ConsRep 914 B

“Nature provides exceptions to every rule.” Margaret Fuller

Announcements

Fall Is The Time to See Raptors on the Move

The best time to see hawks, harriers, eagles, and other raptors is during their fall migration, which will soon be in full swing across the country. 

Raptors tend to fly known routes—which means folks can count on seeing large numbers of them as they head south.

Click here to learn more about raptors and their migrations.

Click here for a list of some of the best sites in the country for hawkwatching

Audubon Assembly 2014

Hutchinson Island. Florida

October 17 – 18

Audubon is proud to announce that our keynote speaker for the 2014 Audubon Assembly will be noted Florida author Leslie Kemp Poole.

Dr. Poole’s presentation at the Friday banquet will explore Florida’s remarkable history of protecting the wildlife, landscapes, and habitat that make our state like no other.

In its early days, Audubon’s fight to conserve Florida was waged with leadership from women before women even had the right to vote.

Today, Florida’s threats are no less dire and our need for inclusion is no less important–

Dr. Poole will share lessons from our past to guide Audubon’s future, reclaiming Florida’s land and water conservation legacy and expanding our reach to enlist new constituencies for conservation.

Early-bird tickets are going fast. Ensure you get the best deal by booking right now – do not delay!

Help Develop the Next Generation of Conservation Leaders

You are invited you to help develop the next generation of conservation leaders. Audubon’s CLI (Conservation Leadership Initiative)

was developed to provide an intergenerational experience and co-mentoring opportunity for Audubon leaders and college students to network, share, and learn from each other.

Audubon will award 25 students with scholarships to attend Friday’s assembly and match them with 25 Audubon leaders for Friday’s CLI program. 

For more information or to sponsor a student visit, please click here. To become a mentor, please contact jsulek@audubon.org or 386-497-4185.

Through nature-inspired walking workshops, dynamic speakers, and thought-provoking learning sessions,

the Audubon Assembly joins people of all ages and backgrounds together in our common interest of protecting Florida’s remarkable natural resources.

The 2014 Audubon Assembly is being held at the Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort & Marina.

Please note, you must book your hotel room by September 26, see below for more information.

This year’s Assembly is going to be the can’t miss conservation event of the year.

Do not delay – click here to register online to reserve the special early-bird rate.

Only a limited amount of these tickets are available.

To register by mail or by phone, contact Jonathan Webber at 850-222-2473.

Join us for the Everglades Coalition’s 30th Annual Conference!

Send it South: Water for America’s Everglades

The Coalition’s Annual Conference seeks to raise critical, timely issues for in-depth debates in an open, accessible forum.

Community leaders and political figures come to discuss their positions, pledge their support and offer challenges to the community.

The conference is attended by decision-makers from federal, state, local and tribal governments, agency representatives,

stakeholders and a vast array of public and private interests including scientists, educators, contractors, conservationists, the media, students and the general public.

The conference is the largest annual forum to advance Everglades conservation and restoration.

The 30th Annual Conference – Key Largo, FL
January 8th, 9th,& 10th, 2015

Early Registration October 5th – December 5th, 2014

Registration Fees Conference Single Day

Early Registration by December 5                     $150.00                                $100.00

Registration Starting December 6                      $190.00                                $120.00

Student Registration with Valid ID (Includes 1 lunch meal)                             $50.00                          

Meal Fees

Breakfast              $20.00

Lunch                    $25.00

Dinner                   $55.00

Hotel Reservations

A limited number of discounted rooms are available for $199/night plus tax. Book by   December 9th to take advantage of this special rate.

Reserve online with our Everglades Coalition Conference Registration link or call the Hilton Key Largo at (305) 852-5553 and reference the Everglades Coalition.

Space is limited, be sure to register and purchase all meals early!

Conference Location

Hilton Key Largo Resort

97000 Overseas Hwy

Key Largo, FL 33037

- See more at: http://www.evergladescoalition.org/conference.html#sthash.5Z82pWpk.aG0bYPrn.dpuf

Amendment 1 Telephone Call with Senator Bob Graham ‏

On Tuesday, September 16th, Florida’s Water and Land Legacy is hosting a telephone conversation with Senator Bob Graham to discuss Amendment 1, the Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment.

Join the call at 6:30 pm to find out how Amendment 1 will help keep Florida’s drinking water clean, protect our rivers, lakes and springs,

restore natural treasures like the Everglades, and protect our beaches and wildlife for future generations.

Just register here to join the conversation!

floridacc|groupspaces.com |9/13/14

National Estuaries Day Sep 27, 2014 10:00 am – 03:00 pm

A national celebration at the country’s 28 estuarine research reserves takes place on the last Saturday of September each year to recognize the importance of the habitat where rivers meet the sea.

Rookery Bay’s event will include staff-narrated boat tours (bus transportation provided to the boat 15 minutes away),

introductory 30-minute kayaking trips, free paddle boarding on Henderson Creek, marine critter touch tank, live animal presentations,

kids games and crafts, behind-the-scenes tours of the science labs, films, food and more.

A special art exhibition by marine life artist Guy Harvey will be on display in the gallery, and merchandise will be available

for purchase in the nature store. In celebration of National Estuaries Day, the Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center offers “free admission.”

Directions

Of Interest to All

A Fungus Discovered in the Ecuadorian Rainforest Can Eat Plastic Pollution

Plastics do not biodegrade, although, under the influence of solar UV radiations, plastics do degrade and fragment into small particles, termed microplastics.

It’s not news that plastic pollution is one of the biggest environmental issues that we are facing in the modern world.

We’ve all read dozens upon dozens of articles about the giant floating island of trash the size of Texas floating around the Pacific Ocean, about the 5 gyres, about the 200+ species that are ingesting plastic on a daily basis.

Images of animals caught in plastics, of pollutant-stuffed birds and fish and of various environments destroyed by plastic-pollution aren’t new to us.

And it doesn’t seem to get any better.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, plastic isn’t even biodegradable.

The problem is: It feels like we’re always promised the next big thing, the next product that will reduce our future consumption of plastic products.

Why is Plastic so Hard to get rid of?

Plastics are rarely seen as food for the environment, and microbes, which are usually so good at breaking down unwanted pollutants, avoid it: Making it practically immortal.

It can take thousands of years before plastic finally degrades.

And we’re piling more and more on the landfills at rates that far outnumber how fast the earth can get rid of it.

But that’s enough doom and gloom.

Things are finally starting to look up, and the answer to this troubling issue might be coming in the form of a fungus.

A Natural Solution to a Natural Problem: Plastic-Eating Fungus

The fungus, named Pestalotiopsis microspore, was discovered in the rainforest of Ecuador by students from Yale’s Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry departments, and is said to be able to eat plastic on a large scale.

Yup, you read that correctly!

The fungus is said to have a healthy appetite for polyurethane. It actually feeds off polyurethane, a polymer that’s commonly found in anything from hard plastics to synthetic fibers.

According to Fast Company, the fungus is the first one that they have found that can survive on polyurethane alone. It’s also said to be able to eat away at polyurethane in an anaerobic environment (oxygen-free), which means that it can be placed at the bottom of landfills to accelerate (or, start) plastic’s decomposition.

Yale Students Might be Able to Breed it

What use is the fungus in the forest, you ask?

Well, accordingly to the group of students at Yale University, there is a high chance that they will be able to breed the fungus in laboratories and place them in highly plastic-polluted zones.

More Science

The researchers behind the discovery, which was published in the scientific journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, also stated that they were able to isolate the enzyme responsible for decomposing the plastic.

From the report:

“The broad distribution of activity observed and the unprecedented case of anaerobic growth using [polyester polyurethane] as the sole carbon source suggest that endophytes are a promising source of biodiversity from which to screen for metabolic properties useful for bioremediation

While it isn’t completely clear how the fungus (or the enzyme) will be applied in bioremediation, it’s becoming more and more likely that the solution to some of our environmental issues might be right in front of our eyes: In the environment itself.”

Sarah Burke|September 11, 2014

How Industrial Ag is Making the Soil–and Us–Unhealthy
Does an apple a day really keep the doctor away? Not anymore, according to soil health experts—unless the apple comes from a tree grown in healthy, organic soil.

According to Australian soil scientist Christine Jones, as reported by Courtney White in his book, Grass, Soil, Hope, apples have lost 80 percent of their vitamin C.

And that orange you just ate to help ward off a cold? It’s entirely possible that it contains no vitamin C at all.

A study looking at vegetables from 1930 to 1980, found that iron levels had decreased by 22 percent, and calcium content by 19 percent.  In the United Kingdom, from 1940 to 1990, copper content in vegetables fell by 76 percent, and calcium by 46 percent. The mineral content in meat was also significantly reduced.

Food forms the building blocks of our bodies and health. Soil forms the basis for healthy food. Unhealthy soil grows poor quality food. And poor quality food means poor health.

Even our mental health is linked to healthy soil, rich in microbes.

So what’s happened to our soil? It’s been under assault since the advent of modern industrial agriculture, with its monocrops, fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides.

The term “biodiversity” evokes images of a rich variety of plants—trees, flowers, grasses, fruits, vegetables—mixed in with an equally diverse collection of animals, insects and wildlife, all co-existing in a lush environment.

But there’s a whole world of biodiversity that lives beneath the surface of the earth—at least in areas where the soil hasn’t been destroyed. And that biodiversity is essential for the growth of nutrient-rich foods.

The Earth’s soil is a dynamic mixture of rock particles, water, gases, and microorganisms. Just one cup of soil contains more microorganisms than there are people on the planet. These diverse microbes compose a “soil food web,” a complex chain beginning with organic residues like decaying plant and animal matter, and ranging from bacteria and fungi to nematodes (worms) and bugs. Just by going about their daily lives in the dirt, these organisms decompose organic matter, stabilize the soil and help convert nutrients from one chemical form to another.

This rich diversity of microbes affects most soil properties, including moisture content, structure, density, and nutrient composition. When microbes are lost, the properties of soil that allow it to stabilize plants, convert chemicals, and perform other vital functions are also reduced.  The microbe content of soil—its biodiversity—is nearly synonymous with soil health and fertility.

As Daphne Millier, physician, author and professor, writes, “soil teeming with a wide diversity of life (especially bacteria, fungi, and nematodes) is more likely to produce nutrient-dense food. Of course, this makes sense when you understand that it is the cooperation between bacteria, fungi, and plants’ roots (collectively referred to as the rhizosphere) that is responsible for transferring carbon and nutrients from the soil to the plant—and eventually to our plates.”

Unfortunately, human interactions have negatively impacted almost all aspects of soil health—we are responsible for the degradation of more than 40 percent of worldwide agricultural land. 

What have we done to the soil? For starters, we’ve destabilized our soil ecosystems through the widespread and reckless use of chemicals—herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers—that destroy nearly everything in sight, except the plants themselves (many of them genetically engineered to withstand herbicides and pesticides). We end up with corn, soy, alfalfa and other crops that may appear “healthy,” but in truth, are nutrient-deficient because the nutrient-cycling quality of the soil has been destroyed.

And we do it as a matter of routine, even though it’s estimated that in the case of pesticides, for instance, only 0.1 percent of pesticides used actually interact with their targets; the rest pollute plants and soil.

As any gardener knows, nitrogen is one of the three essential soil nutrients. (Potassium and phosphorous are the other two). In order for nitrogen to “feed” plants, it must first be converted to ammonium or nitrate. Soil microbes, which are critical to the nitrogen cycle, achieve this conversion by feeding on decaying plant matter, digesting the elemental nitrogen contained in the decayed matter, and excreting nitrogen ions. The newly available nitrogen is taken up by plants, where it becomes available to humans either directly (when you eat the plant) or indirectly (through consumption of grazing animals).

What happens when soil is stripped of the microbes required to complete the nitrogen cycle? Farmers often resort to fertilizers that contain nitrogen. But the over-use of fertilizers leads to nutrients (like nitrogen) building up beyond the capacity of soil microbes to convert it into usable, absorbable nutrients. Too much nitrogen actually kills plant life.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, factory farming, where thousands of animals are confined in small spaces and fed grains (supplemented with antibiotics and hormones), rather than the forage nature intended, is behind much of the damage humans have inflicted on the soil.

At the core of industrial food production is monoculture—the practice of growing single crops intensively on a very large scale. Corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton and rice are all commonly grown this way in the United States.

Monoculture farming relies heavily on chemical inputs such as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

In a monocropping system, what soil organisms aren’t destroyed by chemicals and over-tilling, are edged out when their plant symbionts are lost.

The impact of the loss of soil biodiversity is linked to the increase in asthma and allergies in western societies. The human immune system is developed early in life through exposure to environmental stimuli. When meat or vegetables are lacking in certain bacteria and microbes, children can’t formulate that early immune response and so may develop an allergic reaction later in life. 
If the numbers are any indicator, there’s a crisis in worldwide soil health that is rapidly becoming a crisis in human health. Converting from factory farms and conventional crops to pasture-grazing livestock and organic farming are the solution. According to one study, it’s possible to more than double soil biodiversity by replacing conventional farming methods with organic farming.

But we shouldn’t be satisfied with simply scaling back the problem. Regenerative agriculture is a crucial tool for actively reversing the harm caused by Big Ag practices. And there’s no time to waste—scientists say that a single square centimeter of soil can take from 20 to 1000 years to form.

Hannah Bewsey and Katherine Paul|Organic Consumers Association|September 11, 2014

Wild vs. Farmed Salmon: Can Some Fish Be Bad For You?

Salmon is commonly prized for its health benefits.

It is a fatty fish that is loaded with Omega-3 fatty acids, which most people don’t get enough of.

However … not all salmon is created equal, unfortunately.

Today, a lot of the salmon we eat isn’t caught in caught in the wild, but bred in fish farms.

Wild salmon is caught in the wild, in its natural environment … oceans, rivers and lakes.

But half of the salmon sold worldwide comes from so-called fish farms, also known as aquacultures.

The annual global production of farmed salmon has increased from 27,000 to more than 1 million metric tons in the past two decades.

Whereas wild salmon eats other organisms found in its natural environment, farmed salmon is given a processed high-fat feed in order to produce larger fish.

Wild salmon is still available, but global stocks have halved in just a few decades.

Bottom Line: The production of farmed salmon has increased dramatically in the past two decades. Farmed salmon has a completely different diet and environment than wild salmon.

There Are Some Important Differences in Nutrition Composition

To the left, you see the nutrient composition of a half fillet (198 grams) of wild salmon. To the right, you see the numbers for farmed salmon.

fishcart

As you can see in the table, nutritional differences between wild and farmed salmon can be pretty significant.

Farmed salmon is much higher in fat … it contains slightly more Omega-3s, much more Omega-6 fatty acids and three times the amount of saturated fat. It also contains 46 percent more calories, mostly from fat.

Farmed salmon also contains some Vitamin C, which is added to the feed.

Conversely, wild salmon is higher in minerals, including potassium, zinc and iron.

Bottom Line: Wild salmon contains more minerals. Farmed salmon is higher in Vitamin C, saturated fat, polyunsaturated fatty acids and calories.

Difference in Polyunsaturated Fat Content

There are two main types of polyunsaturated fats … Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.

These fatty acids have important roles to play in the human body.

We need both in the diet, otherwise we end up sick. That’s why they are termed the “essential” fatty acids (EFAs).

However … we need to get these fatty acids in a certain balance.

Most people today are eating too much Omega-6, and the delicate balance between these two types of fatty acids is heavily distorted towards Omega-6.

Many scientists have speculated that this can drive increased inflammation and may play a role in the pandemics of chronic diseases like heart disease and others.

Here’s where it gets interesting … farmed salmon has three times the total fat of wild salmon, but a large part of these fats are Omega-6 fatty acids.

For this reason, the Omega-6:Omega-3 ratio is about three times higher in farmed salmon, compared to wild.

However … I don’t really think this is a cause for concern. Even though farmed salmon contains Omega-6, the O6:O3 ratio is still excellent (at 1:3-4), it’s just less excellent than that in wild salmon, which is at 1:10.

Salmon, both farmed and wild, should lead to a massive improvement in Omega-3 intake for most people, and is often recommended for that purpose.

In a four week study of 19 volunteers, eating farmed Atlantic salmon twice per week increased DHA (an important Omega-3 fatty acid) levels in the blood by 50 percent.

Bottom Line: Farmed salmon is much higher in Omega-6 fatty acids than wild salmon, but the amount is still too low to be a cause for concern.

Wild salmon is still available, but global stocks have halved in just a few decades.

Farmed Salmon is Much Higher in Contaminants

Fish tend to accumulate potentially harmful contaminants from their environment.

These contaminants are found in the water they swim in, as well as the foods they eat.

Kris Gunnars|Authority Nutrition|September 4, 2014

Oil boom could delay agricultural shipments

WASHINGTON At West Central, a farmer-owned Iowa cooperative that depends heavily on trains to move crops, seed and fertilizer, officials had no reason to believe the 2013 harvest would be different than any other. Railroads told executives they had sufficient crews and engines in place to haul the bumper crop on tens of thousands of miles of track across the country.

But a few months after the fields were harvested the Corn Belt was pummeled by a brutal winter, and competing demands among coal, oil, grain and other commodities for space on the country’s clogged rail network left railroads struggling to shift cars around the region.

Initially, West Central — accustomed to waiting a few days to receive hopper cars — had to wait a week, with delays extending to more than six weeks earlier this year. The coop’s average cost to lease a single rail car nearly doubled in January to more than $12,500 from the same time a year earlier, significantly squeezing the warehouse’s profits, which are usually a mere 8 to 13 cents a bushel.

As farmers prepare to harvest this year’s crops, West Central and other agriculture shippers have dramatically lowered their expectations for the railroads.

Farmers, ethanol and other producers in the Corn Belt fear that residual delays plaguing the freight system will worsen as farmers harvest record corn and soybean crops this fall.

“We’re not going off of what they tell us, we’re going off of recent performance. We’re making arrangements to manage around their performance,” said Roger Fray, executive vice president of grain at West Central in Ralston. “We’re planning for the worst, and if it turns out better, then we all benefit.”

Fray said the co-op is adding more storage and, when possible, moving more commodities by truck.

Still, agriculture operators worry that when the bumper crops are ready to transport train car deliveries will be delayed, leaving grain sitting undelivered at farms and elevators and ultimately reducing how much farmers receive for their harvest.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture calls the rail shortages a “serious situation.” In a recent meeting with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the trio expressed “concern” about the ability of railroads in the Upper Midwest to handle the upcoming crop.

“There are a lot of things that need to be done,” Vilsack told reporters “We’re going to keep an eye on this, and we’re going to keep the pressure on the railroads to make sure that they are ready, willing and able to handle what is likely to be a very, very good crop.”

Farmers and operators of ethanol plants and grain elevators have criticized the railroads for favoring the oil industry by siphoning off engines and crew to handle the boom in domestic production in North Dakota.

Christopher Doering|Gannett Washington Bureau

BP May Be Fined Up to $18 Billion for Spill in Gulf

NEW ORLEANS — In the four years since the blowout on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig killed 11 workers and sent millions of barrels of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, BP has spent more than $28 billion on damage claims and cleanup costs, pleaded guilty to criminal charges and emerged a shrunken giant.

But through it all, the company has maintained that it was not chiefly responsible for the accident, and that its contractors in the operation, Halliburton and Transocean, should shoulder as much, if not more, of the blame.

On Thursday, a federal judge here for the first time bluntly rejected those arguments, finding that BP was indeed the primary culprit and that only it had acted with “conscious disregard of known risks.” He added that BP’s “conduct was reckless.”

By finding that BP was, in legal parlance, grossly negligent in the disaster, and not merely negligent, United States District Court Judge Carl J. Barbier opened the possibility of $18 billion in new civil penalties for BP, nearly quadruple the maximum Clean Water Act penalty for simple negligence and far more than the $3.5 billion the company has set aside.

The ruling stands as a milestone in environmental law given that this was the biggest offshore oil spill in American history, legal experts said, and serves as a warning for the oil companies that continue to drill in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where high pressures and temperatures in the wells test the most modern drilling technologies.

“We are pleased,” United States Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said of the ruling. “The court’s finding will ensure that the company is held fully accountable for its recklessness.”

The decision also casts a cloud over BP’s future. Its reputation has already been sullied and important holdings in Russia are at risk because of tensions in Ukraine. In addition to the $28 billion in claim payments and cleanup costs it has paid, BP has been forced to divest itself of more than 10 percent of its oil and gas reserves, along with valuable pipelines and refining facilities to pay claims and increase its profitability. BP shares fell by nearly 6 percent Thursday, closing at $44.89.

In a statement, BP said it “strongly disagrees with the decision” and would immediately appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. BP added that the ruling was “not supported by the evidence at trial,” and that “the law is clear that proving gross negligence is a very high bar that was not met in this case.”

Federal judge Carl Barbier apportioned 67 percent of the blame for the spill to BP.

In a toughly worded 153-page decision, Judge Barbier reconstructed the timeline from the risky decision to drill more deeply before stopping to the hellish final minutes of hissing gas and raining mud, concluding with the deadly fireball that erupted on the night of April 20, 2010.

We the people self-righteously ignore our collective culpability. We bemoan all the impacts of fossil fuel use yet, when it comes down to sacrifice, we are partners with global corporate powers.

The hasty effort to temporarily shut down a drilling operation that was over budget and behind schedule led to what Judge Barbier called “a chain of failures” culminating in the explosion and spill.

Vital seals and stoppers were left leaky along the casing of the well, the judge found, while BP then skimped on tests that might have shown the problems caused by the shoddy work. When tests were run, the results were interpreted with optimism at best and dishonesty at worst, and several critical decisions made by BP were found by Judge Barbier to have been “primarily driven by a desire to save time and money, rather than ensuring that the well was secure.”

In a central episode, Judge Barbier highlighted a phone call between a senior BP employee on the rig and an engineer in Houston that took place roughly 40 minutes before the explosion. In the call, the two men discussed the results of a pressure test that should have prompted quick action to prevent an impending blowout. BP did not mention this call in its own investigative report, an omission Judge Barbier found suspicious.

While acknowledging responsibility for the accident, BP had long argued that the blame should be fully shared with Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, and Halliburton, a contractor that oversaw a critical step in closing up the well.

While Judge Barbier did find the other companies had acted with negligence, he concluded that only BP, which leased the well and was in charge of the operation, was grossly negligent. He apportioned 67 percent of the blame for the spill to BP, 30 percent to Transocean and 3 percent to Halliburton.

“Transocean’s failures,” the judge wrote at one point, “largely concern its inability (due in part to further failures by BP) to stop the catastrophe BP set in motion.”

BP has already pleaded guilty to manslaughter and other charges and agreed to pay $4 billion in federal criminal penalties. But the company’s ultimate civil liability is far from determined.

The ruling only pertains to the first phase of a federal civil trial, concerning the responsibility of the blowout itself. Judge Barbier still must rule on how much oil was spilled in the accident, the subject of a trial that took place in the fall of last year. A third phase, scheduled to start in January, will lead to a final determination of penalties under the Clean Water Act.

This week Halliburton reached a $1.1 billion settlement with individual and business plaintiffs. Last year, Transocean agreed to pay $1.4 billion to settle federal criminal and civil charges, which is likely to cover most of its liability.

Legal scholars said BP faced an uphill struggle in the appeals process.

David M. Uhlmann, a law professor at the University of Michigan, who headed the environmental crimes section of the Justice Department from 2000 to 2007, highlighted the judge’s decision that “the government did not need to show BP was aware of the risks associated with its conduct” to be found grossly negligent.

But the judge went on to say, Mr. Uhlmann said, that “even if they had to show awareness of risk, the government had satisfied that burden.”

CAMPBELL ROBERTSON and CLIFFORD KRAUSS|SEPT. 4, 2014

Gov. Scott pledges major spending on environmental programs if re-elected  

MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. Aug 04, 2014—Governor Rick Scott unveiled his plan to invest $1-billion in Florida’s water supply over the next ten years during a campaign stop in Martin County Monday.

It’s part of Scott’s statewide “Let’s Keep Florida Beautiful” tour highlighting his goals for the environment should he be re-elected for a second term as governor.

Scott is pledging $500-million to invest in alternative water supply and $500-million for springs restoration.

Scott said cleaning up the St. Lucie Estuary is a priority and said he is committed to sending water from Lake Okeechobee south into the Everglades.

The governor plans on creating a position in his office to work with Florida’s congressional delegation to secure federal funding for these projects.

Scott also wants to fund the completion of water storage projects along Lake Okeechobee and lobby Congress to match the funds.

The governor proposed the formation of a renewed Indian River Lagoon Estuary Program, modeled after a similar program in Tampa.

Video: Gov. Scott riffs on budget, light-rail, medical marijuana

[Of course he unveils his plan in an election year after he has spent the last three years dismantling every environmental program he could find. Hopefully, people will recognize it for what it is – too little, too late.]

Calls to Action

  1. Tell the USDA and EPA to protect monarch butterflies and stop approving pesticide –resistant GMO crops – here
  2. MAKE FRACKING COMPANIES COME CLEAN – here
  3. Tell the U.S. to Stop Leasing Mining Rights to Private Companies – here
  4. Help Save the Tiger – here
  5. Help Protect Common Loon from Dirty Oil Spills – here
  6. ‏Protect Drinking Water from Coal Companies – here
  7. Protect communities from toxic drinking water – here

 

 

Birds and Butterflies

The Monarch Butterflies Migrating Now Aren’t The Ones You Saw Last Spring

Fall is just around the corner throughout most of North America. 

You’ve probably noticed that your local birds are preparing for it— and so are our many of our butterflies.

Monarch butterflies are famous for their annual migrations. Some of these insects travel thousands of miles each fall—an astonishing distance for such fragile creatures.

Yet few people realize that the Monarchs we see in the spring are not necessarily the same ones that fluttered past in the fall.

Beginning in late September, the skies along the Gulf Coast of Texas slowly become filled with meandering groups of Monarchs. Their flight, while not hurried, is purposeful, moving southwest toward a small forest in the highlands of Central Mexico. These butterflies travel from southern Canada and the northern United States at a rate of approximately 50 miles per day. They’ll spend the winter in a few small groves of evergreen trees, with each grove containing as many as 20 million butterflies. Sheltered from the wind and snow, the butterflies conserve energy, for they still have a lot of work ahead of them.

The Monarchs become active again in February. Mating begins, and the air fills with swirling masses of copulating pairs. The first warm days of late March trigger their northward flight. A close look at these butterflies, now eight months old, reveals that their wings are faded and tattered. Still, the Monarchs fan out across the southern United States, looking for Milkweed plants on which to deposit their eggs.

Four days later, the eggs hatch, producing small caterpillars that immediately begin to feed on the Milkweed leaves. Ten to fifteen days later, each caterpillar stops feeding and forms its chrysalis—a beautiful soft green jewel flecked with gold. In another ten to fifteen days the chrysalis splits open, and a new Monarch emerges.

This generation of butterflies mates, lays eggs, and dies within the span of a few weeks. During this time it moves north, following the progress of spring and the emergence of Milkweed.

By the end of summer, two more of these short-lived generations will have repeated the process, ultimately coming to inhabit the Milkweed patches in the far north latitudes.

Thus the Monarchs born in the Northeast and Canada in September are the great great grandchildren of the last Monarchs to inhabit the area. These are the ones that will head to Mexico. They’re significantly larger than the three generations that preceded them and still sexually immature. Rather than mate and lay eggs, they seek out nectar-producing flowers. The nectar serves two purposes: some of it fuels the southward migration, and some of it is converted to fat reserves that sustain the butterflies through the winter.

This incredible annual cycle applies to all Monarchs east of the Rockies. The populations in the West follow a similar pattern, though their migratory path is westward, from the Great Basin to overwintering sites along the Pacific Coast.

Since 1992 MonarchWatch has been carefully tracking Monarch Butterflies as they migrate.  Much of their data comes from the work of volunteers who tag and track the butterflies.

eNature|August 28, 2014

A Startling Number of North America’s Birds Are Threatened by Climate Change

A new first-of-its kind study from the National Audubon Society has painted a grim outlook for North America’s bird species, estimating that half of them will be severely impacted by climate change if global warming continues at its current rate.

The study comes on the heels of another report from the World Wildlife Fund that predicted climate change will cause major bird extinctions. As Care2′s Judy Molland wrote earlier this month, scientists have already found declines of up to 90 percent in some bird populations, as well as total and unprecedented reproductive failure in others.

For this study, ornithologists analyzed 30 years of North American climate data and tens of thousands of historical bird observations from the Audubon Christmas Bird Count and U.S. Geological Survey’s North American Breeding Bird Survey, in addition to climate projections from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to figure out where birds are now and what kind of conditions they need to survive.

Of the 588 North American bird species Audubon studied, scientists predicted that climate change will lead to an estimated 314 species losing more than half of their habitat or more by 2080 in the U.S. and Canada.

Of the 314 species at risk, 126 of them are classified as climate endangered, meaning they are estimated to lose more than 50 percent of their range by 2050. Another 188 species are considered climate threatened and are expected to lose more than 50 percent of their range by 2080.

“It’s a punch in the gut. The greatest threat our birds face today is global warming,” said Audubon Chief Scientist Gary Langham, who led the study. “That’s our unequivocal conclusion after seven years of painstakingly careful and thorough research. Global warming threatens the basic fabric of life on which birds — and the rest of us — depend, and we have to act quickly and decisively if we are going to avoid catastrophe for them and for us.”

Ornithologists believe some birds may be able to adapt to changes, but many others will not and we’re now at risk of losing some of our most beloved and iconic species. Bald Eagles are expected to lose more than 75 percent of their summer range over the next 65 years, while a handful of others including Trumpeter swans, White-headed Woodpeckers, Northern Gannets and the Northern Saw-whet Owl could lose more than 99 percent or more of their range.

You can search Audubon’s new climate site by your state or province, or by your favorite bird, to see what the future is estimated to be like for them in 2020, 2050 and 2080.

Audubon and others hope this study, which was funded in part by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will help guide future conservation efforts and management decisions to help these birds survive, and that it will inspire us to take steps now to protect birds in peril and the habitats they rely on, especially for birds who have specialized habitats.

“Millions of people across the country will take this threat personally because birds matter to them,” said Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold. “For bird lovers, this issue transcends nasty political posturing; it’s a bird issue. And we know that when we do the right things for birds, we do the right things for people too. Everyone can do something, from changing the plants in their backyard to working at the community and state level to protect the places birds will need to survive and promote clean energy. We are what hope looks like to a bird.”

While the predictions are sobering, there are things we can do now to help birds survive an ever changing landscape that range from supporting policies that will lower greenhouse gas emissions and increase clean energy to helping birds by creating bird-friendly habitats in our backyards. Simple actions that can include doing things from letting dead trees stay and providing food to planting native plants, abandoning pesticides and learning more about how to help keep birds safe from collisions with windows can all help them survive.

You can also sign up for Audubon’s next citizen science project, which will involve helping track how birds are reacting to climate change, check out other projects here or get involved with efforts to protect your local Important Bird Area.

Cornell University’s Lab or Ornithology also offers a number of ways to get involved, some in partnership with Audubon, from eBird, which supports a globally accessible database on bird observations, and Project Feederwatch to NestWatch, Celebrate Urban Birds, YardMap and the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Alicia Graef|September 12, 2014

11 of the Best Bird-Watching Spots for Fall

Slideshow

Project Puffin – Sharing Success

I am just back from Japan where I attended the 26th International Ornithological Congress (IOC). The conference occurs every four years to share achievements in advancing the study of birds. This year about 1,200 ornithologists flocked to Tokyo from around the world to share a wide range of papers and posters that relate to the study and conservation of birds. The number of conservation papers was notable – 24% of the 925 papers and posters focused on bird conservation- a heartening proportion in a world where every bird is a ‘canary in the coal mine’ and many species struggle to survive because of human caused threats.
I attended the meeting to share a paper reviewing methods for restoring seabird nesting colonies using social attraction (decoys and audio recordings) and translocation of seabird chicks. I reported on a survey that found the methods have been used in 14 countries to benefit at least 47 seabird species. I also participated in a round table discussion about tern colony restoration and met with colleagues that have just completed a very successful season helping the critically endangered Chinese Crested Tern. In part because of that success, plans are now taking shape in Okinawa to restore colonies of Roseate Terns using social attraction methods.
I was proud to discover that three of Project Puffin’s former interns were presenting papers about their research at the IOC. Dr. Lin Cao, an intern in 2007 and now a professor of ornithology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, gave a plenary talk to all attendees in which she discussed waterfowl conservation issues in the East Asian Flyway; Dr. Phil Battley, a 1991 Project Puffin intern, described his ground breaking research about the non-stop migration of Bar-tailed Godwits from Alaska to his home country of New Zealand where he now teaches at Massey University. Also, Alison Kocek, a 2007-2008 island supervisor for Project Puffin (now working on her Ph.D. at Syracuse University) discussed her research about the impact of ocean level rise on salt marsh sparrows in coastal New York.
I left the meeting encouraged that so many ornithologists from around the world are committed to bird conservation. The challenges are enormous, but species by species, new champions are appearing that are stepping up to save wild birds.
Stephen Kress|Director|Project Puffin

 Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers Leaving Their Marks Across More of Polk

Florida panthers are moving through more parts of Polk County, according to state wildlife officials.

In February, a state biologist photographed panther tracks in the Green Swamp not far from U.S. 27 north of Davenport.

A panther was injured after it was hit by a vehicle east of Fort Meade in April. The animal is scheduled to be returned to the wild after its rehabilitation.

In recent years, Florida panthers have been tracked or photographed in the Avon Park Air Force Range east of Frostproof and at Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve State Park east of Haines City.

“Panther Crossing” signs were erected several years ago along State Road 60 east of Lake Wales, not far from where a panther was hit and killed by a vehicle in 2007.

These big cats, which once ranged all over much of the Southeast, declined due to human persecution and loss of habitat to the point that the last surviving animals’ only refuge lay in remote areas of southwest Florida south of the Caloosahatchee River by the time they were classified as an endangered species in 1973.

The more frequent number of confirmed sightings is one measure of recovery efforts that have sought to increase the population of an animal that was once in danger of disappearing from the Florida landscape the way Carolina parakeets and ivory-billed woodpeckers did.

They are the last large native predator roaming Florida’s landscape.

Their extinction would signal the loss of wild Florida, supporters say.

Red wolves also once roamed Florida’s wilds, but the last one was reportedly shot near Lake Kissimmee in the 1920s.

But the increased number of panther sightings is not all good news.

Every panther whose presence has been documented in Central Florida so far has been a male, according to a state wildlife scientist.

“Once they go north of the Caloosahatchee River, they don’t return, which limits the breeding pool,” said Jennifer Korn, Florida panther specialist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Males are more likely to roam for a couple of reasons.

They usually require a territory of at least 200 square miles, an area about 10 percent of the size of Polk County, to avoid conflicts with males that have already established territories.

They also roam in search of mates, unaware that there are none to be found upstate.

Female panthers tend to remain closer to the site where they were born, Korn said, though some have been establishing territories closer to the Caloosahatchee River in recent years.

“The last female panther found north of the river was one captured in Glades County in the 1970s,” she said.

Florida panthers, which appeared on the verge of extinction 40 years ago, have been the focus of an extensive recovery effort.

One of the key parts of the recovery effort was to bring in Texas cougars to improve the Florida cats’ genetic makeup.

Years of inbreeding among a small population had created a situation where undesirable recessive traits, ranging from heart defects to reproductive problems, had become common.

In addition to restoring the population’s genetics, the recovery effort involved constructing wildlife underpasses beneath busy highways, expanding protected habitat and extensive monitoring.

The underpasses were designed to reduce the number of panthers being hit and killed by vehicles.

Nevertheless, 74 panthers have been killed by vehicles within the past five years, according to FWC statistics.

The other measures were designed to provide more room for the remaining panthers to hunt and breed and to track their movements.

Korn said protecting habitat where panthers are likely to disperse continues to be a key part of the recovery strategy.

“There’s a lot of work to create protected corridors,” she said, explaining it has involved a mixture of land purchases and acquisition of conservation easements on large tracts of agricultural land that offers relatively undisturbed lands where panthers can roam.

Scientists have known for decades that Florida panthers occasionally prey on cattle and other livestock.

Recently, there have been increased discussions of coming up with a compensation program for livestock owners when there is a confirmed panther attack.

Meanwhile, as the Florida panther population has increased from fewer than 30 animals in the 1980s to between 100 and 180 today, FWC officials have stepped up efforts to collect valid reports of sightings of Florida panthers and Florida black bears, which also occasionally find their way to Polk County, or their tracks.

According to a recent news release, in the past two years FWC officials report receiving 1,537 panther sightings, 275 of which have been verified.

Even though many of the sightings turn out to be other animals or are unidentifiable, wildlife officials stress they encourage the public’s participation.

“Someone’s excitement about seeing a Florida panther or black bear may translate into important scientific information if that sighting is reported to the FWC,” said Carol Knox, the FWC’s Imperiled Species Management section leader.

“By doing so, they are contributing to conservation of Florida’s largest land mammals.”

To submit photographs of panthers or panther tracks, go to www.MyFWC.com/PantherSightings

Tom Palmer|THE LEDGER|September 13, 2014

 Endangered Species

America’s Heartland: Going, Going, Gone ‏

The wide open prairies of America’s heartlands are disappearing — just as the mighty bison that once roamed them by the millions almost did.

In just a few weeks, wild bison will set foot on prairies east of the Mississippi River for the first time in more than 100 years. And reintroducing them to these critical lands at the Conservancy’s Nachusa Grasslands Preserve could hold the key to preserving the once-decimated prairie for generations to come.

Today prairies are more threatened than the Amazon rainforest.

And our work at Nachusa is the next exciting chapter in our long history of reuniting bison and the prairies that need them to truly thrive.

Because grazing bison keep nature in balance on our prairies like nothing else can. They eat fast-growing grasses that threaten to take over. They break up the ground so native seeds and beautiful wildflowers can take root. All of which makes prime habitat for birds, insects and wildlife that otherwise couldn’t survive.

That’s why reintroducing bison has been essential to our prairie conservation work for decades. And it’s why this release at Nachusa in Illinois is so vital. One of the few thriving grasslands left on the planet, Nachusa was once 400 acres of dingy, brush-filled, overgrown prairie and bison are an important piece needed for its transformation.

Releasing the bison is only the beginning. Just like other Conservancy preserves like Dunn Ranch and Broken Kettle, we’ll study the conservation impact the bison will have on the prairie so the lessons we learn here can be used far and wide. And we’ll need to grow the herd to ensure healthy breeding for years to come.

Jennifer Koper|Associate Director|Digital Membership|The Nature Conservancy

Call for greater protection of endangered lynx in the US

New rules reduce rare wild cat’s critical habitat despite extending legal protection in 48 states, conservationists say

The US federal government will extend protection to all imperiled Canada lynx in the lower 48 states, but wildlife advocates said on Thursday it was ignoring important parts of the rare cats’ range and vowed to challenge the move in court.

Thickly furred lynx roam through high country from Maine to Washington and south through the Rocky Mountains. They are classified as threatened in the lower 48 states under the Endangered Species Act.

Amid calls from conservation groups for greater protections, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) said in a rule to be published on Friday that it was extending the act’s protection to all lynx “where found” in the contiguous United States. The law broadly bans killing or injuring imperiled animals without a special permit.

“Our final rule provides the lynx, one of only seven wild cat species in the nation, with what it needs to persist and thrive for future generations of Americans,” said Noreen Walsh, the service’s regional director for the Mountain Prairie region.

Separately, the service is designating some 38,954 sq. m (100,891 sq. km) in Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Washington and Wyoming, which it said “constitute our current best assessment of the areas that meet the definition of critical habitat” for lynx.

WildEarth Guardians, one of the groups which has sued the federal government over lynx protections in the past, applauded the fact the new rule extended safeguards to all lynx, including a population in New Mexico that had been overlooked.

But it said it was disappointed over the separate issue of critical habitat designation, saying the federal authorities had reduced the overall area by 2,593 sq m (6,716 sq km) from what was proposed by the service last year.

A designation of critical habitat gives greater protections to environments which threatened species rely on to survive, and imposes restrictions on activities such as mining, logging and snowmobiling in the high country where lynx are found.

Drew Kerr, a carnivore advocate for WildEarth Guardians, said the new designation ignored important parts of the cats’ range extending from southern Wyoming, through Colorado, to northern New Mexico. Sections of Washington state, Oregon, Idaho and Montana were also excluded, he added.

His group and the Western Environmental Law Centre plan to challenge the “inadequate” designation in federal court.

“By ignoring huge swathes of currently occupied lynx habitat, the Service is undermining lynx recovery efforts yet again,” Kerr said.

An FWS spokesman said it was the service’s policy not to comment on possible lawsuits.

Conservation groups sued Idaho wildlife managers and the governor in June, saying the state violated the Endangered Species Act by allowing traps and snares set by hunters in habitat favored by lynx.

A similar lawsuit was filed against Montana last year, contending that at least nine of the cats had been illegally caught because of trapping and snaring aimed at animals such as wolves and bobcats.

Reuters|theguardian.com|12 September 2014

Bangladesh meet begins to save endangered tigers

Some 140 tiger experts and government officials from 20 countries met in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka on Sunday to review progress towards an ambitious goal of doubling their number in the wild by 2022.

The nations, including the 13 where tigers are still found in the wild, had vowed at a landmark meeting in 2010 in the Russian city of St Petersburg to double the population of critically endangered wild tigers.

Experts say the number declined to as few as 3,200 in 2010 from 100,000 only a century ago. But since then, poaching has reached critical levels and has emerged as the greatest threat to wild tigers.

Statistics from TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, show that a minimum of 1,590 tigers were seized between January 2000 and April 2014. That represents an average of two per week.

Officials, however, listed some progress in the four years since the St Petersburg summit, including a rise in the wild tiger population in major “tiger range” nations — countries where the big cats are found in the wild.

“There has been some increase in the number of tigers in significant countries such as India, Nepal and Russia,” said Andrey Kushlin, program manager of the Global Tiger Initiative.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina opened the conference, saying efforts to conserve the wild cats have reached a “turning point”.

But her own government has been under fire from experts at home and abroad for setting up a giant coal-fired power plant on the edge of the Sundarbans mangrove forests, home to one of the largest tiger populations.

Local experts fear the 1,320-megawatt power plant now being built will pollute the water of the world’s largest mangrove forest, jeopardizing its delicate biodiversity and threatening the tiger population.

Bangladesh says some 440 Bengal tigers live in its part of the Sundarbans — a figure disputed by local experts who say the number will be less than 200.

Kushlin said at the conference the 13 range nations are expected to agree by 2016 to provide an accurate census of their wild tiger populations.

“We need accurate figures so that we know where we stand,” said Kushlin, who also works for the World Bank.

The 13 tiger range countries are: Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has listed the tiger as critically endangered. Poaching, encroachment on its habitat and the illegal wildlife trade are blamed for the declining number.

The conference will end Tuesday with the adoption of a Dhaka Declaration, which will set actions for the remaining eight years of the goal.

AFP|9/14/2014

Japan Announces Plans to Start Whaling, Despite International Court Ruling

Despite an international court ruling ordering it to stop and pressure from anti-whaling nations around the world, Japan has announced that it’s working on plans to resume whaling in the Antarctic Ocean next year.

Even with a global moratorium on commercial whaling that was put in place in 1986, until this year Japan has continued slaughtering fin, minke and humpback whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary using a loophole that allows for lethal scientific research. Anti-whaling advocates have long argued that Japan has been using this loophole as a cover for commercial whaling.

In March, whales won a huge victory when the International Court of Justice in the Hague issued a long awaited ruling that ultimately ordered Japan to end its JARPA II scientific whaling program and refrain from issuing any permits or licenses in the future.

Among other issues, the court found that Japan had no justification for the quota of whales it was setting every year, had failed to consider non-lethal alternatives and that its research program fell seriously short on science.

Unfortunately, two other hunts have still taken place and it looks like Japan is going to attempt to bypass this ruling too to get its hands on whales from the Southern Ocean. Initial fears that even with the court ruling Japan would overhaul its whaling program and try again became a reality when officials announced Wednesday that it plans to start hunting in the Antarctic again next year.

In June, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sparked outrage when he announced that the country was aiming to start lethal research whaling to learn about whale populations so it could resume commercial whaling, while defending the practice as part of Japanese culture.

An official from the Japan Fisheries Agency told the AFP that now they will be working to collect “data necessary to calculate the number of whale catch allowed (once commercial whaling resumes),” and “construct a model of the Antarctic Ocean ecosystem,” adding that they will only be targeting minke whales now.

The Fisheries Agency hasn’t decided how many whales it intends to kill, but it plans to submit a modified version of its program to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) later this month.

The move is likely to be met with opposition, especially from countries including Australia and New Zealand, which challenged Japan in court. Officials from the U.S. have already spoken out about whaling and dolphin drives in the past and are now urging Japan to reconsider.

“We continue to view lethal scientific research as unnecessary in modern whale conservation and management. We encourage Japan to take this view into account when developing future research programs,” an official from the State Department told Kyodo News on the condition of anonymity.

The continued subsidies to whalers and dwindling demand for whale meat should be enough to prove slaughtering whales is neither a morally or economically smart move. Hopefully, anti-whaling nations and members of the IWC will say enough is enough.

Alicia Graef|September 4, 2014

Wild & Weird

Why Do Rattlesnakes Wear A “Mask”?

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake Crotalus adamanteus

Those dark marks on a rattlesnake’s face are not there to reduce glare. Unlike outfielders and quarterbacks, whose black facial stripes help their vision, a rattlesnake wears a mask for other reasons. One is to disrupt the snake’s facial outline. A snake with stripes across its face is more difficult for predators to see. The effect is akin to wearing camouflage.

A second potential reason for the mask—one still unproven—is that it protects the snake’s venom from ultraviolet radiation. The dark areas on a rattlesnake’s head are above its venom sacs and can absorb UV radiation that might affect the potency of the venom beneath. For proof, wildlife biologists point to the fact that at higher altitudes, where ultraviolet rays are stronger and more harmful, the facial markings on rattlesnakes and other pit vipers are darker than the facial markings on snakes at lower altitudes.

eNature|September 01, 2014

Everglades

Corps releases Central Everglades report for public, state and agency review

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District has released the revised final report for the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) for public, state and agency review today.

A notification has been published in the Federal Register announcing the availability of the report for its required 30-day review.

“All of the recommended revisions to the report have been completed and approved and we’re now moving forward with public, state and agency review,” said Jacksonville District commander Col. Alan Dodd. “The release of this report is a significant milestone for CEPP and reflects the extraordinary efforts of so many to successfully address complex issues and produce this quality report.”

The report is available on the project’s Web page at: www.bit.ly/CentralEverglades_CEPP

.   Comments will be accepted through Sept. 8, 2014. They can be submitted electronically to:CEPPcomments@usace.army.mil

or mailed to:

Dr. Gretchen Ehlinger
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
P.O. Box 4970
Jacksonville, FL 32232-0019

The goal of CEPP is to capture water lost to tide and re-direct the water flow south to restore the central and southern Everglades ecosystem and Florida Bay. The Corps is jointly conducting this planning effort in partnership with the South Florida Water Management District.

Audubon Protects Wetlands and Wildlife in Northern Everglades

Osceola County is home to many of Florida’s Special Places. The Everglades Headwaters, the Econlockhatchee River headwaters, and the forested wetlands and marshes of the St. Johns River system are all located here. Some of Florida’s most iconic birds like Wood Storks and Audubon’s Crested Caracara call this vital area home.

In 2008, Audubon Florida and Kissimmee Valley Audubon worked with Osceola County to establish one of the most environmentally protective Local Government Comprehensive Plans in Florida. That’s why it was so shocking for citizens to learn that the Osceola County Commission voted to strip these important wetlands protections from their Comprehensive Plan, making it easier to advance development in sensitive areas.

In May of this year, Audubon challenged the County’s decision and asked that it be reviewed by an Administrative Law Judge. Today, we are proud to report that our efforts were a success.

Osceola County and Audubon have completed negotiations to restore the county’s important protections for wildlife and wetland habitat.

From the Orlando Sentinel:

In Audubon vs. Osceola, a good environmental deal

Basically, the county was preparing to (literally) paved [sic] the way for development in environmentally sensitive places, putting at risk the Kissimmee River and parts of the entire Everglades Ecosystem – a region taxpayers are already spending $9 billion to restore.

So the Florida Audubon Society sued, saying the county had no right to allow such pollution.

A battle was expected. But this week, Osceola essentially said: “OK.

The county agreed to reinstate many of the protections. And they did so joyfully with Commissioner Fred Hawkins Jr. declaring: “This was a really good day for all and for future generations to come.”

Like many special places around Florida, this beautiful region is likely to be the location of significant development pressure in the future. Maintaining Osceola County’s strong protections for wetland habitat is critical for the future of our state.

Thank you to everyone who makes their voice heard for Florida’s Special Places.

Audubon Florida|Restore|September 2014

Study says U.S. can’t keep up with loss of ecologically-sensitive wetlands

Over a four-year span, the United States lost more than 360,000 acres of freshwater and saltwater wetlands to fierce storms, sea-level rise and booming development along the coasts, according to a newly released federal study.

The disappearance of so much grass and forest marsh on the edge of waterways is a disturbing sign that government projects to restore wetlands are failing to keep pace, environmentalists said, as storms intensify, the sea level creeps up and development paves the way for rising coastal populations.

Saltwater wetlands help buffer sea surges that cause flooding during powerful storms along the coasts – such as Hurricane Sandy last year – and freshwater wetlands soak up storm-water runoff that often causes sewers to overflow. They also serve as nurseries for numerous species of fish and assorted marine life, while providing habitat for three-quarters of the nation’s waterfowl and migrating birds. Nearly half of endangered species depend on them to live.

“They are getting it from all directions,” said Tom Dahl, lead author of the study funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Study areas include the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic and Pacific coasts, the Great Lakes and other fresh inland waters.

In the Chesapeake Bay region, Maryland has lost 60,000 acres of wetlands since the 1940s because of population growth and farming, and in 1997 it launched a bid to restore them, according to the state’s Department of the Environment.

Virginia estimates that half of the wetlands that existed in the colonial period have been lost over time to farming and development. There is an ongoing effort in the state to restore and add to the 1 million acres that remain, according to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

Across the nation, wetlands have been converted to open water in some places and to mud in others. They include mangrove swamps, salt marshes, freshwater forested swamps, shrub depressions and wetlands floating on the edges of rivers.

The disappearance of marshes during the period covered in the study – between 2004 and 2009 – represented a 25 percent increase in the rate of loss in the same areas from the previous survey , which covered the six-year period between 1998 to 2004.

Storms and wetlands have waged an epic struggle on the coasts for eons. What’s relatively new, and detrimental to the wetlands, is an explosion of coastal residential and business development, along with coastal farming, that drain water from the wetlands or fill them with dirt for agriculture, parking lots, housing and retail stores.

As a result, sizeable chunks of wetlands die. Surviving wetlands are battered by rainwater runoff pouring from newly built surfaces such as driveways and roads, and much of that water is polluted with garbage, toxins and fine particle sediment. Wetlands can’t handle the added deluge.

“The plumbing of the whole system is altered,” said Dahl, a senior scientist for wetlands status and trends for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Darryl Fears|Reporter|Washington Post

POST SPECIAL REPORT EVERGLADES RESTORATION

South Florida’s crucial water fix

Everglades restoration is a gamble, but it’s necessary if South Florida is to survive, everyone agrees.

Millions of people consider South Florida home today because thousands of miles of canals, levees and dams were built in the early 20th century to drain the Everglades and make way for neighborhoods, golf courses, malls, condos and farms.

But that monumental engineering feat also turned what was once a clear, shallow sheet of freshwater flowing freely from Lake Okeechobee to the Florida Bay into a toxic stew, slowly ruining the habitat for plants and animals in one of the Earth’s most diverse ecosystems.

It reduced the size of the Everglades by half, leaving fewer wetlands to filter water clear and more farmland and yards to fertilize. That means too little water during droughts and too much during the wet season; aquifers and wells, which provide much of the region’s drinking water, not being sufficiently recharged; and salt water creeping inland without a robust flow of fresh water underground to hold it back.

Unless Florida re-plumbs the massive drainage system and restores clean water to the once soggy region, the long-term likelihood that there will be enough water to drink, irrigate crops, fill swimming pools and make golf courses green is doubtful.

In other words, scientists, bureaucrats and farmers agree, the Everglades must be restored if South Florida is to survive.

“When you consider that 90 percent of the people in South Florida get their drinking water from the Biscayne Aquifer and the Everglades recharges the Biscayne Aquifer… the Everglades touches the lives of everyone by sustaining the water supply of the lower east coast,” said Ernie Barnett, assistant executive director at the South Florida Water Management District who has spearheaded restoration efforts for 25 years.

The envisioned fix, in the works now for nearly 40 years, is to build tens of thousands of acres of shallow wetlands south of Lake Okeechobee and then use “green technology” – plants that thrive on high levels of nutrients – to clean polluted water from farms and urban areas before the water flows to the Everglades. These shallow reservoirs, the largest man-made wetlands in the world, have required massive land purchases and extensive engineering.

Even with the best minds using the most advanced science and engineering to model what will likely happen, no one can guarantee that backfilling canals, re-routing water and building city-sized water storage and treatment areas will work on such a massive scale.

Take projects such as the A-1 Reservoir, about 35 miles west of Boca Raton, and the Ten-Mile Creek Water Preserve, near Fort Pierce. The projects were intended to help the Everglades by providing storage that would enable water managers to control flows for a consistent and reliable supply of water to keep the ecosystem properly hydrated. Taxpayers spent $300 million on the two projects. Neither worked. Both sit idle today, although water managers hope to salvage the A-1 Reservoir site with a shallow-water storage area.

Five constructed wetlands, called stormwater treatment areas, are complete and have retained 3.4 million pounds of phosphorous, according to the water management district, the state agency overseeing restoration.

Already, 14 miles of the once meandering Kissimmee River, straightened by the Army Corps of Engineers during the 1960s to provide flood control, have been restored to its slow, winding path north of Lake Okeechobee. When complete in 2015, the natural flow will be restored to another 16 miles of the river. Already wetlands have emerged and populations of wading birds, ducks and large-mouth bass are up.

And with the completion of a bridge over the Tamiami Trail in Miami-Dade County this year, a flow path was opened to allow more water into Everglades National Park.

But there’s no denying that the several decades of Everglades restoration has been a slow and often invisible process. Most efforts have focused on logistics, litigation, scientific research and negotiating land deals, and so many projects have been revised and so many deadlines missed that no one knows exactly when the restoration will end and how many billions of dollars it will cost.

In 1994, the projected completion date was 2006. In 2003, the completion date was pushed back to 2016. Construction timelines now show the restoration will be complete in 2025 and will cost $8 billion.

Little wonder. Restoration of the Everglades, after all, is the world’s largest environmental restoration project ever attempted, rivaled in size only by efforts to re-plumb the marshes of Mesopotamia, part of the fertile crescent believed by anthropologists to be one of the birthplaces of civilization. Saddam Hussein drained those wetlands in the 1990s to punish its rebellious residents, and now several non-governmental environmental groups in Iraq hope to restore the wetlands.

Early efforts to protect and restore Florida’s water resources, including the Everglades, coincided with a wave of environmental consciousness that swept the country in the 1970s. The first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, harnessed the energy of the antiwar movement.

Besides Watergate, the birth of Microsoft and the end of the Vietnam War, the 1970s saw the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, passage of the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the founding of Greenpeace and interest in restoring the Everglades.

In 1976, Congress approved the first Everglades-related restoration project when it authorized the Army Corps to undo a project it had finished just five years earlier. The straightening of the slow, meandering Kissimmee River was a well-intentioned effort to control flooding north of Lake Okeechobee, but its effect was devastating as it allowed polluted water from crops, dairy farms and cattle ranches to wash quickly into the river, destroying wildlife habitat and contaminating the lake – the liquid heart of the greater Everglades.

Although it took the Corps just 11 years to channelize the river, it has taken more than 36 years to restore the bends and oxbows, a lag time that would be repeated over and over with other restoration projects.

Meanwhile, the population, especially in South Florida, exploded. In 1980 the state’s population was 9.7 million. By 2000, it had jumped to 15.9 million. Today, 19.3 million people call Florida home, each using between 80 and 100 gallons of water every day.

As waterfront property became more scarce, developers gobbled up land farther west, taking out swaths of the wetlands and prairies to build new towns in what once was the Everglades. Undeveloped lands that once absorbed rainwater and recharged aquifers were paved over. A web of canals captured nutrient-laden water from backyards, citrus groves and more than 400,000 acres of sugarcane fields

and dumped it into larger canals, which carried it to Lake Okeechobee and other waterways that flowed directly into the Everglades.

Politicians spent much of the early 1980s passing legislation to protect water and restore the Everglades. A succession of Florida governors put partisan squabbling aside

and built momentum for the cause. For example, Gov. Bob Graham, a Democrat, unveiled his Save Our Everglades plan in 1983. Republican Gov. Jeb Bush championed restoration with an annual commitment of $200 million during his term.

Still, most of the progress was on paper and phosphorous levels continued to climb. Fed up with the slow progress, Dexter Lehtinen, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, sued the water management district on behalf of the federal government in 1988.

The lawsuit, which continues today, accused Florida of failing to enforce its water quality standards in the Everglades. It also established a new costly front: the courtroom. Other lawsuits followed, including one filed by the Miccosukee Tribe, who hired Lehtinen after he left his government position.

More state and federal agencies, environmental groups and sugar growers found themselves mired in the costly litigation. By mid-2011, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection had spent $3.8 million on private lawyers, including one who billed $585 an hour.

A federal judge became so fed up that in April 2011 he issued a scathing order demanding progress in meeting limits on phosphorous pollution.

“None of the governmental agencies involved directly told the public the hard truth: we have not solved the problem, we do not know for sure when the problem will be solved, and we do not know if the Everglades will survive by the time we can meet the 10 parts per billion standard (if at all),” U.S. District Judge Alan S. Gold wrote.

Gold’s frustration and that of another federal judge resulted in an agreement in 2012 between state and federal agencies and environmental groups on how and when the phosphorous limits would be met. If the standard of 10 ppb of phosphorous is found to be exceeded in the Everglades, growers could face stricter methods for controlling phosphorous-rich fertilizers used on crops or the government could be forced to build more filtering wetlands.

Some say this standard came into play this summer in a way that shows that despite a century of efforts to drain, chop up and re-route the greater Everglades, it remains one system.

Billions of gallons of water from Lake Okeechobee and storm-water runoff in the Treasure Coast have been flushed into St. Lucie Estuary and Caloosahatchee River this summer, killing sea grasses, oyster beds and leaving the water unsafe for swimming.

Environmentalists say the district won’t allow more water south from Lake Okeechobee because it fears violating the 10 ppb standard in the Everglades and it doesn’t want to flood crops. The district says its storage areas south of the lake can’t take any more water until other restoration projects are complete. The Army Corps, responsible for the releases into the river and estuary, says it has been forced to release water because lake levels are so high they threaten the dike surrounding the lake.

Although restoration cannot bring back the Everglades to its original state, Barnett envisions a “Xerox reduction – an Everglades with a smaller footprint that functions like the original Everglades did.”

Unlike other construction projects paid by taxpayers, such as dams and highways, if the Everglades is successfully restored, there will be nothing to see but vacant, wet land and water splashing from your tap.

“We’re deconstructing,” said Barnett. “We want to get it to where you don’t see what was done to the Everglades. That’s the ultimate goal.”

Canals and dams were built to drain the Everglades and make way for neighborhoods, golf courses, malls and farms. That reduced the size of the Everglades by half, leaving fewer wetlands to filter water clear.

Christine Stapleton|Staff Writer|Palm Beach Post

Water Quality Issues

Petitioners aim to deep-six Keys shallow effluent injection wells

Injection wells for two Lower Keys water-treatment plants don’t go deep enough to safeguard Florida Keys waters, say environmental and homeowners groups.

Legal petitions seeking an appeal hearing on permits for shallow water-injection wells on Cudjoe Key and Stock Island have been filed with the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“A deep well is the right thing to do and we hope that [the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority] and Monroe County decide to do the right thing,” said Ralf Brookes, who filed the July 25 petition against renewing DEP permits for the county’s regional wastewater treatment plant on Cudjoe Key.

“We have to do everything we can to protect our unique coral reef resources, which are a big part of our economy,” said Brookes, a former Monroe County land-use attorney now practicing in Cape Coral.

Tuesday, the Last Stand environmental group and Key West resident George Halloran filed a similar petition against DEP permits for two new shallow injection wells at a Stock Island wastewater treatment plant run by Key West Resort Utilities Inc., a private business that processes the island’s wastewater.

The Cudjoe petition was sparked by efforts of the Dig Deep Cudjoe group, comprising “a very informal group of citizens” concerned about effects of treated wastewater, or effluent, on nearshore waters, spokeswoman Jan Edelstein said.

The group contends the shallow wells, 12 inches in diameter, will pump effluent down 120 feet into “very porous” limestone.

Even after advanced wastewater treatment, the freshwater effluent could still hold large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous that reach nearshore waters as a result of tidal flow through limestone, the group says.

The legal filing lists the Cudjoe Gardens Property Owners Association and the Sugarloaf Shores Property Owners Association as petitioners, along with commercial fishermen Don DeMaria of Summerland Key and Mike Laudiciana of Big Pine Key.

All petitioners “will suffer adverse effects from the large quantity and poor quality of effluent” that would sent down the shallow injection wells, it says.

“Because of the hydrogeology of the porous limestone in the area, the large volume of low-salinity, partially treated effluent injected into shallow wells will quickly rise to the surface and adversely impact the marine surface waters and ecosystems,” the petition says.

Injecting effluent into bedrock about 2,000 feet below the surface would better safeguard the marine environment, according to Dig Deep Cudjoe.

The estimated final cost of the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System, to serve 9,000 equivalent dwelling units, is $162 million. Part of that is the treatment plant, costing $23 million. Digging a deepwater injection well would add from $6 million to $8 million, engineers said

Four shallow wells have already been drilled at a total cost of about $300,000 at the site of the Cudjoe Key wastewater plant under a 2009 DEP permit now up for renewal. The plant and wells will not be operational until 2015.

Aqueduct Authority managers and engineers who oversee Monroe County’s wastewater projects say the Cudjoe plant will not exceed the state’s legal daily limit of 1 million gallons of effluent sent to the shallow wells. Anything over 1 million gallons per day requires a deep injection well, a mandate in state rules covering the Keys’ designated “Outstanding Florida Waters.”

“We’ll probably run two wells at a time for better dispersal of the effluent injected into the ground,” FKAA engineer Tom Walker said.

The treatment plant also will have four monitoring wells that measure the outflow from the injection wells, FKAA Executive Director Kirk Zuelch said.

“If, in fact, the environment is not being protected because of nitrates or too much freshwater or whatever the issue may be,” Zuelch said, “then we go to the County Commission and say we need to do a deep well.”

Whether the plant output exceeds the state’s 1-million-gallon daily limit will be one of the issues contested in the petition hearing if it goes forward.

“The more our watchdogs dug into the regulatory and legal thicket, the more concerned they got. It seemed the deep-well rule and other regulations had been violated,” says an e-mail sent by Dig Deep Cudjoe.

The state DEP issued its notice of intent to renew the Cudjoe Key application July 14. “The application provided reasonable assurance of compliance with applicable department statutes and rules,” DEP press secretary Tiffany Cowie said. “The department’s proposed permitting action is currently in litigation.”

The debate could reach the Monroe County Commission at its Aug. 20 meeting.

“I think we should put the best system in the ground we possibly can … rather than wait until some time in the future when a future commission will have to bite the bullet,” Commissioner Danny Kolhage said in an Aug. 1 interview with US1 Radio.

Last Stand’s petition on the Stock Island plant contends peak winter use will exceed the million-gallon daily limit by more than 25 percent. The utility says it qualifies for a shallow well because its daily average, calculated over a year, falls below the limit.

KEVIN WADLOW|keynoter.com|August 9, 2014

My View: Let’s keep cleaning up Florida’s water

Floridians love water, whether it’s fishing, boating, swimming or stretching back to soak in a beautiful sunset over Apalachee Bay.

And one might say that our water loves us back. The recreational fishing industry alone supports 79,200 jobs in our state.

Then there’s tourism, a whopping $70 billion industry and a major driver of our state’s economy. Millions of people head to the Sunshine State to relax on our sparkling beaches, boat on our lakes and admire the wonders of the Everglades.

But all these waters are in jeopardy.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection reports:

• The growth in urban development over the past decades has caused extensive habitat loss in aquatic areas and has affected the viability of fisheries in many estuarine areas.

• Right now, 28 percent of the state’s rivers and streams, 25 percent of the state’s lakes and 59 percent of the square miles of estuaries have poor water quality.

• Algal blooms and red tides like one currently threatening the west coast of Florida are increasing in frequency, duration and magnitude and could become an even greater threat in the future.

The message should be loud and clear: We need to do all we can to protect our rivers, lakes and estuaries if we want to keep our economy strong.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is currently taking comments on a proposal to do just that. The Clean Water Act, which passed with strong bipartisan support in 1972, has helped keep much of the nation’s water clean and unpolluted for 42 years. But two controversial Supreme Court decisions have left it unclear if the law applies to smaller bodies of water, such as headwater streams and smaller wetlands.

Why should Floridians care about these small streams and wetlands? All our waters are interconnected. Headwater streams are where our rivers begin. Small streams and wetlands can trap sediments, nutrients and pollutants — keeping our downstream waters clean and safe for drinking and recreation. The health and productivity of the Apalachicola River, the bay and the eastern Gulf of Mexico depend upon sufficient flows of clean water coming from the many small streams and wetlands that feed into the river upstream in Georgia and the Florida Panhandle. When wetlands are filled and streams are channelized and polluted upstream, the entire river system suffers — along with all those who depend on it.

In Bay County, for example, more than 75 percent of the stream miles are currently in this legal limbo and therefore at increased risk of pollution.

Furthermore, one acre of wetland can store up to 1.5 million gallons of flood water. A few more intact wetlands might have helped cities in the Panhandle during the unbelievable rains in May. And while that was an exceptional event, flooding in the Panhandle is not: North Florida’s Escambia and Santa Rosa counties have some of the highest flood damage costs in the U.S.

Why then is Congressman Steve Southerland championing a bill to block this protection of our waterways and wetlands? Furthermore, Congressman Southerland’s inaccurate claims — alleging that the proposal will regulate sprinkler puddles — smacks of election year fear-mongering.

The EPA proposal itself is fairly clear. It specifically carves out exceptions for normal agriculture uses while bolstering protections for our waters. Read the rule for yourself and make a comment to the EPA at http://www2.epa.gov/uswaters.

As a supporter of reduced government spending, Southerland should be backing the proposal instead of attacking it. Healthy streams and wetlands clean our waters and boost our economy. Without those services, government will spend more money to deal with problems caused by flooding and pollution.

Southerland’s constituents benefit daily from clean water and healthy wetlands. The EPA proposal would simply eliminate confusion, reinforce the original intent of the Clean Water Act and protect the waters that benefit Florida’s economy. It deserves Floridians support.

Manley Fuller|president|Florida Wildlife Federation|Jan Goldman-Carter|senior manager|wetlands and water resources|National Wildlife Federation

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Help Protect Common Loon from Dirty Oil Spills ‏


Few sounds are more hauntingly beautiful than the call of the common loon, a bird which has benefitted greatly from conservation efforts.

But now the waters near Lake Superior and in northern Minnesota that provide crucial habitat for loons are at significant risk of being poisoned by a dirty tar sands oil spill.

For the loons that rely on the cold waters of northern lakes and ponds to fish and breed, any oil spill can be a catastrophe. But a nearly-impossible-to-clean-up tar sands oil spill would leave loon and other wildlife habitat devastated for generations.

The recent secret deal between the State Department and oil pipeline giant Enbridge would allow tremendous increases in tar sands oil pumping through the Alberta Clipper pipeline that runs from the North Dakota/Canadian border to Superior, Wisconsin.

This agreement undermines the public process, and allows the oil company to bypass necessary environmental reviews and permitting requirements. It also subjects Great Lakes wildlife to the risks that come with more tar sands.

Last year, the State Department made a commitment to perform a thorough environmental review and require a new permit before any increase in tar sands flow through the pipeline would be allowed. Yet, a few weeks ago, a backroom deal with Enbridge was agreed to. After an outcry from conservation organizations, the State Department is now taking public comments on the impact of this secret deal that would allow more tar sands oil in the pipeline.

It’s crucial that State Department officials hear loud and clear that this deal reached behind closed doors will harm loons and the Great Lakes—and that the State Department must not allow any more tar sands into the Great Lakes region.

Adam Kolton|Executive Director|National Advocacy Center|9/13/2014

Offshore & Ocean

Threatened coral: Climate change puts 20 types at risk

The US government is putting 20 species of threatened coral on a list of threatened species.

The threatened coral are vital to the health of marine ecosystems, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Washington — The US government is protecting 20 types of colorful coral by putting them on the list of threatened species, partly because of climate change.

“Coral reefs are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth, providing habitat for many marine species. Protecting and conserving these biologically rich ecosystems is essential, and the Endangered Species Act gives us the tools to conserve and recover those corals ​most in need of protection,” Eileen Sobeck, assistant administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, said in a press release. “The final decision is a result of the most extensive rulemaking ever undertaken by NOAA. The amount of scientific information sought, obtained and analyzed was unprecedented.”

Five species can be found off the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts of Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The other 15 are in the Pacific Ocean area near Guam and American Samoa.

NOAA originally looked at listing 66 species, but Wednesday listed only 20 for various reasons. All are called threatened, not endangered. Coral reefs, which are in trouble worldwide, are important fish habitats.

Coral reefs are critical to the health of marine ecosystems, and they face severe threats. Coral reefs world-wide have declined significantly — some individual species have declined by at least 90 percent. Healthy coral reefs provide shoreline protection for coastal communities and habitat for a variety of species, including commercially important fish. These benefits are lost when corals are degraded.

 Staff|Associated Press|August 28, 2014

For more information, visit the NOAA site.

Aussies Back Off on Dumping Sludge on Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most beautiful natural wonders in the world — it’s even listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sadly, it’s also in trouble. The reef is facing serious damage as a result of climate change, environmental practices in Australia itself and now, a proposed plan involving a coal depot that has devolved into a complicated boondoggle that highlights the tensions between environmental protections, corporate interests and the environmental movement itself.

Can Australians make the right decision for this fragile and critical environmental site?

It started as a plan to expand an existing coal project, Abbot Point, which already provides deepwater access to ships arriving off the coast of Queensland State to collect coal — a major source of profits for Australia. Developers wanted to expand the port, which would have involved dredging to facilitate ship access. Dredging creates substantial amounts of rock, silt and other material that has to go somewhere when it’s removed, and the first proposal was to dump it alarmingly close to the Great Barrier Reef.

This plan was initially approved by Australia’s federal government, causing immediate concern among environmentalists. It also attracted attention from UNESCO, which had already been considering listing the Great Barrier Reef as a threatened site due to the ongoing environmental issues it’s facing. Environmentalists filed a suit pressuring the government to reconsider the plan, and, finally, the government agreed to shift the dredged material to land.

The story isn’t over yet, though, as environmentalists have concerns about where on land the waste will be dumped. Those concerns are rather valid, given that the volume of material is roughly equivalent to the Great Pyramid of Giza. The government says it will be used for landfilling and community improvements, but the proposed dumping site is perilously near the Caley Valley wetlands, an ecologically fragile site that hosts a number of precious bird species. Environmental advocates want proof that the government really is backing down on the plan to dump dredged materials near the reef — and some don’t want to see dredging at all.

Dredging near reefs has been linked with coral disease, a serious environmental problem. Even if the dredged material isn’t dumped near the reef, minimizing the risk of silt spillage and related problems, disturbances in the ocean floor around reefs aren’t healthy. Worryingly, the coral disease seen most commonly around dredging sites is white syndrome, in which all tissue is effectively stripped, meaning that the remaining coral has no chance of recovery if the site is subsequently protected. Increased ship traffic created by the newly-dredged channel could also present a threat to the health of the Great Barrier Reef, yet another concern for advocates concerned with this precious piece of Australian, and global, heritage.

There are also concerns about the rush associated with the project. The dumping was originally approved by a government staffer with no experience in marine conservation who actually went against advice from scientists, and now that the government is backing down and pushing a land-based plan, it’s attempting to rush the plan through as quickly as possible in the interest of coal mining companies that plan on using the port to expand their operations and increase sales.

The government is also under the gun because of a requested review from UNESCO — the agency wants the Australian government to submit information on the conservation status of the reef next year. Rather than galloping to a conclusion on the controversial project, environmentalists want to bring the government back to the table to discuss whether the site should be dredged at all, and, if so, where the removed materials can be most effectively and safely used.

Of course, the situation brings up a larger issue: Should Australia be promoting its coal industry at all, given the environmental costs of coal mining and the use of coal as a fuel?

s.e. smith|September 12, 2014

Australia’s EPA Rejects Cruel Shark Cull

In a major win for sharks and their advocates, Australia’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recommended Western Australia (WA) end its controversial shark killing program.

After a series of fatal attacks, WA’s government proposed a new program in an effort to keep beachgoers safe that involved setting out baited drum lines, which consist of a large baited hook attached to a buoy and an anchor to hold it in place, in designated zones along popular beaches with the intention of killing great white sharks, bull sharks and tiger sharks who were larger than three meters.

The plan sparked outrage from conservation organizations, local communities. politicians, celebrities and marine scientists from around the world who criticized it for being nothing more than a pointless cull that would have a devastating impact on marine ecosystems, while doing nothing to really keep people safe. Concerned Care2 member Holly Jade decided to do something about it and started a petition demanding an end to the horrible practice. Thanks to Holly’s petition, over 38,000 Care2 members were able to express their frustration by signing her petition.

This past May, government figures that were released showing the death toll added fuel to the opposition. Between January and April, 172 sharks were caught, while 50 tiger sharks longer than 10 feet were killed. Figures also show that 14 sharks measuring less than 10 feet died on the drum line and four more were destroyed because they were too weak to survive the ordeal. Stingrays and mako sharks, who are a protected species, were killed as bycatch on drum lines. Yet not a single great white, who are believed to be responsible for the fatal attacks, was caught.

Thankfully, this week the EPA announced that it recommended against continuing the program, which was supposed to be extended for another three years, over concerns about how it could hurt the population of great whites, who are a protected species, and because of “a high degree of scientific uncertainty” after assessing the program as part of a Public Environmental Review.

“At this stage, the available information and evidence does not provide the EPA with a high level of confidence. In view of these uncertainties, the EPA has adopted a cautious approach by recommending against the proposal,” said the EPA’s chairman Paul Vogel.

The recommendation means no drum lines will be put in the water this summer, which will keep sharks safer and should thrill the thousands of people who have spoken out against the cull. According to news reports, the EPA’s review received a record amount of public input.

“The EPA should be congratulated for listening to the people, listening to the science and giving sharks and future generations the respect they deserve. The worlds children need healthy oceans and healthy oceans need sharks,” said Sea Shepherd’s Managing Director Jeff Hansen.

While there will be a two week window for a public appeal before the EPA releases its final verdict on the matter in October, and a final decision will be up to WA’s Environment Minister Albert Jacobs, Premier Colin Barnett said he was disappointed with the results, but would accept them adding that it was unlikely the government would appeal the decision. It will still also need to be approved by Environmental Minister Greg Hunt, who shark advocates hope will sign-off on canceling the program.

Those who have been working to save sharks from an inhumane death on drum lines are still hoping the government will look to other non-lethal measures to help improve public safety from increased aerial patrols and shark barriers to more education for the public.

If there’s something you feel passionate about and you want to make a difference, you can start a Care2 petition just like Holly Jade. Care2′s community of activists will help rally behind your cause and make it a success.

Alicia Graef|September 12, 2014

Bye Bye Bycatch? Smart Nets That Save Fish

Six years ago, the Norwegian coast guard filmed a Scottish fishing vessel riding gray swells, dumping 5 metric tons of dead fish back into the North Sea. Over the European Union catch quota, and so unable to keep all the fish they’d caught, the fishermen had to ditch some. To the Norwegians, who aren’t part of the EU and hold a strict discards ban, the waste was shocking.

When this news reached Dan Watson, a young British designer, it became the inspiration for SafetyNet, an ocean fishing net that allows certain fish to escape via lighted rings, offering more catch selectivity. The Scottish fishermen’s predicament, he believed, was driven by their lack of control. “There can be no villains, there can be no victims, there are just problems,” Watson says. “I started this project because I wanted to go some way towards solving that problem.”

Watson joins a growing number of innovators designing more selective fishing gear to reduce bycatch—the unwanted fish, dolphins, whales and birds that get scooped up by longlines, gillnets and trawlers each year and then discarded. Globally, the amount of marine life that is wasted or unmanaged—which makes it potentially unsustainable—forms about 40 percent of the catch. “The way we catch now is to catch everything, decide what we want to keep, and discard the rest,” says Martin Hall, head of the bycatch program at the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, which regulates tuna fishing in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Bycatch can result in overfishing, reduces the population of species that might already be endangered and, on the largest scale, interrupts food chains and damages whole ecosystems. It also amounts to an enormous waste of valuable fish protein.

To designers building better nets and lines, bycatch isn’t viewed as an inevitability, but as something we can phase out, piece by piece. It’s also seen as a battle that needs to be fought alongside fishermen, not against them.

Speaking from his trawler, the 45-foot Proud Mary, off the coast of Massachusetts, one such fisherman, Christopher Brown, says that over the years, fishermen have had to “rethink the game.” Brown operates a fishery that’s almost completely free of discards; is the board president of the Seafood Harvesters of America, an organization representing stewardship-minded fishermen; and has designed a squid net that reduces bycatch. The net contains an escape route at its base that exploits the bottom-dwelling behavior of unwanted flounder, encouraging them to flee the net through this gap. “We need to look at things entirely differently than we have in the last 30 years,” Brown says—and new gear is part of that equation. “It’s a matter of enlightened self-interest.”

Brown may seem unconventional, but more and more, fishermen are the ones both driving change and being consulted like clients about new gear. “The main focus has to be the fisherman,” says Watson. “You have to build something the fisherman is going to use.”

For designers, the next challenge is gaining capital. Although Watson has been working on his SafetyNet design for five years, and even though it won the prestigious James Dyson design award in 2012, it’s still staggeringly expensive, and Watson has had difficulty hiring a boat that will try out his net on open water.

Designed to free both young and endangered fish, the SafetyNet works by using fitted LED rings, which flash like exit signs to alert smaller fish. The fish can then escape by squeezing through the rings. There’s also a panel in the net that separates tighter mesh at the top from larger mesh below, allowing nontarget, bottom-dwelling species such as cod to escape through the bigger holes. With lights and panel working in tandem, “You can start almost herding the fish under the water,” Watson says.

There is no silver-bullet solution for a problem as broad as bycatch; instead, each new piece of gear responds uniquely to a species’ size, shape and behavior. “The more we know about the ways we can stop different things being caught, the more we can make bespoke nets,” Watson says. As Hall puts it, “Slowly, you attack the different angles of the problem, and you solve it.”

Of course, there’s the inevitable economic caveat. Just as Watson has fought for funding, money is an obstacle for the industry too, slowing the scale-up of new gear across fisheries. Fishermen support innovation, but they can’t be expected to lose money over it, says Barrie Deas, chief executive for the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organizations, which represents fishermen in the UK. “Technical innovation is one thing. It’s the economic consequences of doing that [that matters],” he says. “People will seek economic ways to fish.”

It’s easy to argue back that changes in gear should just be legislated—but that rarely works, says Deas, if fishermen aren’t already onboard. “It’s not so much the designed gear that’s the problem,” he says. “But if the attempt is made to introduce it in a top-down bureaucratic way with top-down prescriptive legislation, the last 20 years has told us that doesn’t work.”

Going some way to bridge this financial gap and to bring collaborative, bottom-up thinking to gear design, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) runs a regular competition called the International Smart Gear Competition that gives academics, conservationists and fishermen the chance to share their ideas.

“What we have learned is that you need an incentive to get started,” says Hall, who doubles as a competition judge. And that incentive is cash. For each competition cycle, sponsors partner with WWF to generate the prize money. This year, $65,000 will be awarded—the grand prize will be $30,000, with runners-up receiving the rest. “The extent of the support depends on the amount of money we can raise, so in some years, it’s been better than others,” says Michael Osmond, Smart Gear’s senior project officer.

The prize money goes to notable designers to help them build, try out and, they hope, introduce their gear into fisheries. “I think that attitudes have changed a lot over the last decade,” Osmond says. “With our competition, a lot of the winning ideas have come from fishermen themselves.”

This collaborative environment has delivered some serious successes. In 2011, designers hacked LED fishing lights ordinarily used to attract fish and repurposed them to drive turtles away instead. Globally, dense pockets of gillnets unintentionally snare and drown thousands of turtles each year because they’re almost invisible underwater, says John Wang, project leader and a researcher with the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research who works as a fisheries research ecologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But if LED lights are fixed onto nets and tuned to a wavelength turtles can see, turtles recognize the nets as barriers and cruise by. As Wang puts it, “We have a selective communication channel to the turtles.” With this tool, they’ve reduced bycatch by up to 60 percent during trials in Mexico, Peru and Indonesia, and are now working with U.S. fisheries too.

It’s not just about turtles, though: “What we’re beginning to see is that the wavelength has some interesting properties. Different wavelengths affect fish in different ways,” Wang says. Now, he’s working on illuminating nets with ultraviolet light to steer hammerhead sharks away.

Judged by global impact, Smart Gear’s biggest success story is arguably the Eliminator Trawl, a 2007 winner built to address cod shortages by allowing cod to escape nets in New England haddock fisheries.

The brainchild of fishermen, designers and academics—“a real collaborative effort,” says Laura Skrobe, Eliminator team member and fisheries scientist at Rhode Island University—the net frees down-swimming cod through the large mesh at the base, reducing bycatch by 80 percent. A tighter mesh at the top herds in haddock, which tend to swim upward. The net also significantly cuts dogfish, plaice and lobster catch—all without hurting the haddock fishery.

During trials, the team had to sell the catch from the first three trawls just to afford the fourth. But despite hurdles, “the fishermen were really the ones who pushed it,” says Skrobe. “Our fishermen will be conservationists themselves whether or not their managers tell them to. We’re just providing tools for the toolbox.” The net’s straightforward design has made it useful in both the U.S. and the U.K., where it’s now formally part of fishing regulations.

In the quest to scale up smart fishing gear across global fisheries, Hall echoes what designers such as Skrobe feel: large-scale, regulatory change can happen, but only if it’s negotiated with fishermen first, or they’ll resent it. Increased investment is the obvious next step, to spur innovation and to make gear changes easier to phase into fisheries so fishermen don’t carry the costs.

As a longtime WWF Smart Gear judge, Hall adds something else: He craves even greater innovation, ideas that challenge the age-old fishing tradition. “Even though wonderful things are happening, we aren’t innovating in a dramatic way,” Hall says. “I’d really like to see an initiative that goes out of the box, to just shake the concept that because we’ve been doing this for 2,000 years, it’s OK.”

In August, Dan Watson will try his SafetyNet on the open ocean for the first time. After weathering a few challenges, he’s found a trawler that will take him off the southwestern coast of the U.K. and into the Atlantic, pulling his lighted net, to ride the swells just as those Scottish fishermen did six years ago.

For those fighting bycatch, there’s a long road ahead—much of it determined by funding and policy. But for now, innovators need to keep innovating, Watson believes. “You can look at the political world of fish, but that’s going to take 20 years to sort out. We need to create interventions in the meantime.”

Help for Bluefin Tuna!

A multinational organization that coordinates fishing activities in the western Pacific is throwing a lifeline to heavily overfished Pacific bluefin tuna stocks.

Speaking today at a press briefing, Japanese officials provided details on a plan agreed to last week that aims to rebuild the spawning population by halving the catch of juveniles and limiting takes of mature fish as well. The proposal calls for total Pacific bluefin catches to be kept below the 2002 to 2004 annual average levels and for catches of fish weighing fewer than 30 kilograms—juveniles too young to spawn—to be reduced to 50% of those levels.

Conservation organizations see the proposed limits as a step in the right direction. But they are “far from enough,” Wakao Hanaoka, senior ocean campaigner for Greenpeace, tells ScienceInsider. He says that Pacific bluefin tuna stocks have shrunk to just 4% of the historical population, making proper stock management a matter of urgency.

A subcommittee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) agreed to the Japan-sponsored draft at a meeting last week in Fukuoka. The full commission will almost certainly adopt it at a meeting to be held in Samoa starting 1 December, explained Masanori Miyahara, an adviser to the ministry of agriculture who chaired last week’s meeting. Reducing the take of juveniles that haven’t yet spawned is one key to achieving the plan’s initial goal of rebuilding spawning stock biomass—the fish population able to reproduce—to the historical median of 42,592 tons within 10 years. The biomass is now thought to be 26,000 tons, very near its all-time low. “Eating fish before they spawn is very wasteful,” Miyahara says.

Dennis Normile|Science|September 11, 2014

Read more at Science.

Gulf oyster harvest has nose-dived since BP spill

Gulf Coast oyster harvests have declined dramatically in the four years since a BP PLC oil well blew wild in the nation’s worst offshore oil disaster. Even after a modest rebound last year, thousands of acres of oyster beds where oil from the well washed ashore are producing less than a third of their pre-spill harvest.

Source: AP

Smells Fishy: Acidic Oceans Are Bad For Shark Noses

The ocean is vast and meals can be hard to come by. That’s why sharks evolved an excellent sense of smell. Some sharks, like the lemon shark, can smell one drop of blood in an Olympic sized pool.

But a new study shows that ocean acidification, the result of atmospheric carbon being absorbed by the ocean, might rob sharks of the sense they most depend on.

Scientists placed dogfish sharks into water treated with levels of carbon that are expected by mid century and by 2100. They found that sharks’ sense of smell was impaired.

“The sharks’ tracking behavior and attacking behavior were significantly reduced,” Danielle Dixson, an assistant professor in the School of Biology at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, said in a press release. “Sharks are like swimming noses, so chemical cues are really important for them in terms of finding food.”

Instead of swimming towards the odor of a squishy squid meal, the sharks tended to avoid the squid smell completely — even when squid odor was pumped through their waters. Sharks from the control group, who were not exposed to acidic waters, tended to swim towards the source of the smell and spend 60 percent of their time basking in it.

The scientists used odor only so that they could make sure the sharks weren’t using any other senses to detect prey. Dixson says they hope to observe other senses in the future.

This is not the first study to show the effect of higher levels of ocean carbon on predator-prey relations. In a previous study, Dixson observed that fish living near areas where carbon seeped through the ocean floor struggled to detect the odor of predators compared to fish who lived in areas without added carbon.

Though sharks have been around for almost 450 million years and have adapted to changes in ocean carbon levels, the rate at which ocean acidification is occurring as a result of climate change is alarming. Scientists are concerned that they, and many other species of marine life, may not be able to adapt quickly enough.

Manon Verchot|TreeHugger|September 13, 2014

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.

Shark safety among items up for FWC discussion

Goliath grouper, lionfish eggs, shark chum and gun silencers are among the topics top state wildlife regulators will ponder this week.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meets Wednesday and Thursday in Kissimmee.

Melbourne Beach Mayor Jim Simmons plans to speak up Thursday to nudge FWC to ban shark chumming from shore and create other rules to make people safer from the ocean’s top predator.

“Shark fishermen’s rights shouldn’t trump the rights of swimmers and surfers,” Simmons said.

Melbourne Beach officials say “bloodbaiting” is dangerous, potentially putting sharks into feeding frenzies near swimmers. But local governments don’t have the authority to stop chumming. FWC regulates saltwater fishing and chumming.

At Thursday’s meeting, another fish is sure to create a big stir.

Goliath grouper grow up to 800 pounds and can wolf down mid-sized sharks in one gulp.

A recent YouTube video with 37 million views shows a Goliath grouper swallow whole a four-foot-long blacktip shark as a fisherman reeled the shark in offshore of Bonita Springs.

Divers and fisherman say they’ve seen enough. They describe seeing so many of these gargantuan groupers along Florida’s reefs and shipwrecks that it’s high time to remove a long-running ban on harvesting the fish. The Goliaths are sucking up spiny lobsters, reef fish and other marine life, they say, tipping the food web’s balance.

Commissioners will discuss the Goliath’s status and hear results from a University of Florida study of what fishermen and others think about the fish.

“The culmination of it all was that most of the people were supporting of continuing the closure, but felt like there could be some limited take for research purposes,” Amanda Nalley, an FWC spokeswoman said of the study.

The Goliath won’t be open up to fishing until a new study of the fish’s numbers is complete in the fall of next year.

“Right now, we’re not presenting any management measures from them to decide upon,” Nalley said.

Before 1983, there were no state or federal regulations on commercial or recreational harvest of the fish. That year, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council banned spearing of Goliath grouper.

Baitfish swirl around a goliath grouper recently off Lee County. Many people think goliath grouper are wiping out bait fish, grouper and snapper populations, but scientific evidence shows that their main diet is crabs. (Photo: Leonardo Bueno / Special to The News-Press )

Then in 1990, harvest of the fish was banned in state and federal waters.

Although the fish’s status remains unknown, different surveys show substantial recovery since the fishery was closed, a staff report to FWC commissioners says. “However, the extent to which the population has recovered is unclear,” the report says.

The last stock assessment in 2010 found that the 1990 harvest ban cut fishing pressure by about 83 percent and that the stock might be recovered, according to the staff report. But the report also cites a long-term lack of landings data, rendering the assessment inconclusive and the stock status mostly unknown.

Ron Rincones, a fisherman and diver from Grant-Valkaria, knows the grouper reigns supreme along local reefs and shipwrecks, hogging all the spiny lobsters for themselves.

“If I’m diving the big ledges, you see 400- or 500- pounders,” Rincones said. “Every wreck now is loaded with them,” he added. “There’s probably more now than there were in the late 40s and early 50s.”

A much smaller fish on the agenda – though similarly as fearsome to the food web – is the invasive lionfish.

They aggressively gobble up other prized sport and commercial fish and have grown to dominate many offshore reefs. Even the Goliath doesn’t seem to be making a dent.

So on Thursday, FWC will consider a proposed rule to ban breeding lionfish in captivity or possessing their eggs and larvae for any purpose other than destruction or research.

The state agency recently adopted a ban on importing lionfish and other rules to help remove the fish from Florida waters.

Hunters won’t likely stay silent on this agenda item.

On Wednesday, FWC will consider a draft rule to remove Florida’s restriction on the use of silencers for hunting wildlife classified as game.

Silencers on guns, also called suppressors, go on the gun’s barrel to dampen sound.

Hunters asked FWC to look into the issue, and the agency determined restrictions on using silencers for hunting were no longer necessary.

Thirty-two states already allow silencers for all hunting.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meeting

* Time: 8:30 a.m.

* Dates: Wednesday, Thursday

* Place: Embassy Suites Orlando – Lake Buena Vista South, 4955 Kyngs Heath Road, Kissimmee

* Agenda: http://myfwc.com/about/commission/commission-meetings/2014/september/10/agenda/

Jim Waymer|News-Press|September 7, 2014

BP’s cleanup promise broken; oil visible on beaches

The costs and energies of supervising the cleanup of a mess that we did not make should not rest entirely on our shoulders.

A promise was broken.

Maybe it’s all BP’s fault. Maybe the Coast Guard shares the blame. Maybe we’re all suckers for not getting it in writing. But we thought we had a deal.

The deal was that the Coast Guard-led and BP-funded oil spill cleanup would not leave our beaches until there was no more visible oil. But the Coast Guard declared the mission accomplished in 2013. And as we all know too well by now – the oil is still visible.

Pensacola News-Journal reporter Kim Blair spoke with Escambia County’s director of community and environment, Keith Wilkins, an official who has been on the front lines battling the oil spill since the day in 2010 when it began gushing wildly into the Gulf of Mexico. Wilkins summed up the broken promise like this: “At the very beginning of the oil spill, we were all talking about end points for monitoring and cleaning so we’d know when we were done with the whole thing … At the onset of the oil spill, we had an agreement with BP and the Coast Guard that the end point would be no observable oil on the beaches. We still have not reached that point.”

And that’s the bottom line. We have not reached the point of no visible oil. We still see tarballs. We still see tar mats. And under the gaze of a microscope, we can still see traces of the toxic dispersant chemicals that were futilely pumped into the Gulf.

For residents who take pride in leaving only footprints on our unique and beautiful shoreline, the disgusting stain of man-made folly is far from fading. And now, it’s clear that the heavy obligation to monitor the lingering results of BP’s mess has been shoved onto all of us.

BP initially paid Florida $50 million for oil monitoring and cleanup. Blair reported that the money dried up in June. The continued work is now financed by state taxpayers and it is unclear whether reimbursement will come from BP.

DEP workers Joey Whibbs and David Perkinson, the last two-man team left scouting for lingering oil from the 2010 spill, still find oil every day, five days a week. It was Perkinson who discovered the tar mat earlier this year on Fort Pickens beach. But even when they find it, time is of the essence. Rapidly changing surf and beach conditions require quick action before the oil is covered or washed elsewhere. And when the Coast Guard has not been immediately prepared to respond when alerted to discovery of oil, with the cleanup clock ticking, the exhausting work has fallen on the DEP’s two sentinels.

It is a Sisyphean task for just two men, the search for oil like a never ending push of a boulder down the beach. It should not be this way.

Pensacola News Journal|August 8, 2014

Hawaii’s Tern Island Is So Polluted With Plastic That It Might Become a Superfund Site

Ocean plastic and toxic waste left behind by the military threaten sea turtles, seals, and other marine life.

Hawaiian green sea turtles, monk seals, and black-footed albatrosses are all closer to getting a cleaner, plastic-free home as the federal government takes a step toward declaring a remote Pacific atoll a Superfund site.

The designation, which the United States Environmental Protection Agency gives areas severely contaminated by hazardous waste, would be the first granted for a site that was investigated for ocean plastic pollution.

“I’m thrilled the EPA is taking this historic first step to protect Hawaiian monk seals and green sea turtles from dangerous plastic litter,” said Emily Jeffers, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “These animals face enough threats to their survival from sea level rise and habitat loss; the last thing they need is to choke on a floating plastic bag.”

Located about 564 miles northwest of Honolulu, Tern Island is as remote as an island can get. But the atoll is directly in the path of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, catching bits of the billions of pounds of swirling plastic that inundates the area.

That plastic—whether bags, fishing lines, or bottle caps—often ends up in the bellies of marine animals and birds.

“Initial studies conducted by EPA in areas outside of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands indicate that microplastic marine debris can accumulate and transport contaminants in the marine environment into the food chain,” Dean Higuchi, an EPA spokesman, said in an email.

Higuchi pointed out that the Superfund designation wouldn’t come just because of drifting plastic. “The major thing to remember…is the contamination that was left from the military activities on Tern Island,” he said.

From 1942 to1979, the U.S. Navy used the island as an airfield, a missile range, and an aircraft refueling station. The Coast Guard also maintained a facility there.

What did they leave behind? An abandoned airstrip and a landfill filled with generators, electronics, cable, batteries, wires, and a 50,000-gallon neoprene fuel tank.

The government’s initial assessment found toxic substances such as polychlorinated biphenyls and lead in the buried military waste and determined that further action was warranted.

“At this point, no decision has been made on exactly what the next steps will be in designating the site as a Superfund, but the focus will really be on the PCBs and the lead from military activities,” Higuchi said. “Plastics were also looked at because the petition asked them to be reviewed, but as of now, it’s not considered a hazardous substance in and of itself.”

The Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson, Ariz.–based nonprofit, petitioned the EPA to conduct the initial study in 2012. While the environmental group asked the EPA to look at plastic pollution in the entire Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the government agency limited the research to Tern Island.

“I think the EPA is using Tern Island as a test case to better understand the dangers posed to wildlife by plastic and microplastic pollution,” Jeffers said. “We wrote this petition in an attempt to come up with creative ways to address the problem—we know that we can’t possibly designate all the areas heavily affected by plastic pollution as Superfund sites, but hopefully the EPA’s actions will draw more attention to the problem.”

With the ball rolling at Tern Island, are other plastic-polluted sites candidates for Superfund listing? Not yet, says Higuchi, but this could be the start of a new wave of cleanup efforts.

“There are likely many other areas, not only in the U.S., but worldwide, where plastic pollution presents a hazard to the marine ecosystem, the food chain, and potentially to human health,” Higuchi said

Taylor Hill|associate environment and wildlife editor|TakePart|September 12, 2014

The Number of Threatened Coral Species Jumps From 2 to 22. Here’s What YOU Can Do About it

Watch out, Nemo! It looks like you may have to move to a new anemone if the neighborhoods you live in keep getting wrecked.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently set the record for the largest Endangered Species Act ruling by adding 20 different species of coral to their list for protection. Before this addition, only two species of coral were considered, illustrating just how quickly coral populations are decreasing.

According to NOAA’s assistant administrator, Eileen Sobeck, 83 species of coral had been proposed for further listing, but these 20 species received special treatment as they are all at risk of extinction in the near future.

Before the new listing, protected corals (elk horn and staghorn) only inhabited the waters of the Caribbean. The current group of corals is now spread out across a larger geographic span with fifteen species living in the Indo-Pacific. The other five species live in the Caribbean (near Florida), the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.

Corals may cover less than one percent of ocean floors, but they house and support 25 percent of ocean dwelling fish species. If you’re not really interested in coral’s importance to animals, then maybe it’s time for you to realize just how important coral reefs are to humans.

Coral reefs are vital to worldwide fisheries because they serve as living fish nurseries. Corals also play a role in the economy by boosting tourism, and they protect coastlines from devastating erosion.

As marine biologist and National Geographic explorer, Sylvia Earle, once said, “No water, no life. No blue, no green.”

Without coral, the oceans and marine inhabitants will experience a cascading effect that ultimately will harm human life on land.

There are a multitude of dangers facing coral and coral reefs today. A few threats to these fragile organisms include ocean acidification, pollution, overfishing, and elevated ocean temperatures, all of which can lead to the proliferation of disease that easily kill off coral colonies.

Bleaching is the most prevalent disease among the 20 new threatened coral species. Bleaching (a process that basically strips coral of it’s living tissues) occurs when corals lost the symbiotic algae that live on their tissue. These algae die off when water temperatures increase. Global trends show a rapid warming of the world’s oceans which means inevitable devastation for these algae, and subsequently, coral.

Recreational activities can also play a huge role in the plight of coral. Swimmers, snorkelers and divers will often touch, break, or even stand on coral heads without considering the fragility of the organism they are interacting with. Boats will often drop anchors directly on top of coral, thus resulting in the crumbling of both the animal and the other organisms that depend on it for survival.

The commercial fishing industry also has a hand in coral destruction. Fish like to hide in the grooves and caves of coral reefs. To extract fish from these hiding places, fishermen will spray cyanide on corals, rendering the fish unconscious and easy to collect. This causes major damage to the coral that is now coated with this harmful toxin. Another popular method is “blasting,” in which fishermen use explosions to scare fish out of their hiding places. This destroys the delicately balanced coral ecosystem, turning them into deserted, lifeless wastelands.

Hopefully the ruling to protect these additional 20 corals will provide enough time for damaged corals to regenerate and heal from past injuries. However, seeing as it can take 10,000 years for a coral reef to form, the likeliness of a full recovery anytime soon is far-reaching.

Though this listing may be good for the corals in the future, the ruling will potentially affect federal agencies in the present. If an agency wants to work in an area near protected coral, they must first obtain a permit as well as further consultation from NOAA before beginning. This will create some tension between industry and environmentalists.

Furthermore, activities such as fishing and tourism, and anthropogenic (or human caused) pollution such as coastal runoff are unaffected by the ruling. These activities will be allowed to continue without regulation, adding to the destruction of coral at a faster pace than most of us can imagine.

If you would like to help coral, you can start by considering your own contribution to ocean pollution and climate change (and not just by properly disposing your trash.) Start using planet-friendly modes of transportation (such as biking or walking) in order to reduce your carbon footprint. And consider cutting meat and animal products out of your diet as their production is responsible for 51 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

Furthermore, anybody can stop the demise of coral by simply becoming a better traveler. Support hotels, aquariums, and tourist operations that respect the fragility of coral reefs and participate in coral protection initiatives. Never touch any form of sea life (specifically coral), and be wary of where coral may be if you ever decide to take a dip near coral colonies. For those who live near coasts that house coral, volunteer for a coral clean-up crew, and remember to spread the word. With just the click of a button, you can prevent any further additions of our coral friends to the list of protected species.

Madison Montgomery|September 12, 2014

Pew Welcomes Global Ocean Commission’s Recommendations for High Seas Conservation

The Global Ocean Commission, an independent initiative made up of 17 leaders from around the world, today released its proposals for action: a “rescue package” for the high seas aimed at restoring ocean health and protecting the valuable benefits the ocean provides. The commission is co-chaired by José María Figueres, former president of Costa Rica; Trevor Manuel, former minister in the presidency of South Africa; and David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee and former British foreign secretary.

The high seas—which lie beyond the national waters of any country—make up 45 percent of the planet’s total surface area and face increasing threats from overfishing, habitat destruction, biodiversity loss, ineffective governance, and lax enforcement of regulations. Today’s recommendations follow the commission’s June 5 release of the first assessment of the health of high seas ecosystems and their economic value. That report, “The High Seas and Us: Understanding the Value of High-Seas Ecosystems,” identifies 15 services that the high seas provide to humankind, including deposits of oil, gas, sand, and gravel; a conveyor belt for global trade; and a “carbon sink,” mitigating the effects of climate change by storing up to 500 million metric tons of atmospheric carbon per year—the value of which, according to the study, is estimated at US$75 billion to $222 billion per year.

In its recommendations, the commission identifies the lack of adequate governance on the high seas as a key issue and calls for the negotiation of a new agreement under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea to restore ocean productivity; guard against irresponsible, inefficient, and wasteful exploitation; and allow for the creation of high seas marine protected areas.

“A decade ago, I had the privilege of welcoming the recommendations of the Pew Oceans Commission, which helped change the course of ocean conservation in the United States,” said Rebecca W. Rimel, president and CEO of The Pew Charitable Trusts. “Today, I am equally honored as we chart a new course to manage and protect the high seas and to welcome the launch of the Global Ocean Commission’s final report and recommendations.”

The commission’s proposals also include calls for mandatory tracking of all vessels fishing in the high seas, a ban on the transshipment of fish at sea, measures to end pollution from plastic waste, and binding standards for the regulation and control of offshore oil and gas exploration and exploitation.

The commission found that government subsidies for high seas fishing total at least US$30 billion a year for only 10 nations, and should be immediately capped—and then eliminated within five years. About 60 percent of such subsidies directly encourage unsustainable practices such as bottom trawling and the use of fish aggregating devices. Without these subsidies, much, if not all, high seas fishing would no longer be financially viable.

According to the commission, if ocean health does not improve within five years, the international community should consider designating the high seas as a “regeneration zone” to help fish stocks recover. This would mean the prevention of industrial fishing in high seas areas where Regional Fisheries Management Organizations have proved to be ineffective.

The commission is supported by Pew in partnership with the Adessium Foundation, Oceans 5, and the Swire Group Charitable Trust, and was hosted at Somerville College at the University of Oxford.

The proposals represent the culmination of 18 months of exhaustive deliberations and extensive consultation with experts and stakeholders. The complete report is available at http://www.globaloceancommission.org, with a more interactive version and opportunities for action at www.missionocean.me.

Massive Red Tide Off Florida Coast Is 90 Miles Long And Totally Gross

A huge stretch of ocean near Florida has been taken over by Karenia brevis, a microscopic algae that can kill fish and marine mammals, contaminate seafood and turn the water a dark, brown-red color.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported elevated levels of the algae over last week, and said their tipline received multiple reports of thousands of dead fish and marine organisms. According to the FWC, images from the Optical Oceanography Laboratory at the University of South Florida show a bloom 60 miles wide and 90 miles long.

That makes this the biggest bloom in nearly a decade, Hayley Rutger, a spokeswoman with Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, told the Orlando Sentinel.

While the bloom is not yet affecting beaches, boaters have reported respiratory irritation from the algae. The Florida Department of Health says that red tide can also cause skin and eye irritation if you decide to swim in the stuff. Coughing, sneezing and watery eyes can also occur if the toxins are blown onshore, but this bloom remains far enough out that it hasn’t yet bothered beachgoers.

Red tides occur naturally almost every year, but it can be difficult to predict their behavior more than three days in advance.

“The red tide that pops up off the coast of Florida is very unpredictable,” Quay Dortch, an algal bloom researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told NBC News.

NBC also reported that a 2013 red tide killed 273 endangered manatees. The manatees ate the toxic algae when it got too close to shore and settled on sea grass. Dolphins can also be killed when they eat fish containing high concentrations of the toxins. According to the FWC, the largest dolphin die-off from a red tide occurred between 1987 and 1988, when 740 dolphins were found stranded on the coast.

See the video

Katherine Boehrer|Email The Huffington Post|08/13/2014

Plastics Are a Whale of a Problem for Our Ocean

Sei whales are majestic animals and I’ve had the great fortune of witnessing their grace and splendor in the open ocean. Last week, however, a 45-foot sei whale washed up on the shores of the Elizabeth River in Virginia. An 11-foot bruise above her left jaw and two fractured vertebrae led the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Team to believe she was killed by blunt force trauma following a collision with a ship.

However, a necropsy revealed that the whale also had “a large sharp piece of rigid, black plastic” roughly the size of a standard index card lodged in her stomach.

In the days leading up to her death, the Virginia Aquarium team said that she “was thin and its movements were not indicative of a healthy whale.” They believe that the plastic in the whale’s stomach prevented her from feeding normally. This likely weakened the whale and could explain why she swam up the Elizabeth River.

Unfortunately we cannot dismiss this as a tragic, isolated incident. Plastic pollution in the marine environment has become a persistent and proliferating threat to our ocean. Plastics pose a great threat to the animals that live in and around the ocean, and our fight for a clean ocean is just as much for them as it is for us.

While there is no “catch all” solution for ocean trash, you can join the fight for a healthy ocean. This September, Ocean Conservancy is hosting its 29th annual International Coastal Cleanup. The Cleanup will not eradicate the perils of plastics in the ocean, but it can eliminate the chance that items littering our beaches and waterways ever find their way into our marine environment.

Nick Mallos|August 26, 2014

Wildlife and Habitat

Conservation efforts on Archbold

GAINESVILLE–The Archbold Biological Station occupies 5,200 acres of pristine Florida scrub habitat on the southern tip of the Lake Wales Ridge.

Eastern indigo snakes, Florida sand skinks, Florida scrub-jays, burrowing owls and crested caracaras occupy the mosaic of uplands and wetlands found within the confluence of the Kissimmee River and Fisheating Creek Watershed.

“So a chance to add 3,648 adjacent acres of pasture land to protect and restore for these species was an opportunity Archbold couldn’t pass up,” Archbold said in a news release.

“At the same time, it presented an opportunity for new avenues of research balancing ecological restoration with sustainable agricultural use. In 2002 the Archbold Reserve was established.”

To accomplish restoring the wetlands, Archbold entered more than a third of the reserve into four conservation easements through the Wetlands Reserve Program.

Administered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the program provides cost share and technical assistance to establish permanent conservation easements, keep the land from development and restore previously drained wetlands.

Betsie Rothermel, Archold’s research program director for restoration ecology, has been working on the reserve since 2008.

“Our research programs have expanded in recent years to restoration ecology and agro-ecology because of the importance of ranch lands and agricultural lands for conserving so many species in the Northern Everglades watershed,” Rothermel said.

During the last four years, NRCS has initiated hydrological restoration on three of the four easements on the Archbold Reserve: Mary’s Creek, Frances Creek and Cutthroat Seep.

It is a long-term process that can be pretty labor intensive.

“Restoration isn’t a matter of blocking a few ditches and expecting the instant return of a natural functioning community like the one that used to exist,” she said.

In Cutthroat Seep, it took two years of “careful planning” by engineers and biologists, then construction to make the area wetter again.

“This may be one of the first attempts to restore the hydrology and native cutthroat grass communities that are unique to the slopes of the Lake Wales Ridge,” Archbold said.

The groundwater seepage that fed these communities was intercepted by extensive ditching and conversion to pasture in the 1970s. As part of hydrological restoration in 2012, workers blocked or filled in most of the ditches. The Wetlands Reserve Program financial assistance funded the work. NRCS engineers assisted with the designs, and will provide technical assistance to guide long-term management.

Now that the water levels are back, it is a matter of controlling invasive plants, prescribed burning to keep woody species from encroaching, planting natives and waiting, according to Archbold.

“We help NRCS by monitoring the groundwater levels and sampling vegetation communities following restoration.”

Even with monthly visits over the last four years to evaluate the treated sites, it may take 10 or more years to start seeing the desired changes, especially with Florida’s wildly varying weather patterns.

“Restoration is an adaptive process, ‘try this and see if it works,’” she said. The goal is a self-sustaining system and a map for restoring degraded wetlands on other landscapes.

“So much wetland habitat has been lost. To me personally, success is seeing the cascading effects of restoration and how it plays out to provide more habitats for wildlife, from insects to frogs to birds,” Rothermel said. This is especially critical in the Lake Wales area, which has such a high concentration of imperiled plants and animals.

The restoration sites on Archbold, along with conservation easements on ranchlands in the upper Fisheating Creek watershed total almost 40,000 acres. Restoring wetlands on these sites and managing grazing according to best management practices will reduce nutrients that are polluting Lake Okeechobee and the North Everglades.

Experience the sights and sounds of these unique ecosystems in Saving Florida’s Wetlands’ slideshow on http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detailfull/fl/home/?cid=stelprdb1252222

Highlands Today|September 8, 2014

Forestry

Illegal land clearing for commercial agriculture responsible for half of tropical deforestation

A comprehensive new analysis released today says that nearly half (49%) of all recent tropical deforestation is the result of illegal clearing for commercial agriculture. The study also finds that the majority of this illegal destruction was driven by overseas demand for agricultural commodities including palm oil, beef, soy, and wood products. In addition to devastating impacts on forest-dependent people and biodiversity, the illegal conversion of tropical forests for commercial agriculture is estimated to produce 1.47 gigatonnes of carbon each year—equivalent to 25% of the EU’s annual fossil fuel-based emissions.

“We’ve known that the production of agricultural commodities is a principal driving force behind deforestation, but this is the first report to show the outsize role that illegal activities play in the production of hundreds of food and household products consumed worldwide,” said Michael Jenkins, President and CEO of Forest Trends, a Washington-based NGO that published the report.

“Increased agricultural production will be necessary for food security and to meet the demand of the emerging global middle class. However, the world must also wake up to the scale of how much of this agricultural production is taking place on land that has been illegally cleared. Urgent action is needed to help countries where these agricultural products are being grown, both for governments to enforce their own laws and regulations, and for businesses aiming to produce commodities legally and sustainably.”

According to the study, Consumer Goods and Deforestation: An Analysis of the Extent and Nature of Illegality in Forest Conversion for Agriculture, 90% of the deforestation in Brazil from 2000 to 2012 was illegal, primarily due to the failure to conserve a percentage of natural forests in large-scale cattle and soy plantations, as required by Brazilian law. (Much of this occurred prior to 2004, when the Brazilian government took steps to successfully reduce deforestation.) And in the forests of Indonesia, 80% of deforestation was illegal—mostly for large-scale plantations producing palm oil and timber, 75% of which is exported. While other countries also experience high levels of illegal deforestation, Brazil and Indonesia produce the highest level of agricultural commodities destined for global markets, many of which wind up in cosmetics or household goods (palm oil), animal feed (soy), and packaging (wood products).

Forest Trends|September 11, 2014

Continue reading at Forest Trends.

‘Out of Fashion’ Campaign: Preserving the World’s Endangered Forests

As the lavish display of Fall Fashion Week gets under way this week in New York City, Rainforest Action Network (RAN) announced Out of Fashion: a campaign promoting forest friendly fabric.

Big name fashion brands are complicit in the pulping of pristine forests—seizing Indigenous land, driving species loss and threatening the climate—all to manufacture a product that makes its way into the clothes we wear every day.

“Out of Fashion” is RAN’s latest major effort to preserve the world’s endangered forests. With this campaign, RAN is bringing attention to a growing global threat to forests, animals and Indigenous communities—a threat that has been hiding in plain sight for years: dissolving pulp. Dissolving pulp is a little-discussed yet highly influential commodity in today’s marketplace. And the increased demand for this product is accelerating deforestation and exacerbating human rights abuses across the globe.

Big name fashion brands are complicit in the pulping of pristine forests—seizing Indigenous land, driving species loss and threatening the climate—all to manufacture a product that makes its way into the clothes we wear every day.

Over the next few days, RAN will introduce you to this destructive industry—and how Rainforest Action Network is planning to take it on.

Recently, RAN told you about the devastating impact that the production of wood pulp by paper giant Toba Pulp Lestari is having on the communities and forests of North Sumatra. Amazingly enough, this pulp makes its way into countless everyday products, like books, office paper and packaging.

But the production of dissolving wood pulp is an equally problematic issue. Dissolving pulp is an ingredient found in an even wider variety of products such as cosmetics, food, household product, sanitary products—and clothing that we wear every day.

So, wait. Trees are in my clothes?

Shockingly, yes, if you are wearing rayon, viscose, modal or tencel. The most prevalent type of this pulp is Rayon grade pulp, which is a core component of a textile called viscose staple fiber (VSF). This is what we’ll be focusing on, since VSF represents a large market share—and the production of VSF is responsible for 90 percent of the dissolving pulp expansion.

This fiber can be found in blended fabrics or on its own and it has been slowly replacing cotton as a cheaper alternative. It can also be found in polyester to create a more “high-end” feel and is present in many best selling  brands.

The quest for cheaply produced dissolving pulp is leaving an incredibly destructive footprint on the globe and has been a significant driver of human rights abuses, land grabbing, natural forest conversion, the development of carbon-emitting peatlands, climate change, biodiversity loss, and toxics pollution. Every year, more than 70 million trees are turned into clothing through the dissolving pulp process. And the process is almost criminally inefficient: only 30 percent of tree matter is actually useable for clothing. The other 70 percent becomes waste. With pulp mills all over the world, including in Indonesia, Canada and Brazil, the industry is diffuse and the supply chain difficult to pin down.

One of the challenges in confronting this problem is that dissolving pulp is very difficult to trace. When we launched our campaign to eliminate rainforest destruction from books and printed materials, we could perform independent fiber testing of books to determine the species of tree and country of origin. Since the production of dissolving pulp requires a much higher toxic chemical load the trees’ DNA is virtually destroyed, making it practically impossible to pinpoint the origin of the fiber. This creates an “opaque”  supply chain, one in which the companies themselves must be active and responsible in policing to avoid contamination from conflict pulp and the timber used to produce it.

Not sure if you’re wearing rainforest destruction? Go ahead and look in your closet. And definitely have a look the next time you shop—do you see rayon or viscose on the label? Beware: you could be buying rainforest destruction.

RAN will be telling you more about dissolving pulp in the coming weeks and how this driver of rainforest destruction is making its way into your clothes. Join RAN in confronting this global threat to forests and sign the petition to send a clear message to fashion companies: We want deforestation and human rights abuses out of our clothing.

Christy Tennery-Spalding|Rainforest Action Network|September 5, 2014

5 Consumer Products Linked to Rainforest Deforestation

Tropical rainforests are home to rich indigenous cultures and amazing biodiversity. They also play an important role in stabilizing the climate and sequestering carbon. However, tropical deforestation continues to happen around the world at an alarming rate. This loss generates almost 50 percent more greenhouse gases than the world’s entire transportation sector, according to the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

A large amount of tropical deforestation is driven by the creation of agricultural land, but a new report from Forest Trends finds that nearly half of all conversion from primary rainforest to agricultural use happens illegally. A few key agricultural products drive most of the deforestation, and are largely produced for export.

1. Beef Rising demand for beef is driven in part by a growing global population and also an expanding middle class, particularly in the East Asia and China. Beef and leather production are both drivers of illegal deforestation in Brazil, although the country has had considerable success in slowing the rate of forest loss.

2. Soy Sam Lawson, the lead author of the Forest Trends report, said that soy is linked to the rising demand for meat. “Most of the soy is used as feed for cattle and chickens and pigs.” Soy farming drives deforestation in Brazil, as well as Paraguay and Bolivia.

3. Palm oil Palm oil is the most efficient source of vegetable oil, and also one of the most profitable. The deforestation associated with palm oil is vast, particularly in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Malaysia. “You can drive through large areas of Malaysia and see nothing but oil palm plantations,” said Lawson. “And yet the projections are that the world is going to need another Malaysia’s worth of oil palm plantations to be planted to meet growing demand.”

4. Wood pulp Deforestation for wood pulp plantations is a major problem in Indonesia. The pulp used to create paper products, or to make textiles like rayon.

5. Cocoa In many countries, some of the agricultural products grown on illegally converted land are sold domestically. However, in Papua New Guinea, 100 percent of the these products (including both cocoa and soy) are exported, according to Forest Trends. The good news is that ethically-sourced chocolate is one product that’s relatively easy to find.

A number of companies are taking steps to establish more traceable supply chains, with help of third-party verifications systems like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.

However, Forest Trends suggests that governments of consumer countries can also play an important role. “The problem is that the efforts by the tropical forest countries to prevent deforestation for these commodities are being undermined by the fact that the importing countries are basically undiscerning,” said Lawson. Importing countries could create penalties for importing goods not produced on legally created plantations, thereby lowering the incentives to continue illegally clearing forests for these commodities.

Changing consumer behavior might have some positive impact, but with products like wood pulp and palm oil it can be extremely difficult to discern between the good and the bad.

“What individual consumers could probably more effectively do is to lobby their politicians, lobby the companies that produce these goods, and give to NGOs and charities that are campaigning on these issues,” said Lawson. “I think that would probably be more effective than changing your own purchasing practices.”

Kara|Margaret Badore|Treehugger|September 13, 2014

Mangrove Restoration Study Underway in Rookery Bay Reserve

~ Research partnership with USGS will assess natural community’s response to restoration efforts ~

Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve has entered into a research partnership with the U.S. Geological Service (USGS) to conduct a long-term study of a mangrove die-off area near Goodland. USGS awarded funding to this project for a minimum of three years to assess the 225-acre hydrologic restoration, partially underway, at Fruit Farm Creek.

Fruit Farm Creek is a mangrove-forested site located within the boundaries of the Rookery Bay Reserve, near Goodland on the Southwest Gulf coast of Florida. Construction of State Road 92, initiated in 1938, greatly altered natural tidal flushing to mangrove wetlands in the area. In particular, incoming flow from higher tides inundates the forest but cannot readily be flushed out, creating a “bathtub effect” that holds the water for longer periods than these forests would normally experience. Summer rains compound this effect. Following the heavy, flooding rains from Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the area has experienced a slow, steady die-off of approximately 65 acres of mangroves.

The reserve has partnered with the Coastal Resources Group, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and the city of Marco Island to conduct the initial assessment of the area’s hydrology and produce a plan for restoring the affected mangrove forests.

“We have examples of how hydrological restoration works in other locations,” said Kevin Cunniff, research coordinator for Rookery Bay Reserve. “A long-term assessment of forest community change and recovery over the next decade will provide invaluable information regarding the resiliency of our mangrove wetlands and the cost/benefits of restoration.”

USGS has just installed 12 Rod Surface Elevation Tables (RSETs) in order to monitor surface elevation change associated with mangrove forest recovery within the study plots, which span a gradient of dead, degraded and intact forest. Initial assessments of the forest canopy, sediment conditions and plant/animal communities will begin early in 2015. Three reference area study plots, also including RSETs, will be established on the south end of Horrs Island adjacent to Fruit Farm Creek in November 2014. Long-term data collected will provide information on trends in forest canopy structure, sediment chemistry and nutrient cycling, and benthic faunal community and food-web structure.

In August 2013, a series of small trenches were excavated to re-establish tidal connection to one acre of a four-acre die-off area. Within one year, the return of normal tidal flushing has produced a dramatic response – mangrove seedlings are taking root and many of the characteristic fish, crabs, snails and other species have moved in. The project partners are still seeking additional funding to restore flushing to the remaining 224 adjacent acres. It is on the list of projects under consideration for federal funding through the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast Act (RESTORE Act).

LATASHAWALTERS|Sept. 4, 2014

Global Warming and Climate Change

Prescription for health: fight global warming

What if we could reduce worldwide deaths from disease, starvation and disaster while improving the health of people everywhere? According to the World Health Organization, we can.

“Previously unrecognized health benefits could be realized from fast action to reduce climate change and its consequences,” says a news release about WHO’s first global conference on health and climate in Geneva August 27 to 29, adding, “changes in energy and transport policies could save millions of lives annually from diseases caused by high levels of air pollution.” Encouraging people to use public transit, cycling and walking instead of driving would cut traffic injuries and vehicle emissions and promote better health through increased physical activity.

Reducing the threat of global warming and finding ways to adapt to unavoidable change will also help people around the world “deal with the impact of heat, extreme weather, infectious disease and food insecurity.”

Climate change affects human health in multiple ways. Increased extreme weather causes flooding and droughts, which influences food production, water and sanitation. Pathogens that plague humans, livestock and crops spread more widely. WHO notes that diseases such as cholera, malaria and dengue are especially sensitive to weather and climate changes.

According to WHO, “Climate change is already causing tens of thousands of deaths every year from shifting patterns of disease, from extreme weather events, such as heat-waves and floods, and from the degradation of water supplies, sanitation, and impacts on agriculture” — and it will get worse if we fail to address the problem. The poor, elderly and children are most vulnerable.

WHO’s conference was held in advance of UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon’s Climate Summit 2014 for world leaders, taking place in New York September 23, and geared partly toward ensuring world leaders come up with an agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol at the Paris UN climate change conference next year.

Two days before the Climate Summit, on September 21, more than half a million people are expected to gather in New York for the People’s Climate March, with simultaneous events around the world, co-ordinated by a coalition of more than 1,000 organizations, including environmental, social justice, religious, health and labor groups.

WHO’s conference and findings show the importance of getting health-care professionals on board with climate action, as they are with the People’s Climate March. “The evidence is overwhelming: climate change endangers human health,” says WHO director-general Margaret Chan. “Solutions exist and we need to act decisively to change this trajectory.”

In a Huffington Post article, Ban Ki-moon stresses that global warming is an immediate and urgent issue. “Instead of asking if we can afford to act, we should be asking what is stopping us, who is stopping us, and why?” he writes. “Let us join forces to push back against skeptics and entrenched interests. Let us support the scientists, economists, entrepreneurs and investors who can persuade government leaders and policy-makers that now is the time for action.”

Beyond forestalling the almost-certain catastrophic consequences of unchecked global warming, changing our habits, conserving energy and shifting from fossil fuels to clean energy will have many benefits for human health — and for the economy. Reducing the burden of pollution — and global warming-related health care costs is a big factor, but opportunities also exist in the clean technology sector. Climate Summit organizers point to the “growing recognition that affordable, scalable solutions are available now that will enable us all to leapfrog to cleaner, more resilient economies.”

A leaked draft of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment’s final synthesis report concludes that global warming is already having major impacts worldwide and that, unless we do something about it, we can expect “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.” Our news media should be focusing on these issues rather than chasing an endless line of celebrity antics, corporate priorities and political posturing.

Scientists have warned about global warming consequences for decades, but efforts by fossil fuel interests to sow doubt and confusion, combined with intransigent governments and public apathy, have brought us to a tipping point.

The choice is clear: If we want to protect our health, our children’s and grandchildren’s health, and the natural systems that keep us alive and healthy, we must act now.

David Suzuki|David Suzuki Foundation|Senior Editor|Ian Hanington

Hillary Clinton Calls Out Climate Deniers at Clean Energy Summit

As she continues to play a game of “will-she/won’t she” regarding a potential 2016 presidential run, Hillary Clinton called out climate change deniers while delivering a keynote address at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas this week.

She also spoke of the need for America to become the “clean energy superpower of the 21st century,” talking about the benefits of clean energy in creating jobs, competing globally, and reducing greenhouse emissions.

“Clinton began her remarks at the National Clean Energy Summit by laying out the problems climate change is already causing today, including extreme weather and droughts,” reported MSNBC.

Clinton said, “[These are] the most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face. The data is unforgiving no matter what the deniers try to assert. Sea levels are rising. Ice caps are melting. Storms, droughts, and wildfires are wreaking havoc.”

She especially touted the economic impact of clean energy development, saying, “Aside from the deniers and the special interests and all the other folks who want to pretend we don’t have a crisis is the fact that we are leaving money and jobs behind. For those on the other side, they have to answer to the reality they are denying peoples’ jobs and middle class incomes and upward mobility by their refusal to look to the future.”

She praised the work already being done in states like Nevada where Tesla has announced this week it will build a solar- and wind-powered battery factory near Reno, and Iowa, which has been a leader in clean energy, especially wind power. (Naturally, political tea-leaf readers saw her mention of Iowa as a sign that she’s running, since Iowa hosts the first primary of the campaign season.)

Most news reports pointed out that she failed to mention the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. And clean energy advocates will most likely not be happy that she also promoted the benefits of fracking, while cautioning about the need for “smart regulations” to protect the health and safety of communities.

Anastasia Pantsios|September 5, 2014

West Antarctic glacier loss appears unstoppable

A new study by researchers at NASA and the University of California, Irvine, finds a rapidly melting section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet appears to be in an irreversible state of decline, with nothing to stop the glaciers in this area from melting into the sea.

The study presents multiple lines of evidence, incorporating 40 years of observations that indicate the glaciers in the Amundsen Sea sector of West Antarctica “have passed the point of no return,” according to glaciologist and lead author Eric Rignot, of UC Irvine and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The new study has been accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

These glaciers already contribute significantly to sea level rise, releasing almost as much ice into the ocean annually as the entire Greenland Ice Sheet. They contain enough ice to raise global sea level by 4 feet (1.2 meters) and are melting faster than most scientists had expected. Rignot said these findings will require an upward revision to current predictions of sea level rise.

“This sector will be a major contributor to sea level rise in the decades and centuries to come,” Rignot said. “A conservative estimate is it could take several centuries for all of the ice to flow into the sea.”

Three major lines of evidence point to the glaciers’ eventual demise: the changes in their flow speeds, how much of each glacier floats on seawater, and the slope of the terrain they are flowing over and its depth below sea level. In a paper in April, Rignot’s research group discussed the steadily increasing flow speeds of these glaciers over the past 40 years. This new study examines the other two lines of evidence.

The glaciers flow out from land to the ocean, with their leading edges afloat on the seawater. The point on a glacier where it first loses contact with land is called the grounding line. Nearly all glacier melt occurs on the underside of the glacier beyond the grounding line, on the section floating on seawater.

Just as a grounded boat can float again on shallow water if it is made lighter, a glacier can float over an area where it used to be grounded if it becomes lighter, which it does by melting or by the thinning effects of the glacier stretching out. The Antarctic glaciers studied by Rignot’s group have thinned so much they are now floating above places where they used to sit solidly on land, which means their grounding lines are retreating inland.

“The grounding line is buried under a thousand or more meters of ice, so it is incredibly challenging for a human observer on the ice sheet surface to figure out exactly where the transition is,” Rignot said. “This analysis is best done using satellite techniques.”

The team used radar observations captured between 1992 and 2011 by the European Earth Remote Sensing (ERS-1 and -2) satellites to map the grounding lines’ retreat inland. The satellites use a technique called radar interferometry, which enables scientists to measure very precisely – within less than a quarter of an inch – how much Earth’s surface is moving. Glaciers move horizontally as they flow downstream, but their floating portions also rise and fall vertically with changes in the tides. Rignot and his team mapped how far inland these vertical motions extend to locate the grounding lines.

The accelerating flow speeds and retreating grounding lines reinforce each other. As glaciers flow faster, they stretch out and thin, which reduces their weight and lifts them farther off the bedrock. As the grounding line retreats and more of the glacier becomes waterborne, there’s less resistance underneath, so the flow accelerates.

Slowing or stopping these changes requires pinning points – bumps or hills rising from the glacier bed that snag the ice from underneath. To locate these points, researchers produced a more accurate map of bed elevation that combines ice velocity data from ERS-1 and -2 and ice thickness data from NASA’s Operation IceBridge mission and other airborne campaigns. The results confirm no pinning points are present upstream of the present grounding lines in five of the six glaciers. Only Haynes Glacier has major bedrock obstructions upstream, but it drains a small sector and is retreating as rapidly as the other glaciers.

The bedrock topography is another key to the fate of the ice in this basin. All the glacier beds slope deeper below sea level as they extend farther inland. As the glaciers retreat, they cannot escape the reach of the ocean, and the warm water will keep melting them even more rapidly.

The accelerating flow rates, lack of pinning points and sloping bedrock all point to one conclusion, Rignot said.

“The collapse of this sector of West Antarctica appears to be unstoppable,” he said. “The fact that the retreat is happening simultaneously over a large sector suggests it was triggered by a common cause, such as an increase in the amount of ocean heat beneath the floating sections of the glaciers. At this point, the end of this sector appears to be inevitable.”

Because of the importance of this part of West Antarctica, NASA’s Operation IceBridge will continue to monitor its evolution closely during this year’s Antarctica deployment, which begins in October. IceBridge uses a specialized fleet of research aircraft carrying the most sophisticated suite of science instruments ever assembled to characterize changes in thickness of glaciers, ice sheets and sea ice.

Carol Rasmussen, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory|Alan Buis, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory|Janet Wilson, University of California, Irvine|Peter Weiss, American Geophysical Union|May 24, 2014

 Extreme Weather

California Drought: Why Farmers Must Adapt

The entire state of California is in a drought. A big part of the state, including the fertile Central Valley, is experiencing the worst category of drought, exceptional. California supplies much of the fruits, vegetables and nuts the nation eats. In inland areas such as the Central Valley, as well as the combined Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, agriculture truly rules.

While people in Southern California and the Bay Area are largely insulated from the effects of the drought, people in the Central Valley are being hit hard. Some wells in the town of Easton, the small farming community in Fresno County where I was raised, are going dry; and two businesses have closed as a result. Meanwhile, farmers are resorting to over-pumping groundwater. They have no choice. They want to survive. America wants to eat.

Agriculture takes up 80 percent of the state’s water supply. Some crops need more water than others. Tree crops, for example, need more water than vineyards. Almonds are one tree crop that is experiencing great growth, fueled in part by studies that show the health benefits of eating almonds and past drops in the price of raisins. As a result, almonds are California’s largest export; state farmers grow 80 percent of the world’s supply, and 99 percent of all almonds grown in the U.S. hail from California. However, the drought is certain to affect the almond industry. As an opinion piece by Market Watch points out, “This unprecedented drought threatens to slam the brakes on one of the state’s fastest-growing crops and biggest moneymakers.” When the 2014-2015 crop goes to market next year, consumers will certainly be hit with higher almond prices.

The California drought highlights the need for more efficient uses of water by the agricultural sector, including the almond industry. No one knows when this drought will end, but even when it does, Californians, and farmers in particular, must remember that California is prone to droughts. Another drought will come along. The key for the survival of California agriculture is for farmers to adapt. Developing ways to more efficiently use water will enable farmers to effectively cope with water shortages.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman|Triple Pundit|September 12, 2014

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, TriplePundit.

‘Unprecedented’ Flooding Event in Detroit Fits Global Warming Pattern

Detroit received 4.57 inches of rain in just a few hours on Monday, breaking its record for that date and coming in second place for the all-time wettest calendar day, behind a 4.74 inch deluge in July of 1925. The heavy rain — which included more than an inch of rain falling in just 24 minutes — led to some of the most widespread flash flooding on record in the Motor City.

Every major interstate was affected by the flooding, which longtime weather forecasters in the area called an unprecedented event. Several major roadways, including portions of Interstate 94, Interstate 75, and Interstate 696 remained closed as of Tuesday morning. The floods led to numerous high water rescues, and at least one death is being blamed on the flash flooding.

“In about 140 years of record-keeping, only one day in Detroit was wetter,” WXYZ Detroit reported. But “considering how the metro area has changed since [that day in] 1925, this may have been the most serious flooding event ever recorded in Detroit.”

According to The Weather Channel, Detroit residents abandoned 1,000 cars overnight due to the high waters, while others spent a long night in their cars, penned in by floods ahead and behind them.

The Michigan State Police announced it has sent dive teams to search cars for bodies at the bottom of inundated freeways, but no one had been reported missing.

“We’ve got a lot going on. It’s not just the water on the roads. We can’t clean up the roads, we’ve got to get the cars off the roads,” said Michigan Department of Transportation spokesperson Diane Cross, in an interview with the Detroit Free Press. She said the pumping systems used to keep water from piling up on roadways were simply “overwhelmed” by the pace and amount of rainfall.

In Warren, Michigan, which is in the northeastern part of the metro area, there were about 500 people stranded in a Lowe’s store during the height of the storm, due to flooding in the parking lot, according to the Detroit Free Press. The Warren Police Department saw its property and evidence rooms flooded, along with three police vehicles, the paper reported.

The storm, which was the result of a deep flow of moisture northward from the Gulf of Mexico that collided with a cold front moving in from the west, stunned area weather forecasters.

The same storm system is bringing torrential rains to the Mid-Atlantic states on Tuesday, with extensive flooding reported in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. areas. As of 3:30 p.m. ET, Baltimore had recorded its fifth-wettest day on record.

Paul Gross, chief meteorologist for WDIV-TV in Detroit, ” target=”_blank”>wrote on his station’s website that the event was absolutely unprecedented in his long career in the city.

I have lived my entire life and worked my entire career here, and I have never seen as widespread a flooding event. Yes, I vividly remember the May 2004 historic month of rain — our second wettest month ever with 8.46 inches of rain — but that was a bunch of rainy days that really added up.

I also remember some individual intense thunderstorms that flooded ONE freeway. But I don’t ever remember EVERY freeway being flooded out.

The storm, which is likely to have caused tens of millions in damage to a city that is already struggling economically, is an example of the type of event that is already occurring more frequently and severely due to manmade global warming.

One of the major findings of climate science studies during the past several years is that heavy downpours have increased in frequency and intensity during the past three to five decades, particularly in the Midwest and Northeast U.S. Such trends are likely to continue, according to reports like the National Climate Assessment, which was released in May.

That report showed a sharp uptick in heavy precipitation events between 1958 and 2012. As the White House has emphasized in communicating about how the U.S. can better withstand the impacts of climate change that are already here, these precipitation events can lead to expensive and deadly floods that the country’s infrastructure, such as the interstate highway system, is ill-prepared to withstand.

Similar extreme rainfall and flooding events have occurred this year in Pensacola, Florida, in Boulder, Colorado last year, as well as Calgary, Canada.

trendhvyprecip

The map shows percent increases in the amount of precipitation falling in very heavy events (defined as the heaviest 1% of all daily events) from 1958 to 2012 for each region of the continental United States.

Image: National Climate Assessment

Part of the reason why these types of events are on the upswing now is because a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor, which can be wrung out of the sky by thunderstorms and other weather systems. Global average surface temperatures have already warmed by about 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900, with more warming expected during the next several decades or more. Research has shown that global average water vapor is increasing as temperatures rise.

Also, some studies have proposed that weather patterns may be changing in ways that favor prolonged heavy rainfall events lasting for many days.

That emerging research, which links such weather pattern changes to rapid Arctic warming, is still hotly contested within the climate science community, however.

Andrew Freedman|Aug 12, 2014

Higher seas mean extreme floods in SC, NC

(AP) — CHARLESTON, S.C.– Rising sea levels will mean extreme floods along the coast of the Carolinas in coming years with billions of dollars in property in danger according to new reports from a nonprofit group of scientists.

Climate Central of Princeton, New Jersey, released an analysis of the danger faced in South Carolina on Monday. A report for North Carolina was released last week with an analysis for Georgia due next week.

The report found that in South Carolina, the coast is likely to see extreme floods of more than 4 feet above high tide within 40 years. The danger zone includes 54,000 homes and $24 billion in property.

North Carolina has more 2,000 square miles of land and $9 billion in property less than 4 feet above the high tide line.

Continuous News Desk|07.21.2014

Extreme Floods to Cause Major Damage to Property in South and North Carolina

 Extreme floods are expected to cause huge damage worth billions of dollars to property and infrastructure along the coast of the Carolinas in near future. This worrisome warning has come from Climate Central of Princeton, New Jersey, a non-profit group of scientists and journalists. The researchers conducted an analysis of the extent to which South Carolina and North Carolina are threatened by extreme weather events.

South Carolina coast was found to be at risk of experiencing extreme floods within 40 years. What really makes it petrifying is the fact that the floods would be more than four feet above high tide and will hit a danger zone that comprises 54,000 homes and $24 billion in property. On the other hand, North Carolina will be struck by floods less than four feet above the high tide line. About $9 billion in property and 61,000 homes will be at risk in North Carolina because of the floods.

Maps from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were used by the organization two years ago in order to determine how population and housing face threats from flooding in all coastal states, said Ben Strauss, the lead author of the reports.

The quality of the new maps is much higher than previous ones. Also, the maps have been designed after including 100 additional parameters, like property values, infrastructure, schools, churches, power plants and the ones to suffer damages from floods.

The reports should be considered seriously by coastal communities and they must start to devise strategies that can ensure prevention of their communities from different sea level rise scenarios, said Frank Knapp, the president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce.

Andrea Cordell|07/22/2014

World’s Most Extreme Weather Events  in 2014

In just the first two months in 2014, we had a parade of strange weather extremes around the world, from searing heat, to one of the coldest winters in decades, to flooding so severe it hasn’t been seen in more than a century.

Among the most bizarre was the lack of a winter in parts of the drought-stricken West, including California.

January was the warmest and driest on record in San Francisco, San Jose and Los Angeles. Only four other Januaries since 1878 had been completely dry in Los Angeles until January 2014.

Among the number of monthly records set, perhaps none stood out more than the ongoing record warmth in Sandberg, Calif., located in the mountains of northern Los Angeles County. Sandberg crushed the previous January record number of 11 days of 60-degree-plus warmth with 21 such days. In February, it surpassed the previous record number of 70-degree-plus days (four days), tallying seven such days through Feb. 25.

Instead of digging out from heavy Sierra snow and toting umbrellas, parts of the West were battling wildfires in January.

Perhaps the most bizarre of these was a pair of fires in the coastal range of northwest Oregon in late January, a typically wet and/or chilly location in mid-winter.

Tokyo averages only about 4 inches of snow each year, roughly on par with Charlotte, N.C.

In February, two snow events blanketed one of the world’s most populous cities with significant snow in less than a week.

By the evening of Feb. 8, 11 inches of snow blanketed central Tokyo. According to Fuji TV, it was the heaviest snow in 45 years for Tokyo and in 60 years for the city of Kumagaya, northwest of Tokyo. Digital meteorologist Nick Wiltgen (Twitter) says the all-time calendar-day snow record was tied in Kumagaya (43 cm, or 16.9 inches).

The following weekend parts of eastern Japan, including parts of the Tokyo metro area, received another round of snow. Some smaller communities were essentially isolated by more than 3 feet of snow.

Atlantic winter storms are not out of the ordinary for western Europe, but what has taken place in parts of England this year is something not seen since the late 19th century.

With the exception of some intense wind-producing storms, it’s been the number and overall persistence of the Atlantic storms that tipped the scales to a major flood event in the south of England, among other locations.

England and Wales were drenched by their wettest December-January period since 1876-77, and their second wettest such period in the entire period of record, dating to 1766, according to the U.K. Met Office.

Then a succession of storms piled on in early-mid February bringing more flooding rain, wind-whipped waves and high winds.

As of mid-February, more than 5,000 homes and businesses were flooded, and 150 square miles of land were submerged, according to news reports. Prince William and Prince Harry were photographed tossing sandbags. Floodwaters cut off Devon and Cornwall from the rest of England on Feb. 8.

In addition to the rain, each storm’s waves have been destructive along the southwest coast of England and southern Ireland.

The Thames Barrier, built to protect central London from tidal flooding, was closed a record 18 times as of Feb. 16. River levels on the Thames reached flow rates not exceeded since prior to 1950, according to the U.K Met Office.

While California and other parts of the western U.S. have registered record highs and a lack of winter precipitation, that has not been the case in the Midwest and East.

In many parts of the Midwest, this has been the coldest winter since the late 1970s or early 1980s. In some locations, this may be a top three coldest winter on record. Some typically bitter cold locations are even breaking previous records for days with subzero cold.

Then there’s the snow.

This winter is already the record snowiest in Toledo, Ohio, and is the second snowiest season on record in Detroit, topped only by a winter during the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880-81.

Atlantic winter storms are not out of the ordinary for western Europe, but what has taken place in parts of England this year is something not seen since the late 19th century.

With the exception of some intense wind-producing storms, it’s been the number and overall persistence of the Atlantic storms that tipped the scales to a major flood event in the south of England, among other locations.

England and Wales were drenched by their wettest December-January period since 1876-77, and their second wettest such period in the entire period of record, dating to 1766, according to the U.K. Met Office.

Then a succession of storms piled on in early-mid February bringing more flooding rain, wind-whipped waves and high winds.

As of mid-February, more than 5,000 homes and businesses were flooded, and 150 square miles of land were submerged, according to news reports. Prince William and Prince Harry were photographed tossing sandbags. Floodwaters cut off Devon and Cornwall from the rest of England on Feb. 8.

In addition to the rain, each storm’s waves have been destructive along the southwest coast of England and southern Ireland.

The Thames Barrier, built to protect central London from tidal flooding, was closed a record 18 times as of Feb. 16. River levels on the Thames reached flow rates not exceeded since prior to 1950, according to the U.K Met Office.

While California and other parts of the western U.S. have registered record highs and a lack of winter precipitation, that has not been the case in the Midwest and East.

In many parts of the Midwest, this has been the coldest winter since the late 1970s or early 1980s. In some locations, this may be a top three coldest winter on record. Some typically bitter cold locations are even breaking previous records for days with subzero cold.

While much of the central and eastern U.S. was shivering, Alaskans experienced their third warmest January in 96 years of record, according to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center.

Homer, Talkeetna, King Salmon, and Cold Bay (no pun intended) all chalked up their record warmest January. On Jan. 27, Port Alsworth tied the all-time January record high for the state, topping out at an incredible 62 degrees, according to Rick Thoman of the National Weather Service in Fairbanks.

Among the impacts of this warm spell:

  • A closure of the Alyeska Ski Resort for two days.
  • A closure of Fairbanks International Airport on Jan. 23 due to freezing rain. 
  • Schools closed due to rain, not snow.

Warm air and a series of storms with heavy, wet snow, or even rain, triggered several large avalanches. One notable avalanche in late January buried part of the Richardson Highway in up to 30 feet of snow, cutting off access to America’s snowiest city, Valdez, Alaska.

Interestingly, a wind chill of 97 degrees below zero was observed at Howard Pass on Valentine’s Day, setting a new record cold wind chill for the state, previously held at Prudhoe Bay on Jan. 28, 1989 (-96F). The air temperature at that time was -42 degrees with a sustained wind of 71 mph.

Following Australia’s hottest year on record in 2013, a searing heat wave continued into mid-January 2014.

According to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, more than 10 percent of Queensland and almost 15 percent of New South Wales sweated through their record hottest days on Jan. 3.

Another potent heat wave cooked parts of southern Australia in mid-January, during the first week of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne.

Temperatures peaked above 41 degrees Celsius (just under 106 degrees Fahrenheit) for four straight days from Jan. 14-17, reaching a searing 43.9 degrees C (111 degrees F) on both Jan. 16 and 17.

On Jan. 14, Canadian tennis player Frank Dancevic fainted during his Australian Open match, claiming he saw Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s famous dog, in an hallucination. Players resorted to draping bags of ice around their necks to keep cool, and crowds thinned for the tournament’s opening rounds.

The heat was even too much for bats. An estimated 1,000 dead bats were found in Dayboro, just north-northwest of Brisbane, in early January.

First, Winter Storm Kronos brought a rare blanket of snow as far south as Louisiana, and sleet as far south as Harlingen, Texas and Pensacola, Fla. in late January.

That was only an appetizer.

Just days later, the confluence of temperatures well below freezing and thousands of vehicles compacting snow on untreated roads lead to a commuter apocalypse in both Birmingham, Ala. and Atlanta during Winter Storm Leon.

Commutes that normally take minutes took in excess of 20 hours for some and involved walking miles from abandoned cars. Some teachers and students were forced to stay at school overnight.

Leon also spread ice and sleet to the Gulf Coast, including the Florida Panhandle, and the Lowcountry of South Carolina.

One more storm, however, would eclipse the ice from Leon.

Winter Storm Pax deposited an inch or more of ice in a swath from east-central Georgia into South Carolina, including Augusta, Ga. and Aiken, S.C. Pax was the second heaviest ice storm dating to 1947 in Wilmington, N.C.

Accumulated ice from Pax claimed the famed “Eisenhower tree” at the Augusta National Golf Club. Pax marked the first time since January 1940 that Columbia, S.C. saw snowfall for three straight days.

The South Carolina Department of Transportation used 33,300 tons of road salt, more than 2.3 million gallons of salt brine, and 12,700 tons of sand on roads for Winter Storms Leon and Pax combined.

In this case, it was a nightmarish commute for those in the Raleigh-Durham metro area on Feb. 12, while virtually all businesses and schools were closed in Atlanta.

Strangely enough, the week after Pax, Columbia, S.C. tied its all-time February high of 84 degrees. Augusta, Ga. warmed into the 80s two straight days on Feb. 19-20.

Also of note, Pax was the third heaviest snowstorm of record in both Blacksburg and Roanoke, Va. Eight states from western North Carolina to Vermont and Massachusetts had at least one location with 20 inches of snow or more.

Genetically Modified Organisms

GMO crops threatening monarch butterflies ‏

On the heels of recent bee declines, another iconic pollinator, the monarch butterfly, is in serious trouble. The New York Times has reported that the number of monarchs arriving at their ancient overwintering grounds in Mexico has reached the lowest level on record.

The monarch butterfly’s sharp decline has been linked to massive increases in the planting of GMO crops engineered to tolerate huge doses of Monsanto’s Roundup™ herbicide. These herbicide-tolerant “Roundup Ready” crops have encouraged farmers to use ever-increasing amounts of this weed killer — virtually wiping out milkweed, the only food young monarchs eat.

We  must help protect this iconic butterfly.

Over the last decade, the amount of U.S. crops genetically engineered to withstand massive applications of Monsanto’s patented Roundup™ herbicide grew to comprise 83 percent of all corn and 93 percent of soybeans. As a result, the use of Roundup skyrocketed and has virtually wiped out the milkweed that once grew among our farm fields. 

Monarchs, like bees, are a “canary in the coal mine.” This iconic species is only the tip of the iceberg — a wide variety of pollinators and other insects, including many that benefit farmers, are also rapidly disappearing, along with the birds, mammals and other predators that feed on them.

Monarchs are the latest and most visible victims of the chemical-intensive, corporate-controlled, GMO-dominated industrial agriculture system that is harming not only these majestic pollinators, but also the health of people and the environment around the world.  

Peter Stocker|list.moveon.org|Lisa Archer and Dana Perls|Food and Technology program|Friends of the Earth

$27 Million to Defeat Your Right to Know!

Last week Reuters reported that Frankenfood lobbyists spent a record-breaking $27 million in the first half of this year—nearly triple what they spent last year—to stop state GMO labeling campaigns.

And that doesn’t include the unprecedented millions Monsanto, Dow, Bayer and others have spent this year on false advertising.

What happens in November, in Oregon and Colorado, and early next year in Maine and other states, could make or break the anti-GMO movement in this country.

And Monsanto and Big Food know it.

The Pesticide Purveyors and Junk Food Giants have already made their first million-dollar-plus “smoke-and-mirrors” ad buy in Oregon. Their massive media campaign is likely to be full of the usual lies about how labeling will raise food prices, and how GMO foods are “proven” safe.

It will look much the campaigns they ran in California and Washington State, where they narrowly defeated labeling initiatives in 2012 and 2013.

Only worse. Because this time, the stakes are even higher.

The corporations that poison our food and planet are desperate to defeat state labeling initiatives in Oregon and Colorado—because they know if they lose either of these two state battles, they lose the state labeling laws war.

Why? Because Congress is not likely to pass the industry-sponsored DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) ACT, a bill to preempt state labeling laws, if Oregon and Colorado join Vermont, Maine and Connecticut in passing GMO labeling laws.

Even worse for Monsanto, once state laws mandating the labeling of GMOs in our food are the norm, and consumers get a clearer picture of just how prevalent GMOs are in our food, demand for organic foods will skyrocket.

It will be the beginning of the end of Monsanto’s domination of our food supply.

The laws in Maine and Connecticut don’t yet pose a threat to Monsanto and Big Food. Trigger clauses in those laws mean that they won’t take effect unless multiple other states pass labeling requirements.

So far only the Vermont law, passed in May, threatens to unravel Monsanto’s Great GMO Smoke and Mirrors Campaign. Which is why industry, led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, has filed a lawsuit to try to overturn Vermont’s law.

But industry can’t sue every state in the nation. If voters pass GMO labeling laws in Oregon and Colorado in November, Monsanto will need more than smoke and mirrors to perpetuate its crimes against consumers, farmers and the environment.

We know, from years of fighting this battle that our government is going to protect industry profits. Not your health.

This has always been a battle fought by the grassroots. It’s up to us to win it. However long it takes.

Ronnie Cummins|National Director|Organic Consumers Association|Organic Consumers Fund

Press Release from the Campaign to STOP Genetically Engineered Trees

Groups unite to call on Brazil to deny application to legalize genetically engineered eucalyptus trees

New York -Two letters signed by hundreds of organizations from around the world were delivered today to the Brazilian National Technical Biosafety Commission (CTNBio) calling on them to deny a pending request by the FuturaGene Corporation to commercially release genetically engineered (GE) eucalyptus trees in Brazil. This occurred in the capital Brasilia during a CTNBio public hearing on the FuturaGene request. CTNBio is the Brazilian governmental institution charged with authorizing commercial release of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in that country.

The letters were delivered to CTNBio by representatives of Terra de Direitos, The Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST), La Via Campesina Brazil, and the Small Farmers Movement (MPA) -social movements and organizations that represent hundreds of thousands of people in Brazil. They joined the effort to stop commercialization of GE trees due to their potentially serious negative impacts on the environment and biodiversity, local communities, and human and indigenous rights.

FuturaGene’s application is the first ever requesting permission to commercially grow GE trees in Brazil, where they are currently only permitted in field trials. FuturaGene, registered in the UK, is owned by Brazil-based pulp and paper company Suzano.

Due to mounting global concerns about GE trees, in 2008, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity called for the application of the Precautionary Approach regarding GE trees, as well as a comprehensive and transparent assessment of their long-term social and ecological risks prior to any open release into the environment. This risk assessment has not been done.

Any approval by CTNBio of the commercialization of the GE eucalyptus in question would therefore violate the decision of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity to which Brazil is a signatory.

Additional companies such as Fibria (formerly Aracruz) and ArborGen are also heavily invested in the commercialization of highly controversial GE trees. ArborGen has offices in the US, Brazil and Australasia. Barbara Wells, who led ArborGen until 2012, was, for 18 years, the head of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready GE soy division in Brazil.

Dr. Rachel Smolker, Co-director of Biofuelwatch states: “The case of GE trees in Brazil is also highly significant because there is also a request currently pending in the United States by GE tree company ArborGen to commercially release the very first GE trees there – freeze tolerant GE eucalyptus trees. This would be an ecological catastrophe for the Southern US, where they would be planted. It would also intensify climate change. GE trees must be stopped in both Brazil and the US.”

Teresa Perez, of World Rainforest Movement, and the Campaign to STOP GE Trees states: “The threat posed by the release of transgenic trees in Brazil is a warning for everyone in the American continent and peoples of many other countries where companies want to expand large-scale tree monocultures. Companies will benefit from this new and dangerous technology, while communities who already suffer from the negative impacts of monoculture tree plantations will once again suffer the negative social, ecological and economic consequences.”

In the letters that were delivered today, social movements, scientists, lawyers and organizations from around the world are calling for a global ban on the commercial release of genetically engineered trees, due to their unknown but potentially severe social and ecological impacts and incalculable economic risks, which would overwhelmingly accrue to the public.

The Campaign to STOP GE Trees is an international alliance of organizations that includes Indigenous Peoples, scientists, anti-GM food activists, forest protection advocates and social justice organizers from across North and South America, Europe and Australasia – all of which are home to companies and universities developing GE trees.

Energy

10 Ways You Can Burn Less Coal Today

You may not realize it, but you’re probably burning coal – a lot of it it. Even if you don’t have a coal burning furnace at home, you’re consuming coal when you turn on your lights, power up your computer, crank up the air conditioning, or boil water for a cup of tea. If you’re using electricity to do any of these tasks, chances are that electricity is being generated by coal. You may not actually see coal chunks, but you’re probably using them.

It’s great that we have the power to do all these things. What’s not so great is that, when coal, or oil, or natural gas, are used to generate that power, we’re left with air pollution, smog, and climate change. Burning fossil fuels like coal emits all kinds of particles and gases. Among those gases are carbon dioxide, or CO2. When CO2 gets into the atmosphere, it creates a sort of atmospheric blanket that hovers over the earth and warms the ground below it. We need a little bit of CO2 to maintain life on earth as we know it. The problem today is, we’re burning so much coal, oil and gas, that we’re creating way too much CO2 for the earth to handle. You’ve heard of global warming and climate change? They’re due in large part to the excessive amounts of CO2 we’re dumping into the atmosphere because we’re burning so much coal, along with gas and oil.

Since burning coal is used primarily to generate electricity, here are 10 ways you can burn less coal by cutting down on the amount of electricity you use.

1. Turn off the lights. About 25% of the electricity we use at home goes to power our lights. First and foremost, try to remember to turn off the lights when you leave a room. If you’re just dashing in and out, it’s not a big deal. But if you’re going to be gone for at least ten minutes, just flick the light off. It’s easy enough to turn back on when you return.

2. Use energy-saving bulbs. LEDs (light emitting diodes) use 70% less energy than a standard bulb and can last 25 times as long! You can get the same quality light for a fraction of the amount of coal needed to power the old fashioned incandescent. Even if LEDs cost a few dollars more than old-style bulbs, they’ll save you about $80 each in energy costs over the lifetime of the bulb. Isn’t that worth it?

3. Get ENERGY STAR certified appliances. EPA’s ENERGY STAR program has created a set of performance standards to ensure that you can buy highly energy-efficient refrigerators, stoves, washers, dryers, air conditioners and more. When you replace an old appliance, choose a new one that is ENERGY STAR-certified so you save the most energy using the most reliable appliance.

4. Recycle old refrigerators. Refrigerators are energy hogs. Even though yours still might work well, if it is ten years old or older, consider replacing it with an updated model. Many utilities will give you a rebate for replacing an old, energy-wasting refrigerator with a newer on that uses energy efficiently. They’ll also pick up the refrigerator and recycle it for you, and often pay you for the privilege.

5. Unplug computers and other electronics. Did you know that computers and other electronics consume 40% of their total energy use when they’re turned off but still plugged in? That’s why the Department of Energy calls them “vampires.” Get in the habit, not just of turning electronics off, but unplugging them when you’re not using them. This goes for televisions, X-boxes, and sound equipment as well as computers.

6. Plug into a power strip. Energy-saving power strips make it easy to turn off electronics. You can plug all your office electronics into one strip, then turn off the strip when you finish working for the day. The strip also acts as a surge protector in the event of a storm or power outage. Power strips are easily available at your local electronics or hardware store, as well as online.

7. Use a programmable thermostat. Programmable thermostats can be set to automatically adjust temperatures when you leave for work in the morning, return in the evening, and go to sleep at night. That way, you don’t have to remember to adjust the temperature – the thermostat will do it for you.

8. Insulate. Your home could be letting a lot of energy seep out of drafty attics and crawl spaces. In many state, you can get rebates from your utility to add insulation to reduce your overall energy demand.

9. Weather-strip windows and doors. Leaky windows and doors let cold air in in winter and hot air in in the summer. You can buy inexpensive weather-stripping at your local hardware store to plug the leaks and reduce energy demand.

10. Wash and dry full loads. When it comes to your dishwasher, clothes washer, or clothes dryer, the less you use them, the more energy you save. Fill up your washer before you turn it on to use both electricity and water more efficiently. Use the high spin cycle on your clothes washer to pull as much water out of your clothes as possible, which will reduce the amount of energy needed to dry them. And when it comes to drying, consider a drying rack or clothes line and let the sun and air do the job, rather than coal.

Diane MacEachern|September 12, 2014

SAVING THE CLIMATE, FIGHTING FRACKING

In June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a plan to curtail carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants, a powerful step forward in combating climate change. Yet while efforts to confront coal are making progress, an insidious climate threat is mounting in the form of oil and gas fracking.

Worse, it’s taking shape in our most iconic and majestic landscapes here in the western United States and being facilitated by our own federal government.

For more than a decade, the American West has been ground zero in struggles to safeguard public health and the environment from oil and gas. Booms in the 1980s and early 2000s galvanized diverse movements to protect drinking water, iconic landscapes, clean air, and wildlife.

Guardians has been a part of this movement for many years. In 2008, we successfully prevented the oil and gas industry from destroying key wildlife habitat in New Mexico.

In 2012, we spurred the Environmental Protection Agency to adopt the first ever clean air rules for oil and gas drilling nationwide. And earlier this year, we secured an agreement to protect Utah’s Fishlake National Forest from fracking.

Now, however, we face an unprecedented challenge. With the advent of modern fracking technology, past definitions of success are no longer relevant. No area is off limits as industry seeks to tap every last viable source of oil and gas through increasingly complex and dangerous fracking techniques, including horizontal drilling.

As more information comes to light exposing the true life-cycle greenhouse gas impacts of oil and gas development, it’s clear that the climate impacts are enormous.

Let’s start with the end-of-the-line greenhouse gas emissions of oil and gas, otherwise known as “the burning stage.” Both oil and natural gas are produced primarily as fuels, whether for vehicles or power plants, or even the hot water heaters in our homes. Combustion creates carbon, and although emissions are lower than coal, the quantity is staggering.

Oil and gas from Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming alone—where already 25% of the nation’s oil and 20% of the nation’s gas is extracted—produced an estimated 432 million metric tons of carbon in 2013. This equals the amount released by 113 coal-fired power plants.

The real concern, however, is what happens upstream at “the fracking stage.” We’re finding that methane leaks in the oil and gas fields in the West are producing massive amounts of carbon pollution.

Jeremy Nichols|wildlifeguardians.org newsletter

IT’S THE METHANE THAT MATTERS

At the smokestack, natural gas releases 50% less carbon pollution than coal.

But just looking at smokestacks ignores the climate impacts of fracking. When we factor in “upstream” impacts, we find carbon pollution from gas rivals coal.

The reason? Methane leaks.

Methane is natural gas, and while it’s a valuable product, it’s hard to contain. From wells to power plants, studies indicate that nationwide 7.1% of all natural gas produced is leaked.

That’s where things really get messy, because methane is also a potent greenhouse gas with 86 times the heat-trapping capacity of carbon dioxide.

Along the Front Range of Colorado, studies have found that methane leaks may be responsible for as much carbon pollution as four coal-fired power plants.

Another study reports that even under a 7.1% leakage scenario, any climate benefits from converting coal-fired power plants to natural gas wouldn’t be achieved for at least 100 years.

Natural gas may be cleaner than coal at the power plant, but that’s an unrealistically narrow measure of its climate impacts. Taking into account everything upstream, it’s clear a switch from coal to gas makes little sense. As Joe Romm, founding editor of the blog Climate Progress put it, “Perhaps
it is time to stop squandering tens of billions of dollars—and rendering billions of gallons of water unfit for human consumption—on a fossil fuel source that probably has no meaningful net climate benefit in the real world and may well do considerable harm.”

Enough said.

From wildlifeguardians.org newsletter

Ontario Gets 35% of Energy From Renewables As Coal Plants Shut Down

As coal-fired plants have vanished from its landscape, renewable energy has taken off in a big way in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province.

CleanTechnica reports that, with 2,312 megawatts (MW) of wind power, 4,091 MW of hydro and 159 MW from other sources, renewables hit 35 percent of all the energy going into the grid one day this week. That amount will vary, of course, depending on how windy it is on a given day.

CleanTechnica also pointed to a number of projects in development, with wind leading the the way which, when completed, would produce a total of almost 5,000 MW of new renewable energy. Together with existing sources, they could meet almost half the province’s demand.

The surge was undoubtedly pushed by Ontario’s aggressive drive to eliminate coal-fired power plants. Its Nanticoke Generating Station, the largest in North America and Canada’s largest source of greenhouse emissions, closed last year. The Thunder Bay Power Station, its last coal-burning plant, closed in April, making the province entirely coal-free. It was ahead of its target by nearly eight months. And it was ahead of a goal of 2015 announced in 2002 by over a year.

ontariowind

“Ontario is now the first jurisdiction in North America to fully eliminate coal as a source of electricity generation,” a press release from its Ministry of Energy said when Thunder Bay closed.

“The plant is scheduled to be converted to burn advanced biomass, a renewable fuel source. The province has replaced coal generation with a mix of emission-free electricity sources like nuclear, waterpower, wind and solar, along with lower-emission electricity sources like natural gas and biomass. A coal-free electricity supply mix has led to a significant reduction in harmful emissions, as well as cleaner air and a healthier environment.”

Since 2003, according to the ministry, its coal closure plan has eliminated 30 megatons of emissions from Ontario’s environment.

“Getting off coal is the single largest climate change initiative undertaken in North America and is equivalent to taking up to seven million cars off the road,” said Ontario Minister of Energy Bob Chiarelli in announcing the closure.

“Today we celebrate a cleaner future for our children and grandchildren while embracing the environmental benefits that our cleaner energy sources will bring.”

When legislation was announced last November to permanently ban coal, the province’s Minister of the Environment Jim Bradley said, “Coal-fired electricity generation is a major source of health-threatening smog, and of climate-destabilizing carbon dioxide. Our proposed legislation will ensure that dirty coal-fired electricity remains a practice of the past.”

Nuclear energy remains the biggest source of power generation in the province.

Anastasia Pantsios|September 12, 2014

Oil Drilling in Collier

I would like to take a moment of your time to share an important update about oil drilling activities in Collier County with which the Conservancy has been actively involved.  On Tuesday, September 9, the Collier County Commission backed out of its legal challenge intended to address potential groundwater contamination and to stop further inappropriate drilling activity in Collier County. This decision is the latest move related to controversial oil drilling techniques used by the Dan A. Hughes Company at the Hogan Island well and associated Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) oversight. 

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida, on behalf of our 6,000 member families, along with partner organizations and concerned citizens, supported the County’s legal action to compel DEP to properly investigate and enforce against the Dan A. Hughes Company for their questionable activity in Collier County. We have provided hundreds of hours of technical and legal assistance to provide factual and scientific information to the County, as well as had filed a petition to legally intervene in support of the County. 

From the onset of this issue, we asked the County to:

1. Resolve this in a public process with meaningful public engagement

2. Obtain and rely on independent expert opinions not tied to the landowner or the oil company who have a financial interest in this matter

3. Secure the minimum safeguards needed to address all three possible pathways of water contamination (the Hogan oil well itself, two old improperly plugged wells within a mile of the Hogan well, and the disposal of toxic wastewater produced from the drilling at the Hogan well site)

We believe that the County’s decision on Tuesday ignored all three requests. 

In unanimously voting to withdraw their legal challenge, the Commissioners relied solely on information from DEP and a consultant hired by the landowner (who has a financial interest in the potential oil production). This consultant only addressed one of the three possible contamination pathways.  The Commission took this action without prior public notification.  At the meeting, the Commission refused to hear public comments until after their vote – making the Conservancy’s technical and substantive comments meaningless in relation to the Commissioners’ deliberations.  They further denied public input when after the vote only representatives from the Conservancy were allowed to speak. All other citizens and groups, who waited hours to voice their concerns, were denied.

Tuesday’s decision is disappointing as we feel it did not serve the public’s interest. Their actions are a clear violation of public trust and respect for the public process.  Ultimately, we feel Collier County’s groundwater remains at an unacceptable level of risk.

Though we appreciate the efforts of Secretary Vinyard in leading DEP to revoke Dan A. Hughes permits, as we look to the future, the public needs to know that the Dan A. Hughes oil company is legally challenging DEP’s permit revocation.  If successful, work at the Hogan well could resume, including the possibility of an additional well within a mile of the old improperly plugged wells – further threatening the aquifers Collier County uses for drinking water.

To learn more about this issue, please click here.

We thank each of you for continuing to support our work on this very important and ongoing issue of oil drilling. 

Robert Moher|President and CEO|Conservancy of Southwest Florida

Study: U.S. offshore wind goals “feasible” but require regulatory overhaul

The federal government needs to reduce bureaucratic red tape and enact greater regulation if offshore wind power is going to develop in the United States, according to a new study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Six years ago the Obama administration set the goal that by 2030 the United States would get 20 percent of its electricity from wind power, about a sixth of which would come from offshore wind farms.

But while onshore projects in West Texas and Nebraska are booming, offshore has barely gotten off the ground. Last year the U.S. produced 162 kWh from offshore wind turbines – total electricity use in 2011 was 3.9 billion kWh.

The study, whose authors included researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the University of Pittsburgh, found current technology and coastal winds patterns made the goal feasible. But erecting close to 9,000 wind turbines between 10 and 80 miles offshore will require an overhaul of regulations to incentivize construction of a technology that is about twice the cost of onshore wind.

“There needs to be a reason to invest in this,” said John Daniel, lead author of the study and a consultant at the Swiss technology firm ABB. “I think one of the things that would be necessary is for system operators to understand how they can share the benefits and in the costs, which vary region by region.  It would have to be a national discussion in my opinion.”

The study envisions wind power primarily developing along the Atlantic coast between Boston and Washington D.C., both because of that region’s wind patterns and its heavy electricity demands. Significant development would also occur along the Atlantic Coast around Georgia and Texas’ Gulf Coast. The Pacific coast’s deep water makes development there more difficult, Daniel said.

Right now work is beginning on three federally-funded offshore wind farms off the New Jersey, Virginia and Oregon coastlines to be in the water by 2017. The small “demonstration” projects, which are slated to receive up to $46.7 million in federal funding, are intended as the first step in moving towards the 2030 goal.

But many remain skeptical that costly offshore wind projects can compete. Electricity prices have been driven down by the flood of cheap natural gas from the shale drilling boom.

Earlier this year Austin-based Baryonyx pulled back plans to build a wind farm across 41,000 acres off South Padre Island when it failed to win federal funding.

“Eventually offshore wind will be part of the picture. In the long run, the renewable energy price is going to come down and fossil fuels is going to go up. They’re going to coexist,” Wei-Jen Lee, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington, said in an interview last year.  ”The bottom line is it comes down to the price of electricity, and right now electricity is cheap.”

For policymakers, even with its sizable costs offshore wind remains an alluring possibility.

Land-based wind farms tend to generate electricity mostly at night, when demand is lowest. Out in the ocean, wind blows more consistently throughout the day. And while onshore farms tend to be located across sparsely populated plains requiring costly transmission to cities, offshore could be built adjacent to coastal cities.

“In the Northeast they’re importing a lot of wind. Building these resources could make them a net exporter. It could completely change the flow of power,” Daniel said.

James Osborne|dallasnews.com|September 5, 2014

U.S. offshore wind power nears takeoff with 14 projects

Long stymied by high costs and local opposition, offshore wind is finally nearing takeoff in the United States as 14 projects enter “advanced stages” of development, the Energy Department reports.

Two of the projects — Cape Wind in Nantucket Sound off the coast of Massachusetts and Deepwater’s Block Island off Rhode Island — have moved into the initial stages of construction while the others have obtained a lease, conducted extensive studies or obtained a power purchase agreement. Nine are located on the East Coast.

These projects represent about 4.9 gigawatts of possible capacity, according to a new DOE report that was produced by Navigant Consulting. That’s a fraction of the 61 gigawatt capacity of onshore wind turbines, which meet nearly 4.5% of U.S. electricity demand in an average year.

Yet offshore wind holds much greater potential for the United States. At least 54 gigawatts of its power could be produced and transmitted to the grid by 2030, according to another new DOE-funded report done by several groups including DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the University of Pittsburgh.

“We could eventually get there,” says the report’s principal investigator John Daniel of ABB, a power and automation company. He says the biggest obstacle for offshore wind projects are their high installation costs, especially at a time when a boom in U.S. production of natural gas has lowered its price.

Still, his three-year study found that a massive scale-up of 54 gigawatts of offshore wind power could yield long-term savings. It estimates $7.68 billion a year in lower U.S. energy costs, because power generation would be closer to where it’s consumed.

Daniel says a carbon tax, in which fees are levied on the use of fossil fuels that emit heat-trapping carbon emissions, would make it easier for non-polluting wind power to compete economically.

Also essential, say wind supporters, are federal tax incentives. Several, including the Renewable Electricity Production Tax Credit, have expired for projects that did not start construction by the end of 2013. Despite bi-partisan support for wind energy, Congress has not yet renewed them.

Yet wind power could benefit from the recent rise in natural gas prices and the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed 30% cut in carbon emissions from existing power plants by 2030. The EPA proposal, announced in June and slated to be finalized next year, will likely prompt the closure of many coal-fired facilities.

Globally, the costs of offshore wind installations have fallen 6% since 2011, according to the Navigant report. Larger wind turbines are being placed further out to sea where wind speeds are higher and boost production.

Northwestern Europe accounts for most of the world’s 7 gigawatts of installed offshore wind power, but China is also moving ahead. In 2013, global capacity rose 50% over the prior year. Half of that growth occurred in the United Kingdom.

“While this upward trend is encouraging, uncertain political support for offshore wind in European nations and the challenges of bringing down costs means that the pace of capacity growth may level off in the next two years,” the Navigant report says.

In May, the DOE announced that it would provide up to $46.7 million in federal funds for the final design and construction of three pilot projects: Fisherman’s Energy off the coast of New Jersey, Dominion off Virginia and Principle Power off Oregon. Two other projects, by the University of Maine and the Lake Erie Economic Development Company of Ohio, will each receive a few million in federal dollars.

While most of the 14 U.S. offshore wind projects are slated for mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states, one is planned for each of the following states: California, Texas, Ohio and Oregon. Another is slated for the coast of Saint Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The U.S. wind industry, which now has utility-scale turbines in 39 states, has seen substantial growth in the last decade, but it sputtered last year because of tax uncertainties and cheap natural gas. It’s still growing but not as fast, says the American Wind Energy Association. It added a record 13,131 megawatts of power in 2012 but that fell to only 1,087 MW last year — the lowest level since 2004.

Wendy Koch|USA TODAY|September 8, 2014

China Installs Equivalent of Australia’s Total Solar Capacity — In Six Months

In a big push to cut carbon and support industry, China added more than 3 GW of solar in the first half of 2014.

BEIJING — China, the world’s biggest carbon emitter, accelerated solar power installations in the first half, adding enough capacity in the period to equal Australia’s entire supply of power from sunlight at the end of last year.

China added 3.3 gigawatts of solar capacity in the six months ended June 30, double last year’s additions, the National Energy Administration said today in a statement. China now has 23 gigawatts of solar power supply, almost seven times as much as Australia, which is described by its own government as the world’s highest recipient of radiation per square meter.

China’s race to add renewable energy comes as policymakers push for ways to combat the nation’s growing problem of air pollution. Just this week, Beijing ordered official vehicles off the road and urged the use of public transport to ensure smog-free skies for a preparatory meeting ahead of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November.

Utility-scale photovoltaic power plants accounted for 2.3 gigawatts of the new capacity in the first half, with distributed projects comprising the remainder, the NEA said.

The northwestern region of Xinjiang led the way, with 900 megawatts of photovoltaic power plants in the first six months. Xinjiang was followed by Inner Mongolia, Qinghai and Shanxi. The eastern province of Jiangsu added 270 megawatts of distributed solar capacity, according to the NEA.

Distributed generation refers to electricity produced at or near where it’s used. In the case of solar, distributed projects typically include rooftops or ground-mounted panels near facilities such as sporting arenas or municipal buildings.

The agency vows to install 13 gigawatts of solar power capacity this year by supporting the development of distributed solar power generation, Xinhua News Agency reported Aug. 5, citing Wu Xinxiong, the NEA’s head.

China may announce policies as soon as this month to encourage such installations, people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because they aren’t authorized to speak publicly, said earlier this week.

“Demand will be quite positive” from August in China, Xie Jian, president of JA Solar Holdings Co., said in an interview last month.

Feifei Shen|Bloomberg|August 07, 2014  

China’s ‘War on Pollution’ Helps Kick Coal Habit

There are still doubts. The statistics might be proved wrong. But it looks as if China might be starting to wean itself off its coal consumption habit.

China produces and consumes nearly as much coal as the rest of the world combined. Coal, the most polluting of all energy sources, has powered the growth of China’s flyaway economy. But as incomes have risen, so has pollution. The country is now the world’s No.1 emitter of greenhouse gases.

Latest figures indicate that change is on the way, spurred on by a much-vaunted government “war on pollution” campaign. The state-run National Development and Reform Commission reports that domestic coal output shrank over the first five months of 2014—the first such decline since the start of China’s rapid economic expansion back in the late 1980s.

Greenpeace, the environmental NGO, said in a recent analysis of China’s coal sector that growth in coal imports, which had been going up at an annual rate of between 13 percent and 20 percent in recent years, has come to a virtual halt.

Meanwhile, the official Xinhua news agency says Beijing—a city of nearly 12 million people—will ban the sale and use of coal in its six main districts by 2020.

Coal-fired factories and power plants around the Chinese capital are being shut down and replaced by natural gas facilities. Coal generated 25 percent of Beijing’s energy in 2012, and the aim is to bring that figure down to less than 10 percent by 2017. Other cities and regions are following Beijing’s lead.

Just how meaningful these cutbacks in coal use are is difficult to gauge. Air pollution—much of it caused by the burning of low-grade thermal coal—is not only a big environmental issue in China but also a political one as well.

China’s leaders have promised a population increasingly angry about the low quality of the air they breathe and the water they drink that the government is determined to tackle pollution.

Yet coal-fired power plants are still being built at a considerable pace, and many more are planned.

Some analysts argue that the present slowdown in China’s coal consumption is only temporary, the result of a dip in industrial output that will be reversed as soon as the economy roars ahead again.

Others say the decline in coal consumption is part of a long-term trend. As China’s economy matures, becoming less dependent on heavy industrial goods and embarking on more hi-tech and service-oriented projects, the country will become ever more energy efficient—and less reliant on coal.

China might be the world’s biggest emitter of fossil fuel emissions, but it also has fast become a global leader in hydro, wind and solar power.

No one is suggesting that coal is going to be absent from China’s energy mix anytime soon. The lung-jarring pollution of many of China’s cities is likely still to be evident for some years yet. But coal is no longer king.

That’s bad news for big coal exporters to China, particularly Australia and Indonesia. But it’s potentially good news for millions in China who crave clean air. And it’s very good news for the planet.

Kieran Cooke|Climate News Network|September 5, 2014

Groundbreaking Study Shows How Demand for Water Could Impact Fracking Worldwide

On World Water Day, the World Resources Institute (WRI) has released a study that maps for the first time the water resources available to support fracking in the world’s largest shale exploration areas. The study, “Global Shale Gas Development: Water Availability and Business Risk,” found that 40 percent of countries with the largest shale energy resources could suffer from water stress: competing demands on their renewable water supply that could make it problematic to use that water for fracking.

ShaleWorldMapWorld Resources Institute mapped the availability of water resources to support fracking in the biggest shale exploration areas around the world.

“Hydraulic fracturing requires up to 25 million liters of fresh water per well, meaning shale resources can be hard to develop where fresh water is hard to find—including in some of the world’s fastest-growing economies and populations,” said the report. “In general, shale energy production is vulnerable wherever surface or groundwater is limited.”

It cites competing demands for water as an issue in densely populated countries like the United Kingdom, where more than a third of its shale resources face high water stress.

“As water demands increase, other water users like farms and homes around these plays face higher competition for water,” reported WRI. “This could potentially spur water conflicts for the 386 million people who live on land above shale plays, particularly in regions where changes in precipitation and temperature could alter water supplies.”

WRI found high water stress or arid conditions in China, Algeria, Mexico, South Africa, Libya, Pakistan, Egypt and India, while other countries such as Australia, Russia, Colombia, Brazil and Venezuela had low water stress.

waterstressedcountries

It also issued a series of recommendations for evaluating fresh water availability prior to developing potential shale energy resources and maintaining an adequate water supply for other uses. They include conducting water risk assessments; increasing transparency and engagement among citizens, businesses and regulations; ensuring adequate oversight of water supplies; and minimizing fresh water use in shale energy development.

“Water risk is one of the most important, but underappreciated challenges when it comes to shale gas development,” said WRI CEO Andrew Steer. “With 386 million people living on land above shale plays, governments and business face critical choices about how to manage their energy and water needs. This analysis should serve as a wake-up call for countries seeking to develop shale gas. Energy development and responsible water management must go hand in hand.”

Anastasia Pantsios|September 2, 2014

Pipeline Giant Handed Permit to Open Tar Sands Rail Facility

On the Friday before Labor Day—in the form of an age-old “Friday News Dump“—the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) handed a permit to Enbridge, the tar sands-carrying corporate pipeline giant, to open a tar sands-by-rail facility in Flanagan, Illinois by early 2016.

With the capacity to accept 140,000 barrels of tar sands product per day, the company’s rail facility serves as another step in the direction towards Enbridge’s quiet creation of a “Keystone XL clone.” That is, like TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline system sets out to do, sending Alberta’s tar sands all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico’s refinery row—and perhaps to the global export market.

Flanagan sits as the starting point of Enbridge’s Flanagan South pipeline, which will take tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) from Flanagan to Cushing, Okla. beginning in October, according to a recent company earnings call. From there, Enbridge’s Seaway Twin pipeline will bring dilbit to Port Arthur, Texas near the Gulf.

Enbridge made the prospect of a tar sands-by-rail terminal public for the first time during its quarter two investor call.

“In terms of the rail facility, one of the things we’re looking at is—and the rail facility is really in relation to the situation in western Canada where there is growing crude oil volumes and not enough pipeline capacity to get it out of Alberta for a two or three year period,” Guy Jarvis, president of liquids pipelines for Enbridge, said on the call.

“So, one of the things we’re looking at doing is constructing a rail unloading facility that would allow western Canadian crudes to go by rail to Flanagan, be offloaded, and then flow down the Flanagan South pipeline further into Seaway and to the Gulf.”

FERC has given Enbridge the permit it needs to make that happen.

The announcement comes just days after the U.S. Department of State handed Enbridge a controversial permit to move an additional 350,000 barrels of tar sands per day across the U.S.-Canada border without the legally conventional Presidential Permit, public hearings or an environmental review conducted by the State Department.

Enbridge also received a permit from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) the day before FERC’s “Friday News Dump,” locking in the State Department’s legal ruling at the state-level. MPUC voted 4-1 to permit the pipeline after a meeting lasting nearly eight hours.

The commission did so even though the staffer analyzing comments and legal submissions acknowledged he reviewed far more climate and environmental concerns than vice versa, according to MPUC staff briefing papers reviewed by DeSmogBlog.

“Clearly there exists much public opposition to the increased consumption of fossil fuels and diluted bitumen sources in particular,” wrote Michael Kaluzniak, planning director for energy facilities permitting for MPUC.

“Additionally, the Commission received numerous comments expressing genuine concern regarding the potential impact of the project on water quality and overall dissatisfaction with Enbridge’s public safety and spill response actions.”

With the combination of its Alberta Clipper expansion “illegal scheme” (referred to as such by the National Wildlife Federation), Flanagan South and Seaway Twin pipelines, as well as the FERC-approved rail facility, Enbridge now has the capacity to bring roughly 960,000 barrels per day of tar sands product to the Gulf.

For sake of comparison, Keystone XL has the capacity to bring 830,000 barrels per day of tar sands to the Gulf. But TransCanada has also brokered its own deals and made its own chess moves.

As reported on DeSmogBlog, TransCanada may build its own tar sands-by-rail facility while it waits for Keystone XL’s northern leg to receive—or not receive—a State Department permit and accompanying Presidential Permit.

“It is something … that we can move on relatively quickly,” TransCanada CEO Russ Girling stated on his company’s quarter one earnings call. “We’ve done a pretty substantial amount of work at the terminal end and mostly at the receipt and delivery points and that’s really what our key role in here would be.”

Since that call, TransCanada has not discussed its tar sands by rail business plans.

In July, Global Partners and Kansas City Southern announced plans to develop a tar sands by rail facility in Port Arthur, Texas with 340,000 barrels of storage capacity.

If TransCanada opens up its own tar sands by rail facility, the combination of that and Enbridge’s latest tar sands by rail move could feed the Global Partners-Kansas City Southern beast.

With tar sands now “Texas Bound and Flyin” in a major way, and both Enbridge and TransCanada finding a way to get tar sands to the Gulf, the seemingly hyperbolic headline published on July 10 by the Houston Business Journal seems to ring true more now than ever: “Keystone? Who needs it?

Steve Horn|DeSmogBlog|September 2, 2014

Land Conservation

    U.S. Sugar seeks OK for huge development after news it paid for GOP leaders’ trips

The company that paid for Texas hunting trips for Florida Republican leaders has a deal in the works to turn 67 square miles of agricultural land on the northwest edge of the Everglades into housing and businesses.

Weeks after news that Gov. Rick Scott and Florida GOP leaders took secret hunting trips to Texas financed by Florida’s sugar industry, U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brothers are pushing plans for a massive new development in rural Hendry County near the northwest edge of the Everglades.

The Sugar Hill Sector Plan envisions turning 43,313 acres — or more than 67 square miles — of sugar cane fields, citrus groves and pasture lands into a planned community featuring 18,000 residential units and 25 million square feet of space to accommodate manufacturing, warehousing, transportation services and other kinds of businesses.

Development would occur over the next 46 years, until 2060. No price tag for the project is mentioned in plan documents made public by Hendry County. Nor are financial arrangements discussed.

Maps indicate that the Sugar Hill property is part of 46,800 acres of U.S. Sugar land that the state has an option to purchase through October 2015 at fair market value under the Everglades restoration land acquisition program. Changes to Sugar Hill’s current agricultural zoning could significantly drive up the price per acre.

Various state agencies have been or will be involved in reviewing the giant project by the two Clewiston-based companies. They include Florida’s departments of Economic Opportunity, Transportation, Agriculture and Environmental Protection, as well as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the South Florida Water Management District.

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

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

The department had yet to receive the Sugar Hill application by late Tuesday.

A county planning and zoning document presented to commissioners before the Aug. 26 public hearing minimized the environmental impact of the Sugar Hill development. It says that an environmental analysis prepared by the sugar interests “confirmed that there are no regionally significant natural resources within the sector plan” area.

U.S. Sugar is looking for state support for the Sugar Hill plan in the wake of disclosures by the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times in July that it financed hunting trips to Texas’ King Ranch for Gov. Scott and Republican leaders. They include Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam; former House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park; Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, scheduled to become speaker in 2016; Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, who had been set to become speaker this year until he lost his bid for reelection; and House Appropriations Chairman Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland.

The newspapers reported that “since late 2011, U.S. Sugar paid more than $95,000 to the Republican Party of Florida for at least 20 weekend trips — destinations unspecified on public documents — within days of more than a dozen Florida politicians registering for Texas hunting licenses.” The industry also paid for the licenses.

The Sugar Hill property — shorthand for U.S. Sugar/Hilliard — is described as adjacent to the Airglades Airport, Clewiston, and borders on the Glades County line.

According to the county’s planning and zoning department, it “will incentivize businesses and development companies to locate in Hendry County by removing any barrier that may exist with the current land-use designation. As important, this proposal would complement the future expansion of the Airglades International Airport.”

Airglades is a small, county-owned facility where British Royal Air Force cadets trained during World War II. Since 2010, the county has been seeking to sell the airport to private owners in order to turn it into a major hub for cargo shipments. The Federal Aviation Administration must approve any sale.

The airport is working with Airglades International Airport LLC, (AIA), which wants to buy and privatize the airport as part of a $400 million plan that would turn it into an international cargo hub by adding a new 12,000-foot runway. AIA’s directors include U.S. Sugar executive Malcolm S. “Bubba” Wade Jr. and Joe Marlin Hilliard, chairman of the Florida Sugar Cane League.

On Monday, following FAA approval, AIA took over management of Airglades, said AIA President Fred Ford. He said the company expects a decision allowing AIA to purchase the 2,800-acre airport property “within the next 12 months.” The price to be paid would depend on how many jobs are created, Ford said.

According to Ford, the fate of Sugar Hill, which owns much of the land that surrounds the airport, is tied largely to the success of Airglades.

“If the airport isn’t successful, it won’t happen,” Ford said. “Sugar Hill is what could happen if the airport is successful. … The sector plan could be just an interesting document.”

Dan Christensen|BrowardBulldog.org

State Land Sale Garners More Than $15 Million for Conservation Purchases

State closes on former A.G. Holley property in Palm Beach County

Today, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of State Lands closed on the sale of A.G. Holley. The approximately 79.91-acre parcel of improved state-owned non-conservation land was the site of a former state hospital, which closed in 2012. Governor Scott and the Board of Trustees voted to approve the sale of this property on March 6, 2014, to Southeast Legacy Investments, LLC for $15.6 million.

“The closing of the A.G. Holley sale is a significant achievement in our endeavor to purchase high-priority conservation land,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “The substantial revenue coming from this sale alone will allow the department to fund crucial Florida Forever projects.”

The department is in the process of selling many state-owned, surplus, non-conservation lands to increase the budget for future purchases of environmentally sensitive conservation lands. The 2014-2015 Florida Legislature gave DEP spending authority to utilize up to $40 million of the proceeds of non-conservation land sales to acquire valuable land needed for conservation and public recreation.

“It is exciting to see this sale come to fruition knowing how the sale of non-conservation lands will benefit Florida’s precious resources and will assist the town of Lantana in developing a new public sports complex,” said Kelley Boree, director of DEP’s Division of State Lands. “This closing, along with additional imminent sales, will amplify our ability to acquire environmentally sensitive lands.”

Multiple land sales are anticipated to close over the next several months for a total of approximately $43 million. Approximately $22 million will be collected from the sale of four correctional institutes located in Hendry, Broward, Hillsborough and Palm Beach counties. The facilities were closed due to correctional institute consolidations.

“I am delighted to know that the sale of the A.G. Holley property will be used to preserve Florida’s natural beauty as well as promote physical activity with a new sports complex,” said State Surgeon General and Secretary of Health Dr. John Armstrong. “This milestone demonstrates the collaboration and responsiveness of partners across our state who are committed to the health of Florida’s families and the preservation of our environment.”

latashawalters|Sep. 4, 2014

Air Quality

China’s Biggest 74 Cities All Dirtier Than L.A.

Los Angeles has always been held up as the U.S.’s most polluted city. But, the Los Angeles Times reports, all of China’s largest cities make L.A.’s air look crystalline.

Los Angeles became famous for its ozone pollution, and it is still the most ozone-polluted city in the country, says the 2014 State of the Air report published by the American Lung Association. It ranks fourth in the even more dangerous particle pollution, which comes from sources like exhaust smoke and coal, and has serious negative effects on the cardio-vascular system.

With an average particulate reading of 12 considered “good,” the average Los Angeles reading last year was 18. But China’s cleanest city, Haikou, had an average annual reading of 26. Beijing’s was 90. The L.A. Times cited a tracking of China’s 74 largest metropolitan areas by the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection for the figures.

“From February 2009 to December 2013, Beijing’s worst one-day average reading was 569 on Jan. 12, 2013; L.A.’s was 79 on Dec. 9, 2012,” reported the L.A. Times. “In the same period, Beijing had 48 days with an average daily reading in excess of 300, considered by both China and the U.S. to be ‘hazardous’.”

Of course, with tougher environmental standards, L.A.’s air now is cleaner than it was decades ago. And since particulate matters wasn’t being measured back then, it’s hard to say if L.A. back then was more polluted than major Chinese cities now. But experts cited by the L.A. Times didn’t think so.

“Comparing California 30 years ago to China today is apples and oranges,” Eugene Leong, an air pollution expert who teaches at Peking University, told the paper. “How bad was PM2.5 in California in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s? We don’t know. … Was it as bad as what China is experiencing now? My educated guess is probably not as bad.”

If you’d like to follow how polluted the air is in a Chinese city right now, you can do so on this real-time map. It tracks pollution in cities around the world, assigning each a total air pollution score which can be further broken down by types of pollution. It rates L.A.’s current pollution as a “moderate” 78, with Beijing rated “unhealthy” at 187. At the time we accessed the map, two Chinese cities were rated “hazardous” with readings over 500. Shanghai, however, measured only 42, or “good.” The Yosemite Visitor Center in Mariposa, California, had the highest pollution rating in the U.S. at 177.

Anastasia Pantsios|September 11, 2014

Transportation

CNBC’s Squawk Box: FECI President & CEO and Vice Chairman of Business Development talk “All Aboard Florida”

CNBC’s Squawk Box featured a segment on the All Aboard Florida and the benefits to the state. We encourage you to watch the full clip here.

Vince Signorello, President and CEO of Florida East Coast Industries (FECI), All Aboard Florida’s parent company, and Seth Waugh, FECI’s Vice Chairman, spoke about the demand for intercity passenger rail between Florida’s most populated and visited regions, the profitability of other passenger rail systems in the U.S. and world, and how the company is leveraging 100-year-old infrastructure backbone to reintroduce this much-needed transportation alternative. “This project will transform the state and make it a better place in the process,” said Waugh.

“Today, intercity travel between South Florida and Orlando is tremendous. Every single year there are about half a billion intercity trips between Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando. It’s a mix of tourists, local Floridians and business people. It’s a very diverse market,” said Signorello. “The proposition is very simple. You can have a very productive trip, and we can shave at least an hour off your travel time between South Florida and Orlando.”

Additionally, we would like to thank everyone who has submitted a supportive comment using the new tool on our website.

f you haven’t already done so, please click here to submit your letter of support. Send the link to your friends and family, and let them know #ImAllAboard.
Stay tuned as we continue sharing the facts about this important transportation and real estate project.

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Recycling

This Dutch Denim Company Lets You Lease Organic and Recycled Jeans

“We think recycling is fun,” Bert Van Son, the CEO and founder of Mud Jeans, told me.

The Dutch denim company has created a leasing system, called “Lease A Jeans.” Clients have the option of leasing their jeans, for a €20.00 deposit and €5.95 for each month of use for a year. The lease includes repair services, should you rip your jeans. After a year’s lease, the jeans can be swapped for a new pair, bought outright, or simply returned.

The jeans themselves hit just about every box on the ethical apparel checklist. They use GOTS-certified organic cotton or recycled fibers. They’re made in fair-trade factories in Italy, for distribution in Europe.

And of course, the company ensures that every garment that comes back to them gets recycled, and the jeans are made with printed labels instead of leather labels to make recycling easier. The jeans are either re-leased in their used condition, or the cloth is upcycled into other garments, like shoes and sweatshirts. Sweatshirts are also available for lease and purchase.

But the most exciting thing about Mud Jeans is that they essentially close the loop, creating a model for reducing the amount of waste associated with the apparel. According to a report released last year, only about 25 percent of textiles are recycled in Europe. The rest goes to landfill or is incinerated. Van Son said that in the Netherlands alone, 135 million kilos of fabric are burned per year.

Van Son said that the biggest challenge is getting people to accept that clothing can be part of what he calls the “performance economy” and what might also be called the “sharing economy.” He likens the jeans to a washing machine: many people don’t mind not owning a washing machine, particularly in urban areas, and using the machines at a Laundromat instead. But the idea is a harder sell when it comes to clothes.

However, many people are curious and the idea seems to be catching on. According to the Mud website, there are currently 1,500 people leasing their jeans. After the company’s first year, 30 percent of leaseholders choose to keep their jeans, 60 percent swapped for another pair and 10 percent returned the jeans. “We are building an engaged community,” said Van Son.

Van Son is looking to bring the Lease A Jeans concept to the U.S. At a sustainable fashion event hosted at the citizen M hotel in New York City, Mud signed up three customers who want to lease jeans–the first in America. However, Van Son wants to find American manufacturers, so that all of the products can be part of the local economy and continue to be as sustainable as possible.

Margaret Badore|TreeHugger|September 12, 2014

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.

Why It’s Important to Rinse Recyclables

We all know it’s important to recycle and not toss things into the trash or the environment, but how carefully do we need to rinse containers before sending them on their way to the recycling center? Some argue that recycling is a total waste of water when you factor in the amount people are using to get their cans, bottles, and jars squeaky-clean, while others claim containers don’t need to be rinsed at all, and some say that the reality lies in the middle ground.

The real answer is that the rinsing requirements can vary depending on where you are (check this handy guide to get exact deals for your locale), but the bottom line is this: Yes, you still need to rinse recyclables. However, you can do it in an energy-efficient way.

Here’s why recyclers ask you to rinse:

-  It makes it easier to handle recycling. Imagine dealing with containers partially-filled with food scraps and left to sit around for a while. It would get pretty gross pretty fast. For the comfort of workers, it’s nice to rinse things out to keep down mold and mildew and make their working environment more pleasant. (In addition, some molds can cause environmental illness — don’t make recycling workers sick!)

-  It limits pests. Animals like raccoons are very drawn to food waste. If you put out recycling as you generate it, it may take days or even a couple of weeks before the recycling company picks it up. Over that period, animals may knock your recycling bins over, get inside them and make a mess. That’s not fun for you, or for the sanitation workers who have to deal with it.

-  It increases the quality of your recycling. Yes, even recycling is graded these days. Even in municipalities where it’s okay to throw containers with some food residue in (please compost most of your unused or expired food before recycling as opposed to tossing partially-full containers of mayo in the recycling bin), those containers are a little more difficult to recycle. Ultimately, the food will be burned or rinsed off during processing, but it means a little extra work. When workers sort through recycling during the processing stage, they grade and divide it by cleanliness. If it’s clean, it gets a higher grade, and sells for more. Maybe you don’t care about how much the recycling company profits, but you might care about your trash bill — which will go up if recycling isn’t generating enough money to support itself.

S.E. Smith|Care2|September 11, 2014

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, Care2.  

The Swedish Revolution: Turning 99% of Garbage Into Energy

Sweden has a passion for recycling! We know this because 99 percent of the country’s garbage is recycled, and less than 1 percent ends up in landfills.

In fact, the Scandinavian country has become so good at managing waste that it even has to import garbage from the UK, Italy, Norway and Ireland to feed the country’s 32 waste-to-energy (WTE) plants.

The Swedish Miracle — How Does it Work?

It begins with the three R’s, but goes much further. At the core of Sweden’s program is its waste-management hierarchy designed to curb environmental harm: prevention (reduce), reuse, recycling, recycling alternatives (energy recovery via WTE plants), and lastly, disposal (landfill).

Incinerator plants are at the heart of the program, but before garbage is trucked there, it is first filtered by home and business owners; organic waste is separated, paper picked from recycling bins, and any objects that can be salvaged and reused pulled aside. OK, so nothing much out of the ordinary there.

What makes Sweden different is its use of a somewhat controversial program incinerating over two million tons of trash per year, producing about 670,000 tons worth of fuel oil energy. Pretty useful in Sweden’s cold winters!

WTE plants work by loading furnaces with garbage, burning it to generate steam which is used to spin generator turbines used to produce electricity. That electricity is then transferred to transmission lines and a grid distributes it across the country.

“Waste today is a commodity in a different way than it has been. It’s not only waste, it’s a business,” explained Swedish Waste Management communications director Anna-Carin Gripwell in a statement. “When waste sits in landfills, leaking methane gas and other greenhouse gasses, it is obviously not good for the environment,” she added.

In case you’re wondering, this is not about burning trash in the open air.  Instead, Sweden has adopted a regulated, low-emission process for its incineration plants, which means that start-up costs for new plants can get too expensive for some cities.

The incineration process isn’t perfect, but technological advancements and introduction of flue-gas cleaning have reduced airborne dioxins to “very small amounts,” according to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency.

Check out this video to see how this recycling works:

Making Everyone Responsible — Raising Awareness

How has this small country succeeded in involving all its citizens in the recycling plan?

Sweden’s success in handling garbage didn’t happen overnight.

Starting in the ’70s, Sweden adopted fairly strict rules and regulations when it comes to handling waste, both for households and for cities and companies.

Rules introduced in the 1990s forced companies to take a more eco-aware look at what products they market: by Swedish law, producers are responsible for handling all costs related to collection and recycling or disposal of their products.

How Are Other Countries Handling Garbage?

Japan introduced a Home Appliance Law about ten years ago. It places the responsibility of recycling on everyone from the consumers to the manufacturers. If you need to get rid of a large appliance, you are required to pay a recycling fee. The amount of money depends on the appliance, brand and size of the unit. The cost of recycling a small television, for example, would run you about $19, but a refrigerator could be around $32.

In Italy, Rome has become quite strict regarding the whole recycling issue: if you don’t separate your recycling from your waste and you have a recycling bin within 500 meters from your front door, you can be fined up to 619 Euros, or $833.

In the U.S., San Francisco is the clear leader in the field of zero waste. In 2002, the city made a promise that by 2020 it would eliminate all waste that is neither recycled nor composted; in 2014, they are at the 80 percent mark, which is pretty amazing.

San Francisco’s plan does not involve incinerators; rather, it’s all about mandatory composting, compulsory debris recycling, banning plastic bags and plastic bottles, and mandatory recycling for all its residents.

Other cities in the U.S. are not doing so well: on average across the country, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates only about a third of waste is recycled or composted. In Houston and New York the number is 26 percent, while in San Antonio it drops to 18 percent.

Whether we’re looking at the country of Sweden or the city of San Francisco, the driving force must be to raise people’s awareness of our environment, and the need to protect it. Once we humans start respecting Mother Earth, and taking good care of it, we will all be in much better shape

Judy Molland|September 13, 2014

Miscellaneous

When sinkholes open, they swallow fortunes

LOUISVILLE, Ky. Solid ground isn’t always a certainty. Sinkholes can lurk anywhere — beneath suburban homes, city streets or even football stadiums and museums. It’s basic geology: Sinkholes open when soil collapses into large holes, caused by flowing water in underground limestone. Their toll can be dramatic, and the Southeastern U.S. is prime territory for the geological phenomena. In Tennessee, a sinkhole opened during renovations on the football stadium at Austin Peay State University. What started as a small hole turned into a chasm 40 feet deep and 40 feet wide as a repair crew dug to find its source.

In Kentucky, a sinkhole gobbled eight classic cars on display at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green. Corvettes, piled like toys in a heap of dirt and concrete fragments, became an Internet sensation, boosting museum attendance. And in Florida — ground zero for sinkholes — Tina and John Furlow were forced from their home near Tampa when a sinkhole caused so much damage that the repairs would have exceeded the value of the three-bedroom house with a nice pool. They now live in a used recreational vehicle. “It has been miserable,” Tina Furlow said. “It is taking its toll on us. We decided we need to get off this merry-go-round.”

For every sinkhole that causes property damage, scores open in fields and other obscure places. Earlier this year, sinkholes opened at high-profile spots about an hour and a half apart: the Corvette Museum in south-central Kentucky and the football stadium at Austin Peay State in Clarksville, Tennessee. During renovations at Austin Peay’s Governors Stadium, a sinkhole was discovered where the football field meets the track. Workers needed seven days to fix it, said Mike Jenkins, superintendent for Nashville-based Bell & Associates Construction.

The hole was plugged with layers of boulders, concrete, smaller rocks and a layer of cloth-like material to prevent moisture from seeping through. Then came another application of rocks, capped by asphalt. “I’m pretty confident that the work we did won’t become an issue again,” Jenkins said. At the Corvette Museum, the 60-foot-long, 45foot-wide, 30-foot-deep sinkhole opened in the Skydome display area in mid-February. The place that showcases automotive engineering will highlight another engineering feat when workers fix the hole.

Bruce Schreiner|Associated Press

[They couldn’t extract the body of the poor soul whose bedroom was swallowed up with him in his bed, but they got those Corvettes out.]

Manage Honey Bees Now to Prepare for Next Year’s Nectar Flow

Over everything the beekeeper does hangs the honey producer’s main objective: maximizing bee populations in time for major nectar flows. The next major nectar flows in north Florida will be spring; but beekeepers need to start working now in order to be ready for them next spring. Proper management of your bees in late summer and autumn provides for successful colony winter survival.  This in turn will ensure strong populations of bees to work the 2015 nectar flow.

The objective of management at this time of year is to ensure that a viable population of honey bees goes into winter with a good chance of surviving. Young bees are important, but a good, healthy population of “winter bees” is even more important. Winter bees, bees reared in late summer/early fall, are adapted to storing nutrients for a long period of time. Summer bees do this less well.

The queen is the origin of this vital population of winter bees. The beekeeper must, therefore, take pains to ensure she is up to the job. There is a natural slowdown of brood rearing at this time, so a failing queen may not be detected by the beekeeper. If there is any doubt about the queen’s condition, one should seriously consider re-queening the colony. In fact, some beekeepers re-queen in late summer or early fall on a regular annual basis. New queens lay eggs at higher rates than older ones, and the resultant population is larger. In addition, a first year queen is much less apt to swarm the following spring.

Below is a list of Beekeeping Best Management Practices for late summer and fall:

  • Late summer is the time of year in North Florida when Varroa populations begin to grow. Monitor your colonies closely and treat if necessary. Treatment options include: Apiguard, Apilife VAR, Apistan, Mite Away II, Hopguard and Apivar. Follow the product labels when applying these miticides.
  • As a preventive measure, consider treating colonies with Terramycin or Tylan dust to help control American and European foulbroods.
  • September is a good time to treat for Nosema disease using Fumigillin. Always follow product labels.
  • October – December are peak periods for hive beetle infestations. Options for treatment are: Beetle Blasters, Checkmite, GardStar, Hood traps, West beetle traps, and more.
  • Tracheal mites are of little concern to the Florida beekeeper. However, colonies can be treated if there is evidence of tracheal mite infestations during the autumn season. Grease patties are a simple treatment that can be used against tracheal mites. To make the patty, mix vegetable oil and powdered sugar until doughy but not sticky to touch. Place a pancake sized patty on the top bars of frames in the brood chambers.
  • There is a nectar dearth in many areas this time of year. Check colony food stores and feed colonies if they are light. Some areas may be home to plants that bloom in late summer/fall and provide enough nectar for bees to make and store honey. Check the Florida Beekeeping Management Calendar to see if these plants grow in your area.
  • August and September are very hot months. Make sure colonies are adequately ventilated and close to sources of fresh water.

Roy Carter|UF/IFAS Extension|August 8th, 2014

Sand hauling truck route goes before council
Collier County residents are getting ready to hear the roar of trucks hauling sand once more.

Wednesday morning the city council plans to discuss the routes the trucks will take to haul more than 50,000 cubic yards of sand to the shoreline with three drop points at Lowdermilk Park, Third Avenue North and Seventeenth Avenue South.

Peter Stant says the trucks came down his street during the last re-nourishment project and if this route is approved, they will rumble down 4th Avenue North again. Stant recalls what it was like last time.

“Nerve wracking. And it’s just constant.”

Mayor John Sorey said the project should start on November first and be done by Thanksgiving.

“Maybe they could change things up and reroute it, let someone else get some of this interference,” Stant said, although he acknowledged that it’s something that needs to be done.

Ted Davis lives just down the street and called the trucks a”small inconvenience.”

“I’m not going to complain just because I live on 4th Avenue North, it’s nice to have beautiful beach right there,” he said.

Plus, Mayor Sorey said the research shows, more sand, more tourists.

“Surveys that we do with the tourists, the most important thing they say is our beaches.”

Along with FEMA, the tax paid by those tourists is helping to food the approximately $7-million bill estimated by Sorey. Davis says one month of noise is worth it for a year of beautiful beaches.

“At the end of the day I want what’s best for the town and if it’s best for the town let them bring the trucks in.”

For the last re-nourishment project Sorey said trucks drove more than one million miles without an accident, and that the same safety protocol will be used this time around.

They have yet to accept a bid from a contractor, after that happens they will determine the rest of the truck route.

Sophie Nielsen-Kolding|Collier County reporter|Sep 02, 2014

Environmental Links

SFAS International Wildlife News Audubon Advocate Audubon Restore Eco-Voice South Florida Wildlife Care Center Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital The Turtle Hospital The Marathon Wild Bird Center Climate change info Audubon’s Coastal Strand Audubon of Florida News Blog Bioenergy News Climate Progress – climate science, politics and solutions Collins Center for Public Policy Comprehensive Everglades Restoration News EcoWatch – feeds from the WaterKeeper Alliance Everglades Foundation – press releases Everglades Hub Fort Myers News – Press Green Front Pages from Florida Newspapers Herald Tribune Newspapers –  Environmental News KeysNews.com Naples Daily News  – Environmental News National Public Radio Eco-News Riverwatch News about the Caloosahatchee Sierra Club Sierra Club Florida South Florida Watershed  Journal South Florida Water Management District Union of Concerned Scientists – news Yahoo News Search: Everglades NASA Climate Information American Littorial Society log NASA Climate Information Sun Newspapers – Lake Okeechobee News Everglades City News  – Mullet Wrapper IFAW’s World of Animals Magazine

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ConsRep 914 A

We must return to nature and nature’s god. Luther Burbank

Announcements

Welcome

A blogger recently decided to follow this newsletter and it turns out that he has an excellent blog of his own that deals with South Florida birding news.

His name is Jonathan Blithe, and, as he is a relative newcomer to the area, I would like to welcome him and his family to South Florida.

Check out his blog at http://soflobirding.com/ 

Mark your calendar:

First meeting of the 2014 – 2015 season

Date:        Thursday, September 18, 2014

Topics / Speaker: 

Paddy Cunningham, of Birding Adventures will speak on Birding, One of Life’s Pleasures

and will go over our exciting, new Birding Schedule

Location:  Anne Kolb Nature Center at West Lake Park

751 Sheridan Street

Hollywood, FL 33019

954-357-5161

Time:        7:30 to 9 p.m.

Our meetings are the 3rd Thursday of each month from 7:30 – 9:00 p.m.

and alternate between the Anne Kolb Nature Center and Fern Forest Nature Center.

Adena Protest Flotilla September 13 in Silver Springs

Say no to cow manure in our beautiful springs and rivers by participating in this year’s paddling flotilla on the Silver River on Saturday, September 13. 

Paddlers should bring their canoe or kayak to Silver Springs State Park.  The group will launch at 1PM to paddle downstream to the Ocala Boat Club at Ray Wayside Park. 

Live music, fun games, food, and SOLIDARITY will be on hand at Wayside Park from 2-8PM. 

A prize will be awarded for the best protest sign. 

Rumor has it that one of Paddle Florida’s favorites–Grant Peeples–will wow the crowd with his entertaining tunes AND his personal fried mullet recipe! 

Other musicians include Ashley Gang, Bob Patterson & Charley Simmons, Johnny Matanzas & the Hombres, Ron Johnson, Tom Ellis, and Wild Shiners.

Event tickets cost $30, and the donation supports the Water Protection Fund. 

They can be purchased at the door (cash/check), at Chiappini’s Gas Station in Melrose, or online through PayPal at: http://tiny.url.kpbk4py.

If you plan to purchase tickets at the door, please still RSVP by calling 352-546-3560.  Paddlers are also responsible for park entry, launch, and shuttle fees. 

More details on shuttle options at: http://www.silverspringsshuttle.com/

Bok Tower Gardens to host Florida Wildflower Symposium on Sept. 19-20

The Florida Wildflower Foundation is proud to partner with Bok Tower Gardens to bring the 2014 Florida Wildflower Symposium to the scenic Lake Wales attraction on Sept. 19 and 20.

The event includes field trips, workshops, walks in the Gardens, and presentations by experts on wildflowers, native plants, butterflies and bees.

There is also a landscaping track for those who want to learn about using natives at home.

Cost to attend the event is $35 for FWF and Bok Tower Gardens members, and $45 for non-members, which includes a $5 donation to the Gardens.

Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, will speak at the symposium banquet, to be held Friday, Sept. 19, at the Gardens.

Cost for dinner is $35 for FWF and Bok Tower Gardens members, or $45 for non-members.

The Gardens also will host a Wildflower Day on Sept. 20, which includes public events such as films, book signings and a presentation by Tallamy.

Click here to see the full schedule and to register.

Algal Bloom Photo Contest

The National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),

and the North American Lake Management Society (NALMS) would like your help to document algal blooms in our waters.

Algal blooms can occur in water bodies as small as a neighborhood pond and as big as the Gulf of Mexico.

When algae grow out of control in our waters, the result can be unappealing, harmful to our health and harmful to the environment.

Submit your photos of algal blooms where you live, vacation, and recreate for a chance to win great prizes.

For more information and official contest rules please visit: http://neefusa.org/algalbloomcontest

The 4th Annual Florida Panther Festival 

November 15 – 16, 2014

Exotic Pet Amnesty Event

Surrender your exotic pet, no questions asked, to be adopted by a qualified individual.

HELD AT FESTIVAL LOCATION

More information  coming soon 

FREE ADMISSION!

Saturday, November 15

10am – 4pm

Florida Panther Festival

North Collier Regional Park

RAIN OR SHINE!!

More Information to come.

Sunday, November 16th

Field Trips Available

Various Locations

Click here to sign-up!

Partners for Panthers

Please join us for a special announcement as long-time neighbors, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and the Naples Zoo,

announce a joint partnership to help advance panther research efforts in Florida.

Monday, September 8, 2014 at 10:30 AM
Conservancy of Southwest Florida
Eaton Conservation Hall

1495 Smith Preserve Way, Naples

In spite of great conservation strides over the past decades, Florida panthers remain at risk of extinction.

Florida panther recovery must be guided by sound science and supported by collaborative efforts in order to ensure

that future generations of Floridians have the privilege of sharing the landscape with this majestic creature.

Please confirm attendance by contacting Lisa Ball at 239.403.4224 or lisab@conservancy.org.

Your Trash Could Be Our Treasure!
Clean out that Closet, Garage and Storage Unit
The Sawgrass Nature Center is having its huge multi-family, indoor

12th Annual “Trash to Treasure” Sale

Saturday & Sunday, September 13th and 14th

from 9 AM to 3 PM

910 University Dr. Coral Springs, Fl.

in the former Office Max Store

(just to the right of Whole Foods, between Atlantic Blvd. & Ramblewood Dr.)

Donated items are greatly appreciated

(and can be dropped off at the store on the following dates & times)

Sat & Sun. August 30 & 31st 10:00AM – 3:00PM
Sat. & Sun. September 6 & 7th 10:00AM – 3:00PM

(Weekdays& evenings by appointment)

For additional information, please call the Center at (954) 752-9453.

Proceeds from the sale will benefit the Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital,

located at Sportsplex Park in Coral Springs. The SNC provides care for injured,

sick and orphaned wild birds, mammals and reptiles and provides environmental

education programs for children and adults.

Red Snook Catch and Release Charity Tournament

October 24-26

New Low Tournament Pricing!
New Kayak Division!

Oliver White, Honorary Chairman!

Food, Drinks, Prizes and More!
Clean Water!
More Fish!
Exciting
Auction Items!

Register your team today! Click here for an Angler Registration Packet.

Submit your packets to Conservancy Director of Events and Corporate Relations Nikkie Dvorchak via:

Email: nikkied@conservancy.org
Fax: 239.430.2904
or
USPS: Conservancy of Southwest Florida
Attn: Nikkie Dvorchak
1495 Smith Preserve Way
Naples, FL 34102

Can’t make the tournament, but would like to attend the Friday Night Kick-Off Party? Please contact Nikkie Dvorchak at nikkied@conservancy.org or call 239-403-4219.

For more information, visit www.conservancy.org/redsnook or call 239-403-4219.

Clean Water! More Fish!

Register Now!

Rookery Bay Reserve Seeks Motivated Volunteers

~Florida residents reach out to help preserve natural resources~

Volunteers provide education and excitement for thousands of visitors.

Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve protects 110,000 acres of coastal lands and waters on the Gulf coast near Naples.

This expansive amount of acreage requires a large team of staff members and volunteers to keep the area pristine.

Rookery Bay Reserve is seeking 10 to 15 new volunteers who are year-round Florida residents.

Volunteering allows participants to learn about the local environment while helping the state of Florida preserve natural resources and cultural heritage for future generations.

Volunteers at Rookery Bay Reserve have the opportunity to assist in many areas including research, education, resource management, facilities and administration.

“We provide training to all volunteers,” says Donna Young, visitor services and volunteer coordinator at Rookery Bay Reserve.

“We are especially looking for people who wish to share their passion for the environment by providing daily programs on topics such as manatees, sharks and shells.

Other tasks include feeding the aquarium fish and showing off the marine life in the Touch Tank, as well as leading guided walks on the Snail Trail.”

Volunteers can also assist with special events, workshops and art gallery receptions, help staff at the front desk and assist the Friends of Rookery Bay in maintaining the merchandise in the Palmetto Patch Nature Store.

The Environmental Learning Center also has a Florida-friendly garden in need of maintenance volunteers.

Volunteers provide a much-needed work force that can expand and enhance the reserve’s potential achievements.

Year-round Florida resident volunteers are needed to meet the commitment level that is crucial for many of the volunteer positions.

Shifts are flexible and hours vary per position.

The Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center serves as an interpretive gateway into the 110,000-acre reserve.

It features interactive exhibits, aquariums, a nature store, art gallery, observation bridge, walking trails and daily programs.

Volunteers help shine a spotlight on the unique native plants and animals, while guided walks and kayak and boat tours provide opportunities to explore the estuary.

Volunteers are encouraged to contact Donna Young, visitor services and volunteer coordinator at 239.530.5974 or

email volunteer@rookerybay.org.

For more information about Rookery Bay Reserve visit www.rookerybay.org.

The Arthur Marshall Foundation for the Everglades

Upcoming Events

Sequin Palm Beach Reception 

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

Annual Cypress Seed Harvest and Photo Project

Date:  October 25, 2014
Location:  Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatachee Wildlife Refuge

River of Grass Gala

Date:  December 6, 2014
Location:  Lady Windridge Yacht, launching from Palm Beach

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

Save the date for 25th annual “Ding” Darling Days

Mark your calendars for this year’s “Ding” Darling Days birding and eco-festival at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida, the week of Oct. 19-25, 2014.

Family Fun Day kicks off the week with free activities on Sunday, Oct. 19.

It features all-free refuge tours, live wildlife presentations, archery clinics, hot dogs, a touch tank and butterfly house, and kids’ nature crafts.

Muppeteer Jim Henson’s daughter, Heather Henson, with Ibex Puppetry, will return with performances featuring life-size endangered animal puppets.

Conservation Art Day winds up the celebration on Saturday, Oct. 25, with visits from Federal Duck Stamp and Junior Duck Stamp winners and nature art workshops.

Free and discounted birding, biking, kayaking, paddleboarding, sea life boating, and interpretive presentations will fill the week between the two events.

The 25th annual “Ding” Darling Days celebrates the birthday of the refuge’s namesake, father of the Federal Duck Stamp program and Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, Jay N. “Ding” Darling.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge (DDWS), and Tarpon Bay Explorers cosponsor “Ding” Darling Days with generous support from the local community and businesses.

Visit www.dingdarlingdays.com for updates on events, information on sponsoring “Ding” Days, or to sign up for e-mail update bulletins. Contact Wendy Schnapp at 239-470-1877 or EcoErler@aol.com to become a sponsor.

People’s Climate March NYC September 21, 2014

Disruption is a short film about how we can change the world — before the fossil fuel industry irreversibly changes the climate.

It looks at how social movements of the past mobilized at decisive moments to shift the course of history, and applies those lessons to the decisive fight of this generation.

It features author and filmmaker Naomi Klein, CNN host and movement leader Van Jones, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes,

plus many more, including some of the key scientific voices sounding the alarm.

Here’s the most exciting part of this story: it’s not finished yet.

The next act will be written in the streets on September 21st, when the People’s Climate March takes over New York (and cities across the globe).

This is the history we’ll tell the next generation — about the end of fossil fuels,

about how the world was in crisis, about how we started to turn it around together.

Click here to see the first act … and get ready to write the next.

The film just went live — click here to watch it online now: watchdisruption.com

Of Interest to All

Coral protection could have wide-ranging impact

A federal decision to protect an unprecedented variety of corals found in South Florida could affect beach restoration work, coastal development, channel dredging and fishing.

The National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration announced last week it would place 20 corals on the threatened species list in response to a petition from an environmental group. Fifteen of these live in the Pacific Ocean and the remaining five can be found in the Caribbean Sea and the South Florida reefs, which stretch from the Florida Keys to Martin County.

The agency said it was attempting to protect ecologically vital species that have suffered severe declines from global warming.

“Coral reefs are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on earth, providing habitat for many marine species,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries. “Protecting and conserving these biologically rich ecosystems is essential, and the Endangered Species Act gives us the tools to conserve and recover those corals most in need of protection.

The five South Florida species include pillar coral, rough cactus coral, lobed star coral, mountainous star coral and boulder star coral. All are reef-building corals, species that help construct the undersea structures that support a vast range of marine life, as well as drawing thousands of tourists to the region to dive, snorkel and fish.

Federal officials said the legal protections mean that federal agencies would be required to take the impact on the species into account in making decisions on whether to do a project, fund work or issue a permit. They offered few specifics, saying the protections could affect decisions by the Army Corps of Engineers, activities in harbors or decisions on coastal development that could risk increasing the amount of sediment washing into the ocean.

But a 2006 decision to protect elkhorn and staghorn corals as threatened species provides some indication of the possible effects. The need to protect them has led the contours of beach restoration projects to be narrowed to prevent the additional sand from washing into the ocean and smothering the corals. It has played a role in the decision to deepen the channel into Port Everglades, where money must be set aside to create additional coral habitat to compensate for the habitat that will be lost.

Shaye Wolf, climate science director of the Center for Biological Diversity, the group that filed the petition to protect the corals, said new protections could affect coastal development, beach renourishment, fishing permits and other federally permitted activities.

At Biscayne National Park, for example, she said people engaged in lobster fishing must now tie up to mooring buoys to avoid damaging elkhorn and staghorn coral by anchoring on the ocean floor.

In addition to taking steps to avoid harming the corals, the federal government will now draw up recovery plans for each species. These will include actions to increase their numbers, such as growing them in protected nurseries and then transplanting them to the reefs.

Wolf said the government must also designate critical habitat for each species, parts of the ocean floor in which any activities would be particularly scrutinized for their potential impact on these corals.

While none of these efforts at the local level would take on global warming, considered among the biggest threats to shallow coral reefs, she said the news that these ecosystems could be harmed by climate change should serve as “a real wake-up call to the public and politicians that we need to take action.”

David Fleshler|Sun Sentinel|August 30, 2014

Pat Neal Gets SWFMD Permit to Destroy Wetlands on Perico

BRADENTON — Biding his time patiently for years, Pat Neal has owned wetlands on Perico Island bordering Sarasota Bay, waiting for the right mix of political connections to get the approval to destroy the environmentally sensitive land for another development. In fact, the 40-acre parcel of land he owns through a trust is mostly wetlands. Most if not all have conservation protection by the City of Bradenton’s development rules, but don’t expect Mayor Poston to ensure those rules are followed. As for the South Florida Water Management District, Carlos Beruff serves on its board and Neal and Beruff have close business ties, so it may be no surprise that they would grant a permit to Neal, allowing him to destroy the wetlands.

The City of Bradenton has some pretty good rules in their land development code and their comprehensive plan for protection wetlands. However, when Neal requested his development, the city found a way to change the rules, or just ignore them. Nowhere on the Neal site plan approval will you find mention of destroying wetlands, something that Bradenton’s rules do not allow.

The city even administratively changed Neal’s land use from the city’s approved maps, avoiding a planned development hearing. Then there are the four lots he was able to get approved on less than four acres. The only problem is that the rules require at least four acres for approving four lots, which Neal does not have in his request. Altogether, this is represented by 19 pages of the city violating their own codes. When confronted, Mayor Poston never responded. Neither did his staff.

The city relies on SWFMD for wetland issues, delegating wetland review to the agency since they do not have the environmental expertise. However, that leads to a situation where SWFMD can issue a permit that is not consistent with the city’s own rules. So what assurances does the public have that the development rules of their community are ultimately followed? None, it would seem. SWFMD does not even seem to consider the city’s rules, which are more restrictive than the water management district’s.

SWFMD spends millions restoring wetlands, but it also permits their destruction, making something of a self-perpetuating business with our tax dollars. There is no lack of data. We have study after study that says avoiding wetland impacts is important for a number of reasons. While the environmental reasons alone should be enough, a wetland can also be worth millions of dollars in economic value to our fishing industry.

Wetlands also protect our homes from floods and storm events, and their absence can help compound the financial costs of natural disasters, from state and federal response costs to escalating insurance premiums. FEMA has rules that prevent destroying natural shorelines, however, developers like Neal still want to build houses by destroying wetlands. Is it any wonder that FEMA wants to raise our flood insurance rates through revised flood maps?

We all benefit by protecting wetlands and natural shorelines. Neal can build at least one home without destroying any wetlands, maybe two. The rules of avoiding wetlands have been around for quite a while. We do not need to change, or even worse, ignore the rules just so that a developer can make a few extra million dollars.

There is hope. The Army Corp of Engineers (ACOE) has a role to protect wetlands using federal rules. If they apply the rules and the avoidance criteria required, then the wetlands Neal wants to destroy have a chance to be preserved.

You may remember a few months ago that Beruff wanted SWFMD to take over the permitting of wetlands from the ACOE. I guess now we can see why. Even though SWFMD must only permit projects in accordance with the federal rules used by the ACOE, it is evident that they cannot be trusted, otherwise the Neal permit would never have been approved.

If Neal gets away with destroying the wetlands on Perico, is Long Bar Pointe next, or maybe Terra Ceia? Did they not get the message last year by way of the historic local opposition to destroying our environment, that these actions are not acceptable to our community?

Joe McClash|Friday, August 29, 2014

Bottled Water Comes From the Most Drought-Ridden Places in the Country

Popular brands like Aquafina and Dasani source from catastrophically dry parts of the West.

Bottled-water drinkers, we have a problem: There’s a good chance that your water comes from California, a state experiencing the third-driest year on record.

The details of where and how bottling companies get their water are often quite murky, but generally speaking, bottled water falls into two categories. The first is “spring water,” or groundwater that’s collected, according to the EPA, “at the point where water flows naturally to the earth’s surface or from a borehole that taps into the underground source.” About 55 percent of bottled water in the United States is spring water, including Crystal Geyser and Arrowhead.

The other 45 percent comes from the municipal water supply, meaning that companies, including Aquafina and Dasani, simply treat tap water—the same stuff that comes out of your faucet at home—and bottle it up. (Weird, right?)

But regardless of whether companies bottle from springs or the tap, lots of them are using water in exactly the areas that need it most right now.

Julia Lurie|Aug. 11, 2014

Mexico closes 88 schools in Sonora after 10 million gallons of acid spills from copper mine into rivers

A faulty holding pond at the Buenavista Copper Mine spilled acid into two major Mexican rivers, affecting about 800,000 people. Up to 5,000 school children will be kept home from class this week as officials de-acidify the water.

Mexico temporarily closed 88 schools due to toxic leakage from a copper mine, keeping about 5,000 students out of the classroom.

School children in the state of Sonora were due to head back to school this week, but their first day was delayed because officials feared they may come in contact with the sulfuric acid-contaminated water, BBC News reported.

On Aug. 6, 10 million gallons of acids from the Buenavista Copper Mine spilled into two rivers posing a threat to much of Northern Mexico.

The Bacanuchi and Sonora rivers spread the leakage throughout northern Mexico. About 800,000 people have been affected.

It’s unclear exactly when Sonora students will head back to class, but they will not be let in until the regions affected have clean drinking water, Sonora state civil protection director Carlos Arias said.

The leak likely stemmed from defects in newly built holding ponds at the mine, Arias said.

The acid was detected in the river a day later and the government cut off water supplies that stem from the river.

Now, officials are working to de-acidify the two rivers by adding heaps of calcium to the water. Acid levels are dropping, Mexico’s National Water Commission said, but the water is still not totally safe.

The agency will continue to monitor water until most of the chemicals are gone.

Arturo Rodriguez, the head of industrial inspection for the Attorney General for Environmental Protection, claimed lax regulations contributed to the problem. The mine should have detected the spill before so much of the acid got out, he said.

Meg Wagner|NEW YORK DAILY NEWS|August 19, 2014

Groundbreaking Study Shows How Demand for Water Could Impact Fracking Worldwide

On World Water Day, the World Resources Institute (WRI) has released a study that maps for the first time the water resources available to support fracking in the world’s largest shale exploration areas. The study, “Global Shale Gas Development: Water Availability and Business Risk,” found that 40 percent of countries with the largest shale energy resources could suffer from water stress: competing demands on their renewable water supply that could make it problematic to use that water for fracking.

ShaleWorldMapWorld Resources Institute mapped the availability of water resources to support fracking in the biggest shale exploration areas around the world.

“Hydraulic fracturing requires up to 25 million liters of fresh water per well, meaning shale resources can be hard to develop where fresh water is hard to find—including in some of the world’s fastest-growing economies and populations,” said the report. “In general, shale energy production is vulnerable wherever surface or groundwater is limited.”

It cites competing demands for water as an issue in densely populated countries like the United Kingdom, where more than a third of its shale resources face high water stress.

“As water demands increase, other water users like farms and homes around these plays face higher competition for water,” reported WRI. “This could potentially spur water conflicts for the 386 million people who live on land above shale plays, particularly in regions where changes in precipitation and temperature could alter water supplies.”

WRI found high water stress or arid conditions in China, Algeria, Mexico, South Africa, Libya, Pakistan, Egypt and India, while other countries such as Australia, Russia, Colombia, Brazil and Venezuela had low water stress.

waterstressedcountries

It also issued a series of recommendations for evaluating fresh water availability prior to developing potential shale energy resources and maintaining an adequate water supply for other uses. They include conducting water risk assessments; increasing transparency and engagement among citizens, businesses and regulations; ensuring adequate oversight of water supplies; and minimizing fresh water use in shale energy development.

“Water risk is one of the most important, but underappreciated challenges when it comes to shale gas development,” said WRI CEO Andrew Steer. “With 386 million people living on land above shale plays, governments and business face critical choices about how to manage their energy and water needs. This analysis should serve as a wake-up call for countries seeking to develop shale gas. Energy development and responsible water management must go hand in hand.”

Anastasia Pantsios|September 2, 2014

Judge Finds BP “Grossly Negligent” in 2010 Gulf Oil Spill

Today U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier ruled that BP acted with gross negligence in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster. Barbier’s ruling also faulted Transocean Ltd. and Halliburton Co. in the disaster, but to a lesser degree than BP.

“Now that BP’s role in the disaster has been clearly identified, it is time for the State of Florida to put together a restoration plan for Florida’s Gulf Coast,” said Julie Wraithmell, Audubon Florida Director of Wildlife Conservation.  

As required by the RESTORE Act, 80% of all penalty fines collected from the 2010 Gulf oil spill disaster under the Clean Water Act must be directed to protect the natural resources and economies of the Gulf Coast. A significant portion of those funds will come to Florida. Today’s ruling makes the planning for the use of those funds a priority.

Audubon has urged state, federal and local government agencies to use RESTORE Act funds to protect coastal birds and wildlife and their habitats.   

“Restoration of the Gulf ecosystem should be driven by science that identifies threats and provides solutions,” Wraithmell said.

Your voice is needed as the RESTORE process continues. Please click here to see a list of public events where you can make your voice heard in defense of our beautiful Gulf Coast Ecosystem. 

RESTORE Florida’s Gulf|September 2014

Shell Announces Aim to Drill for Oil in Arctic Ocean in 2015

Once again Royal Dutch Shell is taking aim at the oil and gas in Alaska’s Arctic Ocean, the company recently announced. This time its plan is to put two drilling rigs in the Chukchi Sea, with hopes to extract more than 16 million gallons of oil a day.

Following years of successful opposition from the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, as well as repeated technical failures that impeded exploration, Shell did not try to drill in summer 2014. It still needs federal approval for the 2015 drilling — so a coalition of environmental groups, including the Center, is prepping a legal challenge to any approval that fails to protect the Arctic’s fragile environment and wildlife.

As the Center’s Brendan Cummings said, “Drilling in the Arctic makes no more sense in 2015 than it did when it was first proposed.”

Read more in The New York Times.

NEPA/BGEPA: Fish and Wildlife Service May Overhaul Rule Permitting Incidental Take of Eagles

Just as the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) issues its first permit under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA) authorizing a wind energy project to “take” golden eagles over the next five years, the agency also has announced that it intends to conduct a comprehensive review of its eagle permitting program under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The questions USFWS intends to address during this review could result in a more workable permitting regime, such as by replacing the “no net loss” and “unavoidable take” concepts of the existing rules with more flexible, practicable standards. However, the outcome of the NEPA process is, by its nature, uncertain and will take time (USFWS optimistically projects 18 months). This raises questions regarding how BGEPA permits will be processed in the interim. USFWS has received at least 13 programmatic permit applications, and is in advanced pre-application discussions with multiple wind energy projects.

The agency’s stated intention to develop a standardized mitigation regime for BGEPA permits will also require close attention. Finally, it is an open question as to whether USFWS can make changes to the permitting rules flexible enough to avoid additional rule revisions in the future. The existing regulations are less than five years old, and yet they have already had a storied and complicated life.USFWS will host scoping meetings in five cities during a 90-day public comment period that ends on September 22, 2014. USFWS aims for a draft NEPA document in early 2015, followed by a final NEPA document and promulgation of revised permitting rules in late 2015.1.

BGEPA prohibits “take” of bald and golden eagles except as authorized under regulations prescribed by the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary).

On September 11, 2009, after preparing an Environmental Assessment (EA) and issuing a Finding of No Significant Impact under NEPA, USFWS published a final rule authorizing take of eagle nests and the non-purposeful take of bald and golden eagles associated with an otherwise lawful activity (Permit Rule).

The Permit Rule established two non-purposeful take permit regimes; one for standard permits authorizing individual instances of take that cannot be practicably avoided, and a second for programmatic permits authorizing recurring take that is unavoidable even after implementation of “advanced conservation practices”. The Permit Rule authorized programmatic permits for a term of up to five years.

In February 2011, USFWS published a draft Eagle Conservation Plan guidance document intended to show how to prepare an Eagle Conservation Plan in furtherance of a BGEPA permit request (Eagle Guidance).

USFWS received extensive comment. Renewable energy developers – wind energy developers in particular – used this opportunity to request extension of the programmatic take permit term from five to 30 years to better correspond to the operational life of renewable energy projects and thereby provide greater certainty for potential project financiers and investors.

However, members of the environmental community strongly recommended retaining the five year rule, asserting persistent uncertainty regarding the effects of wind projects on eagles and the need for continued public involvement.On April 13, 2012, USFWS initiated two additional rulemakings, a proposed rule to extend the maximum term of programmatic permits from five to 30 years (Duration Rule), and, separately, an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) requesting input on all other aspects of the 2009 non-purposeful take regulations except for permit duration. USFWS issued a substantially revised, final version of the Eagle Guidance in May 2013 and, on December 9, 2013, issued the final Duration Rule pursuant to a categorical exclusion under NEPA.

The final Duration Rule included an additional provision for the streamlined review of “low-risk” programmatic permits where an applicant could demonstrate a risk of less than 0.3 eagle mortalities per year. During this time, USFWS initiated a series of eagle research initiatives with the United States Geological Survey and other agencies, in large part to provide baseline information for future BGEPA permitting decisions. Some of those studies are now complete.On June 19, 2014, the American Bird Conservancy made good on a long-standing threat by filing a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against adoption of the final Duration Rule. The complaint alleges that USFWS and the Secretary violated NEPA by issuing the final Duration Rule pursuant to a categorical exclusion instead of an EA or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The complaint also alleges that the Duration Rule violates BGEPA in contravention of its preservation goals and violates the Administrative Procedure Act as an arbitrary and capricious “reversal of position”.

2. USFWS’s Proposed BGEPA Rule Revision.

On June 23, 2014, USFWS issued a Notice of Intent (NOI) for the preparation an EA or EIS to support a full-scale reassessment of the agency’s eagle permitting program. The NOI says that agency staff who have been implementing the permit regulations have identified “a number of priority issues for evaluation,” including: Eagle population management objectives; Programmatic permit conditions; Compensatory mitigation; and Evaluation of the individual and cumulative effects of low-risk (or low-effect) permits.

The NOI started a 90-day comment period during which USFWS will host public scoping meetings in Sacramento, Minneapolis, Albuquerque, Denver, and Washington D.C. The public comment period ends on September 22, 2014. USFWS aims for a draft NEPA document in early 2015, followed by a final NEPA document and promulgation of revised regulations in late 2015.

The following summarizes key aspects of the permitting program that USFWS intends to reassess over the course of the NEPA review.

The eagle management objective under the existing Permit Rule is to “manage populations consistent with the goal of maintaining and increasing breeding populations over 100 years.”

Under this standard, take of bald eagles is limited at five percent of estimated annual productivity. Due to a lack of data demonstrating the extent to which golden eagle populations could absorb take, the Permit Rule set a zero take threshold for the species, meaning that any take of a golden eagle must be equally offset by compensatory mitigation, resulting in “no net loss”.

USFWS intends to consider a range of alternatives to the eagle management objective through the NEPA process, ranging from a qualitative standard, such as “to not meaningfully impair the bald or golden eagle’s continued existence,” to a specific, quantitative take limit for each Eagle Management Unit as informed by newer, improved survey information developed since 2009.

Programmatic Permits: Duration, “Unavoidable Take”, and “Low-Risk”The NEPA process initiated by the NOI appears intended to further the broad rulemaking effort started with the ANPR in 2012.

While the ANPR expressly excluded permit duration because that issue was the focus of the separate Duration Rule, USFWS has since decided to use this most recent NEPA process to “further analyze the effects of longer term non-purposeful take permits,” apparently to address opposition to the Duration Rule. Given that USFWS also has indicated in its scoping materials that “30 years is the appropriate maximum term for programmatic permits,” this latest round of NEPA review may serve as a vehicle for reinforcing the Duration Rule’s rationale.

USFWS also intends to revise the definition of “low-risk” to include projects with higher take probabilities than the current 0.3 eagles per year standard, which, in the words of USFWS, is so low that “it covers only those projects where take is basically negligible”. The extent of the increase will largely depend on the results of the cumulative effects analysis of the NEPA review.

Finally, and most significantly, USFWS will consider eliminating the “unavoidable take” standard for issuing programmatic permits and replacing it with a less stringent requirement “that all permittees take all practicable measures to avoid and minimize take of eagles”.

To date, power pole retrofits to reduce eagle mortalities by electrocution have been the most common form of compensatory mitigation contemplated by USFWS in exchange for eagle take authorization.

Other potential approaches include habitat preservation, construction of nest platforms, lead abatement, carcass removal, in lieu fees, and funding of conservation programs.

USFWS intends to use the NEPA process to identify and evaluate a suite of uniform, scalable compensatory mitigation measures for codification in the revised rule.

USFWS seeks input on when and how much compensatory mitigation should be required (e.g., for any authorized take versus only if take thresholds are exceeded), as well as the kinds of mitigation that should be used. USFWS will also explore the establishment of mitigation funds.

In parallel with this effort, USFWS is actively promoting a new, coordinated public-private eagle research program in which the USGS and USFWS will support research on eagle population dynamics and basic biology while the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) funds eagle take mitigation research and the development of Advanced Conservation Practices. To that end, NFWF hopes to obtain research financing through a recently established National Bald and Golden Eagle Research Fund and a Mojave and Sonoran Desert Fund.

NFWF also proposes to create advisory committees (staffed in part by industry scientists) for the selection of research projects. USFWS plans to seek financial support for the NFWF funds through industry contributions, settlement agreement community service, and federal and state agency support.

It is likely that the NEPA document for the proposed permitting rule revision will include payment of in-lieu fees to NFWF as a form of standardized compensatory mitigation.

The issues that USFWS intends to evaluate through the NEPA process (and the rulemaking that may follow) go to the core of the eagle permitting program. Changing the program elements referenced by USFWS in the NOI could eventually result in a more flexible programmatic permitting regime.

For example, applying a more realistic metric for identifying “low risk” projects and replacing the rigid “no net loss” and “unavoidable take” concepts with standards that give USFWS more discretion in its permitting decisions could improve implementation of the program. Likewise, a standardized, front-loaded compensatory mitigation framework with in-lieu fees could also create greater certainty and perhaps a faster permitting process as well.

But while prospective permittees are likely to support rule changes that would provide greater flexibility and wider agency discretion, wildlife advocates are just as likely to press USFWS to narrow the regulations in the same respects.

Because the alternatives considered in the NEPA document are likely to cover both sides of the spectrum on each of the major issues identified in Section 2 above, it is also possible (but perhaps unlikely) that USFWS may adopt permitting requirements at the end of the process that are more stringent than those in effect today.

The inherent uncertainty of the NEPA process, and the lack of consensus over how to change the permitting program, ushers in a new period of uncertainty that will continue until the NEPA process is concluded and any revised regulations are adopted – a process that the agency acknowledges could take 18 months (and presumably longer, should the Agency decide to prepare an EIS). This may delay the availability of eagle permits, or may open any permits that are issued in the interim to collateral attack, depending on how such permits are structured and how the NEPA and rulemaking processes proceed. Meanwhile, USFWS has begun to actively enforce BGEPA and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).

If enforcement is intended to encourage projects to seek permits, then that objective is undercut by the uncertainty fostered by the NOI and planned rulemaking process.

USFWS could minimize some of this uncertainty by proposing clear “grandfathering” rules in the draft NEPA document and subsequent regulations, much like those of the Bureau of Land Management’s Solar Energy Program and more recent iterations of California’s proposed Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan.

For example, projects might have the option of remaining subject to the existing permitting regime as long as their applications are submitted before proposal or adoption of the new regulations, even if the permits issue after the new rules take effect. Providing the option – but not the requirement – to conform to the new permit rules would at least give those projects in the permitting pipeline a measure of certainty in an otherwise unstable setting.

The agency’s intent to develop a uniform approach to mitigation also could undercut flexibility created by other changes to the program.

Much like squeezing a balloon, imposing more flexible permitting rules on one end of a large-scale regulatory process can sometimes result in overly stringent and inflexible mitigation requirements at the other end. However, the NOI suggests the USFWS recognizes that risk, as it suggests that mitigation be scalable as well as standardized.

To be workable, any standardized mitigation proposals will need to be sufficiently scaled, tiered and qualified to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach.

The apparent plan of USFWS to use settlement agreements as a tool to provide NFWF with research funds also is highly unlikely to encourage industry participation.

The only settlement announced to date was reached under the MBTA’s criminal provisions. Companies are likely to resist admission to criminal violations of the MBTA or BGEPA. The aggressive pursuit of settlements by USFWS may not foster the kind of collaborative relationships envisioned by the Eagle Guidance that are more likely to contribute to sound eagle conservation decisions.The NOI also indicates that USFWS will consider replacing the current “no net loss” golden eagle management objective with either a qualitative standard or discrete numeric take limits for each Eagle Management Unit.

While unit-specific limits are likely to better reflect the most recent population data and would present a marginal improvement over the current “no net loss” standard for golden eagles, unit-specific limits also would likely be rendered obsolete by new data in the future. Adopting a rule that allows the Agency to adjust to changes in baseline data over time and across geographies makes sense, but not if that responsiveness can only be achieved through constant rule revisions. This suggests that a qualitative standard would be a better approach.

USFWS has opened a pathway for material improvements to its eagle permitting program through the June 23 NOI and the process that will follow.

It also has introduced substantial uncertainty for pending permit applications, which is complicated by the Agency’s stepped-up effort to enforce BGEPA and the MBTA.

Prospective BGEPA permittees would be well-advised to actively participate throughout the NEPA process (and any rulemaking that follows).For more information, please contact Andrew Bell in Marten Law’s San Francisco office or Svend Brandt-Erichsen in Marten Law’s Seattle office.

See more at: http://www.martenlaw.com/newsletter/20140701-incidental-take-rule-overhaul#sthash.YPTtSyII.dpuf

5 of China’s Green Initiatives That Will Put Us to Shame

Seeing as China is responsible for more than 25% of the world’s carbon emissions alone, it’s hard to call the nation a friend of the environmental movement. Nevertheless, while other countries like the United States are floundering to make any meaningful reform (if not still outright questioning the validity of climate science), China is at least moving full speed ahead on some initiatives to become a much greener country. Check out some of its latest plans that should contribute to make the world a healthier place:

1. Cap and Trade

China is prepared to introduce the world’s largest cap-and-trade program to help tackle its carbon emission problem. Having already vowed to cut emissions by 40% of its 2005 levels in the year 2010, China expects that the plan will allow them to get a handle on corporate fuel burning and put a financial burden on those companies that exceed their fair share.

The program will roll out in full in 2016. For now, China has been experimenting with the plan in five different markets, and is impressed with the results thus far. China is using this test-run to fine-tune the rules before it rolls out the program throughout the whole nation.

2. Electric Cars

Another way to cut down on emissions is to transition away from gas-guzzlers and start to emphasize pollution-free cars. The Chinese government says that it intends to have 30% of its automobile purchases be electric cars within the next two years.

In order to increase consumer confidence in electric cars, China is incentivizing these purchases by not taxing them. Additionally, the government is said to be committing about $16 billion to creating additional charging centers to provide electric car drivers with more options.

3. No More GMOs

After five years of allowing genetically modified rice and corn, China has quietly decided  to discontinue the permits necessary to grow GMO crops. The lack of explanation for this decision by the government has fueled speculation as to the reasons. While some believe that safety concerns over GMOs was a primary concern, others point to the fact that China has been advanced its traditional agricultural capabilities and can now grow enough rice without genetic modifications, making altering food in the country unnecessary.

4. Solar Power

While plenty of countries have discussed the likelihood that solar power is the way of the future, no country has put its money and resources behind this belief quite like China. Though more of a recent convert to solar energy, China has hit the ground running. In 2014 alone, China will install more solar technology than the United States has installed throughout all of history.

This boost in solar utilization also means that China is taking a lead in the production of such technology. If the United States hopes to be a leader in energy tech development in the years ahead, there’s no time to dillydally.

5. De-Emphasizing Coal

Speaking of energy, one of China’s most destructive habits has been its heavy reliance on coal. Although some estimates thought the nation’s coal consumption would double by 2030, it may have already peaked well ahead of schedule. Concern over pollution and a shift to alternate forms of energy means that reliance on coal has finally begun to decrease in the country. Some caution that it’s too premature to use the latest coal numbers as a definitive trend, but a turning of the tides is exciting news and indicative of the fact that the economy is finding other ways to grow.

Kevin Mathews|September 6, 2014

Time to Celebrate: 50 Years of Protecting the Wilderness

Meysan Lakes, Calif., lies deep within the John Muir Wilderness area at around 11,000 feet. Along with a few friends, I backpacked up a steep mountain trail to reach this idyllic spot last summer, and spent a perfect four days camped there, beside a beautiful lake, gazing up at tall Sierra peaks, and inhaling the clean air.

Thanks to the Wilderness Act, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this past week, there are many such examples of pristine conditions in the midst of nature’s splendor.

On September 3, 1964, nearly 9.1 million acres of wilderness, 54 areas in 13 states, were placed into the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Today’s wilderness system includes:

•    More than 750 wilderness areas from coast to coast
•    109,511,966 acres of protected wilderness
•    Wilderness areas in all but six U.S. states

This may sound like a lot, but in fact only about 5 percent of the entire United States—an area slightly larger than the state of California—is protected as wilderness.

The Wilderness Act recognized wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” The Act further defined wilderness as “an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.”

Today, millions of Americans enjoy wilderness areas for hiking, camping, backpacking, fishing and more. The Wilderness Act continues to protect unspoiled wildlands with the possibility of new designations each year. These wilderness lands all exist within our national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges and Bureau of Land Management lands.

So what’s the difference between backcountry and wilderness?

If you’re a backpacker, you probably don’t see much distinction between the two, but they are governed by different rules.

The wild, undeveloped areas of national parks, often referred to as backcountry, are subject to development, road building and off-road mechanized vehicular use. National park backcountry is protected only by administrative regulations that agency officials can change.

However, once designated “wilderness,” areas are given by the highest level of conservation protection for federal lands. Only Congress may designate wilderness or change the status of wilderness areas. The Wilderness Act prohibits permanent roads and commercial enterprises, except commercial services that may provide for recreational or other purposes of the Wilderness Act. Wilderness areas generally do not allow motorized equipment, motor vehicles, mechanical transport, temporary roads, permanent structures or installations.

While we are celebrating this awesome anniversary, let’s take a look at what wilderness looks like:

John Muir Wilderness, California was one of the original areas designated by Congress in 1964, and it now has a total of 651,992 acres. All of this wilderness is located in California and is managed by the Forest Service. It is a spectacularly beautiful area, named after John Muir, who left his native Scotland in 1849 at the age of nine, and spent his adult life in California advocating for the protection of the wild parts of the Sierra Nevada. The John Muir Wilderness encompasses many of the lands that Muir explored in the late 1800s.

Teton Wilderness, Wyoming

The Teton mountains are unique and incredible. There is no experience to match that of camping in the Teton Wilderness and waking up to peer out of your tent to see those magnificent mountains rising up straight above you. Located in Jackson, Wyo., this is the second largest wilderness area in the state, and is one of the best wildlife areas in the country: grizzly bears, bobcats, porcupines, elk and grey wolves are year-round inhabitants.

Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, Colorado

Like the John Muir wilderness, Colorado’s Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness was designated in 1964 and now encompasses more than 180,000 acres. This is magnificent high alpine country, with 100 miles of trails, nine passes with elevations above 12,000 feet, and six peaks that rise over 14,000 feet. Nor surprisingly, the area is dotted with sparkling alpine lakes, and the Maroon Bells peaks are said to be the most photographed peaks in North America.

Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness, Minnesota

Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness reaches almost into Canada at its northern boundary. The area contains more than 812,000 acres of preserved land, with nearly 1,200 lakes, ranging in size from 10 to 10,000 acres. Its hundreds of miles of streams allow for long-distance travel by watercraft, and visitors can also explore the settlements and lives of Native Americans who settled on the land over 10,000 years ago.

Sleeping Bear Dunes Wilderness, Michigan

This area, designated on March 13, 2014, is the newest wilderness to be added to the National Wilderness Preservation System.  The park has 65 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and numerous inland lakes and streams; however, as you might guess, the most prominent features are the perched dunes above Lake Michigan. The dune overlooks at the Sleeping Bear, Empire and Pyramid Point bluffs are about 400 feet above Lake Michigan. If you like struggling in the sand, you can take a 3.5 mile hike on the Dunes Trail. Good luck!

Hooray for the Wilderness Act!

Judy Molland|September 6, 2014

The super-pollutants in your refrigerator ‏

    Did you know that there are harmful pollutants escaping from your everyday appliances, such as your refrigerator? Whenever you use a vending machine or turn on the air conditioner in your car, you are releasing synthetic chemicals called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

    HFCs are incredibly harmful for the planet — they cause a thousand times more warming than even carbon dioxide.

    In the United States, HFC emissions are growing at a faster rate than any other greenhouse gas emissions. They are projected to double by 2020 and nearly triple by 2030.

    The EPA has proposed rules that would force these industries to switch to climate-friendly alternatives — many of which already exist and are in use in other parts of the world. Despite the fact that this rule only addresses some uses of HFCs, it is estimated to drastically reduce pollution that contributes to climate change.

    The chemical industries that produce dirty HFCs are determined to gut this rule so that it would require too little action, too late. We have to stand up against our industry foes.

    We must ensure that the rule covers the many sectors producing these super-pollutants, and that reductions are made quickly enough to prevent climate change’s devastating impacts.

    The world must reduce its emission of greenhouse gases to avoid these devastating consequences and keep global warming to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. An important step in addressing climate change is reducing the release of HFCs used in many everyday items, such as aerosols and freezers. We must make sure that the EPA sets robust standards that take advantage of the many available technologies to prevent catastrophic climate disruption.

    Kate DeAngelis|Climate and energy campaigner|Friends of the Earth

    Calls to Action

    1. Call for an immediate end to the destruction of Malaysian rainforests – here
    2. Protect the Ogallala aquifer – here
    3. Reject Enbridge’s illegal tar sands pipeline scheme – here
    4. See how you can help the Nature Conservancy help the Florida Panther – here
    5. Protect the threatened monarch butterfly – here
    6. Save the Hyacinth Macaw – here
    7. Tell FWS to List the Northern Long-Eared Bat as Endangered NOW! – here
    8. Keep Toxic New Agent Orange GMOs off Your Plate – here
    9. Stop Plan to Let 195 Lynx Be Trapped in Maine – here
    10. Tell the Obama Administration to stop oil and gas drilling in the Beaufort Sea – here
    11. Tell the EPA- Reduce HFC pollution from our applianceshere

    Birds and Butterflies -

    Big Results for Birds: American Bird Conservancy’s 2013 Annual Report

    Our 2013 Annual Report attests to the strides we’ve made to protect birds across the Americas—from the Blue-throated Macaw to the Long-billed Curlew. On the cusp of our 20th anniversary, we’re proud to showcase our latest summary of results. We thank all of you who have supported these achievements! We couldn’t do it without you.

    Cerulean Warbler Gets Assist From Reserve Expansion

    Hundreds of bird species—including imperiled Cerulean Warblers, which winter in the northern Andes—will benefit from a land acquisition that protects part of an ecologically vital forest corridor in northeast Ecuador.

    ABC, Fundación Jocotoco, World Land Trust, and March Conservation Fund worked together over eight years to achieve this result. The acquisition not only expands the Narupa Reserve by 117 acres, but is a step toward connecting two of the largest protected areas in Ecuador.

    More than 300 bird species, including some seen nowhere else, have been identified in Narupa, which now protects 1,871 acres and lies in the buffer zones of the lower-elevation Sumaco Napo-Galeras National Park and the high-altitude Antisana Ecological Reserve.

    Together the protected areas cover more than 830,000 acres of rain forests, high-altitude grasslands, and other Andean habitats.

    Rocio Merino, Executive Director of Fundación Jocotoco, called the expansion “a milestone” in a long-term effort to protect the birds and other wildlife found in this part of the Andes. ABC President George Fenwick hailed the collaborative effort as “the kind of victory that helps save birds for future generations.”

    “All the time and effort that went into this agreement have been rewarded,” Fenwick added. “Great reserves, like Rome, aren’t built in a day.”

    The flagship species for the Narupa Reserve s is the rapidly declining Cerulean Warbler, a strikingly beautiful migrant that breeds in North America and winters in the northern Andes. Since 1966, this species has declined by nearly 70 percent, due in part to habitat losses throughout its range.

    In Ecuador, large numbers of Cerulean Warblers winter in a narrow band of Andean subtropical forests found at between 2,500 to 5,500 feet above sea level. Rapidly proliferating cattle ranches, settlements, and farms—especially “naranjilla” groves that use large amounts of pesticides—are the biggest threats to the forests.

    ABC is helping Fundación Jocotoco expand the Narupa Reserve, which was established in 2006, as part of a vision to conserve and reconnect forest fragments used by the wintering birds.

    “Finding and protecting the core wintering habitats of migratory birds such as the Cerulean warbler is part of a major new initiative at ABC to benefit birds on all parts of their range and not just in the U.S. when they are breeding for a few months of the year,” said Benjamin Skolnik, who is responsible for ABC’s Ecuador program. “The expansion of the Narupa Reserve is just the beginning of what we aim to be a much larger effort to consolidate forests for wintering warblers and other migrants in Latin America.”

    The Cerulean is far from the only migratory bird found in these forests. Other migrants seen here include Canada Warbler, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Western and Eastern Wood-Pewee, Swainson’s Thrush, and Blackburnian Warbler. Several threatened species unique to the region are also found in the reserve, including Black Tinamou, Military Macaw, Coppery-chested Jacamar, and Foothill Elaenia.

    Through camera trapping and analysis of tracks, several large mammals of note have been detected including puma, ocelot, and tapir.

    By strengthening the connection between the large protected areas on either side of Narupa, the land acquisition is expected to make it easier for birds and other species to expand into new areas and respond to broad environmental changes.

    “Narupa is valuable in part because it connects forests at higher and lower elevations,” said Fenwick. “This will allow birds, including our very own Cerulean Warbler, to move freely up and down slope as forests cope with climate change.”

    Named for an elegant type of palm tree, Narupa is managed by Fundación Jocotoco with support from March Conservation Fund, World Land Trust, and American Bird Conservancy. In 2012, ABC funded mapping work that guided the expansion. Many other partners have supported infrastructure within the reserve, ranging from a guard house and camping platforms to funding forest guards.

    The reserve is located in the Napo Province of eastern Ecuador along what is often called “the Loreto Road,” which connects the communities of Narupa, Loreto, and Coca. This road was recently paved, making it much easier for settlers, farmers, coffee growers—and bird-lovers—to travel to this part of Ecuador.

    American Bird Conservancy|August, 2014  

    Leading National Bird Group Challenges Army Corps Plan to Kill 16,000 Birds

    American Bird Conservancy (ABC), a leading national bird conservation organization, has raised multiple objections to assertions by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in their proposal to kill 16,000 cormorant birds on East Sand Island (ESI), in the Columbia River Estuary, as part of a plan to reduce predation of juvenile salmonids including salmon smolt by the birds.

    The Army Corps plan to kill the Double-crested Cormorants over a period of four years, was outlined in a draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for their Double-crested Cormorant Management Plan to Reduce Predation of Juvenile Salmonids in the Columbia River Estuary. The conclusions reached in the DEIS prompted ABC to send a 23-page comment letter on August 19 to Sondra Ruckwardt at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Portland District Office. The Army Corps had solicited comments to their proposal via a June 12 public announcement.

    According to ABC’s Dr. George Wallace, who wrote the comments and who is also the organization’s Vice President for Oceans and Islands, “We have deep concerns about the DEIS and the preferred alternative… The determination that the breeding population on ESI must be reduced to approximately 5,600 breeding pairs is not based on any rigorous or peer-reviewed analysis.”

    About 15,000 pairs of Double-crested Cormorants (DCCO) are estimated to nest on ESI.  Adult DCCOs are large, brownish-black birds with a small pouch of yellow-orange skin on the throat. The island provides excellent breeding habitat for the birds and a base from which to depart in search of small fish, which they capture in hooked beaks while diving into water.

    Wallace added that, “Salmon smolt consumption by cormorants has varied from levels that are considered acceptable by NOAA Fisheries (2 million smolts in 2005) to those considered highly unacceptable (20 million smolts in 2011), despite little change in size of the ESI DCCO colony. The lack of a direct correlation between smolt consumption and DCCO colony size means that the number of smolts saved from management to reduce colony size is difficult to predict based on colony size alone.”

    ABC asserts that the lethal approach being recommended by the Corps in reducing the numbers of DCCO is offered “…without adequate justification and explanation of why the same result cannot be achieved through non-lethal methods.” ABC says that the expected benefits to salmon hinge not in how cormorant numbers are controlled (through harassment or lethal control), but in the habitat modification that must occur to maintain the breeding DCCO population at the Corps’ target of 5,600 breeding pairs.

    Furthermore, ABC says the recommended alternative would reduce the entire western DCCO population by approximately 25%, constituting a depredation control order going beyond local ramifications to encompass the entire western DCCO population. It is not clear if permits issued under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) for this type of action can be legally used to reduce an entire regional population of a species protected under the MBTA.  ABC says further that the MBTA requires that permits for lethal control not be issued until it has been demonstrated that non-lethal methods are ineffective.

    “Even then, lethal control cannot be the sole method of control and must be used in concert with non-lethal methods. We question the legality of issuing a depredation permit that apparently violates basic operating tenants of the MBTA,” Wallace said.

    ABC also charged the Corps with misinterpreting scientific data to make its case and then completely ignoring other science that offered findings that appear to not support the proposed action.

    MEDIA RELEASE|Robert Johns|August 22, 2014

    Monarch Butterflies need Endangered Species Act protection

    As monarch butterflies are beginning their epic migration from Canada and the U.S. to Mexico for the winter, concerns about the drastic rate at which they’re disappearing from the landscape have led environmental and health organizations to petition the government for federal protection.

    This week, the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Xerces Society and monarch scientist Dr. Lincoln Brower filed a legal petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking protection for monarchs under the Endangered Species Act.

    “Monarchs are in a deadly free fall and the threats they face are now so large in scale that Endangered Species Act protection is needed sooner rather than later, while there is still time to reverse the severe decline in the heart of their range,” Brower, who has been studying the species since 1954, said in a statement.

    According to the petitioners, monarchs have declined by a shocking 90 percent in less than 20 years and “may have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat – an area about the size of Texas – including nearly a third of their summer breeding grounds.” Last winter, the numbers of these iconic butterflies reached a record low, raising worries about their future survival.

    According to the Xerces Society, in the 1990s, an estimated one billion monarchs made their way from the north to the oyamel fir forests where they spend their winters sheltered by the trees, while another million were believed to spend the winter at sites in California. Now, scientists believe there are only 33 million left.

    Alicia Graef|Care2|August 28, 2014

    Of passenger pigeons and coal-mine canaries

    Passenger pigeons were once a remarkable story of nature’s abundance. Despite producing only one chick a year, they were the most numerous bird on Earth, sometimes darkening the sky for hours or even days when they flew overhead. But then they told another tale — about the destructive power of humans. We killed them all. The last wild bird was believed to have been shot in Laurel, Indiana, in 1902. The lone captive survivor was named Martha; she died at the Cincinnati Zoo 100 years ago, on September 1, 1914.

    In some ways, the passenger pigeons’ success led to their demise. According to an article on Yale Environment 360, their abundance made them “the least expensive terrestrial protein available.” Although habitat loss from expanding logging and agriculture played a role, hunting ultimately wiped them out.

    Birds have long been the “canaries in the coal mine” for our destructive ways. Extinction of the passenger pigeon sparked the first large environmental movement in the U.S., and led to restrictions on hunting, as well as federal and international regulations to protect migratory birds.

    The next great environmental movement was also ignited out of concern for birds. For 20 years after Swiss chemist Paul Müller discovered DDT was extremely effective at killing insects, it was the most widely used insecticide worldwide. But in her 1962 book Silent Spring, Rachel Carson explained how the chemical was also killing birds, and accumulating in the environment and up the food chain, to humans.

    Carson’s book inspired me and many others to heed the environmental consequences of our actions, and eventually led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

    Now, birds face a range of new problems, most caused by humans and many serving as further warnings about our bad habits. According to BirdLife International, one eighth — more than 1,200 species — are threatened with extinction. Habitat destruction is a major cause. Birds can’t survive when the places they live, breed and feed are destroyed or altered, and when food supplies are diminished. Chemicals such as PCBs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and pesticides are also killing birds, and, like DDT, also often affect humans.

    Our insatiable energy appetite also puts birds at risk. Reading some energy-related news and blogs, one might conclude wind power is the biggest bird killer. But that’s far from true. Although poorly situated wind farms, especially ones using older turbine technology, do kill birds, it’s an issue that can be addressed to a large extent, as can problems around solar installations where birds have died. By far the largest energy-related bird killers are fossil fuels, especially coal. Heavy metals like mercury and lead from burning coal kill numerous birds — and even change their songs, which can affect their ability to mate and protect territory. And climate change is affecting many species’ breeding and migratory patterns.

    U.S. News and World Report analyzed estimates of how many birds are killed every year by U.S. electricity sources. The numbers are telling: between 1,000 and 28,000 for solar; 140,000 and 328,000 for wind; about 330,000 for nuclear; 500,000 to one million for oil and gas; and a whopping 7.9 million for coal. According to one recent study, between 12 and 64 million birds a year are also killed in the U.S. by transmission lines. The article notes that all those numbers pale in comparison to birds killed by domestic cats: from 1.4 to 3.7 billion a year!

    Not only do birds fill us with awe and wonder, but they also provide food and feathers, and keep insects and rodents in check. Their ability to warn us of the drastic ways we’re changing the world’s ecosystems and climate and water cycles can’t be ignored. By working to ensure more species don’t go the way of the passenger pigeon, we’re also protecting ourselves from the effects of environmental destruction.

    As individuals, we must conserve energy, shift to cleaner sources and demand that our industrial and political leaders address issues such as pollution and climate change. And we can work to protect wetlands and other bird habitat. We can also join the legions of citizen scientists who are contributing to avian knowledge by posting information to sites such as eBird.org.

    It’s not really just for the birds; it’s for all of us.

    By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington

    Hummingbirds Have Sweet Tooths, But They Weren’t Born That Way, Says Study

    There’s been a lot written about the plight of our pollinators and the need to save the bees and the monarchs, but there’s always one pollinator who gets left out. It’s the hummingbird and it’s hard to see why.

    I fell in love with hummingbirds thanks to Disney’s “Pocahontas.” Meeko was everyone’s favorite, but I was always on Team Flit. It didn’t dawn on me then or now, but how and why did these tiny birds develop a taste for sweets usually reserved for bees and butterflies? If you think about it, there’s a major difference between what a hummingbird likes versus what eagles enjoy.

    Science is getting closer to answering that very question as we learn more about the hard to miss teeny jewels flittering in the sky. In honor of National Hummingbird Day, which is today, let’s look at the research.

    Hummingbirds Love Sweets

    It’s actually very ironic. As National Geographic reports, hummingbirds don’t even have a sweet taste receptor, like most birds. But a new study in Science says that the birds that can be as small as some thumbs outsmarted evolution by “repurposing” their umami receptor — the evolutionary receptor responsible for identifying savory meat flavors — to taste and enjoy sweet nectar. It was never in the evolutionary cards for hummingbirds to have a major sweet tooth, but the feisty birds made it happen.

    Maude Baldwin, the Harvard University doctoral student who led the three-year study, said it is definitely not the norm for “such a complicated function being regained over the course of evolution.” In hummingbirds, the umami receptor had a considerable amount of mutations — hummingbirds changed 19 of their protein-building amino acids. That’s a major feat for such a teeny being. Baldwin believes that these mutations helped hummingbirds taste sugar, and to also respond to the artificial sweeteners that are so bad for us. However, they were smart enough not to want anything to do with aspartame — a common substance found in artificial sweeteners and diet drinks.

    Researchers’ curiosity was piqued close to a decade ago when the complete sequence of the chicken genome was published. That research indicated that chickens don’t have a sweet taste receptor, like the hummingbird. But unlike the hummingbird, chickens don’t seek sugary goodness out even though it doesn’t taste bad. The theory is that many birds evolved this way from their tiny four-legged dinosaur ancestors.

    Baldwin plans to take her research further. She wants to know if the umami repurposing is present in all species of hummingbirds. She’d also like to see if this adaptation is in other species of nectar-eating birds. Finally, she’d like to determine how well hummingbirds distinguish savory-meaty flavors from sweet goodness. With only one receptor serving both flavors, “it could be like soy sauce tasting the same as a glass of soda.”

    Although, preliminary findings indicate that hummingbirds can recognize a difference. As reported in The Washington Post, researchers were feeding the birds a sugary-nectar concoction in feeding stations, but they eventually slipped in some plain old water. The hummingbirds had a curious response: they “pulled back their beaks, shook their heads as though to say, ‘What in the world is this garbage?’ and spat it out.” The researchers went as far as to say that birds looked “mad” when the water was slipped in.

    It‘s Not All About Sugar

    But hummingbirds don’t just get happy about sugary-nectar wholesomeness. Don’t be fooled by their small size, hummingbirds are fierce, meat-eating predators, too. Their long, thin and sharp beaks are optimal for grubbing on bugs, and getting in some much-needed protein.

    The Galveston County Master Gardener Association hit the nail on the head. Hummingbirds are very cute, miniature “Frankensteins.” Are hummingbirds birds or insects? They’re kind of both.

    As The Washington Post highlights, the combination of protein (bird half) and sugar (insect half) have fueled the birds’ expansion. While it sucks to be only a pollinator right now — bees and monarchs are in serious trouble — hummingbirds have managed to grow to 300 species across the Americas.

    Pollinators Are Powerful

    We need pollinators to keep growing like the hummingbird. The Canadian Wildlife Federation claims that these pollen-transferring and nectar-drinking animals contribute over a billion dollars every year to the Canadian economy by keeping up food supplies. These hard-working animals also keep our planet healthy by keeping the (genetic) diversity of our plants balanced. They also keep vulnerable species of plants safe. Hummingbirds, in particular, eat flies and gnats and keep parasitoid laying eggs away.

    How You Can Help

    The pollinators can’t do all the hard work. There’s never been a time when they need our help the most.

    If you are in Canada, then you can visit the Canadian Wildlife Federation for more pollinator-friendly gardening tips, how to shop to help pollinators and who to contact to voice your concern.

    United States residents can visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to learn how to help their local pollinators, in addition to activities.

    Happy milkweed planting for the monarchs and bees! The hummingbirds will also appreciate it because they use the floss from the seeds to line their nests. Everyone wins.

    Jessica Ramos|September 6, 2014

     Florida Panthers

    As The Florida Panther Rebounds, Ranchers Face Increasing Cattle Loss

    The endangered Florida Panther is experiencing a slight population rebound.

    While this is good news for recovery efforts, it’s becoming a problem for ranchers in Southwest Florida. That’s because panthers are killing off livestock such as cattle in large numbers, and ranchers are taking a financial hit.

    Charter Boat Captain Teddy Naftal has been living on the edge of the Picayune Strand State Forest in Naples for a couple years. His property is surrounded by sprawling ranch land and a lot of animals.

    “Look there’s a peacock here,” Naftal said while pointing to a bird walking across a pathway on his property. “We also have bears in and out of the yard daily. I see a lot of bobcats back and forth. I have deer come through once in a while.”

    Naftal said he’s used to seeing wildlife. In fact, it’s part of the reason he moved here. Naftal is a hunter. He said he also wanted to move to a property where he could keep a couple animals, mostly for tax purposes, but animals are part of the problem now.

    “There are turkeys here now and then, but mostly cats,” he said. “They are taking over and they are taking all the animals away from us.”

    Naftal’s talking about panthers. More specifically, the endangered Florida Panther.

    A couple decades ago, it was on the brink of extinction. In the 90s, there were less than 30 panthers roaming the state. That’s why biologists bred them with Texas Cougars, which are genetically identical to Florida panthers. The breeding worked. Right now, there are about 160 in the wild.

    However, a lot has changed here in Southwest Florida since the 90s. This area may be a stronghold for the panther, but right outside their refuge, there is heavy development.

    Ken Warren, a spokesman for U.S Fish and Wildlife, said humans spent years encroaching on panther land and now the booming panther population is creating the opposite problem.

    “You see a lot of issues with panthers being hit by cars,” he explained. “In some cases panthers encroaching into neighborhoods where people are living and raising their families.”

    “Every calf that they punch out there is gone. I haven’t been able to save one.” –Teddy Naftal

    Panthers are also particularly drawn to areas like Naftal’s property. Panthers can roam relatively safely there and there’s cattle for them to feed on.

    Naftal said right now he has three calves and a bull. But, he’s losing new cows all the time.

    “Every calf that they punch out there is gone,” he said “I haven’t been able to save one. Definitely it’s getting worse. I’ve seen it in the last three years. It’s terrible.”

    Naftal said his daughter brought in several miniature goats a while back. But, he says they didn’t make it a week before getting picked off by panthers.

    Naftal said he has a few donkeys, too. He bought them to protect the calves. And they’ve been trying – mostly unsuccessfully— to keep the panthers at bay.

    “My oldest one here, Pedro, he’s the male in the bunch,” he said. “He comes with scars all the time fighting off the panthers, or the cougars.”

    Even though Pedro is a little worse for wear and Naftal’s herd is getting smaller, he said larger cattle ranchers in the area have it much harder.

    In fact, around four years ago commercial and small-scale cattle ranchers started noticing a lot of their calves – and other livestock– were missing.

    Ranchers suspected panthers. So, U.S. Fish and Wildlife paid for Caitlin Jacobs, a graduate student at the University of Florida, to conduct a study. Over two years, Jacobs ear-tagged and monitored 200 cows at two different ranches in the area.

    She said in that time one rancher lost about 5 percent of her calves to panthers. The other lost about point-5 percent.

    “They maybe even thought they were losing more,” Jacobs explained. “And they could be because this is a study done just over two years. So obviously factors can change. So, 5.3 percent is really just an estimate of what could potentially happen out there.”

    Now, state and federal officials have to figure out a way to make sure panthers don’t end up seriously hurting ranchers in Southwest Florida.

    “There’s nothing whatsoever that we can do to dissuade the panthers from preying on our calves at this point.” — Florida Fish and Wildlife Commissioner and rancher Leisa Priddy, on federal regulations protecting the Florida Panther.

    Besides the fact that cattle is big business in Florida, Warren points out ranchlands have also helped panthers rebound.

    Florida Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Leisa Priddy owns a cattle ranch in the area. Her ranch was part of Jacobs’ study. She was the rancher that lost 5 percent of her calves. Priddy said dealing with panthers is a tricky situation mostly because of strict federal laws protecting  panthers.

    “There’s nothing whatsoever that we can do to dissuade the panthers from preying on our calves at this point,” she said.

    State and federal officials are trying to figure out a way to offset the cost of living around panthers.

    State panther biologist Darrell Land said there’s a pilot program in the works that will pay ranchers for maintaining land in panther areas. Land said this would be better than paying ranchers for each animal killed by a panther because most of the time it’s hard to prove.

    Ultimately, though, both Land and Commissioner Priddy explain any program should be funded by the federal government since all Florida Panther regulations are federal. Land said that could be another hurdle.

    “We are very hopeful that that pilot program will become a more permanent type of program, but unfortunately that may mean that Congress will have to fund the program and right now they don’t play well together,” Land said.

    Warren said the goal is to have three viable populations with 240 panthers each before the recovery can be called a success, though they are re-evaluating that criteria. He also says they need to find a way to get the panther population to naturally migrate north, which could help Southwest Florida.

    While state and federal officials try to work out a plan, Naftal wants more regulations on the panthers. Specifically, he wants his animals protected from these predators.

    Until then, though, Naftal said he’s thinking of moving.

    Ashley Lopez|August 26, 2014

      Invasive species

    How Not to Spread Invasive Pests

    When hungry insects decide to travel to new areas, they can devastate crops and trees and upset native ecosystems. And we humans often inadvertently provide transportation for these hungry pests.

    According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), invasive pests are a growing problem, costing the United States billions of dollars in losses. Invasive pests are insects or other organisms that have moved beyond their natural habitat into a new environment where they have no natural enemies to keep them in check. If they’re allowed to establish themselves, they can become a threat to native plant and animal species, water systems, and human health.

    How Invasive Pests Spread

    They’re small, quiet, and crafty enough to travel undetected by

    • hitching a ride on our vehicles, clothing, and outdoor gear;
    • hiding on plants or animals as we transport them from one environment to another;
    • coming in on commercial shipments of food, plants, or just about anything else.

    How To Help Prevent Invasive Pests from Spreading

    • After camping or hiking, wash your outdoor gear carefully. That includes RVs, dirt bikes, lawn furniture, and tents. Insects (or their eggs) may even be hiding out on your tires and wheel wells. Remove seeds and other plant parts, too.
    • Don’t transport fruits, vegetables, or plants out of quarantined areas unless they’re properly inspected. Be sure to declare these items when crossing customs.
    • Invasive pests love to hide in firewood, so don’t move firewood from one place to another. Buy locally whenever possible.
    • Buy only certified, pest-free nursery whenever possible. Buy plants from a reputable source and avoid using invasive plant species!

    According to the USDA, the top invasive pests in the U.S. are:

    • imported fire ant (damages plants, stings animals and humans)
    • khapra beetle (destroys grains and seeds)
    • Mediterranean fruit fly (infests fruit and vegetable crops)
    • Asian citrus psylllid (once it infects a tree, there’s no cure)
    • citrus greening disease (Huanglongbing) (ruins fruit and kills trees within a few years)
    • European grapevine moth (damages grapes)
    • sudden oak death (infects a variety of trees)
    • Mexican fruit fly (infests fruit and vegetable crops)
    • Oriental fruit fly (infests fruit and vegetable crops)
    • giant African snail (carries a parasite that causes meningitis, consumes 500 types of plants, damages plaster and stucco)
    • False codling moth (threatens fruits, vegetables, and other crops)
    • light brown apple moth (damages garden foliage and produce)
    • European and Asian gypsy moths (defoliates trees)
    • emerald ash borer (no treatment — trees must be felled)
    • Asian longhorned beetle (threatens hardwood trees, and there’s no cure)

    To learn which invasive pests are a threat in your state, visit the USDA’s hungrypests.com.

    Ann Pietrangelo|September 1, 2014

    Endangered Species

    No More Fireflies? 9 Ways We Can Help Before It’s Too Late

    Fireflies may be Nature’s most magical animals. You can be walking down a street at night, or sitting on your porch, or camping out, and there they are, flitting about right next to you, blinking on and off like tiny fairies. But they’re not fairies – they’re fascinating and vulnerable insects that play an important role in the web of life while reminding us that Nature is a special place.Sadly, firefly populations are quickly shrinking. Some companies actually pay people to capture thousands of these animals so they can harvest the chemicals in fireflies that produce their light, even though the same chemicals, called luciferase or luciferin, can be made in a laboratory synthetically. Urban and suburban development destroys the places where fireflies live and breed. Light pollution also disorients fireflies, making it difficult for them to reproduce over time.

    Here’s how you can help keep Nature’s little light bulbs shining bright:

    * Don’t capture fireflies! Fireflies are very easy to capture because they fly so slowly, and they usually hover within range of an eager hand. Resist the urge to grab them. And whatever you do, don’t try to capture them to ship them off for research. The research kills them in the end, which is totally unnecessary.

    * Turn off outside lights at night. Fireflies flash their lights to signal to each other, attract mates, and warn when they sense danger. Artificial light could throw off their sense of where to flash when. Turn off porch and yard lights, and draw your blinds at night to darken your landscape.

    * Let logs and organic litter accumulate. Some fireflies lay their larva in rotten logs and the organic matter that builds up under trees and bushes. If you’ve got the space, leave sections of logs or thick branches on the ground where they can host fireflies as they decay.

    * Set up a fountain, bird bath, or pond. Most fireflies thrive around water and marshy areas. While you don’t want standing water that will attract mosquitoes, a gently moving fountain or a bird bath or pond could help a lot. Plus, you’ll attract bees, birds and butterflies, as well.

    * Garden organically. Fireflies and their larvae can ingest poison from plants that have been sprayed with toxic chemicals. They may also eat other insects that are contaminated. Organic gardens will breed healthy fireflies!

    * Use natural fertilizers. Like pesticides, fertilizers that contain toxic chemicals may fell fireflies. Use organic compost below bushes and trees and in garden and flower beds. Fertilize lawns with a very slow releasing product and the minimum amount needed to grow a healthy lawn without posing a threat to wildlife.

    * Let your lawn grow a little longer. Fireflies stay mainly on the ground during the day, so mowing the lawn short and frequently can disrupt their life cycle. Let your lawn grow a little longer between mowings, or convert a part of your lawn to taller grasses that will be both beautiful and beneficial.

    * Plant trees. Fireflies do best in pine and native trees and in the litter (pine needles, bark pieces) that fall onto the ground below their canopy.

    * Create a firefly friendly community. As much as you do around your own home, you can magnify the benefits to fireflies by getting others in your neighborhood to do the same thing. Invite your neighbors to a firefly party – no flashlights allowed! – to enjoy these special creatures and talk about how, together, you’ll do your part to keep them blinking.

    You can get more information from Firefly.org.

    Diane MacEachern|August 31, 2014

    Plastic Trash Strikes Again

    A young female sei whale beached along the Elizabeth River in Virginia.

    The report stated: “It’s possible that the large chunk of plastic found stuck in her stomach caused weakness and confusion, causing her to swim up river to her eventual death.”

    This is not an isolated occurrence.

    Sea turtles, dolphins and marine animals of all ages and sizes are victims of plastics every day–from swallowing them as she did or becoming entangled in nets and lines. These animals have no natural defenses against the seemingly harmless predator that is our trash.

    In order to help vulnerable marine animals, we need to increase our beach cleanup operations, reduce and rethink the way we consume disposable plastics and continue our work to create a healthier ocean.

    Marine animals face unnecessary dangers daily, and that is one of the many reasons that beach cleanups are so important. Cleanups can move us in the right direction, but they can’t completely solve the problem.

    Please click here if you would care to help in this effort.

    Allison Schutes|Manager|Trash Free Seas Program|Ocean Conservancy

    Malaysia: pygmy elephants poisoned for palm oil

    14 Borneo pygmy elephants have been poisoned in the Malaysian state of Sabah. The rare animals are considered pests on the oil palm plantations that are rapidly eating into the rainforests.

    It was a shocking sight for the rangers of the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve: a baby elephant trying in vain to wake its mother with its trunk. She had been poisoned, along with 13 other animals. Their carcasses were found over a period of four weeks on land controlled by Yayasan Sabah, the state wood and palm oil group. The elephants all belonged to the same herd, which had been staying at the edge of the rainforest reserve – in close proximity to a logging camp and oil palm plantations.

    “The elephants ate rat poison. That’s how the plantation workers stop the animals from eating the fruit of the oil palm”, suspects Laurentius Ambu, director of the local conservation authority. The Borneo pygmy elephant is a rare forest elephant subspecies, of which no more than 1,500 animals remain – almost all in Sabah.

    Malaysia’s economy continues to rely on exports of tropical timber and palm oil. The last remaining rainforest areas in the states of Sabah and Sarawak are being cleared for plantations. And with those forests, Borneo is losing an incredible wealth of animal and plant species, including endangered rhinos, orangutans and proboscis monkeys.

    Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman is driving the deforestation by personally granting permits to clear the rainforest and establish palm oil plantations. He is also Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the state-owned Yayasan Sabah Group. In late 2012, the company began clearing another 70,000 hectares of rainforest for plantations, leaving no room for the forest elephants.

    The 14 poisoned animals all belonged to the same family. Such groups contain up to 20 individuals, and rangers fear that more animals may have eaten the poison. The family’s territory covers around 400 square kilometers.

    The Borneo pygmy elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis) is the smallest subspecies of forest elephants. These animals are highly threatened, mainly by hunting, habitat loss, and the resulting conflict with humans. 1,500 individuals at the most have survived in the wild to this day – particularly in the Malaysian state of Sabah.

    The elephant is protected under Malaysia’s Wildlife Conservation Law. Hunting or killing them is subject to a fine, up to five years of prison or both.

    The wheeling and dealing of Sabah’s Chief Minister

    Sabah’s authoritarian ruler Musa Aman has been profiting from the clearing of rainforests and the illicit timber trade for years. He and his clan grant illegal logging and export permits in exchange for substantial bribes. They then allow the planting of palm oil plantations on the cleared land – even in protected areas. Since 2007, the Malaysian anti-corruption authorities have been investigating the bin Aman family and its network of corruption and money laundering that extends from Malaysia to Hong Kong, Singapore and Switzerland.

    70 million euros in bribes have allegedly been laundered through accounts of the Swiss bank UBS alone. The Swiss federal prosecutor opened a criminal case against the bank after charges were brought against it by the Bruno Manser Fund, an environmental organization that has supported the Penan people and their fight against the destruction of the rainforest for many years.

    Founded in 1966, the official role of the state-owned Yayasan Sabah Group (formerly Yayasan Sabah Foundation) is to promote development in the state of Sabah. Its Chairman is Sabah’s Chief Minister Musa Aman. The group holds concessions in Sabah covering a million hectares of rainforest. For decades, logging was the mainstay of Yayasan Sabah. Now that the stocks of luxury woods on its land have been depleted, the group has gone over to clearing rainforest for industrial timber and oil palm plantations.

    In late 2012, Yayasan Sabah began felling 70,000 hectares of rainforest for an oil palm plantation. The clearing work will take about 3 years. The conversion of rainforest land offers one last opportunity for fast profit from vast quantities of industrial timber. The area also includes more or less intact protected areas of unique biodiversity that were originally established by researchers. These include the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve (approx. 130 km from Tawau), the Danum Valley Conservation Area and the Maliau Basin Conservation Area.

    Malaysia’s oil palm plantations cover more than 5 million hectares. The Southeast Asian country produces around 20 million tons of palm oil annually, putting it in second place after its neighbor, Indonesia. About four fifths of the production is destined for the world market.

    Earlier this year, the image of a tiny elephant calf trying in vain to awaken his dead mother with his trunk moved people around the world. The poisoning of 14 endangered Borneo pygmy elephants in the Malaysian state of Sabah met with incomprehension and indignation.

    More than 100,000 people took part in our “Malaysia sacrifices its elephants for palm oil” campaign alone – more than ever before.

    The protests are beginning to show results in the Southeast Asian country. The Forestry Director of Sabah took note of our campaign in Malaysian newspaper Daily Express: “[The images have] attracted so much global attention that even the Prime Minister and Chief Minister are receiving ‘blog petitions’ with close to 100,000 hits. Suddenly, Sabah is in the world map for the wrong reasons.” He noted that prestigious international publications are already calling for a boycott of palm oil from Sabah, and that it would take hard work to restore the state’s damaged reputation.

    International support strengthens local environmentalists

    While Indonesia’s destruction of rainforests for palm oil plantations has been in the headlines around the world for years, Malaysia has long escaped such scrutiny. Together, the two countries produce about 90 percent of the world’s palm oil.

    Malaysia is now in the public eye and can no longer conceal its deforestation. Public attention from abroad is strengthening the bargaining position of local environmental organizations against the palm oil companies, which can no longer afford to simply ignore the demands of environmental groups and conservationists. On February 28, Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman met with six environmental groups. The Borneo Post reported on the gathering in an article titled Govt keen to work on environmental protection with organizations.

    The environmentalists’ central demand is for the protection of further forest areas of the state’s Yayasan Sabah concession. Chief Minister Aman was positive about the points raised and said that he wants to work on their implementation. It remains to be seen, however, whether this is a serious intention or mere campaign posturing. Elections will be held in June at the latest, and the political situation in Sabah is very tense. For the first time, the opposition has a realistic chance to win the elections.

    To date, nearly two-thirds of the government’s Yayasan Sabah concession – around 600,000 hectares – has been assigned various protection categories. Once under protection, the complete clearance of the forest and the land’s conversion into palm oil plantations and the like should no longer be possible. Of the remaining 400,000 hectares, nearly 200,000 hectares have been planted with industrial monocultures, in particular oil palm and acacia, and another 200,000 hectares are set to follow.

    For 30 years, the government-owned Yayasan Sabah Group run by Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman has plundered the forests on the concession of the same name – an area of one million hectares. Almost all of the large rainforest trees there have been felled and exported worldwide as tropical hardwood. The supposedly sustainable tropical forest management was a fiction, while the business acted as a pure logging and clear-cutting operation. Musa Aman diverted millions of dollars from the group, depositing the money around the world – in the Swiss UBS bank and elsewhere.

    Industrial plantations spread at the expense of forests

    With its ruthless exploitation of the forest, the Yayasan Sabah Group has destroyed the basis of its own business. Now the group has gone into industrial oil palm and acacia plantations on a massive scale. Its subsidiaries have established around 135,000 hectares of oil palm monocultures alone on rainforest soil – Benta Wawasan Sdn Bhd: roughly 30,000 hectares, Sri Jaya Industri Sdn Bhd: 20,000 hectares, Asas Juta Sdn Bhd: 35,000 hectares, B. W. Plantations Sdn Bhd: 5,380 hectares, Jeroco Plantations Sdn Bhd: 14,000 hectares, and Sabah Softwoods Bhd: 25,000 hectares. Thousands of hectares more have been used for acacia monocultures.

    According to the will of Musa Aman, a further 100,000 hectares of oil palms will be planted in the next three years. The government-run Yayasan Sabah Group that he heads is already clearing the rainforest for the new plantations. Not only are the Borneo pygmy elephants and thousands of other animal and plant species losing their habitat, they are apparently being decimated intentionally.

    Wild animals decimated in favor of industrial plantations

    The 14 dead pygmy elephants were found very close to the new clearings and existing oil palm plantations. “The elephants ate rat poison. That’s how the plantation workers prevent the animals from eating the fruit of the oil palm”, suspects Laurentius Ambu, director of the local conservation authority.

    Moreover, it is an ongoing problem. Individual poisoned elephants are found frequently in the rainforest, yet they do not draw as much attention as the poisoning of an entire herd, as the Daily Express reports in Poisoning of elephants nothing new.

    Environmentalists complain that Malaysia appears to maintain blacklists of critical activists. Foreigners can expect immediate deportation if they openly criticize the palm oil industry and rainforest deforestation. Even an Australian senator was recently expelled.

    Rainforest Rescue urges the Malaysian government to take criticism seriously instead of suppressing it. Not the frank words of citizens and environmentalists are damaging the country’s reputation, but the policy of rainforest destruction and the machinations of timber and plantation companies. These require the government’s scrutiny – not Malaysia’s concerned citizens.

    Mandrills are beautiful and intelligent primates … unfortunately, they are also endangered.

    Wild mandrills are often removed from the forest and either killed by poachers for bushmeat or captured and sold into the illegal exotic pet trade.

    By offering sanctuary and rehabilitation to several rescued mandrills at our Tchimpounga sanctuary in the Republic of the Congo, the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) is reversing this worrying trend. A big part of JGI’s work with rescued mandrills is our pioneering Mandrill Release Program, a unique project which seeks to rehabilitate mandrills and then return them to the forest.

    In March of this year JGI released eight rehabilitated mandrills back into the wild, marking the beginning of a long-term reintroduction program.

    How is JGI releasing mandrills?

    The safety of the mandrills in our care is of paramount importance to JGI. For this reason, the latest mandrill release was meticulously planned to ensure a successful transition from the sanctuary to the wild. The release site, Conkouti-Douli National Park in the Republic of Congo, was carefully selected because the park is a protected area with active law enforcement.

    Prior to their release, each mandrill was given a thorough medical checkup to make sure that he or she was in good physical health. The mandrills were then transported to an enclosure located at the release site, where they lived before being released. Since their release, the mandrills have been closely monitored every day by JGI caregivers who provide them with supplemental food. This ‘soft-release’ approach helps the mandrills get used to the sounds and smells of their soon-to-be forest home in a safe, more controlled environment.

    What will happen to the released mandrills?

    The released mandrills are well on their way to re-learning what it is like to live in the wild African forest. They are now able to forage for insects, play in trees, and socialize with each other in a natural way. In short, these mandrills are now able to live as nature intended rather than ending up as victims of the illegal pet or bushmeat trades. Each mandrill has been fitted with a radio collar so that JGI will be able to monitor each individual for the long-term. The mandrills are also receiving supplemental food from JGI caretakers. Over time, the caretakers will leave less and less food for the mandrills as the monkeys become used to their new environment and eat more and more wild foods.

    Click here if you care to help JGI

    Finding Nemo getting tougher? Protection considered for clownfish

    The orange clownfish is under consideration for listing as an endangered or threatened species.

    The orange clownfish — the striped reef dweller made popular by the Disney cartoon character Nemo — may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act because of ocean acidification and potential over-harvesting for the aquarium trade.

    The National Marine Fisheries Service announced Tuesday that it will conduct a status review in response to a 2012 scientific petition by the Center for Biological Diversity, which cited the fish’s popularity — it is the fifth most popular fish imported in the U.S. for aquariums —and threats from ocean acidity, believed to be caused by carbon dioxide pollution.

    “Finding Nemo’s getting harder as global warming and acidifying oceans destroy the coral reefs the clownfish calls home,” said Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center. “Endangered Species Act protection and meaningful action to put the brakes on greenhouse gas pollution will help make sure these beautiful fish survive in the wild and not just in the movies.”

    The orange clownfish, which inhabits Coral Triangle region of the tropical Indo-Pacific, spends nearly its entire life protected within anemones on coral reefs. Rising ocean temperatures reduce anemone size and numbers. Ocean warming degrades and destroys coral reef habitat by increasing the frequency and intensity of mass bleaching events, while ocean acidification slows coral growth.

    Ocean acidification has also been shown to damage the smell and hearing of orange clownfish. When exposed to the levels of carbon dioxide expected later this century, young clownfish become attracted to their predators and are unable to find their coral reef homes.

    The orange clownfish may also face threats from the global marine aquarium trade. The United States is the world’s largest importer of ornamental marine fish, and clownfish are among the most commonly traded species worldwide. Studies suggest that clownfish and other anemone fish are suffering population declines in the wild because of over-harvesting for the aquarium trade.

    Comments can be submitted online via the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2014-0072. Mail submissions should be sent to Regulatory Branch Chief, Protected Resources Division, Pacific Islands Regional Office, NMFS Protected Resources Division, 1845 Wasp Blvd., Building 176, Honolulu, HI, 96818. The deadline for submitting comments in Nov. 2.

    Christine Stapleton|Staff Writer|Palm Beach Post|Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014

    5 Species We Need to Save

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    The charmingly mellow sea otter spends much of its life in water. It’s where they eat, sleep, hunt, mate, and even give birth. But a changing climate is changing its habitat and threatening the otter’s food source. Ocean acidification prevents the formation of carbonate shells, which put the otters food supply (marine invertebrates like clams and sea urchins) at risk.

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    The American Wolverine is a particularly unique species. They’ll kill prey many times their own size and scare truly intimidating creatures (like mountain lions) away from their own kills. But even these astounding creatures can’t protect themselves from a warming world. They’re already at risk—there are only about 500 left in the lower 48 states—and climate change isn’t helping. These tenacious creatures rely on deep snow for the formation of their protective dens, where they give birth and raise their young until spring. This reduced snowpack could also negatively impact the wolverine’s home ranges, reproductive success, and food availability in the winter and spring.

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    An endearing fur ball, the American Pika is well-known to hikers who hear these hamster-sized mammals whistling from rock piles and talus slopes in Canada and the western Rocky Mountains. But pikas are extremely sensitive to heat—even brief exposures (as little as a few hours) to temperatures above 78 degrees Fahrenheit can be fatal. They also rely on snowpack for insulation in the winter. In the southern portions of its range, some populations already occupy the highest altitudes, with no place to move upward to escape the warming climate.

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    A trip to the beach seems incomplete without the calls of birds, the sight of them soaring overhead, and the entertainment of watching them dive for their catch or scramble along the surf, probing and pecking for food in the sand. But these are among the most vulnerable bird species facing the climate crisis. Their primary climate threat will be loss of habitat and food sources, as they are heavily reliant on marine and estuarine food webs that are facing an uncertain future in the face of sea level rise, coastal storm damage, and shifting food resources. The American oystercatcher (pictured) is among the most susceptible to the effects of climate change because of their limited, low-elevation coastal habitats.

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    This runt-like rabbit is as adorable as it is diminutive—these tiny rabbits weigh less than one pound—but their small size doesn’t help them as their habitat shrinks. Warmer temperatures, as well as more intense and frequent wildfires, are changing their sagebrush habitats and may drive this species to higher elevations, reducing the amount of available habitat. At the same time, reduced snowpack threatens their strategy for escaping dangerous predators, burrowing tunnels through the snow. Lower levels of snowfall leave them exposed, without any cover to save them.

    Manatees prompt cautionary tale of Indian River Lagoon

      Manatees may lose endangered species status

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing the status of the Florida manatee, a species that has been listed as endangered since the federal Endangered Species Act was created. The arguments heard to date to change the species’ classification to “threatened” seem centered around the number of sea cows that now swim in our waters. This is an over-simplification of a complex issue — something that happens all too often. We need only to look at our Indian River Lagoon to see the folly in this logic.

    For decades, because of intense management efforts, not unlike those that have been undertaken for the manatee, seagrass acreages were increasing in the lagoon, and had reached pre-development levels by 2009. Seagrass growth and coverage was used as a proxy for lagoon health. Then came 2010, record cold temperatures, superblooms, and mass die-offs of that precious seagrass that had been doing so well. Today we have an ecosystem in crisis; a lagoon that some fear may never recover. How could this happen? In retrospect, it appears that seagrass acreage may not have been the best metric for lagoon health, just as the current count of our manatees does nothing to indicate what dangers they face today, or could face in the future.

    Over time, our lagoon faced repeated assaults, from loss of salt marshes, to freshwater discharges that degraded shellfish habitat and carried excess nutrients into the lagoon, and wastewater and stormwater discharges that further contributed nutrient loads to the system. Periodic algae blooms indicated that something was awry, but not until 2011’s superbloom did we really come to realize the dire consequences of decades of nutrients loading into the Indian River Lagoon. Not only have these changes affected the lagoon itself, but also the many species that call it home — including manatees. Over 100 manatees have died of a mysterious ailment in Brevard County, believed to be related to the loss of seagrass, and the species’ need to utilize other, potentially toxic food resources.

    As long as seagrass acreages were increasing, the Indian River Lagoon system was thought to be improving and the regulations on such things as septic tanks and stormwater discharges remained more lax than they should have. In other words, we were fiddling while Rome was burning, but we didn’t notice the fire.

    We can’t afford to make the same mistake for our manatees, focusing on the species’ numbers and not on the current and future levels of threat the species faces from such challenges as climate change, sea level rise, Florida’s expected population growth, and the continued degradation of our water quality and water supply. In 2013, we saw unsustainable record levels of mortality for the species, caused in large part by red tide and the mysterious ailment. Manatees are living in a polluted environment. Until the root causes of that pollution are addressed and corrected, having more manatees than we had so many years ago simply means we have more to protect from an uncertain future. Moving to remove manatees from the endangered species list now would be foolish.

    Nathaniel P. Reed|Environmentalist and Jupiter Island resident|Sept. 4, 2014

    Oregon Spotted Frogs Win Protection

    After more than two decades on the waiting list, one of the Northwest’s rarest frogs is finally protected under the Endangered Species Act. As part of a landmark settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week gave Oregon spotted frogs federal protection. Despite being named for a single state, these frogs were once common from British Columbia to California; but in the past 50 years, they’ve disappeared from 90 percent of their former range, mostly due to destruction of their wetland habitats.

    These speckly, short-legged frogs were first deemed in need of protection in 1991, but after they were put on a waiting list instead of protected, the Center petitioned for them in 2004 — along with 224 other “candidates.” Now, thanks to our 2011 agreement to speed protection decisions for 757 species around the country, 133 species have been protected, including the Oregon spotted frog.

    Endangered Earth|Sept. 4, 2014

    Read more in The Seattle Times.

    [Maybe there is still hope for critical habitat for the Florida Panther.]

    Protection for Florida Plants Threatened by Climate Change, Walmart

    This week the Fish and Wildlife Service gave Endangered Species Act protection to two rare Florida plants found exclusively in the disappearing pine rocklands of Miami-Dade County. Their habitat has been fragmented and destroyed due to population growth — and they’re still threatened by climate change and a planned strip mall and Walmart.

    Carter’s small-flowered flax is a foot tall with slender leaves and yellow petals. Florida brickell bush is a white, perennial flower in the aster family that grows to more than 3 feet tall. Small and fragmented occurrences are all that remain of these two flowers.

    Both flowers have been waiting for federal protection since 1985 and were federally protected this week as part of the Center’s historic 757 agreement.

    Read more in our press release.

    [Maybe there is still hope for critical habitat for the Florida Panther.]

    JGI’s Mandrill Release Program … Notes From the Field

    On three of the seven nights I have camped out with JGI’s Mandrill Release Research Team in Conkouati National Park, I have heard the footsteps of men walking just outside my tent. After hearing these noises for two nights, I was not entirely sure what to make of them. Miles Woodruff, the Mandrill Project Research Manager, had warned me that poachers occasionally pass through camp late at night. However, hearing those footsteps wasn’t enough confirmation for me … they could have been the footsteps of fishermen on the night shift for all I knew.

    Fortunately on the fourth night I camped in the park, eco-guards set up camp next to us. Eco-guards are responsible for protecting wildlife and enforcing anti-poaching laws in the park. Around 3 a.m. that morning, there was a lot of movement and talking outside my tent..The next morning, I awoke to see the tragic display of what had unfolded just a few hours earlier. From what I gathered, the eco-guards stopped a poacher who had been carrying the carcasses of various animals. If sold in the markets as bushmeat, they could be worth an estimated $300.

    This encounter would outrage many people who care about the forest and the animals who live there, and for good reason. But let’s take a second to imagine what it’s like living in the Republic of the Congo, a country where the unemployment rate is 26.6 percent.. Imagining what it is like to have no job but to have a family to feed, it becomes easy to see why poaching is so prevalent in this area. Poaching is often economically advantageous for the poacher, and allows them to provide for their family. Sad, but true.

    You’re probably wondering what became of this poacher. After he was caught by the eco-guards, his “catch” was confiscated and he was released shortly thereafter. I’m not entirely sure if this method of punishment is enough of a disincentive to combat poaching, but I suppose it’s more effective than the absence of any consequences at all.

    I believe the solution to the problem of poachers is education. If communities in which people are engaged in illegal hunting are made aware of alternative livelihoods, there would likely be a decrease in poaching.  Luckily JGI has already identified solutions and established effective programs across the Congo basin all of which are geared toward teaching the importance of wildlife and conservation, in addition to improving communities’ quality of life.

    Rori Kameka|University of Maryland student and summer intern at Tchimpounga|September 4, 2014

    Wild & Weird

    Woe is Us - Animal Saboteurs

    See that bushy-tailed rodent chattering in the tree outside your house? It could be preparing to take down the electric grid.

    Last year around Nashville, Tennessee, more power outages–2,257–were caused by squirrels and other creatures sharpening their teeth than by bad weather. This spring, a squirrel knocked out power for 23,000 people in California’s Marin County, and last year one took out the water system in Tampa, Florida. Saboteur squirrels have turned out the lights at a sewage treatment plant, an airport, a hospital, a university, even a baseball game.

    Animals monkey-wrench by chewing, touching wires together, or tripping switches. They almost always die in the process. But there are plenty of replacements. This spring, a raccoon snuffed out the lights for 5,700 households in Opelousas, Louisiana. In Holton, Kansas, snakes in a substation knocked out power citywide twice in five days.

    “Wild animals are anywhere and everywhere and you can’t predict that,” Holton city manager Bret Bauer told the Topeka Capital-Journal. Sometimes they threaten catastrophe: In March, a rogue rat shorted out the cooling system at Japan’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

    The greatest havoc, however, is wrought by crazy ants, who have colonized electrical appliances across the Southeast, shorting out burglar alarms, computers, and televisions. When their wriggling bodies bridge the circuit and they electrocute themselves, they send out a pheromone, calling in reinforcements. In a Waco, Texas, apartment complex, crazy ants took out 90 of the building’s 150 air-conditioning units.

    They’re not doing it on purpose, of course. But if animals were trying to destroy civilization, this is how they’d go about it.

    Dashka Slater|September/October 2014 issue of Sierra Magazine

    SEE MORE Woe is Us STORIES

    Scientists study “talking”turtles in the Brazilian Amazon

    Scientists working in the Brazilian Amazon have found that giant South American river turtles use several different kinds of vocal communication to coordinate their social behaviors, including female turtles calling to their newly hatched offspring.

    This is the first instance ever recorded of parental care in turtles, reports the journal Herpetologica. The study was conducted by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) alongside a number of South American conservation societies.

    “These distinctive sounds made by turtles give us unique insights into their behaviour, although we don’t know what the sounds mean,” said Dr Camila Ferrara, Aquatic Turtle Specialist for the WCS Brazil Program.

    “The social behaviours of these reptiles are much more complex than previously thought.”

    Some behaviours of the giant South American river turtle have been well known for some time, including their tendency to aggregate in huge numbers during the nesting season.

    However, the mechanisms used by turtles to coordinate their activities have yet to be explained. This study focused on the sounds made by the turtles as a possible means of facilitating social interaction.

    Working on the Rio Trombetas between 2009 and 2011, the research team captured 270 individual sounds made during 220 hours of recording.

    These were made with both microphones and hydrophones when the turtles were swimming through the river.

    The scientists then correlated vocalizations with specific behaviours and conducted spectrographic analyses on the repertoire, which they subdivided into six different types of vocalization made by turtles during the nesting season, which begins as the reptiles leave the seasonally flooded forest for nesting beaches along the river banks.

    Sounds made by the turtles while migrating through the river or basking tended to be low frequency sounds, possibly to facilitate contact between other members of their species over longer distances.

    Vocalizations made during nesting tended to be higher frequency sounds, possibly because these travel better in shallow water and in the air.

    The highest diversity of sounds were used by females about to nest and the researchers theorised that the animals use these sounds to decide on a specific nesting site and synchronize their movements, as the turtles leave the water in a single-file procession.

    The hatchling turtles themselves make sounds before they hatch and continue to do so as they clamber out of the nest chamber on the river beach. These sounds may stimulate group hatching.

    The females, in turn, vocalize in response to the nestling calls, perhaps guiding the young into the water.

    Using sonic transmitters, the team also discovered that the hatchlings remain together and migrate with adult females for more than two months.

    “Groundbreaking studies such as this one can help us better understand the complex relationships between both individual animals and their environment,” said Dr Julie Kunen, Executive Director of WCS’s Latin America and the Caribbean Program.

    “Protecting the still sizable populations of giant South American river turtles will also enable us to conserve the behavioral richness of these reptiles for future study.”

    Everglades

    Vast reservoir expected to prevent Everglades pollution

    A gigantic above-ground reservoir – the largest in Florida at 24 square miles – is rising above sugar cane fields in southwest Palm Beach County to help cleanse polluted water before it rushes into the Everglades.

    More than 100 construction workers each day are blasting rock and moving earth to build 12-foot walls and gates around a shallow basin bigger than the cities of Sunrise or Boynton Beach.

    A lot is riding on the $60 million project – the health of the Everglades, the survival of endangered species and the settlement of a legal battle over the state’s failure to meet federal water standards.

    But will it work?

    On a recent tour through the vast expanse, soon to be filled with 4 feet of water, state engineers said they were confident the reservoir and related projects will solve a pollution problem that now sends fertilizer-laden water into the Everglades after heavy rainfalls. Big doses of phosphorus pour into a delicate ecosystem, creating toxic mercury harmful to fish, birds, reptiles and mammals, including the endangered Florida panther.

    “By the time the Everglades sees that water, it will be nice and clean, with the phosphorus taken out of it,” said Alan Shirkey, who oversees the project for the South Florida Water Management District.

    Skeptics who joined a lawsuit to enforce water standards are not so sure. They fear that Obama administration officials – under pressure to relax environmental restrictions during the 2012 election campaign – were too quick to accept the state’s plan to settle the suit.

    “This idea is a completely new one that has not been road-tested,” said David Guest, an attorney in Tallahassee for Earthjustice.

    Gov. Rick Scott sold federal officials on the idea – officially known as a “flow basin” – as the centerpiece of an $880 million plan to remove pollutants that wash off farmland and urban developments. The agreement in June 2012 spared the state from a federal proposal that would have cost nearly twice as much.

    The basin taking shape on farmland acquired by the state on U.S. Highway 27 will cover more than 15,000 acres and store up to 20 billion gallons of water. That’s enough to fill 45,000 football fields a foot deep.

    Pump stations already draw polluted water from the New River and Miami canals into “stormwater treatment areas” – shallow pools lined with underwater plants that filter out phosphorus before the water seeps into conservation areas and flows south into the Glades.

    But to prevent heavy rains from overwhelming the system, water managers sometimes must divert dirty water around the treatment areas and send it south, polluting wetlands, jeopardizing wildlife and violating federal water-quality standards.

    The new flow basin is designed to solve that problem by temporarily storing all the water from the canals, drawing it in through supply canals and gated structures. Cattails along the bottom will filter out some phosphorus. But the main purpose is to hold water, especially during wet seasons, and release it slowly into the treatment areas.

    The construction is marked by explosions that send clouds of dirt and rock into the air as crews blast out sections of limestone to carve out spaces for water to flow in or out. Giant dump trucks haul this material to the perimeter to help form 12-foot levee walls.

    Solar-powered gates will help control the flow. Supply canals will be built at a higher elevation so that water runs downhill into the basin when the gates are opened. And gravity will pull the water through the basin to be released into the treatment areas.

    Anthony Rosato, the project manager, said contractors are on track to complete the flow basin by July 2016.

    A spokeswoman said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is satisfied the plan will meet water-quality standards but that it’s too early to comment on the results.

    Those who work on the site seem confident.

    “I’m a critter lover. And if you go out there, you’ll see the wildlife, the hogs, the deer, the coons. The birds are unbelievable,” said Lori Fox of Clewiston, a pump station operator.

    She fishes south of the treatment areas, where the water is clean and the bass have a golden color, rather than to the north, where the fish are as dark as the water they swim in.

    “To me, you are what you eat. You are what your environment is,” she said “I had no idea of the concept of what they were doing out here. But when you see it, you know it works.”

    William E. Gibson|Washington Bureau|Sun Sentinel|March 29, 2014

    Water Quality Issues

    There is  no shortage of water, just a looming shortage of cheap fresh water – take the $alt out.

    $38M facility supplements potable water

    Newly filtered water from the newest addition to the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority system may be flowing through your pipes right now.

    The Floridan Aquifer Desalination Facility at the FKAA’s main water-treatment plant in Florida City officially opened Jan. 21, 2010.

    “We have been using [water from the desalination plant] as part of the testing phase, so people could have already been drinking it from their tap,” spokeswoman Colleen Tagle said.

    The $38 million plant has the capacity to treat 6 million gallons of brackish water per day to supplement the supply of potable water pumped to the Keys.

    “Because it costs so much more to use desalinated water, the idea is not to use this as the first choice,” Tagle said. “But when the demand exceeds what we are allowed to draw from the Biscayne Aquifer, it’s good to know this is there.”

    The desalination facility was added to the FKAA’s main treatment plant to tap into brackish waters of the Floridan Aquifer, located more than 1,700 feet below the surface.

    For most of its history, South Florida has relied on the Biscayne Aquifer, a thin lens of fresh water 30 to 100 feet below the surface, for its drinking and irrigation water.

    But an ever-growing population combined with long spells of dry weather prompted the South Florida Water Management District to limit the amount of fresh water drawn from the Biscayne Aquifer.

    Water taken from the deeper Floridan Aquifer is mixed with higher amounts of saltwater, which requires desalination in addition to regular water treatment.

    The FKAA now cannot draw more than 17 million gallons per day from the Biscayne Aquifer. Cities in Miami-Dade County also are capped in how much they can take from that source.

    In periods of peak demand during the busy winter tourist season — which coincides with the time of least rainfall — the Keys’ need for fresh water approaches the 17-million-gallon-per-day limit, Tagle said.
    That was a primary reason the FKAA moved forward on the Floridan Aquifer Desalination Facility.

    “The FKAA was the first of all the South Florida water utilities to go this way,” Tagle said. “We’re the poster child for developing an alternate water source.”

    As a pioneer in the field, the FKAA received a number of grants that helped defray costs for local consumers, she said. “Now those grants have largely dried up,” she added.

    The FKAA has existing desalination plants that convert seawater to drinking water on Stock Island and in Marathon. Together, those plants can produce about 3 millions daily, but costs mandate they be limited to emergency situations.

    “It’s a lot more expensive to use desalination on seawater than brackish water,” Tagle said. “Both those [Keys] plants also run on diesel fuel, which costs more. At Florida City, we have a very favorable contract with FPL to supply power.”

    New wells, reaching down some 1,800 feet, will bring the water up to the plant. Reverse osmosis removes salt by forcing the water through fiber membranes.

    “The technology has improved by leaps and bounds since the Stock Island and Marathon plants were built,” Tagle said, “but it’s great to have them in case of a hurricane.”

    The new desalination “came in under budget and ahead of schedule, which we love to see,” Tagle said.

    The FKAA was able to trim the $40 million cost estimate by using its sources to purchase construction material, and doing some engineering work.

    KEVIN WADLOW|KEYSNET.com|January 30, 2010

    Two Districts in India Now Have Access to Clean Water Via ATMs 

    For thousands of people in India, clean water continues to be a scarce commodity — but one revolutionary idea is changing this, one ATM at a time.

    Two districts of Rajasthan, India that are infamous due to the scarcity of potable water are now recipients of water ATMs, thanks to a Scottish energy and technology company. Residents of the two districts have all-day access to clean water with the swipe of a card — 20 litres for 5 rupees.

    The ones who benefit the most are the children in these communities.

    Every year, globally waterborne illnesses are the second leading cause of death for children under five, killing 1,400 children every day, according to UNICEF.

    Now these kiosks with reverse osmosis (RO) plants have been installed to provide safe drinking water in villages like Bhakharpur, Kawas, Guda, Jogasar, Aakdada and Baytu. There, they benefit 22,000 people who can now avoid serious health risks associated with dirty water.

    Reports have noted that with the new access to clean water, the number of water-borne diseases, such as diarrhea in children, has decreased in this region of India. And cases of joint pain caused by high fluoride content in drinking water have also gone down.

    Clean water is not something to take for granted; it’s a human right, and that’s why these ATMs are so essential. It’s unclear how long the water will last, but hopefully that’s something the company who created the ATM took into consideration.

    Either way, we’re looking forward to a day when everyone will have access to clean water, whether they can pay for it or not — but this is a fantastic start.

    Brenda Duran|Care2 Causes Editor|September 2, 2014

    This post originally appeared on RYOT.

    Nestle Has Expanded Its Water Empire to Include Colorado

    Not content with bottling water in drought-stricken California, Nestle has added Colorado to its water empire: the world’s largest food and beverage company has been draining millions of gallons of water from the Arkansas River out of a pipeline near Buena Vista. The water is taken from a pipeline and loaded into tanker trucks and taken to the Nestle bottling plant in Denver.

    There the water is used to fill hundreds and thousands and millions of little plastic Arrowhead Springs water bottles, which are then trucked to convenience markets, grocery stores, movie theaters and sports palaces around the West. Each month, Nestle fills roughly 40.4 million 16.9 ounce bottles.

    It’s not just Colorado that is affected. With 65 million gallons a year being pumped out of the river, there will be long term impacts to Colorado and downstream. The Arkansas River also flows through Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, areas that have also suffered major droughts recently.

    The Colorado proposal elicited fierce opposition from many residents, who feared the company would deplete the local aquifer and that its trucks hauling the water to Denver would snarl traffic on mountain roads.

    There’s plenty of evidence to show that Nestlé’s habits are destructive of small communities.

    The non-profit Stop Nestle Waters has gathered evidence from the 50 spring sites that Nestle operates around the country, and here’s what they found:

    Nestle’s predatory tactics in rural communities divide small towns and pit residents against each other. Nestle reaps huge profits from the water they extract from rural communities – which are left to deal with the damage to watersheds, increases in pollution and the loss of their quiet rural lifestyle. Because Nestle has a pattern of bludgeoning small communities and opponents with lawsuits and interfering in local elections to gain control of local water supplies.

    How does it happen that the bottled water industry can take what is clean, readily available and free, package it in non-biodegradable plastic, and sell it back to consumers at highly inflated prices?

    How could so many customers fall for this trick?

    Not only that, but profits continue to rise. Currently, the annual spending on bottled water in the U.S. is $11.8 billion, while the global sales revenue from bottled water is $60 billion.

    In the United States, an estimated 30 billion plastic bottles are sold annually, bottles that it takes at least 17 million barrels of oil to manufacture (enough to fuel about 100,000 cars for the entire year). The average number of plastic bottles used per person each year in the United States is 167.

    On an even more depressing side note, nearly 8 out of every 10 of those bottles ends up in a landfill, translating to about a 23 percent recycling rate.

    But, guess what? The tap water in San Francisco comes from Yosemite National Park and is so pure the EPA does not require it to be filtered. Indeed, most of the time there is no difference between tap water and bottled water (unless the bottling company chooses to add an extra ingredient). Often the tap water, which we are already paying for with our taxes, is better.

    Nestle has a long history of disgraceful practices. Remember the infant formula scandal? Back in the 1970s, Nestle went into developing poor countries and promoted infant formula, which led to many deaths because of the lack of clean water sources to prepare formula safely. In addition, many families could not afford to purchase formula after the free samples stopped and by that time, the mother’s milk had dried up.

    Boycotts of Nestlé have been going on since the early 1970s, for good reason.

    Perhaps it’s time for another one?

    Judy Molland|September 2, 2014

    SFWMD 2014 South Florida Environmental Report

    Marking the 16th year of consolidated reporting, the 2014 South Florida Environmental Report (SFER) showcases dozens of agency reports in a three-volume publication, complemented by the Consolidated Project Report Database.

    Volume I covers findings derived from regional monitoring and research projects and highlights key financial information during the 2013 reporting period. Volume II provides an annual update on the planning and project status for eight annual reports required of all water management districts. Volume III expands on Volume I by further streamlining unified reporting and fulfilling various federal and state permit-related reporting requirements.

    2014 South Florida Environmental Report: At a Glance [PDF]
    Executive Summary [PDF]
    Volume I: South Florida Environment
    Volume II: District Annual Plans and Reports
    Volume III: Annual Permit Reports
                                                                                                                                                                   Great Lakes & Inland Waters

    Dams vs. Rivers

    A new ‘State of the World’s Rivers’ database shows how the world’s rivers have been impoverished by dams and their ecosystems devastated – and provides a valuable resource to help save river basins that remain in good health.

    International Rivers has launched ‘The State of the World’s Rivers’, an interactive online database that illustrates the role that dams have played in impoverishing the health of the world’s river basins.

    The database shows how river fragmentation due to decades of dam-building is highly correlated with poor water quality and low biodiversity. Many of the world’s great river basins have been dammed to the point of serious decline, including the Mississippi, Yangtze, Paraná and Danube. “The evidence we’ve compiled of planetary-scale impacts from river change is strong enough to warrant a major international focus on understanding the thresholds for ‘river change’ in the world’s major basins, and for the planet as a whole system”, said Jason Rainey, Executive Director of International Rivers.

    For example, in the Middle East, decades of dam building in the Tigris-Euphrates basin have made it one of the most fragmented basins in the world.

    As a result, the basin’s flooded grassland marshes have significantly decreased, leading to the disappearance of salt-tolerant vegetation that helped protect coastal areas, and a reduction in the plankton-rich waters that fertilize surrounding soils.

    Habitat has decreased for 52 native fish species, migratory bird species, and mammals such as the water buffalo, antelopes and gazelles, and the jerboa.

    Meanwhile, some of the lesser-dammed basins, which are still relatively healthy at this point, are being targeted for major damming.

    For example, the most biodiverse basin in the world, the Amazon, still provides habitat for roughly 14,000 species of mammals, 2,200 fish species, 1,500 bird species, and more than 1,000 amphibian species, like the Amazon River Dolphin, the Amazonian Manatee, and the Giant Otter.

    When all dam sizes are counted, Brazil plans to build an astonishing 412 dams in the Paraná and 254 in the Amazon basins. In Asia, China plans to continue to dam the Yangtze basin with at least another 94 planned large dams. At least 153 more dams are planned for the Mekong basin.

    Other basins that are high in biodiversity and water quality which are also targets for dam-building include the Tocantins, the Irrawaddy, the Congo, and the Zambezi.

    Editor|The Ecologist|August 27, 2014

    Continue reading at ENN affiliate, The Ecologist.

    Leaching Lake Superior

    A Native American community stands up to a giant iron-ore mine.

    You’ve probably never heard of Wisconsin’s Penokee Hills, a.k.a. “the Everglades of the North.” But just as in Alaska’s Bristol Bay and the Mexican state of Sonora (where 10 millions gallons of acid spilled and closed 88 schools this week), the people of the Penokee Hills are fighting to protect their watershed from a giant mining project. As seen in this video produced by Midwest Environmental Advocates, a non-profit legal group, those people are a Native American community that has relied on the watershed for centuries.

    Gogebic Taconite—a Florida-based company owned by coal billionaire Christopher Cline—wants to build a four-mile-long open-pit mine in the Penokee Hills that opponents say could become the world’s largest iron-ore operation. The hills are home to the pristine headwaters of the Tyler Forks and Bad rivers, which empty into Lake Superior. At risk are Superior’s largest wetlands and a major source of wild rice for the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa Tribe.

    The four-year battle over the mine has been fraught with political shenanigans, but the most blatant, perhaps, occurred last year when Governor Scott Walker signed a bill that cut state wetlands protections in sensitive environmental areas. Gogebic (which has already started drilling exploratory wells) helped draft the legislation. The governor’s action sparked grassroots rallies against the mine, which included establishing an educational camp on traditional Chippewa lands near the proposed site. In response, Gogebic hired camouflaged mercenaries equipped with assault weapons to guard its property.

    Earlier this year six Chippewa tribes petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to intervene and evaluate the mining project’s impact on fisheries and drinking water. Environmental and Native American groups worry that the mines will become giant caldrons of poisons—such as mercury and arsenic—that could leach into nearby waterways. And for good reason: that’s exactly what happened with similar taconite mines in Minnesota and Michigan.

    Rocky Kistner|August 21, 2014

    US approves expansion of Great Lakes sanctuary

    The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in northern Michigan has received federal approval to expand its size nearly tenfold and boost the preservation of scores of sunken vessels in an area of Lake Huron once known as “Shipwreck Alley.”

    Thunder Bay, the only freshwater national sanctuary, is announcing Friday that the Obama administration approved the years-in-the-making effort to grow from about 450 square miles to 4,300 square miles. The expansion — which incorporates the waters from off Alcona, Alpena and Presque Isle in the northeastern Lower Peninsula and to the maritime border with Canada — also doubles the number of estimated shipwrecks to roughly 200. The effort to expand the sanctuary, originally created in 2000, started with three failed Congressional bids and then the administrative review process through the Commerce Department. The department overs ees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which manages the sanctuary along with the state of Michigan.

    “It’s been a long, long effort,” sanctuary superintendent Jeff Gray said. “It’s a pretty monumental thing. … In a small way we raise the Great Lakes into this national dialogue.”While many spots along the Great Lakes are hazardous, Thunder Bay became known as “Shipwreck Alley” in the 19th century, as it was part of a major shipping channel during an era when the region had few alternatives.

    The sanctuary was established to protect cultural resources and focuses on shipwrecks, but its research often finds dual uses. For instance, the systematic mapping of the lake bottom has helped to identify the wrecks and provide scientific data — such as fish-spawning areas — to share with fisheries biologists.

    Still, the wrecks remain the main attraction. Among the better known is the Isaac M. Scott, a propeller-driven coal carrier that fell victim to the Great Storm of 1913, which scuttled 11 vessels in 16 hours and killed 150 mariners. Another is the New Orleans, a wooden side-wheeler that hit a reef on a fogbound night in 1849. All 300 passengers and sailors were rescued.

    Expanding the sanctuary’s boundaries also fosters further exploration and the possibility of locating other vessels.

    It’s really the timeline of Great Lakes shipping down there,” Gray said. Vessels are found at all depths — some are accessible by kayak or g lass-bottom boat, others can be explored by snorkelers and recreational divers, while the deepest are accessible only to technical, professional diving crews.

    Gray said the sanctuary has worked over the years to iron out concerns and criticisms, such as divers fearing blocked access, but sanctuary officials have encouraged them to visit by placing buoys on sites.

    Officials also worked with the shipping industry, which led to excluding the waters in three area ports, as well as regional Indian tribes to ensure that the expansion wouldn’t affect treaty fishing rights.

    The sanctuary draws about 80,000 visitors annually, and Gray said they hope to hit 100,000 this year.

    Jeff Karoub|Associated Press|Sept.1, 2014

    The ‘Blob’ is gone

    Historic spill changed the way we view the St. Clair River.

    It felt like a stray fishing line scraping across his face.

    It melted the rubber of his goggles.

    Twenty-nine years later, Brian Martin still isn’t certain what kind of chemical he burrowed into at the bottom of the St. Clair River in September 1985.

    But one thing is certain: Martin’s eerie discovery revealed years of pollution along the St. Clair River.

    A month before his discovery, Dow Chemical Canada Inc. spilled more than 2,905 gallons of perchlorethylene — 528 gallons made it to the river.

    In November 1985, divers discovered dark tarry masses — a grouping the size of a basketball court — lying on the river bottom.

    The mass would eventually become widely known as “The Blob,” making headlines throughout the United States and Canada.

    About 29 years later, the blob is gone. A few patches of contaminated sediment are some of the only proof left of years of chemical spills into the river. And the St. Clair River, from Sarnia and Port Huron to Walpole Island and Clay Township, is on its way to recovery.

    “The Dow spill got a tremendous amount of media coverage, and it dramatically focused public awareness on the water quality in the river,” said Fred Kemp, a member of the Binational Public Advisory Council since its formation in 1987.

    “Now, the standards are much higher on both sides of the river, and there’s been nothing but a steady stream of success stories.”

    Martin was exploring the American side of the river near the Bean Dock in Port Huron on Sept. 15, 1985, when he heard an approaching freighter.

    Eager to avoid the propeller blades, he dove into a depression on the river bottom.

    He felt a sensation similar to fishing line scraping across his face. Water began to seep into his goggles. When he exited the river he removed his goggles and the seal pulled away from his face like bubble gum.

    “I think it was some kind of a paint solvent, maybe, that deteriorated the rubber around my goggles,” Martin said. “I really don’t know. I haven’t even dove back there in all these years.”

    A month earlier, Dow Chemical Canada Inc. had reported to Canadian officials it had spilled more than 528 gallons of perchlorethylene, a dry cleaning solvent, into the St. Clair River.

    A spokesman for Dow on Thursday said the company reported the spill as soon as it became aware of the accident. According to Times Herald articles from the time, the spill was one of at least 11 that year for Dow.

    The Dow spill and Martin’s dive were blips on the pollution radar — forerunners to a November revelation.

    According to Times Herald reports at the time, it wasn’t until early November 1985 that Canadian officials announced tarry samples taken in 1984 from the same location as the spill had tested positive for dioxins.

    Divers said it appeared that same tarry substance had mixed with the perchlorethylene, creating a 150- by 200-foot grouping of blob-like deposits.

    In a Nov. 5, 1985, Times Herald article, Jim Dochstader, a Canadian environmental officer, said the blob appeared to be a mixture of several chemicals, including a large concentration of perchlorethylene.

    “It appears it may have come from multiple sources,” Dochstader told Times Herald reporter David Poulson. “It’s a confusing situation. We can’t separate what is at the bottom of the river with what came from Dow.”

    In a Nov. 3, 1985, Times Herald article, John Sawher, then mayor of St. Clair, said the blob was proof of historic pollution in the St. Clair River.

    “I think it points out that this sort of thing (toxic dumping) has been going on for many years. Long before we knew of the dangers,” Sawher told Times Herald reporter Roberta Stevenson.

    “I think we’re just beginning to pay the piper in many situations.”

    The discovery of the blob made headlines across the United States and Canada. A swift cleanup and action followed.

    In early 1987, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement was amended between Canada and the United States. The St. Clair River was named an Area of Concern by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and Environment Canada.

    In the same year, the Binational Public Advisory Council was formed, drawing about 50 people together from a diverse cross section from recreation, industry, environment, municipal and the general public.

    Dow Chemical Canada began to clean up the blob, loading vacuum trucks with extended hoses onto barges to suck up the mixture.

    Kemp said the blob was believed to be more than just the spilled perchlorethylene.

    Reports in early November 1985 said researchers believed the tarry substance found at the bottom of the river had seeped upward to the river bottom through cracks in the earth.

    Kemp, who was a member of Dow’s community advisory board at the time, said the company believed the perchlorethylene spill traveled through the sewer system — dislodging years of hydrocarbon accumulations — before hitting the river.

    “It’s a (dry cleaning) solvent, and so that’s what it does for a living,” Kemp said. “It doesn’t readily mix with water. If you had a film of hydrocarbons on the river bottom, it would have loosened them and released them, and then it would have collected in the low spots in the river where the velocities are lower.”

    Unlike hundreds of other historical spills on the river, Dow’s spill garnered attention because of the blob-like mass it created and the chemical’s staying power.

    “That one probably got more press than just about any release that ever occurred on the river,” Kemp said.

    “The perchlorethylene was peculiar because you had something that didn’t really like mixing with water. There was continuing evidence for months afterward of what had occurred.”

    As the world awoke to what lay at the bottom of the St. Clair River in fall 1985, Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley was elected to the Sarnia council.

    Bradley said the environmental mindset in Sarnia was about to change drastically after decades of misuse of the river.

    “That spill was a defining moment,” Bradley said. “In the past, the issue with spills was that responses to them were very much defensive and very much based on public relations and not the problem.

    “You know what the slogan was here in the ’60s?” Bradley said. “‘Dilution is the solution.'”

    According to records from the Sarnia Lambton Environmental Association, there were between 110 and 120 major chemical spills into the St. Clair River in 1986.

    A major spill is characterized as a spill that resulted in the closure of drinking water intakes further downstream.

    The Dow spill and resulting blob propelled prevention, response, and cleanup efforts, but Kemp said most of the riverside industries were on that track already.

    “About the same time that spill occurred, most of the big industries on both sides of the river were completing advanced treatment systems,” Kemp said.

    “The public awareness that really kind of peaked after the Dow spill pretty much made sure that those plans were put in place and were followed.”

    Patty Troy, U.S. chairwoman for BPAC, said spills before 1986 were off the charts.

    “In the ’50s and ’60s nobody paid attention to it,” Troy said. “In the ’80s, it was recognized there was a legacy of pollution on the St. Clair River.”

    Kemp said that realization spread beyond government agencies, and to the general public.

    “People were just really becoming aware that what were often described as organic wastes did not break down quickly,” Kemp said.

    Bradley said industry was not the only culprit in the pollution of the St. Clair River.

    “The municipality emerged as the biggest polluter of the river,” Bradley said.

    “It’s not appropriate for the municipality to be criticizing industry when they don’t have their own house in order.”

    In Sarnia and Port Huron, millions of gallons of combined sewer overflow — a mixture of storm water and untreated sewage — were streaming into the St. Clair River when rains overwhelmed pumping stations.

    When Port Huron began its sewer separation program in 1998, the city estimated it produced an annual discharge of 309 million gallons of combined sewer overflow a year, according to city engineer Bob Clegg.

    The combination of combined sewer overflows, chemical spills, and urban and rural runoff created persistent pollution on the river and caused the United States and Canada to name the river an Area of Concern.

    The river was one of 43 areas of concern named in the Great Lakes basin, and one of just a few binational areas of concern.

    When it was amended in 1987, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the United States and Canada listed 14 indicators of water quality, according to Jon Gee, manager of the Great Lakes Areas of Concern program at Environment Canada. Those indicators are used to show why a body of water is listed as an area of concern.

    Of the 14 potential indicators, or beneficial use impairments, the U.S. side of the St. Clair River had 10, Troy said.

    The river’s beneficial use impairments included:

    • Restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption
    • Tainting of fish and wildlife flavor
    • Bird and animal deformities or reproductive problems
    • Degradation of benthos, or organisms that live on the riverbed
    • Restrictions on dredging activities
    • Restrictions on drinking water consumption or taste and odor problems
    • Beach closings
    • Degradation of aesthetics
    • Added costs to agriculture or industry
    • Loss of fish and wildlife habitat

    The river’s unimpaired qualities included:

    • Degraded fish and wildlife populations
    • Fish tumors or other deformities
    • Eutrophication or undesirable algae
    • Degradation of phytoplankton and zooplankton populations

    The Canadian side had eight beneficial use impairments, four that required more study, and two indicators that were not impaired.

    Years of study followed the St. Clair River’s prognosis until, in 1995, BPAC released its remedial action plan for the river.

    Rehabilitating the St. Clair River

    New permitting processes that require spill prevention and response plans were imposed on industry.

    Dow Chemical Canada continued its cleanup and returned to the river between 2001 and 2005 to remove all contaminated sediments along the company’s stretch of property on the St. Clair River.

    “A layer of clean gravel, known as ‘fish mix,’ which promotes the return of natural habitat, was spread on the hard clay bottom of the river after all the sediment was removed,” a Dow spokesperson said, in an email.

    Three areas of contaminated sediment remain on the Canadian side of the river, Gee said.

    “We know that there are some residual contaminants in the river that we’ve been working on now for a few years to determine the nature and extent of those contaminated sediments,” Gee said.

    “Nobody would call it a blob these days, but the sediments are contaminated.”

    According to data from the Sarnia Lambton Environmental Association, major chemical spills have decreased from between 110 and 120 in 1986, to a little more than 20 in 1992, and one in 2011.

    “There’s a lot of really positive things happening that are real and are not about public relations,” Bradley said.

    “They’ve done everything possible to ensure that when there are forces of nature or accidents, that that damage doesn’t make it to the river.”

    Bradley said binational spill communication between Sarnia and St. Clair County Emergency Management is improving.

    “On the local level that communication is excellent, and there’s that understanding that there’s no wall in the middle of the river,” Bradley said.

    A large spill in 2005 led to grant funding for a Drinking Water Protection Network for the American side of the St. Clair River. The grant funding was exhausted in 2007, and now only some communities are part of the early detection network.

    Troy said the restrictions on drinking water consumption remain impaired on both sides of the river, but she said the impairment has more to do with a spill than cities’ daily drinking water intake.

    “The St. Clair River is an excellent source of drinking water,” Troy said. “The only problem is if there is a spill.”

    In 1998, Port Huron embarked on a $176 million, 15-year project to separate its sewer system.

    Once a sewer separation project is finished on Nern Street, the city will have reduced the city’s number of discharge locations from 19 to 1 and reduced the gallons of combined sewer overflow from an annual average of 309 million gallons to 1 million gallons, Clegg said.

    “It’s resulted in reduced E. coli loadings to the river, and that has a huge impact to the goals of delisting the St. Clair River,” Clegg said.

    “When the MDEQ came through and did their testing of the Black River, they found that E. coli — which is a measure of organic waste in the water — is actually lower going through the city than it is north or upstream of the city.”

    Sarnia undertook a similar project.

    In 2005, the city put a large focus on sewer separation. Since then, the city has spent more than $60 million on the separation.

    Sarnia has separated about 9.3 miles of its 24.2 miles of combined sewers. The sewer separation project in Sarnia is ongoing.

    Since the late 1980s, Canada has had a 75 percent reduction of contaminants reaching the river from industry, according to Claude Lafrance, remedial action plan coordinator for the St. Clair River in Ontario.

    There also has been an 85 percent reduction of contaminants reaching the river from Canadian municipal sewage treatment plants, Lafrance said.

    About $270 million in grant money from the Great Lakes Legacy Act in 2002, and about $475 million in grant money through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in 2009 acted as a shot in the arm for habitat restoration efforts throughout the Great Lakes.

    The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative financed a restoration project along the Marysville shoreline, a restoration project along the riverside south of Pine Grove Park in Port Huron, and the construction of a fish spawning reef in the Middle Channel of the St. Clair River near Clay Township, according to Rose Ellison, an environmental scientist for the EPA.

    In 2014, the Community Foundation of St. Clair County also completed the Blue Water River Walk — a restoration of the shoreline just south of the Black River.

    Ellison said GLRI money is helping to finance wetland construction at the south end of the river walk.

    Ellison said additional fish spawning reefs are being constructed in the St. Clair River at Harts Light, and near Algonac.

    Other GLRI projects in 2014 will include work on the Cuttle Creek drain, the Marine City drain, Crispin Drain on Harsens Island, riverside property in Cottrellville Township, and riverfront property along Keifer Park in Port Huron.

    “We actually have eight habitat projects happening all at once along the St. Clair River now, and we plan on having everything done by the end of December,” Ellison said.

    “That was the justification to get that infusion of money — these are projects that have been identified as critical in moving forward with delisting.”

    As of August 2014, five of the 10 beneficial use impairments on the U.S. side of St. Clair River have been removed.

    • In April 2010, restrictions on dredging activities were removed as an impairment on the U.S. side of the river; a status review of the impairment on the Canadian side was performed in 2012 and 2013, but the item remains impaired.
    • In March 2011, the tainting of fish and wildlife flavor was removed as an impairment on the U.S. side of the St. Clair River; it was removed from the Canadian side in June 2011.
    • In June 2012, the degradation of aesthetics was removed as an impairment on the U.S. side of the river; the impairment is expected to be removed from the Canadian side shortly.
    • Also in June 2012, added costs to agriculture or industry were removed as an impairment on the U.S and Canadian sides of the river.
    • In March 2014, the degradation of benthos was removed as an impairment on the U.S. side of the river; the degradation of benthos remains an impairment on the Canadian side.

    Troy said BPAC hopes to have most of the river’s beneficial use impairments removed within the next couple of years.

    Canada hopes to announce the removal of another impairment in September.

    Kris Lee, Canadian chair of BPAC, said the challenges Canada has faced have differed from the U.S. side of the river.

    “The U.S. are a little more ahead because they don’t have the same issues,” Lee said.

    “Their issue has mainly been shoreline restoration, and they’ve done a really good job on that. Canada’s has been more contaminated sediment.”

    Lafrance said the removal of three remaining sections of contaminated sediment on the Canadian side of the St. Clair River is one of the larger projects facing Canadian officials.

    The contaminated areas include a 284,167-square-foot area near the Suncor dock, a 95,798-square-foot section near the Shell dock, and a 350,903-square-foot area near Guthrie Park.

    “They’re located in three spots — in areas where the current of the river is slowed down and so the contaminated sediments that are in suspension drop and settle onto the river bottom,” Lafrance said.

    “To be clear, neither Suncor nor Shell were responsible for the contamination. It just stopped in front of their properties.”

    Lafrance said local groups have recommended a hydraulic dredging — or vacuuming — process to Environment Canada and the Ministry of the Environment for the contaminated sediment removal.

    The ultimate goal of all parties involved — to have both sides of the river delisted as an area of concern — seems to be within reach.

    “We’re so close,” Bradley said. “We don’t need to pull back and be proud of our accomplishments. We need to get to that day where the river is officially delisted.”

    So far, only two areas of concern in Michigan have obtained delisting: White Lake and Deer Lake.

    But Troy said the fight for the St. Clair River isn’t finished when it sheds its title as an area of concern.

    “After the St. Clair River is removed as an area of concern, it is going to still need advocates,” Troy said.

    At a BPAC symposium Sept. 18 to discuss progress on the St. Clair River delisting effort, speakers will address new emerging threats to the river, Troy said.

    Among the topics discussed will be the effect of pharmaceuticals and personal care products on the waterway, climate change effects on lake levels, agricultural effects on the river, and invasive species.

    Beth LeBlanc|Times Herald

     

    Offshore & Ocean

    With Apalachicola Bay oysters continuing to suffer, state further tightens harvesting

    APALACHICOLA — The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is sharply reducing the number of oysters that can be taken from Apalachicola Bay because the oyster population there remains low.

    And some seafood workers are warning that oysters soon could be wiped out in a key harvesting area.

    State officials in 2012 requested a federal fisheries disaster declaration because of a continued drought that reduced freshwater flowing into Apalachicola Bay from Alabama and Georgia.

    In 2013, Florida blamed Georgia for misusing water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system and asked the U. S. Supreme Court to divide water fairly among the states.

    The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced Thursday it is reducing the oysters that can be harvested commercially this winter from 20 bags daily to five beginning Sept. 1. Each bag holds 10 gallons of oysters in their shells.

    Jim Estes, deputy director of the Division of Fisheries Management, on Monday told a meeting of seafood workers and dealers in Apalachicola that the reduction is needed because the oyster population “is in real bad shape.”

    “These are just interim measures,” he said. “These are not going to bring these things back.”

    He said the bay’s oysters need more fresh water, which they received this spring and summer, along with oyster shells placed on the bottom of the bay for oyster larvae to attach and grow on.

    The East Hole harvesting area will remain closed, Estes said, and some areas where shells recently were placed on the bottom also will be closed once they are identified.

    Both commercial and recreational oyster harvesting will be closed Fridays through Sundays. The daily recreational harvest is being reduced from two bags to half a bag.

    Several Franklin County oystermen responded with concerns that the bay’s remaining oysters will be decimated once the winter harvesting season begins Sept. 1.

    Shannon Hartsfield, president of the Franklin County Seafood Workers Association, said there are no oysters elsewhere in the bay and very few in the important Cat Point commercial harvesting area. He said it will be “demolished” quickly once winter harvesting begins on Sept. 1

    “I agree with doing something, but I think we’re going to destroy Cat Point,” he said. “It’s going to be worse starting off this year than past years. By the time we get through starting Sept. 1, there’s going to be nothing (remaining) in one month.”

    Estes’ remarks also prompted a wide-ranging discussion about what is killing oysters or preventing new ones from growing in Apalachicola Bay. Among the concerns identified were water pollution from various sources and the continuing effects of the 2011-12 drought.

    Oysterman Danny Smith said he has seen similar shortages of oysters throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Associated Press reported earlier this month on the lack of oysters in Louisiana since the 2010 Gulf oil spill.

    Estes and Kal Knickerbocker, director of aquaculture at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said they didn’t know why there are so few new oysters in Apalachicola Bay or what the solution is.

    “There are many, many questions and there are very few answers at this time,” Knickerbocker said.

    BRUCE RITCHIE|FLORIDAENVIRONMENTS.COM|Aug 28, 2014

    DEP Awards $10 Million for Critical Indian River Lagoon Restoration

    ~Up to 350,000 cubic yards of muck to be removed from Indian River Lagoon~

    The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) awarded $10 million in grant funding to Brevard County today for the removal of up to 350,000 cubic yards of muck in the Indian River Lagoon and its tributaries. The project is a priority of Governor Scott and members of the Florida Legislature who appropriated the funds for this lagoon restoration project and many others during the 2014 Legislative Session.

    “Governor Scott and Florida’s legislative leaders are committed to improving the health of the Indian River Lagoon,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “Restoring this unique and treasured water body is a top priority among our state’s leadership and the department is proud to partner with Brevard County to improve lagoon water quality.”

    Created by decades of runoff, erosion and nutrient loading, the accumulated muck deposits within the lagoon are damaging to seagrass beds, contribute to algal blooms and create bottom conditions that are not conducive to healthy marine life.

    The Brevard County project is also expected to remove up to 672 tons of total nitrogen and 144 tons of total phosphorous contained within the muck deposits. This project joins other lagoon restoration efforts already underway including a $10 million Eau Gallie River muck removal project, $746,000 for water quality monitoring sensors throughout the lagoon, more than $12 million in water quality restoration grants and millions more in support to local lagoon organizations focused on raising awareness of lagoon health.

    “This is a critical point in lagoon restoration where state, federal and local partners realize we have to get started now with projects that will work,” said Ernie Brown, Director of Brevard County Natural Resources Management. “This project serves to bring strong science about muck removal to the conversation while making real progress, and DEP has been a fantastic partner in getting this project expedited.”

    Brevard County staff aims to have some dredges in the water by January 2015 with full deployment and active operations among all dredging resources by July 2015.

    “The ecological health of the Northern and Central Indian River Lagoon and the Banana River are central to our way of life throughout this beautiful region,”said Senator Andy Gardiner. “These restoration efforts are and will continue to be a significant priority of the Florida Legislature and I want to thank Senator Altman for his leadership on this issue.”

    “Communities up and down the Space Coast rely on the lagoon to strengthen their local economies and support their quality of life,” said Senator Thad Altman. “It’s critical we remove these sediments from our waterways and get the Indian River Lagoon on a pathway to health.”

    The Indian River Lagoon is a diverse, shallow-water estuary stretching across 40 percent of Florida’s east coast from Ponce de Leon Inlet in Volusia County to the southern boundary of Martin County. Widespread algal blooms appeared in the lagoon in 2011 when temperatures dropped significantly. This was followed by brown tide blooms in 2012 and 2013. Approximately 47,000 acres of seagrasses were lost, a reduction of about 60 percent of the lagoon’s total seagrass coverage. Removing excessive nitrogen and phosphorus in the lagoon is important to help prevent these events from occurring in the future.

    Dredging projects, water quality monitoring and support for local lagoon awareness organizations are all part of a larger, multi-agency effort to improve the health of the lagoon. The St. Johns Water Management District, the South Florida Water Management District, DEP, Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, local governments and educational institutions are individually and collectively working to identify additional opportunities to speed the lagoon back to ideal health.

    latashawalters|September 2, 2014

    Oceana celebrates the creation of three protected fishing areas in the Balearic Islands

    Today’s Official State Gazette (BOE) announces the protection from trawling of the coralligenous and rhodolith seabeds of the summits of Ausias March and Emile Baudot, two seamounts in the channel of Mallorca, and the Fort d’en Moreu, a coralligenous reef to the east of Cabrera.

    Oceana, which has been demanding this measure since 2006, congratulates the General Secretariat of Fisheries and encourages the government to continue with the protection of other similar seabeds which should also be closed to trawling and other aggressive methods.

    Marine conservation organisation Oceana would like to congratulate the General Secretariat of Fisheries for the protection of the coralligenous and rhodolith seabeds documented by the organisation in the summits of Ausias March, Emile Baudot and the Fort d’en Moreu. These seabeds are considered protected habitats by Regulation (EC) 1967/2006 regarding the sustainable exploitation of fishery resources in the Mediterranean.

    The Mediterranean Regulation establishes the obligation for Member States to close the coralligenous and rhodolith areas of the Mediterranean to trawling, dredging and other methods, given their importance for the conservation of fishery resources in this sea. Xavier Pastor, Executive Director of Oceana in Europe, explains: “Today we celebrate the culmination of several years of insisting that the government comply with the fisheries regulations and protect habitats which are essential for the recovery of fish stocks. Let’s not forget that the order issued today comes 7 years late, since the regulation came into force in 2006, and that what has happened today represents a first step along the road to closing all these protected seabeds to the most aggressive fishing activities, for the benefit of the ecosystem and hence fisheries resources,” adds Pastor.

    The coralligenous and rhodolith seabeds are essential and very characteristic Mediterranean habitats, and these three-dimensional structures formed by calcareous red algae are true “paradises” for many commercial and protected species in the Mediterranean.

    “Specifically, Oceana has documented the seabeds in the Balearic Islands which have been protected today, describing the extremely rich biodiversity that is under threat. In fact, right now we are out at sea documenting rhodolith seabeds which have not been included in this protection, especially in the areas to the north and west of the Fort d’en Moreu,” notes Pastor. “Therefore, we will continue campaigning for both the extension of these zones protected today, to cover the entire area occupied by these habitats, and also for the creation of new areas of protection wherever these habitats are found.”

    Marta Madina|Madrid|August 11, 2014

    Rashida Jones, Cobie Smulders, and Angela Kinsey Help Protect Belizean Reefs

    A trio of Hollywood celebrities recently took their star power to Belize to help Oceana protect the largest reef in the Western hemisphere. Cobie Smulders (“How I Met Your Mother”), Rashida Jones (“The Office”), and Angela Kinsey (“The Office”) traveled to coastal Belize, where they raised awareness for this delicate ocean ecosystem and promoted Oceana’s ongoing work in the country.

    Cobie Smulders filmed a new Oceana Public Service Announcement (PSA) in stunning South Water Caye Marine Reserve in Belize, where she visited a unique island made of mangrove trees. The habitat is critical for juvenile reef fish, providing shelter for them to grow before they settle on the nearby barrier reef.  Smulders remarked on how amazing it was to see such a diverse and important habitat just beyond the surface of the water.

    “Maybe because it’s underwater people don’t really think about it as much, but this reef is Belize and you just want it to always be there,” Smulders said. “It was really interesting to see how necessary these habitats are for the good of the reef. Oceana works really well with local governments and communities to empower them and educate them in how to preserve their local marine habitats.”

    A short ride away to the north, friends and “The Office” co-stars Rashida Jones and Angela Kinsey traveled together to the island of Ambergris Caye, the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. Oceana took Jones and Kinsey snorkeling in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, where they learned about the various pressures facing this reef ecosystem and marveled at the sharks, turtles, fish, and rays that flooded this protected area.

    “You can tell this area is totally protected because every fish is like ‘I’m hanging out here!’” Kinsey commented after her first snorkel. “I felt like I was in a giant encyclopedia of fish. You really see how important protecting their habitat is.”

    “Hol Chan [marine reserve] is like the 405!” Jones added. “There’s every type of creature imaginable. It’s amazing to see that type of diversity in one snorkel.”

    Since opening its Belize office in 2009, Oceana has won a number of impressive victories, including securing a national ban on destructive bottom trawling in all Belizean waters, and advocating against offshore oil drilling in Belize’s incredible marine environment.

    To catch behind the scenes footage of these trips to Belize, and to join Smulders, Jones, and Kinsey in protecting the ocean’s hidden treasures, click here.

    Photos

    Jessica Wiseman|Aug 6, 2014

    The Sting of Climate Change: Jellyfish Invade FL Beaches

    NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. – This Labor Day weekend, thousands of Floridians and visitors may feel more than just the sting of a sunburn. Jellyfish are hanging around beaches, with at least 400 people stung last weekend alone.

    While the toxin-tentacled animal has long been a part of beach-life, “jellyfish blooms” are becoming more common due to warming temperatures at the water surface and other factors related to climate change.

    Billy Causey is regional director of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “What this is telling us is that something is not right in our ocean,” Causey says. “It’s a symptom of a sick ocean. It’s a symptom of pollution. It’s a symptom of elevated sea-surface temperatures.”

    Jellyfish are just one of the “pests” listed in a new report released by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).

    America’s Outdoor Experience and Climate Change found that a variety of pests – including fire ants, stink bugs, ticks and mosquitoes – are proliferating as the climate changes. Dr. Doug Inkley authored the NWF report and says there is mounting evidence of a warming climate and the negative impacts associated with it. “It’s not our imagination, this is already happening,” Inkley says. “We must take action now, for our children’s future and for our outdoor experience future.”

    Algal blooms, according to the report, are another consequence of warming waters. Earlier this month, a “red tide” impacted parts of the Florida coast.

    Causey says reports like this one from the NWF serve to “connect the dots” of climate change and human behavior, something he says has not been done up until this point. “We’ve seen declines in fisheries. We’ve seen declines in various areas, but what we haven’t done is really link human pollution to the health of the ocean,” says Causey.

    The NWF report recommends carbon-emission limits for existing power plants, which the Environmental Protection Agency plans to implement by June of next year. Increasing energy efficiency and investing in clean-energy sources are two other recommendations in the report.Public News Service – FL

    Stephanie Carson|Public News Service – FL|August 2014

    Australia to scrap plan for dumping near Great Barrier Reef

    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia will abandon plans to dump 3 million cubic meters of dredged sand into the Great Barrier Reef area in its effort to create the world’s biggest coal port, the Australian Financial Review reported on Tuesday.

    The fragile reef, which stretches 2,300 km (1,430 miles) along Australia’s east coast, and sprawls over an area half the size of Texas, was the centerpiece of a campaign by green groups and tour operators opposing the plan.

    They feared that dumping soil 25 km (15 miles) from the reef would harm delicate corals and seagrasses and potentially double ship traffic through the area.

    The Abbot Point port is being expanded to accommodate $16 billion worth of coal projects planned in the inland Galilee Basin by two Indian firms, Adani Enterprises and GVK, and Australian billionaire Gina Rinehart.

    On Tuesday, the paper said North Queensland Bulk Ports, Adani Group and GVK would re-submit a proposal as early as this week to Environment Minister Greg Hunt offering alternative dumping sites on land.

    The change is designed to defuse controversy over potential damage to the reef and avoid a court case launched by the North Queensland Conservation Council, it added.

    “If the reports are true, the cheapest, most destructive option for expanding Abbot Point may have been taken off the table,” said Adam Walters, head of research for environmental group Greenpeace.

    A spokesman for Hunt declined to confirm the newspaper’s report, saying no new proposals had been received yet.

    “There was no option available at the time of the decision,” Hunt told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio on Tuesday. “There may well be one opening up. It’s up to the proponents to submit it. We haven’t seen any documentation.”

    A spokesman for Adani said the company was open to viable alternatives to the dredging plan.

    “We are committed to ensuring the best options are in place to ensure this project is achieved, together with the best possible environmental outcomes,” he said.

    In January, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority granted a permit for North Queensland Bulk Ports Corp to dump the dredged material in the park, to deepen Abbot Point for two terminals planned by Adani and GVK-Hancock.

    Adani and GVK have long-term plans to ship a total of 120 million tons of coal through the port each year.

    Last June, UNESCO’s world heritage panel deferred until next year a decision on whether to designate the 300,000-sq.-km reef as a site in danger.

    The reef has the world’s largest collection of coral reefs, with 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish, 4,000 types of mollusk, and is home to threatened species, including the dugong and large green turtle, the World Heritage list says.

    The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation is concerned over the proposed coastal developments, and has asked Australia for an updated report on the state of conservation of the reef by next February 1.

     James Regan|Reuters| Sep 1, 2014|Editing by Clarence Fernandez

    How corals stir up their world

    Coral reefs may look static to the naked eye, but scientists have now seen “violent” activity on their surface.

    Using powerful microscopes, researchers filmed tiny hairs on the surface of corals “stirring up” surrounding water.

    They say that these swirls of water draw nutrients towards the coral, and may also drive away potentially toxic waste products.

    The findings are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Weizmann Institute of Science (WIS) in Israel studied corals grown in a laboratory tank.

    “The general thinking has been that corals are completely dependent upon ambient flow from tides and turbulence [to supply nutrients],” said Orr Shapiro from WIS.

    These detailed observations overturn that idea.

    The researchers added tiny “tracer particles” to the water, which enabled them to see and capture images of the movement and flow near the surface of the coral.

    They also combined powerful microscopes with high speed cameras, capturing footage of the tiny hairs, or cilia, on the corals’ surface.

    The resulting slow-motion footage was magnified by up to 1,000 times. It showed, the researchers reported, the cilia beating and “vigorously stirring a layer of water that extended up to 2mm from the coral surface”.

    “I was very surprised and so was the entire team,” another author of the study, Prof Roman Stocker from MIT told BBC News. “We knew that corals have cilia, but did not expect that they could produce flows that are so violent.”

    Such a close-up understanding of how coral reefs work could help predict how they will cope with a changing ocean environment in the face of climate change.

    “An active control over the environment suggests a potential ability to cope with changing conditions,” said Prof Stocker.

    Read more and see Videos

    FWC, partners see ultimate coral reef-building success

    Researchers at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) observed transplanted nursery-raised staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) spawning for the first time this month at Tropical Rocks, just over 4 miles offshore of Marathon. These corals were supplied by the Coral Restoration Foundation and Mote Marine Lab nurseries and outplanted by the FWC. The project was made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act via The Nature Conservancy.

    The FWC, in collaboration with the Conservancy and other American Recovery and Reinvestment Act partners, began construction on the Middle Keys coral nursery in late 2009 but suffered setbacks due to a coldwater kill and, later, a warm-water bleaching event. The goal of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act project was to expand the current nurseries, develop new nurseries and outplant high numbers of nursery-grown corals throughout the Florida reef tract and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

    “This is the first time that we have seen staghorn coral spawning at the reef tract that included corals grown as part of our nursery program,” said Caitlin Lustic, coral recovery coordinator for the Conservancy in Florida. “This spawning event shows that outplanted corals have the ability to reproduce just like a natural colony and furthers our goal of creating breeding colonies of coral that can repopulate reefs on their own.”

    The FWC and the Conservancy are reseeding coral reefs in efforts to aid recovery of wild staghorn populations. Staghorn coral contributes significantly to reef growth, island formation and coastal protection while providing essential habitat for a number of important reef fish.

    “With this project, we developed excellent working relationships with the Conservancy and the rest of our partners,” said Kerry Maxwell, coral researcher with the FWC. “Together we boosted threatened staghorn populations and realized the ultimate goal of the project: spawning. Even though the project backed by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is complete, I anticipate we will all continue to collaborate toward the common goal of coral reef restoration.”

    To learn more about corals in Florida waters or to learn more about the FWC’s Coral Reef Research and Monitoring Project, visit www.MyFWC.com/Research and select “Habitat” then “Coral Reefs.” To learn more about the Conservancy’s efforts to protect Florida’s coast, including coral reef habitat, visit www.nature.org/floridacoast

    The Deep Ocean Is Crucial to a Healthy Planet, and Now Companies Want to Strip-Mine It for Metals

    Scientists have come together to protect the deep sea before it’s too late.

    Though the deep ocean covers more than half the planet, we know more about the surface of the moon than about life in the far recesses of the sea. But a new study shows just how vital the deep ocean—defined as depths beyond 200 meters, or 656 feet—is for storing atmospheric carbon, nutrient recycling, and marine life support.

    But the deep ocean also holds vast quantities of valuable minerals and metals, such as manganese and cobalt, making it a target for corporations aiming to mine it. The United Nation-chartered International Seabed Authority, which controls activity on the seafloor, has awarded contracts with nations in the central Pacific to explore the deep ocean for metals.

    “Deep-sea habitats receive much less attention than environments closer to home, as they are inhospitable to humans, remote and there are numerous challenges associated with studying this environment directly,” the authors of the study wrote in the paper, which was published in the journal Biogeosciences. “As a result, this has delayed the acknowledgment of the vitally important ecosystem functions and services the deep sea provides.”

    “Unfortunately, this comes at a time when services from the deep sea are in increasing demand and [it is] under great pressure for its products,” they added.

    In response, a group of scientists, lawyers, and policy makers formed Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative.

    Founded in 2013, DOSI aims to help regulators make science-sound decisions.

    “We want to make sure that before massive commercial exploitation happens in the deep oceans, there are discussions about the services and functions of those ecosystems—how to protect them, whether we need protected areas, how to apply precautionary principles, how to bring in economic and ecological considerations before drastic changes happen,” said Lisa Levin, director of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation and a leader of DOSI.

    DOSI is studying the impact of dumping mine tailings—the toxic waste produced by terrestrial mining—in the deep ocean.

    “This use of the deep sea is ramping up, as the thought is that there isn’t much to destroy in the deep sea compared to losses associated with disposal on land,” said Levin.

    Mining is just one of the activities threatening the deep ocean.

    Industrial fishing also poses a threat as bottom trawlers increasingly send their nets farther down into the ocean—the mean depth of fishing activity has increased by 1,150 feet since 1950. Trawlers drag weighted nets along the seabed, effectively clear-cutting the ocean floor. About 20 percent of the ocean floor has already been trawled at least once. That matters because some fish in the deep live to be more than 100 years old, and corals live to more than 1,000 years.

    Scientists are still just starting to discover the unique ecosystems of the deep ocean. “Given our substantial knowledge gaps, any future exploitation of deep-ocean resources must be balanced with lasting protection of habitats, biodiversity, and services,” Levin and her coauthors wrote in a Science policy forum article in May.

    Katharine Gammon|August 26, 2014

    Women and Climate Change

    Long-term impacts of climate change, as well as acute disasters, exacerbate inequalities and make equity issues across the globe painfully apparent. Women particularly are at serious disadvantage. The following posts offer complementary perspectives on how women disproportionately suffer the impacts of disasters, severe weather events, and climate change as traditional gender dynamics play a significant role in determining their proximity, exposure, and ability to respond to climate change impacts.

    In the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, death rates for women across the region were three times that of men. It is believed that these figures reflect that many girls and women lack the upper-body strength to climb to safety, that many had not been taught to swim, and that many mothers tending small children and the elderly were unable to flee and thus were swept away. Although the tsunami was caused by an earthquake, similar impacts can occur resulting from severe weather events, like typhoons and hurricanes, fueled by climate change.

    In the United States and across the developed world, most of us have access to clean drinking water. However, people in certain U.S. communities and in many developing countries struggle to meet daily needs. In developing countries particularly, securing water (as well as food and fuel) for the household is almost exclusively the responsibility of women. When the water is brought home and meals are prepared, it’s expected that men and boys receive the lion’s share, often leaving women and girls undernourished. These chores also keep girls out of school and women from more productive economic activities. Rarely do these women have a voice in community or family decision-making, meaning even some of the basic skills we take for granted (like learning to swim or climb trees) can be denied.

    These gender roles mean women and girls are heavily impacted by climate change, paying the lion’s share for poor access to clean drinking water. During times of drought, the time needed to travel to obtain fresh water increases. For example, women in Africa carry drinking water as far as six kilometers a day (nearly 4 miles), and these distances will only increase as local sources dry up. Compounding the fact that the water brought from these distant sources rarely is enough to meet daily needs, it often is contaminated by poor sanitation or other pollutants. During floods, water sources can be contaminated even further, especially in areas with poor waste management. Polluted water supplies can cause foods, such as rice gruel used to wean infants, to be fatal. This not only has health consequences, but is also very time consuming and thus reduces the opportunity for women to engage in educational and economic activities.

    As a graduate student studying public health, I have come to realize that our health is not determined exclusively by our access to doctors. Rather, some of the social factors that impact an individual’s health include gender, income, and race, as well as environmental determinants involving the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food to which we have access. We must address these root factors of vulnerability, gender equity, poverty, lack of education, and other social determinants of health before we can truly adapt to the changing climate and prevent injury and early death for women. There are growing efforts to focus attention on gender within grassroots-level adaptation projects, and to international negotiations and policy-making at the highest levels. For example, at the 2012 Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the final decision included a provision establishing the issue of gender and climate change as a standing item on future meeting agendas.

    Global climate change will be the most challenging and important issue for public health throughout my career. I realize that preparing for climate change by addressing underlying vulnerabilities, like inequality of women across the globe, will be paramount not only to improving quality of life but for actually saving lives.

    Brittany Whited|2014 September 3

    Martin County receives draft permit to dredge St. Lucie Inlet

    Martin County has been granted a draft permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for periodic maintenance dredging of the St. Lucie Inlet. This will allow the County to continue maintaining the impoundment basin and navigation channel of the Inlet and bypass the sand onto beaches in the county both north and south of the project area. Dredging will continue to be conducted in accordance with the State approved Inlet Management Plan, based on need and available funding.

    The timing of the permit is critical, as Martin County will remain eligible to apply for funding for the inlet dredging project through the Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND). The permit also gives the County the ability to respond to any emergency conditions or natural disasters that could negatively impact the inlet, a critical need in the aftermath of a hurricane or other severe storm activity.

    The St. Lucie Inlet is vital to Martin County both environmentally and economically. The Inlet serves an essential environmental function, flushing water discharged from Lake Okeechobee via the St. Lucie Canal into the Atlantic Ocean. It is also one of the richest and most diverse estuaries in North America. The inlet is where the exchange of fresh and salt water occurs, providing essential habitat for estuarine and marine fish nurseries.

    From an economic standpoint, our waterways provide approximately $362 million in annual sales, $123 million in personal income, and $588 million in property values. One out of every 10 jobs in Martin County is marine related and safe navigation of the inlet is vital to those who rely on our inlet for their livelihoods.

    The permit provides for a 14-day comment period by persons with substantial interest in the project. Should any substantive objection to the permit be made, it could not only derail the opportunity for funding through FIND, but it could also leave Martin County unable to respond to any impact from natural disasters on the Inlet as we approach the peak of hurricane season.

    The County continues to work with other government agencies and local partners, as it has for years, to implement a portion of the state’s 1995 Inlet Management Plan and continues to do so as both the Inlet Plan and permit are updated.

    Gabriella Ferraro|Administration|September 4, 2014

    Swiftmud launches largest restoration project ever in Tampa Bay

    The project, known as the Rock Ponds Ecosystem Restoration, covers more than 1,000 acres and has been in the works for more than a decade, according to Jennette Seachrist of the Southwest Florida Water Management District — Swiftmud for short.

    Prior owners of the property on the Hillsborough-Manatee county line ditched and drained its wetlands to make it suitable for agriculture, she explained. Over the next two years, Swiftmud and its partners at the Hillsborough County Commission will spend about $11 million to bring back the wetlands and other natural features.

    Doing the job right will require bringing in 80,000 truckloads of dirt -— enough to run a caravan of dump trucks from Miami to Tampa, said Swiftmud executive director Robert Beltran.

    The restoration also requires putting in 900,000 new plants, he said, involving what he predicted would be “the largest volunteer marsh-planting project in Tampa Bay history.”

    To get the ball rolling for the rest of the project, about 264 acres of uplands have already been restored, Swiftmud officials said. The area that was the target for Monday’s kickoff calls for 398 acres to be turned into coastal and freshwater wetlands and 381 acres to be used as upland habitat. The land is near a similar restoration project at Cockroach Bay.

    Among those who gathered for the project’s official launch were state Department of Environmental Protection secretary Herschel Vinyard Jr. and Swiftmud board chairman Carlos Beruff. Instead of a ribbon-cutting or groundbreaking, they joined Beltran in hoisting a few shovelfuls of dirt to plant a small longleaf pine, and Beltran encouraged them to come back in two years to see the improvements.

    CRAIG PITTMAN|Staff Writer|Tampa Bay Times|February 3, 2014

    Global Warming and Climate Change

    Read the 2013 report and make up your own mind on climate change based on best available science 

    We can’t delay the fight against sea-level rise

     Regardless of its cause, sea-level rise is the inevitable, non-debatable consequence of the warming of the oceans and the melting of the planet’s ice sheets. It is a measurable, trackable and relentless reality. Without innovative adaptive capital planning, it will threaten trillions of dollars of the region’s built environment, our future water supply, unique natural resources, agricultural soils and basic economy.

    Without such a plan, we invite escalating insurance rates, at best, and risk our very insurability, at worst.

    Southeast Florida has already begun experiencing the effects of this reality. With, or sometimes even without, severe downpours, sea-level rise — combined with “king tides” — is already causing localized flooding in some areas of Miami-Dade, from Miami-Beach to Sweetwater.

    These events provide a glimpse into the future of what we might expect to experience more frequently and to more extremes. They also provide an opportunity to better understand how to begin to address these effects now.

    The Miami-Dade County Commission wisely created the Miami-Dade County Sea Level Rise Task Force as a focused next step to better gauge and plan for what lies ahead.

    The task force was provided with prior studies, reports and evaluations of potential effects on vital services and facilities, ecological resources and infrastructure. The task force heard presentations from various experts on topics including a review of county and regional planning efforts, stormwater management and drainage, sewer system, vulnerabilities of freshwater aquifers and wells, the role of Everglades restoration and natural systems in resilience, as well as the serious insurance and reinsurance implications of expected sea-level rise.

    The overarching challenge is to secure a future that will be resilient to the threats of sea level rise. Much detailed and truly comprehensive expert analysis must be undertaken in order to plan and design a robust capital plan: not just to update, but in a real sense, to reinvent our urban infrastructure in a timely, sequenced manner to meet our future as it unfolds. Accordingly, the task force strongly recommends that the county begin the process now to expeditiously assemble the relevant expertise needed to develop the plan and strategies to meet that challenge.

    In 2010, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties became the first, perhaps the only, neighboring local governments to collaborate on their common concerns about climate change and formed the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact. This format provides a structure to continue to build on.

    The task force chose the next 50 years as its planning horizon and relied heavily on the projections produced by the compact partners of two feet of sea-level rise by 2060. This projection has been adopted by all four counties as a minimum guideline for planning purposes.

    We must keep in mind that this, literally, is a moving target; sea level is no longer a constant, and as new scientific research becomes available, the projections of the future rate of rise will also change. As we move forward, we will need to keep abreast of new information, and stay alert to events that could have a dramatic impact on the rate of sea-level rise.

    The presentation that, perhaps, had the most impact came from the re-insurance industry, putting the issue into a much more immediate perspective.

    A recent report by the Geneva Association, the leading international think-tank for strategically important re-insurance and risk management issues, concluded that historic climate records are no longer reliable tools for either risk assessment or rate setting: that “predictive” data will have to be used. Representatives of Swiss Re showed how adaptive planning directly effected both losses and coverage. Clearly, without a worst case scenario plan, insurance rates will continue to climb and could soon become prohibitive, and thus become the cruelest “tax” of all.

    In addition to the Task Force’s central recommendation to start the planning progress as soon as possible; other recommendations include utilizing Adaptation Action Areas as outlined in the Comprehensive Development Master Plan, establishing a more structured implementation of prior recommendations and proactive steps to assess insurance issues.

    Rebeca Sosa, chair of the County Commission, commendably will be bringing the necessary resolutions forward to implement the task force recommendations once the August recess ends.

    Although the need to begin is urgent, we are optimistic that with commitment we can continue to imagine and build a future Southeast Florida that will not just remain viable, but one that will continue to forge its emerging status as a vibrant and resilient world-class region.

    Harvey Ruvin is the clerk of courts in Miami-Dade County.

    Go to miamidade.gov/planning/boards-sea-level-rise.asp to read all of the Miami-Dade County Sea Level Rise Task Force’s meeting minutes, presentations and full Report and Recommendations.

    HARVEY RUVIN|www.miami-dadeclerk.com|08.30.14

    ‘Irreversible’ Damage to Planet From Climate Change Says Leaked IPCC Report

    Climate change is here, man-made and already having dangerous impacts, according to leaked drafts of the upcoming UN climate science report.

    The leaked IPCC report warns it is increasingly likely the world will shoot past this point, and that limiting warming to within this level would require dramatic and immediate cuts in carbon pollution.

    The 127-page final draft of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report shows the effects of global warming are already being felt across all continents and the oceans.

    It warns that further emission rises will increase the likelihood of “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”

    The report will be a synthesis of the IPCC’s three comprehensive reports released in the past year, which examined the science of climate change, its impacts and potential mitigation options.

    The report will be finalized after governments and scientists go over it line-by-line at a meeting in Copenhagen in October.

    The leaked report, which has been circulated to several media outlets, shows temperatures have already increased by 0.85°C since 1880—a more rapid shift in the climate than that which heralded the end of the last ice age about 10,000 years ago.

    The report mentions several impacts that could “already be considered dangerous” including extreme weather including heat waves, flooding and drought and rising sea levels.

    It also raises the risk that climate change and its impacts could worsen violent conflicts and refugee problems, hinder efforts to grow more food and threaten public health.

    Ocean acidification, which comes from the added carbon absorbed by the oceans, could also harm marine life, the draft warns.

    “Climate change risks are likely to be high or very high by the end of the 21st century” without sharp reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, it says.

    It is hoped the new report will focus minds ahead of the global UN climate talks to take place in Lima, Peru in December, where governments are expected to lay the groundwork for the crucial Paris Summit in late 2015.

    It is here where countries have agreed to finalize a new global treaty on climate change.

    In 2009, countries had agreed to set a goal of limiting global warming to below 2°C—the international agreed danger threshold for climate change.

    However, the leaked IPCC report warns it is increasingly likely the world will shoot past this point, and that limiting warming to within this level would require dramatic and immediate cuts in carbon pollution.

    Without action to limit the levels of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, it warns temperatures could increase by 2°C by mid-century compared to 1986 to 2005.

    But the end of the century, that scenario could bring temperatures that are 3.7°C warming, it warns.

    Tierney Smith|TckTckTck|August 28, 2014

    U.S. EPA Approves Carbon Sequestration Permits in Central Illinois

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved permits allowing the FutureGen Industrial Alliance Inc. to inject carbon dioxide deep underground near Jacksonville, Illinois. This process – known as “carbon sequestration” – is a means of storing carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. These four identical permits are the nation’s first Class VI underground injection permits for carbon sequestration.

    FutureGen plans to capture carbon dioxide produced by a retrofitted coal-fueled power plant formerly operated by Ameren Energy Resources in Meredosia, Illinois. The captured carbon dioxide would then be transported and injected deep underground via the four proposed wells, which would be constructed in Morgan County. FutureGen’s goal is to capture and inject 1.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year for 20 years. Sequestering 1.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year is the equivalent of eliminating carbon emissions from 232,000 cars.

    EPA completed a technical review of the permits and responded to over 280 public comments before approving the permits. FutureGen can begin drilling the wells next month in preparation for injecting liquefied carbon dioxide. The four wells will be drilled from the same location to a depth of approximately 4,000 feet underground. FutureGen must demonstrate the integrity of the wells before injecting carbon dioxide and conduct extensive monitoring at the location.

    Joshua Singer|September 2, 2014

    For more information: http://www.epa.gov/region5/water/uic/futuregen/

    “Heat Islands” Cook U.S. Cities Faster Than Ever

    Single-day urban temperatures in some metro areas in the past 10 years have spiked as much as 27 degrees F higher than the surrounding rural area

    Cities are almost always hotter than the surrounding rural area but global warming takes that heat and makes it worse. In the future, this combination of urbanization and climate change could raise urban temperatures to levels that threaten human health, strain energy resources, and compromise economic productivity.

    Summers in the U.S. have been warming since 1970. But on average across the country cities are even hotter, and have been getting hotter faster than adjacent rural areas.

    With more than 80 percent of Americans living in cities, these urban heat islands — combined with rising temperatures caused by increasing heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions — can have serious health effects for hundreds of millions of people during the hottest months of the year.  Heat is the No.1 weather-related killer in the U.S., and the hottest days, particularly days over 90°F, are associated with dangerous ozone pollution levels that can trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks, and other serious health impacts. (report continues below interactive)

    Our analysis of summer temperatures in 60 of the largest U.S. cities found that:

    • 57 cities had measurable urban heat island effects over the past 10 years. Single-day urban temperatures in some metro areas were as much as 27°F higher than the surrounding rural areas, and on average across all 60 cities, the maximum single-day temperature difference was 17.5°F.

    • Cities have many more searing hot days each year. Since 2004, 12 cities averaged at least 20 more days a year above 90°F than nearby rural areas. The 60 cities analyzed averaged at least 8 more days over 90°F each summer compared to adjacent rural areas.

    • More heat can increase ozone air pollution. All 51 cities with adequate data showed a statistically significant correlation between higher daily summer temperatures and bad air quality (as measured by ground-level ozone concentrations). Temperatures are being forced higher by increasing urbanization and manmade global warming, which could undermine the hard-won improvements in air quality and public health made over the past few decades.

    • In two thirds of the cities analyzed (41 of 60), urbanization and climate change appear to be combining to increase summer heat faster than climate change alone is raising regional temperatures. In three quarters (45 of 60) of cities examined, urbanized areas are warming faster than adjacent rural locations.

    • The top 10 cities with the most intense summer urban heat islands (average daily urban-rural temperature differences) over the past 10 years are:

    • Las Vegas (7.3°F)
    • Albuquerque (5.9°F)
    • Denver (4.9°F)
    • Portland (4.8°F)
    • Louisville (4.8°F)
    • Washington, D.C. (4.7°F)
    • Kansas City (4.6°F)
    • Columbus (4.4°F)
    • Minneapolis (4.3°F)
    • Seattle (4.1°F)

    • On average across all 60 cities, urban summer temperatures were 2.4°F hotter than rural temperatures.

    Urban heat islands are even more intense at night. Over the past 10 years, average summer overnight temperatures were more than 4°F hotter in cities than surrounding rural areas.

    Several independent studies have shown that urban heat islands (in the U.S., and around the world) do not bias global warming measurements, ruling out the possibility that rising global temperatures have been caused by urbanization alone.

    Research suggests that urban planning and design that incorporates more trees and parks, white roofs, and alternative materials for urban infrastructure can help reduce the effects of urban heat islands.

    But rising greenhouse gas emissions are projected to drive average U.S summer temperatures even higher in the coming decades, exacerbating urban heat islands and their associated health risks.

    Climate Central|Aug 22, 2014

    Research report written by Alyson Kenward, Senior Scientist and Research Director for Climate Central; Dan Yawitz, Research Analyst and Multimedia Fellow; Todd Sanford, Climate Scientist; and Regina Wang, Research Fellow.

    This article is reproduced with permission from Climate Central. The article was first published on August 20, 2014.

    US West’s dryness raises specter of megadrought

    Extreme climate event poses ‘threat to civilization’

    California is in the third year of one of the state’s worst droughts in the past century, one that’s led to fierce wildfires, water shortages and restrictions, and potentially staggering agricultural losses.

    The dryness in California is only part of a longer-term, 15year drought across most of the western U.S., one that bioclimatologist Park Williams said is notable because “more area in the West has persistently been in drought during the past 15 years than in any other 15-year period since the 1150s and 1160s.”

    “When considering the West as a whole, we are currently in the midst of a historically relevant megadrought,” said Williams, a professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in New York.

    Cornell University scientist Toby Ault goes so far as to call megadroughts “a threat to civilization.”

    Megadroughts are defined more by their duration than their severity. They are extreme dry spells that can last for a decade or longer, says research meteorologist Martin Hoerling of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    Megadroughts have parched the West long before Europeans settled the region in the 1800s.

    The difference now, of course, is the western U.S. is home to more than 70 million people who weren’t here for previous megadroughts. The implications are far more daunting.

    Overall, “the nature of the beast is that drought is cyclical, and these long periods of drought have been commonplace in the past,” said Mark Svoboda, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Nebraska. “We are simply much more vulnerable today than at any time in the past.

    People can’t just pick up and leave to the degree they did in the past.”

    Ault says decade-long droughts happen once or twice a century in the western U.S., but much worse droughts, ones that last for multiple decades, occur once or twice per millennium.

    “This (drought) wouldn’t stand out as a megadrought,” Hoerling said. Even so, “this is the state’s worst consecutive three years for precipitation in 119 years of records.”

    Scientists such as Hoerling and Ault say they don’t have the to tease out how much of this specific drought might be attributed to climate change.

    Overall, past droughts have probably been because of subtle changes in water temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Lower water temperatures tend to produce drier conditions in the West.

    Trends toward higher temperatures could lead to a long-term dry spell in the region, according to a 2004 study in the journal Science.

    What’s troubling is that the 20th century — during which time California’s population increased from about 1.5 million to almost 40million — may well have been an outlier, an unusually wet century, the Science study said.

    Doyle Rice|USA TODAY

    Climate Justice through Resiliency and Renewable Energy in a Post-Industrial City

    The city of Bridgeport, Connecticut has long been a case study for the perils of inequity that mirror similar narratives across our nation. The largest city in the State of Connecticut, Bridgeport was once a boomtown for manufacturing and jobs but has since been marred by decades of neglect and a post-industrial environment that has left it riddled with brownfields sites. Thanks to EPA brownfields grants and other funds, the City is attempting to breathe new life into the City’s historic fabric to power what it is calling the new economy.

    However, participation in the new economy is a far reach for Bridgeport’s most vulnerable residents. In addition to an income gap, the city’s residents, who are largely black (31 percent) and Hispanic (41 percent), are also victims of an opportunity gap—nearly 50 percent of high school students don’t graduate from college and most students in this demographic are barely reading at grade level.

    When it comes to the intersection of climate change and environmental justice, the numbers by-and-large are equally stifling.

    Bridgeport’s coastal location makes it especially vulnerable to rising sea levels.  The impact of Superstorm Sandy left many of the city’s poorest communities displaced. Families in Marina and Seaside Villages, Bridgeport’s subsidized housing communities, were evacuated after their homes were flooded. Many of them lost food due to power outages and had no way to get to a grocery store.

    The City’s pressing public health concerns and barriers limiting access to health care and other social services   also impede residents ability to withstand events like hurricanes, heat waves, and infectious diseases transmitted by insects such as mosquitoes.  For example, Bridgeport has one of the highest rates of asthma in the state, which comes as no surprise considering that local air quality is bad due to the I-95 freeway passing through the city, as well as the last remaining coal plant in Connecticut and a variety of industrial facilities.  Data from two hospitals show that the leading causes of admissions are heart disease and high blood pressure.  When asked about health concerns in their communities, residents mentioned cancer‐related illnesses which they attributed in part to toxic aspects of the region’s environment and infrastructure.

    In addition, the East and North End neighborhoods are home to Bridgeport’s largest food deserts, making a 45-minute bus ride or a $15 cab ride to fetch groceries implausible for struggling families.  The Black and Hispanic communities of Bridgeport have had very few choices in protecting their communities and the health of their families, though all is far from lost.

    Recently, Bridgeport was the recipient of $10 million in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of Rebuild by Design—a multi-stage regional competition to promote resiliency in the Sandy-affected region through the execution of local recovery projects that can be replicated across the country. The monies will be used to address unmet needs for housing, economic development, and citywide infrastructure to ensure long-term resiliency.   Bridgeport also received a $500,000 grant from the Robin Hood Relief Committee to help elderly and low income residents with housing rehabilitation, and reconstruction to help make their units more resilient in future storms. The Seaside Village Board of Directors sits on the multi-stakeholder committee that is tasked with determining who will receive aid.

    Through his bGreen 2020 initiative, Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch is on a mission to make Bridgeport the greenest city in the state of Connecticut. The plan outlines 64 strategies to improve Bridgeport’s quality of life for all residents, clean the city’s soils and waterways, reduce reliance on fossil fuels, and attract more green jobs and businesses. Since its inception, the initiatives enforced through the plan have resulted in the reduction of 55,290 metric tons of carbon emissions each year.

    While high-tech and large-scale projects to introduce renewable and cleaner energy can and will positively impact residents, Bridgeport’s revitalization is coupled with resiliency initiatives set to protect its most vulnerable communities. With funding from HUD, green energy projects in the works, a food policy council leading the city’s now five farmer’s markets across the city, Bridgeport isn’t playing victim. In spite of its rather bleak challenges, Bridgeport’s greatest shortcomings have also proven to be its golden opportunity for change. And times, indeed, are a-changing. The world is watching as an underdog becomes a leader in how efforts toward a clean economy could potentially serve as a solution to mitigating the impact of climate change on its most vulnerable residents.

    Sherrell Dorsey|September 4, 2014

    Pacific Island climate warriors take on fossil fuel industry

    One of the most frightful ironies of climate change is that it will wreak the most havoc on the people who have done the least to cause it. Pacific Island nations are in the climate frontlines — affected by rising oceans, coastal erosion and extreme weather.

    For some in the Pacific, climate change has already changed their lives forever. The Solomon Islands town of Taro — capital of the Choiseul Province — announced on August 15 it would soon be forced to relocate to another island entirely because the low-lying area is threatened by unprecedented storm surges and sea level rise.

    But what rarely comes across in the mainstream media narrative about this crisis is that Pacific Islanders are not mere passive victims of climate change. Rather, activists from the region are part of a vibrant movement for climate action.

    In October a group of young Pacific Islander climate activists from 13 islands — the Pacific Climate Warriors — will travel to Australia to challenge the fossil fuel industry, whose rapacious extraction of coal and gas makes Australia one of the world’s biggest polluters per capita. Their aim is to win support in Australia for sharp cuts in carbon emissions. Their slogan: We are not drowning, we are fighting.

    Koreti Mavaega Tiumalu is the Pacific Organizer for the climate justice network 350 Pacific, which is leading the Pacific Climate Warriors project. She told teleSUR English that it’s a common misconception that climate change is something that will happen down the track.

    “The impacts are being felt now, they’re been seen now. Aquifers are being infiltrated by sea water [in some islands]. We’re certainly seeing a whole lot of erosion,” she said.

    Tiumalu said that if big polluting nations refuse to cut emissions fast, Pacific Island nations could pay an “ultimate price”. “The worst case scenario and the biggest fear of our Pacific communities is that people may have to leave their island.

    “And that raises a whole lot of concerns for people about their identity and their culture. So much of our culture and identity is tied to the land. That’s the ultimate price our people would pay for climate change: to lose our land.

    “Our people are scared about what that means for them. For example, if the people of Kiribati were to relocate to Fiji, what does that do to them as a people? It’s not like that island that they’ve purchased in Fiji becomes Kiribati. They lose that identity and connection to their land.

    “Those are some of the impacts that are driving our campaign, especially for Australia because Australia is considered a big brother to the Pacific. It makes no sense whatsoever that our big brother should not be contributing more to preserve our Pacific Island nations.”

    Tiumalu said the idea of a Pacific Warriors campaign was born out of discussions at the Auckland Powershift youth climate conference in 2012.

    “We wanted to take a concept that is common in the Pacific. All the Pacific islands have a warrior history. We’re taking the positive aspects of being a Pacific warrior, which are about protecting and providing — protecting their land and providing for their families – and use those aspects to pull the ideas together.”

    Preparations for the Pacific Climate Warriors have been underway for the past 18 months. Working with local climate action groups, 350 Pacific has coordinated climate awareness training sessions on 11 islands, involving people from 15 different island groups. The 30 activists who will take part in the Pacific Climate Warriors tour to Australia plan to build and transport traditional canoes to the Australian mainland.

    “The idea behind the canoes is about connecting the past with the present,” Tiumalu told TeleSUR English. “It’s about showing that our Pacific Island communities have been living sustainably off the land for generations, and that we are now being affected by climate change. Our key message is around saying that ‘We’re not drowning, we’re fighting.’ We want to stand up for the Pacific.”

    “Our idea is to share and use our traditional knowledge of our warrior history to be able to help guide us in how we can change and heal what is happening to our islands today. Those canoes and how they have been built are symbolic of a people who are desperate to stand together and do something in a way we’ve never done before, but to use those traditional skills and knowledge as a way to tell that story.”

    She also said the Pacific Warriors want to “reach out to Pacific communities who live [in Australia] … to demand climate justice as well for what are essentially their homelands”.

    Tiumalu said it’s important to change the discussion about climate change in the Pacific, which too often portrays Pacific Islanders as victims.

    “To be honest, it’s really disrespectful,” she said. “We come from a people who have lived sustainably and in harmony with nature, with our environment, for centuries. So to be labelled as passive victims, or to have some of our islands be seen as the possible first climate refugees, is really not well received in the Pacific.

    “[Those terms] are disrespectful and they’re not helpful, because we don’t see ourselves as victims. That’s why we are taking on our campaign. We are Pacific Climate Warriors. We will stand up peacefully from the Pacific to the adversary, which is the fossil fuel industry.”

    She also stressed that Pacific climate campaigners don’t think the Australian people are the problem: “We believe that the majority of Australians have no idea how much of an impact this industry is having on our Pacific islands. If they did, if they knew how connected it was to the impacts being felt, I’m sure that they would demand climate justice for the region as well.

    “The Pacific Islands are so often just a holiday destination [to many Australians], but it’s a whole lot more than a pretty postcard. What we hope to achieve in bringing the Pacific Warriors to Australia will be getting rid of that stigma of being passive victims and possible climate refugees, and deliver a message from a strong, independent community of people who want nothing more than what every Australian wants: security, stability and a safe home environment in which to raise our children.”

    350 Pacific has launched an online appeal for financial support, hoping to raise $40,000 by September 21 to get the Pacific Climate Warriors to Australia. All money raised will go towards the transport costs for the activists and their canoes.

    It’s an exceedingly small war chest when compared with the multi-billion dollar clout of Australia’s fossil fuel industry, but Tiumalu does not seem the slightest bit intimidated: “We need the Australian citizenry and the Australian government to stop looking at fossil fuels as a way to grow the Australian economy but instead to preserve the Pacific Ocean with its neighbors, because good neighbors shouldn’t drown their neighbors.”

    Simon Butler|August 30, 2014

    [This article was first published at TeleSur.]

    Genetically Modified Organisms

    Hillary Clinton is Just Plain Wrong on GMOs

    In her June 25 keynote address to the BIO International Convention in San Diego, Calif., Hillary Clinton voiced strong support for genetic engineering and genetically engineered crops. She earned a standing ovation that day by stating that the biotech industry suffers from a public perception problem and that it just needs “a better vocabulary” in order to persuade GMO skeptics who don’t understand “the facts” about genetic engineering.

    And then Hillary proceeded to get the facts wrong.

    Why does it matter what Hillary, who holds no public office and has not (yet) declared her candidacy for president, says or believes about genetic engineering and genetically modified crops and foods?

    It doesn’t—unless she throws her hat in the ring for the Democratic nomination. And then it matters not just what her position is on GMOs, not just how deep her financial ties to the biotech industry run, not just how much she distorts the facts about the “promise” of biotech crops.

    It matters, deeply, to more than 90 percent of Americans, what her position is on laws requiring mandatory labeling of GMOs in food and food products.

    If elected, will Hillary support consumers’ right to know? Or will she support the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act, a bill introduced in Congress earlier this year, which if passed, will preempt state GMO labeling laws?

    Hillary has been coy about announcing her candidacy. But when it comes to clarifying her position on GMO labeling laws, she’s been dead silent.

    As she soon heads to Iowa—the testing ground for presidential candidates—Hillary’s presidential aspirations will no doubt become more clear. If she runs, as the pundits predict, it will be up to the GMO labeling movement to demand that she take a stand on GMO labeling laws.

    Meanwhile, here’s why Hillary’s speech to the BIO convention was just plain wrong.
    Wrong on the science of genetic engineering

    Hillary brought the BIO convention-goers to their feet with her call for “a better vocabulary” to win over consumers.

    No wonder. After all, that’s the line Monsanto has been feeding the public ever since the public became wise to the lies and false promises of an industry known for its reckless disregard for public health. It’s part of an aggressive, widespread public relations campaign to sugar-coat the facts about genetically engineered foods and the toxic chemicals required to produce them.

    As scientists release studies, each one more alarming than the next, revealing the devastating health and environmental hazards of the herbicides required to grow GMO crops—toxic chemicals such as glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, and Dow’s 2,4-D —consumers are connecting the dots between the rise of chronic illness and the unleashing of toxins into the environment (and onto our food).

    No amount of “better vocabulary” will be able to counter the science behind the impact of toxic herbicides and pesticides on soil, on the environment, on human health.

    But here’s where Hillary’s call for a “better vocabulary” really ran off the rails. Coverage of the convention included a video in which Hillary wrongly equated the age-old practice of seed hybridization with modern genetic engineering, in order to make the case that genetic engineering has been around since the beginning of farming.

    Hillary would do well to go back to her science books. Here are the facts, as understood by every biologist. Seed hybridization occurs when the seeds of two compatible parent plants, within the same species, are crossed, either in a controlled environment or in nature. That process is in no way equivalent to genetic engineering, a process that requires human intervention, and consists of changing the genetic code of one organism by inserting into it the DNA from a completely different plant or animal.

    Genetic engineering is an unnatural process that can take place only in a laboratory, aided by a human.

    Wrong on genetic engineering and drought

    In the same video from the June 25 conference, Hillary perpetuates industry claims that as global warming leads to more droughts, GMO crops will feed the world. She does this by focusing on GE drought-resistant seeds—as if engineering seeds for drought-resistance were a major focus on the biotech industry.

    It’s not, of course. Drought-resistant seeds and crops make up a miniscule portion of the GMO crop market. Close to 98 percent of GE crops are corn, soy, alfalfa, canola and sugar beets, used to make biofuels, animal feed and processed food products, such as high fructose corn syrup. These crops are engineered to produce their own Bt toxins in every cell or else to withstand massive doses of herbicides, such as Monsanto’s Roundup, which are sold to farmers as companions to their GMO seeds. They have nothing to do with drought-resistance.

    In fact, attempts to engineer seeds to thrive during droughts are still in the experimental stages and so far have largely failed. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, Monsanto’s DroughtGard, the only drought-resistant crop approved so far by the USDA, produces “only modest results, and only under moderate drought conditions.”
    Yet to hear Hillary tell it, genetic engineering is all about saving farmers by providing them with magic seeds that thrive without water.
    Wrong on genetic engineering and global warming
    Toward the end of her video interview, Hillary switched gears to talk about climate change. She endorsed the Obama climate plan and called out the media for giving too much attention to climate-change skeptics.

    Hillary believes we must address global warming. Good news.

    But there’s just one problem.

    A growing chorus of scientists warn that we cannot successfully address global warming unless we acknowledge the huge role that industrial agriculture, with its GMO mono-crop culture and massive use of chemicals, plays in cooking the planet.

    If we’re truly serious about averting a global warming disaster, reducing carbon emissions isn’t enough. We have to acknowledge, and harness, potential of organic, regenerative agriculture to reverse global warming by sequestering carbon.

    According to groups like the Rodale Institute, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, and the Alliance for Food Sovereignty, a transition to sustainable, regenerative agriculture—not genetic engineering—is not only the only way we will feed the world, but absolutely essential if we want to slow global warming.

    Hillary is just plain wrong if she thinks we can solve global warming while simultaneously promoting GMO agriculture, here in the U.S. and abroad. That’s why the Organic Consumers Association has launched a petition asking her to rethink her support for biotech, and commit to supporting a transition to a sustainable, organic food and farming system.

    As consumers grow more knowledgeable about the link between food produced using toxic chemicals and the declining health of the U.S. population, they are looking more closely at those politicians who side with, and take money from, the biotech industry. Clinton’s ties to the biotech industry date back to the 1970s, when she was a partner in the Rose Law Firm which represented Monsanto.

    A recent ABC News poll revealed that 52 percent of Americans believe food containing GMOs are unsafe, while 13 percent are “unsure.”

    On mandatory GMO labeling laws, Americans are clear: 93 percent want labels.

    Katherine Paul and Ronnie Cummins|Organic Consumers Association|August 28, 2014

    Hawaii’s GMO Battle: Federal Judge Strikes Down Kauai’s Pesticide Regulations

    A federal judge in Hawaii has struck down a local ordinance that would have regulated pesticide use at farms on the island of Kauai, where four of the world’s largest agrichemical companies take advantage of long growing seasons to develop genetically engineered crops seeds, also known as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

    On August 23, US Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren ruled in favor of Syngenta, BASF, DuPont Pioneer and Agrigenetics, an affiliate of Dow Chemical in their challenge of Kauai County’s Ordinance 960, arguing that the local ordinance illegally pre-empted state laws regulating pesticides.

    “This decision in no way diminishes the health and environmental concerns of the people of Kauai,” Kurren wrote in the order overturning the ordinance. “The court’s ruling simply recognizes that the state of Hawaii has established a comprehensive framework for addressing the application of restricted-use pesticides and the planting of GMO crops, which presently precludes local regulation by the county.”

    The Kauai County Council passed Ordinance 960 in November 2013 after months of protests and divisive public debate that put the tight-knit island at the center of the global controversy over pesticides and GMOs.

    The ordinance is one of the first grassroots attempts to regulate some of the world’s largest GMO seed producers at the local level.

    Residents of Waimea, a working-class community nestled between facilities operated by the four companies, are worried that pesticide drift from the GMO seed plots is poisoning local waterways and exposing their children to toxic chemicals linked to cognitive disorders and birth defects. Other activists on Kauai fought to pass Ordinance 960 because they oppose GMO agriculture in general.

    The ordinance established buffer zones between GMO seed farms where pesticides are sprayed and sensitive areas like schools and hospitals. It also required the companies to notify nearby residents about pesticide applications while researchers study the impacts of the chemicals on the environment.

    Although the ordinance was originally scheduled to take effect earlier this month, the court pushed that date back to October. Now it is unlikely that the ordinance will take effect in October, unless the defense quickly wins an appeal.

    The four agrichemical companies on Kauai have reported using a combined 18 tons of “restricted-use” pesticides annually. Under federal law, only technicians with special training can apply restricted-use pesticides because they may pose threats to the environment or human health.

    A recent investigation by the Cascadia Times found that, on average, the GMO seed companies on Kauai annually apply more restricted-use pesticides — such as chlorpyrifos — per acre than farms in most states in the mainland. The amount of restricted-use pesticides applied on Kauai is 10 times greater than the national average.

    Researchers have linked some of these chemicals to health problems, especially in children. Two of the pesticides, paraquat and atrazine, are banned in the European Union but remain popular in the United States.

    The agrichemical firms rigorously opposed Ordinance 960 and rallied their workers in protest as the county council considered the legislation. After the council passed Ordinance 960, the companies quickly filed a legal challenge while aggressively lobbying state lawmakers for support.

    The companies claim that the GMO crop seed facilities on Kauai are an economic boon for the island and are already subject to adequate state pesticide regulations. Ordinance 960, they told the court, interfered with the existing regulatory system and put an undue burden on their operations.

    Attorneys for Earthjustice and the Center for Food Safety helped Kauai County defend the ordinance in court. “This battle to protect Kauai and its residents from the effects of toxic pesticides is only just the beginning,” Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff said in a statement. “We do not accept that people must put up with toxic chemicals being sprayed near their homes and schools and will keep fighting for their right to protect themselves.”

    Ordinance 960 proponents point out that Judge Kurren also ruled that the ordinance is not pre-empted by federal law, leaving room for advocates to make legislative pushes at the state level and continue fighting in federal appeals court.

    “This issue is not going away. Wherever the battle is, the people will be there,” said Gary Hooser, a Kauai county council member and architect of Ordinance 960.  ”If it’s at the state legislature, we will be there. If it’s in a court of appeal, we will be there. The people of Hawaii have learned too much to go backwards.”

    Mark Ludwig|Truthout|September 1, 2014

    U.S. Representative Questions EPA’s Risk Assessment of 2,4-D-Based Herbicide

    (Beyond Pesticides, September 2, 2014) U.S. Representative Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week asking them a poignant question: Why didn’t the human health risk assessment of Dow’s newest 2,4-D-based herbicide apply the ten-fold safety factor required by national law to protect children and infants?

    The question is a good one and events leading up to it began back in April 2014, when EPA opened up a public comment period for Dow AgroSciences’s application to expand the use of its 2,4-D choline salt herbicide, known as Enlist Duo®, on 2,4-D-tolerant corn and soybeans. This application was the next step in ushering in a new wave of genetically-engineered (GE) crops sought to replace the quickly waning glyphosate-resistant or Roundup Ready® varieties.

    As EPA described on its Enlist-Duo® webpage, “Weeds are becoming increasingly resistant to glyphosate-based herbicides and are posing a problem for farmers. If [the Enlist Duo® application is] finalized, this action would provide an additional tool to reduce the spread of glyphosate resistant weeds.”

    In other words, because of the overuse of glyphosate on GE glyphosate-resistant crops and the resulting development of weeds across the U.S. showing resistance to glyphosate, chemically-dependent farmers remain desperate for another chemical. The application for approval of the new Enlist Duo® uses follows on the tail of a similar application from Dow to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to deregulate the GE corn and soybean seeds developed to withstand application of Enlist Duo®.

    Although a new pesticide-use application and registration requires several important components, one of the primary components is the human health risk assessment. In this document, EPA must review the proposed pesticide’s use and examine it against the known toxicological hazards of the chemical and its exposure (ranging from dietary to occupational) risks.

    Under the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), these toxicological reviews and risk assessments must also consider the increased risks that pesticides pose to children and infants and apply a ten-fold safety factor in many instances.

    As Rep. Waxman’s letter reminds the EPA, “The ten-fold safety factor] resulted from a recommendation in a report by the National Research Council that ‘the 10-fold factor traditionally used by EPA and FDA for fetal developmental toxicity should also be considered when there is evidence of postnatal developmental toxicity and when data from toxicity testing relative to children are incomplete.’”

    EPA’s human health risk assessment for Enlist Duo® decided not to apply the ten-fold safety factor and found that “the toxicology database is adequate to assess this [Enlist Duo’s] proposed use” and that “[t]here are no residual uncertainties for pre-and/or postnatal toxicity.”

    Troubled by this finding, Rep. Waxman enlisted the expertise of Dr. Philip Landrigan, the former chair of the National Research council Committee on Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children. According to the Representative’s letter, after reviewing the EPA’s report and, specifically, the EPA’s justification for not using the ten-fold child-protective safety factor, Dr. Landrigan concluded that the database for assessing potentially harmful health endpoints of 2,4-D was thin and appeared to be based entirely on old studies. Dr. Landrigan also pointed out, among other issues, that it appeared that the developmental toxicity data relied on by EPA to justify its finding consisted of only two studies, a 1983 study on pregnant rats and a 1990 study on pregnant rabbits.

    To remedy these deficiencies, Rep. Waxman’s asked the EPA for a better and more complete explanation of both the studies used, assumptions based on those studies, and decisions to exclude certain exposure routes in the assessment.

    Right to Be Concerned About 2,4-D

    Rep. Waxman, who has long advocated for improved protections from pesticides, has every right to be concerned about the EPA’s seemingly incomplete and unsubstantiated reasoning for waiving the ten-fold safety factor. A chemical first registered in the late 1940s, 2,4-D is infamously known as one of the two ingredients in Agent Orange -a mixture of 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D used by the military to defoliate Vietnam’s forests during the Vietnam War. Both health and environmental effects of this dangerous chemical have been scientifically documented, yet fail to be integrated into the EPA’s outdated and industry-skewed risk assessment protocols.

    As noted in Beyond Pesticides’ comments submitted to the EPA on Enlist Duo®, no decision should be made on the chemical before the final assessments on all human and ecological effects of the other 2,4-D forms are completed, given the expected expansion of 2,4-D use patterns. Similarly, a thorough FQPA analysis needs to be conducted given that dietary residues and exposures are expected to increase and have not been properly analyzed.

    Beyond Pesticides applauds Rep. Waxman’s effort to scrutinize EPA analysis and call for the appropriate application of important child and infant protection standards against dangerous pesticides. Visit our GE webpage to find out other ways to stop the damaging health and environmental effects of GE crops and advance organic practices as an alternative!

    Source: U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce

    Big GMO producers are spending huge amounts to fight labeling 

     they know that what’s good for consumers is bad for their bottom line

    Opponents of transparent GMO labeling spent more than $27 MILLION on GMO-related lobbying in the first half of this year – that’s three times what they spent in ALL of 2013.
    It’s no accident. Big agrochemical companies like PepsiCo, DuPont and Monsanto are terrified of what would happen to their corporate profits if we prove once and for all that a committed team of grassroots activists can go up against Big Food —
    AND WIN.
    With Big Food on the defensive, it’s time to double down on our efforts to win this campaign.

    Serving Monsanto’s Leftovers

    Monsanto’s president, Brett Begemann, must like serving leftovers.

    After all, he served up all of Monsanto’s warmed-over arguments against giving mom the right to know what’s in her food when he was interviewed for a Wall Street Journal opinion piece titled “Meet Mr. Frankenfood.”

    Some of those arguments – like the claim that labeling genetically engineered ingredients increases food prices – are getting pretty stale.

    Contrary to what Mr. Begemann claims, studies show that adding a few words to the back of the package will have no impact of the price of food.

    Other Monsanto arguments are just red herrings. What does feeding the world have to do with GE labeling?

    If Monsanto is so interested in feeding the world, they should be fighting to end food-to-fuel mandates, not fighting GE labeling. Besides, yields of conventional crops are increasing just as fast as yields of GE crops.

    Other of Mr. Begamann’s arguments have passed their sell-by date. Recent studies show that GE crops have increased the use of weed killers such as Monsanto’s own glyphosate. But that didn’t stop him from serving up the half-baked argument that GE crops are better for the environment.

    Perhaps groggy from poor food choices, he finally reached for a quilt – a patchwork quilt, that is. He contended that the dreaded patchwork quilt of state GE labeling laws would be bad for business.

    Does that mean Monsanto supports national GE labeling? Nope. It turns out that Mr. Begemann forgot to mention that Monsanto has been lobbying for legislation that would make it harder for the FDA to create a national GE labeling system.

    Monsanto’s leftovers are getting old, and it’s time to label GE foods so that moms can choose what they serve for dinner.

    Just Label It|September 5, 2014

    Pesticide drift is persistent problem for farmers

    MINNEAPOLIS — The cloud of insecticide that drifted from a neighbor’s cornfield onto the asparagus on Andrew and Melissa Dunham’s central Iowa farm cast a shadow over their organic vegetable business. They say the costs from the incident and resulting loss of organic certification on their asparagus patch for three years will reach about $74,000, and they’re now working with the sprayer’s insurance company.

    Pesticide drift is a serious concern for organic farmers, and they’ve come up with several defenses, such as buffer strips. Twelve states are part of a registry of farms that tips off aerial and ground sprayers to areas they need to avoid. The aerial spraying industry and pesticide manufacturers, meanwhile, say they’ve made big strides in controlling drift through pilot education and new technologies.

    Organic and specialty crop growers are often islands in a sea of conventionally grown crops that get sprayed with herbicides, insecticides and fungicides. Any organic farm next to a conventional farm is at risk, so farmers typically have buffer systems, said Nate Lewis, senior crop and livestock specialist with the Organic Trade Association.

    There are as many buffer strategies as there are farms, he said: An organic apple orchard in Washington state could sell fruit from its first three rows of trees as conventional, or Midwest corn and soybean farmers might mow down their first few rows of plants.

    Better pilot training and sprayer technology have led to significant reductions in pesticide drift, said Andrew Moore, executive director of the National Agricultural Aviation Association.

    Steve Karnowski|Associated Press|Sept. 7, 2014

    Energy

    Sludge Treatment at U.K. Facility Turns Waste Into ‘Black Gold’

    LONDON — When the world’s largest working advanced digestion plant opened last month, it showed the power- hungry process of treating waste in the $360 billion water industry can be self-sufficient in terms of energy use.

    The Davyhulme facility that handles the sewage of 1.2 million people in Manchester today can export surplus power to the U.K. grid. It uses waste formerly dumped in the Irish Sea, generating renewable power on a scale no utility has done to date using that method.

    The sludge recycling center runs on enough human waste to power 25,000 homes. It was built by Black & Veatch for United Utilities Group Plc, Britain’s largest publicly traded water company. Awarded IChemE’s international prize as “the most innovative green-energy scheme on Earth,” the facility renders waste into what engineers call “black gold.”

    Davyhulme’s plant, using thermal hydrolysis technology, turns a problem waste stream into clean energy. It cuts fossil- fuel consumption, greenhouse-gas emissions and produces a sludge made into free fertilizer for farmers. In a water industry always looking for energy savings, the THP plant “revolutionized our whole sludge-treatment operation,” Lee Donnellan, manager of the site, said in an interview.

    These kinds of improvements are just what 2,500 experts will discuss and dissect at the World Water Week conference in Stockholm starting Aug. 31.

    The new technology at Davyhulme “really has improved the amount of energy you get from the sludge,” Donnellan said. “It’s a bigger bang for the buck” as more gas is generated “than ever before. That means really impressive power output from our CHP (combined heat and power) engines.”

    ‘Black Gold’

    The Warrington-based company sees “sludge as a valuable resource,” said Richard Lancaster, regional sludge manager for United Utilities. “We call it ‘black gold.’”

    A solution had been sought because the amount of sludge produced each year across the utility’s North West region was huge — enough to fill the soccer stadium at Old Trafford where Wayne Rooney leads Manchester United 10 times over.

    Engineers say Davyhulme’s configuration by the Manchester Ship Canal is unique. The THP facility is able to export sludge to agriculture as an enhanced treated product or via a 100- kilometer (62-mile) pipeline to United Utilities’ incineration facility at Widnes.

    As the largest operational THP facility — the D.C. Water Blue Plains plant is not yet commissioned — Davyhulme has a capacity of 91,000 to 121,000 tons of dry solids a year.

    Cleaner Canal

    The 105 million-pound ($175 million) facelift to the facility by Black & Veatch, and a planned wastewater plant upgrade to treat larger volumes to a higher standard, will mean a cleaner ship canal as more refined water goes back into the waterway.

    Davyhulme’s water-treatment works are already one of the largest in Europe — and historic. The sewage-treatment process known as activated sludge, now used worldwide to harness the power of micro-organisms, was developed 100 years ago at Davyhulme.

    Sludge, once shipped offshore for disposal a century ago, has been banned at sea in Europe since 1998.

    At the new site, sludge gets thickened in a centrifuge, fed into special silos, pumped further into a pulper for mixing and heating. Then thermal hydrolysis follows in the reactor for at least 30 minutes as the high temperature and pressure ensure no bugs survive.

    Next, the sludge is depressurized in a flash tank that disintegrates the organic material into a more digestible form. After a heat exchange, the sludge is cooled to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), and the digester comes into play.

    Generates Biogas

    The sludge is digested to generate biogas. Some goes for incineration while dry solids, what’s left after wastewater is cleaned, are exported to agriculture.

    In the end, the pasteurization effect of thermal hydrolysis opened a “whole new land bank for us,” United Utilities said. That benefited grazing land for cows and sheep in the North West, which needed higher quality sludge for crops.

    Basically the treatment works like a pressure cooker by heating sludge to 165 degrees C at high pressure. Then when suddenly depressurized, organic substances are “smashed,” according to the utility.

    Harmful bacteria destroyed, the sewage sludge “food” becomes much more digestible, and 50 percent to 60 percent more volume of biogas is generated than by conventional techniques.

    Energy-recovery technologies are such that biogas from digested sludge gets held in two giant green “gas bags” visible to motorists from Barton Bridge. These are Europe’s largest inflatable gas holders.

    Gas Bags

    Each gas bag can hold 9,000 cubic meters of biogas produced by the sludge-recycling plant — the gas cleaned and used as fuel for five CHP engines and three steam boilers generates about 60 gigawatt-hours a year, according to the utility. Suppliers include General Electric’s Jenbacher gas engines.

    Enough heat is recycled from CHP engines that the plant’s steam boilers rarely need to be fired up to heat the reaction vessels. That means almost all the gas produced is used for generating electricity.

    The new advanced digestion facility, expected to cut operating costs about 45 percent, makes the power-consuming process of sewage treatment “virtually energy self- sufficient,” or 96 percent energy-neutral, said John Tattersall, Black & Veatch’s global water technology director.

    The upgrades at the 254-acre site by Black & Veatch also reduce the volume of treatment by-product, or biosolids.

    United Utilities, meanwhile, is capitalizing on its THP success with the world’s first sludge-powered data center, due to be completed at Davyhulme next month.

    Randall Hackley|Bloomberg |September 01, 2014

    Audubon Florida Wants you to Voice your Opinion

    Birds have long been bellwethers of nature gone astray. And they have been telling us for a while that climate change is here, and now. The signs are clear – migrating songbirds are arriving early, and species that normally don’t hang around for winter are becoming more common. Climate change is upon us.

    But there is good news. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is finalizing a rule to curb carbon pollution from new power plants – a historic first step in the fight to slow down climate change. Audubon and our partners collected over three million comments.

    Please send in your comments to support EPA’s final rule to limit industrial carbon pollution from new power plants.

    Fracked off – natural gas victims flee Colorado’s toxic air

    Natural gas is widely touted as a ‘green fuel’. But as Paul Thacker found in Colorado, fracking’s national ‘ground zero’, it’s anything but. Lives and health are being ruined by pollution from taxpayer-subsidized gas wells, flaring and refining plants, while property values collapse. Now a mass of environmental refugees are fleeing the ravaged state.

    They sign nondisclosure forms or move away. Very few win lawsuits. Some sign gag orders, but more just move away, lose everything, and marriages crumble.

    A general contractor in Colorado’s Grand Valley, Duke Cox says the first time he became aware that drilling for gas might be a problem was back in the early 2000s when he happened to attend a local public hearing on oil and gas development.

    A woman who came to testify began sobbing as she talked about the gas rigs that were making the air around her home impossible to breathe.

    There were 17 rigs in the area, at that time”, Cox says. “And they were across the valley, so I wasn’t affected. But she was my neighbor.”

    The incident led Cox to join the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, a group of activists concerned about drilling policies in his area on Colorado’s Western Slope. Within months he became the group’s President and public face.

    And as fracking for gas became more common across the state, he has found more and more of his time taken up with the cause. “We are ground zero for natural gas and fracking in this country”, he says.

    His claim is not hyperbole in many respects. Scientists in Colorado are publishing alarming studies that show gas wells harm those living in close proximity, and dozens of stories stretching back over a decade have documented the ill effects of natural gas drilling on Colorado’s citizens.

    In response to public unease, the state has created a system to report complaints of oil and gas health effects. The subject has become so acute that it consumes Colorado’s politicians and electorate, who have been squaring off on multiple ballot initiatives to limit where companies can drill, in order to provide a buffer between gas wells and people’s homes.

    Don’t mention the tax subsidies!

    But there’s one fact the industry would like to hide from the public (but uses in its lobbying of Congress): much of the drilling activity in Colorado would never happen were it not for generous tax subsidies.

    Four years ago, the American Petroleum Institute concluded that gas development would fall dramatically in the Rocky Mountain region without certain tax breaks to make development economically viable.

    While precise figures for subsidies specific to Colorado are difficult to derive, a recent report by Oil Change International shows that subsidies to the fossil fuel industry continue to grow in value as the fracking boom has hit its stride.

    At the national level, the report shows over $21 billion in federal and state subsidies that taxpayers provided to the fossil fuel industry in 2013. The use and value of these subsidies have increased dramatically in recent years-a product of the ‘all of the above’ energy policy.

    “They are profitable because of tax breaks”, says Cox.

    Scientific alarm

    Studies published in leading scientific journals continue to document the potential harm to people living close to gas wells. In 2012, a Colorado nonprofit called The Endocrine Disruption Exchange published the results of gas well air samples tested for chemicals.

    The study found several hydrocarbons at levels known to affect the endocrine system and lower the IQ scores of children exposed while they were fetuses.

    Last February, researchers with the Colorado School of Public Health and Brown University released a study that discovered that children born close to gas wells had a 30% greater chance of congenital heart defects and a higher incidence of neural tube defects.

    The study was met with criticism from Colorado’s Chief Medical Officer … a perhaps unsurprising reaction from a state official appointed by a governor with well documented strong ties to the oil and gas industry.

    The criticism follows a pattern of reactions from government officials throughout the country, pushing back against a growing mountain of evidence of fracking’s ill effects.

    Learning from Tobacco

    Lisa McKenzie, a Research Associate at the Colorado School of Public Health and one of the Colorado study’s authors, acknowledges the study’s limitations and uncertainties. “We would like to go back and get a look at the type of exposures these women had during the first trimester of pregnancy”, she says.

    Unfortunately, she has not been able to expand on her publicly-funded research, thus far.

    Chuck Davis, a political scientist at Colorado State University, compares attempts by the fossil fuel industry and industry allies to highlight scientific uncertainty to similar strategies tobacco companies undertook in order to underplay health risks.

    In both tobacco and the oil and gas industry’s cases, the presence of some form of ‘doubt’ around the science of the impacts of their industries (whether real or contrived) helps the industry continue practices that experts believe to be harmful.

    In another example of this strategy, the Colorado public health office again highlighted scientific uncertainties after officials at Valley View Hospital in Garfield County reported an increase in anomalies in fetuses carried by women living close to gas wells.

    After state investigators found no common cause to explain the fetal anomalies, Wolk seemed to dismiss legitimate concerns by local public health officials. “People have to be careful about making assumptions”, Wolk told the Denver Post.

    Meanwhile, residents of Colorado continue to see new health impacts, and fracking continues at pace in their communities. Many of these residents don’t see the uncertainty state officials continue to push.

    Lives ruined beyond repair

    When a New York Times reporter went to Garfield County three years ago, the paper published a video on residents complaining of air problems caused by natural gas rigs.

    “We’re gonna pack up. We’re leaving”, said Floyd Green, a welder who had lived in the County for the past three years. “We’re moving back East, and we’re having to start completely over.”

    Green detailed several symptoms his family experienced, forcing them to leave the area. “We constantly smell the fumes from the condensate tanks which cause headaches, sometimes nausea. Diarrhea, nosebleeds, muscle spasms.”

    A link to the video can be found at Frack Free Colorado, which has a webpage devoted to “Colorado’s Affected People”. Green is just one of many people who allege problems from natural gas including Susan Wallace Babbs, of Parachute and Karen Trulove of Silt.

    While these individuals were once actively speaking out about the dangers of fracking, their voices have fallen silent. Phone numbers have become disconnected and addresses no longer current.

    “They sign nondisclosure forms or move away”, says Tara Meixsell, who lives on a ranch outside New Castle. “Very few win lawsuits. Some sign gag orders, but more just move away, lose everything, and marriages crumble.”

    Get out while you can …

    Meixsell was featured in the documentary Split Estate and she wrote ‘Collateral Damage‘, a book that chronicles the lives of those affected by gas development.

    She became involved around 8 years ago, she says, after she drove out to a nearby ranch to buy hay that was selling for about half of market price. When she got there, the reason for the discount quickly became clear.

    The owners were two professionals who had bought a ranch to raise cows, but they soon found their land surrounded by gas rigs, making it impossible for them to breathe the air. After fighting for a year, Meixsell says they were told by their lawyer to give up and move away.

    “They were leaving the ranch and didn’t need the hay”, says Meixsell. And it’s not the first time she’s witnessed such events. “When I hear these ranchers come to the state house and testify, ‘My husband and I bought 20 acres and it’s our dream home.’ It’s like a broken record to the politicians because they’ve heard it all before.”

    Cox agrees, adding that many of the people he met after first becoming aware of the problem have signed nondisclosure agreements with companies or moved away. In fact, he moved from his former house to an area with little gas development, but the companies are now moving in. “It’s the same old, same old”, he says.

    Taxpayers funding a dangerous environmental experiment with their own health

    When Meixsell talks about how bad gas development has been to the health of people in Colorado, she does not mince words. “We’re guinea pigs”, she says.

    But this experiment of exposing people to toxics released by natural gas development would not occur without billions in subsidies from the federal and state governments. In a recent report,

    Oil Change International has found that federal subsidies for production and exploration for fossil fuel subsidies have grown by 45%, from $12.7 billion to a current total of $18.5 billion. Much of the increase comes from intensified production.

    “At a time when scientists are telling us that oil and gas production is unsafe for our communities and also our climate as a whole, it’s simply irrational to continue pumping billions of taxpayer dollars to this industry via increased subsidies”, says David Turnbull, Campaigns Director of Oil Change International.

    “Despite dire warnings from academics and communities sounding the alarm, these subsidies somehow continue today.”

    The White House has estimated that the subsidy for accelerated depreciation of natural gas distribution pipelines was $110 million in 2013. This subsidy allows companies to deduct higher levels of pipeline depreciation costs upfront, providing a financial benefit to the companies.

    Or, as the American Gas Association itself puts it, depreciation helps to “encourage the expansion and revitalization of the natural gas utility infrastructure.”

    Colorado also kicks in financial support. The state currently supplies additional gas production subsidies in the form of sales tax exemptions, allowing industry to escape Colorado’s 2.9% sales tax.

    “The rest of the country doesn’t get it”, says Cox. “[Natural gas] is not a clean fuel. But the word is getting out, and they are starting to lose the fight.”

    Paul Thacker|Oil Change International|30th August 2014

    Thousands protest against coal mining, forming 8km human chain in River Neisse along German-Polish border

    Horse breeders and winemakers in the New South Wales Hunter Valley have warned that their industries are at threat because of open-cut coal mining. Now the practice is causing upheaval in eastern Europe. Tom Morton visited a region along the Germany-Poland border to investigate.

    When Julia Huscher and Kuba Gogolewski fell in love, they could not have imagined that one day they would reach out for each other’s hands in the middle of the Neisse River and seal the last link in a human chain eight kilometers long.

    The couple were just two of an estimated 7,500 protesters from 20 countries who formed the chain from the German village of Kerkwitz across the river to the Polish village of Grabice on Saturday.

    The protesters were opposing plans for massive new open-cut brown coal mines on both sides of the River Neisse, which marks the border between Germany and Poland.

    The river is only thigh-deep at the point where the protesters chose to ford it.

    Ms. Huscher waded her way to the middle from the German side and met her husband, who had rolled up his jeans and plunged in from the opposite bank.

    Ms. Huscher, originally from Eastern Germany, and Mr Gogolewski, from Poland, met through their involvement in campaigns against coal mining.

    “We were working on a report together and one thing led to another,” said Ms. Huscher, who is five months pregnant with their first child.  

    Bells rang out from riverbank to riverbank as the couple joined hands, symbolically linking campaigns on both sides of the border.

    “It’s a sign that people on the ground can find a common language much sooner than their governments can do,” Mr Gogolewski said.

    On the German side, in the region of eastern Germany known as Lusatia, the Swedish energy giant Vattenfall wants to extend its existing Jänschwalde mine by 2,000 hectares.

    The villages of Kerkwitz, Atterwasch and Grabko would be swallowed up and 900 people forcibly relocated.

    On the Polish side, up to 15 villages and 3,000 hectares of forest could disappear if the state-owned PGE gets the go-ahead to mine.

    ‘Demonstrating for a livable future without more coal mines’

    Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and other environmental NGOs across Europe strongly supported the protest, but the initiative came from local people who have been fighting for seven years to save their homes.

    “We’re overwhelmed that so many people from the whole of Europe are with us today demonstrating for a livable future without more coal mines,” said Thomas Burchardt, one of the initiators of the human chain and spokesman for the citizens’ initiative Klinger Runde.

    Mr. Burchardt, a 52-year-old father of two, lives in the nearby village of Drehnow, not far from the massive Jänschwalde power plant, which Vattenfall also operates.

    He is a Sorb, a member of the Slavic-speaking minority who have lived in Lusatia for hundreds of years.

    As a boy of 12 growing up in Communist East Germany, Mr. Burchardt witnessed the building of the power plant and the destruction of Sorb villages to supply it with coal.

    “I remember sitting on the steps of the old church which belonged to the village of Gross-Lieskow,” he said.

    “The church was already half in ruins. A man came out, walked about 10 paces, pointed out into the flattened landscape and said ‘that used to be my house right there’.”

    There is a local saying that God made Lusatia, but the Devil put coal under the ground.

    Perhaps it is no surprise then that one of the protesters taking part in the human chain was Matthias Berndt, Protestant pastor in the village of Atterwasch, the oldest part of the village church dates back to 1294.

    “It’s the oldest building in all three villages and a symbol of how attached people here are to their homes,” Pastor Berndt said.

    The Pastor is also one of the initiators of the human chain. He said his parishioners see nothing odd in their pastor organizing a demonstration.

    “We’re not just fighting to save our property here in these three villages, we’re fighting against the destruction of nature and for the preservation of God’s creation,” he said.

    For the protesters who came from all over Europe to take part in the human chain, coal’s role in climate change was an important factor alongside the desire to show solidarity with the local people.

    ‘If we go on burning coal, humans will end up like the dinosaurs’

    Rainer Ulrich cycled 440 kilometers in two days from Erlangen, in southern Germany, where he owns a bike shop, to join the human chain.

    “If we go on burning coal, we humans will end up like the dinosaurs,” Mr Ulrich said.

    Coal accounted for 44 per cent of global CO2 emissions in 2013, according to the International Energy Agency, and that percentage is projected to rise.

    Australians Sam and Jackie Lucas travelled overnight from London by bus to take part in the human chain.

    The two sisters from Pymble in Sydney – former professional tennis players on the European circuit – have been living in the UK for 10 years.

    “We’re both involved with Camden Greenpeace. They asked for volunteers to come here and we thought it was something great to be a part of,” Ms Lucas said.

    Groups such as Greenpeace argue that plans for new coal mines and new coal-fired power plants are fundamentally at odds with the German energy transformation or Energiewende, an ambitious package of laws passed by the German parliament in 2011.

    The energy transformation laws require all of Germany’s existing nuclear power plants to be switched off by 2023.

    By 2025, 40 to 45 per cent of Germany’s electricity will come from renewables such as wind, solar and biofuels.

    Since renewables already account for 28.5 per cent of electricity generation, it is likely this target will be met or even exceeded.

    In the short term however, Germany faces a thorny dilemma: how to replace the capacity lost as nuclear power plants are switched off, and maintain baseload power supply when the sun is not shining and the wind drops.

    Proponents of coal argue that new mines and coal-fired power plants are needed as a bridging technology.

    ‘Individual interests have to give way to the common good’

    Wolfgang Rupieper, chair of the Association for Brown Coal in Lusatia, says he is concerned that if the new mines do not go ahead, the economy of the whole region could “fall in a hole”.

    Mr. Rupieper, a retired judge who moved to Cottbus from western Germany in the early 1990s, says the association was set up two years ago to represent the silent majority in the region who support coal mining.

    “Naturally it’s a hard thing for people to leave their homes, but in this case, individual interests have to give way to the common good,” he said.

    Mr. Rupieper says that under the law, the inhabitants of Kerkwitz, Atterwasch and Grabko are entitled to generous compensation.

    “They’ll get new homes, new villages, they won’t lose anything at all,” he said.

    “But if the new mines don’t go ahead, tens of thousands of workers who are currently employed in the coal industry will have to leave their homes in the region and look for work elsewhere.”

    The state parliament of Brandenburg, the German federal state in which the threatened villages lie, still has to give the green light for the new mines.

    The current coalition government of Social Democrats and the Left Party (Die Linke) strongly support the mines, but final approval will not come until after state elections in September.

    Even if the government does grant approval, legal challenges could keep the bulldozers at bay for years.

    Mr Burchardt says the success of the human chain on Saturday will give the villagers “strength and courage for the years ahead”.

    Even before the protest, Pastor Berndt said he had been noticing a new mood of optimism amongst his parishioners after seven years of uncertainty.

    “People are painting their houses, putting new tiles on the roof, there’s even a young couple who’ve bought a house in the village. That’s got to be a sign of hope,” he said. 

    Tom Morton|27 Aug 2014

    Defective Photovoltaics and Other Flaws Plague China’s Push to Build Solar Power

    Poor installation and grid connections are also among a laundry list of problems facing China’s effort to go solar

    China has bet on solar energy as a cleaner alternative to coal, but whether installed solar panels can meet the country’s need for energy is becoming a troubling question.

    China had installed nearly 19.5 gigawatts of solar panels as of the end of 2013. However, “many solar installations failed to generate as much electricity as planned,” said Ji Zhenshuang, deputy director at the Beijing-based China General Certification Center, which examined 472 Chinese solar projects over the past four years.

    Ji would not specify the percentage but said the figure is not small. The solar projects his company examined include those under Golden Sun, a government-led program that was introduced in 2009 to demonstrate the use of solar energy, as well as utility-scale solar farms run by Chinese energy giants.

    Although China in recent years has surpassed many countries in adopting solar technology, in a move to help Chinese factories survive tougher export markets and to cut the country’s dangerous reliance on coal, there is little public information available on how well the Chinese solar projects function. However, some experts did not seem surprised by Ji’s findings.

    “[The performance issue] definitely exists,” said Lin Boqiang, director of the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University. “Since so many solar panels were produced here in such a short time, it is hard to imagine that there is no quality problem.”

    According to government statistics, the Chinese solar industry, which barely existed a decade ago, exploded to reach a production capacity of 26 GW in 2013, manufacturing more solar panels than the rest of the world combined. Lin said the rapid industry expansion brought in unqualified solar panel makers, and when companies raced to cut costs, substandard materials found their way into the supply chain.

    Ji of the China General Certification Center said defective solar panels are a cause of the poor performance in the inspected solar projects, but hardly the only one. His inspection showed that other factors, such as cloudy weather, improper installation and difficulties in hooking solar panels up with power grids, have also played a role.

    “Grid constraint is still an issue in western China. Sometimes solar farms are forced to shut down because power grids there are unable to carry the generated electricity. This on-and-off operation ruins solar systems in a similar way as frequent start-and-stop does to a car brake,” Ji said.

    Speaking at an industry conference last week, Wang Sicheng, a senior researcher at the Energy Research Institute of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, told reporters that lower-than-expected power outputs in existing Chinese solar projects have already become an issue that holds back the sector’s development.

    Local newspaper 21st Century Business Herald cited Wang as saying Chinese banks are hesitant to finance new solar projects because of concerns over poor performance. To remove this barrier, Wang said, the government will issue a guideline next month to help developers assess solar product quality and improve project design, operation and maintenance.

    But doubts remain about how effective this guideline would be. “The question is no one knows what kind of products or designs can last through 25-year operation. We haven’t seen enough solid information from the field,” Ji said.

    He added that an overly ambitious quality control goal could put China at risk of building solar farms with unnecessarily high costs. But he insisted that the ongoing performance problem and the challenge of overcoming it are part of the learning curve, saying the nation will figure out a way to better manage its solar projects, with on-the-ground data-collecting work being a step in the right direction.

    Coco Liu|ClimateWire|Aug 12, 2014

    Booming Rooftop Solar Power Suffers Growing Pains

    Reaping benefits from solar panels on a home may be harder than some sales pitches suggest

    The home improvement problem started, like so many do, with a trip to Home Depot. There Richard Lindley, a 50-year-old carpenter turned general contractor who lives in Somerville, Mass., ran into a few young men he described as “earnest” and who had what he thought was a “really interesting business model.”

    Here’s the pitch he heard: A company, in this case SolarCity, will come to your home and install a $20,000 solar system for you. You pay nothing. SolarCity also gets all the permits and necessary permissions in return for your signature on a 20-year contract to purchase the electricity generated by those newly installed solar panels. Said electricity is sold to you at a price lower than the local utility charges—in Lindley’s case, roughly 11 cents for every kilowatt-hour of electricity made by sunshine in the first year (with an annual increase of 2.5 percent). Any excess electricity generated is sold back onto the grid, earning you a much smaller bill from the local utility as well.

    To Lindley it sounded like a dream come true, especially when he considered the chance to do something good for the environment without having to worry about insuring, maintaining or repairing a solar system. “They’re doing a really great thing with the green energy,” he says, “building an infrastructure based on solar rather than fossil fuel.”

    There is a catch though: the coordination of solar company, local utility and homeowner may fail—leaving the homeowner in the lurch.

    Solar is booming, thanks to cheap photovoltaics, innovative business models like the one described above and federal and state subsidies. Since 2010 solar installations in the U.S. have increased six-fold—from 2,000 to more than 12,000 megawatts worth. At the same time, the cost of installing solar has fallen by at least 60 percent. Leading the charge are companies like SunRun, SunPower and SolarCity, the latter of which installed Lindley’s system in 2013. SolarCity announced on August 7 that it had installed 1.2 megawatts worth of solar rooftops each day this spring. “Now’s the time to capture the market and grow as fast as we can,” said Chief Executive Lyndon Rive when announcing those financial results.

    But as with any boom, the growth may be outpacing the ability to provide good technology and good customer service.

    In Lindley’s case the bearded young men who scaled his roof for SolarCity connected the 12-panel photovoltaic system to the wrong electricity meter. As a result, Lindley did not see the nearly 4,300 kilowatt-hours of solar electricity SolarCity estimated his panels would produce annually, nor did he see his electricity bill go down. And his use of electricity seemed to go up, even though it was winter. “Instead of seeing solar in action, what I got was not only a higher electricity bill but SolarCity continued to bill me for the output of the solar panels,” he says.

    In other words, Lindley was paying extra to go green, especially since SolarCity reaped all available federal and state tax credits and subsidies (as well as any future “incentives, renewable energy credits, green tags, carbon-offset credits, utility rebates or any other nonpower-system attributes of the system, are the property of and for the benefit of SolarCity” as the contract reads in all capital letters). Months of back-and-forth with SolarCity’s customer service teams led to excuses: solar panels produce less power in winter (true but, in this case, irrelevant); it’s a faulty meter, so call the local utility to repair it (false and irrelevant); and, last but not least, many people who install solar panels start using more electricity. “Some people do,” says Jonathan Bass, SolarCity’s vice president of communications. “They crank the AC because now they’ve got solar.”

    “Have we changed anything in our lifestyle? We went over that,” Lindley recalls. “Ultimately, nothing has changed, nothing that would triple our usage, which is what it came down to.”

    After months of frustrating back-and-forth that included SolarCity’s broken promises to send a repair crew and, eventually, Lindley’s refusal to continue to pay, it became clear that the earnest, bearded young men from SolarCity had connected the solar system to the wrong meter. The local grid had gained some 3,200 kilowatt-hours of solar electricity that never registered on Lindley’s meter or made it run backward as promised.

    As a result, SolarCity credited Lindley for a year’s worth of payments and started again from zero. “It’s just been a headache. I really wish I hadn’t put them on there,” Lindley says. “To this day we don’t understand quite how it works and who’s paying what. I’m not happy with it.”

    Lindley is not alone. Homeowners in Arizona have had trouble getting solar companies to return their calls to get a solar system installed. Defective panels have impeded the production of electricity from sunshine in that sun-blasted state. And utilities have begun to throw up resistance as well: the Hawaiian Electric Co. has banned the installation of new solar systems unless homeowners pay to also protect the local grid from excess solar electricity—an expense that adds thousands of dollars to the cost of a solar system and has put a damper on solar development in that sunny state.

    This solar civil war has pitted local utilities—aided by outside interest groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council—against homeowners who wish to go solar. “Since I’ve had solar there’s been two rate hikes,” says Phoenix homeowner Jerry Dieterich, another general contractor who, like most solar homeowners, is quite happy with his decision to get power from the sun though SolarCity rather than relying entirely on the local utility. “It doesn’t affect you when you have solar. I love that.”

    Further complicating matters is the confusing welter of rules that vary from state to state and, in some cases, municipality to municipality. Whereas SolarCity customers in Arizona can enjoy a fixed-price lease that guarantees a certain cost each month, SolarCity customers in Massachusetts must buy the electricity from their own rooftop or sell it on to the local utility. That can put homeowners, SolarCity and the utility on opposite sides: In Lindley’s case, because SolarCity and the local utility continued to get paid no one besides Lindley had an incentive to try and get his problem fixed. “You kind of need a master’s degree in electrical engineering to understand how your electric bill from the utility is tied into SolarCity and the panels,” Lindley notes.

    “We have a 20-year relationship with a customer,” says Rive of the SolarCity contracts that last longer than many marriages. “If the customer is unhappy, we have to fix it. It’s not like either one of us is going away.”

    The ultimate expansion problem, however, may not be the customer service hurdles but a rebound in the price of photovoltaic devices. Curbed capacity in China plus tariffs imposed by the U.S. have seen solar module prices rebound from nearly 50 cents per watt to 60 cents per watt in recent months. That’s part of the reason that SolarCity has bought solar panel maker Silevo to ensure a steady supply of panels for expansion rather than relying on manufacturers like SunPower that are now getting into the installation business themselves as direct competitors. “For the next phase of solar, you need large-scale manufacturing up and running to reduce the cost,” Rive says. “The point is to be able to have a superior product at a lower cost to eventually get to a point where you can provide cheaper clean energy.”

    SolarCity estimates that some 30 million homes in the U.S. could benefit from installing a solar system, compared with roughly 200,000 that have solar to date. In the meantime educating those future solar homeowners about the potential challenges of getting electricity from the sun does not seem to be high on the to-do lists of either companies or regulators. “If we have made a mistake, we make it right,” Bass says, noting the company’s high ratings from the Better Business Bureau and customer feedback forms. “We are trying to tear down more and more barriers to make solar mainstream.”

    David Biello|Aug 18, 2014

    Renewable Energy Accounts for 100 Percent of New US Electrical Generating Capacity in July

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — According to the latest “Energy Infrastructure Update” report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Projects, all new U.S. electrical generating capacity put into service in July came from renewable energy sources: 379 megawatts (MW) of wind, 21 MW of solar, and 5 MW of hydropower.

    For the first seven months of 2014, renewables have accounted for more than half (53.8 percent) of the 4,758 MW of new U.S. electrical capacity that has come on line with solar (25.8 percent) and wind (25.1 percent) each accounting for more than a quarter of the total. In addition, biomass provided 1.8 percent, geothermal 0.7 percent, and hydropower 0.4 percent.

    As for the balance, natural gas accounted for 45.9 percent while a small fraction (0.3 percent) came from oil and “other” combined. There has been no new electrical generating capacity from either coal or nuclear thus far in 2014.

    Renewable energy sources now account for 16.3 percent of total installed operating generating capacity in the U.S.: hydro – 8.57 percent, wind – 5.26 percent, biomass – 1.37 percent, solar – 0.75 percent, and geothermal steam – 0.33 percent. Note that generating capacity is not the same as actual generation. Generation per MW of capacity for renewables is often lower than that for fossil fuels and nuclear power. Actual net electrical generation from renewable energy sources in the United States now totals about 14 percent of total U.S. electrical production according to the most recent data (i.e., as of May 2014) provided by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

    This is not the first time in recent years that all new electrical generating capacity for a given month has come from renewable energy sources. And it is likely to become an ever more frequent occurrence in the months and years ahead.

    Kenneth Bossong|SUN DAY Campaign|August 21, 2014

    Landmark Victory in Fight Against Coal Exports

    Years ago, the conventional wisdom was that going up against the coal industry was a losing proposition. After all, there was a reason the industry was called “King Coal.” But after a decade in which more than 180 proposed coal plants were defeated or withdrawn — and an additional 170 coal plants have been or will soon be retired — dirty coal’s size, power, and influence is rapidly diminishing. And this week’s defeat of a proposed export terminal in Oregon will only accelerate that trend.

    This is good news. When the Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL) rejected a permit for Ambre Energy to build a coal export terminal on the Columbia River at Boardman, Oregon, the winners weren’t Ambre and its deep-pocketed financial backers. Victory went to the families, doctors, tribal nations, businesses, and local, county, and state-level leaders from across Oregon and the entire Pacific Northwest who have come together to form the nation’s largest movement to stop coal exports.

    But there’s more work to be done. Even as global demand for coal falls and its financial picture continues to dim, coal export companies want to build two other export facilities in Washington State. Millions of tons of coal would travel by rail in open-top cars from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana to both terminals.

    These mile-long trains would spew coal dust along rail lines, snarl traffic in communities along the route, and create lengthy delays for the passengers, goods, and services that rely on already-congested train lines. (Just this month, a transporter of refrigerated goods from Washington State to the rest of the country ended its express rail service, citing poor railway performance.) Once Powder River Basin coal reaches the export facilities, it would be shipped overseas to be burned, and return to our shores in the form of mercury contamination, air pollution, and acidifying oceans. In a relentless drive for profits, Big Coal is willing to risk the health and safety of individuals, families, and communities across the American West.

    But the DSL’s August 18 rejection of the permit for the Morrow Pacific project at Boardman makes it clear: coal exports are not in the best interest of the Pacific Northwest or anywhere else on our coasts.

    The reason for the decision is clear — there is no way to transport coal that will do no harm to communities and natural resources near the facility. Knowing of those impacts, a broad, deep coalition of Oregonians and other Northwesterners united in opposition to Ambre’s project.

    • Right now, members of the Lummi Nation are partnering with Christian faith leaders to travel across the West in a visual demonstration against coal exports and oil projects. A few months ago they joined with the Yakama Nation and other Columbia River Treaty Tribes to say no to the Ambre coal export facility.
    • Over the past few months, more than 20,000 citizens contacted Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber requesting a denial of the permit.
    • In May, 86 elected officials from Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Idaho urged Governor Kitzhaber and the DSL to protect frontline communities throughout the Northwest by rejecting a permit for the Morrow Pacific project.
    • Close to 600 Northwest businesses and business leaders have also either expressed concern or outright opposition to coal exports.
    • More than 3,000 medical professionals and public health advocates have requested a denial of the Morrow Pacific project permit, including 165 Oregon physicians who voiced their concerns directly to Governor Kitzhaber.

    We’re on a roll. From the Pacific Northwest to the Gulf of Mexico, communities are rolling up the welcome mat to coal exports. Just last week, hundreds of people showed up to a city council meeting in Gretna, Louisiana, asking them to reject coal exports in their community.

    But the fight is far from over. The DSL’s rejection of the Morrow Pacific permit is a major blow to Ambre, but the company will undoubtedly continue to search for new ways to try and push their dirty and troubled project forward.

    We can’t let up until we have stopped every single coal export facility. Big Coal’s window of opportunity is closing. To date, the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign and a broad coalition of organizations have retired one third of the nation’s existing coal-fired power plants. But we have to keep fighting coal export terminals if we want to keep Powder River Basin coal in the ground. This week, it’s worth pausing to celebrate how much we’ve accomplished against such powerful opponents. But our work is not nearly done, so let’s keep organizing!

    Drills away in Canada’s Arctic – 1.35 million hectares of wilderness open to fracking

    Hydraulic fracturing is roaring ahead in the Canadian Arctic. Companies are competing to exploit the Northwest Territories’ 2-3 billion barrels of shale oil,

    as the NWT government ignores calls from indigenous nations and scientists for a moratorium on fracking pending an open review of its impacts.

    There’s a real fear for groundwater, for the health and safety of people who live in the region, and for how this will contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions.

    Among the dozens of rivers that flow unfettered through the Canadian North, the Natla and the Keele may be the most picturesque and culturally important.

    They are especially significant to the Dene people of the Sahtu region, which straddles the Arctic Circle in the Northwest Territories.

    Both of the rivers flow crystal clear out of the Mackenzie Mountains along the Yukon / Northwest Territories border before coming together in their final course to the Mackenzie River.

    For hundreds – if not thousands – of years, the Mountain Dene people have been traveling upstream to salt licks that draw caribou, moose, and mountain sheep down from the high country in the early fall. For the Dene, it’s the best opportunity to stock up on wild game, fish, and berries for the long winter.

    Many Dene people living in Sahtu and in other parts of the Canadian North are concerned that this way of life may be at risk now that two energy companies have been given the go-ahead to begin horizontal fracking in a region just south of the Arctic Circle.

    Conoco-Phillips has already fracked two test wells in the Sahtu (see photo), and the company has plans to frack several more in the future.

    With several other companies ready with plans of their own, the stakes are high. No one knows yet exactly how much shale oil and gas there is in the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and the territory of Nunavut.

    But the government of the Northwest Territories estimates that the Canol Shale underground deposit, which extends from the mountains along the Yukon border several hundred miles east towards Colville and Great Bear lakes, contains 2 to 3 billion barrels of recoverable oil, as much or more than in the highly productive Bakken formation in North Dakota.

    Such potential reserves have drawn significant interest and mark the first time that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for oil and gas has moved this close to the Arctic Circle in Canada.

    Critics fear that fracking could pollute groundwater and trigger gas releases and seismic activity. Scientists say that many sensitive ecosystems of northern Canada -which include tundra, peat bogs, fens, and permafrost zones – may be especially vulnerable to the large-scale disturbances that occur in areas of high fracking activity.

    Deborah Simmons, executive director of the Sahtu Renewable Resource Board, has expressed concerns about cleaning up oil and chemical spills in the region’s many wetlands.

    Some also worry about the so-called ‘boomtown effect’ that comes with rapid development in remote and unpopulated areas – a phenomenon that is swiftly changing parts of North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and other US states affected by so-called ‘unconventional’ drilling for oil and gas.

    And residents of the Yukon and Northwest Territories residents fear, as a recent study has suggested, that these remote and sparsely populated territories have neither the governmental expertise nor the infrastructure to evaluate fracking initiatives or deal with the consequences. The Sahtu region has fewer than 1,500 people.

    Jim Tredger, a former high school principal who represents the largely aboriginal community of Mayo-Tatchun in the Yukon legislature, describes the future of fracking as a “defining moment in our history.”

    He and others successfully called for a moratorium on shallow fracking in the Yukon so that a full public review could assess the health and environmental risks. But the Northwest Territories is moving more swiftly to embrace fracking.

    Conventional drilling for oil in the Sahtu region is nothing new; Imperial Oil, the Canadian subsidiary of ExxonMobil, has been extracting oil from the Mackenzie River for nearly 70 years.

    But energy exploration has accelerated dramatically in recent years, in part because fracking has made it easier for companies to tap into reserves that were previously too difficult to exploit. To date, active licenses in the Canol shale region cover 1.35 million hectares of wilderness.

    John Hogg, vice-president of exploration and operations at Calgary-based MGM Energy Corp, recently told the Financial Post newspaper in Canada that this shale oil play is as big as any in Canada.

    In testimony before a Yukon select committee on fracking, Hogg said that shale resources can be exploited in a responsible manner provided environmental regulations are in place. Shale oil and gas, he suggested, may be the key to the Yukon attaining energy self-sufficiency.

    An oil pipeline corridor that is already along the Mackenzie River could theoretically send this newfound energy south in the future.

    The National Energy Board, the chief regulator in Canada, has also approved plans by Trans Canada – the company behind the controversial Keystone XL pipeline in the US – to build a $16 billion natural gas pipeline from the Arctic coast to Alberta. Low natural gas prices and increased US production have put that project on hold.

    Husky Energy Inc, MGM Energy, and Shell Canada are also in the Sahtu region, building roads and conducting vertical tests in the oil-rich area. In June 2013, the Sahtu Land and Water Board reversed previous decisions that required a full environmental impact assessment for exploratory wells.

    One of the latest studies on hydraulic fracturing, published in the journal Science last year suggests that the environmental risks associated with fracking can be managed, but only if understanding of the fate and transport of contaminants is improved and if long-term monitoring and data dissemination is increased.

    For both the Northwest Territories and the Yukon this would be difficult to do. Unlike many regions in the south, groundwater aquifers have not been mapped.

    Opposition in northern Canada – which comes from aboriginal groups, environmental organizations, and a Parliament of Elders in the Northwest Territories – has recently called for a moratorium on fracking in the Northwest Territories.

    These actions come on the heels of a Council of Canadian Academies expert panel report that points to unassessed risks and unknown impacts stemming from this controversial form of drilling.

    The Council of Yukon First Nations has also vowed that they will not allow fracking on lands they control. In the face of this opposition, Conoco-Phillips and Husky have taken a pause for a year to address the concerns and questions that have been put forward.

    “Fracking has the potential to affect everyone across the North”, says Doug Yallee, a Sahtu trapper, and former councilor for the local government in the Sahtu town of Tulita. “It’s a new technique in the Northwest Territories and we do not have enough information about it. We know it is banned in many places around the world because of concerns similar to ours.”

    Hydraulic fracturing has proven to be more controversial in Canada than in the United States, which has undergone a fracking boom in recent years.

    The government of Quebec has already banned fracking because of concerns about groundwater. The government of New Brunswick recently introduced regulations that put limits on the kind of water that fracking operations can use.

    Hydraulic fracturing involves the injection of sand, water and chemicals at high pressure into shale formations deep underground, shattering the rock and allowing small pockets of natural gas or oil to escape from the shale.

    Depending on geology and how deep a frack must be, several million gallons of water can be used to frack a single well. In many cases, energy companies inject the wastewater back into aquifers.

    Scientists such as the University of Alberta’s Karlis Muehlenbachs, a geochemist, have pointed out that boreholes can and do leak when industry doesn’t follow the best practices or when cement casings fail.

    A 2011 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed “systematic evidence” of methane contamination of drinking water in aquifers in northeastern Pennsylvania and upstate New York associated with shale-gas extraction.

    Fears that groundwater and rivers like the Natla and the Keele may be polluted have been reinforced by fracking efforts that recently went wrong in Alberta.

    It took Canadian Natural Resources $50 million and more than nine months to cap a continuing series of spills that were caused by a form of fracking – steam injection in this case – at one of its wells last year. More than 12,000 barrels of bitumen seeped through to the surface in what has turned out to be the fourth largest spill in Alberta history.

    Bob Bromley, who represents a district from Yellowknife in the government of the Northwest Territories, is calling for a transparent public review on fracking like the one currently underway in the Yukon.

    He and others have pointed out that the government may have violated its own legislation by failing to call for an environmental assessment before approvals were given to Conoco-Phillips and Husky.

    “People from all across the Northwest Territories have contacted me expressing their concerns about what’s going on”, he said. “There’s a real fear for groundwater, for the health and safety of people who live in the region, and for how this will contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions.”

    The Yukon government’s all-party committee on fracking has for the last 14 months heard from economists, toxicologists, medical experts, petroleum engineers, First Nations leaders, environmental organizations and industry experts.

    But the government of the Northwest Territories has made it clear that it intends to stay the course on fracking.

    Fracking “is not without risk”, concedes Michael Miltenberger, the Northwest Territories’ Minister of Finance, Environment, and Natural Resources, who has championed water issues for more than a decade. “That’s absolutely clear. The issue is whether we can manage this … I think we can protect the environment while expanding our economic base.”

    Mark Jaccard, an environmental economist at Simon Fraser University, says that the local economic benefits of fracking in the Yukon could outweigh the environmental risks. But that can only happen, he says, if the government establishes tough environmental regulations from the start, which has yet to be done.

    “Better that industry not get started rather than make a mess”, he told the Yukon select committee on fracking.

    He said what most concerns him is that Canadian energy developments, including Alberta’s tar sands, are proceeding rapidly without consideration for how emissions from these new fuel sources will affect the global climate.

    Ed Struzik|Yale Environment 360|3 September 2014

    Somerset Lobster Party, Global Warming Heroics Sunsets Carbon Pollution

    The 30 foot former lobster boat displayed banners that said “Coal is Stupid” and “350″ [ppm carbon pollution is too much].  Trouble was the lobster boat was linked to a 200 lb anchor without a winch just off the pier at the Somerset MA power plant.  On the other side of the boat, Somerset-bound, was the enormous Energy Enterprise, a 700 foot long freighter hauling about 40,000 tons of coal slated for Somerset power plant.  No lobsters were caught, nor coal “beamed’ ashore, that day in May 2013.

    The Coast Guard worked long with local police.  A commercial salvage boat was employed to move the 200 lb anchor with lobster boat attached out of coal’s way. Cargo delivered.

    For Ken Ward from Oregon and Jay O’Hara, local boat owner, their actions were necessary because of the threats posed by climate change.  They do not dispute the charges brought against them of disturbing the peace, conspiracy, failure to act to avoid a collision, and negligent motor vessel operation.  Their intent is to prove global warming is real and that bold action is needed to rescue our planet from a greater collision of forces than that of the ship Energy Enterprise and one power plant turning coal to clinker.

    Jay O’Hara and Ken Ward’s historic lobster-boat-at-anchor trial will be held on September 8th & 9th in Fall River.  Jay and Ken write:

    “This may be a bit different from most invitations, but we hope you’ll bear with us for a moment.  The two of us are about to go on trial and have the chance to argue for the necessity of aggressive, science-based climate action in a court of law.  This is a rare opportunity for our movement to be heard loud and clear, to break through the clutter and show just how grave the danger is.  We hope you’ll consider joining us in Fall River for the trial September 8th and 9th to drive that message home.”

    Make way Hancock and your Boston Tea Party for the Somerset Lobsterboat Party.

    Too taxing, we won’t let our communities suffer pollutants while you profit burning coal!  The costs are unbearable to our families, natural communities and ways of life, the planet’s atmosphere and increasingly the climate. 

    Send clarion cheers to www.lobsterboatblockade.org

    Rob Moir, Ph.D|September 1, 2014

    Proposed gas pipeline will cross the county
    At least six townships could be affected by construction

    Teddi Robinson isn’t thrilled at the prospect of pipeline construction near her East China home — but that’s likely what she’ll see if a massive pipeline project gains federal approvals.

    “I felt sorry for the Marysville people when Enbridge put in that pipeline recently,” Robinson said. “With any kind of pipeline, I am always afraid the pipe can rupture and will pollute the ground and the water.”

    An 800-mile natural gas pipeline that will stretch from shale fields in West Virginia and Pennsylvania through Michigan and into Ontario could cross through six townships in St. Clair County — including two townships that still have Enbridge crews on site.

    The 42-inch ET Rover Pipeline will cross through Berlin, Riley, Columbus, St. Clair, China and East China townships, according to maps released to the St. Clair County Library System.
    Township officials said they’ve heard little to nothing about the pipelines planned for their municipalities.
    “When you’ve got a project anticipated as big as this one … it amazes me that a company of its size doesn’t have enough sense to contact the municipality that it’s going through,” said Linda Schweihofer, supervisor for China Township.

    “It seems very unprofessional the way they are going about things.”

    Vicki Granado, a spokeswoman for Energy Transfer, Rover Pipeline’s parent company, said the route maps provided to the library are preliminary.

    “We’re not done surveying so until we actually file our application with (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission), which will be in January, the route doesn’t become final until then,” Granado said.

    “The route will continue to be fine-tuned until then.” The pipeline will include about 800 miles of 42-inch pipe stretching from shale fields in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio through southeast Michigan and into Canada. About 207 miles of the pipeline will be in Michigan.

    In Defiance, Ohio, at the company’s Midwest hub, the pipeline will split, sending some if its contents to the Gulf of Mexico through existing pipeline, and the rest of its cargo through the new pipeline to possible delivery points in Michigan — such as Consumers Gas Company, Vector Pipeline and MichCon —and to the Union Gas Dawn Hub in Ontario, Canada.

    According to a map provided to the Times Herald, the proposed pipeline will cross through Lenawee, Washtenaw, Livingston, Shiawassee, Genesee, Oakland, Macomb, Lapeer and St. Clair counties.

    The pipeline will cross into St. Clair County in Berlin Township, travel to Riley Township, dip into Macomb County, and reenter St. Clair County in Columbus Township.

    It then would cross Columbus Township, clip the southwest corner of St. Clair Township, enter China Township and leave the county through East China.

    Granado said the company plans to maximize use of existing pipeline, powerline, roadway and railroad right-of-ways in construction.

    She said Rover would use a horizontal directional drill to burrow under the St. Clair River to Ontario.

    St. Clair Township Supervisor Brian Mahaffy said he’s relieved the proposed route doesn’t include too much work in his township.

    “We’re not excited about it after all the headaches and hassle we went through with Enbridge,” Mahaffy said.

    “We were kind of glad about that one ending and we’re not excited about this one starting.”

    Enbridge Energy is nearing completion on a pipeline replacement that resulted in major construction in Columbus Township, St. Clair Township and Marysville.

    Columbus Township Supervisor Bruce Christy said he hasn’t heard much about where the proposed Rover Pipeline will cross through his township.

    “If they’re releasing the maps saying that that’s the proposed route I feel like somebody should have come and talked to us,” Christy said.

    East China Supervisor Larry Simons said he was not contacted about the pipeline’s route through his township.

    Pete Lembke, an East China resident living near the proposed pipeline site, wasn’t looking forward to the construction.

    “It sucks,” he said. “It will definitely impact home values because no one wants that in their backyard.”

    Granado said the company has a team daily contacting people who will be impacted by the proposed pipeline.

    Schweihofer said some residents have been approached, but township officials have been kept in the dark.

    Granado said the company hopes to submit its FERC certificate application in January and, if necessary approvals are obtained, start construction in January 2016.

    Granado said the company plans to pump 3.25 billion cubic feet of natural gas through the pipeline per day.

    Three companies initially committed to ship their product through the pipeline: American Energy, Antero Resources Corporation, and Range Resources Corporation.

    Since then, other companies have approached ET Rover Pipeline during i ts open season to ship product through the pipeline, Granado said.

    “Our open season ended and we had at that point the commercial commitments we needed to proceed with the project,” Granado said.

    The pipeline is a $4.3 billion investment. It could lead to as many as 10,000 temporary jobs along the interstate line, and 30 to 40 permanent jobs, according to ET Rover Pipeline.

    Annual taxes to counties and states along the multi-state pipeline would total about $153 million per year, including an estimated $11 million per year to Michigan.

    More than $100 million will be paid to landowners for easements.

    The company still is working on its pre-filing application with FERC, Granado said. “The next stage is when we file our application which we have slated for January,” she said As the route changes over the coming months, Granado said additional open houses will be held.

    “We will be coming back in the next couple weeks and we’ll be doing a few more open houses in counties that are now on the route that weren’t before,” Granado said.

    “We’ve moved out of some counties and into others.”

    Beth LeBlanc|Times Herald|September 5, 2014

    Solar Energy Saves Farmers Money

    Large solar farm open for business and farmers are seeing the benefits.

    Almost 3000 panels stand on four acres of land.

    “It’s going to create electricity to run our grain dryers, for drying grain, electricity for pumping water for live stock or whatever you use electricity for,” said Dean Miller.

    Those are some of the benefits from what is now Iowa’s largest solar farm.

    It will generate  enough energy to power about 120 homes.

    “So we’re not taking as much off of the grid it’s going back into Farmer’s Electric’s grid and then farmer’s electric will sell it to the individual farmers,” said Miller.

    Farmer’s Electric Co-op is a group of farmers that buys electricity wholesale and then sells it to their customers.

    Their goal was to get 15 percent of energy from renewable resources by 2025 but now farmers say they will achieve that by 2015.

    Instead of using energy generated by fossil-fueled power plants, the solar farm will avoid about 2.1 million pounds of carbon pollution each year.

    “Literally everybody benefits and I think in the long run even the utilities benefit because this just takes a bit out of their revenue stream,” said Barry Shear, President of Eagle Point Solar.

    Farmers like Miller are all for it.

    “Our electric bill probably will not be quite as high because Farmer’s Electric does not have to buy as much off the grid,” said Miller.

    Hillary Kenyon|Associated Press|09/01/2014 

    Land Conservation

    Vote YES on Amendment 1

    What is Amendment 1?

    For those of you receiving this newsletter for the first time, we’d like to open with an overview of Amendment 1, the Water and Land Conservation Amendment.

    Amendment 1 will appear on the ballot this November, giving voters throughout the state a direct opportunity to keep our drinking water clean, protect our rivers, lakes and springs, restore natural treasures like the Everglades and protect our beaches and shores.

    All without raising taxes.

    Amendment 1 will create steady, stable funding to address the threats to our water quality and keep pollution out of our waters.

    Floridians understand the value of clean and abundant water for people and wildlife, and they cherish the natural areas that make Florida special. Amendment 1 will ensure that these values we share as Floridians, will have a place in our state’s constitution.

    To view the Title and Summary of Amendment 1, as they will appear on the ballot this November, visit our website: www.VoteYesOn1FL.org

    After dismantling land programs, Scott now wants funds for them

    When Gov. Rick Scott unveiled a proposal this month to revive Florida’s popular environmental land-buying program, to the tune of $150 million a year, the news caught Greg Brock off guard.

    “I was kind of shocked,” said Brock, who recently retired from the Division of State Lands.

    That’s because Scott’s administration has spent the past three years dismantling the division of the Department of Environmental Protection that’s in charge of assessing and acquiring environmental land, according to Brock and other former DEP employees.

    Their funding was cut, their staffing numbers were trimmed back, and their focus was shifted away from buying property to trying to get rid of it, they said.

    “There was a marked challenge to reduce the division to the very minimal amount of people you could operate with,” said Mike Long, who rose to acting division director before he quit in 2012.

    The remaining employees were told that their objective “was changing from a goal of protecting conservation land to more of ‘We own land and we can’t afford to manage it, so we should look around for buyers,’ ” Long said.

    Scott’s DEP proposed, and the Legislature authorized, a drive in 2013 to sell off $50 million worth of its park and preserve property and then use the money raised to buy more land. The proposed sell-off created statewide controversy as waves of people objected. The DEP ended up abandoning the effort without having sold a single parcel.

    “That was just crazy,” said Judy Warrick, who retired this year after 15 years, 10 of which she spent piecing together a complex series of land deals for a major Everglades restoration project covering 50,000 acres. “They didn’t perceive that it was as important as it was to the public.”

    DEP press secretary Tiffany Cowie said the agency is still keenly interested in buying land.

    “The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is committed to buying valuable conservation lands across the state,” Cowie said.

    Before Scott took office, Warrick said, 40 people worked at the DEP buying land as part of the politically popular Florida Forever program. But many of them left via resignation or early retirement because they did not like the direction taken by the Scott administration. One, Jim Farr, joked that if he’d stayed, he’d be facing homicide charges.

    DEP records show the acquisition and real estate services staff now consists of 14 people. Former DEP employees say the number is actually in single digits but that repeated division reorganizations have disguised just how deep the cuts have been.

    But Cowie said changes made to the lands division only reduced duplication, and “current staffing numbers are generally consistent with previous years.”

    Beginning in 1990, using programs such as Preservation 2000 and Florida Forever, Florida invested $300 million a year in buying environmentally sensitive land. The money came from bonds repaid by the sale of documentary stamps on real estate transactions. The land-buying programs assembled a diverse collection of swamps, forests, beaches and other parks and preserves, which was popular with the public.

    But then a backlash began, with critics in the Legislature complaining that the government owns too much land. Government agencies own more than 25 percent of the 34.2 million acres in Florida, a figure that includes not only parks, but also prisons, military bases, college campuses and other uses.

    During Florida’s recent economic meltdown, real estate sales dwindled, and the Legislature cut the funding. Even when there was still a few million dollars for buying land, though, “we had a secretary who didn’t want to spend any of it,” said Brock, who spent nearly 30 years with the DEP. Instead, top officials assigned the land-buying staff “mind-boggling things” that seemed designed to be mere make-work projects, he said.

    In public, the man whom Scott picked as his DEP agency head in January 2011, Secretary Herschel Vinyard Jr., touted the value of the state’s parks and preserves. But behind closed doors, he was less enthusiastic, the former employees said.

    Vinyard’s lack of enthusiasm went public last year in a very dramatic fashion, they said, when phosphate mining giant Mosaic — as part of a legal settlement with the Sierra Club and other environmental groups — offered to hand over to the state for free a $4 million parcel.

    The 4,100-acre Peaceful Horse Ranch was already on the state’s acquisition list. It lies along 7 miles of the Peace River, where the woods and wetlands are full of bald eagles, gopher tortoises, wood storks, sandhill cranes and ospreys.

    In an unprecedented move, the DEP told Mosaic no thanks. Vinyard said his experts had looked over the ranch and “determined the property was not appropriate to take on as a state park.”

    That wasn’t the only parcel rejected — just the one that garnered headlines, said Farr, who served as staff director of the state’s Acquisition and Restoration Council until he took early retirement. The council sets the priorities for which land will be bought.

    “We weren’t allowed to accept donations of in-holdings in the Everglades and Lake Wales Ridge areas, even though we would be getting for free something that would make it easier to manage the state lands we already owned,” he said.

    Meanwhile, Farr said, Vinyard was “slowly dismantling the land acquisition division.”

    That’s why hearing Scott’s proposal to revive the land-buying effort — albeit at half of the funding level that it once enjoyed — was such a shock to Brock and the others.

    “But it’s an election year,” Brock said, chuckling. “I guess anything can happen.”

    CRAIG PITTMAN|Tampa Bay Times|August 31, 2014

    State eyes Okeechobee properties for purchase and or easements

    Four projects are being eyed for pur­chase under the Florida Forever program in Okeechobee County.

    The 2014-2015 work plan includes pur­chase of 2,229 acres at the Tiger Cattle Com­pany Ranch, and 34,589 acres known as the Kissimmee River-St. Johns River connector. Also being considered for future purchase are 7,998 acres at the Triple Diamond Ranch and 89 acres which surround the Battle of Okeechobee Park.

    In Glades County, 108,789 acres in the Fisheating Creek ecosystem and 13,515 acres south of the Caloosahatchee River southwest of Ortona are also under consideration.

    The Fisheating Creek ecosystem was ranked second on a list of 29 projects and the Kissimmee-St. Johns connector ranked eight.

    Normally the top third of the list voted on by the State Acquisition and Restoration Council are purchased each year.

    Director of the Division of State Lands for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Kelley Boree said the goal of the Florida Forever Program is to protect natural resources, wildlife, historical sites, and it is voluntary. Land owners submit application to the state to consider the land for purchase outright or conservation easement. She noted the council takes an annual vote on the work plan. They also can ask the DEP to conduct more detailed investigations of the property. This vote takes place each December.

    “All of the properties the council votes on has great resources, but like everything else, there is always one that is a little bit better. They put a level of priority on all of them, low, medium and high, and normally the DEP will select the top third and move those to the work plan,” she added.

    The work plan is then approved by the Florida Governor and Cabinet. This year the approval took place on June 17.

    “I’m sure we will have some great wins for our state this year, as we acquire some of these properties for future generations to enjoy,” she added.

    The state legislature budgeted $40 million for non-conservation lands and also submit­ted $20 million to assist water management districts in purchases this year.

    The Caloosahatchee Ecoscape property would help preserve the Florida Panther and black bears along with fi ve other species like the Florida scrub-jay, swallow tailed kite and the mangrove fox squirrel. It is managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and includes west prairie, cy­press basin, dome swamp, mesic and wet flatwoods, depressional marshes and scrub. The project would qualify as a wildlife man­agement area with hunting allowed, trails, and camping, picnicking and other activities. The estimated taxable value of the property is $14,055,481, and the cost to acquire the 4,940 acres would be $2.32 million.

    The Fisheating Creek ecosystem property had a taxable value of $15.3 million back in 2003. The cost to purchase the property would be $55.6 million. The goal would be to preserve natural prairies and flatwoods and would also complete the Florida Nation­al Scenic Trail, a statewide non-motorized trail that crosses a number of Florida Forever Project sites. Twenty-seven rare species that include the Florida Sandhill Crane, short­tailed hawk, and gopher tortoise would be preserved on the property. It is designated as a wildlife management area that allows hunting, hiking and wildlife observation.

    The Kissimmee-St. Johns River Connec­tor covers land in Okeechobee and Indian River County. It would provide a habitat and hydrological connection between the Fort Drum Marsh Conservation Area, the Kissim­mee Prairie State Preserve and the Ordway-Whittell Kissimmee Prairie Sanctuary. Fifteen rare species are associated with the project which include the Florida Grasshopper Spar­row, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Florida Sandhill Crane, the Wood Stork, and Crested Caracara. The purchase price is just under $11.1 million and the estimated tax value is $28.1 million. The project includes 11 differ­ent owners and 91 separate parcels. It was ranked last out of eight properties in the cat­egory.

    The Triple Diamond Ranch acquisition would preserve dry prairie and high quality habitats and is located south of the Kissim­mee River Prairie Preserve State Park. To­gether with existing conservation lands and those proposed, it would be part of a con­tinuous landscape protected area of more than 200,000 acres in northern Okeechobee County. The Department of Environmen­tal Protection would be the recommended manager of the site. State officials main­tain the property has the potential for trail activities for nature lovers, hikers, bikers and horseback riders. Primitive and family camping could also be allowed. The existing residence could be converted to a spacious visitor and education center. The estimated taxable value is just over $23 million.

    The Okeechobee Battlefield represents one of the most significant events in Florida history and the second Seminole War. There is 89 acres that surround the existing 154 acre park. The battlefield was described by the National Park Service as one of the 11 most endangered historic sites in the United States. The Archeological and Historical Con­servancy proposes to manage the property in cooperation with Okeechobee County and the Friends of the Okeechobee Battlefield. The park could one day include an interpre­tive center and museum, and could one day be similar to the Olustee Battlefield State His­toric Site.

    The Tiger Cattle Company Ranch has an estimated taxable value of just over $4.5 mil­lion. It was ranked fourth on a list of eight properties this year in their category. A con­servation easement would increase the num­ber of areas of preserved strategic habit, and provide landscape links with the Kissimmee Prairie State Park, the Kissimmee St. Johns Connector and the Pine Island Slough proj­ect. The management would be monitored by the Division of State Lands, Office of En­vironmental Services. The property includes two large basin marshes, dry prairie, mesic flatwoods, and improved pasture. No public access would be planned and the land own­er would continue to manage the site.

    Charles M. Murphy|Okeechobee News|06/27/2014

    DEP Secretary Approves Acquisition of Six Greenway and Trail Projects

    Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. has approved six acquisition projects that close key trail gaps in the Florida Greenways and Trails Priority System. Funding for the projects will come from the department’sFlorida Forever funding to the Office of Greenways and Trails.

    “These projects will enhance recreational opportunities for Florida residents and visitors,” said Secretary Vinyard. “In simpler terms, these trails will enable the folks to get a little mud on their boots and bike tires.”

    The projects include two trail gaps in Palm Beach County along the 63-mile Ocean to Lake Trail that runs from Hobe Sound Beach near Jupiter to Lake Okeechobee in Port Mayaca. The trail is used by hikers, bicyclists and equestrians.

    Additionally, two projects will help close gaps in the 110-mile Cross Florida Greenway and another connects the Cross Florida Greenway to the 4,462-acre Indian Lake State Forest near Silver Springs in Ocala. An approved project in the Florida Panhandle creates a greenway along the scenic Chipola River in Jackson County, furthering a planned publicly owned corridor from Florida Caverns State Park to the county-owned Hinson Conservation and Recreation Area.

    The approved projects have been given to the department’s Division of State Lands to begin the acquisition process. To view the complete project list, click HERE.

    latashawalters|Sep. 2, 2014

    SRD buys valuable piece of real estate

    The Strathcona Regional District has agreed to purchase a hotly debated piece of property for nearly $1 million.

    After five years of negotiations with Island Timberlands, the owner of the 70-acre greenspace on Cortes Island, the property is expected to soon belong to the regional district.

    Island Timberlands accepted an offer of $839,000 for the property, known as Whaletown Commons, which is appraised at $826,000 ($475,000 for the timber and $351,000 for the land).

    The Whaletown Commons Society, a non-profit which has been trying to secure the land for more than 20 years, is partnering with the regional district and has agreed to chip in roughly $73,000 towards the purchase with its share raised through local donations.

    Cortes Director Noba Anderson told her constituents in a newsletter in June that the regional district has more than $571,000 in community parks reserve funds that it’s prepared to contribute towards the purchase.

    Anderson said she’s pleased the regional district was able to secure the land for Cortes residents to enjoy for years to come.

    “I am beyond delighted that this long-standing community park priority has finally become a reality,” Anderson said in a news release. “The purchase of Whaletown Commons is a rare opportunity to secure 70 acres of green-space in the center of a neighborhood, and I am honored to be part of making this happen.”

    The Whaletown Commons Society, which was formed with the sole purpose of keeping the greenspace as parkland, wants to use the property to create a community park in Whaletown and to provide a spot for potential re-location of some of the community’s public assembly buildings.

    The greenspace is a valuable piece of land because of its high forest and riparian values,  salmon-bearing Burnside Creek, and it provides a natural habitat for wolves and other animals.

    It also connects three Whaletown sub-neighbourhoods and is set to become the first formal and permanent park in the Whaletown/Gorge area.

    Anderson assured Cortes Islanders last month that the regional district has no interest in developing the property.

    “It is important to underline that this park would be purchased as a green space – and a green space only,” Anderson wrote on Cortes’ online site, Tideline, in June. “What becomes of it in the future will be up to the community and the limitations of the covenant (on the land).

    Kristen Douglas|Campbell River Mirror|Sep 2, 2014

    [It is great to conserve land for the environment no matter the parcel size or location.]

    Transportation

    EVs and Energy Storage Pave the Road to a Clean Energy Future

    “The times they are a’ changin’.” So goes Bob Dylan’s classic song from the ’60s, and that’s certainly the case when it comes to how we generate, distribute, use and store electricity. Having made great strides in enhancing performance and reliability and reducing costs, growing government support and incentives for intelligent energy storage solutions adds significant impetus to the growing wave of change sweeping across the U.S. power sector.

    With far more distributed renewable power generation online than any other U.S. state, California, in October 2013, was the first to require its investor-owned utilities deploy energy storage capacity — a total of 1.3 gigawatts (GW) by 2020. Other state legislators and electric utilities weren’t far behind.

    Working in conjunction with NYSERDA, New York State’s Energy Resource and Development Authority, Con Edison (Con Ed), New York City’s primary electricity supplier, in March announced an energy storage incentive plan. A key aspect of the Indian Point Center Energy Efficiency, Demand Reduction and Combined Heat and Power Implementation Plan, Con Ed intends to reduce electricity demand by 125 megawatts (MW) across its service area. Incentives for both battery and thermal energy storage amount to as much as $2,000 per kW of power storage. That’s in addition to $600 per kW currently offered by NYSERDA.

    In May, Hawaii Electric Co. (HECO) issued a request for proposals (RFP) to bring energy storage capacity on-line in order to better manage the growing amount of distributed solar and wind power generation on Oahu, which now stands at around 11 percent of supply. HECO subsidiary Hawaiian Electric is seeking proposals for large-scale energy storage systems that can store anywhere from 60-200 MWs for up to 30 minutes.

    Following a year of debate, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) and the island’s primary electric utility, Autoridad de Energia Electrical, issued minimum technical requirements governing the incorporation of energy storage capacity to all new renewable energy generation projects in the U.S. territory. Each project must be able to provide 45-minutes of a facility’s maximum generation capacity over one minute in order to smooth ramping up and down to meet fluctuating electricity demand.

    Distributed, solar and renewable power generation, smart grid, automated metering, demand response and intelligent energy storage systems — they are all coming together and disrupting the U.S. power sector to a degree that hasn’t been seen since the advent of the Electrical Age around the turn of the 20th century.

    Adding to this wave of fundamental change, electric vehicles (EVs) and supporting charging infrastructure figure to play a growing and key role in the transition to a distributed, clean energy.

    By and large, U.S. power utilities — in the absence of legislation or new regulations — have been as or more reactionary in their response to this growing wave of technological innovation and industry change as they’ve been supportive or embracing. That stance is gradually shifting more toward the “supportive/embracing” end of the spectrum, however.

    Industry association The Edison Electric Institute (EEI) recently released a report that focuses on the electric power industry’s effort to accelerate the expansion of electric transportation in commercial and retail markets, beginning with electric utility fleets.”

    EVs, along with distributed power generation, smart grid technology and intelligent energy storage systems, open wide new vistas of business opportunity for electric utilities. Capitalizing on them requires flexibility and adaptability, as well as a willingness to experiment, take on and manage risk. It also requires a firm commitment from senior management and buy-in from stakeholders, including utility customers and employees.

    In “Transportation Electricification: Utility Fleets Leading the Charge,” EEI urges investor-owned electric utilities to spend at least five percent of their fleet acquisition budgets on plug-in electric (PEV) vehicles and technology.

    EEI’s investor-owned utility CEO’s selected PG&E Corp. chairman and CEO Tony Earley and Portland General Electric CEO and President Jim Piro as co-chairs to guide the EEI Electric Transportation Task Force. As EEI explains, the task force’s mission “is to champion the issue of electrification by increasing the awareness, opportunities, and activities related to electrification within the utility industry, collaborating with automakers and other stakeholders, and educating the public at large about the benefits of electric vehicles and technologies.”

    Added EEI President Tom Kuhn, ““The electric power industry is a tremendous leader in supporting electric transportation, but we must continue to strengthen our efforts and lead by example. One way we can do that is by leveraging our industry’s buying power to purchase more PEVs for our fleets,” said EEI President Tom Kuhn. “The white paper released today is a road map for a long-term, coordinated effort to further spur the development of electric vehicle technologies in the electric transportation market.”

    At Green Charge Networks we have been working at the cutting edge of smart energy storage innovation since 2009. We’re encouraged by the performance and response of GreenStation customers — including major commercial and industrial companies and municipalities — to date, and we’re especially encouraged to see greater numbers of industry, such as EEI’s membership, recognize the important role intelligent energy storage and management technology can play in the transition to cleaner, healthier and sustainable electricity and transportation future.

    Vic Shao|Green Charge Networks|September 01, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “I am very happy for POET-DSM,” Beta Renewables CEO Guido Ghisolfi told The Digest. “Look at the landscape now. You have four big companies — in fact, ours, a $3 billion company, is the smallest. And they have all chosen the enzymatic conversion pathway, and that is the clear winner now, we know that. Gasification and pyrolysis are very interesting technologies but they have proven very, very tough to master at the kinds of costs and timelines that are needed right now.

    “Another thing. It tells you something about dirty biomass. You know, most of us like DuPont and Abengoa and ourselves and POPET-DSM, we’ve been in the business of chemical conversion for years — but we’ve been using in-spec materials. When you are working with corn stover, wood chips, waste residues — you are dealing with a very, very wide spec. No two bales are the same, and the differences can be considerable. Think of just the rocks, and dirt that are bound to get swept up with the stover when you recover it from the field.

    Working with that material is tough. Not just because it is new — cellulose and so on. But because it is not in spec, not even close. Enzymatic conversion is going to get better over time, but it is the one technology that we know can handle these variances effectively.”

    “Other states, including Illinois, Florida, Mississippi, Nebraska, and Kansas, will soon have cellulosic plants,” said Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, the Governors’ Biofuels Coalition chairman, “and plans are underway for additional plants in more than 20 states.

    “Cellulosic ethanol production can make our agricultural system more resilient and sustainable while reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Experts in Illinois and Iowa are hard at work making that happen, and Poet-DSM is a great step toward achieving that,” Governor Quinn added.

    BIO President & CEO Jim Greenwood stated, “The advanced biofuel industry is right now commissioning and starting up first-of-a-kind cellulosic biofuel plants, creating new jobs and putting innovative new technology into action, thanks to the Renewable Fuel Standard. Project Liberty is the realization of nearly a decade of research and development, and we congratulate POET-DSM and its employees on this achievement.”

    “We should not forget that the Renewable Fuels Standards (RFS) is enabling U.S. biofuels innovation and commercialization and the dedication of this new biorefinery underscores the significance and efficacy of this important public policy,” said Brent Erickson BIO’s Executive Vice President.

    It’s a traditional corn ethanol plant with a cellulosic bolt-on, that boosts overall capacity by 20 percent. Known as Project LIBERTY, it will produce 20 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel per year — later ramping up to 25 million gallons — from corn cobs, leaves, husk and some stalk.

    When operational, the facility will accept 300,000 tons of biomass which, according to POET’s released figures, can be sustainably harvested from a 468 square-mile area. By contrast, a 100 Mgy corn ethanol plant can be sustained by a 325 square-mile area using POET’s process.

    “Removing approximately one ton of biomass out of the average 4.26 tons available per acre,” POET has said, “will not require any drastic changes in fertilizer management for producers choosing to participate in the program.

    In 2012, POET teamed with Dutch-based Royal DSM to create a 50/50 joint venture called Poet-DSM Advanced Biofuels that will produce cellulosic ethanol and license the technology to other plants in the U.S. and globally. DSM and POET each hold a 50% share in the joint venture, which will be headquartered in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The initial capital expenditure by the joint venture in Project Liberty will amount to about $250 million.

    The two partners will produce cellulosic ethanol from corn crop residue using enzymatic hydrolysis followed by fermentation. The initial capacity is expected to be 20 million gallons in the first year, growing to approximately 25 million gallons per year.

    For now, said POET CEO Jeff Broin, the company will focus on corn cobs and stover, although it may undertake work on other feedstocks at a later time. For now, then, the scope of the venture is essentially limited to the US corn ethanol fleet of around 180 facilities, and a handful of other production sites in Canada and elsewhere around the world.

    In 2010, POET outlined its plans to produce up to 3.5 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol by 2022 in a presentation at the National Press Club. This plan included:

    • 1 billion gallons through added capacity at POET’s existing network of 26 corn ethanol plants.
    • 1.4 billion gallons through licensing of the POET technology to other existing corn ethanol producers.
    • 1.1 billion gallons based on new feedstocks sourced through POET Biomass and through joint ventures, using wheat straw, switchgrass and municipal waste as feedstocks.

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and USDA have estimated that as many as 350-400 new bio-refineries will have to be constructed by 2022 to meet the volume requirement of 16 billion gallons/year of cellulosic bio-ethanol under the RFS. The proposed added capacity would account for 20 percent of the cellulosic ethanol required by 2022 in the Renewable Fuel Standard.

    However, POET Chairman Jeff Broin said that the time hat the US government had to provide the access to market and policy stability needed to attract the necessary financing for new facility construction.

    In a press conference in 2012, POET CEO Jeff Broin said that the company cost of ethanol production was below $3 per gallon but did not elaborate further. in November 2009, the company projected a per-gallon cost of $2.35 at scale, down from $4.13 in late  2008. The company had said at the time that it expects to reach its $2 per gallon goal by the time the Project LIBERTY plant opens.

    US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack summed it up best:

    “Emmetsburg has been known as a great community with great progress. But today it changes. Today it becomes the capital of the advanced biofuel world. Today it welcomes the world to a new energy future. Now I know there may some skeptics out there who may be asking the question is cellulsosic ethanol for real. Can it be commercially produced. Well I say, come to Emmetsburg.”

    Jim Lane|Biofuels Digest|September 04, 2014

    This article was originally published on Biofuels Digest and was republished with permission.

    Recycling

    California passes plastic bag ban, would be first such law in U.S.

    SACRAMENTO Calif. (Reuters) – The California state legislature enacted a ban on plastic grocery bags on Friday near the end of its two-year session, a measure that if signed into law would become the first of its kind in America.

    A number of cities and counties in California and other U.S. states, including Hawaii’s Maui County, have made it illegal for grocery stores to pack purchases in plastic. But at the state level, opposition from plastic bag makers has usually prevailed.

    The California Senate voted 22-15 for the bill, which must be signed into law by Sept. 30 by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, who has not signaled a position on the measure.

    “Single-use plastic bags not only litter our beaches, but also our mountains, our deserts, and our rivers, streams and lakes,” said state Senator Alex Padilla, who sponsored the bill.

    Padilla backed a similar measure last year but it failed by three votes. The fate of this bill was uncertain until the waning hours of the session after falling three votes short in the state’s Assembly on Monday.

    But after picking up the support of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, the bill passed a second vote in the Assembly.

    The measure would ban grocery stores from handing out single-use grocery bags with customers’ purchases, and provide money to local plastic bag companies to retool to make heavier, multiple-use bags that customers could buy.

    Environmentalists have pushed for banning plastic bags, which are cheaper for supermarkets to use than paper bags, but create mountains of trash that is difficult to recycle. In California, there is particular concern that the bags, when swept out to sea, could harm ocean life.

    After the defeat of his earlier bill, Padilla won the support of some California-based bag makers by including the funding for retooling. But in recent months, out-of-state manufacturers campaigned against the bill, even producing television advertisements targeting Padilla, who is running for secretary of state.

    Cathy Browne, general manager at Crown Poly, a plastic bag manufacturer in Huntington Park, California, said the bill would lead to layoffs at companies like hers.

    More than 10 billion plastic bags are used in California each year, according to an estimate by Californians Against Waste, an advocacy group supporting the bill.

    Writing by Eric M. Johnson|Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Mark Heinrich

    Aaron Mendelson|Reuters|August 31, 2014

    Innovative Recycling Program Turns Bottles Into Subway Rides

    Forget your reusable bottle at home this morning and find yourself towing an unwanted plastic bottle? If you are in Beijing, you are in luck — you could trade in that empty bottle for a subway ticket.
    “Reverse vending machines” in subway stations around the city allow riders to deposit polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles in exchange for a commuter pass or mobile phone credit.

    Donors receive 5 fen to 1 yuan (about 16 cents) for each PET bottle, depending on its weight and composition. Incom Recycling, which is owned by Asia’s largest PET processor, Incom Resources Recovery, first introduced the system to Beijing subway stops in late 2012, with 10 machines across the city. The company has since expanded to include 34 machines, and it plans to install as many as 3,000 across the city, according to local media reports.

    The machines would seem like a great way to encourage recycling in a city of upwards of 20 million. Except that Beijing doesn’t have a plastics recycling problem — it already has a 90 percent recycling rate for PET bottles, above most cities around the world. This is not because recycling is a regular behavior in Beijing (or the rest of China), but because there are countless migrant workers who pick through the city’s waste and collect plastic bottles, which are then processed and repurposed by large companies like Incom, or at one of thousands of small recycling workshops.

    Incom intends to use the machines to bypass informal collectors and earn additional revenue from the machines in the form of advertisements, according to a 2012 story by the Guardian. As Shanghai-based author and Bloomberg columnist Adam Minter has remarked, in contrast to the West, recycling is more of an economic activity than an environmental pursuit in China.

    Continue reading at ENN affiliate, Triple Pundit.

    Miscellaneous

    Mystery Behind Slithering Rocks of Death Valley Revealed

    In California’s Death Valley, a geological phenomenon exists. Sailing stones, or moving rocks can be observed on the valley floor inscribing long trails on the ground without human or animal intervention.

    For over 60 years of observations, no one has been able to uncover the mystery of what is actually pushing these stones across the sand. That is, until now.

    For decades, scientists have trekked out to a dry lake bed in Death Valley called Racetrack Lake, to see these rocks for themselves. Some of the stones weigh as much as 500 pounds, and many do indeed leave a long trail in the sand; some paths are straight, some zigzag.

    Richard Norris, a geologist at Scripps, was just as puzzled as everyone else when he first saw the rock trails. Some were even parallel, as if the rocks had moved in tandem. “They are just going every which way out there,” he says, “but in a very regular kind of fashion — like they’re moving in fleets.”

    Fleets of boulders mysteriously sliding across the lake bed, or playa caused researchers to become obsessed with the phenomenon. Some scientists said windstorms were behind it, others said ice. Multiple experiments have been conducted in the valley over the years to narrow down the causes.

    So what did scientists do to get to the bottom of this mystery? They put GPS trackers on the rocks. And even though these rocks are observed moving in desert environments, ice was determined to be the culprit.

    How? After rain had fallen, overnight, a thin sheet of ice can form on the desert surface. When the sun starts to melt the ice, the ice pops and thin sheets of ice start to slide atop a film of melted water, slowly pushing any rocks along.

    The rocks slid several feet per minute along the muddy desert floor.

    Norris says the right conditions — rain followed by cold and sunshine, a steady wind, and mud that’s just slippery enough — coincide very rarely, but is the reason for these mysterious rock movements.

    The details of their results in the current issue of the journal Plos One.

    Allison Winter|ENN|August 28, 2014

    Footage of powerful solar flares released by NASA

    Just Released: 2015-16 WWF Travel Catalog

    The WWF travel catalog of the World’s Greatest Nature Journeys features more than 75 adventures around the globe, including 18 new itineraries for 2015! In tandem with our travel partner, Natural Habitat Adventures, we offer conservation-focused trips that showcase an exhilarating array of wildlife in their native ecosystems, guided by top naturalist expedition leaders.
    View our offerings online
    Request a copy of the catalog in the mail

    What is causing high nitrates ?

     Scientists have determined, with a greater level of precision than ever before, the sources that are polluting Silver Springs.

    State experts say septic tanks account for 40 percent of the nitrogen that annually makes its way into the groundwater and eventually bubbles up from Silver Springs, according to a preliminary Florida Department of Environmental Protection study presented earlier this week.

    This percentage was calculated by studying a 117,000-acre recharge area immediately surrounding the spring. It’s estimated that water in this recharge area takes as long as 10 years to make its way to the spring and up to the surface.

    FDEP scientists released the study during a meeting to discuss the Silver Springs Basin Management Action Plan. They cautioned that additional information will soon become available, and it could change some of their findings.

    The basin management action plan is the blueprint by which Marion County and FDEP determine which activities, such as nitrogen generation, affect the springs, and spell out how such activities can be curtailed. There are basin management action plans for a number of water basins throughout Florida.
    The FDEP has already designated Silver Springs as impaired, with a nitrate level that is three times beyond the acceptable range. And it is no mystery that septic tanks have been a significant culprit.

    But this new study better pinpoints the extent to which septic tanks, and other sources, are contributing to the problem.

    The study estimates that nearly 470,000 pounds of nitrogen annually is loaded into the 10-year capture zone around Silver Springs.

    Septic tanks are responsible for 40 percent. Horse farms constitute the second highest contribution source, at 13 percent, while county drainage wells cause 12 percent and residential fertilizer causes 11 percent, the study says.

    Wastewater treatment facilities contribute 8 percent, while agricultural fertilizer contributes 7 percent and cattle farms are responsible for 4 percent.

    There are several other minor contributors. Naturally occurring sources, such animal waste from the surrounding forest, are not factored into the total.
    The study also considers the sources of nitrogen beyond just the 10-year capture zone.

    When the entire 588,000-acre basin management area is considered, septic tanks account for 36 percent of the 1.5 million pounds of nitrogen annually loaded into the groundwater. Cattle farms were the second highest contributor at 18 percent.

    Agricultural fertilizer contributed 15 percent while horse farms contributed 9 percent and residential fertilizer 8 percent, that part of the study said.

    It is still unknown how much nitrogen there is in the groundwater from sources originating many years ago and still travelling slowly toward Silver Springs. Such nitrogen is called “legacy nitrogen.”

    Brian Katz, a consultant for the FDEP, said during the meeting earlier this week that a “significant” amount of legacy nitrogen could be in groundwater.

    Given the amount of estimated nitrogen in groundwater, and the additional legacy nitrogen, FDEP and Marion County will have a difficult time achieving the goal for the spring: a maximum of less than 500,000 pounds of nitrogen annually.

    “It looks daunting,” said Shane Williams, an engineer for Marion County. But there are many nitrogen sources and “not one source has to take all of the responsibility,” Williams said.

    The next step is for FDEP to compile historical information on nitrogen sources and land use, and to compare its nitrogen data findings with those of other agencies. FDEP will also continue to study legacy nitrogen.

    Rancher and farmer Richard Barber, who attended the meeting where the basin management plan was discussed, said people like him often are unfairly singled out and accused of contributing an undue amount of nitrogen to groundwater.

    “It’s easy because there aren’t many of us to defend ourselves and we’re big land users,” he said. “It’s easy to pick on us.”

    Barber, who operates 1,000-acre cattle and farming operation, said farmers use far less fertilizer than they did even a few years ago.

    “We are not nearly as guilty as they want to make us,” he said.

    Fred Hiers|Staff Writer|Ocala.com|April 25, 2014

    Office Plants Increase Productivity by 15%

    Do you have any plants in your office? What about at home? It may take a green thumb to keep these potted floras alive and well, but studies show that indoor plants have multiple benefits and are worth the care and attention. Some benefits include helping us breathe easier, purifying air and improving health, and even sharpening our focus.

    According to a new study, plants can even make work environments more productive. Researchers claim that ‘green’ offices with plants make staff happier and more productive than ‘lean’ designs stripped of greenery.

    Kenneth Freeman, Head of Innovation at interior landscaping company Ambius, who were involved in the study, said: “We know from previous studies that plants can lower physiological stress, increase attention span and improve well-being. But this is the first long term experiment carried out in a real-life situation which shows that bringing plants into offices can improve well-being and make people feel happier at work. Businesses should rethink their lean processes, not only for the health of the employees, but for the financial health of the organization.”

    In the first field study of its kind, researchers found enriching a ‘lean’ office with plants could increase productivity by 15%.

    The team examined the impact of ‘lean’ and ‘green’ offices on staff’s perceptions of air quality, concentration, and workplace satisfaction, and monitored productivity levels over subsequent months in two large commercial offices in the UK and The Netherlands.

    Lead researcher Marlon Nieuwenhuis, from Cardiff University’s School of Psychology, said: “Our research suggests that investing in landscaping the office with plants will pay off through an increase in office workers’ quality of life and productivity.

    “Although previous laboratory research pointed in this direction, our research is, to our knowledge, the first to examine this in real offices, showing benefits over the long term. It directly challenges the widely accepted business philosophy that a lean office with clean desks is more productive.”

    The research showed plants in the office significantly increased workplace satisfaction, self-reported levels of concentration, and perceived air quality.

    Analyses into the reasons why plants are beneficial suggests that a green office increases employees’ work engagement by making them more physically, cognitively, and emotionally involved in their work.

    Co-author Dr Craig Knight, from the University of Exeter, said: “Psychologically manipulating real workplaces and real jobs adds new depth to our understanding of what is right and what is wrong with existing workspace design and management. We are now developing a template for a genuinely smart office.”

    Editor|ENN|September 2, 2014

    Read more at the University of Exeter.

    How Farm Pests Can Threaten Food Security

    Agricultural pests – viruses, bacteria, fungi, blights, mildews, rusts, beetles, nematodes, flies, mites, spiders and caterpillars – are spreading thanks to trade, travel and global warming, writes Tim Radford. The world faces a dire future of increased crop losses and growing insecurity.

    Coming soon to a farm near you: just about every possible type of pest that could take advantage of the ripening harvest in the nearby fields.

    By 2050, according to new research in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography, those opportunistic viruses, bacteria, fungi, blights, mildews, rusts, beetles, nematodes, flies, mites, spiders and caterpillars that farmers call pests will have saturated the world.

    Wherever they can make a living, they will. None of this bodes well for food security in a world of nine billion people and increasingly rapid climate change.

    Dan Bebber of the University of Exeter, UK, and colleagues decided to look at the state of pest populations worldwide.

    They combed the literature to check the present status of 1,901 pests and pathogens and examined historical records of another 424 species. This research included the records made since 1822 by the agricultural development organization CABI.

    Crop pests often emerge in one location, evolve and spread. That notorious potato pest the Colorado beetle, for instance, was first identified in the Rocky Mountains of the US in 1824.

    The scientists reasoned that climate change and international traffic made transmission of pests across oceans and other natural barriers increasingly probable, and tried to arrive at a rate of spread.

    They found that more than one in 10 of all pest types can already be found in half of the countries that grow the host plants on which these pests depend. Most countries reported around one fifth of the pests that could theoretically make their home there.

    Australia, China, France, India, Italy, the UK and the USA already had more than half of all the pests that could flourish in those countries. The pests that attack those tropical staples yams and cassava can be found in one third of the countries that grow those crops.

    Tim Radford|The Ecologist|September 2, 2014

    Continue reading at ENN affiliate The Ecologist.

    5 Tips for Taking Great Photos of People Underwater

    Taking photos of corals and fish are easy. Well sort-of… But taking photos of people underwater is a real challenge!
    I’ve gathered some tips from my experience that should help you out with your first underwater shoot! Hope it helps.

    1. Choose a good location!
    Not every body of water is created equal… You may use pools, oceans, lakes or even rivers, but you must make sure visibility is good. Did you know that pools will become very murky after a few hour of intense usage? Crystal clear oceans such as found in the Caribbean are a prime location, but a clear pool will be a great place to practice. Rivers and lakes are rarely clear enough to shoot, but you might get lucky.

    2. Modeling underwater is extremely difficult!
    As much as you believe that taking photos is the hard part, I assure you that modeling underwater is harder. The first thing you should do is try doing yourself what you ask from your subject. Opening your eyes, smiling naturally, not looking like an Octopus with your limbs all over the place, those would be among the things you should practice. Once you are in control of these, you can better guide your subject on how to pose and improve his / her facial expressions. The single most important tip for posing, is exhaling most of the air in your lungs before diving in. People have a tendency to take a deep breath before diving, which is good in terms of survival, but makes them float up like a balloon diminishing any chance of a flattering pose. I recommend taking a deep breath, exhaling most of it and then diving.

    3. Accessorize!
    People underwater in bathing suits are boring. On the other hand, people in a Spiderman suit holding a guitar with Elvis sunglasses and high-heeled leather boots – now that’s interesting!
    You don’t have to go that far, but getting some cool colorful fabrics and perhaps jewelry or fun toys, could add a lot to your underwater session and really make it stand out.

    4. Gear up!
    While it is possible to take photos with any type of gear, starting from smartphone cameras to complex DSLR systems, your best results would be when using a wide angle lens and at least one strobe. That can be achieved with a basic compact + wide wet lens + optically triggered strobe such as YS-01 or Inon S2000, or a good dSLR system with a lens such as the Tokina 10-17 or Sigma 10-20 and a dome port.
    Remember that when using a strobe, your WB should be set to AWB or Strobe mode, and no filters should be used. Set your background slightly darker than neutral exposure to bring out the subject, but not too dark to prevent a gloomy mood. (Unless you’re doing night shots.)

    5. Shoot RAW!
    With sessions like this, you will probably mess around a lot with your settings and probably over / under expose many images, specifically those where your model was giving his best pose and facial expression. In order to save those from the recycle bin, allow yourself the safety net of shooting RAW. Post processing will help you set the right exposure and correcting the colors, so that the subject pops out of the background to produce a great shot.
    Finally – remember to have fun! Being too serious about it would ultimately hurt your end results. Be playful and try some silly poses to get things started until both you and your model get the hang of it.

    Ran Mozaik|August 10th, 2014

    Even the Gorillas and Bears in Our Zoos Are Hooked on Prozac

    In May 1950 Henry Hoyt and Frank Berger, researchers at a small pharmaceutical company in New Jersey, submitted a patent application for a substance called meprobamate. They were impressed with the way the drug relaxed muscles in mice and calmed their notoriously testy lab monkeys: “We had about 20 rhesus and java monkeys. They’re vicious, and you’ve got to wear thick gloves and a face guard when you handle them. After they were injected with meprobamate though, they became very nice monkeys—friendly and alert. Where they wouldn’t previously eat in the presence of human beings, they now took grapes from your bare hand.”

    The drug caused such relaxation in the monkeys that it prompted researchers to wonder if meprobamate, which would soon be called Miltown, might be a productive complement to psychoanalysis in people.

    At the same time, a pharmacist at the French company Rhône-Poulenc screened a new drug, called chlorpromazine, for behavioral effects on rats. To reach a platform with food on it, the rats simply had to climb a rope. The drugged rats didn’t climb the rope, even when they learned that a shock was coming.

    They seemed totally indifferent: They weren’t concerned with the shock or the food. And it wasn’t because they were sedated or uncoordinated; they were wide awake and physically unimpaired.

    At Sainte-Anne Hospital in Paris in the early 1950s, doctors began giving chlorpromazine to patients with delirium, mania, confusion, and psychosis. The drug didn’t sedate these people or put them to sleep as other sedatives had done. Instead, patients on chlorpromazine were aware and, like the rats, indifferent to the outside world but could engage with it when needed.

    In 1954 Rhône-Poulenc sold the U.S. chlorpromazine license to Smith Kline, which named the drug Thorazine. The market for the new drug was mind-boggling, generating $75 million in sales in its first year.

    Miltown went to market in 1955 and became the fastest-selling drug in U.S. history. By 1957 more than 36 million Miltown prescriptions had been filled and a billion tablets manufactured. Tranquilizers accounted for one-third of all prescriptions in the United States, and the drug was active in redefining the very idea of what anxiety was and who could suffer from it.

    One of the first nonhumans to be given psychopharmaceuticals as a patient (and not as a test subject) was a western lowland gorilla named Willie B., who was famous in Atlanta, Georgia. He was captured in Congo as an infant in the 1960s and sent to Zoo Atlanta, where he lived for 39 years, 27 of them alone in an indoor cage with a tire swing and a television.

    According to Mel Richardson, who was working as a veterinarian at Zoo Atlanta at the time, Willie broke a glass window in his enclosure in the winter of 1970–71 and had to be transferred to a much smaller cage for six months while the glass was replaced with heavy metal bars.

    “He weighed around 400 pounds, and the cage was way too small for him,” said Mel. “If he stood up and stretched each arm all the way out he could almost touch both sides of the cage at once.”

    The vet staff put Thorazine in the Coca-Cola Willie drank in the morning. He responded to the drug as many institutionalized humans do: He shuffled back and forth across his cage with dulled eyes.

    The vet staff decided to medicate him so that the six months would be more bearable. They put Thorazine in the Coca-Cola he drank in the morning. According to Mel, Willie responded to the drug as many institutionalized humans do: He shuffled back and forth across his cage with dulled eyes. “It was a little like watching the men in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” Mel said.

    Dolphins, whales, sea lions, walruses, and other marine creatures in parks like SeaWorld have also been given psychotropic drugs for what their vets see as depression, anxiety, compulsive regurgitation, flank sucking, or other distressing behaviors.

    Two marine mammal veterinarians who have spent decades on staff or consulting for American animal-display facilities and the military’s marine mammal program told me that antidepressants and antipsychotics are commonly used but that “no one was going to talk to [me] about it.” Even they wouldn’t speak about the subject on the record.

    But we do know about Gus, one of the polar bears in the Central Park Zoo, who started compulsively swimming figure eights in his pool for up to 12 hours a day, every day, for months. When the zoo paid a behaviorist $25,000 to help him, something of a Gus moment took hold of the city. The bear was on the cover of Newsday, Letterman cracked jokes about him, and the Canadian band The Tragically Hip wrote a song called “What’s Troubling Gus?”

    The zoo’s public affairs manager said that Gus’s story was so captivating because “it’s like Woody Allen always being in therapy—the idea that all New Yorkers are neurotic.” In the wake of the news coverage, people called in from around the country to ask how the bear was doing.

    Gus lived in a 5,000-square-foot enclosure—less than .00009 percent of what his range in the Arctic would be. He was a major predator who, despite being born in captivity, no doubt still felt predatory impulses.

    The answer was complicated. Gus lived in a 5,000-square-foot enclosure—less than .00009 percent of what his range in the Arctic would be. He was also a major predator who, despite being born in captivity, no doubt still felt predatory impulses.

    In fact when Gus first arrived from an Ohio zoo in 1988, his favorite game was stalking children from the underwater window in his pool. “He liked to see them scream and run in terror—it was a game,” the zoo’s animal supervisor told a reporter. But the zoo staff didn’t want Gus to scare children or their parents, so they put up barriers to keep visitors farther away from the window. Gus soon started to swim in endless figure eights.

    Hoping to curb the neurotic behavior, the zoo hired Tim Desmond, an animal trainer who had trained the orca who played Willy in the film Free Willy. Desmond was able to reduce Gus’s compulsions by giving him new things to do, such as bear food puzzles or snacks that took him longer to eat: mackerel frozen in blocks of ice or chicken wrapped in rawhide.

    The zoo redesigned his exhibit and installed a play area stocked with rubber trash cans and traffic cones that Gus could pretend-maul. They also put him on Prozac. I do not know how long he was on the drug, or even if it was as effective as his new exhibit and entertainment schedule, but eventually Gus’s compulsive swimming tapered off, though it never went away entirely.

    Another case involves a whole troop of gorillas at the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston.
    In 1998 a 12-year-old male gorilla named Kitombe arrived at the zoo. The first week there, introductions between Kit and the other gorillas went smoothly. But soon Kit became violent. He also quickly impregnated one of the female gorillas, Kiki.

    Kit was deeply agitated about the pregnant Kiki and wouldn’t let any of the other gorillas in the exhibit near her. His ire was focused in particular on a 36-year-old female named Gigi, who was the oldest gorilla in the troop.

    As Kit chased Gigi around the exhibit, she screamed and shook. He bit her, tried to drown her in the exhibit’s moat, and tore open her scalp from ear to ear. Gigi, an already anxiety-prone gorilla given to repeatedly regurgitating and re-ingesting her food, eating her own feces, and sometimes slamming it on the glass of the exhibit in front of visitors, became a nervous wreck.

    The drugs gave Kit diarrhea and slowed him down a bit, but they didn’t make him less aggressive. The keepers weaned him off the Haldol and Prozac and started him on Zoloft, which didn’t work either.

    After two months of this, Dr. Hayley Murphy, the head veterinarian at the time, found her way to Michael Mufson, a psychiatrist and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.

    To treat Kit, Mufson prescribed Prozac and increasing dosages of the antipsychotic Haldol. The drugs gave Kit diarrhea and slowed him down a bit, but they didn’t make him less aggressive. The keepers weaned him off the Haldol and Prozac and started him on Zoloft, which didn’t work either. They tried one last antipsychotic, risperidone, but after a few months with no change in the frequency of his attacks on Gigi, Kit was separated from the troop and put in a cement and steel holding area by himself. Sadly, this isolation period would last more than 10 years.

    Mufson was more hopeful about his ability to help Gigi. He prescribed her a beta-blocker, the same drug that concert pianists take for nerves. She was on it for three months without much of an effect. Mufson then decided to try a combination of Xanax and Paxil. Gigi soon seemed slightly less anxious, but Kit still intimidated and bullied her. What actually worked was removing the violent gorilla from the rest of the troop, even if that didn’t help him. In the wake of Kit’s exile, Gigi was weaned off the drugs.

    After their experiences at the zoo in Boston, Murphy and Mufson were curious about the use of psychopharmaceuticals in other captive gorillas, so they surveyed all U.S. and Canadian zoos with gorillas in their collections. Nearly half of the 31 institutions that responded had given psychopharmaceutical drugs to their gorillas. The most frequently prescribed were Haldol (haloperidol) and Valium (diazepam), though Klonopin, Zoloft, Paxil, Xanax, Buspar, Prozac, Ativan, Versed, and Mellaril had all been tried.

    Mufson keeps photos of the Boston gorilla troop on his desk alongside pictures of his wife and children, and every year, he brings medical students on psychiatry rotations to the zoo to see the apes. Since he first began working with Gigi, Mufson has treated a number of gorillas in other American zoos. He also agitates for changes in their environments and daily routines.

    Laurel Braitman|07.15.14 

    In Memoriam

    Judy Bonds,62, Coal River Mountain Watch board member

    Environmental Links

    SFAS International Wildlife News Audubon Advocate Audubon Restore Eco-Voice South Florida Wildlife Care Center Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital The Turtle Hospital The Marathon Wild Bird Center Climate change info Audubon’s Coastal Strand Audubon of Florida News Blog Bioenergy News Climate Progress – climate science, politics and solutions Collins Center for Public Policy Comprehensive Everglades Restoration News EcoWatch – feeds from the WaterKeeper Alliance Everglades Foundation – press releases Everglades Hub Fort Myers News – Press Green Front Pages from Florida Newspapers Herald Tribune Newspapers –  Environmental News KeysNews.com Naples Daily News  – Environmental News National Public Radio Eco-News Riverwatch News about the Caloosahatchee Sierra Club Sierra Club Florida South Florida Watershed  Journal South Florida Water Management District Union of Concerned Scientists – news Yahoo News Search: Everglades NASA Climate Information American Littorial Society log NASA Climate Information Sun Newspapers – Lake Okeechobee News Everglades City News  – Mullet Wrapper IFAW’s World of Animals Magazine

    Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

    ConsRep 814 E

    Announcements

    The Effects of Noise Pollution on Wildlife: Marine Life and Birds

    Tuesday, September 9, 10:30am-4pm

    Westin Resort and Spa, 

    321 North Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., 

    Fort Lauderdale

    The workshop is sponsored by the Japanese-American philanthropy, Michiko So Finegold Memorial Trust, organized by U.S.-based Quieter America, with the assistance of the South Florida Audubon Society and the South Florida Wildlife Center, and hosted by the U.S. Institute of Noise Control Engineering. 

    Noise pollution matters. While wildlife and ecosystems cope with many pollutants and environmental stressors, recent research shows that noise has a greater impact than previously realized. One study documented noise as a major factor in the population decline of 234 species of birds and mammals near human infrastructure. The decline in abundance and change in animal behavior has also resulted in reduced plant growth and reproduction. International, national and local leaders will speak about the effects of noise on wildlife and ecosystems. Scientists Kyle Baker from NOAA, Jose Alicea-Pou from the University of el Turabo in Puerto Rico, George Frisk from Florida Atlantic University, and Catherine Ortega wildlife and riparian ecology researcher, will present leading research on the effects of noise on wildlife and ecosystems and how current policies exacerbate problems. Quiet-aviation pioneer Erik Lindbergh will speak about following his grandfather Charles Lindberg’s footsteps, and his pioneering first quiet-electric aircraft flight over the Grand Canyon, part of his own quiet flight initiative. Miccosukee activist / artist of the Otter clan, Houston Cypress will offer his unique, indigenous perspective.  There are still sponsorship opportunities available. We look forward to seeing you there!

    Pre-registration is recommended. For further details and to register contact: Darlenenoiseworkshop@gmail.com

    or phone at 970-224-2932 (please include your name, organizational affiliation, number of people attending, contact email address and phone number).

    Sincerely,

    Alena Alberani

    Director Community Outreach Quieter America

    outreachqa2014@gmail.com

    Audubon Assembly 2014: Mac Stone Confirmed as Featured Speaker at Friday Lunch

    Audubon is proud to announce that award-winning conservation photographer Mac Stone will be the featured speaker at the Friday luncheon at the 2014 Audubon Assembly.

    As a former biologist at Audubon’s Everglades Science Center at Tavernier, Mac traveled to the most remote areas of the Everglades to collect his unique images.

    With his camera, he explored Everglades National Park, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Fisheating Creek, and dozens of sites that few are permitted to visit.

    His stunning photographs celebrate the innumerable facets of this ecological marvel while speaking to the importance of wilderness conservation and the need to protect this irreplaceable wetland.

    From Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay, from inside the bone-crushing jaws of an alligator to the storms that race across the blackwater backcountry,

    Mac has captured all that natural Florida has to offer through his camera lens. You won’t want to miss his special presentation

     reserve your early-bird tickets now, while supplies last

    As an added bonus, Assembly attendees will have a special opportunity to attend a book signing event showcasing Mac’s new book

    - Everglades: America’s Wetland

    featuring more than 240 striking photographs highlighting the natural beauty of the Everglades.

    This year’s Audubon Assembly is going to be the can’t miss conservation event of the year.

    Do not delay – click here to register online to reserve the special early-bird rate.

    Only a limited amount of these tickets are available.

    This 2014 Audubon Assembly is being held at the Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort & Marina.

    Please note, you must book your hotel room by September 26, see below for more information.

    Please stay tuned to the official Audubon Assembly website for updates on this event.

    Audubon staff and chapter leaders are hard at work to ensure that this year’s Assembly will be inspire you to Make it a BIG YEAR for Florida’s land, water, and wildlife!

    Do not miss Florida’s premiere conservation event!

    Please consider migrating to the Assembly in flocks by sharing transportation in order to reduce global warming pollution.

    To register by mail or by phone, contact Jonathan Webber at 850-222-2473.

    Hotel Information: Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort & Marina

    Click here to book your group rate online or call 1-800-775-5936 (mention you are with Florida Audubon)

    and book by September 26, 2014 to reserve your room. Group rate is $119 a night.

    Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort & Marina

    555 NE Ocean Boulevard

    Stuart, FL 34996

    Partners for Panthers

    Please join us for a special announcement as long-time neighbors, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and the Naples Zoo,

    announce a joint partnership to help advance panther research efforts in Florida.

    Monday, September 8, 2014 at 10:30 AM

    Conservancy of Southwest Florida
    Eaton Conservation Hall

    1495 Smith Preserve Way, Naples

    In spite of great conservation strides over the past decades, Florida panthers remain at risk of extinction.

    Florida panther recovery must be guided by sound science and supported by collaborative efforts in order to ensure that

    future generations of Floridians have the privilege of sharing the landscape with this majestic creature.

    Please confirm attendance by contacting Lisa Ball at 239.403.4224 or lisab@conservancy.org

    Celebrate National Wildlife Day with Local Artist

    NAPLES – The Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center will offer buy one, get one free admission in honor of National Wildlife Day on September 4.

    This holiday was created in memory of famous conservationist and wildlife expert Steve Irwin,

    and is celebrated each year to bring awareness to the growing number of endangered animals around the world.

    Enjoy a live painting demonstration and guided tour of wildlife artwork in the art gallery with local artist Linda Soderquist.

    Soderquist will also provide a lecture on gopher tortoises and sea turtles as well as sign copies of her Sea Turtle book.

    Attendees will also have the chance to participate in naturalist-led discussions on snakes.

    There will also be interactive exhibits where participants can discover the fragile species that thrive within the reserve and ways to preserve them for future generations

    Buy one, get one free admission cannot be combined with other offers.

    Learn more about Linda Soderquist

    WHAT: National Wildlife Day

    WHEN: Thursday, September 4, from 9:00 a.m – 4:00 p.m.

    11:00 a.m. – 11:45 a.m. Slithering Snakes naturalist-led demonstration

    12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. Painting Demonstration and “Watercolor Walk”

    2:00 p.m. – 2:45 p.m. Sea Turtle and Gopher Tortoise lecture

    WHERE: Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center

    COST: Buy one adult admission for $5/get one FREE

    RAMSAR – Wetlands for our Future

    FGCU Professor Bill Mitsch, Eminent Scholar and Director of the Everglades Wetland Research Park, Florida Gulf Coast University, Naples, Florida,

    was approved as Chair of the United States National Ramsar Committee at a meeting of the Committee held at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Arlington Virginia on May 8, 2014.

    Suzanne Pittenger-Slear, President of Environmental Concern, St. Michaels, Maryland, was chosen as Vice-Chair and Ralph Tiner, Association of State Wetland Managers, was chosen as Treasurer.

    Deborah Hahn of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Washington DC, was renewed as Secretary of the Committee.

    Members of the United States National Ramsar Committee include representatives of United States nongovernmental organizations NGOs, both nonprofit and for-profit,

    and local and state governmental organizations that have an interest in supporting the objectives of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

    The Committee has as its mission to support the mission of the Ramsar Convention in the USA and to encourage and facilitate the development of wetlands of international importance in the USA and encourage their proper management.

    he Convention on Wetlands, formally called the “Ramsar Convention” is an intergovernmental treaty that embodies the commitments of its member countries to maintain the ecological character of their

    Wetlands of International Importance and to plan for the “wise use”, or sustainable use, of all of the wetlands in their territories.

    Unlike the other global environmental conventions, Ramsar is not affiliated with the United Nations system of Multilateral Environmental Agreements,

    but it works very closely with the other MEAs and is a full partner among the “biodiversity-related cluster” of treaties and agreements. It has its international headquarters in Gland, Switzerland.

    http://www.ramsar.org/cda/en/ramsar-news-cop-logo-news/main/ramsar/1-26%5E26521_4000_0__ 

    Vote Yes on Amendment 1

    What is Amendment 1?

    Amendment 1, the Water and Land Conservation Amendment, will appear on the November 4, 2014 ballot.

    Amendment 1 will set aside 33 percent of Florida’s existing excise tax on documents (also known as the “documentary stamp tax” paid when real estate is sold) and

    guarantee that these funds can be used only for conservation purposes, including keeping pollution out of Florida’s drinking water supplies, rivers, lakes, and coastal waters and protecting natural areas and wildlife habitat.

    Only with dedicated funding for water and land conservation, management, and restoration will we be able to save our springs and restore our

    Everglades so that future generations can enjoy Florida’s natural areas the way we have.

    For more about Amendment 1, including when the measure will take effect and how it will benefit all Floridians, please visit our FAQ page.

    Audubon Florida Advocate Naturalist Magazine – Summer 2014

    Summer Edition of Audubon Florida Naturalist Magazine Now Available

    Download your (free!) copy of Audubon’s popular conservation magazine.

    FISH THE EVERGLADES AT FAKAHATCHEE STRAND

    Calling All Kids!

    You’re invited to a Free Fishing Clinic at Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park.

    Join us for a day of fun and hands-on learning experiences.

    There will be field demonstrations from local fishing guides and experts as well as exhibits

    and presentations from parks and agencies!

    Participants will go through five skill stations: knot tying, tackle, angler ethics, casting and fishing.

    After completing the stations and instructions, kids will receive a free rod and reel (thanks to

    a generous grant from Fish Florida – limit 150-first come, first served).

    Children must be accompanied by an adult.

    Registration will be on-site the day of the event.

    The Fishing Clinic will be held from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, September 20.

    The location will be Harmon Lake which is next to the event field, and across from the ranger station

    at the main entrance to Fakahatchee Strand.

    Refreshments will be provided.

    This event is sponsored by Fish Florida and the Friends of Fakahatchee, Inc.

    For more information, visit www.floridastateparks.org/fakahatcheestrand  or call 695-4593.

    Join us for the Everglades Coalition’s 30th Annual Conference! Send it South: Water for America’s Everglades

    The Coalition’s Annual Conference seeks to raise critical, timely issues for in-depth debates in an open, accessible forum.

    Community leaders and political figures come to discuss their positions, pledge their support and offer challenges to the community.

    The conference is attended by decision-makers from federal, state, local and tribal governments, agency representatives, stakeholders and a vast array of public and private interests

    including scientists, educators, contractors, conservationists, the media, students and the general public.

    The conference is the largest annual forum to advance Everglades conservation and restoration.

    The 30th Annual Conference – Key Largo, FL
    January 8th, 9th,& 10th, 2015

    - See more at: http://www.evergladescoalition.org/conference.html#sthash.W2BvoCfj.dpuf

    Plenary Panel topics will be:

    Plenary: Economics of the Everglades

    Plenary: Federal Restoration Priorities & Funding Mechanisms

    Plenary: Restoration of the Southern Everglades & Florida Bay

    Plenary: State Water Quality, Storage & Southern Flow

    Special Session: “Kissimmee to the Keys: Thirty Year Retrospective” will be a special

                conference event featuring an all-star panel of EVCO Hall of Famers to discuss the

               history and future of America’s Everglades

    Of Interest to All

    5 National Parks With Beautiful Fall Foliage

    Autumn is my favorite time to visit our national parks. Not only are the summer crowds gone as families get their kids back to school, but fall is when the leaves start changing colors, offering awe-inspiring vistas brilliantly bathed in gold, scarlet, orange and more.

    Most Americans live within a half-day’s drive of a national park. For a modest entrance fee, you can take a scenic drive to a spectacular look-out, or hike along a trail, often ending up at a lake, river or waterfall. Do this during the fall, and you’ll be doubly rewarded for your effort by the swirl of colors all around.

    Of the 58 parks in the U.S. to choose from, those with the best color will be ones that contain deciduous or leaf-dropping trees, like maples, oaks, elms, and hickory. Many trees start changing color by mid-August, when the air gets cooler and the days get shorter. “Peak” season is usually in September and October. Most park websites will provide an update on the status of their leaf color so you can plan your visit.

    Here are five national parks where you’ll find truly spectacular fall foliage.

    Shenandoah National Park, Virginia – This park sports 500 miles of trails, 101 of which are officially part of the Appalachian Trail system. Not interested in hiking? Cruise along Skyline Drive, and enjoy the peak of the Blue Ridge Mountains before you drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway.

    Acadia National Park, Maine – This is red maple leaf country, and there’s no mistaking it. You can go horseback riding, hiking, canoeing, or mountain biking. But be a little ambitious and trek up to the summit of Cadillac Mountain. You won’t be disappointed!

    Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming – Rather than scarlet-hued maples, this park flames with the bright yellow its millions of aspen trees turn in the fall. Hikes range from a simple walk out to a lake where you can fish, to the steep. Huff and puff your way to the top of a ridge, then sit down and enjoy the glow of this majestic landscape in autumn.

    Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina – How can you beat the Smokies? In addition to breathtaking reds and scarlets, the sugar maples, scarlet oaks, sweetgum, red pale and hickories are shining with golds, oranges, and more. Remember the orange/red/yellow section of your Crayola crayon box? You’ll find most of those colors here in September and October.

    Denali National Park & Preserve, Alaska – If you’ve always wanted to go to Alaska but feared summer’s big mosquitoes or winter’s smothering snow falls, autumn may be the perfect compromise. You’ll be rewarded not just with eye-popping leaf color, but possibly views of moose, caribou, and bears, too. Fall comes early to Alaska, so aim for late August and early September for the best color palette.

    Diane MacEachern|August 22, 2014

    Satellite Map Shows Fracking Flares in Texas and North Dakota Equal to Greenhouse Emissions From 1.5 Million Cars

    Earthworks, a nonprofit which works to protect communities from the impacts of mineral and fossil fuel extraction and promote sustainable energy development, has released a new report showing that the flaring of natural gas waste in just two shale plays, or exploration areas, is the equivalent of an additional 1.5 million cars on the road. The flares occur when natural gas is burned rather than captured.

    In June 2014, the Eagle Ford shale produced seven billion cubic feet per day, while the Bakken produced 1.3 billion cubic feet per day. Produced gas includes gas that is flared and gas that is captured for use. Above, flaring in the Bakken. Photo credit: Sarah Christianson

    The report, “Up in Flames: U.S. Shale Oil Boom Comes at Expense of Wasted Natural Gas, Increased Carbon Dioxide,” accompanied by an interactive map by SkyTruth, a group that provides aerial evidence of environmental impacts. This map allows people to track flaring activity in the U.S. and around the world based on nightly infrared data collected by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite.

    SkyTruth’s chief technology officer Paul Woods pointed to the potential impact of this map:

    This new tool makes the scale and frequency of flaring more comprehensible and less abstract. Hopefully, enabling everyone to see where, when, and how often operators are flaring will create public pressure on government and industry to reduce the waste of this hard-won natural resource.

    The report specifically looks at waste created in the North Dakota Bakken and Texas Eagle Ford development areas and how lax regulations and oversight enable this waste, a byproduct of fracking.

    Among the study’s findings:

    130 billion cubic feet of natural gas burned in the Bakken and Eagle Ford Shale has produced the equivalent of 1.5 million cars’ emissions of carbon dioxide.

    $854 million in natural gas has been burned as waste in the Bakken shale play since 2010.

    $854 million would pay for 5 kilowatt photovoltaic solar panel installations for almost every household in Fargo, North Dakota’s largest city.

    North Dakota neither tracks how much companies pay in taxes on flared gas, nor independently tracks the volume of flared gas.

    Texas does not require producers to pay taxes on flared gas.

    The study’s author Dusty Horwitt said:

    Burning natural gas as waste is costing taxpayers and the climate. States should enact tough new standards to prevent flaring, including requiring drillers to pay taxpayers the full value of any gas they flare.

    Environmental watchdogs in North Dakota and Texas commented on the study’s findings.

    “This report shows that North Dakota regulators simply aren’t doing their job,” said Don Morrison, executive director of nonprofit grassroots group Dakota Resource Council. “Instead they’re putting private profits ahead of the public interest. This isn’t our first oil boom, we know how to do it better.”

    “The Railroad Commission is statutorily required ‘to prevent waste of Texas’s natural resources’,” said Earthworks Texas organizer Sharon Wilson. “I don’t see how the Railroad Commission isn’t breaking the law by allowing drillers to waste natural gas by flaring it off rather than capturing it.”

    But Earthworks sees the wasteful burning of drilling byproducts as one part of the larger problem of fossil fuel exploration and extraction.

    Earthworks energy program director Bruce Baizel said:

    Flaring is just one of many problems associated with unconventional oil and gas development. Unfortunately, North Dakota and Texas’s inadequate oversight of flaring is representative of state oversight of fracking across the country. The ultimate solution to these problems is to transition away from fossil fuels entirely and towards renewables like wind and solar.

    Anastasia Pantsios|August 22, 2014

    Keewaydin Island Ranked as One of the World’s Top 10 Secret Beaches

    Keewaydin Island, located within the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, was recently named by CNN online as one of the world’s “Top Ten Secret Beaches.”

    Keewaydin Island, located off the coast of Naples, was selected for the list along with beaches in Kenya, Mexico, and Hawaii. This 1000-acre barrier island boasts a seven-mile long pristine beach with sugar white sand and glittering turquoise water. As CNN reports, the principal reason it has been a best-kept secret is it is only accessible by boat.

    Rookery Bay Reserve manages 110,000 acres of lands and waters between Naples and Marco Island. Roughly 80 percent of Keewaydin Island is under state ownership, including the south end which is visited by more boaters than any other location in thereserve. Staff and volunteers educate visitors about the island’s wildlife and habitat, monitor beach-nesting birds and other species that reside there, and work tirelessly to keep the island clear of invasive species such as Australian pine.

    “Keewaydin Island is an extremely valuable natural resource that, in its pristine state, helps bolster the local economy through tourism,” said Gary Lytton, the reserve’s director. “It is an honor that our reserve was recognized by this international news source for its captivating natural beauty.”

    Keewaydin Island is not only known for its world-renowned beach, but is also home to a diverse array of wildlife. Deer, gopher tortoises and panthers are among the many species that inhabit this island, along with America’s national bird, the bald eagle.

    Keewaydin Island draws the type of residents that enjoy a more relaxed life that is considered “off the grid.” There are no amenities on the island and very few homes. Most residents rely on solar panels, rain barrels and fish for dinner.

    One of Keewaydin Island’s more famous residents is Vice President Joe Biden’s brother, who recently purchased property on the island. The Vice President and his wife, Jill, took a boat to the island this past New Year to ring in the holiday with their family.

    To learn more about the research and resource management that takes place on Keewaydin Island by Rookery Bay Reserve, please visit rookerybay.org.

    mburgerdep|Aug. 13, 2014

    EPA Appeals District Court Ruling to Exempt Farmyard Runoff From Discharge Permits

    The Environmental Protection Agency has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to review a district court ruling that said the agency can’t require farmers to obtain Clean Water Act discharge permits for agricultural stormwater runoff from farmyards (Alt v. EPA, 4th Cir., No. 13-2534, appeal filed 12/23/13).

    The Dec. 23 appeal by EPA follows an Oct. 23 ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia holding that stormwater runoff from litter and manure is exempt from National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting requirements under Section 402 of the Clean Water Act (Alt v. EPA, 2013 BL 218814, N.D. W.Va., No. 2:12-cv-00042, 10/23/13; ).

    The environmental groups Food and Water Watch, Potomac Riverkeeper, Waterkeeper Alliance, Center for Food Safety and the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, which intervened on behalf of the EPA, also filed separate notice of appeal Dec. 20 of the ruling.

    The district court ruled that litter and manure washed from “the farmyard to navigable waters by a precipitation event is an agricultural stormwater discharge, and, therefore, not a point source discharge, thereby rendering it exempt from the NPDES permit requirement of the Clean Water Act.”

    Lawsuit Filed in 2012.

    At issue was a 2012 lawsuit filed by West Virginia poultry grower Lois Alt against the EPA, challenging the agency’s authority to regulate livestock farms under the Clean Water Act by interpreting regulations in ways that treat ordinary agricultural stormwater runoff as “process wastewater,” effectively making all areas of poultry farms regulated production areas.

    In particular, the district court said the areas between poultry houses are clearly not animal confinement areas and that manure and litter in the farmyard “would remain in place and not become discharges of a pollutant unless and until stormwater conveyed the particles to navigable waters.”

    Alt challenged the basis for the EPA administrative order against the Eight is Enough broiler operation near Old Fields, W.Va., that threatened penalties as high as $37,500 a day for not obtaining an NPDES permit.

    EPA could not be reached for comment on the appeal.

    However, Scott Edwards, co-founder of the Food and Water Justice, a project of Food and Water Watch, told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 23, “We believe that the court completely misapplied well-settled law in exempting the Alt pollution discharges from the Clean Water Act.”

    Edwards said, “The court has, in effect, given these highly polluting, yet sorely under-regulated facilities, an even greater license to pollute. Not only does the law require permits for the kinds of pollution that Alt admits is coming from her operation, but the deteriorating conditions of our waterways demands it.”

    Ellen Steen, general counsel for the American Farm Bureau Federation, which intervened on behalf of Alt in the case, told Bloomberg BNA in a Dec. 23 e-mail, “If EPA wishes to persist in its unlawful application of the Clean Water Act, we are pleased to take the matter to the appellate court. We are confident the Fourth Circuit, too, will decide this case in favor of Mrs. Alt.”

    Amena H. Saiyid|Daily Environment Report|December 24, 2013

    Regulators tried to hide threat of major nuclear accident ‏

    Since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has promised to reevaluate the threats earthquakes pose to U.S. nuclear reactors.

    So why has the agency suppressed a report from one of their own inspectors about the Diablo Canyon reactors in California?

    Yesterday, the Associated Press exposed an internal NRC report about the two 1960-era nuclear reactors at Diablo Canyon and dramatic new information about faults surrounding the plant. These faults are capable of causing an earthquake far larger than the reactors were designed to withstand.

    This is a bombshell — there is no way that the NRC should allow these reactors to continue to operate given this new information.

    More than a year ago the NRC’s own inspector recommended that, because of new seismic information, the reactors are no longer in compliance with their license and should be shut pending a public licensing review.

    Incredibly, federal regulators have sat on this report for more than a year and have taken no action to protect the public from this threat.

    We’re not going to let them get away with this inaction. Today, we are filing a petition with the NRC demanding that the agency shut down the reactors and keep them shut unless they can prove, publicly, that the reactors can withstand a major earthquake.

    In addition to suppressing the document, the NRC has failed to follow its own rules to respond to a report like this within 120 days of its filing.

    The bottom line is that these reactors could never be built now in the midst of these seismic faults. The NRC must act in the public interest and not in the interests of Diablo’s owner, Pacific Gas and Electric.

    Please Write to NRC Chairman Macfarlane and demand that the NRC shut down the Diablo Canyon reactors.

    Damon Moglen|Senior strategic advisor|Friends of the Earth|8/26/14

    Industry Lobby Tries to Block Bill That Would Protect U.S. Waters from Plastic Microbeads

    A bill working its way through the California legislature to ban plastic microbeads from cosmetics and other products made and sold in the state has encountered a snag.

    5 Gyres’ campaign to ban plastic microbeads from personal care products, like face scrub and toothpaste, is driving change nationally. Image credit: 5 Gyres Institute

    The bill, AB 1699, authored by 5 Gyres Institute and sponsored by Rep. Richard Bloom of Santa Monica, sailed through the other chamber of the legislature, the Assembly, in May. That action came a little less than a month before Illinois enacted such a ban in June becoming the first state to do so.

    “Passing the Assembly floor is a big milestone for this bill,” Bloom said back in May. “I am proud that my colleagues support our efforts to ensure that our waters are clean. Getting plastic microbeads out of these products will eliminate a significant source of pollution.” Every year 38 tons of plastic microbeads are released into California’s environment.

    Alas, that will have to wait a little longer. The bill failed to garner the needed votes in the Senate by a single vote, but the sponsors have been granted reconsideration, which means if they can get one of the absentee legislators to vote for it, it will pass the Senate and go back to the California Assembly for concurrence.

    According to Marcus Eriksen of 5 Gyres Institute, plastics industry lobbyists worked hard to block it, wanting legislation more like the far from ideal bill that passed in Illinois. The Illinois bill leaves a loophole for plastic, like Polylactic Acid (PLA) the so-called biodegradable plastic that corn cups are made of. Unfortunately, PLA doesn’t biodegrade in the environment, it requires an industrial composting facility.

    “The California bill is up against its first hurdle, explaining to lawmakers that the microbead bill that passed in Illinois is no shining example of good legislation,” said Eriksen. “It’s more industry-friendly than water, allowing plastic microbeads from fossil fuels to be replaced with plastic microbeads from other feedstock like plants. Chemically speaking it’s the same stuff, with the same problems, and doesn’t move us away from the status quo. California policymakers are sold bad information by the cosmetics lobby about naturally derived plastics, but without the facts about the environmental harm they cause.

    “They’ve even gone so far as to say that our bill in California bans natural alternatives to plastic in order to try to kill the bill, which is an outright fabrication. In rhetoric they tell the press they’re committed to the environment, in practice they’re committed to preserving their bottom line.”

    “If this bill fails, we all lose and are stuck with the precedent of a bad bill,” said Anna Cummins, 5 Gyres’ executive director. “5 Gyres is committed to the end goal—preventing toxic plastic beads from polluting our oceans and watersheds—and we will get there. If not at the state level, then city-by-city, which ultimately will be harder for companies that use plastic beads. We hope the business community will quit playing games with legislators and get serious about stopping the pollution they created.”

    New York was the first state to propose a microbead ban. New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman introduced the Microbead-Free Waters Act there in February with 5 Gyres, presenting it to the legislature for action; it’s currently in limbo. And Ohio State Sen. Mike Skindell has introduced SB 304 which would ban microbeads in that state as evidence mounts of increasing micro-plastic pollution of the Great Lakes. But with the Republican supermajority in the Ohio legislature, the bill is unlikely to even get a hearing, says Skindell.

    Unfortunately, that will likely be the same fate as that of a bill to ban plastic microbeads on a federal level, introduced by New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. in June.

    Anastasia Pantsios|August 26, 2014

    Switching products threatening our oceans, health and economy ‏

    No one likes to be lied to. Yet Oceana found that 33 percent of 1200 seafood samples nationwide were mislabeled, where one fish was swapped out for another species.

    In some cases, consumers received a cheaper, more readily available fish when they expected – and paid for – a more expensive, popular species. Oceana even found instances of high-mercury fish being labeled as species that are safe to consume.

    In addition to the economic and health impacts on consumers, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a key driver of overfishing and threatens the livelihoods of many communities dependent on healthy fisheries. The entry of illegally-caught and fraudulent seafood into the supply chain depresses prices and unfairly competes with legally-caught seafood products, jeopardizing roughly a million jobs and $116 billion in sales each year.

    In response, President Obama established a Task Force to Combat IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud to explore seafood traceability and other measures to fight this threat to our oceans, wallets and health.

    As the second largest seafood market in the world, we in the U.S. have a great opportunity to make a global impact. Our government currently has the authority and ability to ensure that all seafood sold in the U.S. is legally caught and honestly labeled through a system of seafood traceability, proof of legality and improved consumer labeling.

    Alex Bea|Oceana|8/26/14

    Goodbye monarchs?

    Monarch butterflies are on the brink. Over the past 20 years, the monarch butterfly population in North America has been slashed by over 90 percent. If monarchs were people, that would be like losing every living person in the United States except those in Florida and Ohio. We don’t have much time left before they’re wiped out for good.

    Monarchs urgently need protection – the kind of protection that only a listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) can provide.

    That’s why Center for Food Safety and Center for Biological Diversity—joined by Xerces Society and renowned monarch scientist Dr. Lincoln Brower–have come together to file a groundbreaking legal action to compel the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to grant Endangered Species Act protection to monarch butterflies.

    We have our work cut out for us, especially considering Monsanto and friends play a big part in this disaster.

    That’s because the best way to save monarchs is to curb chemicals like Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, which is used abundantly on their genetically engineered crops. Roundup is a potent killer of milkweed, a major food source for monarchs. The dramatic surge in Roundup use has virtually wiped out milkweed—and as a result monarchs—in large portions of the U.S.

    This is going to be an epic showdown to save monarchs. But the truth is we can’t do it alone. We need the help of concerned citizens like you to be able to stay in this fight and win.

    Click here if you would like to contribute to this effort.

    See a Video

    On Calif. coast, biotoxins cause deadly sea lion seizures, seafood scare

    An outbreak of algae-produced biotoxins that attack animal’s brains also poses a grave risk to humans

    MORRO BAY, Calif. – Packed with large nets, wooden boards and a large crate, a dark blue truck scoured the edges of surfer-lined Pismo Beach late one morning earlier this month. Onlookers in the distance tipped them off to what they were searching for.

    “I see a sea lion,” said Geno DeRango, the stranding coordinator at Marine Mammal Center’s San Luis Obispo Operations, as he quickly slipped on medical rubber gloves and began prepping a large syringe.

    The truck came to a halt and the rest of DeRango’s crew suited up for the rescue – wooden boards in hand, two crew members crowded around a disoriented sea lion convulsing on the edge of the water while DeRango threw a net over it. The fourth crew member injected the sea lion with an anti-seizure medication before herding the animal into a large crate and loading it on the bed of the truck.

    Concerned onlookers asked what happened to the sea lion as they took turns peering into the back of the truck. Heavy breaths and sounds of suffering bellowed from the cage.

    DeRango explained that the rescue center got a call about a sea lion having repeated seizures on the beach and that they were taking the animal back to their rehabilitation center.

    Peppa, the name given to the rescued sea lion, is like many of the animals crowding the six pens at the rescue center, which has brought in as many as 20 seizing sea lions a day in the San Luis Obispo area since June. Earlier this spring, its partner rescue center in Monterey experienced a similar boom. Of those rescued at both sites, half succumb to the seizures within days.

    The culprit? Domoic acid, a deadly neurotoxin produced by algae, that appeared at record high levels along California’s Central Coast this spring and summer, closing fisheries and taking the lives of many marine mammals. But toxic algae isn’t just limited to California– this summer various toxic blooms have poisoned coastlines across America, including Lake Erie and the Gulf of Mexico.

    While the algae in Monterey, produced by the Pseudo-nitzschia genus of phytoplankton, are a common occurrence along the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines and around the world, its production of domoic acid is not.

    First discovered in 1987 when 107 people on Prince Edward Island fell ill after eating mussels harboring domoic acid, the algae occasionally produce this deadly toxin, which scientists believe is triggered by changing ocean conditions and surges of nitrogen into bodies of water.

    Once produced by the algae, domoic acid quickly works its way up the food chain, first gobbled up by shellfish and plankton-eating fish, like sardines and anchovies, that harbor the toxin in their guts. Next in line are sea lions, brown pelicans, otters, whales and dolphins, all of which have been stranding in large numbers recently, or, in the case of pelicans, literally dropping dead out of the sky.

    Once ingested, the toxin immediately attacks the brain by rapidly shrinking the hippocampus, causing loss of motor coordination, amnesia, violent seizures, vomiting, permanent neurological damage and even heart failure within two days.

    But domoic acid also poses a grave risk to humans, which is why the California Department of Public Health closed certain fisheries up the coast in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties in April after high levels of the acid were reported by a team of marine scientists at University of California, Santa Cruz, that has been monitoring domoic acid for 14 years.

    “The danger lies in the accumulation,” said Clarissa Anderson, one of the marine scientists in Santa Cruz tracking the growth of domoic acid events. “It’s not horribly toxic unless it accumulates at high levels.”

    But Anderson says that concentrations reached dangerously high levels this spring all over the California coast, particularly in Monterey.

    Monterey is the top agricultural area along the Central Coast as well as home to a suite of premier golf courses. It’s also been subject to a large coastal population boom, meaning more septic tanks and more lawns being fertilized. Combined, says Anderson, these activities result in more nitrogen running off into the Bay, altering the marine environment in a way that can lead to higher domoic acid concentrations.

    Seasonal upwellings of ocean waters flush the Bay with nutrients, which could naturally trigger the algae to produce these blooms. But those upwellings usually diminish quickly, as do the nutrients that feed toxic blooms. However, constant pulses of nutrients coming from human activities, mostly from fertilizer application, allow the toxic blooms to persist.

    Nationwide, agriculture is the top source of nitrogen added to water resources, and California is no different. The amount of nitrogen contained in fertilizer sold in California has increased by 800 percent since the 1940s, contributing to the hefty 800,000 tons of nitrogen used as fertilizer every year.

    Even further up the coast, north of San Francisco, the aftermath of this rising nitrogen use has been unfolding at The Marine Mammal Center headquarters in Sausalito.

    “These blooms are getting more frequent and larger every year and affecting more and more animals,” said Shawn Johnson, director of veterinary science at The Marine Mammal Center.

    As the largest marine mammal hospital in the world, the Marine Mammal Center receives hundreds and hundreds of seals, sea lions and elephant seals every year, many of which are rescued from their satellite centers in Morro Bay and Monterey, as well as from independent rescue centers along the Pacific Coast.

    But this year has been different.

    “There are a lot of animals are being exposed to such high levels of domoic acid, that they’re dying on us. They’re not responding to treatment like they often have in the past,” Johnson said.

    The Center has broken its animal admissions record this year, and the number of sea lions suffering from domoic acid has roughly doubled. But that number doesn’t include all of the sea lions that die before washing ashore, Johnson said. Nor does it account for all of the sea lion pups that will likely die without a parent. Many of the afflicted sea lions are lactating females still weaning their pups.

    “If there are a few hundred or even a thousand sea lions affected by domoic acid right now, well there’s a few thousand pups that we’re probably losing,” Johnson said. “If this is happening over and over again, year after year, there is a fear that domoic acid may have a negative impact on the overall sea lion population.”

    On July 11, the California Department of Public Health lifted its seafood advisory for Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties after combined monitoring efforts with Anderson’s team found levels had dropped back down to ones safe for human consumption. However the renewed surge in marine mammal strandings has left scientists puzzled.

    “A lot of the animals that are stranding right now don’t tend to feed very far off shore,” Anderson said. “So the mystery is, where is the domoic acid that they’re acquiring? We’re not measuring it in the mussels and shellfish near shore.”

    More research needed

    In California, marine scientists are seeing more and more animals, like sea lions, affected by high levels of domoic acid. America Tonight

    Part of the problem is that monitoring of domoic acid is limited to wharfs close to shore, but the fish harboring the toxins – and the algae producing the toxic blooms – may be living just offshore, where sampling tends to be either too expensive or too technically difficult to do regularly.

    While Anderson believes that the Department of Public Health is doing a good job protecting humans from danger (no human illnesses have been reported this year), she thinks that more could be done to stop the sources of the problem.

    “The California State Water Resources Control Board is doing a lot, but they are certainly susceptible to pressures of all the different interest groups that are involved,” she said.

    The California State Water Board limits the amount of pesticides, nutrients and other pollutants discharged into surface and groundwater. While it has strict reporting requirements for pollutants like pesticides, nutrient reporting is interpretive and a 100-percent reporting system for agricultural fertilizer use has yet to be implemented.

    Part of the reason why nutrient reporting is lacking is because determining the correct level of nutrients for water systems is very complex, said Rik Rasmussen, the fresh water quality standard program manager for the State of California.

    “It’s not a simple thing as saying 10 is the right number. Or one is the right number, or zero is the right number,” said Rasmussen. “If we don’t have nutrients, we don’t have life.”

    While nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium – three common ingredients in fertilizer – are the backbone of life, finding the right balance is tricky since every body of water reacts differently to nutrients, Rasmussen said.

    This becomes even more of an uphill battle during drought. In years of low snowpack like in 2014, rivers and streams become warmer and run slower in the spring due little snow melt, which increases a water body’s sensitivity to additions of nitrogen. This then becomes even more complicated during El Nino, as is predicted to hit this fall, as heavy rainfall will likely sweep accumulated fertilizer from drought-stricken lands into nitrogen-sensitive waters.

    “It’s a harder job for our scientists and engineers to write the correct levels in permits because it varies depending on the water body,” Rasmussen said.

    So as regulators fine-tune the rules, and scientists try to crack the mystery of where the toxic algae are blooming, marine mammals continue to suffer.

    Peppa, the sea lion rescued on Pismo Beach, succumbed to her violent seizures only three hours after her rescue. Cause of death: a severe dose of domoic acid toxicosis. Peppa was also found to be nursing.

    “From being on the front lines and seeing how it affects negatively these animals, my biggest fear is if this happens all the time or if it’s everywhere on the West Coast,” Johnson said. “And if that happens, it’s going to affect all the fish and it’s going to close down fisheries and it’ll have a huge negative impact on everyone.”

    Both Johnson and Anderson agree that research will be the key to better understand and prevent toxic blooms, which are anticipated to cost the U.S. up to $50 million each year in cleanup and job loss. But Anderson said what’s needed first is more funding for that research and more federal and state action.

    Courtney Quirin|August 26, 2014

    Massive Half-Mile-Long Crack Appears in Ground in Northern Mexico

    Last week a video emerged of a giant fissure in the Northern Mexican desert, 3,300 feet long and up to 25 feet deep. Speculation centered at first around an earthquake, but the region is not known for seismic activity. I personally checked out the U.S. Geological Survey earthquake data because the Buena Vista Copper mine (the fourth largest in the world by output) is only about 150 miles north of the enormous crack, and earlier this month they spilled 40,000 cubic meters of sulphuric acid into two rivers during the worst spill in Mexico’s modern mining history. But I found no reports of tremors in the region and authorities were skeptical that this had anything to do with an earthquake.

    Fast forward to Tuesday, Aug. 26, the Washington Post posted a story with this headline: Why no one should freak out about the giant crack that opened in the Mexico desert. The Post reports:

    The chair of the geology department at the University of Sonora, in the northern Mexican state where this “topographic accident” emerged, said that the fissure was likely caused by sucking out groundwater for irrigation to the point the surface collapsed.

    “This is no cause for alarm,” Inocente Guadalupe Espinoza Maldonado said. “These are normal manifestations of the destabilization of the ground.”

    I’m sorry, no. These are not normal manifestations of natural activity, this the result of human activity run amok. Just because Cthulhu isn’t clambering out of the breach to wreak havoc on humankind does not mean we shouldn’t be alarmed by the fact we’ve sucked so much water out of the ground that the surface of the earth is collapsing.

    Barely a month ago NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory warned of ‘shocking’ groundwater losses in the Colorado River basin, a major watershed to the north of Sonora with similar climate and landuse. Using gravitational data from the satellite-based Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) instrument, scientists found “the basin lost nearly 53 million acre feet (65 cubic kilometers) of freshwater. That’s almost double the volume of the nation’s largest reservoir, Nevada’s Lake Mead. More than three-quarters of the total—about 41 million acre feet (50 cubic kilometers)—was from groundwater.”

    NASA's measurements of groundwater based on gravity. Areas in red show a deficit in groundwater, blue indicates surplus. Image credit: NASA/JPL NASA’s measurements of groundwater based on gravity. Areas in red show a deficit in groundwater, blue indicates surplus. Image credit: NASA/JPL

    The Washington Post also reports that cotton used to be a major crop, but intrusion of saltwater from the Sea of Cortez caused some areas to become unusable for agriculture. However, there is still plenty of large-scale agriculture as evidenced by the Landsat image below.

    Hermosillo region of Sonora, Mexico, as seen by Landsat 8, on Aug. 17. Bright green rectangles in the middle of the desert are irrigated fields. However, around the green fields, there appear to many fields that are not being irrigated this season—seen as tan rectangles with a faint grid of roads in between parcels. The blue geometric shapes on the left appear to be salt-drying pans. Image credit: NASA/USGS via SkyTruthHermosillo region of Sonora, Mexico, as seen by Landsat 8, on Aug. 17. Bright green rectangles in the middle of the desert are irrigated fields.

    However, around the green fields, there appear to many fields that are not being irrigated this season—seen as tan rectangles with a faint grid of roads in between parcels.

    The blue geometric shapes on the left appear to be salt-drying pans. Image credit: NASA/USGS via SkyTruth

    Groundwater reserves can take centuries to recharge, so industrial-scale extraction of water for big agriculture in the middle of the desert cannot continue forever. In the U.S., water managers are facing an uphill battle to control water use in the Colorado River Basin and from the Ogallala Aquifer which stretches from Texas to South Dakota. Factor in that hydraulic fracturing is permanently removing water from the hydrological cycle in some of the most drought-stressed regions of the West, and you have a serious problem.

    To be clear, the entire southwestern U.S. is not necessarily about to fall in on itself all at once, but it is struggling to support large-scale agriculture, enormous demand for water from a revitalized onshore oil and gas industry, and a growing population. Maybe this chasm in the desert doesn’t herald the coming of Judgment Day, but perhaps we should be freaking out about our poor judgment.

    David Manthos|SkyTruth|August 28, 2014

    36 Eye-Opening Works Of Street Art That Are Fighting For The Planet

    Saving Our Birds

    ITHACA, N.Y. — THE passenger pigeon is among the most famous of American birds, but not because of its beauty, or its 60-mile-an-hour flight speed. Nor is it a cherished symbol of our great country. No, we remember the passenger pigeon because of the largest-scale human-caused extinction in history.

    Possibly the most abundant bird ever to have existed, this gregarious pigeon once migrated in giant flocks that sometimes exceeded three billion, darkening the skies over eastern North America for days at a time. No wild bird in the world comes close to those numbers today. Yet 100 years ago this week, the very last pigeon of her kind died in her cage at the Cincinnati Zoo. Her name was Martha, and her passing merits our close attention today.

    Mercilessly slaughtered by the tens of millions at breeding colonies in the North and at huge wintertime roosts in the South during the post-Civil War era, passenger pigeons were shipped by trainloads to dinner tables in homes and restaurants across the East. Their population fell from biblical numbers at midcentury to tiny, aimless flocks in 1890. By around 1900 the few birds that remained were all in captivity. The last male died in 1910, leaving Martha as a barren relic of past abundance.

    JOHN W. FITZPATRICK|AUG. 29, 2014

    Pink slime is heading to your dinner plate ‏

    Pink slime is back. The ammonia-treated beef additive made from grinding together unused scraps of beef and connective tissue is starting to make a major comeback, with sales up three-fold since 2012.

    Due to the recent spike in beef prices, suppliers have boosted their use of this cheap byproduct to keep prices low, but there’s one major problem: No laws or regulations exist to require food producers, restaurants, or grocery stores to label products containing pink slime.

    We have the right to know what we’re putting in our shopping carts and in our bodies. As sales of this potentially dangerous substance continue to rise, we need to pressure the USDA to require mandatory labeling of pink slime.

    While the food industry and the USDA claim that pink slime is safe for human consumption, the additive raises a number of health and safety concerns. The New York Times exposed in 2009 that, despite being treated with ammonia, three E. coli contaminations and four dozen salmonella contaminations occurred between 2005 and 2009.

    What’s more, ammonium hydroxide is itself harmful to eat and can potentially turn into ammonium nitrate, a common ingredient in homemade explosives.

    Major grocery store chains and restaurants, including McDonalds, Kroger, and Safeway, among others, have already said they will stop selling products containing pink slime. Cargill, one of the largest suppliers of the additive, has already agreed to voluntarily label its ground beef containing pink slime. But stores repackaging Cargill’s beef aren’t required to disclose to consumers the existence of pink slime in their meat.

    Now it’s time for the USDA to mandate that companies, from the processing plant to the consumer, label beef containing pink slime so people know what they’re buying. Please sign the petition at # 8 in “Calls to Action” below.

    Calls to Action

    1. Protect Appalachia’s Streams and Rivers From Mountaintop Removal Mining Pollution! – here
    2. Stop Seismic Blasting in the Atlantic – here
    3. Call for a Statewide Ban on Fracking – here
    4. Protect the Grand Canyon From Destructive Developments – here
    5. Demand a Cleanup Plan From Conowingo Damhere
    6. Tell President Obama’s Task Force you support seafood traceability – here
    7. Don’t Let The Wolverine Go Extinct – here
    8. Tell the USDA to label pink slime now – here

     

    Birds and Butterflies

    Birding Economics: Birding is Big Business 

    Your birding and wildlife viewing dollars, if recognized as such, are a vote for conservation. They lobby local communities to conserve their resources not only for the health of their environment, but for the health of their economy.

    Did you know?

    • In 2011, wildlife viewing activities generated more than $4.9 billion for Florida’s economy. In 2006, wildlife viewing activities generated more than $5.2 billion in Florida.  .
    • Nationwide, birding is big business: 46.7 million people observed birds around the home and on trips in 2011; there are nearly 72 million wildlife watchers in the U.S. Nationwide, the estimated economic impact of wildlife watching is $54.9 billion. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation)
    • Wildlife viewing in Florida supports 44,623 full- and part-time jobs. That is more jobs than the entire air transportation industry (35,268 jobs) statewide. (US Bureau of Economic Analysis)
    • Florida ranks in the top five in the U.S. for the number of residents who participate in all types of wildlife viewing, including trips away from home and feeding or viewing wildlife around the house. The 3.6 million wildlife watchers who live in Florida exceed the population of every metropolitan area in Florida except the Miami – Fort Lauderdale – Pompano Beach area with 5.7 million people.
    • In 2011, more visitors traveled to Florida to see wildlife than any other state. (ranked by total number of wildlife-viewing days, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation)
    • The number of nonresident wildlife watchers in Florida has grown each year since 2001, by 52% from 2001 to 2006 and by 11% from 2006 to 2011. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation)
    • The number of participants who make day and overnight trips away from home specifically to view wildlife grew substantially in the five-year period from 2006 to 2011 (22% increase).
    • Florida ranks second in the nation for the number of residents (1.4 million people) who take trips to view wildlife. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation)
    • In 2011, Florida residents who enjoyed viewing wildlife around their homes (3.3 million) outnumbered the population of 28 states. (U.S. Census Bureau)
    • The total spent annually in Florida for wildlife viewing is two and a quarter times greater than the value of the state’s annual orange crop harvest. ($1.2 billion in 2011, Florida Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services)
    • Travel-related spending associated with wildlife viewing in Florida has increased from $675 million in 2001 to more than $1.4 billion in 2011; the overall economic effect of wildlife-viewing travel (food, fuel, lodging, etc.) equipment and accessories in Florida was $2.7 billion in 2011.
    • Tax revenues in 2011 related to wildlife viewing in Florida amounted to nearly $285 million at the state and local levels and nearly $397 million at the federal level.
    • The 2013 Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival had an estimated economic impact of $1,286,492 in Brevard County; $416,000 in labor income was generated and more than $185,000 in government tax revenues was accrued.

    (The Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival 2013: Economic Impact & Demographic Profile)

    Outrage as Canada geese are rounded up for culling – by council contractor who claimed they were just being ‘relocated’

    When Ian Carroll asked council contractors why they were herding Canada geese into a van at a park, he was not satisfied by their claim to be ringing the birds’ feet.

    Mr. Carroll, 39, contacted the park ranger but remained unconvinced by his assurance the birds were being relocated to a country park – even after the ranger sent him a picture of them supposedly being released.

    So the postman, who is a member of a local animal rescue group, lodged a Freedom of Information Act request with Sandwell Council, which finally admitted the geese had been taken away and ‘humanely’ killed.

    Ian Carroll, 39, saw a council contractor herding Canada geese into a van at Victoria Park, Tipton, West Midlands

    The park ranger told Mr. Carroll that the geese, pictured, were being relocated to a county park. He later sent Mr. Carroll a photo to prove it

    The West Midlands authority has now admitted it removed and killed 220 Canada geese from parks in Tipton and West Bromwich in 2013 and 2014, using a licensed pest control firm.

    The removals including the geese and goslings filmed by Mr. Carroll in Victoria Park, Tipton in summer last year.

    Mr Carroll said yesterday: ‘I can’t believe they could lie to me like that. We still haven’t found out how they killed them. They could have been shot, gassed or had their necks broken.’

    He added: ‘I have spent the last 17 years rescuing swans and wildfowl in Sandwell who have been maimed by other animals thugs. But this action by the council is worse than all of these incidents put together.

    But Mr Carroll, a postman, did not believe the ranger’s explanation and sent a Freedom of Information request about the geese, pictured, to Sandwell Council, which is responsible for the park

    ‘The birds have been rounded up and killed during the molting season when they loose their flight feathers and were unable to get away.’

    In large numbers Canada Geese can have a detrimental impact on their environment, producing large numbers of droppings which contain bacteria and phosphates blamed for polluting watercourses, and dispersing native species.

    Councillor Maria Crompton said a total of 150 geese were culled from Victoria Park and Dartmouth Park in 2013. Seventy geese were culled from Victoria Park this year.

    The West Midlands authority admitted it removed and killed 220 Canada geese from parks in Tipton and West Bromwich in 2013 and 2014, using a licensed pest control firm

    The removals included the geese and goslings filmed by Mr Carroll in Victoria Park, Tipton in summer last year

    She said: ‘I’m very sad we had to do this but people’s safety and public health are paramount.

    ‘We have done this as a last resort and as humanely as possible in response to repeated complaints and real concerns from park users, including parents of young children.’ She said the numbers of geese had ‘got out of control’, with more than 1,000 grazing in Sandwell’s parks.

    In 2012 it emerged that more than 11,000 Canada Geese had been culled from parks by Stoke-on-Trent City Council over the previous two years.

    Andy Dolan|Daily Mail|24 August 2014

    Monarch Butterflies at A Record Low

    MEXICO CITY (AP) – The number of Monarch butterflies wintering in Mexico plunged this year to its lowest level since studies began in 1993, leading experts to announce Wednesday that the insects’ annual migration from the United States and Canada is in danger of disappearing.

    A report released by the World Wildlife Fund, Mexico’s Environment Department and the Natural Protected Areas Commission blames the displacement of the milkweed the species feeds on by genetically modified crops and urban sprawl in the United States, as well as the dramatic reduction of the butterflies’ habitat in Mexico due to illegal logging of the trees they depend on for shelter.

    After steep and steady declines in the previous three years, the black-and-orange butterflies now cover only 1.65 acres (0.67 hectares) in the pine and fir forests west of Mexico City, compared to 2.93 acres (1.19 hectares) last year. They covered more than 44.5 acres (18 hectares) at their recorded peak in 1995.

    Because the butterflies clump together by the thousands in trees, they are counted by the area they cover.

    The decline in the Monarch population now marks a statistical long-term trend and can no longer be seen as a combination of yearly or seasonal events, experts say.

    The announcement followed on the heels of the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which saw the United States, Mexico and Canada signing environmental accords to protect migratory species such as the Monarch. At the time, the butterfly was adopted as the symbol of trilateral cooperation.

    “Twenty years after the signing of NAFTA, the Monarch migration, the symbol of the three countries’ cooperation, is at serious risk of disappearing,” said Omar Vidal, Omar Vidal, the World Wildlife Fund director in Mexico.

    Lincoln Brower, a leading entomologist at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, wrote that “the migration is definitely proving to be an endangered biological phenomenon.”

    “The main culprit is now GMO herbicide-resistant corn and soybean crops and herbicides in the USA,” which “leads to the wholesale killing of the monarch’s principal food plant, common milkweed,” Brower wrote in an email.

    While Mexico has made headway in reducing logging in the officially protected winter reserve, that alone cannot save the migration, wrote Karen Oberhauser, a professor at the University of Minnesota. She noted that studies indicate that the U.S. Midwest is the main source of the butterflies coming to Mexico. “A large part of their reproductive habitat in that region has been lost due to changes in agricultural practices, mainly the explosive growth in the use of herbicide-tolerant crops.”

    While some gardeners and activists in the United States have started a movement to plant small patches of milkweed, the effort is in its infancy. Extreme weather – extreme cold snaps, unusually heavy rains or droughts in all three countries – have also apparently played a role in the decline.

    It’s unclear what would happen to the Monarchs if they no longer migrated. The butterflies can apparently survive year-round in warmer climates, but populations in the northern United States and Canada would have to face bitter winters. There is also another small migration route that takes the butterflies to California, but that has also registered declines.

    The migration is an inherited trait. No butterfly lives to make the full round-trip, and it is unclear how they remember the route back to the same patch of forest each year, a journey of thousands of miles to a forest reserve that covers 193,000 acres (56,259-hectares) in central Mexico.

    Inhabitants of the reserve had already noted a historic change, as early as the Nov. 1-2 Day of the Dead holiday, when the butterflies usually arrive.

    “They were part of the landscape of the Day of the Dead, when you could see them flitting around the graveyards,” said Gloria Tavera, the director of the reserve. “This year was the first time in memory that they weren’t there.”

    Losing the butterflies would be a blow for people such as Adolfo Rivera, 55, a farmer from the town of Los Saucos who works as a guide for tourists in the Piedra Herrada wintering ground. He said the butterflies had come later and in smaller numbers this year, a fact he attributed to a rainy winter. “This is a source of pride for us, and income,” Rivera said.

    Butterfly guide Emilio Velazquez Moreno, 39, and other farmers in the village of Macheros, located inside the reserve, have been planting small plots of milkweed in a bid to provide food for the Monarchs if they decide to stay in Mexico year-round, which he said some do.

    Sitting beside a mountainside patch of firs where the butterflies were clumping on the branches, Velazquez Moreno, a second-generation guide who has been visiting the butterflies since he was a boy, said “we have to protect this. This comes first, this is our heritage.”

    Native Milkweed Research Update

    Every year as fall approaches, millions of monarch butterflies throughout eastern North America make their long-distance journey south to the mountains of central Mexico to overwinter. In Florida, we also have small resident populations that breed year-round in southern portions of the state. Many butterfly enthusiasts and gardeners plant milkweed in their landscapes to help provide needed food for monarch larvae.

    Unfortunately, not all milkweeds are the same. Non-native Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias currasivica), by far the most common commercially available species and sometimes misidentified in the marketplace as native, has escaped from cultivation in many areas and can cause some problems for Monarchs. Because Tropical Milkweed grows throughout the year (weather permitting), it can enable monarchs to continue breeding well into the fall or winter, disrupting their normal migratory cycle. Prolonged breeding can also foster higher than normal infection rates by a lethal protozoan parasite, Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, or OE for short. In fact, recent research indicates that such year-round resources could prolong exposure to parasites, elevate infection prevalence, and even favor more virulent parasite genotypes.

    The simple answer to this potential problem is “go native.” An abundant and diverse supply of native milkweed species will contribute to an abundant healthy population of monarch butterflies. The challenge is finding one of our many native milkweed species in nursery production. [FANN growers offer Scarlet or Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), Aquatic or White Milkweed (A. perennis) and Butterflyweed (A. tuberosa) in small quantities - usually, hundreds or less.]

    The Florida Museum of Natural History and the Butterfly Conservation Initiative are trying to help by growing several milkweeds including Asclepias perennis, A. incarnata, A. humistrata and A. lanceolata for eventual retail sale as well as developing appropriate nursery propagation protocols. This effort complements the excellent work of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation to increase the availability of Florida native milkweed seed for monarch butterfly habitat restoration efforts. Finally, our three organizations are developing an informational brochure that emphasizes the importance of using native milkweed, features several Florida milkweed species and provides color photos of common butterfly larvae and their native Florida host plants. We hope to raise awareness and interest in using native plants in the landscape and help stimulate more native milkweed production.  see: http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/wildflower/books.asp

    Jaret C. Daniels, Ph.D.|Assistant Curator of Lepidoptera|University of Florida| IFAS|Assistant Professor of Entomology|Florida Museum of Natural History

    Shifts In Habitat May Threaten Ruddy Shorebird’s Survival

    An intrepid bird called the red knot migrates from the southern tip of South America to the Arctic and back every year. But changes in climate along its route are putting this ultra-marathoner at risk.

    The federal government has proposed to list the red knot as threatened on the endangered species list, because of the risk of extinction the bird faces over its 9,300-mile journey, largely because of climate change.

    “You know, this bird is facing any conceivable difficulty from Terra del Fuego [Argentina] all the way to the Arctic,” says Kevin Kalasz, a biologist who manages the shorebird project for the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife. Kalasz has studied red knots for more than a decade.

    Other animals, from polar bears to butterflies, increasingly face analogous threats as climate change alters their habitat; saving these various species may take more effort — even sacrifices — from humans, according to scientists.

    Global Warming Puts Crucial Red Knot Refueling At Risk

    Biologists worry a changing climate could throw this critical rendezvous out of sync. The crabs and the birds have to arrive at the same time if the birds are going to make it to the Arctic to nest, and warming water temperatures could prompt the crabs to lay eggs before the birds arrive.

    Meanwhile, rising seas and bigger storms are washing away the beaches, which make one of the biggest weight gains in animal kingdom possible, according to Kalasz.

    “In a number of years, we could lose this very special place,” he says. “And if that were to occur, I’d feel a tremendous sense of loss.”

    The changing climate is creating other risks for the red knot along its migration path, including in the Arctic where it nests.

    “Warming in the Arctic, we know, is proceeding faster than other parts of the globe,” says Wendy Walsh, a senior biologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. That’s changing the landscape where red knots nest from barren tundra to a place with larger plants and even trees. The shift in habitat is sure to alter the behavior of predators, like foxes and falcons that eat chicks and eggs — but scientists do not yet know how, Walsh says.

    Some Coastal Communities Oppose Listing Red Knots As ‘Threatened’

    The Fish and Wildlife Service can’t do much about the changing habitat in the Arctic. What it can do is try to better protect the bird along the East Coast.

    In places such as North Carolina’s Outer Banks, a strip of low-lying islands where some of the birds stop or even stay for the winter.

    Bird projects like this one in Delaware indicate the number of red knots passing through has dropped by 75 percent since the 1980s.

    But the local governments there and elsewhere along the bird’s path are nervous about the implications for people.

    To protect other rare shore birds, stretches of beach already are closed during tourist season. Those closures mean that wonderful places to surf, fish and swim aren’t available for tourists, says Warren Judge, who chairs the Dare County Board of Commissioners in the Outer Banks.

    “The red knot is just another bird that can land someplace and create another closure,” says Judge. “Our tourism is based upon [using] the beach. It’s very hard on the economy.”

    Walsh, of the Fish and Wildlife Service, says it’s true: If the red knot goes on the endangered species list, some beaches could be closed briefly every year.

    And that’s not all. Her agency could discourage communities from doing things such as building sea walls to protect themselves from rising seas and the big storm surges linked to climate change. Hard structures destroy beaches.

    “This is totally understandable why humans would do this when they have valuable infrastructure and property and lives at stake behind the walls,” Walsh says, “but that is a threat to the red knot going forward.”

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service expects to make its final decision in late September. That’s also when the birds will be making their fall migration from the top of the globe back to the bottom.

    Elizabeth Shogren|July 28, 2014

    Fall is the Time to See Raptors on the Move

    The best time to see hawks, harriers, eagles, and other raptors is during their fall migration, which will soon be in full swing across the country. 

    Raptors tend to fly known routes—which means folks can count on seeing large numbers of them as they head south.

    Click here to learn more about raptors and their migrations.

    Hawkwatch: the best places to see hawks

    The best time to see hawks, harriers, eagles, and their kin is during the fall migration. We’ve chosen some of the top hawkwatch sites in North America. Click on a location for information about the site and species that can be seen there. Click on the name of a species to learn more about its migratory habits.

    Hawkwatch Sites

                                              1. Chelan Ridge, WA
                                              2. Marin Headlands, CA
                                              3. Grand Canyon, AZ
                                              4. Manzanos Mtns. NM
                                              5. Corpus Christi, TX
                                              6. Smith Point, TX
                                              7. Hawk Mountain, PA
                                              8. Hanging Rock, WV
                                              9. Chimney Rock, NJ
                                              10. Cape May, NJ
                                              11. Turkey Point, MD
                                              12. Kiptopeke, VA
                                              13. Florida Keys, FL
                                              14. Hitchcock, IA
                                              15. Hawk Ridge, MN
    About Hawkwatch

    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 hawkwatch.

    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.

    On the lookout for Florida’s rare upland birds

    Ornithological question of the day:

    Do American kestrels breed in Southwest Florida?

    “That’s a good question,” said Keith Laakkonen,Fort Myers Beach’s environmental sciences coordinator. “During the winter, we see them quite a bit. They’re on every power line on every road in the area. Cape Coral and certain parts of Collier County are absolute hot spots for them.

    “But during their breeding season, we’re not really sure. It would be helpful to know if these birds are breeding down here.”

    To determine where kestrels breed, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is asking the public to be on the lookout for the small falcon species during its breeding season (May through June) and report sightings to FWC’s new Rare Bird Registry.

    FWC also wants breeding season sightings of painted buntings, which don’t breed in Southwest Florida, and burrowing owls, which do.

    Reported sightings will provide data that will help FWC scientist study and protect these species.

    Populations of all three species are declining, said Karl Miller, lead researcher for FWC’s non-game bird program.

    “They are disappearing because of habitat loss,” he said. “A lot of times, these critters occur in rural areas, which are not well-surveyed by other bird-monitoring methods. We can’t possibly cover all of the state, so we need people through this citizen-scientist program to help us.”

    Although painted buntings winter in South Florida, they head to North Florida and along the east coast as far north as eastern North Carolina for breeding season, which runs May through July.

    “They usually show up here around Oct. 10,” bird guide Vince McGrath said. “I show them off for the winter.”

    With an estimated 1,000 breeding pairs, Cape Coral is the burrowing owl capital of Florida – burrowing owl breeding season is February through July.

    Because much of the burrowing owl’s native habitat has been lost to development, the animals tend to dig their burrows in vacant lots in residential areas, but as houses are built on those lots, owls can be displaced.

    “We’re concerned because we’re not seeing the numbers we used to see,” said Pasha Donaldson, past president of Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife. “There’s so much going on in Cape Coral, and we don’t know how all the building will affect the population of owls.”

    Another Southwest Florida burrowing owl population center is Marco Island, where owls have dug burrows on 130 sites – 75 percent of the burrows are producing chicks, said Nancy Richie, a Marco Island environmental specialist.

    “I’ve been monitoring burrowing owls here for almost 15 years, and this is probably the most productive year to date. When we had the big building boom in 2003 and 2004, we saw a the population dip a little bit. Plus, we were in a drought situation.

    “Then the building slowed down, and we started getting rain, so there are lots of insects and frogs to eat. Now there’s plenty of food, and their able to propagate.”

    As with Cape Coral, the future of Marco Island’s burrowing owls is uncertain.

    “Marco will build out,” Richie said. “It’s inevitable. There are 1,200 undeveloped lots on Marco, and 90 percent of the nests are on undeveloped lots. Ultimately, this population will have to find nooks, crannies and niches to live in. As we lose empty lots, the population will go down.”

    Programs such as FWC’s Rare Bird Registry provide good science, Laakkonen said.

    “These things are really valuable,” he said. “The number of biologists and scientists in state agencies is limited. There is a large part of the public that really cares about nature, and a lot of them are birders. They may be observing species in places where the agencies aren’t aware of because they don’t have the resources to get out there and survey every scrap of Florida.”

    Help Florida’s upland birds

    To report sightings of burrowing owls, American kestrels and painted buntings, visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Rare Bird Registry at myfwc.com. Here is a closer look at the birds:

    * American kestrel

    Distribution: Throughout most of North and South America

    Size: Length 8-12 inches, weight 3-6 ounces

    Habitat: In Florida, the kestrel is found in open pine habitats, woodland prairies and pastures

    Diet: Insects, mammals, birds, lizards, snakes, amphibians

    * Burrowing owl

    Distribution: Throughout Florida

    Size: Length 9 inches, wingspan, 21 inches

    Habitat: Historically preferred open prairies in Central Florida, but birds moved mostly to South Florida as former habitat was converted to farm lands and commercial and residential development. Found locally in Cape Coral and Marco Island.

    Diet: Moles, mice, insects, small birds, amphibians and reptiles.

    * Painted bunting

    Distribution: There are two painted bunting populations. The Eastern population breeds from eastern North Carolina to North Florida. The Western population breeds from Gulf Coast of the United States west to southern New Mexico; and north to Kansas, and south to northern Tamaulipas, Mexico. Eastern painted buntings spend the winter in southern Florida (from the Keys to Manatee, Orange and Brevard counties), the Bahamas, and on Cuba.

    Size: Length 5.5 inches, wingspan, 8.5 inches

    Habitat: The coastal Southeast population breeds in scrub communities, wooded back dunes, palmetto thickets, maritime hammocks, hedges, yards, fallow fields, and citrus groves.

    Diet: Seeds most of the year, switching to mostly insects during breeding season.

    Kevin Lollar|news-press.com

     Florida Panthers

    Public sightings of Florida panthers, bears going strong, helping FWC biologists

    When someone catches sight of a panther or black bear and reports it to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the agency’s biologists may use that sighting to help research and manage those species.

    Already, the public’s willingness to report where they see panthers and black bears in Florida is having a positive impact on what is known about where these large mammals live and reproduce in the state.

    Based on two years of online public reporting of panther sightings and nearly one year of online reports of bear sightings, biologists know more about what areas of Florida provide viable habitat for these species.

    A total of 1,537 Florida panther sightings were reported as of June 2014, of which 275 have been verified as panthers based on photos of the animal or its footprints. This includes the first verification of a panther sighted near the Green Swamp north of Interstate 4 in central Florida. Primarily, the verified panther sightings are in southwest Florida.

    There also were a total of 2,257 Florida black bear sighting reports as of June 2014, with more than 500 of those reports containing uploaded photographs. Sightings of bears were reported in 59 of the state’s 67 counties.

    The FWC continues collection of panther sightings at MyFWC.com/PantherSightings, and bear sightings at MyFWC.com/BearSightings. Here people can find information about the animals, including how to identify them, what to do or not do if they see one, and a Google map making it easy to pinpoint the sighting location.

    “Someone’s excitement about seeing a Florida panther or black bear may translate into important scientific information if that sighting is reported to the FWC,” said Carol Knox, the FWC’s Imperiled Species Management section leader. “The FWC is pleased that so many people are making the effort to be citizen scientists and sharing their sightings of panthers and bears. By doing so, they are contributing to conservation of Florida’s largest land mammals.”

    Soon, cooler weather will be on the way and more people will be resuming their outdoor pursuits.

    “We hope people going outdoors to hunt, hike or pursue other recreational activities remember to share their bear sightings with us, particularly if it is a mother bear with cubs,” said FWC bear biologist Brian Scheick.

    For a list of the many FWC wildlife sightings, surveys and hotlines in which citizen scientists are invited to participate, go to MyFWC.com/get-involved/citizen-science/.

    Learn more about panthers at FloridaPantherNet.org and more about bears at MyFWC.com/Bear.

    FWC recommends Collier County residents take steps to protect small livestock from panthers

    Because of recent incidents of Florida panthers taking small livestock in Golden Gates Estates, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is cautioning Collier County residents to take the necessary precautions to properly shelter animals such as goats, sheep, calves, pigs, donkeys and chickens.

    “The best way for people to protect small livestock is to keep them in a secure, fenced enclosure with a roof, especially at night,” said FWC panther team leader Darrell Land. “Panther depredations on animals in backyards can be prevented, and we encourage Golden Gate Estates residents to take the necessary steps to protect their animals from being taken by a panther or other predator.”

    Similar safety measures should be taken to protect pets like dogs and cats, by keeping them indoors at night or in an outdoor panther-proof pen.

    The FWC is investigating and monitoring depredations on so-called hobby livestock that recently have been concentrated in the area of 6th Street SE in Golden Gate Estates. However, panther depredations can occur throughout the area, and biologists encourage the community’s residents who live east of Collier Boulevard to take appropriate steps to protect their backyard animals from all predators roaming this semi-rural area. Predators include bobcats and coyotes as well as panthers.

    “The FWC is alerting Golden Gate Estates residents that taking precautions today to protect their small livestock from panthers will have beneficial long-term effects by discouraging panthers and other predators from repeatedly coming back into their community looking for easy prey,” Land said.

    People can learn more about living in panther country from the brochure, “A guide to living with Florida Panthers”. It reminds people, for instance, not to feed deer or other wildlife around their home, since that can attract panthers looking for prey.

    Land, who has lived in Golden Gate Estates for more than 25 years, said wildlife is common in the area because its relatively large residential lots often include natural habitat areas. The community also is bordered on three sides by conservation lands, which include the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge to the east, Picayune Strand State Forest and Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park to the south, and Bird Rookery Swamp, part of the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed, to the north – all of which are regularly used by panthers.

    If people have problems or concerns about panthers, call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone. To report a panther sighting to the FWC, go to MyFWC.com/PantherSightings.

    Additional information about Florida panthers is available at FloridaPantherNet.org.

      Invasive species

    Check your chickee: New exotic bug may be chewing it up

    The first thing Nancy Kilmartin noticed was the frass. That’s science-speak for caterpillar poop — little dark pellets baby butterflies or moths expel as they eat. And it was scattered in a dark drizzle under Manatee Park’s chickee when she inspected it this month after volunteer Alice Thrower told her it was looking odd.

    Above the frass, the sabal palm-thatched roof of the structure was pocked with holes, ranging from buckshot to quarter-size. It was plain that something was chewing up the chickee, a traditional open log-frame structure built by Florida’s native Miccosukee and Seminole tribes.

    But what? Every caterpillar Kilmartin, a senior program specialist, knew of favored live stuff — not dead, dry fronds.

    After consulting with several biologists, horticulturist and The News-Press columnist Stephen Brown examined the roof, collected specimens and sent a sample to University of Florida entomologist Lyle Buss. He pegged the culprit as an Asian moth caterpillar: “Simplicia cornicalis.” Instead of going after clothing or crops, this moth prefers dead palm fronds.

    Bad news for Southwest Florida, says Brown, where the countless thatched roofs shading docks, patios and parks are all potential caterpillar victims. He likens the chewing critters to cattle munching on hay, and expects the problem to worsen as the bugs spread.

    Though this is the first official report of an infestation in Lee County, “It could be of major consequence to the parks and tourist facilities who use them for shade,” says Fort Myers environmental consultant Dick Workman.

    Dormant during the day, the caterpillars keep themselves hidden among the thatch, emerging at night to eat. The dun-colored adult moths stick around to lay their eggs on the roofs, Brown says, and the cycle repeats, unless a lizard snags the moth first.

    Should a homeowner discover an infestation, Brown recommends treating the roof with insecticide at night.

    First spotted in Florida in 2006, the pest has made its way south from Louisiana, feeding on dead plants as it goes. It joins an ever-growing list of exotic invaders that have found a comfy niche in Southwest Florida — species like lionfish, Cuban frogs and fire ants.

    “I don’t think they attack live, green leaves, but get onto the leaves after they have been cut and made into roofs,” Buss wrote in an email. He’s heard of them in Collier, Monroe, and Palm Beach counties, but this was the first report from Lee.

    The Collier County Museum has a Seminole chickee at its downtown Naples campus that was recently refurbished, says spokeswoman Christina Apkarian, “But that was due to weather and normal wear and tear,” she says — not caterpillar damage.

    The caterpillars were news to Brett Daly, who edits the Seminole Tribe’s paper, the Seminole Tribune. “That’s not something we’ve come across,” she says.

    The only other Lee County property with at-risk roofs is Crescent Beach Family Park on Estero Island, which has three palm-thatched pavilions, says county spokeswoman Betsy Clayton.

    “Most of our Lee County Parks & Recreation shade structures have fabric or metal roofs,” she wrote in an email. The county has started pricing treatment for the roof at Manatee Park in east Fort Myers, but has no estimates yet.

    “We will proceed with getting bids from county-approved vendors and working to best remedy the situation at the park,” Clayton wrote. “That will help us determine how to proceed if we must do the same at other sites.”

    Amy Bennett Williams|news-press.com|August 27, 2014

    Endangered Species

    Grizzly Bears in the North Cascades

    The National Park Service this week took an important step toward recovering grizzly bears in the North Cascades in Washington state. The agency says it is beginning a three-year process to analyze options for boosting grizzly bear populations in the area, including the possibility of translocating bears and developing a viable population.

    “We’re happy to see the Park Service begin the long-overdue conversation about bringing grizzly bears back to the North Cascades,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Grizzlies have lost more than 95 percent of their historic habitat in the lower 48 states so we welcome any step that brings them closer to returning to some of their ancestral homes.”

    In June, the Center petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to begin returning grizzly bears to vast swaths of the American West. The petition identified more than 110,000 square miles of potential grizzly bear habitat, including parts of Washington, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado.

    Today, there are roughly 1,500-1,800 grizzly bears in the continental United States, most of them in and around Yellowstone and Glacier national parks. The grizzly populations remain separated from each other, which impedes genetic exchange and limits their ability to expand into new areas.

    The Northern Cascades ecosystem includes about 9,800 square miles in the United States and 3,800 square miles in Canada. A grizzly bear has not been spotted on the U.S. side since 2010.

    “The Northern Cascades has the potential to host a viable grizzly bear population,” Greenwald said. “The same could be said for many spots scattered throughout the West. If grizzly bears are ultimately going to have a thriving, healthy population no longer threatened by extinction, they’ve got to be given a chance to return to some of the places they were driven out of years ago.”

    Center for Biological Diversity|August 22, 2014

    Read more at Center for Biological Diversity.

    The California Drought is Making Life Pretty Rough for Bees

    When it comes to food, the California drought has affected many things that we eat: berries, beer and avocados just to name a few. Now there’s yet another item to add to that list: honey.

    Traditionally, California has been one of the top producers of honey. Now, however, with fewer crops on account of the drought, honeybees have had fewer places to forage, and they’re producing much less honey because of it. Since the drought began three years ago, honey production in California has fallen from 27.5 million pounds in 2010 to 10.9 million pounds in 2013, according to the AP reports. This year, things are expected to be even worse.

    “Our honey crop is severely impacted by the drought,” Gene Brandi, a beekeeper in Los Banos, a farming town in California’s Central Valley told the AP.

    That’s bad for business and it’s also bad for the honey consumer. There was already a worldwide shortage of honey, and the drought has helped pushes prices to an all-time high. “Over the past eight years, the average retail price for honey has increased 65 percent from $3.83 to $6.32 per pound, according to the National Honey Board,” reports CBS News.

    To keep their bees alive, some beekeepers are having to supplement with sugar syrup or high-fructose corn syrup since there is a lack of the honeybees’ usual diet of nectar.

    “Not only are you feeding as an expense, but you aren’t gaining any income,” beekeeper Mike Brandi told the AP. “If this would persist, you’d see higher food costs, higher pollination fees and unfortunately higher prices for the commodity of honey.”

    While feeding the bees sugar keeps them alive, it doesn’t get the bees producing honey, and it doesn’t keep the bees as healthy; without the same nutrients as the pollen, keeping bees on a sugar diet makes them susceptible to diseases.

    Given their current situation, that’s a bit of a slap in the face if you’re a honeybee. Bees have already been having a rough go of things, what with Colony Collapse Disorder and all. Have you seen the pictures of what your grocery store aisle would look like without bees? It’s pretty dismal. As pollinators, bees are essential to our food production, and without them we risk the threat of a global food crisis.

    We need bees, and they need food; a good reminder of how interconnected our food systems truly are.

    Anna Brones|August 28, 2014

    One of Florida’s rare creatures; the smalltooth sawfish

    Smalltooth sawfish are aptly named, having a long, flattened, toothed “saw” extending out from the head. They have 22 to 29 unpaired teeth on each side of the rostrum (saw); males typically have more than females. If completely lost, the teeth are not replaced; if only chipped and their bases are intact, the teeth will continue to grow as the fish grows. The saw is used for feeding and defense against sharks, their only known predators.

    Smalltooth sawfish belong to a group of fishes called elasmobranchs, which includes all other rays and sharks. Smalltooth sawfish swim like sharks but are actually a type of ray, in part because their gill slits are on the bottom of their bodies, like stingrays. All elasmobranchs have a skeleton made of cartilage.

    Smalltooth sawfish in Florida waters give birth primarily in April and May. Females can give birth to up to 20 young measuring 2 to 2.7 feet long. They can be found in a wide range of habitats, including mud bottoms, sand bottoms, oyster bars, red mangrove shorelines, docks, seawall-lined canals and piers. Juveniles, like the one pictured, will also travel many miles up rivers if freshwater inflow is reduced.

    Smalltooth sawfish can grow up to 18 feet long and 700 pounds.

    Because they are so rare – their population has declined by more than 95 percent – smalltooth sawfish are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. If a smalltooth sawfish is accidentally caught, it must be promptly released unharmed. It is illegal to actively attempt to hook or net one and possessing even a part of sawfish is a violation of rules.

    Recovery efforts for this critically endangered species are in progress. Learn about what’s being done, and what you can do to support research efforts.

    NOAA Lists 20 New Corals as Threatened Under the Endangered Species Act ‏

    Yesterday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that 20 coral species will be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Fifteen of these coral species are in the Indo-Pacific and five are in the Atlantic/Caribbean. Including two previously listed coral species – elkhorn and staghorn – there are a total of 22 species that are now listed as threatened.

    Coral species newly listed as threatened in the Atlantic/Caribbean:

    * Pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus)
    * Rough cactus coral (Mycetophyllia ferox)
    * Lobed star coral (Orbicella annularis)
    * Mountainous star coral (Orbicella faveolata)
    * Boulder star coral (Orbicella franksi)

    All seven of the threatened corals from the Atlantic/Caribbean are found throughout the wider Caribbean region, including Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. The listed corals from the Indo-Pacific can be found in several areas, including Guam (4 coral species), Northern Mariana Islands (3 species), American Samoa (13 corals) and the US Pacific Remote Island Areas (3 corals).

    Please click here for more information.  

    A Win in Aspen: Tortoises From Art Installation Go to Sanctuary

    The Aspen Art Museum has sent three tortoises to a sanctuary after thousands of Center supporters objected to their exploitation in an art exhibit by Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang. The exhibit featured three African sulcata tortoises, each with a pair of iPads stuck directly to its shell.

    The move comes less than a week after the Center for Biological Diversity delivered a petition signed by more than 12,000 people opposing the controversial exhibit. Earlier this month, a nationwide boycott was led by Lisbeth Odén and by Andrew Sabin, a New York businessman and turtle conservationist.

    We’re glad to see these tortoises heading to the sanctuary; they deserve a life without iPads glued to their backs. Thank you to all the people who spoke out against their mistreatment.

    Three Southeast Flowers Get 2,500 Acres of Protected Habitat

    Following the Center’s 757 species agreement, the Fish and Wildlife Service has protected 2,488 acres of critical habitat for three flowering plants in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee: Short’s bladderpod, fleshy-fruit gladecress and whorled sunflower.

    The Center first petitioned the Service to protect these plants in 2004; they had been on a waiting list since 1999. The plants were finally protected early this month, and now they have protected habitat too. So far — under our landmark 2011 agreement to speed protection decisions for 757 species — 130 have gained Endangered Species Act protection, including the three flowers, and another 13 have been proposed for protection.

    Habitat loss is the primary reason plants and animals become endangered, so protecting the last areas where these highly endangered flowers live will help make sure they aren’t erased by careless human activities.

    Read more in the Tennessean.

    Read more in our press release.

    [Could there still be hope for receiving protected critical habitat for the Florida Panther?]

    Wild & Weird

    MIGRATION SEASON BEGINS…

    …at least for the birds and Monarch butterflies that are already being seen assembling and moving south as summer fades into fall.

    However, no large directional movements have been noted yet this year for our migrant dragonflies. As conspicuous and charismatic as dragonflies unquestionably are — zooming around freshwater habitats feeding, seeking mates, and defending territory on the wing — some aspects of their migratory behavior are still bewildering. Migration season is upon us, but when will these colorful denizens of the insect world make their movements obvious to us?

    Few reports of migration flights have been seen in listserv inboxes or on dragonfly Facebook group pages so far this summer. By this time in both 2012 and 2013, Swamp Darners (Epiaeschna heros) had been seen in directional flights on the east coast, making an easy meal for Purple Martins. However, there have been numerous reports in the past few weeks of members of our top five migrant species seen in feeding swarms or as newly emerged tenerals. Are the Common Green Darners (Anax junius) and Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata) observed in local swarms merely residents feeding on a bounty of midges and mosquitoes, or are they migrants amassing their reserves for the long trek south? A report of hundreds of newly emerged Common Green Darners in mid-August in Milwaukie, WI is highly suggestive of a cohort destined for migration, as are the feeding swarms of Common Green Darners observed in separate incidents on August 17 and 20 in Ohio. One observer has remarked that the usual abundance of Common Green Darners around their pond in Quebec was reduced this year to only three tenerals seen on August 19. These teneral dragonflies are likely to be migrants and this report reflects a common complaint on many Facebook pages of reduced dragonfly numbers in 2014, especially in the east, leading us to wonder whether migration flights will be down as well this fall.

    Although the most dramatic dragonfly migration flights are often seen along the coasts and the shores of the Great Lakes, inland observations are key to understanding the origins of these flights. Participating observers at Hawk Watch sites are perfectly placed to note coincident movements of dragonflies, as migrating raptors such as Mississippi Kites are often seen taking advantage of an in-flight meal of migrating Common Green Darners as they share a flight path south. Inland hawk observatories often witness large dragonfly migration flights; because these observatories are frequently located on ridge tops they are ideal vantage points to detect inland populations of dragonflies collecting along leading lines of not only mountain ridges, but lakes and rivers as well. Continuing observations will tell us more about how and when these dragonflies make their way to the coasts, and where they may be collecting in staging areas to rest and feed before the next leg of their southern flight.

    Reports from the West Coast of small clusters of Variegated Meadowhawks (Sympetrum corruptum) may indicate just that — individuals coming together from sites further inland and resting or waiting for favorable winds or other environmental cues to send them on their way. Reports this month on the Northwest Odonata listserv from people at Oregon’s northern coast may indicate southward movement of small numbers of individuals as well as staging stopovers as these meadowhawks fuel up at Oregon beaches and coastal wetlands. Directional flights composed of only a few individuals can easily go unnoticed, but we are pleased to have multiple observers this year detecting these smaller movements and reporting their observations.

    Because we know very little about where migration flights originate, we need your watchful eyes not only to detect directional movements of the migratory species, but also to note emergences and late-season tenerals around local ponds throughout North America. We hope you’ll spend some of your last days of summer (and even into fall) at your local wetland, pond, ridge top, or coastal beach making notable discoveries of our last dragonflies of the season on the wing.

    MDP MISSION 

    The Migratory Dragonfly Partnership is composed of dragonfly experts, nongovernmental programs, academic institutions, and federal agencies from the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. Together, we are combining research, citizen science, and education and outreach to better understand North America’s migrating dragonflies and promote conservation of their wetland habitat. For more information please visit the MDP website.

     Join our e-newsletter list

    Everglades

    See the options SFWMD has for future water storage here

    NOAA: Southwest Florida a ‘hotspot’ for wetland loss

    Naples. Fla. – Southwest Florida has lost 148 square miles of land cover – an area 1 1/2 times the size of Cape Coral – to development and to changes in the region’s climate over the past two decades, a new government report shows.

    Much of the land lost was wetlands, which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and environmental experts say are vital to wildlife, help clean waterways, and mitigate flooding and storms.

    When it comes to land cover loss, the region is “one of the most active in the country,” said NOAA physical scientist Nate Herold, who directs the mapping effort at NOAA.

    The NOAA study, which was released this week, analyzed land cover in 29 coastal states, including those bordering the Great Lakes, from 1996 to 2010 to see how much forested areas and wetlands have shrunk.

    “Although development is responsible for most of the changes, storms, drought and sea-level rising also all play a part,” Herold said.

    Overall, NOAA found 8.2 percent of the nation’s coastal regions suffered a land cover decline during that period, totaling 64,975 square miles – an area larger than Wisconsin.

    Lee County, with an 8.7 percent land cover loss, saw a bigger percentage loss than the national average. That includes losing 38 square miles of forested wetlands. With all land types included, new development gobbled up 54 square miles during the study period.

    Herold says Lee “pops out as one of the hot spots for wetland losses,” along with the Tampa-Orlando corridor, coastal Los Angeles and coastal Alabama.

    In both Lee and Collier counties, roughly half of the development lost was from freshwater forested wetlands (which also accounted for the bulk of the overall wetland losses), and another third from former agriculture areas, NOAA said.

    Collier lost less of its cover than Lee: 21 square miles of forested wetlands disappeared, and 35 square miles of all land types became new development.

    But because Collier is nearly twice the size of Lee, and has substantial preserve areas, proportionally it lost less land cover.

    In total, NOAA said, about 3 percent of Collier’s area changed during the period.

    NOAA’s report noted that throughout the country, 642 square miles, or the equivalent of 61 football fields, is lost to development every day.

    “But the southeastern quadrant of the country is especially affected because it isn’t as built out as some other regions of the country, such as the Northeast,” Herold said.

    The Southeast also is heavily impacted by industries such as logging, which destroys trees but also replants them, Herold said. So over time, some of the land cover is replaced.

    Local restoration and developer mitigation activities also allowed some Gulf Coast areas to gain modest-sized wetlands, Herold said, though the gains did not offset the losses.

    Hurricanes, forest fires, tornadoes and other natural calamities also destroy land cover, but the effects tend to be localized, he added.

    “But over time, these small impacts add up, making the cumulative effect more dramatic,” he said.

    Local environmentalists say wetlands serve an important role in the ecosystem, serving as nurseries and breeding grounds for a variety of fish and birds, including the wood stork, a threatened species, and the bizarre two-toed amphiuma, a snakelike salamander.

    But they also point to less obvious benefits.

    Kevin Cunniff, research coordinator for Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve along the coast between Naples and Marco Island, said the area’s dominant mangrove wetlands produce leaf litter that blunts storm surges. The wetlands also capture sediments that otherwise would be carried inland during storms, effectively serving as land builders.

    Jason Lauritsen, director of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary along the Lee-Collier line, said wetlands help prevent red tides by filtering pollution from water runoff; prevent floods by storing large quantities of water during storms; and help control temperatures, which can help prevent tornadoes.

    Lauritsen also said the nation has been committed to a policy of no net loss of wetlands since the late 1980s. Supported by four successive presidential administrations, the federal policy seeks to restore wetlands that have been degraded and create new wetlands when building or farms supplant them.

    “It was a fantastic idea, but NOAA’s study shows we are not meeting it,” he said.

    June Fletcher|naplesnews.com|Aug 23, 2014

    South Florida Flood Protection Project Approved

    Addressing water quality and quantity continues to be a top priority for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. In a move to increase flood protection for south Florida residents, the department today issued a permit for the construction of a new levee system. This project is a cooperative effort between the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Indian Trail Improvement District (ITID).

    The environmental resource permit is for the construction of a 6.25 mile levee system within the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area located in western Palm Beach County. The levee system improvement project consists of constructing a new levee within uplands and wetlands in areas which separate J.W. Corbett from the ITID M-O Canal.

    In August 2012, Tropical Storm Isaac brought unprecedented rainfall to areas of central and western Palm Beach County resulting in widespread flooding. During post-storm evaluations conducted by the state, the ITID M-O Canal was identified as an area of critical concern because of localized slope failures, excessive seepage and the formation of boils. Under the direction of Governor Rick Scott, the SFWMD convened a multi-agency working group in September 2012 to develop a plan for strengthening the M-O Canal in an effort to meet current standards and to improve flood protection and safety to the residents in the surrounding areas.

    “I’m excited about the effect this project will have on the local community,” said Jill Creech, director of DEP’s Southeast District. “The impact from Tropical Storm Isaac on the property owners in western Palm Beach County was huge. This project will help restore some peace of mind for residents should another significant weather event, such as Isaac, bear down on our community.”

    The purpose of the project is to improve flood protection for the residents of the surrounding areas. In addition, the project will expand operational control of water levels as originally designed and permitted, which may attract additional endangered species to inhabit the area.

    “The district moved historic amounts of water from the deluge caused by Tropical Storm Isaac and worked to shore up a key berm for better protection in an emergency situation,” said John Mitnik, SFWMD bureau chief of operations, engineering and construction. “We have engineered a new levee and are ready to initiate construction to help ensure the safety of residents for years to come.”

    Phase one of the project is anticipated to be complete by January 2016. Phase two will follow and the levee should be complete by January 2018. The total cost of the project is estimated at $7.8 million.

    mburgerdep|August 22, 2014

    U.S. Sugar sees new opportunities for Hendry County in 43k-acre sector plan

    The latest version of U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brothers’ 43,000-acre sector plan, which would divide portions of Hendry County into six different land-use areas.

    The goal of the plan is to attract new people and businesses to Hendry County over the next 46 years.

    CLEWISTON — A plan to develop roughly 43,300 acres of Hendry County over the next 46 years is currently in the works, led by the U.S. Sugar Corporation and Hilliard Brothers.

    The Hendry County Board of County Commissioners OK’d an advancement of the over 43-thousand-acre sector plan at their last regular meeting, held on Aug. 26 in Clewiston City Hall.

    The Sugar Hill Sector Plan would allow U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brothers to develop more than 43,000 acres of U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brother-owned land, the majority of which is located west of Clewiston surrounding Airglades Airport. The Sugar Hill plan does not, however, include the airport in its scope of development.

    The Sugar Hill plan would divide the specified land into six land-use categories: long-term agriculture, employment centers, rural estates, mixed-use suburban, mixed-use urban and natural resource management.

    The specifically planned divisions are a required aspect of the sector plan as mandated by state law. As explained by Mark Morton, director of strategic development and planning for U.S. Sugar, sector plans allow one or more landowners to take an holistic approach towards future development of large-scale areas of land. Sector plans are “very big picture,” he said.

    The Sugar Hill plan is based on a 46-year time period, within which U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brothers hope to attract new people and businesses to Hendry County by developing the land according to the six land-use categories.

    The long-term agriculture division would maintain Hendry County’s agricultural efforts and consist of roughly 14,400 acres south of Clewiston and continuing east.

    The employment center division would house the industrial and economic development projects that stakeholders hope to attract in the future. The division would be located near Airglades Airport to the west, northwest, northeast, south and southeast.

    The mixed-use suburban area would contain housing developments where the community could “work, play and live,” according to Mr, Morton, and would be located south of the employment centers near the airport.

    The mixed-use urban area would also contain housing developments, but would be located just west of Clewiston abutting the city limits.

    The rural estates division would also provide areas for housing units, set at least one acre apart from each other.

    Finally, the natural resource management areas would contain small patches of native plant species, including cypress trees and cabbage palms, intended to preserve the integrity of Florida’s land.

    It is precisely this aspect of the project that has some groups worried about the effects of the plan’s implementation.

    Julianne Thomas, who spoke on behalf of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, said she was concerned about Everglades Restoration efforts and was interested in what the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) would have to say, though she admitted she was happy with some aspects of the project.

    Rhonda Roth spoke on behalf of the Sierra Club and even accused U.S. Sugar of attempting to inflate land prices before they had an opportunity to sell it the state for Everglades Restoration.

    Mr. Morton said the project’s intent was to raise Hendry County to the highest level of fiscal health.

    Hearing all public comments, county commissioners voted to approve the transmittal of the sector plan to the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), with a motion made by Commissioner Don Davis and a second by Commissioner Mike Swindle.

    Once in the hands of the DEO, it will be sent to several other agencies and may undergo more changes before being sent to Tallahassee for approval. Some of the agencies who will vet the project include the SFWMD and the Department of Environmental Protection.

    If the plan continues to progress, stakeholders hope to have it adopted by the end of the year.

    Melissa Beltz|The Clewiston News|August 28, 2014

    Everglades restoration project has had modest impact, report shows

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A $13.5 billion project to restore the Florida Everglades has had limited impact even as the embattled ecosystem faces threats from climate change and invasive species, a progress report said on Friday.

    The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), started in 1999 to restore Florida’s “river of grass” over 30 to 40 years, has been hindered by intermittent federal funding, the biennial report on the project by the National Research Council said.

    Since the council’s last update two years ago, CERP has had “modest restoration progress focused on the edges of the Everglades (and) considerable state effort to improve water quality,” the report said.

    The Everglades, an ecosystem of marshes, lakes, wetlands and tree islands stretching 200 miles (320 km) from Orlando to Florida Bay, is about half its original size. Water now moves through a maze of levees, canals and pump stations.

    Much of the water is diverted for industry and for millions of people in South Florida. The water that remains is heavily polluted.

    The CERP has seen modest improvements at Picayune Strand in southwest Florida, coastal wetlands at Biscayne Bay and at the C-111 Spreader Canal in southern Miami-Dade County, the report said.

    The CERP is not adequately considering the threat from climate change, with the Everglades facing rising sea levels caused by higher temperatures, it said.

    Climate change is expected to increase demands for water from agriculture, straining supplies as population increases.

    CERP lacks overall coordination to deal with non-native species, with a shortage of research on them and their impact.

    Such invasive plant species as melaleuca and Australian pine are infesting hundreds of thousands of acres (hectares) and fuel brushfires that destroy native plants.

    Burmese pythons have become the Everglades’ top carnivore, eating alligators and virtually wiping out vertebrates, the report said.

    The CERP involves 68 component projects overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District. The goal is to reinstate the original water flow as much as possible, mainly by restoring undeveloped wetlands.

    In a statement, the Corps of Engineers said: “We recognize that as much progress as we’ve made in our restoration efforts to date, there’s still more work to be done.” A spokesman for the South Florida water district had no immediate response.

    The National Research Council is part of the National Academies, which advise the U.S. government on scientific and technical issues.

    Reuters|June 27, 2014|Reporting by Ian Simpson|Editing by Bill Trott

    Water Quality Issues

    Top 10 U.S. Cities Running Out of Water

    Even as we watch the stunning footage of an overwhelmed Detroit drowning under massive rainfall, U.S. Drought Monitor shows other regions of the country parched and longing for more water. The organization releases weekly maps tracking the extent of drought in the U.S., ranking regions on five levels: “abnormally dry,” “moderate drought,” “severe drought,” “extreme drought” and “exceptional drought.”

    -2

    Its current map documents a huge swath of the western U.S., extending as far east as Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska, suffering from drought conditions. It also shows patches of South, Midwest, upper Great Lakes region and even New England having a drier than normal summer, covering more than a third of the continental U.S.

    But the areas of “exceptional drought,” the highest category, are localized in four states. California is by far the hardest hit, with 58 percent of the state under “exceptional drought” and 82 percent in the two highest categories. Nevada, Oklahoma and Texas also have patches of “exceptional” drought, surrounded by a sea of less intense drought.

    So it’s not surprising that all of its top ten cities with a severe water shortage are in California, located mostly in its fertile Central Valley growing region. Bakersfield, which has seen explosive growth in the last 40 years, tops the list with 90 percent of the city under “exceptional drought.” Unlike most of the other cities in the top 10, it has enacted no water restrictions. The other cities in order of the severity of drought are Hanford, Salinas, Gilroy-Morgan Hill, Santa Maria, Merced, Santa Cruz, Madera, Visalia and Fresno.

    With these cities supplying a large percentage of the nation’s produce—70 percent of its lettuce comes from Salinas—the impact should be felt in grocery stores across the country.

    The water shortage in these cities also points out the absurdity of California-based bottled water companies sourcing their product from local spring and tap water, and processing it to ship out of state.

    (NaturalNews) The U.S. Drought Monitor has released new data on U.S. cities that are running out of water — and believe it or not, the top 10 spots are all located in California. Some of the worst drought conditions on record have left much of the Golden State grasping for moisture wherever it can be found. But for these 10 cities, more than 75 percent of their land area is now marked by “exceptional” drought, the highest level on the chart.

    10) Fresno, California. The Drought Monitor recognizes five levels of drought intensity: D0 is the lowest, categorized as “abnormally dry,” and D4 is the highest, categorized as “exceptional drought.” Based on the data, Fresno has had D4 conditions on over 75 percent of its land since the beginning of the year, and the entire city has been in an “extreme drought,” the second highest category, for all of 2014, so far.
    9) Visalia, California. Like Fresno, Visalia is a leading agricultural region of California that grows specialty crops like fruits, nuts and vegetables. But the county in which it is located, Tulare, was forced to declare a state of emergency at the beginning of the year due to extreme drought conditions. The entirety of Tulare County has been in an extreme drought during this time, with 75 percent of it ranking in the exceptional category.
    8) Madera, California. Conditions in the Central Valley town of Madera, population 78,000, have been similarly dire, prompting the county to restrict water usage outdoors. With more than 76 percent of its land marked by exceptional drought, conservation measures have had to be put in place to save water for growing grapes, almonds and various other nuts, which are a major component of the local economy.
    7) Santa Cruz, California. Known for its “green” approach to living, Santa Cruz has implemented extreme water restrictions that subject residents to fines and other penalties for exceeding established water limits. This is because drought conditions took a dramatic turn for the worst, escalating from just half of the urban area experiencing a severe drought last year to nearly all of it experiencing an extreme drought this year.
    6) Merced, California. Already an extremely dry area, Merced has been hit hard by the drought, clocking in at a measly one inch of rain during the entire year of 2013. Lake McClure, where much of the local water is drawn, has sunk so low that the local water district is having to relocate boats docked there — more than 78 percent of the area is experiencing exceptional drought conditions.
    5) Santa Maria, California. For the first time ever, Santa Maria achieved exceptional drought conditions back in February. The area does, however, have better-than-average groundwater supplies.
    4) Gilroy-Morgan Hill, California. Oddly enough, this area of Santa Clara County had not been recorded as being in either extreme or exceptional drought conditions at any point during 2013. But this year, nearly 80 percent of Morgan Hill is now at the highest level of drought, with a high risk of wildfires.
    3) Salinas, California. The so-called “Salad Bowl of the World,” Salinas is now more than 85 percent engulfed in exceptional drought. This does not bode well for the nation’s food supply, as 70 percent of lettuce comes from Salinas.
    2) Hanford, California. Another heavy agricultural area, Hanford saw a dramatic escalation of its drought conditions since the beginning of the year. Local farm workers are having a hard time staying employed because of drought-induced crop failures — more than 85 percent of the area is experiencing exceptional drought conditions.
    1) Bakersfield, California. The U.S. city with the worst drought conditions overall, Bakersfield went from having no areas of exceptional drought last year to an astounding 90 percent this year. And yet, despite facing the biggest water shortages of all, Bakersfield has implemented no water restrictions whatsoever on its roughly half-a-million residents.

    Anastasia Pantsios|August 14, 2014

    Red Tide in the Gulf

    A patchy bloom of Karenia brevis, the Florida red tide organism, has been detected this month in the northeast Gulf of Mexico offshore between Dixie and northern Pinellas counties.  In other regions sampled this week along the Florida Gulf coast, only three samples contained background concentrations of K. brevis.  No respiratory irritation or fish kills associated with this bloom have been observed alongshore or inshore of the west coast of Florida.  Additional samples analyzed throughout Florida this week did not contain red tide.

    Satellite images from the Optical Oceanography Laboratory at the University of South Florida show a surface bloom extending between Dixie and northern Pinellas counties, but preliminary data collected this week during an offshore research cruise on the Florida Institute of Oceanography’s R/V Bellows between Levy and Pinellas counties revealed mixed algae blooms often dominated by non-toxic species in surface waters. Low to medium concentrations of K. brevis were found at several locations within this region, mostly in deeper waters. Data from samples collected this week will be available in reports next week, as FWC researchers returned from the cruise earlier today with water samples.

    Fish kills and low oxygen in bottom waters have been observed in the offshore bloom area.

    Forecasts by the Collaboration for Prediction of Red Tides show slow north movement of surface waters and little movement of bottom waters near the bloom patches in the next few days.

    Please follow this link to the current statewide interactive Google Earth map:

    The FWRI HAB group in conjunction with Mote Marine Laboratory now have a facebook page.  Please come like our page and learn interesting facts concerning red tide and other harmful algal blooms in Florida at:  http://facebook.com/FLHABs.

    Tables and maps of sample results are attached. This information will be available shortly on our Web site: (http://myfwc.com/research/redtide/events/status/statewide/).

    What Toledo’s Water Crisis Reveals About Industrial Farming

    As you may have heard, about half a million people in the Toledo, Ohio area lost their municipal drinking water supply on Saturday because of possible microbial toxin contamination from Lake Erie. A combination of heavier spring rains, exacerbated by climate change, and runoff of phosphorus from fertilizer applied to crops is the likely cause. The good news is that farmers can adopt better practices to eliminate this problem. The bad news is that the agriculture industry, and the public policies that it lobbies for, work against these solutions.

    A toxic microbe, or cyanobacteria (a.k.a. blue-green algae), has been causing big water problems in Lake Erie and other bodies of water around the country for the last several years. Scientific research pointed to the combination of agricultural and climate change as the cause of the historic 2011 toxic Lake Erie microbe “bloom” and subsequent dead zone. And research shows that farm pollution, which feeds the explosion of toxic microbe growth, especially from phosphorus fertilizer, has been increasing since the 1990s. Now, new research published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research has further solidified the connection between industrial ag, climate change, and an explosion of toxic algae.

    While the most dramatic news this week is the city of Toledo’s move to shut down public water sources, there are other important impacts such as harm to commercial and sports fishing and recreation at the lake. After the microbes die, other bacteria consume them, using up much of the oxygen in large parts of the lake in the process. The resulting dead zones kill fish and other lake life, and harm fisheries. The toxins close down beaches, and the foul odors and bacterial slime often discourage beachgoers even in places where they remain open.

    On Monday, several news sources reported that Toledo residents could once again drink from their taps, but the algae bloom continues. And the recent research cited above suggests that even if phosphorus levels were reduced enough to limit blooms, further reductions would still be needed to bring the dead zone in Lake Erie back to pre-1990s levels.

    Dead zones like these are not unique to Lake Erie. Water pollution from phosphorus is harming Lake Winnipeg and many reservoirs. There are also about 400 global marine coastal dead zones, caused mainly by nitrogen fertilizer, including one in the Gulf of Mexico that is measuring the size of Connecticut this year and another large one in the Chesapeake Bay.

    Yes, we can purify the water, but it costs millions of dollars and does nothing to help the lake itself. For that we need to get to the source.

    Industrial Agriculture: Providing Band-Aids for Hemorrhages

    Ironically, these toxic microbes are growing thanks to an agricultural practice that is widely touted as an improvement in the sustainability of industrial agriculture—conservation tillage and no-till farming. As their names imply, these are approaches to farming that require farmers not to plow the soil with tractors, but rather to leave it in place and kill weeds in other ways. They are often practiced in concert with the use of herbicides and genetically engineered seeds.

    Genetic engineering is sometimes given credit for the adoption of no-till, but the practice actually started to become widely adopted years before genetically engineered (commonly known as GMO) crops were commercialized. Nonetheless, engineered herbicide-resistant crops made conservation tillage easier in many areas (until the advent of glyphosate herbicide resistant weeds, that is). So the tarnishing of no-till also diminishes one of the main purported benefits of GMO crops.

    No-till usually reduces soil erosion, which is a very good thing. Many farmers and scientists also believed that it would reduce phosphorus pollution because that nutrient binds tightly to soil. So reduced erosion should also reduce the amount of soil washed into streams carrying bound phosphorus. Unfortunately, when phosphorus fertilizer is not plowed into the soil, it builds up at the surface, and from there it can be more easily washed off soil into streams and lakes. This is because this form of phosphorus, called dissolved reactive phosphorus, is not bound to soil. It is also more easily utilized by the toxic microbes in lakes and waterways.

    What About Factory Animal Farms?

    Industrial corn and soybean production are clearly linked to the problems in Lake Erie via fertilizers. But factory farming of livestock is also suspect. Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) have a manure problem. Because so many animals are confined in such as small area, they often produce far more manure than can be applied to the surrounding farmlands without causing runoff. That means more nitrogen and phosphorus gets into streams.

    When livestock farms were smaller, and more dispersed geographically, manure could be used to fertilize nearby crop fields in a balanced way, but today CAFOs are large and often located near one another. And it is simply too expensive to transport manure far enough to spread onto fields in amounts that won’t end up in streams or groundwater.

    Although the role of CAFOs in the Lake Erie microbial blooms has not been quantified, Ohio has many CAFOs. And the overlap between the location of most Ohio CAFOs and the Maumee River watershed, the source of most of the phosphorus that causes the blooms, is striking.

    Here are the maps side-by-side:cafos_ohio_water_maps

    What Now?

    We have the solutions to these problems. Agroecology, or farming that uses principles of ecology and includes organic, relies on organic sources of crop nutrients, and integrates livestock and crop production in ways that are much less likely to cause phosphorus or nitrogen pollution. It is possible to use too much manure on organic farms too. But the integration of crops and livestock works against pressure to overuse manure on too few acres, as with CAFOs. Organic farms also often rely on cover crops, which literally cover otherwise bare soil and absorb excess nutrients through their roots and can also make a big difference.

    Collectively, these methods have been shown to greatly reduce nitrogen pollution. And preliminary data shows reduction in phosphorus runoff as well. We need more research to examine this further, and to learn how farmers can efficiently use these methods. We also need farm policies that reward farmers for adopting methods with multiple benefits for the environment, society, and public health instead of continuing to subsidize corn and soybean overproduction and pollution. Agroecology-based farming methods not only reduce water pollution, they reduce or eliminate pesticide use, and can reduce global warming emissions. And they have been shown to be profitable and highly productive.

    The lesson from Lake Erie is that piecemeal fixes like no-till, though they have some important benefits, will not fix a system that is fundamentally broken. We need systematic change, not band-aids.

    Addendum: The new paper on the sources of phosphorus pollution in Lake Erie, points to manure as an important source of phosphorus in the eastern part of the Lake, rather than the Maumee River basin in the western part of Lake Erie (Figure 13). The Maumee River Basin phosphorus is predominantly from agriculture sources, as noted in the blog post, but according to the paper, mainly from fertilizer (the post does note that fertilizer is the overall main source of agricultural phosphorus pollution). This does not affect the main points in the blog that agriculture, and no-till combined with heavier precipitation, are major sources of increased phosphorus entering the Lake since the 1990s. But it does strongly suggest that the correlation between CAFOs and the Maumee River basin is just that—a correlation and not a cause.

    Doug Gurian-Sherman|August 5, 2014

    Great Lakes & Inland Waters

    Life Discovered In Antarctic Lake That Hasn’t Seen Sunlight For Millions Of Years

    Antarctica, the coldest place on Earth, teems with microscopic life. Tiny organisms dwell on the ice and live inside glaciers, and now, researchers confirm, a rich microbial ecosystem persists underneath the thick ice sheet, where no sunlight has been felt for millions of years.

    Nearly 4,000 species of microbes inhabit Lake Whillans, which lies beneath 2,625 feet (800 meters) of ice in West Antarctica, researchers report today (Aug. 20) in the journal Nature. These are the first organisms ever retrieved from a subglacial Antarctic lake.

    “We found not just that things are alive, but that there’s an active ecosystem,” said lead study author Brent Christner, a microbiologist at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. “If you had to think up what would be the coolest scenario for an ecosystem in Antarctica, you couldn’t make this up.” [See Photos of Lake Whillans' Drilling Project & Microbial Life]

    Cold, dark and alive

    Antarctica has nearly 400 lakes trapped under its ice sheet. Some of them — like Lake Whillans — are connected by rivers and streams. Others are deep, isolated basins like Lake Vostok, where drillers have yet to successfully recover uncontaminated water samples. The new Lake Whillans discovery raises scientists’ hopes that these other hidden waterways also carry life.

    “This is a landmark paper for the polar sciences,” said Martyn Tranter, a glaciologist at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, who was not involved in the study. “This paper is bound to stimulate further calls for subglacial lake research.”

    Drillers broke through to Lake Whillans in January 2013, after years of planning and more than $10 million spent by the National Science Foundation. The team, called WISSARD, used a custom hot-water drill with its own decontamination system. Within a day of pulling out the tea-colored water, tests done in a temporary lab confirmed the lake sparked with life. Researchers returned to the United States with 8 gallons (30 liters) of lake water and eight sediment cores from the lake bottom. Scientists at Montana State University, the University of Tennessee and other institutions parsed out the precious samples, growing cultures of different cell types and sequencing the DNA. The results show evidence for 3,931 species of single-celled life in Lake Whillans. [Video: Life Discovered in Subglacial Lake Whillans]

    “We were surprised about the number of organisms,” Christner said. “It’s really not that different than the number of organisms in a lake on the surface.”

    antarctic lake microbesBacteria cultured from water samples from subglacial Lake Whillans.

    How life persists

    Living without sunlight, all of the lake organisms rely on minerals in the water and lake muck for the energy needed to “fix” carbon dioxide, turning it into organic compounds. The most abundant microbe is an archaea that lives in the water (rather than mud) and oxidizes ammonium. When the archaea die, they become food for another group that oxidizes sulfur for energy, Christner said. The second most common group of microbes oxidizes iron. Yet another group of bacteria chomps on methane.

    “These are opportunists that are using every available energy source,” Christner said.

    Crushed under ice, Lake Whillans is not like a pond or lake at the surface. The environment is more like the deep ocean floor, which is cold and starved for nutrients, Christner said. The water’s muddy color comes from glacial flour — pulverized rock that is so fine it barely settles in liquid.

    The oddly shaped pool is only 6.5 feet (2 m) deep and 23 square miles (60 square kilometers) in size. It sits on the side of a hill, trapped in an ice pocket by the weight of the ice above. The water temperature is only slightly below freezing, at 31.1 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 0.5 degrees Celsius). Antarctica’s stream network regularly fills and drains Lake Whillans like a bathtub on a five- to 10-year cycle.

    The sea flooded Lake Whillans’ home more than once before Antarctica iced over. The lake’s ammonium and methane likely came from decomposing organic matter in these ancient marine sediments, the researchers said.

    “This area is like southern Louisiana with a kilometer [half-mile] of ice over it,” Christner said.

    antarctic lake microbesU.S. scientists successfully drilled into Lake Whillans, a subglacial expanse of water measuring about 1.2 square miles (3 square kilometers)

    and hidden deep beneath the Antarctic ice sheet, they reported on Friday, Jan. 25, 2013.

    Life on other planets?

    The team would like to track down the origin of Lake Whillans’ life — whether it arrived from elsewhere, brought in by ice or rivers, or was trapped in place, in the old ocean sediments.

    Only bacteria and archaea have been found so far, but the researchers have not thoroughly tested for more complex eukaryotic life, the kind of cells that make up animals such as the worms that dwell in Antarctica’s surface lakes. However, they did not expect to encounter such organisms, because the subglacial lake is energy-starved.

    “It’s likely that different types of microbes inhabit different types subglacial lakes closer to the center of Antarctica, particularly those that are away from the former marine sediments that underlie big areas of Antarctica,” Tranter said.

    The findings at Lake Whillans also provide a unique glimpse into how life may survive on other planets, such as within Mars’ ice cap or beneath the icy exterior of Jupiter’s moon Europa.

    “I think this does strengthen the case for finding life on icy bodies,” Christner said.

    Becky Oskin|LiveScience|08/21/2014

    A Massive Acid Spill in Mexico Has Turned The Sonora and Bacanuchi Rivers Red and Toxic

    A leak near the U.S. border leaves 20,000 people without water.

    More than 10 million gallons of sulfuric acid from one of the world’s largest copper mines spilled into two major rivers—the Sonora and the Bacanuchi—in northern Mexico earlier this month, cutting the water supply of 20,000 people and closing 88 schools. Some locals even fear eating food.

    “If [a cow is killed], we don’t know if we can eat it,” housekeeper and farm laborer Ramona Yesenia told AFP. “They say if the [cattle] drink just a little water [from the rivers], they get infected.”

    Civil defense official Carlos Arias told The Associated Press that the spill in Sonora, Mexico, on Aug. 7 was caused by defects in new ponds that hold the acids used to filter metal. Residents discovered the reddened water, usually clear this time of year, the next day. Grupo Mexico, which operates the Buenavista copper mine, hadn’t told authorities.

    Mine operators alerted the attorney general for environmental protection almost a full day after the leak, which was within the 24-hour filing requirement, according to Arturo Rodriguez, the agency’s head of industrial inspection. He said that careless supervision, rains, and construction errors seem to have resulted in the spill—noting that operators should have discovered the leak before a huge amount of sulfuric acid flowed into the rivers. Arias said the overflow has above-normal levels of arsenic and other pollutants.

    Local Jesus Sabori told AFP that the water has become “more and more red every day…. It was only [Aug. 11] that they told us to keep our animals away.”

    “We’re angry because they didn’t take the time to tell us either that the spill had happened or that they were cutting off our water,” said resident Israel Duran.

    AFP reported that the mine’s executives blame “abnormal rains” for causing the acid to spill over from its tanks. They also claim to have notified the government by email, insisting that the acid is “not toxic in itself.”

    Grupo Mexico’s international relations vice president, Juan Rebolledo, told a local radio station, “There’s no problem nor any serious consequence for the population, as long as we take adequate precautions and the company pours lime into the river, as it is currently doing.”

    Lime, or calcium, will deacidify the Sonora and Bacanuchi rivers. “What you can’t get rid of are the heavy metals,” said Arias.

    So far no serious injuries have been reported, but according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, short-term exposure to sulfuric acid may irritate the eyes, nose, and throat. Direct contact with skin and eyes will cause severe burns, and inhaling the vapor may result in tooth erosion, sore mouth, and trouble with breathing. Arsenic can cause cancer.

    The Buenavista mine, which employs 9,000 people, hasn’t announced any plans to cancel or delay an upcoming expansion. By 2016, its output is expected to increase from 200,000 tons of copper to 510,000 tons.

    Duran told AFP, “Even if [the mine] creates jobs, it would be better if they close it if they’re going to behave like this every time something happens.”

     Kristina Bravo|Assistant Editor|Take Part|August 24, 2014

    Most Endangered’ River in the Nation

    The organization American Rivers has distinguished the San Joaquin River of California with the dubious title of “most endangered” river in the nation. Since 2009 the stream has been celebrated as a path-breaking example of restoration—status that could now be threatened.

    This artery of California’s Central Valley and important supplier of water to southern California begins in high Sierra wonderlands south of Yosemite National Park and in the breathtaking Evolution Valley of Kings Canyon National Park. Below the stunning park-protected headwaters and wilderness areas, the river and its tributaries are dammed 30 times. The San Joaquin is repeatedly impounded for hydropower as it plunges toward grassy foothills, diverted for irrigation in the Central Valley, finally ending in the Delta as a conduit of agricultural runoff and the second-longest river system in California.

    The San Joaquin can claim to be the hardest working river in America; not only did diversions completely dry up a 63-mile middle reach for fifty years, but then the lower river’s polluted return-flows are pumped back upstream to be used yet again. The Water Education Foundation called this the “most impaired major river in the state.” A legendary migration of half a million salmon—nourishing Indians, sport anglers, wildlife and a robust commercial fishery at sea—was reduced from one of the most prolific anadromous runs in America to virtually nothing. But in 1988, the river’s prospects began to change.

    When the federal Bureau of Reclamation acted to extend the San Joaquin’s overdrawn plight by rubber-stamping another 40-year extension of irrigation supply contracts, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other conservation groups appealed, and prevailed in court. With hard-earned consensus of all major parties in 2006, a legal agreement set new rules, contracts and appropriations to serve irrigation needs but also to re-nourish nominal flows in the desiccated reaches, to upgrade water quality, and to restore self-sustaining runs of salmon. With great fanfare, initial flows freshening the San Joaquin’s long-parched mid-section bubbled northward in 2009. Salmon—eager to return home for spawning even after the species’ half-century of absence—migrated upriver once again in 2012 and 2013. Restoration flows were recaptured downstream for farmers. Fishing derbies, salmon festivals and summer camps sprang to life in communities along the way as the newly formulated San Joaquin gained stature as America’s preeminent river to be reborn.

    A panic-stricken response to the drought could put these gains in jeopardy. Earlier this year a bill passed the House of Representatives to undercut the San Joaquin’s negotiated settlement of two decades in the making. The Senate will not likely approve this edict, but the future of the restored lifeline remains vulnerable and depends on continuing support for the fish and wildlife gains of recent years.

    Architects of the restoration accord anticipated the stress of this year’s drought, and specified that flows would not be released to the dewatered section in years of lowest runoff, such as 2014. Restoration biologists have trapped the progeny of 360 adult salmon that made it up the river to spawn this year and trucked them around the dried-up reach—a backup plan recognizing that compromises are necessary. Even this year, at the height of California’s worst drought, the restoration program is working. People from all sides have negotiated a truce that’s effective and promising.

    If there’s hope that a nugget of California’s original wealth can be restored while sustaining modern day demands, that hope lies along the San Joaquin. The restoration started here is a promising historic achievement with a legacy that belongs to everyone. It should not be sacrificed to the cynical belief that a river is wasted if it serves some small remnant of native life, which once thrived to the benefit of all.

    Tim Palmer|August 25, 2014

    Offshore & Ocean

    Oil from BP spill pushed onto shelf off Tampa Bay by underwater currents, study finds

    The thick globs of BP oil that washed ashore on beaches along Florida’s Panhandle in 2010 never reached Tampa Bay, to the relief of hotel owners, restaurateurs, anglers, beachgoers and local officials.

    But oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill, floating beneath the surface after being sprayed with dispersant, settled on a shelf 80 miles from the Tampa Bay region within a year of the spill’s end, according to a scientific study published this week.

    There is some evidence it may have caused lesions in fish caught in that area, according to John Paul, the University of South Florida oceanography professor who is lead author on the study, published in Environmental Science & Technology. However, research is continuing on that question.

    Tests of the samples from those areas on bacteria and other microscopic creatures normally found in that part of the gulf found that “organisms in contact with these waters might experience DNA damage that could lead to mutation,” the study reported.

    The oil that landed on the shelf, which extends miles into the gulf, is likely to stay there a long time, Paul said.

    “Once it’s in the sediment, it’s kind of immobile,” he said.

    BP spokesman Jason Ryan said scientists working for the company, as well as various government agencies, had “conducted extensive sampling to identify, track and map oil in the water column over time,” and found no signs of BP oil on the shelf near the Tampa Bay area.

    But Paul said the researchers looked for signs of the Deepwater Horizon spill on the shelf based on observations by a colleague, USF oceanographer Bob Weisberg.

    Weisberg found a major upwelling — a swirling current of cool water from deep in the gulf — had begun in May 2010 and continued through the rest of that year. The upwelling could have caught hold of the underwater plumes of dispersed oil off the Panhandle and then pushed them southward onto the shelf that lies off the state’s west coast, he said.

    “It made its way southeast across the bottom and eventually it gets to the beach,” Weisberg said. “A little bit probably got into Tampa Bay, and a little bit probably got into Sarasota Bay, and it exited the Florida shelf down around the Dry Tortugas.”

    When he put forward his theory in 2010, Weisberg called for sampling to be done along the shelf to test whether he was right, but that proposal did not get any funding, he said.

    Eventually, though, as part of a series of 12 trips into the gulf for their own research, Paul and his colleagues collected samples along the shelf, as well as closer to the site of the Deepwater Horizon disaster off Louisiana.

    They found nothing in 2010, but when they went back in 2011 and 2012, they found what Weisberg had predicted. The oil did not reach the southern end of the shelf until last year. Water samples collected off the shelf were toxic to bacteria, phytoplankton and other small creatures, the report said.

    The USF discovery shows that scientists continue to grapple with measuring the full impact of the disaster, which began with a fiery explosion aboard an offshore drilling rig on April 20, 2010.

    The disaster held the nation spellbound for months as BP struggled to stop the oil. To try to break up the oil before vast sheets of it washed ashore on the beaches and marshes along the Gulf Coast, the company sprayed the dispersant Corexit directly at the wellhead spewing oil from the bottom of the gulf — even though no one had ever tried spraying it below the water’s surface before. BP also used more of the dispersant than had been used in an oil spill, 1.8 million gallons.

    The Corexit broke the oil down into small drops, creating underwater plumes of oil, something no one had ever seen before in an oil spill. The discovery of the plumes raised questions about how they would affect sea life in the gulf.

    Yet even before BP managed to shut off the undersea flow July 15, 2010, observers ranging from Time magazine to Rush Limbaugh said damage from the 4.9 million-barrel spill seemed far less severe than predicted. In the three years since, though, scientists have uncovered ongoing damage — deformed crabs, dying dolphins and other woes.

    Getting this study published in a peer-reviewed journal was a long process, Paul said.

    “Publishing anything about the oil spill is inherently more difficult than anything else because it’s so contentious,” he said.

    BP agreed last year to pay $4 billion to settle criminal charges, including manslaughter, in connection the disaster, and rig owner Transocean settled civil and criminal charges for $1.4 billion.

    BP is now locked in a civil court battle with the U.S. Justice Department and hundreds of businesses affected by the spill. If it loses, BP could face damages of $17.5 billion, although company officials have predicted the fines will be less than $5 billion.

    Craig Pittman|Staff Writer|Tampa Bay Times|August 20, 2013

    Plastics….a Serious Threat to our Oceans, Seas and Waterways

    Plastics were invented in the 1800’s but its mass production began in the 1950’s and has since taken off around the globe. While it is possible to recycle most types of plastic, it is estimated that only about 25% of plastics are recycled worldwide.  A great deal of the plastic ends up in our oceans, seas, and waterways.  Research has shown severe impacts on our environment and our economy from this type of pollution.  Marine life such as sea turtles, whales, seabirds and other marine life are eating the plastic and dying. Scientists are looking at long term impacts of pollutants consumed by fish and their potential effects on human health.  It has become such an environmental concern that a little over a decade ago a science of marine debris began the study of garbage in our waters.  A recent study showed the global magnitude of this problem.

    The Malaspina expedition of 2010 was a nine month research project to study the effects of global warming on the oceans and the biodiversity of the deep ocean ecosystem. Andres Cozar and his team were to study the small fauna living on the ocean surface. He was reassigned when plastic fragments kept turning up in water samples to assess the level of plastic pollution.  Using that data and the data gathered by four other ships he and his team of researchers completed the first ever global map of ocean trash.

    Recently, Cozar’s work was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research team found a worldwide distribution of plastic on the surface of the ocean mostly accumulating in the convergence zones of the five subtropical gyres (an area of anti-cyclonic ocean circulation that sits beneath a region of subtropical high pressure).  Researchers estimated the total amount of floating plastic used in the manufacture of products like bags, food and beverage containers, kitchen utensils and toys, in open ocean between 7,000 and 35,000 tons, a lot less than the 1 million ton figure they had expected.  This included only floating debris and not plastic that may reside beneath the surface or on the ocean floor.  Cozar said,” the plastic is somewhere in the ocean life, in the depths, or broken down into fine particles undetectable by nets.”

    There are some ways that individuals can make sure that plastics never reach our oceans.  Among them are recycling and picking up plastic litter, asking for a reusable water bottle, bringing your own reusable bags to the store and pressuring plastic producers to design packaging so that it is fully recyclable.

    Preserving our Waters|Start 1|September 2014 Newsletter

    ‘Widespread methane leakage’ from ocean floor off US coast

    A sonar image of a new methane plume is discovered off the US east coast

    Researchers say they have found more than 500 bubbling methane vents on the seafloor off the US east coast.

    The unexpected discovery indicates there are large volumes of the gas contained in a type of sludgy ice called methane hydrate.

    There are concerns that these new seeps could be making a hitherto unnoticed contribution to global warming.

    The scientists say there could be about 30,000 of these hidden methane vents worldwide.

    Previous surveys along the Atlantic seaboard have shown only three seep areas beyond the edge of the US continental shelf.

    The team behind the new findings studied what is termed the continental margin, the region of the ocean floor that stands between the coast and the deep ocean.

    In an area between North Carolina and Massachusetts, they have now found at least 570 seeps at varying depths between 50m and 1,700m.

    Their findings came as a bit of a surprise.

    What is methane hydrate?

    • Methane hydrate is in the form of a 3D ice structure with natural gas locked inside
    • The substance looks like white ice, but it does not behave like it
    • If methane hydrate is either warmed or depressurized, it will break down into water and natural gas
    • The energy content of methane occurring in hydrate form is immense
    • In the Gulf of Mexico, gas hydrate resources have recently been assessed at more than 6,000 trillion cubic feet

    methane plume

    Source: US Department of Energy

    “It is the first time we have seen this level of seepage outside the Arctic that is not associated with features like oil or gas reservoirs or active tectonic margins,” said Prof Adam Skarke from Mississippi State University, who led the study.

    The scientists have observed streams of bubbles but they have not yet sampled the gas within them.

    However, they believe there is an abundance of circumstantial evidence pointing to methane.

    Most of the seeping vents were located around 500m down, which is just the right temperature and pressure to create a sludgy confection of ice and gas called methane hydrate, or clathrate.

    The scientists say that the warming of ocean temperatures might be causing these hydrates to send bubbles of gas drifting through the water column.

    They do not appear to be reaching the surface.

    “The methane is dissolving into the ocean at depths of hundreds of metres and being oxidized to CO2,” said Prof Skarke.

    Methane hydrates recovered in the Gulf of Mexico by the US Geological Survey

    “But it is important to say we simply don’t have any evidence in this paper to suggest that any carbon coming from these seeps is entering the atmosphere.”

    This research, though, does highlight the scale of methane that is under the waters.

    Estimates suggest that these undersea sediments are one of the largest reservoirs on Earth, and contains around 10 times more carbon than the atmosphere.

    Prof Skarke and his colleagues estimate that worldwide, there may be around 30,000 of the type of seeps they have discovered.

    They acknowledge that this is a rough calculation but they believe that it could be significant.

    While the vents may not be posing an immediate global warming threat, the sheer number means that our calculations on the potential sources of greenhouse gases may need revising.

    The scientists also found abundant life around many of these seeps, but not perhaps as we know it.

    The creatures they describe are termed chemosynthetic, meaning they derive energy from chemical reactions and not from the Sun as do photosynthetic organisms.

    Others who have collaborated on the search for seeps say these discoveries are important.

    “These are significant geochemically, as they and our research teams found perhaps one of the largest seeps yet discovered with very active methane bubbling and large amounts of frozen hydrates,” said Prof Steve Ross, from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

    “These seeps are also significant biologically, as we have found unique chemosynthetic communities, huge range extensions and increased biodiversity.”

    As to the energy potential of these new seeping sources, Prof Skarke is fairly pessimistic.

    “There is no evidence to say that these clathrates are related to conventional gas reservoirs, so there is no evidence to say they are a recoverable resource.”

    Matt McGrath|Environment correspondent|BBC News|24 August 2014

    The research has been published in the journal “Nature Geoscience”.

    Jamaican coral reefs get a helping hand

    Jamaica may be known for its sun and sea, but under the waves the country is battling to rebuild its coral reefs. Manmade reefs have begun to see success after the island’s corals were decimated by disease and pollution.

    The warm waters of the Caribbean Sea were once rich in biodiversity – they teemed with marine life, and many holidaymakers who go there still expect to see the soft corals, mollusks and fish they’ve seen on other reef dives.

    But beneath the waves off the coast of Jamaica, there’s not much see. Only eight per cent of Jamaica’s coral reef is still alive, and many of the fish that once thrived there have disappeared.

    For an island trying to reduce its dependence on food imports, that’s not an ideal situation. Fish is an important part of the local diet, and its disappearance from the ecosystem has changed nature’s balance – which has not only implications for fishing, but also tourism.

    Like rainforests, coral can transform a nutrient-poor environment into a biodiverse wonderland

    Some three decades ago, two types of coral were prominent across the Caribbean: But in 1980, Hurricane Allen – the worst storm to hit Jamaica in the past 100 years – smashed the reefs to smithereens. Everyone expected the corals to recover, but the storm ended up decimating the ecosystem.

    Coral are the building blocks for marine life; it’s a habitat for herbivorous species like adult Parrot Fish who use it as somewhere to sleep, to provide protection and as a nursery.

    But overfishing of algae-eating fish, and a mystery disease which wiped out the sea urchins that also grazed on the algae.

    Coral and algae are in constant competition, and without these two grazers, there was nothing left to slow algae growth, which smothered most of the coral.

    But there is some hope. Marine biologist Andrew Ross runs Seascape Caribbean, a firm helping to re-grow the island’s reefs bit by bit. He’s created an artificial reef made of metal, which has proven to be successful. Over the past nine months, it’s slowly become covered with coral.

    He and his team do the work that algae-grazing species used to take care of. “Until the coral gets established, you have to pick it off by hand – there’s not enough fish on the structure to keep it going,” Ross told DW.

    SeascapeCaribbean locates areas where the reef is recovering naturally. “We take very small samples from each of those corals, and we put them into a nursery and we grow them,” Ross said.

    It takes from six to 12 months for the coral fragments to grow 10 times in size. At this size they’re then used to repopulate existing nurseries and start new nurseries. Any leftover coral is replanted onto the reef.

    As the artificial reef grows, so does the fish population that feeds on the worms, snails and algae on the coral. But until then, if Ross and his team didn’t remove the algae by hand, the coral would die.

    Snorkeling, free-diving and scuba diving are all thriving tourism activities where oceans offer coral

    Since Jamaica is one of the most indebted nations on the planet, funding for Seascape comes from the private sector.

    The local hotels understand how coral gardens help attract holidaymakers – by donating money to the coral projects, they are securing a future for their own businesses.

    Caribsave, an environmental organization, is trying to work with the country’s 32,000 fishermen and women to help the islands’ reefs. Caribsave coordinator Michelle McNaught said the private sector has a vital role to play in educating the wider community.

    Government funding, she said, “has to be prioritized with other things like education or justice – which is understandable. So private partnership is the way to go now,” McNaught told DW.

    Globally, 75 percent of coral reefs are under threat from overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and acidification of the seas due to climate change. Peter Gayle from the University of the West Indies explained how a changing ocean PH level dissolves calcium carbonate, which makes up coral structures.

    “It becomes less dense and is more susceptible to things like wave energies, and has a smaller chance to protect coastal areas from sea level change,” Gayle described. This can even become a vicious cycle, as more reefs die and become ever more susceptible to destruction.

    Dayne Buddo, a lecturer at the UWI Marine Lab in Jamaica, said that despite the threats to coral reefs, things are thankfully improving.

    “It’s not all doom and gloom, there are areas in Jamaica where I still enjoy diving, there’s a lot of coral and the fish are coming back – but it takes time,” Buddo said.

    Often referred to as the rainforest of the seas, coral reefs are among the most diverse ecosystems in the world. One that Jamaica depends on so much for food, income and leisure – and with help, one that will recover and benefit the country in the process.

    Author|Nick Davis|Negril, Jamaica|Editor|Charlotta Lomas|21.08.2014

    Sewage flow to sea to cease — mostly

    Broward County‘s practice of spewing treated wastewater into the ocean off Pompano Beach will diminish in coming years.

    But the county no longer is required to cut off the flow completely in 2025.

    Commissioners agreed at a recent budget workshop to devote $100 million to reducing the flow. Last year’s legislative changes relaxed requirements, allowing up to 5 percent of the wastewater flow to be dumped in the ocean after 2025.

    The law also requires significant reuse of wastewater.

    Broward’s ocean outfall is one of a few in South Florida.

    Total savings to the county from the 2013 state legislative amendments: $455 million.

    Brittany Wallman|Sun Sentinel|August 25, 2014

    Our changing sea world

    Global teams study effects of acidification, pH levels on coral

    Mote Marine Lab on Summerland Key is working this month with an international team of coral ecologists researching the causes and effects of a major threat to corals throughout the world — ocean acidification.

    Ocean acidification occurs with the lowering of oceanic pH levels due to increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Larger amounts of carbon dioxide in the air are making the world’s oceans more acidic, and in turn, reducing the amount of calcium and carbonate in the oceans. Corals need both to form their hard skeletons.

    Coral ecologists with Mote and the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat, Israel, have partnered to test the effects of ocean acidification and rising sea temperature. The researchers gathered for two weeks at Mote’s Summerland Keys lab to further their research.

    The ecologists focused on two species of coral found in the Florida Keys — Porites porites, commonly called finger coral, and Porites astreoides, commonly referred to as mustard hill coral.

    Mote’s lab looked like a mini-disco tech as the two species of coral were exposed to bright red, blue and purple LED lights, mimicking differing scenarios of sunlight. The ecologists also altered the pH levels and temperatures in the water to create different environmental conditions that corals in the wild could be exposed to in the future if pH levels and temperatures continue to rise.

    The researchers are also looking at the corals on a microbial level and researching several other physiological parameters of coral to see how ocean acidification is impacting them.

    “We are looking at this at so many levels,” said Maoz Fine, a coral ecologist and expert in the field of ocean acidification at the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences. “That’s how we will understand how this system will respond to changing environmental conditions.”

    The research could help Mote and other ocean conservation groups determine what species and genotypes of coral fare better against ocean acidification and other stresses. This would give them guidance on what types of coral to rear in the coral nurseries and replant back on the reef, said Emily Hall, a coral ecologist with Mote working on the ocean acidification study.

    Mote, The Nature Conservation and the Coral Restoration Foundation have a half-dozen coral nurseries throughout the Keys, where they rear coral that is later planted on the reef or used for research purposes.

    “This could allow Mote and others to focus its restoration efforts,” Hall said. “We can see what different species and genotypes do better or worse.”

    Mote researchers plan to do similar work with Fine on Red Sea corals in December, Hall said.

    “This partnership (with Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences) has allowed us to not only look at this with a global perspective, but also see how each of these reefs is responding to these changes,” Hall said.

    TIMOTHY O’HARA|Citizen Staff|keysnews.com

    Efforts to Restore Coral Habitats Stink – Literally

    If, while looking for a new apartment, you happened upon a pungent neighborhood, you’d look for a home in another area, right? Well, fish and coral are no different. New research from the Georgia Institute of Technology shows that damaged reefs emit an unpleasant odor that fish and coral can smell; this scent subsequently drives the creatures to try to settle somewhere else.

    Evolutionarily speaking, the odor has probably usually been a good thing. It keeps coral and fish from settling in unsafe environments. Alas, with the fishing industry and other human interference destroying so many reefs, having this scent drive away sealife from most areas is probably a detriment at this point.

    This study likely explains why areas that marine biologists designate in the hopes of having a coral reef “recovery” aren’t especially successful. Evidently, fish can still sense that something smells fishy… I mean suspect, and flee the area. With the stench of “failed habitat” lingering, scientist intervention might not be enough to revive a degrading reef.

    Coral reefs are a delicate ecosystem. Seaweed generally prevents coral from growing, which is why it’s great to have seaweed-eating fish frequent coral reefs. When the fish are not around to keep the amount of seaweed limited, old corals die out and new corals look elsewhere for a home. This seaweed, it turns out, also lets off a stinky scent, giving fish and coral yet another odorous reason to stay away from declining reefs.

    One