ConsRep 1114 C

And Man created the plastic bag and the tin and aluminum can and the cellophane wrapper and the paper plate, and this was good because Man could then take his automobile and buy all his food in one place and He could save that which was good to eat in the refrigerator and throw away that which had no further use. And soon the earth was covered with plastic bags and aluminum cans and paper plates and disposable bottles and there was nowhere to sit down or walk, and Man shook his head and cried: “Look at this God-awful mess.” Art Buchwald, 1970

 

Announcements

BOEM Florida Renewable Energy Task Force-Save the date

Date: December 11, 2014:   9:00-4:15

Location: Port St. Lucie, FL

Sponsor: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)

BOEM will hold the first Intergovernmental Florida Renewable Energy Task Force to discuss the development of offshore renewable energy projects,

including marine hydrokinetic, off the Atlantic coast of Florida.  

The intergovernmental Task Force’s primary goals are to identify and prioritize opportunities for future offshore renewable energy development.

The DRAFT Agenda is attached for your review.
Please reserve this date on your calendar and RSVP via email to jeffrey.browning@boem.gov
and/or respond to the forthcoming calendar invitation.

As a reminder, the BOEM Florida Renewable Energy Task Force is an intergovernmental group. 

Task force members include Federal officials and elected state, local, and tribal officials, or designated member representatives.

Thanks in advance for your time and participation and I look forward to working with you in the future.

Thank you,

Jeff Browning

Project Coordinator, Office of Renewable Energy Programs

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

U.S. Department of the Interior

381 Elden Street, HM 1328, Herndon, Virginia 20170

Office 703-787-1577

Fax 703-787-1708

jeffrey.browning@boem.gov 

www.boem.gov

Draft agenda here

EVERGLADES BIRDING FESTIVAL With PADDY CUNNINGHAM’s BIRDING ADVENTURES
Journey through south Florida searching for an array of beautiful and rare birds in ancient moss-covered cypress
swamps, everglades prairies that join the sky, and brilliant marshes that sparkle with ashes of roseate wings.

Scan across the tips of sawgrass searching for hovering Snail kites and hear the squeal of the Limpkin

FIELD WORKSHOPS
Advanced Birding Skills
Habitat, Bird by Ear
Bird Behavior
Field Techniques

NEW!! FIELD PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP
Techniques
Composition

REGISTRATION $30.
Includes:
Mini Workshops
Snacks and Water
Handouts

DAY TOURS $80.- $95.
PHOTO WORKSHOPS $40.

TARGET BIRDS
Snail Kite * Limpkin * Wood Stork * Painted Bunting * Parrots * Roseate Spoonbill * Short-tailed Hawk
* Purple Gallinule * Peregrine Falcon * Common Myna * Crested Caracara * Burrowing Owl *
Red-whiskered Bulbul * Prairie Warbler * Smooth-billed Ani * Purple Swamphen * Brown-headed
Nuthatch * Reddish Egret * Cuban Yellow Warbler

TO REGISTER:
CONTACT PADDY CUNNINGHAM AT:
birdpaddy@yahoo.com
phone (754) 201 1141 or visit
www.evergladesbirdingfestival.com

FIELD WORKSHOPS:
Advanced Birding Skills, Habitat, Birding by Ear, Behavior, Field Techniques, Silhouette,
Outdoor Photography with Workshop &Trips.
EXPERTS: Paddy Cunningham-BIRDING ADVENTURES,* David Simpson-Birding with David Simpson,
Jim Eager, Ernest Leupin- Colombia Wild Ecotours
SPONSORS:
www.birdadventure.com
 
www.evergladesbirdingfestival.com www.colombiawild.com www.southfloridawildecotours.com
FESTIVAL SITE-La Quinta Hotel 8101 Peters Rd. Plantation, Fl. 33324, (954) 476-6047
ALL FIELD TRIPS & ACTIVITIES START AT LA QUINTA, 8101 Peters Rd. Plantation, Fl.

TARGET SPECIES
 SNAIL KITE  PEREGRINE FALCON
 LIMPKIN  COMMON MYNA
 WOOD STORK  CRESTED CARACARA
 EXOTIC PARROTS  BURROWING OWL
 PAINTED BUNTING  RED-WHISKERED BULBUL
 ROSEATE SPOONBILL  PRAIRIE WARBLER
 SHORT-TAILED HAWK  PURPLE SWAMP HEN
 PURPLE GALLINULE  WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON

For more information on this and other opportunities, click here

Start Planning Your GBBC Events

Don’t forget to save the dates for the next Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC): February 13-16, 2015.

The GBBC is a great way to engage your community in appreciating birds and citizen science and is perfect for beginner birders and experts alike.

Stay tuned for more information on promotional materials and informational webinars and be sure to explore the GBBC website

Audubon Adventures Launches “Wild about Birds” Online

Have you checked out AudubonAdventures.org, the ever-growing, ever-improving website for all things Audubon Adventures? 

The site now features “Wild about Birds.”

The first of three new topics for the 2014-15 school year, “Wild about Birds” is focused on the science of birds,

including their characteristics and adaptations, habitat needs, migration, and life cycles. This is the first full season of our all-digital format.

Let us know what you think. For more information contact Bonnie Godfrey.

Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves Hosts “Become a Junior Bayologist” Winter Camp

~Winter camp teaches younger generations about Biscayne Bay with hands-on activities~

The Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves announces its winter camp held at Pelican Harbor Marina on Dec. 22-24, 2014, for children between the ages of 5-12.

This winter camp offers a diverse range of hands-on activities, such as wading, walking the shoreline and using a seine net to study and identify different species of wildlife.

Campers will learn about the connection between the Everglades, Biscayne Bay and our nearshore coral reefs, as well as important lessons in water and boating safety.

“Children enjoy the activities we offer throughout the year, and we are excited to feature some of our most popular activities at the winter camp,” said Michelle Metcalf, ecotourism coordinator for the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves.

“I look forward to the campers experiencing Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves first hand and watching them gain a new appreciation for this unique ecosystem.”

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves. In commemoration, campers will paint a flag, theirs to keep, inspired by their personal commitment to Biscayne Bay.

Registration for the winter camp is $130, with an additional fee of $20 per day for 5 p.m. pick-up. The deadline to register is Dec. 17, 2014, and there are only 30 spots available.

To register, call 305-795-1256 or emailBiscayne.Bay@dep.state.fl.us.

WHAT:     “Become a Junior Bayologist” Winter Camp

WHEN:     Dec. 22-23, 2014
                 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

                 Dec. 24, 2014 
                 9 a.m. – noon

WHERE:  Pelican Harbor Marina Dockmaster Building
1275 N.E. 79th Street
Miami, FL 33138

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.

2015 Conference Program

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

- See more at: http://www.evergladescoalition.org/conference.html#sthash.dargrs5X.dpuf

Of Interest to All

Economics no longer make Keystone pipeline viable

 What if they voted for a pipeline but nobody came?

As Congress rushes to approve the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline, it is questionable whether or not the project will make as much of a difference as proponents expect. Since June, crude oil has declined by 28 percent, pushing the price that oil from new wells in Canada may command below what the expected cost will be to produce it.

The so-called “heavy oil” extracted from sand in Alberta, which the proposed pipeline would carry to Nebraska, en route to refineries on the Gulf Coast, will cost between $85 and $110 to produce, depending on which drilling technology is used, according to a report in July by the Canadian Energy Research Institute, a nonprofit whose work is often cited by Keystone proponents.

West Texas Intermediate crude oil traded today at $76.67. “Anything not under construction [is] at risk of being delayed or canceled altogether,” said Dinara Millington, vice president for research at Calgary-based CERI. Her cost estimates include the price of drilling new wells, meaning that existing wells that have already been paid for can continue to pump oil profitably, she said. CERI’ s analysis squares with the views of other experts, who have pointed to low prices as a sign that economic facts, at least for now, don’t match political rhetoric coming from Washington, where Keystone has been a goal for both Republicans and for Senate Democrats from oil-producing states. One of the latter, Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, is in a tough reelection fight, which went to a runoff set for Dec. 6 after no candidate won a majority of the initial vote last week.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid yesterday set a vote on Keystone for next week after Landrieu called for a vote in the Senate, which has refused to take up House of Representatives-approved legislation authorizing the pipeline.

Oil sands are among the most expensive sources of oil, costing an average of $75 to $80 a barrel to produce, Norwegian energy-consulting firm Rystad Energy said in June. “I would think that in order for new drilling projects to be capitalized and economical, the price of oil would need to be around $85 to $90,” Moody’s Analytics energy economist Chris Lafakis said.

The situation is broadly similar to that faced by an earlier proposal to build a natural-gas pipeline from Alaska to the Midwest, Lafakis said. After being approved by then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in 2007, the pipeline was never built, because newly discovered supplies of gas in the Lower 48 states pushed gas prices down by about two-thirds. “If oil were to stay as cheap as it is right now, you might very well get that Palin pipeline scenario,” Lafakis said.

One major oil producer in Alberta said its reserves can be brought to market for between $35 and $65 per barrel, a level Millington confirmed that some existing wells can achieve. And futures markets for oil are still pointing to a longer-term price of $85 to $90 a barrel, said Reg Curren, a spokesman for Cenovus Energy (CVE (Toronto Stock Exchange: CVE-CA)). “For the intermediate term, you would need that price to keep encouraging production,” Curren said.

Shawn Howard, a spokesman for Keystone XL owner TransCanada, referred questions about future drilling plans to oil producers such as Cenovus. TransCanada’s revenue from the pipeline will come from tolls charged to carry the oil, which have not been publicly disclosed, rather than from the oil itself, he said. How long oil prices will stay low is the big question mark in the pipeline’s viability. West Texas Intermediate prices will fall to $70 a barrel by the second quarter of 2015, Goldman Sachs forecast last month.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted Wednesday that the benchmark price of U.S. crude oil will average $77.75 a barrel next year. That’s down from a previous forecast of close to $95. Demand has been running slightly lower than expected in 2014, which will persist into early next year, the International Energy Agency said, blaming reduced expectations for global economic growth.

Supply has risen by more than 900,000 barrels a day in September alone and nearly 3 million barrels a day in the last year, about three times as much as the expected improvement in demand.

Sen. Hoeven In addition to surging production in the U.S., which has boosted oil output by more than 60 percent since 2008, the IEA said OPEC crude oil output is rising as production in Libya and Iraq recovers from political disruption. The global oil market is about 92.4 million barrels of oil per day, the agency said. Saudi Arabia has helped push prices lower by declining to reduce production in the wake of the price declines. The near-term outlook for oil and for Keystone may depend on the OPEC summit set for Nov. 27, Millington said. “After Nov. 27, we’ll have a better idea of what prices will be,” she said.

CNBC|November 13, 2014

No Keystone XL For Now

Good news! The bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline died in the Senate!

Last week, Senator Mary Landrieu — who is fighting for her seat in a runoff election early next month —  introduced irresponsible legislation to approve the pipeline, which would carry dirty, dangerous tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Thanks to thousands of people like you who wrote to your Senators telling them to vote no on KXL, we stopped it.  

Luísa Abbott Galvão|Climate & energy associate|Friends of the Earth

Collier commissioners approve report calling for tougher rules on oil drilling

NAPLES, Fla. – Collier commissioners agreed unanimously Tuesday to approve an independent consultant’s recommendations regarding oil exploration and production in the county, and send it to state regulators who are mulling tougher rules on drilling.

But with one proviso — they’re reserving the right to enact more restrictive local regulations in the future if they see fit.

“I think it’s an excellent start,” said Commissioner Tim Nance, who made the motion to send the report by Los Angeles-based consulting firm AECOM to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

The report included 18 recommendations for better construction of oil wells and more state oversight.

But the commission’s actions didn’t please either Collier Resources, which owns the mineral rights to more than 800,000 acres in the county and leases them to drillers, or the environmentalists who packed the hearing room.

Representing Collier Resources, attorney Bruce Anderson had asked the commissioners not to approve the report until the county’s staff had a meeting with the company on unspecified “technical data” in the report.

Meanwhile, representatives of environmental groups said AECOM’s report didn’t go far enough to protect the region’s water, wildlife or people, and asked for additional recommendations to be sent to the DEP.

Commissioners did not heed either request.

“This is lip service to the public interest,” said Jennifer Hecker, the director of natural resources for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. “We need proactive, not reactive solutions.”

Hecker hoped the commissioners would add her recommendations when they sent them to the department of environmental protection. They included mandating a buffer zone between houses and oil wells, as well as higher bonds for drillers and higher fines for violations.

Representatives from other environmental groups urged the commissioners to look at other issues the report overlooked, such as the massive amounts of water that fracking and other well stimulation techniques use.

“It doesn’t adequately address the wastewater produced,” said Patty Whitehead, board member of the Responsible Growth Management Coalition of Southwest Florida. “This water is unusable.”

She asked the commissioners to call for an “outright ban of fracking in Florida.”

But the commissioners agreed that it would be better if all stakeholders sent their concerns separately to the DEP and let the agency decide.

“We don’t have the staff to develop new state regulations,” said Commissioner Tom Henning.

The commissioners were reacting to a storm of public protest over the activities of the Dan A. Hughes Company, a Texas-based driller who performed an acidization procedure at the Collier Hogan well, south of Lake Trafford, which the DEP said was unauthorized.

Increasing tensions between the DEP and the regulator company resulted in Hughes’ eventual exit from Florida, and as well as ongoing litigation.

So on Sept. 9, the commission asked AECOM to do an assessment of the well’s environmental impact, and to offer suggestions for new regulations.

AECOM’s report outlined seven suggestions for tightening construction standards for drilling, such as increasing surface casing depth to at least 100 feet below the deepest underground source of drinking water and constructing impermeable pads for storage tanks that will contain spills and protect groundwater.

It also proposed more stringent regulations for Class II injection wells, which hold the brines and other fluids associated with oil production.

AECOM’s suggestions for regulatory oversight include better communication between the state and county, a call for more inspections and authority for inspectors to stop work; more groundwater monitoring wells; higher bonds for drillers to cover the cost of possible contamination; and safer disposal of drilling fluids and solid waste.

Michael Bennett, the geologist who prepared the report, generally characterized modern drilling techniques, including horizontal drilling, as safe.

But he did pinpoint one trouble spot that had long been flagged by the Conservancy and other environmentalists.

He told the commissioners that older, abandoned wells in the region needed to be brought up to current plugging standards.

“Groundwater may be affected by legacy oil and gas wells,” he said.

June Fletcher|11/18/14

Fracking Approved in Largest National Forest in Eastern U.S.

 Despite strong opposition from both elected officials in the affected areas and environmental groups, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has approved fracking in George Washington Forest. Objections to the plan came from members of Congress from Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and Washington D.C. city council, which passed a resolution opposing it in March. McAuliffe reiterated his opposition before a meeting of the state’s Climate Change and Resilience Commission in September.

The forest, located in Virginia and West Virginia, is the largest national forest on the east coast. It contains the headwaters of the Potomac River, which feed into the Chesapeake Bay and provide drinking water for millions of people in the Washington, DC/Chesapeake region.

The USFS had initially proposed  to ban fracking in the 1.1 million acre forest, the first outright ban of the practice in a national forest. But when the plan was released in 2011, energy companies complained and exerted pressure on the USFS. About 10,000 acres of the forest are already been leased to oil and gas companies, with private mineral rights existing under another 167,000 acres. The newly released plan will only allow fracking on that land, which is located in sparsely populated rural Highland County, Virginia. The plan also puts off limits another 800,000 acres that were available for drilling.

“We think we’ve ended up in a much better place, which is we are allowing oil and gas drilling,” Robert Bonnie, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s undersecretary for natural resources and environment, told the Associated Press. “From a policy perspective, the Forest Service allows fracking on forest lands throughout the country. We didn’t want to make a policy decision or change policy related to fracking. This decision is about where it’s appropriate to do oil and gas leasing.”

“Allowing the use of fracking within a part of the George Washington National Forest is part of the Obama Administration’s embrace of oil and gas drilling, despite the water, air and climate pollution that is proven to come along with it,” said Earthworks energy program director Bruce Baizel. “In the face of dire warnings from the world’s foremost climate scientists about the need to phase out fossil fuels by 2100 and an authoritative body of science demonstrating the health impacts faced by communities living near oil and gas development, this administration continues to promote an ‘all of the above’ energy policy rather than a swift transition to renewable energy. Nearby communities, local governments, the governor of Virginia, every major water utility in the DC area and the Forest Service’s original recommendation had it right when they opposed the use of hydraulic fracturing in the George Washington National Forest. The President can protect the climate and public health, or he can continue to promote fracking. He cannot do both.”

The leased land lies on the southeastern tip of the lucrative Marcellus shale formation, which has created a fracking boom in Pennsylvania. But the USFS says that the value of this particular land is low and that there has been no interest in drilling  there so far. “The economic value of these reserves is very low,” said Bonnie. “We’ve had very little interest on oil and gas on the forest.”

The USFS says before any drilling takes place, there will be a public comment period, and the decision is subject to appeal.

Anastasia Pantsios|November 18, 2014

[cerp projects program] Picayune Strand Restoration Project Environmental Assessment available for public review (UNCLASSIFIED) ‏

*** Environmental Assessment for design refinements to the Picayune Strand Restoration Project available for 30-day public and agency review ***

The Environmental Assessment for design refinements to the Picayune Strand Restoration Project, an Everglades restoration project in Collier County, Florida, is now available for public and agency review. Comments will be accepted through December 22, 2014.

During the detailed project design for the Picayune Strand Restoration Project, it was determined that refinements needed to be made to the original plan in order to achieve the project’s full restoration benefits. These design refinements are minor, but will result in the project infrastructure encompassing a larger area than originally planned, so an Environmental Assessment was performed to ensure these refinements will not have any adverse impacts on the environment.

The Environmental Assessment has been completed and has determined that no significant impacts are anticipated as a result of these design refinements. These refinements are necessary to achieve project goals and additional Congressional authorization of the updated project design is not necessary.

The design refinements include: 

- The replacement of individual berms for the Merritt, Faka Union and Miller Pump Stations with a single full width tieback levee for each pump station. This project component was authorized as part of the project and is needed to achieve full restoration benefits. 

- A manatee mitigation feature located south of the project near the Port of the Islands Basin. This feature has been negotiated through informal Endangered Species Act consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to mitigate for potential adverse effects due to project implementation on the existing thermal refugium in the Port of the Islands Basin.

The Environmental Assessment is available at:  http://bit.ly/EAPSR

Comments will be accepted through December 22, 2014, and can be sent electronically to: bradley.a.tarr@usace.army.mil, or mailed to:

Brad Tarr
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District
P.O. Box 4970
Jacksonville, FL 32232‐0019
Additional information on the Picayune Strand Restoration Project available at:
http://bit.ly/CERP_PSRP.

See the Conservation International film series here

We can all be 21st-century scientists

This winter, you can volunteer for NatureWatch’s IceWatch and join others in contributing to the scientific understanding of global warming.

Our ancestors may not have called themselves “citizen scientists” or organized to collect data for scientific inquiry, but they were keen observers of the natural world. Their survival often depended on being able to tease apart nature’s complexity — where to find game and when to sow seeds, collect berries and prepare for winter or bad weather.

But our modern, technology-obsessed lives increasingly divorce us from nature, with consequences for our health and well-being. Numerous studies now remind us of what we know intuitively: Spending time in nature makes us feel better — helping with depression, attention deficit disorder, recall and memory, problem-solving and creativity. People who spend more time outside are also physically healthier.

Enter citizen science — using the same technologies that separate us from nature to help us understand and enjoy it. Smartphones, the Internet and accessible research technologies deinstitutionalize science and get the inner scientist in all of us outside to contribute to a broader understanding of a variety of topics, from backyard birds to flower-blooming times.

Science relies on observation. As more people examine natural phenomena and record and share information, we gain better understanding of the world. An increasing number of scientific inquiries now depend on contributions from ordinary people to help them answer important questions.

The National Audubon Society has been enlisting volunteers to monitor birds during its annual Christmas bird count for more than 100 years, but it’s not the oldest citizen science program. It was predated by a couple started in the 1880s: a survey asking lighthouse keepers to identify and count birds that struck their lighthouses and another that looked at bird migration.

Citizens now have many opportunities to partake in a wide range of scientific discovery.

Take roadkill. The Humane Society estimates that more than a million animals are killed every year on U.S. highways. Collisions with large animals are tragic for all involved and cost insurance companies millions of dollars a year. The insurance industry is working on an innovative partnership with the University of California’s Roadkill Observation System to enlist citizens in efforts to identify and protect wildlife corridors in particular hot spots, saving both human and wildlife.

The David Suzuki Foundation started engaging citizens in research following the 2011 meltdown of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear reactor, partnering with various organizations and universities, including the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, to set up a volunteer network to sample seawater from sites along B.C.’s Pacific coast. This will help scientists understand the ongoing spread of radiation across the Pacific and its evolving impacts on the ocean. Volunteers from 14 communities are collecting seawater samples over three years. The radioactive plume has not yet reached North America, but we’ll know when it does, thanks to ordinary people providing extraordinary coverage across the region.

NatureWatch, another uniquely Canadian citizen science project, was also recently launched. It has four programs. Frog Watch participants collect data on amphibians, valuable indicators of changes in our air, land and water. PlantWatch records flowering times for select species, helping track the effects of climate change. And WormWatch monitors earthworms and soil health.

This winter, you can volunteer for the organization’s IceWatch and contribute to the scientific understanding of global warming. By analyzing citizen records, scientists have found that the freeze-thaw cycles of northern water bodies are changing. However, since climate change is not consistent across the country and large gaps exist in the current monitoring network, scientists require critical data from many more regions.

By recording yearly ice events — the freeze and thaw dates of lakes and rivers — you’ll help monitor the effects of climate change on Canadian ecosystems. You can also join RinkWatch, an initiative by geographers at Wilfrid Laurier University asking citizens to track skateable days on local outdoor rinks.

Canada has hundreds of citizen science programs. Although never a substitute for or rationale to cut science spending, these programs amplify and fill gaps in government- and university-led science. There’s something for every individual, every interest and every region of the country.

We all have mighty powers of observation. Citizen science is a way to encourage us all to get outside, hone our senses, and undertake meaningful activity to monitor and maintain our environment, improve scientific literacy and, best of all, be happier and healthier.

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Science and Policy Director Mara Kerry.

Calls to Action

  1. Tell Fish and Wildlife to Protect At-Risk Turtles! – here
  2. Tell your Senators to pass wilderness bills now – here
  3. Tell the Pollinator Health Task Force to Take Swift Action to Protect Bees – here
  4. Tell the EPA and Congress that you support strong carbon pollution standards – here
  5. SUPPORT A STRONG CLEAN POWER PLAN – here

 Florida Panthers

Success: Panthers Saved from Destructive Oil Drilling

Target: Joe D. Mulé, President of Preserve Our Paradise

Goal: Applaud the efforts of Preserve Our Paradise for saving the Florida panther from oil drilling and exploration

The endangered Florida panther has been saved from the oil and gas exploration and drilling that was conducted less than a mile from its wildlife refuge. Thanks to grassroots organization Preserve Our Paradise and a previous Force Change petition, the oil and gas company is ending all activity near this precious panther’s home. This petition is to thank Preserve Our Paradise for fighting against the oil and gas company that threatened this area’s wildlife and natural resources.

Dan A. Hughes Company, a Texas oil and gas exploration and production corporation, was drilling for oil in southwest Florida. Although the company had legally obtained the mineral rights, their operation threatened the protected habitat of the Florida panther, a species with approximately 100 individuals left in the wild. The state had allowed this company to drill without an environmental impact assessment.

A group of concerned citizens banded together to create Preserve Our Paradise. This organization initiated multiple court actions against the Texas oil giant. Finally, Dan A. Hughes Co. decided to retreat from the area. This precious space of Florida Everglades has escaped the grasp of the destructive oil and gas industry. Not only was the Florida panther at risk but also community water supplies. Preserve Our Paradise is proof that community members can fight against oil and gas bullies. By signing this petition, you are thanking Preserve Our Paradise for its relentless efforts to save the habitat of the Florida panther.

  Invasive species

Air Potato Beetle Release Forms for Florida

  Downloads:  Please select the appropriate application based on your location. 

  • Area 1: Air potato leaf beetle release decisions  will be based on program priorities and conducted on a first come, first served basis while supplies last until the end of November and will resume in April or May 2015.  Fill out the form for Broward, Charlotte, Collier, Dade, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Monroe and Palm Beach Counties and email to Min.Rayamajhi@ARS.USDA.GOV
    Area 1 Request Form:      
    Word  PDF
  • Area 2: Air potato leaf beetle release decisions will be based on program priorities and conducted on a first come, first served basis while supplies last until the end of October and will resume in April or May 2015. Fill out the form below for Other Remaining Counties in Florida and email to Eric.rohrig@freshfromflorida.com
    Area 2 Request Form:    Word PDF
  • Air Potato Beetle Release Record
    Select Form:  
    Word  |  PDF

    See or catch a lionfish? Report it.

    That’s what many lionfish hunters have been doing, thanks to the new Report Florida Lionfish app. Released to the public May 28, the app has been downloaded by more than 2,500 people. The first 250 to successfully report their lionfish catch or sighting received an interactive Lionfish Control Team T-shirt. The logo on these shirts is designed to come to life on your smartphone.

    In addition to the app, data can also be submitted online at www.com/Lionfish by clicking on “Report Lionfish.”

    Lionfish are an invasive species that negatively impact Florida’s reefs and wildlife.

    The Report Florida Lionfish app includes educational information on lionfish and safe handling guidelines, as well as an easy-to-use data-reporting form so divers and anglers can share with the FWC information about their sighting or harvest. App users also can take and share a photo of their catch. These photos may be used in future publications or social media efforts. (Samples shown here: Kyle Huber with his lionfish, and Glen Hoffman’s big catch.)

    The FWC will use the data to help identify sites where targeted lionfish removal might be most beneficial. All data will be available to the public and shared with other groups and agencies collecting this kind of information.

    Several users have submitted ideas on how to improve the app, and the FWC is looking into implementing those changes, including allowing users to submit using a photograph that is already on their smart device and adding fields for smallest and largest catch.

    Learn more about the new app, T-shirt and interactive logo by watching a video online. Missed your opportunity to receive a Lionfish T-shirt? These shirts will also be given out at various lionfish-related events, such as derbies, across the state.

    Learn more about lionfish at www.MyFWC.com/Nonnatives; click on “Marine Life.”

Endangered Species

UF/IFAS Research Findings Shed Light on Seagrass Needs

Seagrass beds represent critical and threatened coastal habitats around the world, and a new University of Florida study shows how much sunlight seagrass needs to stay healthy.

Loss of seagrass means fish, crabs and other animals lose their homes and manatees and sea turtles lose a source of food. Nutrients, such as phosphorous, may prevent seagrass from getting the sunlight it needs to thrive. Nutrients may come from many sources, among them fertilizers used in agriculture, golf courses and suburban lawns, pet waste and septic tank waste.

Scientists often use seagrass to judge coastal ecosystems’ vitality, said Chuck Jacoby, a courtesy associate professor in the Department of Soil and Water Science and co-author of a new UF study that examines light and seagrass health.

“By protecting seagrass, we protect organisms that use seagrass and other photosynthetic organisms that need less light,” said Jacoby, a faculty member in UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

When nutrient levels are too high, microorganisms in the water, called phytoplankton, use these nutrients and light to grow and reproduce until they become so abundant that they block sunlight seagrass needs to survive, said Zanethia Choice, a former UF graduate student who led the investigation.

“Seagrass can cope with short-term light reductions, but if those conditions last too long or occur too frequently, seagrass will deteriorate and ultimately die,” Choice said. “Good water clarity is vital for healthy coastal systems.”

Choice studied seagrass beds in a 700,000-acre swath off the coast of Florida’s Big Bend.

Choice, now a natural resource specialist with the U.S. Forest Service in Mississippi, conducted the study as part of her master’s thesis, under the supervision of Jacoby and Tom Frazer, a professor of aquatic ecology and director of the UF School of Natural Resources and Environment.

Choice combined 13 years of light and water quality data and two years of seagrass samples from habitats near the mouths of eight rivers that empty into the Gulf of Mexico.

Seagrass off the Steinhatchee, Suwannee, Waccasassa, Withlacoochee, Crystal, Homosassa, Chassahowitzka and Weeki Wachee rivers constitutes part of the second largest seagrass bed in Florida. The largest bed is in Florida Bay, between the Everglades and the Florida Keys, Jacoby said.

Choice wanted to see how much light was needed to keep the seagrass in this region healthy. She found different seagrass species needed varying amounts of light, ranging from 8 to 27 percent of the sunlight at the water’s surface.

The UF/IFAS study will give water resource managers, such as the state Department of Environmental Protection, water-clarity targets they can use to set proper nutrient levels for water bodies, Jacoby said.

Reducing nutrient levels can promote the health of seagrass and coastal waters. For example, concerted efforts to reduce nutrients flowing into Tampa Bay over the past 20-plus years resulted in a 50 percent reduction in nitrogen, a 50 percent increase in water clarity and a return of lost seagrass, according to a study conducted by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

Unlike Tampa Bay, there is no evidence that elevated nutrient levels in Choice’s study area have led to loss of seagrass. UF researchers are trying to make sure nutrients do not pollute the seagrass beds off the coast of the Big Bend, and they hope their results will guide managers as they strive to prevent any damage.

The study of seagrass light requirements is published in this month’s issue of the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.

Brad Buck|UF/IFAS Communications|April 18th, 2014

Warming Drives 40 Percent Drop in Alaska Polar Bear Population

Deeply troubling news for polar bears: A new study finds that global warming has driven a 40 percent decline in the number of these bears in eastern Alaska and western Canada. The Southern Beaufort Sea population was estimated to be 1,500 in 2006. Today, according to the study, it’s dwindled to just 900.

“Global warming has put Alaska’s polar bears in a deadly downward spiral,” said the Center for Biological Diversity’s Sarah Uhlemann. “It’s happening now, it’s killing polar bears now, and if we don’t act now, we will lose polar bears in Alaska.”

The Center secured Endangered Species Act protection for polar bears in 2008, but if we’re going to make sure these great bears of the north survive, we’ve got to cut the greenhouse gas pollution that’s melting their Arctic homes. Without help, scientists predict, two-thirds of the world’s polar bears could be gone by 2050.

Read more in the Los Angeles Times and sign our petition to save polar bears.

Endangered Rockfish Win 1,000 Square Miles of Puget Sound

Following pressure from conservation groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, the National Marine Fisheries Service just protected more than 1,000 square miles of “critical habitat” for endangered yelloweye, canary and bocaccio rockfish in Washington’s Puget Sound. Four years after these fish were federally protected, it’s about time some of their most precious habitats received safeguards.

Rockfish, often brightly colored and capable of living longer than 100 years, have been plunging in numbers due to decades of overfishing and habitat degradation. In order to save these fish in the Puget Sound — a 2,000-plus square-mile estuary home to many other endangered species — these waters must be kept clean and free of debris (like abandoned fishing nets, which kill more than 16,000 fish every year). The new designation will help by identifying activities that might harm the habitat, including near-shore development and in-water construction, dredging and material disposal, pollution and runoff, cable laying and hydrokinetic projects, kelp harvest, fisheries, and activities that lead to global climate change and acidification.

Read more in our press release.

[Could there still be hope for a critical habitat designation for the Florida Panther?]

Polar Bear Population Decline a Wake Up Call for Climate Change Action

Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears show forty percent drop in number

“We need to change course if we want to stop further habitat loss and ensure resilient wildlife populations, both in the Arctic and around the world.”

Forty percent. That’s the stunning population loss for polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea. The news comes from a new study linking the dramatic decline in this polar bear subpopulation in northeast Alaska and Canada to a loss of sea ice due to climate change.

How does climate change affect polar bears so dramatically? Polar bears rely on sea ice to access the seals that are their primary source of food as well as to rest and breed. With less sea ice every year, polar bears and many other ice-dependent creatures are at risk.

Today’s study, published in Ecological Applications, analyzed data on polar bears in northeast Alaska and the Northwest Territories and documented a 40 percent population loss between 2001-2010 from 1,500 to 900 bears.

Climate change is the main threat facing polar bears. But we also know the effects are being seen around the world. Now is the time we must speak up and demand global action.

“This is a clear warning sign of the impact a warming Arctic has on ice-dependent species like the polar bear,” said Dr. Pete Ewins, WWF’s Senior Species Officer in Canada. “Given this subpopulation is at the edge of the range, it’s no surprise to see this happening so soon.”

Added Margaret Williams,  Managing Director of WWF’s Arctic Program, “Here are concrete numbers to show us that the impacts of climate change are happening now. We need to change course if we want to stop further habitat loss and ensure resilient wildlife populations, both in the Arctic and around the world.”

Margaret Williams|Managing Director|WWF’s Arctic Program

Rescuers Work to Save Hundreds of Baby Bats After Deadly Heatwave

A scorching heat wave in New South Wales, Australia, this past weekend has killed thousands of flying foxes and left rescuers working tirelessly to provide care for hundreds of pups who managed to survive.

The Daily Telegraph reported temperatures reached a record 111 degrees Fahrenheit in the town of Casino on Saturday, which sparked the deaths of an estimated 5,000 flying foxes who began dropping to the ground. Making the problem worse is that many females have pups this time of year who are still nursing and many were left clinging to their mothers.

While the local fire department came in to spray the area with water in an attempt to provide relief to survivors and authorities began clean up efforts, volunteers rallied and began a massive rescue of orphaned pups.

According to the NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service, Inc. (WIRES), which helped coordinate rescue efforts, ‘the extreme heat, low humidity and lack of shade’ too early in the season is what caused the deaths, but volunteers from every available wildlife care group have been working around-the-clock to keep about 400 surviving pups alive. The group wrote on Facebook:

Each of these orphans had to be assessed, hydrated and taken care of individually; you can imagine the enormous task of literally hundreds coming in at the same time.

The task is ongoing; carers are working round the clock and emotions are tested as carers do what they can to ensure each and every little flying fox is taken care of whilst dealing with the sight of thousands of adults and juveniles dead and dying.

While some people are reportedly not bothered by the loss, conservationists counter that flying foxes are a protected species and are vital to keeping forests healthy by spreading seeds and pollinating flowering trees.

Scientists also believe flying foxes are good bio-indicators of die-offs because they live in colonies – as opposed to solitary animals — that are easier to count and show just how bad the consequences of extreme weather can be for wildlife.

Sadly, this isn’t the first die-off. Earlier this year an estimated 45,500 flying foxes died in Queensland during an extreme heatwave, making it the largest on record, but it was followed by more. This one probably won’t be the last.

Worse for flying foxes, and other wildlife who can’t tolerate extreme weather, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2012 report predicted the frequency and magnitude of extreme heat events will continue to grow through this century, yet Australia seems to be behind on dealing with climate change.

Just last week, hundreds of protesters gathered and literally stuck their heads in the sand at Bondi Beach to protest Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s stance on climate change and his refusal to include it in the G20 summit held in Brisbane. Australia also now stands as the only country to have reversed action on climate change by repealing a tax on greenhouse gas emissions this past summer. Hopefully it won’t take more tragic events like this for serious action to be taken.

Alicia Graef|November 21, 2014

Wild & Weird

Alligators in the Everglades Are Losing Massive Amounts of Weight

A research crew from the University of Florida, led by a wildlife ecologist who has studied alligators for decades, has discovered that the alligators living in the Everglades are getting more and more emaciated.

“They’re skinnier, they’re fewer, they grow slower,” U of F ecologist Frank Mazzotti told CBS News. “Most other places, if an alligator is 10 years old, it’s easily six feet long — not so in the Everglades. At 10 years [old], it’s only four or five feet.”

When observing the gators, Mazzotti notes, “Essentially it looks like a skeleton with skin hanging on it.”

So what the hell is happening to the alligators?

Not surprisingly, it turns out that people may be the reason the gators are getting skinnier every year. Scientists believe that building and expanding a city on top of a swamp might be contributing to the animals’ poor health. A massive draining project built back in the 1950s in order to develop metropolitan South Florida has drained huge swaths of the Everglades into the ocean.

As a result, pollutants and fertilizers have streamed through the swampland and shrunken the habitat. Moreover, the drainage might also be limiting the gators’ diet, since the farther north you go, the fatter the gators get.

Pumps that were constructed on the Everglades to drain them also polluted the habitat. Now, according to Mazzotti, only 50 percent of the original Everglades remains. And what remains is damaged.

So, even with billions being poured into restoring the Everglades, the consequences of infrastructure might be slowly killing the alligators.

Back in 2013, the Central Everglades Planning Project called the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan “the most expensive and comprehensive environmental repair attempt in history.”

“No one set out in the beginning of the 20th Century to destroy a world-class ecosystem,” Shannon Estenoz, director of Everglades Restoration Initiatives, told CBS News. “There was just a lack of appreciation and understanding of the damage that was being done.

“Cities like Miami and Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach and other cities could not have grown in the way that they grew without this drainage project,” Estenoz added. “It’s the unintended consequences that it took us a few decades to figure out.”

Meanwhile, Mazzotti says the gator population in the Everglades is less than half of what you’d expect in a thriving habitat.

“The best of them are skinny,” he says in the report. “They weigh maybe 80 percent of what an alligator should weigh. But what is of much greater concern to us is the proportion of alligators that are emaciated.”

“When they’re not doing well, something is going wrong in the ecosystem,” Estenoz says. “They are the canary in the coal mine.”

Chris Joseph|Nov. 19 2014

Everglades

C43/Caloosahatchee Reservoir – Chief’s Report – DEP Awards $3 Million for Southwest Florida Water Storage

~Early Start construction will provide critical interim storage capacity~

As South Florida’s ‘rainy season’ comes to a close, state and regional entities are getting a jump on critical projects designed to bolster water storage and treatment options throughout the region to better protect our water resources. Today, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) awarded $3 million to the South Florida Water Management District to fund the Early Start phase of the Caloosahatchee River West Basin Storage Reservoir, which will create up to 11,000 additional acre-feet of water storage in southwest Florida, or the equivalent of 5,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools.  …

“The district and the state put a priority on increasing water storage to protect south Florida’s coastal estuaries,” said South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Blake Guillory. “This funding support from DEP allows us to do just that by beginning early construction work on the C-43 Reservoir that provides increased storage onsite to protect the Caloosahatchee Estuary.”

The Early Start phase of the C-43 Reservoir project focuses on specific elements that can be put in place in order to provide interim water storage until the full C-43 Reservoir can be completed. These elements include a temporary storage facility in the southwest corner of the reservoir as well as demolition of necessary structures within the site’s footprint and the construction of a small pump station and perimeter canal. When completed, the Early Start project will provide interim water storage to a depth of about 4 feet on approximately 3,500 acres of the full C-43 Reservoir project site.

“We must continue to be proactive in the protection of our environment and better prepare for the inevitability of rain in Southwest Florida,” said Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto. “It’s extremely important that we take every opportunity to provide adequate water storage here in Southwest Florida, and the Early Start project helps do just that.”

“We can wait no longer to protect our river and estuary,” said Representative Matthew Caldwell. “Our quality of life, our beautiful coastline and our local economy depends on the health and viability of the Caloosahatchee. Projects like Early Start help us ensure these ecological treasures are protected.”

When completed, the C-43 Reservoir will help ensure a more natural, consistent flow of freshwater to the estuary. To restore and maintain the estuary during the dry season, the project will capture and store basin stormwater runoff, along with a portion of water discharged from Lake Okeechobee, and water will be slowly released into the Caloosahatchee, as needed. The release of water during the right time of year may also assist in maintaining optimal water flows and levels for the year-round health of the estuary and provide recreational benefits.

Water Quality Issues

Groups Take Legal Action Against Coal Company for Falsifying Water Pollution Reports

Just last month, a technician at a West Virginia lab which performed water pollution tests for coal companies required under the Clean Water Act pleaded guilty to charges of falsifying those reports. Now four citizen and environmental groups in Kentucky are charging that a major coal company is falsifying its Clean Water Act reports and state regulators responsible for reviewing the reports systematically ignored them.

Frasure_Graph_for_Press_sWhen Frasure Creek mining illegally submitted old reports, changing only the dates, self-reported pollution violations decreased. Image credit: Appalachian Voices

Appalachian Voices, Kentucky Riverkeeper, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and Waterkeeper Alliance, represented by Mary Cromer of Appalachian Citizens Law Center, attorney Lauren Waterworth and Pace Law School Environmental Litigation Clinic, sent a notice of intent to sue to Frasure Creek Mining, one of eastern Kentucky’s largest mountaintop removal mining companies. Under the Clean Water Act, citizens must give a company 60-day notice to correct violations prior to suing.

The groups charge that the false pollution reports sent to the state by Frasure Creek comprised nearly 28,000 violations of federal law. Each charge carries a potential fine of $37,500, so a maximum penalty could theoretically be more than $1 billion. They also say that Kentucky Energy and the Environment Cabinet failed to detect such falsifications as duplicating results from one report to another, changing only the dates, as well as changing values that would have exceeded pollution limits.

“The Clean Water Act absolutely depends on accurate reporting of pollution discharges,” said Waterkeeper Alliance attorney Pete Harrison. “False reporting like this undermines the entire regulatory framework that safeguards the people and waters of Kentucky from dangerous pollution. By all indications, this case looks like the biggest criminal conspiracy to violate the federal Clean Water Act in the history of that law. The refusal of the U.S. attorney in Lexington and the Environmental Protection Agency to bring criminal cases against Frasure Creek is just as inexcusable as the state’s failure to bring this company into compliance.”

It’s not the first time the groups have had Frasure Creek in their sights.

As the notice states, “Three years ago the citizen groups discovered that Frasure Creek had repeatedly copied the exact same pollution data from one report to the next and submitted the falsified reports to the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet. Now, after an apparent pause in its false reporting, Frasure Creek has resumed this illegal practice. As before, the Cabinet has utterly failed to even notice these flagrant violations of the laws that it is bound to uphold. Frasure Creek’s actions—and the cabinet’s failures to act—undermine the regulatory framework that safeguards the people and the waters of Kentucky from dangerous pollution. Because the Cabinet seems incapable of meaningful oversight, the Citizen Groups must once again step in, both to expose rampant violations of the Clean Water Act and to enforce the law.”

At that time of the prior violations coming to light, the company attributed them to “transcription errors” and the cabinet levied a token fine, saying that the agency would do a better job of identifying misreporting in the future. As a result of the 2010 investigation, Frasure Creek hired new, more reliable labs for a short period of time and the pollution levels it reported spiked. The groups tried to sue for these violations, but the state reached a slap-on-the-wrist agreement with the company, precluding such action.

The notice of intent to sue says the violations are even more extensive this time and that the agency continues to be lax. It charges that the first quarter of 2014, 48 percent of the reports filed by Frasure Creek contained data that the company had already submitted for previous monitoring periods and that this time, they changed not only the dates but in some cases the pollution figures themselves, lowering them to within acceptable limits.

“Copy and paste is not compliance,” said Eric Chance, a water quality specialist with Appalachian Voices. “The fact that Frasure Creek continued to flout the law to this extent, even after being caught before, shows it has no regard for the people and communities they are impacting. Equally disturbing is the failure of state officials to act to stop the obvious violations. We’re not sure state officials even look at the quarterly reports.”

“They aren’t afraid of getting caught because the consequences are extremely low,” said Chance. “The cabinet’s settlements with Frasure Creek are so weak that they don’t discourage this type of false reporting.”

“The Environmental Cabinet says they do not have the personnel to enforce the Clean Water Act,” said Ted Withrow of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. “I would add they do not have the will to do so.”

Anastasia Pantsios|November 17, 2014

U.S. Clean Water Act Settlement in Lima, Ohio, to Reduce Sewage Overflows

CHICAGO (Nov. 20, 2014) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the State of Ohio today announced a Clean Water Act settlement with the City of Lima, Ohio, to resolve claims that untreated sewer discharges were released into the Ottawa River during wet weather. The proposed consent decree, lodged yesterday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, requires Lima to make major structural improvements to control combined sewer overflows and to eliminate overflows from the sanitary sewer system.  

“The consent decree prevents sewer overflows into the Ottawa River,” said EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman. “Lima will make critical upgrades to the City’s wastewater treatment infrastructure on a schedule that ensures affordability.”

The proposed consent decree requires the City to more than double wastewater treatment capacity – from 30 million gallons a day to 70 million gallons a day. The City will reduce sewer overflows by fully or partially separating storm water and sewer lines, constructing a new 13-million gallon storage tank and installing a pump system. These actions are expected to significantly reduce Lima’s combined sewer overflows over the next ten years, while sanitary sewer overflows will be eliminated in stages throughout the life of the consent decree. These and other improvements will cost an estimated $147 million. The City will also pay a civil penalty of $49,000, to be split evenly between the United States and State of Ohio.

In addition, the City agreed to remove and replace dead or compromised trees along the banks of the Ottawa River. This estimated $218,000 revitalization project is expected to improve water quality and benefit the aquatic ecosystem in the Ottawa River.

Keeping raw sewage and contaminated storm water out of the waters of the United States is one of EPA’s National Enforcement Initiatives. Raw sewage and contaminated storm water contain pathogens that threaten public health and the environment. EPA is focused on reducing discharges from sewer overflows by obtaining commitments from cities to implement timely, affordable solutions.

The proposed settlement is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.  It can be viewed at www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html

Water will become a top issue in 2015 with the help of Amendment 1

OK, 2015 actually could be the “year of water” in the Florida Legislature.

Certain Capitol pundits earlier this year predicted that water would be a top issue during the 2014 session. But they were wrong because there wasn’t support in both chambers for dealing with the issue.

The Senate passed a springs bill that would have provided limited funding for projects to reduce groundwater pollution. But House leaders always had expressed reluctance because the Senate bill was still evolving and they instead wanted a broader approach to water.

The difference this year, according to House and Senate leaders, is that voter approval of Amendment 1 will drive a focus on water issues. Approved by 75 percent of voters, Amendment 1 is expected to provide more than $10 billion over the next 20 years for land and water conservation.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said soon after taking the gavel during Tuesday’s organizational session that water will be a policy and funding priority as the Legislature implements Amendment 1.

“A clean, abundant water source for the future is important and we need to focus on that,” he told reporters.

New Senate President Andy Gardiner told reporters that Amendment 1 is going to drive a lot of the debate about water legislation.

During the organizational session, Gardiner told senators that the challenge of Amendment 1 is not spending more on the environment. Instead, he said, the challenge is spending less on transportation, affordable housing and economic development because tax revenues are being diverted.

“There is going to be some pain — there is no doubt about that,” Gardiner said. “There is no question implementing this amendment will be a challenge.”

He told reporters that Gov. Rick Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam also will be a part of the dialogue about water legislation.

“Everybody is going to come in with a water policy,” he said. “Our job as the Legislature is to kind of go through them and make sure we do what is right.”

But it’s still not at all clear what are the water problems that will be discussed or how the Legislature can address them.

I’ve been covering springs issues for more than 20 years and I know there are a variety of threats to springs — pollution and over-pumping, for example — and they vary with each spring. I don’t expect the Legislature to throw out water quality standards that the state, with support from industries and water utilities, adopted through an agreement with the federal government in 2013.

Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, said the Legislature will need to identify and prioritize issues that it faces with water quantity and quality for surface water bodies, such as lakes and rivers, as well as aquifers that feed springs.

“If we can stop the point source of contamination, then we’re going to be able to let the bodies heal themselves,” Hays said. “There’s no point in us pouring millions or hundreds of millions of dollars into cleaning up large water bodies when we’re continuing to contaminate them.”

But he also said he doesn’t see a need for new regulations to deal with those issues.

Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach and House Democratic leader, said he hopes there aren’t any policy differences with Republicans on water issues. But he added that he doesn’t know because those issues haven’t been discussed.

With 75 percent voter support, Amendment 1 is “a good litmus test perhaps for everything we’re moving forward doing in the next two years.” he said.

Bruce Ritchie|Nov 19, 2014

DEP Awards $3 Million for Southwest Florida Water Storage

~Early Start construction will provide critical interim storage capacity~

As South Florida’s ‘rainy season’ comes to a close, state and regional entities are getting a jump on critical projects designed to bolster water storage and treatment options throughout the region to better protect our water resources. Today, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) awarded $3 million to the South Florida Water Management District to fund the Early Start phase of the Caloosahatchee River West Basin Storage Reservoir, which will create up to 11,000 additional acre-feet of water storage in southwest Florida, or the equivalent of 5,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools. This storage can help mitigate the harmful effects of damaging high flows on the Caloosahatchee Estuary.

“It is critical we take full advantage now during the dry season to generate as much additional water storage and treatment capacity as we can in South Florida,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature understand this and that’s why they’ve dedicated resources to grow our storage footprint and protect the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.”

Part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project, commonly known as CERP, the Caloosahatchee River West Basin Storage Reservoir, or C-43 Reservoir, was designed to help protect the Caloosahatchee Estuary from the excessive freshwater flows that harm salt water dependent species. These extreme flows are generated by local stormwater runoff and Lake Okeechobee releases prevalent during the rainy season.

“The district and the state put a priority on increasing water storage to protect south Florida’s coastal estuaries,” said South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Blake Guillory. “This funding support from DEP allows us to do just that by beginning early construction work on the C-43 Reservoir that provides increased storage onsite to protect the Caloosahatchee Estuary.”

The Early Start phase of the C-43 Reservoir project focuses on specific elements that can be put in place in order to provide interim water storage until the full C-43 Reservoir can be completed. These elements include a temporary storage facility in the southwest corner of the reservoir as well as demolition of necessary structures within the site’s footprint and the construction of a small pump station and perimeter canal. When completed, the Early Start project will provide interim water storage to a depth of about 4 feet on approximately 3,500 acres of the full C-43 Reservoir project site.

“We must continue to be proactive in the protection of our environment and better prepare for the inevitability of rain in Southwest Florida,” said Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto. “It’s extremely important that we take every opportunity to provide adequate water storage here in Southwest Florida, and the Early Start project helps do just that.”

“We can wait no longer to protect our river and estuary,” said Representative Matthew Caldwell. “Our quality of life, our beautiful coastline and our local economy depends on the health and viability of the Caloosahatchee. Projects like Early Start help us ensure these ecological treasures are protected.”

When completed, the C-43 Reservoir will help ensure a more natural, consistent flow of freshwater to the estuary. To restore and maintain the estuary during the dry season, the project will capture and store basin stormwater runoff, along with a portion of water discharged from Lake Okeechobee, and water will be slowly released into the Caloosahatchee, as needed. The release of water during the right time of year may also assist in maintaining optimal water flows and levels for the year-round health of the estuary and provide recreational benefits.

For more information about the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, click here.

latashawalters|November 20, 2014

Math mistake could mean central Fla. running out of water faster than expected

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Florida may be running out of fresh water faster than previously thought.

9 Investigates has been reviewing depositions of senior staff members with the St. Johns River Water Management District as a result of a hearing before  Judge E. Gary Early with the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings.  According to statements made by staff members, the water models used by staff at the St. Johns district may have had a fundamental flaw that caused the water management district to miscalculate how fast water is coming out of the Floridan Aquifer versus how fast the aquifer is recharging.

According to the deposition of Assistant Division Director for the Division of Regulatory, Engineering and Environmental Services Thomas Bartol, the water management district failed to account for what are known as sinks and drains.  Sinks and drains are essentially lakes and other bodies of water where groundwater flows in and out of the aquifer.  In the deposition, Bartol told attorneys, “So when we went back, we discovered this error.  We kept those features in the model and just focused on the withdrawal, and that 29 CFS (cubic feet per second) jumped to somewhere between 45 to 50.”

In the same deposition, Bartol is asked to elaborate on groundwater, with attorneys asking, “Currently, the district recognizes that there has been a regional decline in groundwater levels, correct?” Bartol answers, “Yes.”

“We’ve taken more than our fair share, let’s just say that,” said Dr. Bob Knight of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute.  “The environment is getting the short end right now.”

Knight says using the model with the error,  St. Johns issued what are known as “consumptive use permits” based on the presumption that water was flowing back into the aquifer faster than it was.  The largest drain on Florida’s groundwater is agriculture and residential, use; however, Knight says even the permit for Niagara Bottling in Lake County was approved by St. Johns using the model with the error.

“There are a lot of good people and good staff at St. Johns that should have known that these problems were already too large,” said Knight.  “The modeling approach has been a problem for a very long time.” 

“If there were errors made, absolutely there is a concern, but at this point in time I don’t know if that is definitely the answer,” said St. Johns River Water Management District Chairman John Miklos.

Water management district officials say they are still reviewing their models and calculating flows at places like Silver Springs and Wekiva Springs.

“Staff has been briefing me on this and we’re taking a closer look at it,” said Miklos.

Permits already issued by St. Johns, including the ones for Niagara Bottling, may not be able to be amended until they come up for renewal.

The state has five water management districts; each district has an unpaid governing board that is appointed by the governor of Florida.  According to the state, the districts are charged with maintaining “programs to manage the consumptive use of water, aquifer recharge, well construction and surface water management.”   It is unknown if the other four water management districts have found similar errors in the models used for calculations.

Christopher Heath|November 19, 2014

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

National Forest Watersheds In The West Get Long Overdue Boost

A new bill introduced today, co-sponsored by Senator Patty Murray, recognizes that when forests are healthy, clean water for communities is guaranteed.

Portland, OR – Today U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and co-sponsors Patty Murray (D-WA) and Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) introduced a bill called the “Restoring America’s Watersheds Act”, which would give a big boost to efforts aimed at fixing watersheds in national forests across the West. Over 60 million Americans rely on drinking water flowing from our national forests. This bill aims to assure clean water in the future by supporting crucial programs which:

  • Reduce sediment pollution in streams through forest road projects supported by the Legacy  Roads and Trails program;
  • Encourage problem-solving with local collaboratives focused on restoring forest health;
  • Direct more resources to highly-impacted watersheds, particularly when hit by fire; and,
  • Promote investments for protecting source waters by building partnerships.

“We are happy to see the Forest Service’s Legacy Roads and Trails program having a prominent place in this legislation,” said Marlies Wierenga, coordinator for the Washington Watershed Restoration Initiative (WWRI).  “Nearly 80% of Forest Service watersheds in Washington State are burdened with roads not being up to today’s standards. The WWRI coalition has championed Legacy Roads and Trails since it started in 2008. No other program has been as effective at reducing threats to our vital forest water supplies – particularly in the storm-ravaged Pacific Northwest.”

Heinrich’s bill focuses on watershed health by making several effective programs such as Legacy Roads and Trails and the Watershed Condition Framework permanent and by increasing the funding level available for the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program for an additional five years. The bill would also establish the Water Source Protection Program, which would make it easier for partnerships and fund matching to happen between the Forest Service, cities, businesses, and water utilities. 

“People often forget that the Forest Service was created to protect community’s access to clean, safe, reliable drinking water,” said Mike Anderson, Senior Policy Analyst for The Wilderness Society. “This bill builds off of strong successes and partnerships so that water remains part of the forest vision.”

Washington State would see direct benefits from this bill – particularly with the Legacy Roads and Trails program, which Senator Murray has championed since Congressman Norm Dick’s retirement. In the six years since the program started, nearly $22 million has been invested in Washington’s national forests to address water quality problems from the aging and frail forest road network.  Local contractors have fixed over 1,700 miles of roads and 104 miles of trails to maintain access; improved 32 stream crossings for passage of salmon and trout; constructed 12 bridges to improve safety and reclaimed 204 miles of unneeded road.

“For too long we have simply reacted to natural disasters on our National Forests,” said Thomas O’Keefe the Pacific Northwest Stewardship Director for American Whitewater. “Unmaintained roads are bad for water quality and result in loss of access to our public lands. Making Legacy Roads and Trails a permanent program steers us down a proactive path of investing in problem roads now, to reduce environmental and social costs later.”

“Over 86% of Washingtonians drink water drawn from our national forest lands.  The ’Restoring America’s Watersheds’ bill helps guarantee that clean water keeps flowing,” said Marlies Wierenga.

Text of the Restoring America’s Watersheds Act is available here.

A fact sheet of the Restoring America’s Watersheds Act is available here.

For more information on Legacy Roads and Trails, visit the WWRI coalition’s website:

www.washingtonwatersheds.org

Contact: Marlies Wierenga (503) 278-0669

Additional Contacts:

Mike Anderson, Senior Policy Analyst, The Wilderness Society 206-890-3529, mike_anderson@tws.org

Thomas O’Keefe, PNW Stewardship Director, American Whitewater 425-417-9012, okeefe@americanwhitewater.org

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Water and Math in the Caloosahatchee Watershed

One acre foot equals

  • 326,000 U.S. gallons

  • 43,560 cubic feet

  • 1233 cubic meters

  • 893 gallons per day for 365 days

  • Your bathtub holds about 5 cubic feet. How big is the Caloosahatchee River?

  • In the dry season, the Caloosahatchee River flow can go as low as 300 ft3 (0.007 acre-foot) per second, or 18,000 ft3 (0.4 acre-foot) per minute, or 1.1 million ft3 (25 acre-feet) per hour, or 26 million ft3 (600 acre-feet) per day.

  • In the rainy season, the Caloosahatchee River flows at about 2,000 ft3 (0.05 acre-foot) per second, or 120,000 ft3 (16 acre-feet) per minute, or 7.2 million ft3 (170 acre-feet) per hour or 170 million ft3 (4,000 acre feet per day) per day.

  • The Caloosahatchee watershed contains 1408 square miles, or 900,000 acres. It receives an average of 53″ (4.5′) of rain every year. That comes to 4.1 million acre-feet of rain that drains into the soil, runs off hardened parking lots and roads, or evaporates

courtesy of Friends of the Charlotte Harbor Preserve 

Offshore & Ocean

GOVERNOR SCOTT REQUESTS MORE THAN $77 MILLION IN GULF COAST RESTORATION PROJECTS
~State of Florida proposals include 20 projects for the Gulf Coast~

TALLAHASSEE – Today, Governor Rick Scott announced five proposals for 20 projects total…ing $77 million were submitted to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council (Council) for consideration under the Council-Selected Restoration Component portion of funding through the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast Act of 2012 (RESTORE Act).

Governor Scott said, “We’re committed to protecting and restoring Florida’s estuaries, and these $77 million in projects would significantly bolster our efforts to protect and restore our natural treasures. Our Department of Environmental Protection has worked closely with local leaders and environmental stakeholders to identify the projects that will best benefit our critical ecosystems. Through state funding we’ve made major investments in the Everglades and the Keys, and with these dollars we’ll make similar investments in North Florida’s estuaries and continue to make Florida’s environment a priority.”

Funding Proposals
These proposals address high priority restoration needs in 10 major watersheds from Perdido Bay to Tampa Bay. They also represent the feedback received from numerous meetings with stakeholders and citizens. Additionally, the proposals represent projects from the list of over 1,200 submissions to the Department of Environmental Protections’ online portal.

The Pensacola Bay Watershed Proposal encompasses two living-shoreline projects, a wastewater reuse project, a stormwater and wastewater improvement project and a contaminated sediment removal planning project. These projects will collectively improve Pensacola and East Bays, a portion of the Santa Rosa Sound, as well as Bayou Chico. The funding amount for this proposal totals $15.9 million.

The Apalachicola Bay Watershed Proposal includes three major projects that would improve fresh water flows to the hydrologically impacted bay. Also, an expansion of a Natural Resource Damage Assessment oyster population rebuilding project, a marsh and oyster reef project, and an agricultural pollution reduction project will help to restore the bay and assist affected oystermen. The funding amount for this proposal totals $26.1 million.

The Suwannee River Watershed Proposal would provide $12.1 million in funds to acquire conservation easements in the Florida Forever Lower Suwannee River and Gulf Less-than-Fee Program and to implement an oyster-restoration project near Cedar Key, as well as an agriculture pollution reduction project. These projects will restore and protect water quality and habitats that sustain the local communities whose economies depend on these vital resources.

The Tampa Bay Watershed Proposal includes $6.9 million in funding for five projects, three of which are shovel-ready stormwater projects that would improve water quality and habitat within this watershed. Also included in this proposal are Manatee County’s Robinson Preserve restoration and Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary living shoreline installations, which are two highly ranked projects identified in the Southwest Florida Regional Ecosystem Restoration Plan.

The last proposal, Northwest Florida Estuaries and Watersheds Proposal, is intended to complete the current watershed planning efforts in the Panhandle and includes funding for design, permitting, implementation and monitoring for high priority water quality and habitat restoration projects that will be identified through these planning efforts. The funding amount for this proposal totals $16.8 million.

The five proposals, involving approximately 20 specific projects, total more than $77 million in requested funding. Information may be found about each proposal at www.deepwaterhorizonflorida.com.

“Water quality is a top priority in Florida, and the projects in the submitted proposals significantly reflect that priority. We hope to see the projects approved and implemented in the near future,” said Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. of the Department of Environmental Protection. “The proposals submitted are just one example of Governor Scott’s commitment to the environment.”

“Thanks to the Governor’s leadership this group of Florida proposals advances a vision for restoring some of our most important Gulf Coast estuaries and watersheds,” said Executive Director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Nick Wiley. “These RESTORE projects would revitalize key habitat for fish and wildlife and help support the economies of coastal communities that are so closely tied to these resources.”

“The Gulf Consortium is tasked with creating the State Expenditure Plan for the Spill Impact Component of the RESTORE Act funds and working with Governor Scott is an important step to gaining successful projects for the state of Florida,” said Mike Sole, Governor Scott’s appointee to the Gulf Consortium. “Florida’s proposals submitted to the Council focus on restoring Florida’s natural resources and as a member of the Gulf Consortium, I am thankful to Governor Scott for his continued dedication to restoring the Gulf Coast.”
“Audubon Florida is supportive of the five proposals submitted for consideration by the Council,” said Eric Draper, executive director for Audubon Florida. “There are many projects within the proposals that would continue Governor Scott’s work to conserve the vital habitats in our state.”
“These proposals show that Governor Scott and the state of Florida are committed to improving water quality, restoring critical habitats and cleaning up our shorelines,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam. “From Apalachicola Bay to Central Florida springs to coastal estuaries, these projects will make a real difference across the state.”
“The Gulf Consortium is fully supportive of the proposals submitted by Governor Scott,” said President of the Florida Association of Counties, Chairman of the Gulf Consortium and Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson. “Also, local governments across the Florida Gulf Coast have greatly enjoyed the working relationship with Governor Scott and state agencies to plan, propose, and initiate restoration of our environmental assets.”

“The after affects of the BP oil spill are still felt in many communities and by many businesses in coastal Northwest Florida,” said Senator Don Gaetz. “The grant funding announced today is another step in rebuilding and strengthening our environment and our economy. I’m grateful to Governor Scott and Secretary Vinyard for working closely with local leaders on these funding decisions.”

“Protecting Florida’s water continues to be my top priority while serving in the Florida Senate,” said Senator Charles S. Dean (R-Inverness). “The projects Governor Scott submitted to the RESTORE Council under the Suwannee River Watershed proposal would help protect Florida’s natural resources for future generations.”

“Both the Pensacola Bay and the Northwest Florida Estuaries and Watersheds proposals are great news for the Panhandle,” said Representative Doug Broxson. “I want to thank Governor Scott for his continued commitment to restoring the Gulf Coast of Florida following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.”
“Pensacola Bay is one of Florida’s most important bays and I am grateful to Governor Scott, DEP Secretary Vinyard and Nick Wiley of FWC for their hard work in recognizing that restoring this bay is top priority for the state of Florida,” said City of Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward.

“We are so pleased to see three proposals including planning and implementation for Panhandle estuaries and watersheds were submitted by Governor Scott to the Council,” said Temperance Morgan, executive director for The Nature Conservancy. “These proposals would extend the good work being done by TNC and lay the foundation for a sophisticated estuary program for the Panhandle.”

“Governor Scott’s submitted proposals complement the work already being implemented in the Panhandle watersheds to preserve water quality and quantity,” said Executive Director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District Jon Steverson. “We are hopeful the projects will be approved and more can be done to protect Northwest Florida’s water resources.”

“Tampa Bay is a critical lifeline to the health of the Gulf of Mexico and the projects included within the proposals submitted by Governor Scott reflect the much needed restoration and water quality improvement for Tampa Bay,” said Holly Greening, executive director of Tampa Bay National Estuary Program.

“The Suwannee River watershed is one of the largest watersheds affecting the Gulf of Mexico,” said Ann B. Shortelle, Ph.D. executive director of the Suwannee River Water Management District. “The projects included in Governor Scott’s submitted proposal would address many water quality and habitat issues in the Suwannee River watershed.”

“Water is a necessary part of our lives and ensuring the quality of Florida’s water and associated natural resources is a top priority of the state and our District,” said Robert Beltran, executive director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District. “We are pleased to see that priority reflected in Governor Scott’s proposals for RESTORE Act funding.”

The RESTORE Act
The RESTORE Act allocates 80 percent of the Clean Water Act administrative and civil penalties resulting from the Deepwater Horizon incident to the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund. To date, Transocean is the only responsible party to settle its civil liability and a portion of those funds are now available. The Council-Selected Restoration Component, commonly known as Bucket 2, equates to 30 percent of available funds and is managed by the council. For this first round, the total available for projects is roughly $150 to $180 million to be shared among 11 council members.

Once the council staff receives all member proposals they will be reviewed for eligibility and posted online. The council members will then work to create a draft Funded Priorities List, which will be available in the Spring/Summer of 2015 for public review and comment.

The state of Florida will compete for Bucket 2 funding with the other states and federal agencies represented on the council. The proposals must align with the Council’s Comprehensive Plan, which was published in August 2013. The Department of Environmental Protection and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have been working diligently to ensure Florida’s Bucket 2 proposals align with the council’s goals, have wide support and significantly contribute to the overall health of the Gulf of Mexico.

RESTORE Act funding is just a small portion of the overall environmental restoration work that is being implemented in the state of Florida to compensate the public for injuries caused by the Deepwater Horizon spill.

To date there has been nearly $175 million in approved projects and programs across Florida’s Gulf Coast communities through other funding sources, such as Natural Resource Damage Assessment early restoration and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund. These projects range from living shorelines, land acquisitions, boat ramps, coastal conservancy and enhanced recreational use. Project selection processes among these multiple funding sources are coordinated to ensure projects that are chosen are complementary and successful for our treasured Gulf Coast.

These projects come on the heels of Florida securing a record level of funding for important environmental projects through the state budget. This year, Governor Scott approved more than $300 million for projects to improve water quality in south Florida and the Florida Keys. This investment will be used for critical projects for families and businesses that rely on these natural treasures, mitigate impacts of Lake Okeechobee’s discharges on our estuaries and divert more fresh water south to help restore the Everglades. http://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/FLDEP/bulletins/dd9e0e

Wildlife and Habitat

Canadian Caribou Need Your Help Due to Overhunting

It wasn’t too long ago that caribou were everywhere in Canada, inhabiting over half of the expansive country. Nowadays, however, you’re unlikely to encounter any. That’s why Care2 has a new petition: “Canada, Stop Sport and Trophy Hunting of Caribou.” The petition urges the Canadian government to take proactive steps to preserve the remaining caribou.

The drastic drop in caribous is most readily felt in Baffin Island. Once recording 180,000 caribou, only 5,000 survive in the area today. The fact that hunters are still permitted to come to the area and shoot the dwindling population is perplexing, which is why we’re asking legislators to forbid hunters from killing the animals – particularly those who are just interested in mounting caribou antlers on their walls.

Last December, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society conducted its first study on vanishing caribou. The outlook is bleak: scientists anticipate only 30% of the remaining caribou herds are “self-sustaining,” meaning that most will die without deliberate human intervention. As part of their research, the CPWS recommends reexamining hunting seasons to decide whether they are incongruent with keeping caribou populations alive.

Hunters are expectedly miffed at attempts to limit the sport killing of caribou. Outdoor Life, a hunting website, contends that caribou populations are going down due to changes in environment. An increasing wolf population is eating more caribou, gas and oil companies are disrupting wild land, and consequences of climate change have made it more difficult. While these reasons certainly may be contributing to the disappearing herds, allowing hunters to shoot caribou won’t do anything to improve their at-risk numbers.

Alas, caribou hunting has become a big business for non-aboriginals, too. Just a few years ago, Southampton Island was shipping nearly a ton of caribou meat to Baffin Island every two days. Since then, Southampton Island has become one of the first spots in Canada to implement hunting bans on caribou. Considering that the caribou population was four times larger than just a couple of decades ago, local officials realized conservation efforts were necessary to protect the remaining 7,000.

Kevin Mathews|November 16, 2014

Forestry

How Losing Elephants Is Hurting Forests

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As the loss of elephants continues at a catastrophic rate that threatens their future survival, researchers are drawing attention to how the loss not only hurts these iconic giants, but entire ecosystems they live in.

In a new study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers from the University of Florida looked at how the loss of elephants is causing the loss of tree species in Thailand. Elephants, and a number of other wild animals, disperse seeds they eat and pass in their waste as they travel but their dwindling numbers is having a negative impact on the forests they call home.

“This study fills a major gap in our understanding of how overhunting affects forest trees, particularly in tropical forests,” said Richard Corlett, director of the Center for Integrative Conservation at the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Gardens in Yunnan, China.

“We knew hunting was bad, but we were not sure why it was bad, and therefore could not predict the long-term impacts. Now we know it is really, really bad and will get worse. The message that ‘guns kill trees too’ should help put overhunting at the top of the conservation agenda, where it deserves to be,” he added.

As researchers noted in a statement, at the beginning of the 20th century, the number of elephants exceeded 100,000. Today, those numbers have plunged to a mere 2,000 as a result of poaching and overhunting.

After spending three years analyzing data on the growth and survival rate of trees that sprouted from a parent tree and comparing them with seeds that were transported and spread widely across the forest by animals, they found that the trees transported by animals were hardier and healthier.

Supplementing what they found with an additional 15 years worth of information on tree mortality from the Thai Royal Forest Department to create a long-term simulation, they also concluded that a loss of animal seed dispersers increases the probability of tree extinction by more than tenfold over a 100-year period.

“Previously, it’s been unclear what role seed dispersal plays in tree population dynamics,” said Trevor Caughlin, a postdoctoral student at the university and National Science Foundation fellow. “A tree makes millions of seeds during its lifetime, and only one of those seeds needs to survive to replace the parent tree. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like seed dispersal would be that important for tree population. What we found with this study is that seed dispersal has an impact over the whole life of a tree.”

A previous study conducted at the Salonga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – where more than 98 percent of the forest elephants have been killed by poachers over the past few decades – came to a similar conclusion.  In that case, researchers found that over a dozen elephant-dependent trees were suffering as a result of their loss and highlighted how this harms not only tree species, but other animals who depend on them for food and also local communities who rely on them for medicinal purposes.

The thought of losing charismatic megafauna like elephants is tragic enough, but the toll their disappearance will have on ecosystems and other species who depend on them, including us, just adds to the reasons to support protecting them.

“The entire ecosystem is at risk,” said Caughlin. “My hope for this study is that it will provide a boost for those trying to curb overhunting and provide incentives to stop the wildlife trade.”

Alicia Graef|November 20, 2014

Global Warming and Climate Change

Obama to Pledge $3 Billion for Climate Change Fund

President Barack Obama will pledge $3 billion to a United Nations climate-change fund that’s intended to help poor nations boost renewable energy and counter the ill effects of global warming.

The pledge would make the U.S. the largest donor to the newly established fund, which is a linchpin of efforts to secure an accord within the UN to combat global warming. With pledges in place from Germany and France, and one coming from Japan, the Green Climate Fund is nearing its goal of securing $10 billion in pledges.

“This is a really important piece of building towards this international agreement,” said Peter Ogden, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a former Obama administration climate official. “This will be a hugely important moment for the negotiations themselves.”

The U.S. funding would need approval of Congress, which for the first time in Obama’s presidency will have both Houses run by the opposition Republican Party after victories in midterm elections last week.

The $3 billion pledge “is an unfortunate decision to not listen to voters in this most recent election cycle,” said Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, a skeptic of climate change who is set to chair the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee next year. “In a new Congress, I will be working with my colleagues to reset the misguided priorities of Washington the past six years.”

The Obama administration is leading efforts among nearly 200 countries at the UN to secure a pact to reduce greenhouse gases that scientists blame for global warming. That effort, which has progressed slowly since 2009, got a significant boost this week after the U.S. and China, the two largest emitters of carbon dioxide, announced their targets for the negotiations.

In Beijing, the U.S. pledged to cut its emissions by at least 26 percent by 2025 and China agreed for the first time to cap its overall emissions by about 2030, and said it will seek to get 20 percent of its energy from non-fossil-fuel resources. The climate funding has been a sticking point in the talks, which are set to wrap up in Paris next year.

“It is in our national interest to helping vulnerable countries to build resilience to climate change,” the White House said today in a statement.

The pledge was announced just before a Group of 20 summit, which caps a trip to Asia by Obama after his party’s losses in the midterm congressional elections. He is to arrive in Brisbane with policy victories from his stop in Beijing and on the heels of two days spent pressing the government of Myanmar to put its political and economic reform process back on track. “You’re always popular in someone else’s country,” Obama joked at a town hall in Yangon earlier today.

Obama will include funding for part of the $3 billion in his next budget request, and will spread the funding out over a number of years, according to an administration official who spoke anonymously because budget figures haven’t been decided.

Calls and e-mails to Republican Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who will have jurisdiction over budget requests, weren’t immediately returned.

Under the so-called Green Climate Fund, established by the UN, money will be used to lure private sector investment and help boost global markets in clean energy technologies, according to the Obama administration.

That would create opportunities for entrepreneurs and certain manufacturers who are taking steps toward a low-carbon economy, including those in the U.S. such as General Electric Co., according to an administration fact sheet.

Officials are scheduled to meet next month in Lima for two weeks of discussions to begin drafting the UN climate agreement.

Climate funding is key to convincing less developed countries to come on board a global agreement, said Jessica Brown, the former lead negotiator for climate finance at the U.S. State Department.

“The finance outcomes are so inextricably tied to the rest of the package that you can’t really seal the deal without them,” said Brown, now an analyst with the Climate Policy Initiative, a not-for-profit group that advises national governments. “The U.S. is taking this super-seriously.”

The funding will likely require both congressional approval and the support of future presidents, Brown, who left the State Department in May, Brown said in a phone interview.

The Green Climate Fund was set up to distribute a portion of $100 billion in annual climate aid that Obama and other western leaders pledged in 2009 would be provided to developing nations by 2020. The promise included aid, private financing and funding from the World Bank. It’s aimed at both helping poor countries lower their emissions and fight the effects of climate change.

A pledging conference is scheduled Nov. 20 in Berlin to accelerate fundraising efforts.

Many European nations have already announced donations. Germany has pledged 750 million euros ($930 million;), France has promised $1 billion, and Sweden has committed to 4 billion krona ($540 million). Pledges from South Korea, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Luxembourg amount to more than $400 million.

Japan is making a pledge of about $1.5 billion, Kyodo News Agency reported.

Ogden and other supporters of the funding say it’s the next step from a climate fund that was set up under the administration of Republican President George W. Bush. The U.S. is close to satisfying its $2 billion pledge to that Climate Investment Fund.

“Hopefully it’s not DOA. This is something that’s in our interest,” said Jake Schmidt, director of the international program at the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington.

“The president is a player in the budget process as well,” Schmidt said, noting that Congress had approved funding for a predecessor fund every year. Republicans “can do a lot of things, but they can’t do everything.”

Roger Runningen, Mark Drajem and Alex Nussbaum|Bloomberg|November 17, 2014

Copyright 2014 Bloomberg

Hottest October on Record Puts Planet on Track for Hottest Year Ever

Need more evidence of the impact of climate change on the Earth? The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) of U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that the global temperature in October was the hottest on record.

Many different areas of the planet had record warm temperatures in October. Image Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Many different areas of the planet had record warm temperatures in October.

Image Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

“The globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces for October 2014 was the highest on record for the month since record keeping began in 1880,” the agency said. “It also marked the 38th consecutive October with a global temperature above the 20th century average. The last below-average global temperature for October occurred in 1976.”

The average combined temperature was 58.43 Fahrenheit, compared to the 20th century average of 57.1 F. That beats the previous October record, set in 2003, by 0.02 degrees Fahrenheit. Most of the globe saw a warmer October, including the U.S. Pacific coast, already suffering from multi-year drought. Other record highs were logged in southern South America, Far East Russia, parts of southern and southeastern Asia, much of southern and western Australia and some of southern Europe. The contiguous U.S. has its fourth hottest October since national records began, with temperatures overall 3 F above the 20th century average.

And the planet is on track for the hottest year ever. From January through October, the combined land and ocean average surface temperature was the warmest on record, eclipsing the previous record years of 1998 and 2010. The average combined temperature was 58.43 F, compared to the 20th century average of 57.1 F.

And what about that massive snowfall that just hit upstate New York with up to six feet of snow in some areas? Are the climate deniers right when they write their annual columns saying, “What global warming? Look at the snow!” No, they’re not. Global warming drives bigger snowfalls too. So-called “lake effect snow” occurs when a warmer water temperature in Lake Erie—which is registering temperatures above average and getting higher—meets contrasting waves of colder air, propelled by the decline in Arctic ice cover. Buffalo, keep the snow shovels handy!

Anastasia Pantsios|November 21, 2014

Extreme Weather

Brazil Faces the Worst Drought in 80 Years

Unless the desperately needed rains arrive, São Paulo residents are being warned to “prepare for a collapse like they‘ve never seen before.”

Brazil is a country with 12 percent of the world’s fresh water supply and just 3 percent of its population, but it is at risk of running dry. Brazil is currently in the midst of the worst drought it has seen in eighty years, and there’s no sign of it letting up.

In the southern state of São Paulo, where 44 million people live, at least 14 million have been affected by the lack of water. There are days when people come home from work, turn on their taps, and nothing comes out.

Flávia de Souza Carvalho told the Washington Post, “We can’t shower, wash dishes, do laundry. I have a sink full of dishes because there’s no water coming out of the tap.”

Water has been scarce in the south for the past ten months, ever since the last rainy season produced only 40 percent of the usual amount of rain and failed to replenish adequately the rivers and reservoirs on which São Paulo depends. Satellite images from NASA show the significant difference in the depth of water reservoirs from August 2013 to August 2014.

In the arid northeastern region, drought has been an ongoing problem for many decades, although this year is the worst. An 86-year-old farmer told Reuters that he has lost 50 cows to heat exhaustion: “I have never seen a drought like this. Everything has dried up.”

Being the northeast, however, which is known for its poverty and often mocked, if not ignored, by the much richer south, it’s not surprising that the drought hasn’t received any serious attention until it started to affect São Paulo, the country’s economic engine. When I lived in the northeastern city of Recife eight years ago, there were many days when no water came through the taps — something that is only just starting to happen in São Paulo homes. People would scramble to fill their water tanks because they never knew how long it would be until the water came back on.

Many Brazilians blame the current drought on lack of government foresight. Brazil does not have a culture of water conservancy, since it’s a resource that always seemed limitless. There is widespread opinion that the government has failed to address the severity of the drought, and still refuses to admit that rations are necessary in São Paulo, despite the fact that 29 other cities have implemented water rationing.

The government is also implicated in the serious and sobering connection to deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, which reduces the number of trees evaporating moisture into the air. Reuters reported:

Deforestation increased by 29 percent in the last officially recorded period [and] a survey produced using satellite imaging showed that the Amazon lost 5,891 square kilometers, or 2,275 square miles, of forests in that period, an area almost five times the size of the city of New York.

It’s absolutely necessary that the Brazilian government implement and enforce policies for the preservation the Amazon — “if they want to prevent São Paulo from becoming a desert,” says Antonio Nobre, a leading climate scientist.

In the meantime, unless the south gets the rain it desperately needs, the president of Brazil’s Water Regulatory Agency, Vicente Andreu, warns that São Paulo residents should prepare for a “collapse like we’ve never seen before.”

Katharine Martinko|TreeHugger|November 15, 2014

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.

Below-freezing temps pummeling North, East

Plummeting temperatures and lake-effect snow brought weather havoc to much of the North and East, with some areas battling snow measured in feet and whiteout highway conditions.

The U.S. awoke Tuesday to its coldest November morning since 1976, WeatherBell meteorologist Ryan Maue said. More than 85 percent of the 48 contiguous states — and 226 million Americans — reached or fell below freezing, he said. The National Weather Service reported that every state saw freezing temperatures.

The blast of Arctic air set off a lake-effect snowstorm across parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. Some areas could see 6 feet of snow before the storm is over, the National Weather Service said.

SNOW BLANKETS
More bad news: The snow will hang around in some areas through Friday, AccuWeather senior meteorologist Tim Kines warned.

Actually, more than half the continental U.S. is covered in snow, a phenomenon more common in January and February, Kines said.

COLD PERSISTS
Record-low temperatures are likely Wednesday from Idaho to Nebraska and Iowa south to Texas and east through the Great Lakes, Maue reported. Overall, the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. will shatter decades-long records.

Temperatures east of the Rockies will be 20-40 degrees below average.

The Weather Channel predicts that it will be warmer in Anchorage (34 degrees) on Wednesday morning than in Tallahassee, Florida (22 degrees).

The weather service warned that similar conditions should continue Wednesday before the cold snap slowly eases Thursday.

John Bacon and Doyle Rice|USA TODAY|November 18, 2014|Contributing: wgrz.com; Associated Press

Snowbound Buffalo to see floods as weather warms

6 inches’ worth of rain will be released in as little as 2 days

The Buffalo, New York, region, buried under more than 7 feet of snow, now faces the threat of “urban flooding” as weekend temperatures are forecast to climb to near 50 degrees and begin melting the snow that has brought the city to a near standstill.

The National Weather Service said Friday that the potential for flooding will rapidly increase for a wide portion of western New York, especially streams and creeks through the Buffalo metropolitan area.

Rain is also expected to add to the danger of rising water as temperatures begin to climb into the 40s on Saturday, near 50 on Sunday and at or above 60 on Monday.

Totals from the three-day blast of harsh winter reached around 7 feet of snow in Buffalo, 65 inches in South Cheektowaga, 63 inches in Lancaster and 60 inches in West Seneca.

Cities and towns began moving pumps and other equipment into place to prepare for the rising water. Monday is expected to be the worst day for flooding as the higher temperatures send water from melting snow onto the ground faster than it can be absorbed.

“There’s roughly the equivalent of 6 inches of rain in the snowpack that will essentially be released over two days,” Erie County Deputy Executive Richard Tobe said Friday. “If it was released as rain, it would be a monumental storm.”

He said the high water would likely affect mostly basements and creeks. “It’s not going to be this giant flooding like you see in hurricanes,” he said.

The Associated Press reported that the storms have been blamed for at least 12 deaths in western New York, mostly from heart attacks and exposure. The latest was a 50-year-old man who was found Friday morning in his car, which was buried in snow in Cheektowaga, police said. The cause of death wasn’t immediately known.

Another recent victim was an elderly resident of a nursing home that was evacuated amid concerns of a roof collapse, Tobe said. “We know that relocating people from nursing homes is a very tough thing to do,” Tobe said.

More than 50 people were evacuated Thursday from several mobile home parks in suburban Cheektowaga and West Seneca because roofs were buckling.

Tobe said at least 90 small roof collapses involving carports and other structures had been reported by Friday morning, in addition to damage to a pharmacy and a metal warehouse operated by a Christmas decorations company, where damage was estimated in the millions.

There is little that Buffalo residents can do to prepare for or avoid the flooding because a driving ban remains in effect in the city while emergency teams try to cut paths through the mounds of snow.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said Friday that snowplow crews had made at least one pass through almost all of the city’s side streets and had removed more than 24,000 tons of snow.

Doug Stanglin|USA TODAY|Contributing: Associated Press

Why You’ll Be Seeing a Lot More Lightning Soon

While it may not be true that lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice, it will be true that your odds of being struck by lightning are going to increase over time. Scientists have looked at the impacts of climate change in the years ahead, and one of the more threatening aspects is lightning. By 2100, researchers believe the rate of lightning will be up 50%.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley created a computer program to predict how often lightning would strike under a number of circumstances, chiefly precipitation and cloud conditions. Inputting actual climate scenarios, the scientists were able to compare the actual number of lightning strikes to the figures the computer predicted and realized that the computers were remarkably accurate in their estimations.

To see what kind of lightning we will see in the future, the scientists next added anticipated climate conditions in decades to come. In light of global warming, the computer expects to see lightning strikes increased by 50% by the end of the century.

Why would lightning be more prevalent with the rise of global warming? Water vapor. Warmer climates produce more water vapor, which is the source of lightning. David Romps, one of the scientists at UC Berkeley, compares water vapor to the explosive fuel. “If you have more fuel lying around, when you get ignition, it can go big time,” said Romps.

Currently, lightning injures hundreds of people annually, killing about 50. Inevitably, the increase in lightning bolts will result in more human fatalities.

The other big concern associated with lightning is forest fires. It turns out that Smokey the Bear’s motto, “Only you can prevent forest fires,” is a bit of a stretch considering that lightning is responsible for 50% of wildfires. Moreover, fires caused by lightning are generally harder to extinguish. With more lightning crashing, expect to see more wild habitats destroyed with flames.

Although the odds of getting hit by lightning will increase, the likelihood that any given person will be electrocuted in this manner is still overwhelmingly slim. In reality, there are more pressing threats that the average person will face thanks to climate change like higher temperatures and rising sea levels. However, it can be difficult to convince people that such gradual forces pose an actual threat to their lives. Maybe hearing that lightning will be striking at a much greater rate will be the kind of news that convinces people to take climate change more seriously.

Kevin Mathews|November 18, 2014

At least 7 die as snow, cold brutalize much of nation

Buffalo’s first snowstorm of the season left several people dead while record cold swept across most of the eastern half of the nation Wednesday.

At least five deaths in New York were blamed on the snow, including three from heart attacks while shoveling, officials said. Two other deaths were reported in New Hampshire and Michigan.

The snow was still falling Wednesday with more than 5 feet already on the ground, and some areas south of the city are expected to get a year’s worth of snow — almost 6 feet — in just three days.

While the worst of the eastern cold will ease Thursday, it will still be below-average, the National Weather Service predicted. Also, another round of lake-effect snow is forecast to bring as much as 3 feet of snow in some regions Thursday and Friday.

The highest total so far in New York was the 65 inches that fell near Cheektowaga, the weather service reported.

The national snowfall record for a 24-hour period is 76 inches, set in Silver Lake, Colorado, in 1921. Some Buffalo suburbs approached that amount Tuesday, possibly the highest 24hour snow in a populated area, the National Weather Service reported.

“So as far as Lake Erie events, I think this week’s event one will go down as the most extreme on record,” said Weather Underground weather historian Christopher Burt.

Meanwhile, for the second straight morning, temperatures in all 50 states fell to freezing or below overnight — including Hawaii, atop the high mountain summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island.

The cold spread across most of the eastern half of the U.S. on Wednesday morning. Record cold was reported in New York City (22 degrees at LaGuardia); Washington (13 degrees at Dulles); Raleigh, North Carolina (19 degrees); and as far south as Jacksonville, Florida (27 degrees).

The last time a storm this huge hit was in December 2001, when 80 to 90 inches of snow fell on the region in five days.

WGRZ-TV Buffalo|Doyle Rice,USA TODAY|Contributing: Michael Wooten, The Associated Press

12 Wacky Weather Facts: From Moonbows to Blood Rain

With our warming climate, weird weather is making headlines nearly monthly – abominable snowstorms, crippling heat waves and  flash flood of biblical proportions. But weird weather has been around long before humans were here to report on it. Below are some weather oddities that may or may not become more common with our changing climate, but are nonetheless jaw-droppingly interesting!

  • It is estimated that at any given time nearly 2,000 thunderstorms are taking place on the earth’s surface.
  • Wildfires can become so violently hot that they generate flame-throwing tornadoes.
  • In 2011, a 100-mile -wide sandstorm engulfed Arizona.
  • Worms wiggle their way to the earth’s surface when groundwater is rising.
  • Heavy dirt mixed with wind can create the perfect conditions for what is known as a black blizzard.
  • Waterspouts or intense thunderstorms can apparently suck up flightless aquatic animal, such as fish, snakes and frogs and then make them “rain” from the sky – that is the most rational explanation anyhow for the bizarre phenomenon of flightless animals raining from the sky.
  • Blood rain – or red rain – is due to either significant quantities of lichen-forming algal spores or red dust becoming mixed with rainwater. Until these reasonable explanation were deduced, some thought that red rain represented alien debris brought into the earth’s atmosphere via a disintegrating comet.
  • You can guess the temperature by counting a cricket’s chirps. Click here for the The Old Farmer’s Almanac cricket formula.
  • The longest lightning bolt every recorded was 118 miles long near Dallas, Texas
  • According to Guinness World Records, the largest snowflake was reportedly from Montana in 1887 and was a whopping 15 inches in diameter.
  • Moonbows are rainbows at night. A moon bow is only seen at night when the moon is low and full or nearly full and is otherwise the same phenomenon as a rainbow except that it is moonlight rather than sunlight reflecting off moisture in a post-rain atmosphere.
  • The most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (a mega-review of 30,000 climate change studies) establishes with 95-percent certainty that the majority of warming since the 1950s is man-made. This is without doubt, the scariest weather fact on this list.

Cherise Udell|November 18, 2014

Extreme Weather Will Be ‘New Climate Normal’ Without Immediate Action, Warns World Bank

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said this weekend that the organization’s investment focus will be on clean energy and that it will back coal-fired and other fossil fuel projects only when there is “extreme need.” Flying in the face of a popular climate denier narrative that says phasing out fossil fuels and addressing extreme poverty can’t be done at the same time, Kim said climate change threatened efforts to tackle poverty.

His remarks followed the release of the World Bank’s new report, Turn Down the Heat: Confronting the New Climate Normal. It said among other things that the extreme weather impacts of climate change may now be unavoidable and that they are impacting people’s food and water security as well as threatening their safety. But it also said, “More and more voices are arguing that is possible to grow greener without necessarily growing slower. Today, we know that action is urgently needed on climate change, but it does not have to come at the expense of economic growth.”

“There is growing evidence that warming close to 1.5 Centigrade above pre-industrial levels is locked in to the Earth’s atmospheric system due to past and predicted emissions of greenhouse gases, and climate change impacts such as extreme heat events may now be unavoidable,” the report asserted. “As the planet warms, climatic conditions, heat and other weather extremes which occur once in hundreds of years, if ever, and considered highly unusual or unprecedented today would become the ‘new climate normal’ as we approach 4°C—a frightening world of increased risks and global instability.”

“Today’s report confirms what scientists have been saying—past emissions have set an unavoidable course to warming over the next two decades, which will affect the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people the most,” said Kim. “We’re already seeing record-breaking temperatures occurring more frequently, rainfall increasing in intensity in some places and drought-prone regions like the Mediterranean becoming drier. “These changes make it more difficult to reduce poverty and put in jeopardy the livelihoods of millions of people. They also have serious consequences for development budgets, and for institutions like the World Bank Group, where our investments, support and advice must now also build resilience and help affected populations adapt.”

The 200-plus page report enumerated the impacts of heat waves, prolonged droughts, disappearing glaciers, rising sea levels, heavy rainfall and vanishing forests on different parts of the world from Mexico City to Benghazi to Central Asia and spotlighted what it called “The Case for Immediate Action.”

Immediate action, the report said, meant acting quickly to disinvest in what it called “the carbon intensive, fossil-fuel-based infrastructure” which releases climate change-causing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It said that in some cases, there might be no alternative to funding fossil fuel projects to supply electricity to impoverished areas, but overall, the World Bank’s priority would be backing clean, renewable energy projects.

“At the World Bank Group we will use our financial capacity to help tackle climate change,” said the report. “We will innovate and bring forward new financial instruments. We will use our knowledge and our convening power. We will use our evidence and data to advocate and persuade. In short, we will do everything we can to help countries and communities build resilience and adapt to the climate impacts already being felt today and ensure that finance flows to where it is most needed.”

“The good news is that we can take action that reduces the rate of climate change and promotes economic growth, ultimately stopping our journey down this dangerous path,” said Kim. “World leaders and policy makers should embrace affordable solutions like carbon pricing and policy choices that shift investment to clean public transport, cleaner energy and more energy efficient factories, buildings and appliances.

Anastasia Pantsios|November 24, 2014

Genetically Modified Organisms

Roundup Bread: The Real Reason Americans are Intolerant to Wheat

 The influx of wheat allergies in the United States may not be gluten-related as many have thought, but instead could be attributed to Monsanto’s toxic weed killer known as Roundup. Used as a drying agent, Roundup contains glyphosate, a deadly herbicide that not only kills weeds, but binds to the soil it is sprayed on. It turns out that spraying Roundup on wheat crops at harvest time boosts production, as a result of which farmers are using it more liberally, and Americans are consuming trace amounts of the toxic chemical every time they eat wheat-based products.

green design, eco design, sustainable design , RoundUp, celiac disease, gluten allergy, wheat allergy, glyphosate 

Although it is a strong chemical, farmers turn to Roundup as a desiccant to ensure more wheat just before harvest. The glyphosate causes wheat to go to seed as it dies, creating a bigger bounty at harvest time, and ensuring the farmer to be successful for the season. But because of these results, farmers have also increased the use of Roundup during other times of the season, adding even more glyphosate to the wheat crop, which remains with the grain and can even be traced in bread made from it.

Related: The Netherlands Says “No” to Monsanto, Bans RoundUp Herbicide

In 2013, a study published in the Journal Interdisciplinary Toxicology directly linked the rising presence of glyphosate on wheat with the increase of celiac disease, with an almost identical graph comparison. Studies have shown that Roundup affects helpful bacteria in the stomach and digestive system, preventing it from making important amino acids that aid in digestion (thus causing discomfort and celiac disease). Contrasting this study, many Americans who have claimed to developed celiac disease and gluten intolerance have noted that they did not suffer the same symptoms when ingesting wheat in countries like Italy when on vacation.

To avoid eating Roundup with their bread, consumers can purchase organic, un-hybridized Einkorn wheat to satisfy their carb cravings.

Lori Zimmer|11/17/14

Neil Young Boycotts Starbucks Over Its Opposition to GMO Labeling

Neil Young has long been known for his involvement in environmental and social justice issues. Now Young has extended his longtime activism to another area: taking on Starbucks and its association with the anti-GMO labeling Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA). The GMA has spent heavily in states where GMO labeling has been on the ballot, working to defeat it, usually coming in just behind Monsanto in the size of its donations.

“Goodbye Starbucks!” Young announces on his website.

“I used to line up and get my latte every day but yesterday was the last one,” he says. “Starbucks has teamed up with Monsanto to sue Vermont and stop accurate food labeling. Hiding behind the shadowy ‘Grocery Manufacturers Association,’ Starbucks is supporting a lawsuit that’s aiming to block a landmark law that requires genetically modified ingredients be labeled. Amazingly, it claims that the law is an assault on corporations’ right to free speech.”

Vermont’s labeling law never appeared on the ballot, which would have given the big-spending groups the chance to swamp labeling supporters with money. Instead, it was passed by Vermont’s legislature in April and signed by its governor in May. A lawsuit challenging the law was filed in June by GMA, the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers, claiming that it would impose “burdensome new speech requirements and restrictions” on the product manufacturers they represent. Vermont is the first state in the U.S. to pass GMO labeling; the big spenders have been able to defeat all the state ballot measures.

“Vermont is a small, entirely rural state with just 600,000 people,” says Young. “It’s a classic David and Goliath fight between Vermont and Monsanto. Whatever you think of GMOs, corporations should not be using massive lawsuits to overturn legitimate, democratic decisions with strong public backing. Considering that Starbucks has been progressive on LGBT and labor issues in the past, it’s disappointing that it is working with the biggest villain of them all, Monsanto. Monsanto might not care what we think—but as a public-facing company, Starbucks does. If we can generate enough attention, we can push Starbucks to withdraw its support for the lawsuit, and then pressure other companies to do the same.”

Young urges people to join with SumOfUs.org, an organization that advocates for workers and consumers against corporation, to pressure Starbucks to oppose the lawsuit.

Starbucks meanwhile denies any responsibility for the lawsuit. “Starbucks is not a part of any lawsuit pertaining to GMO labeling nor have we provided funding for any campaign. And Starbucks is not aligned with Monsanto to stop food labeling or block Vermont state law. The petition claiming that Starbucks is part of this litigation is completely false and we have asked the petitioners to correct their description of our position. Starbucks has not taken a position on the issue of GMO labeling. As a company with stores and a product presence in every state, we prefer a national solution.”

Young may be 69, with a music career spanning 50 years, but his level of activism on behalf of environmental causes only seems to be growing. In September, he joined Willie Nelson to headline the day-long Harvest the Hope: A Concert to Protect the Heartland in rural Nebraska on behalf of Keystone XL pipeline opponents, where he introduced his new tune and latest environmental salvo “Who’s Gonna Stand Up? (And Save the Earth), which he recently performed with Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report.

Anastasia Pantsios|November 18, 2014

Monsanto Targeting Children In New Feel-Good Campaign About Themselves

Monsanto, with a sprinkling of individuals from their partners in crime such as Dow, Bayer, DuPont, and Syngenta, have taken over the government’s regulatory agencies including the USDA, and is even represented in the White House and the Supreme Court. Now they’re working on creating a favorable dominating presence on [children’s] TV.

Why would they target children? Could it be that Big Biotech is attempting to raise a generation of zombies that actually believe spraying our food with poison is good for us and the environment? It certainly appears that way.

It’s a very well done high production value, expensive gently flowing montage commercial featuring several actors of all ages depicting happy families and groups of friends dining in various locations and situations.

A dulcet female voice gently intones phrases like “when you sit down with your loved ones and talk about the food you’re having, it’s the best part of your day. Dinner is ready, pull up a chair and dig into the conversation with Monsanto” then their website appears with their invitation to “join the conversation”. It’s hypnotic, and earlier it’s even worse!

The dulcet voice explains before the closing lines how they’re working with farmers to produce more food efficiently, better for farmers and better for the planet. Yikes, truly surreal. This demonstrates to those who know better how lies can air as long as they’re paid for.

According to a “Food Babe” email newsletter, “… this commercial has also aired on Food Network, ABC Family, HGTV, and even on Pandora! They might be launching a HUGE media campaign, but our message is still getting out there.” (video below)

So while Monsanto projects a positive image with their slick commercials and buys off labeling elections with negative campaign lies funded by massive industry money, why is the anti-GMO theme limited to “consumer choice”? All the average grocery shoppers need to wind up voting against GMO labeling is to see or hear the lie about how food costs will go up. A recent study found that this is a downright lie! Follow this link to learn more.

Survey polls indicate almost everyone surveyed favors labeling, but most grocery shoppers are confused about GMOs or don’t care about them in their food. Their choices were made and reinforced with the absolute industry lies that create an impression that already rising food costs will soar if labeling is mandated.

The consumer choice or right to know mantras are really too nice, even wimpy compared to the list of the biotech industry’s chemical crimes against humanity. Besides, there is a third party labeling system in place.

Worse, consumer choice implies GMO and non-GMO crop co-existence. It’s been proven over and over, there is no way to have GMO fields prospering without contaminating non-GMO or organically grown crops even beyond USDA recommended spatial buffer zones.

And who is responsible for creating buffer zones by moving crop fields farther away or who loses if contamination occurs? The non-GMO conventional or organic farmers.

The GMO industry should be smash mouthed with negatively framed truthful accusations while refuting their lies.

[Excerpt from an article by PAUL FASSA]

Energy

How an Oregon Wind Farm Project Became a National Security Risk

In 2012, Ralls Corp, a Chinese-owned company, agreed to purchase four wind farm projects in Oregon from the American subsidiary of an energy company. While the transaction was still pending, the company started working on the first project in April of that year. Since Ralls is a foreign-owned company, any sales of American companies to foreign investors must be reviewed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).

Established in 1975, CFIUS is an inter-agency committee authorized to review transactions that could result in foreign control of American companies. Legislation dating back to 1950, along with an Executive Order, requires the committee to view such transactions as it relates to national security issues. The committee members review the transactions to identify and, if necessary, address any national security issues. Most reviews are completed within 30-45 days. In a few rare cases, the committee sends its analysis to the President for his final decision.

This is what happened to the Ralls Corp. transaction in September 2012.

When issuing his decision, President Obama noted that there was evidence that the company, along with their Chinese executives, “might take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States.” This meant that the transaction was officially voided and the project could not go forward.

The question is how is a wind farm a threat to national security?

The area where the four wind farms were to be located is on or near land that is used for training by the U.S. Navy and Oregon National Guard. The Naval Weapons Training Facility in Boardman, Oregon has 490 square miles of protected airspace that is used by Navy pilots for practice maneuvers and bombing runs. The Oregon National Guard also uses the range to fly helicopters and other aerial vehicles. President Obama felt that having a Chinese-owned company near such sensitive training exercises was a threat.

It was the first time a president had blocked a transaction since President George H.W. Bush did so in 1990, also for a transaction involving the Chinese.

Since the review of these transactions is about national security, the reasons behind any refusals aren’t spelled out in detail. Still, thousands of these transactions are approved without incident. In recent years, there has been growing concern about Chinese investment in the United States. In 2012, there were more reviews of Chinese investments by the committee than there were of Britain.

It was also an election year and President Obama was in the midst of his reelection campaign where his opponent was accusing him of being soft on China.

The Ralls Corp. subsequently sued, saying their rights to due process were violated. When a lower court ruled against them, they appealed and had the ruling reversed, which sent it back to the original judge. In their response to the suit, the government claimed executive privilege due to national security concerns. Under the appellate court’s directive, the judge says that Ralls is entitled to a more detailed explanation as to why the project was denied.

In her ruling this week, Judge Jackson says that the government is not required to divulge any classified reasoning, but must provide all items that are covered by the executive privilege.

The appellate court’s ruling is unusual, since courts have respected executive privilege since the first president. Furthermore, the government may have trouble complying with the order since by doing so could indirectly be a national security risk. Not to mention, the delicate relationship with China could be further threatened if any documents revealed a less than favorable view of the company or the Chinese government.

In the meantime, the proposed wind farm projects are on indefinite hiatus.

Crystal Shepeard|November 16, 2014

‘Keystone XL Clone’ to Pump Tar Sands Oil Starting Next Year

As Republicans get set to test their new majority in the U.S. Senate and their complete control of Congress to push through approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, a new investigative report by editor Lou Dubose at the Washington Spectator reveals that the construction of a “Keystone XL clone” pipeline with almost the same capacity is already taking place. While TransCanada continues to battle the public outcry against its Keystone XL project, another company, Enbridge, is quietly building the Alberta Clipper pipeline. Like Keystone XL, it will pumped 830,000 oil barrels (bbl) a day of tar sands bitumen crude oil from the Alberta oil fields to U.S. refineries.

albertaclipperThe Alberta Clipper is an already-existing pipeline with a 450,000 bbl a day capacity. In November 2012 Enbridge applied for the permit to ramp up capacity to 800,000 bbl for the pipeline which runs from Alberta to Wisconsin to Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast where the oil will be refined and exported.

“In six to eight months the Canadian tar-sands spigot opens to full capacity,” wrote Dubose. “Barring litigation or action by the State Department, Enbridge will achieve what has eluded TransCanada. And it will have done so with scant attention from the media and without the public debate generated by campaigns against the Keystone XL.”

The Spectator analyzed State Department documents, annual reports and interviews with Enbridge officials and lawyers to learn how the company pushed through a pipeline virtually identical to Keystone XL without a public process or attracting much attention. While a pipeline that crosses international borders requires presidential and State Department approval declaring that the project is “in the national interest,” the Spectator says Enbridge used a creative interpretation of an existing 1967 permit to circumvent the law and public opinion.

The Alberta Clipper is an already-existing pipeline with a 450,000 bbl a day capacity. In November 2012 Enbridge applied for the permit to ramp up capacity to 800,000 bbl for the pipeline which runs from Alberta to Wisconsin to Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast where the oil will be refined and exported. Fed up with delays, the company wrote to the State Department last June, telling it that they planned to go ahead with upgrades with or without a permit.

“Enbridge wasn’t asking,” said the Spectator. “It was informing the State Department of its plans to press ahead.”

Its evasion of the approval process involved hooking up two existing pipelines, one on the Canadian side, one on the U.S. side. It already had a cross-border connector built in 1968 for light oil, long before mining the heavy-oil tar sands became a reality. It maintained that upgrading the old pipe with pipe capable of carrying tar sands oil is merely “maintenance” and therefore doesn’t require a new permit. And it’s already telling investors it’s a done deal, set to begin pumping its new contents by the middle of next year.

The State Department has denied Freedom of Information Act requests in what the Spectator said “appears to be a deliberate effort to keep the press and public in the dark.” It said that the Sierra Club had filed such a request in March and was denied. Environmental groups have announced they will sue the State Department for working with Enbridge to circumvent the legal process.

“The State Department is charged with determining if the importing of Canadian tar-sands oil is in the national interest,” Sierra Club staff attorney Doug Hayes told the Spectator. “Enbridge applied for a permit a year ago [sic], then in June informed the State Department that the process was taking too long. So they came up with their scheme to avoid, to try to avoid, the State Department permitting process and expand the pipeline immediately. And the State Department basically looked the other way and said, ‘That’s fine with us.’ But what they are doing is illegal. First of all, it is illegal because it violates the National Environmental Policy Act. It also violates the existing presidential permits for the Alberta Clipper and the adjacent Line 3 Pipeline. This is all happening behind closed doors. It is a deliberate effort to keep the public out of the process.”

Pipeline opponents, including environmentalists and community activists, will find Enbridge’s history of negligence and secrecy unsettling.

Enbridge is the company behind the July 2010 oil spill on the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, when a segment of its pipeline ruptured. Three inspections over the previous five years had detected a defect in the pipeline which the company had not repaired because in its judgment it did not reach required repair level under federal standards. It did not provide this information when an Enbridge executive testified about pipeline integrity and spill detection to a House committee ten days before the rupture. And it has repeatedly fought attempts to require safety measures to protect communities and the environment against the impacts of possible spills.

Anastasia Pantsios|November 11, 2014

Marine Energy Making Waves on Both Sides of the Pond

LONDON — In recent months, a number of initiatives aimed at speeding up the development of the wave energy sector have been launched in the U.S. and Europe. As part of the ongoing work to establish a viable United States wave energy industry, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Sandia National Laboratories (SANDIA) are working on the creation of a sophisticated open-source modeling tool known as WEC-Sim — and the U.S. Department of Energy is also enlisting the coding community to help in its development. Meanwhile, the European WavePOD project is an industry-wide initiative that aims to solve the problem of converting captured wave energy into electricity by creating a “standardized self-contained offshore electricity generator for the wave industry.”

WEC-Sim

Last year, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) funded NREL and SANDIA to work on a three-year collaborative project to develop a simulation tool for the wave energy sector.  A little over a year into the project, the team has already released the first version of the Wave Energy Converter Simulator (WEC-Sim), a customizable open-source numerical modeling tool designed to help the wave energy community to analyze and optimize wave-energy converters (WECs) and meet device-specific modeling needs.

As Kelley Ruehl, Technical Staff Member at the Water Power Technologies Department at Sandia National Laboratories, and one of the Principal WEC-Sim Developers, explains, the tool is capable of modeling wave energy devices that are comprised of “rigid bodies, power-take-off systems, and mooring systems” with simulations “performed in the time-domain by solving the governing WEC equations of motion in 6 degrees-of-freedom.”

“The WEC industry relies heavily on numerical modeling tools during the device design and optimization process. The existing WEC modeling tools are closed-source and cannot be customised to meet device specific modeling needs. WEC-Sim provides the WEC community with an open-source tool that will allow the industry to develop new and innovative WEC devices,” she says.

The code that underpins the tool is developed with a combination of the MATLAB (Matrix Laboratory) programming language and the Simulink data flow graphical programming language tool — using a “multi-body dynamics solver” known as SimMechanics.  According to Ruehl, the code solves the “governing WEC equations of motion in 6 degrees-of-freedom” using what is known as the Cummins impulse response formulation — the equation of motion most commonly used to model the dynamics of a body in water, including ships and WECs.

Throughout 2014, NREL and SANDIA have worked to develop the first version (v1.0) of the code and have tested its capabilities through loose collaboration with several U.S. industry members. Ruehl also reveals that, in 2015, the WEC-Sim team plans to work with several device developers to demonstrate and verify the performance of the tool — and will participate in “an international code-to-code comparison and validation effort.”

“In order to ensure WEC-Sim is meeting the needs of industry, the team has reached out to several US industry members to determine features for future development of the WEC-Sim code.  Based on this feedback, and the WEC-Sim Questionnaire, the WEC-Sim team has focused its code development,” she says.

For Ruehl, the key advantage of the WEC-Sim tool in the development of innovative wave energy technologies is the fact that the code is open source and allows users to “modify the code to meet their specific modeling needs.”  In her view, this feature is critical for the WEC industry because the “wide range of existing technologies’ makes it ‘difficult to create a code capable of modeling them all.”

“These challenges will be overcome by opening development of future WEC-Sim features using the public development platform GitHub in order to accommodate the diversity of existing devices,” she adds.

Looking ahead, the SANDIA-NREL team plans to continue the development of the WEC-Sim code using user feedback provided via direct interaction and an online questionnaire.  Ruehl says that the team will also perform experimental wave tank texts for WEC-Sim code validation in 2015.

“In 2015, we are also considering the advantages of moving to a completely open-source coding language.  Although WEC-Sim is open source, it is implemented in the MATLAB environment and we are considering moving the code to a Python-based environment.  This will [provide] researchers who do not have access to MATLAB [with] the ability to use the WEC-Sim tool,” she adds.

In recognition of the central role that such numerical tools will continue to play in the WEC design and analysis process, the DOE has also launched the Open Wave Analysis and Response Program (Open-WARP) Challenge to further improve the WEC-Sim tool.

As Alison Labonte, Marine and Hydrokinetic Technology Manager at the DOE explains, one “critical piece” of WEC-Sim is the boundary element method (BEM) module that “provides hydrodynamic coefficients that are needed for time-domain WEC-Sim simulations.”

“The objective of the Open-WARP project is to create a boundary element method module.  To date, several competitions have been completed.  The objectives of these competitions have been to create a mesh generation capability and a Graphical User Interface (GUI).  Upcoming competitions will be to improve existing open-source BEM codes so they meet the requirements of WEC-Sim,” she adds.

According to Labonte, none of the models and tools developed as part of the program have yet been used in the wave energy technology sector — with the results of the contest set to be released to the public in 2015.

“The wave energy research community is relatively small and does not have expertise in all areas of coding an algorithm development.  Using code competitions allows the ocean energy community to tap into the coding expertise of the online coding community to leverage expertise in specific areas of knowledge,” says Labonte.

“The online coding community has a great deal of expertise in algorithm development and coding that has proved to be very beneficial to the Open-WARP project.  However, many competitions require specific knowledge of fluid dynamics.  We are therefore working to encourage the WEC code development community to participate in future Open-WARP competitions, especially those that require specific knowledge of fluid dynamics,” she adds.

During September, the DOE also announced that it will award $6.5 million to a Prize Administration team led by Ricardo Inc. for the “development, launch, and execution” of the Wave Energy Conversion (WEC) Prize Competition.  The company will work alongside JZ Consulting in “challenge development and management expertise,’ with SANDIA and NREL contributing “engineering and technical expertise.”  According to a press release timed to coincide with announcement, the WEC Prize competition “aims to attract innovative ideas from developers by offering a monetary prize purse and providing an opportunity for tank testing and evaluation of scaled WEC prototypes.”

The DOE believes that the competition will achieve “game-changing performance enhancements to WEC devices” — and help to establish a pathway to “sweeping cost reductions at a commercial scale.”  Further information about registering for the WEC Prize competition will be available on the Water Power Program website in Spring 2015.

Meanwhile, in Europe, WavePOD is an industry-wide initiative that aims to solve the problem of converting captured wave energy into electricity by creating a “standardized self-contained offshore electricity generator for the wave industry” that is designed to be suitable for a number of different wave energy concepts.

The WavePOD test rig

The initiative brings together project founders Aquamarine Power and Bosch Rexroth, along with wave technology developers Albatern, Carnegie Wave Energy UK and M4 WavePower.  Other partners include the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, the University College Dublin Electrical Research Centre and the Institute for Fluid Power Drives and Controls (IFAS) at RWTH Aachen University, as well as Irish utility ESB — which is developing the European Commission-funded Westwave wave farm off the west coast of Ireland.

As Louis Verdegem, Ocean Energy Technology Manager at Bosch Rexroth explains, individual wave device manufacturers have previously been working on the issue in isolation from each other — but WavePOD marks a “step change” in this approach by combining the collective experience of the leading wave industry developers and Bosch Rexroth to take “a system-wide approach to Power Take Off (PTO) that can be used across all devices.”

The technology is based on an oil hydraulic system that takes reciprocating motion and converts it into rotary motion to drive a generator — and Verdegem reveals that the hydraulic system itself is a “proven mature technology” that is already used in a number of industries.

“The WavePOD project is focused on adapting this technology for the specific requirements of the wave industry.  If successful, it will see Bosch Rexroth provide the complete PTO system, taking responsibility for conversion, control and instrumentation from the mechanical input to the export cable — including the environmental control and enclosure ‘pod’ technology,” he adds.

Once proven, Verdegem claims that the WavePOD technology will allow developers to supply “a reliable, cost-effective source of reusable energy” that will allow the individual businesses that comprise the industry “to concentrate on what they do best” — namely “maximizing the amount of power that can be captured, optimizing structural design and developing deployment methods.”

However, he also admits that the project team will need to rise to the technological challenge posed by the need meet the requirements of a machine “that needs to stay in near constant operation for up to five years.”

“In addition, there are a wide range of input conditions that need to be taken into account, without resulting in a solution that becomes cost prohibitive.  Operationally, the biggest challenge is to ensure that the system is reliable and has sufficient redundancy to cover for the inevitable minor failures and maintain power output between maintenance.  Both of these lead to the big financial challenge of making the cost of the electricity generated economical,” he adds.

The project team has already created a tenth-scale prototype, which is currently undergoing testing at the IFAS in Germany.  The next step will be to scale up the prototype and begin testing and developing the technology “in more difficult conditions.”

“In the longer term, when the systems are proven, we expect to apply the lessons to any number of wave energy developers.  What is interesting about the wave energy sector is that the technology solutions are so diverse, with each adapted to differing locations and positions in the water.  As a result, it’s unlikely that there will be just one technology that would be used at all depths and environments.  However, WavePOD will be applicable to all devices,” says Verdegem.

Commenting on the project, Sian George, CEO at pan-European trade association Ocean Energy Europe reveals that there is “substantial renewable energy potential,” estimated at around 320 GW, to be harnessed from Europe’s oceans — but the industry is “still some way away” from having commercially available wave energy devices capable of capturing this energy.  For her, the key challenge at the moment is delivering technologies “that can operate reliably in the harsh ocean environment.”

“[I]f the WavePOD consortium is successful in delivering a product which can be used by wave energy companies to accelerate our progress towards more reliable and commercial technologies, then the market could be significant,” she says.

“At our Ocean Energy Europe conference in Paris we heard from a number of industry leaders the importance of increased collaboration.  We have made significant strides in recent years in demonstrating the viability of ocean energy technologies and our next step is to solve some quite specific and well recognised pan-industry technology challenges.  There is growing consensus that the best way to address these challenges is through a collaborative approach — and the WavePOD project is a very good example of how this can be achieved,” she adds.

Andrew Williams|International Correspondent|November 17, 2014

Fracking Threatens Our Pawnee National Grassland


A plan to open the Pawnee National Grassland to fracking would industrialize this expanse of public spaces, spurring WildEarth Guardians to demand a new proposal from the U.S. Forest Service that fully protects this endangered landscape. Described as America’s last remaining shortgrass prairie by the Forest Service, the Pawnee is an irreplaceable historic relict of our nation’s once vast grasslands. Sadly, the fracking boom has encroached, putting our public lands at risk. As we documented first hand last month, oil and gas wells have even crept upon the well-known Pawnee Buttes. Guardians has called on the Forest Service to not only keep fracking off the Pawnee, but to also protect the grassland from development on neighboring private lands.

Shale Oil Fuels Indigenous Conflict in Argentina

 CAMPO MARIPE, Argentina, Nov 18 2014 (IPS) – The boom in unconventional fossil fuels has revived indigenous conflicts in southwest Argentina. Twenty-two Mapuche communities who live on top of Vaca Muerta, the geological formation where the reserves are located, complain that they were not consulted about the use of their ancestral lands, both “above and below ground.”

Albino Campo, ”logko” or chief of the Campo Maripe Mapuche community, is critical of the term “superficiary” – one to whom a right of surface occupation is granted – which was used in the oil contracts to describe the people living on the land, with whom the oil companies are negotiating.

“We are the owners of the surface, and of what is above and below as well. That is the ‘mapu’ (earth). It’s not hollow below ground; there is another people below,” he told IPS.

Nor is it hollow for the oil companies, although the two conceptions are very different.

Three thousand metres below Campo Maripe lies one of the world’s biggest reserves of shale gas and oil.

The land that the community used for grazing is now part of the Loma Campana oilfield, operated by the state-run YPF oil company in partnership with U.S. oil giant Chevron.

“More or less 160 wells have been drilled here,” Campo said. “When they reach 500 wells, we won’t have any land for our animals. They stole what is ours.”

“The company should respect our constitutionally recognised right to participate in the management of natural resources. Those rights have been completely violated by the oil company’s arrival.” – Mapuche leader Jorge Nahuel

Because of the urgent need to boost production, YPF started a year ago to make roads and drill wells in the Campo Campana oilfield in the southern Patagonian province of Neuquén.

The Mapuche chief and his sister Mabel Campo showed IPS what their lands had turned into, with the intense noise and dust from the trucks continuously going back and forth to and from the oilfield.

They carry machinery, drill pipes and the products used in hydraulic fracturing or fracking, a highly criticized technique in which water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure to fracture the shale and release natural gas and oil trapped in the underground rocks.

“They say fracking and everything aboveground doesn’t pollute…maybe it’ll be a while but we’ll start seeing cancer, skin cancer, because of all the pollution, and we’ll also die of thirst because there won’t be any water to drink,” said Mabel Campo.

YPF argues that it negotiated with the provincial government to open up the oilfield, because it is the government that holds title to the land.

However, “we try to have the best possible relations with any superficiary or pseudo superficiary or occupant, in the areas where we work, Mapuches or not,” YPF-Neuquén’s manager of institutional relations, Federico Calífano, told IPS.

The families of Campo Maripe have not obtained title to their land yet, but they did score one major victory.

After protests that included chaining themselves to oil derricks, they got the provincial government to recognise them legally as a community in October.

“Registration as a legal entity leaves behind the official stance of denying the Mapuche indigenous identity, and now the consultation process will have to be carried out for any activity that affects the territory,” Micaela Gomiz, with the Observatory of Human Rights of the Indigenous Peoples of Patagonia (ODHPI), stated in a communiqué released by that organisation.

According to ODHIP, as of 2013 there were 347 Mapuche people charged with “usurpation” and trespassing on land, including 80 lawsuits filed in Neuquén and 60 cases in the neighbouring province of Río Negro.

In the case of Vaca Muerta, Jorge Nahuel, spokesman for the Mapuche Confederation of Neuquén, told IPS that the local indigenous communities were not consulted, as required by International Labor Organisation (ILO) Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which Argentina ratified 25 years ago.

Convention 169 requires prior consultation of local indigenous communities before any project is authorized on their land.

“What the state should do before granting concessions to land is to reach an agreement with the community over whether or not it is willing to accept such an enormous change of lifestyle,” he said.

Furthermore, said Nahuel, “the company should respect our constitutionally recognised right to participate in the management of natural resources. Those rights have been completely violated by the oil company’s arrival.”

The Mapuche leader said similar violations are committed in the soy and mining industries. “Indigenous people are seen as just another element of nature and as such they are trampled on,” he complained.

In this South American country of 42 million, nearly one million people identified themselves as indigenous in the last census, carried out in 2010. Most of them belong to the Mapuche and Colla communities, and live in Neuquén and two other provinces.

Nahuel noted that of nearly 70 Neuquén indigenous communities, only 10 percent hold legal title to their land.

“The logic followed by the state is that the weaker the documentation of land tenure, the greater the legal security enjoyed by the company,” he said. “It’s a perverse logic because what they basically believe is that by keeping us without land titles for decades, it will be easier for the companies to invade our territory.”

Some have cast doubt on the real interests of the Mapuche.

Luis Sapag, a lawmaker of the Neuquén Popular Movement, triggered the controversy last year when he remarked that “some of them have been doing good business…YPF didn’t go to the Mapuches’ land to set up shop….some Mapuches went to put their houses where YPF was operating, to get this movement started.”

“Until Loma Campana was developed, there were never any demands or complaints from a Mapuche community,” said YPF Neuquén’s manager of unconventional resources, Pablo Bizzotto, during a visit by IPS and correspondents from other international news outlets to the oilfield in the southwestern province of Neuquén.

Nahuel compared that reasoning to “the arguments used by the state when it invaded Mapuche territory, saying this was a desert, we got here, and then indigenous people showed up making demands and claims.

“They’re using the same logic here – first they raze a territory, and then they say: ‘But what is it that you’re demanding? We hadn’t even seen you people before’,” he said.

Nahuel said the production of shale gas and oil, an industry in which Argentina is becoming a global leader, poses “a much greater threat” than the production of conventional fossil fuels, which he said “already left pollution way down in the soil, and among all of the Mapuche families in the area.”

“It is an industry that has a major environmental and social – and even worse for us, cultural – impact, because it breaks down community life and destroys the collective relationship that we have with this territory, and has turned us into ‘superficiaries’ for the industry,” Nahuel said.

He added that as the drilling moves ahead, the conflicts will increase.

He said the country’s new law on fossil fuels, in effect since Oct. 31, will aggravate the problems because “it serves the corporations by ensuring them the right to produce for 50 years.”

The logko, Campo, said: “When YPF pulls out there will be no future left for the Mapuche people. What they are leaving us here is only pollution and death.”

Fabiana Frayssinet|Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez|Translated by Stephanie Wildes

Enbridge, TransCanada Play Dirty to Get Tar Sands Oil Across U.S. Border

In a narrow victory for common sense, yesterday the Senate rejected an attempt to legislate approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Senators like California’s Barbara Boxer, Hawaii’s Brian Schatz and Virginia’s Tim Kaine stood up as environmental champions and deserve our thanks for their leadership. But since the beginning, the decision on the pipeline has belonged to President Obama, so there’s no good reason for the Senate to have wasted time on trying to circumvent the approval process.

More than 12,000 people showed up to circle the White House on Nov. 6, 2011 in a call to President Obama to reject the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Photo credit: Sierra Club

The bigger issue, though, is that there’s no good reason to support Canadian tar sands expansion, much less allow more dirty tar sands oil into our country. Even though everything about tar sands oil is destructive, dirty and dangerous, oil companies (and their champions on the Hill) are determined to bring as much of it as they can across our border, even if it means bending, breaking or changing the rules. TransCanada failed this week to get the Senate to do an end run, but another tar sands company, Enbridge, has been having more success in a different branch of government.

Enbridge somehow has convinced the State Department to approve its Keystone XL-sized tar sands pipeline expansion. That’s right, this is the same company responsible for the largest onshore oil spill in U.S. history, which contaminated 35 miles of Michigan waterways and wetlands in 2010 with diluted bitumen from tar sands. If Enbridge’s expansion of its Alberta Clipper pipeline goes through, the increase in tar sands exports will be equivalent to building 20 new coal-fired power plants.

How did this happen? Enbridge had applied to the State Department to expand the Alberta Clipper back in 2012, which was necessary because, like Keystone XL, the pipe would cross our border with Canada. Since then, the State Department has been going through the environmental review process required by law before making a decision. But Enbridge got tired of waiting. Tar sands producers aren’t in it for the long haul—they’re eager to cash in while their extreme oil is still economically viable.

So in June, Enbridge sent a letter to the State Department informing it that it had decided to immediately move forward with the Alberta Clipper expansion without waiting for the State Department to complete its review. It would do an end run around the law by diverting the flow of tar sands oil to an adjacent, 1960s-era pipeline called “Line 3″ just before it reaches the international border, and then back to Alberta Clipper once it was across the border. Enbridge asserted that the State Department’s jurisdiction was limited to the actual border crossing, so the State Department could do nothing to stop it.

Give them points for chutzpah. But, in fact, the State Department has jurisdiction over the entire border, including Line 3. Both pipelines operate under the permission of the State Department. The permits for both pipelines prohibit these kinds of operational changes, and the State Department has the authority to revoke or terminate either permit at any time. Not surprisingly, Enbridge also ignored that the State Department’s job is to evaluate whether increased tar sands oil imports into the U.S. are in our national interest, including climate impacts. Just last week, the White House reaffirmed that it is “firmly committed” to that process, which is why we expect President Obama to veto any future legislative attempts to shove Keystone XL down our throats.

Not everyone in his administration, though, seems to have gotten that message, because in July the State Department replied to Enbridge’s blatant attempt to avoid the Alberta Clipper permitting process by agreeing that the expansion could go forward.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, this is not the first time that the State Department’s ties to the oil industry have raised eyebrows. Twice it has ignored its own conflict-of-interest procedures and come under fire for hiring oil-industry groups to write the environmental impact statements for Keystone XL. The resulting reports naturally downplayed Keystone XL’s negative impacts despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In this case, it appears that the State Department privately met with Enbridge to discuss this new scheme as far back as June 3, yet nothing was disclosed to the public until almost three months later. In addition, the State Department has refused to disclose crucial permitting documents despite Sierra Club requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

That’s why the Sierra Club, together with a coalition of environmental and tribal allies, has filed a lawsuit challenging Enbridge’s illegal scheme to nearly double the amount of tar sands coming across our border, while avoiding public review and the presidential permit process.

Once again, though, it’s important to remember that the stakes extend far beyond the approval of any single pipeline—whether it’s proposed by Enbridge or TransCanada. We should be looking for ways to avoid—not encourage—extreme oil sources.

Michael Brune|Executive Director|Sierra Club|November 20, 2014

Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship has been indicted!

On Nov. 13, a federal grand jury indicted former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, alleging that he “conspired to commit and cause routine violations of mandatory federal mine safety standards at Massey’s Upper Big Branch-South mine.” See the indictment here.

Blankenship could face up to 31 years in prison for the three felonies and one misdemeanor that he’s charged with. The charges are that he conspired to violate federal mine safety standards, that he conspired to defraud the US Mine Safety and Health Administration by advance notice of inspections, that he made false statements to the US Securities and Exchange Commission, and that he made false statements to the investing public. Blankenship is being arraigned today at 1:00 PM in Beckley.

With Blankenship’s past history of funding political campaigns, you’d think that he would have put a lot of money into the recent election. But the folks at Republic Report found that there was only one federal candidate that he donated to: $2,600 to Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma. So we emailed Sen. Inhofe and suggested that he should return that money to the community that suffered so much to provide it.

Vernon Haltom|CRMW|11/20/14

See How your State is Doing in the Clean Energy Effort

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Shining a Light on Women Leaders in the Power Industry

Meet the three finalists for the POWER-GEN 2014 Women of the Year Award, the winner of which will be announced next month.

TULSA, Okla. and NASHUA, N.H., — In early 2013, a group of women, dubbed the Women in Power committee, assembled in Orlando, Florida to figure out how to honor women who have dedicated their careers to the power industry. The industry is male-dominated with men making up more than 75 percent of the workforce, according to estimates.

The Women in Power committee believed that it was important to give recognition to the pioneering women who have worked to advance the power industry. To do this, the committee aksed power industry stakeholders to nominate women they admired for a Woman of the Year Award, which would be given out at POWER-GEN International. To judge the nominees, the committee came up with three focus areas. 2014 is the second year for this award.

The first and most important accomplishment that the committee believed a potential Power-Gen Woman of the Year should have made is advancing the power industry. In addition, the committee judged nominees by their leadership abilities, as well as their ability to collaborate with, influence, and mentor others. Finally, the committee believed that a potential Power-Gen Woman of the Year should impact her community through industry associations and other organizations. After four months of collecting nominations, the 19-member committee voted on the nominees and came up with three finalists, who are described below.

One of these women will be named the Power-Gen 2014 Woman of the Year at the annual awards banquet on Monday, Dec. 8, which takes place at the Disney’s Odyssey Pavilion at Epcot in Orlando, Fla. The banquet is part of the POWER-GEN International Conference and Exhibition and the co-located NUCLEAR POWER International Conference and Exhibition, Renewable Energy World Conference & Exhibition, North America and the Power-Gen Financial Forum.

The 2014 Power-Gen Woman of the Year will give a keynote speech during the Women in Power Luncheon on Tuesday, December 9 at the Orange County Convention Center also as part of the co-located conferences.

Here’s a look at the finalists:

Diane Drehoff – “I like to be a trailblazer…I like to be first.”

Throughout her 42-year history in the Power Supply industry, Diane Drehoff has been part of many “firsts.” She was the first woman in Westinghouse to call on an electric utility for Power Systems equipment. She was the first employee in Westinghouse to be nominated for and selected to be an IEEE Congressional Fellow. And she led the Westinghouse Power Generation business to become the first US Power Generation business unit certified to ISO 9001 Quality Standards.

Her interest in power plants started when she was 10 years old. “My dad was a generation account representative for Westinghouse in Oklahoma City. One Saturday, he got a call from the plant personnel over at the OG&E Belle Isle power station, a small 15-MW turbine. I guess that my dad had child care duty that day, so he took me and my sister with him to go over and talk to the plant people about an issue they were experiencing. When you are 10 years old, a turbine generator, even one that is only 15 MW, is an impressive sight. I was fascinated by the size and complexity of all of the piping and  components that I saw and was quite interested in understanding just how all of that equipment could produce electricity.”

This initial spark of interest in power generation led to her Electrical Engineering degree from Stanford. She joined Westinghouse out of college where she worked in diverse areas such as sales representative, generation projects manager, and director of total quality for power generation. Says Drehoff of her early years in the industry, “I was very excited to be selected as a spokesperson in 1980 for a balanced energy equation in the U.S. I had the opportunity to talk to media across the country about the need to support all types of energy sources including solar, wind, gas, coal and nuclear. I felt this was an important message for Americans to understand and support.”

For many years there were very few women entering the power industry as a profession; Drehoff was always quite visible in terms of her performance and overcoming apprehensions about women in the business. She adopted a posture of being just one of the team and never felt that she was treated differently than male associates. She was a model for putting her customers’ needs as the highest priority and rallying the team she worked with to go the extra mile to provide the best service possible. During her career Drehoff has experienced at least a half a dozen major power plant failures that required extensive repairs and replacements. In each case, she was able to provide leadership and creative solutions that resulted in successful and timely restoration of those units to service.

Drehoff’s years of experience and success both at Westinghouse and at Siemens have made her one of only a few women in the company who have achieved a top leadership position. Her diverse background and industry experience have enabled her to have a clear understanding of today’s power industry needs and to steer the Siemens service products and offerings in a direction that enhances the performance of the power industry assets she serves. She was recently a featured speaker in the Women of Siemens series, where she spoke to a global audience of 300 women and men about her career and the lessons she has learned throughout her 42 years of work experience. She was able to reach employees in Europe and Asia and has been contacted by many of her listeners to give further perspectives on their career paths. Drehoff gives her time and effort to coaching and mentoring early career professionals to encourage rewarding careers in the power industry. She is currently a mentor for the Women Unlimited Lead program in the Orlando, Florida area, a program for women of diverse companies and locations which focuses on women identified to be candidates for executive roles.

Of her illustrious career, she says, “I have always taken pride in being very proactive in providing services to our power customers that maximize their ability to be online providing power to their customers. I am completely committed to being a 24 hours per day, 365 days per year support team for the power industry.”

Colleen Layman – She truly demonstrates and lives the Society of Women Engineers tagline, “Aspire, Advance, Achieve.”

Colleen Layman has over 20 years of experience in the engineering design, construction, commissioning and operation of power generating facilities. Currently as a vice president  and the industrial water principal at HDR, Layman works closely with HDR engineers across the country. She is also the boiler chemistry expert within the power generation group at HDR. Working in the power industry, a traditionally male-dominated field, for the past 20 years has been both a challenge as well as an opportunity in her experience. Layman says: “For much of my career, I have been the only woman in the meeting room, a situation that I have grown to be comfortable with over the last 20 years, but a situation nonetheless that I continue to hope will become less and less frequent. Over the years after walking into many construction trailers at power plant sites that were full of men, I have learned that I can choose to allow my solo female status to be a benefit to me or a detriment. Being the only woman (or one of only a very few women) in the room or at a meeting, the others at the meeting will tend to remember me after that meeting simply based on that solo status. How they will remember me, what impression they will have of my skills or expertise is in my power to control and is where I can use ‘being the lone woman in the room’ to my advantage.“

Layman has been an integral leader with the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) since the year 2000 and is currently serving on the Society Board of Directors as president-elect of the organization, which boasts a membership of nearly 30,000 worldwide. “The desire for female mentors is probably one of the most fundamental reasons that I originally joined SWE and a key reason for my continued involvement. Through SWE I have had the opportunity to network and connect with other women in many different industries, but with similar work-related challenges and experiences. These women have become my support system — they answer the questions that often male mentors simply can’t and provide understanding and advice when I feel overwhelmed, need a confidence boost to give something new a try, or just want someone to listen. They have also instilled in me the importance of paying it forward and mentoring other women (and men) coming up in the ranks behind me, something that I greatly enjoy doing.” As part of her SWE activities Layman takes part annually in Congressional visits organized by the SWE Government Relations and Public Policy Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. where she meets one-on-one with elected U.S. officials to increase awareness of the need for and the importance of increased diversity and inclusion in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce.

Layman’s path into engineering had an unusual start. “I was really unaware of what engineering was until my senior year of high school. My calculus teacher, Sister Socorro, approached me in the hallway between classes one day and asked the question many high school seniors dread “What are you planning to do after you graduate?” My response was a simple one that I expect she heard many times during her career, “Sister, I don’t know.” Her response was simply that she believed that I was going to be an engineer. Of course, since I didn’t know very much about what an engineer actually did, I just looked at her with a rather blank stare. But she took the time that afternoon, and several more afternoons over the next couple of months, to explain to me what an engineer did and why she thought that engineering was the perfect career for me. I listened and was probably not 100 percent convinced, but I trusted her and followed her recommendations on what to major in and what schools to apply to. And, thankfully I followed her guidance as she was 100 percent right; today I cannot imagine being happy doing anything else. She was a tough teacher, but I remember her fondly for taking the time to get to know me and direct my skills and interests in the right direction.”

“Be yourself, be authentic” is the best lesson that Layman ever learned. “To succeed you need to be comfortable and confident in your own skin; pretending to be something that you are not, for instance pretending to be ‘one of the boys’ at work, is counterproductive and does not lend to doing your best work or being happy doing that work. Organizations also derive the most value from diversity when people feel comfortable to be themselves and to voice their opinions and ideas freely. I can contribute more to the success of my organization, and in turn be more successful myself, if I don’t censor my ideas based on what I think others in the group will accept or want to hear.

Throughout Layman’s 21-year career in the Power Industry, she has provided leadership to her project teams, quality engineering to her clients, and inspiration to young men and women aspiring to become engineers.

Mary Powell – “I can’t imagine a better time to be in [the Energy] business.”

Since Mary Powell began working at Green Mountain Power (GMP), she has transformed the organization, turning it from a business almost in bankruptcy into one of the leading utilities in Vermont and the nation. Currently CEO of GMP, Powell recognized early on that customers ideally want their energy to be three things: reliable, clean, and low cost. Powell’s vision was to achieve these three goals, and she has persevered and moved forward by energizing and inspiring her team to build upon her vision. Her commitment to renewable energy was far ahead of the curve for the utility industry, and many of the programs that were initiated by her leadership have now become standard requirements. By owning wind and solar systems, GMP is able to control costs more effectively and therefore pass these savings onto its customers. GMP now owns two wind projects and several solar projects throughout the state, and more projects are in development by GMP and with development partners. Powell recognized the value of customers generating their own solar energy and wanted to reward them for doing so. This reimbursement program kicked off net metering solar within the state, and GMP was a leader in this. It was also important to Powell that it was easy for customers to easily navigate the permitting and interconnection process. She spent significant time creating an efficient process for customers to remove any process roadblocks that would discourage customers.

Of her early years, Powell says, “I grew up in a theatrical home and went to a specialized high school for the arts. I actually believe that my training in the arts is a key part of what has fostered any leadership success I have had. Thinking broadly and colorfully about the possibilities ahead of us has been a key part of what has inspired me and helped me to work with teams to achieve transformational work.” Powell has consistently bucked the traditional utility culture. She has moved GMP forward as one of the leading utilities in the nation by creating a culture focused on being “fast, fun, and effective.” She believes people are at their best when they are having fun. The GMP Colchester office has an open floor with Powell right up front and center in her standing desk near the front door. There are no gatekeepers needed to speak to her, and she is often found reaching out to speak to her employees. Although there are over 600 individuals who work at GMP in multiple offices throughout the state, Powell has made it a priority to get to know everyone.

“I have been a non-engineer in an engineering world and I think that part of my success has been in developing a deep appreciation and understanding of the technical aspects of our business but, at the same time, looking at them from a perspective of possibilities.” She is often heard saying that a thousand conversations are what make a difference. Without knowing her employees or customers, Powell wouldn’t be able to learn what she needs to know in order to lead the team. Her down-to-earth and compassionate spirit lends well to this type of leadership style, and by casual discussions with employees, colleagues, and even customers, she is able to learn from her stakeholders and share her vision for GMP. This also leads to spur-of-the-moment mentoring on Powell’s part, and she often forms informal groups to discuss topics such as women in leadership roles and work/life balance. Through open dialogue she inspires and mentors all those who work around her.

One of her most important lessons learned is “you will never lose if you focus on doing what you believe in and bringing your authentic self to your work. It is so important that we have a “north star” that guides us and anchors us, when needed, to what we know we believe and value and to what we would love to see accomplished.”

As Powell looks forward toward the rest of her career she says: “I am so excited about the possibilities of radically transforming our energy delivery system to one that is much more interactive with customers and communities. We recently launched a partnership with NRG that I am convinced will have transformative results and I see unlimited possibilities for adding value to the lives of the customers we serve, the economy and the environment.”

Robynn Andracsek|Contributor|November 20, 2014  

Land Conservation

Florida DEP Executes 10 Land and Water Conservation Fund Contracts

TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has executed 10 Land and Water Conservation Fund contracts in nine counties. The projects were approved by the United States Department of the Interior through the National Park Service and total more than $1.8 million.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is a federal competitive grant program, which provides matching grants to help local communities protect parks and develop recreational resources. The Land and Water Conservation Fund has benefited nearly every county in America, supporting more than 41,000 projects.

In Florida, eight of the 10 projects were funded at the maximum grant request of $200,000. The remaining two were funded at the applicant requested amounts of $175,000 and $50,000. The matching ratio is one applicant dollar to one federal dollar for all grant awards.

“Local governments recognize the importance of providing outdoor recreation options to their residents and utilize grant match programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund to invest in their community,” said Rick Mercer, director of DEP’s Office of Operations. “We are thrilled that these 10 projects are executed and we join the nation in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.”

From building hiking and biking trails, to improving community parks, playgrounds and ball fields, this grant-matching program is the primary federal investment tool to ensure families have easy access to public, open spaces.

Some examples of the projects funded in Florida during this cycle include:

• Construction of a playground/play area, nature trail, picnic pavilion, boardwalk, observation deck and related facilities including parking and signage at Keaton Beach Coastal Park, Taylor County;
• Construction of an observation deck with walkway access, picnic pavilions and shelters, kayak and canoe launch, horseshoe court, and other related facilities at Legacy Park in the city of Venice, Sarasota County; and
• Development of an expanded pedestrian trail, a floating boat dock, an off-road bike trail, restroom renovations, an expanded parking lot and other related facilities at Hampton Pines Park in the city of North Lauderdale, Broward County.

The Land and Recreation Grants Section within the Bureau of Financial Management administers the Land and Water Conservation Fund on behalf of the U.S. Department of the Interior and National Park Service. Eligible participants include all local governmental entities with the legal responsibility for the provision of outdoor recreational sites and facilities for the use and benefit of the public.

Randall|FDEP|November 14th, 2014

EPA working on new permit rules to better protect wetlands

The Environmental Protection Agency is working on new development regulations aimed at reducing the loss of wetlands in areas such as Southwest Florida.

“We’re trying to protect stream systems, specifically those stream systems that have connectivity to downstream waters,” said Thomas McGill, chief of Wetlands Coastal and Ocean branch for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Waters near rivers and streams are protected (under the proposed rule).”

Dozens of residents, politicians, scientists from EPA and FGCU met at the Harborside Event Center Tuesday to discuss federal permits and loss of wetlands in Southwest Florida.

EPA’s new rule will look at what waters are considered to be waters of the United States — systems protected under the Clean Water Act. It’s meant to clear up confusion between EPA — which comments on environmental impacts — and the Army Corps, the permit issuing agency.

That confusion has led to the loss of some wetlands in Southwest Florida and across the country.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a report this year that says Lee County lost 8.7 percent of its wetlands, and Collier has lost 3 percent over a six-year period. Southwest Florida is considered one of the “hot spots” in the nation for wetland loss.

Fifty percent or more of wetlands in Lee and Collier have been lost since 1850, and, despite federal laws and regulations designed to protect those wetlands, the loss continues.

“In the ’80s and early ’90s, people started realizing that what happens upstream effects downstream,” said Win Everham, an FGCU ecology professor. “What we used to have were seasonal wetlands all over the landscape, and we’ve replaced them with stormwater ponds. We’re becoming the land of 10,000 ponds.”

Brad Cornell, with Audubon Florida, compared historic maps of Florida’s uplands and wetlands to what the landscape looks like today. The old map shows uplands, seasonal wetlands, shallow wetlands, deep wetlands and lakes and rivers. The modern map looks like a gray grid.

“We have lost a lot of the uplands — they’ve been turned into retail and agriculture — and almost all of the shallow wetlands are gone,” said Brad Cornell, with Audubon Florida. “We’ve lost about 40 percent since 1850, and 70 percent of the shallow wetlands. And it has a consequence for life in Southwest Florida, whether you’re a bird or a human.”

In 1850, Audubon estimates there were 2.5 million wading birds in the Everglades system — which includes the Kissimmee River, Lake Okeechobee, Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park.

As of 1995, 90 percent of those birds were gone, and now an estimated 100,000 wading birds are all that’s left in South Florida.

The forum was hosted by the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, which held a similar lunch presentation Tuesday in Naples.

Conservancy Policy Director Jennifer Hecker said the public will be better off addressing these ecological issues now than in the future.

“It’s just going to add to the total price tag, because we’re going to have to do even more to restore those wetlands than if we do it now,” she said.

Lee County’s wetlands have been lost mostly to agriculture, mining and development.

Chad Gillis|news-press.com|October 15, 2014

Drakes Estero Closer to Wilderness

Legal Settlement Allows Park Service Marine Wilderness Restoration to Begin at Point Reyes

Today, the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the Drakes Bay Oyster Company announced a settlement agreement that will dismiss the oyster company’s failed litigation and assign clean-up costs for the mess caused by the company’s non-native oyster cultivation.

The settlement agreement follows four consecutive Federal court decisions that upheld DOI’s November 12 decision to let Drakes Bay Oyster Company’s lease expire as long planned, thereby protecting the West Coast’s first marine wilderness at Drakes Estero within Point Reyes National Seashore. The DOI and oyster company agrees that the settlement agreement “is fair, reasonable, and in the public interest.”

Most recently, the Supreme Court of the United States denied hearing the oyster company’s case. As of October 6, 2014, the company has had 22 extra months to plant, harvest, and sell its non-native oysters rent-free, thus profiting far beyond its November 2012 lease expiration.

Highlights of the settlement include:

Providing a date (December 31, 2014) by when Drakes Estero marine wilderness will be free from Drakes Bay Oyster Company’s business operations such as their daily use of noisy motorboats and placement of thousands of plastic oyster growing bags on sensitive wildlife habitat.

Providing Drakes Bay Oyster Company with another 3 months (25 months total since their lease expiration) to continue their business activities that damage and pollute the estuary and surrounding Seashore. Recently taken underwater video footage captures the significant plastic pollution and invasive species infestation from the oyster company’s operation that the company has neglected to clean up for years.

Transferring clean up responsibilities and costs from the oyster company to taxpayers. Per the leasing contracts it originally signed, the oyster company was legally required to clean up the estuary before its lease expired in November 2012, but today’s settlement unfortunately transfers that financial responsibility to all Americans who, through the National Park Service budget, will be forced to pick up the tab. Since it was formed in 2005, Drakes Bay Oyster Company reported annually that its clean-up costs would not exceed $10,000, yet it claimed the costs would be more than 50 times that ($600,000) when it filed a lawsuit against DOI.

Providing the oyster company’s employees with federal relocation assistance and allowing those employees who live on site to continue until at least March 31, 2015.

Statement by Amy Trainer, Executive Director, Environmental Action Committee of West Marin
“The settlement agreement is a very generous deal for the oyster company that will have had 25 months to operate rent-free since its lease expired. We are glad that Drakes Estero, a magnificent ecological treasure, is finally on its way to be restored to its wild, natural rhythm, free of non-native and invasive species.”

Statement by Neal Desai, Pacific Region Field Director, National Parks Conservation Association
“Americans have waited decades for the west coast’s first marine wilderness to be protected, and we are excited that nature will soon thrive in the ecological heart of the national park. Though the oyster company’s pollution and damage to the environment will unfortunately continue until the end of the year, Americans will soon have a newly restored marine wilderness to explore and be inspired by.”

Statement by Gordon Bennett, President, Save Our Seashore:
“I’m really glad that the battle to protect our Drakes Estero marine wilderness has finally come to a conclusion.”

San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center|November 2014 Guardian

Air Quality

New Report Shows EPA Must Cut Airlines’ Carbon Pollution

As Americans frantically calculate baggage fees for their Thanksgiving flights, a new report finds that the profitable airline industry isn’t cutting carbon pollution.

U.S. domestic airlines showed no fuel efficiency improvement last year, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation. That highlights the urgent need for EPA regulations. Aviation now accounts for about 11 percent of carbon emissions from the U.S. transportation sector, and emissions are rising 3 percent to 5 percent every year.

After the Center for Biological Diversity and others launched legal action against the EPA for ignoring the airlines’ huge contribution to global warming, two months ago the agency finally announced the start of the first step in the regulatory process.

“Airlines are banking sizeable profits even as they ignore fuel efficiency and emit more carbon pollution,” said the Center’s Vera Pardee. “To preserve a livable planet, we need the EPA to move quickly to fight this problem using the Clean Air Act. Our climate cannot take any further delay.”

Act now to urge the EPA to cut airplane carbon pollution.

Transportation

Gorgeous Glow-in-the-Dark Bike Path Goes Live

In many places, just getting a bike lane put in can be an uphill challenge. So a solar-powered illuminated bike lane seems like heaven.

But that’s just what you’ll find in Nuenen, the Netherlands, where Studio Roosegaarde has put in a short stretch of path (inspired by Van Gogh’s painting Starry Night) that indeed is ‘solar powered’ and totally beautiful. It [opened on] November 13 to the bike-riding and strolling public.

Roosegaard has been featured before at TreeHugger with their Smart Highway and Glowing Lines concepts, and last month a short stretch of road in the Netherlands opened with ‘Glowing Lines.’ This month Nuenen debuts the glowing bike lane, called the Roosegaard Van Gogh Bike Path. Embedded with twinkling mosaic chips coated with a special paint, the path absorbs light rays in the daytime in order to glow blue-green at night.

In addition to the thousands of embedded stones, the path glows with the aid of LED lights powered by a nearby solar array.

This special path is just a kilometer long, and is not only inspired by but also a tribute to Van Gogh, who lived in Nuenen for two years in 1883 to 1885. The 125th anniversary of Van Gogh’s death in 1890 is being celebrated with a number of events and exhibits in the Netherlands next year.

A.K. Streeter|TreeHugger|November 16, 2014

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.

Mexico City’s New Airport Will Be the Most Sustainable Airport in the World

Countries around the world are rushing to build hundreds of new airports or expanding current capacities to cope with surging demand for air travel. Mega airports not only lure tourism dollars they also modernize the image of a country.

Now in the latest developments, Mexico City plans to build one of the largest airports in the world, spanning over half a million square meters. The $9.2 billion international airport will also be the most sustainable airport ever built.

Mexico City has chosen renowned English architect Norman Foster (Foster+Partners) and Mexican architect Fernando Romero (FR-EE) to design this airport.

The Mexico City airport will not be like a group of average warehouse-like terminals

The entire structure will be under a single shell that lets in natural light and air, collects rainwater and provide incredible views of planes circling the sky.

This massive central hub under a single roof will be highly energy efficient

  • Since the whole airport function under single roof, the gates won’t require ancillary transportation between terminals and money need not to be spent on building tunnels.
  • Travelers will be able to easily walk between gates, making connections less bothersome and saving energy at the same time.
  • Solar panels will provide 50 megawatts of peak power, enough to supply a large portion of the airport’s energy.
  • The airport will also treat and recycle its own water.
  • Instead of using air conditioning, the airport will draw in fresh air from outside most of the time, taking advantage of Mexico City’s high elevation.

Nidhi Goyal|November 15th, 2014

Romanian Highway Boom Poses Looming Threat to Bears

Romania, one of Europe’s poorest nations, badly needs a modern highway system. But conservationists warn that unless the movements of wildlife are accommodated, a planned boom in road construction could threaten one of the continent’s last large brown bear populations.

Plans are advancing throughout Romania, following the country’s accession into the European Union and a renewed drive to modernize its economy and infrastructure — especially the underdeveloped transportation sector. This fall, the Romanian Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure released a master plan outlining a network of new roadways to be built over the next 15 years. The projects, which are intended to connect the remote Eastern European nation with the fast and efficient highway system crisscrossing the rest of Europe, will include 656 kilometers of new four-lane freeways and 2,226 kilometers of new four-lane “express roads,” costing an estimated total of $26 billion.

While conceding that highway construction will bring benefits to a nation struggling to expand its economy, conservationists fear that the road-building boom will fragment and irreparably damage one of the most remarkable wilderness regions remaining in Europe and threaten its thriving populations of brown bears and other wildlife, including wolves and lynx. Historically, the Carpathian Mountains, which arc from Poland and Ukraine south and west through Romania, have been spared the sort of intensive development and human activity that have tamed most of Europe. Hunting in Romania was also strictly controlled during the Communist era.

As a result, the country still harbors a large number of brown bears. The government estimates a population of 6,000, but Csaba Domokos and other scientists say that the methods currently used to count bears are inaccurate. Whether the population is growing or shrinking remains a matter of dispute.

What is beyond debate is that Romania’s bear population is thriving compared to the isolated bear populations of Europe. Only 15 or 20 brown bears are believed to live in southern France, 150 in Spain, and several dozen in central Italy. The British Isles and much of central and northern Europe are bear-free. Current estimates put another handful in the Alps. A dozen other nations from Norway to Greece together harbor about 6,000.

Conservationists warn that if the Romanian highway projects proceed without environmental safeguards, populations of bears and other animals will inevitably decline.

It is feared that the road-building boom will irreparably damage a remarkable wilderness.

[This is an excerpt of an article by Alastair Bland, a freelance writer who reports on wildlife, fisheries, agriculture and food. He contributes to NPR, Smithsonian, and several California magazines and newspapers. He lives in San Francisco. Florida is not alone when it comes to environmental damage.]

Recycling

Commentary: Recycling is smart business for Florida’s environment

We all play a role in protecting Florida’s environment.

Each one of us can do something — no matter how big or small — to protect and preserve the precious natural resources that make our state so unique.

That’s an important message to remember as we celebrated Florida Recycles Day with a special event at the Capitol on Tuesday. The responsibility for protecting our state’s environment falls on all of us.

The Florida Legislature has reminded us of our recycling responsibilities by establishing a goal of reaching a 75 percent recycling rate for municipal solid waste in the state by the year 2020. That includes waste generated by residential, commercial and institutional sources. On the path to that 75-percent benchmark, the state’s recycling rate in 2013 reached 49 percent — a 1 percent increase from 2012. Another slight climb to 50 percent by the end of 2014 remains the target.

The state Department of Environmental Protection is encouraged by these recycling numbers. Part of our excitement is seeing an increase in the amount of construction and demolition waste collected — a sure sign that businesses in this industry throughout the state are joining everyday citizens in taking their recycling responsibilities seriously.

One of those construction companies doing its part to help Florida reach its recycling goals is Tallahassee-based Mad Dog Construction. DEP recognized Mad Dog on Tuesday as part of our “Recycling Recognition” program.

This is a program that recognizes businesses large and small for complying with the recycling benchmarks established by the Legislature. In the past year, DEP has also honored the Miami Marlins baseball organization and Florida State University for their recycling efforts as well as smaller businesses throughout the state.

DEP firmly believes there is no way the Legislature’s recycling goals will be met without a substantial increase in the commercial sector, which includes public and private businesses and institutions.

Seeing smaller businesses like Mad Dog and Tallahassee’s Native Nurseries recognized — as well as the Tallahassee location of the Earth Fare franchise — is an encouraging sign that the recycling message is resonating in the business community.

It’s also encouraging to note that more than 70 businesses across the state — from corporate giants to smaller, mom-and-pop operations — have applied for the “Recycling Recognition” program or taken steps to improve their recycling efforts so they can qualify for the honor.

But we know more must be done in the coming years before the state reaches its recycling goal.

That’s why Tuesday’s Florida Recycles Day at the Capitol was an event worth celebrating. We must continue to share success stories in the business community from across the state to encourage others to join the effort.

As we know, we all play a role in protecting Florida’s environment, but some can play a bigger role than others.

Cliff Wilson|deputy secretary of regulatory programs|Florida Department of Environmental Protection|Nov. 18, 2014

EPA Regional Administrator Tours Duluth Composting Facility, Highlights the Benefits of Reducing Food Waste

(DULUTH, MINN. – November 20, 2014) U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Susan Hedman highlighted the environmental benefits of diverting food waste from landfills today at the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District’s composting facility.

“The Western Lake Superior Sanitary District’s innovative composting program provides a terrific example of how we can turn food waste into a valuable asset, save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Hedman said.

In 2012, U.S. residents threw away nearly 35 million tons of food. Food waste accounts for about 20 percent of the material in U.S. landfills. Decomposing food in landfills releases methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

WLSSD turns food scraps and yard waste from homes and businesses into high-quality compost, which can be added to soil to help plants grow. Making compost keeps food waste out of landfills. WLSSD also works with businesses to reduce the amount of food waste generated and encourages any surplus edibles to be donated to local programs to feed the hungry.

“Our successful composting program would not be possible without the sincere commitment of our region’s business community and residents,” said Heidi Ringhofer, WLSSD director of solid waste services. “We are all working together to reduce the amount of food that is wasted, and to use the resources that might otherwise be lost in landfills. We manage the waste locally, and the benefits of the recovered resources are enjoyed locally—improved soils, less environmental impact and reduced cost of our services.” 

WLSSD processes nearly 8,000 tons of organic materials diverted from landfills each year. Nearly 200 businesses and institutions in the Duluth-Hermantown-Cloquet area divert food through feeding programs and to the composting facility. WLSSD also operates food scrap collection sites for area residents and small businesses. Through its composting program, WLSSD produces nearly 2,500 cubic yards of bulk and bagged Garden Green Compost, which is sold directly to the public and to regional garden centers.

A third of the food grown, harvested, and purchased in the United States is thrown away, which costs the average family of four $1,600 every year. In addition, 25 percent of the nation’s freshwater supplies go toward growing food that is never eaten.

For more information about food recovery: http://www.epa.gov/foodrecovery/

Joshua Singer| USEPA

DEP Celebrates Florida Recycles Day with Three Recycling Recognition Awards

~Multiple companies prove their commitment to long-term recycling efforts~

Florida Recycles Day 2014 celebrates the statewide determination of businesses and residents to ensure recycling is a top priority throughout daily life. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection inducted three businesses into the Recycling Recognition Program for demonstrating their commitment to Florida’s aggressive recycling goals.

“Recycling has become a necessity to Florida’s environmental future,” said Division of Waste Management Director Jorge Caspary. “The commercial sector has a tremendous opportunity to build upon this culture, and we want every business to see the advantages of integrating recycling into their daily operations.”

Native Nurseries, Mad Dog Construction and Earth Fare’s Tallahassee location were all rewarded for their strong recycling efforts. Each business has proven it is actively recycling greater than the Recycling Recognition Program’s standard of 40 percent of its total solid waste.

The awards were presented at the state Capitol during the Florida Recycles Day celebration. The Florida Recycling Partnership hosted business attendees including Publix, Coca-Cola and Aeris Apparel. Additionally, this event was attended by numerous recycling advocate groups including the Florida Recyclers Association, National Waste & Recycling Association, and Sustainable Florida.

“Native Nurseries has always strived to recycle, and we always try to spread the word of recycling through our business,” says Norma Skaggs, a 24-year senior employee and recycling enthusiast. “We’ve been on the recycling bandwagon for a long time and hope that this trend continues into the future.”

“Mad Dog Construction has always been concerned about, and has gone to great lengths to be a responsible steward of, the environment,” said Mad Dog Construction Co-Owner and Senior Vice President Kelly Dozier. “As recycling in Florida has become more available, Mad Dog Construction has taken advantage of every opportunity to reduce waste from our projects and our office. We are honored to be recognized by DEP for our recycling efforts.”

“Earth Fare is honored to accept this award,” said Carlie Fair, Regional Marketing Manager. “We are always looking for ways to do our part in the community, recycling is a simple way we can help make a difference.”

Commercial municipal solid waste accounts for approximately 55 percent of the total municipal solid waste stream in Florida. In order for Florida to reach 75 percent by 2020, a goal established by the Florida Legislature in 2008, the department is urging all sectors, especially the commercial sector, to actively increase its recycling efforts. According to the 2013 data, only 51 percent of commercial waste is being recycled. It is crucial that businesses, schools and other commercial recyclers increase their recycling efforts. Recycling provides a direct cost savings to most businesses because the more that is recycled, the less waste and lower waste-management operating costs. Reuse of materials can also represent a cost savings.

“The only way Florida is going to achieve a higher recycling rate is for the commercial sector to do its part,” said Keyna Cory, executive director for the Florida Recycling Partnership. “The partnership’s mission is to educate policy makers and the general public about the benefits of recycling and how it can be profitable.”

The department has an easy tool for companies to track their recycling efforts — the Florida DEP Business Recycling Tracking Tool. Through the website, which includes free registration, companies can track different types of recycling efforts and produce reports on how those efforts are helping to shrink their carbon footprint. The tracking will help the department to recognize companies that are doing more to go green. For more information about the Recycling Recognition Program click here.

latashawalters|November 20, 2014

Miscellaneous

One of Nation’s Top Wilderness Rangers Retiring: 

For 35 years, the Mission Mountains Wilderness in Montana has been under the care of dedicated wilderness ranger Kari Gunderson. According to an article in the Missoulian, “Gunderson has logged an average 1,500 miles of hiking Mission Mountains trails every year – enough to lap the equator twice.” She’s described as having unmatched field abilities and her work and attitude exemplify a strong wilderness ethic. She is quoted, “’I don’t know how many people would notice or care about the incremental creep of a place becoming less wild…It takes 35 years of watching.’” Gunderson is retiring this year, but before she leaves her position, she will inventory the area’s wilderness characteristics. Read more here.

10,000+ food additives are allowed in the US. Here are 12 you seriously need to avoid.

Not every additive in processed foods is harmful or dangerous, but these dozen dirty food additives might be cause for concern.

The magic of food science has had a huge positive effect on our modern food systems and markets, by allowing foods to be preserved longer, to taste better, to look better, to feel better, to be nutritious, and to be easier to prepare.

Sure, it would probably be better for all of us to eat foods that are sourced close to home, prepared from simple basic ingredients, and served right after preparation, much as our ancestors did in recent history. But to imagine that every single one of us wants to do that, or knows how to, or has the time, is quite idealistic, and the huge aisles of prepared and processed foods at the grocery store bear testament to the fact that many of us just want to buy the food, not make it.

To supply people with all of these ‘food products’, the food industry has been developing a full toolkit of food additives that can do everything from change the flavor or consistency of a food to make it last for years and years without going bad.

Unfortunately, in with the some 10,000 food additives that are currently allowed and being used in foods in the US are some bad characters, which are either linked to serious health issues, are possibly cause for concern, or are banned or restricted in other countries. If you regularly eat processed foods, which is probably most of us at least part of the time, how can you know which food additives are safe to ingest, and which ones ought to be avoided?

The food companies certainly won’t tell you, and any country whose regulations allow for 10,000 kinds of food additives to be served to their population isn’t going to be very forthright about it, but thanks to the work of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), we now have a list of 12 ‘legal’ food additives that we ought to avoid.

According to the most recent research by EWG, here are their “Dirty Dozen” food additives:

1. Nitrites and nitrates
2. Potassium bromate
3. Propyl paraben
4. Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)
5. Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)
6. Propyl gallate
7. Theobromine
8.
Secret flavor ingredients
9. Artificial colors
10. Diacetyl
11. Phosphate-based food additives (Watch List)
12. Aluminum-based additives (Watch List)

Some of these food additives are probable human carcinogens (nitrites), others are known endocrine disruptors (Propyl paraben), some are linked to a severe respiratory condition (diacetyl), and others are just plain ambiguous in origin (artificial colors and flavoring ingredients). EWG has links to a full breakdown on each of these dubious food additives at their Dirty Dozen page, and for on-the-go reference, the organization’s Food Scores app or web database offers guidance in avoiding these in your diet.

Derek Markham|Living|Green Food|November 12, 2014

10+ Naturalist Resources for Identifying Wildlife

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 1114B

I have no doubt that we will be successful in harnessing the sun’s energy…. If sunbeams were weapons of war, we would have had solar energy centuries ago. ~Sir George Porter

 

Announcements

Help Amazon. Smile Smile on us

  Amazon.com has a shopping site, http://smile.amazon.com, that will donate 0.5% of the price of your eligible purchases to the charity of your choice.

If you select Broward County Audubon Society, our parent group, you will be providing a service to South Florida Audubon Society

that will help us to provide more and more effective service to you, our members, and to our community.

Remember, if you want Amazon to donate to Broward County Audubon Society Inc, you need to start each shopping session at the URL http://smile.amazon.com  and we will donate 0.5% of the price of your eligible purchases.

Of Interest to All

How Eagles Deal with Turbulence Could Save Airline Passengers’ Lives

Pilot error is the number one cause of plane crashes, accounting for just over 50% of total accidents, according to statistics dating back to the 1950′s up to the present.  Mechanical failure comes in second, at 20% of accidents, with weather third at 12%.

Much has been done to reduce accidents due to pilot error and new designs and technology are always under development in order to reduce mechanical failures. But dealing with weather is not an area that has had a lot of research until recently.

A team at Oxford University is studying the “collapsible wings” found in eagles and other birds as a way to develop a better understanding of how to help planes cope with air turbulence. The team fitted an eagle named Cossack with a camera and flight recorder and monitored 45 flights in windy conditions, when Cossack would often collapse his wings in response to strong gusts rather than holding them out, like an aircraft.

Data from the device showed that when Cossack would experience a significant loss of lift when flying through a pocket of turbulence. He would tuck his wings in, streamlining his body to pick up speed and better respond to unpredictable wind patterns.

In a paper published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, Graham Taylor of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology wrote:

Our evidence suggests that wing-tucking (collapsing the wings) is a direct response to a substantial loss of lift that occurs when a bird flies through a pocket of atmospheric turbulence. We think that, rather like the suspension on a car, birds use this technique to damp the potentially damaging jolting caused by turbulence. Whilst we won’t see large aircraft adopting collapsible wings this kind of technique could potentially be used to keep micro air vehicles aloft even in very windy conditions.’

David Russell Schilling|November 4th, 2014

In surprise move, US, China agree to limit greenhouse gases

President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed Wednesday that their countries would limit greenhouse gas emissions.

The historic, unexpected deal commits each country to far-reaching goals to cap greenhouse gas emissions believed to cause climate change.

The United States will cut its emissions between 26 percent and 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, the White House said.

It is the first time the U.S. has agreed to cuts greater than the 17 percent reduction Obama set as a goal in 2009.

China agreed that its emissions of Earth-warming gases would peak by 2030 or earlier, according to the White House.

Xi’s end of the deal represents the first time China has made any pledge to stop its rapidly growing greenhouse gas pollution, the highest of any country in the world. China has resisted calls to cut emissions, saying that as a developing country the pollution is necessary to its growth.

In a joint press conference with Xi in Beijing, Obama emphasized the historic nature of the pact and the impact on the world as a whole.

“As the world’s two largest economies, energy consumers and emitters of greenhouse gases, we have a special responsibility to lead the global effort against climate change,” he said.

He called the U.S. commitment “an ambitious goal, but it is an achievable goal,” that would help public health and the economy while creating jobs and providing many other benefits.

“This is a major milestone in the U.S.-China relationship and it shows what’s possible when we work together on an urgent global challenge,” Obama said.

He was also clear that he and Xi hope to put pressure on other major countries to come forth with deep emissions reduction plans.

“By making this announcement today, together, we hope to encourage all major economies to be ambitious,” he said.

The announcement from the White House came as part of Obama’s trip to China, which included agreements over tariffs, military conflict and visas. It was announced late Tuesday in the United States, which was Wednesday in China.

An administration official told the Washington Post that the White House expects the U.S.-China deal to energize the world’s major countries as they prepare to write a binding international agreement to cut climate change in Paris next year.

Both countries face political and economic pressure against the cuts. Any additional government action to cut carbon pollution in the U.S. is likely to face a tough fight in the newly Republican controlled Congress, and China is burning more and more coal each day.

But officials told the Post that they are confident that Obama has the power and ability to implement the necessary cuts to live up to the new agreement.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blasted the deal as unrealistic, and said last week’s election showed how unpopular Obama’s environmental policies are.

“Our economy can’t take the president’s ideological war on coal that will increase the squeeze on middle-class families and struggling miners,” he said in a statement.

In an opinion piece published after the announcement in the New York Times, Secretary of State John Kerry framed the deal as a landmark effort by the world’s two largest economies to fight climate change and spur the rest of the world to follow suit. “The commitment of both presidents to take ambitious action in our own countries, and work closely to remove obstacles on the road to Paris, sends an important signal that we must get this agreement done, that we can get it done, and that we will get it done,” he wrote.

But from a diplomatic standpoint, Kerry said the deal is a major milestone in U.S.-China relations. “It was an effort inspired not just by our shared concern about the impact of climate change, but by our belief that the world’s largest economies, energy consumers, and carbon emitters have a responsibility to lead,” he said.

Environmentalists applauded the deal as a historic step toward controlling climate change.

“These landmark commitments to curtail carbon pollution are a necessary, critical step forward in the global fight against climate change,” Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.

“We’re seeing the emergence of an enormously positive new dynamic between the U.S. and China: bilateral cooperation that includes specific actions within each country,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund.

“As we look ahead to the Paris climate talks in late 2015, this level of cooperation between the two largest emitting nations is unprecedented — and essential,” he said.

Lou Leonard, vice president for climate change at the World Wildlife Fund, said the deal sends a strong signal to other countries to get their acts in order on greenhouse gases.

“By acting together, the world’s largest historical emitter and the globe’s current leading emitter have put the rest of the world on notice: Game on; it’s time to act,” he said.

My other children, the orphan gorillas of Virunga

Park ranger Andre Bauma has been taking care of orphaned mountain gorillas at Virunga, Africa’s oldest national park, for the past seven years, and he says he loves them as if they were his own children.

One gorilla, Ndakasi, is particularly close to Bauma. She sees him as her mother, and despite being a man – and a human to boot – he has taken on that role. “We shared the same bed, I played with her, I fed her… I can say I am her mother,” he says.

They met in terrible circumstances. Ndakasi was a two-month-old infant when her mother was shot at close range through the back of the head – the park describes it as an “execution”. Ndakasi was still clinging to her dead mother when they found her. “She was tiny, she only weighed a couple of kilos,” says Bauma. Ever since he picked her up from the forest floor, he has dedicated his life to saving hers.

“Every single individual gorilla is crucial because it’s an endangered species – so we had to take care of it, we took her in,” he says.

Ndakasi was born into a renowned group of mountain gorillas called the Rugendo family, seven of whose members were slaughtered in the attack in 2007 that orphaned Ndakasi.

Illegal charcoal traders, engaged in a constant struggle with park rangers, are thought to have been behind the shootings.

The law says no human activity of any kind is allowed inside the park – located in the Democratic Republic of Congo – and the rangers are there to prevent it. It’s a dangerous job – since 1996, more than 130 rangers have been killed. “We are constantly threatened, not only by the militias inside the park but also in general by the population,” says Bauma. “There is a lot of poverty, so people try to survive. They will try to use the natural resources of the park, whether it be wood to make charcoal, fields for agriculture or illegal fishing.”

Andre Bauma caring for gorilla orphans (C) Virunga The Movie / Grain Media

Bauma now heads the gorilla orphanage, located at the park headquarters in Rumangabo. Ndakasi was the first to be housed there, but she was soon joined by Ndeze, another member of the Rugendo family. In 2010 the two females were joined by Maisha, another female, and Kaboko, a male – both had been seized by poachers, and Kaboko had lost his hand in a snare. Kaboko died in 2012, but since then another orphan has joined the gang – Matabishi, a young male found abandoned outside the park.

No-one believed Ndakasi would survive, but she has grown to be a healthy 65kg. She still behaves like a baby, though. “Whenever she sees me she climbs on my back like she would with her mother,” says Bauma. “But she’s a big and strong girl and I’m not capable of playing with her like I used to. When she climbs on my back, every time I’m worried that I’m going to hurt myself – in fact at the end of the day I have real backache.”

The rangers communicate with the gorillas using a combination of gestures and voice commands.

“For instance there is the approaching call to tell them: ‘Here I am, I’m coming, I’m going to stand next to you, there’s no problem everything’s fine,'” says Bauma – this sounds like a long, low grunt. “I can also forbid them something,” he says. “I can tell them: ‘This is not good, you mustn’t do this.'” That command sounds like a series of short uhs.

In fact, communicating is not a problem at all, says Bauma. “I find them very intelligent and I can understand anything. I can hear by their tone of voice if they’re scared of something, if they’re worried, if there’s something wrong with the food, if they feel they’re in danger… There are different sounds they make and because we’ve lived together for so long I’m quite good at recognizing their mood.”

If the gorillas misbehave, manhandling them is not an option – the orphans are now stronger than their human carers. “You cannot force them to do something because if they decide to be stubborn, you will have difficulties,” says Bauma. For example if an orphan escapes from the enclosure, it can take hours to get them back inside – it’s the gorillas’ “favorite game” according to the park website, but it’s not at all funny for the carers.

Luckily Bauma has a secret weapon: Pringles – the salty potato snacks. “When you give them something they like, they realize that you’re their friend. We do not give it to them as food, but rather as a tactic to handle them,” he says.

Virunga National Park is one of the most biologically diverse protected areas on the planet. It was set up in 1925 primarily to protect the mountain gorilla, and a quarter or more of the world’s 800-to-900 mountain gorillas live within it. According to WWF, one of the animals can indirectly generate £2.5m ($4m) in tourist income over its lifetime – and in the 1970s the park was popular, welcoming an average of 6,500 visitors per year. But it suffered terribly from the decades of conflict that followed.

The gorilla killings in 2007 proved a turning point. A new director of the park was appointed and its fortunes revived. Tourist numbers rose back into the thousands, but in 2012 a new rebel movement called M23 moved into Virunga and the park closed to visitors. At the same time, the park was facing the threat of oil exploration from a UK company.

These turbulent times have been documented in a new film, called Virunga, directed by Orlando von Einsiedel and with Leonardo Di Caprio as executive producer. The film premiered worldwide on Netflix on Friday.

The gorilla orphanage is at the heart of the film. As the M23 insurgency draws nearer to the park’s headquarters, Bauma is seen comforting a frightened young gorilla. “We are very worried about the fighting, we are hearing so many bombs, many many many bombs,” he says, stroking the gorilla’s hair.

Eventually the M23 militia comes so close that everyone in the area is evacuated – except the rangers, armed with rifles. “I felt obliged to stay with the gorillas here,” Bauma says. “You must justify why you are on this earth – gorillas justify why I am here, they are my life. So if it is about dying, I will die for the gorillas.”

The film shows local people running into the park for help – veterinary facilities are used to treat the wounded. But in the end there was no conflict with the militia. “First of all we don’t have the means to fight them, so we chose another solution,” says Bauma. “We tried to explain to them that we are not politicians, we are people trying to preserve nature, and nature belongs to everyone, to all the Congolese and the people in the world. Things went fairly well, while they were there they didn’t do too much damage, because we chose that peaceful approach.”

In October 2013 the army recaptured Rumangabo from the M23 rebels. And according to a joint statement with the WWF, UK oil company Soco has committed to end its oil exploration operations in Virunga. But for the park to be safe in the long term, Unesco has called for the Congolese government to abandon all plans for oil extraction. And the park still has its enemies. In April the park’s director Emmanuel de Merode was shot and wounded in an ambush.

Bauma says it’s hard to decide what to do with the orphans in the long term. “Our goal was always to eventually release them into the wild,” he says. However the rangers’ efforts to make the gorillas grow strong may have backfired.

“The way we fed them, it was mostly food that we buy at the market – fruit, carrots, apples – and it’s not really food they can find in the wild. Also, they sleep inside the house at night so there’s a real concern. Now we’ve realized that if we were to release them into the wild they could have a problem with the food, and they could have a problem with the weather – they could die.”

It has been decided that the orphans should stay in their sanctuary for now. This means that Bauma will carry on spending three weeks in Virunga with his gorilla family and a week at home with his human family. Are they ever jealous? “My human family understand that my work with the gorillas is important,” he says. “I wouldn’t say that I love the gorillas more than my human family but I do try and find a balance – they are both very important to me. I have a share of love that I give to my gorilla family and a share of love that I give to my human family.”

Vibeke Venema|BBC World Service

Column: Americans love Keystone pipeline

The Keystone XL oil pipeline is so popular! Ever since the Republicans won control of the Senate, it’s become the Taylor Swift of political issues.

“We can act on the Keystone pipeline,” the House speaker, John Boehner, said as he launched into his description of the next Congress.

The House, which believes strongly in the power of repetition, has already passed a bill authorizing construction of the final phase of the pipeline eight times.

It was also the first thing the future Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, mentioned in his postelection news conference.

“When you say energy these days, people think of the Keystone pipeline, but that’s only part of it,” he said.

You have to wonder who he’s been hanging around with, since many Americans are actually capable of thinking about energy for quite a long period of time without ever landing on “pipeline from Canada to Nebraska.”

McConnell then went on to describe an energy agenda in which the only specific item he mentioned was you-know-what. (“I mean, the employment figures connected with Keystone are stunning if we would just get going.”)

Actually, employment figures are not that stunning. There’d be a few thousand workers necessary to build it, but if we want construction jobs, we’ve got a ton of roads and bridges that need repair.

“Keystone is certainly overhyped as a job creator, mostly because the vast majority of jobs are temporary,” said Tim Boersma of the Brookings Institution.

It’s hard to figure where all the enthusiasm comes from. The Keystone XL would carry oil from the tar sands of Canada to Nebraska, where it would hook up with an existing pipeline to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. Environmentalists hate it because oil from the tar sands expels more carbon into the atmosphere. If the pipeline isn’t built, the oil will still get to the refineries by train, but at least we wouldn’t appear to be encouraging the energy industry to drill the worst stuff possible.

The only people who would seem to have an intense practical interest in which way this plays out would be Nebraskans who will have to live with the pipeline, and the people who control the tar sands land in Canada. That group happens to include the famous campaign-contributing Koch brothers.

So, question answered.

Keystone opponents were heartened Tuesday by the defeat of Rep. Lee Terry, a veteran Omaha Republican and staunch Keystone defender. Some Nebraskans are worried the pipeline would create spills that would threaten the water supply.

“When you start to mess with Nebraska water, you definitely have a fight on your hands,” said Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska, an anti-pipeline group.

Terry was one of only three Republican members of Congress who lost Tuesday, so defeating him was quite a coup — although he was the Nebraska Republicans’ weakest link. During the government shutdown, Terry made news when he dismissed proposals that members of Congress forgo their salaries for the duration of the crisis. (“I’ve got a nice house and a kid in college, and I’ll tell you we cannot handle it.”) Also, some voters disliked Terry’s campaign ads, which linked his opponent to everything from terrorist beheadings to the parole of a serial killer named Nikko Jenkins. And then there was the last-minute surprise that came when Nikko Jenkins announced in court that he was endorsing Lee Terry.

But about the pipeline.

If the Keystone project came up for a vote in the new Senate, it would probably draw enough Democratic support to hit the magic number of 60. Then it would be up to President Barack Obama, who is constantly being criticized by Republicans for standing between America and a jobs-rich energy boom. This would be the same president who’s opened up massive new areas for oil exploration, increased the sale of leases for drilling on federal land and cut back on the processing time for drilling permits.

Story of Obama’s life. He trots down the center, irritating his base, while Republicans scream at him for failing to do something that he’s actually been doing all along.

In the end it’s completely up to the president. But the story is really about the Republicans. They’re about to take over Congress and show us how they can govern. So the first thing they’re going to do is hand a windfall to the energy interests that shoveled nearly $60 million into their campaigns? Terrific.

Let them prove they’re better than that. There’s a nice bipartisan energy efficiency bill that’s been sitting in limbo in the Senate. It would help manufacturers reduce energy costs, promote model building codes and do a bunch of other useful things. If the Republicans would forget about posturing for their campaign contributors, drop Keystone and pass the energy efficiency bill instead, it really would be a new day.

We’d all be incredibly impressed. Honest.

GAIL COLLINS|NY Times Syndication|November 10, 2014

Slow down as manatees start their swim to warmer waters

The annual migration of Florida manatees to warmer waters begins in November, which is Manatee Awareness Month.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) encourages boaters to help protect migrating manatees by looking out and slowing down for these aquatic mammals that often rest or congregate underwater and can be difficult to see.

“During Manatee Awareness Month, the FWC encourages the public to celebrate manatees by learning more about these gentle giants, including the importance of people’s actions in conserving this iconic Florida species,” said Carol Knox, the FWC’s Imperiled Species Management section leader.

“Boaters slowing down and watching out for manatees can help protect this species from injury. Anyone who spots a manatee that is injured, entangled in fishing line or otherwise in distress can help initiate a rescue by calling the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922,” Knox said.

On their annual trek, manatees, including mothers and their calves, swim along Florida’s many rivers, bays and coastal areas in search of the warmer, more stable temperatures found in freshwater springs, man-made canals and power plant outflows. Unlike dolphins and other marine mammals, manatees do not have true blubber to insulate them from waters below 68 degrees Fahrenheit, so they must find warmer waters during their migration to survive the winter cold.

Despite their size, with adults weighing 1,000 pounds on average, manatees can be difficult to spot. That is why it is important for boaters in Florida, including those using personal watercraft, to slow down to prevent collisions with manatees, particularly in shallow areas or posted manatee protection zones. On Nov. 15, many seasonal manatee protection zones around the state go into effect. For manatee protection zones by county, including the seasonal changes, go to MyFWC.com/Manatee, and click on “Data and Maps.”

Tips on how to spot manatees:

  • Wear polarized sunglasses when boating.
  • Look for circular patterns on the water’s surface – the so-called “manatee footprints” that indicate a manatee’s presence below.
  • Be careful when boating near shallow seagrass beds, where manatees like to graze.
  • Watch for posted signs indicating manatee protection zones and appropriate boating speeds.
  • Find out about great places in winter to watch manatees by going to MyFWC.com/Manatee and clicking on “Where Can I See Manatees in Florida?”

People can support the FWC’s manatee research, rescue, rehabilitation and management efforts by purchasing the “Save the Manatee” Florida license plate at BuyaPlate.com, or by donating $5 to receive an FWC manatee decal by going to MyFWC.com/Manatee and clicking on “Decals.”

Learn more about manatees at MyFWC.com/Manatee, where you can find “A boater’s guide to Florida manatees” and other information.

Troubled Waters in the Arctic Ocean

It’s no trick, on Halloween the Obama administration released a new draft analysis of the effects of oil and gas leasing in the Chukchi Sea, part of America’s Arctic Ocean, that demonstrates how risky it would be to allow drilling in this remote, irreplaceable, and climate-stressed region.

Last January, the Ninth Circuit Court declared the Chukchi Lease Sale 193 unlawful, requiring the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to redo the analysis of environmental effects of drilling in the sea and reconsider whether the region should be open to drilling at all. Read Audubon Alaska’s press release.
We’ve just started reviewing the draft analysis, but it shows the effects of leasing in the Chukchi Sea could be frightening. For example, under its new analysis, the Interior Department acknowledges that there is a 75 percent chance that one or more large oil spills would occur if the leases are developed (more than 1,000 barrels, or 42,000 gallons, of oil).

Worse, 1,000 barrels is the bare minimum size of a large spill. The average-sized large spill from a platform in the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Ocean is 395,500 barrels, 395 times larger than the minimum “large” spill. There is no way to clean up or contain a large oil spill in harsh Arctic Ocean conditions. Arctic drilling is far too risky, proven by Shell’s disastrous 2012 program that involved fires, pollution violations, fines, and ended with its drilling rig grounded near Kodiak, Alaska.

Once Audubon has examined the plan, there will be a chance for you to send in comments to BOEM. We’ll keep you posted!

From the Audubon Advisory, November 2014

Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship Indicted for Deaths of 29 Coal Miners

For decades, big coal companies have violated mine safety regulations with at most a slap on the wrist, while spending millions to lobby and electioneer for weakening those regulations. Now the chickens have come home to roost for one former coal company CEO as a federal grand jury in Charleston, West Virginia indicted former longtime Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship yesterday on charges that he deliberately flouted safety standards leading to the death of 29 miners in an April 2010 explosion at its Upper Big Branch Mine (UBB), reports the Charleston Gazette.

“Blankenship knew that UBB was committing hundreds of safety-law violations every year and that he had the ability to prevent most of the violations that UBB was committing,” the indictment said. “Yet he fostered and participated in an understanding that perpetuated UBB’s practice of routine safety violations, in order to produce more coal, avoid the costs of following safety laws and make more money.”

“Throughout the indictment period, Blankenship also conspired to defraud the United States by impeding the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration in carrying out its duties at UBB,” it continued. Following a major, fatal explosion at UBB on April 5, 2010, Blankenship made, and caused to be made, materially false and misleading statements and representations, and omitted and caused to be omitted statements of material facts, regarding his and Massey’s practice of willful violations of safety laws at that mine. These included materially false statements and representations made to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission and materially false statements and representations, and materially misleading omissions, made in connection with the purchase and sale of Massey stock.”

The grand jury found that failure to provide adequate airflow, coal dust accumulation and an inadequate number of mine safety workers were among the factors contributing to the explosion that were routinely ignored by the company. The accident was the worst mining disaster in the U.S. since 1940 and followed a long record of health and safety violations at the mine. The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) later issued 369 citations for safety violations and assessed a $10.8 million fine. The indictment charges Massey with three felonies and one misdemeanor with a potential of 31 years in prison for the former CEO who led the company for almost two decades.

“It’s an important day for many, many families in the Central Appalachian coal fields,” Bruce Stanley, a Pittsburgh attorney who has fought Blankenship on behalf of miners’ widows and a rival coal operator who alleged Massey drove him out of business, told the Charleston Gazette. “For the first time in my memory, the CEO of a major coal producer is being held criminally accountable for the atrocious conduct that occurred on his watch.”

The indictment details threat after threat made to mine management to ignore safety in order to maximize profit.

One such charge says, “On or around April 29, 2008, Blankenship sent the known UBB Executive another handwritten message chastising him for not producing coal as quickly as Blankenship wanted at one of the mines in the UBB mining group. This message instructed the Known UBB Executive, ‘Run coal. Don’t bolt for the year 2525.’ This message was an instruction to increase coal production by devoting less time to the installation of roof bolts, which were a form of roof support.” He charged another with “‘insufficient attention to cost-cutting,” and told him “You have a kid to feed. Do your job.”

The investigation of the explosion has already led to the convictions of four former officials at UBB which was sold in late 2010 to Alpha Natural Resources. But Blankenship, who retired following the sale, is the really big fish. He was a major power broker in West Virginia politics who among other things helped engineer the election of a friendly supreme court justice prior to a case involving the company coming before the court.

Blankenship was typically arrogant and unrepentant. His attorney issued a statement saying, “Don Blankenship has been a tireless advocate for mine safety. His outspoken criticism of powerful bureaucrats has earned this indictment. He will not yield to their effort to silence him. He will not be intimidated.”

The response on the Facebook page of nonprofit community advocacy group Appalachian Voices was exultant but skeptical. Posters called him “a murderous, callous lowlife” and said “It’s a multi-headed snake, but at least one just got lopped off,” while also saying “The party that wants to get rid of OSHA was just given a lot of power to do just that by the same people that these companies are killing.”

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., president of Waterkeeper Alliance, recalled Blankenship’s proud attitude of putting profits before people and planet:

“Don Blankenship once boasted to me that it was impossible to conduct mountaintop removal mining without violating the law. He prided himself on his cold-blooded capacity for turning America’s purple mountains majesty into coal company cash. His criminal mind allowed him to view the human beings of Appalachia as disposable production units. He is a sociopath and gangster who’s gift was felonious greed and a stone-cold heart that allowed him to put his yearning for money and power ahead of human lives. Those qualities had great value to his friends and investors: the Wall Street robber barons. But they were poison and destruction to the noble communities of coal country.  We can’t bring back the towns he destroyed, the lives he took, the mountains he flattened, the rivers he poisoned, but there is some consolation in knowing that he’s getting what he deserves: three hots and a cot and long days in the company of fellow criminals of lesser appetites and lesser distinction.”

Anastasia Pantsios|November 14, 2014

Calls to Action

  1. Support America’s Clean Power Plan to cut dangerous greenhouse gas pollutionhere
  2. Clean air is a fundamental right. But we need to fight for it. Take action – here

  3. Tell Congress: Don’t Increase Fracking or Slash Food Safety Rules – here

  4. Save Borneo’s Pygmy Elephants – here

  5. Stop an Investment Firm from Destroying Rainforests – here

Birds and Butterflies

Dirty Legacy

Exposing the lax regulation and health risks of Alberta’s tar sands industry.

In northern Alberta last week, more than 100 migrating birds caught up in a dense fog decided to take shelter on the nearest lake—and instead came to the end of their journey.

When their avian ancestors flew over this region, it was covered by pristine boreal forest, a perfect habitat and breeding ground for hundreds of bird species. Now it’s a polluted hellscape, crisscrossed by toxic tailings ponds—gigantic pools of chemical byproducts left over from the process of extracting and refining the world’s dirtiest fuel from huge open-pit mines.

The migrating birds died, as have many thousands of others before them. The Alberta Energy Regulator reported 122 deaths last week, a total that made headlines across Canada—not because it was particularly shocking, but because it’s a reminder that despite years of concern and millions of dollars in fines, the tar sands mining companies are still killing wildlife. And when Canadian Natural Resources Limited, one of the giant mining operations responsible for the bird deaths, blamed it in part on “late migration,” it recalled Syncrude’s claim in 2008 that the deaths of more than 1,600 birds on one of its tailings ponds was “an act of God.”

I reported on Canada’s tar sands tailings ponds and their dirty legacy for the December issue of Outside magazine. In a story published online today, I found that the ponds remain largely unregulated, and the resulting human health concerns go all but ignored. The government doesn’t want to impede the economic development of this homegrown fuel, despite the fact that NASA’s James Hansen estimates that the remaining tar sands reserves contain twice the amount of carbon pollution emitted by the entire global oil industry—in all of human history.

The climate concerns of the tar sands have been well documented in the United States, which has resulted in an outpouring of opposition that has blocked approval of the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline for six years. But the impacts on northern Alberta’s environment, and the First Nation communities that call it home, are less well known—though just as troubling.

Around the same time I was in northern Canada reporting this story, a video crew from onEarth visited many of the same places and talked to the same people. Their reports share some of the shocking sights and concerns of the communities living in the shadow of the world’s dirtiest oil fields.

One of the most consistent and powerful voices on the tar sands belongs to Dr. John O’Connor, who grew up in Ireland and is now director of health and human services at the Fort McKay First Nation. Despite his title, he’s pretty much a country doctor, shuttling from one village to the next along the polluted Athabasca River.

After he began diagnosing an unusually high number of cancer cases among the First Nations communities, O’Connor starting raising the alarm, only to see the government downplay or ignore his concerns. As I explain for Outside, O’Connor was even threatened with potentially career-ending disciplinary action for speaking out—until subsequent health studies substantiated his concerns.

Still, the government has so far failed to complete the comprehensive community health study O’Connor was promised.

In May, the United Nations called on the Canadian government to launch a special inquiry into the treatment of its First Nations. The U.N. said that more than half of all native people on government reserves face health risks due to contaminated drinking water. Environmental Defence, a Canadian environmental action group, has estimated that the tar sands tailings ponds are leaking a combined three million gallons of toxic sludge into the Athabasca River—every day.

“The native people are dying,” musician Neil Young, an Ontario native, declared at a press conference in Washington, D.C., organized earlier this year to bring attention to the health impacts of tar sands. “All the First Nations people up there are threatened.”

The title of my Outside piece is “The High Cost of Oil.” It’s a price we might all pay, if the tar sands are fully developed and our climate faces the consequences. But for now, the First Nations of northern Alberta are covering the costs for the rest of us.

See the video, “Paying the Price”

See the videoTar Sands Dirty Legacy”

Ted Genoways|3 days 4 hours ago

Secret Lives of Hummingbirds Revealed by Scientists

We’ve learned a lot about some of the tiniest birds in the world: they have incredibly fast wings, they steal spiderwebs to build nests, they are the only birds capable of sustained hovering that can beat machines, and they have adapted to detect sweetness. Even still, there are a lot of questions about hummingbirds that are slowly being answered, thanks to the efforts of master bird banders who tag and track them.

“We’re learning a lot about hummingbirds through banding we never would have learned otherwise,” said Bruce Peterjohn, chief of the bird banding laboratory for the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Md., told the Associated Press.

Hummingbird bands are only issued to banders who have been specially trained on capturing and banding techniques. According to the USGS, unlike other bird bands, hummingbird bands must be cut to the appropriate sizes and formed by the bander, which requires specialized knowledge, skills and equipment that’s not required for other types of bird banding. They also need state and federal permits to capture hummingbirds, who are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

It’s not hard to see why specialized training is needed – the bands typically measure 1.27-1.52 mm in diameter and 1.6 mm high, with some so tiny they can fit perfectly on a safety pin.

According to Peterjohn, even though the number has grown, there are only an estimated 225 hummingbird banders in the U.S., while 125 are considered master bird banders because of the years they have put into perfecting the technique.

Their careful work has paid off with new insights into the secret lives of these tiny little birds. Through banding, they’ve learned new things about their lifespans and travels. One Rufous hummingbird who was originally spotted in Florida was later found more than 3,500 miles away in southeast Alaska the following summer, while others have been discovered spending winters in areas where temperatures drop below zero degrees.

They’ve also found hummingbirds can live much longer than the previous two to three year lifespan that was once thought to be the norm, with some living up to 10 years.

Yet what they’ve learned has still only led to more questions. Peterjohn said it’s still not clear if they make their migrations hundreds of miles at a time, or whether they’re taking short flights with stopovers, but he added that with more being banded they may get more answers.

Still others who are studying them have provided more insights, including a new study that found their sharp beaks are for far more than just delicately sipping nectar.

For the study, published in the journal Behavior Ecology, researchers looked at long-billed hermits native to Central and South America and found their beaks double as dagger-like weapons the males use to fight with and stab their opponents in the neck when it comes time to establish territory and pick a mate.

While scientists knew males and females had beaks that were shaped differently, they thought it was because they have different feeding habits.

Alejandro Rico-Guevara, research associate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut and lead researcher of the study, called it the first evidence that bills are also being shaped by sexual selection through combat.

Alicia Graef|November 12, 2014

New Eagles Have Landed

Three new eagles are now n display at the Center.

Audubon Center for Birds of Prey is excited to announce that we have added three new members of our Bird Family here at the Center for Birds of Prey. Three non-releasable Bald Eagles now have permanent homes in an aviary exhibit for guests to see and learn about threats Bald Eagles face in the wild. Be sure to stop by to see these magnificent birds in person and learn about what caused their injuries. These three non-releasable eagles will help spread Audubon’s conservation message and act as education ambassadors for their species.

Florida Raptor News – November 2014

We Are Thankful

Audubon Center for Birds of Prey is thankful for many things. We are lucky to have dedicated supporters, volunteers and staff committed to the conservation of Florida’s raptors.

A special thanks to our volunteers, who without them our daily operations would not be possible.

We are grateful to the volunteers who help clean, feed, weed, scrub, rescue, educate, greet, and care for our patients and permanent display birds at the Center. Thank you to the many groups and partners, who contribute projects at our location. Thank you to the citizen scientists in the field, who help us monitor and keep watch on Florida’s eagles.

Beyond our doors, there are many Audubon ambassadors who help spread Audubon’s conservation message. This is important work. As we head into the holiday season, bring your friends and relatives for a visit to learn about Audubon and the majestic birds that reside at our Center. We look forward to seeing you.

Florida Raptor News – November 2014

Audubon EagleWatch

Notes from the field:

Bald Eagle nesting season is ramping up in Florida, and eagles all over the state are busy refurbishing last year’s nests. Eggs are often laid in late November and early December, and are incubated by the adults for 30-33 days. This means that we often have a lot of newly hatched eaglets just in time for Christmas! Currently, more than 250 Audubon EagleWatch volunteers are monitoring 200+ active eagle nests during this especially sensitive time in the nesting process. Eagle nesting season runs from October 1 through May 15.

This season, Audubon’s EagleWatch program is set to debut our new web portal. This new, purpose built website will make data entry easier, faster, and more accessible. This online database will later be integrated with powerful online GIS tools to help us better understand and protect Florida’s Eagles. For more information on the EagleWatch program, visit http://fl.audubon.org/audubon-eaglewatch or email Matt Smith at eaglewatch@audubon.org.

New agreements will help to save migratory bird species

Cuckoos are just one bird species that will benefit from this agreement

Hundreds of species of migratory birds will benefit from two historic agreements that were reached on Sunday 9 November at the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS).

The Resolution Preventing Poisoning of Migratory Birds and the Landbird Action Plan will set out to save more than 400 bird species.

The Resolution Preventing Poisoning of Migratory Birds agreement outlined a set of guidelines to tackle the causes of bird poisoning and ratified a groundbreaking plan of action to protect birds against this threat. The agreement supports guidelines to prevent the risk of poisoning and encourages parties to reduce and minimize the poisoning of migratory birds. It identifies five poisons as being the most significant risk to migratory birds, and therefore recommends a ban on veterinary diclofenac, the phasing out of all lead ammunition, and action on rodenticides, insecticides and poison baits.

Commenting from the RSPB, Director of Conservation Martin Harper says: “Although the agreement is not legally binding it clearly signals governments’ commitment to ending poisoning from lead ammunition, diclofenac and other key sources. This is a great day for our migratory birds and other wildlife.”

The Landbird Action Plan focuses on ways to improve the conservation status of the birds that use the African-Eurasian flyway, and identified a need for landscape-scale protection.

“For more than four decades, migratory water birds have been protected, showing that effective, international cooperation for the conservation of migratory birds is possible.” Commented Harper. “I’m delighted the Action Plan for land birds has now been adopted and work that considers the conservation needs of the birds’ whole lifecycle, across an international flyway – from breeding grounds in the UK to wintering areas in West Africa – will be undertaken.

“Birds such as the turtle dove, cuckoo, nightjar, vultures and many more will all benefit from these two positive and historic agreements.  It’s a good day for conservation.”

Rare warbler on the increase in USA

Numbers of the rare songbird, the Swainson’s warbler, are increasing in the US, particularly on private pine plantations along the coastal plain from eastern Texas to southeastern Virginia.

The results of the study, which compiled data from 20 years of field studies, suggests that if current trends continue, forests managed as short-rotation pine plantations will support the majority of Swainson’s warbler breeding populations by the end of the 21st century.

The Swainson’s warbler has been a high conservation concern for decades as its 90,000 breeding individuals are sparsely distributed across 15 states in the USA.

The rarity of the Swainson’s warbler was previously blamed on its finicky preference for large areas of densely vegetated breeding habitat in the southeastern U.S. and wintering range in the Caribbean basin. However research carried out in the 1990s revealed that this warbler could be found in a surprisingly wide spectrum of habitats, including young loblolly pine plantations in eastern Texas.

The researchers believe the short-rotation pine plantations have a seven-to-eight-year window when the plantations are dense enough to support populations of Swainson’s warbler. Once this period ends and the plantations thin out, Graves believes that the warblers will likely relocate to nearby younger plantations that exhibit the desired foliage density.

“The Swainson’s warbler is becoming a conservation success story in a habitat that was once feared to be a biological desert,” said lead author Gary Graves from Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in the USA.

“This is a prime example of how intensive management of forest lands for industrial purposes can have a direct impact on bird populations in a positive way.”

The Swainson’s warbler a small olive-brown bird with pale yellowish-white underparts that measures approximately 5.5 inches long and is known for its loud, distinctive song and secretive behaviour. Despite its small size, male Swainson’s warblers defend large territories that range in size from 3 to 18 hectares.

 Florida Panthers

19th panther road death reported, matching record

A record set in 2012 for the number of endangered panthers killed by vehicles has been matched in southwest Florida.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials say a panther whose carcass was found Thursday in Collier County is the 19th big cat killed by a vehicle this year. That matches the statewide record for panther road deaths set two years ago.

Officials say the panther was a female between 3 and 4 years old. The carcass will be taken to the wildlife commission’s lab in Gainesville for a necropsy.

Road collisions account for the vast majority of the two dozen panther deaths reported this year.

Florida panthers once roamed the entire southeastern United States, but only around 100 to 180 remain in the wild.

  Invasive species

Invasive lionfish threaten Gulf of Mexico ecosystem

GALVESTON, Texas – It sounds like something from a horror film: A beautiful, feathery-looking species of fish with venomous spines and a voracious appetite sweeps into the Gulf of Mexico, gobbling up everything in its path.

Unfortunately for the native fish and invertebrates it’s eating, this invasion isn’t unfolding on the big screen. In recent months, news has been spreading of lionfish, a maroon-and-white striped native of the South Pacific that first showed up off the coast of southern Florida in 1985. Most likely, someone dumped a few out of a home fish tank.

With a reproduction rate that would put rabbits to shame and no predators to slow its march, the fish swept up the Eastern seaboard and down to the Bahamas and beyond, where it is now more common than in its home waters. “The invasive lionfish have been nearly a perfect predator,” says Martha Klitzkie, director of operations at the nonprofit Reef Environmental Education Foundation, or REEF, headquartered in Key Largo, Fla. “Because they are such an effective predator, they’re moving into new areas and, when they get settled, the population increases pretty quickly.”

The lionfish population exploded in the Florida Keys and the Bahamas between 2004 and 2010. As lionfish populations boomed, the number of native prey fish dropped. According to a 2012 study by Oregon State University, native prey fish populations along nine reefs in the Bahamas fell an average of 65 percent in just two years.

Lionfish first appeared in the western Gulf of Mexico in 2010; scientists spotted them in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, a protected area about 100 miles off the Texas coast, in 2011. Now scuba divers spot them on coral heads nearly every time they explore a reef.

So far, significant declines in native fish populations haven’t occurred here, but the future is uncertain. “It’s kind of this impossible battle,” says Michelle Johnston, a research specialist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Galveston, who manages a coral reef monitoring project at the Flower Garden Banks. “When you think how many are out there, I don’t think eradication is possible now.”

Lionfish are fascinating, beautiful creatures. Two nearly identical species are found in the Gulf. They grow to about 18 inches and have numerous venomous spines. Their stripes are unique, like those of a zebra. They hover in the water, hanging near coral heads or underwater structures where reef fish flourish. Ambush predators, they wait for prey fish to draw near, then gulp them down in a flash. The fish mature in a year and can spawn every four days, pumping out 2 million eggs a year. They live about 15 years.

In the South Pacific, predators and parasites keep lionfish in check. But here, nothing recognizes them as food – those feathery spines serve as do-

not-touch warnings to other fish. The few groupers that have been spotted taste-testing lionfish have spit them back out, Johnston says. In the basement of the NOAA Fisheries Science Center on the grounds of the old Fort Crockett in Galveston, Johnston sorts through a rack of glass vials. Each one contains the contents found in the stomach of a lionfish collected in the Flower Garden Banks. She points to a fish called a bluehead wrasse in one jar. “This little guy should still be on the reef eating algae, not here in a tube,” she says.

Other jars contain brown chromis, red night shrimp, cocoa damselfish and mantis shrimp, all native species found in lionfish bellies. “The amount of fish we find in their guts – it’s really alarming. They’re eating juvenile fish that should be growing up. They’re also eating fish that the native species are supposed to be eating.” Lionfish can eat anything that fits into their mouth, even fish half their own size. They eat commercially important species, such as snapper and grouper, and the fish that those species eat, too. They’re eating so much, in fact, that scientists say some are suffering from a typically human problem – obesity. “We’re finding them with copious amount of fat – white, blubbery fat,” Johnston says.

They can adapt to almost any habitat, living anywhere from a mangrove in 1 foot of water to a reef 1,000 feet deep. They like crevices and hidy-holes but can find that on anything from a coral head to a drilling platform to a sunken ship. They can handle a wide range of salinity levels, too.

Their range seems limited only by temperature – so far they don’t seem to overwinter farther north than Cape Hatteras, N.C. – and their southern expansion extends to the northern tip of South America, although they are expected to reach the middle of Argentina in another year or two. “As long as they have something to eat, they’ll be there,” Johnston says.

The impacts of their invasion could become widespread, scientists warn. In the Gulf, lionfish are eating herbivores like damselfish and wrasse – “the lawnmowers of the reef,” Johnston calls them – that keep the reef clean. “When you take the reef fish away, there’s not a lot of other things left to eat algae,” she says. That creates a phase shift from a coral-dominated habitat to an algae-dominated one. “When you take fish away, coral gets smothered, the reef dies, and we lose larger fish. It’s a snowball effect of negativity.”

Pam LeBlanc|Austin American-Statesman (MCT)

Endangered Species

Will Polar Bears Become Extinct?

Behind the controversy, what’s the real story about the future of polar bears?

It’s November and that time of year when the sleepy town of Churchill, Manitoba, on the western shore of Hudson Bay in Canada, turns into polar bear central.

Hundreds of polar bears, lean but lethargic – their last full meal eaten in the late spring – pass the hours wandering around aimlessly, mock fighting, or simply lying belly-up catching the dim rays of the Arctic gloaming. They are waiting until the ice freezes over and they can go and hunt seals.

Outnumbering them are the tourists who’ve flown in from around the world to get a unique “up close and personal” view of one of the Arctic’s most iconic species.

And last, but not least, there’s the scientists. While some scientists visit the “Polar Bear Capital of the World” to study the bears, others, such as Polar Bears International’s Steven Amstrup, are there because they also see a unique opportunity to inform people about the plight of polar bears.

Because polar bears, most scientists agree, are in trouble.

Human-caused global warming is causing the Arctic sea, the bears’ habitat and hunting ground, to melt and decline. If the trend of sea ice decline continues as it has done, at the rate of about 13 per cent a decade, then polar bears would suffer a loss of habitat, and consequently food.

“The best estimates we’ve got indicate that we’ll probably lose somewhere around two-thirds of the world’s bears somewhere around mid-century, just based on the simple fact that we’re losing sea ice,” says Andrew Derocher, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Alberta and past chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Polar Bear Specialist Group.

The bears simply depend on sea ice to make a living, Derocher says. “No sea ice means no seals. And no seals means no polar bears.”

Despite its size, Ursus maritimus, the largest member of the bear family, is ideally suited to life on ice, its double-layered coat and its furry-undersided paws insulating it from the chilly Arctic temperatures. A polar bear can stand up to 3 metres tall and weigh up to 600 kilograms – hardly the physique of a figure-skater – but it can move with grace and stealth across the ice surface and sneak up on its prey of ringed and bearded seals.The bears just run out of energy.

There are 19 subpopulations of polar bears in the world, 13 of which can be found in Canada. Some of these bears live year-round on the ice, but for populations such as the Hudson Bay bears, the ice proves an ephemeral habitat.

In this region, bears spend the winter months on the ice gorging their prey but, when the ice melts each year, they’re forced onshore where they have insufficient food until the sea ice refreezes in the fall. And as the temperatures in the Artic have risen, the sea ice has begun to melt sooner and refreeze later, leaving the polar bears stranded on land for longer lean times.

“When I first started working in Hudson Bay in the early 1980s, the sea ice would have already formed along the shore quite nicely by now,” Derocher says. “There were years when the bears were gone in the first week in November, but this year it is unlikely that we see any significant sea ice for at least a couple of weeks.”

In the last 30 years, bears have increased the amount of time they are on land by almost 30 days – staying another day longer each year – according to Amstrup. That means the bears are coming ashore to face food shortages before they have stored enough fat to last through the season, he says.

“The bears just run out of energy,” Derocher says. The longer summer fasting time impacts bear health and resilience, and influences reproduction rates, he says.

According to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), ice coverage is likely to fall below one million square kilometers by 2050. The current changes, and predictions such as these, led to the listing of polar bears in the US as an endangered species in 2008.

Already the numbers of bears in the western Hudson Bay have declined, Amstrup says. “This population is near the southern extreme of the polar bears’ range and so it is one of the most vulnerable populations,” Amstrup says. “If we don’t get our act together soon we may not be able to save these bears.”

Although most scientists appear to agree with Derocher’s grim outlook for the polar bear, there are a few that question it. One of the most vocal of these is Mitch Taylor who spent more than two decades as a polar bear researcher and manager for the Nunavut government

“Are we just about to lose our polar bears? No we are not,” Taylor says. “We are seeing 130 years of climate warming that has increased temperature of about 0.75 degrees and that has obviously affected the sea ice, but the polar bears don’t seem to have been affected so far.”

The crux of Taylor’s argument is that the world’s polar bears are thriving, at least in terms of numbers. The current scientific consensus places the worldwide polar bear population between 20,000 and 25,000 animals, more polar bears than existed prior to the 1973 International Agreement worldwide restriction on polar bear hunting.

“This is the time the Inuit call ‘The one with most bears’,” Taylor says.

Back in the early 1800s there was commercial harvesting of polar bears, which led to a steady decline in their numbers, he says. The numbers may have increased since the hunting restrictions but they are still greatly depleted from pre-hunting levels.

In the Hudson Bay, when Derocher first started doing research in the region there were 1200 bears. Now there are barely 800. “The current status is the numbers have dropped by about a third,” Derocher says. “It certainly doesn’t seem like it’s on a continuous precipitous climb.”

Overall, the number of bears that scientists can adequately monitor appears to be on a downward trajectory, Derocher says.

And what about the health of the bears? Research shows that the bears are becoming leaner and that fewer cubs are being born and surviving in the western Hudson Bay. “A population can’t be healthy for long if its cubs aren’t surviving,” Amstrup says.

Not all the bear populations are suffering though, Amstrup says. Bears in the higher latitudes, such as those in the Davis Strait, are thriving. With warming, annual ice cover replaces the thick multilayer ice, making it more suitable for seals, the polar bears’ main food supply. “We think that maybe many of the populations are still doing OK and we aren’t seeing those effects yet,” Amstrup says. “But you could liken it to the passengers on the Titanic. They were fat and happy until the Titanic slipped under the waves.”

None of us in the polar bear community are standing up and saying it is a catastrophe right now, what we are talking about is the threat for the future

Current bear population numbers aren’t really the problem. It is what is going to happen to bears in the future, Derocher says. He cites the international standard to consider conservation of a species, that of using the “three generation rule” looking forward in time. For polar bears, three generations is somewhere in the 36- to 45-year timeframe. In this timeframe, scientists predict rapid declines in sea ice.

Amstrup agrees. “There are none of us in the polar bear community that are standing up and saying it is a catastrophe right now, what we are talking about is the threat for the future,” Amstrup says. “In the places where the ice has dramatically changed, we are seeing effects and, if we allow those changes to continue on to the higher latitudes, then it will affect all polar bears.”

An additional argument against polar bear extinction lies in the theory that, as a species, polar bears have already survived warming periods. Using molecular genetics, Matthew Cronin, a genetics professor at the University of Alaska, in Fairbanks, US determined that polar bears split from brown bears, and became an independent species, about 2 million years ago.

“These results, combined with the fossil record, indicate that polar bears have been around as polar bears for at least 125,000 and maybe as long as several million years,” Cronin says. “That means they’ve survived their loss of habitat previously so they could very well survive loss of their habitat in the future.”

It is a theory that Taylor also embraces, and one that Amstrup is quick to counteract. “We don’t have any evidence that polar bears have experienced anything more than about a degree and a half temperature rise during their whole evolutionary history,” Amstrup says.

And, according to most of the predictive models we will be close to 2 degrees Celsius warmer for a global mean temperature within 50 years, and certainly within 100 years, Amstrup says. “Polar bears just simply haven’t experienced warming like this,” he says.

Taylor argues that polar bears could survive warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius although he seems unable to articulate exactly how they would do that on an ice-less tundra. “I am not one of those that think that polar bears can just adapt to a terrestrial environment and eat goose eggs and vegetation and other carrion that they might find,” Taylor says, “but I do think they would survive.”

But how could they survive temperatures even warmer still? Such as 2 degrees Celsius? Taylor argues polar bears wouldn’t see them. “I think that the climate models have exaggerated the warming that we are going to see from fossil fuels,” he says.

And consequently, although some polar bear populations would suffer, there wouldn’t be dramatic declines in numbers across all the populations, Taylor says. “Declines would be slow and incremental and we’d have to do adaptive management in these populations,” he says. “Then when fossil fuels stopped being burned the planet would get cooler again.”

But it is not just the extent of warming, it is the speed at which warming would take place that poses a problem, Amstrup says. It took nearly 10,000 years to raise temperatures by 1 degree Celsius in the last interglacial period, he says. But the warming now is taking place over decades, leaving polar bears little time to adapt to the changing conditions.

“It makes it ridiculous for some people to say they have survived warm periods in the past so they’ll survive warm periods now,” Amstrup says. “It is a totally different ball game now.”

In reality, any argument about polar bear extinction reveals itself as being more about climate change than the extinction of the bears themselves.

“The polar bear is the fuzzy face of climate change,” Amstrup says. “So a lot of people who don’t believe that global warming is occurring, or deny that it is going to be a problem, like to cherry pick different things about polar bears, because if they can make it look like polar bears will be OK then by proxy they are kind of saying ‘we don’t have to worry about global warming’.”

It is really quite simple and I come back to it time and time again: It’s just the habitat loss issue

Taylor professed that he believed that climate warming and sea ice loss are reality. But closer inspection reveals that, in 2008, he signed the Manhattan Declaration on climate change, which argued that there was no conclusive evidence that emissions from industrial activity were causing climate change. However, Taylor’s feelings for the bears he worked with for more than 30 years are evident.

“I don’t think anyone has ever worked on polar bears who wouldn’t rather cut off their arm than say something to harm polar bears, or let his personal feelings or his career interfere with getting what he thought was the best information out there for polar bears,” Taylor says.

“I think that we all want to believe that things aren’t so bad,” Amstrup says.

That could be why, although the science doesn’t appear to back up bear extinction denialist theories, so much media space and public attention is given them.

But, if we move the distraction of climate wrestling aside: What about the bears? Will the bears be around in 50 or 100 years’ time?

Other areas in the Arctic and sub-Arctic that have sea ice in winter, but don’t have polar bears, tell the story, Derocher says. In such regions the ice doesn’t persist for long enough each year to sustain polar bears, he says. He points to areas in the southern parts of Norway and Sweden where the fossil records show that bears existed about 11,000 years ago. But now these regions are both ice free and bear free.

“It is really quite simple and I come back to it time and time again: It’s just the habitat loss issue,” Derocher says. “If there’s not enough ice, we won’t have bears. I think it’s very clear that we’re going to lose the vast majority of them, not within my lifetime, but certainly within the lifetime of children of mine.”

Jane Palmer

An STD Vaccine Could Save Koalas From Extinction

Thinking about factors that tend to cause animal extinction, from deforestation to climate change, the plight of the koala’s might be a little more surprising. Among other problems, they’re being threatened by chlamydia.

In the last 10 years, koala populations have dropped by about 80 percent, according to a report by the BBC, and in 2012, the Australian government placed them on an endangered animal list.

Koala chlamydia (a different strain from the human kind) can lead to blindness and infertility in koalas, which worsens their population declines.

Scientists in Australia are working on a solution: developing a vaccine. In a five year trial, researchers observed 30 vaccinated koalas and compared them to 30 un-vaccinated koalas. They found that that vaccinated koalas, even the ones who were already infected with chlamydia, did much better than the un-vaccinated koalas. The vaccine even seemed to lessen the symptoms for infected koalas.

The vaccine would be a much better alternative to the current mode of treatment: antibiotic treatments. Koalas are captured and held in captivity for months in overworked animal hospitals. These centers can’t always keep up with all the koalas that need attention and many koalas are so sick, they have to be put down.

While the chlamydia vaccine seems very promising, there are other factors which are killing off koalas which also need to be addressed. Many get hit by cars or chased by dogs and expanding cities are pushing them out of their homes. Koalas are also plagued by an HIV-like virus which can go straight into koala sperm and eggs, making it hard to prevent infection.

But the chlamydia vaccine is a start.

“It’s all very promising and it’s not just that it’s doing the right thing from an immune response point of view, but it’s actually protecting a significant number of them out in the wild climbing around trees,” Professor Peter Timms, one of the lead researchers, told Agence France Presse. “The vaccine would actually make a difference.”

Manon Verchot|Kara|TreeHugger|November 8, 2014

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

More bad news for bees: The new “F” word

Have you heard of flupyradifurone? Probably not, unless you work for the federal government agency poised to approve this new pesticide for use in Canada. But take note: This new “F” word is bad news for bees.
Flupyradifurone is an insect-killing systemic pesticide similar to the controversial neonicotinoid, or neonic, family of bee-killing chemicals. When applied to seeds or soil, it’s absorbed by plant roots and travels to leaves, flowers, pollen and nectar, making the plant potentially toxic to insects.

This past summer, the international Task Force on Systemic Pesticides analyzed 800 scientific studies and concluded that systemic pesticides like neonics are harming bees, butterflies, birds and worms and should be phased out globally. The European Union banned three neonics for “crops attractive to bees”, but the European Environment Agency says that’s just a starting point, and recommends regulators look at similar pesticides and take into account potential harmful effects on aquatic invertebrates, birds and other insects. The EEA also found “mounting scientific evidence has been systematically suppressed for many years and early warnings were ignored.”

Inexplicably, Canada’s Pest Management Regulation Agency has yet to respond to the Task Force findings and now wants to approve a new systemic pesticide. What’s especially troubling is that, in its description, the PMRA states flupyradifurone “may pose a risk” to bees, birds, worms, spiders, small mammals and aquatic bugs, and that it doesn’t readily break down in water, air or sunlight and may carry over to the following growing season. When it enters streams, rivers and wetlands, “it may persist for a long time.”
Like neonics, flupyradifurone is a nerve poison, acutely toxic to bees if ingested. As in the past, we don’t fully understand the cumulative effects of the increasing amounts of today’s insecticides, pesticides, fungicides and other chemicals being applied to crops across the country.
Neonicotinoids are showing up more frequently and in higher concentrations than the harmful chemicals they replaced. A study last year found 90 per cent of
Saskatchewan prairie potholes contained residual neonics in the spring, before farmers planted their fields. Research from the U.S. Midwest found neonics in all 79 samples taken from nine rivers. Similar results have been found in wetlands, streams and rivers in the southwest U.S., Georgia and California.
It’s not even clear whether the widespread use of neonic seed treatments increases agricultural yields. A
recent report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding soy crop treatments concluded, “these seed treatments provide little or no overall benefits to soybean production in most situations. Published data indicate that in most cases there is no difference in soybean yield when soybean seed was treated with neonicotinoids versus not receiving any insect control treatment.”
The European Environment Agency also found a 2004 ban on neonicotinoid chemicals by France for sunflower and maize crops hasn’t negatively affected productivity. In fact, yields were higher in 2007 than they’d been in a decade.
You’d think we’d learn from past experience with persistent and bioaccumulative pesticides like
DDT and organophosphates, and the more recent research on neonicotinoids. DDT was widely used until Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring drew attention to its negative impacts on ecosystems, wildlife and humans. Many, but not all, organophosphate pesticides have also been pulled from widespread use because we learned their neurotoxic effects posed serious risks to humans and wildlife.
Rather than approving new pesticides that may harm pollinators, birds and other animals, including humans, we need better ways to protect crops. A recent report, “
Alternatives to neonicotinoid insecticides for pest control“, published in the journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research, suggests further research and methods including “diversifying crop rotations, altering the timing of planting, tillage and irrigation, using less sensitive crops in infested areas, applying biological control agents,” and other lower-risk alternatives.

We need to stop contaminating the environment with neonics and related systemic pesticides. Approving flupyradifurone would take us in the wrong direction. Canada’s Pest Management Regulation Agency is accepting comments on flupyradifurone approval until November 3. You can submit through the PMRA or David Suzuki Foundation websites.
Putting bees and ecosystem functioning at risk endangers us all. It’s time to find a better way.

Florida Celebrates High Sea Turtle Nest Count This Season

~Conservation efforts reduce human impact on sea turtle nesting~

Researchers are again seeing a high number of sea turtle nests on Florida’s beaches this year. The number of nests in Florida has increased over the past several years as a result of increased conservation efforts and decreased detrimental storms throughout the state.

More than 1,800 biologists, interns and trained volunteers patrol Florida’s 199 nesting beaches to identify, mark and monitor nests. Researchers at Florida’s three National Estuarine Research Reserves (NERRs), located in Naples, Apalachicola and Ponte Vedra Beach, gather evidence to track sea turtle populations and document the success of the nests.

This year, 960 total nests have been reported in Florida’s three NERRs. Researchers at Guana Tolomato Mantanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve have reported 134 nests, including 10 rare green turtle nests. The nest count in Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve has increased from 475 in 2013 to 560 nests this year. At the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, 266 nests have been identified.

“We are very pleased to see the sea turtle population increased this year within our managed areas,” Kevin Claridge, director of DEP’s Florida Coastal Office. “There are many variables that can affect population numbers, but a key component to species management is good data, which in this case would not have been possible without so many excellent partnerships and volunteer hours.”

In addition to more total nests, Rookery Bay Reserve also had more hatched nests this year, totaling 360 this season, compared to just 287 last year. The increase in hatched nests reflects the improvement of statewide nesting productivity. Additionally, Cape Romano, within Rookery Bay Reserve, is reporting the highest number of sea turtle nests since 2006. An estimated 6,000 hatchlings from those nests have made it to the Gulf – more than double last year’s reported 2,500 and soaring above the count of 678 in 2012.

Sea turtles spend the vast majority of their lives in the open ocean, only coming inland to nest. Florida is a vital area for sea turtle nesting, with nesting areas running along both the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. The nesting season spans from early May until the end of October.

During sea turtle nesting season, those visiting beaches are asked to keep lights off at night, avoid any interaction with nesting turtles and avoid all marked sea-turtle nests. When beachgoers leave lights on at night, sea turtle hatchlings may become disoriented and head toward those lights, instead of the moonlight over the ocean.

Simple actions beachgoers can take to ensure they are not hindering hatchlings from successfully making it to the water are listed below.

            • Remove all belongings from the beach, flatten sand castles and fill in holes.

            • Properly dispose of litter in designated receptacles on the beach.

            • Stay off dunes and use the designated walkovers for crossing.

            • Shield any artificial lighting that may shine toward the beach.

For more information on Florida’s National Estuarine Research Reserves, click here.

Latashawalters|Oct. 30, 2014

Salamanders Around the World Could Be in Trouble

If you love salamanders, you may be disturbed to know that a recently-discovered fungus, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, is getting ready to devastate global salamander populations. It’s actually the second species in this genus to be discovered (the first tore through a number of amphibian species, causing extinction of some 40 percent in some regions of the world), with both posing significant risks to the long-term survival of salamanders. In addition to being a tragedy for those who adore these cute little amphibians, it’s also bad news for biodiversity and the delicate ecological chains that keep us all thriving.

This fungus causes a skin disease called chytridiomycosis, which can ultimately cause nerve damage and hemorrhage. Some salamanders and other amphibians can become carriers without showing any sign of infection, which is one reason why the fungus has spread from its native China. Thanks to an era of globalization, amphibians and other small animals routinely hitch their way on cargo loads, where it’s easy for them to enter the natural environment. The fungus has already been identified in Europe, where it’s caused drastic species decline for some rare salamanders, and there are fears that it may reach North America, with its huge and very diverse salamander population. If it does, it could be horrific.

Sadly, the fungus doesn’t just reach new ground by accident. It’s also carried along with exotic pets — another reason to put a stop to the trade in exotic animals. Infected frogs, salamanders and other amphibians, both bred and captured, are being carried around the world legally as well as illegally. Along the way, they leave a trail of devastation, though sellers and exporters claim that they treat animals before shipment and sale. The EU is planning on enacting a control law to address concerns about exotic pets, while Congress is considering an expansion of the Fish and Wildlife’s authority to oversee incoming animals and fight wildlife diseases more effectively, but that’s only one piece of the puzzle.

While no signs of the disease have been detected in the U.S. yet, it could be only a matter of time, and some worry that it might already be here, carried by Asian newts. Popular pets for those who keep amphibians, the newts could be silent carriers of the fungus, spreading it when they escape to the wild or when their enclosures are cleaned. Improper disposal of bedding and deceased specimens could also inadvertently introduce the fungus to the outside world, where it would be difficult to control once it gained a foothold.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity:

Scientists have developed a DNA-based test for detecting Bs, and infected animals held in captivity can be effectively treated with antifungal baths. But once the disease enters wild populations, it is nearly impossible to stop its spread to new populations. Environmental groups are calling for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to suspend all imports of salamanders into the United States unless they are certified to be free of the fungus.

In addition to acting to regulate the legal trade in exotic animals, Fish and Wildlife officials also need to be thinking about the black market and illicit trade, an issue that has long plagued this and other U.S. agencies committed to protecting endangered species and the environment. While those conducting legal exports may be willing to abide by new regulations, such concerns aren’t as important to those who want to move animals quickly through the pet trade, trading in such high volumes that a few diseased individuals aren’t a matter for concern. If the infection does enter the United States, it seems likely that it will arrive on the back of an innocent salamander smuggled into the country to satisfy the demand for exotic pets — and it’s terrifying to think that a single individual could be responsible for the deaths of millions.

s.e. smith|November 10, 2014

31 Species Just Received Protection From the UN

Over the weekend, the eleventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS COP11) concluded in Quito, Ecuador, and conservationists from around the world extended protection to dozens of migratory species including birds, fish and mammals after a week of “intense negotiations.”

“The Conference in Quito has generated an unprecedented level of attention for the Convention,” said Bradnee Chambers, the Convention’s Executive Secretary, “Like never before in the 35-year history of CMS, migratory animals have become the global flagships for many of the pressing issues of our time. From plastic pollution in our oceans, to the effects of climate change, to poaching and over exploitation, the threats migratory animals face will eventually affect us all.”

In all, 31 new species were extended various levels of protection under the treaty, which works a little bit like CITES – an Appendix I listing bans hunting or killing endangered species by nations that participate in the agreement, while Appendix II will bring countries together to create stronger conservation plans.

Big winners this year were 21 species of shark and ray species. With an estimated 100 million sharks being killed every year mostly for their fins, conservationists fear there’s no time to lose and tougher protections need to be put in place now to keep them from disappearing.

Now countries will begin working on conservation plans to protect six species of sharks and 15 species of rays including three species of thresher sharks, two hammerhead species and the silky shark, in addition to reef manta rays, nine species of devil rays and five sawfish species, who are among the most threatened species on earth.

Most notable on the list of migratory marine mammals were protections extended to polar bears under Appendix II, which conservationists are applauding as another important step for the survival of an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 left in the wild.

“What gives us hope is that this listing means that 120 countries are now recognizing the threats that polar bears face from the shrinking of their ice habitat to pollution and hunting. This is an important first step, but it must not be the last if we wish to save the polar bear,” said Dr. Masha Vorontsova, Director of IFAW Russia & CIS, and polar bear expert.

The elusive Cuvier’s beaked whale, who is the world’s deepest diving whale found in oceans around the world, was also added to Appendix I, which will hopefully offer greater protection from threats including ship strikes and ocean noise. In an effort to keep our oceans healthy, resolutions were also passed concerning plastic and other debris, cetacean culture and boat-based wildlife watching.

Even better for marine mammals, according to Whale and Dolphin Conservation, is a resolution brought by Monaco that will encourage nations to end the capture of whales and dolphins from the wild for commercial use/public display in aquariums and theme parks, in addition to urging them to stop imports and international transit of live whales and dolphins for commercial purposes.

According to a statement, three Species Action Plans were approved for the Argali Sheep in Central Asia, the Pacific Loggerhead Turtle and the Saker Falcon. The Saker Falcon ranges from Eastern Europe to Western China and is already listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List and on Appendix II of CITES, due in large part to trapping for the falconry trade, a loss of habitat and poisoning.

For bird species, the Semi-palmated Sandpiper, the Great Knot, the European Roller and the Great Bustard were listed on Appendix I, while the Canada Warbler has been confirmed for Appendix II. The semi-palmated sandpiper is a tiny shorebird who is classified as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List and continue to face threats from hunting, habitat loss and pollution in areas they use when migrating.

A regional initiative covering large migratory mammals in Central Asia, including the Bactrian Camel, Snow Leopard and the Saiga Antelope, was also launched together with an accompanying publication called “Central Asian Mammals Initiative: Saving the Last Migrations.” The red-fronted gazelle will benefit from full protection, while international cooperation was recommended for the White-eared Kob.

The Saiga antelope once created a spectacle in mass numbers, but their population has dwindled as a result of unsustainable hunting and poaching for their horns. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, their numbers in the wild have dropped from over 1,000,000 in the early 1990s to fewer than 50,000 today.

For the first time in the history of the convention, members also looked at the threat posed by renewable energy technologies to bats, birds and cetaceans and guidelines were adopted on how things like wind turbines, solar panels, dams and other forms of renewable energy developments can be used in wildlife-friendly ways.

“The unprecedented representation of the world’s nations at this CMS Conference reflects the growing awareness that the responsibility for protecting wildlife is a shared one, and that the threats to wildlife can be tackled most effectively through global cooperation, ” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNEP.

Alicia Graef|November 11, 2014

Florida Celebrates High Sea Turtle Nest Count This Season

TALLAHASSEE – Researchers are again seeing a high number of sea turtle nests on Florida’s beaches this year. The number of nests in Florida has increased over the past several years as a result of increased conservation efforts and decreased detrimental storms throughout the state.

More than 1,800 biologists, interns and trained volunteers patrol Florida’s 199 nesting beaches to identify, mark and monitor nests. Researchers at Florida’s three National Estuarine Research Reserves (NERRs), located in Naples, Apalachicola and Ponte Vedra Beach, gather evidence to track sea turtle populations and document the success of the nests.

This year, 960 total nests have been reported in Florida’s three NERRs. Researchers at Guana Tolomato Mantanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve have reported 134 nests, including 10 rare green turtle nests. The nest count in Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve has increased from 475 in 2013 to 560 nests this year. At the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, 266 nests have been identified.

“We are very pleased to see the sea turtle population increased this year within our managed areas,” Kevin Claridge, director of DEP’s Florida Coastal Office. “There are many variables that can affect population numbers, but a key component to species management is good data, which in this case would not have been possible without so many excellent partnerships and volunteer hours.”

In addition to more total nests, Rookery Bay Reserve also had more hatched nests this year, totaling 360 this season, compared to just 287 last year. The increase in hatched nests reflects the improvement of statewide nesting productivity. Additionally, Cape Romano, within Rookery Bay Reserve, is reporting the highest number of sea turtle nests since 2006. An estimated 6,000 hatchlings from those nests have made it to the Gulf – more than double last year’s reported 2,500 and soaring above the count of 678 in 2012.

Sea turtles spend the vast majority of their lives in the open ocean, only coming inland to nest. Florida is a vital area for sea turtle nesting, with nesting areas running along both the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. The nesting season spans from early May until the end of October.
During sea turtle nesting season, those visiting beaches are asked to keep lights off at night, avoid any interaction with nesting turtles and avoid all marked sea-turtle nests. When beachgoers leave lights on at night, sea turtle hatchlings may become disoriented and head toward those lights, instead of the moonlight over the ocean.

Simple actions beachgoers can take to ensure they are not hindering hatchlings from successfully making it to the water are listed below.

• Remove all belongings from the beach, flatten sand castles and fill in holes.
• Properly dispose of litter in designated receptacles on the beach.
• Stay off dunes and use the designated walkovers for crossing.
• Shield any artificial lighting that may shine toward the beach.

Press Releases|30 October 2014

Lawsuit Fights 38 Years of Delay for Southwestern Wolves

For nearly 40 years, the Southwest’s population of endangered Mexican gray wolves has been without a federal recovery plan, which acts as a blueprint for rebuilding it to sustainable levels. In the absence of that plan, there are just 83 wolves (and five breeding pairs) in the wild, and they remain at serious risk of extinction.

On Wednesday the Center for Biological Diversity and allies — including a retired federal wolf biologist — sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its failure to finalize a recovery plan for these wolves, some of the most endangered mammals in North America. Also on Wednesday the Center released a report, called Deadly Delay, outlining years of foot-dragging and appeasement of states and others with no interest in allowing more Mexican wolves on the landscape.

“It’s shameful that the very people charged with recovering our wildlife have turned their backs on these beautiful creatures, leaving them to battle inbreeding and a host of other threats pushing them to the brink of extinction,” said the Center’s Michael Robinson.

Read more in the Los Angeles Times and check out our report in our press release

Scottish wildcat benefits from six new protection sites

Six sites in Scotland have been identified by Scottish Natural Heritage as key areas for Scottish wildcats following research into the endangered cat species.

The sites; Angus Glens, northern Strathspey, Morvern, Strathavon, Strathbogie (around Huntly) and Strathpeffer, have been designated as potential wildcat strongholds worth preserving after evidence of cats showing strong wildcat features were found.

“The survey findings support that there are wild-living cats displaying many of the typical wildcat features in these areas,” said Dr Rob Ogden, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Head of Science. “Although some of the best examples caught on camera were not tested for their DNA, some of the cats tested had a high proportion of wildcat genetic markers. Hence a pragmatic view is that our wildcats remain distinctive and are worthy of protection.

The main threat to the Scottish wildcat is hybridizing with domestic cats and therefore the next stage is to reduce the risk of further hybridisation in these six important areas by:

• Co-coordinating an ambitious trap, neuter and release (TNR) program to neuter all feral and hybrids.

• Encouraging cat owners to neuter and vaccinate cats; micro-chipping will also help to make pet cats easily identifiable.

SNH and its partners in The Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan will also be working with gamekeepers, farmers and foresters to reduce the risks to wildcats from predator control; and monitoring populations to see the benefits of this work.

Jenny Bryce, SNH’s wildlife ecologist, said: “These priority areas give us real opportunity to halt the decline of the Scottish wildcat and preserve its distinctive identity.

The Action Plan partners take a pragmatic view – there are good examples of wildcats out there, displaying many of the characteristics of this species. And this is very much the focus of the new Wildcat Action project.

“We have been encouraged by the number and the quality of wildcats that have been observed, given the relatively short duration of the surveys. We think this is indicative of populations persisting more widely.

“But the threats are ever-present and we need to act now to preserve animals that are distinctive as Scottish wildcats. And with the help of people in these communities we aim to do just that.”

This news follows the creation of a Scottish wildcat sanctuary on the west coast of Scotland in July 2014

Scientists find Sea Turtles suffer from the bends like humans

Loggerhead Sea Turtles have been found to suffer from the bends

It has been discovered sea turtles, like humans, can suffer from decompression sickness (DCS), also known as the bends.

The research, carried out by a team of international scientists, shows for the first time that DCS occurs in the loggerhead sea turtle. DCS was previously thought to only occur in humans and some whale and dolphin species.

Sea turtles are often caught accidentally in commercial fishing nets and those that appear to be active are usually released. This study suggests that these turtles, while appearing initially active, possibly have DCS and may die following release.

“This is the first time that the bends has been confirmed in a marine reptile,” said Dr Paul Jepson, co-author and marine vet at the Zoological Society of London.

“It also shows that endangered sea turtles accidentally caught in fishing nets are at risk of dying, even if they initially appear to be still alive when brought up to the sea surface.

“Ideally we want to avoid sea turtles being caught in commercial fishing activities but, if they are, I hope that this research will make fisheries more vigilant about unintentionally catching sea turtles and the risks of DCS from rapid ascent.”

The scientists studied 29 sea turtles that were accidentally caught in commercial fishing nets off the coast of Spain and diagnosed with DCS. Two were treated with human recompression protocols carried out at Oceanographic, Valencia, and responded well. They were subsequently released back into the Mediterranean Sea.

This potentially means that numbers of sea turtles dyeing as a direct result of commercial fishing could be higher than previously thought.

Marine turtle populations are declining in the Mediterranean Sea, and six out of seven sea turtle species are endangered worldwide.

DCS occurs when dissolved gases form bubbles inside the body on depressurization and most commonly refers to problems from underwater diving. In humans, DCS can produce many symptoms from joint pain to paralysis and death.

1 million raised to save Snow Leopards

Snow Leopard Enterprise works with local communities to protect the big cats in the wild.

Snow Leopard Enterprises has reached a milestone sum in the amount of money it has raised toward saving the endangered Snow Leopard. A total of $1 million has been raised in the past 10 years by local herders who create handicrafts to sell for the cause, and thanks to the support of its many partners and donors. The money directly benefits the endangered animals as well as poor local communities.

“Snow Leopard Enterprises is not an aid program

me, but a conservation and economic development initiative,” explains Brad Rutherford, Executive Director of the Snow Leopard Trust, “It changes lives and empowers local communities to become stewards of the ecosystems they live in.”

Over the years, Snow Leopard Enterprises has grown from just a handful of communities to including over 1000 families across three countries; Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, and Pakistan.

In these areas, people who rely on their livestock for their livelihood often live on less than $2 a day. When their lose their livestock to a predator, such as the Snow Leopard, their action is to retaliate against the cat. Snow Leopard Enterprises is working to help break the circle of poverty and conflict between humans and wildlife, providing local herder women with training and equipment to make rugs, felted toy cats, and other crafts made from the wool of their animals.

The income these women make from this in turn helps to improve their lives, and in order to participate in the program the participating communities sign agreements to protect the Snow Leopards living in their areas. If no cats are hurt during the course of a year, the communities receive an additional bonus.

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) have had a long standing partnership with the organisation.  “We are delighted to have been part of this amazing initiative right from the start,” says CEO of DSWF, Sally Case. “What once was a small handicrafts program with just a few women participating has just reached a major milestone and today helps protect more than 17 per cent of Mongolia’s snow leopard habitat. We’re incredibly proud to be part of that success which is bringing communities together to protect their local landscapes and wildlife.”

Continuing its success, Snow Leopard Enterprises will be expanding with its launch of an India program in 2015. Rutherford comments, “We hope our customer base will expand with us, so we can reach even more cats and communities in the future.”

We Just Lost 2 More Mexican Gray Wolves, But Wolf Advocates Aren’t Giving Up

Mexican gray wolves have suffered yet another blow with a recent announcement from wildlife officials that they’re investigating the deaths of two more who were shot and killed in New Mexico last month, but their advocates aren’t giving up the fight to see them return to their rightful place in the wild.

This week conservation organizations and a former Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator came together to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for failing to come up with a solid recovery plan since efforts began save them almost 40 years ago.

Mexican gray wolves were once abundant in vast portions of the Southwest and Mexico, but were eradicated by the 1900s. In 1976 they were listed as an endangered species and bi-national recovery efforts began. In the late 1970s five wolves were captured and used to start a captive breeding program, but despite starting a temporary recovery plan in 1982, there are still only an estimated 83 left in the wild as of the last official count, which is still far short of the 100 there were supposed to be by 2006 and drastically short of the number needed to ensure their survival.

Their advocates fear that despite some of the efforts that have been undertaken to save them, they still face a serious risk of extinction in the wild. The few in the wild now remain vulnerable to a host problems ranging from a lack of genetic diversity, diseases and natural disasters to being killed by humans; at least 50 illegal killings have been documented since reintroduction efforts began in 1998. They’re also suffering as a result of having a restricted range that doesn’t allow them to naturally expand to new areas where they could thrive, which have been identified in New Mexico, Arizona, southern Utah, southern Colorado and Texas.

Currently, any wolves who leave the recovery area to establish a new territory are captured and put back. Not only does this stop them from establishing new territories and moving between different populations, but captures can be traumatic and end in death.

“For three decades now, Fish and Wildlife officials have been dragging their feet on completing a recovery plan simply to appease state leaders and special interest groups opposed to sharing the landscape with wolves,” said Michael Robinson, a wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s shameful that the very people charged with recovering our wildlife have turned their backs on these beautiful creatures, leaving them to battle inbreeding and a host of other threats pushing them to the brink of extinction.”

In a new report, the Center runs through the government’s repeated efforts to come up with a plan and how it has shut down every single one before they were complete. In the most recent attempt in 2012, scientists recommended adding areas to their range and ensuring a population of at least 750 wolves, but that plan was never finished.

Through their lawsuit, wolf advocates are seeking to have the court compel the FWS to complete its recovery plan, arguing that the agency’s lack of progress is in violation of the Endangered Species Act, which legally requires a recovery plan for imperiled species.

This July, the FWS proposed changes to rules governing Mexican gray wolf management, with a few beneficial changes that were widely supported by the public, but their advocates fear the benefits won’t be enough to help without a long-term recovery plan in place to ensure their survival.

“Only by developing and implementing a comprehensive and legally compliant recovery plan reflecting the best available scientific information can Fish and Wildlife Service secure the future of the Mexican wolf, and establish management sufficient to restore this irreplaceable part of our wild natural heritage to the American landscape,” said Virginia Busch, Executive Director of the Endangered Wolf Center in Missouri.

Hopefully the court will rule for wolves in this case to ensure action is taken on their behalf before it’s too late.

Alicia Graef|November 14, 2014

Wild & Weird

Wild & Weird: 17 Lions Defeated by Porcupine — Watch Video

A lion attack often goes like this: Several lionesses encircle a chosen target in the night, their body language purposefully casual; one lioness closes in slowly, and then comes a sudden leap with bared teeth and claws and a powerful blow that disables the prey. This mode of attack might be the same for an elephant, a zebra or even a giraffe, and it’s one of the reasons lions are called the kings (and queens) of the jungle.

You’d think 17 hungry lions circling a porcupine would mean the end of the poor critter. But as a new video by a gamekeeper in South Africa shows, you might be wrong.

Watch this video of a tenacious porcupine fending off an entire pride of lions, and read more at The Independent.

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

A New Northern Everglades Water Quality Project Breaks Ground

Last week, the Spring Lake Improvement District (SLID) broke ground on a new project that will clean up water before it flows to Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades. This innovative project will store and treat stormwater from their property before it enters Arbuckle Creek, on its way to Lake Istokpoga, and then on to Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades.

The ground-breaking was initiated by (left to right) Highlands County Commissioner Don Elwell, Gene Schriner,  project engineer, Brian Acker of SLID, Marty Mielke, Senator Grimsley’s office, Representative Cary Pigman, and Highlands County Commissioner Greg Harris.

Currently, polluted stormwater from Lake Wales Ridge, Sebring Regional Airport and U.S. 98  flows the residential areas around Spring Lake. The new project  will capture this water and treat it in stormwater ponds  before it flows on to Arbuckle Creek and areas throughout the Everglades. In addition to these water quality benefits,  Spring Lake Improvement District plans to manage the area for wildlife viewing and enjoyment for its residents.

The 70-acre system is funded through a $416,000 legislative appropriation to the SLID with $625,000 of matching funds from a DEP grant. Sen. Denise Grimsley and Rep. Cary Pigman helped obtain legislative funding, with support from Audubon. This project is part of an admirable $4 million effort on the part of this small District to improve water management.

The  Spring Lake Improvement District is an independent special district that provides services to Spring Lake, a community on the northern shore of Lake Istokpoga in Highlands County. The Spring Lake community was designed 50 years ago and has experienced stormwater runoff problems in recent years.

Audubon scientist Paul Gray has been following this project in its development and notes, “This project has the type of vision that helps meet stormwater goals for this community, by adding an amenity for its residents and protecting Arbuckle Creek and Lake Istokpoga, which are the natural beauty that attracted the development in the first place.”

Beautiful Arbuckle Creek will be a beneficiary of the Spring Lake project.

For more information on this project, please click here.

audubonoffloridanews.org|November 5, 2014

Water Quality Issues

EPA and Army Corps to Clarify Muddy Definitions of Wetlands and Water

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency have proposed a new rule clarifying Clean Water Act protections for many streams, wetlands, and other waters critical to Florida’s and the nation’s water resources, wildlife and economy.  Because of confusion created by two Supreme Court cases in 2001 and 2006 over what waters are protected or not, many have been at increased risk of pollution and destruction for more than a decade.  The sad result is wetland losses have been increasing nationwide for the first time since the 1980’s.  Just as sad is a torrent of misinformed objections to this very reasonable, science-based rule from development interests who want to keep this confused status quo.

Audubon Florida summarizes this important habitat and resource issue in a new “Clean Water Act Rule” Fact Sheet – click here to read it.  To read a two-page EPA summary of the proposed rule’s clarifications of what water resources are protected by the Clean Water Act, click here.

Clean drinking water, flood protection, downstream fisheries, wildlife habitat and everyone’s local economy depend on clear standards and rules leading to healthier water and wetlands. Please send a letter of support for this proposed rule to EPA before the end of the public comment period on November 14, 2014.  If the rule is not approved, wetland losses and degradation of water will continue to accelerate in Florida and across the United States.

Audubon of Florida News Blog -

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

EPA, MDEQ and UP Officials Celebrate Removal of Lake Superior Area of Concern from Binational List of Toxic Hotspots

Ishpeming, Michigan (Nov. 13, 2014) – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 Administrator/Great Lakes National Program Manager Susan Hedman today joined Ishpeming Mayor Mike Tall, state officials and local residents at Deer Lake in Ishpeming, Michigan, to mark the removal of this toxic hotspot from a binational list of “Areas of Concern” targeted for cleanup in the 1987 U.S.-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

After decades during which only one U.S. Area of Concern was delisted, federal agencies have accelerated cleanup actions during the past five years by using Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding. Deer Lake is one of three Areas of Concern that have been delisted since the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative was launched in 2010. The United States and Canada designated 43 Areas of Concern under the 1987 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, in an effort to target sites contaminated primarily by industrial activity that occurred before modern environmental laws were enacted.

The Deer Lake Area of Concern on the southern shore of Lake Superior was contaminated by mercury that leached into water flowing through an abandoned iron mine and by other sources of pollution. High levels of mercury contamination in fish and reproductive problems in bald eagles were documented in the Area of Concern. EPA Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grants ($8 million) were used to complete the final work required for delisting: projects that diverted water from the underground mine to the surface and to restore a trout steam known as Partridge Creek.

“The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative accelerated cleanup work needed to protect Lake Superior and to delist the Deer Lake Area of Concern,” Hedman said. “Our work in the Deer Lake Area of Concern has reduced threats to public health and will enhance recreational opportunities and the UP economy.”

“The Partridge Creek Project stands out as an excellent example of the terrific results that may be achieved when business, citizens, and government work together to accomplish important environmental goals,” said Mayor Tall. “The local community and the global community are the beneficiaries of this great project. The City of Ishpeming is grateful to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the EPA, DEQ, and the many individuals who all labored for many years to remove the beneficial use impairments at Deer Lake.”

“As a lifelong resident of Northern Michigan, I am so pleased to see Deer Lake removed as an Area of Concern,” said U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek. “I grew up here, and I want our Great Lakes and waters to stay clean for our children and grandchildren. That’s why I’ve been a big supporter of the GLRI, which really made today’s event possible. I look forward to continuing to work to remove other areas in Northern Michigan off the list as well.”

“The restoration of Deer Lake is not only a good news story for all the communities involved, but also a testament to what can be accomplished through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative,” said U.S. Senator Carl Levin. “I am proud of our progress so far and look forward to the restoration of other contaminated areas in the Great Lakes.”

“Today’s celebration marks a major achievement that reflects the decades of hard work by the Deer Lake Public Advisory Council, City of Ishpeming, and local stakeholders, and the importance of federal funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative,” said U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow. “Deer Lake is one of the first areas in Michigan to get a clean bill of health thanks to this federal partnership, which invests in the health of our Great Lakes and waterways. Today’s event shows once again the urgent need to invest in partnerships that clean up, restore, and protect our Great Lakes for generations to come.”

“This announcement is the capstone on years of work to clean up our Great Lakes shorelines,” said Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant. “We appreciate the support from federal partners through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to make this happen, and we appreciate the continued support and hard work of local groups to restore Michigan’s natural resources in our Areas of Concern. We look forward to more good news from this program in the years ahead.”

“This is a phenomenal achievement for Deer Lake, the Ishpeming Area, and especially, Lake Superior,” said Diane Feller, Chair of the Deer Lake Public Advisory Council. “If someone told me thirty years ago that fish from Deer Lake would be safe to eat in my lifetime, I wouldn’t have believed it. PAC Members, Cliffs, State Agencies and EPA have all been instrumental in getting this result. Thanks to the EPA for spearheading the final push to delisting.”

Last summer, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality formally asked EPA to start the process to delist the Deer Lake Area of Concern. EPA reviewed environmental monitoring data submitted with MDEQ’s request and determined that this Area of Concern was eligible to be delisted. Notice of intent to delist the Area of Concern was provided to the government of Canada, tribal nations, the International Joint Commission and the general public. MDEQ will continue to monitor ecological conditions in the delisted Deer Lake Area of Concern, with support from EPA.

In 2013, the Presque Isle Bay Area of Concern (Lake Erie, Pennsylvania) was delisted, the first since GLRI was launched in 2010 and only the second U.S. Area of Concern delisted since the 1987 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. This fall, the White Lake Area of Concern (on Lake Michigan, in Muskegon County, Michigan) Areas of Concern was also delisted. Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding has been used to complete all necessary remediation and restoration actions at three additional Areas of Concern: Waukegan Harbor (Lake Michigan, Illinois), Sheboygan Harbor (Lake Michigan, Wisconsin), and Ashtabula River (Lake Erie, Ohio). Environmental monitoring is ongoing at those Areas of Concern to assess their eligibility for delisting. Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding is also being used to accelerate cleanup work in all remaining Areas of Concern on the U.S. side of the border.

For more information (including high-resolution photos) on the Deer Lake Area of Concern:
http://www2.epa.gov/deer-lake-aoc.

For more information on the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative: www.glri.us.

Offshore & Ocean

Groundbreaking Maps Detail Acidity of the Earth’s Oceans

A team of scientists at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the University of Colorado at Boulder have published a groundbreaking set of maps that offer a comprehensive picture of the acidity of the Earth’s oceans as they absorb climate change-causing carbon emissions, causing changes to marine ecosystems.

Feb 2005 ocean map 960(1)In northern winter, the Bering Sea, dividing Alaska and Siberia, becomes the most acidic region on earth (in purple) as shown in this February 2005 acidity map in pH scale. Temperate oceans are less acidic. The equatorial Pacific is left blank due to its high variability around El Niño and La Niña events. Map credit: Taro Takahashi

“We have established a global standard for future changes to be measured,” said Lamont-Doherty geophysicist Taro Takahashi, one of the team that developed the maps, which were published in Marine Chemistry. The maps take a month-by-month look at the increases and declines in ocean acidity in different seasons and locations, as well as  saturation levels of calcium carbonate minerals used by shell-building organisms. They utilize four decades of measurements by Lamont-Doherty researchers and others.

Among other things, the maps show that the northern Indian Ocean is 10 percent more acidic than the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and that ocean water as far north as Iceland and as far south as Antarctica are acidifying by about 5 percent per decade, corresponding to the increase in carbon emissions.

caco3 ocean map 960The saturation state of the mineral aragonite, essential to shell-builders, tends to fall as waters become more acidic. The South Pacific Ocean is heavily oversaturated with respect to aragonite (in red) while the polar oceans (in blue) are less saturated, as shown in this February 2005 map. The pink lines represent approximate polar sea ice edges. Map credit: Taro Takahashi

While the chemistry will be over the heads of the average non-chemist, the maps are fascinating for how they make visual the impact we’re having on our oceans and what that might mean for cultures and economies that depend on them.

Anastasia Pantsios |November 11, 2014

Lawsuit Filed to Protect Struggling Walruses from Arctic Oil Drilling

Threats to walruses in the Arctic are in the spotlight again, as six environmental and conservation groups have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) challenging a rule that would allow oil companies to begin drilling in key walrus feeding areas in the Arctic’s Chukchi Sea by next year. Shell has already announced its intention to do so.

Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands, Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council. According to the plaintiffs, oil operations could force walruses out of their feeding areas, trigger stampedes, harm them with loud seismic blasts and put them at risk from the impacts of catastrophic oil spills which would be difficult to clean up in Arctic conditions.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service needs to do a much better job of protecting walrus mothers and calves struggling to survive in the dramatically changing Chukchi Sea,” said Earthjustice Attorney Erik Grafe.  “Today’s challenge seeks to protect walruses from suffering potential serious harm and harassment at the hands of companies like Shell Oil, which crashed and burned during its Arctic Ocean drilling efforts in 2012. Walruses are already under tremendous stress from climate change—their sea ice home is literally melting away. Without adequate analysis, the challenged rules would add to walruses’ woes by allowing drilling and risking oil spills in the areas most important for food and resting. What’s more, drilling would accelerate the climate change already causing so much trouble for walruses.”

Grafe is referring to the stress already on walruses in the region as the ice from which they hunt and on which they raise their young has been melting due to climate change. The ice edge has receded north into water to deep for the walruses to fish in. This has forced the animals onshore where they have gathered in huge masses on beaches on both flanks of the sea in Alaska and Russia. About 35,000 walruses came ashore in Alaska a month ago, with another 10,000 finding solid ground in Russia, as September sea ice extent shrunk to its sixth-lowest extent since satellite measurements began.

The lawsuit has much wider implications than just protecting the habitats of some big, beautiful animals.

“Walruses are the Arctic’s canary in a coal mine,” said Cindy Shogan, executive director for Alaska Wilderness League. “We can’t ignore the signs and impacts of climate change in the Arctic. The Interior Department must better protect walruses and the fragile Arctic Ocean with its disappearing shoreline from harm by big oil companies like Shell. Adding drilling into this already dangerous mix is reckless and irresponsible.”

“The danger to walrus is one more in a long list of serious risks posed by drilling in the Arctic Ocean,” said Dan Ritzman, Alaska program director for the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign. “We should not sacrifice the Arctic’s amazing wildlife, the subsistence culture that depends on it, or our climate to dirty drilling. The effects on walrus and other wildlife will only worsen if we don’t begin keeping dirty fuels in the ground.”

Anastasia Pantsios|November 10, 2014

In Hawaii’s Colorful Reefs, a Harrowing Death Knell

It’s no secret that the world’s corals are in trouble. And right now in the waters surrounding Hawaii, some of the rarest corals on Earth are getting hammered. In recent weeks warming ocean temperatures have set off widespread bleaching. Some corals will survive, but others — especially those barely hanging on — will be a step closer to extinction.

The Center for Biological Diversity has been working for years to save corals from bleaching and ocean acidification. As the Center’s Miyoko Sakashita points out in a new op-ed, we’re happy to see new federal protection for 20 species of corals, but there’s much more work to be done.

“It’s easy to turn a blind eye to what’s happening, especially because it’s taking place out of our daily vision in places where few of us will ever see in person,” Miyo writes. “But our negligence of the plight of corals — willful or not — will come at a steep price, exacted in the loss of the magical undersea worlds that we allowed to disappear.”

Read Miyo’s piece in The Huffington Post and learn more about our work to save corals.

New coral species discovered off the coast of California

The new species of white coral found off the coast of California in an area known as The Football. Most likely it is closely related to gorgonian corals. © NOAA.

Scientists on a mission led by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have made new discovers in waters off California’s coast, including a new species of deep sea coral and a nursery area used by both catsharks and skates.

The research was a result of the first intensive exploration of the areas north of Bodega Head, which took place in September 2014 aboard NOAA’s R/V Fulmar. The team of scientists focused on two main sites: the head waters of Bodega Canyon, and an area known as ‘the Football’ west of Salmon Creek and north of the canyon, so-named for its oval shape.

While investigating in these areas, the researchers discovered a new species of deep sea coral, and a nursery area for both catsharks and skates located in the underwater canyons close to the Gulf of Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries off Sonoma coast.

The team of scientists undertook multiple dives during which they made the discovery of hundreds of skate egg cases on the sea floor, and in bundles on rocks surrounding a catshark nursery area.

Commenting on this finding, deep sea biologist at NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science Peter Etnoyer said: “This is a highly unusual nursery because rarely, if ever, are shark nurseries in the same area as skate nurseries.”

The significant discovery of the new coral species was made by the second team to embark on the mission, led by California Academy of Sciences’ Gary Williams. His team found corals at around 600 feet deep and confirmed them to be a new species of deep sea coral. “Deep-sea corals and sponges provide valuable refuge for fish and other marine life,” said Maria Brown, Farallones sanctuary superintendent. “Data on these life forms helps determine the extent and ecological importance of deep sea communities and the threats they face. Effective management of these ecosystems requires science-based information on their condition.”

The mission was also significant for being the first time that video surveys were recorded in the area. Previously this region had only been documented through sonar imaging.

“The video surveys from this research mission verified the extent of rocky habitat estimated from sonar data collected several years ago, and the quality of rocky habitat in some areas exceeded expectations.” says US Geological Survey geophysicist Guy Cochrane.

The scientists used small submersibles in their investigations along with other innovate technologies, documenting the marine life that has adapted to survive in offshore waters reaching depths of 1000 feet by filming and photographing it. Prior to this research, scientists knew little about these areas except they were thought to contain nutrient-rich and biologically diverse marine life.

“Surveys of the seafloor in these waters reveal an abundance and diversity of life in new habitats,” commented Danielle Lipski of the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary. “This work helps inform our knowledge and understanding of the deep sea ecosystems north of Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones national marine sanctuaries, areas that are extremely important to the ocean environment.”

Pew Praises Adoption of Protections for Antarctic Krill

China and Russia block action on marine reserves in Southern Ocean

Hobart, Australia—The Pew Charitable Trusts commended the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) for acting to expand protections for krill, a critical species in the Southern Ocean’s food web, but noted the commission’s continued failure to designate what could have been the world’s largest marine reserve in Antarctica’s Southern Ocean.

Because of objections from China and Russia, the commission could not reach consensus for the fourth time in three years on proposals to designate permanent marine reserves within the Ross Sea and waters off East Antarctica.

Made up of 24 countries and the European Union, CCAMLR did extend protections for Antarctic krill: a time extension of the current krill fishing limits that can occur close to the coasts where nesting penguins live. Krill, shrimp-like crustaceans, are the base of the Southern Ocean food web and a crucial food source for seals, fish, whales, and penguins.

For the fourth time in three years, CCAMLR members could not reach consensus on proposals to protect areas in the Ross Sea and off East Antarctica. China and Russia blocked efforts by the commission to agree on designations that would have restricted industrial fishing in some of the most pristine marine environments on Earth. Together, the two designations would have protected 3.2 million square kilometers (1.2 million square miles).

Andrea Kavanagh, who directs Pew’s efforts to protect penguins and the Southern Ocean, issued the following statement:

“We are pleased that CCAMLR took positive steps to keep some krill fishing away from nesting habitats of penguins, but disappointed that politics trumped the advice from the Scientific Committee to increase observer coverage on all fishing vessels.

Since 1959, Antarctica has been recognized as a special place for peace and science. It is regrettable that CCAMLR, faced with objections from China and Russia, cannot live up to that promise.  Another year of inaction means another year that these near-pristine waters and their remarkable biodiversity are open to the threat of industrial fishing. The proposed designations would have ensured the long-term protection of many species, including penguins, seals and whales.”

Forestry

New laws may turn Brazil’s forests into mines

Areas of land the size of European countries stand to have protections revoked for development

With the world’s largest system of protected areas and a 70 percent drop in the deforestation rate of the Amazon over the past decade, Brazil has made huge strides in safeguarding what’s left of its wilderness. However, this progress now hangs in the balance, with new laws threatening to turn many of the country’s protected areas into mines and dams.
A report released today in Science details the impacts of the legislation, which is currently under debate by the Brazilian Congress. One proposal is calling for 10 percent of the country’s most stringently protected areas (PAs) to be developed for mining, which would affect an area the size of Switzerland encompassing national parks, biological reserves, and wildlife refuges. Brazil’s indigenous-held land would be even more impacted, with 281,000 square kilometers —an area bigger than the UK—at risk of mining development. Proposed hydroelectric dams stand to disturb downstream PAs, limiting the movement of aquatic species and flooding out terrestrial ones.

The proposals include plans for mitigating and reducing environmental damage from development. However, the authors of the report caution these plans do not go far enough to address the scope of impact.
“Our concern is that even if the proposed mitigation actions were put in place they are oversimplified because they fail to take account of the indirect effects of mega-projects,” said coauthor Dr. Luiz Aragão. “These projects can involve thousands of workers and lead to rapid local population growth. This, combined with new roads and access routes, is a recipe for the emergence of new deforestation frontiers.”
Brazil
boasts more than 12 percent of the world’s PAs, with 17.6 percent of its land granted federal, state, or municipal protection. However, since 2008, Brazil had already reduced safeguards for 44,100 square kilometers of PAs to facilitate development, calling into question the efficacy of such “protection.”
Brazil has had great success in reducing deforestation in the past decade, effectively sparing 86,000 square kilometers of rainforest from the chainsaw and thereby preserving wildlife habitat and preventing the release of 3.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions, according to
a study published in Science earlier this year. However, while forest loss has been stymied in the country, it definitely has not been stopped. The state of Pará, for example, lost nearly 8.1 hectares—more than 7 percent—of its forests from 2001 through 2012, according to data from Global Forest Watch. This, despite an abundance of protected areas occupying almost half the state’s land area.
While most of Pará’s forest loss occurred outside its PAs, deforestation happened within them in several places. For instance, Global Forest Watch shows the Triunfo do Xingu Environmental Protection Area in the middle of the state experienced more than 361,000 hectares of deforestation from 2001 through 2012.

In addition to threatening its own biodiversity and resources, the authors of the report worry Brazil’s PA reductions may have global repercussions.
“Beyond the conservation and stewardship of its own biodiversity and environmental resources, so vital to the wellbeing of its citizens, Brazil plays a vital role in motivating and supporting the adoption of more sustainable development trajectories around the world,” said coauthor Toby Gardner. “Yet this standing is now in jeopardy.”
The population of Brazil
nearly quadrupled in 60 years, from 54 million in 1950 to 195 million in 2010. Balancing the needs of a growing human populace with those of the environment can be a tricky issue, one the authors of the report say Brazil’s government should address more thoughtfully.
“The purpose of this analysis is not to say that Brazil´s development should not benefit from its abundant natural resources,” said Dr. Joice Ferreira, lead author of the report, “but that we should not squander our hard-won record of success and leadership in favor of fast-tracked and poorly planned development projects that leave a long legacy of environmental damage.
“It is possible to manage our development in a more sustainable way.”

Morgan Erickson-Davis|mongabay.com|November 07, 2014

New Citrus Trees Resist Greening

The varietals only show superior tolerance in soils on the East Coast

LAKELAND | The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released five new citrus varieties that appear to tolerate the fatal bacterial disease citrus greening better than existing varieties.

All five new releases are rootstocks, or citrus varieties bred primarily for specific soil conditions. The canopy of a commercial citrus tree comes from other varieties of oranges, grapefruit or tangerines grafted onto the rootstock just above ground level.

However, all five new rootstocks show superior tolerance to greening only on flatwood soils in the Indian River and Gulf Coast growing regions along the Florida coasts, according to USDA documents. Results of field tests showed no advantages over existing rootstocks grown in the sandier soils along the Central Florida Ridge, which includes Polk County.

Kim Bowman, a research geneticist at the USDA Horticultural Research Laboratory in Fort Pierce, developed all five rootstocks.

The new releases join four other rootstocks, all among the 10 most widely planted in Florida, Bowman developed earlier, said David Hall, the Fort Pierce lab’s interim director. Bowman could not be reached on Wednesday.

“We’re really excited about this release,” Hall said. “It’s really exciting to have rootstocks that show increased resistance to greening.”

Citrus is a fatal bacterial disease that threatens the future of Florida’s commercial citrus industry. Infected trees produce fewer, smaller fruit and have difficulty holding onto the fruit before it can be harvested.

In the five citrus seasons before greening was discovered in 2005, Florida growers produced an average of 225 million boxes of oranges. In the 2013-14 season, the orange harvest fell to 104.6 million boxes and is expected to fall below 100 million when the USDA releases its initial 2014-15 crop forecast on Friday.

The USDA decided to release the new rootstocks earlier than usual because of pleas from Florida citrus growers for new measures against greening, Hall said.

According to the USDA documents, the field trials for the five new rootstocks were limited to about 20 Hamlin orange trees, each at experimental groves near the Fort Pierce lab, which has flatwood soils, and in Orange County along the Ridge. Hamlin is Florida’s most widely planted early orange variety, harvested from October to March.

The new rootstocks could perform differently when they are more widely planted in commercial groves across Florida, Hall said.

In the field tests, all five rootstocks showed superior tolerance to the effects of greening, the documents said. Tolerance means the citrus tree can still be infected with the disease but shows a greater ability to cope with the infection.

The new rootstocks particularly outperformed Swingle, the most widely planted rootstock in Florida, the documents show.

From 2008 to 2012, infected trees on the new rootstocks produced two to three times more oranges when compared with infected trees on Swingle. Fruit size generally was larger and with more juice than Swingle trees, although the differences were not statistically significant in some cases.

Researchers also sampled the trees for bacterial levels, which could also account for the improved performance, but found no significant differences between the new rootstocks and Swingle. That supports the inference the rootstocks are naturally resistant to greening.

Mike Sparks, chief executive at Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual, the state’s largest growers’ group, expressed confidence that the release of the new rootstocks represents an advance in the fight against greening.

“We are very optimistic the new rootstocks will really help growers,” Sparks said in an email to The Ledger. “It’s another tool for them in the battle against (greening). With several incentive programs out there designed to get growers to re-plant, these releases couldn’t have come at a better time.”

Kevin Bouffard|THE LEDGER\October 8, 2014 .

Destruction of Carbon-Rich Mangroves Costs up to $42 Billion in Economic Damages Annually

Globally Coordinated Action and Policy Interventions Required to Stem Loss of One of the Planet’s Most Threatened Ecosystems

ATHENS – Mangroves are being destroyed at a rate 3 – 5 times greater than the average rates of forest loss, costing billions in economic damages and denying millions of people the ecosystem services they need to survive, according to a new report launched today by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

The Importance of Mangroves: A Call to Action launched today at the 16th Global Meeting of the Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans, describes how emissions resulting from mangrove losses make up nearly one-fifth of global emissions from deforestation, resulting in economic damages of some US$6 – 42 billion annually. Mangroves are also threatened by climate change, which could result in the loss of a further 10 – 15 per cent of mangroves by 2100.

Found in 123 countries and covering 152,000 square kilometers, over 100 million people around the world live within 10 kilometers of large mangrove forests, benefiting from a variety of goods and services such as fisheries and forest products, clean water and protection against erosion and extreme weather events.

UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, “Mangroves provide ecosystem services worth around US$33 – 57,000 per hectare per year. Add to that their superior ability to store carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and it becomes clear that their continued destruction makes neither ecological nor economic sense.”

“Yet, the escalating destruction and degradation of mangroves – driven by land conversion for aquaculture and agriculture, coastal development, and pollution – is occurring at an alarming rate, with over a quarter of the earth’s original mangrove cover now lost. This has potentially devastating effects on biodiversity, food security and the livelihoods of some of the most marginalized coastal communities in developing countries where more than 90 per cent of the world’s mangroves are found.”

“By quantifying in economic terms the value of the ecosystem services provided by mangroves as well as the critical role they play in global climate regulation, the report aims to encourage policymakers to use the tools and guidelines outlined to better ensure the conservation and sustainable management of mangroves,” he added.

The report argues that in spite of the mounting evidence in support of the multitude of benefits derived from mangroves, they remain one of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet. The report describes financial mechanisms and incentives to stimulate mangrove conservation, such as REDD+, private sector investments, and the creation of Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions for developing countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while increasing national capacity.

Mangrove degradation and loss is predicted to continue into the future if a business-as-usual scenario prevails. The Importance of Mangroves: A Call to Action offers readers and especially policymakers many management and protection measures and tools that are available for use at national, regional and global scales to help ensure a sustainable future for mangroves.

Policymakers, it says, should consider several of these, including integrating mangrove-specific goals and targets into the post-2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals agenda, as well as better coordination of global action on mangroves through the development of a Global Mangrove Commission, and the streamlining and coordination of Multilateral Environmental Agreements.

Protecting these long-term reservoirs of carbon, and preventing their emissions from being released back into the atmosphere is, the report says, a sensible and cost-effective measure that can be taken to help mitigate climate change.

Key Findings

Ecosystem Services

· By 2050, South-East Asia will potentially have lost 35 per cent of the mangrove cover it had in 2000, with associated negative ecological and socio-economic impacts.

· Ecosystem service losses in South-East Asia from the destruction of mangroves has been estimated at more than US$2 billion a year over the period 2000 – 2050, with Indonesia predicted to suffer the highest losses at US$ 1.7 billion per year.

Climate Change Regulation and Mitigation

· Research is increasingly pointing to the role of mangroves as significant carbon storage systems, sequestering vast amounts of carbon – about 1,000 tons per hectare – over thousands of years, making them some of the most carbon-rich ecosystems on the planet.

· One study carried out in the Potengi Estuary in Brazil on 1,488 hectares of mangroves found that the forest trees and sediments were retaining concentrations of heavy metals that would otherwise cost US$13 million to treat in a zeolite plant.

Livelihoods

· A large number of commercially important fish species such as snapper, mullet, wrasse, parrotfish, sharks and rays utilize mangroves during all or part of their lives, with the mangrove providing critical food, shelter and refuge functions.

· It has been estimated that 30 per cent of the fish caught in South-East Asia are supported in some way by mangrove forests; a figure approaching 100 per cent for highly mangrove-dependent species including some species of prawn.

· It was estimated that the annual average landing of mangrove-associated fish and blue crab in the Gulf is 10,500 tons, with an estimated total value of US$19 million to local fisheries.

Extreme Weather Events

· The complex network of mangrove roots can help reduce wave energy, limit erosion and shield coastal communities from the destructive forces of tropical storms, cyclones and tsunamis.

· The mangrove-lined “hurricane holes” in the Caribbean have been a well-known safe haven for vessels for centuries, and of the 20-odd established hurricane holes recommended for boaters needing to ride out storms in the Antilles, 16 gain such a reputation because of the presence of mangroves.

· In Vietnam, extensive planting of mangrove has cost of US$1.1 million but has helped reduce maintenance cost of the sea-dyke by US$7.3 million per year.

Biodiversity Hotspots

· Mangroves form the foundation of a highly productive and biologically rich ecosystem that is home to a spectacular range of species of birds, mammals, invertebrates and fish which help to support people through fisheries, tourism and cultural heritage.

· The combination of clearance and degradation has meant that globally about 16 per cent of mangrove tree species and some 40 per cent of the animal species dependent on these ecosystems are now considered vulnerable and/or at risk of extinction. The mangroves of Australia are home to over 200 species of birds, and at least 600 different fish species are known to occur in mangroves across the Indo-Pacific region.

Recommendations

Policymaker guidelines for the improvement, management and protection of mangroves include the development of protocols to Regional Seas Conventions that promote protection and sustainable use of mangroves, and the implementation and enforcement of national laws and policies relevant to mangrove protection and management. Others include:

· Create a Global Mangrove Fund to support “climate resilience” actions that conserve and restore mangroves, and protect the carbon stored within them;

· Encourage mangrove conservation and restoration through carbon credit markets such as REDD+, the “Bio-Rights” mechanism and corporate and private sector investments;

· Promote economic incentives such as Payments for Ecosystem Services as a source of local income from mangrove protection, sustainable use and restoration activities and ensure beneficiaries of mangrove services can find opportunities to invest in mangrove management and restoration planning;

· Explore opportunities for investment into Net Positive Impact biodiversity offsets by the corporate and business sectors as a way to finance the protection and sustainable use of mangroves;

· Ensure that mangroves are addressed in wider Marine Spatial Planning and policy frameworks.

Access full report here

‘Guns kill trees too': overhunting raises extinction threat for trees

Landmark study finds that hunting and trapping also hurts tropical trees

A new paper confirms what ecologists have long feared: hunting birds and mammals drastically raises the risk of extinction for tropical trees. Following the long-lifespan of a single canopy tree, Miliusa horsfieldii, researchers discovered that overhunting of animals could increase the chances of extinction for the species fourteen times over a century, from 0.5 percent to seven percent.

“Our study is the first to quantify the decades-long effects of animal seed dispersal across the entire tree life cycle, from seeds to seedlings to adult trees,” said co-author Jeremy Lichstein with the University of Florida.

But how could hunting birds and mammals impact trees? The vast majority of trees in rainforests are not dispersed by wind, like those in temperate areas, but by animals, which eat the fruit and spread the seeds far-and-wide when they defecate. These “seed dispersers,” as they are known, include a wide-variety of species from birds to bats to bigger mammals like monkeys, civet cats, bears, and even rhinos and elephants. In fact, some tree species in the tropics depend on just a few animal species for dispersal. Given this, scientists have long suspected that overhunting of mammals and birds would lead to a decline in some tree populations.

“Past studies have mostly shown short-term effects of hunting on communities of small trees and seedlings,” lead author Trevor Caughlin, also with the University of Florida, told mongabay.com. “Many of these studies reveal a shift in species composition in hunted areas from tree species that are dispersed by animals to tree species that are wind-dispersed. What’s been missing is a way to predict the long-term consequences of these changes for tropical forests.”

While some research had even predicted little impact on tree populations over the long-term, Caughlin’s paper, published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, finds the opposite. In order to determine this, Caughlin and his colleagues looked at 15 years of data from populations of Miliusa horsfieldii in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, a protected area in Thailand which is still home to many seed dispersing animals. The team focused on something called “negative density dependence,” or NDD, which basically means that seeds spread further from the parent tree—by a mammal or bird—fare better than those that fall and grow up near the parent tree.

Working in the park for three years—and armed with 15 years of data—Caughlin found that when Miliusa horsfieldii were crowded-in by others of their own kind, they faced increased challenges, and not just at the beginning of life. This crowding has “long term effects that go far beyond the seed stage to affect survival of seedlings, saplings and adults,” explained Caughlin, including reducing seedling and tree growth. Ultimately, tree survival suffered.

“Studying all life stages in a tree is important due to the long, complex life cycle of a tree,” noted Caughlin. “A single tree can live for hundreds of years and produce hundreds of thousands of seeds, most of which will die long before reaching adulthood. Yet, trees only move a single time during their entire life cycle: during seed dispersal. Understanding the importance of seed dispersal for tree population requires measuring the importance of the spatial pattern established by seed dispersal for all life stages.”

Once the team had established how crowding impacted the species, they modeled how this would decrease long-term survival in an environment where seed dispersers had been hunted out. This isn’t a theoretical scenario: many forests in the tropics have become known as “empty forests” where even though trees are standing, nearly all medium and large-bodied birds and mammals have been wiped out by relentless hunting and trapping. No-where is the problem more severe than in Southeast Asia where the study took place. The computer model found that extinction became 14 times more likely for Miliusa horsfieldii when its seed dispersers were killed off.

While the study focused on a single canopy tree, Caughlin said he expected results to be similar for other animal-dispersed tree species in the region.

“Many studies have shown that effects of crowding (NDD) are pervasive across tree species, and the majority of tropical trees are dispersed by animals,” he told mongabay.com. Though he also added that more research is needed on the interplay between seed-dispersers and seed predators—those species that destroy seeds when they eat them.

“Tropical plant-animal interactions are complex and we are just beginning to understand how these interactions translate into long-term changes for tree populations. For example, overhunting of seed dispersing animals and overhunting of seed predators and herbivores (like deer and peccaries) often occur simultaneously. In these cases, the loss of seed predators may compensate for the loss of dispersal and buffer the tree population from extinction. Nevertheless, it is increasingly clear that loss of animal seed dispersal will change the composition and structure of tropical forests.”

Tropical biologist, Richard Corlett, who is a well-known expert on hunting and seed dispersal in the Southeast Asia, said the study “fills in a major gap” on the implications of overhunting.
“We knew hunting was bad, but we were not sure why it was bad, and therefore could not predict the long-term impacts. Now we know it is really, really bad and will get worse. The message that ‘guns kill trees too’ should help put overhunting at the top of the conservation agenda, where it deserves to be,” added Corlett, who was not involved in the study but is currently the director of the Center for Integrative Conservation at the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Gardens in Yunnan, China.

Caughlin said the message for policy-makers was simple.

“Unless steps are taken to reduce hunting pressure on animal seed dispersers, the integrity of tropical forests is at risk,” he noted, adding that “the threat of overhunting to tropical forests is particularly worrisome, because overhunting could degrade even forests that are protected from logging, fire and other disturbances. And if animal-dispersed trees decline, we risk losing valuable ecosystem services, including carbon storage, biodiversity, and wild populations of important commercial tree species.”

Jeremy Hance|mongabay.com|November 12, 2014

Save Our Southern Forests

We at Coal River Mountain Watch know the devastation of our forests as one of the many impacts of mountaintop removal. Our friends at Dogwood Alliance are fighting another huge and growing threat to Southern forests.

That threat is the expanding biomass industry that is currently targeting Southern forests at a rate that is impossible for these forests to sustain. Our beautiful forests are being clear-cut, processed into pellets, and then shipped to Europe to be burned for electricity. We know that our forests aren’t fuel, and that’s why we’re taking part in a National Day of Action to oppose the growing biomass industry. Today, November 13th, as the wood products industry meets in Chesapeake, VA, to celebrate the destruction and export of our incredible forests, people from across the U.S. are coming together for a National Day of Action to send an SOS to Save Our Southern forests. With 20 existing wood pellet facilities, and 33 proposed, now is the time to increase pressure on corporate executives and EU policymakers. Today, we’re sending more than 10,000 messages to EU policymakers.

Help us reach our goal of 10,000 messages! Share the SOS National Day of Action with your social media networks using the hashtag #SOSForests.

Speak up! Hobet Mountaintop Removal Public Hearing Nov. 20

Mark your calendars. The coal industry has for generations relied on the silence, apathy, and despair that they’ve instilled in the citizens of Appalachia. Here’s your opportunity to stand up and speak out against the many hazards imposed by mountaintop removal.

The WV Dept. of Environmental Protection is holding an informal conference/public hearing on the expansion of the 20-square-mile Hobet Mine in Boone County and Lincoln County, WV. The hearing will be November 20, 2014 at 6 p.m. at the Morrisvale Community Center, 6545 Horse Creek Rd., Boone County, Morrisvale, WV.

If you’re unable to attend,Please follow our Facebook page here for specific points to make and how to comment. Stay tuned…

Send an SOS now to EU policymakers asking them to Save Our Southern forests.

Vernon Haltom|Executive director|Coal River Mountain Watch

Global Warming and Climate Change

Huge News on Climate

China and the United States of America, the world’s biggest greenhouse gas polluters, announced a historic agreement to curb carbon emissions. President Obama and President Xi Jinping have been quietly negotiating for nine months — a gestation that means a rebirth of hope. Working together, the world can slow the climate chaos we have unleashed. Bravo to both leaders, and thank you.

The emissions reductions from both countries are ambitious — and can be more so. Amazingly, China announced that 20% of its energy will come from renewable sources in fifteen years. Given the viral way in which new technologies spread — when they aren’t hampered by antiquated utility regulations like ours — this target will be quickly surpassed in China.

The announcement will spur political backlash here. So far, not a single Republican leader has offered an alternative plan for ending carbon and methane emissions. I am hopeful that this will change. We must not let willful ignorance and cynicism win the day. Republicans have long said, correctly, that the United States cannot act alone in curbing climate pollution. Now is their chance to show leadership here at home. There are enormous business opportunities ahead; America should seize them.

Consumers, both here and around the world, will demand new energy technologies to harness the power of the sun and wind — and who knows what else. America can, and should, maintain the creative design and engineering edge that has made us a leader for so many years. The 600 billion dollars — annually! — of subsidies for the wealthy fossil fuel industry should end.

Mothers the world over thank you, President Obama and President Xi Jinping. You are making the world safer for our families.

Dominique Browning|Co-Founder and Senior Director|Moms Clean Air Force

US and China strike deal on carbon cuts in push for global climate change pact

Barack Obama aims for reduction of a quarter or more by 2025, while Xi Jinping sets goal for emissions to fall after 2030

The United States and China have unveiled a secretly negotiated deal to reduce their greenhouse gas output, with China agreeing to cap emissions for the first time and the US committing to deep reductions by 2025.

The pledges in an agreement struck between President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jingping, provide an important boost to international efforts to reach a global deal on reducing emissions beyond 2020 at a United Nations meeting in Paris next year.

China, the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, has agreed to cap its output by 2030 or earlier if possible. Previously China had only ever pledged to reduce the rapid rate of growth in its emissions. Now it has also promised to increase its use of energy from zero-emission sources to 20% by 2030.

The United States has pledged to cut its emissions to 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025.

The European Union has already endorsed a binding 40% greenhouse gas emissions reduction target by 2030.

Speaking at a joint press conference at the Great Hall of the People, Obama said: “As the world’s largest economies and greatest emitters of greenhouse gases we have special responsibility to lead the global effort against climate change. I am proud we can announce a historic agreement. I commend President Xi, his team and the Chinese government for their making to slow, peak and then reverse China’s carbon emissions.”

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He said the US emissions reductions goal was “ambitious but achievable” and would double the pace at which it is reducing carbon emissions.

“This is a major milestone in US-China relations and shows what is possible when we work together on an urgent global challenge.”

He added that they hoped “to encourage all major economies to be ambitious and all developed and developing countries to work across divides” so that an agreement could be reached at the climate change talks in Paris in December next year.

Xi Jinping said: “We agreed to make sure international climate change negotiations will reach agreement as scheduled at the Paris conference in 2015 and agreed to deepen practical co-operation on clean energy, environmental protection and other areas.”

China’s target to expand energy from zero-emission sources to around 20% by 2030 was “notable”, a White House statement said. “It will require China to deploy an additional 800-1,000 gigawatts of nuclear, wind, solar and other zero-emission generation capacity by 2030 – more than all the coal-fired power plants that exist in China today and close to total current electricity generation capacity in the United States.”

The UN’s climate chief, Christiana Figueres, said: “These two crucial countries have today announced important pathways towards a better and more secure future for humankind.”

Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, and Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, urged other countries to show their hand on emissions cuts: “We welcome the announcement today by the presidents of the United States and China on their respective post-2020 actions on climate change.

“The announcements to date cover around half of the global emissions. We urge others, especially the G20 members, to announce their targets in the first half of 2015 and transparently. Only then we can assess together if our collective efforts will allow us to fulfil the goal of keeping global temperature increases well below 2C.”

The new US goal will double the pace of carbon pollution reduction, though the Republican-controlled Congress is likely to oppose Obama’s climate change efforts.

The US Senate’s new Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, was quick to criticize the Beijing pact. “This unrealistic plan, that the president would dump on his successor, would ensure higher utility rates and far fewer jobs,” he said.

Administration officials argue the new target is achievable under existing laws.

Jeremy Hance|mongabay.com|November 12, 2014Emissions of G20 countries. Emissions of G20 countries. Photograph: Nick Evershed/Guardian Australia

Frances Beinecke, president of US-based environmental group the Natural Resources Defence Council, said: “These landmark commitments to curtail carbon pollution are a necessary, critical step forward in the global fight against climate change. We look forward to working with both governments to strengthen their efforts because we are confident that both can achieve even greater reductions.”

Senior US administration officials said the commitments, the result of months of dialogue between the world’s top two carbon emitters, would encourage other nations to make pledges and deliver “a shot of momentum” into negotiations for a new global agreement set to go into force in 2020.

Tao Wang, climate scholar at the Tsinghua-Carnegie Center for Global Policy in Beijing, said: “It is a very good sign for both countries and injects strong momentum [into negotiations] but the targets are not ambitious enough and there is room for both countries to negotiate an improvement.

“That figure isn’t high because China aims to reach about 15% by 2020, so it is only a five percentage point increase in 10 years, and given the huge growth in renewables it should be higher.”

Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute, which promotes sustainable resource management, said the announcements would “inject a jolt of momentum in the lead up to a global climate agreement in Paris”.

“It’s a new day to have the leaders of the US and China stand shoulder to shoulder and make significant commitments to curb their country’s emissions,” he said.

Li Shuo, of Greenpeace East Asia, said the announcement showed that the world’s “two biggest emitters have come to the realization that they are bound together and have to take actions together”.

At the Warsaw climate talks in 2013 nations were encouraged to draw up post-2020 climate plans by the first quarter of 2015, ahead of the final negotiations for a post-2020 global pact late in the year.

The White House statement said: “Together the US and China account for over one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Today’s joint announcement, the culmination of months of bilateral dialogue, highlights the critical role the two countries must play in addressing climate change.

“The actions they announced are part of the longer range effort to achieve the deep decarbonization of the global economy over time. These actions will also inject momentum into the global climate negotiations on the road to reaching a successful new climate agreement next year in Paris.”

Lenore Taylor|political editor,Guardian Australia|Tania Branigan|Beijing agencies|12 November 2014

Senate’s Biggest Climate Change Denier to Head Environmental Committee?

With Republicans set to become the majority in the Senate this January, that means there will be a lot of shuffling of top positions. The most frightening impending change is the likely appointment of Senator Jim Inhofe to head of the Environment and Public Works Committee. We’ve created a petition to urge the Republican party to pick someone – perhaps literally anyone – else for the job.

At the moment, Inhofe is declining to discuss future leadership roles he will take in the Senate, but back in March, Inhofe said he intended to take over the environmental committee if and when the Republicans regained control of the Senate. His goal is not to bolster existing environmental policies, but to dismantle them.

As we’ve discussed at Care2 previously, the reasons that Inhofe is the worst man for the job are plentiful:

  • He chooses to protect corporations’ bank accounts over the environment
  • He has a 5% rating with the League of Conservation Voters
  • He wants to reallocate money spent on the environment to the military
  • He is the biggest climate change denier in Congress, calling global warming a “hoax”

Essentially, the plan is to give one of the world’s most influential environmental roles to a man who is hell-bent on annihilating the EPA. I realize that I’d be expecting too much to hope conservatives would appoint a pro-environment senator to the job, but I’d settle for someone who is indifferent to the health of the planet over someone like Inhofe. How can we trust our future with someone who just two years ago wrote that “climate change conspiracy theories” pose the biggest threat to humanity?

RL Miller, an attorney and anti-climate change advocate, doesn’t anticipate Inhofe being as outspoken as usual. “I expect we are going to see less headline-grabbing efforts on the EPA and more of simply throttling their budget,” Miller told the Guardian. “If he touches climate denial at all, he is going to be ridiculed in public and in the media. If he is smart, he is going to be very quiet publicly, and it will be death by a thousand cuts in the kind of budget battles that people like Jon Stewart don’t pay attention to.”

Inhofe may strategically choose to keep his mouth shut, but that doesn’t mean his opinions have gotten any less detrimental. Only a decade ago, Inhofe stated that “increases in global temperatures may have a beneficial effect on how we live our lives.” He also believes that humans cannot alter the climate because that’s something God controls.

Republicans need to realize that by choosing Inhofe for this role, they’re not just being apathetic toward the environment, they’re waging war against it. We don’t have time to waste on a leader who wants to take us backwards on these critical issues.

Tell the Republican Party they need to choose someone who cares at least a little bit about the environment for this position and to leave Inhofe off the committee by signing our petition.

Kevin Mathews|November 11, 2014

Disappearing Islands: How Sea Level Rise Impacts Communities

Scientists predict that Kiribati—a remote Island Republic in the Central Pacific—could be lost to rising sea levels in the next 50 years. A recent study by researchers at the University of California Irvine and NASA finds that six massive glaciers in the Amundsen Sea sector “have passed the point of no return,” clearly showing how melting glaciers greatly impact low-lying islands like Kiribati.

Tinau (My Mother), by filmmaker Victoria Burns, provides an intimate family portrait of a Kiribatese mother that left her disappearing homeland of Kiribati and is now settled in the UK.

Tinau was one of two films to win a special prize in the Action4Climate video competition for its ability to present a local story that also has a profound global impact.

In an interview with filmmaker Victoria Burns, she shared her reasons for making this film. “My mother’s home island of Kiribati is predicted by some scientists to be one of the first countries to disappear due to rising sea levels,” said Burns. “Generally speaking most people aren’t familiar with Kiribati because of the country’s remoteness. Due to its relative seclusion, it would be so easy for people to think who cares? With the issue so close to my heart, I felt it my responsibility to share my mother and family’s story to raise awareness on the situation.”

When asked about future plans, Victoria replied, “I hope in the future to make a longer form documentary on climate change shot out on location in Kiribati and the Pacific. My film Tinau is just the beginning of the story and I believe there is still so much more to say. The potential impacts of climate change are widespread and varied throughout the world, Kiribati’s fate just one strand of many.”

Victoria shared the impact the Action4Climate video competition has had on her career, “I’ve personally found the Connect4Climate campaign and the Action4climate competition as the biggest impact with my engagement with the climate change movement. As a result of the competition I tuned into a community of peers, watched an array of stories from across the world and been inspired to become a better filmmaker and advocate in the climate change movement!”

The Action4Climate video competition received more than 230 entries from 70 countries from students inspired to share their climate change stories. To watch other Action4Climate videos, click here.

Stefanie Spear|November 13, 2014

IPCC report is clear: We must clean up our act

Germany, the world’s fourth-largest economy, now gets a third of its energy from renewable sources, and has reduced carbon emissions 23 per cent from 1990 levels and created 370,000 jobs. (Credit: David via Flickr)

It’s become a cliché to say that out of crisis comes opportunity. But there’s no denying that when faced with crises, we have choices. The opportunity depends on what we decide to do.

What choices will we make when confronted with the fact that 2014 will likely be the hottest year on record? According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, global land and sea temperatures up to September’s end tie this year with 1998 as the warmest since record keeping began in 1880. “If 2014 maintains this temperature departure from average for the remainder of the year, it will be the warmest year on record,” a NOAA statement says.

The world’s warmest 10 years have all been since 1998, and last year carbon dioxide levels rose by the highest amount in 30 years.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Synthesis Report, released November 2, summarizes three reports released over the past year on the physical science; impacts, adaptation and vulnerability; and mitigation. It offers a stark choice: Unless we quickly curtail our fossil fuel dependence, we face “further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.

As a broadcaster, I’ve interviewed hundreds of scientists over the years, but I’ve never heard so many speak so forcefully and urgently as climatologists today. It’s a measure of the seriousness of the crisis.

What choices will we make? Will politicians close their eyes while fossil fuel industry executives shovel money at them and enlist propagandists to spread misinformation and lies? Will we listen to those who, in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence, continue to say the global warming they once claimed never existed stopped 18 years ago, or that human activity doesn’t contribute to climate change?

Or will we heed scientists from around the world who offer evidence that we still have time to do something about this very real crisis — and that confronting the challenge presents more opportunities than pitfalls?

Believing our only choice is between a strong economy and a healthy environment is absurd. Yet that’s the false option many political leaders and fossil fuel industry proponents present. Never mind the insanity of thinking we can survive and be healthy if we destroy the natural systems on which we depend; research shows taking measured steps to address global warming would have few negative economic effects and would offer numerous benefits. Failing to act would be disastrous for the economy and environment.

Energy conservation and clean fuels offer the greatest opportunities. Conserving energy makes precious, non-renewable resources last longer, reduces pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, saves consumers money and offers many economic benefits. More than 100,000 Canadians are directly employed in improving energy efficiency, with total wages estimated at $8.27 billion for 2014.

The fast-growing clean-energy and clean-technology sectors offer similar benefits. Improved performance and cost reductions make large-scale deployment for many clean-energy technologies increasingly feasible. By focusing on fossil fuels, Canada is clearly missing out. Worldwide spending on clean energy last year was $207 billion. Canada spent $6.5 billion — a start, but we could do much better.

Germany, the world’s fourth-largest economy, now gets a third of its energy from renewable sources, and has reduced carbon emissions 23 per cent from 1990 levels and created 370,000 jobs.

In contrast, Canada subsidizes the fossil fuel industry to the tune of $1.3 billion a year, despite a 2009 G20 agreement to phase out subsidies. The federal Environment and Sustainable Development Commissioner’s recent audit found Canada has no detailed plan to shrink carbon pollution and meet its international commitment, and has failed to release or enforce oil and gas sector emission regulations for our fastest-growing source of emissions, the oil sands, promised since 2006. Expanding oil sands and liquefied natural gas development will only make matters worse.

People around the world want leadership from elected representatives on climate change and pollution. Business leaders are getting on board. Will we take advantage of the numerous benefits of energy conservation and clean energy or remain stuck in the old way of just blindly burning our way through? The choice is clear.

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington

Extreme Weather

Coast-to-coast cold temps gripping much of the US

Some states to see 40 degrees below average for a week

“We’re locked into a below normal weather pattern for at least the next week or so, perhaps even up to the 10-day time frame,” said AccuWeather meteorologist Tom Kines.

From a blizzard in Oregon to arctic cold in Denver to lake-effect snow in the Great Lakes and a hard freeze along the Gulf Coast, two-thirds of the U.S. is enduring a freakish cold snap.

In addition, sleet and light snow fell before dawn over portions of western and central Tennessee. In Memphis, a thin sheet of white covered the windshields of parked cars and left some highways and over­passes icy. Officially, the city picked up 0.1 inch of snow, the earliest the city has received snow, the National Weather Service reported.

“Temperatures associated with the cold air mass will be 20 to near 40 degrees below average from east of the Rockies to the Mississippi Valley,” the weather service said.

MINUS-14 IN DENVER

Residents in the Northwest should prepare for significant travel problems and disruptions through Friday along the Interstate 84 corridor in Oregon, Washington and Idaho because of a storm that AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski calls “highly unusual” for this time of year.

A blizzard warning is in effect for the Columbia River Gorge region between Oregon and Washington, where up to a foot of snow and 55 mph wind is forecast.

In Denver, Thursday morning’s low of minus-14 degrees smashed the record for the date, set at minus-3 degrees in 1916. That comes a day after the mile-high city’s high temperature Wednesday reached just 6 degrees, a whopping 47 degrees below the average high of 53 degrees for this time of year.

Looking to escape the cold? You might consider a trip to Barrow, Alaska. Temperatures in that tiny town on the edge of the Arctic Ocean reached a balmy 31 degrees Wednesday, 24 degrees above normal. But visitors should note Barrow only has about three hours of daylight right now, and total darkness descends for two months starting Nov. 20.

BLAME JET STREAM

The wild contrast in temperatures is actually related: The unusually curvy jet stream is pulling warm air into Alaska and arctic chill down into the 48 contiguous states.

Elsewhere, morning lows plunged well below zero Thursday across Montana, Wyoming, northeastern and central Colorado and the western parts of Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota, WeatherBug reported.

In the Deep South and along the Gulf Coast, freeze watches and warnings are in place all the way from Houston to Tallahassee, Florida. Temperatures were expected to possibly bottom out Thursday night in the 20s, which may kill crops and other sensitive plants.

Meanwhile, lake-effect snow will continue to bury areas around all five of the Great Lakes. In northern Michigan, the additional snowfall will just pile on top of the 2 to 3 feet the region received earlier in the week. Snow will also fly in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York state.

Doyle Rice|USA TODAY |Contributing: The Associated Press

Genetically Modified Organisms

37 Million Bees Found Dead in Canada After Large GMO Crop Planting

The makers of neonicotinoids, the bee-killing insecticide that was banned all over Europe, won’t be able to refute this latest phenomenon. Millions of bees were found dead after GMO corn was planted in Ontario, Canada. This isn’t new news, but it should be known news.

The keeper of these bees, Dave Schuit, who produces honey, reported that he lost over 600 hives – around 37 million bees.


“Once the corn started to get planted our bees died by the millions,” Schuit said.

With increasing bee deaths and consumer petitions targeted to places like Home Depot and Lowe’s who sell neonics, the US Department of Agriculture has failed to ban neonicotinoids, manufactured primarily by Bayer CropScience Inc., as well as other biotech companies.

Two of Bayer’s best sellers are suspect this time around: Imidacloprid and Clothianidin. They are both known to seep into pollen and nectar, damaging beneficial insects such as bees.

The more widely they are used, the more bees seem to die.

Schuit’s report of dead bees is corroborated by other farmers, too. Nathan Carey is another local farmer who noticed a disappearance of bees on his farm this past Spring. There were so few that he could not count on them as he normally did to help pollinate his crops. He correlates their absence to the use of these toxic insecticides.

While many scientists are still unconvinced that “colony collapse disorder” (CCD) is caused by neonicotinoids, there has been a consecutive die-off of bees in the U.S. for seven years now – directly correlated to higher insecticide spraying.

Even US scientists have found 121 different pesticides in samples of bees, wax and pollen, lending credence to the notion that pesticides are in fact a problem.

Jeffery Pettis, of the ARS’s bee research laboratory, says:

“We believe that some subtle interactions between nutrition, pesticide exposure and other stressors are converging to kill colonies.”

A recently released study published in the Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences described that neonicotinoid pesticides kill honeybees by damaging their immune system, making them unable to fight diseases and bacteria.

The study abstract concluded:


“The occurrence at sublethal doses of this insecticide-induced viral proliferation suggests that the studied neonicotinoids might have a negative effect at the field level. Our experiments uncover a further level of regulation of the immune response in insects and set the stage for studies on neural modulation of immunity in animals. Furthermore, this study has implications for the conservation of bees, as it will contribute to the definition of more appropriate guidelines for testing chronic or sublethal effects of pesticides used in agriculture.”

A third of everything we eat is pollinated by bees and other beneficial insects. This accounts for over 30 billion in the global economy. If bees die, our food supplies die, too. Here is a list of foods we would lose without the bees.

Bayer denies that their insecticides are causing CCD. Will they be responsible for feeding the world when 30% of our food supply is gone with the bees?

Christina Sarich|November 9, 2014

Poorly Tested Gene Silencing Technology to Enter Food Supply with Simplot Potato

A New Form of Genetic Engineering will soon be sold to unsuspecting consumers

November 7, 2014 (Washington, DC)–Center for Food Safety (CFS) is today warning consumers about a new genetically engineered (GE) potato that may soon enter the food supply. Because GE foods are not required to be labeled, the new GE potato will be sold to consumers without their knowledge. The GE potato was one of two new crops approved today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that uses a new, little understood form of genetic engineering called RNA interference (RNAi). The other is a new low-lignin alfalfa from Monsanto. Despite the unprecedented nature of these approvals, USDA has inexplicably failed to undertake the legally required rigorous and overarching analysis of the GE crops’ impacts or reasonably foreseeable consequences.

“We simply don’t know enough about RNA interference technology to determine whether GE crops developed with it are safe for people and the environment.  If this is an attempt to give crop biotechnology a more benign face, all it has really done is expose the inadequacies of the U.S. regulation of GE crops.  These approvals are riddled with holes and are extremely worrisome,” said Doug Gurian-Sherman, Ph.D., CFS director of sustainable agriculture and senior scientist.

Analysis of RNAi by a panel of independent scientists requested by the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that there were many significant uncertainties about potential risks from this technology, and that current risk assessment procedures were not adequate. Despite such cautions USDA is rushing the technology forward.

Unlike earlier genetic engineering techniques that splice in segments of DNA, the new technique used in the Simplot potato and Monsanto’s low-lignin alfalfa is based on the manipulation of the plant’s RNA-based control mechanisms.  RNA interference (RNAi) induces the plant to silence or dial back expression of the plant’s own genes, such as those responsible for natural processes like browning or lignin production.. However, RNA manipulations may end up turning down, or off, genes other than those that were targeted because many genes contain similar, or even identical, stretches of DNA. Current testing requirements do not reliably  detect such effects on other important crop genes.

Developed by the J.R. Simplot Company, the potato would be the only GE potato variety on the U.S. commercial market. The Simplot potato has been genetically engineered with RNAi technology to reduce browning by silencing the expression of one of five polyphenol oxidase genes, which is normally highly expressed in potato tubers. This is attractive to the potato processing industry because bruised potatoes are culled for cosmetic reasons. However, bruised potatoes have not been associated with health risks.

These potatoes are also silenced for genes affecting sugar production and the amino acid asparagine, which during frying and baking lead to the production of acrylamide, a probable carcinogen. However, it is unclear whether the observed reductions will lead to positive health outcomes, given that acrylamide is found in many other foods. In addition, fried potato products have other serious negative health effects.

“In light of the obesity crisis, there has been an important national push to discourage children and adults from eating large quantities of fried foods like french fries or chips. In creating the false illusion that fried potatoes are now healthy, the Simplot potato sends the absolute opposite message,” said Elizabeth Kucinich, policy director at CFS. “Claims of health benefits by USDA and Simplot are short sighted, misleading, and in the light of the science, could actually be potentially dangerous.”

The asparagine gene has also been shown in recent research to be important in plant defenses against pathogens. The Simplot potato was not adequately tested for a possible weakening of its ability to defend itself against disease.  If this occurs in the field, it could lead to increased fungicide use, greater farmer expense, and possibly reduced productivity. The latter effect was seen in several tests of these potatoes.

“We need answers to these questions before these potatoes are commercialized,” said Gurian-Sherman.

Monsanto and Forage Genetics International (FGI) have genetically engineered alfalfa for reduced levels of lignin through the suppression of a key enzyme in the lignin biosynthetic pathway. It represents the first non-regulated GE crop with reduced lignin levels.  Lignin and its building blocks perform many functions in plants, including structural stability and plant defense.  Lowering lignin levels could make the alfalfa more prone to attack by insects or diseases, and potentially increase pesticide use.  Moreover, there are still many unknowns about how plants make lignin, making it premature to manipulate this important pathway.  Additionally, alfalfa is a perennial crop and can cross-pollinate at great distances, allowing it to interbreed with other types of alfalfa. Any adverse impacts of the new variety will therefore be spread rapidly through much or all of the alfalfa seed supply

Regulatory Failures:

USDA assessed the risk from these crops under the inadequate plant pest provisions of the Plant Protection Act (PPA) of 2000. USDA has ignored the noxious weed provision of the PPA, which would allow a more thorough risk assessment. By failing to develop reasonable regulations under the PPA 14 years after its passage, USDA continues to fail in its mandate to protect the public and the environment. 

Read CFS’s full comments to USDA here.

Center for Food Safety|November 7th, 2014

GMO salmon’s future in question after producer fined over violations

Panama fined a US biotechnology company’s local facility that “repeatedly violated” the nation’s permitting and regulatory laws as it worked to develop the world’s first genetically-modified salmon. The 2012 infractions were first made public on Tuesday.

AquaBounty Technologies, a company licensed by the US government to foster what could be the world’s first genetically-modified (GM) meat, is carrying out GM-salmon research in Panama. Neither Panama nor the US has given clearance to sell GM salmon, but, if regulators approve its application, AquaBounty may become the first to sell GM meat in the US.

“AquaBounty is really out front on this – the current case will set an important precedent,” Dana Perls, a food and technology campaigner at Friends of the Earth, told Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency.

“From what we know, there are about 35 other genetically modified species in the development pipelines in other companies. So depending on what happens in this case, we’ll likely either see a flow of other permits or this will demonstrate that there isn’t room on the market for GM meat or seafood.”

The company’s breeding facility in Panama, however, has come under scrutiny from local regulators, IPS reported, casting doubt on GMO meat’s future in the US.

A 2012 investigation of AquaBounty’s Panama facilities found that the company, in working to develop GM salmon, did not attain required permits for water use and pollution of the surrounding environment, which is important based on the possible ramifications of GM species invading natural ecosystems.

The company “repeatedly violated” Panamanian regulations, authorities said, and problematic practices continued into 2013. The violations yielded the maximum fine allowed against AquaBounty.

The decision to fine AquaBounty was made in July 2014 and was first announced to the public on Tuesday, IPS reported.

AquaBounty insisted that the violations were mainly administrative and that all problems have been corrected by now.

“It is important to emphasize that none of the issues in the Resolution questioned the containment, health of the fish, or the environmental safety of the facility,” the company said in a statement to IPS.

“When AquaBounty was informed of issues at our Panama facility, we immediately contacted Anam, the Panamanian agency for the environment. We initiated a program to remedy the deficiencies and the issues were formally resolved in August of 2014.”

AquaBounty added that its Panama facility “continues to operate with no sanctions or restrictions.”

It is yet unclear how these infractions will affect AquaBounty’s application with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A spokesperson for the agency noted that the violations occurred in 2012, and that the FDA would “consider all relevant information as part of the decision-making process.”

Without offering an estimated conclusion date, the spokesperson said the FDA is in the process of reviewing AquaBounty’s application.

The regulatory infractions stoked frustration and concern among groups dissatisfied with the FDA’s regulatory structures.

“This decision is also even further proof that FDA is dangerously out of touch with the facts on the ground, advancing AquaBounty’s application based on its promises, not reality,” George Kimbrell, a senior attorney with the Center for Food Safety, told IPS.

The FDA’s review of GM salmon is based solely on AquaBounty’s development in Panama, according to Perls.

“The FDA is going forward with its review based on the premise that this facility will be in compliance with regulations, yet now we’re seeing it’s not,” she said.

“It is increasingly clear that there is inadequate regulation: the FDA is trying to shoehorn this new genetically engineered animal into a completely ill-fitting regulatory process.”

Many environmentalists are concerned about the introduction of GM species into the wild, where the genetically-engineered crop could dominate the natural population or usher in new diseases. Anti-GMO and consumer advocates are worried that regulators are moving too fast, echoing the GMO-labeling debate in the US.

There is currently no GMO-labeling requirement in the US, though major biotech and food manufacturing groups are working feverishly to stem the tide of state-based labeling laws, such as the one passed but still pending in Vermont.

A poll conducted by the New York Times last year found that 93 percent of respondents want GMO ingredients to be properly labeled. Seventy-five percent of respondents also said they would not eat genetically-engineered fish.

Meanwhile, around 60 major US retailers, according to Friends of the Earth, have said they will not carry genetically-engineered salmon if and when approved. That list includes Safeway, the second-largest US grocer, which said in February that “should [genetically-engineered] salmon come to market, we are not considering nor do we have any plans to carry GE salmon.”

In Guatemala, indigenous communities prevail against Monsanto

Late in the afternoon of September 4, after nearly 10 days of protests by a coalition of labor, indigenous rights groups and farmers, the indigenous peoples and campesinos of Guatemala won are rare victory. Under the pressure of massive mobilizations, the Guatemala legislature repealed Decree 19-2014, commonly referred to as the “Monsanto Law,” which would have given the transnational chemical and seed producer a foot hold into the country’s seed market.

“The law would have affected all indigenous people of Guatemala,” said Edgar René Cojtín Acetún of the indigenous municipality of the department of Sololá. “The law would have privatized the seed to benefit only the multinational corporations. If we didn’t do anything now, then our children and grandchildren would suffer the consequences.”

Originally passed on June 26, the Monsanto Law was written to protect the intellectual property rights of multinational companies in their investments within Guatemala. The law also allowed Monsanto an entrance into the Guatemalan seed market and set in place stiff penalties for any farmer that was caught selling seed to another farmer without the proper permits. The response was a massive mobilization of a coalition of labor, indigenous groups and campesinos.

For 10 days, the streets in front of the legislature of the capital Guatemala City were clogged with thousands of protesters demanding the repeal of the law. Demonstrators also gathered in the rural departments of Guatemala to protest the law and the congressmen who had voted in favor of the law.

The changes to the seed market would have heavily hit the campesinos of the department of Sololá, which is a major production area for seed corn for the rest of the country. On September 2, 25,000 to 30,000 people from the around the communities of the department of Sololá shut down the Inter-American Highway in protest of the Monsanto Law. Protesters set up blockades along the highway in three places and shut down all traffic for nearly nine hours.

“The communities are organized against any law that privatizes their seed,” said Griselda Pocop of the Association of Women Moving Sololá. “They are also demanding the respect of the traditions and of their livelihoods.”

Sololá is one of the agriculture centers of Guatemala, with a majority of the population relying on the growing of maize, beans, coffee and other crops. The department also has one of the highest indigenous populations in the country, with 96 percent of the population identifying as Kaqchikel, T’zutujil, or Kiche Maya. Maize is sacred to the Maya; their cultures and societies revolve around it. According to the Kiche Maya creation story, the Popol Vuh, the gods made humans by grinding the different colors of maize.

As is written in the Popol Vuh, “There was a consensus (among the gods), and it was decided what would come of the red, yellow, black, and white maize; it is from these that they made our bones, our blood, and our flesh.”

The protection of seed is thus of the utmost importance for the indigenous peoples of Guatemala and across Mesoamerica. “We cannot live without our corn,” said Acetún of the indigenous municipality. “It makes up all of our lives. We consume it for our food, we sell it, it is us.”

Rafael, a campesino from the Kaqchikel Maya community of Pixabaj, Sololá, explained, “The people here are Maize … We are not French. We are not anything else. We are Maize; we are Maya.”

As the protests mounted, women took the lead in organizing for the defense of maize. In Sololá, women created a seed bank to archive and protect the various varieties of heirloom corn for future generations. “The women of Sololá have taken the lead in organizing to save and protect our heirloom seeds,” said Pocop. “It is our responsibility to preserve our traditional seed, and to pass along the traditional ways of doing things.”

Decree 19-2014 was written to comply with the requirements of the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Like the North American Fair Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA, the agreement opens up the economies of Central American countries and the Dominican Republic to cheap imports from the United States.

From the moment the trade agreement was proposed, the indigenous and farmer communities protested the law. They argued that since NAFTA had ravaged rural Mexico, CAFTA would have the same affect in the Central American countries. Despite the protests, CAFTA was ratified by Guatemala in 2006.

These trade agreements have opened up the Guatemala corn market to the importation of corn from the United States and tied the internal market to the global pricing. The results have been devastating. In the years since the agreement was signed, the price of corn has steadily increased. For years, one quetzal (roughly 12 cents) could purchase eight large tortillas. But today, for the same price, one can only purchase four smaller tortillas.

Many farmers have not been able to benefit from the increased prices of corn, because they have had to compete with cheaper imports from El Salvador, Mexico and the United States. “The trade agreement opened up Guatemala to the importation of corn and the prices went up,” said Pocop. “But the imported corn is still cheaper than that produced here.”

On the heels of this trade agreement, Decree 19-2014 would have opened up the Guatemala seed market to allow Monsanto’s modified and proprietary seeds into the country. Guatemala is not alone in the region in having to combat the privatization of seed by multinationals; campesinos in El Salvador too have had to defend their livelihoods from the privatizing effects of the trade agreement.

A week prior to the protest against the Monsanto law the Guatemalan Constitutional Court declared that articles 46 and 50 of the legislation, the two that most violated the rights of farmers, were unconstitutional.

Then, in a landslide vote of 117 in favor, 3 against, and 38 abstaining, the Guatemala legislature repealed Decree 19-2014. Soon after learning about the repeal, communities rejoiced. In Sololá alone, more than 5,000 people celebrated the elimination of the law.

Yet, just because the law has been repealed does not mean that the indigenous communities and campesinos of Guatemala are in the clear. According to Congressman Amlicar Pop, one of the few indigenous members of the legislature, legal loopholes exist in the bill that allow similar legislation to resurface under a different name.

“For the moment, there are legal loopholes that need to be resolved,” Pop told to the Guatemalan newspaper La Hora.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department declined to comment on any steps that might be taken to bring Guatemala in line with requirements of the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

Jeff Abbott|November 4, 2014

Largest international study into safety of GM food launched by Russian NGO

Thousands of rats will be fed Monsanto maize diets in a $23m, three-year ‘Factor GMO’ study into long-term health effects of GM food and associated pesticides

A Russian group working with scientists is set to launch what they call the world’s largest and most comprehensive long-term health study on a GM food.

The $25m three-year experiment will involve scientists testing thousands of rats which will be fed differing diets of a Monsanto GM maize and the world’s most widely-used herbicide which it it is engineered to be grown with.

The organizers of the Factor GMO [genetically modified organism] study, announced in London on Tuesday and due to start fully next year, say it will investigate the long-term health effects of a diet of a GM maize developed by US seed and chemical company Monsanto.

“It will answer the question: is this GM food, and associated pesticide, safe for human health?” said Elena Sharoykina, a campaigner and co-founder of the Russian national association for genetic safety (Nags), the co-coordinator of the experiment.

According to the Nags, the experiment will try to establish whether the GM maize and its associated herbicide cause cancers, reduce fertility or cause birth defects. The scientists also want to know whether the mixture of chemicals present in Roundup (Monsanto’s trade name for its glyphosate herbicide) are more or less toxic than its active ingredient glyphosate.

Farmers, governments, scientists and consumers around the world have been involved in an intense debate since GM foods were introduced in 1994. But while there have been many thousands of studies conducted, mostly by GM companies, which show that there is no health risk, government regulators have not required evidence of long-term safety and deep mistrust has built between different “sides”.

“We would clearly support well-conducted, hypothesis-driven science. If the science is conducted according to OECD guidelines and shows that there are hazards with a particular event, then the public will understand that,” said Prof Huw Jones, senior research scientist at Rothamsted Research, which specializes in agricultural research and is the only research institute in the UK currently carrying out a GM crop trial.

Oxana Sinitsyna, deputy science director at the Sysin research institute of human ecology and environmental health which is part of the Russian ministry of health, one of the three scientists on the Factor GMO study’s review board, said: “The scale and format of this research project will allow us to create a really objective and comprehensive data set on the mechanics of the impacts of a GM diet on the health of living organisms over the long term.

“From a scientific point of view the ‘Factor GMO’ project is highly ambitious, which makes it very interesting, for both the public and for the scientists involved.”

Bruce Blumberg, another board member, who is a biology professor at the University of California, Irvine, said: “The cultivation of herbicide resistant crops is widespread in the US, and the use of the herbicides to which these crops are resistant has increased many-fold in the decades since they were introduced. There is a notable lack of published, peer-reviewed data on their safety, as well as data on the safety of the increased use of herbicides with which they are grown.”

The planned study will have no input from the biotech industry or the anti-GM movement, said Sharoykina.“Comprehensive scientific safety studies on GMOs and their related pesticides are long overdue. All previous studies caused controversy for various reasons: choice of animal, insufficient statistics, duration of tests, research parameters, and researchers’ connections to the anti-GMO movement or the biotech industry.

“This study is intended to remedy the situation. The project organizers have considered all of the points of disagreement and distrust surrounding this subject.” She added that Nags would not have any involvement in the scientific process.

Most of the $25m has been raised, say the organizers, but the names of sponsors and funders will not be revealed until the experiment starts fully next year.

Fiorella Belpoggi, a cancer specialist with the Ramazzini institute in Italy and a board member of the study said: “This is not at all an anti-GM study. We are being neutral. We don’t know if it’s good or bad. Maybe in the future I will be a cheerleader with Monsanto. But I want science to find out”.

The experiment, which will be conducted in western Europe and Russia, was cautiously welcomed by both GM sceptics and proponents of the technology. However, Monsanto did not respond to invitations for an interview.

Karl Haro von Mogel, a public research geneticist in Madison, said on the Biofortified website: “If they conduct the study and publish it in the peer-reviewed literature, it can make a contribution to the existing literature. They frame the need for this study by saying that ‘there has never been a scientific study that is comprehensive enough to give them a clear answer regarding the safety for human health of any one GM food – until now’. The study has not been done yet, so this is putting the cart before the horse.”

Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace UK, said: “There is still scientific uncertainty regarding what effects GM crops could have on the environment and the health of consumers, especially in the long term. If this is a well-designed, transparent and accountable study, then hopefully it can help to fill some of the major gaps in our knowledge of the impacts of GM glyphosate resistant maize and glyphosate on health.”

Peter Melchett, policy director with the Soil Association, said: “I welcome this. It has been a scientific fraud that no scientific study like this has been done in the past.”

Monsanto was contacted for a response but did not reply. In the past it has claimed that trillions of meals have been eaten by consumers without ill effects.

The announcement of the experiment came as British anti-GM campaigners delivered a letter to Downing street signed by US environment groups representing over 50m people, as well as celebrities including Susan Sarandon, Daryl Hannah and Robert Kennedy. The letter warns Britain that the intensive growing of GM crops has caused major environmental problems in the US.

“GM crops have never delivered on their promises to increase yields and profits or to decrease pesticide use. In fact, they have done the opposite with the cost of growing GM crops now greater than conventional crops in the US and pesticide use 24% higher amongst GM farmers than non-GM farmers planting the same crops”, says the letter which was delivered by former Labor environment minister Michael Meacher and Tory MP Zac Goldsmith.

Separately on Tuesday, MEPs voted to allow national bans on GM food crops for environmental reasons.

John Vidal|11 November 2014

    Energy

    Can the world be powered With 100 percent renewable energy by 2050?

    New research says yes!

    Renewable Energy Life Cycle: Cleaner and Cheaper

    Results of a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) presents a life cycle assessment (LCA) on an array of electricity generation sources, from fossil fuels to solar power.  The conclusions indicate that renewable energy is cheaper, less environmentally damaging, and has more potential for growth in the next few decades than any conventional electricity generation source. Renewable energy can even power our entire grid by 2050 if we use our resources wisely.

    The study is being hailed as the first ever global-scale LCA of a mix of renewable energy sources. Until now, studies have focused on one energy source at a time in LCAs, if they have been done at all.

    A life cycle assessment is a method of study used to estimate the environmental impact caused by all stages of the life of a product, or in this case, energy source, from production to end-use. Finally, we have a better idea of how exactly renewable energy integration will affect our environment, electric grid, and energy bills. Surprisingly, we’ve never studied several renewable resources at once to find an answer. This data gives us solid evidence that renewable energy is fully capable of powering our grid and reducing pollution. The authors conclude, “Our analysis indicates that the large-scale implementation of wind, PV [photovoltaic], and CSP [concentrated solar power] has the potential to reduce pollution-related environmental impacts of electricity production, such as GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions…”

    Green energy does come with some environmental impacts, which is why this LCA is so valuable.  For the first time, we have information that presents the combined environmental costs of materials, land, manufacturing, and related emissions in one analysis.  The raw materials required to manufacture renewable energy generation is not insignificant, but the authors find that materials, emissions, and pollution of renewable energy pale in comparison to the alternative,

    The pollution caused by higher material requirements of [renewable] technologies is small compared with the direct emissions of fossil fuel-fired power plants.

    In terms of materials required, the study estimates that,only two years of current global copper and one year of iron production will suffice to build a low-carbon energy system capable of supplying the world’s electricity needs in 2050.”

    Demand Response for Renewable Energy

    Renewable resources are intermittent in their ability to generate energy; that is always the main argument heard from opponents of wind and solar. The sun does not always shine and wind does not always blow. So, what will happen when a shortage of available power occurs?

    Maybe the same thing that happens today: utilities and system operators can trigger a demand response event.

    If renewable energy can supply 100% of the world’s power by 2050, as the PNAS study claims, then demand response (DR) will be the best carbon-free asset we will have to keep power stable.

    Demand response events are typically triggered during extreme heat waves because energy use spikes (mostly for air conditioning) and stresses the electric grid. But, what if we had DR events on cloudy days instead?   Weather radars can predict the extreme overcast conditions that cause solar panels to generate less power.  Wind power output could be similarly predicted since air pressure and changes in cold and warm front weather patterns are already monitored.  Currently, demand response events can be forecast for days when extreme weather conditions are predicted. I don’t see why the same can’t be done for solar and wind power. Triggers for DR events would simply change in accordance with sustainable electricity generation patterns. This process wouldn’t be much more disruptive to the power grid than it is today, especially when you consider the fact that cloudy days are usually pretty windy.

    Demand response will get a technology upgrade too; by 2050, we’ll have better storage technology than we do now. Batteries can store any excess power generated by renewable energy systems. Such technology is already being developed; it won’t be long before it’s up and running.  This means even more grid stability. Batteries can replace generators for DR participants. Instead of firing up a diesel generator as backup power, facilities could switch over to batteries that store excess energy from on-site solar panels or windmills.

    Climate Change is Killer

    According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), without efforts to stop pollution, CO2 emissions from the energy sector will roughly double by 2050. Considering that the earth is already showing effects of climate change, that statistic is chilling. In a 2010 report, the IEA published a graph estimating the CO2 emissions poured into the atmosphere by 2050 if we do nothing (baseline scenario), versus the lesser amount if we act to stop carbon pollution (BLUE Map):

    CO2 Emissions

    Graph depicting the CO2 emissions of the IEA’s estimated BLUE Map and Baseline Scenarios Image credit: IEA Energy Technology Perspectives 2010

    The baseline scenario will emit almost 60 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by 2050. There’s no doubt that will wreak havoc on Earth’s climate and all aspects of human livelihood.

    Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is vitally important, as we all already know. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) tells us in its Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report that,

    It is virtually certain that there will be more frequent hot and fewer cold temperature extremes over most land areas on daily and seasonal timescales, as global mean surface temperature increases. It is very likely that heat waves will occur with a higher frequency and longer duration. Occasional cold winter extremes will continue to occur.

    Virtually certain environmental disasters should be enough to motivate us all to make some changes in how we think about energy. It’s time to shake up the electric grid and stop pouring carbon into the atmosphere before we reach the point of no return.

    Jessica Kennedy|November 6, 2014

    EPA Takes First Step Toward Regulating Fracking Chemicals

    Water samples are logged and stored at a treatment plant that separates oil, sediment and water mixed during the hydraulic fracturing process, near Shreveport, Louisiana. The EPA today announced the start of a process that could result in companies being forced to report to the government, and possibly the public, the chemicals they add to sand and water to break apart shale rock and release oil and gas trapped deep underground.

    Water samples are logged and stored at a treatment plant that separates oil, sediment and water mixed during the hydraulic fracturing process, near Shreveport, Louisiana. The EPA today announced the start of a process that could result in companies being forced to report to the government, and possibly the public, the chemicals they add to sand and water to break apart shale rock and release oil and gas trapped deep underground.

    The Obama administration began a process that may result in the first federal regulation of chemicals used in fracking, a drilling technique that has transformed energy production while eluding oversight sought by environmentalists.

    After three years of delay, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said today it’s considering rules requiring oilfield service companies such as Halliburton (HAL) Co. to send it details on the health and safety of the chemicals used. The agency said it may decide to stop short of rules, and use incentives or voluntary steps.

    “It’s unfortunate that this process has taken so long, as it addresses a critical need to ensure the safety of chemicals used in fracking,” Richard Denison, the lead scientist of the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a blog post. “This is only the first baby step toward initiating the rulemaking process EPA said it would undertake.”

    Environmental groups have been pressing the agency to collect information on the fluids injected with water and sand to break apart underground rocks, saying they may be a danger to human health or the environment. The oil and natural gas industries have tried to fend off any federal oversight of the practice, saying states can best oversee it. Oilfield service providers also say their recipes are trade secrets.

    The EPA earlier said it would consider gathering the information under a provision of the toxic substances act. The action today is the next step, and it came without a specific guarantee of a regulation that the environmental groups sought.

    “Today’s announcement represents an important step in increasing the public’s access to information on chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing,” James Jones, the EPA’s assistant administrator, said in a statement. The plan will “complement but not duplicate existing reporting requirements,” he said.

    Industry, which has fought to preempt federal oversight of oil and gas drilling, reacted cautiously to EPA’s announcement.

    “Our members are committed to the continued safe and responsible development of America’s abundant natural gas resource and to being good neighbors in communities in which we operate,” Dan Whitten, a spokesman for the America’s Natural Gas Alliance, said in an e-mail. “We look forward to engaging with EPA to see that any new regulatory or voluntary program employ a common sense, workable and effective approach.”

    Fracking has led to a natural-gas boom in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas, sparking opposition among some residents who say the technology may contaminate drinking water and add to air and soil pollution. Many drilling companies are disclosing chemical information on the industry website FracFocus.org. Some states require drillers to submit data to the site.

    Critics say the website allows too many exemptions that keep ingredients secret and doesn’t permit easy aggregation of information. And drilling companies may not know the full list of chemicals used in their fracking fluids, they say. The EPA has the authority to make more broad demands, and, if necessary, keep the information private.

    “The presumption should be on behalf of disclosure,” Deborah Goldberg, a lawyer at Earthjustice which, along with EDF, petitioned the EPA in 2011 to require the chemical disclosure. “One of the best incentives for safer chemicals is forcing disclosure of toxic chemicals.”

    Already, one supplier to the drilling industry is acting.

    Baker Hughes Inc. (BHI), the world’s third-largest oilfield services provider, in April said it will disclose all the chemicals used in fracking fluids after negotiating with suppliers and customers.

    Halliburton reports its fracking fluids to FracFocus, said Susie McMichael, a spokeswoman for the company.

    “Halliburton has been working and continues to work with the EPA and other regulatory agencies in answering questions and providing them with information as requested,” she said in an e-mail.

    Schlumberger Ltd. (SLB), the world’s largest oilfield services provider, declined to comment.

    The EPA, in its notice of proposed rulemaking today, is giving companies, environmentalists and interested members of the public 90 days to respond, and will subsequently decide on its next step.

    Mark Drajem|May 9, 2014

    Second Canadian Company Completing Tar-Sands Pipeline into the U.S.

    State Department agrees to 800,000 barrels per day

     For six years, TransCanada has negotiated federal and state laws, and contended with the opposition of environmental organizations and landowners, to build the Keystone XL: a 36-inch-diameter, 1,700-mile pipeline that, if completed, would transport 830,000 barrels per day (bpd) of Canadian tar-sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast.

    The U.S. State Department has not issued the required presidential permit, which would declare the importing of tar-sands oil in the “national interest.” And the Nebraska Supreme Court just heard oral arguments on a landowners’ lawsuit that could cost TransCanada another year if it has to reapply for its permit in the state.

    The stalled process has led one equities analyst to observe that, “Keystone XL doesn’t look like it will ever get fully up and running.”

    Yet TransCanada’s fight, and the Keystone XL pipeline, might be moot—along with the campaign that brought together a broad coalition of environmental groups working to block the project and contain the import of tar-sands oil.

    According to State Department documents, annual corporate reports, and interviews with company officials and attorneys, Enbridge Inc. and its U.S. subsidiary have circumvented the pipeline permitting process. By the middle of next year, the Calgary-based company will be transporting 800,000 bpd of tar-sands oil from western Canada into the U.S.

    Enbridge intends to … increase the flow of oil on the Line 67 south of border segment, whether or not a new Presidential Permit is issued by the State Department.
    —Letter to the State Department from Enbridge attorney David Coburn

    Barring litigation, or action by the State Department, Enbridge will achieve what has eluded TransCanada. And it will have done so with scant attention from the media and without the public debate generated by campaigns against the Keystone XL.

    Enbridge will be transporting the same tar sands described by former NASA climate scientist James Hansen as one of the “dirtiest most carbon-intensive fuels on the planet.” Mining and burning Alberta’s tar-sands oil alone, University of Saint Thomas (Minnesota) engineering professor John Abraham warned in Scientific American, will result in a global temperature increase that’s equivalent to “half of what we’ve already seen.”

    “It’s a complicated story,” an environmental lawyer said of Enbridge’s pipeline, “so it’s not getting much media coverage.” Also lacking media attention is Enbridge’s role in the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, the result of a ruptured pipe in 2010.

    How They Did It

    In November 2012, Enbridge’s U.S. subsidiary applied for a presidential permit that would allow the company to import tar-sands oil, requesting authorization for “full capacity” operation (800,000 bpd) of its “Alberta Clipper Pipeline.”

    The Alberta Clipper begins in Alberta, crosses the Canadian border, and continues for 327 miles, ending at a tank battery in Superior, Wisconsin. From there, the oil would flow to Cushing, Oklahoma, then to the Gulf Coast for refining and export.

    After 18 months, Enbridge lost patience with the State Department.

    In a June 16, 2014, letter to the State Department’s Office of Environmental Quality and Transboundary Issues, a lawyer representing Enbridge announced that the company was changing course. (The Alberta Clipper Pipeline is also known as the “Line 67 Project.”)

    “As we explained, the unforeseen Line 67 Project permitting delay at the Department of over a year has led Enbridge to recently assess options for achieving this additional capacity … Enbridge intends to construct the interconnections and Pump Upgrades, and to operate those facilities to increase the flow of oil on the Line 67 south of border segment, whether or not a new Presidential Permit is issued by the Department” (emphasis added).

    Enbridge wasn’t asking.

    It was informing the State Department of its plans to press ahead.

    With or Without Permission

    The State Department has authority over construction within three miles of international borders. Enbridge has already built one stretch of the Alberta Clipper Pipeline in Canada. It has built another stretch in the U.S. What it lacks is permission to connect them.

    Yet Enbridge has another permitted line, though not for tar sands, that crosses the border. In a bewildering paragraph in the permit application, Enbridge attorneys describe a series of “interconnector” pipelines leading to the existing trans-border pipeline. By diverting tar-sands oil to the pipeline that already crosses the border, Enbridge circumvents the State Department permitting process.

    The trans-border pipe was built in 1967, long before the exploitation of tar-sands oil was commercially viable. Terri Larson of Enbridge Energy Partners, in Houston, said in an email that the older pipe has recently been replaced with 17 miles of new 34-inch pipe. And that the “maintenance was allowable under the existing presidential permit.”

    “The State Department has been fully briefed on the interconnection and provided Enbridge with a letter on July 24, 2014, concluding that, ‘Enbridge’s intended changes to the pipeline outside of the border segment do not require authorization from the U.S. Department of State,’” Larson said.

    What they are doing violates the National Environmental Policy Act and also violates the existing presidential permits.
    —Sierra Club staff attorney Doug Hayes

    An attorney from Enbridge’s law firm, Steptoe and Johnson, also responded by email to the legality of using an existing pipe to move tar-sands oil across the border.

    “The answer to your question on whether Enbridge can expand daily capacity to 800,000 bpd … using an already permitted line to move the oil across the border, without a new presidential permit is yes,” David Coburn said.

    Enbridge Vice President Leigh Kelln told investors on a September 13, 2014, conference call: “We’re expanding the capacity of our Alberta Clipper system from 450,000 barrels a day to 800,000 barrels a day. This capacity is expected to be permitted and available by the middle of next year.”

    As far as Enbridge is concerned, a “Keystone XL Clone” is a done deal.

    It’s Illegal

    Environmentalists, unsurprisingly, disagree.

    “The State Department is charged with determining if the importing of Canadian tar-sands oil is in the national interest,” Sierra Club Staff Attorney Doug Hayes said in a telephone interview.

    “Enbridge applied for a permit a year ago [sic], then in June informed the State Department that the process was taking too long. So they came up with their scheme to avoid, to try to avoid, the State Department permitting process and expand the pipeline immediately. And the State Department basically looked the other way and said, ‘That’s fine with us.’

    “But what they are doing is illegal. First of all, it is illegal because it violates the National Environmental Policy Act. It also violates the existing presidential permits for the Alberta Clipper and the adjacent Line 3 Pipeline.

    “They are borrowing a 1967 permit and saying that, ‘For the Alberta Clipper, we are going to divert the flow over to this pipeline [to cross the Canada-U.S. border],” Hayes continued.

    In March, the Sierra Club filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the State Department, asking for permit-application information and State Department correspondence with Enbridge.

    The request was denied.

    “This is all happening behind closed doors,” Hayes said, “It is a deliberate effort to keep the public out of the process.”

    The Kalamazoo River Spill

    Minnesota is one of four states that Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper will cross. Environmentalists, and some Minnesota legislators, have opposed the pipeline, and a second proposed Sandpiper Pipeline, for which Enbridge is attempting to secure a state permit.

    “I have serious concerns about the safety of Enbridge’s pipelines after the Kalamazoo River spill,” Minnesota state Representative Frank Hornstein (D) said in a phone interview.

    Part of the Kalamazoo River 100 miles east of Detroit was the site of the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history. A $1 billion-plus cleanup is still not complete four years later.

    The details are spelled out in the “accident summary” in a National Transportation and Safety Board report (NTSB):

    On the evening of Sunday July 25, 2010, at approximately 5:58 p.m., a 4-foot- long pipe segment in Line 6 B, located approximately 0.6 miles downstream of the Marshall, Michigan, pump station ruptured. The Line 6 B is owned and operated by Enbridge Energy Inc. …

    The accident resulted in an Enbridge reported release of 20,082 barrels (843,444 gallons) of crude oil. … The rupture location is a high consequence area within a mostly rural, wet, and low-lying region. The released oil pooled in a marshy area before flowing 700 feet south into Talmadge Creek, which ultimately carried it into the Kalamazoo River.

    NTSB investigators found that technicians working at Enbridge’s control center in Alberta did not respond to the spill and activate remote-control valves until nearly 17 hours after the pipe ruptured.

    According to related testimony at a September 15, 2010, House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure hearing, 13 alarms in the control center had been ignored or misinterpreted. Enbridge technicians in Alberta were informed of the spill by a utility worker from another company who called from Marshall, Michigan.

    The late Jim Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat who chaired the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s September 2010 hearing, stated that Enbridge had requested a two-and-a-half-year extension from the Department of Transportation to repair 329 defects, of which the company had been aware for two years.

    Oberstar also said that inspections Enbridge conducted in 2005, 2007 and 2009 had detected a defect in the pipe that ruptured at Marshall. No repair was made because in the company’s judgment, the problem did not reach the repair criteria defined by the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA).

    None of this information, Oberstar said, had been provided to members of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazmat, when at an earlier hearing they questioned an Enbridge executive about pipeline integrity and spill-detection. That hearing, as it turned out, was held exactly 10 days before the Kalamazoo spill.

    State-Level Challenge

    In a telephone interview, Hornstein, who represents a Minneapolis district in the Minnesota Legislature, said that considering what is known about the Kalamazoo spill one would expect Enbridge to agree to reasonable environmental safeguards.

    That, however, was not the case.

    Hornstein was one of four legislative committee chairs who signed a letter to Minnesota’s Environmental Quality Board, protesting Enbridge’s failure to agree to safety requirements in proposed legislation.

    Among the requirements:

    • Provide monitoring equipment within three hours of a discharge or to develop an annual plan to deliver monitoring equipment to a discharge site;
    • Provide containment booms from land across sewer outfalls, creeks, ditches and other places where oil and other hazardous substances may drain in order to contain leaked material before it reaches those resources;
    • To have capability to deliver containment booms, boats, oil recovery equipment and trained staff within eight hours of a confirmed discharge to recover 10% of a worst case discharge;
    • Deliver equipment to protect sensitive environmental areas and drinking water intakes, within 60 hours of a major spill.

    Hornstein said that representatives of Enbridge met with members of the Minnesota House of Representatives to discuss the proposed safety requirements.

    “Then they went to work in the Senate and had the word ‘pipeline’ stripped from the [transportation safety] bill. If the railroads can agree with these safety measures, why can’t Enbridge?”

    The Alberta Clipper passes through Minnesota. A second Enbridge pipeline, the Sandpiper, has been put on hold by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, after environmentalists and legislators, including Hornstein, protested.

    “Enbridge ignored our requests to consider a southern route for the pipeline, which would have avoided wetlands and lakes and Native American’s rice beds where a spill would be a disaster,” Hornstein said.

    Tar-Sands Spigot Opens

    In September, three of the five members of the commission directed Enbridge to consider six alternate routes for its Sandpiper Pipeline.

    Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper Pipeline is unlikely to encounter any such administrative delays. At least not at the federal level.

    A State Department spokesperson said that, “In the case of Line 3, the department determined that Enbridge’s proposed replacement of the border segment was consistent with the authorization in the existing presidential permit.”

    He added that the State Department issued a Federal Register notice on August 18, 2014, which includes new information provided by Enbridge regarding the company’s intention to use its existing line to move oil across the border and ramp up pumping beyond the border. And that in both cases, he stressed that he was not speaking for state and local entities, which could exercise their own authority.

    While Terri Larson in Enbridge’s Houston office described using an existing pipeline to move oil across the border a “short term” solution “that does not address the longer term need,” David Coburn, the D.C. attorney handling the permit, says the company can import 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day “with no additional permit.”

    Whether that is a contradiction or a distinction without a difference, in six to eight months the Canadian tar-sands spigot opens to full capacity.

    Lou Dubose|November 11, 2014

    Court Rejects Shell’s Lawsuit Against Center — Thank You

    A huge victory against Big Oil: The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals just struck down a lawsuit filed by Shell against the Center for Biological Diversity and 12 other environmental groups that have been fighting for years to keep oil drillers out of the Arctic. The decision this week should end a lawsuit filed in 2012 by the oil giant after we stopped Shell multiple times from drilling in fragile ecosystems, putting polar bears, walruses, seals and whales directly in harm’s way.

    Shell’s lawsuit was a blatant attempt to intimidate all of us fighting for the Arctic and the species that rely on it. We’re happy to have this ruling in our favor, and we’ll be redoubling our efforts to keep the Great North safe from those wanting to exploit it for profit.
    Thanks so much to all of you who donated for our legal defense in this case. We share this victory with you.

    Read more in Alaska Dispatch News

    Suit Targets Secretive Decision to Ramp Up Tar Sands Transport

    The Center for Biological Diversity went to court Wednesday, along with our conservation and tribal allies, to fight the U.S. State Department’s secretive approval of a plan to allow Canadian oil giant Enbridge to nearly double the amount of tar sands oil in the Alberta Clipper pipeline.
    The approval this summer happened without public notice and without legally required reviews meant to protect air, water, wildlife and public health.

    The scheme would put the Alberta Clipper pipeline — which runs from Alberta, Canada, through Minnesota to Superior, WI — on par with the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, significantly ramping up the amount of dirty tar sands moving into the United States. If the Obama administration is serious about tackling the climate crisis, it can’t be approving these kinds of disastrous projects, which only make things much, much worse.

    Read more in the Star Tribune.

    Groups Sue U.S. State Dept. to Stop Alberta Clipper Tar Sands Pipeline

    Yesterday the Washington Spectator ran an investigative piece tearing the veil of secrecy from the Alberta Clipper pipeline project, a plan by Canadian mining company Enbridge to build a pipeline nearly equal in length and capacity to the Keystone XL to transport tar sands crude oil to the Gulf of Mexico for refining and exporting. With the U.S. State Department’s cooperation, Enbridge found a loophole to circumvent the legal approval process needed to cross the international Canadian/U.S. border. And, by keeping a low profile, it managed to avoid the public outcry that has stalled Keystone XL for six years.

    The lawsuit against the secretive process used to Enbridge to get approval for its tar sands pipeline will likely bring it exactly the type of attention it doesn’t want.

    That period of operating off the public radar may be coming to an end. Today a coalition of eight environmental, conservation and indigenous groups announced that they have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. State Department and Secretary of State John Kerry in a Minneapolis federal court. The suit charges that approval was granted despite lack of public notice or the legally required review of environmental and public health impacts. The groups filing the lawsuit include White Earth Nation, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Honor the Earth, National Wildlife Federation, Minnesota Conservation Federation, Indigenous Environmental Network and MN350, being represented by the Vermont Law School Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic. Their intention is intended to force the State Department to reverse its approval and ensure that a full environmental review takes place.

    “This lawsuit challenges the State Department’s illegal approval of Enbridge’s tar sands expansion plans,” said Sierra Club staff attorney Doug Hayes. “Rather than stick to its ongoing review process that the National Environmental Policy Act requires, the State Department green-lighted the expansion before the process is complete.”

    The publicity from the Washington Spectator piece and lawsuit will most likely awaken a host of activists and organizations who have worked tirelessly to oppose Keystone XL and its plan to extract, refine and ship the carbon-intensive tar sands oil, a prime driver of climate change. And publicity is most likely precisely what Enbridge doesn’t want.

    “The only thing worse than dirty oil is dirty oil backed by dirty tricks,”said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is the fossil fuel equivalent of money laundering. The Obama administration should be ashamed of itself for letting Enbridge illegally pump more dirty tar sands oil into the United States.”

    The approval allows Enbridge to upgrade its cross-border connecting pipeline between two already existing pipeline by calling it “maintenance,” even though it lets them change the product that flows through the pipeline from light to heavy tar sands oil and double its capacity to 800,000 barrels a day—nearly equivalent to the amount that would be carried by Keystone XL. The company said it intends to have the pipeline ready to ship tar sands oil to the U.S. by the middle of next year.

    “To establish the U.S. as a real international leader in tackling the climate crisis, the State Department must stop turning a blind eye to Big Oil schemes to bypass U.S. laws and nearly double the amount of corrosive, carbon-intensive tar sands crude it brings into our country,” said Sierra Club deputy national program director Michael Bosse. “Enbridge has been allowed to play by their own rules for too long at the expense of our water, air and climate, and the Sierra Club is taking legal action to stop this abuse.”

    Among  other things the pipeline would pass through three Native American Reservations.

    “Honor the Earth represents Anishinaabeg people and the earth,” said Winona LaDuke, program director for Honor the Earth and a member of the White Earth Nation.

    “We believe that nations should abide by their agreements, treaties, and laws. The Anishinaabeg continue to harvest and live the life the Creator gave us, within the north country and within the treaty areas, protected and recognized under federal law, including the 1837, 1854, 1855 and 1867 treaties. We know that new oil pipelines will not bode well for the fish, the wild rice and the medicines of this Akiing, this land. We also know that the U.S., through the State Department, should uphold its own laws and regulations, and not issue permits under the pressure of oil interests, over the interests of our country, people and land. Federal law requires environmental impact assessments, and the U.S. must uphold its own laws. New pipelines by the Enbridge Company and this illegal switching of lines do not serve our state or our country. We ask the U.S. State Department to uphold the law.”

    Anastasia Pantsios|November 12, 2014

    Fossil Fuels Reap $550 Billion in Subsidies, Hindering Renewables Investment

    LONDON — Fossil fuels are reaping $550 billion a year in subsidies and holding back investment in cleaner forms of energy, the International Energy Agency said.

    Oil, coal and gas received more than four times the $120 billion paid out in subsidy for renewables including wind, solar and biofuels, the Paris-based institution said today in its annual World Energy Outlook.

    The findings highlight the policy shift needed to limit global warming, which the IEA said is on track to increase the world’s temperature by 3.6 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. That level would increase the risks of damaging storms, droughts and rising sea levels.

    “In Saudi Arabia, the additional upfront cost of a car twice as fuel efficient as the current average would at present take 16 years to recover through lower spending on fuel,” the IEA said. “This payback period would shrink to three years if gasoline were not subsidized.”

    Renewable use in electricity generation is on the rise and will account for almost half the global increase in generation by 2040, according to the report. It said about 7,200 gigawatts of generating capacity needs to be built in that period to keep pace with rising demand and replace aging power stations.

    The share of renewables in power generation will rise to 37 percent in countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to the IEA.

    It said that globally, wind power will take more than a third of the growth in clean power; hydropower accounts for about 30 percent, and solar 18 percent. Wind may produce 20 percent of European electricity by 2040, and solar power could take 37 percent of summer peak demand in Japan, it said.

    The IEA singled out the Middle East as a region where fossil fuel subsidies are hampering renewables. It said 2 million barrels per day of oil are burned to generate power that could otherwise come from renewables, which would be competitive with unsubsidized oil.

    “Reforming energy subsidies is not easy, and there is no single formula for success,” the report said.

    Alex Morales|Bloomberg |November 12, 2014|Copyright 2014 Bloomberg

    Obama Stands Firm on Keystone XL, Veto Likely if Passed by Congress

    As Republicans have made clear their desire to rush approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and the Senate prepares to vote next week under pressure from pipeline-favoring Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu, President Obama is strongly suggested this morning the legislation won’t get past his desk.

    Traveling to Myanmar following an economic conference in Beijing where he joined with Chinese President Xi Jinping to announce a historic agreement on climate change earlier this week, Obama made one of his strongest statements yet about Keystone XL.

    “Understand what this project is: it is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land, down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else,” he said. “It doesn’t have an impact on U.S. gas prices. If my Republican friends really want to focus on what’s good for the American people in terms of job creation and lower energy costs, we should be engaging in a conversation about what are we doing to produce even more homegrown energy? I’m happy to have that conversation.”

    The President’s press secretary Josh Earnest backed up the President’s statement at his own press availability in Myanmar, outright suggesting the President was likely to veto any attempt to push through Keystone XL at this time.

    Asked by a reporter if the President would sign the Keystone XL approval should it pass Congress, Earnest said, “The President, as you’ll recall in a speech that he delivered last summer, indicated that one of the factors in that review should be the degree to which a project like this would substantially contribute to the causes of climate change. So this is a project that is still under review by the State Department to determine whether or not it’s in the national interest. One of the things that is impeding the progress of that review is some ongoing litigation in Nebraska about the route of the pipeline. So it’s important in the view of this administration that this review be conducted consistent with past practice and in a way that reflects the national interests that are at stake. It is the view of the administration that that process should continue and that that’s the proper venue for determining whether the project should move forward. There has been other legislative proposals that have been floated to try to influence the outcome of this decision about the construction of the pipeline.The administration, as you know, has taken a dim view of these kinds of legislative proposals in the past. I think it’s fair to say that our dim view of these kinds of proposals has not changed.”

    When pressed for a definite answer on a potential veto, Earnest said, “It’s not a yes or a no because I haven’t reviewed the specific proposal. But there have been previous proposals that I expect would be consistent with proposals that have been discussed overnight. And in evaluating those earlier proposals, we have indicated that the President’s senior advisors at the White House would recommend that he veto legislation like that. And that does continue to be our position. If that changes, I’ll obviously let all of you know. I know there’s a lot of interest in this.”

    Praising the President’s words, climate advocacy group 350.org posted a statement encouraging him to stay the course.

    “The strategy by some oil-soaked Senators to try and approve the Keystone XL pipeline is already backfiring,” it said. “The last time Congress tried to force the President’s hand on KXL, he sent the project back the drawing board because of concerns over the route in Nebraska. The Keystone XL pipeline is all risk and a no reward. We’ve been pushing President Obama for years to make the right call on Keystone XL and it looks like he might be gearing up to do it. We’ll continue to make the case that the real homegrown energy that America needs is 100% clean power, not dirty pipeline projects and other dangerous fossil fuels.”

    Anastasia Pantsios|November 14, 2014

    Shell lawsuit against environmental groups ruled unconstitutional

    After its drilling rig ran aground on New Year’s Eve in 2012, Shell halted exploration plans for the following year.

    After its drilling rig ran aground on New Year’s Eve in 2012, Shell halted exploration plans for the following year. (Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis / U.S. Coast Guard)

    Shell’s legal strategy to defend Arctic drilling is ‘novel’ but unconstitutional, federal appeals court rules

    Two years ago, in a preemptive move, Shell sued a host of environmental and advocacy groups to prevent them from suing Shell over its plans to drill for oil in the Arctic.

    On Wednesday, a federal appeals court called Shell’s legal strategy “novel” and ruled it unconstitutional.

    A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said Shell could not sue environmental and Alaska Native advocacy groups on the chance that those organizations might challenge offshore drilling permits granted to the oil giant by the U.S. government.

    “Shell may not file suit solely to determine who would prevail in a hypothetical suit between the environmental groups” and the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, one of several agencies overseeing offshore drilling, the panel wrote in its 12-page ruling.

    Shell has spent more than $6 billion purchasing oil leases and pursuing exploration in Alaska’s environmentally sensitive Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

    As part of the offshore drilling efforts, Shell was required to submit plans to the bureau detailing what the company would do in the event of an oil spill. The bureau approved Shell’s oil spill response plans in late 2011 and early 2012.

    Arguing that 13 environmental and advocacy groups were certain to challenge those approvals, Shell filed three separate suits against them in federal court in Anchorage in 2012. Using the Declaratory Judgment Act, Shell wanted the court to rule that the government’s approvals of its spill response plans were legal.

    Today David beat Goliath- Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League

    On Wednesday, the three-judge panel ruled against the oil company in one of those three suits. A second suit was dismissed earlier. The third suit also was dismissed earlier, but that dismissal is under appeal.

    “We believe this was a legitimate use of the Declaratory Judgment Act,” said Curtis Smith, a spokesman for Shell. “However, we respect the court’s ruling.”

    Michael LeVine, Pacific senior counsel for Oceana, one of the groups sued by Shell, called the decision “good news for the oceans and for those of us who believe in the rule of law and our ability to speak out for what we believe in.”

    Shell’s waste of time, energy and money on these lawsuits further reinforces the problem with its Arctic Ocean exploration program,” he said.

    The Natural Resources Defense Council was another of the organizations sued by Shell. Chuck Clusen, the group’s director of national parks and Alaska projects, said in a statement that the oil company was “attempting to quash dissent and circumvent due process” but failed.

    “As multiple accidents have already shown, Shell’s drilling plans in the Arctic are severely flawed,” Clusen said. “Shell is not equipped to handle offshore drilling in some of the world’s most treacherous waters, and we’ll continue to do all we can to stop them from endangering the precious wildlife and local fishing economies that they’re putting at risk.”

    Said Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, another defendant in the case: “Today David beat Goliath.”

    Soon after its drilling rig ran aground on New Year’s Eve in 2012, Shell halted exploration plans for the following year. It withdrew drilling plans for 2014 after a federal court ruled that the government violated the law when it held Chukchi lease sale 193 in 2008. The company bought all of its leases in that sale.

    Shell has submitted an expanded, multi-year drilling plan that it hopes to kick off in 2015. But the government cannot approve that plan until it completes the 193 lease sale process, which is expected in April.

    Maria L. La Ganga |Environmental, Pollution, Environmental Issues

    Land Conservation

    Floridians spoke clearly, with three-quarters of all voters approving of the constitutional amendment to dedicate money for conservation and recreation.

    The 2014 midterm election exposed some sharp divisions among Floridians. Gov. Rick Scott won re-election by drawing fewer than half of the votes cast, only 1.1 percentage point ahead of challenger Charlie Crist. Gwen Graham knocked U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland out of office by just a little more than 2,000 votes. Even in the one-sided CFO and agriculture commissioner races, Jeff Atwater and Adam Putnam each got less than 60 percent of the vote.

    Then there was Amendment 1.

    Floridians spoke clearly, with three-quarters (74.95 percent) of all voters approving of the constitutional amendment to dedicate money for conservation and recreation. We might be divided on medical marijuana and Obamacare and any number of other issues, but Floridians realize the importance of land and water to our health, to our tourism industry and to the quality of life we enjoy in the Sunshine State.

    Protecting Florida’s natural resources has been a bipartisan concern since 1963, when the Legislature created the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to support the purchase of parks. Over the years, the state’s land-purchasing efforts changed in name, funding sources and approval processes. Yet, as the pressures to develop lands increased, so did the state’s efforts to protect them — through Preservation 2000 and then Florida Forever.

    But with the start of the recession in 2008, that effort ground to a halt. And even as the economy rebounded, the spending on conservation did not. Florida now has more than 6 million acres of protected land, but it also is losing about 165,000 acres of land to development every year, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

    Floridians were not happy, and Amendment 1 — a citizen initiative — was born.

    Amendment 1 directs that the state dedicate 33 percent of net revenues from doc stamps on property purchases over the next 20 years to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund, to acquire and improve forests, wetlands and other sensitive habitats. The money can be used only for these purposes and may not be “commingled with the General Revenue Fund.” Translation: No more raids.

    The language that will now be part of the Florida Constitution says these acquisitions will include “lands that protect water resources and drinking water sources, including lands protecting the water quality and quantity of rivers, lakes, streams, springsheds, and lands providing recharge for groundwater and aquifer systems.”

    It’s a powerful mandate.

    What Amendment 1 does not do is change behavior.

    Nearly 20 million people live in Florida, and short of kicking them all out and building a fence around the state, we and our neighbors will continue to have an impact on the environment.

    Every time we flush a toilet or scatter fertilizer on the front lawn, we add to the pollution that is strangling our springs and rivers and even poisoning our drinking water. In his exhibition “Springs Eternal,” photographer John Moran has documented the ill health of Florida’s springs, from out-of-the-way spots to tourist destinations such as Ichetucknee Springs.

    Mr. Moran calls for a new “environmental patriotism.” That can be simple, for example refraining from fertilizing or watering your lawn. It can be expensive, when forgoing septic tanks for central sewer systems. It can be politically dangerous, when it’s time to put pressure on big agriculture to clean up its act.

    But we can change. Mr. Moran points to the way recycling has become an everyday activity or the way littering, once common, now is frowned upon. And we have success stories, such as cleaning up Tampa Bay and Lake Apopka.

    At stake is not just the beauty we Floridians love but the tourism industry that attracted 90 million visitors and $65 billion last year. If sunshine alone were enough, Mr. Moran points out, then the Sahara Desert would be a prime tourist destination. In a 1972 speech, Gov. Reubin Askew said, “Ecological destruction in Florida is nothing less than economic suicide.”

    It’s wonderful that three-quarters of those who voted last week don’t want our state to commit ecological or economic suicide. It’s a significant step. But keeping our waters clean will require a lot more than just checking “Yes” on a ballot.

    - Tallahassee Democrat|Gannett newspaper.

    Recycling

    A Sea Full of Trash: Tackling the Plastic Problem

    Beyond the landfills and trash heaps moldering in almost every town and city across the globe, manmade garbage has found its way into the natural landscape on a mind-boggling scale. It seems as though there are virtually no places left on Earth free of our rubbish. Junk can be found everywhere – from the bellies of animals and the tissues of our own bodies to the world’s vast oceans.

    The gigantic mess currently swirling around our oceans is ever-growing. There are so many manufactured items floating around the briny deep that marine currents have formed sprawling expanses of crud in the water. One of the most disheartening of these disasters is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; a field of debris formed by wind and wave action and discovered by Captain Charles Moore in 1997. While there are no literal islands of trash, the vortexes are gargantuan concentrations of waste located in two major areas, with one midway between Hawaii and California and another off the coast of Japan. The overall amount of debris is still unknown, but scientists estimate the entire Patch encompasses nine million square miles of watery real estate, and is just one of five major garbage clusters occupying the world’s oceans. A majority of this pollution is made up of plastic, leaving scientists scrambling to invent methods to remove the non-biodegradable hazards.

    Plastic Build Up in Our Oceans

    Global Distribution of Plastic Pollution

    The Plastic Paradox

    During the 20th century, synthetic plastics became the material of choice for industries from consumer packaging to fashion. Practically indestructible and with the ability to mold into virtually any shape, plastic polymers could withstand the elements and remain intact longer than their organic counterparts. With plastic, perishable food could be transported and preserved longer, electronics insulated and made more efficient, and medical supplies kept sterile and disposable. Unfortunately, the physical tenacity that makes plastics so desirable as grocery store packaging or dishware also creates a gigantic problem for the environment. Most plastics produced today are formed from petrochemicals, which means it takes an enormous amount of time for each straw, water bottle, and single-use fork to break down and disappear. To make matters worse, extracting oil as a basis for these textiles adds fuel to the global warming fire by sustaining a demand for fossil fuels and toxic contamination.

    So how do we halt the spread of plastic into the sea and remove what is already there? The first step toward keeping trash from entering the ocean is to reduce the amount created on land and repurpose what we chuck into trash bins.

    Unfortunately, there are very few large-scale projects able to tackle the magnitude of our plastic predicament. To begin with, plastic manufacturing companies have little incentive to switch from oil-based polymers to more sustainable, biodegradable options, or to use recycled material. This is in part because it is still cheaper to produce items out of raw, fossil-based feedstock. The major forces driving the conversion to corn, potato, or soy bioplastics come primarily from consumer demand and regional campaigns in cities like Los Angeles and Concord, Massachusetts, where there are efforts to ban plastic bags and water bottles.

    Help Keep Plastic from Reaching Waterways

    Even if synthetic plastics were outlawed altogether by every nation on Earth, the challenge of removing what is still suspended in the ocean would remain a major dilemma. Scientists are just beginning to quantify the amount of plastic hanging out in the water column, how sunlight breaks down large pieces into smaller fragments called “microplastics,” and in what way these bits affect the food chain. The plastic can block sunlight from reaching algae and, in turn, negatively affect organisms that feed on this most basic and important level. Humans rely on that food chain for survival, so plastics (and the hazardous chemicals they contain) can eventually damage our dinners and poison our ecosystems.

    To put oceanic plastic into perspective, consider this: In a 2014 study expedition conducted by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, a sample from a one-hour trawl 260 miles from the center of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch pulled up thousands of times more plastic by weight than plankton, meaning that more synthetic materials were present in one scoop of seawater than the animals that are supposed to live there. Deep-sea explorers such as those working with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Institute in California were amazed to find crud thousands of meters down with a full third of the messy makeup consisting of plastic. Not just eyesores, the materials concentrate dangerous chemicals and act as sponges for toxins such as DDT, PCBs, and PBDEs.

    A Solution for Synthetics

    As researchers struggle to understand the scope of the situation, local governments, non-profits, and universities are working on a host of creative solutions. Since the physical problem is situated far from the jurisdiction of any one nation, the responsibility to find a fix seems to have fallen on committed organizations and stewards of the environment. Most focus on land-based initiatives such as The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s regional action plans that coordinate cleanups around the U.S. through their Marine Debris program. The agency is also working with the fishing industry and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to reduce the damage done by derelict fishing gear.

    Prototypes for marine robots – such as the Veolia Drone developed by French International School of Design student Elie Ahovie or the Protei invented by Cesar Harada – could one day scour the ocean for trash. Larger groups that employ booms and filters, like the Ocean Cleanup system proposed by entrepreneur Boyan Slat, could be placed in areas of concern to help trap trash. However, most of these technologies are still firmly situated on the drawing board, and have not adequately addressed logistics (like how the machines would determine the difference between tiny bits of plastic and living critters of a similar size). They would also have to be durable enough to withstand the destructive effects of seawater, storms, and physical stress.

    In recent years, scientists have observed various species of bacteria colonizing rafts of plastic debris, making up what they have dubbed the “plastisphere.” Scanning electron microscopy from researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution revealed thousands of organisms creating an almost reef-like ecosystem on the surfaces of floating flotsam. It is still a mystery how the byproducts of their digestion affect the rest of the ecosystem. Bioengineers have proposed manufacturing bugs that could act in a similar way to their naturally occurring relatives to mop up the mess, both on land and sea. But releasing any new element into an incredibly complex web of life carries enormous risk. Considering at least one of the species of bacteria chomping on the particulate plastic occupies the same genus as one that causes cholera, no one wants to make any rash decisions. For the plastic that remains solely on land, students from Yale University’s Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory discovered a fungus in the Amazon in 2012 that likes to dine on polyurethane without the need for oxygen. Adding a heap of plastic into a strictly controlled digester along with Pestalotiopsis microspora may one day be a way to reduce the amount of plastic reaching the ocean from land.

    How You Can Take Part

    On a smaller scale, communities can do their part by organizing beach cleanups and switching from petrochemical plastics to organic-based alternatives. Simple changes in everyday habits, such as swapping plastic water bottles for reusable containers and opting for cloth bags instead of flimsy carryout sacks, would make a sizable dent in reducing the trash reaching our waterways. Choosing personal care products that do not contain tiny plastic scrubbing beads or seeking out packaging made from a percentage of recycled material help send a message to corporations: The health of the environment and human safety are important factors consumers are prepared to pay a little extra for. Supporting non-profits such as the All One Ocean Campaign, Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff, and 5gyres.org expands efforts to spread awareness, mobilize citizens, and establish lobbying interests with enough power to influence legislation. Like climate change or air pollution, removing the plastic from the planet’s oceans will involve stakeholders that occupy positions in government, media, and the scientific community. Although the immensity of the situation may seem overwhelming at first, it is possible for a species clever enough to engineer such feats of chemistry to also help deal with its consequences.

    How to Plan a Beach Clean-up

    Morgana Matus|Care2 Causes Editors|October 30, 2014

    Edible Packaging is the Ultimate in Zero Waste

     Some companies have come up with brilliant solutions to the excessive packaging waste in the food industry, but the big question is whether customers are ready to make the mental shift to eating their food wrappers.

    It doesn’t make sense that a single food item that gets consumed within minutes or even seconds should leave behind a piece of packaging that will linger on Earth for years. Think of a granola bar and its plastic wrapper, a mini yogurt container, a bag of chips, or a bottle of juice. These items, together with countless others, offer such fleeting satisfaction at a long-term cost, whether the destination is a landfill site or the convoluted, unreliable processes of a recycling facility.

    Fortunately there is a growing number of conscientious shoppers who care about the amount of waste they generate, and who would choose not to buy the above-mentioned items precisely for the fact that packaging would go to waste following consumption. While these “Zero Wasters” make a big difference in their own lives, unfortunately their influence on the rest of society is limited.

    That is where the packaging industry could step in and reinvent food packaging to be far more sustainable, perhaps even non-existent. According to an article in The Guardian, there are some really fascinating advances in the world of “waste-free, Willy Wonka packaging,” but the big question is whether consumers are psychologically ready for it. Buying apples and bagels directly from a bin at the supermarket is one thing, but sifting through a display of yogurt balls in edible skins is a different kind of experience.

    Or is it? Shoppers are simply unaccustomed to seeing certain foods being sold without packaging, although they’re perfectly comfortable with other items, such as produce and baked goods, being sold loose. It’s time to get over that mental barrier.

    The Guardian describes a company called WikiFoods that “wraps a vast range of foods and beverages in plastic-free and edible packages made of natural ingredients,” like the protective skins on fruits. The first commercial WikiPearls (little balls of ice cream and frozen yogurt with edible skins) launched in the U.S. and France in 2013. (TreeHugger contributor Kimberley Mok gives a more detailed description of how it works here.)

    A Swedish company called Tomorrow Machine has come up with a series of food packages “where the packaging has the same life span as the foods they contain.” One is an “oil package” made of caramelized sugar coated with wax; you crack it like an egg to open. The “smoothie package” is made of agar seaweed and water, and withers at the same rate that you drink its contents. Another package made of beeswax is peeled to open and can hold dry ingredients such as rice or flour. Unfortunately, a company employee told me that none of the series is available yet commercially.

    While these innovations are fascinating and sensible, it will likely be a while before they hit the mainstream food market or become available anywhere other than Whole Foods. In the meantime, the best thing consumers can do is avoid wasteful, unnecessary packaging like the plague, buy in bulk whenever possible, and always take your own reusable containers and bags to the store.

    This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.

    Katherine Martinko|TreeHugger|November 12, 2014

    Miscellaneous

    In Ballona Wetlands preserve, homeless are unwanted intruders

    Homeless encampments cause damage to Ballona Wetlands

    Arrests are temporary fix to homeless encampments in Ballona Wetlands.

    As land manager of the Ballona Wetlands just south of Marina del Rey, ecologist Richard Brody thinks he has a “dream” job — but one that comes with an unusual caveat.

    Along with being able to name nearly every type of flower, tree and animal dotting the 600-acre state preserve, he must fight a seemingly endless stream of homeless people who try to take root there.

    Brody was hired in October 2013 to manage the preserve and address the growing number of encampments and the problems they have created. Parts of the wetlands have been littered with syringes and liquor bottles that can endanger wildlife. And the underbrush can serve as a hiding place for suspected vandals and thieves, such as those who periodically plague the nearby Culver-Marina Little League field.

    Culver-Marina Little League Vice President Matthew Wind recalls arriving at the field one day in August to find that nearly everything that wasn’t bolted down had been stolen, including a heavy pitching machine and several banners and trophies. The walls of the snack bar and equipment room were covered with profane, satanic graffiti.

    A few days later, the league received a water bill for $3,000. The pipes servicing the fields had been smashed, causing a huge leak. The field now remains dry and barren as the league looks for a way to pay for damage estimated at close to $50,000.

    “We have minor vandalism incidents in the offseason nearly every year,” Wind said. “But this is the worst it’s ever been.”

    The Ballona Wetlands are closed to the public unless accompanied by Brody, 51, or an approved volunteer, but it’s easy to gain entry illegally through holes in the chain-link fences that surround its 11-mile perimeter. Only a few areas are actually low-lying, marshy wetlands. The rest — including the land leased by the Little League — is upland and full of tall vegetation, creating shaded pockets of land where encampments often pop up.

    The vandalism was easily traced to the encampments, Brody said, because thieves had dragged stolen equipment across the sandy field, leaving tracks that took LAPD officers directly to encampments surrounding the baseball field. After finding much of the stolen equipment, two arrests were made.

    However, Wind believes the arrests are only a temporary solution.

    A large water bottle contains used syringes collected from homeless encampments in the Ballona Wetlands. (Marcus Yam, Los Angeles Times)

    “Until these camps are out for good, [the arrests] are like putting lipstick on a pig,” he said.

    Concerted efforts to address the homeless issue began last year after a member of the Friends of Ballona Wetlands, a nonprofit group dedicated to restoration of the wetlands, happened upon a debris-filled encampment off a bike trail that runs past Ballona Creek. Some of those living in the camp were also siphoning electricity from nearby power boxes, said Lisa Fimiani, executive director of the Friends of Ballona Wetlands.

    In the following months, crews from the state and the city of Los Angeles conducted several cleanups, at one point removing 300 bags of trash from a particularly entrenched encampment.

    But law enforcement agencies can’t do it all, Fimiani said: “If it’s between breaking up a homeless camp in the wetlands and dealing with a homicide, the priority is the homicide. We need someone — the City Council, the state — to provide more funding for patrols and outreach.”

    Removing an encampment is laborious — first, Brody enters with a member of the Sheriff’s Department and delivers a 72-hour eviction notice with a list of resources for homeless people living on the Westside. After the homeless leave, he and a trained crew clear out whatever is left behind.

    Brody usually finds dozens of syringes (he has a water bottle in his office containing several hundred that he has collected), pornographic magazines, bottles and batteries, which he says are particularly damaging to the wetlands’ ecosystem.

    Until these camps are out for good, [the arrests] are like putting lipstick on a pig- Ecologist Richard Brody

    Everything must be removed by hand to avoid further damage to the preserve, a process that requires a skilled crew that is able to deal with potentially hazardous materials.

    “I can’t just take any crew of volunteers with me — they have to know what they’re doing, or they could get sick,” Brody said.

    In the last year, Brody says, he has brought the number of camps down from 30 to about two or three.

    “Right now, I’m just playing a game of cat and mouse,” he said. “If I ask a camp to leave, sometimes they’ll just move to a different part [of the wetlands]…. I always tell them, ‘These may be your belongings, but this isn’t your home.'”

    In search of a long-term solution to the homeless problem, PATH Ventures, an affordable housing service in Los Angeles, has broken ground on a 23-unit affordable-housing building that will be completed in Marina del Rey next year. Although Joel Roberts, PATH’s chief executive officer, hopes the building will attract people living in the wetlands, they haven’t had much luck so far.

    “You can’t really sell people on something that’ll be done in six months,” he said. “You have to be able to offer a better solution than that.”

    Homeless activists from several organizations on the Westside have taken trips into the wetlands to meet and work with individuals living there, but they say that success will take a sustained, prolonged effort.

    “To get people out of these places, you have to build trust,” said Booker Pearson, a commissioner for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. “That takes more than a few trips.”

    Priya Krishnakumar

    Veterans Love the Environment Too!

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Veterans Day Celebration on November 6 gave participants the pleasure of hearing an inspiring speech by Admiral Michelle Howard, the first woman to achieve the rank of admiral in the Navy and the first African-American woman to achieve a 4 star ranking in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Listening to the Admiral talk about her military experiences as well as her proud interest and commitment to our environment inspired the Office of Environmental Justice to begin exploring how other veterans, inside EPA, in other federal agencies, and in other sectors, are putting their love for the environment and for their communities into action.

    What we found was that here at EPA, more than 1,500 of our colleagues are veterans or continue to serve as reservists in the U.S. armed forces.  Starting in 2012, EPA developed a series of videos about some of our home grown champions.  These EPA sheroes and heroes share their love for the military, their love for the Agency, and their love for the environment.

    As daughters of veterans, we have seen first-hand the dedication and commitment of veterans who came home to make our world better for others. We’re also keenly aware of national environmental justice champions who served our country. Many of you may know the story of Hilton Kelley, who served in the Navy before serving his Port Arthur, Texas community.  Dr. Robert Bullard, author of more than 18 books about environmental justice, served two years in the U.S. Marine Corps after college.

    In addition to these leaders of the environmental justice movement, many new veterans are joining the fight for healthy environments in their neighborhoods by working in the non-profit sector.  Take a look at Kelly Carlisle, a Navy Veteran, who founded Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project, a non-profit urban farm focusing on serving at-risk youth, who also plans to establish a farmers market with educational opportunities for involved youth in basic gardening and composting.  To learn more about what Kelly is doing, please visit the Farmer Veteran website.

    Former Army and National Guard Veteran Sonia Kendrick founded Feed Iowa First, a nonprofit with a mission of combatting food insecurity by raising food and farmers, and was honored earlier this year at the White House as one of 10 leaders who are White House “Champions of Change – Women Veteran Leaders.”  The event highlighted the incredible contributions of women veterans to our nation’s business, public, and community sectors.  Go here to find out more about Sonia and Feed Iowa First.

    As a local Washington DC veteran, Joe Wynn, President of Veteran’s Enterprise Training and Services Group, recently remarked “veterans are people too!”  The EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice wants to learn about the other veterans who “love the environment too!” and are working on social justice and environmental concerns in communities across the country.  Please let us know who you are, which branch of the military service you served in, and what work you are doing to make a visible difference in environmentally overburdened, underserved, and economically-distressed communities.

    Please post in the comments section below because we want to hear from our homegrown sheroes and heroes.  We thank you for your service abroad and here at home.

    About the authors:  Victoria Robinson currently is the Acting Communications Director for EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice.  Recently she served 5 years as Designated Federal Office (DFO) of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council.  She also works as the OEJ point of contact for climate change.  She has been served EPA in the Office of Environmental Justice for more than 11 years.

    Marva E. King, PhD, a U.S. Air Force veteran, recently rejoined the staff of EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice where she had worked for over 10 years as a Senior Program Analyst in EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice managing the EJ Collaborative Problem-Solving (CPS) Cooperative Agreement Program and the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council.  Previously she served as Program Co-Chair for the Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE) Program.  She also serves as a community expert on several EPA teams across the Agency. Dr. King holds a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Delaware and a Ph.D. in Public Policy at George Mason University.

    Victoria Robinson and Dr. Marva E. King|2014 November 13

    Coal Mines Keep Operating Despite Injuries, Violations And Millions In Fines

    Jack Blankenship was pinned facedown in the dirt, his neck, shoulder and back throbbing with pain.

    He was alone on an errand, in a dark tunnel a mile underground at the Aracoma Alma coal mine in Logan County, W.Va., when a 300-pound slab of rock peeled away from the roof and slammed him to the ground. As his legs grew numb, he managed to free an arm and reach his radio. For two hours, he pressed the panic button that was supposed to bring help quickly.

    “I couldn’t hardly breathe,” Blankenship remembered four years later. “I’d black out and come to. I was waiting to die. I’d already had my little talk with God.”

    Aracoma Alma and then-owner Massey Energy had a history of serious safety problems, including falling rock. In the two years before Blankenship’s accident, the mine was cited by federal regulators more than 120 times for rock fall violations, according to records from federal regulators. That included inadequate roof support and deficient safety checks for loose rock.

    Citations and the fines that go with them are key components of the federal law designed to protect miners. They are supposed to make violations expensive — costing hundreds of thousands of dollars for the most serious offenses — and create an incentive for mine owners to keep workers safe.

    Yet on that December day in 2010, as Blankenship lay pinned and in pain, Aracoma Alma owed $200,000 in overdue mine safety fines, federal records show. The penalty system that is designed to discourage unsafe practices failed Blankenship, and his story is not unique.

    Dangerous Delinquents

    A joint investigation by NPR and Mine Safety and Health News found that thousands of mine operators fail to pay safety penalties, even as they continue to manage dangerous — and sometimes deadly — mining operations. Most unpaid penalties are between two and 10 years overdue; some go back two decades. And federal regulators seem unable or unwilling to make mine owners pay.

    Our joint investigation looked at 20 years of federal mine data through the first quarter of 2014, including details about fines, payments, violations and injuries. We used raw Department of Labor data and delinquency records provided by the Mine Safety and Health Administration to calculate the number of injuries and injury rates, and violations and gravity of violations, at mines with delinquent penalties while they were delinquent.

    Among the findings:

    • 2,700 mining company owners failed to pay nearly $70 million in delinquent penalties.
    • The top nine delinquents owe more than $1 million each.
    • Mines that don’t pay their penalties are more dangerous than mines that do, with injury rates 50 percent higher.
    • Delinquent mines reported close to 4,000 injuries in the years they failed to pay, including accidents that killed 25 workers and left 58 others with permanent disabilities.
    • Delinquent mines continued to violate the law, with more than 130,000 violations, while they failed to pay mine safety fines.

    Most mine operators pay their penalties, our investigation found. Delinquents account for just 7 percent of the nation’s coal, metals and mineral mining companies. But that small subset of the industry is more dangerous than the rest, federal data show.

    The violations at delinquent mines included 40,000 that are labeled in government safety records as “Significant and Substantial,” which means serious injury or illness were likely if inspectors hadn’t intervened. More than 15,000 violations were the kind found in fatal accidents, major disasters or mining deaths, the records also show.

    And when those safety records are compared with other government data on coal production, it shows that some of the top delinquents continued to mine coal and reap millions of dollars in revenue while their safety fines remained unpaid.

    “Most folks out there, including me, are totally shocked when they find out that … you can actually just sit around and not pay the fine and keep producing coal and put money in the bank,” said Tim Bailey, Blankenship’s attorney and a West Virginia native with three generations of coal miners in his family.

    A Formula For Catastrophe

    Mine safety advocates say the mix of delinquency, violations and injuries is a formula for catastrophe.

    “To the people who continue to run an operation that puts people at risk on a daily basis, this is a bonanza,” said Davitt McAteer, a former assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health and an independent investigator of three recent mine disasters.

    “This is to them, ‘I can beat this system,’ ” McAteer added. “This is the kind of attitude that leads to mine disasters.”

    Officials at the National Mining Association, the industry’s lobbying group, declined to be interviewed, but NMA said in a written statement that it “believes that all truly delinquent fines should be paid.”

    The group also said the government, not industry, should address this issue.

    About This Investigation

    This story was reported by correspondent Howard Berkes and data reporters Anna Boiko-Weyrauch and Robert Benincasa of NPR, together with Ellen Smith, the managing editor of Mine Safety and Health News, an independent publication focused on the mining industry.

    NPR’s Barbara Van Woerkom contributed research to this report.

    The federal agency responsible for regulating mines is the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) in the Department of Labor. MSHA conducts regular inspections — four a year for underground mines — looking for safety hazards such as excessive and explosive coal dust, loose rock, electrocution threats, volatile methane gas and weak ventilation.

    Serious violations must be fixed before mining can continue. But even minor violations can result in citations and fines, which can range from $112 to $220,000, depending on the violation.

    An appeals process gives mine owners the chance to challenge fines they consider unfair. Any fine that is unchallenged or upheld on appeal but still not paid is deemed delinquent by regulators.

    When a fine becomes delinquent, MSHA sends out letters requesting payment. If necessary, the Treasury Department follows up with letters, phone calls and referrals to collection agencies. Sometimes, the Justice Department is asked to seek federal court orders demanding payment.

    Joe Main, the current head of MSHA, said the delinquency problem looks worse than it really is, because the agency’s records don’t include payments that may take time to process. To compensate, NPR and Mine Safety and Health News excluded from the analysis any delinquency less than 90 days old.

    Main also said his agency is focused more on rooting out and correcting dangerous workplace conditions than on collecting fines.

    Howard Berkes|Ana Boiko-Weyrauch|Robert Benincasa|November 12, 2014

    Listen to Part 1 All Things Considered 12 min 5 sec
    Listen to Part 2 8 min 22 sec

    Amish And Mennonite Farmers Are Polluting Lancaster County

    The old farming techniques used by some Amish and Mennonite farmers may be traditional, but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily environmentally friendly. The government recently had to step in and make some changes to prevent pollution from seeping into Lancaster County waterways.

    The legal status of Amish and Mennonite farmers is delicate and tricky; mostly, the government leaves the farmers alone, and the farmers leave the government alone, in stark contrast to the way most agriculture is done in this country. But in the past few years, that’s all gone out the window, as the Environmental Protection Agency has begun to crack down on violations from farmers that pollute the environment. The first major grant has just come through: about $400,000 to help farmers clean up their act.

    Typically, some Amish and Mennonite farmers (we’re using these terms loosely; there are a lot of subtleties and variations, but we’re talking about what are more specifically called “plain sect” families, those who follow a doctrine of separation from the rest of the world) opt out of government entirely. They do not accept government subsidies, nor do they pay into or receive benefits like Social Security, and mostly, the government is fine with that. But as of around 2009, the EPA has begun cracking down, because the Chesapeake Bay watershed area, which abuts the heaviest concentration of plain sect farmers, is heavily polluted.

    Of all the counties that farm this area, the worst offender is Lancaster County, the home of many plain sect farmers. According to the New York Times, the county as of 2010 generated about 61 million pounds of manure per year, far, far more than any other county in the area. Runoff from that manure, organic or not, can pollute the water systems in disastrous ways, spiking nitrogen and phosphorous rates while reducing oxygen, thus killing off wildlife. When the EPA visited farms in this area back in 2009, they found, says Grist, violations in 85% of the farms, ranging from improperly stored manure, improperly contained cows, and high levels of E. coli in the wells. Another problem: the traditional methods of farming, like horse-drawn plows, tear up the soil and promote erosion much more than more modern methods.

    The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation issued a grant in the odd number of $383,744 to help farmers clean up the Pequea (pronunciation: “peek-way”) Creek Watershed on the Susquehanna River. That money will go toward proper fencing to keep cows out of the creeks, better cattle crossing, and more efficient and safer storage methods for manure. Hopefully it’ll help the plain sect farmers do what they’ve always set out to do: protect the land.

    Dan Nosowitz|November 10, 2014

    Environmental Links

    SFAS International Wildlife News Audubon Advocate Audubon Restore Eco-Voice South Florida Wildlife Care Center Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital The Turtle Hospital The Marathon Wild Bird Center Climate change info Audubon’s Coastal Strand Audubon of Florida News Blog Bioenergy News Climate Progress – climate science, politics and solutions Collins Center for Public Policy Comprehensive Everglades Restoration News EcoWatch – feeds from the WaterKeeper Alliance Everglades Foundation – press releases Everglades Hub Fort Myers News – Press Green Front Pages from Florida Newspapers Herald Tribune Newspapers –  Environmental News KeysNews.com Naples Daily News  – Environmental News National Public Radio Eco-News Riverwatch News about the Caloosahatchee Sierra Club Sierra Club Florida South Florida Watershed  Journal South Florida Water Management District Union of Concerned Scientists – news Yahoo News Search: Everglades NASA Climate Information American Littorial Society log NASA Climate Information Sun Newspapers – Lake Okeechobee News Everglades City News  – Mullet Wrapper IFAW’s World of Animals Magazine

    Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

    ConsRep 1114 A

    The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself. Franklin Delano Roosevelt

    Announcements

    We won! ‏

    Vote YES on 1

    We are humbled and grateful for this victory that you, the people, made possible.

    Thank you for all your hard work and dedication to achieve this milestone in Florida’s history.

    For future generations and for Florida!

    The Campaign Team — Will, Pegeen, Aliki, and Laura

    We did it – Amendment 1 APPROVED

    Voters today approved Amendment 1. After two years of volunteer petitions, thousands of contributions, and great effort at the polls, we did it!  

    Voters made a decision to invest billions in protecting Florida’s water and land. We will leave a true legacy for future generations. For all those, including Audubon staff and chapter leaders, thank you for caring about Florida. 

    We made a real difference today. Tomorrow we have to start pushing the Florida Legislature to listen to the voters.

    But for now, enjoy this sweet victory.  

    Sincerely,

    Eric Draper
    Executive Director         
    Audubon Florida

    2015 Hog Island: Send Someone to Camp

    Audubon’s historic Hog Island Camp in Maine is accepting registrations for next summer’s one-of-a-kind programs for adults, teens, and families.

    Last year more than 60 people were given the opportunity to learn from instructors such as Scott Weidensaul, Pete Dunne, and Steve Kress because of Chapter sponsorship.

    Please consider continuing the tradition by sponsoring a camper. Information and forms can be found online or by contacting Hog Island at 607-257-7308 x2 or hogisland@audubon.org.

    Hold a spot by December 15th to save $50!

    Newly sponsoring organizations also qualify for $250 in matching funds.

    Save the Date:  Everglades Coalition 2015 Conference

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

    Click here for more information

    Annual Right Whale Festival

    January 8-10, 2015

    www.myfwc.com

    Annual Right Whale Festival
    Jacksonville Beach
    January 8 – 10, 2015

    Everglades Coalition Annual Conference
    Hilton Key Largo Resort
    http://www.evergladescoalition.org/conference
    January 23-25, 2015

    Arthur R Marshall Foundation for the Everglades

    River of Grass Gala

    Date:  December 6, 2014

    Location:  Lady Windridge Yacht, launching from Palm Beach

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

    The 4th Annual Florida Panther Festival
    Saturday, November 15
    10am – 4pm
    North Collier Regional Park
    15000 Livingston Road, Naples, FL
    FREE ADMISSION
    RAIN OR SHINE!!
    Field Trips
    Sunday, November 16th
    Various Locations
    REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN
    Click here for more information!

    Walk the
    Panther Mile
    2-hour guided trail walk
    Tours begin 9am & 9:30am
    HELD AT FESTIVAL LOCATION
    Nov. 15th
    Reservations Required
    Click here to sign-up!

    Exotic Pet Amnesty Event
    Surrender your exotic pet, no questions asked, to be adopted by a qualified individual.
    HELD AT FESTIVAL LOCATION
    Nov. 15th
    For more information
    CLICK HERE!

    Rural Residents Meeting
    HELD AT FESTIVAL LOCATION
    Nov. 15th
    Join us at 2:30 for a special presentation for rural residents and landowners in the Festival’s “Living with Wildlife Pavilion”
    For more information CLICK HERE!

    Volunteer to Help Coral Reefs! ‏

    Are you interested in volunteering in your community to help our Florida reefs?

    We are looking for new members of our Volunteer Speakers Bureau to let more people know about the amazing resource in our backyards. 

    Volunteers will:

    • Attend a volunteer training;
    • Reach out to organizations within their community;
    • Speak at local group meetings a minimum of six times a year.

    There are many groups that want to learn about the reefs in southeast Florida and with your help, they can! 

    Our next volunteer trainings are Wednesday,

    November 12 from 6-8 pm or Thursday, November 13 from 12 -2pm at the Biscayne Bay Environmental Center in Miami.

    Email coral@dep.state.fl.us today to reserve your spot as space is limited! 

    Thanks and we look forward to seeing you this month!

    The Coral Reef Conservation Program

    Join Defenders of Wildlife at the 4th Annual Florida Panther Festival on November 15th!

    Saturday, November 15th, 2014
    10:00am – 4:00pm
    North Collier Regional Park
    15000 Livingston Road
    Naples, FL 34119
    This family-friendly event is aimed at promoting coexistence between people, pets, livestock and panthers by fostering appreciation and understanding of these beautiful big cats.

    The Panther Festival is a free and fun way to learn about these amazing creatures! We need you to help panthers thrive!
    Activities will include:

                                                                                                                                                                                                       Children’s games                          Indoor & outdoor exhibits

                                                                                                                                                                                                       Guided walks                                Speaker presentations

                                                                                                                                                                                                       Food vendors                                Live music

                                                                                                                                                                                                       Arts and crafts sales                    and much more!

                                                                                                                                                                                                            We look forward to seeing you on Saturday!

    Shannon Miller
    Florida Program Coordinator
    Defenders of Wildlife

    Of Interest to All

    For a Crystal Clear View, Dial in Your Binoculars

    Migrants are migrating, days are cooling down, and winter birds are getting ready to flock around your feeders. Now’s the time to make sure your binoculars are giving you the best possible view. For some fast tips on setting up your binoculars (including the mysterious “diopter”), and how to find and focus on birds, watch this video.
    More Ways to Get the Most From Binoculars:

    From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology eNews

    Rubber Dodo Award Goes to … USDA’s Wildlife Services

    Wildlife Services, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s notorious animal-killing program, is the lucky recipient of the Center’s 2014 Rubber Dodo Award, given each year to a notable eco-villain. The program killed more than 2 million native animals in 2013, including 320 gray wolves, 75,000 coyotes and 419 black bears.

    “No other government program does more every day to annihilate America’s wildlife than Wildlife Services,” said Kierán Suckling, the Center’s executive director. “This rogue program does much of its dirty work far from the public’s view, so millions of animals disappear from our landscapes every year with little accountability.”

    Most of Wildlife Services’ killing is done on behalf of the livestock and agriculture industries, along with other powerful interests. Its methods are gruesome, including aerial gunning, traps and exploding cyanide caps. Pets and sometimes people have also been inadvertently harmed.
    Thanks to all 12,500 of you who voted. Read more in our
    press release and get details on our campaign against Wildlife Services.

    Center for Biological Diversity

    DEP, SFWMD Issue 2014 South Florida Environmental Report

    Fall migrations in full swing

    The Germans call it “zugunruhe” – the insatiable urge to travel with seasonal changes.

    The word is typically used to describe birds, particularly those that fly in search of warmer conditions, better food sources or breeding grounds.

    Changing seasons in South Florida causes quite a bit of zugunruhe – from female loggerhead sea turtles leaving the Gulf of Mexico to the 25,000 sandhill cranes arriving from the Great Lakes.

    More seasonal visitors also means more chances of a wildlife encounter with alligators or panthers. Traffic is always a concern with panthers, and this year is no different as 18 have died from vehicle accidents – one shy of the state record.

    Throw in the fall mullet run, manatee migration, wood stork nesting season and the arrival of various songbirds and you get a plethora of wildlife viewing opportunities that even National Geographic photographers covet especially with the cooler temperatures and less humidity this weekend.

    Sandhill crane

    Cranes are some of the most majestic birds in North America. Two subspecies are found in Florida starting in late October or early November. Year-round, or common sandhill cranes, number 4,000 to 5,000, and they are joined each year by 25,000 or so great sandhill cranes, which nest in the Great Lakes during the summer.

    “One thing that really stands out is the prehistoric-sounding call they have,” said Craig Faulhaber with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “You’ll often hear that call when they’re feeding or flying over.”

    Faulhaber said the greater sandhill crane is the subspecies most often seen during the winter, due mostly to the sheer volume of Great Lakes cranes that winter here. Year-round cranes also nest starting in winter, but the greater subspecies nests near lakes of the Midwest in the summer.

    American alligator

    Alligators become nearly catatonic at times because of their metabolism, which is regulated by the sun. Active, spirited and hungry during the summer, alligators feed heavy in the fall.

    “The mating season is over with, and the young ones have hatched,” said Jesse Kennon, owner of Coopertown airboats. “They’ll try and lay up in the sun as much as possible.”

    He said alligators are still more active during the night than during day hours, even during the winter.

    “Right now they’re moving quite a bit because it’s cooling down, and they realize that so they’re trying to feed more,” Kennon said. “But they still move at night time (during the winter), and they’ll move to the shallows – where the water will be warmer.”

    Winter also coincides with the dry season, and shrinking water levels will force alligators to congregate in shrinking lakes and ponds – which makes for easier alligator observing.

    Migratory birds

    South Florida is home to hundreds of bird species – from tiny piping plovers nesting on local beaches to the magnificent wood stork. Biologists have documented about 350 species just inside Everglades National Park.

    Some species come here for the winter, while others are moving further south. Some migratory birds aren’t all that pretty either – like the red-headed turkey vulture.

    “Fall migration is often slow, late and builds up over time,” said Jerry Jackson, a bird expert and Florida Gulf Coast University professor. “Migrant turkey vultures are slowly arriving right now, but will continue to show up over the next few weeks.”

    Birds like the American robin and killdeer arrive later in the year, Jackson said. Those species, he said, can often be tracked by watching snow patterns and levels in northern states. As the snow blankets the food sources, these birds head south for the winter.

    “The same kind of pattern is typical of American goldfinches and fruiting eating birds – they will stay farther north as long as food is available and often slowly make their way here,” Jackson said.

    Species leaving the region include, among others, swallow-tailed kites and some purple martins.

    Florida panther

    Panthers were almost lost to extinction in the 1990s but now there about 180 roaming South Florida.

    They don’t pack on pounds like black bears, but they do tend to hunt for longer hours in the morning during winter, said Mark Lotz, a panther biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

    “They tend to be active for longer periods after sunrise, when it’s cool out,” Lotz said. “In the summer time it’s so hot, they lay down quickly. They sneak away to the hammocks and shady areas and settle down pretty early.”

    The big cats breed year-round, although most kittens are born in late spring, according to FWC records. Kittens will stay with their mothers for about two years before searching out their own territories.

    Manatee

    Gulf of Mexico water temperatures have been hovering around 75 degrees. Cold fronts will cause water temperatures to drop to 60 degrees or lower – which is too cold for sub-tropical animals like manatees.

    “When water drops to upper 60s, they need to be close to warm water for periods so they can warm up,” said Scott Calleson with FWC. “When it gets cold they stay in those areas for days and won’t feed. But they still have to go out feed at some point. And that varies with the individual and how long they’ve been holed up in a particular area.”

    Manatees roam coastal areas across the state during the summer. Cold spells in the winter send them inland, to warm-water refuges like the Florida Power & Light plant on the Orange River east of Fort Myers.

    Callesson said some manatees are more tolerant of cold than others. Eventually, though, all will have to seek out warm water or face health issues that stem from cold-stress, including death.

    “We’re probably still on the warm end of things,” Calleson said. “We haven’t yet seen a change to winter behaviors yet.”

    PLACES TO GO

    * Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest: 6265 County Road 832. Information: 863-612-0776.

    * Everglades National Park: Everglades City, Flamingo and Shark River Valley entrance along Tamiami Trail. Information: 305-242-7700.

    * Harnes Marsh Preserve: Near Veterans Park in Lehigh Acres. Information: 239-386-0044.

    * Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park: 137 Coastline Drive, Copeland. Information: 239-695-4593

    * Manatee Park: 3410 Palm Beach Blvd., Fort Myers. Information: 239-690-5030

    Chad Gillis|news-press.com|October 31, 2014

    DEP’s Florida Coastal Office Debuts Interactive Map of Aquatic Preserves

    ~Take a virtual tour through some of Florida’s most outstanding coastal habitats~

    The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Coastal Office presents an online interactive story map that takes visitors on a virtual tour of the state’s 41 aquatic preserves through pictures, videos and website links.

    Florida’s aquatic preserves encompass approximately 2.2 million acres. All but four of these “submerged lands of exceptional beauty” are located along Florida’s 8,400 miles of coastline in the shallow waters of marshes and estuaries that serve as a critical nursery for many of the nation’s recreationally and commercially important fish and shellfish.

    “The aquatic preserve story map provides a captivating way for the public and government officials to learn about each aquatic preserve and the great things being accomplished by Florida Coastal Office staff and volunteers across the state,” said Chris Robertson, GIS coordinator for the Florida Coastal Office. “This map is an incredible tool that can be used to teach Florida residents about the natural beauty found right in their backyard.”

    This interactive mapping project was created to educate the public about the diverse ecosystems found across the state and to encourage public support and community involvement in the aquatic preserves.

    Approximately two-thirds of Floridians live in counties that border an aquatic preserve.

    The creation of this interactive map takes promoting the aquatic preserves further than just handing out a pamphlet or pointing to a storyboard. It allows guests to get a closer look at the research, resource protection, education and community outreach that is taking place at each site.

    The map is hosted on the Florida DEP’s ArcGIS online gallery, found here.

    latashawalters|Nov. 7, 2014

    Calls to Action

    1.   GIVE BIRDS A FIGHTING CHANCE — SUPPORT THE EPA’S CLIMATE PLAN – here
    2. Help Nevada State Mustangs – here
    3. Protect Florida’s Wetlands – here
    4. Help Protect Cabo Pulmo’s Coral Reef – here
    5. Tell India’s government to stop its plans to expand palm oil production and help save India’s wild tigershere
    6.  

    Birds and Butterflies

    November Offers Plenty of Birds. Here’s Where to Look

    For much of North America, the rush of confusing fall warblers has passed—but there’s still plenty of great bird watching to be done in November. Chances are, a weedy field near you is hosting throngs of beautiful sparrows; ponds are coming alive with migrating waterfowl; mudflats are like magnets for shorebirds; and raptors are passing overhead. Check out our full set of fall tips.

    From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology eNews

    Rare Raven Flies Free After Getting a Feather Transplant

    Thanks to the kindness of a caring citizen and the expertise of wildlife rehabilitators in Virginia, a common raven has been successfully returned to her home in the wild after being rescued and receiving months of care and a feather transplant.

    The raven was first spotted by Maureen Bergin, an IT specialist at Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield earlier this spring in the parking lot where she worked in Henrico County with missing feathers that left her unable to fly.

    According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch Bergin tried for two months to get professional help for her as her condition deteriorated, but it wasn’t until the bird was identified as a raven, who usually stick to the mountains and are rare in the area, that anyone responded.

    In the meantime the raven’s mate had been bringing her food, while Bergin also fed her and attempted to lure her into a carrier so she could take her to get help.

    “You sing to it and it would make these clucking sounds back at you,” Bergin said. “It was really cool. As long as I didn’t make eye contact, she would talk to me.”

    Still she had no luck catching her. Finally in June, she was officially identified by Barbara Slatcher who is a local rehabber, caught by officials from the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and taken to a vet for an initial exam before being transferred to the Wildlife Center of Virginia where she was an unusual patient. According to the center, it’s admitted fewer than 10 ravens since 2000.

    Though rescuers say she was still lively when she showed up, tests confirmed that she was covered in mites that were responsible for causing her feather loss and treatment began. She responded well and some of her feathers had started to grow in by September, but there were still too many broken and damaged ones for her to be safely released so the staff decided to do a “feather transplant” to help get her on her way home.

    For birds, a feather transplant is called “imping” and involves attaching flight feathers from a donor bird onto the shafts of feathers of the bird who needs new ones by inserting small splints between the two. Donor feathers in this case came from Avian Haven in Maine and the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota and resulted in six new feathers on her right wing and one on the left.

    Fortunately, the procedure was a success and after carefully monitoring her new feathers and helping build her strength after one last health check she was cleared for release this week. About 100 people gathered at Bryan Park in Richmond to hear her story and see her off.

    No one knows whether she’ll stick around the area or whether she’ll find her mate, but Randy Huwa, executive vice president of the center said if he’s still in the area, she shouldn’t have any trouble catching up to him.

    Alicia Graef|November 7, 2014

     Florida Panthers

    Florida hunters, ranchers challenge state’s method of counting panthers as more wildlife killed

    NAPLES, Fla. – A growing movement among cattle ranchers and hunters is challenging the way Florida counts panthers, the state’s official mammal and one of its most iconic endangered species.

    More than 50 hunters and ranchers from all over South Florida flocked this week to a rare public meeting in Naples of the federal and state team guiding Florida panther recovery efforts. The hunters and ranchers pushed back against recovery goals they say are causing panthers to run amok.

    They told stories about fearless panthers getting too close for comfort. They said a burgeoning panther population is causing native wildlife declines. They worried that panthers killing calves will ruin their livelihoods.

    “I just wonder if we’re trying to put a square peg in a round hole,” said Collier County ranch owner Liesa Priddy, who Gov. Scott appointed to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

    She questioned as unwise the goal of creating two distinct populations of 240 panthers each, which would move them from the endangered status to threatened. Creating three distinct populations would take the panthers off the endangered list altogether.

    “Not every single species can be recovered,” she said. “I think that’s something we need to hold out there and consider.”

    Collier County is ground zero for panther recovery because it covers the best of what’s left of their habitat on public lands, like the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Big Cypress National Preserve and Fakahatchee Strand, and on private ranches around Immokalee.

    In the mid-1980s, Florida panther trackers counted as few as 30 left in the wild. A controversial plan to introduce eight female Texas cougars into the South Florida population is credited with restoring panther’s genetic diversity and boosting the population.

    A 2013 count put the minimum population at 104 panthers, and scientists say a steady increase has leveled off, indicating that panthers may have no more room to grow. Male panthers have ventured north of the Caloosahatchee River, but there is no proof that females are there.

    Panther tracker Roy McBride, a Texas-based predator control expert who does Florida’s annual counts, made the case for basing population estimates on facts.

    McBride uses hounds and his team’s own expertise to find panther signs – scat, urine markers, tracks, panther prey kills. He then is careful to distinguish between males and females and time and distance between signs to avoid double-counting.

    “If we’re going to count panthers, let’s at least use verifiable evidence or nobody’s going to believe us,” he said.

    For years, Florida reported only a minimum population size, but amid questions about the real size of the population, the Conservation Commission reported its first population range estimate in 2011. Scientists estimated the population at between 100 and 160 panthers. The top number was increased to 180 earlier this year.

    The range estimate uses minimum count data to figure out many panthers roam per square mile in areas where they are most plentiful and then multiplies that figure over the panther’s entire reproductive range.

    But minimum counts and population range estimates are not the same as statistically valid population size estimates that can hold up to scientific scrutiny. Scientists are still looking for ways to do that.

    “Not one of them has popped up and said, ‘Hey, this is the one you want to use,'” said Darrell Land, Florida’s panther recovery team leader based in Naples.

    One count method from a 2012 study suggests the Florida panther population grew to 272, but the margin of error in the count methodology is so large and the calculation method is considered biased toward panthers around public lands.

    Most hunters and ranchers attending this week’s meeting weren’t buying any of the numbers being tossed around.

    “Perhaps these animals aren’t reading our books,” said Mike Elfenbein, 37, of Port Charlotte, a Florida native and outdoorsman who says he’s been stalked by a panther four times.

    Increasing conflicts between panthers and people is “on the radar” of state and federal wildlife agencies, said Larry Williams, regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

    “They’re showing up on porches, they’re showing up on ranches and we need to do something differently,” Williams told the at-times belligerent crowd at the extension office.

    He hinted at a loosening of endangered species rules that prohibit harassing and hazing and suggested it might be time to relax the measures used to determine whether the panther should be downlisted to threatened and eventually taken off the endangered list.

    Florida Wildlife Federation field representative Nancy Payton said resolving the issues surrounding a growing panther population is key to the panthers’ future, and that includes converting hunters and ranchers into “missionaries” for panther conservation rather than critics.

    “They’re not there yet,” she said.

    Eric Staats|Oct 31, 2014

      Invasive species

     

    Endangered Species

    Conservation Groups Sue Federal Agency to Protect Wolverines

    After more than a century of trapping and habitat loss, wolverines in the lower 48 have been reduced to small, fragmented populations in Idaho, Montana, Washington, Wyoming and northeast Oregon.

    The wolverine is a famously tough creature that doesn’t back down from anything, but even the wolverine can’t overcome a changing climate by itself. To survive, the wolverine needs the protections that only the Endangered Species Act can provide.

    Missoula, MT Eight conservation groups joined forces today in a legal challenge of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to abandon proposed protections for the wolverine, a rare and elusive mountain-dwelling species with fewer than 300 individuals remaining in the lower 48.

    In February 2013, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to list the wolverine as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act after the agency’s biologists concluded global warming was reducing the deep spring snowpack pregnant females require for denning.

    But after state wildlife managers in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming objected, arguing that computer models about climate change impact are too uncertain to justify the proposed listing, in May 2014 the Service’s Regional Director Noreen Walsh ordered her agency to withdraw the listing, ignoring the recommendations of her own scientists. The reversal came despite confirmation by a panel of outside experts that deep snow is crucial to the ability of wolverines to reproduce successfully. The agency formalized that withdrawal in a final decision issued Aug. 13.

    The coalition of eight conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice, is suing to overturn that decision filed the lawsuit today in federal district court in Missoula, Mont.

    “The wolverine is a famously tough creature that doesn’t back down from anything, but even the wolverine can’t overcome a changing climate by itself,” said Earthjustice attorney Adrienne Maxwell. “To survive, the wolverine needs the protections that only the Endangered Species Act can provide.”

    The groups bringing the lawsuit are the Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Friends of the Clearwater, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Idaho Conservation League, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, and Rocky Mountain Wild.

    “The denial of protection for the wolverine is yet another unfortunate example of politics entering into what should be a purely scientific decision,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “All of the science and the agency’s own scientists say the wolverine is severely endangered by loss of spring snowpack caused by climate change, yet the agency denied protection anyway.”

    “The best available science shows climate change will significantly reduce available wolverine habitat over the next century, and imperil the species,” said Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance’s Siva Sundaresan. “As an agency responsible for protecting our wildlife, FWS should not ignore science and should make their decisions based on facts and data.”

    “Wolverines in the Clearwater region are particularly vulnerable because the elevations here are less than those elsewhere in the Northern Rockies,” said Gary Macfarlane of Friends of the Clearwater. “It would be a great loss if this fearless critter were to disappear from the wild Clearwater country.”.

    “One of the most important things that we can do to get wolverines on the road to recovery in the face of a warming climate is to get them back on the ground in mountain ranges where they once lived,” said Megan Mueller, senior conservation biologist with Rocky Mountain Wild. “We are disappointed by the Service’s decision not to list wolverines under the Endangered Species Act as protections would have helped to facilitate such efforts in Colorado and beyond.”

    “The remote, rugged, and snowy North Cascades are ideal wolverine habitat,” said Dave Werntz, Science and Conservation Director with Conservation Northwest. “Protection under the Endangered Species Act will help wolverine survive a warming climate, shrinking snowpack, and increasingly fragmented habitat.”

    Read the legal document.

    Background

    The wolverine, the largest land-dwelling member of the weasel family, once roamed across the northern tier of the United States and as far south as New Mexico in the Rockies and Southern California in the Sierra Nevada range. After more than a century of trapping and habitat loss, wolverines in the lower 48 have been reduced to small, fragmented populations in Idaho, Montana, Washington, Wyoming and northeast Oregon.

    With no more than 300 wolverines remaining in these regions, the species is at direct risk from climate change because wolverines depend on areas that maintain deep snow through late spring, when pregnant females dig their dens into the snowpack to birth and raise their young. Snowpack is already in decline in the western mountains, a trend that is predicted to worsen. Wolverine populations also are threatened by trapping, human disturbance, extremely low population numbers resulting in low genetic diversity, and fragmentation of habitat.

    The groups challenging the Service’s determination pointed out that the agency disregarded well-established scientific evidence, including the recommendations of its own scientists, in speculating that the wolverine might be capable of withstanding the projected loss of 63 percent of its snowy habitat in the lower 48 by the year 2085. Contrary to the Service’s speculation, every one of the 562 verified wolverine den sites in North America and Scandinavia occurred in snow; 95 percent of worldwide summer wolverine observations and 89 percent of year-round wolverine observations fell within areas characterized by persistent spring snowpack. Elimination of this snowy habitat due to warming temperatures presents a direct threat to the wolverine’s survival — a danger compounded by the increasing isolation and fragmentation of wolverine habitats that threatens remaining populations with localized extinctions and inbreeding.

    On May 17, the assistant director for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Rocky Mountain region recommended protection for the wolverine, concluding that the agency’s scientists had not found “any other peer-reviewed literature or other bodies of evidence that would lead us to a different conclusion. While we recognize there is uncertainty associated with when population effects may manifest themselves, any conclusion that there will not be population effects appears to be based on opinion and speculation. In our opinion that would not represent the best available scientific or commercial data available.” Despite these strong conclusions, the Fish and Wildlife Service reversed course and withdrew proposed protection for the wolverine.

    Adrienne Maxwell|Attorney|Earthjustice|October 13, 2014

    First Gray Wolf Sighted at the Grand Canyon in Decades Offers Hope

    Several recent sightings of what’s believed to be a gray wolf at the Grand Canyon in Arizona have wolf advocates hopeful that its presence, which marks the first time one has been seen in the state in 70 years, is yet another a sign of recovery for this iconic species.

    The lone wolf in question was first spotted in early October by visitors at the Kaibab National Forest north of the Grand Canyon National Park and described as a wolf-like animal, but photos made public by the Center for Biological Diversity – in an attempt to ensure it wasn’t mistaken for a coyote and killed – have led wildlife and park officials to believe it’s a gray wolf.

    While endangered Mexican gray wolves live in the area, the wolf who was spotted was larger and has the signature rounded ears of their relatives. It’s also wearing an inactive radio collar, which essentially rules out the possibility that it’s a wolf-dog hybrid, and has led wildlife officials to believe the wolf may have traveled all the way from the Northern Rockies.

    Officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) said they’ll be DNA testing its feces for confirmation and further stated, “Until more is known about this animal, visitors to the area are cautioned that this may be a wolf from the northern Rocky Mountain population and is fully protected under the Endangered Species Act. Our immediate concern is for the welfare of this animal.”

    While gray wolves once roamed vast portions of the U.S., they’ve only returned to an estimated 10 percent of their historic range. They’ve been absent from the Grand Canyon region since the last one was killed in the 1940s making this one’s adventure a significant success for the species.

    Like the story of Oregon’s lone wolf OR-7, this sighting has offered hope for conservationists and wolf advocates that wolves are continuing to expand their range and has raised more calls to continue federal protection. While we’ve had some victories in the West, they continue to face exactly the kind of persecution that led to federal protection in the first place.

    “I’m absolutely thrilled that a wolf managed to travel so far to reclaim the Grand Canyon as a home for wolves,” said Michael Robinson, a wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This wolf’s journey starkly highlights the fact that wolf recovery is still in its infancy and that these important and magnificent animals continue to need Endangered Species Act protections.”

    While this individual is still protected as an endangered species, a proposal to strip them of federal protection could change that and is still looming over their future. Losing protection would further threaten their ability to safely expand to new territories that are suitable for them, which their advocates believe is essential to their continued recovery.

    “The possibility that a determined wolf could make it to the Canyon region is cause for celebration, and we must insist that every effort be taken to protect this brave wanderer,” said Kim Crumbo, conservation director for Grand Canyon Wildlands Council

    Alicia Graef|November 4, 2014

    Iberian Lynx reintroduced to Portugal

    The plan to reintroduce the rare Iberian lynx to the wild in Portugal has taken a giant step forward the country’s environment ministry has announced.

    The lynx has been allocated 2,000 hectares in Mertola, 180km southeast of Lisbon to live, hunt and breed thanks to the land owners signing contracts with The Institute for Nature Conservation and Forestry (ICNF).

    “It is a decisive step in the project, starting the definition of the geographic setting, working closely with the owners and managers, of the reintroduction site of the lynx in Portugal,” said Miguel Castro Neto, Portugal’s Secretary of State for Planning and Nature Conservation.

    The agreement allows the lynx to live and, hopefully, thrive in a protected area, while the land owner will be able to attract tourists hoping to see one of the most endangered feline in the world.

    The Iberian Lynx is the world’s most threatened species of cat and is classed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN. Numbers have declined by more than 80 percent over the last 20 years.

    Florida Celebrates High Sea Turtle Nest Count This Season

    ~Conservation efforts reduce human impact on sea turtle nesting~

    A sea turtle hatchling makes its way to the ocean.

    Researchers are again seeing a high number of sea turtle nests on Florida’s beaches this year. The number of nests in Florida has increased over the past several years as a result of increased conservation efforts and decreased detrimental storms throughout the state.

    More than 1,800 biologists, interns and trained volunteers patrol Florida’s 199 nesting beaches to identify, mark and monitor nests. Researchers at Florida’s three National Estuarine Research Reserves (NERRs), located in Naples, Apalachicola and Ponte Vedra Beach, gather evidence to track sea turtle populations and document the success of the nests.

    This year, 960 total nests have been reported in Florida’s three NERRs. Researchers at Guana Tolomato Mantanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve have reported 134 nests, including 10 rare green turtle nests. The nest count in Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve has increased from 475 in 2013 to 560 nests this year. At the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, 266 nests have been identified.

    “We are very pleased to see the sea turtle population increased this year within our managed areas,” Kevin Claridge, director of DEP’s Florida Coastal Office. “There are many variables that can affect population numbers, but a key component to species management is good data, which in this case would not have been possible without so many excellent partnerships and volunteer hours.”

    In addition to more total nests, Rookery Bay Reserve also had more hatched nests this year, totaling 360 this season, compared to just 287 last year. The increase in hatched nests reflects the improvement of statewide nesting productivity. Additionally, Cape Romano, within Rookery Bay Reserve, is reporting the highest number of sea turtle nests since 2006. An estimated 6,000 hatchlings from those nests have made it to the Gulf – more than double last year’s reported 2,500 and soaring above the count of 678 in 2012.

    Sea turtles spend the vast majority of their lives in the open ocean, only coming inland to nest. Florida is a vital area for sea turtle nesting, with nesting areas running along both the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. The nesting season spans from early May until the end of October.

    During sea turtle nesting season, those visiting beaches are asked to keep lights off at night, avoid any interaction with nesting turtles and avoid all marked sea-turtle nests. When beachgoers leave lights on at night, sea turtle hatchlings may become disoriented and head toward those lights, instead of the moonlight over the ocean.

    Simple actions beachgoers can take to ensure they are not hindering hatchlings from successfully making it to the water are listed below

    • Remove all belongings from the beach, flatten sand castles and fill in holes.
    • Properly dispose of litter in designated receptacles on the beach.
    • Stay off dunes and use the designated walkovers for crossing.
    • Shield any artificial lighting that may shine toward the beach.

    DEP News Room|Oct. 30, 2014

    Center Report: 350,000 Square Miles of Potential Wolf Habitat

    It’s time to think bigger about wolf recovery.
    A first-of-its-kind analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity identifies 359,000 square miles of additional habitat for gray wolves in the lower 48 states that could significantly boost the nation’s 40-year wolf recovery efforts. Habitat including areas in the southern Rocky Mountains, on the West Coast and in the Northeast could double the wolf population to about 10,000.
    Monday’s report follows the incredible news last week that a gray wolf, likely a wanderer from the northern Rockies, has been spotted on the Grand Canyon’s North Rim; it also comes as the Obama administration moves to strip Endangered Species Act protection from wolves by the end of the year.
    “There’s still so much more room for wolves in the lower 48 states,” said the Center’s Amaroq Weiss. “Rather than pulling the plug on wolf recovery before the job is done, we ought to be looking at ways to bring these animals back.”
    Learn more about our
    report and check out a map of potential wolf habitat in 19 states.

    Wolves Victorious in Michigan Election

    Following a Center for Biological Diversity action alert this week, our Michigan supporters showed up in force at the polls to support the state’s wolves — helping tip the scales on Election Day against two dangerous anti-wolf measures. Michigan voters roundly rejected Proposals 1 and 2, which would’ve removed wolves from the state endangered list and allowed the Natural Resources Commission to decide whether wolves should be hunted as game. These measures would’ve been disastrous for these wolves, which already lost their federal Endangered Species Act protections before their population was stable enough to withstand hunting pressure.

    A third anti-wolf measure is already set to take effect in spring — but the group Keep Michigan Wolves Protected plans to challenge that law as unconstitutional. Meanwhile the Center and allies have litigation pending to restore federal protection to all Great Lakes wolves.
    Thank you to all who helped defeat the two proposals.

    Get more from MLive Media Group.

    Manatee season about to begin as protections questioned

    Manatees may be upgraded from endangered status

    As the weather cools, manatees will start streaming into South Florida for a few months of basking in warm water, munching seagrass and trying to avoid getting hit by boats.

    Manatee season officially begins Nov. 15, when seasonal boat speed limits take effect along rivers, canals and the Intracoastal Waterway. The huge marine mammals typically arrive in large numbers in late December, although one biologist says recent cold fronts could bring them here sooner.

    The main action for the manatee this season, however, may not be in the lagoons and canals of Florida but in the offices of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency is expected to make a decision early next year whether to strip the manatee of its “endangered” label, moving it to the lesser status of “threatened.”

    The proposal came from waterfront property owners on the Gulf coast and has the support of coastal developers and the boating industry, whose members have complained for years about speed limits and restrictions on dock building.

    Nearly 50,000 comments have been received by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, of which 42,212 were submitted by the Humane Society of the United States, which solicited comments from its members.

    Among the organizations advocating the removal of the endangered label are boating and marine industry organizations, including BoatUS, Citizens for Florida’s Waterways and the Marine Industries Association of Collier County.

    They point to the big increase in manatees counted in aerial surveys, with the numbers rising from 1,267 in 1991, the first year they were counted, to 5,077 in 2010, with 4,844 counted earlier this year. They say the increase shows the success of protection efforts, which they say should be acknowledged by upgrading the manatee’s status.

    “We are confident this recovery is due in part to the actions of Florida’s boaters who have learned how to share their environment and the habitat with manatees,” wrote BoatUS. “Recreational boaters have an abiding interest in the protection of manatees and the ecosystems on which they depend. One of the joys of boating is being able to appreciate and enjoy the natural beauty of being on the water.”

    Opposed are the Humane Society of the United States, Florida Wildlife Federation, South Florida Wildlands Association and The Save the Manatee Club, who have asked their members to write to the wildlife service expressing their opposition.

    We are confident this recovery is due in part to the actions of Florida’s boaters who have learned how to share their environment and the habitat with manatees- BoatUS

    They point to the high death counts of the few years, with 282 killed by the cold in 2010 and a record 830 dying last year, largely from red tide algae blooms and a mysterious die-off of marine life around the Indian River Lagoon. They note that boats are still killing manatees, with 130 confirmed dead from watercraft in the past two years.

    “These beautiful, PEACEFUL animals SUFFER unmentionable injuries due to boaters who speed (without penalties) on our waterways ignoring posted speed and manatee zones, abuse from swimmers who think they can jump on their backs or ride them like a horse, harassment from fishermen, and more,” wrote Linda Hodoval, of Orlando. “They do no one any harm — can we not do the same for them?”

    Although advocates on each side emphasize their favorite statistics, none of these numbers can be taken at face value, said Chuck Underwood, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

    “The high numbers — we don’t know what that represents,” he said. “Obviously when you go from 1,800 at listing to a high of 5,000-plus, that tells us something. Were there just 1,800 animals then, or did we just get better at finding these animals?”

    No one doubts that high numbers of manatees have died in the past two years. But he said, it’s important to determine whether these deaths represent unique events or the beginning of a trend.

    “We ask ourselves what the mortalities mean,” Underwood said. “It raises a flag, the question is what does that flag mean? Is it a one-time event or are we going to see more? Does the species show a resilience to it?”

    If the manatee is reclassified from endangered to threatened, he said, its level of protection would not change, since it will retain its protection under the Endangered Species Act. But he said the reclassification of a species can be a step toward removing it from the list altogether.

    These beautiful, PEACEFUL animals SUFFER unmentionable injuries due to boaters who speed (without penalties) on our waterways ignoring posted speed and manatee zones- Linda Hodoval, Orlando

    Although manatees can be found throughout South Florida’s waterways, they congregate on the coldest days at the warm-water discharge zones of the power plants in Riviera Beach, Port Everglades and inland in Fort Lauderdale.

    In the past two years, four were killed by boats in Broward County, five in Miami-Dade County and five in Palm Beach County. In addition, there were 26 deaths in the three counties for which the cause could not be determined, and some of these are assumed to be from watercraft.

    In order to prevent boats from speeding through manatee-protection areas, Palm Beach County will open what’s called Operation Mermaid on Nov. 15. Under the direction of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, boat patrols from several cities will begin stepped-up enforcement, with the extra patrol taking place weekends and holidays through the end of the season, said Alessandra Medri, the county’s manatee coordinator.

    One young manatee found injured by a boat last year will be released within the next few months. The manatee, just over five feet long, was discovered in the Loxahatchee River with a broken rib and punctured lung. Taken for rehabilitation to the Miami Seaquarium, he has recovered, gained weight and will probably be set free in January, said Tom Reinert, research administrator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

    “When there are a lot of people in the water and manatees start to congregate in South Florida, you have the potential for manatees to encounter watercraft, which usually doesn’t go well for the manatee,” he said. “So we ask that people obey posted speed zones and keep a lookout on the water.”

    Anyone who sees an injured or distressed manatee is asked to call the state’s wildlife alert line at 888-404-3922.

    David Fleshler|Sun Sentinel|November 7, 2014

    2014 Smalltooth Sawfish Abundance Survey,October Report & End of the Year Summary

    In October, for the first time in 9 years, the field crew for the NOAA Smalltooth Sawfish Abundance Survey was stationed in both Chokoloskee and Flamingo.

    In the northern portion of Everglades National Park, scientists captured and tagged two new young-of-the- year smalltooth sawfish; (one on the west-side of Chokoloskee Island, 130 cm STL, and one in Mud Bay, 140 cm STL).

    The team also recaptured one young-of-the-year in Mud Bay that was originally tagged in Mud Bay on April 4; it grew from 77 to 124 cm STL in six months.

    Using social media and a sightings report from a hiker on the Guy Bradley Trail, scientists sampled behind the amphitheater at the Flamingo Campground and captured one young-of-the-year smalltooth sawfish (78.5 cm STL). This animal is the only animal
    to have an open umbilical scar in the 6 years that the survey has been underway.

    An open umbilical scar means the animal was likely born in the previous 1-2 weeks. Unfortunately, inclement weather kept the scientists from finishing out the remainder week at Flamingo; however, there are plans to continue sampling in the southern portion of Everglades National Park next year.
    The October Survey was the last trip for this year.

    Thirty-seven young-of-the-year and 5 juvenile smalltooth sawfish were captured and tagged in 2014 in all areas combined. The survey will begin again in February 2015.

    Smalltooth sawfish were listed as endangered in 2003 under Section 9 of the Endangered Species Act. Remember, it is illegal to “take” (harass, harm, pursue, target, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap or capture) this animal.

    The current core population is limited to waters off the coast of southwest Florida and incidental encounters between smalltooth sawfish and fishermen do occur. If you incidentally hook or net a smalltooth sawfish, do not remove the animal from the water, cut the line or gear as close to the
    animal as possible, and release the animal immediately.

    Please exercise caution and never remove the saw. If you see or encounter a smalltooth sawfish, please contact the International Sawfish Encounter Database at (352) 392-2360. All input and cooperation from the public is greatly valued.

    If you are driving around southwest Florida, look for the smalltooth sawfish educational billboard on I-75 southbound just before you drive over the Caloosahatchee Bridge. The billboard is designed to promote the safe handling of this endangered elasmobranch.

    Dana M. Bethea|Research Ecologist|NOAA Fisheries Panama City Laboratory|Panama City, FL [from the Mullet Rapper]

    Help Stop India’s Palm Oil Plans and Save Bengal Tigers

    India is planning to take its reliance on palm oil to a whole new level by clearing areas of forest and growing oil palm on an area of land that in total is close to the size of Connecticut. Now, campaigners warn this could be deadly for India’s endangered wildlife.

    India’s use of palm oil has rocketed since the 1990s with imports increasing from 100,000 metric tons to over 8.8 million in 2014. Palm oil is a versatile product that can be used in baking and the preparing of food, as well as in a range of beauty products like soaps and even in animal feed products.

    Palm oil is also one of the easiest crops to cultivate, and for that reason represents a lucrative market prospect. Until now, India has relied on importing palm oil to meet skyrocketing demand but in the mid-2000s, India’s government introduced a scheme that would expand oil palm cultivation to six more states. This didn’t increase production as much as was hoped and India continues to import palm oil at a massive rate (making up 17 percent of all total global palm oil consumption according to recent figures).

    However, India’s government is not satisfied with this situation and plans to expand its oil palm growing capabilities even further. The Ministry of Agriculture has suggested that India could accommodate oil palm plantations up to 1.03 million hectares of land which, as mentioned above, is nearly the size of the U.S. state of Connecticut.

    With this land cleared and made ready for oil palm production, the government hopes to produce between four and five million tons of palm oil per year. The government plans to increase its already high spending ($50 million in investments were made to shore up this program in 2012) to provide subsidies for seeds and processing plants.

    When looking purely at the figures, this could make sense. Palm oil is the cheapest vegetable oil to produce. Oil palm groves can also provide farmers an incredibly high yield in a relatively small space, especially when compared to other vegetable oil grains like rapeseed and sunflower. As such, some farmers in India are keen to make this transition as they believe it will breathe new life into the farming industry.

    However, wildlife campaigners point out that the scheme could cause severe damage to the country’s wildlife, and in particular to several endangered species.

    The land slated for clearing through much of east and north east India houses a number of important species, including the Bengal tiger. While Bengal tigers are one of the most numerous of the tiger family, they have been hunted aggressively and their territories have been dramatically reduced to the point that their population has dropped below 2,500 and is probably somewhere in the range of 1,700-1,900. That brings the Bengal dangerously close to population collapse, and it is feared that as forests are cleared for palm oil production, this problem will only worsen. Even if the government manages to skirt Bengal territory — which, critics say, the government hasn’t undertaken adequate planning to ensure — the encroachment will create more human and wildlife conflicts and likely lead to more hunting of tigers whether for game or out of fear.

    There are also concerns surrounding how this land clearing effort might affect Indian elephants whose forest corridors (the land they use to move from one area to another) will be squeezed and, if the government does not plan carefully, even cut off. The same concern applies for a number of other predator species besides the tiger, including the leopard, and rodent species whom it is feared will attempt to exploit the oil palm groves only to be killed by disgruntled farmers.

    In addition, there are concerns about how this plan could threaten food security in the region. Currently, farmers use some of the land slated for development to grow a variety of crops, but should the ground be cleared for palm oil production, this versatility will be lost. Furthermore, some of the regions marked for palm oil development suffer long periods of drought. While oil palm is relatively hardy, it does require large amounts of water. The government has reassured land owners that it can help to meet that need, but obviously trafficking in water will come with its own environmental costs.

    Lastly, critics suggest that the government should be providing subsidies to farmers who are pursuing sustainable agricultural practices, creating a more stable overall economy and reducing land mismanagement, rather than trying to employ a quick fix like oil palm cultivation that has so many drawbacks with no guaranteed return.

    In short, there are many reasons why the government’s announced plans appear unworkable, and why campaigners say they should be resisted in favor of more careful agricultural spending and engagement.

    Steve Williams|October 31, 2014

    Wild & Weird

     

    Everglades

     

    Water Quality Issues

    Sunderbans’ water getting toxic: Scientists

    Climate change is causing toxic metals trapped in the sediment beds of the Hooghly estuary in the Indian Sunderbans to leach out into the water system due to changes in ocean chemistry, say scientists, warning of potential human health hazards.

    They predict that after about 30 years, increasing ocean acidification – another dark side of spiked atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide – could in fact unlock the entire stock of metals like copper and lead gathered in the sediment layer, and release them into the water system, leading to health issues.
    Sunderbans is the world’s largest mangrove forest and home to the endangered Royal Bengal tiger. More than two-thirds of the forest lies in Bangladesh and the rest in West Bengal.

    Oceans act as cleansers by taking up a chunk (around one-fourth) of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. As atmospheric carbon dioxide levels shoot up, the levels absorbed by oceans increase, lowering their pH (indicator of acidity) and making them more acidic (ocean acidification).
    Through the water, toxic metals are finding their way into the muscles and tissues of certain edible finfish, popular in the Indian Sunderbans area in West Bengal and because of the food chain, they pose a threat to human health as well, say researchers.

    “This ocean acidification is leading to release of the toxic, carcinogenic metals into the water. Our study based on 30 years of real-time data (from 1984 to 2013) forecasts a significant lowering of pH after a period of 30 years due to ocean acidification. This is an offshoot of climate change.
    “As a result, this will lead to the movement of entire biologically available copper and lead (but not zinc) from the underlying sediment compartment to the overlying aquatic phase,” Abhijit Mitra, advisor, Oceanography, Techno India University (TIU) here, told IANS.

    Existing data shows global oceanic pH has decreased by 0.1 pH units (25 percent increase in acidity) since the onset of the industrial revolution and is projected to decrease by up to another 0.4 pH units by 2100.

    Published in the Journal of Energy, Environment and Carbon Credits, it confirms the role of ocean acidification in the funnel shaped Hooghly estuary bordering the western fringes of Indian Sunderbans – the world’s largest continuous mangrove forests.

    The Unesco World Heritage Site is known for its exceptional biodiversity in flora and fauna with as many as 334 plant species and 693 species of wildlife which include 49 mammals, 59 reptiles, eight amphibians, 210 white fishes, 24 shrimps, 14 crabs and 43 mollusks species.

    The selected study station lies 2.8 km off the Namkhana island, located almost at the confluence of the Bay of Bengal and the estuary.

    The study was a collaborative effort between researchers TIU, Calcutta University, Jadavpur University, Dhruba Chand Halder College, Barasat, Chanchal College, Malda and University Putra, Selangor, Malaysia.

    Researcher Sufia Zaman, who studied the bioaccumulation of the toxic metals in edible fish species such as Goldspot mullet (commonly called parshe), noted an aberration: though there was “no significant increase” in industrial activities in the area over the years, there was an “increasing trend” of toxic metals in the coastal water.

    The explanation: ocean acidification causing the metals to leach out from the sediment bed.

    “The other sources are trawlers, which have lead paints on their underside, shrimp farms that release ammonia from the waste water and tourism activities,” said Zaman, associated with TIU.

    Mitra warned high levels of copper and lead could cause intestinal disorders and brain damage.

    “The forecast values of dissolved zinc, copper and lead will touch 698.98 ppb (parts per billion), 497.65 ppb and 76.60 ppb respectively after a period of 30 years,” said Pardis Fazli of Malaysia’s University Putra.

    Often referred to as another carbon dioxide problem besides global warming, ocean acidification is being implicated across the world for its impact on coral reef formation.

    “For Indian Sunderbans, the present forecast values strongly justify the consideration of acidification phenomenon in order to develop a sound management action plan in context to heavy metal pollution monitoring and control,” said Prosenjit Pramanick of TIU.

    Sahana Ghosh|Kolkata|Nov 2

    Know What Comes From Your Tap!

    “Is my tap water safe?” I get this question from friends and family a lot because I work in EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water. Just recently, my parents moved to a new city and asked me if there was anything in the drinking water that they should be worried about. My response was, “Go read the latest Consumer Confidence Report!”

    Many Americans get their water from a “community drinking water system,” including people living in cities, towns, manufactured housing communities and other institutions where people live full-time, such as nursing homes.  Each spring, all community water systems in the United States send an annual water quality report, or consumer confidence report (CCR), to their customers (either by mail or online). After explaining that to my parents, we hopped on the computer and quickly found the CCR for their city posted online. We learned that their city had performed a total of more than 150,000 tests for different contaminants in their drinking water – and none were found to exceed EPA’s drinking water limits.

    This year is the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act, which was passed in 1974. In 1996, the Safe Drinking Water Act was amended to require all community water systems to provide consumer confidence reports to their customers. Every CCR must contain information about the water system’s drinking water source, possible contaminants and health effects, and other relevant information. Systems are required to deliver this information to every consumer.  Sometimes the CCR contains other useful information, too. My best friend is an avid fish collector who appreciated the information in her CCR about using her drinking water for her fish tank.

    Water systems are also able to link to their online CCR on EPA’s website. Not all systems do that, but you can check for yours at: http://cfpub.epa.gov/safewater/ccr/index.cfm.

    Like my parents, I also rely on my CCR to keep me informed about my city’s water. The Safe Drinking Water Act has strict standards for water quality in order to protect public health, and you have the right to know what’s in your drinking water. As we mark the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act, take a moment to review your CCR!

    Adrienne Harris|November 6,2014

    Great Lakes & Inland Waters

    Nutrient Pollution: A Persistent Threat to Waterways

    Passage of the Clean Water Act of 1972 brought many improvements to surface waters by curbing much of the toxic and organic pollution going into waterways. But 42 years later, we have yet to make significant reductions in two major pollutants in our rivers, lakes, and coastal sounds—the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus. Although nitrogen pollution overall has gone down in U.S. streams and rivers since 2004, it remains a serious problem in many waterways, and phosphorus pollution has gone up significantly. The problem is especially challenging in that the deleterious effects of nitrogen and phosphorus often occur hundreds or thousands of miles from where the nutrients originate.

    Why have these two nutrients proven so tough to get under control? And are current regulatory and programmatic efforts enough to turn this situation around?

    The basics of nutrient pollution are simple enough. Nitrogen and phosphorus occur naturally in soil and water and, with respect to nitrogen, in the air we breathe. They also are added to the environment by humans, principally as fertilizers. These fertilizers enhance the growth not just of crops on land but also of algae and aquatic plants in the waters where they end up.

    Above certain levels, nitrogen and phosphorus cause algae to grow faster than ecosystems can handle. When algae die, the decomposition process consumes oxygen. Nutrient pollution also affects submerged aquatic vegetation, but in a different way: The nutrient-enriched sediment that comes off fields and impervious surfaces decreases the light available for these plants, and the shading leads to their death. Then they, too, consume oxygen as they decompose.

    Large algal blooms can entirely eliminate the oxygen in a body of water, a condition known as hypoxia that kills virtually all aquatic organisms unable to escape these so-called dead zones. According to an ongoing analysis by the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, the area of oceanic dead zones increased by one-third between 1995 and 2007.4 The hypoxic zone that forms in the Gulf of Mexico each summer varies in size from year to year but averages approximately 5,500 square miles, or roughly the size of the state of Connecticut.

    Toxins produced by harmful algal blooms (HABs) can also directly threaten human health. If ingested or contacted, these toxins can cause skin irritation, stomach cramps, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, blisters of the mouth, and liver damage. Local water treatment plants may not have the equipment necessary to rid drinking water of these toxins. In that case, the only safe course of action is to find other sources of drinking water for however long the toxin persists in the water supply, as was demonstrated in August 2014, when hundreds of thousands of Toledo residents found themselves without potable water.7 HABs can also have severe economic impacts on recreational and commercial fishing, business, and tourism. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that U.S. tourism alone loses close to $1 billion a year through losses in fishing and boating activities.

    Map of EPA ecoregions showing percentages of river and stream miles rated good, fair, and poor for phosphorus pollutionPhosphorus Pollution in U.S. Rivers and Streams Source: EPA

    In eight of the nine ecoregions defined by the EPA, phosphorus levels are consistently rated poor (i.e., high) in at least a third of river and stream miles.

    According to the EPA’s latest National Rivers and Streams Assessment, some 40% of the nation’s river and stream length has elevated levels of phosphorus, and 28% has elevated levels of nitrogen, putting these waters at risk for poor quality as measured by their ability to support aquatic life. Where are the nutrients coming from? The principle source of phosphate and nitrogen is nonpoint-source pollution—the diffuse pollution from myriad inputs that accumulates into a problem at the watershed level.

    Although relative amounts vary from watershed to watershed, the fertilizer and animal waste that leach off farmed land generally contribute the most nonpoint-source nutrient pollution to U.S. waterways. Other nonpoint sources include stormwater runoff carrying lawn fertilizers and pet waste, and atmospheric deposition, much of it from vehicle exhaust and coal- and oil-burning power plant emissions.

    Individual farms also may be considered point sources of pollution, depending on what they directly discharge into waterways. Point sources of pollution are regulated by the federal government through the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System and overall have dramatically reduced their releases of nutrients since the 1970s. However, wastewater contains large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus from human waste, food, and some soaps and detergents, and not all of it is removed in the treatment process. Wastewater treatment plants with less advanced technology can therefore still be significant point-source contributors of nutrient pollution.

    With such widespread pollution caused by so many different sources, it’s no wonder the United States is challenged politically, technologically, and financially to solve the problem of nutrient pollution. The Clean Water Act of 1972 and its various amendments set numeric limits for a variety of chemical pollutants emitted from point sources. However, phosphorus and nitrogen are not among the regulated chemicals. Furthermore, the law does not include regulation of nonpoint-source pollution.

    Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act does require states to submit a list of impaired and threatened waters within their jurisdiction and establish priorities for the development of total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) of pollutants for these water bodies. A TMDL is a calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant that a water body can receive and still meet federal water quality standards. The TMDL is tailored to reflect how that specific water body is used. For example, a lake used for drinking water might have more stringent limits on phosphorus than one used just for recreation. Thus, while there are no overall federal limits on nitrogen or phosphorus pollution, these nutrients can be managed as part of a TMDL implementation plan.

    The TMDL approach was largely overlooked in the 1970s and 1980s as governments focused on bringing point sources into compliance with the Clean Water Act. More recently, however, attention has turned to the establishment of TMDLs to address other sources of pollution.

    But the steps involved in developing a TMDL are time-consuming and costly. States must first identify waters not in compliance with the Clean Water Act, then prioritize water bodies for the development of TMDLs. Due to a lack of money and personnel, most state agencies are able to monitor only a small percentage of their waters consistently enough to detect water-quality problems.

    A third step involves developing a TMDL for each pollutant. This step can take years, especially for a large water body like the Chesapeake Bay, whose watershed encompasses 64,000 square miles in six states and the District of Columbia. Stakeholders in affected jurisdictions meet to hammer out goals, actions, and timetables. Proposed limits must be submitted to the EPA for approval. Planning for the Chesapeake Bay TMDL began in 2000 and was not approved by the EPA until December 2010. (The Bay TMDL is actually a combination of 92 smaller TMDLs for individual Chesapeake Bay tidal segments.)

    Map of EPA ecoregions showing percentages of river and stream miles rated good, fair, and poor for nitrogen pollutionNitrogen Pollution in U.S. Rivers and Streams Source: EPA

    Many regions show less severe impacts from nitrogen than from phosphorus. The highest proportions of miles in poor condition for nitrogen are found in the Northern Plains (60%), the Temperate Plains (58%), the Northern Appalachians (42%), and the Xeric (36%). In four ecoregions (Coastal Plains, Southern Plains, Southern Appalachians, and Western Mountains) the majority of river and stream miles are rated good for nitrogen.

    Finally, the TMDL must be implemented. Again, this can take years following the EPA’s approval of a plan, with pollution reduction goals being targeted in stages. With respect to the Chesapeake Bay’s TMDL, 60% of the plan’s goal for reducing nutrients and sediment is anticipated to be met by 2017, and 100% should be met by 2025. As with most complex plans of this nature, however, actual implementation may take much longer, and the costs can be staggering. For instance, estimates for the state of Maryland to fully implement its portion of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL total $928 million for farmers, $2.37 billion for municipal wastewater systems, $7.39 billion for stormwater systems, and $3.72 billion for septic tank upgrades.

    TMDLs are not the only vehicle being used to address nutrient pollution. Federal programs including the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provide direct rental payments to farmers who remove environmentally sensitive acreage from agricultural production and implement conservation practices. The EPA awards grants to states to build or upgrade wastewater treatment plants and to support various state-level nonpoint-source management programs.

    Various best management practices (BMPs) are being employed to reduce nutrient pollution from urban sources. Technologies such as detention basins, constructed wetlands, vegetative swales, and bio-retention facilities (e.g., rain gardens) can all be used to slow down stormwater and biologically degrade the nutrients before they reach waterways. Practices that reduce nutrient runoff from developed areas include leaf collection in the fall, bagging of dog waste, and prohibitions on phosphorus in lawn fertilizers. Agriculture employs a whole different array of proven BMPs ranging from planting cover crops in winter, to better timing and amounts of fertilizer application, to the establishment of vegetated buffers along streams.

    Yet, even after decades of research, much remains unknown about how phosphorus and nitrogen interact in the environment. For instance, recent studies in Lake Superior suggested that reducing phosphorus loads may actually lessen the ability of aquatic organisms to remove nitrogen from the water. The authors pointed out this should “in no way be considered as a rationale for relaxing [phosphorus] control measures.” Instead, they wrote, the results suggest more attention should be paid to controlling nitrogen in tandem with phosphorus—which will be challenging, they added, given that sources of nitrogen tend to be even more diffuse than those of phosphorus.

    With respect to farmers, the emphasis has been on use of incentives to encourage voluntary adoption of less-polluting practices. These approaches commonly use financial, educational, and technical assistance as a stimulus. However, surveys suggest that in key farming states such as Iowa, overall participation is low, and among farmers who do participate, the investment in conservation tends to be small. Referring to a 2011 poll of Iowa farmers, a report by the nonprofit Iowa Policy Project noted that 51% of respondents reported making no conservation expenditures in the past 10 years, and more than one-third were unaware of many of the conservation programs available in the state.

    The report authors further pointed out that farmers were enrolling fewer of their acres in the federal CRP. “Iowa CRP acres are decreasing, falling by almost one-fourth, from 1,970,486 acres in 2007 to 1,525,012 in 2012,” they wrote. “The drop in CRP enrollment has coincided with the ethanol boom and the rise in the price of corn, suggesting that the economic bottom line does affect a farmer’s willingness to adopt conservation measures. When [government] subsidies pay less than cash rent, the conservation practices disappear.”24

    Map showing which states have numeric criteria for nitrogen and/or phosphorusStates with Numeric Criteria for Total Nitrogen (N) or Total Phosphorus (P) Source: EPA

    This map shows a national summary of current numeric total nitrogen and total phosphorus EPA-approved criteria. More criteria are expected to be added in the near future, according to state-provided information. ”Watertypes” refers to three types of water bodies: lakes/reservoirs, rivers/streams, and estuaries.

    Nutrient trading between point and nonpoint sources is an idea that is promoted as an alternative to cost-sharing. In this voluntary system, farmers accumulate and sell credits by implementing conservation measures that reduce nutrient loads. Wastewater treatment plants in the same watershed buy the credits from farmers instead of investing in new technology to meet federal requirements for reducing nutrient output.

    Nutrient trading has worked well in the Long Island Sound, where there are many wastewater treatment plants and farms in the same watershed. Patrick Parenteau, a professor of law and senior counsel to the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at Vermont Law School, notes this program currently operates between point sources, mainly publicly owned treatment works in Connecticut. “There has been talk about including nonpoint sources,” he says, “but it hasn’t gotten there yet.”

    But in other watersheds such as the Maumee Valley in western Lake Erie, farms contribute vastly more nutrients than do the few wastewater treatment plants, so opportunities for trading are limited. Further, nutrient trading programs can be complex, and they take time to establish.

    “There is a lot of both hope and frustration [among farmers] with nutrient trading,” says John Bell, government affairs counsel for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. “Pennsylvania set a reasonable set of ground rules for nutrient trading, but even with this, it’s hard for farmers to get enthusiastic because of the limited credit given to their conservation practices.” He explains that a farmer may implement a practice that reduces a hundred pounds of nitrogen at the stream flowing past his farm, but will only receive nutrient trading credit for the impact that action has in waters possibly hundreds of miles away. “Very few practices to reduce nonpoint-source pollution have an immediate impact on a watershed,” he says. “Often, the impacts are not measurable for a number of years after the [practice] was first implemented.”

    Some experts believe that without setting numeric water-quality standards for nitrogen and phosphorus, efforts to combat nutrient pollution will fail. For now, almost half the states have established statewide numeric limits on nitrogen and/or phosphorus in at least some water bodies. Hawaii is the only state with a complete set of nitrogen and phosphorus criteria for all types of water bodies. Whether these states are able to maintain and enforce meaningful standards remains to be seen.

    Click here for a PDF version and sources

    John Manuel

    Lawsuit over Apalachicola flows gets green light

    Florida’s lawsuit against Georgia over the use of water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system may proceed, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Monday.

    Upstream water usage and drought has left the Apalachicola River parched for decades, threatening its ecosystem and that of its namesake bay, which has seen its oyster population collapse because of a lack of freshwater.

    “This is huge news and a major victory for Florida, and marks the first of many important victories for the families and businesses of Apalachicola,” said Gov. Rick Scott in a written news release. “For 20 years, Florida has tried to work with Georgia, and families have continued to see their fisheries suffer from the lack of water. The Supreme Court takes up so few cases, and their willingness to hear Florida’s demonstrates the merits of our case before the court.”

    Florida asked the court for leave to sue Georgia last fall. Florida wants the court to order Georgia’s overall water use be capped at 1992 levels and for a special master to be appointed to “equitably” divide the waters in the river basin, which drains about 20,000 square miles in both states and Alabama.

    U.S. solicitor general recommended earlier this year that the high court delay taking the case until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completes a revised master manual for operating the river system. That new management plan is expected to be compete next year and implemented in 2017.

    The U.S. Supreme Court order allows Florida’s complaint to be filed and gives Georgia 30 days to respond. The new lawsuit is the latest in more than two decades of failed legal maneuvering by the state to see more freshwater make its way down from Atlanta and south Georgia farmlands through a series of federally controlled dams to the Apalachicola.

    “This is a continuation of 20 years of litigation,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest. “Georgia is sucking out so much water it is destroying Apalachicola Bay. It’s a shame we had to go to the Supreme Court, because Georgia should knows it should be doing better.”

    In the news release, Attorney General Pam Bondi said Georgia has delayed long enough.

    “This lawsuit is essential to protect Florida from the environmental and economic harms caused by Georgia’s over-consumption of water,” Bondi said. “We look forward to continuing our fight to protect Florida’s fair share of water in the United States Supreme Court.”

    Jennifer Portman|Tallahassee Democrat|November 3, 2014

    Offshore & Ocean

    The mounds of kelp washing up on O.C. beaches? It’s a good thing, experts say

    The mounds of kelp that recently washed onto local beaches point to a thriving offshore ecosystem created by restoration efforts over the past decade, experts say.

    Ten years ago, there was practically no kelp off Orange County’s coast. Pollution and an overabundance of predators such as sea urchins had decimated the kelp forests, killing 80 percent of what Southern California had a century ago.

    But over the past decade, environmentalists and others planted nearly 5 acres of kelp along coastal Southern California. They planted lab-grown kelp, transplanted healthy kelp from existing beds, released kelp spores and removed kelp predators, namely sea urchins, which can take over and obliterate a kelp forest if left unchecked.

    Those efforts seem to have paid off: The kelp is back.

    “This is just a sign of how healthy our kelp forest has become. Just 10 years ago, there was almost no kelp on the Orange County coast,” said Ray Hiemstra, associate director of programs for Orange County Coastkeeper, who has worked on kelp restoration for 15 years.

    When hurricane-force storms in summer and autumn struck Southern California, the kelp, already weakened by warmer-than-usual-water, was ripped from the rock beds and deposited onshore. More than 95 percent of the kelp off Laguna Beach washed ashore. It looked like restoration efforts might have been for naught.

    Not to worry.

    Kelp shoots already are growing back off the coast, according to Nancy Caruso, an independent marine biologist who monitors the kelp and worked for years on restoration.

    “Right now, it’s growing back, so in an area where there used to be one kelp plant, now there’s 75 and they’re all competing for sunlight,” Caruso said after a recent survey dive.

    Still, the restored kelp forests – and the resulting beach kelp – don’t please everyone.

    The moldering kelp smells and has left many tourists and beachgoers who are accustomed to kelp-free beaches miffed.

    But healthy beaches are supposed to have drying and decomposing plants, which return nutrients to the ecosystem.

    “Now they have a whole generation of people who don’t understand what their beaches are supposed to look like,” Caruso said.

    In the water, kelp forests provide habitats for hundreds of species of fish and often are dubbed “the rainforests of the ocean” because they are so rich with life.

    Restored and revived kelp forests aren’t the only reason kelp piled up on the beaches this summer: It was the first time the city didn’t use heavy machinery to haul away kelp sitting below the high tide mark.

    That’s because the city of Laguna Beach decided to heed years of warnings from scientists that running machinery on the beach during grunion season – which stretches from March through August – threatens the iconic beach-spawning fish.

    So the city tried to remove the kelp by hand, a process that took much longer and left kelp on the beaches for days.

    “A lot of people were very unhappy because they sometimes travel from around the world to see our beaches, and there was stinky kelp and flies,” said Laguna Beach Public Works Director Steven Man.

    By removing less kelp, and by not driving machinery low on the sand to preserve the grunion, Laguna Beach is ahead of the curve. Beach managers in many other cities avoid driving machinery over grunion spawning grounds, but few have official regulations.

    “I think they’re leading the charge here,” said Carrie Wilson, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

    AARON ORLOWSKI |STAFF WRITER|Orange County Register 

    Deep Dredge Critics File Emergency Demand to Stop “Destruction of Endangered Species”

    Sludge from dredge ships is killing Miami’s corals.

    The deep dredge could be in very deep trouble. Miami’s most controversial public works project has been under the microscope in recent months as environmentalists have complained the dredge is killing precious coral colonies.

    This morning, however, those same environmentalists are filing a request for an emergency injunction that could bring the $200 million dredge to a grinding halt.

    “The damage is continuing 24/7 since they’ve been dredging 24/7,” said Rachel Silverstein, executive director of Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper. “We can’t afford to wait any longer.”

    The request for an injunction has been a long time coming.

    Three years ago, Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper and other activists filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the government agency overseeing the project. The environmentalists argued that not enough was being done to protect Biscayne Bay wildlife from years of dredging and underwater dynamiting.

    The dredge went ahead anyway, but environmentalists were able to obtain more money for mitigation and greater monitoring.

    In July, the environmentalists filed a formal notice of their intent to sue the corps and its contractor once again, arguing that the corps hadn’t lived up to its promises.

    The activists provided New Times with evidence that silt from the Deep Dredge had spread across Biscayne Bay, burying coral under a deadly layer of dirt, sand, and bacteria.

    Much of that damage has since been confirmed by both the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    Michael E. Miller|Oct. 2 2014

    Hotspots for the Ocean’s Giants Need More Protection, Say Conservationists

    Conservationists are calling for legal protections for a number of areas off of British shores in an effort to protect the ocean’s giants, including whales, dolphins, porpoises and basking sharks, from continued threats that range from fishing and development to tourism.

    In a new report, the Wildlife Trusts has identified 17 ‘megafauna hotspots’ that it says are critical to the survival of a number of species who live in waters off the coasts of England and Wales. According to the organization, there are currently no areas in English waters protected for them, and only one in Wales.

    “Many people are surprised to discover that in the waters surrounding our shores you could encounter 29 different species of whale, dolphin and porpoise and the second largest shark in the world – the basking shark. However, there’s an urgent need to create protected areas at sea for our ocean giants and ensure a network of sites to safeguard these species for generations to come,” said Joan Edwards, The Wildlife Trusts’ Head of Living Seas.

    While the government is working on creating 27 marine conservation zones, according to The Guardian the number is four less than the number ministers proposed and just one-fifth of the 127 zones that were recommended by the government’s own consultation.

    Conservationists are also concerned that while these protected areas will help marine habitats to recover, which will help a number of species, they only cover habitats and the seabed and won’t do enough to protect megafauna found off the coast.

    According to the report, the Wildlife Trusts hopes that protecting what are considered highly productive, nutrient rich areas where a variety of species from common dolphins to humpback whales come to feed, breed, socialize, give birth and raise their young will help their survival.

    The areas they identified in the report will help protect a number of species including white-beaked dolphins, harbour porpoises, minke whales, common dolphins, fin whales, humpback whales, basking sharks, bottle nose dolphins and Risso’s dolphins.


                                                                                                                                                                                                      1.    Farnes East, Coquet to St Marys
                                                                                                                                                                                                      2.    Mid St George’s Channel
                                                                                                                                                                                                      3.    Bideford North to Foreland Point
                                                                                                                                                                                                      4.    East of Celtic Deep
                                                                                                                                                                                                      5.    Celtic Deep
                                                                                                                                                                                                      6.    South of Celtic Deep
                                                                                                                                                                                                      7.    Western Channel
                                                                                                                                                                                                      8.    Manacles
                                                                                                                                                                                                      9.    Lizard, Western channel
                                                                                                                                                                                                    10.    Lyme Bay
                                                                                                                                                                                                    11.    North and west coasts of Anglesey
                                                                                                                                                                                                    12.    Lleyn Peninsula and the Sarnau
                                                                                                                                                                                                    13.    Cardigan Bay
                                                                                                                                                                                                    14.    Pembrokeshire Marine
                                                                                                                                                                                                   15.    North of Celtic Deep
                                                                                                                                                                                                    16.    Eastern coastline including Silver Pit
                                                                                                                                                                                                   
    17.    Dogger bank

    In a statement, Edwards cited a number of threats that megafauna face that range from the direct and indirect impacts of fishing, boat traffic, development and the long-lasting effects of pollution that can bioaccumulate and affect generations of animals. Even boat traffic from wildlife watching has become a problem, but as Edwards explained to The Guardian, “One of reasons we want these areas protected is so we have a way of explaining to people they can carry out their activities without harming the animals.”

    Turning these areas into Marine Protected Areas (MPA) would limit human activity and even though some are criticizing their ability to help, other organizations including Whale and Dolphin Conservation support the report and argue that while a lot of species travel, MPAs provide valuable protection where they’re known to repeatedly return.

    The Wildlife Trusts is now campaigning to get the government to protect these areas so these species will be able to flourish. For more information on how to support protection, visit the Wildlife Trusts Ocean Giants campaign.

    Alicia Graef|November 6, 2014

    Wildlife and Habitat

    Sacrificing Wildlife for Big Coal in Appalachia

    Mountaintop removal is destroying one of the world’s hot spots for salamander biodiversity.

    When most people think about a biological hot spot—a mother lode of species—the Amazon may come to mind, along with certain regions in West Africa and Southeast Asia. Hardly anybody thinks about the Appalachians. But more species of salamanders and freshwater mussels live in the streams and forests of this region, stretching from upstate New York to northern Alabama, than anywhere else in the world. Those temperate, deciduous forests are more diverse than anywhere else in the world, too, apart from those in central China.

    Unfortunately, seams of coal also run through the Appalachian Mountains, often buried deep within the range. To extract it, coal companies have been literally blowing the tops off of these mountains in a practice called mountaintop removal coal mining. Not only does this method change the landscape and leave swaths of barren rock in place of forested mountainsides, but the mining companies also take the millions of tons of dynamited rock and dump them in the valleys next to the decapitated mountains. These valleys usually have streams in them, and those streams are where the salamanders, mussels, and other freshwater species of the region live. As you might imagine, these animals don’t love having chunks of mountain dumped on their habitat.

    A new study confirms that salamanders, in particular, fare poorly in these streams. Researchers from the University of Kentucky visited sites where mining companies had dumped the so-called “overburden” (or “spoil”) and looked for salamanders just downstream of the dumped mountain debris, comparing the abundance of five salamander species in those streams with nearby streams that hadn’t been disrupted.

    Overburdened streams averaged about half as many species of salamander, and far fewer individual salamanders, as the undisturbed streams. Across 11 streams with mountain rubble, researchers found just 97 salamanders, compared with 807 salamanders in a dozen control streams.

    How do mining companies get away with it?  The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 requires miners to certify that these sites have undergone restoration and reclamation. The sites in this study were mined in the late 1990s and certified as “reclaimed” in 2007 by the Kentucky Department for Natural Resources. But all that really means, said Steven J. Price, a University of Kentucky professor and coauthor of the paper, is that the mining companies “were able to get some primarily nonnative grasses to grow on these sites,” preventing some erosion. “It’s not as if this is a highly diverse central Appalachian forest anymore,” he said.

    As expected, being smothered under a broken mountain also wrecked the water quality of these mountain streams. Specific conductance—a general measure of the amount of electricity-conducting particles in water—was about 30 times higher in overburdened streams, and concentrations of sulfate ions were 70 times higher. Satellite imagery also showed that these streams had only about a quarter tree cover, compared with the thickly forested control streams.

    With so many changes to the habitat, it’s hard to say for sure what exactly is causing the decline in salamanders, said Price. “The water quality issues seem to be really important,” he said. Two of the salamander species studied—the red salamander and the southern two-lined salamander—live in the forests during the non-breeding season, so deforestation would also hit them hard.

    The practice of mountaintop removal began almost 40 years ago in Kentucky and West Virginia and has since spread to Tennessee and Virginia, destroying 450,000 acres of Appalachian countryside without much serious consideration of the effects on wildlife. “The study was long overdue,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It makes sense that amphibians would be very sensitive to the water pollution from surface coal mining. It increases the saltiness of the water; it puts metals into the water.” Nor is it just stream-dwelling animals that suffer, she added. “In the last couple years, there’s been a ton of science coming out about health impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining on human communities,” she noted, including increased rates of lung cancer and heart disease.

    “I love the Appalachian Mountains,” said Curry, who grew up in a mountaintop removal area of Kentucky. “I think that they’re the most beautiful place on Earth, and as a scientist, I’m aware of how precious they are. It’s really heart-wrenching to see the land that I love being blown to bits.” She called Appalachia a “sacrifice area” to satisfy the nation’s ravenous hunger for coal. “It wouldn’t happen anywhere else in the country,” she said. But the poverty rate in some parts of the region is more than twice the national average, and the people there lack the political clout to stand up against the powerful forces behind the coal industry.

    Curry detailed, with palpable frustration, the loopholes that have allowed mountaintop removal mining and the dumping of overburden on streams to continue. For instance, the Clean Water Act should protect these streams. But a 2002 regulatory change under the Bush administration specifically exempted the dumping of mining waste.The Endangered Species Act should protect species such as the hellbender, the giant salamanders that are quickly disappearing from their Appalachian habitats. But in 1996, said Curry, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service basically gave mining companies a free pass, requiring them only to meet the SMCRA reclamation requirements. “It’s a ridiculously broad document,” she said.

    What will it take to stop mountaintop removal mining? In 2013, more than 20 members of Congress introduced the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act, to “place a moratorium on permitting for mountaintop removal coal mining until health studies are conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services.” But a similar bill died in committee in 2012, and the bill-tracking service GovTrack.us gives this one just a 4 percent chance of passing.

    A coalition of groups called iLoveMountains.org continues to fight mountaintop removal mining. Getting individual investments out of coal, and fossil fuels generally, can be effective. But be aware that divesting is complicated for the individual. Some cities and towns outside the region have also recently passed policies preventing power companies from buying coal or energy that comes from mountaintop removal. But big coal has well-paid lobbyists and plenty of campaign contributions to protect its privileged status. Against that kind of power, the only force strong enough to make a difference is an outcry from people everywhere that destroying a global heritage like the Appalachian Mountains is simply wrong.

    Richard Conniff|October 31, 2014

    Lost at Sea: Northern Fur Seal Pups Separated From Mom Struggle to Survive

    Fall is fur seal pup season at the Center as young animals born in June and July get swept ashore or struggle to find food on their own after being weaned.

    Rarely spotted near shore, northern fur seals spend most of their time swimming in the open ocean or on offshore islands. So when our 24-hour rescue hotline got a call about a tiny northern fur seal pup on a flat, sandy beach in Central California, we knew something was wrong.

    The tiny pup, named “Kadiddlehopper” by rescue volunteers, weighed just over 10 pounds when she arrived at our hospital. Based on her body condition and size, our veterinary experts determined that she was only a few months old and had likely been separated from her mother. Recent high seas could have swept her off the nearby Channel Islands before she was fully weaned from her mother’s milk.

    Kadiddlehopper hadn’t yet learned how to catch fish before being swept away, so volunteers at the Center began making fish smoothies around the clock to keep her fed. During multiple tube-feedings throughout the day and night, Kadiddlehopper received a nutritious mixture of ground-up herring, salmon oil and vitamins, as well as antibiotics to treat any infection.

    Just a week after Kadiddlehopper’s rescue, another northern fur seal pup arrived. The male pup, named “Fructus,” was found at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, south of San Francisco, in an emaciated state. Rescue volunteers described him as “active, growly and vocal”—a good sign—but he was clearly suffering from malnutrition as well as minor bite wounds on his face.

    Like Kadiddlehopper, Fructus was tube-fed fish smoothies when he first arrived at our hospital, but unlike her, he quickly showed interest in fish and began eating herring on his own. When animal care volunteers offered both pups fish in the pool, Fructus ate his share and then gobbled up hers as well.

    After three weeks in our care, Kadiddlehopper finally started to get the hang of eating herring too. The two pups have both put on weight since their rescues and seem to be improving, though it may be several months before they are strong enough to be released. For now, Kadiddlehopper and Fructus are spending a lot of time swimming in the pool and grooming regularly—an important natural behavior for an animal that counts on its furry coat to keep it warm in the cold waters of the open ocean. These pinnipeds have 325,000 hairs per square inch—more than three human heads!

    Once hunted for their luxurious pelts, northern fur seal populations are still recovering and are considered “depleted” under the Endangered Species Act. Our dedicated volunteers and veterinary experts are doing all they can to ensure that these young animals are able to return to the wild.

    Marine Mammal Canter|November 6, 2014

    Bear Necessities

    Wolves and cows in the wild are a recipe for constant conflict. Aldo Leopold knew that. We know it and I suspect you know it too. We’re working to resolve those conflicts in the landscape that inspired Aldo Leopold—the Greater Gila Bioregion—by finding common ground with public lands ranchers who are willing to voluntarily relinquish their national forest grazing permits. Our innovative strategy of compensated grazing permit retirement benefits willing ranchers and it gives wolves the freedom room. For 25 years WildEarth Guardians has fought for the intrinsic right of species to exist and we are committed to realizing Aldo Leopold’s ethical commitment to keep wild lands wild on the remaining national forests of the Greater Gila.

    Please enjoy this most recent online edition of our Wild at Heart which features our Greater Gila: America’s First Wilderness Campaign. In addition, this season’s Wild at Heart updates you on our current efforts, successes, and challenges. We profile inspiring members and Wild Bunch monthly donors who are making a difference for the wild.

    Be sure to check out our regular feature, Postcards from the Field on page five, highlighting our organizer Bob Brister’s summer long efforts to engage adults and children about the ecological value of wolves and other native carnivores on the landscape. Read our feature article Leopold’s Legacy and the Next Great Conservation Landscape that starts on page six and learn more about our historic grazing retirement agreement freeing up nearly 50 square miles for Mexican wolves to thrive. And don’t miss some inspiration from our Good News from the Guardians on page eleven including your contributions to our first 25 years of success for the climate, water, wildlife and wild places.

    We hope you enjoy our online newsletter and appreciate you being a Guardian. Email our Office Manager Claire Nickel if you prefer to receive the newsletter in the mail.

    WildEarth Guardians

    Forestry

     

    Global Warming and Climate Change

    Hillsborough among counties using tool to assess sea-level rise

    MIAMI — A few Florida counties are testing a computer mapping tool that details how vulnerable their roads are to rising sea levels, and perhaps the most surprising thing about it is where it came from.

    The state’s Department of Transportation funded the map’s development, something James Cromar, of the Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization, called “a pleasant surprise,” given Gov. Rick Scott’s skepticism over whether human behavior is affecting the climate.

    The Republican governor’s assertion earlier this year that he is “not a scientist” has drawn ridicule from his political opponents, and earlier this month at a regional conference on climate change, White House officials praised local government leaders in attendance for their practicality in addressing sea level rise themselves. Citing a lack of leadership from Tallahassee, a Miami-area suburb recently adopted a resolution calling for South Florida to form its own state to deal with the issue.

    But FDOT senior policy analyst Maria Cahill said the mapping tool, which has been available online since late 2013, is consistent with other state initiatives to help local governments plan for community resiliency, including efforts led by the Department of Economic Opportunity. The state’s Department of Environmental Protection also has touted various monitoring programs collecting data that could be used to study climate change.

    The mapping tool, which visualizes areas of transportation infrastructure that might be vulnerable to rising seas and inland flooding from 2020 through 2100, is intended for local governments to use as they make long-term plans for their infrastructure needs, Cahill said. There are no plans yet to use it to evaluate the potential vulnerability of state transportation assets.

    “I think the state recognizes that whatever their feeling is on climate change, they’re interested in protecting our economic assets, which is our infrastructure,” said Allison Yeh, sustainability coordinator for the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission. “They care about vulnerability from the economic standpoint.”

    Hillsborough and Broward counties are testing the mapping tool through a Federal Highway Administration climate resilience pilot project. Broward also is testing the tool for three other South Florida counties that have also signed a compact to address climate change adaptation strategies.

    FDOT funding through the mapping tool’s development and current testing phase has totaled $230,000, said Crystal Goodison, of the University of Florida GeoPlan Center, which has made its animated maps and data publicly available online.

    The mapping tool developed from a 2012 study that the FDOT also funded, incorporating sea level rise projections developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

    Monroe County, which encompasses the low-lying Florida Keys that are linked to the mainland by just one major road, independently used the tool to run flooding models for its 875 miles of state and county roads. The small Atlantic Coast community of Satellite Beach also is working with the GeoPlan Center to customize the tool for its own roads assessment, Goodison said.

    The results in Monroe County: maps highlighted with widening splotches of red that show where the Keys are likely to see increased nuisance flooding over the next several decades.

    The tool’s value lies not in its potential for drama, but in its reliance on state and federal data, which will help the county secure funding for its transportation projects, said Rhonda Haag, Monroe County’s sustainability program manager.

    No state transportation policies have developed from the tool so far, but most of Florida has time to carefully plan for any effects from sea level rise, Cahill said.

    “What we’re doing is focusing on the research and better understanding what data limitations there are,” Cahill said. “We’re not there yet to make any inferences from the model itself.”

    Research is good and valuable, as is establishing a consistent methodology, but that research soon has to translate into policy, said Cromar, planning director for the Broward MPO.

    “The goal is not a perfect data set — it’s to have sufficient data to make smart recommendations and to take action,” he said.

    Associated Press|Tampa Bay Times|November 2, 2014

    Climate Change Threatens NASA Space Operations

    According to the new Climate Risk Management Plan issued by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), climate change is threatening its operations in space which in turn threatens its ability to gather information on how climate change is impacting the Earth.

    “NASA has an important responsibility to the nation and to the world with regard to climate change,” it declares. “NASA builds the satellites that collect weather and climate data, contributing to a robust research program dedicated to understanding how the Earth and its systems behave.”

    But those programs are being put in jeopardy by the impacts of climate change, including rising sea levels, high temperatures and humidity, wind, heat waves and extreme storms, which could impact such high-profile NASA sites as its Kennedy Space Center on Florida’s east coast which, along with nearby Cape Canaveral, is a major site of space launches. Those are just some of the NASA facilities threatened by climate change.

    The report says, “NASA recognized as early as 2005 that ‘regional climate variability’ could pose a risk to its operations and missions and identified it as a risk within NASA’s risk management framework. Many agency assets—66% of its assets when measured by—are within 16 feet of mean sea level and located along America’s coasts, where sea level rise and increased frequency and intensity of high water levels associated with storms are expected, and in other parts of the country where long-term changes in temperature and precipitation intensity are expected to impact potable water supplies.”

    NASA identifies a number of potential risks, including damaged infrastructure, power failures that threaten communications systems, delayed launches, employee health and safety concerns, contamination and even threats to endangered species. It says it could expect the loss of land essential to launch operations, experience extensive downtime when its systems are disrupted, and asks “Given the already degraded condition of much of NASA’s infrastructure portfolio, how will NASA find the money to conduct necessary adaptations, repair failing infrastructure, and maintain mission tempo?”

    “In general, NASA anticipates short-term risks to result from extreme weather such as heat waves, precipitation, wind, flooding and drought, each of which will become more difficult to manage because of changes in event intensity, duration and frequency. Over a longer time horizon, NASA anticipates a continuation of extreme weather challenges experienced in the short-term, possibility exacerbated because of longer term gradual trends such as sea level rise and increased average temperatures.”

    The report is one of two dozen released by the federal government Friday that address what steps various government agencies are taking to address climate change.

    Anastasia Pantsios|November 3, 2014

    IPCC Sounds Fresh Alarm as Fossil Fuel Interests Tighten Grip on Congress

    The contrast between the increasingly partisan American political divide and the increasingly solid international scientific consensus couldn’t be starker.

    The leading international network of climate scientists is urging a rapid shift away from fossil fuels, just as allies of coal, oil and natural gas industries in the United States appear poised to tighten their grip on Congress—where opposition to cleaner energy is already entrenched.

    That outcome of Tuesday’s midterm election would spell trouble for advocates of a strong international climate accord. Treaty negotiations are supposed to pick up in the next few months and culminate in Paris just over a year from now.

    This weekend, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a synthesis report that sums up its years-long review of the climate crisis and what to do about it. The report called for the near-complete elimination of fossil fuel-burning by the end of the century. This, it said, is what is needed to have a reasonable chance of avoiding the most severe risks of man-made changes to the world’s climate.

    Nothing could be further from the agenda of Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the coal-state Republican who on the eve of the election appears to have significantly better than even odds of becoming the next majority leader. (Though, as the IPCC might put it, until the last votes are tallied any forecast of which party will prevail deserves only “medium confidence.”)

    Even if the Republicans don’t gain a majority in the Senate on Nov. 4, they are likely to gain strength in that chamber as well as in the House—an election outcome that would undermine President Obama’s entire climate agenda, not just his influence in the Paris talks.

    John H. Cushman Jr|InsideClimate News|Nov 3, 2014

    NextGen Florida director: the fight against climate change in FL is just beginning

    NextGen Florida spent $19.8 million in Florida between Aug. 7 and Oct. 22 this year with the infusion of cash coming from California billionaire and former hedge fund investor Tom Steyer. Their goals: to defeat Gov. Rick Scott,  raise awareness about climate change and bring young people to the polls. They failed on the first, succeeded on the second, and the report card on the third goal appears to be mixed.

    Here’s the campaign wrap-up by Florida  Director Jackie Lee:


    “Like many Floridians, we are concerned by Governor Scott’s denial of science and his cozy relationship with corporate special interests, like Big Sugar and Duke Energy. With his victory last night, we are hopeful that he will heed the thousands of voters calling for climate action and take concrete steps to represent the interests of all Floridians. 

    “NextGen Climate Florida played a key role in raising awareness of the challenges Florida will continue to face if we don’t begin to address climate change. NextGen Climate is proud of the 100,000 committed Climate Action Voters that we identified who recognize that climate change is a serious problem. Our organizers have worked tirelessly to bring together these voters and build a robust, grassroots movement through over 1,854,000 door knocks and phone calls.

    “We also ran an aggressive mail, television, radio and digital campaign across the state highlighting what was at stake in this election. We opened 21 offices in Florida, from Tallahassee to Miami, and NextGen Climate’s presence—both on the ground and on the airwaves—has forced Governor Rick Scott to answer to Florida voters. After studiously avoiding mentions of the environment and climate change for four years, Scott is now on the defensive about these critically important issues, and Floridians will be watching.

    “NextGen Climate Florida and our Democratic allies ran a solid ground game and organized a block of drop-off Democratic voters who committed to vote on climate in the Sunshine State this election, and in the future. The fight against climate change in Florida is just beginning, and NextGen Climate will remain engaged and continue to keep climate on the ballot.”

    Mary Ellen Klas|Nov. 5, 2014

    Climate Change Warnings Abound as Politicians Cover Their Ears

    A report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made one thing crystal clear: Climate change is here, humans are to blame and if we don’t cut down our carbon usage, we are looking at catastrophic damages to our environment.

    Now, the idea that climate change exists isn’t news to most people who believe in things like science. However, what is interesting about this report is that the IPCC has been known in the past for actually playing down the threat of climate change. Numerous accusations have been levied against the IPCC for their conservative estimates and ‘lowest common denominator’ advisories.

    The IPCC has warned that if we don’t change (a relatively low) percentage of our carbon emissions, the world will heat up by about 7-9 degrees Fahrenheit in the upcoming century. This will lead to “substantial species extinction, global and regional food insecurity, consequential constraints on common human activities, and limited potential for adaptation in some cases.”

    In other words, our contribution to climate change will be irreversible and not something the Earth will recover from.

    Even worse, the consumption of carbon that needs to change to keep mass extinctions, food insecurity and natural disasters at bay, is unbelievably small. We would have to bring down our consumption from 2.4 to 2.34.

    Yet despite that this was agreed on by a panel of well respected scientists, policy-wise it is simply not sinking in. A number of politicians still deny climate change with 58% of Republicans pretending it doesn’t exist and/or humans have not contributed to it.

    Of course it’s hardly shocking that politicians receive campaign contributions for their anti-science stance. However, what is interesting is who exactly is funding them. While Exxon Mobile has been reported to have financed 9 out of 10 ‘scientists’ who deny climate change, and the Koch Industries have given millions to anti-climate change politicians, a recent article in The Guardian illuminated companies that are using some serious double-speak:

    “General Electric (GE) – which donated $1,756,457 [in campaign contributions] – announced plans last year to reduce the energy intensity of its operations by 50% by 2015. Similarly, Google, whose efforts to fight climate change have included a $1bn contribution to developing renewable electricity, contributed $699,195 to congressional climate deniers, including US senator James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, and US representative Darrell Issa, a Republican from California.”

    Adding to these politicians are some so-called ‘experts’, such as John Coleman, the former CEO of the Weather Channel. During a recent diatribe on CNN, he told the host, “Science isn’t a vote. Science is about facts, and if you get down to the hard, cold facts, there’s no question about it. Climate change is not happening.” It should be noted, however, the Weather Channel issued a statement following Coleman’s interview stating that they believe in climate change and that humans have contributed towards recent shifts.

    Yet the news gets even worse: with a new Republican majority in the US Senate, it could just mean that attempts to create laws and policy to curb our carbon consumption will be met with pushback and hostility. And as a new article by The Carbon Brief points out, chairs in the Senate that have the power to veto or table environmentally friendly legislation will likely be taken over by climate ‘skeptics’ such as James Inhofe, who has called climate change a “hoax.”

    This means that now, more than ever, we must use our power as a constituency to ensure policy is drafted and passed that will, at the very least, meet that .06% goal and keep our Earth somewhat livable for future generations.

    Lizabeth Paulat|November 6, 2014

    10 Countries Facing Extreme Climate Risk

    Global risk analytics company Maplecroft has just released its Climate Change and Environmental Risk Atlas for 2015, and what it says isn’t very comforting. It finds that the impacts of climate change and food insecurity could lead to increased civil unrest and violence in 32 of the 198 countries it assessed. Those at risk include emerging markets like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Nigeria and the Philippines.

    Maplecroft finds that risks related to climate change “have the potential to destabilize regional security, hurt national economies and impact the operations and supply chains of business.”

    The report ranked those 32 countries at “extreme risk,” with Bangladesh in the top spot, followed by Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Nigeria, Chad, Haiti, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Central African Republic and Eritrea. It finds that these economies are heavily dependent on agriculture, which is on the front lines in feeling the effects climate change.

    Maplecroft finds that risks related to climate change ”have the potential to destabilize regional security, hurt national economies and impact the operations and supply chains of business. In addition, military resources, which have traditionally focused on security-based missions, are increasingly being drawn into disaster relief efforts.”

    The result is a downward spiral of poverty, limited access to education and increased refugee population. Maplecroft cites the example of Nigeria where drought and food insecurity created a fertile environment for the rise of the rebel group Boko Haram, which was in the headlines last spring for its kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls.

    climateriskmap

    “With one in four people still undernourished in sub-Saharan Africa, climate change impacts make it even more difficult for governments across the region to improve food security and help reduce tensions,” it says.

    It also points to the Middle East, where food insecurity and increases in food prices have led to the so-called “Arab Spring” in Egypt and the current violence in Syria.

    “Unlike policy makers who often ignore or politicize the science in seeking short-term objectives, global business and the military now view climate change as an important risk management imperative,” says Maplecroft’s head of environment Dr James Allan. “Identifying future flashpoints will help proactive organizations and governments make strategic decisions.”

    The report offers some hope, if only people will pay attention to the effects of climate change and begin to mitigate them with strategies such as drought-resistant crops, more resilient infrastructure, economic diversification and poverty reduction. Programs like these are already having an effect in countries like China, Indonesia, Malaysia and even some of the at-risk countries like the Philippines, Bangladesh and India, which all improved in Maplecroft’s Adaptive Capacity Index. But, it adds, the $100 billion a year that global leaders promised in 2010 to help developing nations adjust to climate change hasn’t yet materialized.

    Anastasia Pantsios|EcoWatch|November 1, 2014

    Extreme Weather

     

    Genetically Modified Organisms

    GMO Labeling Defeated in Colorado, Too Close to Call in Oregon

    Monsanto‘s heavy spending netted it a victory over Colorado’s attempt to institute a mandatory labeling law for genetically modified (GMO) foods, one of two states to have such a measure on the ballot. While two-thirds of the voters in Colorado rejected the measure, Proposition 105, a similar labeling issue in Oregon was too close to call this morning, although it was trailing.

    The grassroots effort Right to Know Colorado was supported by grocers like Whole Foods and Natural Grocers, but they were drastically outspent by opponents, led by Monsanto. Corporate food and biotech interests spent $17 million against less than $1 million spent by labeling supporters.

    “Every day, Coloradans took to the streets and to social media to talk to their neighbors, friends and family about why Colorado should offer families the same transparency afforded families in 64 countries worldwide—the right to know what’s in our food,” said Lisa Trope, Colorado organizer for Food & Water Watch, which worked with Right to Know Colorado on the issue.

    “But Goliath prevailed over David; the biotech industry poured $11 million into a flood of television propaganda to drown out the voice of the people. Corporate interests can only keep people in the dark about what we’re eating for so long, and Food & Water Watch will continue to fight to make sure Coloradans know if their food in genetically engineered.”

    In Oregon, supporters of Measure 92 were also outspent, though less drastically, with $7 million invested by supporters and more than $20 million pouring in from Monsanto, DuPont, Pepsi, Coca-Cola and Kraft Foods to push their claims that GM labeling would be costly for food producers and increase the price of groceries. (The measure did not apply to restaurant food).

    In Hawaii, Maui County voters passed by a slim margin to temporarily ban genetically engineered crops, which goes far beyond labeling.

    “The county’s first-ever ballot initiative targeting global agriculture companies Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences attracted nearly $8 million from opponents,” Honolulu Civil Beat reports, “making it the most expensive campaign in Hawaii’s history.”

    The expense for the campaign equates to “more than $75 per registered voter in Maui County, which has a population of just around 160,000.”

    Humboldt County, California also passed a GMO crop ban, joining bordering Mendocino and Trinity counties in prohibiting the growing of GMO crops.

    Anastasia Pantsios|November 5, 2014

    GMO Crops Are Destroying Farmland, And Monsanto Doesn’t Want You to Know

    The European Association for bio-industries, EuropaBio, wants you to believe that “GM crops can protect soils from erosion through less ploughing, conserving soil moisture, too. GM herbicide tolerant crops reduce the need to plough fields in preparation for planting crops. This saves fuel because less tilling is necessary. GM insect resistant crops require less treatments with insecticides, which also decreases the need for tractor use.” But these statements are completely false.

    This is essentially the requisite lie told by all of biotech – including:

    • Monsanto – Known for creating or helping to create 13 highly carcinogenic and toxic products including saccharin, PCBs, Polystyrene, DDT, the atom bomb, nuclear weapons, dioxin, Agent Orange, Petroleum based fertilizers, Round Up, rGBH, aspartame, GMOs, and terminator seeds. Monsanto sues everyone to keep dealing their dirty products, but the most recent suit, involving Dustin Barca, a surfer-turned mixed martial arts fighter in Hawaii is of special note. He is taking it personally that Monsanto poisons him, and bringing activism to a new level.
    • Dow Chemical Company (also Union Carbide) – This wonderful company helped to release methyl isocyanate and other chemicals in 1984 by their pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, causing one of the worst industrial disasters in history. They are also one of the five corporations completely dominating the seed market, making food sovereignty precarious for farmers and families around the world. Along with three other companies they also helped to create Dibromochloropropane (DBCP), a known carcinogen, reproductive toxin, and endocrine disruptor that contaminates ground water. They continued to produce and sell DBCP even after it was banned due to strong evidence linking the chemical to sterility.
    • Syngenta – Known for suing Kaui’i County when they wanted to keep herbicide and pesticide spraying away from their school children, homes and hospitals, and also for covering up the true toxicity of Atrazine. This company has also been implicated with colony collapse disorder, killing off our bees, and other important pollinators.
    • Bayer – This company is especially fond of selling you and your children ‘vitamins’ full of toxic GMOs, aspartame, and carcinogenic chemicals, yet they call themselves ‘pediatricians number one choice.’ They have also been accused of coating 90 percent of their GMO corn seeds with bee-decimating pesticides, and they are in development for a new GM soybean that is highly toxic.
    • DuPont Pioneer – This ‘trustworthy’ company had a market monopoly on gunpowder during the US Civil War, has developed nuclear weapons, and created Agent Orange, PCBs, and DDT, just like Monsanto.

    These defenders of genetically modified crops regularly claim that GM varieties of soy, corn, and other pestilence-inducing crops actually conserve soil because farmers don’t have to practice tilling in a way that causes erosion. They also lie that GMOs ‘conserve water.’ Well now, let’s look at those claims a little more closely, shall we?

    The fact remains that GE varieties of seed have done absolutely nothing to minimize soil erosion or conserve water. Even major media publications are now coming back and apologizing about their original support of companies like Monsanto. Monsanto’s unsavory behavior even resulted in Forbes Magazine’s retraction of naming Monsanto “Company of the Year” in 2009, admitting they were “wrong on Monsanto… really wrong.”

    GE scientists paid by Monsanto were also found to have committed fraud in India. ‘Experts’ from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS) have been found guilty of infecting and subsequently hiding the fact that indigenously created Bt cotton contained a Monsanto gene.

    These GE companies have secretly and stealthily planted poison crops all across our world, and our soil and water are being affected. Most alarming is the fact that GE crops affect soil fertility. In one gram of productive soil there is a complex web that can exceed over 100 million microorganisms that may represent over 1000 species. Monsanto and the biotech bullies are messing with those numbers.

    GE crops DO NOT conserve water. In fact, as super weeds develop, GE crops inspire farmers to try to irrigate their desirable crops, as any grower would – only they end up watering the super weeds. Water – from ground water to well water to lakes, rivers, streams, and even oceans – is contaminated with copious amounts of pesticides and herbicides that are used to grow GE crops as well. This practice ruins the water that we do have on this planet, making it nearly impossible for farmers in water-poor countries to grow anything. GE crops are in fact one of the biggest sources of water pollution in the U.S. and elsewhere.

    No matter how you slice it, the agricultural cake reeks of GM corruption and overt propaganda. GMO crops don’t save our water – they contaminate it. They don’t protect our soil – they kill off the millions of tiny organisms that account for soil health. GMOs are not necessary to feed the world, and they have no place in our food supply. No more GMO!

    Christina Sarich|November 5, 2014

    53 Real Reasons We Cannot Support Monsanto & GMOs

    Would you ever support Monsanto’s GMOs?

    A man named Brett Wilcox and his son have taken to country roads, running over 3000 miles, 20 miles at a time, in order to bring attention to the GMO monopoly that has taken over our country. They started from Huntington Beach, California on January 18, 2014, and arriving in Ocean City, New Jersey on July 19, 2014. The race has helped generate awareness over GMOs, and it also led to Wilcox bringing up a great point — could Monsanto ever ‘get their act together’ enough to convince the public to eat their GMOs?

    According to Wilcox, there are around 53 reasons we simply cannot support GMOs that would need to individually be met before we could even consider doing so:

    “53 Reasons We Cannot Support Monsanto & GMOs”

    1. I’d need to believe that pesticide companies have a right to contaminate our biological & cultural heritage with GMOs. Petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides are absolutely raping US farmlands. Corporate farming just doesn’t work.

    2. I’d need to believe that as government and industry leaders have concluded, U.S. consumers are too stupid to understand GMO food labels. We’re smarter than they think. And getting angrier all the time.

    3. I’d need to agree with the U.S. Supreme Court that organic & conventional farmers have no legal recourse or protection from genetic contamination. Since when did we decide to give corporations more rights than people?

    4. I’d need to believe that GMOs really are needed to feed a hungry world. Many countries have already proven that you don’t need GMOs to feed the world. Small-scale, organic farms are the way to go.

    5. I’d need to believe that GMOs really are substantially equivalent to their natural counterparts. Which means, of course, I’d need to believe they no more merit patent protection than their natural counterparts.

    6. I’d need to believe that GMOs should be pushed & promoted onto world markets before long term environmental, animal & human feeding studies have been conducted. In other words, I’dneed to believe that the Precautionary Principle is poppycock. If you want to know more about this concept, Nassim Nicholas Talib does a great job of explaining it and also why he calls the EU chief scientist a ‘dangerous imbecile’ for telling us we should all ignore the Precautionary Principle.

    7. I’d need to believe that super weeds and superbugs are beneficial byproducts of GMO-based agriculture.

    8. I’d need to believe that horizontal gene transfer is no different than traditional crossbreeding & hybridization processes. Farmers and gardeners have NOT been cross-breeding seeds like this for thousands of years, as they will claim within many a comment-section on anti-GMO articles. You can learn more about the difference between cross-breeding and GMO hybridization, here.

    9. I’d need to believe that small-scale agro ecological family farms and their communities are best relegated to the history books.

    10. I’d need to believe that Roundup is safe. Or if not safe, I’d need to believe that drinking and breathing Roundup, and feeding Roundup-contaminated breast milk to babies is more beneficial than not doing so. The stuff is 125 times more toxic than regulators admit. Enough said.

    11. I’d need to believe that agrichemical poisons cease to be poisonous when we eat them. This one is one of the reasons I love Wilcox. In what world do the things we eat not affect us? From MSG to high fructose corn syrup, leafy greens to Vitamin C, everything has an effect on our biochemistry. Agrichemicals are no different.

    12. I’d need to believe that good science includes bullying, shaming, belittling, intimidating, and silencing scientists and others who oppose GMOs.

    13. I’d need to believe that good GMO related science includes sham research methods that produce sham research results.

    14. I’d need to believe that pesticide companies have the right to control the editorial boards of scientific journals.

    15. I’d need to believe that industry-influenced scientific journals have the right

    16. I’d need to believe that killing super weeds and superbugs with ever more toxic chemicals makes moral, environmental, and fiscal sense.

    17. I’d need to believe that GMOs really do have identifiable consumer benefits.

    18. I’d need to believe that GMOs have never and will never contaminate their natural counterparts.

    19. I’d need to believe that genetic contamination of native and natural plant and animal varieties benefits farmers, the environment, and human health.

    20. I’d need to believe that chemical giants have no moral, ethical, or legal liability to the farmers’ whose crops and livelihoods are destroyed by GMO contamination.

    21. I’d need to believe that turning plants into EPA-registered pesticide-producing factories provides lasting benefits to farmers, consumers, animals, and the environment.

    22. I’d need to believe that privatizing seed through patents is ethical, responsible, and in the best interest of farmers, consumers, and the environment.

    23. I’d need to believe that farmers have no right or business saving and replanting seeds.

    24. I’d need to believe that Roundup resistant GMO crops really are safe for the environment, animals, and human health.

    25. I’d need to believe that plant and animal biodiversity is of little value or importance.

    26. I’d need to believe that agricultural imperialism that results from GMO patents benefits poor servant farmers more than it benefits chemical company masters.

    27. I’d need to believe that turning GMO corn into ethanol is ethical and provides sound fiscal and environmental policy.

    28. I’d need to believe that farmers should continue to grow GMOs in spite of the overwhelming consumer rejection of GMOs.

    29. I’d need to believe that it makes sense for the government to burden organic farmers with fees, rules, and bureaucratic nonsense while subsidizing GMO farmers and the chemical companies that own the GMOs with U.S. taxpayer dollars for products that U.S. taxpayers neither need nor want.

    30. I’d need to believe that pollinators are dispensable members of the web of life.

    31. I’d need to believe that monocultures benefit the environment and reduce global warming.

    32. I’d need to believe that doing business with and/or purchasing products containing GMOs is morally defensible.

    33. I’d need to believe that Monsanto and the other chemical giants’ place the public good over their bottom line.

    34. I’d need to believe that industry executives and scientists are wiser than Mother Nature and/or God.

    35. I’d need to believe that the Earth’s seven billion inhabitants should trust Monsanto and gang.

    36. I’d need to believe that agrochemical companies have the right to control political figures and processes through bribes, donations, and lawsuits.

    37. I’d need to believe that regulation of the GMO industry is best performed directly by the GMO industry or only slightly less directly through the industry/government revolving door.

    38. I’d need to believe that chemical companies have the right to control the GMO story spun by the mainstream media.

    39. I’d need to believe that agrochemical companies have the right to fashion international trade agreements such as the TPP and TAFTA, agreements that are favorable to the GMO industry, agreements that supersede member nations’ rights to govern the industry.

    40. I’d need to believe that parents who choose to feed their kids organic, non-GMO foods are fear-based and irrational, and it’s good that the mainstream media exposes them to public ridicule, name calling, and shame.

    41. I’d need to believe that pesticide industry executives routinely feed GMOs and associated poisons to their own children.I’d need to believe that a proper function of the U.S. State department includes the promotion of GMOs around the world.

    42. I’d need to believe that the U.S. government and the World Bank have the right to provide aid to developing countries only when those countries agree to accept and promote GMOs.

    43. I’d need to believe that labeling GMOs must be avoided at all costs, even if that means subverting the American democratic process as the industry has done in California, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Vermont, and indeed the entire nation. Why? Because GMOs are a skull and crossbones to the GMO industry. And if the market shrinks and dies, then millions of people will also die because GMOs are necessary to feed a growing world.

    44. I’d need to believe that it’s good that Monsanto—the same company that produced and profited from PCBs, DDT, and Agent Orange—has seized control of much of our food supply.

    45. I’d need to believe that agrochemical companies and/or farmers have no moral or legal obligation to disclose what, when, and where they spray Roundup and other toxins.

    46.  I’d need to believe that agrochemical companies and/or farmers have no moral or legal obligation to disclose where their GMO crops are planted.

    47. I’d need to believe that the animals that refuse to eat GMOs don’t know what’s good for them.

    48. I’d need to believe that killing the soil with repeated applications of Roundup and other poisons is the foundation of sound modern agricultural practices.

    49. I’d need to believe that agrochemical companies have the right to enter public schools to indoctrinate our children regarding GMOs.

    50. I’d need to believe the U.S. government has the right to destabilize foreign countries such as Ukraine in order to expand the U.S. corporate empire including the Biotechnology Industry with its patented, chemically dependent, genetically modified seeds.

    51. I’d need to believe that the U.S. government has the right to use war and foreign occupation to force foreign farmers to use GMOs as it did in Iraq through Paul Bremer’s infamous Order 81.

    52. I’d need to believe that we’re better off without the birds, fish, and other animals impacted by GMO-based agriculture.

    53. I’d need to believe we can’t live without GMO.

     Christina Sarich|November 5, 2014

    Community prevails over Monsanto and Dow ‏

    Maui has been ground zero for the agro-chemical industry’s outdoor experimentation of plants that are genetically engineered to withstand heavy spraying of toxic chemicals.

    That is until this week when Maui voters decided to suspend these experiments until the companies behind them start to disclose more information about the chemicals they’re using.

    This is not just a victory for the people and the environment of Maui. This is a victory for our democracy as our grassroots, community-based food movement was able to prevail against impossible odds.

    Opponents of the moratorium, Dow Chemical and Monsanto, outspent grassroots supporters 87 to 1. While they succeeding in making this the most expensive campaign in Hawaii’s history, they failed to hear the legitimate concerns of Maui residents whose homes, schools and businesses are downwind of these experiments.

    Hawaii Center for Food Safety stood shoulder to shoulder with the grassroots movement of Maui residents behind this initiative. But, our work isn’t done yet.

    While we hoped that this industry would respect the will of the citizens who fought door-to-door to win this campaign, Monsanto has already declared that they plan to “file a lawsuit challenging the legality of this harmful ban.”

    Let’s make one thing clear: The only thing harmful in this situation are the unknown chemicals that Monsanto, Dow Chemical and the agro-chemical industry are spraying all over Maui.

    Center for Food Safety isn’t going to back down from this fight.

    Together, we’ll send an even stronger message to the agro-chemical industry that our movement is a force that even their money can’t reckon with.
    Ashley Lukens, PhD|Program Director|Hawaii Center for Food Safety

    Lizabeth Paulat|November 6, 2014

     Can Genetic Engineering Save the Florida Orange?

    Genetically modified oranges might save Florida’s blighted groves-if Americans will drink the juice.

    Citrus greening, the plague that could wipe out Florida’s $9 billion orange industry, begins with the touch of a jumpy brown bug on a sun-kissed leaf.

    From there, the bacterial disease incubates in the tree’s roots, then moves back up the trunk in full force, causing nutrient flows to seize up. Leaves turn yellow, and the oranges, deprived of sugars from the leaves, remain green, sour, and hard. Many fall before harvest, brown necrotic flesh ringing failed stems.

    For the past decade, Florida’s oranges have been literally starving.

    Since it first appeared in 2005, citrus greening, also known by its Chinese name, huanglongbing, has swept across Florida’s groves like a flood. With no hills to block it, the Asian citrus psyllid-the invasive aphid relative that carries the disease-has infected nearly every orchard in the state.

    By one estimate, 80 percent of Florida’s citrus trees are infected and declining.

    The disease has spread beyond Florida to nearly every orange-growing region in the United States. Despite many generations of breeding by humanity, no citrus plant resists greening; it afflicts lemons, grapefruits, and other citrus species as well. Once a tree is infected, it will die.

    Yet in a few select Floridian orchards, there are now trees that, thanks to innovative technology, can fight the greening tide. These trees have the potential to keep Florida orange juice on your breakfast table-provided you are willing to drink the juice of oranges that have been genetically modified to contain genes from spinach.

    The trees are the work of Erik Mirkov, a plant pathologist at Texas A&M University who has spent his career applying the tools of biotechnology to citrus. Over the past few years, his research on genetically modified oranges has gone from an academic sideshow to one of the great hopes of the industry.

    It’s highly unlikely, researchers and growers agree, that oranges will remain in Florida unless new, modified strains like Mirkov’s are widely grown-a view endorsed by the National Research Council several years ago.

    Paul Voosen|National Geographic

    Energy

    How Hydropower Contributes to Climate Change

    Methane has been attracting attention recently as the “It” greenhouse gas. It’s been exposed as being almost 35 times the driver of climate change as carbon dioxide emissions. And while that doesn’t mean we should stop acting on carbon, researchers have begun taking a closer look at where the methane is coming from. And while stories about methane blowholes in the Arctic are dramatic, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ranks oil and gas operations as the top source of methane emissions in the U.S. followed by livestock.

    The manmade Harsha Lake provides watch and flood abatement to southwestern Ohio but may also be a major source of methane emissions. Photo credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

    But there’s another source that doesn’t readily come to mind and may be emitting far more methane than previously thought. That’s manmade reservoirs, including those built to generate supposedly clean hydropower, the largest source of renewable energy in the world.

    Precisely how much they contribute to methane pollution is a mystery though. It was estimated for a long time that 20 percent of all manmade methane emissions were generated from the surface of reservoirs. But now scientists think it may be even higher than that, although few studies have been done so there’s not enough data to attach a number to it. The EPA doesn’t even bother to estimate reservoir-generated methane.

    Now a small-scale study published in late August offers some clues. Researchers from the EPA’s National Risk Management Research Laboratory in Cincinnati and the University of Cincinnati studied methane emissions from Harsha Lake near Cincinnati during a 13-month period spanning 2012. They found that Harsha Lake emitted more methane than had ever been recorded at any reservoir in the U.S., perhaps, one of the study authors suggested, because it’s located in an agricultural area.

    “When you compare the annual scale of the methane emission rate of this reservoir to other studies, it’s really much higher than people would predict,” EPA research associate and study lead author Jake Beaulieu told Climate Central.

    “Reservoirs are a globally significant source of methane (CH4), although most measurements have been made in tropical and boreal systems draining undeveloped watersheds,” said the study’s summary. “We measured CH4 and carbon dioxide (CO2) emission rates from William H. Harsha Lake, an agricultural impacted reservoir, over a 13 month period. The reservoir was a strong source of CH4 throughout the year. … We estimate that CH4 emissions from agricultural reservoirs could be a significant component of anthropogenic CH4 emissions in the U.S.A.”

    Extrapolating from the methane they found at Harsha Lake, the researchers estimated that worldwide, all large reservoirs could emit as much as 104 teragrams of methane each year, compared to estimates of 80-120 teragrams of methane from fossil fuels.

    The source of the methane is bacteria feeding on carbon-based organic plant material and breathing out methane. Agricultural runoff, such as that found in Harsha Lake, contains nutrients that allow algae to thrive, providing a wealth of food for microbes.

    “There are a very large number of these reservoirs in highly agricultural areas around the U.S.,” Amy Townsend-Small, another of the study’s authors, told Climate Central. “It could be that these agricultural reservoirs are a larger source of atmospheric methane than we had thought in the past.”

    And there’s little information yet about how the amount of methane generated by reservoirs varies in different parts of a reservoir. But Beaulieu said the EPA will undertake a more comprehensive study next year, looking at emissions from 25 reservoirs across the Great Lakes region and the south.

    Anastasia Pantsios|EcoWatch|November 3, 2014

    Fracking Bans Pass in Denton, Texas, Two California Counties and One Ohio Town

    With a record number of fracking issues on local ballots in California, Texas and Ohio, the outcome was decidedly mixed. Of the eight measures—three in California, four in Ohio and one in Texas—four passed and four failed.

    Denton became the first city in Texas—a state where fracking has become big business—to pass such a ban, despite threats from the oil and gas industry to sue to overturn it. And it passed overwhelmingly, 59-41 percent, despite heavy spending by the industry.

    The biggest victory came in Denton in north Texas, located atop the lucrative Barnett shale play. After citizens demanded action from city council on a fracking ban and council punted last July, the issue went to the ballot where it passed last night.

    “As I have stated numerous times, the democratic process is alive and well in Denton,” said Denton mayor Chris Watts. “Hydraulic fracturing, as determined by our citizens, will be prohibited in the Denton city limits. The city council is committed to defending the ordinance and will exercise the legal remedies that are available to us should the ordinance be challenged.”

    Denton became the first city in Texas—a state where fracking has become big business—to pass such a ban, despite threats from the oil and gas industry to sue to overturn it. And it passed overwhelmingly, 59-41 percent, despite heavy spending by the industry.

    “This is a victory for the citizens of the city of Denton, for our families, for our health, for our homes and for our future,” said Cathy McMullen, president of citizens group Frack Free Denton. “This ban is the voice of the citizens of Denton speaking directly to the fracking industry, and local, state and national government: WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH. So try to overturn it if you will. But know that if you do, you are on the side of corporate interests and against the people.”

    “Denton, Texas, is where hydraulic fracturing was invented,” said Earthworks energy program director Bruce Baizel. “It’s home to more than 275 fracked wells. It’s a place that knows fracking perhaps better than any other. If this place in the heart of the oil and gas industry can’t live with fracking, then who can? The answer, at present, is ‘no one.’ That’s why fracking bans and moratoria are spreading like wildfire across the country. And the oil and gas industry has no one but itself to blame. Perhaps banning fracking in Denton, Texas will finally force the oil and gas industry to clean up its act. Because blaming the impacted community is a losing strategy. It lost them Denton, and it will lose them the hearts and minds of the country.”

    It has also lost the hearts and minds of Mendocino and San Benito counties in California and Athens, Ohio, while California’s Santa Barbara County and the cities of Kent, Gates Mills and Youngstown, Ohio weren’t ready to put a ban in place.

    sanbenitovote

    “Mendocino County joins more than 150 communities across the U.S. that have adopted the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF)-drafted Community Bills of Rights to secure their unalienable rights to clean air and water, the rights of nature to exist and thrive and the rights of communities to local self-governance,” CELDF said in a statement.

    “CELDF has assisted these communities to ban shale gas drilling and fracking, factory farming, and water privatization, and eliminate corporate “rights” when they violate community and nature’s rights. This includes assisting the first communities in the U.S. to establish Rights of Nature in law, as well as the first communities to elevate the rights of communities above the “rights” of corporations.”

    The oil and gas industry spent nearly $2 million in sparsely populated San Benito County, outspending ban supporters 15-1. Although there is currently no fracking in the county, fossil fuel interests were clearly concerned about the precedent it would set. In total the industry spent about $7.7 million, most of that in Santa Barbara, which is a major oil producer.

    “Fracking is a dirty and dangerous way to drill for oil and natural gas,” said Dan Jacobson of Environment California. “What’s worse is fracking keeps us addicted to fossil fuels at the exact time we need to move to clean renewable energy. As world leaders travel to Lima Peru in December of 2014 and as more and more local cities and counties ban fracking, we need Governor Brown to reconsider his position on fracking and stop fracking in California.”

    Athens joins the Ohio communities of Yellow Springs, Oberlin, Mansfield and Broadview Heights, which have previously banned fracking within their city limits. That measure passed overwhelmingly with 78 percent of the vote.

    “Ohio communities are challenging the corporate claimed ‘right’ to frack, as well as the claims of our state government that communities have no right to protect their own health, safety and welfare,” said Tish O’Dell, Ohio community rights organizer at the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which worked with Athens in drafting its ballot measure. “They are joining dozens of other communities across the country who are securing their inalienable right to local self-governance and to a sustainable future.”

    Anastasia Pantsios|November 5, 2014

    Texas energy group asks court to halt fracking ban

    Industry says voters lacked authority to restrict drilling

    DENTON, Texas A north Texas city that sits atop a natural gas reserve is preparing for an extended court battle after voters made it the first in the state to ban additional hydraulic fracturing — a fight that cities nationwide considering similar laws will likely be watching closely.
    An energy industry group responded quickly to the measure approved Tuesday in Denton, filing a petition Wednesday morning in district court seeking an injunction to stop it from being enforced.

    The ban could have a domino effect in Texas, threatening an “energy renaissance” in shale gas from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, said David Porter, a commissioner on the Texas Railroad Commission, the state’s oil and gas regulator. Scores of cities in other states have considered similar bans over health and environmental concerns. But the proposal in Denton, a university town about 40 miles north of Dallas, was a litmus test on whether any community in Texas — the nation’s biggest oil and gas producer — could rebuff the industry and still thrive.

    The courts must “give a prompt and authoritative answer” on whether Denton voters had the authority to ban fracking, said Texas Oil and Gas Association attorney Tom Phillips, a former chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court. “We believe the city of Denton lacks authority to ban the only commercially viable method of producing oil and gas in their locality,” he said. Industry groups have warned the ban could deliver a severe hit to Denton’s economy. The gas fields under it have produced $1 billion in mineral wealth and pumped more than $30 million into city bank accounts. Property rights in Texas are split between the land and the minerals below.

    Phillips says the ban violates the Texas Constitution. City spokeswoman Lindsey Baker says that’s for the courts to decide.

    Nationally, courts have come down on both sides of the issue. New York’s highest court determined local governments have landuse powers to say where oil and gas wells can be located, even to the extent of an outright ban. A judge in Boulder ruled a fracking ban interfered with the state’s interests, which take precedence in Colorado.

    Associated Press

    Public Opposition Costs Tar Sands Industry a Staggering $17B

    Once viewed by those in the fossil fuel industry as one of their brightest hopes for more big profits, tar sands extraction is looking riskier and costlier.

    As Republicans in the U.S. continue to look for ways to ram through the Keystone XL pipeline after years of persistent and intensifying resistance from community and environmental groups, farmers and Native tribes, and TransCanada, the biggest company developing the Alberta tar sands, moves forward with a proposal for the even longer Energy East pipeline, there are signs that extracting oil from tar sands bitumen, one of the dirtiest forms of energy extraction, may be hitting some hard times.

    And the protests may be a big part of the impact, along with plummeting oil prices, which are making both tar sands extraction and fracking less lucrative. Anti-tar sands actions have cost the industry $17 billion in revenue from 2010—about the time the anti-fracking campaign started—and 2013, according to a report published by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) and Oil Change International. It assesses for the first time how much the opposition has cost the industry—and what the carbon impact of that has been.

    “The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is one of the most talked-about North American energy and political issues of the era. Once thought inevitable, the project and Canada’s plan to expand tar sands production have been confronted by an accumulation of economic and political risks creating a veritable ‘carbon blockade,’” it says.

    The report, Material Risks: How Public Accountability Is Slowing Tar Sands Development, revealed that tar sands exploration and extraction has lost almost $31 billion in that time period. It estimated that 55 percent of that was due to protests against tar sands development. Another $13.8 billion has been lost due to changes in the oil market.

    “Industry officials never anticipated the level and intensity of public opposition to their massive build-out plans,” Oil Change International’s executive director Steve Kretzmann told the London Guardian. “Legal and other challenges are raising new issues related to environmental protection, indigenous rights and the disruptive impact of new pipeline proposals. Business as usual for Big Oil—particularly in the tar sands—is over.”

    It pointed out that lack of access to a market for its product “caused in large part by public accountability actions driven by pipeline campaigns,” played an important part in the cancellation of three major tar sands projects so far in 2014, projects that would have released 2.8 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere.

    And, as Big Oil salivates over the possibility of a Republican-controlled Congress pushing President Obama to the wall to approve Keystone XL—possibly even with threats of impeachment if he does not give in to industry wishes—they’re facing the unimpeachable reality of an oil glut and price drops, making investment in tar sands extraction still more unprofitable. The study said that nine of the ten leading Canadian tar sands producers underperformed the stock market in the last five years.

    The report concludes, “It is expected that sometime during late 2014 or early 2015 the United States government will make a critical decision that could move the project forward or cause [Keystone XL’s] cancellation or further delay. Whatever the decision, the storyline of unfettered growth attached to Keystone and other tar sands projects has been permanently altered. Growing public sentiment to find alternatives to fossil fuels will drive much of the dialogue.”

    “This falling price—coupled with the growing grassroots mobilization against tar sands and—means that actually it’s the anti-oil movement who, for once have reason to be cheerful, no matter what happens in the midterm elections,” wrote Oil Change International contributing editor Andy Rowell.

    Anastasia Pantsios|November 4, 2014

    Keystone XL Will Fail Obama’s Climate Test If Plunge in Oil Prices Persists

    The State Department found that with low oil prices, KXL would act as a key driver of tar sands development and increased carbon emissions.

    Soaring production in the United States, slack international demand and increased fuel efficiency have produced a glut in the past few weeks that has left the benchmark WTI grade bouncing around $80 a barrel. Futures markets are pointing even lower and some analysts, most recently Goldman Sachs, are predicting a price of $75 or even less in the months ahead.

    Already, Canadian tar sands producers appear likely to put off at least some of the new projects they had on the drawing board.

    This slackening of Canadian production would seem to lessen the urgency of opening up the Alberta-to-Texas Keystone XL tar sands line, which has been delayed for years.

    But it is also true that in a world of cheaper oil, the industry would need the Keystone XL more than ever. Without it (or some other pipeline to export markets) the Canadians’ only shipping alternative to move its landlocked product would be costlier rail transport.

    Just ten months ago, the State Department, brushing off the possibility of cheaper oil, found that the Keystone XL would have little impact on Canada’s tar sands oil production—and by implication, little effect on greenhouse gas emissions. As long as oil prices stayed high enough, the reasoning went, the industry could afford to ship its output by rail to the Gulf Coast markets that the Keystone XL is intended to serve.

    But the market analysis in that final environmental impact statement acknowledged that if oil prices went below $75 for a long time, the Keystone XL would indeed become a crucial factor for expanding the tar sands enterprise. And in that case, however unlikely, the report said the pipeline would enable a significant increase in emissions of greenhouse gases.

    In other words, low oil prices mean the Keystone XL fails the Obama administration’s carefully hedged litmus test, set by the president himself when he said in June 2013 the pipeline’s impact on climate change would be the deciding factor in whether to approve the project.

    John H. Cushman Jr.|InsideClimate News|Oct 28, 2014

    Posted On October 31, 2014 by Alexis Baldera

    BP Oil Disaster leaves “Bathtub Ring” the Size of Rhode Island

    Scientists determined that an oily patch created by the BP oil disaster remains on the Gulf seafloor, stretching across roughly 1,250 square miles. They came to these conclusions using data collected as part of the Natural Resources Damage Assessment at over 500 sampling locations in the Gulf. The source of the oil is most likely the subsea oil plumes that moved underwater—oil that spewed from the Macondo wellhead but never made it to the surface. As oiled particles fell out of the plume and settled on the Gulf seafloor, they created what the researchers are calling a “patchwork mosaic” of contaminated sites. The patches get more spread out the further they are from the wellhead, leading the scientists to conclude that there is still more oil lying beyond the edge of the bathtub ring, but it probably just hasn’t been detected yet.

    The U.S. government estimates the Macondo well’s total discharge was 210 million gallons. The lead researchers of this study, Christopher Reddy and David Valentine, recognize the challenge of tracking millions of gallons of oil in the deep ocean. “Keep in mind that we’re trying to track 30,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 carbon atoms (and twice that number of hydrogen atoms) in a hostile, ever-moving environment,” the authors said in a recent blog. Their research sheds light on the mystery of the submerged oil that never came ashore or reached the Gulf surface.

    You might remember earlier studies that supported the hypothesis that microbes in the water column and deep sea consumed large amounts of the BP oil and gas. At first glance, this new study seemed to contradict those findings, but in reality they are complimentary. To understand how all of these pieces fit together, we need to be thinking about two types of hydrocarbons, or the chemical structures of oil and gas particles. First, there are the water-soluble hydrocarbons, which are what the oil-consuming microbes eat. Second, there are the water-insoluble, non-digestible hydrocarbons, which are the types of oil products reported on for this new study. Both studies are helping us understand the fate and distribution of the oil and gas released during the BP oil disaster.

    “The evidence is becoming clear that oily particles were raining down around these deep-sea corals, which provides a compelling explanation for the injury they suffered,” said Valentine. “The pattern of contamination we observe is fully consistent with the Deepwater Horizon event but not with natural seeps–the suggested alternative.”

    In light of recent attempts by BP to minimize the oil disaster, this study is another link that ties BP to the impacts in the deep waters of the Gulf. As science progresses and new findings emerge, more and more studies are reminding us that this was an offshore disaster, and projects to restore the Gulf are needed offshore, as well as on the coast. So far the vast majority of restoration projects have targeted damaged coastal habitats or lost recreation days due to closed fisheries and beaches. These projects are no doubt important, but in order to achieve full restoration to the Gulf ecosystem there needs to be a shift to a more balanced portfolio that addresses the marine resources, such as fish, sea turtles, dolphins and deep-sea corals, in addition to our beaches, marshes and fishing piers.

    Geothermal Visual: Resource Potential in the Caribbean

    The Caribbean is well primed to expand in geothermal production. Most countries in the Caribbean rely on expensive oil for their energy needs, but the islands are situated on continental plate boundaries that indicate geothermal potential. Estimated potential in the area is 850 MW.

    The figure compares current installed geothermal capacity to “announced developing capacity,” the estimated power plant capacity reported for a specific site by a private company, government agency or contractor associated with the site. Read more on geothermal in the Caribbean and other developing nations here:  “The Status of Geothermal Power in Emerging Economies.”

    Leslie Blodgett|November 04, 2014

    The information and views expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of RenewableEnergyWorld.com or the companies that advertise on this Web site and other publications. This blog was posted directly by the author and was not reviewed for accuracy, spelling or grammar.

    The Waorani Beat Chevron, But Their Water is Still Contaminated

    What happens when you beat out the oil company that destroyed your land in court, but your land is still destroyed? That’s the question being faced by Amazonian tribes in Ecuador who may have finally received some justice on the legal side of things, but who still need environmental justice.

    After decades of ravaging the Amazon, leaving pollution behind them, oil and gas companies are refusing to take responsibility for tainted air, water and soil; moreover, they’re continuing operations, adding to the already existing environmental problems in the region.

    The Waorani are among a number of indigenous tribes-people who inhabit the northern reaches of the Amazon in Ecuador. The region they have called home for thousands of years is ecologically fragile, and their culture is complex, built upon centuries of living in and with the forest. That began to change in the 20th century with the advent of oil and gas exploration that started to penetrate deeply into the Amazon as Ecuador’s easily-accessible reserves dwindled and companies like Texaco (now owned by Chevron) began putting their feelers out into the jungle.

    Oil companies pressured the Waorani, along with neighbors like the Cofan, Siona, Kichwa and Secoya, to shuffle themselves into small reserves near roads and settlements, in a radical departure from their former way of life. Many were forced into poverty and dependence on the outside, rather than living on their own as hunters and gatherers, and the rate of environmental illnesses also began to increase as their rivers ran black and sludgy, making the water impossible to drink; even touching the water created peculiar rashes and sores.

    In a complex, multi-year suit, Amazonian tribes took the matter to court, demanding justice from oil companies for the damage done to their lives. Their entry into the courts was accomplished by banding together as a group with farmers as well as legal advocates, and eventually, they won a substantial judgment, one Chevron refuses to pay, arguing that it shouldn’t be forced to bear environmental liability to anything Texaco might have done before the acquisition.

    Legal, and physical, battles have raged back and forth in the oil-torn region, but one thing has remained consistent: The once-clean air, soil, and water are no longer safe for the people who count on them for survival.

    After years of pleading for justice, the Waorani have taken at least one thing upon themselves: They’re working to rectify the clean water situation on their own, instead of relying on makeshift rainwater collectors, dangerous river water or supplies rationed out by Repsol, the Spanish oil company that now controls much of their lands. Repsol, in addition to paying out paltry benefits to members of the tribe, also claims that it’s tried to provide water filtration in their village only to be rebuffed. The tribe’s demands for clean water tell a different story.

    In conjunction with ClearWater, an organization working with tribes in the Amazon to provide clean water sources, the Waorani are building their own water collection, filtration and storage systems. Intriguingly, ClearWater is one of a new wave of organizations working on the ground in disadvantaged communities.

    Rather than taking a top-down philosophy, the group approached the Waorani, asked them what they needed and worked side by side with them to meet the goal of providing clean, fresh water for the community. Their goal is to help the tribespeople create their own sustainable clean water systems, so they can live independently, without having to ask for outside support — a departure from the often colonialist and patronizing approaches used historically to “help” communities like the Waorani.

    Empowered by the ability to create their own water source, Amazonian tribes-people are better prepared to take on the fight for environmental remediation and the assignation of liability for same; because the people who looked after the rainforest for generations should hardly be held responsible for the damage done in just a few decades of oil and gas exploration.

    s.e. smith|November 6, 2014

    First-Ever Footage of Aging Tar Sands Pipelines Beneath Great Lakes

    This past July, National Wildlife Federation (NWF) conducted a diving expedition to obtain footage of aging oil pipelines strung across one of the most sensitive locations in the Great Lakes, and possibly the world: the Straits of Mackinac. Footage of these pipelines has never been released to the public until now.

    Line5Spill1This NWF map simulates a 3, 6 and 12 hour spill from the tar sands oil pipeline based on Enbridge spill response plans, average current speeds and “worse case” discharge estimates.

    The Straits of Mackinac pipelines, owned by Enbridge Energy, are 60-years-old and considered one of the greatest threats to the Great Lakes because of their age, location and the hazardous products they transport—including tar sands derived oil.

    For nearly two years, NWF has been pressing pipeline regulators and Enbridge to release information about the integrity of these pipelines, including inspection videos showing how the pipelines cross the Straits of Mackinac. These requests have gone largely unanswered from both Enbridge and the Pipeline Hazards Safety Administration (PHMSA), who regulates pipeline operations. Because Enbridge hastily moved forward with plans to increase pressure on the aging pipelines, and has bypassed critical environmental permitting for changes in operation, NWF decided we needed to obtain our own:

    The footage shows pipelines suspended over the lakebed, some original supports broken away—indicating the presence of corrosion—and some sections of the suspended pipelines covered in large piles of unknown debris. This visual is evidence that our decision makers need to step in and demand a release of information from Enbridge and PHMSA.

    Heightening our concern around this pipeline and the company that owns it: despite having cleared our dive work with the U.S. Coast Guard, several Congressional members and Homeland Security, our staff and the dive crew had uncomfortable interactions with Enbridge representatives. As soon as our team set out on the water, we were quickly accompanied by an Enbridge crew that monitored our every move. This monitoring did not stop at the surface: Enbridge also placed a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) into the water to watch our team.

    These actions and our video have raised our level of concern for the general operational behavior of this company and their overall safety culture—including the way they treat the concerned public living near their pipelines. If these aging pipelines rupture, the resulting oil slick would cause irreversible damage to fish and wildlife, drinking water, Lake Michigan beaches, Mackinac Island and our economy.

    To make matters worse, the recent shutdown of our federal government has left communities and wildlife with an increased risk of oil spills and failed response because pipeline safety and responding agencies have been scaled back or closed all together. The recent oil spill in North Dakota, of approximately 800,000 gallons, is living proof.

    See the video “Sunken Hazard”

    Beth Wallace|National Wildlife Federation |October 15, 2013

    This article was originally published on National Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Promise.

    Land Conservation

    First Participants in Conservation Stewardship Program Can Renew for Five More Years

    Producers with expiring U.S. Department of Agriculture Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) contracts have from July 11 until Sept. 12, 2014 to renew and add conservation activities that will support their natural resource improvement activities and fine-tune their conservation plans.
    “CSP farmers are conservation leaders and go the extra mile to conserve our nation’s resources,” said Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Jason Weller. “The 2014 Farm Bill continued that strong commitment and heightened the program’s focus on generating conservation benefits. This program allows landowners to reach the next level of conservation and opens the door to trying new conservation activities.”
    About 20,000 CSP contracts are reaching the end of their initial five-year contract period and may be renewed for an additional five years when participants agree to take additional conservation actions.

    The program provides opportunities for farmers and ranchers who are already established conservation stewards, helping them improve water quality and quantity, soil health and wildlife habitat. Renewal applications will be accepted beginning on July 11, 2014. There will also be another signup in fiscal year 2015.
    More than 58 million acres were enrolled in the program – an area the size of Indiana and Wisconsin combined, following the launch of the program in 2009. CSP participants boost their operations’ conservation benefits by installing new conservation activities that make positive changes in soil, water, air quality and wildlife habitat.
    For example, the program helped Kentucky cattle farmers, Jake and Jondra Shadowen, improve the health of their cattle as well as the surrounding environment.
    Through CSP, the Shadowens send manure samples to a laboratory for analysis six times a year to gauge cattle health and see how their cows are responding to forage. They also built wildlife-friendly fences, escape routes in water troughs, and added
    pollinator habitat to the farm.
    The farm is now a model for the community and has been used for soil health demonstrations to help others see the benefit of rotational grazing and added conservation practices.
    To learn about technical and financial assistance available through CSP, visit
    www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted, the Conservation Stewardship webpage or local USDA service center. For more on the 2014 Farm Bill, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/FarmBill.

    USDA|July 2nd, 2014

    Air Quality

    Subsidiaries of the World’s Largest Fertilizer Producer to Reduce Harmful Air Emissions at Three North Carolina Plants

    ATLANTA – In a settlement with the United States, three subsidiaries of the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan (PCS), the world’s largest fertilizer producer, will take steps to reduce harmful air emissions at eight U.S. production plants—including three in Aurora, N.C.—the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Justice announced today. The settlement resolves claims that these PCS subsidiaries violated the Clean Air Act when they modified facilities in ways that released excess sulfur dioxide into surrounding communities.

    The settlement requires PCS Nitrogen Fertilizer, AA Sulfuric Inc., and White Springs Agricultural Chemicals Inc. to install, upgrade and operate state-of-the-art pollution reduction measures, as well as install emissions monitors at eight sulfuric acid plants across facilities in Aurora, North Carolina (three plants), White Springs, Florida (four plants), and Geismar, Louisiana (one plant). The three companies will spend an estimated $50 million on these measures, and will pay a $1.3 million civil penalty.

    “Large industrial facilities that break the law and pollute the air will be held accountable,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This case will bring these companies into compliance and require additional action to cut pollution to benefit communities, especially those most vulnerable to air pollution.”

    “This agreement, the largest so far in our ongoing Clean Air Act enforcement efforts against sulfuric-acid producers, will ensure cleaner air for citizens across the Southeast and will send a strong signal to the industry that noncompliance has serious consequences,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Sam Hirsch for the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

    EPA expects the actions that the companies have agreed to take will reduce harmful emissions by over 13,090 tons per year, which includes approximately 12,600 tons per year of sulfur dioxide, 430 tons per year of ammonia and 60 tons per year of nitrogen oxide. In the future, the companies can also retire plants to comply with the settlement.

    The settlement also includes a “supplemental environmental project,” estimated to cost between $2.5 and $4 million, to protect the community around a PCS Nitrogen nitric acid plant in Geismar, Louisiana, and requires PCS Nitrogen to install and operate equipment to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide and ammonia. This project is part of EPA’s commitment to advancing environmental justice by reducing the disproportionate environmental impacts on communities near industrial facilities – in this instance, by reducing fine particulates that can aggravate respiratory disease.

    Sulfur dioxide, the predominant pollutant emitted from sulfuric acid plants, has numerous adverse effects on human health and is a significant contributor to acid rain, smog and haze. Sulfur dioxide—along with nitrogen oxide—is converted in the air to particulate matter that can cause severe respiratory and cardiovascular impacts, and premature death.

    This settlement is part of EPA’s national enforcement initiative to control harmful emissions from large sources of pollution, which includes acid production plants, under the Clean Air Act’s Prevention of Significant Deterioration requirements. It is the 10th settlement reached under EPA’s National Acid Manufacturing Plant Initiative and the 7th settlement addressing pollution from sulfuric acid plants. Today’s settlement covers more sulfuric acid production capacity—roughly 24,000 tons per day or approximately 14 percent of total U.S. capacity—than all previous sulfuric acid settlements under this initiative combined.

    The settlement also resolves alleged violations based on Louisiana law at the Geismar, Louisiana, facility, and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality will receive $350,000 of the $1.3 million penalty.

    The settlement was lodged with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana and is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.

    Davina Marraccini|EPA

    Massive Methane Hot Spot Detected by Satellite

     One tiny section in the U.S. is responsible for a significant amount of the country’s methane emissions, according to new information released by scientists from NASA and the University of Michigan.

    MethaneThe Four Corners area seen in red produces the largest concentrated amount of methane emissions in the U.S. On this map, lighter colors are higher than average; darker colors are lower.

    Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Michigan

    In a study published this week, they analyzed satellite-gathered data and found that an area about 2,500 square miles, near the “Four Corners” where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah connect, produces the largest concentration of these greenhouse gas emissions ever found in the U.S., more than triple the previous estimate based on ground-gathered information. While carbon emissions are more plentiful and have attracted most of the attention as the driver of climate change, methane has been found to be an even more potent greenhouse gas.

    The researchers looked at data from 2003-2009 and found that in that time, that area released 590,000 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere annually, nearly three and a half times the previous estimate for the area. That’s about 10 percent of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s official estimate for the whole country during those years. The hot spot persisted during the entire observation period.

    Fracking has been widely identified as a culprit in boosting methane emissions. But this new analysis indicates that older methods of fossil-fuel extraction are just as harmful, with methane emissions added to carbon emissions to multiple the environmental damages from fossil fuels. Fracking wasn’t widely used in the area during the period studied; the boom didn’t kick off there until 2009. But it is a major coal-mining center. And New Mexico’s San Juan Basin is the most active coalbed methane production area in the country, a process in which methane-heavy natural gas (composed of about 95-98 percent methane) is extracted from pores and cracks in coal to use for fuel. In the process, it produces significant leaks (and well as coal mine explosions.)

    “The results are indicative that emissions from established fossil fuel harvesting techniques are greater than inventoried,” said the study’s leader author Eric Kort of the University of Michigan. “There’s been so much attention on high-volume hydraulic fracturing, but we need to consider the industry as a whole.”

    In March, President Obama announced a blueprint for methane emission reduction that included addressing emissions from coal mines.

    Anastasia Pantsios|October 10, 2014

    Transportation

     

    Recycling

    Leading Edge Aviation Services Sentenced for Unlawful Handling of Hazardous Waste at Greenville, Miss. Facility

    ATLANTA Felicia C. Adams, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Mississippi, together with Maureen O’Mara, Special Agent in Charge of the Environmental Protection Agency’s criminal enforcement program in the Southeast, announces:

    Leading Edge Aviation Services, Inc. (Leading Edge), a corporation headquartered in Costa Mesa, California, was sentenced today by United States District Judge Glen Davidson, in Aberdeen, Mississippi, following a guilty plea to one felony count of treating, storing, or disposing of hazardous waste without a permit at Leading Edge’s now shuttered Greenville, Mississippi, facility.

    Leading Edge operated a commercial aircraft painting facility at Greenville’s Mid-Delta Regional Airport until mid-2013. The process of stripping paint from aircraft in preparation for repainting generated large volumes of hazardous wastes that Leading Edge was required to properly manage. However, an investigation by the government revealed that from April 23, 2010 to May 16, 2010, Leading Edge failed to properly manage its hazardous wastes when it stored them in an open pit without a permit.

    Judge Davidson sentenced Leading Edge to pay a criminal fine in the amount of $700,000. Leading Edge will pay a separate $275,000 civil penalty to the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and a $25,000 community service payment to the Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials, a non-profit corporation. Leading Edge was also ordered to serve a term of probation of 12 months. The sentence further requires Leading Edge to complete cleanup of its Greenville facility, implement a corporate wide hazardous waste training program, hire an Environmental, Health and Safety Manager, obtain ISO 14001 environmental management certification for its operating facilities, adopt a corporate code of ethics policy, and conduct ethics training for senior management.

    The activity to which Leading Edge plead guilty occurred prior to the company’s purchase by a new ownership group in April 2012. The company, under the direction of its new ownership, cooperated fully with the EPA’s investigation of this matter.

    Felicia C. Adams, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Mississippi, said, “The former owners of Leading Edge flouted the law by failing to properly manage its hazardous waste. Today’s sentence ensures that these illegal practices will not continue. The United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Mississippi is committed to maintaining the health and safety of our citizens.”

    “Our nation’s environmental laws help ensure that human health and safety is not endangered by companies looking to cut costs illegally,” said Maureen O’Mara, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Mississippi. “The defendant’s actions callously placed the health of nearby residents at great risk. The paints and solvents used in this case were especially hazardous, requiring proper handling and disposal. This case sends a clear message that corporations that fail to properly manage hazardous wastes will be prosecuted and held accountable for their actions.”

    This case was investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division, and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.

     Davina Marraccini (EPA|William C. Lamar (DOJ)

    DEP Launches ‘Recycling Selfie’ Challenge

    Submit photos to the DEP Facebook page for a chance to win state park passes~

    The Florida Department of Environmental Protection wants to see how you recycle. Submit a selfie to our Facebook page between Nov. 5 and Nov. 25 and “like” the page to be entered to win four state park entrance passes. In your selfie, show us how you recycle – the more creative the better. We would love to see all forms of recycling, from re-purposing water bottles to decorating with shoe boxes.

    To submit your selfie, send it in a private message to the DEP Facebook page. We will post the pictures we receive online daily.

    At the end of the month, all submissions will be entered into a random drawing to determine the winners. Participants can boost their chances of winning by submitting multiple selfies over the course of the month, but only one photo per day will be entered into the drawing.

    Different ways to recycle include:

    • Refilling plastic water bottles;
    • Reusing materials to create home decorations/school projects;
    • Buying recycled material; and
    • Reusing boxes from purchases.

    For more information or to participate in the event visit the DEP Facebook page here.

    WHAT: “Recycling Selfie” Challenge

    WHEN:   Nov. 5 – 25

    WHERE: Florida DEP Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/FLDEP

    latashawalters|Nov. 6, 2014

    Miscellaneous

    10 Scenic National Park Drives (Slideshow)

    Deadly Fungus Could Snuff Out Salamanders

    A new study in Science documents a terrifying threat to salamanders across the globe: a lethal, skin-eating fungus related to the killer chytrid fungus that has devastated frog populations.

    The fungus, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, is sweeping through salamander populations in Europe — practically wiping out the Netherlands’ fire salamanders, for example. Imports of infected animals from Europe (which are already extensive) could spell disaster for our own nearly 200 U.S. native salamanders. The fungus kills these delicate creatures by eroding their skin and exposing them to fatal bacterial infections, and it’s especially deadly for newts, several species of which live in the United States. One of those, the striped newt of Florida and Georgia, is already a candidate for Endangered Species Act protection.

    Once this gruesome fungus enters wild populations, it’ll be nearly impossible to stop the spread. The Center and other groups are calling for the Fish and Wildlife Service to suspend all salamander imports into the United States unless they’re certifiably fungus-free.

    Center for Biological Diversity

    Read more and watch videos at the Christian Science Monitor.

    The movement for environmental rights is building

    The idea of a right to a healthy environment is getting traction at Canada’s highest political levels. Federal Opposition MP Linda Duncan recently introduced “An Act to Establish a Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights” in Parliament. If it’s passed, our federal government will have a legal duty to protect Canadians’ right to live in a healthy environment.

    I’m travelling across Canada with the David Suzuki Foundation’s Blue Dot Tour to encourage people to work for recognition of such a right — locally, regionally and nationally. At the local level, the idea of recognizing citizens’ right to live in a healthy environment is already taking hold. Richmond and Vancouver, B.C., The Pas, Manitoba, and the Montreal borough of Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie all recently passed municipal declarations recognizing this basic right.

    Our ultimate goal is to have the right to a healthy environment recognized in the Constitution’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and a federal environmental bill of rights is a logical precursor. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms itself was preceded by a federal statute, the Bill of Rights, enacted under Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservative government in 1960.

    This isn’t a partisan issue. It appeals to people across the political spectrum and has broad support among Canadians. An earlier attempt to pass a Canadian environmental bill of rights (also led by Linda Duncan) gained the support of MPs from various parties before its passage through Parliament was interrupted by the 2011 federal election. In France, conservative leader Jacques Chirac championed the idea of environmental rights during his presidency. After more than 70,000 French citizens attended public hearings, the Charter for the Environment was enacted in 2005 with support from all political parties.

    I’ve seen so many positive changes in our legal systems and social safety net in my 78 years — including adoption of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982. My family was incarcerated in the B.C. Interior during the Second World War, just for being of Japanese descent, even though we were born and raised in Canada. Like other people of color, my parents didn’t have the right to vote until 1948. First Nations people on reserves couldn’t vote until 1960. And women weren’t even considered “persons” under Canadian law until 1918, when they were given voting rights. Homosexuality was a crime punishable by prison until 1969! I’m convinced that legal recognition for environmental rights will be the next big change.

    Progress is possible when enough people recognize its necessity and come together to make it happen. Protecting our country and planet, our health and the future of our children and grandchildren is absolutely necessary. We can’t live and be well without clean air and water, nutritious food and the numerous services that diverse and vibrant natural environments provide.

    Even in Canada, where our spectacular nature and abundant water are sources of pride, we can no longer take these necessities for granted. More than 1,000 drinking-water advisories are in effect in Canada at any time, many of them in First Nations communities. More than half of us live in areas where air quality reaches dangerous levels of toxicity. And from Grassy Narrows and Sarnia’s Chemical Valley in Ontario to Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, people are being poisoned because industrial interests and profits are prioritized over their right to live healthy lives.

    It’s not about hindering industry; it’s about ensuring that companies operating in Canada, as well as our governments, maintain the highest standards and that human health and well-being are always the priority. Evidence shows strong environmental protection can benefit the economy by spurring innovation and competitiveness and reducing health-care costs. This is about giving all Canadians greater say in the democratic process and looking out for the long-term prosperity of Canada.

    More than half the world’s nations already recognize environmental rights. It’s time for Canada to live up to its values and join this growing global movement.

    There’s no date yet for a vote on Bill C-634, but its introduction has started a conversation among politicians in Ottawa. Let’s hope people from across the political spectrum will recognize the importance of ensuring that all Canadians have the right to a healthy environment.

    By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

    In Memoriam

    Ruth Campbell. My loving wife of nearly 53 years, Ruth Ann Jeanette Campbell entered peaceful eternity November 3rd, 2014, after a protracted battle with multi-drug resistant infections of the kidneys and liver. She was my life’s partner, my business partner and a loving mother to our 2 sons. Anything I am or ever will be is because of her. I will miss her deeply.

    Environmental Links

    SFAS International Wildlife News Audubon Advocate Audubon Restore Eco-Voice South Florida Wildlife Care Center Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital The Turtle Hospital The Marathon Wild Bird Center Climate change info Audubon’s Coastal Strand Audubon of Florida News Blog Bioenergy News Climate Progress – climate science, politics and solutions Collins Center for Public Policy Comprehensive Everglades Restoration News EcoWatch – feeds from the WaterKeeper Alliance Everglades Foundation – press releases Everglades Hub Fort Myers News – Press Green Front Pages from Florida Newspapers Herald Tribune Newspapers –  Environmental News 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

    So sad

    On the afternoon of Monday, November 3rd,  I lost my loving wife of nearly 53 years, after a protracted battle with multi-drug-resistant infections of the kidneys and liver.

    Ruthie was my child bride, my life partner and my business partner and a doting mother to our 2 sons. She was a talented professional chef and artist, combining her talents as a garde-mange chef at the Weston Hills Country Club for several years before retiring.

    Anything I am today or ever will be, is because of her. I will miss her deeply.

     

    Grant Campbell

    Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

    ConsRep 1014 C

    Why are ecologists and environmentalists so feared and hated? This is because in part what they have to say is new to the general public, and the new is always alarming. Garrett Hardin

    Announcements

    Public Webinar to Review RESTORE Act Projects

    Join the online presentation on Wednesday, October 22.

    On Wednesday, October 22, from 6pm to 8pm EST, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)

    and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will host a online public webinar focusing on oil spill restoration projects.

    Florida officials are in the process of identifying project proposals that qualify for “pot 2” of RESTORE Act money, controlled by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council.

    This Council, comprised of federal agencies and the five Gulf states, will control 30% of RESTORE funds, to be used to restore the Gulf and protect natural resources.

    This is your chance to get the very latest about Gulf Coast restoration in Florida. You are encouraged to attend this virtual meeting.

    Registration is required, please click here to visit the webinar website.

    A brief presentation by Justin Ehrenwerth, executive director of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, will open the program.

    For more information, please click here to see an article about this webinar from the Pensacola News Journal.

    Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve Offers Wading Trips Through the Estuary

    ~Participants learn about ‘cradles of the ocean’ during unique adventure~

    Participants will get an up-close look at wildlife in Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve.

    Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve will host its final wading trip of 2014 in November, inviting visitors to discover first-hand why estuaries are known as “cradles of the ocean.”

    Now open for registration, the trip is scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon on Nov. 5.

    The trip will be led by environmental specialists from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve (EBAP).

    Participants will take a refreshing journey into the waters of the bay, wading into mudflats and seagrass beds at low tide to find many of the plants and animals that call this estuary home.

    Dip nets and seine nets will be provided for participants to collect organisms such as fish, shrimp, crabs and snails, which will be placed in buckets or magnifiers for a closer look.

    Participants will be required to wear closed-toe shoes that can get wet, such as old tennis shoes or diving booties, and a swimsuit or shorts.

    This trip is free of charge, but registration is required. Call EBAP at 239-463-3240 for more information and to sign up.

    WHAT:    Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve Wading Trip

    WHEN:    Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014, 10 a.m. – noon

                                              WHERE:  Call Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve for directions (239-463-3240)

    latashawalters|Oct. 21, 2014

    Arthur R Marshall Foundation for the Everglades Presents:

    Family-Friendly Fun in the Everglades
    Join the Marshall Foundation team for the Annual Cypress Seed Harvest and Trail Cleanup at the ARM Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, 10216 Lee Road, Boynton Beach, on Saturday, October 25th from 9 a.m. to 12 noon.

    As your family, scout troop or youth group joins the fun of hunting for and harvesting cypress seeds, the natural riches of the Everglades will surround you.

    You will see herons and egrets, alligators, turtles, and so much more! The seeds you harvest will eventually become cypress trees that filter our water and protect the future of the Everglades.

    As you search for seeds, you’ll be protecting the Everglades by helping to clear its trails. If your teenagers need service hours, the Cypress Harvest is a great solution. For more information, and to register, click here.

    Call for Cypress Seed Harvest Team Leaders
    We are in need of additional Team Leaders. Leaders are responsible for guiding groups of volunteers safely through the refuge to harvest seeds, remove exotic plants and clean up trails.

    If you are interested in becoming a team leader for the event, please email our volunteer coordinator at volunteer@artmarshall.org.

    Cruising the Intracoastal – The 2014 River of Grass Gala December 6, 2014
    The Marshall Foundation is launching its 10th holiday gala aboard the beautifully appointed, 170 foot Lady Windridge this year.

    We would love to have you join us for a glorious evening cruise on the Intracoastal highlighted by memorable water views of twinkling holiday lights.

    There are still sponsorships remaining for you and your friends.

    Don’t miss this opportunity for a fabulous evening of food, music by Monique McCall and Jeff Taylor, a very special live auction, and fun with friends on the water.

    Dust off your yachting attire and board beginning at 6 p.m.

    You will enjoy an unforgettable evening as your sponsorship benefits the Marshall Foundation’s education programs, and brings your sponsorship dollars a one-to-one match from the Batchelor Foundation.

    To learn more about how you can join us aboard the Lady Windridge see here.

    NEW! Everglades Speaker’s Bureau Now Online
    The Marshall Foundation is available for presentations to your club or organization.

    Learning more about the Everglades is important to everybody living in South Florida.

    Crucial issues like Everglades restoration and protection, water policy, advocacy and the impact of Sea Level Rise are among the most critical ongoing discussions happening right now!

    The Everglades needs our attention! Contact the Marshall Foundation and schedule a presentation today.

    Spotlight on a Marshall Foundation Star
    Bonnie Lazar, this year’s River of Grass Gala Chair, is a tireless crusader for the Everglades and for the Marshall Foundation’s social events and fundraising efforts.

    Her status as a longstanding Ambassador of the Everglades proves her generosity and commitment to the cause of environmental education, Everglades restoration and protection.

    Bonnie says, “I invite all my fellow Marshall Foundation fans to make a stretch gift for environmental education this year. The beautiful Gala Cruise will be our thank you for your generosity.”

    Although her busy schedule means she is rarely able to relax and enjoy it, Bonnie loves her home in West Palm Beach and its ocean views.

    She is a busy member of the Realtors Association, who began her career New York State, and her affiliation with the Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches in 2001.

    Bonnie is currently past president of the Regional Multiple Listings Service.

    In addition to championing the Marshall Foundation in her spare time, Bonnie is vice president of the West Palm Beach Lions Club and a member of the board of directors for Executive Women of the Palm Beaches.

    We are very grateful to Bonnie for her support and leadership of our 2014 River of Grass Gala.

    • October 25 – Annual Cypress Seed Harvest & Trail Cleanup
    • December 6 – River of Grass Gala – Lady Windridge Yacht, Launching from West Palm Beach

    For information about upcoming events visit artmarshall.org or call 561-233-9004.

    We look forward to greeting you in the coming months.

    ~Ann E. Paton|Editor

    Everglades National Park seeks comments on Environmental Assessment for updated Fire Management Plan

    I am pleased to announce the availability of an Environmental Assessment (EA) for an updated Fire Management Plan (FMP).   The National Park Service (NPS) is updating the park’s FMP due to changes in federal fire management policies which have evolved since the last FMP EA was prepared in 1991 and the last FMP update in 1995. The NPS invites public comments on the FMP EA though November 25, 2014.

    The 2014 FMP EA evaluates two alternatives for the implementation of a comprehensive fire program including wildland fire response, fire protection, and fuels management utilizing prescribed fire treatments.  The proposed fire management plan supports National Park Service goals to restore fire’s natural role in the ecosystem. Both alternatives include a continuation of active management of fire and fuels within Everglades National Park. The main difference between the alternatives is the manner in which prescribed fire treatments are planned and where they would occur. 

    The preferred alternative, Alternative B- updated FMP, includes a multi-year fuels treatment plan that calls for prescribed fires to be planned and implemented on a multi-year rotation of fuels treatments (see Appendix C). Prescribed fires would take place in wilderness and non-wilderness areas. The prescribed fire treatments would be prioritized annually based on public safety and ecological goals.

    In Alternative A, current management, fire management would continue under the 1995 FMP.  Prescribed fire treatments would be planned and approved on an annual basis.  Since the 1995 FMP and its associated EA are out of date, prescribed fire treatments are limited to only two types of prescribed fires that are currently authorized under National Environmental Policy Act Categorical Exclusions (CEs).  Prescribed fires authorized under CEs include treatments to reduce hazardous fuel build-up and treatments to manage exotic plants.  Hazardous fuel reduction treatments would be limited to areas outside of designated wilderness and a maximum of 4,500 acres annually until completion of a new FMP EA, or until April 2015 when hazardous fuel reduction fires will no longer be allowed under a CE.  Exotic vegetation treatments would occur in wilderness and non-wilderness areas.

    Wildfire response remains unchanged in both alternatives; however, Alternative B accommodates advancements in wildlife management and allows for adapting to changes in fire policy and emerging scientific knowledge.

    The FMP EA analyzes the effects of fire management actions on the natural and human environment. It also assesses the effects of fire management on cultural resources in accordance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.
    We welcome public input on this project and encourage you to review the EA and submit comments through the NPS’s Planning, Environment, and Public Comment website:

    http://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectID=19541

    You may also mail or hand-deliver written comments to:

    Brien Culhane                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Planning and Compliance Office                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Attn:  Fire Management Plan EA                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Everglades National Park                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  40001 State Road 9336                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Homestead, FL 33034        

    A limited number of compact disk(CDs) of the FMP EA are available upon request by contacting Everglades National Park at 305-242-7700.

    All comments must be received or postmarked by November 25, 2014.

    For more information or questions, contact Rick Anderson, Fire Management Officer, at 305-242-7853 or rick_anderson@nps.gov

    Exploring Alaska’s Coastal Wilderness

    Date: May 30 – June 6, 2015

    NPCA Member Price From: $6,290 per person

    Are you looking for a distinctive way to see the Alaskan coastline and Glacier Bay National Park?

    Then join NPCA on the Exploring Alaska’s Coastal Wilderness journey next June onboard the 62-guest National Geographic Sea Bird with Lindblad Expeditions.

    The National Geographic Sea Bird will take you where others can’t go with the experts who know Alaska best.

    This intimate journey features:

    • Unique access to Glacier Bay National Park with unparalleled views of the area’s magnificent scenery.
    • Naturalist-led wildlife viewing in search of bald eagles, harbor seals, humpback whales, orcas, puffins, and sea lions.
    • Opportunities to kayak and spend time in an expedition landing craft to get even closer to iconic wildlife.
    • Free round-trip airfare from Seattle if you book by December 31.

    Want to see even more of Alaska’s national parks?

    Then be sure to check out the optional seven-day post-tour land extension to Denali National Park.

    Due to high demand, our spaces on this Alaska small-ship journey will only be held until November 7.

    So please visit our online trip page, or contact us at 800.628.7275 or travel@npca.org, as soon as possible if you have any questions or want to reserve space on this extraordinary tour.

    See you in the parks!

    Ben Sander|Travel Program Manager

    P.S. Here’s one more great reason to travel with us:

    Every time you join a ParkScapes tour, a percentage of the proceeds helps support NPCA’s work to protect our national parks for current and future generations.

    Of Interest to All

    Bird Regains Sight After First-Ever Falcon Cataract Surgery

    For the first time ever, a falcon has undergone eye surgery to remove cataracts and has received new synthetic lenses.

    Banner is a 4-year-old lanner falcon who lives at the New Hampshire School of Falconry in Deering. She has had cataracts in each eye for nearly two years, and hasn’t been able to fly or hunt for the past two years.

    Help finally arrived for the bird three weeks ago. On September 29, a veterinary team at Caves Animal Hospital in Deering carefully drugged her, and for each eye, cut into her cornea, removed the cloudy protein and implanted a uniquely designed artificial lens, and sewed her cornea shut again.

    Banner was under the knife for about an hour, in the care of veterinary ophthalmologist Ruth Marrion, who performed the surgery. The procedure went off perfectly, reported The Concord Monitor. Marrion was one of several people who donated their services to help Banner.

    A team of specialists from around the world designed the artificial lenses that were placed in Banner’s eyes. Canadian ophthalmology equipment manufacturer I-Med made the lenses and donated them to the surgical team in New Hampshire. The lenses themselves are only about six millimeters wide.

    When a cataract is removed, so is the lens, so vision will be blurry unless a manufactured lens is implanted.

    Banner will need anti-inflammatory eye drops for a few weeks to make sure her eyelids don’t become too irritated by the sutures in her corneas. Hmmm — I wonder how easy it is to put eye drops into a falcon’s eyes?

    Banner obviously has special connections that enable her medical condition to receive the best possible care, but what happens to other animals and birds who are suffering?

    Animal and bird hospitals, staffed by veterinarians, are pretty common, and mostly deal with domesticated animals. For example, each day 70,000 puppies and kittens are born in the U.S. As long as these birth rates continue there will not be enough homes for these animals. As a result, every year four to six million animals are euthanized. These hospitals may also perform surgery for cancer, soft-tissue surgery and orthopedic surgery.

    Zoos also have their own medical facilities to take care of their animals. The Wildlife Conservation Society plays an active role in caring for zoo and aquarium animals, as their website explains:

    “From baby wellness exams to geriatric care, our zoo and aquarium animals receive routine health check-ups throughout their lives. Our wildlife health specialists also conduct research to improve animal care in new and innovative ways. When necessary, they perform surgeries and treatments on many kinds of animals—perhaps a root canal for a tiger, an eye exam for a frog, even acupuncture for a camel.”

    But what about creatures that are out in the wild? These animals can get hurt too, but most of the time it’s worse for them, since they don’t belong to anybody. So there’s usually no one to pay a veterinarian to take care of them. That’s where wildlife rehabilitators come into the picture: to take care of hurt or orphaned wild animals. These experts have special training and, in the United States, have to be specially licensed by each state and the federal government in order to do this.

    Wildlife rehabilitators are like the ambulance team that first sees accident victims and treats them for shock and immobilizes fractures so they don’t get any worse before the doctor can see them. They may take blood and analyze it, look for parasites and treat them, give shots or other medications, clean wounds and bandage them.

    They also work very closely with veterinarians, who take the x-rays and perform any necessary surgery, but there are so many wild animals that get hurt every year that often there just aren’t enough veterinarians to treat them.

    So Banner, you are one lucky falcon. Here’s to a swift recovery from your operation!

    Judy Molland|October 21, 2014

    DEP and Collier County Enter Into Agreement on Dan A. Hughes Enforcement

    ~Collaborative approach strengthens efforts to protect Collier County residents~

    Today, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) finalized a stipulated agreement with Collier County, clearing the way for the county to join DEP in its lawsuit against the Dan A. Hughes Company. The lawsuit, filed in July, requests the court’s enforcement of the requirements under the Consent Order between DEP and the Dan A. Hughes Company and seeks monetary penalties in excess of $100,000 as a result of the company violating the terms of the Consent Order and other regulations.

    “We applaud the county’s collaborative approach and are committed to working jointly with them in holding the Dan A. Hughes Company accountable,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “I have a deep appreciation for the critical role local government plays in protecting the health, safety and welfare of Florida’s residents and the environment.”

    In keeping with the intent of this agreement, DEP has already begun work at its own expense on numerous additional protective measures to ensure residents are safe. Efforts currently underway include:

    • DEP has drilled shallow groundwater monitoring wells near the Collier-Hogan site and continues to monitor them for contamination.
    • DEP has hired a team of independent third-party experts approved by the county and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida – ALL Consulting of Tulsa, Oklahoma – who have begun a full assessment of the activities that took place at the Collier-Hogan well.
    • DEP has initiated a thorough investigation of the flowback material produced at the Collier-Hogan well to ensure the material was treated and disposed of properly.
    • At the end of this month, DEP will begin work to install a deep groundwater monitoring well to the base of the underground source of drinking water (approximately 1,850 feet).

    A copy of the stipulated agreement can be found here.

    To access Secretary Vinyard’s Sept. 12 letter to Collier County, click here.

    latashawalters|Oct. 21, 2014

    Florida population surging again

    For young job-seekers, South Florida has become a hip beach-side destination

    Florida’s foreign-born population increased by 140,000 from 2010 through 2013

    People from other countries and other states are pouring into Florida again, a sign of the state’s recovery from a long period of economic doldrums and slow growth.

    Recently released U.S. Census numbers show that Florida’s foreign-born population increased by 140,000 from 2010 through last year. And movement within the United States left Florida with a net gain of 105,000 residents last year and 109,000 in 2012 — 84 percent more than in the previous two years.

    The population surge has accelerated this year, according to state estimates, growing at a rate of about 700 new residents a day. That’s a healthy increase, though still less than the big migrations during the Sunbelt boom of past decades.

    For many job seekers, South Florida has become a hip beachside destination with a nexus of entrepreneurs, investors, a big consumer market and a gateway to Latin America.

    “You are getting a lot of young professionals and a buzz starting to happen down here,” said 23-year-old Shea O’Donnell, who moved in August from Seattle to Fort Lauderdale fresh out of college. She landed a job last week for a new company that promotes a mobile-device app for finding parking.

    “When you launch successful startups, it feeds the ecosystem, and that brings in more young professionals and investors,” she said. “So you rock as a community, because you’re putting something back in. There’s a huge potential here.”

    Older transplants from the North, frozen in place by the Great Recession, say the recent recovery makes it easier to sell their homes — or come up with enough money to buy a second home — and make that long-awaited move to sunny Florida.

    “From a financial standpoint, a year earlier would have been ideal, but we weren’t ready at that time,” said Donna Nahum, 54, of Cherry Hill, N.J., who bought a condo in Boca Raton as a second home. “My husband is in commercial real estate, so we had a few leaner years. I feel like we may not have gotten in on the lowest part of the real estate market in Florida, but we got in while it’s on the rise.”

    In the decades following World War II, Florida’s population had been growing by as much as a thousand a day, fueling a construction boom.

    But the Florida dream of owning a home in semi-tropical paradise was badly shaken by a sharp rise in property taxes and a batch of hurricanes in 2004 and 2005 that raised insurance rates. A housing crisis in 2007, marked by a plunge in home values and widespread foreclosures, led to double-digit unemployment rates, a financial meltdown and the Great Recession.

    Immigration from abroad and migrations from the North slowed to a trickle. According to state estimates, Florida gained just 75,000 people from July 2008 through June 2009. Five years later, in the 12 months ending in June 2014, the population shot up by 253,000.

    “What you are seeing is pent-up demand,” said Mason Jackson, CEO of CareerSource Broward, a job-placement service. “People are saying, ‘I can move now. I want to go where it’s warm. And I might be able to find a job there more easily than before.'”

    A fierce winter in much of the North early this year helped motivate people to follow the traditional pathway to Florida.

    “We’re getting a big influx of people from the Northeast again. The harsh winter has really caused a lot of people to re-think where they want to live,” said Kim Bregman, buyer agent for Optima Properties, a real estate and relocation service based in Boca Raton. “And more people are able to work in a virtual [computer-linked] office, so they are able to live here and continue to work regardless of where their main job may be.

    “Miami is on fire, and it moves up the coast. People are coming from Brazil, Venezuela, Israel. I just put in an offer, sight-unseen, from an investor in China. The world still sees Florida real estate as a good investment.”

    Partly as a result, the state’s foreign-born population reached 3.8 million in 2013, a 140,000 increase from 2010, according to a compilation of census numbers by the Center for Immigration Studies, an advocacy group in Washington.

    “The high [tourist] season is coming, so people are hiring now, in hotels and resorts, in the kitchen and housekeeping,” said Sandro Cristian Arotinco, 37, who moved from Peru in January and got a job this month as a chef at a Fort Lauderdale beach resort.

    “We are not rich,” he said, “but are living in a nice way.”

    All these trends have made it possible for Florida to resume its traditional role as a magnet for people who seek warm weather and a leisurely lifestyle.

    “When the weekends come, it’s like vacation — palm trees and a beach,” said O’Donnell, the transplant from drizzly Seattle. “I’m not used to that. I think I’m adjusting just fine.”

    William E. Gibson, Washington Bureau|Sun Sentinel|October 20, 2014

    Calls to Action

    1. Save the Arctic refuge for birds and wildlifehere
    2. Tell President Obama and his administration to step up and clamp down on methane – here
    3. Give panthers a brakehere
    4. Audubon’s Top Ten Tips to Protect Beach Birdshere
    5. South Africa- Call Off the Rhino Auctionhere
    6. Help Save Utah’s Greater Canyonlands – here 

    Birds and Butterflies

    Birds and Warming: It’s Personal

    Among the 314 North American bird species threatened by climate change are avian residents of every state. Nine state birds, including the Baltimore Oriole, Common Loon and Brown Pelican, are threatened in the states that have adopted them, and some could disappear locally. Use our local effects calculator to see which birds in your state are threatened and just how bad things might get for each affected species.
    Search your state.→
    State birds in trouble.→

    Starlings on Prozac: It’s a Real Problem

    Concern over the amount of antidepressants we’re using as a society has grown in recent years, but new research suggests that it’s not just humans that are being impacted by this, but also our bird populations too.

    A research team from York University, England became interested in what effect antidepressants might have on birds when they inadvertently ingest trace amounts by feeding on worms that have digested human waste.

    To do this, the team measured the level of the common antidepressant Prozac, which is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), that could be found in earthworms living in sewage work sites where birds will often go to feed. In terms of human dosage, the amount of the drug was very small at about just three to five percent, but that was still significant enough to warrant further investigation.

    As such, the research team fed Prozac-carrying worms to 24 captive European starlings to gauge their reactions compared to a group of control birds who were fed worms who didn’t carry the drug. What the researchers found was interesting for a number of reasons.

    For one, the birds passively given Prozac quickly began to display reduced appetites, eating much less but snacking throughout the day. Of itself this behavior isn’t necessarily bad, but in the wild it would put a huge amount of strain on a starling and, come winter time, would probably lead to starvation because it would cause them to miss the prime foraging times of daybreak and sunset.

    The researchers also found that the starlings who passively ingested Prozac were less likely to show an interest in mating — that has obvious implications for overall starling numbers.

    One other thing the researchers tested was whether the passive dose of Prozac affected the starlings’ mood. They tested this by measuring boldness, or how the birds reacted when a new object was introduced into their environment. Due to the fact that there are a lot of variables in measuring boldness and anxiety levels, and the fact that you can’t just ask the birds how they’re feeling, the researchers can’t give a definitive answer on this yet, but it seemed that Prozac didn’t make the birds more bold or relaxed, or have impact on mood at all.

    Now it may be this wasn’t a task that carried enough stress to elicit a measurable response, and the researchers are keen to look at this more, but it might be that avian brains are different enough from human brains that SSRIs don’t change their behavior in the same way as they do in humans.

    In the UK, starling numbers have fallen sharply, with a 66 percent decline in Britain since the mid-1970s. A number of reasons have been offered for this, but until now antidepressant use among humans has not been on the radar.

    In recent years, antidepressant use has increased across Europe, creating a number of media scare stories. However, there is evidence that of itself this increase might not be a bad thing: taking a look at national figures, we’ve seen a decline in overall suicide rates. As such, we might say antidepressants are appropriate. If we accept this, the question then becomes how we stop our antidepressant use affecting other animals.

    Lead researcher Dr. Kathryn Arnold has said that this research shouldn’t be seen as an attack on Prozac, but rather a call toward further research on this important issue.

    “I’m not saying that if you’re depressed, don’t take Prozac. Sewage treatment works are really good sources of food for birds. We’re certainly not saying they should be covered over. Science needs to deliver better estimates of the environmental risks posed by pharmaceuticals. The effects we’ve measured so far are quite subtle. These aren’t big die-offs but they could have a negative impact on wildlife. We need to find out whether they are. It’s going to get worse so we need to get a handle on it.”

    It’s important to put these findings in a proper context as well. The researchers aren’t saying that Prozac use might be solely responsible for the decline in starlings, but are simply offering that it might be one factor that has gone unnoticed until now.

    Furthermore, this comes at a time when researchers are also busy studying the wider environmental effects our other commonly used medications might produce, for instance, what our over-use of antibiotics might be doing, particularly in marine environments where antibiotic resistance among marine bacteria could present real problems for marine species and for communities that rely on fishing as their main source of food and commerce.

    Once again, then, we are reminded that what we do for our own health can have a much broader impact on other species and our environment than we had perhaps realized.

    Steve Williams|October 22, 2014

      Invasive species

    Lionfish-reporting app successful, plus 250 users sporting new lionfish shirts

    See or catch a lionfish? Report it.

    That’s what many lionfish hunters have been doing, thanks to the new Report Florida Lionfish app. Released to the public May 28, the app has been downloaded by more than 2,500 people. The first 250 to successfully report their lionfish catch or sighting received an interactive Lionfish Control Team T-shirt. The logo on these shirts is designed to come to life on your smartphone.

    In addition to the app, data can also be submitted online at MyFWC.com/Lionfish by clicking on “Report Lionfish.”

    Lionfish are an invasive species that negatively impact Florida’s reefs and wildlife.

    The Report Florida Lionfish app includes educational information on lionfish and safe handling guidelines, as well as an easy-to-use data-reporting form so divers and anglers can share with the FWC information about their sighting or harvest. App users also can take and share a photo of their catch. These photos may be used in future publications or social media efforts. (Samples shown here: Kyle Huber with his lionfish, and Glen Hoffman’s big catch.)

    The FWC will use the data to help identify sites where targeted lionfish removal might be most beneficial. All data will be available to the public and shared with other groups and agencies collecting this kind of information.

    Several users have submitted ideas on how to improve the app, and the FWC is looking into implementing those changes, including allowing users to submit using a photograph that is already on their smart device and adding fields for smallest and largest catch.

    Learn more about the new app, T-shirt and interactive logo by watching a video online. Missed your opportunity to receive a Lionfish T-shirt? These shirts will also be given out at various lionfish-related events, such as derbies, across the state.

    Learn more about lionfish at www.MyFWC.com/Nonnatives; click on “Marine Life.”

    Amanda Nalley|August 20, 2014

    Video

    Endangered Species

    Plastic mistaken as food blocks up hawksbill turtle

    One of three turtles fighting for life after being found on Northland beaches appears to be slowly but surely moving in the right direction.

    The hawksbill, found in a critical condition near Baylys Beach on September 22, has a bowel blockage, probably caused by eating plastic debris it mistook for a jelly fish.

    X-rays show the messy mass is shifting, thanks to decent doses of laxatives being first administered at Auckland Zoo and now at Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life. The young male hawksbill has passed small pieces of plastic in the last few days and vets expect the bulk of the problem, a backlog of sand and debris, to pass within the week.

    That turtle was transferred from the zoo this week for ongoing care at Kelly Tarlton’s, where it joins another young hawksbill also found on Northland’s west coast in September. A green sea turtle rescued around the same time is still critically ill at Auckland Zoo, and its future hangs in the balance.

    “When Department of Conservation [DoC] staff brought these turtles down from Dargaville and Kaitaia, they were in a seriously bad way,” Auckland Zoo senior vet James Chatterton said.

    “They were all severely emaciated, dehydrated, suffering from bacterial infections and covered in algae and barnacles.”

    Dr Chatterton said the zoo and Kelly Tarlton’s team also worked together last year treating turtles that had ingested plastic.

    “It’s pretty distressing to see the impact we humans are having on marine life like this. A recent WWF report suggests 50 per cent of aquatic species have been lost in the past 40 years, with sea turtles one of the most affected, and significantly impacted by plastic in the ocean.”

    Hawksbill and green sea turtles, both endangered species, are generally found in warmer waters but can be washed up on to New Zealand’s shores during colder periods if they are weak and ill.

    Kelly Tarlton curator Andrew Christie said these turtles often mistook plastics and other rubbish for staple food such as jellyfish and sponges.

    “Once they swallow them, this causes a blockage and begins a slow, agonizing death,” Mr Christie said.

    If well enough, the turtles could be released back to the wild later this summer when the water off Northland’s coast has warmed.

    Lindy Laird|Oct 18, 2014

    Victory! World’s Largest Bat Colony Protected From Development

    The home and futures of up to 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats have been at the center of a controversy surrounding a proposed housing development for the past two years. Luckily, their advocates won a major victory this month.

    Every year these bats make their annual migration North from Mexico to Bracken Cave in central Texas to give birth and raise their young among the largest colony of bats in the world. Every evening from spring to fall, millions of them emerge from the cave to hunt night-flying insects in what’s been called one of the most vivid natural phenomena in North America. Not only do they offer an amazing sight to behold, but they provide us with a vital service.

    “For 10,000 years, Bracken Cave has been a sanctuary for millions of Mexican free-tailed bats. Bracken’s bats consume more than 100 tons of agricultural insect pests, mosquitoes and other insects each night, saving Texas farmers millions of dollars annually in reduced crop damage and lower pesticide use,” said Andrew Walker, executive director of Bat Conservation International (BCI). “It’s a true natural treasure.”

    While the cave and hundreds of acres of surrounding land are owned and protected by BCI, a proposed development project from Galo Properties that included plans to build nearly 4,000 homes just south of the cave on a property known as Crescent Hills  –  right in the flight path these bats travel twice a day – put their future in jeopardy.

    Bat and wildlife advocates raised concerns about how a housing development would lead to conflicts with humans, how activity in the area would threaten the bats’ survival, and how these problems would impact other wildlife, including endangered golden-cheeked warblers.

    Bracken also lies over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone, which raised concerns that the project could threaten the water supply in San Antonio and surrounding communities.

    Last week, those who have been fighting to protect Bracken’s bats, wildlife and water won a major victory when the San Antonio City Council approved a deal that will protect the 1,500 acre Crescent Hills property from any development in the future.

    “San Antonio is one of the fastest growing cities in the country, in part because of the vast natural resources of the region. It’s our responsibility to ensure we protect and conserve what makes this region incredibly special,” said Ron Nirenberg, San Antonio District 8 City Councilman.

    The city will now join public and private partnerships to purchase the property and authorized $10 million towards that goal as part of a conservation easement, while additional funds will also be coming from Bexar County, the Edwards Aquifer Authority and the U.S. Army.

    BCI and the Nature Conservancy, which will jointly own and manage the property, will cover the last $10 million and they’ve raised about half of it to date thanks to private donations.

    “Working to secure Crescent Hills was actually one of the more complex conservation deals we’ve done in San Antonio, but our collective efforts will result in incredible dividends: safeguarding Bracken Bat Cave, protecting the Edwards Aquifer and preserving important habitat for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler. It’s a conservation trifecta,” said Laura Huffman, Texas state director for The Nature Conservancy. “Once this contract closes, nearly 5,000 contiguous acres will be protected by the Conservancy and its partners. We’re practicing smart conservation on a scale that truly makes a difference.”

    For more information on how you can help, visit BCIBCI and The Nature Conservancy.

    Alicia Graef|October 21, 2014

    Only Six Northern White Rhinos are Left in the World

    The northern white rhino is in a perilous situation. Only seven existed in the world, but on Friday, that number was brought down to six when Suni, one of only two males who was of age to breed, was found dead in his pen.

    Although there have been no reports as to what caused the death, conservationists note that it wasn’t poaching. Living at the Ol Pejeta conservancy park in Kenya, he was 34 years old at the time of his death. Most northern white rhinos live up to 40-50 years, although it’s not unheard of for them to die in their mid-thirties.

    The situation gets even worse: even though there are six northern white rhinos left in the world, only three are able to breed. One male rhino and two females are the only hope this subspecies has left.

    Rhinos are notoriously difficult to handle when it comes to procreating. The females don’t reach sexual maturity until 6-7 years of age, while the males generally have to wait until they are 10-12. If they mate, offspring is not always produced. If the female does become pregnant, gestation can take up to a year and a half and only produces a single calf.

    In an interview with CNN, the conservationists at Ol Pejeta said they would persevere with their mating programs, “in the hope that our efforts will one day result in the successful birth of a northern white rhino calf.”

    The northern white rhino was indigenous to the East/Central African region, primarily located in South Sudan, Uganda, The Central African Republic and the DRC. However, poaching has put these animals in severe danger of extinction. Rhino horn, smuggled off the continent and shipped to Asia via illegal trade, is said to cure a number of ailments, despite the fact it is primarily made of keratin (i.e. not that different than your fingernail or hair).

    Although efforts are constantly made to curb illegal poaching, equipment and methods have become sophisticated, with many poachers better funded than the wildlife authorities that are sent to protect the animals.

    The conservancy released a statement after the death of Suni, calling the decrease in northern white rhinos, “a sorry testament to the greed of the human race.”

    The Ol Pejeta Conservancy also houses black rhinos and uses a number of anti-poaching methods to try to keep intruders at bay. Earlier this year, they launched the use of trained dogs to sniff out poachers. They note that dogs, unlike bullets, can weave around bushes and track poachers quickly and efficiently.

    The dogs are also given advanced protective gear to keep them safe. “[Poachers] are coming into the conservancy with AK-47 assault rifles and if we do actually come upon them or try to apprehend them, they will open fire every time on us,” said one of the conservationists.

    “So what we’re doing with the dogs is giving them the latest ballistic body armor which is stab-proof, kick and punch-proof and also ballistic to AK-47 with plates in it…And we are also giving them the latest FIDO head gear, which is a piece of camera equipment we put on their head which actually films as the dog is going in for the attack. It has night vision and also has a GPS system as well.”

    This will help ensure that the rhinos remaining at the conservancy are kept alive and well, while evoking a rather satisfying animal vs. poacher scenario.

    Yet for the northern white rhino, it may turn out to be a lost cause. Even if we do have a best case scenario and both remaining females give birth to calves, this will be a long, hard march and it will likely be decades before we see northern white rhino numbers above the double digits.

    Lizabeth Paulat|October 22, 2014

    Already close to extinction, last male white rhino capable of breeding dies in Kenya

    One of the last northern white rhinos on the planet has died in a reserve in Kenya, leaving the sub-species on the verge of extinction, experts said Saturday.

    The male, called Suni, “was probably the last male capable of breeding”, according to Dvur Kralove zoo in the Czech Republic, where the rhino was born in 1980.

    There are only six of the very rare rhinos left, having been hunted by poachers in central and east Africa for their horns, which are highly prized for traditional Chinese medicine.

    The Czech zoo is the only one in the world to have succeeded in breeding the sub-species in captivity.

    Suni — who is thought to have died from natural causes in the Ol Pejeta reserve — was one of two males and two females from Dvur Kralove zoo reintroduced into the wild in Kenya in 2009, in an operation dubbed “the last chance of survival”.

    It was hoped that the females’ hormones would normalize in the wild, but even attempts at assisted conception failed.

    “One can always believe in miracles but everything leads us to believe that hope they would reproduce naturally has gone,” the zoo’s spokeswoman Jana Mysliveckova told AFP.

    Sperm from the males born at Dvur Kralove has been conserved at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) in Berlin.

    Another pair of the rhinos, too old to reproduce, live at the Wild Animal Park in San Diego in the United States, with another aged female remaining at Dvur Kralove, close to the border with Poland.

    “The number of rhinos killed by poachers has increased incredibly in the past few years,” Mysliveckova said. “According to some scenarios, there will be no rhinos left in the wild in Africa in 10 years or so.”

    Agence France-Presse|18 Oct 2014

    Wealthy People Eat Endangered Pangolins as Status Symbol in Asia

    What drives someone to eat an endangered animal? For some, it might be the taste, but for many it seems to be the exclusivity. Knowing that an endangered animal’s meat is rare, expensive and illegal seems to be a main draw.

    That’s why pangolins seem to be winding up on so many plates in parts of Asia. Since this delicacy is too unaffordable for most people to order, richer individuals are gobbling up the threatened creature as a symbol of their elite status. One diner in Vietnam was spotted paying $700 for four pounds of cooked pangolin.

    Although eating pangolins is illegal, not much is being done to stop this practice. A reporter at Global Post visited a restaurant in Myanmar and observed how the business didn’t even attempt to conceal that it had pangolin on the menu. Signs advertised the dish and the building had a cage with some live pangolins to entice affluent customers. The waitress even recommended ordering pangolin, calling the meat “delicious.”

    It seems like poor pangolins can’t catch a break. The adorable and unusual-looking animal has already had its population decimated thanks to its use in traditional Eastern medicine. The animal is also hunted for its soft scaly skin, which similarly gets sold on the black market. On its current trajectory, the pangolin faces extinction, a fate that should be avoidable if they’re left off of restaurant menus.

    Unfortunately, the pangolin is not the only endangered creature that humans eat. It turns out a variety of cultures like to consume some of their most threatened species, though it certainly seems more egregious when done to show off to friends rather than to provide necessary nourishment.

    Growing awareness of illegal pangolin trade isn’t entirely beneficial in this particular case. Realizing the value of these creatures, poorer individuals in certain African countries have taken to snatching the remaining pangolins from the wild in order to earn some quick big bucks. This practice is already big in Asia – in Cambodia, someone who catches a pangolin alive can earn up to $400, meaning that a lot of disadvantaged people are actively on the hunt.

    While law enforcement agencies do arrest pangolin hunters, it’s generally only these desperate people at the bottom of the totem pole being caught. For the most part, no one is arresting the kingpins behind the illicit pangolin trade, something that will be necessary in order to sufficiently protect the mammal.

    To do its part, the Chinese government has increased pressure by threatening to jail those who consume endangered animals for a full decade. That’s a start, but in order to have a meaningful impact, China will need to do more to block the trade altogether – sign a petition to encourage China to boost their efforts and protect this vulnerable creature.

    Kevin Mathews|October 20, 2014

    Sign the petition to secure more protections for pangolins.

    Water Quality Issues

    Florida Utility Seeks Public Funds to Fight Clean-Water Rules

    Environmental groups object to Florida Power and Light’s request for public funds to fight Clean Water Act regulations

    October 22, 2014TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Today, Florida Power and Light (FPL) will appear before the state’s Public Service Commission to ask for Florida tax dollars to fund its efforts to fight an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal to close existing loopholes in the Clean Water Act. The utility is asking for almost $230,000 to fight the rules, which would affect regulation of cooling ponds at its plants in the state.

    Susan Glickman, state director, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, explains why her organization is asking the state to deny the power company’s request: “Water is our most precious resource, and to think that the utility would not only want to weaken water protections, but would want to use ratepayer money against our own interests is really outrageous.” An FPL spokesman says the additional regulation would cost the utility company millions of dollars it would ultimately have to pass on to consumers.

    The EPA is expected to issue a final decision on its proposal in November. If approved, it would reinstate rules placed in limbo after two Supreme Court rulings. The court’s decision impacted the protection of small streams and wetlands, which can be found throughout the state.

    George Cavros, energy policy attorney, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, says the intended purpose of the taxpayer funds for which FPL is applying is to help it comply with environmental regulations, not change them. “What’s different here is that Florida Power and Light, the biggest power company in the state, they are preemptively attacking a draft Clean Water protection rule – and that’s just simply not allowed under Florida law,” explains Cavros.

    Glickman says she hopes the state refuses the utility’s request for the money, bucking what she calls a historical trend. “Utilities seem to get, under this Public Service Commission, everything that they ask for, so why wouldn’t they ask for the moon and expect it?” she says. So, we can only hope that the Public Service Commission will understand that this is an outrageous request.” The Florida Public Service Commission is expected to make a decision on the funding request by the end of October.

    Stephanie Carson|Public News Service|October 2014

    Clean Water, a Smart Investment

    Why reduce pollution in local rivers and streams? A new report, commissioned by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, found that cleaning up local waterways in the Chesapeake Bay region would provide nearly $130 billion annually in economic benefits. That’s the estimated value of natural benefits like cleaner water, cleaner air, hurricane and flood protection, recreation, and fresh, healthy food and seafood.

    But 21 attorneys general from across the country have joined the American Farm Bureau Federation and others to try and stop efforts to restore water quality in the Chesapeake Bay region.

    The Chesapeake, just like other waterways around the country, suffers from vast dead zones, where the water has too little oxygen to support aquatic life. Those dead zones are created by nitrogen and phosphorus pollution.

    After years of failed commitments to restore water quality, the region’s states and the District of Columbia developed a Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. The plan includes pollution limits set jointly by the states and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, individual plans developed by each jurisdiction to achieve those limits, and two-year milestones that ensure transparency and accountability.

    And it is under attack, both in the courts and in Congress.

    Why? Critics like The Fertilizer Institute and the American Farm Bureau are suing in federal court to stop the blueprint. They have actually said that if we are successful, other parts of the country might have to reduce pollution too. In other words, if the blueprint improves the health of the bay, a similar effort could be coming to a watershed near them before too long. That’s a problem only if you fear clean water.

    The blueprint is working. Governments, businesses and individuals are rolling up their sleeves, working together, and making things happen to reduce pollution. Almost every sector of pollution is declining. Nature is responding and producing benefits for our health, the environment and our economy.

    The report, The Economic Benefits of Cleaning Up the Chesapeake, found that the benefits nature provides to us will increase in value by more than $22 billion, a 21 percent increase as a result of fully implementing the blueprint. And we will reap those added benefits every year.

    The peer-reviewed report, produced by economist Dr. Spencer Phillips and Chesapeake Bay Foundation water quality scientist Dr. Beth McGee, compared the value of those benefits in 2009, the year before the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint began being implemented, to the benefits that can be expected as a result of fully implementing the bay restoration plan.

    The report estimates that the value of natural benefits from the pre-blueprint bay watershed, even in its polluted and degraded condition, at $107 billion. Once the blueprint is fully implemented and the benefits realized, that amount grows by 21 percent to $129.7 billion a year. Equally telling, if the region relaxes efforts and does little more to clean up the bay than what has been done to date, pollution will worsen and the value of bay benefits will decline by almost $6 billion.

    The costs of inaction are serious. Think Toledo, where nitrogen and phosphorus pollution sparked a toxic algae bloom that contaminated the water supply. Residents were warned not to drink or have any physical contact with tap water.

    The report addressed benefits, not costs. While there are no recent estimates of the total costs of bay cleanup implementation, a 2004 estimate put costs in the range of roughly $6 billion per year. Considering federal, state, and local investments in clean water in the 10 years since that time, Chesapeake Bay Foundation estimates the current number is closer to $5 billion annually. And once capital investments are made, the long-term annual operations and maintenance costs will be much lower. The result—the blueprint will return benefits to the region each year at a rate of more than four times the cost of the cleanup plan.

    Clean water is important to the citizens of this region, and clean-up efforts have enjoyed the support of politicians of all stripes. While we are concerned about the opposition from national lobbying groups, we are confident that the Blueprint will succeed. The Chesapeake is the nation’s estuary, with Washington, DC at the center of the watershed. Failure to save the bay is not an option. So we ask, if not here, where? And if not now, when?

    William Baker|President|Chesapeake Bay Foundation|October 22, 2014

    Great Lakes & Inland Waters

    Why is Florida Reshaping an Entire River?

    Why in the world would Florida try to reshape the Kissimmee River? An ongoing attempt to give the river more “curves” seems both drastic and expensive – isn’t it best to leave Mother Nature alone?

    Actually, the current plan isn’t exactly messing with Mother Nature, explains NPR. If anything, it’s an attempt to put nature back to the way she was before human intervention 50 or so years ago. At that time, Florida officials decided to “straighten” the river by eliminating its natural curves in order to speed the waterway along for commercial interests. In the long term, though, the state realized the damage this plan had on the ecosystem.

    The Kissimmee River was originally modified to help drain the swamplands, but ultimately it did the job too successfully. As a result, in dryer periods, the area lacks the water necessary for humans and animals to comfortably survive. Additionally, several dams were constructed to control the flow; these, too, are now marked for destruction to help return the river to normal.

    Although there have been deliberate plans to reengineer rivers around the world, a project of this size has never been attempted previously. The plan will ultimately cost Florida more than $1 billion, but that cost seems worthwhile since the Kissimmee River is a main water source for 6 million people in the region. This move is especially important since experts already anticipate a major water shortage in Central Florida within another two decades.

    Despite still being another three years from completion, the early stages have already yielded noticeable improvements. Paul Gray, a prominent Florida conservationist, is already impressed with the progress. “Birds are back, both wading birds and ducks. They’re all over the place. The oxygen levels in the river are better. There’s a lot more game fish in the river like bass and bluegill and stuff. Most of the biological perimeters, the goals of the restoration we’ve already met.”

    Returning the river to its former slow, windy pathway is not conservationists’ only goal for the Kissimmee at the moment. Another ongoing effort includes getting the river’s water designated for protection in order to limit how much of it can be used for commercial interests. If environmentalists are able to establish a “water reservation,” that designation will similarly prevent the Kissimmee from drying out at certain points.

    The debate on that effort continues to rage on, with many expecting the upcoming local elections to determine how the issue will ultimately shake out. In the meantime, eco-activists and residents alike will have to take comfort in knowing their once majestic river is returning to its curved glory. Let this story be a lesson to other regions of the world – “fixing” nature isn’t always a great idea. In the end, you might just wind up wanting to “fix it” back.

    Kevin Mathews|October 22, 2014

    Offshore & Ocean

    Drive to Mine the Deep Sea Raises Concerns Over Impacts

    Armed with new high-tech equipment, mining companies are targeting vast areas of the deep ocean for mineral extraction. But with few regulations in place, critics fear such development could threaten seabed ecosystems that scientists say are only now being fully understood.

    Hydrothermal vents create rich mineral deposits that companies are eager to exploit. For years, the idea of prospecting for potentially rich deposits of minerals on the ocean floor was little more than a pipe dream.

    Extractive equipment was not sophisticated or cost-effective enough for harsh environments thousands of feet beneath the ocean’s surface, and mining companies were busy exploring mineral deposits on land. But the emergence of advanced technologies specifically designed to plumb the remote seabed— along with declining mineral quality at many existing terrestrial mines — is nudging the industry closer to a new and, for some environmentalists and ocean scientists, worrying frontier.

    More than two-dozen permits have been issued for mineral prospecting in international waters. And in April, after years of false starts, a Canadian mining company signed an agreement with the government of Papua New Guinea to mine for copper and gold in its territorial waters. That company, Nautilus Minerals, plans to begin testing its equipment next year in European waters, according to the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a regulatory agency established in 1994 under the auspices of the United Nations. A Nautilus spokesman, John Elias, said the plan is to award a construction contract in November for a specialized mining vessel. “All other equipment has been manufactured and is in final assembly,” he wrote in an email.
    Chief among critics’ concerns is that seabed mining will begin without comprehensive regulatory oversight and environmental review. They say dredging or drilling the seafloor could potentially obliterate deep-sea ecosystems and kick up immense sediment plumes, which could temporarily choke off the oxygen supply over large areas. And powerful international companies, they add, could take advantage of the lax or non-existent review and enforcement capabilities in many small island nations of the Pacific Ocean — precisely where seabed mineral deposits are thought to be highly concentrated.

    “Communities are concerned that our governments don’t know enough about the ecology or the implications” of seabed mining, said Maureen Penjueli, coordinator of the Pacific Network on Globalization, a Fiji-based non-profit that has tracked seabed prospecting in the region since 2009. “We haven’t seen much benefit from land-based mining, let alone fisheries or tourism — and here we are entering a new frontier.”
    But industry proponents say no extractive industry is free of environmental impacts, and that only a fraction of the seabed covered by exploration permits would actually be mined. Companies and governments, they say, are carefully studying both deep-sea ecosystems and emerging mining technologies in order to prevent or mitigate ecological damage.
    “We are committed to using ecologically sound, deep-seabed mineral recovery methods,” said Jennifer Warren, the regulatory director at
    UK Seabed Resources, a subsidiary of the U.S. defense giant Lockheed Martin’s British arm. “Toward that end, we are working closely with research institutions and scientists to understand any potential environmental impact of commercial recovery efforts.”

    Gaining that kind of understanding is a work in progress. As late as the 1950s, the deep sea was still viewed as a dark and barren place with little or no biodiversity worthy of protection. But in the 1960s, new sampling technologies prompted the discovery of new deep-sea species, and by the late 1970s, scientists had discovered bacteria that could thrive amid hydrothermal vents in deep, volcanically active regions. Those bacteria are turning out to be food for a number of “beautiful and strange” invertebrates, according to Cindy Van Dover, a marine biologist at Duke University. By the early 1990’s, scientists were speculating that the deep sea played host to as many as 10 million species of small invertebrates.
    It is amid this awakening to deep-sea biodiversity that interest in seabed mineral mining is heating up. While investing in seabed-mining operations remains comparatively expensive, “the equation is turning,” according to Michael W. Lodge, legal counsel with the ISA. “People are starting to think that upfront investment is worth it for the long term payoff.” The ISA has issued seven new seabed exploration permits this year, Lodge noted, bringing its global total to 26, stretching across an area of international waters roughly the size of Mexico.
    Nautilus Minerals’ planned operation in the territorial waters off Papua New Guinea, however, is widely expected to be the world’s first commercial-scale deep-seabed mine. Several neighboring countries have begun to issue export permits — and in some cases, are drafting seabed-specific mining legislation. New Zealand has also been weighing applications for two seabed mines in its waters, which would target iron sands and phosphate, respectively.

    In an email message, James Hein, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and the president of the International Marine Minerals Society, a non-profit organization linking industry, government, and academic institutions, suggested that the global rush to mine so-called “rare earth” elements – which are used to manufacture cellular phones, wind turbines, solar panels, electric cars and other applications – is a key driver in moving the industry forward.
    Other sought-after resources include sulfide minerals — a source of precious metals like silver, gold and copper — that accumulate around gaps in the seafloor where chemical-rich fluids leak into the ocean at temperatures nearing 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The Nautilus Minerals project in Papua New Guinea
    plans to mine a sulfide deposit by cutting the seabed with a remote-control machine that is 26 feet tall, 42 feet wide, and 55 feet long. According to the company, the ore will be extracted with an “associated suction mouth” and pumped to the surface — a distance of about a mile.
    Manganese nodules — palm-sized chunks of rock containing copper, nickel and cobalt — are also prized, and in shallower areas, mining companies plumb for rocks containing phosphates, a key ingredient in agricultural fertilizers. “The process itself is essentially a large vacuum cleaner on the end of a hose,” said Chris Castle of Chatham Rock Phosphate, the company behind the phosphate-mining
    application pending in New Zealand.
    Here and elsewhere, however, environmental battle lines are now being drawn. In June, a New Zealand court, citing environmental concerns, riled the mining industry by
    rejecting a proposed plan for an iron sands mine about 15 miles off the coast of the country’s North Island. The company behind the proposed mine, Trans-Tasman Resources, says it has spent over seven years and more than $50 million studying the potential impacts. An appeals hearing is scheduled for next March.

    Meanwhile, the New Zealand advocacy group Kiwis Against Seabed Mining has argued that the mines would pose risks to iconic mammals — including blue whales and Maui’s dolphins — that outweigh any potential economic benefits.
    Castle, Chatham Rock Phosphate’s project director, said the environmental impacts on the seabed would be far less than those that fishing trawlers regularly inflict. But Les Watling, a biology professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa,
    argued that sediment plumes from the phosphate mine could stress or kill an entire species of local coral, Goniocorella dumosa, leading to wider impacts because the coral’s branches are a habitat for smaller organisms. And Liz Slooten, a zoologist at New Zealand’s Otago University, said the sounds from seabed mining in that area could damage or destroy the hearing of blue whales, causing them to flee and perhaps even beach themselves.
    Ultimately, the exact impacts of deep-sea mining in New Zealand or beyond won’t be entirely clear until the mines actually open, said Phil Weaver, a geologist and the coordinator of a three-year project called
    Managing Impacts of Deep Sea Resource Exploitation, which launched in 2013 with a $11.4 million grant from the European Commission. “We need |to put in place some criteria and protocols which will at least try to control those impacts based on available information.”

    In March, the ISA began soliciting public comments for its first-ever Mineral Exploitation Code. A voluntary environmental code drafted by the International Marine Minerals Society in 2001 will inform the new ISA document, according to Hein, the society’s president. David Billett of Britain’s National Oceanography Centre, who sits on the ISA’s legal and technical commission, said environmental matters are “regularly raised” at the committee’s meetings, and that the ISA has strict guidelines for the sort of ecological data that prospective miners must collect along seabeds.
    Still, individual countries are free to choose their own regulatory approaches to seabed mining, and permits in the South Pacific have already been issued in waters that cover an area the size of Iran, according to the
    Deep Sea Mining Campaign, an international coalition of non-profit groups. A 2010 study in the journal Marine Policy said the “absence of a clearly defined regulatory regime” in international waters was encouraging seabed prospectors to pursue projects in territorial waters, where legal risks were smaller. It named Tonga and its neighbor Papua New Guinea as two countries that would struggle to balance economic development against the need to protect marine ecosystems.

    Environmental groups are watching carefully as the Nautilus Minerals project gathers speed in Papua New Guinea. The company says its mine will not contaminate coral or fisheries, and Jonathan Copley, a prominent marine ecologist at Britain’s University of Southampton, has said that the project’s design appears to be environmentally sensitive. Yet Nautilus and other international firms have other mining applications scattered across the South Pacific, and Van Dover of Duke University said scientists’ biggest concern is the cumulative impacts of multiple mines opening in the same area.
    “A single mining event — at the scale of a single hydrothermal vent field — would be no worse than the most extreme natural disturbance,” Van Dover said in an email message. “But multiple mining events in a region in a short period of time — i.e. within a decade — would be unwise without good environmental knowledge of the ability of the system to recover.”

    mike ives|October 20, 2014

    Time-Lapse Videos You Have to See to Believe

    Have you ever seen a coral reef move? When nine months’ worth of images are condensed into three minutes of sped-up footage, a seemingly stationary ecosystem comes alive with growth and change.

    Watch this video and three other amazing works of time-lapse photography to see fog that appears like a rushing river, glaciers that shrink in minutes, and forests that turn into cities. Some of these videos are beautiful representations of nature’s force; others are terrifying reminders of climate change. They all provide a perspective that needs to be seen.

    Forestry

    Mangrove Restoration Study Underway in Rookery Bay Reserve

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

    NAPLES — Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve has entered into a research partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey (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 flush 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 reestablish 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).

    Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve encompasses 110,000 acres of coastal lands and waters between Naples and Everglades National Park. It is managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Coastal Office in cooperation with NOAA.

    Press Releases|02 September 2014

    Read more about Fruit Farm Creek  

    ‘No forests, no cash': palm oil giants commit to sustainability, but will they follow through?

    Indonesia Chamber of Commerce plans to lobby for expansion of sustainable business practices

    Four of Indonesia’s largest palm oil producers signed a landmark commitment in New York in September to further implement sustainable practices across one of the country’s largest commercial sectors.

    Then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the Indonesia Chamber of Commerce (KADIN) witnessed the undertaking, which is hoped to expand the country’s palm oil industry while making it more environmentally friendly.

    Wilmar, Golden Agri Resources, Asian Agri and Cargill all signed on to the agreement. Although nonbinding, their commitments emphasized greener palm oil development policies, more social benefits for workers and further cooperation in forming an implementation mechanism for the pledge.

    World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia CEO Dr. Erfansjah was among those who lauded the gesture.

    “Amidst the grim pictures in the market of how oil palm development has been impacting forests and people, WWF believes the commitments presented today by the top palm oil leaders of industry and KADIN sheds light to the global market that Indonesia is seriously making step-wise journey towards sustainability in the ways palm oil is produced,” he said in a statement.

    Glenn Hurowitz, the chairman the Forest Heroes campaign, echoed this sentiment, saying that such pledges make significant waves on the international palm oil market.

    “Investors are increasingly wary of providing finance to companies engaged in deforestation,” he said. “The message is clear: no forests, no cash.”

    Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil, a commodity that can be found in a variety products ranging from cooking oil to shampoo. Although it is important for Indonesia’s economy, the country’s palm oil sector has also contributed to Indonesia’s status as the world’s biggest deforester in terms of annual rate. According to Global Forest Watch data, Indonesia lost more than two million hectares of forest cover in 2012 alone, of which 840,000 hectares was primary, natural forest.

    Furthermore, slash and burn land clearing tactics associated with palm oil plantations spur a yearly haze on Indonesia’s island of Sumatra. The smog, stemming mostly from palm oil-rich provinces such as Riau, has at times completely blanketed local communities as well as neighboring countries such as Singapore. Singapore recently passed a measure to hold both foreign and domestic companies responsible for creating haze that has at times choked the city-state for weeks at a time.

    While all of the companies in question had previous policies aimed at reducing deforestation, this newest pledge is significant due to KADIN’s participation. Though many of its member corporations have yet to adopt green policies, the body has stated openly that it will now lobby the Indonesian government to expand sustainable business practices.

    “KADIN has recognized the potential global demand for deforestation-free palm oil,” Greenpeace Indonesia forest campaigner Annisa Rhamawati told mongabay.com. “While the signatory companies have their own individual policies with timelines and detailed implementation plans, the KADIN pledge presents a challenge to other palm companies to turn their destructive practices into zero deforestation policies.”

    However, Greenpeace noted in its press statement that while Cargill, Golden Agri and Wilmar are actively “taking steps to ensure that their operations and supply chains no longer contribute to deforestation, peatland destruction and social conflict,” the fourth signatory has yet to prove to the international community that they are doing the same.

    Asian Agri is part of the Royal Golden Eagle Group, a conglomerate with longstanding ties to the Suharto regime run by Sukanto Tanoto. The group owns both Asia Pacific Resources International Ltd. (APRIL) and Toba Pulp Lestari — two firms that have lagged behind in sustainability commitments and have consistently been linked to heavy deforestation in Indonesia.

    “Greenpeace welcomes the commitment by another big Indonesian palm oil company to stop clearing forests and peat lands, but we regret that the Sukanto Tanoto’s RGE Group has failed to seize this opportunity to address all of the group’s impacts on the rainforests of Indonesia and to commit to support wider forest conservation initiatives,” said Bustar Maitar, Greenpeace’s global head of its Indonesian forest campaign. “If Mr. Tanoto was serious about forest protection he would be stopping the bulldozers immediately in Indonesia.”

    Attempts by mongabay.com to contact Asian Agri were unsuccessful.

    WWF’s Irwan Gunawan said that despite the nonbinding and individual nature of each commitment, he believes the global stage on which the agreement was made will force the companies to make great leaps toward sustainable practices.

    “For the companies and KADIN to make such a public commitment at a global forum… [it] will tie them with a huge responsibility, and to some extent put their reputation at risk… if they fail to meet what they pledged,” he told mongabay.com.

    Ethan Harfenist|mongabay.com correspondent|October 21, 2014

    Global Warming and Climate Change

    Climate Change and the Dry, Wild West

    I grew up in a small town in California called Placerville (population 10,000), located near Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada foothills. There, in the mountains, snow days were frequent in the winter, and for fun in the summer we’d kayak on the Sacramento River.. When I call my family, I get updates on how things are going in Placerville, but I also get regular updates on the ongoing drought in California.

    Drought has become a bigger and bigger problem for Californians since I moved to the East Coast four years ago. Just this January, the Governor of California declared a state of emergency and the state has been classified as an Exceptional Drought area (the highest rating of drought possible). As a Fellow with EPA’s Climate Change Division, I wanted to learn more about the causes and effects of drought in my home town, and how climate change may be playing a role.

    Under the Palmer Drought Severity Index, the Southwestern United States, which includes Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah, have been experiencing drought conditions since 2000. Low precipitation is part of the problem. Higher temperatures are also playing a role, increasing the rate of evaporation and contributing to drying over some land areas. While much of the American Southwest generally has low annual rainfall and seasonally high temperatures, every part of the Southwest experienced higher average temperatures between 2000 and 2013 than the long-term average (1895–2013). Some areas were nearly 2°F warmer than average.

    Caption: A picture of mid- September drought conditions from the past 10 years. While drought is not something new to California, continued periods of drought have significant impacts on the state.  Image: U.S. Drought Monitor http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

    Caption: A picture of mid- September drought conditions from the past 10 years. While drought is not something new to California, continued periods of drought have significant impacts on the state.
    Image: U.S. Drought Monitor http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

    Higher temperatures have also prompted early spring melting and reduced snowpack in the mountains in some parts of California. This can result in decreased water availability during hot summer conditions. Snowpack, through runoff, provides about one-third of the water used by California’s cities and farms. Snowmelt from the Sierra Nevadas to the Sacramento River, which provides drinking water to about 30 percent of California’s residents, irrigates key crops in the San Joaquin valley, and runs hydroelectric power plants that supply at least 15 percent of the state’s electricity, has decreased by about 9 percent over the past century. The importance of conservation has not gone unnoticed and restrictions were implemented by the State Water Resources Control Board in July, which limits outdoor water use in an attempt to conserve water.

    As you can imagine, the drought is having an impact on the daily lives of my family in Placerville, and every Californian. Fortunately, the policymakers in California and at EPA are taking action to help protect against the worst impacts. Check out my next blog for part 2 of this story, looking at some of the impacts of the drought in California, and policy initiatives to address the problem.

    Krystal Laymon|2014 October 21

    Gov. Scott Receives More Than 90,000 Petitions Demanding Climate Leadership

    More than 92,000 petitions arrived at Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s office today urging the governor to announce his plan for fighting climate change. The petitions also call for Scott to cut carbon emissions and invest in solar power, actions that would help the state comply with the federal government’s proposed Clean Power Plan.

    Children pulled red wagons piled with boxes into the governor’s office. Florida State University student and ReThink Energy intern Daniel Corbett spoke in Scott’s waiting room during the petition drop.

    “It doesn’t matter whether you identify as a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent, what faith you follow, where you call home, what language you speak or how much money you make, because climate change, pollution, whether our energy is dirty or clean, that is all of us,” he says.

    The timing of the drop, weeks before the midterm election, is no accident, says Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Florida Director Susan Glickman.

    “For the very first time ever, climate and energy issues have become a central issue in the elections, so people are paying attention, and we believe they will use these important issues as they make up their mind and who they’re going to vote for,” she says.

    The federal Environmental Protection Agency wants states to come up with their own plans for lowering carbon emissions by the year 2030. The agency is taking public comment on that plan until December 1. 

    Climate Movement Spans Generations

    Scores of Audubon members from across the country joined the more than 400,000 marchers participating in the September 21st People’s Climate March in New York. What was perhaps more remarkable than the sheer numbers of marchers was the diversity of the crowd. The many young and multi-ethnic faces in the crowd inspired hope among the grizzled veterans of past movements.

    Read more.→

    Genetically Modified Organisms

    Los Angeles City Council seeks to ban GMOs

    Citing fears of the impact on the environment and public health, the Los Angeles City Council called Tuesday for a measure to ban the sale and planting of any genetically modified seeds within the city boundaries.

    “I want to see all 503 square miles of Los Angeles be a GMO-free growing zone,” said Councilman Paul Koretz, who has been working on the proposal for more than a year.

    “We are promoting urban farmers, and having a GMO-free zone would help them produce a crop that I think we can market as a Grown in L.A. brand.”

    The council approved the proposal on a 13-1 vote, asking the City Attorney’s office to draft the measure. Councilman Joe Buscaino was the lone opposing vote, saying he believed it was beyond the city’s scope of authority.

    The measure, if finally adopted. would also ban the planting and sale of fruit plants that are genetically modified.

    “Let’s see what this does for our health, for soil health, for pollination — and let’s see what it does for economic development.” Koretz said.

    He has argued genetic modification reduces the diversity of seeds, makes food unsafe to eat and is linked to the decline of the bee population.

    Supporters of GMO — genetically modified organisms — deny the presence of any harmful effects and say the process has helped increase the world food supply.

    The National Center for Policy Analysis said GMO crops are part of a worldwide strategy to combat the deficit between food supply and hunger.

    “Global hunger will only continue to increase, and combating it will not be easy, yet the world is fortunate in that a wealth of research is dedicated to the advancement of farming,” said David Weisser, a researcher at the center.

    “Through advanced research and new farming methods, hunger can be fought and conquered.”

    Rick Orlov|Los Angeles Daily News|10/21/14

    If $10 million isn’t enough to buy a NO vote on GMO labeling, how about $14 million?

    With more than $25 million poured in to defeat statewide GMO labeling ballot initiatives in 2014, a small cabal of multi-national biotech, pesticide and junk food companies seeks to buy the elections in Colorado and Oregon.

    Seeking to crush a groundswell movement in America to label genetically modified or GMO foods, a small group of multi-billion-dollar pesticide, biotech and junk food companies have poured more than $14 million into Colorado in September and October to defeat Proposition 105, a grassroots voter initiative to label GMO foods.

    Just 10 corporations, including Monsanto, DuPont, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Kraft, General Mills, Hershey, J.M. Smucker, Dow and Kellogg, are responsible for more than $13 million of the $14.3 million total contributed to kill the Colorado GMO labeling bill.

    Also of note among the donors seeking to defeat the Colorado GMO labeling bill are Abbot Nutrition and Mead Johnson, companies that make nutritional formulas for infants and the elderly – companies that do not want mandatory GMO labeling on their packaging.

    In contrast, while more than 170,000 Coloradans signed petitions to place the bill on the November statewide ballot – nearly twice the number of signatures needed – the underdog Right to Know Colorado campaign has raised less than $1 million in cash and pledges, mostly through small business donations along with hundreds of $5, $10, and $25 contributions to the campaign from primarily Colorado citizens.

    “I can’t understand why these corporations would put over $14 million into a Colorado campaign where the pro-labeling side has less than $1 million,” said Larry Cooper, Co-chair of the Right to Know Colorado campaign. “What are they trying to hide?”

    Ironically, while a similar GMO labeling voter bill in Oregon, Measure 92, has been able to raise significantly more funding – $6.3 million in total – biotech has pumped more into Colorado than Oregon to defeat the GMO labeling measure – although that gap is closing rapidly as Election Day approaches. Monsanto, PepsiCo, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Land O’Lakes, General Mills, Hershey and other chemical and food multinationals top the list of donors to the No on 92 campaign in Oregon. To see the list of donors to both the Yes and No sides in Oregon, visit http://gov.oregonlive.com/election/2014/finance/measure-92/.

    Delayed until the Colorado Supreme Court finally cleared the initiative to move forward in March following a complaint filed by the anti-labeling opposition, the Right to Know Colorado campaign got a late start but surprised industry followers by collecting more than twice the number of signatures needed to place the bill on the November ballot.

    The Yes on 105 campaign has received important media endorsements from the Daily Camera, Colorado’s second largest newspaper, and BizWest, one of the state’s leading business journals. Additionally, in September, a 20-member Citizens Initiative Review panel endorsed Colorado’s Prop. 105 to label GMOs by a vote of 11-9. (A similar panel in Oregon voted 11-9 against Measure 92.)

    In Colorado, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, and Whole Foods Market have provided significant support for the Yes on 105 campaign, helping to get out the vote through their stores and via endorsements and social media.

    Major contributors to Colorado’s Yes on 105 and also the Oregon pro-labeling campaign include Presence Marketing/Dynamic Presence, Food Democracy Now, Organic Consumers Association, Annie’s Inc., Dr. Bronner’s, Boulder Brands and others. For a complete list visit www.righttoknowcolorado.org/donors and www.oregonrighttoknow.org/endorsements.

    Grassroots organizations endorsing the Right to Know Colorado ballot initiative include Moms Across America, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, Colorado Moms for GMO Labeling, Conservation Colorado, Alliance for Sustainable Colorado, Hazon, and others.

    Seeing this rising tide of grassroots consumer and citizen support for GMO labeling as a threat to profits, Monsanto, Dow, DuPont, Pepsi, Coke, Kraft, Grocery Manufacturers Association, and other pesticide, biotech and junk food companies have teamed up to spend more than $125 million over the past three years to defeat GMO labeling ballot initiatives in California and Washington in 2012 and 2013, and in Oregon and Colorado this year.

    More than 93% of Americans want GMO labeling, according to a 2013 New York Times survey, and in late September, before the anti-labeling ad blitz on TV, 71% of Colorado voters favored GMO labeling, yet less than three dozen chemical, pesticide and junk food companies continue to fight history with a withering amount of cash to barrage the airwaves in Oregon and Colorado with deceptive advertising to confuse voters about GMO labeling – and to buy our elections.

    Steven Hoffman|Managing Director|Compass Natural

    Beware the Corporate Takeover of Seed Under Many Guises

    New and existing legislations and treaties are increasingly restricting people’s food rights and eroding agricultural biodiversity in favor of a handful of big seed corporations that are already monopolizing the world’s seeds.

    The UK hosted a festival across the country to celebrate and honor the humble seed. In London, the Lambeth Garden Museum hosted farmers, growers, food sovereignty campaigners, artists and chefs for 2 days of workshops, talks, storytelling sessions, artists, games and film screenings. The festival acknowledged the importance of seeds and our responsibility to protect all their biodiversity from corporate theft if we are to protect the health of our children and the planet. The event rightfully acknowledged the growing community of small farmers and gardeners who are safeguarding thousands of years of knowledge in food production and seed saving still vital in feeding the world today. As stated in the recent UN Commission of Trade and Development report, small holder farming is what is needed to feed the growing global population, not industrial systems.

    October is Food Sovereignty month, and October 16 was World Food Day, both coming at a time when recognizing the importance of the seed is more critical than ever.

    In UK and much of the rest of Europe, the industrialized farming system means that farmers are no longer saving seed as they had done for millennia, maintaining local varieties and cultivating regional biodiversity. High yielding and hybrid varieties now dominate the market, designed for large-scale high input industrial farms. A 2005 study found that on the European seed market, 74 % of cauliflower varieties were hybrids, as were 80 % of carrots, 85 % of calabrese, 87 % of spinach, and 89 % of tomatoes. Hybrid seeds are not worth saving as the yield goes down after the first year of planting due to the loss of ‘hybrid vigor’, the increased yield of hybrid seeds from crossing two inbred varieties. These hybrids have replaced open-pollinated varieties. Seminis, a European seed company bought by Monsanto in 2004, had previously deleted 2000 open pollinated varieties from their stocks, but these varieties still remain available to Monsanto for their breeding programs.

    Monopolization of seed is not just a European issue but a global one, with international agritech giants buying out independent companies and leaving farmers with little choice but to purchase hybrid or genetically modified seeds in countries like the US. Monsanto bought 200 US independent seed companies over 10 years, with the corporation now estimated to own 23 % of the proprietary seed market. A similar drive for seed monopoly is taking place in the African continent, with SeedCo, one of Africa’s largest home-grown seed companies being bought out by transnational corporations Limagrain, the biggest seed and plant breeding company in the EU. Limagrain is investing US$60 million for a 28 % stake in SeedCo. SeedCo has sold 49 % of its shares in Africa’s only cottonseed company Quton to the Indian company Mayco, a Monsanto subsidiary. Syngenta in 2013 took over Zambia’s MRI seed, which is said to have the most biodiverse collection of maize seed varieties in Africa. South Africa’s largest seed company Pannar Seed was recently taken over by Pioneer Hi-Bred, a subsidiary of DuPont. These acquisitions of seed companies by a handful of corporate giants pose great threats not only to seed biodiversity, but also food sovereignty and people’s access to fresh foods, giving GM companies the chance to spread their patented seeds across the world.

    Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont already own 53% of the global commercial seed market and the following legislative proposals and treaties are set to increase their monopoly.

    Proposed changes to the EU seed laws (EU Plant and Reproductive Material Law) will further restrict the varieties of vegetables that can be saved and sold, threatening small and independent seed companies as well as small-medium scale commercial farmers. The proposed changes have been considered a gift to industry, allowing unrestricted marketing of patented seeds, favoring large companies with an expensive process of seed registration. A draft of the proposals was rejected earlier this year, and it is as yet uncertain what new drafts will be put on the table.

    Patrick Mulvany, a policy advisor involved in the negotiations of the treaty said at the October 15 meeting in UK’s Houses of Parliament, “it’s not that we don’t want laws, but we want the right ones” for protecting biodiversity. Previous drafts of the proposals make clear that the legislation is designed for big industry which is being called the “consumer”, not small-medium commercial seed companies and farmers which would likely go out of business if the price for registering each seed variety is set at £2 000. New proposals also favor distinct, uniform and stable varieties such as hybrid seeds which due to their uniformity, are also the most vulnerable to unpredictable climate change and pest attacks. As Patrick later emphasized, “we need to re-imagine new rules that realize farmer’s rights and regulate industry”.

    Biodiversity is also threatened by offsetting schemes that are supposed to charge companies for the biodiversity they destroy. This type of scheme not only encourages the destruction of land and biodiversity, but gives contentious green credentials to development strategies and companies that commodify nature and send out the message that nature is replaceable. As stated in an open letter to the EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik protesting the latest EU proposals for biodiversity in the region, signed by 67 organizations and over 9 000 peopl