were higher when the seals were shedding their skin. Until this study, molting sheets from seal elephants were an “unrecognized source of mercury contamination in coastal waters,” according to UC Santa Cruz.

      Where is this mercury coming from?

      Let’s not be too quick to blame the seals. Humans initially put the mercury in the ocean through pollution, notably from burning coal. Unfortunately, the industry trend shows no signs of slowing down. Pollution and industrial waste could keep penetrating our oceans and marine life like this for decades.

      Fish and marine organisms help turn the mercury into more concentrated and dangerous forms of methylmercury. “Mercury is an element, so it never breaks down and goes away–it just changes forms,” says study author Jennifer Cossaboon.

      The scary part is that we don’t know what the consequences will be. In the case of elephant seals, previous UC Santa Cruz research showed that “mercury concentrations in the blood and muscle of elephant seals were among the highest concentrations ever reported for a marine predator.” To put it in perspective, a whopping 99 percent of the elephant seals studied “exceeded the threshold for clinical neurotoxicity in humans.” But to be fair, we can’t compare how the seals will respond to the mercury to how the human body responds. While studying neurotoxicity in humans is fraught with challenges, studying it in wild animals is even harder.

      More Threats to Elephant Seals

      Apart from neurotoxicity, elephant seals have other things to worry about.

      While the elephant seals aren’t vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, they still have threats. For one, they live near the “North Pacific garbage patch,” which is essentially a floating island of our trash. Like so many other marine creatures, entanglements from net fisheries is concerning. While the nets might not kill them right away, wounds from the net entanglements could have consequences later. Possible disease outbreaks could be in store for the elephant seals because of the limited genetic diversity within the species and “because of their rapidly expanding population and environmental changes associated with global warming.”

      In the case that all goes well for the elephant seals, the species will have to compete for space and resources with humans. And we all know how that’s working out.

      Jessica Ramos|September 11, 2015

      Water Quality Issues

        Court Upholds Permits For Sugar Growers

       MIAMI (CBSMiami) —  An appeals court upheld decisions meant to allow sugar-cane growers to get permits, rejecting arguments the permits would not properly protect the Everglades.

      A three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal issued a 17-page ruling on Friday that backed the South Florida Water Management District’s decisions in 2012 to issue permits that regulate the discharge of phosphorus in water that flows into the Everglades.

      In 2014, an administrative law judge also rejected Florida Audubon’s arguments and said the permits should be issued to U.S. Sugar Corp., Sugar Farms Co-Op and Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida.

      The environmental group contended that the permits violated a law known as the Everglades Forever Act because they did not require additional water-quality measures and because the growers’ discharges contributed to ongoing water-quality problems in an Everglades protection area, according to Friday’s ruling. But the appeals court gave a detailed analysis of the history of Everglades protection efforts and laws in upholding the district’s permitting decisions.

      CBSMIAMI.COM|August 8, 2015 (The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.)

      Environmental Groups Challenge Gas Pipeline Plans

      From the Miami Herald (link):

      On Aug. 28, the nonprofit WWALs Watershed Coalition, an affiliate of the Waterkeeper Alliance, filed an amended petition asking the DEP to deny the permit or “at the very least” reroute the underground pipeline to avoid “the sensitive karst terrain that underlies north central Florida … especially drilling under the Withlacoochee, Suwannee and Santa Fe rivers.”

      “The risk is not just to these waters … it is to the entire state of Florida whose growing population relies on the Floridan aquifer for much of its drinking water,” says the 34-page petition filed by WWALs president John S. Quarterman. The Floridan aquifer underlies all of Florida and parts of Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

      From the Gainesville Sun (link):

      The DEP did reject a petition filed by a newly formed Florida subsidiary of WWALS and rejected portions of the WWALS challenge that raised concerns about diminished property values, higher insurance rates and negative impacts to eco-tourism and alleged a conflict of interest because Gov. Rick Scott, through his blind trust, owned a stake in one of the companies involved in the project.

      Portions of the challenge that focus on environmental issues such as impacts to wildlife habitat, water quality, wetlands, the aquifer and the area’s rivers and springs will proceed to a hearing.

      From the Palm Beach Post (link):

      The Sabal Trail pipeline will enter the state at the Florida-Georgia line in Hamilton County and go through Suwanee, Gilchrist, Alachua, Levy, Citrus, Marion, Sumter, Lake, Polk, Orange and Osceola counties. It will terminate at the the interconnection with Florida Southeast Connection Pipeline at the Central Florida Hub in Osceola County.

      Florida Water Daily|September 8, 2015

      The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) approves canal upgrades

      The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) has approved construction of canal upgrades to enhance flexibility for moving stormwater from the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) into wetlands that improve the quality of water before it reaches the Everglades.

      Improvements on the Bolles East Canal, which runs east /west in the EAA south of Lake Okeechobee, will also help reduce the potential need for emergency pumping of excess stormwater into the lake.

      “Expanding the District’s flexibility for managing water south of Lake Okeechobee provides multiple benefits across the entire region,” said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Daniel O’Keefe. “Further, this project reflects our commitment to ensure that our flood control mission is integrated with achieving Everglades water quality goals.”

      The Bolles East Canal currently provides a link between the Hillsboro and the North New River canals, serving adjacent agricultural landowners by supplying irrigation and drainage. As currently configured, the canal has limited capacity to convey water, because it is shallow and has constrictions at a bridge and culvert.

      Work that includes expanding the canal bottom width to 40 feet will improve water flow east /west across the EAA. This in turn will provide increased flexibility for moving water into the Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs), which use aquatic vegetation to remove excess nutrients in the water before it reaches the Everglades.

      The STAs are an integral part of the Governor’s Restoration Strategies to improve Everglades water quality.Canal upgrades will also have the ancillary benefit of providing water supply and flood protection for nearby farms.

      Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company, LLC, the lowest responsive and responsible bidder, will soon begin work on the approximately $3.8 million project. Work is expected to be complete by early 2017.

      Construction Nears Finish on Major Everglades Water Quality Project

      A-1 shallow reservoir is set to be the first project completed for the State’s Restoration Strategies plan

      West Palm Beach, FL – With 16,500 cubic yards of concrete, 2,100 tons of steel and 21 miles of levees, a massive new South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) project to improve Everglades water quality is nearing completion and set to start operations.

      Water already has begun flowing into the A-1 Flow Equalization Basin (FEB), which will help optimize wetlands that clean phosphorus from water before it reaches the Everglades. The basin will be the first project completed as part of the State’s Restoration Strategies plan to improve water quality for the River of Grass.

      “Completing this significant project and continuing progress on others is how we achieve water quality goals,” said Jeff Kivett, SFWMD Director of Operations, Engineering and Construction. “The A-1 will soon be fully operating and providing its intended critical restoration benefits to the Everglades.”

      A-1: How it Works

      With the capacity to hold 60,000 acre-feet of water at a site west of U.S. 27 in Palm Beach County, the A-1 was designed to capture and store peak stormwater flows during the wet season or during heavy rainfall events.

      Emergent vegetation such as bulrush and cattail planted within the site will help reduce the concentration of phosphorus in the water.

      A system of 21 miles of earthen levees and 15 water control structures – 10 with solar power – within A-1 gives water managers the new ability to deliver water at the right time and in the right quantity to the vast Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs) 2 and 3/4 to the south and east.

      Achieving optimal water flow to these constructed wetlands enables emergent and submerged aquatic vegetation such as southern naiad to most effectively and naturally remove nutrients from the water that eventually flows to Everglades National Park.

      The District operates a network of five STAs south of Lake Okeechobee with an effective treatment area of 57,000 acres. Since 1994, the treatment areas have retained more than 2,012 metric tons of total phosphorus that would have otherwise entered the Everglades.

      Fast Facts

      Construction of the A-1 required massive amounts of land, material and heavy equipment, including,

      • 15,000-acre footprint
      • 1.6 million cubic yards of fill material, all mined on-site
      • 3.1 million cubic yards of muck was degraded and used as topsoil
      • 23 massive, 40-ton articulated dump trucks
      • 150 construction personnel on-site each day

      Construction of the A-1 benefited from significant work already completed at the site for a reservoir originally planned to provide deep water storage, known as the EAA Reservoir.

      Restoration Strategies Background

      In June 2012, the State of Florida and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reached a consensus on new strategies for improving water quality in America’s Everglades.

      Based on months of scientific and technical discussions, these strategies will expand water quality improvement projects to achieve the ultralow phosphorus water quality standard established for the Everglades.

      Key features of the plan include:

      • Design and construction of 116,000 acre-feet of additional storage adjacent to existing Everglades STAs, better controlling water flow into the treatment wetlands and thereby improving their performance. These storage areas, known as Flow Equalization Basins, will be designed to assist all five Everglades STAs.
      • Design and construction of the Stormwater Treatment Area 1 West expansion, increasing by 50 percent the treatment capacity of water quality facilities currently discharging into the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.
      • Additional sub-regional source controls in areas of the eastern EAA where phosphorus levels in runoff have been historically higher, building on the District’s existing Best Management Practices (BMPs) Regulatory Program.

      For more information:

      Offshore & Ocean

      Apalachicola? What Happened to the Oysters of the Indian River Lagoon? SLR/IRL

      Yesterday in my blog post, I wrote that I would be going to Apalachicola this week with the UF Natural Resources Leadership Institute. “Ed” commented and this is what he said:

      “Tcpalm Ekiller: I want you to think of something while in Apalachicola Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch : That industry is about a $2 mill /yr industry statewide, with most of that impact in that area. While it stinks for the oyster men that lack of water is a problem, we haven’t been allowed to eat an oyster from our estuary since the 1970s because the DEP downgraded the health of our water to class D.
      We have (FOS & a few other groups) have added more than $2 million in oyster shell projects to the St. Lucie River to help clean our water knowing we can never harvest the oysters.” Ed Killer

      This got me thinking, and I thought, “Yeah, what really did happen to our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon oysters and what is their history? In fact, if I think about it, we are surrounded by mounds of ancient oysters, “Indian mounds” that attest to how plentiful they used to be…

      Did you know?

      Mt Elizabeth, better known today as “Tuckahoe,” at Indian Riverside Park,  is said to stands around 40 feet tall. It is a shell mound built up over thousands of years. It consists of oyster shells and some clam shells that come from the Indian River Lagoon region. You can still see the ancient oysters in the dirt under the modern landscaping today.

      The native people of our area did not have to hunt game full-time or at all as they had all they needed from the riches of the estuary. In those days the natural inlets opened and closed on their own as they broke through “Hutchinson Island.” Oysters would have been more plentiful when the inlets broke through as they live in brackish waters.

      So what about after the Native Americans? I remember my mother telling  me stories of pioneer accounts, after the St Lucie Inlet was opened permanently in 1892, of people eating oysters “as big as a man’s hand.” One a meal in itself!

      Obviously the oysters would grow most plentiful by the inlets, like near Sewall’s Point and today’s Hutchinson Island.

      So  yesterday I wrote my historian mother, “Mom, do you have any information on oysters in IRL?

      And she sent a fabulous historic survey, an old post card from Sewall’s Point,  and account from the House of Refuge. Basically at that time too, a lot depended upon the inlets.  I am including  a lot of information, and more than likely “just a read for the history hardcore,” but you’ll get the idea.

      But then the decline….

      —it began in the 1920s with C-44 and the connection to Lake Okeechobee and then was exacerbated by C-23, C-24 and C-25. “Canals of Death…”We over drained the land, we built houses and scraped the wetlands for agriculture fields….we threw poison and fertilizer on the lands so things would grow and pests would go away…slowly, ever so slowly it drained back into the rivers….For a time, we “flourished,” but it has caught up to us, and our rivers are dying, as Ed Killer said in we’ve been “downgraded to a Class D.” Oysters can’t live in that…

      May we bind together and turn things around because no one is going to do it but us. Nature, just like people can heal. We just have to give her a chance.

      Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch|Indian River Lagoon blogger

      Wildlife and Habitat

      Strong fall chinook returns reported at Bonneville Dam

      According to the Fish Passage Center website, adult fall chinook counted at Bonneville Dam were 212,618 as of Sept. 3, the second highest on record since counting began in 1938.

      The record is 221,375 adult fall chinook in 2013. Counts that year ran from Aug. 1 to Sept. 1.

      In 2015, single-day counts were 14,268 on Aug. 28, 22,449 on Aug. 29, 20,345 on Aug. 30, 20,107 on Aug. 31, 19,495 on Sept. 1, 22,799 on Sept. 2 and 212,618 on Sept. 3.

      Total fish passage year to date at Bonneville Dam was 594,833 adult chinook, 46,084 chinook jack, 220,480 spring chinook adult, 46,084 spring chinook jack, 161,735 summer chinook adult, 17,730 summer chinook jack, 212,618 fall chinook adult, 15,040 fall chinook jack, 6,143 adult coho, 885 coho jack, 197,855 steelhead, 77,799 wild steelhead, 1,815,001 shad, 510,665 sockeye, 37,742 lamprey and 14 pink salmon.

      Salmon returns in the Columbia River, counted at Bonneville Dam, were the largest in 2014 in any year since 1938. The 2014 run was about 2.5 million fish

      The Fish Passage Center provides technical assistance and information to fish and wildlife agencies and tribes on matters related to juvenile and adult salmon and steelhead passage through the mainstem hydro system in the Columbia River basin.

      Elizabeth Ingram|09/04/2015

      Victory! Audubon Helps Establish New Bahamas National Park Protecting Piping Plovers & Other Shorebirds

      A new national park in the Bahamas—one of several created by the Bahamian government—will help ensure the survival of several at-risk Atlantic Coast shorebird species, including Piping Plovers and Red Knots. The new 113,920-acre Joulter Cays National Park protects a group of uninhabited islands and intertidal sand flats in the Bahamas. Audubon’s International Alliances Program collaborated with the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) on the proposal for the new national park. The area will be protected from unregulated development and destructive practices while ensuring a sustainable local economy.
      “This is a great victory for heroic birds that don’t know borders and the people who depend on the shores and waters of the Joulter Cays to make a living,” said Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold. “By protecting these birds’ winter homes, we create the opportunity for new ecotourism jobs. That reflects the true power of Audubon’s partnerships across the hemisphere and we commend the government of the Bahamas for its leadership in protecting migratory birds.”

      Read more about this new national park at our website.

      From Audubon Advisory

      Breakwaters off Apollo Beach Nature Park create new wildlife habitats

      After some fits and starts, the Apollo Beach Nature Park restoration project is accomplishing its objective: restoring plant and animal habitat.

      Hillsborough County’s parks department has built seven offshore breakwater obstacles and a T-shaped jetty on the north end of the beach to buffer the shore from waves. That calming effect is bringing a lot of wildlife to the park’s shoreline, including egrets, ducks and stone crabs, said Ross Dickerson, county environmental lands manager.

      “Mollusks are starting to grow on our breakwaters that we’ve never seen in Apollo Beach,” Dickerson said. “Breaking the wave energy and having that nice calm water on the back side is creating more habitat for sea life. That’s a very good thing.”

      One disappointment, however, is a simultaneous project designed to make the area more appealing to humans — beach renourishment. The nonprofit Apollo Beach Waterway Improvement Group had raised $300,000 over four years to dredge sand out of three channels in the area and deposit it on the shore.

      The group hoped the dredging could begin this summer, but the deal fell through when the contractor wanted more money. The nonprofit went out for bids again in July and August and got one for $345,000, said president Len Berkstresser. That’s more money than the group has so they hope to raise money over the winter and start the project in April when the manatee migration season is over. The park will be closed for two months during the beach renourishment.

      “A lot of people get upset with us,” Berkstresser said. “They call the parks department, they call their commissioner and they don’t have any idea how complicated a project this is and how hard it is on seven volunteers working for seven years.”

      The county’s restoration, which included earthwork and planting of native species, began in November, about five months late. Dickerson said it took longer than expected to get the permits from agencies including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Port Tampa Bay and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

      Once the work began, the contractor hired by the county discovered sea grasses growing in the construction area — good news in a way, but also another delay. Seagrasses are protected and they had to be moved and replanted on the east side of the park before construction of the shoreline protection barriers could begin.

      “When we started our project we found seagrasses that had never been found there in the 30 years since we’ve been looking at that park,” Dickerson said.

      Emergence of the seagrass indicates clearer water in Tampa Bay and a decline in harmful algae, he said.

      “And the breakwater calming the water in that area will also make the seagrass flourish more than it is,” Dickerson said. “The seagrass is going to grow really nice. So it’s actually creating its own little fishery.”

      Some Apollo Beach residents are not happy with the delays or with changes made to the park during restoration. Dottie Cesario said there is actually less access to the water now because the county removed a boardwalk in order to raise the ground level where earth had eroded. The boardwalk had steps down to the water.

      “The park is less useful now than before they made the improvements,” Cesario said. “The boardwalk’s gone that ran parallel to the shore. That’s all well and fine if they were going to put in a beach.”

      Cesario also complained that while the park was closed for the restoration, a nature walk area replanted with native grasses and bushes became overgrown and the paths are not passable.

      “All those little inlets there — it’s a shame not to be able to enjoy all the work that’s been done,” she said. “It just seems like we have less of a park than we did before all that closing time. I know they were trying to do good, but that’s no way to do it.”

      Dickerson said the county intends to restore the boardwalk, but not the steps down to the water. The beach renourishment will be on the north side of the park and that’s where the county wants people to go. The part of the park with the boardwalk will be along a “living shoreline” with seagrass that the county doesn’t want disturbed.

      As for the nature walk area, Dickerson said this part of the park was never meant for people to cross but they did it anyway. So the county plans to rework the area while the park is closed for the beach renourishment work and open it to the public afterwards.

      “We really had no idea that so many people walked down there and used that area,” he said. “We’re going to put in marked trails before we reopen. … We’re going to use this as an opportunity to create a little walking, interpretive area.”

      Mike Salinero|Tribune Staff|September 7, 2015

      A new diet may help polar bears survive as global warming intensifies

      Two polar bears were photographed near the coast of the Western Hudson Bay, where researchers have shown bears are consuming land-based foods during ice-free periods.

      As climate change accelerates polar bears may have to adapt their diet and replace seals with caribou and snow geese as an important food source, new research shows.

      “Polar bears are opportunists and have been documented consuming various types and combinations of land-based food since the earliest natural history records,” said Robert Rockwell from the American Museum of Natural History. “Analysis of polar bear scats and first-hand observations have shown us that subadult polar bears, family groups, and even some adult males are already eating plants and animals during the ice-free period.”

      Previous studies have predicted mass polar bear starvation by 2068, when annual ice breakup is expected to separate the bears from their sea-ice hunting grounds for a consecutive 180 days each year–creating ice-free seasons that will last two months longer than those in the 1980s. But those estimates assumed no energetic input from land food sources.

      Rockwell and his colleague Linda Gormezano computed the energy required to offset any increased starvation and then determined the caloric value of snow geese, their eggs, and caribou that live near the coast of the Western Hudson Bay. They found that there likely are more than enough calories available on land to feed hungry polar bears during the lengthening ice-free seasons.

      Although the exact energetic cost for a bear to hunt geese and caribou is uncertain, polar bears in Manitoba have been reported ambushing caribou with the same energetically low-cost techniques they typically use to hunt seals. The similar size of these two prey species means that bears would need to hunt for caribou only as often as they would usually hunt for seals, the researchers say.

      “If caribou herds continue to forage near the coast of Western Hudson Bay when bears come to shore earlier each year, they are likely to become a crucial component of the bears’ summertime diet,” Rockwell said.

      The eggs of snow geese are another food source for bears, and the energetic cost of obtaining eggs in ground nests is exceedingly low, the researchers say. With adequate food sources available, snow geese are known to endure polar bear egg predation without detrimental effects to the population.

      Scientific consensus holds that the rapidly melting circumpolar ice reserves will increasingly prevent polar bears from hunting the seals on which they currently depend. Nevertheless, these observations of one population along the Western Hudson Bay show that bears marooned on land might, where the conditions are right, stave off starvation by turning to alternate food sources.

      From Wildlife Extra

      Captive Wildlife Update – Chronic Wasting Disease Memo ‏

      A new memorandum has been issued regarding the rules protecting Florida from the importation of cervids (animals in the family Cervidae) and the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). The memorandum has been attached to this message for your convenience.

      For more information about CWD and the rules in place to prevent its spread, please visit

      If you have any questions or concerns, please call the Captive Wildlife Office at (850) 488-6253 or write to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Division of Law Enforcement, Captive Wildlife Office, 620 South Meridian Street, Tallahassee, Florida 32399.

      Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission|9/11/15

      Ducks Unlimited’s  Rescue Our Wetlands campaign launched

      Continental campaign aims to raise $2 billion for habitat conservation

      Ducks Unlimited, Inc., Ducks Unlimited Canada, Ducks Unlimited de Mexico and Wetlands America Trust are committed to making DU’s vision of abundant wetlands a reality through the new “Rescue Our Wetlands: Banding Together for Waterfowl” campaign.  The $2 billion continental campaign was launched at Ducks Unlimited’s 78th annual convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, May 27-30. To date, the campaign has raised $1.1 billion.

      “We must all do our part to protect and restore North America’s most important wetland resources for future generations,” said Ducks Unlimited President Paul Bonderson Jr. “Funds raised through Rescue Our Wetlands will allow Ducks Unlimited to protect more of North America’s most vital, yet threatened landscapes. This is the largest wetlands and waterfowl conservation campaign in history, and we are confident our volunteers and supporters will help us achieve our $2 billion campaign goal.”

      Rescue Our Wetlands is built on five components, vital to the survival of wetlands, waterfowl, communities, and ecosystems that rely on those resources.

      The Breeding Landscapes component will support DU initiatives to protect and restore crucial but threatened breeding habitat across the continent, a key conservation priority for Ducks Unlimited. The Wintering and Migration Landscapes component will support efforts to protect and restore wintering and staging habitat along North America’s coasts and the central and southern U.S.

      Conservation Legacy, the third component of Rescue Our Wetlands, focuses on growing DU’s endowment to ensure a strong organization capable of sustaining critical conservation work for many decades to come.

      “DU spends at least 80 percent of every dollar on habitat conservation and conservation education,” said Steve Maritz, president of Wetlands America Trust. “Planned gift commitments and endowment gifts generated through Rescue Our Wetlands will contribute to a strong, stable future for Ducks Unlimited’s mission and supporters. We have been at work for 78 years, and plan on continuing our conservation work for another 78 years, and beyond. We are in this for the long haul.”

      Conservation Education, the fourth component of the campaign, will help educate the public about the importance of wetlands and engage the next generation of conservationists to carry on DU’s legacy of support for waterfowl and wetlands .< /div>

      Waterfowl Forever, the final, core component of the campaign, recognizes that all DU members and supporters contribute directly to the success of the campaign and play a vital role in wetlands and waterfowl conservation. Event support and other sources of unrestricted revenue will provide the financial support needed to sustain DU’s highest conservation priorities.

      “Every DU member, partner and supporter has a role to play in Rescue Our Wetlands, and can help us achieve our conservation priorities of protecting, restoring or enhancing critical wetlands habitat across the continent,” said Ducks Unlimited CEO Dale Hall. “The time to act is now, and doing something as simple as attending a DU banquet in your local community will make a difference through this campaign. Waterfowl Forever means we can all do our part, right now, to ensure wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever.”

      For more information on the Rescue Our Wetlands Campaign, visit  or call Ducks Unlimited at (901) 758-3986.

      Audubon and Toyota Team Up to Empower People to Take Action to Restore Habitats

      What do the National Audubon Society and Toyota have in common?

      A commitment to the environmental health of our world, through empowering conservation leaders to restore habitats and communities across the nation.

      Toyota TogetherGreen has invested $25.4 million in community-based conservation efforts and engaged more than 475,000 people in over 300 cities and all 50 states. Photo credit: Toyota TogetherGreen

      Toyota TogetherGreen has invested $25.4 million in community-based conservation efforts and engaged more than 475,000 people in more than 300 cities and all 50 states. Photo credit: Toyota TogetherGreen

      Eight years ago, Audubon and Toyota teamed up for a joint conservation initiative, Toyota TogetherGreen by Audubon. Since 2008, the program has invested $25.4 million in community-based conservation efforts and engaged more than 475,000 people in more than 300 cities and all 50 states. The program has helped more than 695 environmental leaders who worked with communities to improve 36,422 acres of habitat, conserve 15.75 million gallons of water and log $11.9 million worth of volunteer time. Toyota TogetherGreen fellows and grantees have partnered with more than 3,000 organizations across the country—from Native American tribes to schools to corporations—and have leveraged their funding to raise an additional $12.3 million to support conservation.

      Across hundreds of communities, the program has helped hundreds of thousands of people take conservation action. From supporting a congregation that hosts organic farmers markets for residents with little access to healthy food, to helping veterans healing war wounds through ecological restoration, Toyota TogetherGreen fellows and grantees have tackled tough problems with creativity and originality, through a diverse array of perspectives.

      Last year, in the final year of the initiative, the program gave out new awards totaling $765,000 to 39 innovative and diverse conservation projects nationwide.

      John Connors, in Raleigh, North Carolina, has just completed building a 30-foot roost tower for declining Chimney Swifts in collaboration with the Wake Audubon Society and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. As part of the project, the team hosted a weekend of activities including a Chimney Swift Conservation Forum, which brought together conservation leaders from all over the nation to discuss and design strategies to save these birds. Strategies varied from building regional roost towers, launching advocacy campaigns, using 3D video and computer software and much more.

      Melinda Teves, in Chico, California, started a “Neighborhood Habitat Certification Program” designed to educate and empower individuals to restore native habitat and protect waterways, one front-lawn at a time. With the Altacal Audubon Society, Teves collaborated with the city, the local water company, local businesses, non-profits and experts to help residents convert unused lawns to native landscape. At a time when California is experiencing tremendous drought, educating and giving residents tools to effect change has never been more crucial.

      Shannon Unger, in Aiken, South Carolina, at the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center has teamed up with the nonprofit Helping Hands to use urban gardening as a therapeutic tool for abused children who suffer from trauma. The children have participated in various outdoor projects including bird watching, planting native plants and more. They’ve been presented with opportunities to transform entire pieces of land, with the responsibility of maintaining and caring for it. This sense of responsibility and collaboration with their peers is a new opportunity for children who have experienced neglect and abuse their whole lives. Overall, these activities help lessen the stress children feel and can help them heal.

      These three projects encompass diverse approaches to conservation and engage a variety of people with different backgrounds, ages and interests. This is exactly what Toyota TogetherGreen set out to do eight years ago—change the face of conservation and empower people across America to take action.

      John Rowden|September 11, 2015


      Earth Has 3 Trillion Trees — 46 Percent Less Than Before Farming

      According to a new study, there are about 3 trillion trees on Earth, seven times the amount previously estimated. Unfortunately an average of about 15 billion are now cut down every year, and since the beginning of agriculture 12,000 years ago, the world’s tree bank has declined by almost half (46 percent).

      The highest tree densities were found in the boreal forests of North America, Scandinavia and Russia, which tend to be tightly packed with skinny conifers and hold roughly 750 billion trees (24 percent of the global total). Tropical and subtropical forests, with the greatest area of forested land, are home to 1.3 trillion trees (43 percent).

      The study’s lead author, Thomas Crowther, cautions that the latest figures don’t change carbon storage science or diminish the impact of deforestation. But improved tree counts could help managers and policymakers understand the economic benefits forests provide in terms of water purification, soil conservation and other functions against those of, say, timber harvest or clearing trees for farmland.

      Read more in Nature.

      It Only Took 25 Years for Deforestation to Destroy Two Texases Worth of Forests

      Good news or bad news: which one do you want first? Let’s start with the bad.

      The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a new report this week that revealed just how many trees we’ve lost to deforestation.

      According to the United Nations, the world has lost some 129 million hectares of forest since 1990 which is about equivalent to 500,000 square miles — to put that into perspective that’s about the same area size as South Africa.

      Photo: Flickr/Rainforest Action Network

      Photo: Flickr/Rainforest Action Network

      For those who grew up using the Mercator Projection map and didn’t realize just how big Africa really is, South Africa is about twice the size of Texas.

      That’s about two Texases worth of forests in just 25 years, according to the Washington Post. So that’s the bad news.

      The good news though is that the same report found that the “rate of global deforestation has slowed down by more than 50 percent.” This is due to the fact that more and more forests are being protected and countries are improving forest management. FAO Director-General Graziano da Silva sees this as an “encouraging tendency towards a reduction in rates of deforestation and carbon emissions from forests.”

      “Forests play a fundamental role in combating rural poverty, ensuring food security and providing people with livelihoods. And they deliver vital environmental services such as clean air and water, the conservation of biodiversity and combating climate change,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

      FAO reports that forests contributes about $600 billion to global gross domestic product (GDP) and over 50 million jobs every year which shows just how important forests are to people, the environment and the global economy.

      So while we’re heading into the right direction when it comes to the world’s forests, we can still do something more to preserve them.

      “The direction of change is positive, but we need to do better,” da Silva said. “We will not succeed in reducing the impact of climate change and promoting sustainable development if we do not preserve our forests and sustainably use the many resources they offer us.”

      [H/T Washington Post]

      This post originally appeared on RYOT

      Anna Culaba|RYOT|September 11, 2015

      Global Warming and Climate Change

      Sarah Palin Blasts Obama Claiming Glaciers Are Growing and Man Isn’t to Blame for Climate Change

      Sarah Palin says man isn’t to blame for climate change, citing the fact that some glaciers in Alaska are expanding. But an individual glacier’s growth does not disprove the existence or causes of global warming. In fact, the vast majority of glaciers in Alaska and around the world are losing ice rapidly.

      Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential nominee, appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” (at the 2:25 mark). Host Jake Tapper asked if she takes climate change seriously and Palin responded:

      Sept. 6: “I take changes in the weather, the cyclical changes that the globe has undergone for—since the beginning of time, I take it seriously, but I’m not going to blame these changes in the weather on man’s footprint. Obama was up here looking at, say, the glaciers and pointing out a glacier that was receding. Well, there are other glaciers, though, that are growing up here. And he didn’t highlight that, but he used glaciers as an example.”

      Palin may not blame climate change on humans, but science does; we have covered before how scientists say it’s extremely likely that most of the observed temperature rise has been caused by human emissions. Her claim that some glaciers are growing in Alaska is true, but this isn’t a reason to question human-caused climate change. Regional variations in precipitation patterns may cause some glaciers to grow, but most glaciers around the world are losing ice as the climate warms.

      President Obama did indeed point out a receding glacier during his trip to Alaska from Aug. 31 to Sept. 2. He visited the Exit Glacier and called it “as good of a signpost as any when it comes to the impacts of climate change.” That glacier has retreated about 1.25 miles over 200 years, according to the National Park Service. Though a single receding glacier also does not provide any proof of climate change, the president talked about the wider trend. During his speech to the GLACIER conference in Anchorage, Obama said that a recent study found Alaska’s glaciers are losing 75 billion tons of ice every year. That’s accurate.

      The study in question was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters in July. Researchers from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Washington in Seattle measured the “mass balance” of 116 glaciers in Alaska—of 616 named and many thousands of unnamed glaciers, representing 41 percent of the total glacial area—and extrapolated the results to the rest of the state. They found that Alaska’s glaciers are losing 75 gigatons of ice every year. A gigaton is equal to a billion tons of ice; one scientist has explained a gigaton this way: “If you took the whole National Mall and covered it up with ice, to a height about four times as high as the [Washington] monument. … All the way down from the Capitol steps to the Lincoln Memorial.”

      Glaciers normally grow through snow accumulation in the winter and then recede by melting in the summer. But lower levels of snow accumulation or higher temperatures will lead to an imbalance in that process and the glacier will retreat and lose mass over time.

      But Palin pointed out that not all glaciers are losing ice. In a post on the opinion website IJ Review, she highlighted the Hubbard Glacier in Alaska. According to NASA, the Hubbard has indeed been advancing since measurement of the glacier began in 1895, at rates ranging from 13 meters to 36 meters per year. Here is how Leigh Sterns, a glaciologist at the University of Kansas, explained the glacier’s growth for NASA: “Hubbard’s advance is due to its large accumulation area; the glacier’s catchment basin extends far into the Saint Elias Mountains. Snow that falls in the basin either melts or flows down to the terminus, causing Hubbard to steadily grow.”

      In short, regional variations and increasing snowfall thanks to climate change could cause some glaciers around the world to grow, even as global temperatures rise. In fact, the pace of the Hubbard Glacier’s advance has increased since 1984, which coincides with a period of increased precipitation rates.

      Just as overall global temperatures are more relevant than what happens in individual areas, the overall trend for glaciers is more relevant, too. The global and Alaskan glacial trends are toward massive loss of ice as the world has warmed. The World Glacier Monitoring Service, which runs under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Program, the World Meteorological Organization and other partners, reports that the latest data continue “the global trend in strong ice loss over the past few decades.” This general trend is apparent in the chart below, from the WGMS.


      Photo credit:

      On CNN, Tapper pushed back at Palin, saying that “90 percent of glaciers, according to scientists, 90 percent of them are—are shrinking, are melting.” According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, based at the University of Colorado at Boulder, that’s true for alpine glaciers, which are most susceptible to retreat: “Over 90 percent of the measured alpine glaciers in the world are retreating, in almost every major glaciated region.” The NSIDC explains that the causes are “varied,” but “the underlying primary causes are a warming climate and the effects of increased soot and dust in areas of higher agricultural and industrial activity.” Both the Exit and Hubbard glaciers are alpine, of differing types—the former is a valley glacier, with its flow confined by valley walls and the latter is a tidewater glacier, which terminates into the ocean.

      According to the most recent WGMS data, only 22 of the 126 glaciers it analyzed were adding mass, while 104—about 83 percent—were losing mass.

      In spite of that trend, a minority of glaciers, such as the Hubbard, will likely continue to expand even with warmer temperatures. For example, a study published in 2014 in Nature Geoscience described the stable or growing glaciers of the Karakorum region in Asia. The reason for those glaciers’ deviation from the global trend has to do with localized changes to winter precipitation—snowfall, essentially, helps the glaciers stay stable or grow. The authors concluded that “[o]ur findings suggest a meteorological mechanism for regional differences in the glacier response to climate warming.” In other words, local weather patterns play a role in how glaciers respond to climate change.

      Most glaciers in Alaska and around the world are losing ice as the world warms. Palin suggested that Obama was cherry-picking his glacier to make a point, but she was guilty of that trick herself.

      Dave Levitan||September 10, 2015

      Ocean warming will cause marine species to relocate

      The warming of the oceans will cause marine species to relocate, generally toward the poles, in pursuit of water temperatures that suit them, new research indicates.

      The study, by scientists from UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), suggests suggests that by the end of this century warming of the oceans will result in significant global redistribution of marine life, which in turn will increase biodiversity in many areas, and extinctions in others; creating new kinds of communities that are less distinct from one another.

      “Climate change is going to reshuffle marine biodiversity, creating novel communities,” said Ben Halpern, a professor at UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management and an NCEAS associate. “Our results predict what these changes will look like, but there is a lot we still don’t know about what the changes will mean for biodiversity and for people who depend on that biodiversity — for instance, in terms of seafood and economies linked to ocean tourism.”

      In conducting the study, the researchers projected ocean temperatures and then modeled how nearly 13,000 species – more than 12 times the number of species previously assessed – followed changing temperatures into future locations. 

      It showed as warming continues to cause migration, new species are likely to enter a community before others disappear from it, and species that can tolerate a wider range of water temperatures may not move right away. The results show an unexpected outcome – that migrating species will increase biodiversity in most parts of the ocean- but also that migration will drive a homogenizing process as once-unique communities come to resemble one another. Meanwhile, species that have more restricted ranges- especially those in the so-called Coral Triangle, the center of global marine biodiversity- are more likely to face extinction.

      This study emphasizes the need for proactive and collaborative conservation efforts and marine spatial planning around the world in order to combat the impacts of climate change on marine biodiversity.

      “We have a chance to minimize the impacts of climate change on marine biodiversity,” Halpern said. “Our simulations show that if we can slow down climate change, changes in biodiversity will be much less than if we leave climate change unchecked.”

      From Wildlife Extra

      Extreme Weather

      Amid Drought, Think Tanks Warn Of U.S. ‘Eco Deficit’

      The U.S. deficit gets voters riled up all over the country. Can the so-called “ecological deficit” do the same?

      The nation reached a milestone last month: It hit an ecological deficit, according to a new paper by think tanks Global Footprint Network and Earth Economics. Water scarcity, drought, and rapid use of water resources are chief parts of the problem.

      According to these groups, July 14 marked “the date the United States has busted its annual ecological budget, utilizing more resources and services than U.S. ecosystems can regenerate within the full year.”

      In other words, “everything from [July 14] until December 31 is deficit environmental spending,” Fortune reported, citing the research paper. The U.S. ranks as the third wealthiest country in the world for natural resources, behind Brazil and China. But the States “are using resources nearly twice as fast as they can be naturally sustained.”

      Water was a major part of the groups’ calculation. Water scarcity threatens our ecological assets. Climate change is contributing to drought, particularly in California. Some states with the greatest natural capital wealth, including Texas and Michigan, are vulnerable to drought and water shortages, which then reduce the productivity of crop and grazing lands. An analysis of baseline water stress shows states in the western half of the United States are likely to face the greatest competition for water.

      In California, for instance, the drought is exacerbating the problem. The state is “using resources eight times faster than they can be renewed and in the midst of a severe drought. According to the report, it would take eight Californias to support the state’s large population, voracious appetite for water, and carbon footprint. But Texas and Florida also have high ecological deficits,” Fortune reported.

      How is an ecological deficit calculated? The research report states:

      Just as a bank statement tracks income against expenditures, Global Footprint Network measures a population’s demand for and ecosystems’ supply of resources and services. On the supply side, a city, state, or nation’s biocapacity represents its biologically productive land and sea area, including forest lands, grazing lands, cropland, fishing grounds, and built-up land.

      On the demand side, the Ecological Footprint measures a population’s demand for plant-based food and fiber products, livestock and fish products, timber and other forest products, space for urban infrastructure, and forest to absorb its carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels.
      Both measures are expressed in global acres-globally comparable, standardized acres with world average productivity. The groups believe that raising awareness through papers like this one is a key part of the solution, according to David Batker, executive director of Earth Economics.

      “People need nature. Economies need nature. Securing prosperity in the 21st century requires using informed measures, like the Ecological Footprint, to improve policy, shift investment and fix our ecological budget,” he said.  “This report reveals problems and provides solutions.”

      For more drought stories, visit Water Online’s Water Scarcity Solutions Center.

      Sara Jerome|August 7, 2015

      Shifting to fewer Atlantic hurricanes?

      Ocean could be entering quieter cycle of activity

      WASHINGTON — A new but controversial study asks if an end is coming to the busy Atlantic hurricane seasons of recent decades.

      The Atlantic looks like it is entering into a new, quieter cycle of storm activity, like in the 1970s and 1980s, two prominent hurricane researchers wrote Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience.

      Scientists at Colorado State University, including the professor who pioneered hurricane seasonal prognostication, say they are seeing a localized cooling and salinity-level drop in the North Atlantic near Greenland. Those conditions, they theorize, change local weather and ocean patterns and form an onagain, off-again cycle in hurricane activity that they trace back to the late 1800s.

      Warmer, saltier water produces periods of more and stronger storms, followed by cooler, less salty water triggering a similar period of fewer and weaker hurricanes, the scientists say. The periods last about 25 years — sometimes more, sometimes less. The busy cycle that just ended was one of the shorter ones, perhaps because it was so strong that it ran out of energy, said study lead author Phil Klotzbach.

      Klotzbach said since about 2012, there’s been more localized cooling in the key area and less salt, suggesting a new, quieter period. But Klotzbach said it is too soon to be certain that one has begun.

      “We’re just asking the question,” he said.
      But he said he thinks the answer is yes. He said the busy cycle started about 1995 and probably ended in 2012; in 2005 alone, Katrina, Rita and Wilma killed more than 1,500 people and caused billions of dollars of damage. The quiet cycle before that went from about 1970 to 1994, and before that it was busy from 1926 until 1969, he said.

      Klotzbach doesn’t take into account where a storm hits but rather how strong storms are and how long they last, regardless of whether they make landfall. So even though no major hurricane hit the United States in 2010, its overall activity was more than 60 percent higher than normal. And just because it’s a quiet season doesn’t mean a city can’t be devastated, Klotzbach said. Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida in an otherwise quiet 1992 season as a top of- the-scale storm.

      Other scientists either rejected the study outright or called it premature.
      “I think they’re pretty much wrong about this,” said MIT meteorology professor Kerry Emanuel, who also specializes in hurricane research. “That paper is not backed by a lot of evidence.”

      Emanuel said he doesn’t believe in the cycle cited by the researchers or the connection to ocean temperature and salinity. He thinks the quiet period of hurricanes of the 1970s and 1980s is connected to sulfur pollution, and the busy period that followed is a result of the cleaning of the air.

      And Jim Kossin of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said cooler water temperatures earlier this year might be due to Atlantic dust, and August temperatures there have risen.

      Another NOAA scientist, Gabriel Vecchi, said while there seem to be signs of a change in the circulation of the Atlantic, it’s far too early to say the shift has happened.


      Northwest sizzled with record hot summer

      Meanwhile, Midwest saw near record rainfall

      The normally cool Pacific Northwest endured its hottest summer on record, while several states in the Northeast and Midwest had one of their soggiest summers, according to new data out Wednesday from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

      The Northwest heat and dryness led to Washington state having its largest wildfire ever recorded. By early September, the Okanagan Complex Fire had charred more than 300,000 acres and destroyed 176 homes, surpassing last year’s Carlton Complex Fire that burned 250,000 acres, NOAA said.

      Washington and Oregon both had record summer heat, NOAA’s climate report said. Washington was 5.3 degrees above its statewide average of 61.8 degrees, while Oregon was 4.6 degrees above its average of 62 degrees.

      Washington had one of its 10 driest summers on record, which has led to drought conditions for the entire state.

      Several states in the West and South experienced one of their 10 hottest summers, but did not set records: California, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Louisiana, Florida and both Carolinas, NOAA said.

      Nationwide, the United States had its 12th-warmest summer since weather recordkeeping began in 1895, the climate report said.

      Climate scientists define summer as the three months of June, July and August.

      The Northwest record heat was in part because of El Nino, the unusually warm water in the central Pacific Ocean, and another area of warm water just off the U.S. Northwest coast, said NOAA climate scientist Jake Crouch.

      The warm water affects atmospheric weather patterns, leading to dry, warm conditions.

      “It had already been really dry and hot going into the summer in the Northwest, and these dry conditions caused the summer to be warmer there,” Crouch explained.

      As for summer rain, nine states had one of their wettest summers on record: North Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.

      June and July were especially wet in the Ohio Valley, Crouch said, as a persistent storm track brought several rounds of rain and storms to the region.

      Looking at the year so far from January to August, four states are seeing record warmth — California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

      Also for the year to date, Oklahoma is having its wettest year on record.

      Doyle Rice|USA TODAY

      Japan Hit by Massive Floods as 100,000+ Flee Homes After “Unprecedented’ Rainfall

      Widespread flooding and landslides in northeast Japan have forced more than 100,000 people to evacuate. The city of Joso, north of the capital Tokyo, was inundated after the Kinugawa River overflowed, reports the BBC. Originally, an additional 800,000 people were told to evacuate as a precautionary measure by officials, who warned the 5 million residents in northeastern Japan of “once in a half century rains.”

      “Japan gets hit by, on average, 20 to 30 such storms each year,” says the BBC. “This is the 18th this year so despite the heavy rainfall that we have experienced over the last few days, it was difficult to predict how severe the damage would be. The Kinugawa River bursting its banks took even experts by surprise, especially because of the widespread areas that it has affected.” At least two people have died, 12 are injured and several others are missing as the flooding left large areas underwater. Scores of Joso residents clung to telephone poles and waited on rooftops to be rescued by helicopter. Entire houses have been swept away by the flooding.

      Cole Mellino|September 10, 2015

      4 States Likely to See the Hottest Year Ever

      It’s already shaping up to be the hottest year on record globally, and it’s certainly been a scorcher for the U.S. as well. The latest data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that the contiguous U.S. had its 12th warmest summer on record and its ninth warmest year to date in the last 121 years.


      Washington, Oregon, Nevada and California had their record warmest January-August. Fifteen other states saw “much above average” or “above average” temperatures. Photo credit: NOAA

      Washington and Oregon even had their warmest summers ever as the Pacific Northwest battled record heat and Washington dealt with its largest fire in state history. Those two states, along with California and Nevada, recorded their warmest January to August, and are poised to see their hottest years ever, according to NOAA.

      “I think it’s likely that 2015 will set the record for the warmest year on record for WA State,” Karin Bumbaco, assistant state climatologist for Washington, told Climate Central. “Even if the rest of the year were simply average temperature-wise, 2015 would surpass the current record-holder of 1934 by 0.5°F,” she said, and with one of the strongest El Niños on record, it is very likely that temperatures will remain above normal for the rest of the year.

      Alaska had its second-warmest January to August on record. Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and Florida all had “much above average” temperatures for January to August. The record warmth, coupled with record dryness has created conditions for what might yet be the worst wildfire season on record—with no sign of relief anytime soon.

      As for precipitation, overall the U.S. has had its 24th wettest year to date, but extremes exist. The Central U.S. along with parts of the Northeast and Midwest had one of their soggiest summers ever, whereas, as of Sept. 1, 30 percent of the U.S. was in drought—up three percent since July.

      NOAA states:

      The year-to-date precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. was 22.14 inches, 1.43 inches above average, and the 24th wettest on record. Above-average precipitation was observed across the central U.S., where eight states were much wetter than average. Oklahoma had its wettest January-August on record with a precipitation total 156 percent of average. Below-average precipitation was observed along both coasts. California, Connecticut and Oregon each had precipitation totals that were much below-average. California had its fifth driest year-to-date receiving less than half the average precipitation.


      Texas and Oklahoma saw massive flooding this spring and several parts of the U.S. saw above average precipitation, while the West Coast experienced intense drought. Photo credit: NOAA

      Extremes were common in the NOAA data. The agency uses the U.S. Climate Extremes Index (USCEI) to track extremes in temperature, precipitation, land-falling tropical cyclones and drought for the contiguous U.S.

      “The USCEI for the year-to-date was 35 percent above average and the 17th highest value on record,” reports NOAA. “On the national-scale, extremes in warm maximum and minimum temperatures, one-day precipitation totals and days with precipitation were much above average.”

      Extreme weather is becoming increasingly common as the Earth warms. Photo credit: NOAA

      Extreme weather is becoming increasingly common as the Earth warms. Photo credit: NOAA

      Scientists have found that, as the Earth warms, extreme weather has increased, bringing more and more droughts, floods, heat waves and heavy downpours. Just yesterday, Japan was rocked by massive flooding that forced the evacuation of more than 100,000 people. And extreme heat continues today in Southern California as near record-high demand on power grids triggered blackouts.

      Meanwhile on the other side of the country, New York City set a record on Tuesday for hottest temperature ever recorded on that day (97 degrees Fahrenheit), breaking the previous record of 93 degrees held since 1919. Some places around the U.S. are grappling with temperatures 15 to 20 degrees above normal this week.

      Cole Mellino|September 11, 2015

      Strong El Nino could help parched California

      A strong El Nino climate pattern could bring much-needed rain and snow to drought-stricken California this winter, ac