ConsRep 714 C

People blame their environment. There is only one person to blame – and only one – themselves. Robert Collier

 

Announcements

Wildlife Gala

The 17th annual gala of the Sawgrass Nature Center is sure to be a great time and an important event for the Center.  This is the major fundraiser for the SNC.

Guests will nibble on scrumptious hors d’oeuvres, feast on a fabulous buffet dinner and sample an incredible variety of desserts baked by our famous Baker Bees.

After sipping on our signature cocktails, wild bidding ensues for the fabulous silent and live auction items.

If you would like to sponsor the event, place an ad in the souvenir program or donate an item for the auction, please call Dotty at 954-752-9453.

Upcoming Events

June 9th – August 15th: Camp Wild Summer Camp
July 15 - Fundraiser at Sweet Tomatoes, Coral Springs – 5 to 8 pm.
July 25th: Volunteer Orientation 1:00 – 2:00 pm at SNC

August 10th: Volunteer Orientation 1:00 – 2:00 pm at SNC

Nature Explorers
for kids ages 3 – 5 years
every Wednesday 10am

Be Kind to Animals
all ages
every Sunday at 11am

Floridians urged to guard against mosquitoes

MIAMI (AP) – State health officials are warning Floridians to protect themselves against mosquitoes.

The biting bugs can carry debilitating diseases and pose an elevated threat to public health during the state’s rainy season.

Officials are urging people to drain water from their garbage cans and gutters and cover their skin by wearing shoes, socks and long pants. Mosquito repellant is also encouraged.

Health officials say residents of Pinellas County should be aware of the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus, which has made its way to the Caribbean from Africa, Asia and islands in the Indian Ocean.

They say travelers to those regions could carry the virus back to the United States and infect local mosquito populations.

The Florida Department of Public Health has confirmed at least 18 cases of imported chikungunya in the state.

Andrew Murphy|Jun 16, 2014

Save the date for 25th annual “Ding” Darling Days

Mark your calendars for this year’s “Ding” Darling Days birding and eco-festival at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida, the week of Oct. 19-25, 2014.

Family Fun Day kicks off the week with free activities on Sunday, Oct. 19. It features all-free refuge tours, live wildlife presentations, archery clinics, hot dogs, a touch tank and butterfly house, and kids’ nature crafts.

Muppeteer Jim Henson’s daughter, Heather Henson, with Ibex Puppetry, will return with performances featuring life-size endangered animal puppets.

Conservation Art Day winds up the celebration on Saturday, Oct. 25, with visits from Federal Duck Stamp and Junior Duck Stamp winners and nature art workshops.

Free and discounted birding, biking, kayaking, paddleboarding, sea life boating, and interpretive presentations will fill the week between the two events.

The 25th annual “Ding” Darling Days celebrates the birthday of the refuge’s namesake, father of the Federal Duck Stamp program and Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, Jay N. “Ding” Darling.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge (DDWS), and Tarpon Bay Explorers cosponsor “Ding” Darling Days with generous support from the local community and businesses.

Visit http://www.dingdarlingdays.com for updates on events, information on sponsoring “Ding” Days, or to sign up for e-mail update bulletins. Contact Wendy Schnapp at 239-470-1877 or EcoErler@aol.com to become a sponsor.

As a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, DDWS works to support J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge’s mission of conservation, wildlife and habitat protection, research, and public education through charitable donations and Refuge Nature Shop proceeds.

To support DDWS and the refuge with a tax-deductible gift, visit www.dingdarlingsociety.org or contact Birgie Miller at 239-292-0566 or director@dingdarlingsociety.org.  

2nd Annual Sea Level Rise Symposium
Friday, July 25, 2014
8am-3:30pm
Oxbridge Academy of the Palm Beaches
3151 N. Military Trail, West Palm Beach, FL 33409
Light breakfast and catered lunch included
CEU credits available for educators
www.artmarshall.org/portal/annual-sea-level-rise-symposium
Students and teachers FREE first 100 to register online!

Of Interest to All

Mauling victim: Lake Mary neighbor who fed bears a ‘whack-a-doo’`

A neighbor who lived two doors from a Lake Mary woman mauled by a bear in April had been feeding the animals for at least two years, according to the victim’s sworn statement to investigators.

Terri Frana, 44, mauled April 12 outside her home on Brackenhurst Place, told Florida wildlife investigators that Eugene D. “Doug” Cifers was a “whack-a-doo” who regularly fed bears. Other witnesses, including Frana’s mother, her husband and others, also told authorities that bears would regularly visit Cifers’ home for food.

State wildlife officials have repeatedly warned residents that feeding bears can make them dangerous because they lose their fear of humans.

Cifers, 63, a board member of the Maitland-based Save the Manatee Club and a former member of the Audubon Florida board, has pleaded not guilty after being charged with feeding bears. He could not be reached for comment Thursday, when the witnesses’ statements were released by the Seminole-Brevard County State Attorney’s Office.

According to wildlife investigators, however, Cifers told them he does not feed bears.

Frana suffered multiple wounds in the attack and needed dozens of stitches on her scalp. Wildlife officers eventually euthanized seven bears after she was mauled.

In her statement to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation investigators, Frana said she tried to avoid Cifers, who she said would show her photos and videos of himself feeding the animals.

Witnesses also told investigators that Cifers had names for each of the several bears that visited his home in the Carisbrooke gated community. And he often videotaped his encounters with the animals.

Authorities released a video Thursday that they say shows Cifers kneeling in front of a bear to feed it. Witnesses said that Cifers showed other videos of his wife feeding bears from her hand while she sat in a lounge chair, according to the report.

Dale Cree, who provided photos to authorities, said Cifers told him, “I’ve raised them since they were babies.”

In her statement to investigators, Helen Leive, Frana’s mother, recalled Cifers stopping her one Saturday as she was driving away, saying, “Oh, you must see this,” as he showed her three bears eating and drinking from planters in his backyard.

“Are you out of your mind?” she told Cifers.

Leive said she reminded Cifers that bears have fangs and claws. But Cifers assured her that the bears were harmless.

Kevin Connoughton, a sanitation worker, also talked to state investigators. He said a man at Cifer’s house would feed sunflower seeds to the animals. He witnessed this numerous times. During one encounter, he said, the man told him he fed them so “they won’t get into everybody’s trash.”

“He asked the man what he was doing,” FWC’s report stated, and “the man said the Mother bear was in the back yard, and he was feeding the baby bears because the baby bears were a little more aggressive and the only way to keep them out of the garbage was to feed them.”

In the week after Frana’s attack, FWC official Greg Workman stated, he met a man and a woman near Cifers’ home who were upset that several bears had been put down. Workman said the man smelled of alcohol, and the woman explained that the couple had raised one of the bears from a cub, according to the report.

Cifers was among three Seminole County residents charged by state wildlife officers with illegally feeding bears, a misdemeanor.

Cory Zeak, 28, and Lori Clem, 29, pleaded “no contest”. They were each fined $200 and placed on six months probation.

Martin E. Comas|Staff Writer|Orlando Sentinel|July 10, 2014

Say Goodbye to d-CON!

It is finally time to start saying goodbye to d-CON, a highly toxic rat poison, and that farewell can’t come soon enough for imperiled wildlife. A recent agreement between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the pesticide’s manufacturer, Reckitt-Benckiser, ensures that d-CON will finally be taken off the shelves. The agreement also brings to an end a long-running effort to force the company to do the right thing and stop selling the product – an effort that Defenders of Wildlife has been a part of for some time.

The battle over rodenticides goes back to 1998 when the EPA initially proposed steps to protect children, wildlife, and pets from accidental ingestion of rat poisons. But in 2001, in the face of industry opposition, EPA withdrew the requirements. In 2008, the EPA moved forward with regulations, urging rat poison manufacturers to shelve some of their products voluntarily due to unreasonable risks to children, wildlife, and pets, but Reckitt-Benckiser refused to implement the new protections. EPA then issued another order in 2013 cancelling the products’ registration – a move that prohibits the sale of these super-toxic rat poisons without tamper-resistant packaging. Reckitt-Benckiser demanded an administrative hearing to challenge this common-sense precaution. At this point, it was clear the industry was determined to bully the EPA into allowing them to continue the sale of these dangerous substances, which posed a threat not only to children and pets, but to native wildlife as well. In April 2013, Defenders and our allies joined the fight against these substances to support the EPA’s case and provide our expertise on the impact to wildlife.

Meanwhile, the State of California recently took its own action against d-CON products, banning retail sale of that and other anti-coagulant rodenticides in the state starting in July. Not surprisingly, Reckitt-Benckiser also challenged these rules in state court and Defenders again intervened to prevent the company from overturning these new protections.

The state’s new restrictions sought to protect wildlife, pets, and children from accidental poisonings, which have been documented in at least 25 species of wild animals in California, including mountain lions, hawks, endangered San Joaquin kit foxes, and northern spotted owls, as well as numerous cats and dogs. According to data from the EPA, each year up to 10,000 children are accidentally exposed to rat poisons in their homes. Anticoagulant rodenticides, such as d-CON, interfere with blood clotting, resulting in uncontrollable bleeding, leading to death, and second-generation anticoagulants are especially hazardous. Rats and mice often eat these slow-acting poisons over several days, causing the toxins to accumulate at many times the lethal dose in their tissues, which in turn poisons predators, the innocent victims, when they prey on the weakened rodents. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife tested nearly 500 wild animals between 1995 and 2011, and their study found second-generation anticoagulants in more than 70 percent of wildlife tested, including eagles, hawks, owls, foxes, bobcats, and mountain lions.

After all this fighting, it’s great news that EPA and Reckitt-Benckiser have finally reached an agreement to limit these super-toxic poisons nationwide. As with any significant stride, it won’t happen overnight – the company agreed to stop producing the super-toxic rat poisons by the end of 2014, and to replace them with safer products by March 2015. Shortly after the announcement, Reckitt-Benckiser also dismissed their challenge to the California regulations.

At the end of the day, elimination of these products is a huge win for wildlife, people and pets. Defenders and our conservation allies will continue to watchdog the issue to hold Reckitt-Benckiser accountable and make sure the company follows through with its agreement.

Anne Russell Gregory|Conservation Law Coordinator|Defenders of Wildlife|30 June 2014

Missouri Lawmaker Introduces Bill to Halt All EPA Regulations

For one Missouri lawmaker, fighting individual Environmental Protection Agency regulations — like the recent rule on carbon emissions from power plants — isn’t enough.

Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO) introduced a bill on Wednesday that would halt all EPA rules that are currently in the works and prompt a review of all previous EPA regulations. H.R. 5034, titled the Stop the EPA Act, would also require Congress to approve all previous and new regulations that cost $50 million or more. Under the bill, any that aren’t approved by Congress won’t become law.

“My legislation will give the American people a voice in the regulator’s room when the President and the EPA try and go around Congress,” Graves said in a statement. “EPA aggression has reached an all-time high, and now it must be stopped.”

Graves’ legislation was prompted by the EPA’s “Waters of the United States” proposal, which aims to clarify what streams and rivers are under the jurisdiction of the federal government, under the Clean Water Act. It’s also aimed at the EPA’s new rule on carbon emissions from power plants, a proposal that multiple other lawmakers have attempted to undermine or overturn in recent months. House Republicans introduced an EPA funding bill this week that would block the agency’s new power plant rule, and nine states have signed on to coal company Murray Energy’s lawsuit against the agency, claiming that the new rule constitutes EPA overreach.

The EPA has long been the target of attacks from industry and lawmakers, however.

Take asbestos. On Thursday morning, the House side of the U.S. Capitol was shut down due to a possible spill of asbestos that occurred while workers were cleaning out the hazardous material from the building.

Something fell during “asbestos abatement work” at the Capitol overnight, prompting the closure of the House side of the building. Hazardous material response teams and Environmental Protection Agency investigators are conducting testing at the scene to determine whether or not the material that fell exposed the area to asbestos.

Breathing in asbestos fibers, which can be found in old insulation, flooring, roofing, paint and fabrics, can cause lung disease and lung cancer. The EPA has taken multiple regulatory actions against asbestos use over the last few decades, including banning it from pipe insulation and sprays. The agency banned most products containing asbestos in 1989, but two years later, that rule was overturned after outcry and a lawsuit from the asbestos industry and product manufacturers, who said the ban would cause “death by regulation” to the asbestos industry. That’s the same claim coal companies and lawmakers from coal-producing states are making about the EPA’s new power plant rule: that the EPA is waging a War on Coal, and that its regulations will hasten the demise of the coal industry.

“The Obama EPA has waged an all-out War on Coal, promulgating a series of rules and regulations seeking to eliminate the United States coal industry, and the very good jobs, and low cost electricity, which it provides,” Murray Energy said in a release after filing its lawsuit against the EPA. “Indeed, the lives and livelihoods of entire families in many regions of America are being destroyed.”

Though not as immediately hazardous as asbestos, coal, too, poses a danger both to the miners are at risk of black lung disease and to the Americans whose risk of respiratory illnesses and a range of other health effects goes up as exposure to pollution increases.

Katie Valentine|ThinkProgress|July 13, 2014

This post originally appeared on Think Progress

Some Common Poisonous Plants and Plant Parts

Vegetation helps sustain life. We eat many plants, herbs and so forth in our daily diet. But, we must remember to be choosy. Some plants, trees or shrubs are potential killers of man. Some part of the ornamental plants or flowers in your yard may contain deadly poison. Many poisonous plants are so common and seemingly innocuous you do not suspect their toxic qualities.

For example, who would expect that the beautiful oleander bush-grown indoors and outdoors all over the country-contains a deadly heart stimulant, similar to the drug digitalis?

It is easy to be deceived by plants…one part may be edible while another is poisonous. The following chart lists some of the more common poisonous plants.
 

PLANT

TOXIC PART

SYMPTOMS

Hyacinth, Narcissus, Daffodil

Bulbs

Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea. May be fatal.

Oleander

Leaves, branches

Extremely poisonous. Affects the heart, produces severe digestive upset and has caused death.

Dieffenbachia (Dumb Cane), Elephant Ear

All parts

Intense burning and irritation of the mouth and tongue. Death can occur if base of the tongue swells enough to block the air passage of the throat.

Wisteria

Seeds, pods

Mild to severe digestive upset. Many children are poisoned by this plant.

Golden Chain

Bean-like capsules in which the seeds are suspended

Severe poisoning. Excitement, staggering, convulsions and coma. May be fatal.

Daphne

Berries

Fatal. A few berries can kill a child.

Rosary Pea, Castor Bean

Seeds

Fatal. A single Rosary Pea seed has caused death. One or two Castor Bean seeds are near the lethal dose for adults.

Larkspur

Young plant, seeds

Digestive upset, nervous excitement, depression. May be fatal.

Monkshood

Fleshy roots

Digestive upset and nervous excitement.

Autumn Crocus, Star of Bethlehem

Bulbs

Vomiting and nervous excitement.

Lily-of-the-Valley

Leaves, flowers

Irregular heart beat and pulse, usually accompanied by digestive upset and mental confusion.

Iris

Underground stems

Severe-but not usually serious-digestive upset.

Foxglove

Leaves

Large amounts cause dangerously irregular heartbeat and pulse, usually digestive upset and mental confusion. May be fatal.

Bleeding Heart

Foliage, roots

May be poisonous in large amounts. Has proved fatal to cattle.

Rhubarb

Leaf blade

Fatal. Large amounts of raw or cooked leaves can cause convulsions, coma, followed rapidly by death.

Laurels, Rhododendrons, Azaleas

All parts

Fatal. Produces nausea and vomiting, depression, difficult breathing, prostration and coma.

Jasmine

Berries

Fatal. Digestive disturbance and nervous symptoms.

Lantana Camara (Red Sage)

Green berries

Fatal. Affects lungs, kidneys, heart and nervous system. Grows in the southern U.S. And in moderate climates.

Yew

Berries, foliage

Fatal. Foliage more toxic than berries. Death is usually sudden without warning symptoms.

Wild and cultivated cherries

Twigs, foliage

Fatal. Contains a compound that releases cyanide when eaten. Gasping, excitement and prostration are common symptoms.

Oaks

Foliage, acorns

Affects kidneys gradually. Symptoms appear only after several days or weeks. Takes a large amount for poisoning.

Elderberry

All parts, especially roots

Children have been poisoned by using pieces of the pithy stems for blowguns. Nausea and digestive upset.

Black Locust

Bark, sprouts, foliage

Children have suffered nausea, weakness and depression after chewing the bark and seeds.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit

All parts, especially roots

Like Dumb Cane, contains small needle-like crystals of calcium oxalate that cause intense irritation and burning of the mouth and tongue.

Moonseed

Berries

Blue, purple color, resembling wild grapes. May be fatal.

Mayapple

Apple, foliage, roots

Contains at least 16 active toxic principles, primarily in the roots. Children often eat the apple with no ill effects, but several apples may cause diarrhea.

Mistletoe

Berries

Fatal. Both children and adults have died from eating the berries.

Water Hemlock

All parts

Fatal. Violent and painful convulsions. A number of people have died from hemlock.

Buttercups

All parts

Irritant juices may severely injure the digestive system.

Nightshade

All parts, especially the unripened berry

Fatal. Intense digestive disturbance and nervous symptoms.

Poison Hemlock

All parts

Fatal. Resembles a large wild carrot.

Jimson Weed (Thorn Apple)

All parts

Abnormal thirst, distorted sight, delirium, incoherence and coma. Common cause of poisoning. Has proved fatal.

Treat unknown plants with respect, and teach your children to do the same.

Chart reprinted from materials provided by the Texas State Department of Health and the National Safety Council

    Gombe Stream National Park: Five Decades of Research

On this day in 1960, Dr. Jane Goodall made her first footsteps in what is today Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park. To this day, the pioneering research Dr. Goodall started more than five decades ago continues and is now known as the longest study of wild chimpanzees, and perhaps of any wildlife, ever.

Observing chimps from the time they are born until they reach old age has opened a window into the incredible world of chimpanzee life. Indeed several of the chimpanzees being tracked by researchers today are the same chimpanzees that Dr. Jane Goodall met 54 years ago when she first arrived at Gombe. With the perspective given to us from this research, we as human beings have come to  an even  greater understanding of our own psychology.

The second smallest national park in Tanzania, Gombe is under threat of deforestation. Living in what could be considered a forest ‘island’, Gombe’s chimpanzees live in isolation from other chimpanzee communities due to deforestation and the unsustainable use of lands surrounding the national park.

For more than two decades now, the Jane Goodall Institute has used its community centered approach to work with communities living near Gombe to improve the lives of people and families so that they can become our partners in conservation.

This approach is now being replicated across the Congo basin, and supports the Jane Goodall Institute’s 30 year goal to protect 80% of remaining wild chimpanzees and their habitat. And it all started at Gombe.

There is no place in the world like the Gombe Stream Research Center.

Hughes Co. shuts down Collier Hogan well

NAPLES, Fla. – State officials said Tuesday they are filing suit against the Dan A. Hughes Co. to shut down its operations permanently at the disputed Collier Hogan well site.

But the Hughes Co. said it already has shut it down until further notice — an action local drilling opponents hailed as a long-awaited victory.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard said in a statement that it’s clear the Hughes Co. “has not taken seriously the department’s demands to protect Collier County families or Florida’s natural resources.”

He said the suit, to be filed in circuit court in Collier County, would seek additional financial penalties above the $25,000 already levied in an April consent order agreement, and to “shut down all the operations at the Collier-Hogan site.”

The Hughes company would be held “accountable” for its actions, Vinyard said.

DEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller said the lawsuit would proceed regardless of the Hughes Co.’s “shutting in” the well. She added the shut-in doesn’t negate the consent order the DEP signed with Hughes Co., nor absolve the company of its obligation to comply with it.

A shut-in well is defined as one producing or capable of producing, but that has been closed down.

But the Texas-based Hughes Co. said it had come to the decision to cease operations at the well independently, and “not due to any request or demand from any third party,” company spokesman David Blackmon said in a statement.

The company also filed a formal response with the DEP to the demands in a July 3 letter from Vinyard.

Blackmon said the Hughes Co. “has done everything it could to work cooperatively with the department despite the severely restricted communication it has received from the DEP in recent weeks.”

He added the company believes its response satisfies all of the demands contained in the July 3 letter, except the demand that Hughes appear at the Collier County Commission meeting on July 8.

The company said it decided not to appear “when it was made clear it had no invitation from the board itself to speak.”

Blackmon reiterated that the company believes it hasn’t violated any state laws and had fully satisfied its commitments under the consent order with the DEP regarding the well, which was the subject of an unauthorized injection procedure at year’s end.

In a later statement, Blackmon said the DEP knew of the shut-in operation and had personnel on site when it happened.

He also said the Hughes Co. would mount a “vigorous defense” against the lawsuit.

Tom Jones of Collier Resources Co., the owner of the well site property, said in a statement that while the company cannot speak to a legal matter between the Hughes Co. and DEP, “we are doing everything in our power to be transparent and assure the public that no action taken by any of our lessees has done harm to Collier County’s water resources or environment.”

He reiterated the company’s offer to pay for water testing and modeling in coordination with county commissioners, and its promise that its lessees would use only traditional drilling techniques, “until a time when DEP issues clear regulations on exploration techniques that are used throughout the country but may be new to Florida.”

Meanwhile, drilling opponents were delighted with the news that Hughes effectively was leaving Southwest Florida.

“It’s fantastic,” said Karen Dwyer of the Stonecrab Alliance citizens group.

“It points to a sea change of the attitude of Floridians about the environment,” said Don Loritz, vice president of citizens group Preserve our Paradise, adding he didn’t expect such a result a year ago, when residents started to protest a proposed — and now scuttled — Hughes Co. well near Golden Gate Estates.

“It’s the best outcome we could have hoped for,” said Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association, which has been objecting to the impact of drilling on the endangered panther. “But there’s still work to be done.”

He added the DEP still needs to take another look at the environmental effects of other oil drilling leases in the area, such as the seismic testing described in another lease.

“The DEP has had its hands full with Dan A. Hughes,” he said.

Jennifer Hecker, director of natural resources for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, said the DEP needs to be responsible for addressing remedial actions specified by the Conservancy and by Collier commissioners in their petition to pull the Collier Hogan permit.

She said the DEP needs to make sure that groundwater monitoring, well testing, and other actions take place to protect the area’s drinking water from chemicals that were used during the unauthorized workover procedure.

She also contended that by filing a suit, the DEP has lost its main leverage against the Hughes Co., which was the threat of pulling the permit.

Hughes Co.’s leaseholds likely will be released to other drillers, she said, and there is no guarantee that similar unauthorized operations won’t occur in the future.

“Overall, this highlights the need to fix Florida’s laws about extreme extraction,” she said.

June Fletcher|Jul 15, 2014

Testing the effects of  Naled insecticide

Watch video of researchers trying to find out the impact of Naled a (mosquito insecticide) on non target species. Video by Andrew West/news-press.com

Just after dawn Friday, and nine hours after the Lee County Mosquito Control District sprayed a county preserve near Bunche Beach with the insecticide Naled, David Ceilley looked into a series of cages and counted dead peacock butterflies.

Preliminary report: About 25 percent mortality.

“They did better than I thought they would,” said Ceilley, a senior ecologist for Johnson Engineering. “It’s too early to tell what this means. We have a lot of data to analyze.”

Ceilley and researchers from FGCU had placed six cages, each containing 11 butterflies, in mangrove and marsh habitat at the preserve Thursday night as part of a project to test the effects of Naled on non-target species, including insects, amphibians and fish – the mosquito district has been spraying Naled from aircraft to kill adult mosquitoes for about 15 years.

Funding for the $120,000 study comes from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the mosquito district is providing labor and equipment.

“We know the effect on non-target species: They’re still there,” said Jonathan Hornby, deputy director of the mosquito district. “But it needs to be properly demonstrated, so we can show people who think there is an effect on non-target species that there is or is not or the severity. If there is, we need to know the recovery time of non-target species.”

On July 7, the researchers, which included FGCU undergraduate and graduate students, placed various kinds of insect traps in mangrove habitat and marsh habitat at the preserve and a control site in the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve then documented all insect species caught in the traps on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Simply put, the idea was to determine what species occur at the site and how abundant each species is before and after spraying Thursday – the control site was not sprayed.

The district sprayed the preserve at 10:30 p.m. Thursday, and 15 researchers were on site two hours to check the traps and butterfly cages.

“It was fun out here last night,” Win Everham, professor of marine and ecological sciences and the study’s principle investigator, said Friday after dawn. “We had a bunch of people come out, and I was thinking, ‘It feels like there should be a keg, and we should build a bonfire.’ It was cool.”

Of particular interest in the study is the effect of Naled on commercially important species (honeybees) and endangered species (two Florida butterfly species are federally listed as endangered, the Miami blue and Schau’s swallowtail; the study is using peacock butterflies because they’re commercially available, and they’re natives of Southwest Florida).

Beehives and butterfly cages were placed in marsh habitat and mangrove habitat at the preserve and control sites (caged butterflies are also being kept at Ceilley’s home as a second control to check for mortality from shipping).

“If they only die (in the preserve), that could indicate spraying killed them,” Everham said. “If they only die in the marsh, that could indicate the mangrove foliage intercepted enough naled to protect the insects. If they die everywhere, it would indicate a problem with our experimental design.”

When bees die in a hive, workers called mortuary bees remove them.

In addition to finding one dead bee at a hive Friday morning, FGCU senior Solveig Poynter saw a mortuary bee flying away from the hive with a dead bee.

“At first I thought they were wrestling,” she said. “It was exciting to see the bee carry the other one away. I’ll be back later to see if there’s a delayed reaction to the insecticide as they go out looking for nectar.”

Every day this week, the researchers will sample both sites for dead insects and return two weeks after spraying and one month after spraying.

After that, the data must be analyzed.

“People expect science to be black-and-white,” Everham said. “We won’t know anything until the experiment’s done and we look at what we’ve got and can say what’s significantly different, what’s just different and what might be the factors that control that.”

Kevin Lollar|news-press|July 14, 2014

Naled Facts

EPA has assessed the risks of naled and reached an Interim Reregistration Eligibility Decision (IRED) for this organophosphate (OP) pesticide. Provided that risk mitigation measures are adopted naled fits into its own “risk cup”– its individual, aggregate risks are within acceptable levels. Naled also is eligible for reregistration, pending a full reassessment of the cumulative risk from all OPs.

Used mainly to control mosquitos and to control insects on a variety of agricultural crops, naled residues in food and drinking water do not pose risk concerns. Naled may no longer be used in and around the home by residents or professional applicators. However, residents can be exposed as by-standers from wide-area mosquito control applications. Sergeant’s, the sole end-use registrant for pet collars, is voluntarily cancelling all of its naled products. With mitigation limiting homeowners’ and children’s exposure naled fits into its own “risk cup.” With other mitigation measures, naled’s worker and ecological risks are also will be below levels of concern for reregistration.

EPA’s next step under the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) is to complete a cumulative risk assessment and risk management decision encompassing all the OP pesticides, which share a common mechanism of toxicity. The interim decision on naled cannot be considered final until this cumulative assessment is complete. Further risk mitigation may be warranted at that time.

EPA is reviewing the OP pesticides to determine whether they meet current health and safety standards. Older OPs need decisions about their eligibility for reregistration under FIFRA. OPs with residues in food, drinking water, and other non-occupational exposures also must be reassessed to make sure they meet the new FQPA safety standard.

The naled interim decision was made through the OP pilot public participation process, which increases transparency and maximizes stakeholder involvement in EPA’s development of risk assessments and risk management decisions. EPA worked extensively with affected parties to reach the decisions presented in this interim decision document, which concludes the OP pilot process for naled.

Uses

  • An insecticide, naled is used primarily to control adult mosquitos. It is also registered to control blackflies, and leaf eating insects on a variety of fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
  • Annual domestic use is approximately 1,000,000 pounds of active ingredient, with approximately 70% used in mosquito control and approximately 30% in agriculture.

Health Effects

  • Naled can cause cholinesterase inhibition in humans; that is, it can over-stimulate the nervous system causing nausea, dizziness, confusion, and at very high exposures (e.g., accidents or major spills), respiratory paralysis and death.

Risks

  • Dietary exposures from eating food crops treated with naled are below the level of concern for the entire U.S. population, including infants and children. Drinking water is not a significant source of exposure.
  • The only remaining residential risks have been addressed by the voluntary cancellation of naled pet collar products.
  • EPA also has risk concerns for workers who mix, load, and/or apply naled to agricultural sites, and for black fly control.
  • Acute and chronic risks are of concern for fish and other freshwater organisms. 

Read more

EPA| 738-F-02-007|January 2002

Smart Move: Disney Drops Faroe Islands Whaling Site From Cruise Route

Disney Cruise Line announced a last-minute itinerary change to one of its cruise routes, making a noted detour around the Faroe Islands, where hundreds of whales are killed in drive hunts each summer. The move has been applauded by whale activists, who say Disney is leading the way in making responsible decisions like avoiding areas where whaling is practiced.  

Disney is modifying their 11-Night Copenhagen to England journey to include a stop at Kirkwall, Scotland rather than Torshavn, Faroe Islands. The cruise embarks on June 29, 2015 aboard the liner Disney Magic. Disney sent a letter to all passengers announcing the change last week.

No information has been released as to the reasoning behind the schedule change, but it’s likely that passengers — many of which are traveling with children — would be disturbed to see the slaughter, which happens on the beaches and usually fills the harbor with red water. Animal rights advocates criticize hunts like these for being cruel and unnecessary, because the level of mercury in pilot whales makes them unfit for consumption. In 2011, 726 whales were slaughtered.

You can learn more about the Faroe Islands whale slaughter here and sign a petition to stop it here

Despite a decades-old international moratorium on commercial whaling, Japan, Norway and Iceland continue to kill thousands of whales every year under the guise of “scientific research” and banner of “tradition.” Join us in demanding that these defiant whaling nations put an end the deadly practice once and for all. 

Melissa Cronin|29 April 2014

Cheetah smuggling driving wild population to extinction, report says

Rising demand for luxury pets in the Gulf states taking gruesome toll as two-thirds of snatched cubs are dying en route

The rising trade in cheetahs for luxury pets in the Middle East is helping to drive critical populations of the wild cats to extinction, according to new research. The report also reveals the gruesome toll of the trade, with up to two-thirds of the cheetah cubs being smuggled across the war-torn Horn of Africa dying en route. However, the nations at both ends of the trade have now agreed that urgent action is needed.

Cheetahs, famous as the world’s fastest land animal, have lost about 90% of their population over the last century as their huge ranges in Africa and Asia have been taken over by farmland. Fewer than 10,000 remain and numbers are falling. There is an ancient tradition of using trained cheetahs as royal hunting animals in Africa but, more recently, a growing demand for status-symbol pets in the Gulf states has further reduced populations.

Cheetahs are unusually easy to tame, especially as cubs, and the report found instances in Gulf states of the big cats riding as car passengers, being walked on leashes and even being exercised on treadmills. Other evidence showed cheetahs pacing around living rooms and tussling with their owners, including young children.

“This whole trade had not been appreciated by the public or by the conservation world,” said Nick Mitchell, who contributed to the report for the Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), the first comprehensive overview of the cheetah trade. “If we do not act now on the trade and land-use change, then we can be certainly losing sub-populations in a few years.”

Cheetahs do not breed easily in captivity and the Gulf pet trade is supplied by animals snatched from wild in the Horn of Africa. The distinct sub-species living there numbers about 2,500. The animals are trafficked by boat from Somalia to Yemen and then by road into the Gulf states including Saudi Arabia. “Huge number of cheetahs appear to die in transit,” said Mitchell, who is the eastern African co-coordinator of the Rangewide Conservation Program for Cheetah and African Wild Dogs, a joint project of the Zoological Society of London and the Wildlife Conservation Society. “For sure, we are talking about very poor people in the Horn of Africa and they are not too worried about the welfare of the animals.” Seizures of cheetah cubs often number 30 cubs, with 50-70% dying en route. There is also a demand for cheetah-skin shoes in Sudan, where they are considered to confer high-status.

Even more threatened is the cheetah sub-species in Iran, where just 40-100 survive and may also be endangered by the pet trade. Another seriously threatened sub-species lives in north and west Africa, numbering fewer than 250. Here the main threat is from demand for skins for clothing and for bones and body parts used in traditional medicine and magic rituals.

The largest surviving cheetah population – about 6200 – is in Southern Africa. Trophy hunting, costing $10,000-$20,000 (£6,000-£12,000) per animal, is allowed in Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, totaling over 200 kills per year. In South Africa, about 90 live captive-bred cheetahs are exported a year to zoos, although conservationists worry that illegal animals could be passed off as these legally-traded cheetahs.

. The South African government says it is moving towards creating cheetah stud books to enable DNA profiling.

Mitchell said he was “cautiously optimistic” that a new Cites working group, set up in response to the report’s revelations, would curb the illegal trade in cheetahs with better law enforcement. “The countries were told ‘you cannot ignore it: this is being monitored’,” he said

David Morgan, head of science at Cites, said: “Middle eastern countries spoke up very clearly and this has been a positive development. Qatar, the Emirates, Kuwait all recognized the problem.”

Morgan said the demand for endangered species, including big cats, was showing a trend from “health to wealth”, i.e. a growing emphasis on status symbols over traditional medicines. “Many Asian countries still want the trade in medicinal products, but the more show-off element seems to be rising,” he said. “It comes with the rising economies of these countries and that drives up demand. But there are so very few animals left in the wild that they cannot afford a big rise in demand.”

The recent Cites summit, which ended on Friday in Switzerland, also acted on the elephant poaching crisis. “Thailand has been given a last warning.” Morgan said. “They have been put on notice that they have to put their house in order or there will be consequences.” Unless it acts on its domestic ivory trade, a key part of the ivory chain from Africa to China, Thailand will be barred from trade in all wildlife covered by the international Cites agreement, including the lucrative orchid and cacti trades.

Interpol estimates the illegal wildlife trade to be worth $10-20bn a year, the fourth most lucrative black market after drugs, people and arms smuggling. It is already at a scale where it harms people and nations, especially in Africa, with Cites secretary general John Scanlon telling the Guardian in 2013: “It increasingly involves organised crime syndicates, and in some cases rebel militia. This poses a serious threat to the stability and economy of affected countries and robs them of their natural resources. They must be stopped.”

He said: “The UN security council have linked the Lord’s Resistance Army to ivory smuggling in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, while al-Qaida’s al-Shabaab group has been linked to illegal ivory in Somalia.

Damian Carrington|The Guardian|15 July 2014

Hot cooling canals threaten shutdown of Turkey Point

“Rising water temperatures and severe algae blooms in cooling canals have threatened to force the shutdown of two nuclear reactors at Florida Power & Light’s Turkey Point plant over the last few weeks.”

……”In a June 27 letter to the South Florida Water Management District, an FPL manager asked for emergency withdrawals of up to 30 million gallons a day of cooler water from a brackish section of the underground Biscayne Aquifer – source of most of Miami-Dade’s fresh water – to avoid shutting down its two reactors and a natural gas plant.

That same day, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection agreed to allow FPL to pump up to 14 million gallons a day but from a deeper source, the Floridan aquifer. DEP also approved the utility’s plan to dump herbicides, including copper sulfate and hydrogen peroxide, for up to 90 days to kill algae boosted by the warmer water.

The NRC, meanwhile, is still evaluating FPL’s request to increase the cooling canal temperature limits for operating the reactors.

“What they’ve run into more recently is (temperatures are) trending higher than historical averages,” said NRC spokesman Roger Hannah. “It is very warm because most plants in the country, and I don’t know specifically for all plants, but most plants would have temperatures much lower.”

High water temperatures, an algae bloom and a spreading underground saltwater plume may not appear related but they do highlight the complexity of operating a plant that depends on cool water in steamy South Florida.

Jenny Staletovich|Miami Herald|07.16.14

Read more

Calls to Action

  1. EPA, Stop Texas From Dousing Farms With  Pesticides! – here
  2. Tell Congress: Protect U.S. Communities From Fracked Gas Exports – here
  3. Tell the Obama administration to honor its promises and let science – not politics – decide what’s “endangered”here
  4. End the Faroe Islands’ Whale Slaughter – here
  5. Expand Ocean Habitat for North Atlantic Right Whales –  here
  6. Stop Cormorant Slaughter – here
  7. Please ask Secretary Jewell and Director Ashe to make protecting and recovering critically endangered Florida panthers a top priority – here 

Birds and Butterflies

Guarding the Military Macaw

Military macaws are large birds, reaching up to 30 inches from beak to the tip of their tail feathers.

The military macaw (Ara militaris) is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN and has been endangered in Mexico since 1991. It was once widespread throughout Mexico from the states of Sonora (neighboring Arizona) south to Guerrero on the Pacific side, and from Tamaulipas and Nuevo León (neighboring Texas) south to Queretaro and Oaxaca on the eastern side. Today, this bird only exists in very small, fragmented areas isolated from one another because habitat destruction and capture for the pet trade have eliminated the populations from wide areas of several Mexican states.

The most recent field survey of the military macaw in Mexico estimated a population as low as 3,072 individuals in seven aggregated populations. The second largest of these populations occurs in the states of Nayarit and Jalisco in the Pacific, which also harbors the largest nesting population. The military macaw nests high up in large trees in rain and temperate forests, but hunting and trapping have decimated many nesting populations, and cornered them into nesting in inaccessible cavities in canyon walls in some parts of Mexico.

Capture of this species is illegal – in fact, no capture has been allowed for the past 35 years. Nevertheless, the military macaw is still one of the most sought after parrot species in Mexico for the illegal pet trade. It is the fourth most seized species by the Environmental Enforcement Agency (similar to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), and it is the most seized of the endangered parrot species in Mexico. Although a total trade ban was decreed for all 22 Mexican parrots in 2008, the situation has not changed for the military macaw; in fact for many years the annual seizure trend has been climbing, proving that illegal trade in this species has not been abated.

The military macaw is sought after because of its large size and colorful plumage. It is the cheapest of all macaws native and foreign, legal or illegal, being offered for sale in Mexico, with prices ranging from as low as $100 US dollars up to $500 dollars. In some cases, the price of a military macaw is even lower than the price for an Amazona species of half its size, like the endangered yellow-headed or yellow-naped parrots.

Poachers illegally capture these birds as nestlings, juveniles and adults, but one of the biggest problems this species faces is loss of nesting trees when poachers cut them down to reach the nestlings more easily. Adequate nests for this large species are in very short supply in rain or temperate forests, which means the majority of breeding pairs do not nest during the breeding season. Adult breeding pairs of military macaws must wait many years before a nest becomes available for them. The destruction of a nesting tree affects the whole population, reducing the number of breeding pairs nesting in a given year and the number of new young macaws being hatched.

Defenders of Wildlife partnered with a team of scientists working in the Bahia de Banderas region in the state of Jalisco on the Pacific coast in a program to monitor nests of the military macaw. Our purpose was to study their breeding, but most importantly to dissuade poaching. The presence of our investigators around the nesting tree area, taking notes of the coming and going of the macaw parents, was enough to convince would-be poachers to stay away. The nest monitoring program for the 2013-2014 season was successful and no monitored nest was poached. The project monitored a total of 14 nests, from which 15 macaw chicks survived the nesting season. One of the successful nests had been poached constantly for the last ten years, and this is the first time it has produced chicks that left the nest on their own!

Of other nesting sites that have been studied in Western Mexico, this one is now the most productive of them all, making it the most important nesting site for the military macaw. And all because of the protection we were able to provide for the nests.

We are accompanying this project with a very extensive on-the-ground environmental and information campaign by distributing posters, comic and coloring books for children, which convey information on the species, its plight and the many ways communities can benefit economically by helping to keep them safe. Municipal authorities have joined the program, and are distributing posters while local NGOs are providing lectures in schools for children using our comic and coloring books.

We are also providing the area with its own quick bird ID guide to promote birdwatching projects that in turn provide income to the local landowners where the nests are. We are hoping to fund this program for several years until the local communities fully understand and accept the importance of helping this species survive and thrive amongst them, so that they can all benefit from this beautiful and magnificent macaw flying free in the sky.

If you visit Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco to enjoy its beaches, do hire a bird watching tour to see the military macaws. Your money will help fund conservation programs in the area.

Juan Carlos Cantu|Manager of Mexico Programs|Defenders of Wildlife

Five Top Spots for Birding in Florida 

Here in Florida, birding and wildlife viewing is a big deal – even bigger than you might imagine.

In fact, birding is second only to beach-related activities as a form of outdoor recreation for both visitors and residents. The trend is still on the rise, so count on seeing more and more people carrying binoculars and spotting scopes around the Sunshine State.

If you’re already into birding, you probably know that Florida is considered one of the best places in the world for the activity. Here are five of the top spots you don’t want to miss:

*   Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge – For Titusville, having one of the state’s most diverse wildlife habitats on your doorstep is a good thing. In January, the area hosts the annual Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival, which is the largest of its kind in the country. Birders flock to the area en masse to get a look at migrating waterfowl and all manner of shorebirds along Black Point Wildlife Drive, a 7-mile loop around salt marsh impoundments. Whether you’re visiting for a day or a week, you’re sure to check a few species off your life list here.

*   Everglades National Park - When wildlife lovers dream, they more than likely dream about the Everglades. Not only is it a National Park, it’s also designated as an International Biosphere Reserve for its ecological importance. Residents of Everglades National Park include the Florida panther, American crocodile, the rare Ghost orchid, manatees and much more. For a good day trip, check out the Anhinga Trail and the Shark Valley tram. www.nps.gov/ever

*   Dry Tortugas National Park - Located about 70 miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico, Dry Tortugas National Park is a little difficult to reach, but the reward is well worth the effort. Catch a ride on the Yankee Freedom Ferry, a high-speed catamaran that can get you there in just a couple of hours. Go in the spring and you’ll be rewarded with the rare sight of thousands of Sooty terns and Brown noddies nesting on Bush Key. www.nps.gov/drto

*   J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge - Year-round birding and wildlife viewing is terrific on Sanibel Island. At “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, you can drive around the 4-mile Wildlife Drive and get looks at Roseate spoonbills and Gray kingbirds. Take a walk on the Indigo Trail in the summer months, where Mangrove cuckoos can be found. www.fws.gov/dingdarling

*   STA5/Lake Okeechobee - It’s not a National Park or a National Wildlife Refuge, but STA-5 is one of the best birding spots in South Florida. Stormwater treatment areas are designed to filter out excess nutrients that would otherwise flow to the Everglades, but they also turn out to be excellent places for birding. To access STA-5, you’ll need to register a visit with one of the local Audubon Society chapters. The birding is fantastic year-round, and you’ll definitely add a few life-listers at STA-5. www.hendrygladesaudubon.org

If five locations aren’t enough, don’t worry. The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail covers the entire state, with 514 official sites to explore. Check out www.floridabirdingtrail.com  for more information.

Decline in birds, not just bees, linked to neonicotinoid pesticides

Pesticides likely affect birds by causing a decline in insects they use to feed their young

It’s not just the bees that are harmed by controversial crop pesticides called neonicotinoids – the birds are also disappearing in places where there are high concentrations of the pesticide in the environment, a new study suggests.

The study led by researchers at Radboud University in the Netherlands compared concentrations of the neonicotinoid pesticide imidacloprid measured in lakes and other surface waters around the Netherlands to local changes in 15 farmland bird species from 2003 to 2010.

They found that in areas where concentrations of the pesticide were more than 20 nanograms per liter, populations of birds such as barn swallows, tree sparrow and common starlings fell 3.5 per cent a year, compared to the average population trend for their species. They published their findings in the most recent issue of the journal Nature.

“Neonicotinoids were always regarded as selective toxins. But our results suggest that they may affect the entire ecosystem,” said Hans de Kroon, a co-author of the paper, in a news release from Radboud University.

Neonicotinoid pesticides have been used since 1995 in the Netherlands and are also commonly used in North America. They are typically coated on agricultural seeds for crops such as corn and canola to protect the plants from insect pests such as aphids. Studies showing harmful effects of the pesticides in bees have prompted the European Commission to introduce a partial, temporary ban on three kinds of neonicotinoids, including imidacloprid, in Europe.

Neonicotinoids act as a neurotoxin for insects, but previous studies have shown they’re not very toxic to birds. Because of that, the Dutch researchers think the decline in birds is probably due to pesticides unintentionally killing off the insects they rely on to feed their young during the breeding season.

However, they said they can’t rule out the possibility of other ways the pesticide may be affecting birds, such as through direct ingestion. According to a study published by Environment Canada researcher Pierre Mineau in 2013, at a single kernel of imidacloprid-treated corn can kill small and “blue jay-sized birds,” and sicken larger ones. However, in the Dutch study, all the birds either ate exclusively insects or fed their young exclusively insects during the breeding season.

Other factors tested

In a video posted by Radboud University, de Kroon said his team “looked very thoroughly” for other possible factors besides neonicotinoid pesticides that could explain the results.

“Our analysis shows that based on our data imidacloprid was by far the best explanatory variable for differences in trends between areas,” he added.

The researchers discovered the trend by looking at bird count data along with data about imidacloprid concentrations in waterways collected by the local water boards. While many bird species started declining before farmers started using imidacloprid in 1995, local differences in their decline didn’t appear until after that time.

In an analysis piece accompanying the paper in Science, University of Sussex biologist Dave Goulson, who studies bees and other insects, noted that only five per cent of imidacloprid applied to crops is actually taken up by the crops themselves. The rest blows away or gets washed into waterways, and may get taken up by other plants.

A number of other researchers have previously suggested that neonicotinoids could be having a negative effect on birds, including Mineau and University of Saskatchewan biologist Christy Morrissey.

CBC News|Jul 14, 2014

Entomologist: 3 butterflies native to Florida have become extinct

An entomologist has searched the past 6 years for 3 species of Florida butterflies and, unable to find them, believes them extinct. Entomologist Marc Minno says it brings to 7 the number of North American species believed extinct.

Minno conducted his lengthy survey for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District. He told Reuters Monday that the loss of the 3 species is a harbinger of something troubling.

“It’s indicating there are major problems, environmental harm to Florida,” Minno said. “And this is an indication that quality for people is also degrading, and people should be worried about that,”

Previous to his survey and conclusions, 4 butterfly species in the U.S. were extinct; Minno says confirming these 3 newly-found-to-be extinct species marks the first time a species has become extinct in the country in the past 55 years. The 3 newly-declared extinct butterfly species are the Florida Zestos Skipper, the Rockland Meske’s Skipper, and the Keys Zarucco Skipper.

Marcus Hondro|Apr 30, 2013

Going Deep

Gannets are the bird world’s Olympians, capable of plunging a hundred feet through the air, then slicing through the ocean to chase down fish. 

The wind blows a low glinting light over the white chop of the sea, spouts of water kicking straight up in the air. Hundreds of Northern Gannets, with six-foot wingspans, gather above the frothy ocean before tucking in their wings and dropping from the sky, hitting the water like white arrows. The birds cloud the air, dozens diving each second as if pulled from above toward some invisible vortex on the seafloor. It’s amazing they don’t collide with one another. Once they hit the water they don’t stop; they tunnel below it like a cormorant or loon, chasing down fish. These pursuits can last from five to seven seconds, occasionally more than 10, and take the birds down as far as 70 feet. The gannet’s plunge is almost three dives in one: the dive from the air, the slice into the water, and then the third dive, when they turn submariner.

Northern Gannets breed only in a few large colonies on rock cliffs, in fewer than 40 places in the world. They range across Quebec, Newfoundland, and the Gulf of St. Lawrence in North America, and from Brittany north to Norway in Europe. Their homes are remote, storm-tossed, and, at times, almost vertical, some nests held to the cliffs only by the bird’s own dung. You could build a poem just from the names of these great craggy rocks on both sides of the Atlantic: Bass Rock, Gullcliff, Bird Rock, Little Skellig, Sula Sgeir, Ailsa Craig. The largest of the single-island colonies, Bass Rock, holds more than 50,000 nests, and while there is something wild and singular about a gannet’s dive, the bird’s life, both in the air and on the ground, is a crowded one. We humans, upon seeing gannets plummet, usually reach for a metaphor and come up with words like “arrows,” “knives,” even “lawn darts.” But the similes are more consistent upon seeing their rocky homes: Almost everyone comes away from the experience saying that it looks as if the rocks were covered with snow.

To breed among thousands of neighbors is tricky, and violence can break out at any moment, particularly between males, with sword-like bills stabbing. But what may at first look like a great blob of birds is actually ordered by an elaborate system of spacing and ritual, including courteous bows and not-so-courteous bites, and beautiful gestures like “sky-pointing,” when a gannet points its bill upward to indicate its imminent departure to its mate. It turns out that even gannets need their space, and if you measure the distance between nests, you will find exactly two for every 10 square feet.

Like many seabirds, northern Gannets are attentive parents, guarding and feeding their single chick for up to 90 days. But when they cut the cord they really cut the cord. One day the young, which have never flown and have hardly moved from the nest, waddle to cliff ‘s edge and take a great plunge into uncertainty. At Bass Rock, they leap off the ledge and glide down to the water more than 100 feet below. According to Bryan Nelson’s classic The Gannet: “Unable to rise from the water because of their excessive weight and still without fully developed wing muscles, they begin a southward migration to middle Atlantic regions.” That is to say, they begin their first migration by swimming south, developing the strength to fly along the way.

Northern gannets are the largest member of the Sulidae, a family that includes the Cape Gannet in southern Africa; the Australasian Gannet of New Zealand, Tasmania, and southern Australia; and, more famously, the boobies, which fill the gannet niche in the warmer waters close to the equator.

There are of course some threats to gannets. I remember walking through the dunes on Cape Cod after a nor’easter and finding several gannets with broken necks, a surprisingly vulnerable part of the anatomy for a creature that makes its living falling from the sky. It is also worth noting that while oiled pelicans were the media stars of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the first avian fatality was a gannet that had not yet migrated back from its winter home. Imagine diving into a pool of oil.

More depressing, and certainly more peculiar, is the northern Scottish tradition of hunting and eating “guga,” the Scots’ name for gannet chicks. “The chicks are killed with a stick, decapitated, singed in fire, and then pickled–producing a delicacy that has been enjoyed by islanders for hundreds of years,” reports The Independent. There might be a way to twist this into sounding honorable and old-fashioned were it not for a newer tradition: In 2013 the social wing of Scotland’s Ness football club staged its first “world championship” for eating pickled guga.

But the gannet population is a healthy one, a million birds and growing by most accounts. And while few humans will ever visit a gannet colony, each winter the birds make it easy on us, flying south in great numbers and giving us a chance to witness their aerobatics. It is a show that shouldn’t be missed. When a single gannet dives it is a wildly impressive feat, but when hundreds of them plummet headfirst, one after another, it leaves the watcher breathless. Excitement is too weak a word; giddiness may work better. The birds search the waters from the sky in great symphonic swoops, lifting, pausing, and readjusting before letting gravity do its work, though sometimes supplementing gravity with a couple of power strokes before finally piercing the boiling sea. Though they can descend straight down, they will often follow a particular fish, banking and angling and even corkscrewing through the air. The gannets hit the water with a great thud and send up an impressive splash. Watching them once as they dove, I suddenly saw humpback whales hunting for the same group of fish, and the birds’ splashes and whales’ spouting became almost indistinguishable.

They are the kings of two realms, and if, during the first part of their headlong descent, they look like circus high divers, then during the last they cut through the watery world like heat-seeking torpedoes zeroing in on a target. My field guide calls gannets “gluttons,” able to consume 10 herring or four large mackerel consecutively, which supply their nonstop internal engines. They dive so much because they need more fish, and they need more fish because they dive so much.

Gannets are cold-weather birds, and you can see them close to shore on bracing days, days of whitecaps and wind and purple clouds, days when the thought of plunging into water leads to involuntary shivers. But once, on a calmer, warmer day in North Carolina, I had the chance to see a gannet dive from a fish’s point of view. Due to the mild weather, I was able to conduct an experiment that I would never have thought possible. I walked to the edge of the water, stripped down to my boxers, and swam out to where the birds were diving.

Numb legs were a small price to pay for a new perspective. I now had a front-row seat, just two dozen feet away. I could feel the gannets hit the water with a great slicing violence. The birds shot into the surf, using gravity and a last thrust of the neck to spear through the surface. Then they disappeared from sight. I knew that gannets could dive from more than 100 feet in the air and reach speeds of 40 miles an hour, but I had never felt those facts like I did that day. I watched the birds plunge and wondered: What does it feel like, that moment of contact and immersion, entering into the dark wetness and immediately giving chase to animals who know only a liquid realm? What skill to both dive with Olympian grace and swim well enough to overtake fish! If I’m honest, it made me a little jealous. Imagine the sheer athletic joy of it. Imagine being equally at ease in both worlds.

Watch the Gannets Dive

David Gessner|Audubon Newsletter|July-August 2014This story ran as “Going Deep” in the July-August 2014 issue. 

 Florida Panthers

Ask USFWS and the Department of Interior To Give Panthers Room To Roam!

Florida panthers once prowled and flourished in America’s southeastern woodlands and swamps, but today fewer than 160 remain.

Florida panthers once prowled and flourished in America’s southeastern woodlands and swamps, but today fewer than 160 of these majestic cats remain in a tiny remnant of their historic range. And that habitat is shrinking every day — gobbled up by subdivisions and commercial development.

We’re in a race against time. As panther habitat becomes more and more fragmented, it will be increasingly difficult for these creatures to stay out of harm’s way.

  Invasive species

Exotic Pet Amnesty Days

Become part of the solution to our non-native animal problem.

The outlook for Florida’s native ecosystems can seem grim as we hear more about the spread of non-native animals, and so many cases where it seems we are unable to control or exterminate populations once they’ve become established. Unfortunately, this is often a sad reality due to our sub-tropical climate, interconnected wetland habitats, and highly-mobile human population, among other factors. While it appears many unwelcomed non-native animals are here to stay, one of our greatest tools for protecting our state is helping prevent new releases.

The majority of non-native animals threatening our native species are former pets who have either accidentally escaped or been intentionally released. In an effort to reduce the latter, FWC organizes Exotic Pet Amnesty Days where pet owners who can no longer care for their exotic pets can surrender them to willing adopters. From snakes and turtles to hedgehogs and parrots, to date this program has helped re-home over 1,900 unwanted pets that might have otherwise been released into our neighborhoods, parks, or canals, and has helped educate the public about the problems created by releasing non-native animals.

Helping with this amnesty program is a great way to be part of the solution to our non-native animal problem. Audubon members and other friends are needed to volunteer at or help sponsor or organize events in their community. Pet lovers can also help by signing up to become adopters.

Information on all aspects of this program can be found online, or by contacting Exotic Pet Amnesty Program coordinator, Liz Barraco, at 954-577-6409 or Liz.Barraco@MyFWC.com.

Invaders in Recent News:

  • Despite efforts to eradicate Gambian pouched rats (a giant species that can reach up to 9 pounds) on Grassy Key in the Florida Keys, the populations appears to be persisting and the public’s help is needed to report them to FWC. More details can be found in this article from the Miami Herald.
  • A research team from University of Florida has used remote cameras to document Argentine tegus stealing eggs from native Florida reptiles, confirming that they are a potential threat to our native turtles, alligators and crocodiles. More details can be found in this news release from UF.
  • In an effort to reduce the damage done to Florida reefs and wildlife by lionfish, this month FWC launched a new smartphone app for reporting lionfish seen or caught in Florida waters. The app also provides educational and safe handling information for these spiny, venomous fish. More details can be found on FWC’s website.

Invasive Species Spotlight: Bullseye Snakehead

Bullseye Snakehead are a large, elongate fish (looking similar to our native bowfin) with sharp teeth and the ability to breathe air. Native to southeast Asia, these ambush predators are bottom-dwelling, feeding primarily on small fish and crustaceans but able to eat a wide variety of prey including turtles, amphibians and snakes.

In Florida, the snakehead population appears to currently be isolated in Broward County, although they have the potential to succeed throughout the southern half of peninsular Florida, if introduced. In the Everglades CISMA’s recent Non-Native Fish Round Up, one winning fisherman returned over 60 pounds of snakeheads. Fishermen should refrain from re-releasing all non-native fishes and should be particularly careful to avoid spreading non-native fish, invertebrates and aquatic vegetation to new locations.

Audubon encourages the use of IveGot1 to report sightings of snakeheads and all other non-native fishes to help track their spread.

While visiting Florida’s Special Places, help early detection and tracking efforts by reporting any non-native species you see online or using your smartphone (call 1-888-IVE-GOT-1 if you have a live animal in front of you).

How a 12-Year-Old Girl’s Science Project Changed the Way Scientists See Lionfish

Lauren Arrington was in the process of trying to figure out her sixth grade science project when she noticed a lionfish while fishing in the Loxahatchee River in south Florida. Lionfish had been spotted in Florida as early as 2010 and have since spread to many of its waters. Surprised to find it, the 12-year-old wanted to see if a dead lionfish’s spikes would still be venomous. Her father discouraged her from the idea, unwilling to be a human test subject. The daughter of two scientists began to wonder how the lionfish was surviving in the river and decided to do some investigating.

The results of her experiment would end up in a science journal and change the way scientists are dealing with a pervasive lionfish invasion in non-native waters.

A native of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the lionfish is relatively harmless in its natural habitat. Its prey consists of other marine animals in its environment. With a stomach that can expand to 30 times its normal volume, it can consume creatures that are up to half its body size and is only limited to prey that can fit into its mouth. Other species that include the lionfish as part of their diet include sharks, groupers, large eels and humans. The beauty of the lionfish’s long mane-like spikes makes it a favorite in exotic aquariums and belies their venomous nature.

For decades, however, the lionfish has been on a path of destruction pushing our earth’s waters to the brink of an ecological disaster.

The intentional release of lionfish from home aquariums has put them into non-native waters in the Western Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Prolific breeders with the ability to release up to 2 million eggs per year, the lionfish population has increased exponentially in just a few decades. They feed on marine animals that keep coral reefs healthy, as well as their eggs and offspring.

Devouring the marine life in their environment is something a lionfish does really, really well.

With the help of her father Lauren captured a few to take home to observe. She was aware of the lionfish invasion and decided to see in what conditions the lionfish could survive. She called her experiment Understanding the Limits of Lionfish Invasion. The hypothesis was that lionfish needed a certain amount of salinity in their environment. Scientists measure water salinity by the amount of salt found in 1000 grams of water. So if there is one gram of salt in 1000 grams of water, the amount of salinity would be expressed as 1 part per thousand, or 1ppt.

The salinity of the area where Lauren found the lionfish is part of the Jupiter inlet that connects to the Atlantic Ocean and averaged the same ocean salinity of 35 parts per thousand.

For two weeks, Lauren observed the lionfish’s food intake and stress levels as she reduced the salinity of the water. She believed that because of their natural ocean habitat, it would be unable to survive with a salinity of less than 13 parts per thousand. However, when that level was reached, there was no change in their behavior. She continued to lower the levels until she reached a salinity of 6 ppt. The lionfish survived.

Lauren had discovered that lionfish can survive in freshwater.

Her experiment got the attention of researchers at Florida International University and North Carolina State University. Due to the rules of the science fair, Lauren didn’t take the salinity any lower out of fear that the fish would die. Other researchers took the salinity to zero, discovering that the lionfish could tolerate a minimum of 5 parts per 1000 – generally the lowest salinity of most freshwater bodies.

The discovery is significant because scientists have not thought to look for the dangerous predator in freshwater areas until now. This completely human-made threat of the lionfish to ecosystems and commercial fishing is now much greater than previous believed. They can be a threat in the freshwaters where fish nurseries are kept and feed on the eggs and juvenile fish. They could also be feeding on any number of freshwater species not previously known to be in danger.

Not to mention, there are no natural predators for the lionfish in any of these areas.

In response, the state of Florida has banned the import of live lionfish into the area as of August 1, 2014. They have also expanded the areas where people can legally spear the lionfish with a permit. Harvesting of the fish is also being allowed as part of the effort to reduce the population. Researchers have also put out an alert to be on the lookout for the fish in previously unexamined waters.

Lauren’s research has since been peer reviewed three times. The results of the expanded study by Dr. Craig Layman, Chancellor’s Faculty Excellence Fellow at North Carolina State University, and Zachary Jud, a graduate student at Florida International University, was published this year in the journal Environmental Biology of Fishes. Lauren’s research was cited and credited with the initial discovery.

Not bad for a 12-year-old whose research project earned her third place in a sixth grade science fair

Crystal Shepeard|July 13, 2014

USDA Announces First Citrus Greening Funding Allocations

United States Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Tuesday more than $1.5 million in funding to expand bio-control efforts to fight Huanglongbing (HLB), also known as citrus greening. This action is the first designation of funds by the Huanglongbing Multi-agency Coordination Group (HLB MAC Group) since it was established by Vilsack in December.

“Citrus greening poses a significant threat to the citrus industry and the thousands of jobs that depend on it. It could also further drive up fruit and juice prices if we don’t act,” said Secretary Tom Vilsack. “USDA is committed to fighting and beating this destructive disease.”

The funds announced Tuesday have enabled USDA to sign cooperative agreements with Florida (Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumers Services), Texas (Texas Citrus Pest and Disease Management Corporation), and California (Citrus Research Board and California Department of Food and Agriculture) to coordinate the fight against citrus greening. These joint efforts will significantly increase the production of the parasitic wasp known to control populations of Asian citrus psyllid (ACP), the pest that spreads citrus greening in citrus trees.

Florida, Texas and California have developed biocontrol expansion plans that factor in regional elements in order to quickly bolster biocontrol production and release. This will expand the ability to control the ACP on a larger scale, especially in urban areas where citrus trees grow in yards as well as organic orchards. USDA’s efforts surrounding biocontrol date back to 2009.

Secretary Vilsack created the HLB MAC Group last December to foster greater coordination among federal and state agencies in responding to citrus greening. The Group includes representatives from USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), as well as State departments of agriculture and the citrus industry. The HLB MAC Group serves to coordinate and prioritize Federal research with industry’s efforts to complement and fill research gaps, reduce unnecessary duplication, speed progress, and more quickly provide practical tools for citrus growers to use.

Previous USDA research funding to fight HLB includes commitments of approximately $1.5 million in each of the past three fiscal years by ARS in addition to NIFA steadily awarding increased grants from $878,000 in FY 2009 up to $10.4 million in FY 2012. Since 2006, the USDA has cumulatively invested more than $300 million on research efforts and actions associated with citrus health and combating citrus greening.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also announced today the appointment of 3 individuals to serve on the Citrus Disease Subcommittee, a subcommittee of the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics (NAREEE) Advisory Board’s Specialty Crop Committee.

In 2011, the Secretary established the Citrus Disease Research and Development Advisory Committee as a permanent committee within the NAREEE Advisory Board to study the scope and effectiveness of research, extension, and economics programs affecting the citrus industry as it directly relates to citrus disease particularly citrus greening. The Agricultural Act of 2014 formally codified the Citrus Disease Subcommittee, which is composed of 9 members and operates under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Research, Education, and Economics (REE) Mission Area.

Each of the 9 Citrus Disease Subcommittee members must be a producer of citrus from Florida (5 representatives), California or Arizona (3 representatives), or Texas (1 representative). Each member serves a 2-3 year appointment. Terms for members overlap so that approximately one-third of the Subcommittee is replaced and/or reappointed each year.

The following members have been appointed to a 3-year term to expire on September 30, 2016:

  • David F. Howard, Vice President, Graves Brothers Company in Vero Beach, Florida;
  • Matthew McLean, CEO and Founder of Uncle Matt’s Organics in Clermont, Florida; and
  • Justin D. Brown, Vice President and General Manager, D Bar J Orchards, Inc. in Orange Grove, California.

The Citrus Disease Subcommittee advises the Secretary of Agriculture on citrus research, extension, and development needs, engages in regular consultation and collaboration with USDA, and provides recommendations for research and extension activities related to citrus disease.

The new members of the Citrus Disease Subcommittee will start work almost immediately when the subcommittee holds its first meeting beginning at noon on Monday, May 19 and Tuesday, May 20, 2014, at the NIFA Waterfront Center, 800 9th Street, SW, Washington, DC. Members will begin with a brief orientation session and an overview of current USDA research activities related to citrus greening. The members will then develop recommendations and vote on the priorities and agenda of the Emergency Citrus Disease Research and Extension program.

The meeting is open to the public, but those interested in attending must register by contacting Shirley Morgan-Jordan at Shirley.Morgan@ars.usda.gov or calling (202) 720-3684. A public comment period will be available at the end of each meeting or interested individuals may provide written comment for the public record if it is postmarked by May 30, 2014.

USDA|May 14th, 2014

For more information on the USDA MAC Group, please visit: www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?navid=citrus

Invasive Burmese pythons beginning to hatch

Burmese python eggs are hatching in parts of Southwest Florida. The Conservancy Science and Research Team and Florida Fish and Wildlife need your help to locate and capture these snakes.

There is no reason to be alarmed. But we do need people to be informed and alert so they can report sightings of this nonvenomous constrictor.

Adult female pythons that have been sitting on their eggs for the past two months and they will often leave their clutch a few days before they hatch.

They can travel a good distance searching for food and water and will typically be seen crossing roadways where they can be observed with greater frequency.

Hatchlings will typically show up on the roads soon after, often moving at night. They are usually found dead on the roads from vehicle strikes early in the morning.

Very few hatchlings have been reported north of Tamiami Trail and most pythons are spotted well away from the urban areas of Naples.

Burmese pythons are tan in color with dark blotches on the back and sides that are irregular shaped and fit together like puzzle pieces. Burmese pythons have a dark brown arrowhead shape on top of their head and a dark wedge behind the eye.

It’s very important to note that Florida has many beneficial native snakes that are often misidentified as small pythons.

We absolutely do not want you to go out and start killing snakes that you believe to be a Burmese python. Instead, the best approach is to use the contact information below if you think you’ve spotted one.

What can you do?

If you spot a snake and you’re unsure what type it is, check the FWC website http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/nonnatives/ for more information on non-native species.

Please keep a lookout for pythons on the roadways for the next few weeks. Take photos and a GPS location and report to the Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System webpage at www.ivegot1.org. And if you search “Ivegot1″ in the App Store, you can even download it right onto your phone!

If you’re standing in front of a large invasive snake, call 1-888-IVE-GOT1.

The geographic data helps researchers document the Burmese pythons’ expansion into new areas.

If you are interested in assisting the Conservancy over the next few weeks with night time road-cruising surveys, please contact Ian Bartoszek by email.

Please remember pythons are not a direct threat to humans but they are a considerable ecological threat to Florida’s native wildlife species.

Watch a short Video

Endangered Species

BRING BACK THE POLLINATORS!

Bees are undoubtedly the most abundant pollinators of flowering plants in our environment. The service that bees and other pollinators provide allows nearly 70 percent of all flowering plants to reproduce; the fruits and seeds from insect pollinated plants account for over 30 percent of the foods and beverages that we consume. Beyond agriculture, pollinators are keystone species in most terrestrial ecosystems. Fruits and seeds derived from insect pollination are a major part of the diet of approximately 25 percent of all birds, and of mammals ranging from red-backed voles to grizzly bears. However, many of our native bee pollinators are at risk, and the status of many more is unknown. Habitat loss, alteration, and fragmentation, pesticide use, and introduced diseases all contribute to declines of bees.

The Xerces Society advocates on behalf of bees. We are working with scientists and citizen monitors to understand the status of declining bumble bees and other rare species. We also work with lawmakers on legislation that encourages pollinator-friendly habitat restoration. Xerces Society staff consult with farmers, homeowners, and land stewards to restore the landscape for the benefit of bee pollinators.

Learn more about our Pollinator Conservation program. 

110 Research Chimps from Notorious Lab Retire to Sanctuary

It was a long and difficult road, but 110 former laboratory chimpanzees are now living the good life, far from the cages and experimentation that dominated their existence for decades.

The last of these lucky primates, ranging in age from 1 to 50, have arrived at Chimp Haven, the organization announce on July 2. There they will spend the remainder of their lives in comfort, able to play and interact with other chimps. It’s a joyous time for them after years spent locked away and tormented as government-funded research subjects.

Chimp Haven, a 200-acre facility located in Keithville, La., is the designated National Chimpanzee Sanctuary. Since 1995, it has provided permanent lifelong sanctuary for chimpanzees retired or rescued from biomedical research, the entertainment industry and private owners.

A Two-Year Journey From a Lab to a Life Worth Living

The bumpy road to sanctuary for the began in 2012, when the National Institutes of Health (NIH) decided to retire 110 of its research chimps from the now notorious New Iberia Research Center (NIRC).

Initially the NIH’s plan was to send only 10 chimps to Chimp Haven and the other 100 to the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio. While they would not have been used further for active research in Texas, living in that facility wasn’t exactly the type of “retirement” most people wanted for these chimps.

It was simply an unacceptable outcome in the opinion of Chimp Haven’s president and CEO, Cathy Willis Spraetz.

“When we learned that all of the chimpanzees would not be retired to Chimp Haven, we felt they were being robbed of what was promised to them in the [Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance and Protection] Act, signed into law in 2000 and reauthorized in 2013,” Spraetz said in a press release.

The CHIMP Act provided that government-owned chimpanzees no longer needed for research would be retired to the National Chimpanzee Sanctuary, not sent to live in a lab.

Chimp Haven wanted to take in all of the NIRC chimps, but as of late 2012 didn’t have the facilities to care for so many. It needed to expand substantially to be able to house and properly care for them. In addition to the normal needs of chimpanzees, Chimp Haven has to be prepared to handle a variety of significant and permanent health conditions such as HIV and hepatitis affecting many of the chimp residents.

The group began an aggressive fundraising campaign called the Road to Chimp Haven. Its ambitious goal: to raise $5 million to cover construction and initial care expenses.

Generous donations from the National Anti-Vivisection Society, the American Anti-Vivisection Society, the New England Anti-Vivsection Society, the Humane Society of the United States and animal activists Bob Barker and Anita Hirsh enabled Chimp Haven to realize its dream. According to Chimp Haven:

Since the start of construction last year, six play areas have been completed which enabled the sanctuary to complete the transitioning phase for the chimpanzees. Currently, several bedrooms and one large open play ground are nearing completion which will allow more room for future growth.

Thanks to over 8,000 Care2 petition signatures and the many animal organizations and activists who raised funds and lobbied hard for these chimps, the NIH changed its mind. It agreed to retire all 110 of its NIRC chimpanzees to Chimp Haven.

“It was necessary to devise a plan that would offer a safe and caring atmosphere, one where these chimpanzees can live the rest of their lives in large social groups and determine on their own how they will spend their days, ” Spraetz said. “We, along with many others, felt that environment could only be achieved at Chimp Haven and thank NIH for reconsidering the plans for these chimpanzees.”

Undercover Work Revealed Disturbing Practices at New Iberia Lab

In 2009, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) placed an undercover investigator inside the New Iberia Research Center for nine months. Watch this video to see what HSUS revealed about how NIRC treated these chimps and other primates:

“In no lab I have visited have I seen so many chimpanzees exhibit such intense fear. The screaming I heard when chimpanzees were being forced to move toward the dreaded needle in their squeeze cages was, for me, absolutely horrifying,” renowned primate expert Dr. Jane Goodall told HSUS.

Thankfully, for the federally funded NIH chimps now living at Chimp Haven, this nightmare is over.

“We are thrilled that this great day has finally arrived,” Spraetz said. “Many organizations and individuals have worked tirelessly to ensure these chimpanzees would have a new beginning in a sanctuary environment. Our dreams have finally been realized for these amazing animals.”

The work isn’t done, however. “Because of the generosity of our donors, we have made great strides for these beautiful animals,” Spraetz said. “However, the public’s help is needed to close the $2 million funding gap that still remains and must be earmarked for their daily care for the remainder of their lives.”

This was one more wonderful step towards completion of NIH’s plan to retire 300 laboratory chimps. The bad news, however, is that the New Iberia Research Center is still up and running and still experimenting on primates. Only the federally funded chimps owned by the NIH were retired from that lab.

A heartbreaking 230 chimpanzees, along with other primates, are still owned by NIRC or others. They remain at that facility, suffering daily. When will their day of freedom arrive?

Susan Bird|July 14, 2014

Sad News for Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks, But There is Hope!

It’s not really the kind of “first” you want to be: The peculiar-looking but oddly beautiful scalloped hammerhead shark has just become the first shark species to be added to the US Endangered Species List.

Sphyrna lewini, as they’re known, are coastal to semi-oceanic sharks with a number of extremely vulnerable subpopulations. The move to classify them as endangered is in response to lobbying from several animal welfare groups who hoped to secure additional protections for these amazing creatures before it’s too late.

You see, the sharks are caught on a double-edged sword because of their habits; they tend to school closely together in large groups, which may be a useful adaptation for them, but it doesn’t work out so well in areas with active fisheries. Scalloped hammerheads of all ages and sizes are a common bycatch, which poses a serious risk to maintaining healthy populations because it’s difficult for the majestic animals to reproduce at replacement rate when their ranks are continually being thinned. Furthermore, and like other shark species, scalloped hammerheads are also targeted for their fins, which are considered a delicacy in China.

In response to growing concerns about the dwindling populations of scalloped hammerheads in the Eastern Atlantic and Eastern Pacific oceans, groups including Friends of Animals and WildEarth Guardians filed petitions with the National Marine Fisheries Service. Costa Rica and Ecuador also applied pressure to increase protections for these sharks before it’s too late. After considering the case and looking at the numbers, the agency agreed that the sharks were in need of stronger legal protections, and it took the important step of listing them as endangered, joining the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in its assessment of the threats facing scalloped hammerheads.

The US Endangered Species Act is the toughest piece of wildlife protection legislation in the world — like some of the very animals it aims to protect, it has serious teeth. Listing these sharks doesn’t just send a clear message that the US is concerned about their populations. It also entitles them to more legal protections, including: restrictions on the sale, trade, or ownership of scalloped hammerheads and products derived from them; closer monitoring of fisheries; harsher penalties for bycatch injuries; and more.

Shark advocates are pleased by this victory, which will make it easier to protect scalloped hammerheads, but they’re also concerned.

Hammerheads in general are a very fragile shark species (“fragile” and “shark” aren’t words you expected to encounter in the same sentence, were they?) and some fear that relatives of the scalloped hammerheads are also rapidly on the way to endangered status themselves, or possible extinction. Advocates also stress that while the endangered classification in the US provides legal protections here and on goods trafficked through the US (a nation which has been aggressively cracking down on trafficking in endangered species), global action is necessary to protect all sharks, including the scalloped hammerhead.

Sadly, without an international commitment to conservation, these mysterious, beautiful, almost unearthly creatures could vanish forever.

s.e. smith|July 14, 2014

Help wolverines get the protection they deserve

In Hollywood and in sports, wolverines symbolize fearlessness, strength, and determination. But in America’s wildlands, wolverines are fighting a losing battle against politics.

A leaked memo revealed that the Obama administration may overrule the conclusions of federal wildlife biologists and deny the last 250-300 wolverines in the lower 48 states Endangered Species Act protections. This decision has more to do with politics than science.

Though celebrated in pop culture, there are fewer than 300 wolverines still hanging on in the lower 48 states – and only 3 in Oregon. [0 in Michigan, “The Wolverine State”.] Last year, federal wildlife officials proposed Endangered Species Act protection for wolverines after finding that climate change is rapidly shrinking the snowy habitat they need to survive. These tenacious animals have also been hit hard by logging, off road vehicles, and other forms of habitat destruction.

Ignoring these facts, Montana and Wyoming – the same anti-wildlife states that demanded removal of endangered species protections for gray wolves – voiced their objections. The Obama administration now appears ready to bow to these states’ demands and overrule the recommendations of US Fish and Wildlife scientists.

When Obama took office, he promised he would put a stop to political interference in endangered species conservation. In 2009, the President promised that “…the work of scientists and experts in my administration, including right here in the Interior Department, will be respected. For more than three decades, the Endangered Species Act has successfully protected our nation’s most threatened wildlife, and we should be looking for ways to improve it, not weaken it.”

Last week’s leaked memo contradicts that promise. 

Wolverines are tough, but not tough enough to survive the politics of Washington, DC – and they need our help. President Obama needs to hear loud and clear that Americans want wolverines and other endangered species protected, not driven to extinction. Sign the petition to protect wolverines and tell President Obama to honor his promises to keep politics out of endangered species conservation!

You can help wolverines get the protection they need. Please sign #3 in “Calls to Action” above.

Quinn Read|Wildlife Coordinator|Oregon Wild

Grizzly Bears to Benefit From Closing Costly, Anachronistic Federal Sheep Station in Idaho

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Asked to Follow Through With June Proposal to Close 99-year-old USDA Facility

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo.— Conservation groups sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack today urging him not only to follow through on his proposal to close the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Sheep Experiment Station, west of Yellowstone, but to permanently end sheep grazing on more than 50,000 additional acres of public lands that provide important habitat corridors between the national park and Idaho for lynx, wolves and grizzly bears.

“We fully stand by Secretary Vilsack’s decision to shutter the sheep station,” Said Bryan Bird, Wild Places Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “It a relic of federal government subsidies for the livestock industry and the majority of Americans value Western public lands for wildlife and recreation not as a feed lot for a fading industry.”

As part of the plan, the organizations asked that the sheep station’s 48,000 acres be transferred to the nearby Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, and that an additional 56,000 acres grazed by the station on Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands be permanently closed to livestock.

“This is great news for Yellowstone’s beleaguered wildlife,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Closing this anachronistic and wasteful USDA facility will provide safer habitat for wolves, grizzly bears, bighorn sheep and other sensitive animals that are part of the fabric of our national identity.”

The Sheep Experiment Station was founded in 1915, during President Woodrow Wilson’s administration, to conduct research aiding the sheep industry. But as noted in Secretary Vilsack’s decision letter, “the unit no longer has the critical mass of scientists.” Furthermore, the sheep station had conducted no environmental review of its activities, as the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act requires for all major federal activities, until it was sued by the Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project in 2007. Since that lawsuit was settled in 2008, the sheep station has missed multiple deadlines to document its effects on wildlife, even as other federal and state agencies repeatedly expressed concerns with those impacts.

“The livestock industry needs to face the fact that times have changed,” said Travis Bruner, Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project. “The American public values wildlife corridors and ecological function over economically irresponsible government sheep ‘experiments.’ We applaud Secretary Vilsack’s decision and hope he will stand strong in the face of special interest pressure to reconsider.”

The sheep station grazes its namesake livestock close to the world’s largest aggregation of bighorn sheep, which are at risk from diseases spread by their domestic counterparts. 

The sheep station also isolates genetically lynx, wolves and grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park, because the station includes lands such as the Centennial Mountains that form a corridor of habitat between Yellowstone and the wildlands of central Idaho. In 2009 another branch of the USDA, Wildlife Services, killed the eight-member Sage Creek Pack of wolves due to depredations that began with the killing of a single sheep from the sheep station. 

In 2012 a radio-collared grizzly bear disappeared, and his cut-off collar was later found lodged under a rock in a stream flowing through the sheep station. Telemetry data and a law-enforcement report revealed that the bear and sheep were in the same place at the same time, and an empty .308-caliber rifle cartridge, which matches the rifles issued to the sheepherders, was recovered from the sheepherders’ camp. The report also says that sheepherders killed two black bears in the same area in 2012.

Cottonwood Environmental Law Center, Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians and Gallatin Wildlife Association filed a lawsuit in June challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s biological opinion for the sheep station, which erroneously states that no grizzly bear/human encounters have occurred. The groups have documents released through a Freedom of Information Act request that state grizzly bears have chased sheep herders in the past.

“There is no amount of sheep research that can justify putting human lives at risk,” said John Meyer of Cottonwood Environmental Law Center.

WildEarth Guardians, Center for Biological Diversity, Cottonwood Environmental Law Center, Western Watersheds Project, Gallatin Wildlife Association and Yellowstone Buffalo Foundation, signed the letter to the secretary of agriculture. 

Lawsuit Filed to Protect Rare Lynx From Traps in Idaho

Increase in State-permitted Fur Trapping Leads to Illegal Trapping of Wild Cats

BOISE, Idaho— Five conservation groups filed a lawsuit today against the governor of Idaho and other state officials to halt trapping that harms and often kills Canada lynx, one of the rarest cats in the United States. The lawsuit charges Gov. Butch Otter, the director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and members of the state Fish and Game Commission with violations of the Endangered Species Act resulting from state permitting that leads to trapping and killing of lynx, a threatened species numbering as few as 100 animals in Idaho.

The state has failed to take any action to correct its destructive illegal activities despite repeatedly being alerted to the violations by the organizations filing today’s lawsuit, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, Friends of the Clearwater, WildEarth Guardians and the Western Environmental Law Center.

“With lynx being pushed to the brink of extinction in the lower 48 states, it’s shameful that Idaho officials have just sat idly by for years,” said Amy Atwood of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Idaho can’t just ignore federal law and go on condoning the trapping of this rare and magnificent cat.”

Under the Endangered Species Act, trapping of a lynx is illegal, regardless of whether the cat is killed, injured or released. Any agency permitting such trapping is also liable under the Act. Canada lynx are now under unprecedented threat from recreational and commercial trapping in Idaho. With a dramatic increase in fur prices, especially for bobcat, at least three incidents of lynx being unintentionally trapped have been  confirmed in just the last two years.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game can develop a conservation plan with measures to minimize incidental trapping of lynx and receive a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Such a plan would include restrictions on body-crushing and steel-jaw traps and snares, reporting requirements, and a daily trap check requirement throughout lynx habitat. Similar lawsuits in Minnesota and Maine have led to such restrictions.

“Idaho officials need to understand that a healthy Idaho population of this mountain cat is critical, not just to lynx survival here, but across the western United States,” said Travis Bruner, executive director of the Western Watershed Project. “We have to maintain a healthy breeding mix between Rockies and Canadian populations, and Idaho sits at the crossroads.”

Last year the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed more than 26 million acres of critical habitat across six states for the Canada lynx, which faces ongoing threats from habitat destruction and reduced snowpack from climate change.

“Lynx are a key part of what makes Idaho a world-class destination for viewing wildlife,” said Gary Macfarlane, ecosystem defense director at Friends of the Clearwater. “Sitting by while Idaho’s mountains and forests lose their last lynx would take away some of the richness that makes our state so special.”

Lynx are medium-sized, long-legged cats, ranging up to 24 pounds. They are generally nocturnal and well adapted to hunting snowshoe hare at high elevations.

“Idaho’s backwards approach to wildlife management proves the need for strong federal laws like the Endangered Species Act to ensure the survival and recovery of our most imperiled wildlife, including the Canada lynx,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians. “The state is flouting federal law and disrupting functioning ecosystems by permitting cruel trapping of keystone species like wolves, bobcat and lynx.”

The lawsuit, which was filed today in federal district court in Boise, can be read here.

Bethany Cotton|June 30, 2014

Court Decision Protects Colorado Backcountry From Coal Mining, Safeguards Climate

Conservationists Force Agencies to Take a New Look At Carbon Pollution Impacts

Gunnison County, CO — A federal court ruling today rejected federal agencies’ approval of Arch Coal’s plans to bulldoze roads through 1,700 acres of Colorado’s backcountry, finding that carbon costs were illegally ignored when approving expanded coal mining.

U.S. District Court Judge Brooke Jackson issued a 36-page ruling that held that the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management inappropriately overlooked the cost of carbon emissions associated with more coal mining and coal combustion, violating federal law.

The decisions approved the expansion of the West Elk coal mine, which is located near Colorado’s iconic West Elk Wilderness Area in an area called the North Fork Valley. The decisions authorized Arch Coal to bulldoze roads and drill methane venting wells in the Sunset Roadless Area, a remote, pristine forest area next to the West Elk Wilderness and near the town of Paonia, Colorado.

Earthjustice, on behalf of the High Country Conservation Advocates, WildEarth Guardians, and Sierra Club filed suit in federal court last year to overturn Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service decisions approving bulldozing 6 miles of road and nearly 50 drilling pads in the Sunset Roadless Area’s aspen and spruce forest to permit underground coal mining below. The roadless area is in the Gunnison National Forest of western Colorado about 15 miles southeast of Paonia, next to the West Elk Wilderness.

“Today’s court ruling will ensure that Federal agencies take the hard look that the law requires at environmental harms before bulldozing roads throughout the Sunset Roadless Area,” said Alli Melton, Public Lands Director for High Country Conservation Advocates.  “Pristine forests, such as the Sunset Roadless Area, are part of Colorado’s natural heritage and can’t be replaced.  They provide substantial benefit to our local economies, hunting and angling alone brings in over $1 billion to the Colorado economy.  Clean air and clean water are essential necessities for our quality of life and for ensuring the West Elks remain a world-class recreation destination for years to come.  Requiring these values and benefits to be considered is another step to ensuring balanced public land management that supports diverse, resilient local economies.”

The area Arch Coal plans for road and drilling pad construction provides habitat for the threatened lynx, is crossed by the Sunset Trail (a backcountry hiking and horseback riding route), and provides a valuable link between the West Elk Wilderness Area and lower-elevation forests along the North Fork of the Gunnison River. 

The court’s decision halts for now Arch Coal’s plan to begin exploring for coal, which involves building 6 miles of road and scraping 10 drilling pads in the heart of the Sunset Roadless Area.  Arch hoped to begin drilling as early as next week. 

In analyzing the environmental impacts of expanded coal mining, the feds initially found that the carbon pollution costs could be more than $1 billion annually. However, in approving the new mining, the feds scrapped this analysis, effectively finding that the costs of carbon would be $0. Today’s ruling rejected that analysis as arbitrary.

The Court found that the feds failed to take into account the impacts of global warming from expanded coal mining, both in approving Arch Coal’s plans and in approving the Colorado Roadless Rule, a rule that carved out protections of roadless areas in the North Fork Valley in order to accommodate more coal mining. The Court held that the Forest Service looked at the benefits to the local economy but ignored the global costs of climate change.  The Court stated: “It is arbitrary to offer detailed projections of a project’s upside while omitting a feasible projection of the project’s costs.”

“This decision means that agencies can’t bury their heads in the sand when confronting the very real impacts of climate change,” said Ted Zukoski, attorney with Earthjustice. 

In addition to finding that the feds failed to take into account carbon costs before approving more coal mining, the court also found the Forest Service and BLM failed to consider the impacts of road construction to those who use the roadless area for recreation, and failed to consider limiting the total amount of road construction.

“This mine expansion was a lose-lose-lose proposition,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director. “We stood to lose our backcountry at the expense of our climate. Thankfully, the feds will have to take into account the costs of carbon pollution before approving more coal mining.”

The Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service decisions challenged in the lawsuit authorized the leasing of 10.1 million tons of coal under 1,700 acres of the Sunset Roadless Area, which would expand Arch’s West Elk Coal Mine. At current production rates, the leasing would keep the West Elk Coal Mine operating for about 3 years.  Without the leases, the mine would still continue to operate for at 8-10 more years.  The Colorado Roadless Rule’s decision lifting the ban on road construction paved the way for decisions that could result in as much as 347 million additional tons of coal to be mined in Colorado.

“BLM’s federal coal leasing program has a massive impact on our climate and public health, affecting the waters we use, the air we breathe, and the wild areas we enjoy.  For years, BLM has been telling the public that its individual coal leasing decisions–even those approving hundreds of millions of tons of coal–have no impact on our climate. This decision means that just saying there’s no impact doesn’t mean there’s no impact,” said Roger Singer, Senior Organizing Manager with the Sierra Club in Colorado.

Although the West Elk mine is underground, the coal seams are some of the gassiest in the nation, which requires Arch to drill natural gas wells above the coal seams to vent explosive methane gas. 

The methane gas vented by Arch coal is not only a valuable product (natural gas), it’s also a powerful global warming pollutant.  According to the Forest Service, the planned methane venting will release the equivalent of 1.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide every year, equal to the greenhouse gas emissions from 250,000 passenger vehicles.

A spaghetti-web of roads and pock-marks of well pads for the existing West Elk mine adjacent to the expansion area can be easily seen on Google maps.  To view Google images of existing methane venting above the West Elk coal mine, click here >>

The Court enjoined any road construction in the roadless area, and asked attorneys for all parties to discuss how the agencies should proceed in light of the decision.

Photos of the Sunset Roadless Area, as well as damage outside the area from coal mining, can be downloaded here

Jeremy Nichols|June 27, 2014  

First Shark Species Listed Under the Endangered Species Act

Four Populations of Scalloped Hammerhead Shark Gain Much Needed Protections

Washington, DC – In response to a 2011 petition by WildEarth Guardians and Friends of Animals, today the National Marine Fisheries Service (Fisheries Service) listed four populations of scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) because of severe threats posed by human exploitation. Shark species worldwide are dwindling in the face of heavy fishing pressures; sharks are killed for their meat and fins, which are used in highly controversial shark-fin soup. Sharks are also accidentally caught and killed in the course of fishing operations targeting other species. Experts consider fishing the greatest threat to all sharks.

“It’s sobering that we must begin adding shark species to the endangered species list,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “Our oceans are in serious trouble and this is only the first step toward protecting and restoring the ocean ecosystems these amazing carnivores call home.”

Most sharks, including the scalloped hammerhead, play an important role in maintaining oceanic ecosystems as apex carnivores. Ecosystem stability and biodiversity, main goals of the ESA, can seriously suffer from the removal of a top predator. Scalloped hammerheads can be grouped into six distinct populations distinguished by genetics, geography, and behavior. The ESA allows populations to be listed in the same way as an entire species or subspecies as long as they are distinct and significant. This allows for the protection of important genetic variation and unique behaviors that might otherwise be lost. The listing rule protects the Central and Southwest Atlantic Distinct Population Segment (DPS) and the Indo-West Pacific DPS as “threatened” and the Eastern Atlantic and Eastern Pacific DPSs as “endangered.”

“The listing of the scalloped hammerhead is an important indication that the human exploitation of marine species has taken its toll.” said Michael Harris, director of Friends of Animals’ Wildlife Law Program. “In fact, nearly half of all marine species worldwide face the threat of extinction as a result of anthropogenic action, including destructive fishing methods, pollution, climate change and ocean acidification. It is about time that our government took action to protect hammerheads; now they should do the same for the many species still awaiting review under the ESA.”

Listing species under the Endangered Species Act is a proven effective safety net for imperiled species: more than 99 percent of plants and animals listed under the Act persist today. The law is especially important as a bulwark against the current extinction crisis; plants and animals are disappearing at a rate much higher than the natural rate of extinction due to human activities. Scientists estimate that 227 species would have gone extinct if not for ESA listing. Listing species with a global distribution can both protect the species domestically, and help focus U.S. resources toward enforcement of international regulation and recovery of the species.

Taylor Jones July 3, 2014

Are wolverines back in Utah?

The last time anyone saw one of these critters in Utah was 35 years ago when a roadkill carcass was found along U.S. Highway 40 east of Vernal.

But last winter a motion-sensing camera, one of four rigged on the Uinta Mountains’ north slope, captured 27 images of a wolverine sniffing around an empty bait station, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR).

The find, made in the Blacks Fork drainage in Summit County, was announced Wednesday, one month before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to decide whether to list this rare predator under the Endangered Species Act. The animal was largely eliminated from its range in the lower 48 states by the early 20th century, due to trapping and poisoning campaigns targeting predators.

Although wolverine tracks have been confirmed in the Uintas in recent years, DWR officials aren’t ready to say whether wolverines have re-established a presence in Utah’s northern mountains. This is because wolverines have home ranges up to 1,000 square miles and males are known to roam for miles outside those ranges.

“It could be an animal that passed through the area and has since moved on, never to be seen again,” mammals conservation coordinator Kim Hersey said.

Utah State University wildlife biologist Mike Wolfe also cautioned against rushing to conclusions. He suspects lone male wolverines have been passing unnoticed through Utah for years, pointing to photographs of tracks taken by one of his graduate students.

To prove the species has re-established itself, “you need to have multiple sightings in a relatively small area in a short time frame,” said Wolfe, a professor emeritus. “The best thing would be where you had a female with cubs.”

News of the photos still excited conservationists.

“I am ecstatic. It proves the return of the wolverine to Utah and the Uinta Mountains and it will have an impact on motorized recreation and logging in the Uintas,” said Kevin Mueller, Southern Rockies conservation manager for WildEarth Guardians. “No matter how you cut it, those are additional impacts to a species that is extremely sensitive to disturbance.”

He argued the wolverine photographs provide new and significant information that should give the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest pause before signing off on a timber harvest proposed on 4,400 acres in the Smith Fork, the drainage immediately to the east of Blacks Fork. A decision is expected to be issued as early as Thursday.

Brian Maffly|The Salt Lake Tribune|Jul 02 2014

As Rhinos Die, CITES Hands Out Certificates

CITES is currently meeting again. Discussions on the fate of our rhinos are taking place as you’re reading this.

As poachers kill, and rangers fight, CITES is talking. While the slaughter continues, CITES is handing out certificates.

Looking at the CITES agenda, some of the recommendations on the rhino are as follows:

*Mozambique should develop a national rhino horn action plan, with timeframes and milestones, and submit this to the Secretariat by 8th August 2014.

*Mozambique is requested to submit a comprehensive report on progress in the implementation of its national rhino action plan, and on any other action taken… to be submitted to the Secretariat by 31st January 2015.

*Viet Nam is requested to provide a further comprehensive report on actions taken…including, in particular, by providing an update on the implementation of the Prime Minister’s Directive On strengthening the direction and implementation of measures for controlling and protecting endangered, rare and precious wild animals, and a detailed update on update on arrests, seizures, prosecutions and penalties for offences related to illegal rhinoceros horn possession and trade in Viet Nam…to be submitted to the Secretariat by 31st January 2015.

And what happens if they don’t receive these reports? Or if the reports are showing these countries are failing? Non-compliance will be met with….what?

It is time to enact sanctions against the offending parties. Our wildlife deserves better than “talk”. It is time for action, swift and decisive action. There isn’t time for anything else.

Rhino Girl|July 10, 2014 

Wild & Weird

So is there a Loch Ness Monster in Siberia?

A Moscow scientist is calling for a new scientific expedition to solve the mystery of a huge ‘monster’ claimed to be living in remote Lake Labynkyr in Siberia.

Known as ‘Russia’s Loch Ness Monster’, the accounts of the creature in Yakutia predate the Scottish claims yet in many ways are similar.

Intriguingly, too, there are theories that Labynkyr – which has unusual cracks on its 60 to 80 meter deep floor  – is connected by underwater channels to another lake, Vorota, where monster sightings have also been recorded, including by respected Soviet geologist Viktor Tverdokhlebov, an academician not given to hyperbole.

Associate Professor of Biogeography Lyudmila Emeliyanova revealed to The Siberian Times that on her own scientific mission to Labynkyr she recorded ‘several seriously big underwater objects’ with sonar readings. 

She is not the only researcher to have done so.  

‘It was our fourth or fifth day at the lake when our echo sounding device registered a huge object in the water under our boat,’ she said.

‘The object was very dense, of homogeneous structure, surely not a fish nor a shoal of fish, and it was above the bottom. I was very surprised but not scared and not shocked, after all we did not see this animal, we only registered a strange object in the water. But I can clearly say – at the moment, as a scientist, I cannot offer you any explanation of what this object might be.’

The readings were repeated and she became convinced there was more than one large living object in the pure waters.

‘I can’t say we literally found and touched something unusual there but we did register with our echo sounding device several seriously big underwater objects, bigger than a fish, bigger than even a group of fish.

‘This is why I fully support the idea of a new trip there and extra research.

‘I would love to take part in another visit to this lake. I know how to organize it and know enough good local people who can help on the spot. It is a hard trip I must say but it is definitely worth doing it again. This mysterious and very deep lake still has some secret to tell us.’

Freshwater Labynkyr, some 5,000 km east of Moscow, is mysterious for another reason, too. It is only around 60 kilometers from the settlement of Oymyakon – the coldest inhabited place on Earth – yet, astonishingly, the lake does not freeze over completely in winter, in contrast to virtually all lakes in the region. The ice that does form, unusually, can be too thin to walk on.  It is not uncommon to driver cars on lakes in Yakutia in winter: but not Labynkyr.

One unproven theory is that Labynkyr, where much of the rock is volcanic, is warmed slightly from below by a fissure in the Earth’s crust.

Dr Emeliyanova, from the Biogeography Department of the Geographical Faculty of Moscow State University, is struck by historical accounts of monsters in Labynkyr and Vorota and believes they are credible.

They date from the late 19th century, while accounts of the Loch Ness monster are usually held to have emerged in the 1930s.

On the basis of ‘sightings’ there has been speculation that Labynkyr and Vorota might be inhabited by a school of ichthyosaurs, prehistoric marine reptiles resembling dolphins or sharks, or plesiosaurs, a popular theory concerning ‘Nessie’ in Scotland which is often depicted with a long neck.

Another version has speculated that relic killer whales could have become marooned in Labynkyr. Some accounts even suggest the ‘creature’ makes a hideous primeval cry as it attacks its prey.

‘Personally, I do believe that when the information about something strange circulates among local people for so many years, it just can’t be groundless, it means something is there,’ she said. ‘I know the local people very well – they are ingenuous but they do not lie,’ she said previously.

Now she adds: ‘I have been on a dozen expeditions to this region and I can say I know the character of local people quite well. They are emotional – but are not intended to show their emotions and they are very true and honest by nature, often more honest than is necessary. This is why I am not ready to reject all these stories.’

For her another factor is how the stories of monsters in Yakutia relate solely to these two lakes out of more than 800,000 across this giant region.

‘There are many lakes in Yakutia and around the Indigirka River, hundreds of them, big and small, their shores are more or less populated, but all the talk is about Labynkyr and Vorota lakes, and it has gone on for many dozens of years. It makes us think about it. And these stories about the local monster are older than those about the Loch Ness monster.’

Even so, she insisted of her 2002 trip: ‘I did not go there to chase the lake monster: as a biogeographer I was interested mainly in that very territory, I wanted to visit and study it.

‘But, of course, I was curious to see the place which has so many legends and stories. I did not suppose we could really find something there simply because we did not plan to spend there enough time. Our stop by the lake was just for 12 days.

‘As a scientist I know this is not enough to locate and study some unknown creature. I can put it like this, however. I believe there is a mystery in this lake because there is no smoke without fire.

‘I am sure that numerous legends which exist and circulate for many years just can’t be groundless. I read many different legends but the account below is what I heard with my own ears.

‘Several fishermen who visit this lake from time to time say they experienced the following when fishing from a boat in this lake: during quiet, and not windy, weather when there were no disturbances in the lake, some strange waves coming from under the water suddenly heavily shook their boats.

‘It was as if a big body was moving under the water and producing waves which reached the surface and shook the vessel.’

She explained: ‘These stories shook me up, for instance, about a boat which was lifted by something or somebody. Two fishermen were fishing in the middle of the lake in late Autumn, they were in a 10 meter long boat when suddenly the bow began to rise as if somebody was pushing it from under the water.

‘It was a heavy boat, only a huge and strong animal can do such a thing. The fishermen were stuck by fear. They did not see anything, no head, no jaws. Soon the boat went down.’

Another account of an entirely separate trip to the lake in August 2006 – where researchers used a Hummingbird Piranha MAX 215 Portable fish-finder – produced results echoing her findings. Images are available from this trip – some are shown here – but the identities of those who took part are hidden.

‘The conditions were ideal – clear cold fresh water, no big waves, stone bottom without plants there, no engine on the boat, soft and slow moving – all this means there were almost no problems for the scanning,’ claimed one of those present.

‘Often the device showed the long chain of big fish some 4 meters above the bottom of the lake, when the depth was about 30-45 meters.

‘The further we went away from the shore, the deeper the lake was, at one moment there was no fish registered for a long period long, the screen was dead. But all of a sudden it blew up with signals about a huge shoal of fish, just like a cloud.

‘Let me say a word about local fish – all kinds of fish here are predators, the bottom of the lake is ‘dead’, stones with sand, very cold near the bottom, no plants. Fish-predators just cannot swim all together making such a huge shoal, anybody familiar with Zoology will understand what I mean.

‘This is why it meant nothing else but the huge swimming object with some air inside.

‘We went twice above the object, it was at the depth of 30 metres (where the floor was 50 metres below). The upper ‘fish’ was at a depth of 25 metres, the lower ‘fish’ at 32 metres. It suggests the object was seven metres wide. What was it? We can’t say.

‘I switched off the ‘Fish ID’ and we watched just pure scanning…..soon we registered a ‘shadow’ some 15-17 meters under our boat, it was about 6.5 meters long. It was pretty clear, it was not a fish and not a tree. There cannot be fish that big, and a log would have been registered in a different way. How can it swim under the water?

‘The most active ‘shadows’ or ‘bodies’ were registered in certain parts of the lake when the depth was 42 to 60 metres.’

‘The next shadow; the width of the object is about 70 cm, and although the screen shows its silhouette differently to how we imagined, my mind vividly paints a picture of a beast, swimming across the echo device scanning ray.

‘Another object was ‘caught’ at the depth of 20 meters. It was definitely a live creature – look at the density! – but of a smaller size, like 2.5 meters.

Perhaps another giant fish. Or a baby of our monster?’

Pictures here show the some of the images seen on the scanning device, including sketches (drawn on the screen in red) to show how the ‘monster’ might look.

On another amateur trip to explore the lake, in 2000, Russian traveler Vladimir wrote: ‘There was a signal from our echo sounding device, something was moving around our net with fish, something very big, seven to ten meters, it is hard to say because we did not know the speed of the object.

‘And our nerves are not made of iron, there were two of us in the rubber boat, far away from the shore… we did not want to find it out, just got away from there…

‘There were interesting trails on the water as if something big enough is swimming not very deep and playing in the water… There is a strange island there. It is in the middle of the lake and lots of broken nests of the sea gulls. The gulls were just crushed alive when they were asleep and did not have a chance to fly away. Some birds were eaten, some just left there… Who did it?

‘In my humble opinion… there are four or five big animals in this lake, not more. If people do not rush there, maybe they will survive.’

In the 1960s, there are accounts of ‘a monster with a long neck coming up out of the lake making an eerie sound’. Some versions say it was lizard-like.

In Soviet times and before, the lake was almost inaccessible. Today that is changing. Travel companies in Yakutsk, capital of Yakutia or the Sakha Republic, are already offering private trips to visit the lake, enabling people to carry out their own monster hunts.

This perhaps gives an added urgency to Dr Emeliyanova’s plans to reach the lake and explore it in a fully scientific way: yet funds, so far not found, are needed to support this venture.

She emphasized: ‘Apart from the legends about this monster, this lake is quite mysterious itself, for instance distances are hard to measure there.

‘Probably it is diffraction of light but still – I mean when you are sailing in a boat and you clearly see the shore is quite far away, in a minute you all over a sudden get there and hit the ground…. One shore is just drift sands. One of the islands on the lake sometimes is not visible, like a mirage in the desert, it comes and goes.

‘There is an amazing fact, too, that this lake is never totally frozen, not  what you would expect as it is not far from the Pole of Cold.

‘But this is the fact, the lake is never fully covered by ice. If it had been fully covered, we could have closed this story about the monster forever. It could not survive.

‘The question is – why it is not completely frozen? Probably because of its depth, I can suppose, too, it is somehow warmed from the bottom but it is not really my part of science and would like to give you the opinion of some colleague here rather then my suggestion. I met scientist in Yakutsk who told me they registered the depth of 80 meters in Labynkyr lake.’

There is also ‘an absence of plants there… it is another mystery.

‘There are 13 fish species in the lake.  Of course they eat one another but not all of them, some would need plants for food, yet these appear to be absent.’

While she has conducted no research on it, she said that ‘some scientists believe that this lake is connected with other lakes on the same plateau, at least with Lake Vorota, via some underground tunnel system’.

Accounts of strange creatures in the lake – often called the ‘Labynkyr Devil’ – have been passed down from generation to generation.

One one version the monster is of dark grey color with a huge mouth and ‘distance between its eyes is just as the size of raft made of ten logs’. The legend says that this animal is aggressive, it can attack people and animals, it can leave the water and go on the shore.

A more recent ‘sighting’ involved a party of geologists some of whom went fishing on the lake. ‘Suddenly those in the boat started screaming – apparently they saw a huge head of some creature. Others, who were waiting for them on shore, started shooting, and scared the creature away’.

Some years ago Itogi magazine analysed the sightings and concluded: ‘Comparing the stories we can say that it is 9-10 metres long, 1.2-1.5 metres wide, its jaw is huge, up to one-third the size of its body, looking like a huge beak with lots of teeth, and there is a sort of bone-made horn on the top of the animal. The creature was met either in Labynkyr or in Vorota lake – locals believe these lakes are connected to each other with the help of  underground passages.’

Grasping for mundane theories to explain what the creature might be – if not a leftover from the Jurassic Age that somehow defied both extinction and the Ice Age – some have suggested an abnormally huge and well-fed pike.

Yury Gerasimov, head of the Ichthyology Department of the Institute of Biology of Freshwater of the Russian Academy of Sciences, is dubious. ‘I have never come across such a big pike and I highly doubt they can exist.

‘If we trust the stories about this ‘Devil’, there must be about 1.5 metres between its eyes. It means the length of its body must be about 7-8 metres.

‘Pike do not live so long in order to reach such a big size. There are two factors that help fish to grow – nutrition and comfortable water temperatures. Even if nutrition is perfect there, surely the temperatures are not that high. So in my opinion the view about a huge pike is a fantastic one.’

Another Russian traveller Sergei Karpukhin, a former geologist who once spent 35 days alone at Labynkyr, questions two basic premises of the monster theory. If these monsters were to survive down the ages, there must be sufficient of them to reproduce. There would also need to be connections to other lakes, something he disputes.

‘A little pack of them, like male/female plus several cubs is not enough,’ he said.  ‘To survive this population must have such a number of animals that the lake would be swarming with them.

‘Or at least there should be such number of them, that they would not go unnoticed – given the description of them being quite big, and the lake is not that large.

‘I even think that there will need to be more creatures in the neighbouring lakes which the Labynkyr ones can be in contact with. Only then they can survive.

‘Now the Labynkyr Devil defenders would, I know, refer to Lake Vorota, some 20 km away from Labynkyr. This is where Tverdokhlybov saw that mysterious creature. Here the legend has some extra bits to it, that allegedly the lakes are connected with some underground canals. I will argue this from a position of a geologist: it is possible to have two connected lakes. BUT, when the lakes of karstic origin. There must be some carbonaceous stones,  which can be dissolved by water.

‘But there aren’t any. The stones there are all volcanic.’

The Siberian Times reporter|18 September 2012

Everglades

The L-8 and C-51 Reservoirs

The L-8 reservoir. previously called the Loxahatchee Reservoir,  is a rock mine that has been converted to a below-ground reservoir. 

The reservoir  turned old rock mines west of Royal Palm Beach into a 24 billion-gallon reservoir that collect stormwater that otherwise gets drained out to sea for flood control. The SFWMD approved the $64 million pumps needed to pull water from 40′ in September  of 2012.  The project is part of the State’s $880 million water quality plan for the Everglades.  The reservoir will eventually become one of three Flow Equalization Basins in the restoration strategies plan, providing 99,000 acre-feet of storage for delivery of consistent flows needed to optimize performance of the region’s Stormwater Treatment Areas.

Existing canals operated by the South Florida Water Management District and Lake Worth Drainage District would then be used to move the water south, supplementing drinking water well fields in Palm Beach and Broward counties.

Core Mission Values

The reservoir will be able to capture excess water in the wet season to improve year-round flows to the Grassy Waters Preserve, the Loxahatchee Slough, and the Loxahatchee River.

This reservoir adds capacity to help manage regional water supply through seasonal fluctuations and improve the hydroperiods of regionally significant wetland systems.

Other Resource Value

The site falls within a wildlife corridor that is being established to connect the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area to the north with the stormwater treatment areas and National Wildlife Refuge to the south.

C-51 Reservoir

Water agencies in Southeast Florida have been working together to develop a regional water supply that is sustainable and affordable. The C-51 Reservoir – named after its primary water source, the C-51 drainage canal – has emerged as the leading candidate to meet these requirements. It is calculated that the reservoir could meet the future raw water demands for Palm Beach and Broward Counties for the next 50 years.

Occupying 2,200 acres of the PBA property, the C5-1 Reservoir, when implemented, could store up to 61,000 acre-feet of raw water. The initial phase would hold approximately 16,000 acre-feet and supply 35 million gallons per day (MGD) of raw water to participating utilities. Phase Two will add an additional +-45,000 acre-feet of water storage.

While serving as a municipal water supply, the reservoir will be capable of capturing storm water which is currently lost to the Lake Worth Lagoon estuary. It is expected that elimination of excess freshwater discharges to the brackish Lake Worth Lagoon will provide immense environmental benefits through water quality improvement. The reservoir would also serve to assist with flood control and Everglades restoration efforts. Comparable to the Loxahatchee Reservoir project, completed in 2007 and renamed the L8 Reservoir, the C-51 Reservoir sits on adjacent property and carries similar geological features and environmental benefits.

L-8 Reservoir can capture, store and deliver +- 45000 acre feet to improve performance of the STAs

C-51 Reservoir could capture and store  +-75000 acre feet of water from the C-51 Basin for regional water supply

National Research Council Releases 2014 “Progress Toward Restoring the Everglades”

The National Research Council released a new report assessing progress towards Everglades Restoration. This independent review stresses the need to re-invest in restoration efforts, noting that the ecosystem continues to be in peril. Insufficient funding and delays in project authorization have slowed the pace of restoration efforts, leaving this unique habitat cutoff from the freshwater flows that keep the Everglades healthy. View Audubon’s summary of the Report here.

Audubon urges state and federal decision-makers to heed the Review’s call to reinvest in science and monitoring, complete the Central Everglades Planning Project and accelerate restoration efforts in the face of rising seas and other impacts of climate change.

Everglades|July 11, 2014

Read More

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

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

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

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

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

golf courses green is doubtful.

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

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

   A natural solution

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

   The problem is it’s a big, expensive gamble.

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

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

Even so, progress has been made.

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

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

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

  Slow, fraught with problems

But there’s no denying that the several decades of Everglades restoration has been a slow and often invisible process. Most efforts have focused on logistics

, litigation, scientific research and negotiating land deals, and so many projects have been revised and so many deadlines missed that no one knows exactly when the restoration will end and how many billions of dollars it will cost.

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

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

   Part of ’70s enviro wave

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

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

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

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

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

As waterfront property became more scarce, developers gobbled up land farther west, taking

out swaths of the wetlands and prairies to build new towns in what once was the Everglades. Undeveloped lands that once absorbed rainwater and recharged aquifers were paved over. A web of canals captured nutrient-laden water from backyards, citrus groves and more than 400,000 acres of sugarcane fields

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

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

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

Still, most of the progress was on paper and phosphorous levels continued

to climb. Fed up with the slow progress, Dexter Lehtinen, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, sued the water management district on behalf of the federal government in 1988.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christine Stapleton|Staff Writer|Palm Beach Post

Sugar industry accused of dodging Everglades clean-up costs

Florida taxpayers have been left shouldering most of the $2 billion Everglades water pollution cleanup cost, despite a constitutional amendment passed by nearly 70 percent of voters that calls for the sugar industry to pick up its share of the tab.

While South Florida sugar-cane growers excel at providing the sweet ingredient for everything from cakes to candy bars, polluted phosphorus-laden runoff from sugar-cane fields has damaging consequences on the Everglades.

About 62 percent of the polluting phosphorus that flows toward the Everglades comes from water draining off farmland dominated by sugar cane, according to state environmental records.

But just 12 percent of the $2 billion cleanup expense has been paid by special taxes on those sugar-cane growers and other farmers south of Lake Okeechobee. That means other property taxpayers have had to dig deeper into their wallets to pay to tackle the unnaturally high phosphorus infusion that is a prime focus of Everglades restoration.

A “Polluter Pays” amendment to the Florida Constitution that voters approved in 1996 was supposed to force the sugar industry to at least cover its share of cleaning up damage to the Everglades. But some say state leaders have failed to fully enforce the measure.

That means “it shifts the burden of cleaning up the Everglades to taxpayers,” said Dave Cullen, Sierra Club lobbyist. “Everybody else’s [share] gets bigger.”

The taxpayers’ share of the Everglades cleanup gets even bigger under Gov. Rick Scott‘s $880 million water pollution cleanup plan. Last year, state lawmakers agreed to keep charging Everglades restoration fees paid by sugar-cane growers and other farmers south of Lake Okeechobee at existing levels for 10 years longer than once planned. But lawmakers haven’t been willing to increase those fees, even as the public cleanup costs increase.

Environmental advocates contend that the sugar industry’s political muscle continues to allow it to avoid having to pay a share of Everglades restoration proportionate to its responsibility for pollution problems.

“You have a major industry that is saying, ‘We are so powerful we don’t want to pay for our pollution treatment. … Taxpayers, you are going to pay for it. Tough luck,’” said Albert Slap, board member for the Friends of the Everglades environmental group. “It stood Polluter Pays on its head.”

Sugar industry advocates, as well as top state leaders, maintain that sugar-cane growers are paying enough for Everglades restoration.

They point to those special fees that sugar growers pay, improved farming practices that reduce pollution as well as the industry’s economic impact on the state as evidence of the benefits that the sugar industry delivers. Sugar producers also pay property taxes, in addition to those special fees, that help fund Everglades restoration.

“In the environmentalists’ eyes, no one is ever paying their fair share,” said Barbara Miedema, vice president of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida. “And however much money they are throwing at Everglades restoration is never enough.”

Natural flow of water disrupted

Draining parts of South Florida to make way for farming and development shrunk the Everglades to half its size, siphoning away water that once naturally flowed from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay. Worsening the problem, polluted stormwater washing off farmland and urban areas threatens what remains of Everglades habitat.

That stormwater brings high levels of phosphorus, found in fertilizer, animal waste and the natural decay of soil.

Unnaturally high levels of phosphorus that come from polluted stormwater runoff fuel the growth of cattails, which forces out sawgrass and other natural habitat vital to the survival of the Everglades.

“It chokes out native plant communities,” said Melissa Martin, ecologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who works in the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, the northern reaches of the Everglades. “It’s not as good habitat for wildlife such as wading birds and alligators. … They can’t move through it as well and hunt in it as well.”

The state and federal government are in the midst of a multibillion-dollar effort to clean up Everglades water pollution and get more water flowing in Florida’s famed River of Grass.

That work has included turning thousands of acres of former sugar-cane fields into stormwater treatment areas aimed at removing phosphorus. Reservoirs also are planned to hold onto more stormwater to replenish the Everglades. Long term, the goal is get more Lake Okeechobee water flowing south like it did before South Florida farming and development got in the way.

The public costs of those restoration efforts grew in 2013 when the Florida Legislature approved the $880 million plan, without increasing the “Agricultural Privilege” tax, the special fees levied on sugar-cane and other growers south of Lake Okeechobee to help pay for it.

Andy Reid|Sun Sentinel|June 15, 2014

Love the Everglades Movement

There is only ONE Everglades in the world and it is Dying. 

Although efforts by federal, state, and local governments are underway to mitigate the legacy of destruction brought on by past follies, there is much more that needs to be done quickly before it is too late.

We the residents of South Florida are joining together in a unified voice to make our mantra heard: “We LOVE THE EVERGLADES. The Everglades must be saved, and we will pool our efforts to make sure this is SO.”

This movement is intended to bridge the talents, imaginations, and energies of the diversity that makes up South Florida. Activists, Artists, Teachers, Politicians, the Clergy, Business, Media, and basically any and every one the world over are welcome to join our movement, Love the Everglades.

Our movement will manifest itself through a series of events, actions, workshops, prayers, as well as excursions into the heart of the Everglades. Our aim is to revitalize Community Participation so together we can contribute to a Global Action geared toward protecting and revitalizing this sacred land.

Join us in our efforts and help spread the word: The Everglades is DYING along with 67 endangered species.

“What are YOU doing to save the Everglades?” — Marjory Stoneman Douglas

SUMMER SYMPOSIUM

July 26-27

The goals of the Love the Everglades Movement (LTEM) are to restore the Everglades ecosystem and will focus on the following issues:

  • advocate for the urgency of cleaning up the water;
  • advocate for the solution of the L-28 Interceptor Canal;
  • support the cost-effective plan of clearing out existing culverts to allow water flow underneath the Tamiami Trail with the installation of swales on the south side;
  • advocate for Respect of Miccosukee Sovereignty;
  • integrate a Spiritual approach;
  • connect with as many people, communities and organizations as possible;
  • continue the excursions (Field trips to the Everglades);
  • host educational workshops; 
  • and mobilize communities for peaceful, non-violent direct actions.

LTEM will be hosting an educational and action planning symposium starting at 9:30 a.m. at the Miccosukee Resort on Saturday, July 26, and at FIU at 1 p.m. on Sunday, July 27.

For information, email EvergladesActNow@gmail.com or visit http://www.lovetheeverglades.org

Water Quality Issues 

Caloosahatchee reservoir project clears hurdle

State water managers voted Thursday to move forward with a water plan for the Caloosahatchee River reservoir, a necessary step if the project is to be authorized and funded by Congress.

During a meeting in Fort Myers, the South Florida Water Management District governing board voted unanimously, 8-0, to set aside all waters pumped into the reservoir as well as rain that falls on the compound for the Caloosahatchee and its estuary.

The Caloosahatchee reservoir, also called C-43, is expected to hold 170,000 acre-feet, or 55 billion gallons. Water would be pumped from the river to the reservoir during periods of heavy rain and then released back to the river during dry spells. The reservoir will not capture excess flows from Lake Okeechobee. The plan would essentially make waters used in the reservoir system off-limits to farming and residential uses.

Thursday’s vote was not final as a public hearing, and a second vote must take place. The hearing will likely be in April and the vote in June. The South Florida Water Management District includes 16 counties.

Board members passed the measure without comment.

Mike Baldwin, a member of the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge support group on Sanibel, pleaded with the governing board to find some way to hold back fresh water during the rainy season. Water quality issues, he said, aren’t going to magically go away.

“They’re real, they’re alarming and they’re adverse social and economic issues,” Baldwin said before inviting water district board members to tour Sanibel during the summer months. “If you haven’t had the opportunity to lift your child or grandchild over a 2-foot pile of drift algae while they’re on their way to swim or paddle, I encourage you to do that.”

Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane asked district managers to find as much water storage as possible in the Caloosahatchee watershed, which stretches from Lake Okeechobee to Sanibel and includes lands on the north and south banks.

“I started getting phone calls from Germany: ‘What’s wrong with your beaches? The water looks like root beer,’ ” Ruane said.

The Caloosahatchee River is regularly plagued with water quantity issues — too much fresh water during the rainy season flushes out the estuary and fuels algae blooms. Too little water during the dry season allows saltwater to creep up the river and kill off tape grass and other marine organisms.

The river was connected to Lake Okeechobee a century ago as way to drain and develop South Florida. Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann, a former district governing board member, said the Everglades restoration will be a challenge for possibly another century.

“It took 100 years to mess it up, and I understand that it’s going to take another 100 years (to restore the Everglades),” Mann said. “And we’ll never get it just right.”

Governing board members also agreed to ask Congress for nearly $100 million in additional funding for the Picayune Strand restoration, the first major Everglades restoration project. If approved, costs will increase from $522 million to $619 million.

Brad Cornell, with the Audubon Society, said the increase is needed as labor and material costs have increased since the project was approved.

“We would have ended up spending $500 million on restoration over the last 30 years and not see all the benefits,” Cornell said. “It’s within our grasps. It’s just a few short years away.”

Chad Gillis|Feb. 13, 2014

State wants to deny water permit, says it’s harmful to Silver Springs

State regulators recommended Tuesday that a Canadian billionaire and rancher be denied his request to pump more than 1 million gallons a day from the Floridan Aquifer because it would harm one of the state’s early tourist attractions, Silver Springs in Marion County.

The St. Johns River Water Management District is set to vote next month on a permit sought by Frank Stronach to irrigate his Sleepy Creek Lands to raise cattle on grass.

“The request for a new allocation of 1.12 [million gallons a day] of groundwater in that location would contribute to cumulative harm to the ecology of Silver Springs and the Silver River,” the district announced on its website.

Ranch spokeswoman Allison North Jones said in an emailed statement that the district’s technical report shows that Sleepy Creek Lands had met necessary criteria for a permit.

But the district adopted new methodology showing there “is not one more allocable drop of water to be had in the area around Silver Springs,” Jones said. “This staff finding doesn’t just impact Sleepy Creek Lands but impacts every water user in the area including all of the residents of the City of Ocala.”

The recommendation to deny the permit comes as a rare move for the agency, which has granted controversial water permits in recent years.

After Stronach first applied for a permit in 2011, then seeking 13 million gallons a day, environmentalists statewide rallied to protect Silver Springs.

“This is really surprising,” said Karen Ahlers, director of Florida Defenders of the Environment and a key opponent of the ranch. “But I don’t think it’s over because there is a lot riding on this.”

Also skeptical was the St. Johns Riverkeeper group, whose director Lisa Rinaman said the announcement appears to ignore an existing legal challenge in the matter. “We question the motives and jurisdiction of the district,” she said.

Kevin Spear|Orlando Sentinel|July 15, 2014

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Tribes meet with EPA to fight Lake Superior iron mine

SUPERIOR, WIS. — The six tribes of Wisconsin’s Chippewa Federation will meet with federal environmental officials next month to outline their objections to Gogebic Taconite’s mining plans in the Lake Superior region.

The tribes sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency at the end of May asking officials to invoke a section of the Clean Water Act to stop Gogebic’s mining exploration in northern Wisconsin. Wisconsin Public Radio News (http://bit.ly/1oQCGOB ) says the EPA and tribes have a meeting scheduled Aug. 16 in Traverse City, Mich.

Bad River Chairman Mike Wiggins says the state’s mining laws don’t protect the environment. He says EPA intervention would allow federal regulators to gather information at the proposed site.

Gogebic spokesman Bob Seitz says the company wants to continue exploring the mining site.

Port Huron Times Herald|Jul. 18, 2014 

Offshore & Ocean

Some property owners say no to beach renourishment for land rights

Property owners at Silver Sands Condos on St. Pete Beach are being excluded from beach renourishment because they won’t sign a permanent easement that would grant the public access to their land.

ST. PETE BEACH — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has begun a $16.1 million beach renourishment project in Pinellas County that excludes a few property owners who refuse to sign a perpetual easement.

“Approximately 20,000 cubic yards of sand was omitted from the project due to a lack of easements from less than a dozen parcels,” said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson Susan Jackson.

The two sections of beach that will not receive that $340,000 worth of fresh sand are the northern tip of Sunshine Beach in Treasure Island and part of Upham Beach in front of the Silver Sands Condos in St. Pete Beach, according to Dr. John Bishop, the Pinellas Coastal Management coordinator and the Corps. Bishop said those areas were excluded before the bid for the beach renourishment project went out.

St. Pete Beach Mayor Maria Lowe said she worries if that section of Upham Beach in front of Silver Sands is not renourished, the natural attrition of sand that moves south to the beach in front of the hotels could be compromised.

“It becomes a private property owner’s consideration versus the public property need in having this sand for the community as a whole,” she said.

Attorney Richard Zacur, who represents Silver Sands, wrote in a letter to Lowe that the Master Association has always worked with all authorities for beach renourishment, but steadfastly refuses to give away its property in the form of a permanent easement.

“I don’t know any land owner who would want to give away their property,” he said.

The permanent easement would extend from the Silver Sands private property beach signs to the seawall and requires public access to that land, according to Zacur.

“That land is not needed for current beach renourishment at all,” he said. “Once you give it away, you’re never going to get it back.”

Zacur said for the past 25 years Silver Sands has allowed beach renourishment through a temporary easement and is willing to sign another one, but Jackson said federal law prevents the Corps from accepting it. The attorney also pointed out that two thirds of the Silver Sands condo owners would have to approve the perpetual easement and the overwhelming majority have already said, “absolutely not.”

Lowe said she understands why the property owners do not want to sign a perpetual easement.

“Once that easement is given, that becomes a public access area and they don’t want to give away their property,” Lowe said. “Which is a very reasonable consideration on the part of the private property owner. The other side of that is, without that easement, they do not get the beach renourishment now or after a catastrophic event where potentially the surge would take away some of this vegetated area.”

Jackson said this is the first year the Corps has required a perpetual easement. In the past, a temporary easement was acceptable, but the Corps updated their policy to come in line with a 1986 law that prohibits Federal participation in costs assigned to benefits to privately owned shores where the use of such shores is limited to private interests, according to Jackson.

The Corps spokesperson said requiring perpetual easements is something that should’ve been part of the process all along. It came to the Corps’ attention after the federal government made a huge investment in post-Hurricane Sandy restoration and had to ensure funding went to those projects that benefited the public.

Lowe said she hopes U.S. Rep. David Jolly can help alleviate the situation before the beach renourishment begins Aug. 3.

“We have contacted Mr. David Jolly in order to ask his assistance in looking at and reviewing the Water Management Act language, to see if there’s a way we can even remove or alter the perpetual easement needs to a temporary easement need,” she said. “I don’t know how quickly that can be done and we are on the clock.”

Jolly said this was first brought to his attention last week at a meeting with the Pinellas Council of Mayors.

“We have followed up with the City of St. Pete Beach and will be working closely with the mayor and staff in the coming days and weeks to resolve the issue,” he said.

In Treasure Island, the lack of fresh sand on the northern tips of Sunshine Beach should not be much of a problem, according to city manager Reid Silverboard.

“There is already a fairly decent sandy beach in front of their properties,” he said. “When we looked at it, we did not think that it would have any significant impact on the project.”

Even so, Reid said he still tried to get those five property owners who live north of 126th Avenue to sign the perpetual easement.

“We wrote them several letters,” he said. “I’ve had several conversations with a few of the owners there.”

Sunshine Beach homeowner Don McLendon said he didn’t even read the paperwork because there’s already plenty of sand between his house and the water.

“I just don’t think we needed it,” he said. “There’s never been water in this living room. I don’t think it will matter one way or the other. … That beach line is going to be where it is regardless of what the Army Corps of Engineers does.” 

The Corps has already skipped that section as it began the beach renourishment project on Sunshine Beach last week.

Josh Rojas|Reporter|Bay News 9|July 12, 2014

Tension over environmental concerns forced Port Authority to seek full study of channel widening project

MOBILE, Alabama — The letters started going out around the end of March, about four months after some Dauphin Island residents met at the International Trade Center to discuss widening of the Mobile Bay ship channel.

The Alabama State Port Authority had plans to expand the channels’ width to 550 feet and some were leery of its effect on the island. 

The two groups jostled before over coastal erosion concerns. Some believed the beach’s diminishment was caused — at least, in part — by dredging maintenance in the Bay.

The spat resulted in a lawsuit against the state that was settled in 2009. So when the issue came up again, the Port Authority convened a meeting.

Officials from the Army Corps of Engineers; the town of Dauphin Island; the Dauphin Island Property Owners Association; and Mobile Baykeeper each attended. After the Corps completed a review of the initial project, the widening plans were moved south — right at the mouth of the Bay.

Residents were no more relieved. They felt the issue merited broader evaluation.

“The dredging practices of the Corps, I believe, are the root cause of the continued erosion that has occurred on the south shoreline of Dauphin Island,” Stan Graves, a resident who attended the meeting wrote to the Corps in April, “and that is adversely affecting one of my properties.”

Two crucial problems

The Port Authority is under pressure to expand the ship channel, make way for larger ships carrying a growing amount of cargo. Vessels that sail down the 5-mile wide path everyday must to do so one at a time. The widening project will change that, resulting in increased productivity.

The Port of Mobile’s competitors are all preparing for the opening of the Panama Canal in early 2016. Now as deep as 45 feet in some areas, the channel is deep enough to hold some of these ships depending on the tonnage they carry. These ships have docked at the container terminal in Mobile already. But the industry standard (about 55 feet) is deeper.

Barrier islands are struggling to stick around in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Decades of hurricanes and now, sea level rise threaten to take them under. But there could be one other reason: dredging.

The Port Authority rejects the idea as having no “basis in science.”

“The problem is, they don’t have any science on their side,” Jimmy Lyons, the Port Authority’s executive director, told a local news station recently.

Residents like Glen Coffee said he’s just cherry-picking research. “There is a whole bunch of science that he has chosen to ignore.”

Coffee, a former Corps employee, points to a 2007 study by the U.S. Geological Survey, linking land loss on several barrier islands to storms, rising seas and a shortage of sand to replenish the coastal areas.

Sand is lacking because some of it is being swept into the ship channel. The widening project — depending on which group is right — could exacerbate the situation.

“Sand supply is the only factor contributing to barrier island land loss that can be managed directly to mitigate the losses,” said Robert A. Morton, in his conclusion of the USGS study, “by placement of dredged material so that the adjacent barrier island shores receive it for island nourishment and rebuilding.”

Letters thwart plans

After leaving the meeting on Nov. 25, Laura Martin, president of the property owner’s association, obtained a copy of the limited re-evaluation report conducted by the Corps. The report is smaller in terms of the scope of what it requires the agency to do. And no public input is necessary.

It revealed what she called “very serious concerns…over the manner in which the Mobile District of the Corps is complying with the National Environmental Policy Act…,” Martin said in her March 31 letter to the commanding officer of the Corps in Mobile.

The last comprehensive study of the Bay was in 1986. Given the history of controversy, or at least the speculation about erosion, why not go for the full study? Martin wrote a letter on the group’s behalf, a 6-page explanation of what they believed was going wrong.

Soon followed letters from other residents; the Mobile Bay Audubon Society, the Mobile Baykeeper and the Mobile Bay Sierra Club were also sent to the Corps in support of their position.

“We’re not against them widening the ship channel,” said Joe Mahoney, chair of the Sierra Club.

“We just want to make sure everybody dots their i’s and crosses their t’s so years from now we don’t say ‘hey why didn’t we check that out?’ “

The full Environmental Impact Statement will surely cost more, but Port Authority officials hope it deters a more unfavorable outcome. The study was last pegged at $1.3 million, and the overall cost was as much as $15 million. 

“Rather than fight what was sure to be a legal challenge by some of the residents or even a larger environmental group, the Port Authority decided to ask the Corps to perform the EIS,” Judy Adams, Port Authority vice president for marketing, said in an email.

“Given the EIS is a much lengthier and costly study, the Port Authority decided to look at the entire project in terms of widening and deepening.”

The full review could take as long as three years to complete, pushing the channel expansion efforts past the tentative 2016 opening of the Panama Canal. Paying for the project will be split 50-50 between the state and federal governments.

Given the amount of work associated with the full study, Corps spokesman Pat Robbins said even “three years is pretty quick.”

Michael Finch II|July 12, 2014

A new vision for Port of Wilmington

When a group of longshoremen visited an undeveloped lot just south of the Delaware Memorial Bridge last week, they looked out over the grassy landscape to the choppy river and saw the future: an expanded Port of Wilmington capable of luring trade away from Philadelphia and other areas and landing as many as 4,000 new jobs.

Marching in lock-step with the waterfront workers is New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon, who sees the 176-acre site in Riveredge Industrial Park in New Castle as the perfect location for a public-private venture to expand the port to the south, making it capable of handling the newest generation of large-capacity container vessels.

The ambitious concept, which maritime experts estimate would cost $400 million to $600 million for the first phase, envisions capitalizing on the existing rail near the properties to tie the Riveredge operation with the Port of Wilmington and the former General Motors assembly plant on Boxwood Road near Newport.

The Boxwood location, the former Fisker Automotive site that Gordon has said the county is offering to buy, would serve as a central location for the distribution to retailers of goods and products by rail or highway.

Gordon calls the vision a “no brainer” that would create needed high-paying middle-class jobs. The existing port on the Christina and Delaware River, which had 367 vessel calls in 2013, is estimated to support 5,200 families both directly and indirectly.

‘In a good spot’

Although Gordon said the county would play a “supportive role,” it has already made a $9 million offer on the 141-acre Boxwood site, most recently part of an unsuccessful plan to revive the former GM site as a Fisker automobile plant.

“From everything I’ve seen, it would be one of the most productive ports on the East Coast. The ships would be able to come directly from ocean to the port and not have to travel up river. It would save a lot of money and a lot of time,” Gordon said.

Supporters see a project that would involve a partnership between private investors and government, similar to redevelopment of the Wilmington Riverfront. But Gordon said the lion’s share would be private money from investors.

The next step is to get an economic impact study done, which Gordon estimates would cost about $75,000. Gordon said he supports going to New Castle County Council for money to help pay for the study.

Still, it’s important that the state get behind the project, Gordon said.

Gov. Jack Markell said he hasn’t been briefed on the project, but is “always interested in hearing more.”

Chuck White, owner of White Realty, which represents Riveredge, has attended most of the private meetings for the past three weeks. He said everyone involved so far has been receptive to the idea.

“We’re in a good spot,” White said.

Connecting the sites

Delaware Economic Development Director Alan Levin, chairman of the Diamond State Port Corp., which owns and operates the Port of Wilmington, declined last week to comment on the expansion proposal.

“I am unaware of any plans for this proposed facility,” he said.

The expansion idea calls for a single large pier, or dock, at Riveredge with seven or more berths for ships, said Ronald “Kimoko” Harris, business agent with International Longshoremen’s Association Clerks and Checkers Local 1883, whose members work to load and unload cargo.

There would be six or more large container cranes that could work on the mega container ships. Harris said container work is the highest-paying cargo for longshoremen. The site has enough space to accommodate warehouses.

Access to I-295 is right outside Riveredge Industrial Park. The rail line that runs through Riveredge would be connected to the old Port of Wilmington. While the existing Port of Wilmington has one pier on the Delaware River, most of the operations are on the Christina River.

The rail system at the Port of Wilmington connects to the Boxwood Road plant, connecting all three sites by rail.

“It’s a perfect place. The rail head is already there,” said William Ashe Jr., president of ILA Local 1694.

A lot of the cargo that comes into the Port of Wilmington is bulk and break bulk, which means it does not come in a container, Harris said.

Longshoremen at the port, who handle about 5 million tons of cargo annually, are among the highest-paid blue collar workers in the country, said James McNamara, director of public relations with the ILA in North Bergen, N.J.

“It’s very common to make more than $100,000 because there’s a lot of overtime, nights and weekends,” McNamara said.

Eugene Bailey, executive director of the port corporation, said he’s heard no details about the New Castle development, but “anything to expand our capabilities to do business, we’re always interested in that.”

Also interested is Nick Ferrara Jr., president of Parkway Gravel, which has owned of Riveredge Park for 20 years.

“It’s a heck of an idea,” Ferrara said. “They have my interest.”

Challenges remain

Not that there aren’t significant challenges, both in terms of the implementation of a development plan and questions of market demand for another pier.

In terms of the physical development, Markell questioned what the implications would be around the state Coastal Zone Act, which is designed to protect the natural environment of the coastal zone areas by prohibiting new heavy industry that doesn’t conform to the law.

A decision on whether a new facility would be allowed under the act would need to come from the Delaware Division of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, experts say.

The Delaware River also would have to be dredged to allow for the building of new berths.

“Anytime you are talking about creating port facilities, the biggest problem is permitting,” said Jeff Bross, chairman of Duffield Associates, which did work on the Port of Wilmington’s auto berth project on the Delaware River that opened in August 2002. “The main thing is permitting for dredging for the docks, both state and federal.”

Ed Voigt, spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Philadelphia district, which regulates construction on waters and wetlands in the United States, said the permitting process depends on location, site conditions and other factors. When a developer has firmed up preliminary plans, the corps works with the applicant to adjust plans if necessary. He said the corps approves more than 90 percent of applications.

“We’re not rubber-stampers. This reflects that fact we try to work with applicants so that their final application is one that we can legitimately approve,” Voigt said. “The corps welcomes applicants discussing their plans before they begin the formal application process.”

Jeff Bergstrom, building official and fire marshal for the city of New Castle, said he could not comment on the development because no plans have been submitted with the city.

“It’s a beautiful location. There’s infrastructure for a wide variety of industrial uses. The property owner, the state and the city have spent a great amount of money to make the infrastructure available for industrial uses,” Bergstrom said.

Political issues

There could also be political push-back.

“I understand dreaming big, but I don’t see it – not in my lifetime and I’m 58,” said New Castle County Councilman George Smiley, co-chairman of finance committee. Smiley said he worked at the Port of Wilmington while with Volkswagen of America. “I think you’ll see Santa Claus come down your chimney first.”

Smiley said the state and federal governments should spearhead such a project, not the county.

“I’ll offer moral support, but I’m not interested in putting county taxpayer dollars out,” Smiley said.

Sen. Robert Marshall, D-Wilmington West, who sponsored legislation to prevent the privatization of the port by the Markell administration, said he believes it’s a great idea, but “the devil is in the details.”

“It’s positive. It’s people thinking about tomorrow. I think there would be serious public policy considerations as to protecting and preserving blue collar jobs and creating a significant number of new $15- to $50-an-hour blue collar jobs,” Marshall said. “It’s a great idea. A couple thousand jobs would be a miracle.”

Rep. Dennis E. Williams, D-Talleyville, said the General Assembly just allocated $250,000 in state money to the application process for permits to build on the Delaware River at the existing Port of Wilmington. Williams said he’s concerned about sending mixed messages to shippers or investors if there’s not a coordinated vision.

He said he thinks it’s a good idea to develop a comprehensive long-term plan. Williams said the port is the last big blue-collar industrial employer in the area.

“Maybe this summer is a good time for all parties to meet and discuss the long-term vision for expansion on the Delaware River north and south of the bridge,” Williams said.

Larger ships

The expansion discussion comes as the shipping industry is being transformed with the advent of a new global fleet of mega-ships that can carry almost double the containers of the previous generation of ships.

These mega-vessels have a capacity of 7,500 to 12,000 container units as measured by the standard 20-foot container (TEU), according to Ed Zimny, principal Paul F. Richardson Associates Inc. in Holmdel, New Jersey, maritime advisory company that has done work for the port. The older generation vessels could handle 6,000 to 9,000 20-foot equivalent container units, he said.

By the end of 2016, there will be more than 770 container ships of over 7,500 TEU, compared to 628 ships today, said HJ Tan of Alphaliner, a shipping research company in Singapore.

The larger ships will require larger, more modern terminals, according to a May article in the Journal of Commerce.

To accommodate these larger ships, the Panama Canal has been undergoing an expansion that is the largest canal project since it was constructed. The widening, scheduled for completion in early 2016, will allow for the passage of vessels that can carry up to 13,000 TEUs, according to Canal de Panama website.

The expansion will mean a larger share of ships will be able to travel the canal fully loaded, according to a 2012 study by Vickerman Associates.

But to handle these large cargo ships, port terminals need huge ship-to-shore gantry cranes on foundations able to support the heavier loads, Zimny said.

Jean-Paul Rodrique, a professor of global studies and geography at Hofstra University, said the Panama Canal expansion has generated a kind of frenzy among ports, whose operators fear they won’t be able to service the shipping lines.

“The problem is there’s a fair amount of expansion projects using Panama Canal expansion as a trigger. The truth is the decision by shipping companies has very little to do with the ports. These are decisions by shipping companies to suit their [business] purposes,” he said.

There already is more cargo capacity than is being used because global trade is not going up, Rodrique says.

“People think the Panama Canal is the light at the end of the tunnel for many ports, which it’s not,” he said. “If it’s a private company that is willing to make a bet, be my guest. But if it’s state or federal, you have to be careful.”

A growing market

But Gordon is a believer.

He thinks an expanded port in New Castle would be at capacity “the day it opened.” The county-funded economic impact study should provide some answers, he said.

“That study is going to come back and show there’s enough investors on Wall Street that would pay for it,” Gordon said.

With the shifting of the world’s manufacturing center to Southeast Asia, including Vietnam and India, there could be “dramatically more” westbound traffic through the Suez Canal to the East Coast of the United States, the Vickerman study says.

Tan, who said global shipping demand is expected to grow by 3 percent to 8 percent annually, said he does not see any over-capacity issues at East Coast ports.

“You can draw a straight line right across from the Suez Canal to the Port of Wilmington,” Zimny said. “We’re a consumer nation. Delaware is positioned nicely between Norfolk and Newark N.J. The [expansion proposal] makes all the sense in the world.”

Rodrique agreed the Suez Canal is a “very interesting wild card” in the shipping industry as manufacturing shifts to Southeast Asia. He said the rule of thumb seems to be if the cargo is west of Singapore, ships will go to the East Coast ports. If it’s east of Singapore, they’ll use the Panama Canal.

Strong business

Wilmington and Philadelphia also have developed a strong business in handling fruit, he said.

Customers at the port have changed over the years. Opened in 1923, the deep-water port first supported the shipbuilding industry and railroad car manufacturing along the Christina. By 1976, Volkswagen of America selected the Port of Wilmington as their auto hub for imports to North America.

Along the way, there was continued expansion and improvements, including the creation of cold storage facilities for fruit. The state bought the port from the city in 1995 and the Diamond State Port Corp. was created to manage and operate the port.

In 2002, the port’s first berth on the Delaware River was completed. More recently an attempt was made to lease the port to Kinder Morgan, the largest independent terminal operator in North America, which would mean the state’s role would be as landlord. The plan met with fierce opposition from labor and lawmakers who felt the move would hurt blue-collar employment. Kinder Morgan dropped its bid in March.

The Kinder Morgan deal put the spotlight on an asset that often is overlooked, Williams said.

“The port is now a high-profile item for the General Assembly. We realize the importance of the jobs and its status as the big blue-collar industrial employer,” Williams said.

He sponsored a bill that passed in June that will increase the Diamond State Port Corp. board by two members to provide additional oversight by the General Assembly.

Crucial jobs

To the longshoremen and Gordon, the creation of more high-paying jobs is the answer to some of Wilmington’s ills.

“I grew up in the city and I’ve never seen it so bad,” said Joe Carson, president of Local 1883.

He and others believe unemployment and crime are “all linked together.”

Gordon said it crucial to save and promote these kinds of jobs for the long-term health of New Castle County and the state.

“This is about livable wages. You need jobs where people can afford to support their families, buy homes and buy cars,” he said.

No matter what, experts said development would have to happen quickly.

“Time is of the essence. But if everyone pulls on the rope together it’s a huge economic development opportunity,” said Bross of Duffield Associates. “I think it has potential for success.”

Landowner Ferrara sums it up: “It’s gotta get life quickly.”

Maureen Milford|The News Journal|July 12, 2014

Endless erosion battle a matter of money

TREASURE ISLAND — Every four years or so, the beach a block away from Gwenda Barnitz’s home disappears into the Gulf of Mexico.

“Since I’ve lived here, it washes away underneath all of the entrances to the beach. You have a staircase that’s hanging out over nothing,” said Barnitz, a 28-year resident of Sunset Beach at the narrow southern tip of Treasure Island.

In fact, Sunset Beach and the island’s northernmost beach, Sunshine Beach, have been eroding rapidly for at least as long as people have lived here, and, for more than 40 years, heavy machines have shown up every few years to pump millions of cubic yards of sand from the ocean back onto the diminished shore.

Since the first federal beach renourishment project in 1969, about $25 million in today’s dollars have been spent on Treasure Island alone to fight a natural process that’s been happening for ages on barrier islands, researchers say.

This summer, a combination of federal, state and local money totaling $16 million will be spent to pour a half-million cubic yards of sand along these slender beaches in Treasure Island, as well as Upham Beach and Pass-a-Grille Beach to the south on Long Key.

And it will all have to be done again and again and again — indefinitely — until the money runs out, people move out or sea level rise drives everyone out to seek higher and drier ground.

A few coastal scientists and fiscally conservative politicians point to the apparent futility of the billions spent across the nation in the past 50 years to stop sand from doing what it’s naturally inclined to do.

But the majority maintain that although renourishment may not stop the sea forever, the perpetual investment in protecting homes, businesses and a multibillion-dollar tourism industry, not to mention lives, is well worth the cost.

“We have infrastructure and we have an economy that depends on healthy beaches, and, frankly, we have public safety that depends on healthy beaches,” said U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores.

“I would challenge anyone to defend the notion that 10 years ago we should have let the waters wash over Gulf Boulevard and put all of the first floors of our hotels underwater.”

In the late 1960s, it was obvious that several Pinellas County beaches were in trouble.

On the upper end of Long Key, waves lapped against a seawall on Blind Pass channel, and the beach to the south had vanished.

On the north side of the dredged waterway, the swath of sand called Sunset Beach essentially was gone, a phenomenon that was occurring along several channels up and down the county’s barrier islands.

Although the federal government had invested in coastal projects including seawall construction and beach renourishment for many years, Treasure Island’s 2-mile, $1.4 million project in 1969 was the first in Florida for the long-running federal program administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In the 45 years since, the corps has returned more than a dozen times and pumped 3 million cubic yards of sand back onto the beach from offshore shoals and nearby channels.

Treasure Island’s erosion problems are among the worst in the state, but its sand losses and replacement costs pale in comparison to those of other beach destinations.

An estimated $140 million in today’s dollars has been spent over the years to restore 12.3 million cubic yards of sand at Miami Beach, and New York’s Rockaway Beach has required $216 million and 29 million cubic yards, according to research compiled by Western Carolina University’s Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines in Cullowhee, North Carolina.

“We’re talking about billions of dollars, approaching tens of billions” nationally, said coastal geologist Rob Young, the university program’s director, noting that damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2010 has driven federal renourishment spending to all-time highs.

A good deal of erosion occurs naturally on barrier islands, which had been reshaped by storms, tides and sea level changes many times before the age of hotels and condominiums.

Digging out and modifying navigational channels between the islands has accelerated the process, so beaches on either side of waterways such as Johns Pass and Blind Pass have become particular problem spots.

On Florida’s Gulf Coast, a river of sand naturally drifts north to south, but the flow is interrupted by these widened gaps between the islands. The only reason all this movement creates an issue is that people have built permanent homes or hotel towers on or near impermanent sands.

“Obviously, if we didn’t put any houses there, we wouldn’t have any erosion problems. The sand would just move around,” said Ping Wang, a coastal geology professor at University of South Florida.

Maybe if developers had fully appreciated this phenomenon, they would have stayed away or concentrated construction in the middle of the islands, where large amounts of sand tend to collect over time, creating wider, more stable beaches.

Restrictions for building on or near sand dunes have become tighter over the years and after more study, meaning the towers along Blind Pass couldn’t be built today.

Researchers such as Young aren’t sure those limits are strict enough.

“We have understood all of this very well for the past 20 years, and the idea we would still be putting stuff in harm’s way and that the state would still allow high-rises on barrier islands is just nuts,” he said.

It’s not only a matter of scientific knowledge about shifting sands, but financial responsibility, he said.

“In the 18th and 19th centuries, coastal communities moved back from the coast all the time. They knew the risk. They were living in their primary homes. They were entirely financially responsible for themselves and their communities,” Young said.

As long as the government bears most of the cost for restoring eroded beaches, people will continue to live there, blithely unaware of the billions of federal dollars it takes to prevent them from being washed away, he said.

Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency have raised similar arguments, suggesting after big disasters such as Hurricane Katrina or Sandy that some coastal communities should not be rebuilt.

Faced with $24 billion in debt, the FEMA-run National Flood Insurance Program slowly is increasing federal premiums on properties at high risk for flooding to better reflect their true risk.

Most efforts to discourage living by the water or to encourage people to move out have not been well-received.

“Most folks at the coast, when you suggest that, they just laugh at you,” Young said.

Though sustaining beach development is expensive, the alternative isn’t economically desirable, says Harry Simmons, president of the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association, which lobbies to protect coastal communities.

“I don’t see people picking up condo buildings and moving them away, so I think protecting them is the solution,” said Simmons, longtime mayor of tiny Caswell Beach, North Carolina.

“What you’re talking about is abandoning them and letting them fall into the ocean, and the cost of that is going to be even greater than the beach nourishment projects.”

The Army Corps of Engineers tends to agree.

In the aftermath of storms like Sandy, the corps must weigh the costs versus benefits of rebuilding devastated communities, and the federal government has the option of buying out the properties if reconstruction costs are too high, said Jackie Keiser, of the Army Corps’ Jacksonville district office.

“Right now, the value of real estate in most coastal areas is incredibly high, so it doesn’t make economic sense to buy it out,” said Keiser, who studied coastal geology at USF before joining the corps.

Nowhere in the nation is that value higher than in Florida, where a 2013 study by the corps concluded the total amount of tax revenue generated annually by beach tourists, $6.2 billion, is about 100 times the amount spent statewide on beach renourishment each year.

Beach tourists spent an estimated $71.8 billion in 2012 and support the state’s No. 1 industry in terms of jobs, according to the study.

That’s why recently elected Congressman Jolly has taken up predecessor Bill Young’s mission in Washington to keep renourishment dollars flowing into Pinellas. The federal government typically foots 60 percent of the bill for beach projects, and the state and county contribute 20 percent each.

This government money is not “pork,” nor is it a waste of taxpayers’ money; it’s a public investment, Jolly said.

Beach towns in New Jersey with wide, well-nourished beaches withstood Sandy’s wrath much better than those with depleted shores, he said.

“If we don’t invest in it, then we’re investing on the backside and we get none of the benefits because all of the taxpayer dollars then are going to recovery,” Jolly said.

Though some politicians from inland states have criticized government funding for beach restoration, Jolly said there generally is an atmosphere of support in Washington for continuing these projects well into the future.

How far into the future it will make economic and practical sense to keep resisting the ocean is another matter.

Whether from the gradual rise of sea levels or a slow tightening of federal budgets, Pinellas County leaders anticipate this odd method of expanding the beach may no longer be viable one day.

The county’s tourism agency puts aside $2 million to $3 million a year from bed tax collections for beach renourishment. But as revenue from the 5 percent tax on hotel stays accumulates, commissioners have contemplated putting more money aside in the event federal funding dries up.

Beaches, not movie star dolphins such as Winter or famous Spanish painters such as Salvador Dalí, are the main reason people come to the area. In the county’s most erosion-prone spots, those white, sandy beaches could be gone within years without a sand infusion.

If it weren’t for the giant yellow T-groin barriers placed in the ocean and consistent renourishment, Upham Beach could wash away entirely within a decade, says Andy Squires, the county’s coastal manager.

“They’d still have beaches. It’s just the beach would be in a different place,” Squires said.

JOSH BOATWRIGHT|St. Petersburg Tribune staff|13, 2014

The Gulf Coast saved its dying seagrass … why can’t we?

Florida’s west coast waters lend lessons for Brevard

In 2011, the Indian River Lagoon collapsed.

Sixty percent of the seagrass — a critical source of both food and shelter for marine animals — perished under an unprecedented green algae “superbloom.” That was followed by mass manatee, dolphin and pelican die-offs.

Meanwhile, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, the state’s other three waters in the National Estuary Program are thriving.

Despite periodic algae blooms and decades of problems similar to the lagoon’s, seagrass in Tampa Bay, Sarasota Bay and Charlotte Harbor have rebounded to record levels, spawning fish and other marine life population booms.

Can the Indian River Lagoon — North America’s most biologically diverse estuary — benefit from lessons learned cleaning up those waterways?

Those West Coast waters have one huge advantage over the Indian River Lagoon: Gulf of Mexico tides flush pollution from more open estuaries. Here, a near-land-locked lagoon has few inlets for its excesses to escape.

Still, many lagoon advocates point to factors beyond flushing. They say the three Gulf Coast national estuaries offer examples of how the lagoon region ought to tackle similar woes. Mainly, they cite stricter limits on fertilizer use and lobby for the same restrictions here. Science to measure whether those ordinances have made a major difference is pending.

But that’s not the only step our region is trying to emulate from the other three estuary programs. Officials with those programs say strong partnerships among key industries, avoiding political “turf battles,” creative public education campaigns and weaning off septic tanks saved their marine jewels.

“I think it is more difficult for you guys because you have a watershed that spans such a large area,” said Nanette O’Hara, public outreach coordinator for the Tampa Bay Estuary Program. “I think the secret to our success is that we haven’t spent a whole lot of time pointing fingers at each other and assessing blame. I think we just tried to emphasize that everybody is part of the problem and needs to be part of the solution.”

Easy to identify

It is easy to identify the problem here: Algae blooms killed 47,000 acres of seagrass since the 2011 “superbloom.” Subsequent “brown tide” algae blooms the past two summers hampered any recovery.

But what remains unknown is what sparked those blooms.

Some environmental advocates have said the causes are clearly manmade.They blame fertilizer, septic tanks, development, muck buildup, doubling the drainage basin for farming and housing, and re-channeling freshwater to the lagoon, to name a few.

The Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program has embarked on several studies to gauge the relative roles of those stresses on the lagoon.

But fertilizer, by far, has occupied center stage over the past year.

Many believe the nitrogen and phosphorous in fertilizer that help grass grow has been washing into the lagoon and feeding the algae blooms.

In response, cities have been adopting fertilizer ordinances, some with rainy season bans and others falling back on the minimum set of state-recommended rules, which allow for wet season fertilizing, but not when rain is forecast.

Those who support stronger rules point to studies that show lawns survive just fine without fertilizing during rainy months. Opponents — most who have connections to companies that make fertilizer or treat lawns with fertilizer — say depriving grass of nutrients when it’s most able to absorb them, during peak growing season, can result in more nitrogen and phosphorus running off the weaker grass and roots when applied other times of the year.

This month, Cape Canaveral, Titusville and Cocoa Beach all plan to consider rainy season fertilizer bans, and Brevard County plans a workshop in March to reconsider enacting a rainy-season ban and other rules stricter than they passed a year ago.

Many cite the seagrass successes on the Gulf Coast as reason for stricter ordinances here. But most of those rules have only been in place for the past several years, after decades of sewer and stormwater projects had already vastly improved water quality.

More than 2.3 million people live in the three counties bordering Tampa Bay: Hillsborough, Manatee and Pinellas.

As population and wastewater discharges surged, by the 1970s as much as 80 percent of the bay’s seagrass had died. Federal and state laws over the following two decades significantly cut sewer plant and industrial waste discharges.

Much of the water quality improvement happened voluntarily. Rather than have the state force nitrogen limits on the region, in 1996 stakeholders formed the Tampa Bay Nitrogen Management Consortium — an alliance of local governments and industries bordering the bay — to enact their own limits. Since the 1990s, the consortium invested more than $500 million in projects to reduce nitrogen pollution.

The plan included 100 projects, such as stormwater, industrial wastewater and sewer system improvements, that cut nitrogen by more than 130 tons per year.

Fertilizer rules came later. Florida Department of Environmental Protection published its first model ordinance in 2003, but municipalities didn’t enact their own ordinances until four years later, most of them in Southwest Florida, triggered by recommendations from the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council.

Ultimately, some 50 local governments enacted rainy season bans. Lawn care companies feared the new rules would put them out of business.

As in Brevard, the Gulf Coast’s fertilizer rules gained momentum after successive bad algae blooms. Most Gulf Coast communities began enacting strong fertilizer rules in 2007, after red tides had hit the Sarasota and Charlotte County areas the two previous years. Local governments created ordinances that include rainy season “blackout” periods in the summer, typically starting June 1 or July 1 and running through Sept. 30 or Oct. 1. They also required “slow-release” nitrogen and low or no phosphorous fertilizers.

By 2010, seagrass had recovered to 1950 levels.

A $200,000 study is designed to discover what effect the fertilizer regulations around Tampa Bay have had on water quality.

The study will compare nitrogen concentrations in stormwater ponds in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Manatee counties, which regulate fertilizer to different degrees.

Pinellas bans fertilizer sales in the summer. Manatee, like Rockledge, Satellite Beach and several other Brevard cities, bans fertilizer use during summer months. Hillsborough County two years ago balked at the prospect of a rainy season ban but includes other strict provisions.

The study in the Tampa Bay region will sample several ponds during wet and dry seasons and survey homeowners to see whether the ordinances and educational efforts altered their fertilizer use and other lawn practices.

Many lagoon advocates are awaiting those results, which are expected in the spring.

“Everybody in Indian River Lagoon (region) has been asking,” said O’Hara, of the Tampa Bay National Estuary Program, which is leading the study.

While the scientific predictions flesh out, some of the dire forecasts for businesses failed to materialize, Gulf Coast estuary program officials say, while the strict fertilizer rules paid ecological dividends.

“They take it seriously” Lisa Beever, director of Charlotte Harbor Estuary Program, said of citizens’ compliance with the fertilizer rules. “Having good information to them available is really important, because people want to do the right thing.”

For some, the stricter regulations meant more business.

“It’s been controversial here, locally, but business opportunities have developed around it,” said Mark Alderson, director of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program.

That included businesses that devised new formulations of fertilizers that use micronutrients, instead of nitrogen and phosphorus.

“From our standpoint, fertilizer ordinances are very cost effective,” O’Hara, of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, said.

That’s no reason to keep lawn-care businesses and residents from applying fertilizer for a quarter of the year, threatening livelihoods and property rights, says Jason Steele, of the law firm Smith & Associates, which represents Florida Partnership for Sustainable Greenspace, a conglomerate of fertilizer, real estate and other associated industries.

He points to a 2009 state law that says municipalities can only go stricter than the state-suggested ordinance if they provide scientific proof the tougher measures are needed.

Local governments may be opening themselves up to lawsuits from the fertilizer industry to undo the stricter ordinances, Steele said. “It is blatantly unfair for them to go after the low-hanging fruit here because perceptually people think fertilizer is affecting the Indian River Lagoon,” Steele said. “It’s a bad idea to pass a law that’s unenforceable.”

Last year, Melbourne agreed and balked at a stricter ordinance.

Conservationists worry other cities will, too, if legislators try as they have in past years to pass an even stronger law to prevent local governments from adopting rules stricter than the state’s recommendations.

Inadequate stormwater systems, septic tanks and leaky sewer lines are the bigger problem, Steele says.

The Sarasota region aggressively attacked the sewer issue. Since 1998, the region has been expanding sewer systems, paying for the work by raising local utilities fees and through grants. “The entire community, including our congressional delegation, worked really hard on getting some of the federal money to offset the costs on the citizens,” Alderson said. “It’s all prioritized … We’re only about 65 percent done.”

Troy Rice, director of the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, says the lagoon program has been taking some pointers from the other coast, such as how to conduct successful education campaigns about lawn care practices.

“They’re not really doing anything unique over there that we’re not aware of,” Rice said. “It’s not an issue that they did some magical thing that created a bunch of seagrass over there.”

More than any other factor, nature trumped the best laid restoration plans here, he says.

“They didn’t have the algae bloom that we had in 2011,” Rice said of Tampa Bay. “This summer they could have an algae bloom that covers their bay.”

He said summertime fertilizer bans help improve water quality, but are no panacea. Nothing is.

“We’re not going to see any immediate changes overnight,” Rice said. “Everybody always wants to find the magic bullet. It just doesn’t exist.”

Jim Waymer|FLORIDA TODAY| Jan 12, 2014

Sea Shepherd takes fight to the airwaves

Sea Shepherd takes fight to the airwaves with Sea Shepherd Radio

Sea Shepherd Australia has launched an online radio station to raise awareness about the conservation work it does for the world’s oceans.

Music from artists including Red Hot Chili Peppers, Aerosmith, Queens of the Stone Age, Robert Plant as well as Australians such as Xavier Rudd, John Butler and Missy Higgins, all previous supporters of Sea Shepherd, will play on the station. In addition, news updates on its frontline conservation work and features on ongoing Sea Shepherd operations will be broadcast.

The Sea Shepherd Radio App, which can be downloaded for free from the App Store and Google Play, is a collaboration between advertising agency The Works and audio content agency The Honorable Society.

Jeff Hansen, Sea Shepherd Australia’s Managing Director said: “Sea Shepherd always had great support from musicians here and across the globe and Sea Shepherd radio features many of them and more. The station also aims to raise awareness of the plight of oceans worldwide and our work to defend them, through education, empowerment and direct action.”

“With Sea Shepherd radio you can listen to some great music, hear the latest campaign news and support our work defending oceans worldwide,” added Adam Burling Sea Shepherd Radio Manager. “It’s a station with sounds of the sea and the sounds of musicians who care as much for the oceans as we do.”

Android App:
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=au.com.seashepherdradio

Apple App:
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sea-shepherd-radio/id881417804?ls=1&mt=8

Sea Shepherd Australia|16 July 2014

Coastal wildlife paradise declared biosphere reserve in Argentina

Conservationists are celebrating the announcement that UNESCO has dubbed Argentina’s Península Valdés a biosphere reserve under the Man and Biosphere Program (MBA). A hatchet-shaped peninsula that juts out into the Southern Atlantic Ocean, the world’s newest biosphere reserve is home to a hugely-diverse collection of both terrestrial and marine wildlife.

Southern right whales that swim within meters of shore, schools of dusky dolphins, huge colonies of Magellanic penguins, rookeries of South American sea lions that bustle with activity, orcas that beach themselves to capture pups and southern elephant seals that huddle in thousands on lonely sandy beaches,” said Senior Conservation, William Conway, with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). “This is the wildlife that makes Península Valdés on the coast of Patagonia so special, one of the world’s great natural wonders.”

In fact, the peninsula houses the world’s largest breeding colony of southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) in South America and is home to 4,000 southern right whales (Eubalaena australis), about one third of the total breeding population. On land, the reserve supports abundant populations guanacos (Lama guanicoe), the rabbit-like Patagonian mara (Dolichotis patagonum), and Darwin’s rhea (Rhea pennata), the latter two which are listed as Near Threatened.

Its designation as a biosphere reserve means that the Península Valdés reserve becomes a part of a global network to test new sustainable management ideas in order to better-harmonize environmental protection with human needs and economies. Moreover, the designation adds Punta Ninfas, just to the south of the peninsula, to the protected area. Home to southern elephant seals, South American sea lions (Otaria flavescens), imperial cormorants (Phalacrocorax atriceps), and Magellanic penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus)—considered Near Threatened—this point is currently imperiled by urbanization and a proliferation of off-road vehicles, according to the WCS.

The President and CEO of WCS, Cristián Samper, says the Península Valdés has “greater concentrations of wildlife than any other area on the entire coast of Patagonia,” and that the park’s designation as a biosphere reserve “is the culmination of years of hard work by many great partners.”

See Photos 

Jeremy Hance|mongabay.com|July 15, 2014

Surge could do serious damage here

A new report indicates storm surge could damage thousands of homes in this region.

Southwest Florida has more residential real estate at risk from storm surge damage than almost any other metropolitan area in the country, a new report shows.

If a major hurricane were to strike here, it would cost nearly $43 billion to rebuild the homes destroyed by the storm and subsequent surge in the region, according to data from housing researcher CoreLogic.

Statewide, more than two million homes could be impacted and cost nearly $500 billion to replace.

The area hasn’t faced a direct hurricane strike in nearly a decade. But because of explosive new home development and the region’s high flood exposure, the potential impact to coastal properties has escalated.

The trend is felt across Florida, which has by far more homes at storm surge risk than any other state — many of which lack protection from insurance coverage.

“We continue to live in a Sarasota bubble where we have not been impacted by a big storm in recent memory,” said Roger Pettingell, a luxury real estate specialist with Coldwell Banker on Longboat Key. “That keeps people’s minds off it.”

In all, there are 227,821 homes in the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton metro area that are within storm-surge risk zones.

Of those, 41,006 homes are designated in the “extreme” risk zone, meaning that they would be impacted by all hurricane category levels, according to CoreLogic.

If a hurricane were to strike, it would cost a combined $42.96 billion to rebuild those homes. That value represents the estimated cost of labor and materials to replace a home that has been completely destroyed.

Only six other cities in America have more real estate at risk — and a higher overall replacement value — than Southwest Florida.

That’s largely because of the high number of multimillion-dollar estates and luxury condominium towers on the region’s barrier islands.

But local real estate experts question CoreLogic’s replacement cost figure.

Pettingell, for one, contends that because many high-end residences are built with storm-resistant material and are on higher elevations, it is unlikely even the most vicious storm would cause almost $43 billion in home damage.

In Charlotte County, there are an estimated 93,299 properties at risk from storm surge. Those homes would cost an estimated $19 billion to replace following a storm, according to CoreLogic.

“It’s mostly those stretching to be on the waterfront and buying an older house,” Pettingell said. “They’re the ones who’re most concerned because they’re already at the top of their price range.”

Walls of water

Storm surge occurs when high winds and low pressure combine to cause water to amass inside a storm as it moves over water.

When a storm moves ashore, that force sweeps over land.

Because of its speed and power, storm surge can significantly increase the overall impact from hurricanes.

While scientists have predicted an usually quiet storm season this year, CoreLogic researchers say the report serves as a reminder that the risk of significant damage to Florida homes is a constant threat.

“We don’t care about how many storms or the severity. If it hits the wrong place, it can do tens of billions of dollars in damage, and those values can add up pretty dramatically,” said Thomas Jeffery, senior hazard scientist with CoreLogic. “A hurricane can come ashore and mostly cover a metro region, so it’s important homeowners look at their coverage, and make sure they have enough because they could be on the hook.”

CoreLogic examined homes along the coastlines of 19 states and the District of Columbia, from Texas to Maine. The researcher used Federal Emergency Management Agency flood zone information and data from Marshall & Swift/Boeckh to determine replacement values.

The report identified 6.5 million U.S. homes at some risk of storm surge damage, with a total replacement value of nearly $1.5 trillion.

More than $986 billion of that amount — or just under two-thirds of the total — is concentrated within 15 metro areas, however, including the Sarasota-Bradenton area.

Florida tops the list for the highest number of homes at risk of storm surge damage, with nearly 2.5 million residences at various risk levels and $490 billion in potential exposure to damage — nearly one third of the national total.

About $166 billion worth of Florida real estate was flagged as “extremely risky.”

CoreLogic’s analysis also showed the reasons storm surge exposure varied for state to state.

Florida and Texas were among the top five states for the number of properties at risk primarily because to their extensive coastlines.

Louisiana and New Jersey have smaller coastal areas, but both states have low elevation that allows storm surge to extend farther inland.

Outside FEMA zones

The new report comes amid debate between Congress and real estate professionals over the solvency of the federal government’s flood insurance plan.

In March, Congress passed a bipartisan bill that unwinds some of the changes brought about by the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012. The measure amended provisions slated to hike premiums in many parts of the country, including Southwest Florida.

Many homeowners who live outside FEMA flood zones don’t carry flood insurance because they’re not required to do so.

Virginia Beach has the highest ratio of homes at risk from storm surge not in a FEMA flood zone, at 86 percent. That was followed by Philadelphia, at 85 percent, and Jacksonville at 76 percent, according to CoreLogic.

About 63 percent of the homes in Sarasota-Bradenton at risk for storm surge are not currently required to obtain flood insurance.

That could leave Florida potentially in tremendous debt if a storm hits, said Don Brown, a Florida insurance agent, former state legislator and insurance lobbyist.

“Some people have made the decision that they’ll take their chances and keep their head in the sand,” Brown said. “It’s no secret now that we have more exposure in Florida than any other state, and in many cases, we won’t be able to replace the damage at these costs.

“It’s a disaster waiting to happen.”

Facts
BY THE NUMBERS:

• 227,821 homes in the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton within storm-surge risk zones
• Those local homes would cost $42.96 billion to rebuild
• 41,006 Sarasota-Bradenton homes are designated in the “extreme” risk zone, meaning they would be impacted by all hurricane category levels
• 63% of the risky storm surge homes in Sarasota-Bradenton are not required to obtain flood insurance
• 6.5 million U.S. homes have some risk of storm surge damage, with a total replacement value of nearly $1.5 trillion
• Florida has the highest number of homes at risk, with nearly 2.5 million residences worth $490 billion

 Wildlife and Habitat

First phase of largest Tampa Bay restoration project complete

$7.5 million project restored 843 acres in Terra Ceia Preserve State Park, the largest in Tampa Bay

TERRA CEIA — What was once a land of failed subdivisions and invasive pepper fields is now 843 acres of restored habitat at Terra Ceia Preserve State Park.

The project is the largest ecosystem restoration project completed in Tampa Bay, and public officials celebrated the first phase completion on Monday.

So far, 843 acres of the 1,800-acre Terra Ceia Isles tract have been restored as part of the $7.5 million first phase. In all, the Terra Ceia Aquatic Preserve is about 22,000 acres.

As part of the celebration, Ed and Gail Straight of Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation on Bradenton Beach released rescued screech and barred owls and a wood stork.

“The wetland restoration of this magnitude is truly special for those

of us who live here and who love the natural beauty of this area,” Manatee County Commission Chairman Larry Bustle said as mullet jumped out of the man-made lake behind him. “Wetlands not only improve that natural beauty, but are also a natural filter system for this environment and help improve the water quality of our pristine bays.”

The land was co-acquired by the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for $1.5 million in 1995, which is included in the first phase price. Of that, 117 acres include freshwater and estuarine habitats and 726 are coastal upland habitats.

“I have to congratulate the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which partnered with DEP and others to get this land back into public ownership, which is very much a focus of the department right now,” said Drew Bartlett, deputy secretary for water policy and ecosystem restoration for DEP. “And to make sure we get the right land that protects our aquatic resources.”

One area once featured rows for farming gladiolus and Brazilian peppers, prompting crews to plug about 30 artesian wells used in the farming operations, straddling Interstate 275, U.S. 41 and Tampa Bay. Other areas were once struggling housing developments that never got off the ground, prompting the state to buy the land at a foreclosure auction in 1995. After the water district paid $1.5 million for the property, DEP acquired it for $750,000 in 1998.

“When we got the land, it needed some fixin’,” Bartlett said.

The land is now a network of trails, wetlands, bird habitats, native palms and mangroves and contains more than 75 unmarked heritage sites where visitors could stumble upon Indian mounds and fossil sites.

County Commissioner John Chappie was impressed with how much was fixed.

“Anything we can do as a community for restoration of the ecosystem, especially in coastal communities, is so important,” Chappie said. “We build on what we have. … Whether it is SWFMD, DEP, or the county, it’s a great reflection of the type of environmentally conscious community that goes above and beyond to protect our coastal community.”

Carlos Beruff, president of homebuilder Medallion Home and SWFMD’s governing board chair, celebrated the nature preserve that was once abandoned homes and overgrown weeds. The district has impacted about 4,000 acres and created about 38,000 acres of public land through its land management practices, and sold surplus lands to help fund restoration projects like the one in Terra Ceia, he said.

“Over time, part of the mission of the district is to take those truly surplus properties and put them back into the taxpaying economy, and taking those dollars and segregating these type of properties, which are really important to the ecosystem,” Beruff said.

In 2012, the district was approached by developers, Slip Knott LLC, to swap 77 acres of state land for 663 acres of Rattlesnake Key and submerged lands called the Knott-Cowen Tract for a resort called Skyway Preserve, but that deal died. The state also listed 13 acres of the Terra Ceia Preserve on a surplus sale list in 2013, but that was also removed.

Work began in 2002 on eight smaller phases through 2013 to make up the first phase of the overall project.

“It’s all been removed, leveled out and it’s all been replanted with native fauna,” said Kevin Kiser, Terra Ceia Preserve State Park manager.

Phase I is really never complete. Controlled burns are needed to maintain the forestry, and park officials continue to weed out invasive species that creep up.

“It’s going to always need maintenance because those exotics are near impossible to be eradicated,” Kiser said.

Second phase

The water district is requesting $4.75 million from the state for a second phase of the project and continues to estimate the cost of the project. The second phase will include restoring 233 acres of upland and wetland habitats inside a 408-acre tract.

Freshwater and tidal wetlands habitats were also created and, in some cases, switched to stop the agricultural runoff from the property.

“Some of them were saltwater and now they’re freshwater because when agriculture was going on here, they dug ditches to drain the property,” Kiser said. “So what we wanted to do was to cut the ditch blocks off to create more freshwater recharge areas so that water would not run out into the bay.”

The entire park, which lacks facilities, is open to the public, and by foot only, Kiser said. Cars can park outside as long as they don’t obstruct the gates, he said, and at a historic Bishop Harbor boat ramp.

The water district oversaw parts of the project through its Surface Water Improvement Management Program, with which DEP manages the park and helps oversees the controlled burns.

More work still needs to be done. Permits are being processed to install permanent boat ramps at Bishop Harbor, off of Moccasin Wallow Road and the historic 1905 Haley Mansion continues to be renovated, though no state funding was granted this year to continue the mansion restoration efforts, Kiser said.

“The inside still needs lots of help,” Kiser said.

While the mansion serves as offices for several state departments and is not open to the public, some officials envision it to double as a visitors’ center one day for the park.

“It’s a possibility. We don’t have a slated use for it as yet,” Kiser said. “Right now it’s just office space until we get our shop facilities built.”

State agencies have not approached Manatee County for funding to help with additional phases for the mansion restoration, according to officials from both the water district and DEP.

CHARLES SCHELLE|May 12, 2014|Sara Kennedy, government reporter, contributed to this report.

Forestry

Downturn in shade-grown coffee putting forests, wildlife, people at risk

Shade-grown coffee is disappearing, and so is the biodiversity that comes with it

Shade-grown coffee is regarded as a form of permaculture, in which coffee is grown under a canopy of native trees in full to moderate shade cover. This allows native vegetation to persist, thereby reducing the impact of agriculture on the natural landscape. While production of shade-grown coffee surged in recent decades, it is now experiencing a decline. A recent study, published in Bioscience, analyzed the situation, finding that the growth of consumer demand and changes in coffee agronomy has caused coffee production and management to change drastically.

Coffee is grown in tropical locations around the world, with Vietnam currently one of the top producers. Between 1990 and 2010, this country alone increased cultivated area “by 731 percent, yields by 45 percent and total production by 1,102 percent,” according to the study conducted by researchers with various U.S. institutions. Overall, coffee cultivation in Asia has risen significantly since 1990.

However, land used to cultivate shade-grown coffee has decreased by 20 percent globally since 1996, with rapid conversion to sun-grown coffee. In total, only 24 percent of the total cultivation belongs to shade practices. There are a variety of reasons why farmers, both large-scale and small-scale, are making the change. These include development of coffee varieties that are more tolerant of sun exposure in effort to combat fungal diseases that are problematic in shady areas, as well as to increase production.

“To the extent that smallholders are intensifying their production and thinning out shade trees (we have seen some evidence for this in parts of Nicaragua and elsewhere), it is often with the goal of planting more coffee bushes per unit of area and increasing coffee yields in the short term,” coauthor Christopher Bacon told mongabay.com. “However, we know that this would decrease the yields of other non-timber forest products such as firewood, fruits, and medicinal plants all gathered from shade coffee farmers.”

According to Bacon, incentives encourage farmers to intensify production by shifting away from shade-grown practices.

“The incentives for this are highly context dependent and could include the availability of longer-term credit, three to five years in some cases, and government and business led programs promoting the intensification of coffee production, technical assistance, and the introduction of newer crop varieties,” he said. “ Higher coffee prices since 2005 could also influence this decision.”

Several other factors add to the degree of complexity in coffee management trends. According to the study, five of the most important are cultivar origin, disease resistance, yield trends, socioeconomic drivers behind livelihood decisions and economic shifts driving market trends.

There are two main coffee bean species: Arabica (C. arabica) and robusta (C. canephora). Diseases, in particular by fungi, are difficult to mitigate. Leaf rust is the most common problem and can persist even in crops of high-yielding and disease-resistant beans. The move towards sun-grown coffee is driven in part by the commonly held assumption that sun exposure prevents fungal infections. However, some studies have suggested that shade coffee is better at fighting disease than is sun-grown coffee as canopy cover may cause difficulty in fungal spore dispersal.

Coffee-growing regions around the world (ha = hectares) with proportions of product cultivated via the different methods. Courtesy of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The shift towards sun-grown began in the 1970s when coffee research institutes started being influenced by yield-focused government incentives. Programs were created to support more intensified practices along with subsidies for pesticide use. However, the authors argue that it as-yet remains unclear whether or not sun coffee produces considerably higher yields in comparison to shade-grown.

Transition to sun coffee is further influenced by livelihoods and cultural history. Although small-scale producers are more likely than large-scale producers to continue with the traditional shade-grown method, many are still moving towards sun coffee. For farmers whose sole incomes come from coffee production, sun-grown may seem more financially appealing.

Yet, many farmers also depend on non-coffee forest products, such as firewood, that are often byproducts of shade-grown methods. The authors highlight the difficulty farmers frequently have receiving profits when coffee pickers and laborers are handed the lowest paycheck. Even with specialty coffees being sold at higher retail values, this doesn’t necessarily lead to more revenue for farmers. Worryingly, some farmers still suffer from problems such as seasonal hunger.

The report includes some encouraging developments, such as the expansion of fair trade and eco-labeling schemes. An estimated 10 percent of coffee sold in 2007 had at least one sustainability certification attached to it. The Bird Friendly certification program is an example of a scheme that upholds the highest standards, including organic certification of more than ten shade tree species. Both fair trade and organic certification have been shown to provide farmers with more access to credit and technical support. However, cost issues may arise for coffee producers who are required to pay fees in order to join certification schemes, and a direct link to increased food security is not always present.

Shade coffee is arguably more sustainable, but it also makes an important contribution to biodiversity. Shade trees provide habitat for a variety of animals and plants. According to Bacon, “…shade coffee farms have significantly more shade trees, ants in the shade trees, wasps in the shade trees, ants (on the ground), and beetles on the coffee.

“From my own research in Nicaragua and other studies throughout the region we also know that there are hundreds of orchids (likely thousands of species of orchids and other [plants that grow on trees]) conserved in the shade trees grown above the coffee and nearly [all] orchids are endangered,” he said. “The trees, the biomass and all the associated biodiversity directly linked to shade trees are lost with the conversion from shade to sun coffee.”

Shade coffee systems also play a role in preserving connectivity within forests, especially fragmented areas. Providing corridors for animals such as migratory birds and pollinators (e.g., butterflies) is crucial for a healthy, functioning ecosystem. Shade systems are additionally beneficial for curbing environmental shifts from climate change. Landslides occurring after hurricanes are mitigated by habitats with high tree density and diversity that are provided by shade systems. Even so, increasing temperatures due to global warming could force coffee production to higher, cooler elevations, which may lead to deforestation in these areas.

The situation is complex, the incentives behind management decisions are numerous and the local and global drivers behind coffee production remain diverse. The study concludes by suggesting that certification schemes should be improved by providing incentives and discounts to small-scale farmers who are otherwise unable to qualify for these programs. The authors also believe that various institutions should be required to investigate existing schemes and oversee new members to ensure successful sun-to-shade transitions for noncertified farmers. Diversification of farming practices could lead to more government involvement through a support framework and policy making, which may in turn result in more properly addressed health and hunger issues.

However, food security is not necessarily reachable by sustainable coffee production. According to Bacon, “…[there is a] need for follow-up research concerning possible trade-offs and synergies between carbon sequestration and biodiversity conservation and farmer livelihoods (especially food security) in smallholder managed shade coffee landscapes…at certain estimated thresholds (thresholds are difficult to identify and depend on the scenarios developed) increasing carbon-storage efforts (potentially to receive carbon sequestration payments) could negatively impact food crops and household food security.”

Bacon also believes more research is needed to better understand the impacts coffee growing has on small farmers, and how to improve their situation.

“Given my recent research documenting seasonal hunger among smallholders in shade coffee landscapes, it is important to develop future research analyzing these questions,” he said. “It is also possible that dynamic smallholder cooperatives could play an important brokering role in navigating the transactions costs associated with ecosystem service compensation schemes.”

Since 1989, governmental policy has decreased its jurisdiction over coffee production on both local and global scales. The authors suggest that governments should become more active in supporting farmers. Payment for ecosystem services provided by shade growing practices is one option they recommend, although it can be difficult to measure the full impacts from this kind of method. The study further suggests a multifaceted approach to support, which could come from several institutions including local, regional and national cooperatives. Farmers who are already engaged in sustainable practice should be provided with appropriate incentives and infrastructure to continue their management.

Many people can influence changes in management trends and coffee production, including consumers. Sustainably grown coffee is possible on a much larger scale than is happening now and requires a better understanding of socioeconomic factors, diversification of coffee farms and improvements of the reward and certification systems for ecosystem services. Refining relationships between the people involved on every level of coffee production may allow not only increased transparency, but also enhancement of coffee production worldwide.

Nika Levikov|July 11, 2014|Citations: Jha, S., Bacon, C. M., Philpott, S. M., Méndez, V. E., Läderach, P., & Rice, R. A. (2014). Shade Coffee: Update on a Disappearing Refuge for Biodiversity. BioScience, 64(5), 416-428.

Success! Tasmanian Forests Won’t Be Open to Logging

Tasmania’s old growth and high conversation value forests are a UNESCO World Heritage site, and no wonder: They constitute over 1 million hectares and are one of the last expanses of temperate rainforests in the world. The forests are also home to many iconic species, more than a few of which — the swift parrot, the loggerhead turtle, the Tasmanian devil — are endangered.

You’d think every single one of us would be doing all we can to preserve such a precious resource. But last year, the Australian government proposed a “minor modification” to the boundary of the Tasmanian wilderness. The administration of Prime Minister Tony Abbott wanted to delist as a World Heritage Site a huge swathe — 74,000 hectares — of the forests and open them up for logging. The previous Labor administration had added  172,500 hectares of forest to be protected; the Abbott administration claimed a good share of these had been degraded by logging or were the site of plantations and, therefore, should not be given special status.

Had the Abbott administration been able to go through with its plans, Australia would have been only the second developed country (the other being Germany) to have sought to remove a site, or part of a site, from World Heritage Status.

At its annual meeting in June in Doha, the Unesco World Heritage Committee labeled the Australian government’s proposal “feeble.” The proposal was said to be “extremely sparse in the material that has been provided” and not comparable in “quality to the clearly argued position in the proposal for additions that were made last year.”

In the Guardian, world heritage expert Alec Marr said that the World Heritage Committee had seen through “the deception of the Australian government’s efforts” and commended “the high quality science and professionalism of the advisory bodies.”

World heritage sites such as these Tasmanian forests are places that are important to and belong to everyone (not corporations), irrespective of where they are located. They have universal value that transcends the value they hold for a particular nation. No matter your political views, these forests must protected and defended vigorously.

Many of us may never have the chance to travel around the globe and the see rare creatures and the one-of-kind plants that live only in Tasmania’s forests. But that doesn’t mean we value them any less. Signing Abby’s petition was a way for each of us to state how much the continued existence of those hectares of trees and fauna and wildlife means for all of us, everywhere.

The Tasmanian rainforests are far from the only still-pristine ecosystems that face imminent threats. In Australia, we need to take action to stop a highway extension from being constructed through the Beeliar wetlands and to fight against legislation that would impose mandatory jail terms for environmental protesters.

Kristina Chew|July 10, 2014

On track to ‘go beyond the critical point’: Sri Lanka still losing forests at rapid clip

Human-elephant conflicts on the rise, some conservation initiatives planned by government

In 1983, Sri Lanka became embroiled in a 26-year-long civil war in which a rebel militant organization fought to establish an independent state called Tamil Eelam. The war took an enormous human toll; unknown numbers disappeared and millions more were displaced. Economic development stagnated in the rebel-held north and east of the country, while foreign investment shied away from the country.

During the latter half of the war, between 1990 and 2005, Sri Lanka suffered one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world as government soldiers burned vast tracts to flush rebels out of their forest strongholds. As a result, the country lost about 35 percent of its old growth forest and almost 18 percent of its total forest cover.

The conflict ended in 2009, and while deforestation has slowed somewhat, Sri Lanka is still losing forest cover at a fast clip. Global Forest Watch figures show 49,652 hectares were lost between 2009 and 2012.

Sri Lanka, a small island nation located off the southern tip of India, has the highest biodiversity in all of Asia, and is regarded as one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Together with India’s Western Ghats, the region once had nearly 200,000 square kilometers (77,000 square miles) of important wildlife habitat, of which less than seven percent remains intact today. Because of its isolation and tropical climate, Sri Lanka is home to many unique species and subspecies found nowhere else, such as the purple-faced langur (Trachypithecus vetulus) and the Sri Lankan elephant (Elephas maximus maximus), both of which are listed as Endangered by the IUCN.

People displaced by the war returned to their old homes to find the jungle and wildlife had taken over. When they cleared the land and started to farm, elephants lost secondary forest habitat. In response, the giant herbivores helped themselves to nutrient-rich cultivated crops, leading to escalating conflicts between farmers and elephants.

“The government ought to have had a conservation plan overlapping with the resettlement plan,” wildlife biologist Manori Gunawardena told mongabay.com. “Much of the loss suffered by people and elephants could have been minimized.” Belatedly, the administration is now working on such a plan.
The families of returning refugees had also grown over the past three decades and they needed more land. The government has marked zones for settlement and is creating infrastructure such as roads and railways, leading to further deforestation. For instance, between Vavuniya and Trincomalee, the 48,451-hectare
Padaviya Forest Reserve shows telltale signs of deforestation. In 2013, 12,900 hectares – more than a quarter of the reserve – were handed over to the Sri Lanka Mahaveli Authority for human resettlement.

In May 2014, environmentalists accused the government of illegally seizing almost 1,000 hectares from forested areas in the Northern Province for resettlement.

Additionally, individuals themselves have also cleared forests and created homesteads. Some of these are illegal, such as settlements in Wilpattu North Sanctuary.

In one case, the administration opened to the public a dirt road running through Wilpattu National Park in the country’s northwest. When challenged by environmentalists, officials claimed it was the Old Mannar Road that had been in use before the war. However, Environmental Foundation Limited (EFL) filed a case in 2011, providing evidence the Old Mannar Road was previously defunct and replaced by forest, with a new road created by the Sri Lankan military to facilitate movement of its forces during the war. While the road cannot be surfaced with asphalt until further judicial orders, people continue to use the road.

In the hilly center of the country, expansion of cardamom cultivation threatens the Knuckles Forest Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the south, forest clearance for growing tea endangers the Kanneliya Forest Reserve.

But of more immediate concern are the concessions granted to agricultural companies to grow bananas, soya, and corn near forests. Environmentalists threatened to sue Dole Food Company for clearing more than 200 hectares of Somawathie National Park to grow bananas, its biggest fruit crop. Although the company abandoned this plantation in November 2011, it has other holdings near the forests of Chunnakkadu, Lunugamvehera, and Buttala. The company was also accused of clearing 1,214 hectares of Lunugamvehera National Park.

Dole is just one of Sri Lanka’s many banana growers. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, more than 50,000 hectares – nearly one percent of Sri Lanak’s land area – were used for banana cultivation in 2000, a number that has likely only increased as the industry expanded from small-scale family farms to large, industrial plantations.
Energy projects are also taking a toll on Sri Lankan forests. Right on the edge of Ruhunu National Park (popularly called Yala), an area inhabited by several herd of elephants, United Dendro Energy Private Limited clear-felled 500 hectares of forest land without getting the necessary approvals. In this freshly cleared area, the company planted rows of Gliricidia (Gliricidia sepium) saplings. Once mature, the trees will be harvested and ground into wood chips to feed a supposedly sustainable energy project. Other dendro-power companies intercrop Gliricidia with rubber trees and rice on agricultural land.

Perhaps the most egregious case of deforestation involves the area near the Mattala International Airport, Hambantota. In 2006, the Department of Wildlife drove 250 elephants out of a 60,000-hectare forest slated for development. The animals were herded into the nearby Lunugamvehera National Park and their exit blocked by electric fences. However, the elephants had difficulty acclimating to the move, and many calves and adults died of starvation as they paced the fence looking for a way out instead of looking for food. Half of their once-forest home was replaced with irrigated banana fields, tsunami rehabilitation settlements, a flashy international conference center, and the new international airport.

In the other half, around 300 to 400 elephants remained. However, growing influxes of people led to mounting conflicts as the elephants became accustomed to human presence and lost their fear. Formerly shy, retiring animals were now quick to lose their temper with any farmers who had the temerity to chase them.

To see how the elephants were moving through their habitat, biologists Prithviraj Fernando and Jennifer Pastorini tracked two bulls and seven cow elephants using satellite transmitters. They found some ranged right up to the walls of the airport, and their data has been used to set up protected areas for the animals.

“We have identified important areas for elephants in the south,” Fernando told mongabay.com. “This informs management and development decisions so detrimental effects on elephants can be minimized. Based on elephant tracking data, the government has recognized approximately 300 hectares as the first Managed Elephant Reserve outside protected areas.”

Additionally, Fernando and Pastorini advise local communities where to erect electric fences to guard settlements and crops from elephants.

On June 19, 2014, the Minister for Environment and Renewable Energy, Susil Premajayantha, announced plans to increase the country’s forest cover to 35 percent by the year 2020. However, he did not mention whether this will be done though reforestation or plantation expansion.

“At this rate of deforestation, our forest cover will go beyond the critical point when it will affect everything,” Rukshan Jayawardene, a conservationist based in Colombo, told mongabay.com. “We can already see the changes in the wet zone [on the west coast of the country], which has little forest cover left.

“Forests are the common resources of this country and can never be replaced. The current developments will squander them in a few years.”

Present and proposed conservation areas in northern Sri Lanka.

Janaki Lenin|mongabay.com correspondent|July 15, 2014

Odisha loses 9 sq. km of mangroves in two years

It is believed that the prawn mafia backed by powerful politicians denuded mangroves to set up shrimp farms, alleges an environmentalist

Odisha has lost 9 sq. km of mangroves forest between 2011 and 2013, says the biennial assessment of Forest Survey of India (FSI).

Mangrove forest covered an area of 213 . km in four districts in 2013, compared to 222 sq. km in 2011.

Of 213 sq. km, 82 sq. km was found to be a dense mangrove, while 88 sq. km was moderately dense. The survey found 43 sq. km. as open mangrove.

Kendrapara has largest area (183 sq. km) covered under mangrove forest followed by Bhadrak with 21 sq. km. Jagatisnghpur and Balasore have 7 sq. km and 2 sq. km area of mangrove forest. Kendrapara also boasts of having all 82 sq. kms of very dense mangrove forest under its jurisdiction.

Between 2011 and 2013, Kendrapara lost 4 sq. km, while mangrove denudation in Bhadrak and Balasore was 2 sq. km each. The FSI report says Puri district is left with no mangrove forest. Puri lost 1 sq. km during this period.

FSI reports that ,. km.

“The latest report released by the Centre has come as a shock for us. It is believed that active prawn mafia backed by powerful local politicians denuded mangroves for conversion into illegal shrimp farms,” said Biswajit Mohanty, an environmentalist.

During the past 24 years, ever since FSI started estimating green cover, Odisha added merely 14 sq. km of mangroves, which is touted as bio-shield against cyclonic storm.

“Despite announcements by the State government that massive mangrove plantation drive would be taken up after Super cyclone in 1999, it has miserably failed to conserve existing mangrove forests. Huge funding support from the Integrated Coastal Zone Management Program funded by World Bank and Central government’s cyclone restoration funds could not help increase the area of mangroves,” Mr. Mohanty further said.

Staff Reporter|The Hindu

Global Warming and Climate Change

Climate Change Adjustments Must Be Fast And Major, U.N. Panel Says

A new report from the United Nations’ panel on climate change says major action is needed, and fast, if policymakers want to limit global warming to acceptable levels.

There’s an international target to control climate change: keeping the global temperature rise to just 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — that’s 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change now says it’s technically possible to meet that goal. But doing so will require rapid, large-scale shifts in energy production and use.

Greenhouse gas emissions will have to drop 40 to 70 percent by 2050 — and then drop even more, to nearly zero by the end of this century — the report says.

The trouble is, emissions have actually been increasing. The panel notes that emissions grew more quickly between 2000 and 2010 than in each of the previous three decades.

A graphic from the new U.N. report charts human-caused greenhouse gas emissions from 1970-2010. The area on the right breaks down estimates for 2010.

A graphic from the new U.N. report charts human-caused greenhouse gas emissions from 1970-2010. The area on the right breaks down estimates for 2010.

A graphic from the new U.N. report charts human-caused greenhouse gas emissions from 1970-2010. The area on the right breaks down estimates for 2010.

U.N. IPCC 2014 Report

Reversing that trend would require a huge shift toward energy sources like wind, solar or nuclear power, plus a slew of other changes, like increasing the energy efficiency of buildings and slowing deforestation.

“That’s not going to happen on its own. Public policies are going to be required. That’s the key message,” says Harvard University’s Robert Stavins, an economist and expert on climate agreements who worked on the report. “What’s really striking and what’s new about the report is that policy is addressed much more comprehensively than previously.”

Another part of the report addresses so-called “geo-engineering” technologies that could possibly manipulate the atmosphere and artificially cool the planet.

“It’s quite controversial. It’s controversial among environmental advocates, it’s controversial among scientists, and it’s certainly controversial among governments,” says Stavins. “But research is clearly needed.”

The report doesn’t recommend specific policies; instead, it maps out the options. It says that delaying action will make it much harder to bring greenhouse gas emissions down.

“What this report means is that there are very key choices for governments and business and citizens to make, and that the timing of action is absolutely vital,” says Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate and energy programs at the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C. “If we wait, we will close off opportunities to avoid the impacts and we’ll make it a lot more expensive.”

Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, countries are currently negotiating a new agreement that’s scheduled to be completed by the end of 2015, says Morgan, who notes that each country will have to put an offer on the table about what they’ll do to tackle the problem.

Nell Greenfieldboyce|April 13, 2014

The Plot to Keep Climate Change Denial Alive

The number of people who outright dismiss manmade climate change may be getting smaller, but by no means is the surviving group getting any less smaller. Recently, hundreds of climate change deniers gathered for the Ninth International Climate Change Conference in Las Vegas to figure out how to keep environmental regulations at bay.

Bloomberg Business week’s Abe Streep went to the Mandalay Bay to attend the ICCC. (Does it remind you of another acronym? Perhaps the IPCC, or Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a more legitimate scientific expert on global warming? Surely, it’s a coincidence.) His published account is simultaneously amusing and horrifying, but definitely worth checking out.

Amongst the highlights:

  • Willie Soon, an astrophysicist backed by the American Petroleum Institute, who believes that the sun has “natural warming cycles.”
  • Kilez More, an Austrian rapper, who led the crowd in a song about not accepting climate change.
  • Just about every speaker, according to Streep, made a never-ending slew of Al Gore jokes, too.

Though an event like this one inevitably attracts some crackpots, that doesn’t negate the power that a conference holds. Look at a list of some of the event’s sponsors and you’ll see organizations like the Illinois Coal Association, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the Ayn Rand Institute. Whether or not these groups legitimately believe in the science being presented, it’s an attitude they can get behind and benefit from keeping alive.

The remarkable thing is that attendees of this conference really aren’t that unified. Each of them has his or her own theory on what is occurring: some speakers outright denied global warming, while some were admittedly just skeptical. Some said the sun was heating the earth, some said the earth was actually cooling. Ultimately, however, even if they can’t seem to agree on what the mitigating factors are, they love to reach the same conclusion: the threat of manmade climate change has been blown out of proportion.

The Heartland Institute, a group that regularly represents private interests of ill repute, organizes the ICCC. In the 90s, Heartland worked for big tobacco, developing campaigns that attempted to discredit studies that showed that smoking was unhealthy. The intention was never to convince everyone that smoking is actually safe. Instead, the purpose was to confuse people just enough to establish some deniability so that tobacco could continue to make profits with fewer restrictions. It’s easier for people to turn a blind eye when they can pretend that a problem isn’t necessarily definitive.

That’s precisely what’s at play at the ICCC, as well. Groups like the Heartland Institute don’t have to present a winning case that climate change is patently false. They just have to plant enough doubt in enough people’s minds to disrupt meaningful attempts at reform and regulation. The longer they can perpetuate the myth and convince people that a debate is occurring, the longer fossil fuel corporations will be able to rake in profits… Not to mention, the sooner the world’s entire population will be in a lot of trouble.

Kevin Mathews|July 14, 2014

Neverglades: Sorry Michael Grunwald, South Florida IS drowning

Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning.

In many child drownings, adults are nearby but have no idea the victim is dying. Here is what to look for.

One of the most useful articles published online is “Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning.” The author is Mario Vittone, a 20-year Coast Guard veteran and an expert on drowning and sea survival.

It is a must-read for anyone with children headed to the beach this summer. I was reminded of that article by a pointless semantic dust up over a powerful piece last Friday in the U.K. Guardian, “Miami, the great world city, is drowning while the powers that be look away.” The article quotes Dr. Harold Wanless, chair of the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Miami:

“Every day we continue to pump uncontrolled amounts of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, we strengthen the monster that is going to consume us. We are heating up the atmosphere and then we are heating up the oceans so that they expand and rise.
There doesn’t look as if anything is going to stop that. People are starting to plan in Miami but really they just don’t see where it is all going.”

Thus one of the great cities of the world faces obliteration in the coming decades. “It is over for south Florida. It is as simple as that. Nor is it on its own,” Wanless admits.

We would have a serious chance at stopping this if we took the advice of many top climatologists and launched a World War II scale effort to rapidly bring CO2 emissions to near zero and then worked hard to pull CO2 out of the air (to bring us back to 350 parts per million of CO2 in the air – from the current level of 400 ppm). Failing that, we could stabilize near 450 ppm, keeping total warming as close as possible to 2°C, which would, at the very least, slow sea level rise dramatically.But the forces of denial and delay – and their enablers in the media – have put the first option (which is arguably the most sane

and moral) outside the Overton window. And they have made the second option all but untenable politically – even though study after study has concluded it could be achieved at virtually no net cost.

The grim fate for South Florida in a world of uncontrolled CO2 emissions is neither very controversial scientifically nor even very new.

Last June, Jeff Goodell had a piece in Rolling Stone, “Goodbye, Miami: By century’s end, rising sea levels will turn the nation’s urban fantasyland into an American Atlantis. But long before the city is completely underwater, chaos will begin.”

The latest research “suggests that sea level could rise more than six feet by the end of the century,” as Goodell noted, and “Wanless believes that it could continue rising a foot each decade after that.”

And that was before recent research on the collapsing West Antarctic ice sheet and the accelerated melting of Greenland made clear we are headed toward the high end of sea level rise projections this century and beyond.

Worse, South Florida rests atop “a vast and porous limestone plateau” (think Swiss cheese). That means you can’t save it with conventional sea walls and barriers.

So, hasta la vista, south Florida. Oh, and hasta la vista, Everglades, which will eventually need to be renamed the Neverglades.

Rather than trumpeting this reality, Michael Grunwald, TIME’s senior national correspondent – and a Miami resident – has decided to write a piece attacking the Guardian mostly on semantic grounds:

Well, we’re not actually drowning. We do get damp every now and then, but it’s hard to see how some modest sunny-day flooding in my neighborhood at high tide justifies The Guardian headline that’s been generating so much buzz: “Miami, the great world city, is drowning while the powers that be look away.”

Hmm, if the waters are rising around you and your current course of action must inevitably lead to your total inundation and death, is that “drowning”? As purely semantic questions go, I suppose it might have some interest to linguists and journalists. As existential questions go, however, everyone in Miami needs to understand that the city simply is not going to exist unless we immediately start ignoring the do-nothing and do-little crowds.

As Wanless told the Guardian: “The next two or three feet of sea-level rise that we get will do away with just about every barrier island we have across the planet. Then, when rises get to four-to-six feet, all the world’s great river deltas will disappear and with them the great stretches of agricultural land that surrounds them. People still have their heads in the sand about this but it is coming. Miami is just the start. It is worth watching just for that reason alone. It is a major US city and it is going to let itself drown.”

Ah, but what does Wanless know, he’s just a leading expert on sea level rise and chair of the science committee for the Miami-Dade Climate Change Advisory Task Force.

In Vittone’s article on drowning, he quotes Dr. Francesco Pia’s description of what drowning actually looks like – from the Coast Guard’s “On Scene” magazine (emphasis in original):
Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help….

Drowning people cannot wave for help.

That sounds an awful lot like South Florida.

Joe Romm|ThinkProgress.org| July 14, 2014

Sea level rise calls for preparedness, not politics

New climate change studies just released brought new interest in how sea level rise will impact on our coastal cities and communities. That’s good, whatever your thoughts on this hot-button issue.

Why? Because the first step in being prepared is being aware – and any coastal manager or resident who knowingly ignores a potential threat to the community and interests is not being a good steward for those interests. Saying it could happen is not necessarily saying it will – but to deny even the chance of catastrophe is a fool’s game.

The good news is that, in cities from Miami to Manhattan, Seattle to Old Saybrook, people are looking at how vulnerable their community could be if seas start to rise more rapidly. In some areas, this is not an abstract interest. For instance, some areas of Miami Beach and Honolulu flood at slightly higher than normal high tides today, a problem that calls for action – especially when this flooding is a new development in the past decade.

Other cities, particularly those with major infrastructure within the tidal or storm surge zone, are looking at the lessons of coastal catastrophes such as Sandy to see what steps could be taken today to make this infrastructure withstand whatever tomorrow has in store. Given the price tags some cities could be facing, starting this process early is wise… since it’s always easier to adapt over time than to make up for lost ground all at once when trying to recover from a coastal disaster.

What’s the key to being prepared? Looking at your vulnerabilities today so they don’t become liabilities tomorrow.

  • Look at coastal areas that are prone to trouble in normal conditions – low spots that flood quickly; hot spots that erode quickly; vital infrastructure such as roads, utilities and public areas that are most likely at risk in any storm or weather event. What can you start doing today that will make them safer tomorrow?
  • Look at properties that are most vulnerable or have made your repetitive-risk list thanks to multiple damage claims. Can you plan to do something that will lower that risk, or can you work to move those structures away from future risk (or eventually remove them altogether)?
  • Look at your community. Does it have a realistic view of coastal conditions, a desire to proactively address problems (coastal and otherwise)? Or does it lurch from crisis to crisis, addressing problems only when they become nearly unmanageable or major threats to public safety? Smart communities anticipate disaster (as much as possible, of course), rather than allowing a crisis to set the local agenda. How? By being prepared.

When it comes to sea level rise, pundits and policy makers may have the luxury of debating or delaying because it is abstract issue for them, but people with something at stake – such as coastal residents and managers – had better be prepared for whatever might be ahead.

That doesn’t mean coastal interests should embrace the worst case scenario – whatever this week’s iteration of that looks like. Nor does it mean those who care about the coast should let their ideologies override their interests, so their opinion about sea level rise closely follows their voting record.

It means you have to keep an open mind and an adaptable attitude, to be willing to respond to what you see and what can scientifically be proven in a way that keeps you and your community ahead of the game in preparations. And it means looking for weakness and vulnerabilities before they put people at risk, and doing the necessary thing even if it’s not politically easy.

This information is provided by the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association. For information, to change your email address or to unsubscribe from this list, contact us at exdir@asbpa.org. A complete collection of Beach News Services articles is available for media access online at http://www.asbpa.org/news/newsroom_beachnews.htm

Florida seawall rule changes a threat to sea turtles

 The federal government’s decision last week to designate 685 miles of beach along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts as critical habitat for loggerhead sea turtles — including most of Sarasota County and Longboat Key in Manatee — was hailed by some as a historic effort to save an imperiled species.

A critical-habitat designation provides extra protection for natural environments deemed essential to an animal’s survival, and the size of the land and sea areas covered in the loggerhead rule is unprecedented.

But just as greater federal oversight of loggerheads is being extended, Florida officials are talking about repealing a state rule aimed at saving sea turtles that puts limits on seawall construction.

The idea that the state would make it easier to build seawalls in habitat recognized as critical to loggerheads is “very discouraging,” said Jaclyn Lopez, a St. Petersburg attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that sued the government to get the critical-habitat designation.

“Seawalls are not the answer” to beach erosion problems, Lopez said, adding that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection shouldn’t “bend over backwards to take the easiest path to environmental destruction.”

Florida has 300 miles of beaches covered by the new critical-habitat designation.

A section of the state’s administrative code governing construction seaward of the mean high-water line states that “coastal armoring structures shall not be constructed in federally designated critical habitat for marine turtles.”

That rule was meaningless until last week, because the federal government had never designated critical habitat for sea turtles. Now it appears that new seawall construction in the most critically eroded areas — those where water is lapping up to where a seawall might be proposed — is off-limits along vast stretches of Florida’s coast, at least temporarily.

Although scientists say limiting seawall construction is important for protecting turtle habitat, restrictions on the structures are often opposed by property owners.

DEP officials are reviewing the seawall prohibition.

“No final determination has been made on the repeal of this provision at this time,” DEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller wrote in an email to the Herald-Tribune on Monday.

Miller did not respond to questions about why DEP officials are considering doing away with the turtle protection, or how the provision originally became part of state law.

The Herald-Tribune learned about the possible repeal from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials, who said their DEP counterparts talked about rolling back the seawall prohibition when federal officials reached out to inform them that substantial stretches of Florida coastline would soon be designated critical turtle habitat.

“We have coordinated with DEP in letting them know what was happening” with the critical-habitat designation, said Ann Marie Lauritsen, the sea turtle recovery coordinator for the Wildlife Service’s Southeast region.

“Their response was this was a rule that would be revised.”

The federal government has no say on seawalls, because no federal permits or funding are involved, but Lauritsen said discouraging the structures is a good idea:

“They’re a line in the sand and they have a tremendous impact on turtles. They can still nest on beach nourishment if done correctly but with seawalls they lose” access to a beach.

The fallout from the critical-habitat decision illustrates the ongoing tug of war between environmental advocates and economic interests.

The loggerhead has been listed as a threatened species since 1978, but it took nearly four decades for critical habitat to be officially identified.

Such designations can be controversial, with some landowners concerned about restrictions on their properties.

Environmental groups had been petitioning for the loggerhead habitat protection since 2007 and finally sued in 2013. The groups reached a settlement with the government which led to the protection of 84 percent of loggerhead nesting areas.

The sweeping decision — which also designates roughly 300,000 square miles of foraging and breeding waters as critical for the turtles — is the largest critical-habitat designation in the history of the Endangered Species Act and a conservation milestone, said Lopez, of the Center for Biological Diversity.

But the practical implications of the designation remain unclear.

The seawall prohibition in state law is one of the more tangible protections tied to the announcement.

Federal officials charged with safeguarding critical habitat say they are already taking steps to protect loggerheads, so the designation will have minimal impact.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region spokesman Chuck Underwood said it would “result in very little change to the public.”

That sentiment was echoed by Nakeir Nobles, a spokeswoman for the Jacksonville office of the Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for permitting beach renourishment projects and other coastal activities, such as dredging, that can be harmful to sea turtles.

Seawalls block turtles from accessing nesting areas. They also erode the beach on either side of wherever they’re built, further reducing loggerhead nesting habitat.

Banning new seawalls seaward of the mean high-water line would not stop construction of the structures. Experts say new seawalls mostly are placed landward of the high-water line in an attempt to protect property before beach erosion brings the water all the way up to the structure.

But any type of prohibition on seawalls across much of Florida could be extremely controversial. Beachfront property owners have long battled with local governments and environmental groups over the structures.

The issue has been hotly debated in Sarasota County on numerous occasions over the years as beach erosion put waterfront structures in peril.

County leaders have generally taken a tough stance on seawalls because of their impact on surrounding properties.

Howard Berna, an environmental supervisor with Sarasota County, said the last seawall permitted was on Casey Key in 2009 to protect four properties.

The County Commission has denied three seawall applications in the last year. None of the requests were for structures seaward of the mean high-water line, Berna said.

Sarasota County has nine criteria for deciding whether a seawall permit is warranted. They do not mention turtle habitat. The state has final say on the permits.

While few seawall permits would likely be affected by the state rule, Lopez said repealing it would send the wrong message, and the DEP should not be “crossing a good law off the books.”

“We need to be coming up with smarter ways of doing things,” she said.

Zac Anderson|July 14, 2014

Economist Says Best Climate Fix A Tough Sell, But Worth It

We often talk about climate change as a matter of science. But the biggest questions are really about money. How much would it cost to fix the problem — and what price will we pay if we don’t?

The man who invented the field of climate economics 40 years ago says there’s actually a straightforward way to solve the problem. William Nordhaus has written a book that lays it out in simple terms.

Nordhaus has been at Yale University since 1967. Now 72 years old, he has silver hair and a warm demeanor. His ideas about climate change, he says, date to 1974, when he was a research scholar in Austria doing energy research and happened to share an office with a climatologist, who told him, ” ‘This is where energy research is going to be going,’ ” Nordhaus remembers. “I said, ‘Well, OK, tell me about it.’ And that’s how it started.”

Despite some scientific interest in climate change at the time, the topic “was zero on the intellectual Kelvin scale in economics,” Nordhaus says. “There was nothing at that point.”

He started to grapple with the basic problem: Climate change was looming because people were burning cheap fossil fuels.

Carbon dioxide is now building up in the atmosphere faster than ever, and each extra ton increases the risk of sea level rise, shifting climate and other changes that are likely to cost a huge amount of money to address in the future.

Right now, nobody pays for that, and it wasn’t even clear what the price should be until Nordhaus started running the numbers.

“When we did our first calculations, they actually spun out these ‘shadow prices,’ ” he says. “And I remember looking at them and trying to think … what in the world does that mean?”

The shadow prices, he realized, actually represented the cost of putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. And with that, climate change suddenly became a problem that could be attacked with the tools of economics.

“Actually from an economic point of view, it’s a pretty simple problem,” he says.

If people would simply pay the cost of using the atmosphere as a dump for carbon dioxide, that would create a powerful incentive to dump less and invest in cleaner ways to generate energy. But how do you do that?

“We need to put a price on carbon, so that when anyone, anywhere, anytime does something that puts carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, there’s a price tag on that,” he says.

His colleagues say that inspiration — now taken for granted — makes Nordhaus a prime candidate for a Nobel Prize. A lot of his work has been figuring out how big a price we should pay, and what form it should take.

It could be a carbon tax — preferably in place of other taxes. Or it could be a cap-and-trade system, where polluters buy and trade the rights to put carbon in the air. California and Europe are putting policies like this in place.

“We have to be grown-ups, I think. There are lots of things we do where the investments come way, way in the future. Educating 4-year-olds — that’s an investment that goes way into the future, as well.

William Nordhaus, climate economist

“The real point of the pricing is not to gouge people, not to extract resources from people. It’s to tilt the playing field in such a way that people, firms, government — everybody moves toward carbon-free or low-carbon activities,” he says.

Nordhaus has laid out how to do this in his book, Climate Casino. The not-so-subtle point of the title is that we’re gambling with our future if we don’t do anything about climate change. And Nordhaus knows that the challenge isn’t the economics — it’s human behavior.

His studies show that it makes economic sense to start paying the price now, even though the benefits would be decades away.

“That’s a pretty tough one,” he admits. “We have to be grown-ups, I think. There are lots of things we do where the investments come way, way in the future. Educating 4-year-olds … that’s an investment that goes way into the future as well.”

But for such a plan to affect climate, at least half the planet needs to cooperate, he says, or it will be all pain and no gain.

Nordhaus is hardly a saber rattler on this subject. Though he sees the potential for very serious problems down the road, he still says that some climate change can actually be good for agriculture — at least up to a point. And he says we shouldn’t do any more to address climate change than makes economic sense, even if that means letting the planet warm more than the international target of 2 degrees Celsius.

His calm approach has at times infuriated environmental activists, who are dismayed at the pace of global action.

“What can I say about calm?” he replies when asked about that. “I like to think of the economics as a cool head in the service of a warm heart, and that’s my approach to this.”

People who have been dubious about climate change have, over the years, quoted Nordhaus’ work to argue that it doesn’t require urgent action. But lately, urgency has been creeping into Nordhaus’ voice.

“At some point you move from ‘calm’ to ‘concerned,’ ” he says. “I’m not at ‘panic,’ but there are some pretty deep concerns about what’s going on — particularly at the slow pace of the steps that countries are taking to deal with climate change.”

The numbers he details in his book argue that the world can actually afford to take the steps we need to rein in climate change — provided that we make smart choices about how to do it.

Richard Harris|February 11, 2014

Warning for Caribbean countries as sea level continues to rise

ST GEORGE’S, Grenada (CMC) — Director of the Environmental and Occupational Health Track of the Public Health Department of St George’s University is predicting a bleak future for the Caribbean amid concerns that the rate of sea level rises beyond the anticipated three millimetres mark.

Hugh Sealy, who is also chairman of the board of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) said sea level rise for the Caribbean is inevitable regardless of what decisions are taken now.

“No matter what we do about the future of the CO2 (Carbon dioxide) we put in the atmosphere; even if we pull all the CO2 out of the atmosphere now, we still face a one meter sea level rise in the Caribbean.”

He said if this rate continues as being projected, the islands of the region will see major losses along their coastlines by the year 2050.

“Don’t forget the rate of sea level rise is increasing. We were two decades ago at one and a half millimeters per year; we’re now at three millimeters per year. In two decades time we could be at six millimeters.”

Sealy, who is attending the first ever Caribbean Symposium for Innovators in Coastal Tourism, said the sea level rise is not taking place in isolation and that changes to the weather pattern were also having an immediate and devastating effect on the economy.

“You’re going to have stronger hurricanes which are going to mean that storm surge is going to be worse; you’re going to have salt water intrusions into your ground water aquifers so your fresh water supply is going to be impacted.

“Your agricultural productivity is going to go down. Your yields from your nutmegs are going to get less as the temperatures get hotter and as you get more soil erosion,” Sealy said adding “you’re going to lose a lot of tourism assets; a lot of coastal assets. Seaports would be lost airports would be lost.”

Sealy said that for small economies like Grenada, more that 50 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would have to be spent to replace lost and damaged infrastructure as a result of the effects of climate change.

He said the time to act to mitigate the inevitable effects of climate change is now and urges entrepreneurs in the tourism and hospitality industry to begin now to lobby regional governments to take defensive action.

“This is bigger than you. This has to be done on a national scale,” Sealy said.

Meanwhile, a United States-based water resource planning expert is proposing the establishment of a yachting trail in the south eastern Caribbean to improve the yachting experience on the Windward Islands.

Professor emeritus in the College of Natural Resources at Colorado State University Glenn Haas outlined his proposal at the symposium which ended last Friday.

The proposed trail would be a free web-based trail of information and services that yachters and other travellers would use to experience and enjoy the Windward Islands.

Haas said In addition to providing a number of services that would facilitate travel by yachters, the trail will enhance community benefits from authentic interactions of the yachting community with local citizens and communities.

It will also engage the yachting community in the conservation and protection of marine resources and protected areas; serve as a financial engine for National Conservation Trust(s) and their conservation of protected areas and increase government efficiency; reduce costs and leakage and provide additional employment, he added.

“This trail will attract the yachting community because it would be a status symbol to say they have floated, they have boated this trail,” Haas suggested.

Jamaica Observer|July 14, 2014   

Extreme Weather

Polar Vortex: It’s Baaack (Or Is It?)

You say potato, I say Polar Vortex.

But whatever we call it, unusually cold air is predicted to blanket the Upper mid-West and Northeast next week, driving summer temperatures down 10 to 30 degrees below normal.

Sounds frosty, but it really means highs in the 60s and 70s and lows in the 40s and 50s, a welcome cool-down for many areas during the height of summer.

Some weather forecasters are calling the cold snap a polar vortex, that bitterly cold air that traveled south from the Arctic last winter, setting cold temperature records throughout the U.S.

But others say the pattern change is not polar vortex redux, but rather will result from weather patterns closer to earth.

Whatever you call it, Minneapolis is expecting temperatures in the 60s and 50s during Tuesday’s Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game at Target Field.

Unfortunately for the West, summer will remain summer next week. Seattle, Wash., will suffer some of the hottest temperatures of the year, around 90. And Death Valley, Calif. will be smacked with 123 degrees on Wednesday.

Lisa Kaplan Gordon|July 12, 2014

Gov. Rick Scott to talk about climate change

MIAMI (AP) – Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday his administration would be “happy to meet” with 10 scientists from Florida universities who want to talk about climate change, a subject he has been reluctant to address.

A letter from the scientists was delivered to Scott’s office Tuesday. Scott and other Republicans have been skeptical of global warming and the governor has worked with the GOP-controlled Legislature to dismantle climate change initiatives.

When a federal report earlier this year highlighted Florida – and Miami in particular – among the parts of the country most vulnerable to global warming and rising sea levels, Scott said: “I’m not a scientist” when asked about it.

In a statement about the letter, Scott said he was “focused on solutions we can implement to protect our land, water and families.”

We have made environmental restoration a top priority – investing record amounts in the Everglades and Springs projects all across Florida, even many that were not prioritized by the previous administration,” he said.

During an unrelated bill signing event in Key Biscayne Wednesday, Scott told The Associated Press that much of his own family continues to live in Florida and that he hopes to preserve it for his grandchildren.

“I want to make sure this is a place where we’ll have a pristine environment that we all can enjoy,” Scott said.

The letter was signed by experts in marine systems, atmospheric sciences and other climate change-related fields at the University of Miami, Florida State University, Eckerd College and Florida International University.

“We are scientists and we would like the opportunity to explain what is at stake for our state,” the scientists wrote.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has given Florida a target of cutting its carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 38 percent by the year 2030, as part of the Obama administration’s effort to reduce emissions nationwide by nearly a third over the next 15 years.
Florida will choose how to meet that goal, and the scientists wrote that they hoped to provide Scott with the latest climate science as the state prepares those plans.

“Those of us signing this letter have spent hundreds of years combined studying this problem, not from any partisan political perspective, but as scientists – seekers of evidence and explanations,” the letter said.

The letter’s delivery was first reported by the Miami Herald.

Scott, who is running for re-election, has worked to dismantle climate change initiatives put into place by his predecessor and current opponent, Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist.

Florida’s other top Republicans, including possible 2016 presidential candidates U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush, also have challenged climate science.

The letter comes as the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy lead a statewide “What’s your plan, Gov ?” campaign seeking energy alternatives and transparency as state agencies work to meet the federal carbon pollution standards.

Jennifer Kay|WINKnews.com|July 17, 2014

Genetically Modified Organisms

Big Chemical Companies are Counting on Misinformation to Keep the Public in the Dark About GMO Labeling

Make no mistake: The big chemical companies fighting tooth and nail against GMO food labeling aren’t just hoping to keep the public misinformed about this issue – they’re counting on it.

That’s why we’re fighting back, each week, with a GMO Labeling Fact Check. This week, we’ll explore the claim that transparent labeling will increase the cost of food.

THE CLAIM: Labeling genetically engineered products will increase the price of food.

THE VERDICT: FALSE

THE FACTS: The big chemical companies that profit from selling genetically engineered foods have spent millions trying to confuse voters with the false claim that labeling genetically engineered foods will raise prices and hurt consumers. But according to Consumers Union, the parent organization of Consumer Reports, that just isn’t the case.

The truth is that food companies routinely change their labels for all sorts of reasons without increasing cost. In fact, even the incredibly small cost conferred to consumers from a new price tag is bigger than the cost of disclosing if a product is genetically engineered on a label.

What’s more, labeling the genetically engineered foods that are exported to any of the 64 countries that already require labeling has not increased the cost of our food. Many American foods companies sell their products in those countries and disclose genetically engineered ingredients on their labels without incurring any additional costs. If they can provide that information to their customers in Europe, Japan and Australia, they can do the same here in Oregon.

Oregon Right to Know

Americans Are Too Stupid For GMO Labeling, Congressional Panel Says

WASHINGTON — It’s pretty rare that members of Congress and all the witnesses they’ve called will declare out loud that Americans are just too ignorant to be given a piece of information, but that was a key conclusion of a session of the House Agriculture Committee this week.

The issue was genetically modified organisms, or GMOs as they’re often known in the food industry. And members of the subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture, as well as their four experts, agreed that the genetic engineering of food crops has been a thorough success responsible for feeding the hungry, improving nutrition and reducing the use of pesticides.

People who oppose GMOs or want them labeled so that consumers can know what they’re eating are alarmists who thrive on fear and ignorance, the panel agreed. Labeling GMO foods would only stoke those fears, and harm a beneficial thing, so it should not be allowed, the lawmakers and witnesses agreed.

“I really worry that labeling does more harm than good, that it leads too many people away from it and it diminishes the market for GMOs that are the solution to a lot of the problems we face,” said David Just, a professor at Cornell University and co-director of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs.

Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) agreed with Just and asked him, “What is the biggest drawback? Is it the ignorance of what the product is, just from a lack of education?”

“It is ignorance of the product, and it’s a general skepticism of anything they eat that is too processed or treated in some way that they don’t quite understand,” Just said.

“Even using long scientific-sounding words make it sound like it’s been grown in a test tube, and people get scared of it,” Just added.

Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) agreed with another witness, Calestous Juma, an international development professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, that political leaders had been cowed by misinformed populaces into bending on GMOs, especially in the European Union, where Juma said hundreds of millions of euros have been spent on studies that have found GMOs safe.

“It’s obvious that while the science in the EU in incontrovertible about the health and safety benefits of genetically modified hybrid crops, that because of politics, people are afraid to lead, and inform consumers,” Schrader said.

Juma cited an extensive report by the European Commission. (There is at least one controversial group that disagrees with him.)

Certainly, there is misinformation about GMOs, as highlighted in a New York Times feature on a Hawaiian ban of most GMOs. But entirely missing from the hearing was any suggestion that there are real concerns about the impact of genetically engineered food, such as the growth of pesticide-resistant “super weeds,” over-reliance on single-crop factory farming, decreased biodiversity, and a lack of a consistent approval process. (Read more pros and cons here.)

The issue may soon gain fresh relevance on Capitol Hill, where a measure backed by Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) to stop states from requiring GMO labeling could get marked up as early as September. The bill also would allow genetically engineered food to be labeled “100 percent natural.”

The idea of the bill brought Ben and Jerry’s co-founder Jerry Greenfield to Capitol Hill Thursday to push back, along with Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who backs labeling.

Greenfield told HuffPost that labeling is a simple, inexpensive matter of letting people know what’s in their food, and letting them decide what they want to support and eat.

“This idea that consumers will be scared away — the label will be a very simple thing, a few words on a container saying something like ‘may be produced with genetic engineering.’ It’s not scary,” Greenfield said.

mike mcauliff|huffington post|07/10/2014

Monsanto’s Herbicide Linked to Fatal Kidney Disease Epidemic: Could It Topple the Company?

Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup has been linked to a mysterious fatal kidney disease epidemic that has appeared in Central America, Sri Lanka and India.

For years, scientists have been trying to unravel the mystery of a chronic kidney disease epidemic that has hit Central America, India and Sri Lanka. The disease occurs in poor peasant farmers who do hard physical work in hot climes. In each instance, the farmers have been exposed to herbicides and to heavy metals. The disease is known as CKDu, for Chronic Kidney Disease of unknown etiology. The “u” differentiates this illness from other chronic kidney diseases where the cause is known. Very few Western medical practitioners are even aware of CKDu, despite the terrible toll it has taken on poor farmers from El Salvador to South Asia.

Dr. Catharina Wesseling, the regional director for the Program on Work and Health (SALTRA) in Central America, which pioneered the initial studies of the region’s unsolved outbreak, put it this way, “Nephrologists and public health professionals from wealthy countries are mostly either unfamiliar with the problem or skeptical whether it even exists.”

Dr. Wesseling was being diplomatic. At a 2011 health summit in Mexico City, the United States beat back a proposal by Central American nations that would have listed CKDu as a top priority for the Americas.

David McQueen, a US delegate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who has since retired from the agency, explained the US position.

“The idea was to keep the focus on the key big risk factors that we could control and the major causes of death: heart disease, cancer and diabetes. And we felt, the position we were taking, that CKD was included.”

The United States was wrong. The delegates from Central America were correct. CKDu is a new form of illness. This kidney ailment does not stem from diabetes, hypertension or other diet-related risk factors. Unlike the kidney disease found in diabetes or hypertension, the kidney tubules are a major site of injury in CKDu, suggesting a toxic etiology.

In addition to Central America, India and Sri Lanka have been hit hard by the epidemic. In Sri Lanka, over 20,000 people have died from CKDu in the past two decades. In the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, more than 1,500 have been treated for the ailment since 2007. Given the rarity of dialysis and kidney transplantation in these regions, most who suffer from CKDu will die from their kidney disease.

In an investigation worthy of the great Sherlock Holmes, a scientific sleuth from Sri Lanka, Dr. Channa Jayasumana, and his two colleagues, Dr. Sarath Gunatilake and Dr. Priyantha Senanayake, have put forward a unifying hypothesis that could explain the origin of the disease. They reasoned that the offending agent had to have been introduced into Sri Lanka within the last 30 years, since the first cases appeared in the mid-1990s. The chemical also needed to be able to form stable complexes with the metals in hard water and to act as a shield, protecting those metals from metabolism by the liver. The compound would also need to act as a carrier and be able to deliver the metals to the kidney.

We know that political changes in Sri Lanka in the late 1970s led to the introduction of agrochemicals, especially in rice farming. The researchers looked for likely suspects. Everything pointed to glyphosate. This herbicide is used in abundance in Sri Lanka. Earlier studies had shown that once glyphosate binds with metals, the glyphosate-metal complex can last for decades in the soil.

Glyphosate was not originally designed for use as an herbicide. Patented by the Stauffer Chemical Company in 1964, it was introduced as a chelating agent. It avidly binds to metals. Glyphosate was first used as a descaling agent to clean out mineral deposits from the pipes in boilers and other hot water systems.

It is this chelating property that allows glyphosate to form complexes with the arsenic, cadmium and other heavy metals found in the groundwater and soil in Central America, India and Sri Lanka. The glyphosate-heavy metal complex can enter the human body in a variety of ways. The complex can be ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Glyphosate acts like a Trojan horse, allowing the bound heavy metal to avoid detection by the liver, since the glyphosate occupies the binding sites that the liver would normally latch onto. The glyphosate-heavy metal complex reaches the kidney tubules, where the high acidity allows the metal to break free of the glyphosate. The cadmium or arsenic then damages the kidney tubules and other parts of the kidneys, ultimately resulting in kidney failure and, most often, death.

At this point, this elegant theory advanced by Dr. Jayasumana and colleagues can only be considered hypothesis-generating. Further scientific studies will need to confirm the hypothesis that CKDu is indeed due to glyphosate-heavy metal toxicity to the kidney tubules. For the present, this may be the best explanation for the epidemic.

Another explanation is that heat stress may be the cause, or a combination of heat stress and chemical toxicity. Monsanto, of course, is standing behind glyphosate and disputing the claim that it plays any role whatsoever in the genesis of CKDu.

While the exact cause of CKDu has not been proven conclusively, both Sri Lanka and El Salvador have invoked the precautionary principle. El Salvador banned glyphosate in September 2013 and is currently looking for safer alternatives. Sri Lanka banned glyphosate in March of this year because of concerns about CKDu.

Glyphosate has had an interesting history. After its initial use as a descaling agent by Stauffer Chemical, scientists at Monsanto discovered its herbicidal qualities. Monsanto patented glyphosate as an herbicide in the 1970s, and has marketed it as “Roundup” since 1974. Monsanto retained exclusive rights until 2000, when the patent expired. By 2005, Monsanto’s glyphosate products were registered in more than 130 countries for use in more than 100 crops. As of 2013, glyphosate was the world’s largest selling herbicide.

Glyphosate’s popularity has been due, in part, to the perception that it is extremely safe. The Monsanto website claims:

Glyphosate binds tightly to most types of soil so it is not available for uptake by roots of nearby plants. It works by disrupting a plant enzyme involved in the production of amino acids that are essential to plant growth. The enzyme, EPSP synthase, is not present in humans or animals, contributing to the low risk to human health from the use of glyphosate according to label directions.

Because of glyphosate’s reputation for both safety and effectiveness, John Franz, who discovered glyphosate’s usefulness as a herbicide, received the National Medal of Technology in 1987. Franz also received the American Chemical Society’s Carothers Award in 1989, and the American Section of the Society of Chemical Industry’s Perkins Medal in 1990. In 2007, he was inducted into the United States’ Inventor’s Hall of Fame for his work on the herbicide. Roundup was named one of the “Top 10 Products That Changed the Face of Agriculture” by the magazine Farm Chemicals in 1994.

Not everyone agrees with this perception of glyphosate’s safety. The first “Roundup resistant” GMO crops, soybeans, were introduced by Monsanto in 1996. The same year, the first glyphosate resistant weeds began to emerge. Farmers responded by using increasingly toxic herbicides to deal with the new super weeds that had developed glyphosate resistance.

In addition to the concern about the emergence of super weeds, a study in rats demonstrated that low levels of glyphosate induced severe hormone-dependent mammary, hepatic, and kidney disturbances. Recently two activist groups, Moms Across America and Thinking Moms Revolution, asked the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to recall Monsanto’s Roundup, citing a host of adverse health impacts in their children from the herbicide, including failure to thrive, leaky gut syndrome, autism and food allergies.

Glyphosate is no ordinary herbicide. Besides being the most used herbicide on earth, it is also the central pillar of Monsanto’s temple. Most of Monsanto’s seeds, including soy, corn, canola, alfalfa, cotton, sugar beets and sorghum, are glyphosate resistant. As of 2009, Monsanto’s Roundup (glyphosate) products, which include its GMO seeds, represented about half of Monsanto’s yearly revenue. This reliance on glyphosate products makes Monsanto extremely vulnerable to research challenging the herbicide’s safety.

Glyphosate-resistant seeds are engineered to allow the farmer to drench his fields in the herbicide to kill off all of the weeds. The glyphosate resistant crop can then be harvested. But if the combination of glyphosate and the heavy metals found in the groundwater or the soil destroys the farmer’s kidneys in the process, the whole house of cards falls apart. This may be what is happening now.

An ugly confrontation has been unfolding in El Salvador. The US government has been pressuring El Salvador to buy GMO seeds from Monsanto rather than indigenous seeds from their own farmers. The US has threatened to withhold almost $300 million in aid unless El Salvador purchases Monsanto’s GMO seeds. The GMO seeds are more expensive. They are not adapted to the Salvadoran climate or soil.

The only “advantage” of Monsanto’s GMO seeds is their glyphosate resistance. Now that glyphosate has been shown to be a possible, and perhaps likely, cause of CKDu, that “advantage” no longer exists.

What is the message from the United States to El Salvador exactly? Perhaps the kindest explanation is that the United States is unaware that glyphosate may be the cause of the fatal kidney disease epidemic in El Salvador and that the government sincerely believes that the GMO seeds will provide a better yield. If so, a sad mixture of ignorance and arrogance is at the heart of this foreign policy blunder. A less kind interpretation would suggest that the government puts Monsanto’s profits above concerns about the economy, environment and health of the Salvadorans. This view would suggest that a tragic mix of greed and callous disregard for the Salvadorans is behind US policy.

Unfortunately, there is evidence to support the latter view. The United States seems to be completely behind Monsanto, regardless of any science questioning the safety of its products. Cables released by WikiLeaks show that US diplomats around the world are pushing GMO crops as a strategic government and commercial imperative. The cables also reveal instructions to punish any foreign countries trying to ban GMO crops.

Whatever the explanation, pressuring El Salvador, or any country, to buy GMO seeds from Monsanto is a tragic mistake. It is foreign policy not worthy of America. Let’s change it. Let’s base our foreign and domestic policies on human rights, environmental stewardship, health and equity.

Jeff Ritterman, M.D.|Truthout| 10 July

Major Study: Monsanto GMO Corn Can Cause Damage to Liver and Kidneys, and Severe Hormonal Disruption

Key study has passed through three peer reviews.

A scientific study that identified serious health impacts on rats fed on ‘Roundup ready’ GMO maize has been republished following its controversial retraction under strong commercial pressure. Now regulators must respond and review GMO and agro-chemical licenses, and licensing procedures.

A highly controversial paper by Prof Gilles-Eric Séralini and colleagues has been republished after a stringent peer review process.

The chronic toxicity study examines the health impacts on rats of eating  a commercialized genetically modified (GM) maize, Monsanto’s NK603 glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup.

The original study, published in Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT) in September 2012, found severe liver and kidney damage and hormonal disturbances in rats fed the GM maize and low levels of Roundup that are below those permitted in drinking water in the EU.

However it was retracted by the editor-in-chief of the Journal in November 2013 after a sustained campaign of criticism and defamation by pro-GMO scientists.

Toxic effects were found from the GM maize tested alone, as well as from Roundup tested alone and together with the maize. Additional unexpected findings were higher rates of large tumors and mortality in most treatment groups.

Criticisms addressed in the new version

Now the study has been republished by Environmental Sciences Europe. The republished version contains extra material addressing criticisms of the original publication.

The raw data underlying the study’s findings are also published – unlike the raw data for the industry studies that underlie regulatory approvals of Roundup, which are kept secret. However, the new paper presents the same results as before and the conclusions are unchanged.

The republication restores the study to the peer-reviewed literature so that it can be consulted and built upon by other scientists.

The republished study is accompanied by a separate commentary by Prof Séralini’s team (also published on The Ecologist) describing the lobbying efforts of GMO crop supporters to force the editor of FCT to retract the original publication.

The authors explain that the retraction was “a historic example of conflicts of interest in the scientific assessments of products commercialized worldwide.”

“We also show that the decision to retract cannot be rationalized on any discernible scientific or ethical grounds. Censorship of research into health risks undermines the value and the credibility of science; thus, we republish our paper.”

Paper subjected to extraordinary scrutiny and peer review

Claire Robinson, editor of GMOSeralini.org, commented: “This study has now successfully passed no less than three rounds of rigorous peer review.”

First the paper was peer reviewed for its initial publication in Food and Chemical Toxicology, and according to the authors it passed with only minor revisions.

The second review involved a non-transparent examination of Prof Séralini’s raw data by a secret panel of unnamed persons organized by the editor-in-chief of FCT, A. Wallace Hayes, in response to criticisms of the study by pro-GMO scientists.

In a letter to Prof Séralini, Hayes admitted that the anonymous reviewers found nothing incorrect about the results, but argued that the tumor and mortality observations in the paper were “inconclusive”, and this justified his decision to retract the study:

“A more in-depth look at the raw data revealed that no definitive conclusions can be reached with this small sample size regarding the role of either NK603 or glyphosate in regards to overall mortality or tumor incidence. Given the known high incidence of tumors in the Sprague-Dawley rat, normal variability cannot be excluded as the cause of the higher mortality and incidence observed in the treated groups.”

“The rationale given for the retraction was widely criticized by scientists as an act of censorship and a bow to the interests of the GMO industry”, says Robinson.

“Some scientists pointed out that numerous published scientific papers contain inconclusive findings, including Monsanto’s own short (90-day) study on the same GM maize, and have not been retracted. The retraction was even condemned by a former member of the editorial board of FCT.”

Now the study has passed a third peer review arranged by the journal that is republishing the study, Environmental Sciences Europe.

Let the critics carry out their own studies

Dr Michael Antoniou, a molecular geneticist based in London, commented, “Few studies would survive such intensive scrutiny by fellow scientists.

“The republication of the study after three expert reviews is a testament to its rigor, as well as to the integrity of the researchers. If anyone still doubts the quality of this study, they should simply read the republished paper. The science speaks for itself.

“If even then they refuse to accept the results, they should launch their own research study on these two toxic products that have now been in the human food and animal feed chain for many years.”

Dr Jack A Heinemann, Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics, University of Canterbury New Zealand, said: “I applaud Environmental Sciences Europe for submitting the work to yet another round of rigorous blind peer review and then bravely standing by the process and the recommendations of its reviewers, especially after witnessing the events surrounding the first publication.

“This study has arguably prevailed through the most comprehensive and independent review process to which any scientific study on GMOs has ever been subjected.”

‘Significant biochemical disturbances and physiological failures’

The study examines the health effects on rats of eating Roundup-tolerant NK603 genetically modified (GM) maize (from 11% in the diet), cultivated with or without Roundup application, and Roundup alone (from 0.1 ppb of the full pesticide containing glyphosate and adjuvants) in drinking water. It found:

  • “Biochemical analyses confirmed very significant chronic kidney deficiencies, for all treatments and both sexes; 76% of the altered parameters were kidney-related.
  • “In treated males, liver congestions and necrosis were 2.5 to 5.5 times higher. Marked and severe nephropathies were also generally 1.3 to 2.3 times greater.
  • “In females, all treatment groups showed a two- to threefold increase in mortality, and deaths were earlier.
  • “This difference was also evident in three male groups fed with GM maize.
  • “All results were hormone- and sex-dependent, and the pathological profiles were comparable.
  • “Females developed large mammary tumors more frequently and before controls;
  • “the pituitary was the second most disabled organ;
  • “the sex hormonal balance was modified by consumption of GM maize and Roundup treatments.
  • “Males presented up to four times more large palpable tumors starting 600 days earlier than in the control group, in which only one tumor was noted.
  • “These results may be explained by not only the non-linear endocrine-disrupting effects of Roundup but also by the overexpression of the EPSPS transgene or other mutational effects in the GM maize and their metabolic consequences.
  • “Our findings imply that long-term (2 year) feeding trials need to be conducted to thoroughly evaluate the safety of GM foods and pesticides in their full commercial formulations.”

The paper concludes: “Taken together, the significant biochemical disturbances and physiological failures documented in this work reveal the pathological effects of these GMO and R treatments in both sexes, with different amplitudes.

“They also show that the conclusion of the Monsanto authors that the initial indications of organ toxicity found in their 90-day experiment were not ‘biologically meaningful’ is not justifiable.

“We propose that agricultural edible GMOs and complete pesticide formulations must be evaluated thoroughly in long-term studies to measure their potential toxic effects.”

Regulators must take these results seriously

Dr Heinemann commented: “The work provides important new knowledge that must be taken into account by the community that evaluates and reports upon the risks of genetically modified organisms, indeed upon all sources of pesticide in our food and feed chains.”

According to Patrick Holden, Chief Executive of the Sustainable Food Trust (SFT) the study highlights the inadequacy of current safety testing:
“The most obvious deficiency relates to the fact that the current approval process is based on animal feeding trials of only 90 days, a totally inadequate duration when one considers that chronic diseases in animals and humans do not usually manifest until mid-life.”
A second deficiency, he added, relates to the newly emerging science of epigenetics – which demonstrates that endocrine systems can be seriously disrupted by the presence of chemical residues at concentrations as low as a few parts per billion.

“This turns on its head the logic of an approval process based on MRL (maximum residue levels), since it is becoming increasingly apparent that these chemicals have patterns of non-linear response.”

An ‘urgent review’ of pesticide licensing is needed
Given these concerns, said Holden, “there is a strong case for an urgent review of the regulatory process for licensing both the herbicide Roundup and the neonicotinoid class of insecticides. A fundamental review of the entire process for licensing agricultural chemicals is required to ensure that in future the public interest is better served.”
Professor Pete Myers, Chief Executive of Environmental Health Sciences and scientific advisor to the SFT points out that only “the tiniest fraction of agricultural chemicals” have been studied for health effects by independent scientists:

“Over the last two-decades there has been a revolution in environmental health sciences that suggests the proportion of diseases attributable to chemical exposures is far bigger and more significant than previously understood.

“The tools we have available to us to say what is safe and not safe are deeply flawed. They are not based on two decades of development in the fields of endocrine disruption and epigenetics, but instead on tests developed in the 1950s.

“They do not reflect the complexity of mixtures, or the way in which chemicals interact.”

Oliver Tickell|The Ecologist|July 9, 2014

Ben & Jerry’s Co-Founder Goes to DC in Support of GMO Labeling

Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Jerry Greenfield joined members of Congress and pro-GE labeling advocacy groups on Capitol Hill today to protest a House bill that would deny Americans the right to know about genetically engineered (GE) ingredients in their food.

“I came to Washington to stand up for transparency in our nation’s food supply,” said Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of the iconic Vermont-based ice cream company, which supports labeling GE food. “I hope legislation that would keep consumers in the dark never sees the light of day, so states can continue to demand more information about their food.”

The bill, introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), would block both the federal Food and Drug Administration and individual states from requiring labels on food that contains GE ingredients. It would also allow food companies to label GE food “natural.” The bill is supported by the Big Food industry’s main trade and lobbying arm, the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

Critics of the bill have dubbed it the DARK Act – the Deny Americans the Right to Know Act.

“When Big Food lobbyists lose in the court of public opinion they go to the halls of Congress,” said Colin O’Neil, director of government affairs at Center for Food Safety. “Food companies expect us to be loyal customers, but they seemingly go to any length to keep us in the dark. It is time we say enough is enough.”

Greenfield and the pro-labeling advocates delivered to lawmakers the names of more than half a million people who oppose Rep. Pompeo’s bill and urged them to support competing legislation introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) that would require a federal label on GE foods. Chef and Craft Restaurants’ owner Tom Colicchio helped collect more than 250,000 names through Food Policy Action’s website and CREDOMobilize.com.

“The overwhelming majority of Americans want GE foods to be labeled,” said Colicchio, a founding board member of Food Policy Action. “As a chef and father, I want to know what I’m serving my customers and kids, and the majority of Americans want honest information about the food on their tables. Food Policy Action will be scoring co-sponsorship of the Pompeo bill in our annual scorecard and urging the public to hold lawmakers accountable for it come November.”

“People want to know if their food has been genetically engineered or contains GE ingredients,” said Jason Rano, Environmental Working Group’s director of government affairs. “Unfortunately, some policymakers in Washington are on the wrong side of this issue, and 500,000 people are calling on them to reverse course.”

“Americans should be allowed to decide whether or not they purchase and consume foods containing genetically engineered ingredients—a right that folks around the world in more than 60 countries already have,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “But big corporations are fighting to keep GE foods under wraps—and keep consumers in the dark. Shame on the representatives that are complicit in this effort.”

Earlier this year, Vermont became the first state to enact a mandatory GE labeling law. Last year Connecticut and Maine both passed laws to mandate GE labeling, but they have yet to take effect. More than 70 bills and ballot initiatives were introduced in more than 30 other states in 2013 and 2014.

“GE labeling laws have been gaining widespread support across the country in the last two years,” said Violet Batcha, communications and social media manager for Just Label It. “The pressure is on the federal government to do what 93 percent of Americans want and label GE foods.”

Center for Food Safety|14 Jul, 2014

Energy

Estero begins preparation to fight fracking

Two controversial subjects (fracking and rock mining)dominated much of Friday’s discussion during the Estero Council of Community Leaders meeting and sparked an impromptu exchange between two opposing state House candidates.

Both are volatile issues in Southwest Florida, involving a planned oil exploration project that Collier County is opposing in state administrative court and threatened lawsuits by firms that want to mine lime rock in Lee County.

“I think both issues are threats to our water supply,” said Estero resident Jane Moran, following the meeting.

The fracking issue was raised during state Rep. Ray Rodrigues’ recap of this past legislative session.

Rodrigues, R-Estero, when asked by Democrat opponent Charles Messina whether he thinks fracking is safe, said he hasn’t taken a position. “I’m open. I haven’t seen enough data on either side.”

Messina, of Pine Island, said he especially opposes acid fracking, a method of injecting acids and water underground to split up rock to extract oil. “This is not a safe practice,” he said.

Rodrigues said he has tried to be proactive by introducing bills for the past two years that would require oil companies to disclose exactly what chemicals they are pumping underground.

“This bill would have the most strict disclosure requirements in the country,” Rodrigues said. However, he said because some chemicals involve trade secrets protected by federal law, disclosure of these substances would be made available to state regulators, but would not be made public.

Unfortunately, Rodrigues said his bill hasn’t been passed by the Legislature, but he’ll keep trying.

“Fracking is permitted under state law. The question is are we going to regulate it or not?” Rodrigues said. He said there’s a potential for fracking operations to spring up in Lee, Hendry and Collier counties.

Messina said Rodrigues’ bill is insufficient. If elected, he said, he’d call for a state moratorium on fracking while more stringent state regulations are explored.

However, Phil Douglas, the environmental director for the ECCL, said there is a more serious threat to the local environment than fracking.

Rock mining “is a much more serious (issue) than fracking in Lee County” regarding the water supply, Douglas said.

This is especially true of the area on Corkscrew Road east that has been the subject of lawsuits for years.

So far, “we’ve won every lawsuit” opposing mining, Douglas said.

However, mining companies are threatening to file lawsuits under the state’s Bert Harris Act, claiming the mining ban infringes on their property rights, Douglas said.

He said the ECCL is prepared to join with Lee County in fighting this action.

In other business, Roger Strelow, the council’s community planning director, said work is progressing planning the transition of Estero from county government to city government should voters approve an incorporation referendum in November.

That includes what services the village should contract with Lee County for, the hiring of a city manager and staff and securing flood insurance rates, Strelow said.

“We want to nail down the nuts and bolts of government so that the (village) council can pick right up and run with the ball next March,” after the members are elected, he said.

Denes Husty III|Special to The News-Press|July 12, 2014

A New Vision For Saltwater Fisheries Management

https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/hr4742

Congress is currently revising the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conversation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), the law that governs our nation’s marine resources. Recreational saltwater anglers and the sportfishing and boating industries are intensifying efforts to ensure that their social, conservation and economic priorities are well represented in the legislative process. Read the entire article and follow this issue.
http://asaf.convio.net/site/MessageViewer?dlv_id=6469&em_id=1663.0

Good management requires good data.  Record your catch and your releases!

Fracked Gas Exports Mean More Fracking, More Climate Change and More Pollution
Protect Your Drinking Water From Fracking

When I’ve spoken with folks from Dimock, Pennsylvania — one of the towns most torn apart by fracking — they’ve told me they would give anything to get their clean water back. In spite of their protests, however, the fracking continues. And now, our federal agencies are working on policies that would promote the export of fracked natural gas and raise the demand for fracking in the U.S. All this so that the oil and gas industry can profit even more as local families continue to suffer the consequences of fracking.

As federal agencies are approving export facilities like Cove Point in Maryland, they are setting a precedent for future approvals. But the analyses they are basing their policies on are all wrong. The Department of Energy recently released a flawed report on emissions from fracked natural gas, which fails to look at the full impact fracking is having on our climate.

In addition to harming local communities, more drilling rigs will also accelerate global climate change — which we simply cannot afford. Because methane (a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide) leaks out unmanageably during the drilling process, fracking is as bad as coal when it comes to climate change.

When writing new policies around gas exports, our federal agencies need to consider the real impacts that fracking will have on our climate and on people in Dimock and other affected areas.

We’re making progress in this fight. If it weren’t for supporters like you, federal legislation to allow fracked gas exports would almost certainly have passed by now. An export bill has already passed through the House of Representatives, but because of intense pressure from concerned citizens, the Senate has yet to bring this bill up for a vote. Now, we need to put the pressure on our federal agencies, asking them not to change the rules in any way that would promote the export of fracked gas.

Jill Pape|Online Organizer|Food & Water Watch|7/12/14

Enbridge wrapping up oil spill cleanup

Project will end this summer

COMSTOCK TWP. — Cleanup efforts following the leak of about 800,000 gallons of crude from an underground pipeline in western Michigan are nearly complete, according to the Canadian oil company that owns the pipeline.

Contaminated soil is expected to be removed from the Morrow Lake delta near Comstock Township in Kalamazoo County by mid- to late summer, Enbridge Inc. spokesman Jason Manshum told the Kalamazoo Gazette.

After the cleanup, crews will continue restoring riverbanks this fall.

Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered Enbridge to dredge sections of the Kalamazoo River to remove sediments tainted by oil from the massive spill.

The leak was discovered in the Kalamazoo River and Talmadge Creek near Marshall in July 2010. Oil flowed about 35 miles before it was contained. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board determined the rupture was caused by cracks and corrosion, and the agency faulted Enbridge for failing to take steps that might have prevented it.

The state said last month in a public health assessment that there’s no long-term harm to people’s health from coming into contact with chemicals in the river’s surface water during wading, swimming or canoeing. But contact with the oil sheen in the river might cause temporary effects such as skin irritation.

Enbridge is replacing and enlarging the line, part of a $2.6 billion project to boost the flow of oil to refineries in the eastern U.S. and Canada.

“We’re bringing in soils and native plants and trees to make a nice green space like it would look if there had never had been a spill there,” Manshum said.

The company will conduct periodic environmental monitoring, he added.

Associated Press|Jul. 12, 2014

ExxonMobil’s New Guinea Nightmare

How a US government loan enabled an environmentally destructive project plagued by lethal landslide, police repression and civil unrest.

Monday, January 23, 2012, was a routine day for 15-year-old Jackson Piwago. Like every other weekday, his father met him after school, and the two walked hand in hand back to their home in Tumbi, a small village in the remote, mountainous Hela Province of Papua New Guinea. There, at the foot of the Gigira Mountain Range, Jackson went about his chores: looking after the family’s pigs, collecting firewood, fetching water and cooking sweet potatoes. He chatted with some of his father’s nine wives, as well as his many brothers and cousins. As on most evenings, dinner was boisterous and joyful.

Then, just as he did every night, Jackson fell asleep alongside his father, using his dad’s arm as a pillow. Jokoya Piwago, a prominent Ware tribal chief, recalled that night vividly in a recent conversation. He remembered his son imploring him, “Please, Daddy, buy me the bicycle that I need to go to school and come back…. Buy me a bicycle tomorrow.”

Jokoya paused and said, “That’s the last word that he spoke to me.”

Jokoya Piwago rose at sunrise on January 24. He was running late for work, and his ride was waiting outside. He woke up Jackson, then jumped into the car, shoes in hand. Minutes later, three loud, rapid-fire cracks filled the air. To some, it sounded like the discharge of an AK-47 rifle. Other villagers said it sounded more like a thunderclap. No one could find words to describe the sound that immediately followed.

It was the sound made by 2 million tons of boulders, limestone, water, mud and trees roaring down from the top of Tumbi Mountain. It was the sound of homes being buried by the landslide, which after only a few minutes had created a debris field a kilometer long, several hundred meters wide and 100 meters deep.

At least twenty-seven people sleeping in their homes died instantly, according to a lawsuit filed by the victims’ families. Twelve of them, including Jackson, were in Jokoya’s family. A precise death count is unknown—no bodies were ever recovered.

The landslide emanated from a quarry operated by a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, Esso Highlands Limited. Since 2010, EHL had been mining limestone for the construction phase of Papua New Guinea’s $19 billion Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project. The quarry—which, according to local residents and a former member of the country’s Parliament, had been mined sporadically by other operators for several decades without incident before ExxonMobil’s arrival—was part of a massive endeavor that involved drilling wells for gas extraction and the construction of hundreds of miles of pipeline, storage facilities, processing plants and even an airstrip. The limestone was destined primarily for construction of a nearby airport that would be used to fly in heavy equipment and supplies. ExxonMobil has trumpeted the “multiple benefits” that locals would receive from the project, including jobs for “around 10,000 Papua New Guineans” and “more than 650 million kina [about $300 million] invested in community and infrastructure projects.”

The LNG project, which has been vexed since its inception by civil unrest and huge cost overruns, was made possible in large part by American taxpayers, in the form of a $3 billion loan in 2009 from the Export-Import Bank of the United States—at that point, the largest loan by the bank in its seventy-five-year history. This massive government loan to the ExxonMobil-led project was issued despite sharp rhetoric from the Obama administration on climate change. Indeed, the loan was approved by the administration just four days before the president delivered his address to the December 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. “As the world’s largest economy and the world’s second-largest emitter, America bears our share of responsibility in addressing climate change,” Obama said then. “That is why we have renewed our leadership within international climate negotiations, and worked with other nations to phase out fossil-fuel subsidies.”

The PNG LNG loan was hardly the only exception to the president’s stated position. Since Obama took office, the Export-Import Bank has invested more than $27 billion in fossil-fuel endeavors, while lending less than $2 billion to clean-energy projects.

Ian T. Shearn|April 30, 2014|This report was produced in partnership with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute with additional support from the H.D. Lloyd Fund for Investigative Journalism and the Fund for Investigative Journalism. Project Word provided administrative support. Research assistance: Nick Sexton, Shruti Banerjee and Hannah Rappleye. Special thanks to Dr. Kristian Lasslett, of the International State Crime Initiative, for his valuable research assistance.

Sen. Nelson hears oil and gas drilling concerns

SOUTHWEST FLORIDA – As millions of dollars have been spent to restore the Florida Everglades – there are fears now that more damage could be on the horizon.

Opponents of oil and gas drilling fear further damage if drilling is permitted.

The issue has the attention of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, who flew into Southwest Florida today to hear the concerns.

A group of opponents says that Florida’s oil and gas drilling laws are old, outdated and need to be changed. They claimed during a meeting Monday that the government is failing to protect them.

“It could destroy our water and our Everglades,”  opponent Karen Dwyer of Stone Crab Alliance, said, referring to the drilling known as fracking.

A company has leased 230,000 acres of property in the Big Cypress National Preserve for seismic testing. The testing calls for sending strong vibrations deep into the earth to detect the presence of oil or gas.

“We’re dealing with laws that are decades old. They have not kept pace with these new extreme extraction techniques. We really need an overhaul of oil and gas regulations,” Dwyer said.

If gas or oil is detected the fear is that companies could begin drilling.

“We’re hoping that he’ll actually call or recommend a ban on all extreme extraction included but not limited to fracking,”  said Dwyer.

However Senator Nelson isn’t prepared to go that far saying: “That’s an issue that you will have to ask a later time when we know more about the potential harm. “

Sen. Nelson assured residents he will protect their interest as well as the state’s.

“We’re spending hundreds of billions of dollars in restoring the Everglades. We certainly don’t want something like this to mess that up,” said Nelson.

Pamela Duran lives near a proposed oil drilling site in Collier County and has fears of contaminated drinking water and unsafe driving conditions if oil rigs use local roads for travel.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida predicts more accidents if fracking is permitted.

“They use more water, more chemicals. They use more pressure which could affect our geology here,” Jennifer Hecker, CSWF said.

Hecker said a seismic testing permit is under review by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Nelson’s meeting comes on the heel of an announcement on Friday in which a Texas drilling company said it would abandon plans of drilling in Golden Gate Estates.

Nelson said he will take all of the information gathered back to Washington where he plans to get the EPA involved. 

Dave Elias|Chief political reporter|Jul 14, 2014

24 Anti-Fracking Activists Arrested in Washington at First Ever FERC Sit-in Protest

Twenty-four anti-fracking activists were arrested Monday morning in Washington D.C. in protest of proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals in the U.S., according to environmental groups tweeting from the scene.

The protest centered on Cove Point, an export terminal that could be constructed in Maryland, about 50 miles from the White House.

The “Stop Cove Point” protest marked the first-ever sit in at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The protest was in response to the gas industry’s applications to FERC to build as many as 14 LNG export terminals, two already approved. The sit-in came just one day after more than 1,000 people rallied from the U.S. Capitol to the doorstep of FERC. Environmental groups say FERC dismissed evidence about the harmful impact of fracking and pipeline infrastructure on nearby homes and overall climate change. A decision on Cove Point—the first proposal on the East Coast—could come as soon as this August.

Virginia-based energy giant Dominion Resources wants to build a massive $3.8 billion LNG facility in Lusby, MD that would pipe fracked gas from the Marcellus shale to southern Maryland, liquefy it and export it to be burned in Japan and India. FERC’s conditional approval of the facility, which came back in September, would allow the facility to export up 0.77 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day.

The comment period for the project ended in June, with more than 150,000 comments in opposition.

The protest and rally both called on FERC and President Barack Obama to take a look at the evidence and put a halt to Cove Point. The difference between the two was a group of activists on Monday willing to go to jail for their beliefs.

“With LNG exports, the only things Americans get are terrifying new health and safety threats, worsening climate instability, and higher heating bills, all so that the gas industry can make bigger profits from fracking us,” Dr. Sandra Steingraber, a New York-based biologist, author and science advisor to Americans Against Fracking, said in a statement.

More than 40 national, state and community-based groups endorsed Sunday’s rally. Organizing groups included Berks Gas Truth, Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Energy Action Coalition, Environmental Action, Earthworks, Food & Water Watch, Greenpeace, Public Citizen, the Sierra Club, Waterkeepers Chesapeake and 350.org.

“Any project that makes climate change significantly worse has no place on a livable planet, from Cove Point to Keystone XL,” Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, said at Sunday’s rally.

“No matter what FERC decides in the near-term, the people will triumph in the long-term. We’ll keep fighting until wind turbines and solar panels crisscross our coastlines, and LNG facilities like Cove Point are defunct monuments to a dinosaur industry.”

Brandon Baker|Care2 Causes|July 14, 2014

  Texas oil company retreats from Western Everglades Oil Exploration

State officials reported on Friday that the Dan A. Hughes Co. of Texas has withdrawn its application for an exploratory oil well near the Golden Gate Estates at the western edge of the Everglades.

The company is still pumping oil at a production site about 10 miles away, known as the Collier-Hogan well, near Naples.

But the retreat from the Golden Gate site appears to be a partial victory for environmental groups and homeowners who opposed expansion of drilling close to neighborhoods and environmental refuges. Opponents fear the drilling will jeopardize wildlife and drinking water supplies.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which has been putting pressure on the company to disclose its plans to the press and public, said it received notification that the Hughes Co. was withdrawing its application for the Golden Gate well. DEP officials said the company has lost the public’s trust and had failed to appear at a Collier County Commission meeting on Tuesday meeting.

  “There are still many existing demands we have of Dan A. Hughes in order for them to continue their operations at the Collier-Hogan site,” DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. said on Friday.
Both well sites have been controversial.

The Golden Gate site is next to a panther refuge, and the company was seeking permission from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to dig an injection well to store toxic wastewater.

The Collier-Hogan well drew protests when the company used acidic fracturing to blast open rock to extract oil, which critics say is akin to the controversial practice of fracking. DEP ordered a halt to the unapproved practice, and the Hughes Co. paid a $25,000 fine.

The company was taken aback by a harsh letter from DEP last week demanding answers and a series of actions by July 15 to reassure the public. Hughes spokesman David Blackmon called the agency’s statements “quite extraordinary given the constant and open dialogue the company has been engaged in with the DEP at multiple points of contact over the last several months.”

William E. Gibson|Washington Bureau|Sun Sentinel|July 11, 2014

FPL busy on new $1.2 billion Port Everglades plant

A year after FPL demolished its 1960s oil-fired power plant at Port Everglades, the new $1 billion-plus, natural-gas plant rising at the site is on track to be operational in 2016.

One year after demolishing its 1960s oil-fired plant at Port Everglades known for its red-striped stacks, Florida Power & Light Co. has cleared away the debris and completed about 10 percent of its new $1.2 billion plant that will be fueled by cleaner and cheaper natural gas.

On Tuesday, about 400 workers were busy at the massive construction site. Some were digging to lay work on drains. Others ran heavy equipment to move massive panels for the steam-turbine system. And still others placed rebar in grids that will be become part of concrete foundations.

FPL plans to open the high-tech plant in 2016, producing up to 1,277 megawatts of electricity, or enough power for some 260,000 households. That’s a bit more power than the older facility.

But the new plant will use 35 percent less fuel, saving millions yearly in fuel costs. It also will be cleaner, producing 90 percent less air emissions and about half the carbon dioxide, officials said.

“We’re on schedule,” construction director Tom Young said Tuesday at the site. “This project is like parking your old car that got 10 miles per gallon and driving a new one that gets 50 miles per gallon.”

For FPL, the Broward County plant is the third of its kind after $1 billion-plus ventures at Cape Canaveral and Riviera Beach. That previous experience helps, project manager Dennis Donhue said.

“There are lessons learned, like how all the equipment goes together,” Donahue said. “You know which pieces to place in first, second and third to create an efficient process, so you don’t have to move the machinery around. And for scheduling, you make sure you get the right things in the right order.”A veteran in plant construction, Donahue marvels how quickly this constriction will be done. He recalls in the 1980s that building a smaller, 750-megawatt plant took five years. This bigger plant will take only two years.

“Everything now is a lot more modularized,” Donahue said. Many large parts come pre-assembled nowadays, when decades back, even turbines were broken down into small pieces and had to be mounted together from scratch, he said, “kind of like an erector set.”

Today’s plants also use different materials, such as lightweight plastic pipes laid underground instead of heavy iron ones that were tougher to transport and lasted only half as long, officials said.

The scale of materials needed is enormous. The project will use 30,000 cubic yards of concrete, enough to fill 200 of the shipping industry’s 40-foot containers, Young said.

The concrete and steel recycled from last year’s July 16 demolition weighed about 60 tons. It took six months to clean up that rubble.

And that tonnage pales next to the 1,500 tons of structural steel needed for the plant, Young said.

At peak construction next spring, more than 900 people will be working at the site.

But once the plant starts up, most operations will be computerized, requiring little staff. “They will run this job with maybe six or seven operators a shift,” less than half the number in the older plant, said Young.

The new emissions towers also will be more compact: just 149 feet tall, or less than half the 340-foot height of the candy-striped stacks that long served as a Fort Lauderdale landmark.

Doreen Hemlock|Sun Sentinel|July 15, 2014

Something is wrong at FPL’s Turkey Point Nuclear Plant

Florida Power and Light’s water quality problems at its Turkey Point nuclear facility are well established by the record of inaction and the failure of the state of Florida to stop FPL’s hyper-saline coolant water traveling underground, in the direction of Homestead and Florida City population centers, from the Turkey Point cooling canal system (CCS).

Now there is another issue, requiring extraordinary measures to keep the nuclear reactors working. Apparently, severe algae blooms in the plant’s cooling canals are threatening the plant operation. In the last few weeks, a flurry of correspondence between the South Florida Water Management District and Biscayne National Park have disclosed anxiety about the solutions proposed by FPL and accepted by the state without public input: the massive application of chemical treatment and the emergency use of deep aquifer water to cool down the water before it enters Biscayne National Park.

In its original plans for the two nuclear reactors, FPL had intended to dump its very hot, saline coolant water directly into Biscayne National Park. A lawsuit and intervention by environmental groups resulted in an important FPL concession to water quality concerns. The nuclear facility is required to operate hundreds of miles of cooling canals under an agreement with the state agency, the South Florida Water Management District.

Part of the agreement is the assurance by FPL to monitor and to mitigate any performance failures of the cooling canals. Although FPL successfully maintains its “good neighbor” marketing program to the public, it has been less than truthful about significant problems in containing the canals’ hyper saline water.

According to its website FPL is a really good environmental steward, “About nine-tenths of the Turkey Point property remains in its natural state of mangroves and fresh water wetlands. There are more than 60 known species of birds and animals that inhabit the property. Of these, 17 are endangered. The endangered American crocodile enjoys a favorable habitat in the plant cooling canal system. We protect the crocodile and conduct research by counting crocodile nests annually to record population changes. More than 3,000 crocodiles have been marked and released, and FPL is committed to continuing protection of the species while encouraging ongoing public education. This program and the plant’s unique habitat for crocodiles has attracted national attention by CNN Headline News, Disney and National Geographic.”

“… We are concerned about water quality in the Turkey Point cooling canals and the apparent ongoing trend in decreasing water quality. We would like to know the status of investigations and negotiations that may be in process to evaluate the issues associated with poor water quality in the cooling canals. We would like to see further investigation and review by a multi-agency technical team to understand the apparently broad poor water quality trends, their source, and potential solutions. Given that the cooling canal area has hydrologic connections to surrounding groundwater and thus surface waters, including Biscayne National Park, we see this as a critical water quality issue for the Park. We believe that this phenomena and any resulting actions by Florida Power and Light with respect to addressing water quality on site at the Turkey Point Power Plant site, including treatment to plant structures, should be reviewed by the regulatory agencies responsible for oversight. These agencies would include but not be limited to Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), Miami-Dade County Regulatory and Economic Resources (RER), U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”

On July 11th, the South Florida Water Management District responded in its typical style of scrubbing bad news: first, decline to admit there is any data revealing environmental problems then acknowledge extraordinary measures are being taken to address the problems that might have sprung up from nowhere: “A review of several years’ worth of data collected under the monitoring program has not indicated any adverse impacts to the waters of Biscayne Bay from the CCS (FPL cooling canal system). As your staff is aware, monitoring data has shown that hypersaline water from the CCS has migrated westward at depth in the groundwater. (EOM italics) The Department and the SFWMD have put FPL on notice that abatement measures must be implemented and we anticipate issuance of an Administrative Order in the near future to address these issues. (EOM note: foot-dragging by FPL and the corporation’s refusal to substantively correct violations of its agreement with the state has gone on for many years.)

FPL recently has reached out to a number of agencies for assistance, including the Department, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), and SFWMD, regarding a recent increase in CCS water temperature, which has been exacerbated by the presence of algae blooms in the canal. Agency staff inspections of the facility in response to reports of the current algae bloom indicate the bloom is limited to the CCS itself. It is not unusual for wastewater treatment ponds to exhibit algae growth in the hot summer months–hot weather and lack of rainfall likely have contributed to the bloom.

The current severity of the bloom and its potential impact on FPL’s ability to generate electricity for South Florida required immediate actions to be taken. To that end, on June 27 the Department approved FPL’s request to use a combination of copper sulfate, hydrogen peroxide and bio-stimulants (copper sulfate blend) in the CCS to address the current algae bloom; which are commonly used to treat algae blooms in aquatic systems. … Also on June 27, the SFWMD supported FPL’s request to temporarily use groundwater from the Floridan Aquifer that had previously been permitted for use as process and process cooling water, to decrease the temperature in the CCS. (EOM emphasis) This support was memorialized in an amendment to Turkey Point’s site license, issued by the Siting Coordination Office. … FPL will continue to evaluate the causes of the recent algae bloom and CCS temperature increase, and will identify, develop, and implement a more long term solution.”

It is remarkable for the state to first admit that FPL is failing to meet its obligations in the first instance with respect to groundwater violations — while completely avoiding why it has failed to enforce against the corporation — and then to immediately take the corporation’s side in assuring that the corporations will be responsible sometime in the future on problems with the cooling water in the canal system itself.

The use of Floridan aquifer water is of particular concern because Miami-Dade County has dumped billions of gallons of scarcely treated municipal wastewater into the Florida aquifer only a few miles away through so-called “injection control wells”. The South Dade Wastewater Treatment facility — only a few miles from Turkey Point — takes the torrent of used water filled with human discharges, water from cruise ships, waste from industrial and hospital applications, from mortuaries to kitchens to satisfy demands for low-cost growth for construction and the massive development of population centers while maintaining a scrim of environmental responsibility. At the bare minimum, FPL and the state of Florida should report to the public exactly the water quality statistics and data from the use of Floridan water and regularly update the public on the FPL emergency.

CNN and news organizations should also report this issue in the context of FPL’s ambitions to build two new nuclear reactors at the lowest-lying, most climate-change threatened area of coastline in the nation. Although the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ought to consider the new permits — due for consideration by 2016 after an EIS is completed — in the context of severe problems with the operation of the existing nuclear reactors at Turkey Point, so far these issues have been segregated as though they were in their own cooling canals waiting for the critics to melt away.

gimleteye|July 14, 2014

Gulf Stream gold: Mining green energy from Atlantic currents

Scientists hopeful for renewable potential from sea turbines, environmentalists concerned about impact on marine life

gulf stream turbine test

A rendition of the experimental test configuration to be deployed to measure effects of turbines on a marine environment. FAU / SNMREC

The Gulf Stream meanders clockwise from the Gulf of Mexico, past the mid-Atlantic coast toward Europe. It is one of the most powerful currents in the world, and it is full of life.

Many species of pelagic fish, endangered marine turtles and other marine organisms roam the relentless conveyor belt of warm blue water unhindered, flowing beyond the shores of Florida. Their travels were relatively unhindered — until now.

Landbound humanity is hoping to capitalize on the Gulf Stream’s fast-flowing waters, eyeing them as a potential source of endless power and a possible solution to Florida’s energy needs. A pilot project to test a variety of electricity-generating turbines right in the middle of the Gulf Stream has been given the go-ahead in the form of a five-year lease to Florida Atlantic University (FAU). The lease covers 1,000 acres right in the flow of the current.

The environmental upside is obvious. It is believed the Gulf Stream has the potential energy — from a clean and renewable source — to supply Florida with 35 percent of its electrical needs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).

However, there is also concern that there might be an ecological downside. According to a detailed report issued last summer by BOEM, the environmental impact would be minimal. But no one wants to take any chances as the global quest for clean energy aims to bring full-scale commercial deployments of devices, turbines and cable-to-shore systems in the ocean. Many believe it still remains uncertain how life in the current will respond if the industry takes off in a big way and suddenly turbines become a common part of the underwater world.

So the FAU project is aimed at finding out exactly how marine life might react, and prove if it is possible to generate power from the ocean current. “Because there is so little known in certain areas, there is a tendency for everybody to protect everything at all costs when the data may say something else,” said Susan Skemp, executive director of FAU’s Southeast National Marine Renewable Energy Center (SNMREC).

One area of research looks at how schools of fish approach the structures. After all, neither the fish nor the turbine companies want any marine life caught up inside the machines’ whirring parts. “It may indicate that the fish are naturally curious, but once they get within a certain distance of an operating system, they may be repelled by it and may move away from it, so that’s all part of the research,” Skemp said.

FAU’s project is going to be a serious test bed for a whole new industry. The scheme is trying to bridge the gap from lab to market by encouraging private companies to launch their turbine prototypes from FAU research vessels, which will be moored for weeks at a time, collecting measurements of ocean conditions. Three floating test berths will be connected to buoys anchored to the ocean floor. So far, the center has nondisclosure agreements with over 40 private companies, but “six to 10 have prototypes that are ready for field testing,” said Gabe Alsenas, program manager of SNMREC.

Companies are lining up for offshore testing, which is to take place later this year. That’s when FAU plans to prove that its 5,000-pound turbine will generate electricity. “What is realizable will depend on the systems that are built, and also what environmental regulatory processes we need to have in place,” said Skemp.

But environmentally, very little is known about life from the seafloor to the surface. SNMREC hopes that by deploying these single-device prototypes, it will be more able to predict how an array of permanent industrial equipment in the water column would put the ecosystems at risk.

One company that has already signed an agreement with FAU is Minesto, a Swedish firm that has produced electricity from its prototype, called Deep Green. The unit resembles an underwater kite and a turbine that is tethered to the ocean floor. While the current lifts the kite, a rudder is supposed to guide it in a trajectory shaped like a figure 8. A quarter-scale model is currently undergoing sea trials in Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland.

“Theirs is a tidal system, and they haven’t done it with ocean currents yet. So they will have to revise the design to make it applicable to this type of system,” said Skemp.

A distinctly different design would use a combination of small turbines encased in a large honeycomb-shaped device made of Kevlar and carbon fiber. Bruce Heafitz, CEO of Ocean Current Energy, said the lightweight turbines would have much lower maintenance costs than their competitors. “We’ll suspend this honeycomb structure from the ocean floor and bring it up to the top, where the current is equivalent to 200-mile-an-hour wind force,” said Heafitz.

But even as the focus is on designing the most efficient turbines — which undoubtedly produce “clean” renewable energy — the emphasis on environmental protection is also key. “Environmental groups really do support what we’re doing in terms of renewable energy, because it’s green and clean. But they are concerned about any ancillary affects to corals, marine species, and we’re trying to alleviate those fears in terms of development,” said Camille Coley, associate director of SNMREC.

Several years ago, when wave energy farm proposals were contemplated in California, the research and tracking of gray whales as they migrated past the San Francisco shoreline helped provide key information.

In Florida’s waters, all 16 populations of marine turtles are on the endangered species list, yet their lives remain mostly a mystery.

Jeanette Wyneken, an FAU marine biologist, is heading up a long-term, systematic study of marine sea turtles to answer basic questions about how these protected animals use the Gulf Stream.

“We need to know what is normal. And it’s complicated, to say the least. These species take 25 years to mature, and we have to look at variations in population over 10 years. Water temperature is a major factor in determining the sex ratio of the population — not only that, but climate and seasonal effects too,” said Wyneken.

Many believe the best approach to avoid negative environmental impacts will be some sort of adaptive management system as described by a 2009 U.S. Department of Energy report. As projects expand from small to commercial-scale developments, repeated evaluations of monitoring results will be crucial.

Skemp, who spent nearly three decades in the aerospace industry before heading SNMREC, said the state of ocean current technology is comparable to where space research was decades ago.

“We’ve got to be able to answer that question: What will be the interactions between the developer’s hardware and the marine ecosystem?” asked Skemp. “We don’t have the answers yet.’’

Patricia Sagastume|July 14, 2014

Land Conservation

Envisioning Profit in Environmental Good Works

Equity Firm Restores Louisiana Marshland to Earn Credits It Can Sell

ABOARD THE DREDGE BUTCHER, OFF THE LOUISIANA COAST — All day and all night, this ship off a knob of Louisiana at Alligator Bend sucks up silt from the floor of Lake Borgne and pumps it through a half-mile of fat steel pipe. At the other end, a slurry gushes noisily out into what was until recently a stretch of open water. New land is rising here, forming mud flats that will soon be covered with waving spartina grass.

This is the unglamorous, mucky — and, to be honest, smelly — work that goes into restoring the fragile marshlands that help protect southern Louisiana from hurricanes and that provide a haven for wildlife.

What is most interesting about this project, however, is who is paying the bills. While the state government has developed a detailed master plan for wetlands restoration in the region, and money has been promised from the federal government and the BP settlement of the 2010 oil spill, this project is getting its funding from a private equity firm. The company, Ecosystem Investment Partners, intends to profit from its good works by selling environmental restoration credits to private developers and government agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers, which need them to offset environmental damage done by their projects.

Such mitigation banks have been allowed for two decades under provisions of the Clean Water Act, but private-sector work tends to be done on a small scale to offset the effect of a single project — say, by placing a frog pond next to the new Wal-Mart — and it tends to be unconnected to any larger environmental purpose. This project is remarkable for its ambition and scope: The company has raised $181 million from investors for this and other projects, and has bought 16,500 acres of this swamp. It could spend, by some estimates, $30 million here.

“They are doing it at a scale that has never been attempted before,” said Val Marmillion, managing director of America’s Wetland Foundation, a nonprofit conservation group that receives some funding from oil companies.

It is essential work. In the last 80 years, coastal Louisiana has lost wetlands roughly the size of Delaware. And this fragile isthmus that Ecosystem Investment Partners is restoring is a “critical land form,” said Ann Redmond, an environmental consultant who helped develop the Louisiana master plan and who has consulted with Ecosystem Investment Partners. This land bridge, which has lost nearly a quarter of its wetlands since 1932, separates Lake Pontchartrain, which borders New Orleans, from Lake Borgne and the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico beyond.

“Anything that can be done to ensure that that land form doesn’t continue to degrade will be important” to protect against storms and to ensure that Lake Pontchartrain does not become too salty, Ms. Redmond said. So this stretch of wetlands, which is alongside Route 90 near what is known as the Chef Menteur Pass, has been targeted for restoration in the Louisiana master plan.

Wetlands loss is caused by a number of factors, including hurricanes, oil and gas exploration, and sea-level rise. Rebuilding it requires some precision: Put in too little dirt, and subsidence — a gradual sinking of the land — and rising oceans will erase it. Put in too much, and you end up with dry land that supports shrubs and scrub — a different environment.

The process of making money out of restoring wetlands is complex, but it comes down to straightforward market principles. A policy developed under the first President George Bush calls for “no net loss” of wetlands, so when developers and government agencies tackle projects that drain or fill wetlands, they need to offset the damage either by restoring an equivalent amount of wetlands or by buying the credits from the restoration work done by others.

The current phase of the Chef Menteur project, a 508-acre chunk, will ultimately be worth 508 credits under the federal system. Ecosystem Investment Partners can negotiate the value of each credit with the buyers, with the price depending on factors that include the availability of other projects in the same area, the ability of the potential buyer to do its own mitigation projects and how badly the buyer needs the credits.

A federal rule issued in 2008 established a preference for any entity that damages wetlands, including the government, to use mitigation banking over doing the work itself — in part because specialists are more likely to do a better job and to tie the work to broader environmental goals. The preference could encourage private-sector involvement. That is where Ecosystem Investment Partners and similar groups come in, taking on the work and allowing the builders to focus on their projects.

But the field has yet to really take off because, as a recent paper from two Yale-trained researchers put it, the work can be expensive and financially risky, while the size of projects has tended to be too small to attract institutional investors like pension funds and university endowments. Nick Dilks, managing partner of Baltimore-based Ecosystem Investment Partners, declined to say how much the company hoped to earn from the project. However, he said, “We have to generate a competitive return to attract investors.”

On a bright morning recently, Mr. Dilks sat at the front of an airboat, the screamingly loud, fan-propelled craft that can glide along the brackish water or hop up on the land to slide over marsh grass. Airboats are needed in this place, where the land and water form a blended patchwork.

The slurry that flows out of the pipe deposits 14,250 cubic yards of sediment a day with a rumbling that can be felt through the soles of the shoes of anyone who teeters along the top of the pipe. When the slurry has shells in it, the pipe rattles and pings, making a “Kapew! Kapew!” sound. It is clear that the land is, in fact, rising, though the loose, slippery silt is difficult to build up. “It’s like stacking mayonnaise,” Mr. Dilks said.

Across the way, the long arm of a “marsh buggy” excavator plunges deep in the muck, and the sucking resistance of the marsh as the machine draws out the bucket threatens to tip over the floating platform. But the operator is practiced at his craft, and swings the bucket over to deposit the load along a berm that channels the flow of the water and the deposit of the silt. These marsh buggies have long been used here to create the channels for oil exploration that have torn up the wetlands. “Now it’s the opposite — we’re using them to fill in the channels we made,” said Murray Starkel, managing director of the company.

As for the smell, Mr. Dilks suggests that the gray-black froth is redolent of “a nice glass of Guinness,” which may mean that he needs to find a better class of pub. The odors include a hint of well-trodden cow pasture after a churning rain.

Who puts money into the risky proposition of restoring swamps for profit? One of the investors is the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, a nonprofit based in Cambridge, Mass. Katie Lincoln, the chief investment officer for the group’s half-billion-dollar endowment, said she put $10 million into Mr. Dilks’s company not as an environmental do-good project but as an investment that she expected would generate returns. “This is not a charity for us,” she said.

Some of the credits become available when the restorer commits to the project, but the full measure of credits will not be accessible until the project has been completed and has proved successful for five years. Mr. Dilks acknowledged that his company was taking on risk that extended over several years — but said calculating risk was part of what investment fund managers like himself were paid to do. Still, he said, “if you don’t have patient, long-term capital behind you, it’s really hard.”

Mr. Dilks added that he preferred that calculated risk to the alternative. “If we wait 40 years for the money to dribble in for restoration,” he said, “it’ll be gone.”

Land conservation and water quality go together

As Lee County works to comply with the Clean Water Act, it is important to understand the value of improving water quality in our rivers and coastal estuaries for drinking, fishing, swimming and our multibillion-dollar tourism and real estate-based economy.

Rather than criticize the restoration of our waterways as a punitive unfunded federal mandate, so often decried by elected officials, a more thoughtful approach would be to accept the responsibility of cleaning up our waterways in our own backyard.

The highest priority to enhance water quality is to determine the source of pollutants and to that end, Lee County has implemented a number of programs and procedures to reduce contamination to ground and surface waters.

Over the past several decades, the county pushed for conversion of septic tanks to central sewers, the use of reclaimed wastewater for irrigation versus direct outfall into the Caloosahatchee River and the adoption of the fertilizer ordinance. In addition, the construction of filtration marshes and purchase of land under the Conservation 20/20 and Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed programs to store and filter stormwater runoff.

Unfortunately, the greatest source of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, which are the catalyst for harmful algae blooms, including red tide and toxic blue-green algae, is the polluted water released from Lake Okeechobee that flows down the Caloosahatchee and into our coastal estuaries.

The nutrients enter Lake Okeechobee from surrounding agricultural drainage.

There are several ways that the Lee County commission could substantially reduce the cost to Lee County taxpayers in meeting the total maximum daily load requirements imposed by federal mandate to clean up our waterways:

• Collaborate with Florida League of Cities, Florida Association of Counties and legislative delegation to support legislation to implement the 1996 Polluter Pays constitutional amendment that requires those primarily responsible for pollution around Lake Okeechobee to clean up their pollution. The Legislature has deferred implementation of this public mandate, thereby placing the financial burden of restoring impaired waters on the backs of the taxpayers.

• Coordinate with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to support a basin management action plan for Lake Okeechobee to include Nitrogen.

• Coordinate with congressional and legislative delegation to support acquisition of 50,000 acres between the north New River and Miami canals and south of Lake Okeechobee for storage, treatment and conveyance of water to the Everglades, thereby, alleviating the massive discharge of polluted water released from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee.

In violation of the public trust, the Lee County commissioners voted to raid the Conservation 20/20 trust fund in the 2013-14 fiscal year to balance the budget. The board is now considering further evisceration of the 20/20 program by changing the focus of a land conservation program to a water quality program.

Prior to the shortsighted decision by the commissioners in 1991 to repeal the Water Conservation Utility, the county had a program in place to fund maintenance and restoration of waterways that would ensure compliance with state and federal water quality standards.

The Lee County commission should consider the most cost-effective and resourceful means of reinstituting the water conservation utility versus undermining the Conservation 20/20 program to comply with water quality mandate.

A potential source of funds for local water quality projects could be the repeal of the Okeechobee levy, which is paid by Lee County taxpayers for the South Florida Water Management District to provide drainage and irrigation of the sugar cane fields south of Lake Okeechobee. Lee County taxpayers pay in excess of $30 million annually and the return on the investment is polluted water, fish kills, and harmful algae blooms, including red tide.

Certainly, the more conservative and responsible approach would be to redirect the funds for local beneficial use.

Ray Judah|July 16, 2014 (Ray Judah is a former Lee County commissioner.)

Scott: Let Voters Decide On Conservation Amendment

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Gov. Rick Scott said it was “the right thing to do” for the Cabinet on Tuesday to approve the sale of four closed jails and three other sites to raise money for future land preservation.

However, when asked after the Cabinet meeting whether he would support or oppose an amendment in November that would cement funding for land conservation into Florida’s Constitution, Scott avoided directly answering the question.

“All the amendments, the public has the opportunity to vote, just like I do,” Scott replied. “So we’ll see how it comes out.”

For some conservationists, the stance by Scott isn’t necessarily bad.

Eric Draper, Audubon Florida executive director, said he’d prefer Scott to remain “ambivalent” on the issue. An alternative is to join the chorus of legislators who have already criticized the amendment as an improper constraint on the budget.

“That’s a winning message for us, let the voters decide,” Draper said.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has argued that “legislating via constitutional amendments” doesn’t work. And Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, contends the amendment will shift too much land into state control.

The proposed amendment, backed by a group called “Florida’s Water and Land Legacy, Inc.,” seeks to set aside 33 percent of the state’s documentary stamp tax revenues — fees paid when real estate is sold — for 20 years to acquire conservation and recreation lands, manage existing lands, protect lands that are critical for water supply and restore degraded natural systems.

The amendment, which requires approval from 60 percent of voters to pass, could generate $10 billion over its life, the group says.

Draper, along with other conservationists, backed the Cabinet’s action on Tuesday. Still, they continue to say the funding remains.

The idea for the amendment was spawned as funding diminished for the Florida Forever program. Florida Forever, which uses bonds backed with revenue from the documentary stamps, authorizes lawmakers to spend up to $300 million a year for preservation.

The last year funding approached that mark was in 2008.

During the 2012 session, state lawmakers set aside $20 million for land conservation and established a surplus land-sale program within the state Department of Environmental Protection.

This year lawmakers included $12.5 million for the purchase of land to protect springs and water resources, or to provide military land buffering, as part of the $77 billion budget Scott signed June 2.

The budget also includes a line for up to $40 million to also be spent on Florida Forever, with the money to come from the sale of non-conservation lands.

Scott and the Cabinet — Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Attorney General Pam Bondi — on Tuesday approved the sale of sites in Monroe, Volusia, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Hendry and Broward counties. Those sites include the former Broward, Glades, Hendry and Hillsborough correctional institutions, which were closed as part of a consolidation in 2012.

The sales are expected to fetch the state $27 million, which would bring the sale of non-conservation land this year to nearly $44 million. It’s not clear if the additional $4 million can be spent in the budget year that begins July 1.

Jim Turner|The News Service of Florida|June 17, 2014

It shall be the policy of the state to conserve and protect its natural resources and scenic beauty. Adequate provision shall be made by law for the abatement of air and water pollution and excessive and unnecessary noise and for the conservation and protection of natural resources.

Article II, Section 7(a), Florida Constitution. [Should it not be the duty of our Governor to honor and enforce Florida’s constitution?]

Air Quality

 Settlement Opens Door for Clean Energy at Colorado Coal-fired Power Plant

Tri-State Generation Agrees to Air Pollution Controls at Craig Plant

Denver—New hope for clean air was inked today in a settlement agreement filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit that committed Tri-State Generation and Transmission to installing state of the art air pollution controls to reduce haze pollution from the company’s 1,300 megawatt Craig coal-fired power plant in northwestern Colorado.

“We applaud Tri-State for acknowledging and supporting the need to ensure air pollution from the Craig coal-fired power plant is controlled,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director.  “For our health and environment here in Colorado and throughout the West, this is a big step forward and opens the door to real solutions for curtailing coal pollution.”

The agreement was reached after WildEarth Guardians and the National Parks Conservation Association filed suit in early 2013 against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over its approval of a Colorado plan meant to curtail haze pollution in several National Parks and Wilderness Areas.  The plan allowed the Craig Generating Station to forego installing up-to-date pollution controls required by the Clean Air Act.

Studies have found the Craig Generating Station causes and contributes to excessive haze pollution in Rocky Mountain National Park, the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness Area, and the Flat Tops Wilderness in western Colorado, marring these areas scenic vistas.  In Rocky Mountain National Park, visibility is 90% worse than natural background levels due to haze pollution.

The Craig Generating Station consists of three massive coal-fired boilers, two of which are nearly identical and were built in 1979 and 1980, and a third that was built later in the 1980’s.  The power plant is one of the largest sources of nitrogen oxide emissions in Colorado. 

Nitrogen oxides not only form haze, but also create particulate pollution and ground-level ozone (the key ingredient of smog), and damage human respiratory systems.

Colorado’s plan required stringent pollution controls on one of coal-fired boilers at the Craig Generation Station.  The agreement filed today ensures that the two oldest coal-fired boilers at the Craig Generating Station are both retrofitted with the most stringent nitrogen oxide emission controls by 2021.  Pollution controls for the third unit will be reassessed by 2018.

All told, the settlement will reduce nitrogen oxide pollution additional 2,500 tons annually, equal to taking 273,000 cars off the road (according to the EPA, an average passenger vehicles releases 18.2 pounds of nitrogen oxides annually). 

“Tri-State’s commitment to clean air is to be commended,” said Nichols.  “This compromise ensures greater protection for our iconic landscapes, more pollution cuts, and stronger protection for our clean air.”

Jeremy Nichols|July 10, 2014

Asthma Cases Increase as Cities Continue to Ignore Federal Ozone Standards

“The majority of people living in Dallas, TX, have never breathed legally clean air, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.”

That shocking truth is from Cherelle Blazer, a Dallas resident and environmental scientist. She’s referring to the ground-level ozone (or smog) levels in Dallas. Ground-level ozone robs hundreds of thousands of Americans with asthma and other respiratory ailments of quality of life. It sends thousands of children to emergency rooms each year and costs us billions in healthcare costs, lost productivity and premature deaths. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently knee-deep in the process of updating our national ozone standards, and thousands of lives hang in the balance.

“We have an epic problem,” says Cherelle of the smog levels in Dallas, which are well above levels considered safe to breathe by the EPA. “There is a reason asthma rates in Dallas average between 18 and 20 percent while the rest of Texas is around 9 percent. Dallas has a true triple threat of pollution—families’ health is threatened by the largest concentration of cement plants to the Southeast, coal plants to the southwest, and shale gas drilling to the west. This has created the conditions for Dallas to have some of the worst air in the country.”

Cherelle sees the effects of that terrible air pollution first-hand. Her eight-year-old son and her husband both have asthma and must take medicine regularly. Even she and her daughter, who are both healthy, wheeze on bad air days, she says.

“It is expensive, very inconvenient, time consuming, sometimes heart-breaking, and it can be really scary,” says Cherelle. “But we have learned to live with it like so many families. Unfortunately packing the nebulizer everywhere [my son] goes has become a way of life.”

There are many sleepless nights when her son’s chest hurts because his airways are constricted. Her family, like thousands of others, has to watch closely for bad air alert days when the air is unsafe to breathe.

“It’s the chronic stress of watching that—knowing the ozone standard is arbitrarily high and those warnings don’t even mean anything,” she explains. “It could technically be a ‘good air day’ and the ozone level will still cause asthma attacks because the current standard is not based on current science. It makes no sense at all and it’s really unfair because families can’t even protect themselves when they think they are doing everything right.”

Cherelle has her own environmental consulting firm and works with local environmental and public health groups to get stronger smog standards in Texas and at the federal level via the EPA.

In late June, she joined other activists who traveled to Washington, D.C., for meetings with lawmakers and the EPA to discuss smog pollution and the harm it’s causing in their communities. They made the case for a strong standard, explaining that “the best public health studies we have all say that anything above 60 parts per billion will cause respiratory illness.”

This is an environmental justice battle, as she knows all too well. Cherelle has seen that fight since she was a child growing up in New Orleans in an area known as “cancer alley.” She watched friends and family members die from many different diseases, and that inspired her career in environmental science.

“I was too young to have this acute awareness of pollution in my environment and what it was costing the people I loved most,” said Cherelle. “I felt empowered to change that reality. There are lots of children struggling to grow up in environmental justice communities with that same awareness. I see them everyday all over North Texas and I am helping them in every way I know how.”

Cherelle is truly an inspiration—I’ll let her powerful words close out this column with a call to action:

“Everyone needs clean air. You can’t do anything if you can’t breathe. That concept is so basic it becomes lost on people. Children can’t learn and pay attention in class when they are struggling to breathe. They can’t play, they can’t go outside and explore. The world is no longer a magical place for a child who is fighting just to stay in it. Every time we set a clean air standard that is not protective of health we are literally ripping their childhood away from them.

“Meanwhile, Texas is number one in the country for air pollution but we are also number one in clean energy production! This tells me that bad air in Texas is a choice. We could absolutely be cleaner but it takes a strong smog standard to spur innovation, push businesses to adopt cleaner practices, and empower politicians and communities to demand better.

“There is a personal cost millions of families know all too well: every time I have to pull out the breathing machine because my son has little league practice, every time I have to go pick up his medications from the pharmacy, every time my husband and I sit down to do the budget and factor in the cost of his asthma medications, every time my son’s asthma gets out of control and we have to take him to the hospital and we know that huge bill is coming… I get angry because this is not our doing but it has become our problem and it shouldn’t be.

“People want energy but they don’t want it with a side of death and sickness. They don’t want it at any cost! I can’t run a business that poisons everyone around me and neither can energy companies and other polluting industries. They don’t get a pass. It is time for the full cost of doing business to rest squarely on the shoulders of the largest polluters. The people least equipped to pay—the public—have carried industries’ burden for decades and is being crushed under the weight of that cost. We should all demand that EPA shift that bill over to industry.”

Care2 Causes Editors|July 15, 2014 (This post was written by Mary Anne Hitt and originally appeared on EcoWatch)

Transportation

The Little Thing Our Cities Can Do to Inspire Millions More People to Bike

Protected bike lanes help riders feel less exposed to danger, and are also appreciated by drivers and pedestrians, who know where to expect bicycles.

You can see big changes happening across North America as communities from Fairbanks to St. Petersburg transform their streets into appealing places for people, not just cars and trucks.

“Over the past five years we’re seeing an infrastructure revolution, a rethinking of our streets to accommodate more users—busways, public plazas, space for pedestrians and, of course, bike lanes,” says David Vega-Barachowitz of the National Association of City Transportation Officials. “More protected bike lanes is one of the most important parts of this.”

Protected bike lanes separate people on bikes from rushing traffic with concrete curbs, plastic bollards or other means— and sometimes offer additional safety measures such as special bike traffic lights and painted crossings at intersections.  Protected bike lanes help riders feel less exposed to danger, and are also appreciated by drivers and pedestrians, who know where to expect bicycles. Streets work better when everyone has a clearly defined space.

The Continuing Evolution of Bicycling

Protected bike lanes are standard practice in the Netherlands, where 27 percent of all trips throughout the country are made on bicycles. That’s because more women, kids and seniors along with out-of-shape, inexperienced riders feel comfortable biking on the streets. Dutch bike ridership has doubled since the 1980s, when protected bike lanes began to be built in large numbers.

American communities, by contrast, paint bike lanes on the street, often squeezed between parked cars and busy traffic. With just a white line dividing bicyclists from vehicles, it’s no surprise that only a small percentage of Americans currently bike for transportation.

“Conventional bike lanes have not worked well to get new people on bikes— they serve mostly those already biking,” says Martha Roskowski, vice president of local innovation for PeopleForBikes. “It’s time to evolve the bike lane.”

Nearly two-thirds of Americans would bicycle more if they felt safer on the streets, reports the Federal Highway Administration. Protected bike lanes, along with public bike share systems, are two of the best ways to get more people out on bikes, according to a growing chorus of transportation leaders.

Protected lanes have recently popped up in more than 30 communities across the U.S. from Munhall, Pennsylvania, to Temple City, California, with many additional projects set to open later this year.

Bicycling Goes Mainstream

Montreal is North America’s pioneer in protected lanes. Inspired by Dutch, Danish and German examples, the city established a network of protected lanes that now covers more than 30 miles. The idea began to stir Americans’ imaginations in 2007 when New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan launched plans to tame the city’s mean streets. New York has since built 43 miles of protected lanes, with measurable results in safer streets and rising bike ridership.

New York’s first protected lanes provoked fierce opposition from a few people, but Paul White of the local bike and pedestrian advocacy group Transportation Alternatives says the public debate has now shifted to “Where’s mine? How come that neighborhood has safe streets and we don’t —don’t my kids matter as much as theirs?”

Chicago aims to catch up with New York, and has recently opened 23 miles of protected lanes. San Francisco has built 12 miles so far. “Wherever we can, we try to put in protected bike lanes,” stresses Seleta Reynolds, former Section Leader of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency who oversaw installation of many of San Francisco’s protected bike lanes. Reynolds was recently tapped by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to head the City’s Department of Transportation.

Other leaders in the field are Austin, Texas, with 9 miles and Washington, DC with 7 miles, including a highly visible route down Pennsylvania Avenue leading to the U.S. Capitol, which has tripled the number of people riding bikes on the street. More protected bike lanes are planned or under construction in all of these cities.

This year more than 100 cities submitted proposals to PeopleForBikes to be part of the Green Lane Project, a competitive fellowship which offers cities financial, strategic and technical assistance valued at $250,000 per city to build or expand protected bike networks during a two-year period. Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Seattle were selected in March to be the second round of Green Lane Project cities.

Just released research on protected bike lanes in five of the first-round Green Lane Project cities (Chicago, San Francisco, Austin, Washington D.C. and Portland) shows why so many communities are eager to follow their lead.  The federal Department of Transportation-funded study found an increase of ridership from 21 to 142 percent on streets featuring protected lanes in the first year, with an average increase of 75 percent. Meanwhile evaluation of protected bike lanes by the city of New York found that traffic injuries declined for all road users (not just bicyclists) by an average of forty percent.

Beyond the White Stripe

What about the conventional bike lanes painted on the pavement — that simple white stripe we’ve grown used to? “They are the camel’s nose in the tent for growing bike use,” because they legitimize bicycling as transportation in the eyes of prospective riders and remind motorists to share the road, says Randy Neufeld, director of the SRAM Cycling Fund.

“Conventional bike lanes can work very well on a two-lane street with light traffic and slow speeds,” notes Roskowski. “But they are not enough for busy streets and fast traffic, which need an extra degree of separation between bicycles and motor vehicles.”

That’s the logic embraced by Dutch traffic engineers, which has doubled the number of bicyclists in the Netherlands. According to the Dutch Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic, physical separation of bicyclists from motor vehicles is recommended for any urban street with more than two lanes or where the speed limit exceeds 50 km per hour (31 mph).

One problem with conventional bike lanes is that they raise expectations beyond what they can deliver. “Cities all over the country painted stripes on busy streets, and when these lanes attract only a modest increase in bicyclists, city officials conclude there is only limited interest in bicycling,” notes PeopleForBikes president Tim Blumenthal. “A lot of people just won’t venture out on busy roads without a greater level of protection from traffic. That’s where protected bike lanes come in.”

Protected Bike Lanes Benefit Everyone, Not Just People Riding Bikes

“We are at a turning point in how we think about bikes,” explains Roskowksi. “This change is being driven by cities preparing for the future. Mayors, elected officials, business leaders and citizens want their cities to be resilient, sustainable and attractive, and they realize bikes and protected bike lanes can help achieve that. These new bike lanes make the streets safer for everyone and improve city life for people who will never even get on a bike.”

Here are key benefits of protected bike lanes enjoyed by the entire community:

  • Attract and Keep a Talented Workforce: Richard Florida, originator of the Creative Class strategy for urban prosperity, contends that safe, convenient bike lanes are important to communities that want to attract entrepreneurs and sought-after workers in creative fields—not just young hipsters, but those with kids too. “Traffic-free bike paths become especially important to them,” Florida said about young families in the New York Daily News.
  • Expand Economic Opportunities: Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel vowed to build 100 miles of protected bike lanes in his first term as part of a strategy to attract high-tech firms to the city. In Austin, Texas, Cirrus Logic, a computer company, moved from the suburbs to downtown two years ago because the area’s bike trails and plans for protected lanes made the firm “more attractive as an employer,” explains PR director Bill Schnell. “We can’t just pluck anybody for our jobs. The people we want are mostly younger, and biking is part of the equation for them.”
  • Boost Local Businesses: A study of protected bike lanes on 9th Avenue in New York City showed a 49 percent increase in retail sales at businesses on the street. Another study in San Francisco found 65 percent of merchants on Valencia Street reporting that protected bike lanes were good for business.  A study done in Portland shows that customers arriving on bike buy 24 percent more at local businesses than those who drive.
  • Make the Streets Safer for Everyone: Not only are fewer bicyclists involved in accidents on streets with protected lanes, but pedestrians and motorists are safer too. A study of Columbus Avenue in New York City after protected bike lanes were added found a 34 percent decline in overall crashes.
  • Saving Municipalities Money: Building protected bike lanes to move more people is “dirt cheap to build compared to road projects,” says Gabe Klein, former transportation commissioner in Chicago and Washington, D.C. Cities of all sizes find that protected lanes can serve more people using existing infrastructure without the economic and environmental costs of widening streets.
  • Reduce Tension Between Bicyclists and Motorists: “If you actually give bicyclists a designated place in the road, they behave in a way that’s more conducive for everyone getting along,” explains Jim Merrell, campaign manager for the Chicago’s Active Transportation Alliance. He points to recent findings that bicyclists stop for red lights 161 percent more often at special bike signals on the city’s new Dearborn Avenue protected lanes.  And a study of protected lanes on Chicago’s Kinzie Street shows that half of cyclists report improved motorist behavior on the street.
  • Ease Traffic Congestion:  Chad Crager, interim Bicycling Program Manager in Austin, calculated that the city’s ambitious network of protected lanes will create significantly more street capacity downtown if only 15 percent of commuters living within three miles of downtown switch from cars to bikes and just seven percent of those living three-to-nine miles.
  • Decrease Pollution & Curb Climate Change: A person traveling four miles to work and four miles back on a bike every day instead of a car means 2000 pounds less carbon each year (which translates to a five percent reduction, downsizing the average Americans’ carbon footprint) as well as reductions in other pollutants fouling our air, according the Worldwatch Institute.

Jay Walljasper|AlterNet|July 11, 2014 

VW to build new SUV in Tennessee, add 2,000 jobs

NASHVILLE, TENN. — Volkswagen plans to build a new seven-passenger SUV at its factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee, adding about 2,000 factory jobs as it tries to reverse U.S. sales that have fallen for the past two years.

The German automaker announced Monday that it will invest $600 million to expand the factory and set up a new research center that will employ about 200 engineers. The research facility will coordinate products for North America to quickly include customer feedback into planned and existing models, the company said.

The announcement comes after months of political wrangling over the role of organized labor at the factory, which now employs about 2,400 workers and makes only one model, the Passat midsize car.

Production of the new SUV, based on the CrossBlue concept vehicle unveiled in Detroit last year, is scheduled to start at the end of 2016. It gives VW an entry into an important segment of the U.S. market — the family people hauler.

ERIK SCHELZIG and TOM KRISHER|Associated Press|Jul. 14, 2014  

Miscellaneous

Those Insecticides We’re Told Aren’t Killing Bees Are Also Hurting Birds

Despite many politicians being in complete denial about the mounting evidence of a connection between certain insecticides and the collapse of bee populations, new research shows that those same insecticides are probably indirectly leading to bird die-offs, too.

A new study published this month in Nature looks at data from the Netherlands which the researchers say shows a sharp decline in certain bird populations in areas where insecticides known as neonicotinoids were used the most.

Neonicotinoids are among the new wave of insecticides that have been developed in the past 50 years. They were supposed to be revolutionary for the farming industry and were billed as less damaging for the environment and wildlife. However, study after study has linked them to a decline in pollinators and even to bee Colony Collapse Disorder, while a 2013 examination of peer reviewed literature called for tighter restrictions on neonicotinoid use as, used in the concentrations and amounts that we see on farms today, the scientists concluded there is enough evidence to suggest that these insecticides are harming bees and other insects who aren’t supposed to be targeted.

Concerns have also been raised about the wider impact on wildlife beyond our pollinators. While neonicotinoids are billed as not being as toxic to mammals, and in particular birds of prey, scientific literature has suggested an unintended impact: by killing insects that the mammals eat, they may be driving down certain sensitive populations, and that’s precisely what the study from the Netherlands found.

Interestingly the researchers from Radboud University in the Netherlands started their research not by exploring the impact of neonicotinoids, but by looking at two different data sets, one of bird counts, and the other of surface water measurements of the most common neonicotinoid, and through this the scientists were able to track the decline in bird numbers during the period of 2003 to 2010 while leaving the door open for other possible causes of bird population decline.

They found that there may be several factors contributing to the fall in numbers, such as an intensification of farming which often means uprooting bird habitats, like digging up hedges or dismantling barns.

Still, the researchers found that the presence of imidacloprid, one of the leading neonicotinoids, is incontrovertibly impacting birds and may be the main cause of bird decline in the region. They found that if ground water had just 20 nanograms of neonicotinoid per liter, there was a 30 percent fall in bird numbers during the study period–and what’s more, some areas had pollution levels that was 50 times higher than that figure.

In total, the researchers found that 14 out of 15 common insect-eating bird species, like barn swallows, tree sparrows and starlings, had suffered sometimes dramatic population declines.

Research similar but not identical to this has been dismissed in the past because it didn’t control for other factors, but this research did, yet the pattern still emerged. That is why lead researcher Hans de Kroon believes its time to take this problem seriously because, if neonicotinoids are indirectly harming birds, they’re probably harming other wildlife that prey on insects, too.

David Gouslon of the University of Sussex, who wasn’t involved in this study but did write a separate commentary, says this research is convincing. He tells the Guardian: “The simplest, most obvious, explanation is that highly toxic substances that kill insects lead to declines in things that eat insects. … This work flags up the point that this isn’t just about bees, it is about everything. When hundreds or thousands of species or insect are being wiped out, it’s going to have impacts on bats, shrews, hedgehogs, you name it. It is pretty good evidence of wholesale damage to the environment.”

Goulson also highlights that unlike the Netherlands, the UK (and much of Europe) isn’t monitoring neonicotinoid pollution. The UK agency responsible for overseeing matters dealing with the environment and wildlife, called Defra, remains stalwart that the research isn’t overwhelming and that, at the moment, there isn’t compelling evidence to show a definite link between neonicotinoids and harm to wildlife.

Defra says that these kinds of pesticides are safe when used as recommended and points to the admittedly (usually) rigorous short-term trials carried out by neonicotinoid producers. The problem though is precisely that they are only short-term trials. Manufacturers haven’t used longer-term systematic trials but if they did, scientists say the data would show the harms neonicotinoids can create over longer periods of time.

It was hoped that this message was, at last, getting through, when in 2013 the EU imposed a two-year suspension of three neonicotinoids, but it emerged the suspension is largely toothless because the EU is failing to track data during this time, and a two year suspension is unlikely to give any meaningful data anyway.

We have to be clear that this latest study implies a link and not causation, but because this adds to a wider body of data that all suggests a link, the evidence for probable causation is growing ever more formidable. All this leads us to ask: how much scientific data do we need, and how many impartial experts need to speak out, before our politicians will act?

Or perhaps the better question is, how many animal populations have to collapse before our governments see fit to do something and actually tackle the issue of neonicotinoids?

Steve Williams|July 13, 2014

Rodenticides are Killing California Hawks

The sight of a hawk seated casually on a phone pole, sweeping across a field, or diving down for prey is awe-inspiring. Unfortunately, that rodent dinner might be the majestic creature’s death thanks to the widespread use of rodenticides across the US.

Many of these poisons are designed to act slowly, encouraging rats and mice to bring poisoned bait back to their nests so that the whole colony is killed off, not just a single individual. The problem is that as long as those living rodents are strolling around, they’re appealing to raptors — in addition to housecats, bobcats, and a variety of other creatures.

In the 1960s, the publication of Silent Spring and a growing pile of evidence convinced the US to move towards banning DDT, a chemical that was once widely sprayed to cut down on insect populations. The problem with DDT was that it also affected other species, specifically raptors, who experienced egg shell thinning as a result of DDT exposure. Their populations dipped, and only recently have they started to show signs of recovery, illustrating how long the effects of environmental pollution can linger.

But in recent years, researchers have started noticing a problem: raptors are dying for no particular reason, in regions with no obvious signs of chemical pollution–until the scientists dug a little deeper and started exploring the use of rodenticides in the area. One of the most commonly used classes of rodenticide in the US are anticoagulants, which work slowly over time. They can also end up poisoning animals that eat the targets for the poison, like rats and mice. The scientists noticed a connection between raptor populations dipping in states like California and use of rodenticides in agricultural facilities, food storage facilities, and marijuana operations.

The problem isn’t limited to California, though. Urban raptor populations are particularly badly affected because of their location in the heart of cities, which attract rats, and which in turn encourages people to put down poison. Numerous urban raptor families have died as a result of poison exposure, a heartbreaking experiences for their fans and the researchers who study them.

In fact, necropsies have shown that rat poison is the most common cause of death for hawks, above power line collisions and car accidents. Urban raptors, as well as their rural brethren, could be helping to deal with the explosion of rats and mice drawn to compost piles, home gardens, and more, but instead, they’re being killed off.

In multiple states, activists are working to change this. Lobbying in California forced the California Department of Pesticide Regulation to ban a number of rodenticides in the state, making it impossible for consumers to walk into stores and buy them. Unfortunately, they’re still available to commercial customers like exterminators, who often turn to these poisons because they’ve proved effective in the past and they’re inexpensive. Lobbying on the issue is only making slow progress in some communities as exterminators and chemical manufacturers oppose changes to dealing with pest infestations, but advocates argue it’s critical to protect hawks.

That’s not just because they’re intrinsically beautiful, although of course that’s a very good reason. Protecting hawks also allows them to do what they do best: killing prey, and ensuring that a predator vacuum doesn’t develop. Hawks provide a great means of steady control for rat and mouse populations, and they do it entirely for free, which is an excellent deal.

Can advocates revive the regulatory climate of the 1960s (DDT was banned in 1972) and encourage the government to do the right thing? Many animal lives may depend on it.

s.e. smith|July 13, 2014

Federal funds for citrus greening

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) – Federal agriculture officials said Thursday that they are allocating millions of dollars toward research to solve problems caused by the devastating citrus greening bacteria that threatens Florida’s $9 billion citrus industry.

United States Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told The Associated Press in a statement that $25 million in funding comes from the 2014 Farm Bill. Another $6.5 million will be sent to projects through a group formed to combat greening.

Florida’s citrus growers have been the hardest-hit in the U.S. – experts say virtually all of the state’s groves are infected – and researchers are working furiously to come up with a vaccine or cure. Growers warn that if a solution isn’t found, Florida’s iconic crop could be lost.

“USDA is committed to the fight against citrus greening, including making major research investments to counter this destructive disease,” Vilsack said in the statement. “The citrus industry and the thousands of jobs it supports are depending on groundbreaking research to neutralize this threat.”

Vilsack said the 2014 Farm Bill provides $25 million per year for a total of $125 million of the USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative funding toward citrus health research over the next five years.

Priority will be given to projects that span several states.

While key citrus-growing regions like California and Texas haven’t been as affected by greening, growers, researchers and experts are also working on a cure in an attempt to stave off the devastating disease.

In Florida, the orange crop – which is mostly used for juice – is approaching its lowest harvest in decades. Experts blame greening.

The Florida Citrus Commission met this week and said the 2013-14 Florida citrus season will probably end with the lowest orange crop in 29 years at 104.3 million boxes. Fruit size during this season was also near a record low – which is also attributed to trees weakened by greening.

Greening first enters the tree via the jumping plant lice known as Asian citrus psyllid. The lice suck on leaf sap and leave behind bacteria. The bacteria starve the tree of nutrients, leading to sour fruit. The tree eventually dies.

“Citrus production in Florida may be at a 30-year low, but we’re not ready to throw in the towel. We’ll use every tool in our toolbox to fight citrus greening and save Florida’s signature crop. A $9 billion industry that supports 75,000 jobs is at stake, and we can’t afford to lose,” said Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam.

Recently, University of Florida researchers said they’ve found a possible treatment for greening, but caution that it could be years before it could become commercially available to growers.

The team from UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences said that it has discovered a chemical that kills the citrus greening bacteria.

TAMARA LUSH|June 12, 2014

The Soil Pollution Crisis in China: A Cleanup Presents Daunting Challenge

Chinese officials are only starting to come to grips with the severity and extent of the soil pollution that has contaminated vast areas of the nation’s farm fields – by one estimate more than 8 percent of China’s arable land.
But one thing is already clear: The cost and complexity of any remediation efforts will be enormous.

Luo Jinzhe made the thousand-mile journey, most recently this April, to plead for action with the Bureau for Letters and Calls, the first stop for petitioners in the capital, and the Ministry for Environmental Protection, only to be told to go home and wait for the local government to take care of her complaints. She has yet to hear from any of them.

For Luo and her neighbors, the first sign of a serious problem in Shuangqiao was on June 28, 2009, when Luo Bolin, a worker at the Xianghe Chemical Factory, died of cadmium poisoning. When he died, his left leg was marked by large purple contusions; he was only 44. The list of cadmium-related deaths in Shuangqiao has since grown longer, and evidence is mounting of a national pollution crisis that has contaminated China’s soil and food crops and threatens to overwhelm efforts to put it right.

The Xianghe Chemical Factory, where Luo had worked, opened in 2004, on a site just 50 meters from the Liuyang River. The Liuyang flows directly into the Xiang River and is celebrated in Chinese Communist mythology as the symbol of an historic milestone in the party’s long struggle for power. It was here, in September 1927, that Mao Zedong led the first armed Communist revolt, the brief Autumn Harvest Uprising, and set up the short-lived Hunan Soviet, an episode still commemorated in songs in praise of the river.

The factory employed 50 Shuangqiao villagers and produced an annual total of 3,000 tons of powdered and pellet zinc sulphate, an animal fodder additive. In 2006, apparently without government approval, it began to produce indium, a rare metal more valuable than gold, but the processing of which produces cadmium as a by-product. Starting in April 2008, the villagers of Shuangqiao began to notice small, but troubling changes: The local well water began to taste oddly of rust, Mrs Luo recalls, and saucepans used to boil water changed color.

On June 27, 2009, the day before Luo Bolin’s death, the government of Liuyang municipality suddenly closed the factory and arranged health checks for more than 3,000 villagers who lived within 1.2 kilometers of the plant. Five hundred were found to have high levels of cadmium in their bodies, and another four were to die during the government investigation. Shuangqiao became known nationwide as a “cadmium village.”

Luo Jinzhi has collected what she believes to be a still-incomplete list of the names of the dead in Shuangqiao and the neighboring villages of Dongkou and Puhua, starting with Luo Bolin. In all, she says, she has identified 26 deaths from cadmium-related illnesses between 2009 and 2013.
Although the government paid compensation of between $1,600 and $9,000 to the victims’ families, it has never admitted a link with cadmium or other metals that have affected the villagers. In December 2008, for example, Luo Jinzhi’s five-year-old nephew began to have breathing difficulties and became listless. He was found to be suffering from lead poisoning, and 14 more cases in children had been identified by March 2009.

When the deaths began, the villagers began to protest. On July 29, 2009, hundreds of them went to the township government to complain that the factory’s cadmium pollution still threatened their lives. The next day, thousands surrounded the government building, and Chen Run’er, the party secretary from the provincial capital, Changsha, had to be called in to address them. He promised the villagers that their complaints would be investigated, but on August 5, the Liuyang authorities ordered in hundreds of police with dogs. The confrontation finally ended when the head of the plant, Luo Xiangping, was arrested, the factory was permanently shut down, and the director and a deputy director of the Liuyang Environmental Protection Bureau were fired.

Although the factory has now been shut for good, the pollution is still affecting the village. The nearly 10-acre site that the shuttered business occupied is surrounded by a six-foot wall. Behind it lies a large pile of toxic sludge. When it rains, contaminated water seeps from the sludge into the Liuyang River, just 50 meters away. Around the plant, 659 acres of land have been polluted with cadmium, and any crops grown there are contaminated. The villagers believe that moving elsewhere offers their only guarantee of safety, and they have asked Luo Jinzhi to negotiate their relocation with the township government.

Liu Bo — who is coordinator of the liaison office of the EU-Asia Environmental Support Chengde Project, a European Union-funded group focusing on urban river pollution — investigated the factory site in January this year. He, too, concluded that “the pollution is continuing to do harm,” damaging the local land and soil and threatening the Liuyang River basin. The basin includes Changsha, as well as the Xiang River, the source of drinking water for some 20 million people.

Hunan Province is an important center for heavy metal production. In 2011 the province’s 1,003 non-ferrous metal companies produced 2.66 million tons of ten different metals — the third highest production in China and worth $60 billion. Several years ago, the government said it hoped to turn Hunan’s Xiang River into the “Rhine of the East”: beautiful, clean and prosperous.

But in a report to an NGO conference in January this year, Chen Chao, an official with the Hunan Non-Ferrous Metals Management Bureau, admitted that the Xiang basin also had nearly 1,000 sludge sites or tailings stores, which contained 440 million tons of solid waste that is contaminated with lead, mercury, and cadmium. Chen Chao’s report revealed that Hunan accounts for 32.1 percent of China’s emissions of cadmium, 20.6 percent of arsenic emissions, 58.7 percent of mercury emissions, and 24.6 percent of the lead, in its wastewater, tailings, and waste gases.

The scale of this ecological disaster is daunting, and the potential scale and cost of any remediation or cleanup effort is mind-boggling. According to a geochemical survey conducted by the Ministry of Land and Resources between 2002 and 2008, 794 square miles in the area is polluted by heavy metals, an area that stretches from Zhuzhou, on the Xiang River, to Chengjingji. The survey report revealed that the area’s rice and vegetables — as well as reeds and mussels in its waterways — all contained elevated levels, mostly of cadmium.

Liu Shu — who is chair of the Shuguang Environmental Protection Organization, an NGO founded in 2013 in Changsha that works on soil pollution — has investigated soil pollution in Zhuzhou, Changsha, and Xiangtan. Her group found cadmium levels 49.5 times the limit in soil samples taken from the vicinity of a smelting plant in the municipality of Changning. At another site, an industrial park by the Xiang River in Henghan County, they found levels 331 times the limit.

Liu is concerned, too, about the deep-rooted social conflict between local people and government that soil pollution has caused — conflict that she predicts will worsen if not resolved. In the case of the Xianghe factory, Liu and her team noted, the villagers continue to hold out for compensation and relocation.

The township government has offered the Xianghe victims a share of the $1.37 million that they raised in an auction of the chemical company’s assets, but only on condition that the villagers seek no further compensation from the company or the government. With 659 acres of village land no longer fit to grow food, the villagers are struggling to make a living. When the government offered to pay them the market price for the rice that could have been grown on their land, some accepted the offer.

For Luo Jinzhi and many other villagers, however, this is not a long-term solution. The share of the compensation for villagers who live close to the factory is only $600, and it is $250 for those living further away. It is not enough to finance a new life, and the villagers remain determined that the government should also relocate them.

The government, meanwhile, has put its faith in soil remediation. Yonkers Environmental Protection company is one of China’s few listed soil remediation companies that is approved by the Ministry of Environmental Protection for remediation work. The company won the contract to clean up the Xianghe Chemical Factory site and, as early as August 2012, it announced that the site had been cleaned to standard.

The villagers are skeptical, however. In September 2012, they sent a soil sample to Nanjing University’s Centre of Modern Analysis. Concentrations of 6.89 milligrams (mg) of cadmium per kilogram (kg) were found in a sample taken from the sludge pile, and 93.8 mg / kg in a sample taken from a nearby field. According to China’s Soil Environment Quality Standards, cadmium levels in Liuyang should be no higher than 0.3 mg per kg. One sample was found to breach that by a factor of 300.

Although the government has not officially recognized these results, villagers question the effectiveness of the remediation. The 300-fold difference between the two samples, they say, is because. Yonkers treated the land within the factory site, but not the surrounding land, where their polluted rice fields lie. Relations between the villagers, the government, and the company are now so strained that remediation work has stalled.

In January 2014, Liu Bo, the coordinator of the EU project, wrote to Xu Shousheng, the provincial party secretary, supporting the villagers’ complaints that “pollution has not been effectively controlled.” Liu found the limited range of techniques that Yonkers had applied had failed to address the range of pollutants — including cadmium, zinc and arsenic — on the site. He also recommended that remediation should include the surrounding fields and the entire river basin.

Hunan is only one of many provinces in China that have suffered heavy metal pollution. Incomplete figures from the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) revealed that that in 2006, 24.7 million acres of arable land was polluted, 8.3 percent of China’s total. But the government has been slow to understand the seriousness of the problem. It was not until this February that the Ministry of Agriculture ordered a series of remediation trials that aim to give priority to safe management of farmland and to experiment with crop adjustment, as well as possible compensation mechanisms in cases where land or produce have been badly contaminated.

Many officials admit, however, that China’s heavy metal soil contamination is an enormous challenge. Last year, Zhuang Guotai, the head of the MEP’s Department of Nature and Ecology Conservation, told a conference of market-listed environmental protection companies, “In comparison with efforts to clean up air and water pollution, we’ve hardly got started with soil. But once the market is opened up, soil remediation will be on a far bigger scale than either air or water cleanup.”

If the scale of China’s soil pollution is unprecedented, remediation, too, must be large-scale. Zhuang admitted however, that, as well as legislative and technological difficulties, funding for soil remediation was the biggest challenge,

If the scale of China’s soil pollution is unprecedented, remediation, too, must be large-scale. Zhuang admitted however, that, as well as legislative and technological difficulties, funding for soil remediation was the biggest challenge, as total cleanup costs could eventually reach $1.6 trillion. A private industry body, the Jiangsu Institute of the Environmental Industry, has predicted that between 2014 and 2020 China’s soil remediation market could be worth nearly $110 billon.as total cleanup costs could eventually reach $1.6 trillion. A private industry body, the Jiangsu Institute of the Environmental Industry, has predicted that between 2014 and 2020 China’s soil remediation market could be worth nearly $110 billon.

For now, however, financing for these projects is tight. In 2013 the Chinese government launched 42 soil remediation trials, but only two involved funding of more than $16 million. Funding for the 16 projects unveiled so far totals about $96 million, almost entirely from government subsidies.

Chen Nengchang, a soil remediation expert with the Guangdong Institute of Eco-Environment and Soil Sciences, does not believe these numbers mean much, beyond that fact that money is being spent. China’s soil problem, he said, is not only one of pollution but also soil quality and erosion, and improving soil quality with increased organic matter and better pH levels is particularly urgent. On moderately polluted land, he argues, planting non-food crops would eventually clean the soil.

Other experts, however, continue to grapple with the combination of the scale and severity of soil pollution. Liu Yangsheng, the secretary of the China Association of the Environmental Protection Industry’s Heavy Metals and Environmental Remediation Committee, has said that immature technology, lack of funding, and unclear evaluation standards mean that restoration of heavy-metal polluted soil will be an ongoing struggle. Because of the severity and extent of heavy metal pollution in China, he said, expensive techniques are unlikely to be widely applied, while techniques from overseas that may be effective for small plots of land are of limited use in China.

Recent research findings have brought some rays of hope to China’s beleaguered soil. The Foshan Jinkuizi Plant Nutrition Company claims to have developed a soil remediation technology specifically designed for China’s heavy-metal polluted soil: a microorganism that can change the ionic state of heavy metals in the soil, deactivating the pollutants so they do not harm crops. The company claims that the method is cheap, convenient, easy to use, does not produce any secondary pollution, and is already in commercial production and use.

HE GUANGWEI|14 July 2014

Should Dow Chemical be allowed to add to the load of toxic chemicals assailing the global public?

The Environmental Protection Agency, which is reviewing Dow’s application, says that the chemical, known as 2,4-D, drifts easily through the air and sometimes kills not just weeds but also crops beyond the fields where it is sprayed. It is banned in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and some areas of Canada.

If sprayed in fields, the EPA says that trace amounts could end up in food and drinking water – but in such small quantities that it would not pose a threat to public health. Enlist combines this component with glyphosate, the chief ingredient in long-used Roundup.

Garry Hamlin, a spokesman for Dow, said. “The idea that this product is anything like Agent Orange just doesn’t hold up. That had a unique contaminant, and it was phased out of use in the U.S. in the 1980s because of those concerns.”

But, critics argue, Dow has made false safety claims in the past

Dow’s Dursban insecticide was a widely used household pesticide for decades until numerous health concerns led the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to phase out certain uses in 2000 because of risks found with the active ingredient, chlorpyrifos. In 2010 an Indiana family was awarded more than $23 million for medical problems their children suffered after pesticides, including Dursban, were applied to their apartment.

The study concluded that there was a “need for more investigation into possible human health effects.”

Dow AgroSciences announced approval for Enlist by Canada and Japan, but it was left to Carey Gillam (Reuters) to point out:

“Dow has not yet won China’s approval for import of Enlist crops, and Dow officials said they may go ahead with commercialization in the United States even without Chinese approval. Such an approach could jeopardize some U.S. grain sales to the world’s second-largest economy. A similar scenario involving a biotech corn developed by Syngenta has caused shipments of U.S. corn to be rejected by Chinese importers”.

Ian Panton|GM free Cymru

The Aquatic Preserve Society

Working for water

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

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

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

Donley hopes a statewide support organization will:

* Increase volunteer service at preserves throughout Florida;

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

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

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

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

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

to manage more (submerged) lands.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you’re interested in joining a local aquatic preserve’s citizens support organization or the statewide Aquatic Preserve Society, contact: Brian Powers, special projects planner, Department of Environmental Protection, brian.powers@dep.state.fl.us

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

Congress Has Actually Done Something Good for Animals

If you grew up reading James Herriot and dreaming of becoming a veterinarian making mobile calls to help animals in need, you might ultimately have been put off due to the tough restrictions vets face–but that might be about to change.

Federal law currently means that veterinarians face strict limitations on the scope of their practice, including the medications they travel with and the procedures they are allowed to perform. Controlled substances can’t be carried beyond a veterinarian’s licensed premises, which means vets can’t legally conduct mobile spay/neuter clinics, offer at-home euthanasia for animals at the end of a pet’s life, or perform minor surgical procedures on farm calls. Congress, however, is setting out to change this situation with legislation known as the Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act.

Under the act, veterinarians would be able to legally carry controlled substances in their kit bags and away from their premises, which would expand their options when it comes to safely and legally providing care to their clients. As it stands now, veterinarians looking to provide mobile care must do so while fearing DEA reprisals for their work, even when they’re involved in disaster response or attempting to provide compassionate care to animals. Being forced to travel without anesthetics and other controlled substances also means that veterinarians who do offer mobile care — like the majority of large animal vets — can’t use the full array of options available to them.

For years now veterinarians have protested this policy, arguing that they have demonstrated their ability to responsibly and effectively handle restricted medications. Drug management protocols in place at veterinary clinics across the US can also be easily adapted to tracking and monitoring the use of drugs offsite, allowing veterinarians to ensure drugs aren’t being abused or inappropriately utilized. Veterinarians today are also deeply committed to providing the best possible care for their patients, and to remaining within the law while doing so. The new legislation simply recognizes the fact that veterinary medical care can’t always be limited to a fixed clinic site, and would allow veterinarians to offer more well-rounded mobile service.

The Senate passed its version of the bill in January, and now the House is following suit. This brings the matter to the desk of the President, who needs to finalize it with his signature. Numerous professional groups in the American veterinary community are supporting the bill, along with farmers and animal welfare organizations who all express concern about animal health and welfare. With the successful passage of the act, veterinarians will be able to legally carry, track, and handle controlled substances beyond their registered offices and to the clients who need them.

This isn’t just good for veterinarians who want to do their jobs and care for animals while respecting the law. It will also benefit the DEA, which will no longer need to invest energy and time in investigations of veterinarians who are simply extending basic care to their patients. Instead, the DEA could focus on larger drug enforcement issues, including working with veterinarians concerned about the abuse of veterinary drugs like ketamine and buprenorpine.

s.e. smith|July 15, 2014

Charla Nash Speaks Out to End the Primates as Pets Industry

Charla Nash, who survived a brutal attack by a chimpanzee, appeared in Washington D.C. last week to appeal directly to lawmakers and the public in an effort to gain support for legislation that would crack down on keeping nonhuman primates as pets.

In 2009 Nash lost most of her face, her hands and later her eyes as the result of an infection from when she was attacked by Travis, a chimpanzee who was purchased in Missouri and transported to Connecticut where he was kept as a pet by her friend and employer, Sandra Herold.

“What happened to me must never happen to anyone again,” Nash said at press conference.

The legislation she’s supporting, the Captive Primate Safety Act, would make it harder for people to keep chimpanzees and other monkeys by amending the Lacey Act to add nonhuman primates to the list of animals who can’t be bought or moved across state lines as pets.

The bill was re-introduced by Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick and co-sponsored by Earl Blumenaur and is getting widespread support from a number of animal advocacy organizations, including the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Born Free USA, the Jane Goodall Institute, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the ASPCA, which are all now urging Congress to act swiftly to pass it.

While there are a patchwork of state laws and regulations dealing with primates as pets, people can still get them online, at auctions and from out-of-state dealers, which animal advocates believe makes federal legislation necessary to cover the gaps.

Supporters hope the bill will protect the public from another terrible incident like Nash’s and reduce the potential spread of diseases, including tuberculosis and herpes-B.

“Non-human primates should not be sold or traded anywhere in the United States because they are unsafe to humans and they cannot be humanely cared for,” Senator Richard Blumenthal, who is supporting the Senate version, said at a news conference. “Wildlife should be kept in the wild.”

According to the HSUS, more than 270 people, including 86 children, have been injured by captive primates since 1990, while many more incidents are believed to have gone unreported.  Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies waste resources dealing with incidents and cruelty cases.

Supporters of the legislation hope that it will also protect primates from a host of problems that come with private ownership affecting their welfare. These problems range from being torn from their mothers as infants and then suffering from mutilations like having their teeth removed, to being kept in conditions that don’t meet the needs of what are highly intelligent and social animals.

Backers of the bill also hope that it will prevent animals who become too expensive, or too large or difficult to handle, from being kept in isolation, dumped or ending up back in the exotic pet trade.

The bill was first introduced in 2005, but never made it through both the House and Senate. Hopefully, having to confront what happened to Nash and her resulting campaign will compel Congress to push the bill through this time.

Alicia Graef|July 15, 2014

Environmental Links

SFAS International Wildlife News Audubon Advocate Audubon Restore Eco-Voice South Florida Wildlife Care Center Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital The Turtle Hospital The Marathon Wild Bird Center Climate change info Audubon’s Coastal Strand Audubon of Florida News Blog Bioenergy News Climate Progress – climate science, politics and solutions Collins Center for Public Policy Comprehensive Everglades Restoration News EcoWatch – feeds from the WaterKeeper Alliance Everglades Foundation – press releases Everglades Hub Fort Myers News – Press Green Front Pages from Florida Newspapers Herald Tribune Newspapers -  Environmental News KeysNews.com Naples Daily News  – Environmental News National Public Radio Eco-News Riverwatch News about the Caloosahatchee Sierra Club Sierra Club Florida South Florida Watershed  Journal South Florida Water Management District Union of Concerned Scientists – news Yahoo News Search: Everglades NASA Climate Information American Littorial Society log NASA Climate Information Sun Newspapers – Lake Okeechobee News Everglades City News  – Mullet Wrapper IFAW’s World of Animals Magazine

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ConsRep 714 B

“The use of solar energy has not been opened up because the oil industry does not own the sun.” Ralph Nader

Announcements

Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge seeks Public Input

An open house meeting has been scheduled at the

Comfort Inn & Suites (2nd floor Conference Room),

3860 Tollgate Blvd, Naples,

Wednesday,July 16, between 5 and 8 p.m. to give the public an opportunity to speak with

managers and biologist about their ideas for future refuge management.

For information about current management goals and objectives, visit the website: www.fws.gov/refuge/Florida_Panther/

To engage in the discussion happening now, visit www.floridapantherplan.com

GEER 2015 – Greater Everglades Ecosystem Restoration (GEER) Science Conference

CALL FOR SESSION PROPOSALS

The GEER 2015 Program Committee seeks proposals and organizers for Dedicated Sessions. We expect Dedicated Sessions on a wide range of topics to comprise the bulk of oral presentations,

and to relate to the overall conference theme – “Science in Support of Everglades Restoration.”

The Program Committee will suggest topics, but looks to the  science community to assist in GEER program development by proposing and organizing sessions.

Potential session topics are provided on the Topics Page, but we encourage proposals on other topics, as well.

Proposals are due  Friday, August 29. 

For guidelines and specifications on preparing and submitting a proposal online, visit the GEER web site at:

http://conference.ifas.ufl.edu/GEER2015/call_sess.html

Register now for the 4th Annual Southeast Florida Reef Cleanup! ‏

Help clean marine debris from the reef during the 4th Annual Southeast Florida Reef Cleanup.

This event takes place in partnership with local dive businesses, and consists of separate cleanup days in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Martin Counties.

Many thanks to the participating dive businesses and divers for making the June 28th Palm Beach County Reef Cleanup a success!

Now the Miami, Martin, and Broward County Cleanups are right around the corner:

4th Annual Southeast Florida Reef Cleanup:

Miami-Dade County – Sunday, July 20, 2014

To help clean up the reef, gloves and catch bags will be available to borrow and all participants will receive a pair of sea snips to keep.

RJ Diving Ventureswww.rjdiving.com

Time: Check-in at 12:15pm; boat departs at 1:00pm

Location: Miami Beach Marina, 300 Alton Road, Miami Beach, FL

Register: Call – (305) 861-6277; or email info@rjdiving.com

Cost: $50 ($20 discount for cleanup divers)

Martin County (part of the 7th Annual Treasure Coast Waterway Cleanup and Peck’s Lake Reef Dive Cleanup)- Saturday, July 26, 2014

To help clean up the reef, gloves and catch bags will be available to borrow and all participants will receive a pair of sea snips to keep.

Hosted by the Marine Industries Association of the Treasure Coast

For more information or to register, visit www.TCWaterwayCleanup.com

There are several locations throughout Martin County:

Jim Graham Boat Ramp, 8555 SE Gomez Ave., Hobe Sound, FL 33455

Jensen Beach Boat Ramp, Indian River Drive, Jensen Beach, FL 39457

Leighton Park Boat Ramp, 2701 SW Cornell Ave., Palm City, FL 34990

Stuart Causeway Boat Ramp, SE Ocean Blvd., Stuart, FL

Sandsprit Park Boat Ramp, 3443 SE St. Lucie Blvd., Stuart, FL 34997

Broward County – Saturday, August 2, 2014

To help clean up the reef, gloves and catch bags will be available to borrow and all participants will receive a pair of sea snips to keep.

American Dream Dive Charterswww.scubafortlauderdale.com

Time: AM Trip – Check-in at 8:00am; boat departs at 8:30am

Location: Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina, 88 Portside Drive, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 

Register: Call Greg – (954) 394-1488

Cost: $50 (cash or check only). Equipment and tanks extra (call for details).

South Florida Diving Headquarters & Force-Ewww.southfloridadiving.com ~ www.force-e.com

Time: Check-in at 7:15am; boat departs at 8:00am

Location: Fish City Marina, 2621 N. Riverside Drive, Pompano Beach, FL 

Register: Go online: www.force-e.com, choose ‘Events Calendar’ – August 2 – 4th Annual Southeast Florida Reef Cleanup.

Call – (954) 783-2299 or (954) 943-3483

Email – info@southfloridadiving.com

Cost: $55. Includes a 2-tank dive trip (tanks are separate). Courtesy of South Florida Diving Headquarters and Force-E,

all participating divers are also invited to a FREE BBQ on the dock following the cleanup, where there will be food, music and giveaways!

Looking for more ways to get involved? All members of the community are encouraged to speak up for the future of southeast Florida’s coral reefs

by getting involved in the OUR FLORIDA REEFS Community Planning Process.

There are many ways to participate – visit www.ourfloridareefs.org to get started!

Additional information:

For more information about the 4th Annual Southeast Florida Reef Cleanup, contact Karen Bohnsack (karen.bohnsack@dep.state.fl.us; (305) 795-1204)

or one of the dive businesses directly to register.

 

Murphy pushes plan to use Ten Mile Creek as reservoir for lake runoff

Water district offers to fix failed 2001 reservoir before rainy season hits St. Lucie Estuary again

Efforts to revive and rebuild a botched 550-acre reservoir that could relieve harmful dumps of polluted runoff into the St. Lucie Estuary got a bump on Monday from Rep. Patrick Murphy.

Murphy, D-Palm Beach Gardens, sent a letter to Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army Corps of Engineers, and to Blake Guillory, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District, urging the corps to hand-over the project to the district.

“Recent heavy rainfall resulting in local run-off into the St. Lucie waterways has emphasized the need to pursue all possible long and short-term solutions,” Murphy wrote. “Water storage in the Ten Mile Creek structure is an important tool that can soon be utilized with cooperation between the corps and SFWMD.”

The project was a partnership between the corps and district. The corps finished building the reservoir in 2006 but the shallow-water reservoir was declared too unstable to store water. Since then, it has become a weed-choked hole in the ground as the corps pursues legal action against the    the engineering firm hired by the corps to design the reservoir.

Guillory was the project manager for the engineering firm that oversaw design and building of the Ten Mile Creek reservoir.    Guillory has said he did not become manager until late in the project and that it had a long history of problems. In April, Guillory asked the corps to end the partnership with the district and allow the district to fix the reservoir alone.

In exchange for fixing the reservoir, the district wants the corps to accept a settlement in a long-standing dispute over sharing the costs of other projects, such as the restoration of the Kissimmee River. Guillory estimated the district can fix the reservoirs for less than $1 million. In a letter dated June 16, the corps indicated that it is “prepared to entertain a formal request from the SFWMD concerning the Ten Mile Creek Project.”

Murphy has been pushing the corps and district to reach an agreement to finish the reservoir since last summer’s heavy rains dumped polluted water into the estuary, causing extensive damage to plants and wildlife. In protests and public hearings last year about the estuary’s problems, critics pointed to the abandoned reservoir as a project that could have lessened the damage, and they urged officials to find a way to fix it.

Christine Stapleton|Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Of Interest to All

Residents From Across Florida Create Support Organization for Aquatic Preserves

A new statewide citizen support organization (CSO), the Aquatic Preserve Society, has been formed to promote the protection of Florida’s 41 aquatic preserves.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Coastal Office has long made use of the volunteerism and fundraising capabilities of citizen support organizations from around the state. These CSOs work in conjunction with regional staff to hold events and provide operational support throughout the year.

“We are very excited to see how the Aquatic Preserve Society develops,” said Kevin Claridge of the Florida Coastal Office. “CSO groups have been instrumental in our efforts across the state, and we look forward to adding more strength and stability to this network.”

After gathering a list of nominees to create this new CSO, a two-day meeting was held in April to gauge interest in the concept. This meeting was designed to determine the wants and needs of the existing CSO network, as well as solicit feedback from the group. As a result of this meeting, the group decided a statewide CSO could vastly increase the effectiveness of the existing network and enhance awareness of aquatic preserves.

During the April meeting, participants performed various visioning and brainstorming activities that established both short- and long-term goals, along with a name for the statewide CSO. Some of the main goals included fundraising and improving the overall support for the existing network.

The Aquatic Preserve Society has now gained the Florida Nonprofit Status and is currently working on filing internal documents with both the IRS and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

The next big steps for the statewide organization will be to draft bylaws and a memorandum of agreement with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Upon completion and signing of the memorandum of agreement, the Aquatic Preserve Society will become an official CSO for the Florida Coastal Office.

The Florida Coastal Office is eager to have a support system for all 41 of its aquatic preserves. Several of the existing CSOs have shown support for the Aquatic Preserve Society and are ready to positively shape the new organization.

Aquatic Preserves are sovereign submerged lands protected under the Aquatic Preserve Act of 1975. There are 41 aquatic preserves in Florida totaling about 2.7 million acres. The preserves protect bird rookeries, fish nurseries, freshwater springs, salt marshes, mangroves and sea grass meadows. Some preserves contain cultural heritage sites of civilization that lived there for a time. While the preserves protect the beauty and landscape, visitors are encouraged to enjoy swimming, fishing, boating and paddling in designated areas.

Anyone interested in becoming a member or looking for information should contact Brian Powers at Brian.powers@dep.state.fl.us.

mburgerdep|June 27, 2014

Caribbean Coral Reefs “Will Be Lost Within 20 Years” Without Protection

Major report warns that loss of grazing fish due to pollution and overfishing is a key driver of region’s coral decline.

Most Caribbean coral reefs will disappear within the next 20 years unless action is taken to protect them, primarily due to the decline of grazers such as sea urchins and parrotfish, a new report has warned.

A comprehensive analysis by 90 experts of more than 35,000 surveys conducted at nearly 100 Caribbean locations since 1970 shows that the region’s corals have declined by more than 50 percent.

But restoring key fish populations and improving protection from overfishing and pollution could help the reefs recover and make them more resilient to the impacts of climate change, according to the study from the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the United Nations Environment Program.

While climate change and the resulting ocean acidification and coral bleaching does pose a major threat to the region, the report—Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012—found that local pressures such as tourism, overfishing and pollution posed the biggest problems.

And these factors have made the loss of the two main grazer species, the parrotfish and sea urchin, the key driver of coral decline in the Caribbean.

Grazers are important fish in the marine ecosystem as they eat the algae that can smother corals. An unidentified disease led to a mass mortality of the sea urchin in 1983 and overfishing throughout the 20th century has brought the parrotfish population to the brink of extinction in some regions, according to the report.

Reefs where parrotfish are not protected have suffered significant declines, including Jamaica, the entire Florida reef tract from Miami to Key West, and the US Virgin Islands. At the same time, the report showed that some of the healthiest Caribbean coral reefs are those that are home to big populations of grazing parrotfish. These include the US Flower Garden Banks national marine sanctuary in the northern Gulf of Mexico, Bermuda and Bonaire—all of which have restricted or banned fishing practices that harm parrotfish.

The Caribbean is home to 9 percent of the world’s coral reefs, but only around one-sixth of the original coral cover remains. The reefs, which span 38 countries, are vital to the region’s economy and support the more than 43 million people, generating more than $3 billion annually from tourism and fisheries and much more in other goods and services.

According to the authors, restoring parrotfish populations and improving other management strategies could help the reefs recover. “The rate at which the Caribbean corals have been declining is truly alarming,” said Carl Gustaf Lundin, director of IUCN’s global marine and polar program. “But this study brings some very encouraging news: the fate of Caribbean corals is not beyond our control and there are some very concrete steps that we can take to help them recover.”

Reefs that are protected from overfishing, as well as other threats such as excessive coastal pollution, tourism and coastal development, are more resilient to pressures from climate change, according to the authors.

“Even if we could somehow make climate change disappear tomorrow, these reefs would continue their decline,” said Jeremy Jackson, lead author of the report and IUCN’s senior adviser on coral reefs. “We must immediately address the grazing problem for the reefs to stand any chance of surviving future climate shifts.”

Jessica Aldred|Jul. 6, 2014

COURT UPHOLDS FLORIDA’S NET BAN

Today, Florida’s First District Court of Appeal issued an opinion upholding the net ban amendment…again. CCA Florida once again led the charge to support the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) regulations implementing the Constitutional Amendment that was passed by 72% of the voters in 1994.

The same small group of commercial gill netters that have filed one lawsuit after another were rebuffed in the appellate court after finding a sympathetic judge at the circuit court level. The three judge appellate panel held that the trial judge, “…erred in determining [the netters] claims were not barred by [past legal precedent]“. They also held that the judge was wrong to allow the gill net season to open while the case was pending in the appellate courts. “This is a big win for all recreational anglers and CCA Florida will continue to be the outspoken advocate and protector of the Constitutional Amendment which has protected Florida’s marine fisheries and the multibillion dollar economic value of fisheries to Florida’s economy,” said CCA Florida Chairman, Fred Crabill.

Last October, Florida waters were again open to the slaughter of illegal gill nets for six days, reminiscent of pre 1994 Florida where use of these nets devastated our near shore and inshore waters crushing recreational fishing for Redfish, Trout, Snook and other fishes. The net ban has had dramatic effect on bringing bait back to our near shore waters, with the resulting increase in catches of pelagics like sailfish and cobia along the coast.

But, the fight may not be over. It will be up to the netters whether or not to file an appeal at the next level, the Florida Supreme Court. While legal scholars doubt the success of such an appeal given the reasoning by the First District Court of Appeals, stranger things have happened in the courts where gill nets are concerned. After all, no one dreamed that the same gill net interests that have pushed this fight for twenty (20) years would find a willing judge last year.

“CCA Florida would like to thank FWC, Attorney General Pam Bondi and especially Assistant Attorney General, Jonathan Glogau for their tireless efforts on this case and for protecting Florida’s saltwater fisheries,” said CCA Florida Executive Director, Brian Gorski.

CCA Florida will continue to monitor the case and file legal briefs if the matter is appealed. Lawyers representing CCA in the current appeal were pleased with the results but wary of what may come next… perhaps a trip to the Supreme Court.

For the full First District Court of Appeals opinion click here

The Lowdown On Chikungunya, The Mosquito-Transmitted Virus You Should Know About

Beware of mosquitos. In some places, they could be carrying a very unpleasant virus with symptoms similar to dengue fever.

Chikungunya, which was previously limited to countries in the Eastern Hemisphere, has made headlines in the United States as cases of the virus have been reported in the country.

Reports of the virus, which is characterized by persistent joint pain, have cropped up in at least 27 states from Massachusetts to Texas, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Florida has the majority of the 129 reported cases in U.S. states and territories, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Health officials say the virus has been identified in travelers who recently visited the Caribbean. Chikungunya first appeared in the Americas in late 2013 on St. Martin. In December, the CDC issued a travel advisory for the island, warning tourists to be wary of local mosquitos that may carry the viral disease. Since the start of the new year, the virus island-hopped to other countries in the Caribbean, including the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

“Right now, we are worried about chikungunya in the U.S.,” Roger Nasci of the CDC told NPR. “In fact, we expect that over the course of the next months or years — as this virus spreads through the American tropics, and we see more travelers coming into the U.S — we will see local transmission.”

For those infected by a bite from a virus-carrying mosquito, symptoms such as fever and joint pain appear within three to seven days, according to the CDC. Other signs of illness — a rash, headache or muscle aches — may also appear and tend to last about a week.

However, patients may feel pain in their joints for months, or even years, after the initial infection. Chikungunya is fatal in only the most extreme cases. While there is no medication to treat chikungunya, patients can ease symptoms with pain-reliving drugs and by drinking fluids to ward off dehydration.

Those who believe they may have contracted the viral disease should contact their doctor.

Sara Gates|The Huffington Post|07/08/2014

State geologists preparing map of sinkhole-prone areas

TALLAHASSEE — State geologists are well on their way to creating a statewide map showing where sinkholes are most likely to form.

Last year, Florida got more than $1 million in federal money for a three-year study. A pilot in Columbia, Hamilton and Suwannee counties ended this May.

Professionals with the Florida Geological Survey visited about 230 locations, sampling and studying the land.

Their fieldwork contributed to a “relative vulnerability” map that’s so far proven 93 percent successful in the pilot area in predicting where sinkholes will form, geologist Clint Kromhout said.

“The ultimate desire is to have a statewide map to reduce the risk of loss of life and property,” he said.

The predictions will be for general areas, such as a neighborhood or other section of a county; science can’t predict where and when individual sinkholes will occur.

The Florida Geological Survey and Florida Department of Emergency Management are collaborating on the study.

Alan Baker, another state geologist, said the map will offer another tool in the toolbox of emergency planners, especially after a big storm, when sinkholes often develop.

“They’re prepared for floods; they’re prepared for downed power lines,” Baker said, but the sinkhole vulnerability map will provide even more preparation, this time for ground collapse.

Tropical Storm Debby was the inspiration for the current study. Heavy rains from the 2012 storm caused dozens of sinkholes, especially in Hernando County.

Sinkholes are a particular threat for many Tampa Bay residents. The area’s three counties are known as “Sinkhole Alley.”

For example, of all sinkhole damage reported in the state from 2006-10, two-thirds came from Hernando, Hillsborough and Pasco counties, according to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation.

Not every hole in the ground is a “sinkhole,” however.

Late last month, St. Petersburg police said a hole in a roadway was because of a problem with a stormwater line.

Other voids fit the description.

Sinkholes are common in Florida because of porous rock, such as limestone, that stores water underground.

Over time, acid in the water dissolves the rock, creating a void. When the earth above the limestone gets too heavy, it can cave in, forming a sinkhole.

In April, a sinkhole in The Villages was filled in between two residences, then appeared to start opening again.

In November, a sinkhole swallowed parts of two Dunedin houses and forced several other homes to be evacuated.

In August, part of a three-story villa at Summer Bay Resort in Clermont, west of Orlando, was swallowed by a 100-foot sinkhole; no one was reported hurt.

And in February 2013, a Seffner man died when a sinkhole opened under his bedroom as he slept. The body of 37-year-old Jeff Bush was not recovered.

The most famous sinkhole recently was not in Florida but in Kentucky.

In February, a 60-foot deep sinkhole opened under the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, collapsing the floor and swallowing eight of the vehicles, including one donated by a Pasco County man.

The museum was closed at the time and no one was injured, but the value of the cars alone was estimated at $1 million.

Its board has decided to preserve part of the sinkhole as an attraction because news of the collapse boosted attendance to the struggling museum by 60 percent.

This legislative session, a measure failed that would have created a sinkhole repair program for policyholders of Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

Its purpose: Ensure that sinkhole damage is fixed properly and within a reasonable time. Citizens, a nonprofit government corporation, is the insurer of last resort for Florida homes in sinkhole-prone areas.

Lawmakers were concerned over homeowners getting a payout for a sinkhole but not using the money to repair the damage. Sinkhole claims also have stoked a number of lawsuits against the insurer, by customers upset over bad repairs or ones that took too long.

Under the bill, sinkhole fixes would have had to be done by a contractor picked from a pool of bonded and insured repair companies approved by Citizens.

A version passed the House, but died in the Senate, where some lawmakers worried such a program wouldn’t be effective.

James L. Rosica|Scripps/Tribune Capital Bureau|TCPalm|July 6, 2014

Former Legislator Beth Kerttula named White House Director of Ocean Policy

JUNEAU — Alaska’s Beth Kerttula, who left the Legislature earlier this year for a Stanford fellowship in ocean policy, has been tapped to become the new ocean policy director for the Obama White House.

The Palmer native represented Juneau in the House of Representatives for 15 years, the last seven as leader of the Democratic minority. She left for Stanford University, her alma mater, in January to serve as a visiting fellow at the Center for Ocean Solutions.

News of Kerttula’s White House position came from Stanford this week.

“Beth will bring her wisdom, boundless energy and sense of humor to her federal post,” said Meg Caldwell, executive director of the Center for Ocean Solutions, in an email to staff announcing Kerttula’s departure.

Her new job will be as director of the National Ocean Council, Caldwell said.

That group, made up of top federal officials from relevant agencies, is responsible for implementing the president’s national stewardship policy for oceans, coasts and the Great Lakes. It works to involve coastal communities in issues involving marine planning, responding to ocean acidification, resource development and more.

Reached in Washington, D.C., Thursday, Kerttula referred questions about her new job to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, which declined public comment.

Prior to her legislative service, Kerttula was an assistant attorney general and worked with the coastal zone management program, which gives local communities input in federal coastal actions. The program was rolled back during the administration of Gov. Frank Murkowski and ended under Gov. Sean Parnell.

Parnell spokesperson Sharon Leighow said the governor was in Fairbanks today, and she did not know if he was aware of Kerttula’s new position.

Former Alaska Attorney General Bruce Botelho called the appointment “very exciting.” Botelho worked with Kerttula on coastal zone issues when he headed the Department of Law.

“I think she’s a perfect fit — a combination of her experience with coastal management and her role as an elected official who understands the nature of politics,” Botelho said.

At Stanford, Kerttula helped bring together Center for Ocean Solutions experts and researchers while delivering their information to legislators and policymakers, Caldwell said. She expects that to continue.

“Engaging the broader research community will be increasingly needed as the National Ocean Policy is implemented, and Beth will be able to rely on a network of scholars and researchers from diverse fields to inform the nation’s ocean policy work,” Caldwell’s email said.

In Alaska, Kerttula supported President Barack Obama’s candidacy, leading to tension between her and then-Gov. Sarah Palin, the vice-presidential nominee of Obama’s opponent, Sen. John McCain. Kerttula and Palin had previously worked together on oil tax policy and similar issues. But they had differing views on issues such as oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Kerttula was one of the few political leaders, and possibly one of the few Alaskans, to oppose oil drilling there.

Pat Forgey|alaskadispatch.com|9 Jul 2014

NRA’s Lead Ammo Bill Defeated in Senate

A Senate bill died this morning that included an NRA-backed provision to block the Environmental Protection Agency from protecting people and wildlife from lead poisoning. Thank you to all who answered our urgent plea earlier this week to fight this disastrous measure.

The so-called “Sportsmen’s Bill of 2014″ would have been a serious blow to a years-long effort to finally get the EPA to get lead out of hunting ammunition. Although lead has long been known to be an extremely toxic substance — so dangerous that we no longer allow it in paint, toys or gasoline — incredibly, thousands of tons of it still enter the food chain every year from lead ammo.

Millions of birds like loons, cranes, eagles and condors — and even bears, panthers and wolves — are dying painful deaths from lead poisoning.

We’re happy to see the bill defeated, though the NRA will no doubt try again.

Learn more about our work to get the lead out.

Center for Biological Diversity

Dan A. Hughes Co. dropping plans for Estates-area exploratory well

Dan. A. Hughes Co. will not drill at this Golden Gate Estates area site after all, the property’s land owner has announced.

NAPLES, Fla. – Opponents of oil drilling in Southwest Florida were jubilant Friday over news that the Dan A. Hughes Co. no longer will be drilling in Collier County, except at the controversial Collier Hogan well.

Collier Resources Co. said Friday that it and the Dan A. Hughes Co. had agreed to terminate their oil drilling leasing relationship, which covers about 115,000 acres in the county.

“That’s tremendous,” said Don Loritz, vice president of the citizens group Preserve our Paradise, which filed an administrative challenge to another well the Hughes Co. planned to drill near Golden Gate Estates.

That well no longer will be drilled, even though Hughes already had received approval from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

It was fiercely opposed by nearby residents and environmentalists, who worried about hydrogen sulfide leaks, drinking water pollution, noise, traffic and threats to the endangered Florida panther.

“I’m pretty damned happy right now,” said Matthew Schwartz, who also had filed an administrative challenge to the Golden Gates Estates-area well.

His challenge was combined with that of Preserve Our Paradise and nearby resident Thomas Mosher. Their petitions were heard in February by state Administrative Judge D.R. Alexander, who recommended to the DEP that the permit be allowed.

Now that the Golden Gate Estates area well has been halted, prime panther habitat will be protected, Schwartz said. But other threats to wildlife remain, he added, because more than 335,000 acres in Southwest Florida have been leased to other drillers for seismic testing.

While celebrating the agreement, some drilling opponents remained skeptical.

“I feel there may be something else going on that hasn’t been revealed,” Mosher said.

Attorney Ralf Brookes, who represented both Preserve our Paradise and Mosher in the administrative hearings, said fracking remains a concern in Southwest Florida, considering reports that the Collier Hogan well is producing good quality oil.

If that attracts other drillers, “it could change the landscape of the county,” he said.

The Hughes Co. performed an unauthorized injection technique on the Collier Hogan well in late 2013 to enhance oil production.

That resulted in a consent order with the DEP that called for, among other items, groundwater testing to see if any pollutants were introduced into the area’s aquifers.

The Collier Hogan well permit is being challenged by some environmental groups, including the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

Jennifer Hecker, the Conservancy’s director of natural resources, said while it is positive news that the Hughes Co. won’t be pursuing more drilling in the county, “we have to make sure we’re not swapping one bad operator or project for another.”

Collier Resources announced the lease termination agreement in a letter to Collier County commissioners, who are pursuing their own administrative challenge to the Collier Hogan well. They are asking for a revocation of the consent order and the well’s permit.

While applauding the agreement for Hughes to not pursue any new drilling, Commissioner Georgia Hiller criticized both state lawmakers and the DEP for not providing better oversight.

“But for the DEP’s failure to have already made a determination whether this type of drilling is safe or unsafe and but for the failure of our state Legislature to make that same determination, we would not be in this situation today,” she said.

DEP spokeswoman Tiffany Cowie said neither the Hughes Co. nor Collier Resources notified the DEP of their agreement.

“We learned about it through the media,” she said.

In a statement, DEP said it would still hold the Hughes Co. accountable for meeting nine demands it made with a July 15 deadline before considering consequences, which include pulling the permit on the Collier Hogan well.

“There are still many existing demands we have of Dan A. Hughes in order for them to continue their operations at the Collier-Hogan site,” DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard said in the statement. “We will be prepared to take action after the July 15 deadline, in accordance with what they have chosen to do or not to do.”

DEP’s demands included attending a meeting of the Collier commissioners on July 8, which the Hughes Co. skipped, as well as holding a media tour on July 15.

Hughes Co. spokesman David Blackmon said the scheduled media tour of the Collier Hogan well on July 15 has been postponed.

However, he released a statement regarding the lease’s relinquishment which said the company would cease oil and gas exploration in Southwest Florida.

“We make this announcement with the knowledge that our activities in the region have caused no harm to the environment and have been fully compliant with Florida law,” the statement said.

Hughes Co. also said it would work with DEP on details related to ongoing operations and fulfilling provisions of the consent order at the Collier Hogan well.

“Respect for the law is our core operating principle,” the company said.

Meanwhile, Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida is planning to meet with county officials, environmental groups and the media on Monday to discuss expanded drilling near the Everglades and whether it poses water quality issues the Environmental Protection Agency should consider.

“The Colliers’ decision (Friday) is only part of a broader picture,” Nelson spokesman Ryan Brown said.

June Fletcher|Jul 11, 2014|Staff Writer Greg Stanley contributed to this story

Conservancy response to Collier Resources announcement to terminate some of Dan A. Hughes’ mineral rights leases 

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida thanks the Collier County Commission, our members, partner organizations and community supporters who helped accomplish today’s milestone and will continue to support Collier County’s legal effort to bring about meaningful enforcement and remediation to protect Collier County citizens and our water resources.

Collier Resources announced on Friday that the company and Dan A. Hughes Co. agreed to end their oil drilling leasing relationship. The only exception is the controversial Collier Hogan well.

“We are supportive of this decision,” said Robert Moher, president and CEO of Conservancy of Southwest Florida. “However this situation boldly highlights the broader legal and regulatory deficiencies that must be rectified in order to prevent future inappropriate oil drilling and extreme oil extraction techniques.”

“We also must not lose site of the lack of oversight and enforcement by our state regulatory agency of existing laws, as well as remediation necessitated by Hughes previous unauthorized fracking-like activities still need to be rectified,” Moher continued.

“While this is a step in the right direction as the Conservancy continues to advocate for further investigation and monitoring of water quality in the drilling sites,” said Jennifer Hecker, Conservancy of Southwest Florida Director of Natural Resources. “The Conservancy continues to be concerned with any proposed drilling using new or extreme extraction techniques in Southwest Florida.”

“We are especially concerned that Hughes Collier Hogan well remains active. We and Collier County continue to urge DEP to immediately revoke the permit as well as undertake all of the necessary remediation we have outlined in our respective petitions for protecting Collier’s drinking water supply sources,” said Hecker. 

 

Calls to Action

  1. Help Make Recycling Healthy – here
  2. Help spread the word about GMO labeling ‏ – here
  3. It’s time to ban the bomb trains – here
  4. Help Preserve the Grand Canyon’s Watershed – here
  5. Tell Congress: fix broken wildfire funding, support conservation – here
  6. Help save our manatees – here
  7. Tell Congress to Oppose Harmful Fisheries Bill – here
  8. Stop Mass Killing of Mute Swans – here

Birds and Butterflies

Adorable Puffin Chick Will Ruin Your Plans For the Day

Bird enthusiasts are celebrating the arrival of a puffin chick who hatched just days ago and has since captivated viewers who are getting a glimpse of its first few days of life thanks to a camera that was set up in a puffin burrow on Seal Island off the coast of Maine.

Thanks to the National Audubon Society’s Project Puffin and Explore.org, we can watch this fluffy little puffling being raised by its parents, Phoebe and Finn, who will share parenting duties until this little one is ready to take off on its own. According to Project Puffin, this little newcomer has been dubbed Pal by fans who’ve been watching because Puffins Are Love, and because they were hoping for a friend for a chick who was born last year they had named Hope. The big event was recorded for those of us who missed it.

Considering all the effort that has gone into helping Atlantic puffins recover in Maine over the last 40 years, the arrival of a new chick is especially exciting.

These puffins were once abundant off the coast, but were overhunted for food, eggs and feathers and had essentially disappeared by 1900. In 1973, Dr. Stephen Kress, the founder and director of Project Puffin, set out to help them make a comeback by relocating chicks from Newfoundland to Eastern Egg Rock, hoping that they would eventually return to breed where they hatched.

The first puffin chicks returned the summer of 1977. According to Project Puffin, as of last year, there were an estimated 1,000 pairs of puffins nesting on five Maine islands.

Still, as Care2′s Beth Buczynski noted in an article earlier this month, the plight to save Atlantic puffins from disappearing is far from over. Because they only lay one egg each year and don’t typically breed until they’re five years old, they remain vulnerable.

Even though efforts to help them recolonize parts of Maine have been successful, they’re now facing a food crisis as a result of climate change, which is affecting two staple fish they need to feed their young: hake and herring.

With the shortage, puffin parents have been catching and trying to feed butterfish to their babies, but the fish are too big for them to eat, which has resulted in many babies starving to death. Researchers noticed the problem in 2012, when the percent of puffins raising a chick on Seal Island dropped by more than half down to 30 percent. Numbers for 2013 weren’t any better, with only one pair out of 10 successfully raising a chick.

The potential for further increases in ocean temperatures, ocean acidification and a rise in sea level, which could flood their island homes, have also raised concerns about their future survival.

In a recent interview, Dr. Kress said it’s too early to tell how these puffins are doing this year, but they should have a better idea by mid-July.

In the meantime, Project Puffin is asking people who tune in to the puffin burrow cam to help researchers see what kinds of fish the parents are bringing back to help them track what this pair is doing and to take and post snapshots of the parents feeding Pal.

For more info on efforts to help ensure a future for puffins, visit Project Puffin. To watch Pal and other bird and puffin cams in Maine, visit Explore.org.

Alicia Graef|July 5, 2014

Audubon Releases Guide to Helping Hooked Pelicans

Hooked waterbirds often die of entanglement or starvation.

Tampa, FL – It is an all too common sight on Tampa Bay and the surrounding area – pelicans with fishing hooks and line caught in their throats or tangled around wings, legs, or bodies. Hooked birds are at severe risk of entanglement as they roost, causing slow, painful deaths. When adult birds die they leave chicks orphaned in nests, to succumb to predation and starvation. But there are steps that fisherman and others can take to save hooked birds instead of just “cutting the line.”

Tampa Audubon, Manatee County Audubon Society, and Audubon Florida have produced a new informational brochure to give citizens the information they need to help. “What to Do If You Hook a Pelican” is a user-friendly guide that is a must-read for all Tampa Bay’s fisherman and anyone else who enjoys time on or near the water.

“Anyone can use this set of instructions to save the life of a pelican,” states Sandy Reed, Tampa Audubon Society Vice President. Using simple tips and photographs, the brochure demonstrates easy-to-follow steps for fishermen and members of the public to safely handle and release a hooked bird without causing further injury.

The brochure also provides guidelines that fishermen can follow to reduce the probability that they will hook birds in the first place. “Feeding pelicans or herons increases the chance that the birds will become entangled,” says Mark Rachal, Audubon Sanctuary Manager.

“The Wildlife Commission staff report that the major killer of Brown Pelicans in Florida is entanglement in fishing gear,” explains Ann Paul, Audubon’s Tampa Bay Regional Coordinator. “We encourage fishermen to learn how to release a hooked bird. Fishermen who deal with sharks or saltwater catfish will find it relatively easy to unhook or untangle a bird that they have accidentally caught.”

“Pelicans are synonymous with fishing on Florida’s coasts,” says Lori Roberts, Manatee County Audubon Society Board Member, “and the goal of fishermen is to catch fish. By providing sport fishermen with a handy guide on how to safely rescue pelicans in distress, rather than simply cutting their fishing line and leaving a bird painfully hooked or entangled to die, Audubon hopes to protect these iconic birds. No one deliberately intends to injure a pelican. This brochure will prepare fishermen to help each other and the bird when someone accidentally hooks or entangles a pelican.”

Brochures can be obtained by calling Audubon’s Florida Coastal Islands Sanctuaries’ office at 813-623-6826. The brochure can also be downloaded from  the Tampa Bay Water Atlas (wateratlas.org), and the Tampa Bay Estuary Program’s (tbep.org) websites.

The guide was developed by Audubon chapters and staff in collaboration with the Florida Park Service and the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Piers. It was partially funded by the Frank E. Duckwall Foundation

The Glass Butterfly

This beautiful butterfly, named ‘Greta oto‘ but nicknamed the ‘glass butterfly’ opens to each side 6 cm of incredibly beautiful, and completely transparent, wings. A close look at the glass butterfly’s wings will show you that through the veins running across its wings, you can see a perfect image. Most butterflies come with painted wings, using tiny scales to draw incredible designs we humans love to see.

The reasons are usually the same: Either deter enemies or attract other butterflies. The glass butterfly’s wings have the same purpose: They hide the butterfly in plain sight, therefore allowing it to escape detection by birds, who have great eyesight, especially for color.

To achieve this kind of transparency, the wing is coated with numerous sub-microscopic tiny bumps that break light and prevent it from bouncing back from the wing, thereby creating transparency.

You can find this amazing insect in Central America, anywhere between Panama and Mexico.

Source: Carolina. S

Photos

Are Emperor Penguins Marching Toward Oblivion?

Sea ice is disappearing from Antarctica, melting away at an astounding rate of 30,000 square miles every year. You’re thinking about climate change’s effect on rising sea levels and coastal flooding, right? Consider this: while we worry about the impacts of all that water, others are also worrying about the loss of all that ice.

Retreating sea ice is poised to decimate the global population of emperor penguins, say scientists. Between 19 to 33 percent of them may disappear by the turn of the century if we don’t reverse current trends soon. That’s the disturbing conclusion of a new study just published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Sea ice is frozen sea water that lies atop the ocean’s surface. It fluctuates with the seasons, melting in summer and freezing over again in winter.

Sea ice provides irreplaceable habitat for a variety of arctic species, including polar bears, walruses and penguins. It also provides an ideal environment for algae growth. Algae is a primary food source for krill — a small shrimp-like crustacean that the emperor penguin depends on to survive.

Ever since the release of the 2005 documentary March of the Penguins, more people than ever know about the complicated and challenging lives led by these remarkable birds. After laying an egg during wintertime breeding at their colony locations, the females walk between 30 and 75 miles over open ice to find the sea and its rich food sources such as fish, squid and krill. Then they walk back and trade caretaking duties with their mates, who make the same amazing trek to find food.

The Relationship Between Penguins and Sea Ice

“The role of sea ice is complicated,” lead study author Stephanie Jenouvrier, a biologist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, noted in a press release. “Too much ice requires longer trips for penguin parents to travel to the ocean to hunt and bring back food for their chicks. But too little ice reduces the habitat for krill, a critical food source for emperor penguins.”

Emperor penguins’ lives are difficult enough without having to deal with external forces that wreak havoc on the sea ice they need to survive.

“If sea ice declines at the rates projected by the IPCC climate models, and continues to influence emperor penguins … at least two-thirds of the colonies are projected to have declined by greater than 50 percent from their current size by 2100,” said Jenouvrier.

“None of the colonies…will provide a viable refuge by the end of 21st century,” Jenouvrier added.

Walt Meier, a glaciologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center put the ice problem in terms we can all understand:

In the 1980s, the Arctic sea ice at the end of the summer was about the size of the lower 48 U.S. states. If you imagine taking a road trip across the sea ice — say you want to go from Los Angeles to New York — you could have driven on the sea ice the whole way. Now, you’d reach the ice edge at around the middle of Nebraska, so we’ve lost everything east of the Mississippi [River], and even a bit west of the Mississippi.

“It’s not happy news for the emperor penguin,” study co-author Hal Castellan told Reuters. If there’s a smidgen of good news, though, it comes from another recently released study that found these penguins may in fact be moving to new locations in response to environmental issues that make their colony locations less habitable. In the short term, that’s good.

The Woods Hole study is said to be the first to predict decline in emperor penguin populations across all of Antarctica. Without action, according to this research, at least nine of the existing 45 colonies will become “quasi-extinct.”

Scientists Call for Endangered Status and Establishment of Marine Reserves

Dr. Jenouvrier and her team concluded that the emperor penguin is “fully deserving of endangered status due to climate change.” They recommended that world governments designate these penguins, a move that would protect them by controlling influences on their habitat and well being by Southern Ocean fishing, tourism and in other ways.

They also urged creation of marine preserves off Antarctica. Other penguin experts agree.

“Given this new research, and what we already know about global temperatures warming and the changing climate, one of the things we should do immediately is put a marine reserve in place so we can make sure that we are not fishing in areas where the penguins need to forage for food,” Andrea Kavanagh, director of global penguin conservation for the Pew Charitable Trusts, told The Guardian. “It is one way of eliminating one more threat to the penguins.”

Will the world take heed? Or will these hardy little survivors find themselves slowly marching to oblivion?

Susan Bird|July 7, 2014

FALL MIGRATION HAS BEGUN

But it’s July! Sure is, but the birds don’t pay attention to our seasons, they have their own agenda to follow. One of the species that we all love has started to head south already…the Ruby-throated Hummingbird…, their migration begins in July and typically ends in October. Peak numbers occur in Florida around mid-August.
Wash out your feeders, hang ‘em near the windows and wait for the action. You don’t have a feeder!
Our affiliate partner, Duncraft has a great choice of hummingbird feeders AND they give back 10% of every sale to the Wildlife Foundation of Florida. The funds are used to support the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail.
http://www.wildlifefoundationofflorida.com/birding

For more information on feeding hummingbirds
http://www.rubythroat.org/feedinghintsmain.html

For more information on Ruby-throated Hummingbirds
http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/ruby-throated_hummingbird/id

On a Louisiana island, the 2014 generation of pelicans may be the last

On a tiny island eight miles northeast of Grand Isle, Plaquemines Parish officials wonder if they are seeing the last generation of Louisiana Brown Pelicans hatch there.

In 2010, four islands in Cat Bay were home to several thousand pelicans and other nesting birds.

At the height of nesting season, oil from the BP Macondo well blowout piled onto the shorelines of each island.

“This was ground zero for the spill,” said P.J. Hahn, the Plaquemines Coastal Zone Management Director.

Three of the four islands have virtually disappeared, leaving one island with enough real estate to support nests.

“Right now, in Barataria Bay, this is it.” said Robert Spears, G.I.S. Manager for Plaquemines Parish.

Although the islands were eroding long before the Gulf oil spill, parish officials argue the disaster hastened their demise.

As mangrove trees and grass died, soil that clung to the roots had nothing to hold on to.

“During the oil spill, one of the things that happened, everybody lawyered up,” said Hahn, who has spent four years scrambling to find enough money to restore some of the islands. “The five states lawyered up, the parishes, the counties lawyered up, the communities and even the strippers on Bourbon Street lawyered up. Nobody lawyered up for these birds.”

The parish already has the necessary permits for a $6 million project on one of the islands, which locals call “Cat Island.”

It plans to encircle the island with a rock barrier and pump in sand and dirt to rebuild 21 acres.

“We only have enough to do half of an island right now,” Hahn said. “We’re hoping once we get started, the rest of the money will show up.”

Wildlife experts have warned Hahn if the parish doesn’t act soon, it may be too late since Pelican chicks imprint on the island where they were born.

Hahn fears “a situation where we build it and they won’t come” as succeeding generations lose interest in the island.

The parish cobbled together $3 million dollars from various sources, including $1 million in federal funds funneled through the state. However, the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority has balked at filling the gap.

“If we had more money, we could do more projects,” said CPRA Chairman Jerome Zeringue. “You have to prioritize where you are going to put the money.”

Cat Island sits in the middle of nowhere, six miles from the nearest land, pounded daily by waves and tidal action, and suffering serious subsidence.

“We know we can go rebuild these different islands, but the reality is they won’t be here 10, 15 years from now,” Zeringue said.

Hahn argues engineers have a know-how to build a more durable island, with better materials borrowed from the Mississippi River bottom.

Even if it completes a scaled-down restoration on Cat Island, the three others appear to be lost.

John Snell|Jul 07, 2014

Songbird Does His Part for Entire Species Until the End

It’s the end of an era for the staff on the loggerhead shrike breeding program on San Clemente Island, and for all our collaborating partners on the US Navy’s shrike recovery project. Our most beloved and well-known shrike, Studbook No. (SB) 424, known as Trampas, has sadly passed into history, but what an ending it was.

Trampas was hatched and reared by parent shrikes at our breeding complex in May 2001, and was released to the wild as a free-flying juvenile about 2 months later. This year he turned 13, and holds the record for longest lived shrike in the wild. The average shrike lifespan for adult shrikes is only 2.7 years. The next 2 longest-lived birds were SB 1460 who lived to 10.3 years, and one of Trampas’ sons, SB 844, who is now 10.2 years old and still thriving!

In the autumn of his release year, Trampas set up his territory at Stone Station 1, where our offices and hand-rearing facility are located. Trampas has been part of our daily life at Stone Station ever since.  He is often still sleeping when we arrive at 0-dark thirty, but we hear him when he wakes with a bout of song.  He is often perching in sight as we work, and he well knows when we are likely to be unpacking boxes of crickets—he is ready to catch any that escape.

During his long life, Trampas has been busy adding to the wild shrike population. For 13 breeding seasons since his first in 2002, he has built nests every year, his mate has laid eggs every year, and he has successfully hatched chicks in all but 1 year. Because we share his territory, we get a wonderful close-up view of all his efforts, his romances, his crowds of fledglings, and on occasion he has even nested inside our drafty storage building.

But, like all wild shrikes, he has to battle local predators, and he has lost eggs, chicks and fledglings to ravens, island foxes, and rats. Yet, he manages to win more than the average bird, and prior to this 2014 breeding season, he had hatched 84 chicks. Of the 84 chicks, 22 (25.3%) survived to the following breeding season, and 16 successfully hatched chicks.

Even more remarkable, the total number of Trampas’ descendants as of 2014, is 771!  His descendants go out 7 generations (i.e., great-great-great-great-great-grandchicks). Currently, 74 of his descendants are alive on the island, including 3 of his adult sons. But in recent years, his nests have been lost to predators, possibly because they know him so well after all this time. The last time he successfully fledged chicks was in 2011.

We all have been dreading the loss of this bird. Shrikes that live more than 10 years are likely to develop health issues like arthritis, cataracts, and other age related problems. This spring we saw signs of this in Trampas. He was not as mobile as he once was, there were signs he had some loss of vision. We worried that on some miserable, blustery day, he would just disappear.

Yet, as usual, he paired, built a nest, and hatched chicks. Amazing! He was seen actively defending that nest from mobbing ravens and foxes that ventured anywhere near his nest bush. Then, on May 24, there was a large confrontation, and afterward, Trampas was missing. Field biologists from the Institute for Wildlife Studies who monitor the wild population, conducted a nest inspection two days later, and found a pile of adult feathers. Gasp! But they also found that all three fledglings and Trampas’ mate were alive and well.

Trampas went out in a blaze of glory, and his fledglings, all males, are now free-flying juveniles who we hope will be part of the wild breeding population next year. Through his descendants, Trampas will continue to support this long term US Navy Recovery Project to restore this critically endangered bird species.

Susan Farabaugh, Ph.D.|Conservation Program Manager|San Clemente Loggerhead Shrike Captive Breeding Program

Get Fascinated by Feathers With New All About Bird Biology Site

Feathers are amazing: they’re light, aerodynamic, beautifully patterned, colorful, waterproof, and warm. To help curious minds of all ages learn about these impressive structures, we’ve just launched an in-depth, immersive website. It’s the first stage of our new All About Bird Biology project, with more to come. Try out All About Feathers, including these great elements:

Audubon Florida|Restore|July 2014
Reclassification of Wood Storks Called Premature by Audubon Biologists

Wood Storks evolved over millennia in the Everglades, including what is now Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, to take advantage of the ebb and flow of water levels in our wet and dry seasons. But the continued destruction of Florida’s wetlands have put these iconic birds at risk. Corkscrew Swamp, once the largest stork rookery in North America, has only supported nesting birds in two of the last eight years.

Last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made the decision to reclassify these great birds from “endangered” to “threatened” due to their increased numbers in places far from the bird’s traditional homeland of South Florida. Audubon views this decision as premature. There are major unanswered questions about the sustainability of the bird’s northern shift. The Orlando Sentinel published an op-ed by Audubon’s Eric Draper that further explains this position.

For details on the problems facing Wood Storks in the Everglades, please click here.

Audubon Florida|Restore|July 2014

 Florida Panthers

Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge

3860 Tollgate Blvd., Suite 300, Naples, FL 34114

Phone: 239-353-8442 / Fax: 239-353-8640

E-mail: floridapanther@fws.gov/ 

Website: www.fws.gov/floridapanther/26,400acres/ 

Admission is free.

Until 1989 the vast majority of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge’s 26,400 acres was used for private hunting and cattle grazing.

Once owned by the Collier family, the property is part of the Big Cypress Basin.

The Lee-Tidewater Cypress Company logged most of this area from 1944 to 1957, at about the same time the adjacent Fakahatchee Strand was being logged. 

By the time U.S. Fish and Wildlife acquired the land in 1989, all of the virgin stands of bald cypress were gone, but there were still expansive stands of slash pine, immature cypress domes, wet prairies, hardwood hammocks, and marshes.

Soon after acquisition, U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists began a regimen of prescribed burns.

Every year several different sites are burned on three- to four-year rotations.

The objective of these 5,000- to 7,000-acre burns is twofold: primarily to increase browsing areas for white-tailed deer, which, along with feral hogs, are the primary prey of Florida panthers; second, to rid the forest understory of invasive plants such as Brazilian pepper, melaleuca, cogongrass, and Old World climbing fern.

It is important to understand that the Panther Refuge is not designed with the eco-tourist in mind. This is a true refuge, for not only the endangered panther, but also a host of other wildlife that struggle beneath Florida’s unending growth and urban sprawl.

These include the threatened indigo snake, wood stork, limpkin, swallowtail kite, snail kite, Big Cypress fox squirrel, Florida black bear, and the very rare Everglades mink.

Therefore, access is limited to two short hiking trails located approximately one-quarter mile north of I-75 along the southeastern edge of the refuge.

A sign directs visitors into the parking lot where two gates lead to the trails. The shorter trail (0.3 mile) is improved and wheelchair accessible.

The second trail is 1.3 miles long and takes you through a nice mixture of habitats.

After a brief stroll through a hardwood hammock, you find yourself walking on limestone bedrock beside saw palmetto and vast, open stands of slash pine.

The highway noise coming from I-75 is a distraction, but this is probably why this region was chosen for the trails in the first place. 

The nearby I-75 underpass, connecting the Florida Panther Refuge to the Fakahatchee Strand to the south, is one of the most frequently used underpasses by panthers.

They are definitely around, but only five to 11 radio-collared panthers use the property every month, and given the refuge’s immense size, you are not likely to see one during your 30-minute hike.

If you are lucky, you might find a panther track left in the mud beside the numerous deer tracks you will see.

Though you might not glimpse a panther, you may well see wild turkeys, swallow-tailed kites, northern parula warblers, eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, and white-tailed deer along the trail.

A total of 126 bird species, 46 reptile and amphibian species, 22 mammal species, dozens of fish species, and more than 700 plant species inhabit the preserve.

The drainage ditches found on either side of SR 29 on the eastern border of the refuge abound with wading birds, alligators, and freshwater fish.

The drive along Highway 29, heading north from I-75, is an example of how far Floridians are willing to go to protect panthers.

A 12-foot-high security fence straddles both sides of this roadway, which is considered the world’s deadliest stretch of highway for Florida panthers.

Expensive underpasses allow the animals to cross safely between the refuge and Big Cypress National Preserve to the east and Fakahatchee to the south.

An excellent 20-page brochure about the refuge is available on its website http://www.fws.gov/floridapanther/.

Although you can traverse only a tiny section of this sanctuary, it is a hike you will never forget.

This article is from Living Sanibel – A Nature Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Islands. Charles Sobczak lives and writes on Sanibel Island.

Charles Sobczak lives and writes on Sanibel Island.

Visit www.indigopress.net

Help Save the Florida Panther

We’re protecting critical habitat for this extremely endangered animal.

Florida panthers are one of the most endangered animals on the planet. The Nature Conservancy is working with partners to buy critical lands, bringing hope for the future of these majestic animals. 

The Florida Panther is one of the most endangered mammals on the planet. Less than 160 cats remain in the wild. Most live around Okaloacoochee Slough, including the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, near Naples. Panther do roam north of this area (one was seen in Georgia) but they haven’t bred or established home ranges north of the Caloosahatchee River. This is a critical obstacle to the panthers’ survival.

Panther must extend their range beyond the confines of their current territory to prevent extinction. Otherwise, as Doria Gordon, the Conservancy’s director of conservation, says, “The Florida panther will will remain endangered and at critical risk.” The Conservancy is working to protect Florida panther.

Why is panther habitat expansion so critical?

Their current habitat is simply too small and fragmented for the population to grow to a healthy and sustainable level. Panthers have reached maximum capacity within their home range, and, because they are solitary and territorial, panthers require large areas to hunt, breed and den successfully. Males defend territories of 200 square miles and a single female will establish her home range of 75 square miles within a male’s territory. Envision an area the size of Hillsborough County sustaining only 5 panthers. Miami-Dade County, one of the largest in the state, would provide home to 10 panthers. This may seem daunting at first but the good news is that large, undeveloped stretches of land still remain within the state’s interior and protecting these lands may mean the difference between extinction and survival for the Florida Panther.

What is being done to help Florida Panther survival?

The Nature Conservancy is leading an effort to protect panther habitat by establishing links to connect existing green spaces. We’ve protected thousands of acres of prime panther habitat already within the Greater Everglades and a recent land purchase on the Caloosahatchee River has made the outlook brighter. Protected only hours before foreclosure, this land purchase secures a highly used passage for panther crossing the Caloosahatchee River and looking for new habitat. Without this property, extinction was a near certainty but with this link permanently intact, the Conservancy is determined to build on this foundation, by protecting and restoring key links north of the river up into central Florida.

Our goal is to ensure permanent protection for 7,300 acres of prime panther habitat, which will link existing green spaces and panther habitat. To do this, we will need to raise $8 million dollars. We plan to leverage that with $21 million dollars of public conservation funding. This will allow us to permanently protect lands that link existing green spaces and create a larger protected home range for panthers to expand and grow.

What Other Threats Do Florida Panthers Face?

Beyond limited habitat, panther are threatened by disease, continued habitat loss, collisions with vehicles and aggression between panthers that fight over limited territory. Any combination of these factors can result in extinction of Florida Panthers.

[If you would care to help the Nature Conservancy in this noble effort, you may do so here.]

  Invasive species

Freshwater exotics altering ecosystem

David Ceilley and his son Connor weren’t surprised last week when they pulled two clear-plastic fish traps from Owl Creek in East Lee County.

Total catch: 21 African jewelfish (also known as jewel cichlids and African cichlids), four dollar sunfish and one sailfin molly.

Although not surprising, the catch was disturbing because African jewelfish are an exotic (nonnative). Dollar sunfish and sailfin mollies are natives; in other words, the exotic species outnumbered the natives 4.2 to 1, at least in these two traps.

The African jewelfish is one of 23 exotic (nonnative) freshwater fish species that have become established in Florida; it’s also one of nine non-native freshwater species commonly found in Lee and Collier counties.

“African cichlids are the worst,” said David Ceilley, a senior ecologist for Johnson Engineering. “They’re having a terribly negative impact. The biomass of jewel cichlids is massive. They can dominate a water body. They’re prevalent in the Peace River and Caloosahatchee River and areas in between.”

For the past few years, an exotic saltwater fish species, the lionfish, has been in the news because it reproduces rapidly and eats huge numbers of juvenile native fish, including snappers and groupers.

It’s such a threat to native fish populations that organizations and government agencies have held lionfish derbies in several Florida counties as well as the Bahamas, Mexico and the Bay Islands of Honduras. The goal of these derbies is to kill as many lionfish as possible.

But how harmful are Florida’s freshwater exotic fish species?

“We don’t have many good scientific studies on how non-native freshwater fishes are affecting native habitat and native species,” said Pam Schofield, an exotic-fish expert for the U.S. Geological Service. “We have observational data that show when a non-native fish becomes abundant in an area, we see changes.”

Blue tilapia, for example, arrived in Florida in 1961 when 3,000 were stocked in a series of Hillsborough County phosphate pits for aquatic plant control experiments and have been documented in 35 counties.

They’re so abundant, in fact, that a commercial fishery has grown up around them: In 2004 and 2005, the only years for which data are available, commercial fishermen in Florida harvested 5.8 million and 6 million pounds of blue tilapia with a dockside value of $1.79 million and $1.84 million.

“When blue tilapia become abundant, native fishes decrease, or vegetation decreases,” Schofield said. “But there’s no smoking gun, no scientific studies that show they are the causative agent.” …..

From October 2006 to February 2011, Ceilley was principle investigator for a study of freshwater fish communities in man-made and natural waterways across Babcock Ranch in Charlotte and Lee counties.

Ceilley’s team collected 9,059 fish from 26 species and found that the two dominant species were native mosquitofish and African jewelfish; a single 12-inch-by-six-inch-by-6-inch trap would sometimes catch 150 African jewelfish.

The study showed that African jewelfish not only ate native fish, but they also bit off the tails of natives, causing fungal infections that led to death.

One positive discovery from the study is that African jewelfish are very cold-sensitive and suffered mass die-offs during major cold events in 2009 and 2010.

Unfortunately, many survived in the slightly warmer water of canals, and the population quickly recovered.

“They’re a bad actor,” Ceilley said. “They’re the lionfish of the freshwater ecosystem. They make good aquarium fish. That’s where they belong. The only thing that knocks them back is cold, but then they come back.”….

Chad Gillis and Kevin Lollar|NEWS-PRESS.COM|July 6, 2014

Read more

Endangered Species

The Apes’ World is Shrinking, and So are Their Numbers

Scientists are worried about the fast and “unsustainable exploitation” of natural resources affecting apes’ habitats, especially in Africa and in Asia, reports The Guardian.

There are three main culprits devastating ape habitats and moving them towards extinction: global development, increasing infrastructure and extraction industries, e.g. timber, oil, minerals and gas. An offshoot of mining for natural resources is the development of roads and railways, which further destroy ape habitats.

It’s not just any apes, either. Many of the apes affected by exploitative extraction practices are supposed to be protected under the Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, gibbons and bonobos are particularly vulnerable since their habitats intersect the sought-after natural resources.

A new report, “State of the Apes: Extractive Industries and Ape Conservation,” by The Arcus Foundation highlighted that the exploitation doesn’t appear to be slowing down at all, even though some of the animals are critically endangered. By 2030, “Experts predict that at the current rate, human development will have impacted 90 percent of the apes’ habitat in Africa and 99% in Asia.”

Other Threats to Apes

Human development isn’t exclusively to blame, although some other threats they face are still caused by people.

Like humans, apes are also trafficked. As reported in The Japan Times, the “multimillion dollar illegal trade” is comparable to ‘slavery.’ Extensive criminal networks in bed with corrupt authorities drive the trade. Many of the animals will become pets or performers.

The Japan Times cites a U.N. and Interpol report that found that between 2005 and 2011, 22,000 great apes had been ‘enslaved,’ but many more must have been killed in the process since “to capture one infant ape, as many as 10 apes are ruthlessly killed.”

The spread of infectious diseases is also killing the great apes. As reported in Mongabay, ecotourism, the logging industry and shrinking habitats are bringing apes in closer proximity to us and to each other. This proximity increases the likelihood of a disease epidemic; apes are especially vulnerable to diseases like Ebola, scabies, tuberculosis, mange and measles.

Infectious disease could put a damper on even the best of news. As reported in National Geographic, Rwanda’s mountain gorillas’ numbers  are ‘bouncing back.’ In 1981, there was “an all-time low of 254 individuals” in the region.  Today, there are only 880 left on Earth, but they are in two isolated groups.

The Gorilla Doctors’ regional manager, Jan Ramer, told National Geographic that vigilance is still required despite the increasing numbers because “if an infectious disease — for example, measles — raged through, it could decimate the population.”

How to Save the Apes

According to the Population Reference Bureau, there are still ways that we can help protect the endangered apes and gibbons:

  • Reducing the number (and proximity) of tourists who want to observe the animals in the wild. This will protect them from human-to-animal infectious diseases that they can catch.
  • Focusing on ways to monetarily support the local communities that live near ape habitats. This way, local communities won’t resort to hunting the apes and selling the animals — dead or alive. For example, according to The Jane Goodall Institute of Canada, “A [bushmeat] hunter can earn approximately $300-$1000 annually.” This type of money isn’t common in many local communities, so alternative sources of income would help.
  • Continuing conservation, education and scientific initiatives related to apes and gibbons.
  • Consuming fewer products and materials that create the demand for exploitative extraction. For instance, not buying palm oil products, in order to help save the orangutans.

Jessica Ramos|July 5, 2014

Is America’s wild horse an invasive species, or an endangered reintroduced native?

Fans of the wild horse want it declared endangered, as a returned species

Wild horses went extinct about 12,000 years ago. Are today’s horses essentially the same beast?

Bison aren’t entirely bison, and Alaska’s musk oxen aren’t really natives.

Pleistocene, shmeistocene. To lovers of North America’s wild horses, the mustangs’ link to their Ice Age relatives is far more important than their descent from introduced, domesticated horses.

The fans of today’s wild horses are petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the animals as an endangered species because open rangeland is reduced and also less fit to graze. Cattlemen see the horses as pests who take up public land that would be better used for grazing herds; they favor continuing to herd them up and ship them…anywhere. Many environmentalists see both the cattle and the horses as invasive species that compact the land in unnatural ways, making it hard for native plants to grow, and that take up what should be habitat for wildlife.

Horses originated in North America but went extinct from the continent some 10,000 to 12,000 years ago—though some made it across the land bridge to Eurasia, where they developed into the zebra and the horse we know today. Then in the 1600s, the Spanish brought domesticated horses to the continent. Some of those went wild—thus the current wild horse.

To the two groups that filed the petition, Friends of Animals and the Cloud Foundation,  this was the re-introduction of a native species, much like the federal government re-introduced the wolf and grizzly bear to the Yellowstone National Park area after they had been hunted to extinction through most of the nation.

This is an argument that the Bureau of Land Management, which largely wants to rid its lands of the wild horses, has never bought. The groups hope for a better reception from Fish and Wildlife.

It seems like a reach, to be sure. For one thing, there are tens of thousands of wild horses, and they reproduce freely. It’s also a stretch to say that the Ice Age horse that went extinct thousands of years ago was, for most intents and purposes, the same as the one that now roams Western lands. It’s unlikely they would be considered the same species. Wolves were hunted to near-extinction in the lower 48 in about 1960; they made their reappearance about 20 years later, crossing over from Canada, and then were re-introduced to Yellowstone and Idaho in the 1990s. One is the same animal; the other is a descendant species.

Still, this raises interesting questions about which animals we are willing to consider natives and which we aren’t. It’s a rare bison that doesn’t have a strong strain of domesticated cattle in its blood. The musk oxen of Arctic Alaska aren’t natives; after those were hunted to extinction, new individuals were brought in from Greenland.

The same debate goes on among plant biologists. Considering that nature is not static, but rather is continually favoring some species over others, or bringing plants to places where they never lived before, how long does a plant need to hang around before it’s considered a legitimate resident and not an invader?

The land that ancient wild horses trod was probably quite different from the range they graze today. So environmental questions about “truer” natives—the ones that stuck around and did their evolving in North America—has to be considered. Horses might not have a place in the wild lands of today, if their presence harms other wild animals. But then why isn’t that true of cattle, which way outnumber horses? And for that matter, white-tailed deer, wild, native animals, have become an overpopulated pest that threaten forests in the Eastern United States. “Native” isn’t necessarily the same as “good for the environment.”

Ann Heisenfelt|Associated Press

Feds May Weaken Manatee Protections — Take Action

Despite uncertainty about the size of manatee populations and continued threats to these gentlest of lumbering sea mammals, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced last week it will consider downlisting the species from “endangered” to “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.

Downlisting would normally be cause for celebration, but hold off on the party whistles: In this case the move is not only premature — it could do great harm. Florida’s human population continues to grow, and that means threats to manatees loom large. Without the strongest protections of the Act, manatees will be even more vulnerable to cold-stress die-offs, collisions with boats and toxic algae outbreaks.

Thanks to the Act, Florida manatees have shown a slow but steady improvement over the past 40 years. We can’t turn our backs on them now.

SAVING THE FLORIDA MANATEE

Gentle and playful marine mammals, Florida manatees have come to represent the amazing biodiversity of the Everglades. With their large size, slow-moving nature, and fondness for munching sea grass, it’s easy to see why they’re also nicknamed “sea cows.” Found in Florida’s coastal waters, manatees will also migrate into estuaries and shallow rivers, following the warm temperatures they need to survive. They have long been a source of fascination for those who encounter them, most notably inspiring sailors’ tales of mermaids — Christopher Columbus even remarked upon these less-than-gorgeous “mermaids” while on his New World travels. But despite their enduring popularity, today manatees are more imperiled than ever.

Originally listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1973, manatee numbers have never truly recovered, as the animals must contend with a barrage of manmade threats. Each year, about 87 manatees are killed by collisions with boats, the single greatest cause of premature mortalities. This is more than seven times number of manatees that the Fish and Wildlife Service estimates can be killed without impairing the species’ recovery. Meanwhile, boating in Florida is at an all-time high and increasing with more boats in the water and boating infrastructure threatening manatees. Climate change also poses a threat: Cold snaps caused by unusual fluctuations in sea temperatures are killing a large number of manatees, while higher surface-water temperatures produce more severe hurricanes and lethal red-tide algal blooms. These threats, combined with loss of habitat and food sources due to urban development, add up to bleak prospects for the manatee’s future.

Thanks to a scientific petition by the Center, in 2009 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that a three-decade-old critical habitat designation — badly in need of an update — might warrant review. But early the next year, the Service announced it would indefinitely postpone actually granting the manatee a new designation. The Center has sued twice before on behalf of the manatee — once to maintain Endangered Species Act protections and again to force federal authorities to update population assessments that will guide manatee management decisions. We’ll keep working to earn greater protections for this giant gray “mermaid.

You can help save our manatees – sign #6 in “Calls to Action” above.

Center for Biological Diversity

Endangered Animals Should Not Be Dying in Traps

Wildlife conservation organizations are taking legal action to protect one of the rarest cats in the United States from continuing to be inadvertently harmed and killed by trappers in Idaho.

This week, five organizations filed a lawsuit in federal court against Governor Butch Otter and other wildlife officials arguing that the state is violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by granting permits that illegally allow trapping and killing of Canada lynx, who were listed as threatened under the ESA in 2000.

“With lynx being pushed to the brink of extinction in the lower 48 states, it’s shameful that Idaho officials have just sat idly by for years,” said Amy Atwood of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Idaho can’t just ignore federal law and go on condoning the trapping of this rare and magnificent cat.”

The lynx population in Idaho is estimated to be as few as 100, and their advocates are worried that losing more of them will isolate other populations, which will hurt their overall chances of survival.  Now, these elusive cats move back and forth between the United States and Canada, especially around Montana, Washington and Colorado.

“Idaho officials need to understand that a healthy Idaho population of this mountain cat is critical, not just to lynx survival here, but across the western United States,” said Travis Bruner, executive director of the Western Watershed Project. “We have to maintain a healthy breeding mix between Rockies and Canadian populations, and Idaho sits at the crossroads.”

Unfortunately, trappers in Idaho are currently granted permits to kill a number of species, including bobcats, beavers, muskrats, mink, marten, otters and wolves, who all share a habitat with lynx and the state has not taken any action to stop or regulate trapping in their designated critical habitat, or areas they’re known to occupy.

Trappers are also allowed to use a variety of cruel devices, including leghold traps, Conibear or body-gripping traps, and snares, which we all know by now don’t discriminate. For lynx, who already face other threats, from less snow to human-related activities, including logging and development, this is a recipe for disaster.

At least three cases of lynx being caught in traps have been confirmed in the last two years, while one was shot and killed after being mistaken for a bobcat. Even though it’s illegal to harm, harass or kill federally protected species, trappers aren’t required under state law to report catches unless the lynx dies so the numbers are believed to be a low estimate.

The organizations suing hope to compel the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to come up with a conservation plan that will minimize incidental trapping of lynx, which includes putting restrictions on types of traps used, adding reporting requirements and requiring trappers to check their traps every day throughout lynx habitat.

Separately, other groups are also trying to help lynx by urging a judge to get the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to finish a recovery plan for them, which it’s had over a decade to do, but still hasn’t completed.

Following a lawsuit, the FWS announced it would have it done by 2018, but lynx advocates don’t think that’s fast enough and are asking Judge Donald Molloy to order the agency to finish it by 2016. While a pending proposal would give them 26 million acres of public land as critical habitat, their advocates worry that without a recovery plan in place to ensure their survival, it won’t be enough.

Hopefully the recovery plan will be finished sooner than later and Idaho will get in step with federal regulations to help keep these rare cats from disappearing.

Alicia Graef|July 6, 2014

Endangered Everglades snail kite rebounding

Life is getting better for the Goldilocks of the Everglades.

After years of droughts pushing water levels too low or floods pushing water levels too high, more recent conditions have been just right for the ever-sensitive Everglades snail kite.

As a result, the number of the endangered birds is growing, signaling hope for both the health of the struggling species and for the famed River of Grass that it calls home.

There were just 800 Everglades snail kites in 2008, but their numbers had grown to about 1,200 birds in 2013 and are so far holding steady this year, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“They are a very good indication for the health of the Everglades,” Jane Graham, Audubon Florida’s Everglades policy associate, said about the snail kite. “They are like the Goldilocks bird. … We want to see them doing well.”

The future of the Everglades snail kite has been imperiled by decades of draining to make way for South Florida farming and development, which has shrunk the Everglades to about half of its size.

The hope is that the endangered bird will be one of the beneficiaries of ongoing Everglades restoration efforts aimed at recreating water flows that once naturally sent more water south.

“For this species, one of the biggest threats is habitat loss and significant changes in water level,” said Laura Barrett, imperiled species conservation coordinator for the wildlife conservation commission. “It is definitely tied to the ecosystem functioning properly.”

The Everglades snail kite is almost too finicky for its own good.

The medium-sized bird of prey with its skinny, curved bill feeds primarily on the apple snail.

The problem is that apple snails lay their eggs just above the water line. That means droughts and floods as well as manmade manipulations of water flows can put the next generation of snail kite food at risk.

Now, a new snail invading the Everglades has offered some dining relief for the snail kite.

While “exotic” species that aren’t native to Florida are usually seen as a threat to the ecosystem, this larger, heartier “island apple snail” has been able to provide a more steady food source.

Native apple snails are about the size of a golf ball and produce up to 50 eggs at a time during the spring.

The exotic snails, originally from Argentina and Brazil and imported for South Florida aquariums, can grow to the size of a baseball and produce up to 500 eggs year-round.

Wildlife officials say the new snails could end up being too much of a strain on vegetation or have other harmful environmental consequences. But so far, they are at least part of the reason that snail kites are doing better.

“It has been stable the last two years and increased over previous years,” Barrett said about the snail kite population. “We have seen a slight uptick.”

As of late May, the peak of the Everglades snail kite nesting season, about 311 nests had been identified from the Kissimmee River to the southern Everglades, according to the South Florida Water Management District.

That nest count was a little less than last year, but still in line with the holding-steady estimates of the snail kite population in recent years.

Fewer snail kite nests were found along the Kissimmee River and Lake Okeechobee this year compared to last year, but there were more nests in Everglades National Park, the Everglades water conservation areas that stretch along Broward and Palm Beach counties and the nearby stormwater treatment areas.

That could signal that snail kites are making more of a return to the central Everglades area where they once flourished, officials said.

“The good news is they are moving out to other parts of the system,” said Terrie Bates, the South Florida Water Management District’s director of water resources. “That’s a good thing to have them back in the conservation areas of the Everglades.”

Despite encouraging signs of snail kite resiliency in recent years, significant obstacles remain for the bird that Audubon calls an Everglades icon.

The up-and-down water levels that are a consequence of South Florida’s vast flood control system remain a threat to the future of the Everglades snail kite.

Everglades restoration is moving slower than once expected.

And while the yo-yoing snail kite population has held steady in recent years, it is still less than half of the 3,600 snail kites that were found in 1999.

“We want (more of) them to be nesting,” Graham said. “It means the Everglades are doing better.”

Andy Reid|Sun Sentinel|July 6, 2014

Ontario looking to restrict use of bee-killing pesticides

Province to consult with agriculture and could move by 2015
Ontario plans to consult with growers and agricultural representatives over the next few months to reduce or eliminate use of neonicotinoids – a class of chemicals implicated in the deaths of bees.

Ontario Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal said the province wants to “move away from the widespread, indiscriminate use of neonicotinoid-based pesticides.”

‘Over the coming months I want to first consult with industry, farmers and environmental stakeholders on options that are practical, including the consideration of a license system’- Ontario Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal

“I am committed to finding a balanced approach, based in science, that addresses the important role both pollinators and growers play in Ontario’s agri-food industry,” Leal said in a statement.

“Over the coming months I want to first consult with industry, farmers and environmental stakeholders on options that are practical, including the consideration of a license system.”

The province stopped short of saying it would impose a ban, as it did with the cosmetic pesticides used on lawns and golf courses.

But the minister said he hoped to develop a system by 2015 that would ensure the pesticide is used only where there is “demonstrated need.”

Ontario can block sale of chemicals

Ontario doesn’t have the power to ban neonicotinoids – a class of chemicals also known as neonics – but it can ban their sale in the province as it did with lawn chemicals.

Up to 100 per cent of corn seed and half of soybean seed is grown using neonics.

Beekeepers have expressed concern about neonics for years and the agriculture industry is worried it will not have the pollinators it needs to keep fruits and vegetables developing.

“Fully a third of our food relies on pollinators: without bees, Ontario’s food supply could be in serious trouble,” Ontario Beekeeper’s Association says in a petition to Premier Kathleen Wynne asking for a ban on the pesticides.

A Health Canada study linked widespread deaths of bees to use of the chemicals.

Evidence mounts against neonics

Evidence has been mounting linking neonicotinoids to bee mortality. In late June, the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, a group of 50 scientists from around the world, released a study of the literature about the long-term impact of neonics and concluded they ought to be banned.

Plants sprayed with neonics can remain toxic for years and that can affect entire ecosystems, they found.

Neonics are a family of chemicals that disrupt the central nervous systems of insects and can discourage pests like aphids and grubs for the life of a plant.

One of the problems with them, as far as bees are concerned, is that they are systemic pesticides, that are applied to seeds and roots but then become become incorporated into the plant and can show up in leaves, pollen, nectar, fruit and flowers.

Several retail chains that sell home garden plants have said they are reviewing practices at their suppliers over use of neonicotinoids.

Retailers review neonics on nursery plants

Rona, Canadian Tire and Home Depot have been under pressure since a Friends of the Earth study in Canada found neonics in the flowers and pollen of plants that had begun life in their nurseries.

Friends of the Earth tested home garden plants, including bee-friendly plants such as Shasta daisy and salvia, for the pesticide and found more than half of plants in garden centers in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver contained neonics.

Rona and Canadian Tire said they were working with their vendors to assess how neonicotinoids are used by plant nurseries in wake of the Friends of the Earth report. Home Depot said it is working with its suppliers “to understand the science and find alternatives.”

A Rona spokeswoman said the company has “been paying close attention to the neonicotinoid pesticides issue.”

“Since we favor an approach based on dialogue and continuous improvement with our suppliers, we will complete our due diligence with them and then apply the business recommendations accordingly,” the company said in a statement.

A Canadian Tire statement pointed to Health Canada’s efforts to review the impact of neonics.

Health Canada ‘monitoring’

Health Canada put in guidelines last year for the soybean and corn growers, who use neonicotinoids on the seeds, demanding a dust-reducing lubricant to prevent the pesticide spreading at seeding time.

But it is monitoring whether this reduced bee mortality in 2014 and has demanded additional information on whether the chemicals are actually needed in agriculture. 

It could introduce new measures for 2015 or halt the use of neonicotinoids altogether.

The European Union has already banned the chemicals.

Susan Noakes|CBC News|Jul 07, 2014

Two Southwest Snakes Win Safeguards

Two imperiled snakes from Arizona and New Mexico earned Endangered Species Act protection Monday as part of the Center’s landmark 2011 agreement forcing the feds to make rapid progress on protecting 757 species. The Mexican garter snake’s protection also follows a 2003 Center petition and several lawsuits.

The narrow-headed and Mexican garter snakes are nonvenomous snakes uniquely adapted to the delicate, increasingly rare oases of desert streamside habitats. (For example, it’s believed that the narrow-headed garter snake’s streamlined, elongated head helps it strike at fish and other prey underwater when facing upstream.) In Arizona and New Mexico, about 90 percent of these riparian areas have disappeared over the past decades; unsurprisingly, both snakes have experienced dramatic declines. These shy animals are also threatened by nonnative predators.

“The decline of these snakes is typical of the catastrophic loss of aquatic animals across the Southwest,” said the Center’s Collette Adkins Giese. “Protecting them, and the region’s shrinking waters, will benefit every other animal that depends on these river systems.”

Read more in the Arizona Republic.

Center for Biological Diversity

Feds declare 300 miles of Florida beaches critical habitat for loggerheads

The loggerhead, like all species of sea turtles, is considered imperiled.

In a move likely to affect the building of new sea walls, federal officials Wednesday announced that they had designated hundreds of miles of beaches in Florida and six other states as critical habitat for loggerhead sea turtles.

The areas designated for the turtles stretch from North Carolina to Mississippi and encompass 84 percent of all known loggerhead nesting areas. However, the announcement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration did not include any of Pinellas County’s beaches, which frequently see nesting turtles.

Still, Florida beaches account for about 300 of the 685 miles of beaches now classified as important to the future of loggerheads, according to Jaclyn Lopez of the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental organization that sued federal officials to push for the habitat ruling.

The Florida segments of the turtles’ critical habitat begin with a few Panhandle beaches near Pensacola and Apalachicola. Then the segments resume in the Sarasota area, continue along the gulf coast near Fort Myers and Naples, hopscotch around the Keys, skip Miami-Dade and most of Broward counties, then meander northward along stretches of the Atlantic coast from Palm Beach County up to near Jacksonville.

That means the areas will include some areas of the state that have debated saving sea turtle nesting areas versus saving beachfront homes and condominiums from falling into the ocean.

“That will be something to consider” during permitting of sea walls and other erosion-prevention structures, said Susan Pultz, a NOAA biologist who worked on creating the habitat. Those structures “could affect hatchlings trying to get off the beach and affect females’ ability to get onto the beach to nest.”

For instance, it would include the Palm Beach County community of Singer Island, which protrudes farther into the Atlantic than any other part of Florida’s coastline and is one of the best places in the state for loggerhead, hawksbill and green sea turtles to lay their eggs.

Beach erosion has been a big problem for Singer Island’s condominiums, so much so that five years ago state and federal politicians were pushing for a $30 million taxpayer-funded project to build 11 rock walls about 200 feet off Singer Island’s beach. Experts said the walls would only slow down the erosion but likely block the sea turtles from nesting. In the end, county officials withdrew their application for a permit for the breakwater.

The loggerhead is the most common sea turtle in the Southeast, but like all species of sea turtles it is considered imperiled. Slow-growing loggerheads are vulnerable to being hit by boats and snagged in fishing nets. Since 1978, they have been classified as a threatened species.

The habitat declaration also includes more than 300,000 square miles of the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, making it the largest critical habitat area in U.S. history, Lopez said. The ocean area was included because it contains sargassum, a type of seaweed that provides food, cover and warm water for the optimal growth of young loggerheads.

To view the final federal rule for terrestrial critical habitat and the associated final economic analysis and maps, visit www.fws.gov/northflorida/SeaTurtles/2014_Loggerhead_CH/Terrestrial_critical_habitat_loggerhead.html

To view the final federal rule for marine critical habitat, visit www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/turtles/criticalhabitat_loggerhead.htm.

Craig Pittman|Staff Writer|Tampa Bay Times|July 9, 2014

Loggerheads Get 300,000 Square Miles of Protected Habitat

In a historic win, the federal government this week protected 685 miles of beaches from Mississippi to North Carolina and more than 300,000 square miles of ocean as “critical habitat” for loggerhead sea turtles along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It’s the largest designation of critical habitat ever.

The decision comes after more than five years of delay and a lawsuit last year by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies. Loggerhead sea turtles have been on the endangered species list since 1978, and we’ve been fighting for years to get the government to safeguard their nesting beaches, ocean homes and migratory corridors. Northwest Atlantic loggerhead hatchlings leave nesting beaches and spend up to 12 years in the open ocean before returning to coastal areas, where they stay until they reach maturity at around 35 and seek out beaches to nest.

Thanks to all of you who’ve supported our work to save loggerheads and their most important habitat.

Center for Biological Diversity

Government Bureaucrat Orders Scientists: Deep-six Plan to Save Wolverines

In a troubling case of déjà-vu, a top official at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has ordered agency scientists to reverse their own conclusions and withdraw last year’s proposal to protect American wolverines under the Endangered Species Act. Fewer than 300 wolverines remain in the lower 48 states, and global warming over the next 75 years is predicted to wipe out 63 percent of the snowy habitat they need to survive. In fact the warming climate is “threatening the species with extinction,” the Fish and Wildlife Service said in February 2013.

Now, though, a leaked memo obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity reveals that a top director at the agency wants scientists to abandon those conclusions, even though there’s been no new science casting doubt on their findings.

“The decision to overrule agency scientists and deny protection to the wolverine is deeply disappointing and shows that political interference in what should be a scientific decision continues to be a problem under the Obama administration, just as it was under George W. Bush,” said the Center’s Noah Greenwald.

The Center fought hard for years to get protection for wolverines — and we’ll go to the mat over this latest scandal to make sure these fierce, mysterious predators get the help they deserve.

Read more in the San Francisco Chronicle.

As Honeybees Die Off, First Inventory of Wild Bees Is Under Way

Could wild bees be the key to saving U.S. crops?

Not every bee may count, but Sam Droege is counting every bee.

On Saturdays, the head of the landmark Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Program at the U.S. Geological Survey leaves his straw-bale house, where bees burrow in the walls, and goes to his office—for pleasure. From his desk, a recycled segment of a lane from a bowling alley, he pores over bee specimens with a microscope.

“I’m looking deeply into [their] eyes to see what they reveal,” said Droege. “I’m looking for species in potential trouble, gathering information on their status before they’re designated an endangered species.” (See “Intimate Portraits of Bees” for more of Droege’s bee pictures.)

Droege is pioneering the first national inventory of indigenous wild bees, a task of growing importance. The buzz started in 2006 when honeybees, the non-native species used commercially to pollinate crops, began to mysteriously vanish after leaving their hives. If honeybees continue to wane in coming decades, scientists believe wild bees could save our crops.

Problems for Pollinators

More than half of managed U.S. honeybee colonies have disappeared in the past ten years. Though native to Eurasia and northern Africa, honeybees pollinate a third of the American diet, from nuts to produce—not to mention coffee and cotton. In 2010 they contributed to more than $19 billion worth of crops.

Pesticides, fungicides, and viruses, among other factors, have contributed to the honeybees’ decline. Though they lack a traditional vertebrate circulatory system, they’re vulnerable to parasites, such as the bloodsucking varroa mite, which deforms their bodies and shortens their life span.

Little is known about the hardiness of the honeybee’s native counterpart, the mostly solitary wild bee. Many scientists believe that wild bee populations were once greater, but have dwindled as land was developed and agriculture intensified.

Home gardeners may also be contributing to the bees’ habitat loss. Gardeners with a love of exotic plants often uproot native ones, not realizing that this deprives most pollinators of their food. Other factors limiting the bees’ food supply include the effects of climate change, droughts, floods, and flowers blooming prematurely as the days grow warmer.

The Bees in Our Backyard

“People were collecting bees in the early 1900s, but they weren’t doing quantitative analyses,” said Georgetown University biologist Edd Barrows.

In 1998, Barrows gathered bees in Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve in Alexandria, Virginia, using mesh, tent-like structures called Malaise traps. The bees he collected then—still awaiting examination due to lack of time and funds—could serve as a historical reference point to show scientists how the preserve’s bee fauna is changing due to water and air pollution, erosion, and invasive plants.

“We need to have some way of measuring whether native bees are increasing or decreasing,” said Droege.

His own survey methods are unconventional, albeit familiar to scientists on shoestring budgets. To collect bees, plastic party cups act as pan traps. (Droege says the idea stems from the 1970s, when butchers gave their customers yellow pans, which people would fill with soapy water to catch bugs outside.)

Workers from New Horizons Supported Services, an organization that helps adults with developmental disabilities in Maryland gain employment, paint the cups to mimic the colors bees prefer in flowers. Then the cups are filled with propylene glycol—the same substance used to maintain moisture in food, medicine, and cosmetics. Its low surface tension means that insects will sink to the bottom. Every two weeks, the traps are emptied by volunteers.

After that the bees are washed, dried, and stored at the USGS lab in repurposed pizza boxes. Their deaths serve as a chance to learn about, and monitor, potentially endangered native bee species.

The biggest problem is telling the bees apart. Bees are often difficult to differentiate, and about 400 species—ten percent of North America’s bees—lack names. (Compare that to the 1,000 ant species that have been named.)

“[They're] not something someone like a birder could look at, and say, ‘That’s a robin,’” said biologist Daniel Kjar of Elmira College in New York.

So Droege spends hours trying to identify species. His team captures the pitting on their skin, the striations of hair on their abdomens, and other physical traits with a macro lens camera—a sort of insect portraiture. Droege says these body features may help bees avoid predation and attract mates.

Harvesting the Unknown

Today, scientists will go to great lengths to study the small insects.

Sean Brady, head of the Smithsonian Institution’s Department of Entomology, is studying evolutionary relationships between different bee species. He’s sequencing their genetic material, which can cost between $10,000 and $50,000 for a complete genome.

He’s also interested in understanding why, among certain bee species that produce offspring twice in a season, the first brood spends its lifetime caring for the second hatching instead of reproducing. The work may help him understand the social behavior and pollination strategy of wild bees.

“The unknown can be a good thing,” said Brady. “There is a lot to learn in the next 10 to 20 years.”

In 2010 and 2011, Brady and Droege set up traps in the cacti and thorn scrub of Guantanamo Bay, where the native habitat is preserved in the midst of the prison camp. They collected more than a third of the bee species that live on the entire island of Cuba. A new species they discovered was quickly named—Megachile droegei, after Droege.

Sasha Ingber|National Geographic|July 11, 2014

Wild & Weird

Chimp Sign Language ‘Dictionary’ Created

Chimpanzees use their hands to say “follow me,” “stop that” or “take this,” according to new research seeking to translate the sophisticated messages flowing back and forth.

Previous research had revealed that our nearest genetic relatives use gestures to communicate, prompting questions over whether the communication systems shared ancestry with the origins of human language.

The new study, published Thursday in the journal Current Biology, created the first-ever chimpanzee dictionary of sorts, deciphering just what the apes were saying to each other.

The researchers said the chimpanzee gestures — they decoded 66 in total — can be used in isolation or several can be strung together to create more complex exchanges.

And, importantly, the meaning remained consistent, regardless of which ape was making the gestures.

The messages ranged from “simple requests associated with just a few gestures to broader social negotiation associated with a wider range of gesture types,” said the authors from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

The researchers studied more than 4,500 gestures within more than 3,400 interactions, all captured on film in Uganda between 2007 and 2009.

They determined that when a mother shows the sole of her foot to her baby, she means “climb on me.” Touching the arm of another means “scratch me” and chewing leaves calls for sexual attention.

The researchers said their observations revealed unambiguous links between some gestures and outcomes — like the seductive message of leaf-chewing.

Others seemed to convey more than one idea, like grasping another chimp, which sometimes seemed to indicate “stop,” and other times “climb on me” or even “go away.”

[Chimps and gorillas have been taught American sign language, allowing researchers to effectively communicate with them. I’m just not sure that we should be listening in on their conversations. Who are we, the NSA?]

Ancient Seabird Had Wingspan Longer Than a Truck

Twenty-five million years ago, the ancient seabird Pelagornis sandersi soared above the ocean’s surface with a wingspan of more than 20 feet. Though the fossilized bones of the massive bird were discovered near an airport in Charleston, S.C., in 1983, a new report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is the first to describe it in detail. The bones of the enormous bird had sat in a drawer awaiting analysis for more than two decades.

According to paleontologists who constructed a flight model of the bird, the giant may have preferred to soar just above ancient ocean waves for great distances rather than riding high on air currents — as do many other large birds, both ancient and modern. And Pelagornis sandersi, the study suggests, was too heavy to take off by running across water like many present-day waterfowl.

“I think they just waited on the beach for a strong wind to carry them aloft,” said study author Daniel Ksepka of North Carolina State University in Raleigh in a National Geographic interview. A very strong wind indeed.

Pelagornis sandersi belongs to a now-extinct family of “toothed” birds, equipped with bony protrusions from their beaks that were used to spear prey.

Read more in National Geographic.

Everglades

THE EVERGLADES: ‘River of Interests’

In the Tampa Bay region, including Hillsborough, Manatee and Pinellas counties, grassland habitats have been reduced by dredging, community and port development, sewage treatment plants, industrial discharges and turbidity from dredging the main shipping canal.

Between 1950 and 1982, seagrass habitats declined from 40,000 acres to 21,600 acres, and rivers, streams and waterways in Tampa Bay have become polluted. In 2013, Environment Florida, a state environmental group, worked at educating the public by sending more than 100,000 letters to the federal Environmental Protection Agency calling for increased protections of our waterways such as the Hillsborough River and Tampa Bay.

This past January, Floridians from 16 cities, including Tampa, and from 100 different organizations gathered. They were concerned about water pollution and over-consumption of their water resources and made a stand for clean water.

These “Commit to Clean Water” events were held in Tampa, Bradenton, Boynton Beach, Fort Myers, Fort Pierce, Jacksonville, Key West, Ocala, Orlando, Stuart, Vero Beach, Naples, Gainesville, Interlachen and Palm Bay.

From the Apalachicola River to Tampa Bay and from the Everglades to our countless springs and wetlands, Florida’s water is one of our most treasured resources. And residents, environmentalists and water management professionals are genuinely concerned about losing it. As taxpayers, we are going to be paying for the redevelopment of our natural resources, so it is best that we are aware of why we are doing it, and the facts behind it.

Crippling our state’s water management philosophy is an event that began in the 1930s to devastate Florida in the name of progress: the draining of the Everglades, which has impacted the state as a whole.

Prior to the 1800s, the Everglades region was an undeclared national treasure. The wetlands was a sea of grass where birds, panthers, alligators, deer and manatee flourished. The rain-fed series of rivers, lakes and wetlands that began just south of Orlando and traveled through Lake Okeechobee to the southern tip of Florida and then east and west from there to the coasts was the original site of the Everglades. It covered almost 3 million acres.

Now the Everglades as an ecosystem is in peril and has been for a number of years. The Everglades is now half its original size.

Florida acquired the Everglades in the mid-1800s because of the federal “Swamp and Overflowed Lands Act,” which passed with only one condition attached to it: The Everglades must be drained, lawmakers said.

Canals were built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to control the flooding and to drain the Everglades as early as the 1930s in the Everglades Agricultural Area to honor this agreement. They also confined the Kissimmee River to a 53-foot-long canal that drained thousands of acres of wetlands.

In the 20th century, more than 1,700 miles of levees and canals were built. They were authorized by Congress and came to be known as the Central and Southern Florida Project (C&SF Project) in 1948. It was known as the largest and most extensive civil works project of its day. More than half of the Everglades was also destroyed by urban development, industry and agriculture. New species of plants were introduced, which, because of their fast growth, were a threat to the native plants. This also impacted the ecosystem as the vegetation grew through South Florida.

Most of the negative changes in the ecosystem that occurred from that time period are acknowledged by the South Florida Water Management District and the Corps of Engineers.

They questioned the purpose of this land. Would this “wet swamp” continue to lie unoccupied, or could it be settled and reach its full potential? Draining the Everglades was the solution reached.

“River of Interests: Water Management in South Florida and the Everglades 1948-2010” by historians Matthew Godfrey and Theodore Catton was commissioned by the Corps of Engineers in 2004. The Jacksonville division of the Corps of Engineers serves most of  Florida, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Suwanee, Withlacoochee and Alapaha river drainages in southern Georgia. In Florida, the Corps traces its roots back to 1821.

“River of Interests” completely defines the subtle history of that period in a complete and objective way. Ironically, this government document was honored last year by placement upon the American Library Association’s notable documents list in 2012. It is said this would be the equivalent of winning the Pulitzer Prize for the writing of a government document.  The writers describe the Everglades and the process that made the habitat unique.

“The climate influences how much water flows through South Florida which is characterized by two inland ridges — one along the east coast and one to the west — forming a shallow bowl-like valley,” the authors write in “River of Interests.”

A slight tilt in the bowl means that water drains in a southwesterly direction, but, before the beginnings of drainage and development in the late 1800s, this natural receptacle retained much of the large amounts of rainfall that cascaded to the ground. Supplementing this supply was a slow-moving flow of water emanating from the upper chain of lakes forming the headwaters of the Kissimmee River ­— lakes Kissimmee, Tohopekaliga, Hatchineha and Cypress, to name a few — located just south of present-day Orlando. Water from these lakes meandered down the twisting and turning Kissimmee to Lake Okeechobee, the second-largest freshwater lake in the continental United States. … The lake had no real outlet (the St. Lucie River began 20 miles to the east of the lake, flowing to the Atlantic Ocean, while the Caloosahatchee River started three miles west, running to the Gulf). Taylor Slough was the other major drainage, running southwest from a more easterly position into Florida Bay, located just south of Florida’s southern tip. The Miami, New and Hillsboro rivers also flowed through the Everglades, taking water east to Biscayne Bay. As these waterways deposited into the estuaries of the Ten Thousand Islands, Florida Bay and Biscayne Bay, fresh water mixed with salt water, creating a habitat where shrimp, lobster and fish thrived.

Before Euro-American habitation of South Florida, the Everglades was a complex system of plant life linked by water, including expansive areas of sawgrass sloughs, wet prairies, cypress swamps, mangrove swamps and coastal lagoons and bays. It consisted of 2.9 million acres of land dominated by sawgrass and tree islands … in the words of Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who bequeathed the term ‘river of grass’ to the Everglades (playing off of “panhokee,” the Seminole word for the region meaning ‘grassy waters’) … Yet by the last quarter of the 20th century, this diversity of life has largely ceased to exist, and the Everglades itself had shrunk to half its size. These conditions led to concerns about the C&SF Project’s impact on the South Florida ecosystem and ultimately to cries for dismantling the works. The following history of water management in South Florida since 1948 shows both the short-term value and the long-term pitfalls that the Corps’ engineering of the South Florida environment has generated. In doing so, it focuses on the interaction of different interest groups, all with diverse stakes and perspectives and how their conflicts and compromises influenced the direction that the Corps pursued.
Congress authorized the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, or CERP, to act as a plan to fix the damage the drainage caused to the ecosystem, as well as to redirect the flow of groundwater to the Everglades, rather than allowing it to discharge into the ocean.

At that time, it was thought CERP would take 30 years to complete at a cost of $9.5 million, which could grow to $11.8 billion. This plan was also known as the “Restudy.”

It is important to know that in 1948, there were only 500,000 people living in that region. Now there are more than 6 million. There are three times more people living there now, which necessitated changes be made in the original CERP document, for it is now predicted that by 2050 as much as 2 million gallons of water a day will be needed by inhabitants, industry and agriculture in South Florida, according to SFWMD scientists.

The South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force was given the task of studying CERP and finding out what had worked and what had not. The task force calls this study the Central Everglades Planning Project, or  CEPP.  SFWMD and the Corps of Engineers are partners with this task force.

The final combined goal was to critique CERP and make sure its goals were being met, as well as to speed up the timeline to catch the water flowing out to the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic and redirect it south to the central portion of the Everglades, Florida Bay and Everglades National Park, as well as protect the coastal estuaries. The task force also wanted to maintain an open public forum with residents and taxpayers.

It was hoped that the redirected water would be used in bringing back to life a dying Everglades ecosystem, with the remainder to be used by farmers and residents in South Florida.

The Corps of Engineers and SFWMD delivered the first draft of the Everglades’ system status report this past March on CERP.

“This multi-agency report evaluates current monitoring data from different geographic regions within the Everglades ecosystem to determine if the goals and objectives of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan are being met,” Andy LoSchiavo, system status report coordinator for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District, said when presenting the report. “The data reviewed in the report are used to summarize changes in the ecosystem and to recognize and discuss, when necessary, why goals are not currently being met and how adaptive management may be incorporated to better manage the system.”

Three public informational meetings were held on the report through April, and public input was accepted through April 29.

Gov. Rick Scott signed the $77 billion state budget, vetoing only $69 million and making this year a standout in monies awarded.
As part of this budget, $259 million was earmarked to protect Florida’s Everglades, its rivers and estuaries and the water used by 8 million residents and millions more tourists annually.

CEPP map  The Central Everglades Planning Project map shows the areas of Florida where improvements were to be made in the Everglades reconstruction. CEPP did not receive final approval by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this year in time to be added for state budget consideration, so funding has been delayed for at least one year until Florida lawmakers are able to vote on the project. Photo contributed by the South Florida Water Management Agency.

This is a diagram of the original CERP plan for the Everglades, which is undergoing revisions and improvements. This is a diagram of the original CERP plan for the Everglades, which is undergoing revisions and improvements.

It will give funding for the Everglades/Lake Okeechobee/Indian River Lagoon project ($259.6 million), Lake Okeechobee cleanup ($19 million), water quality restoration ($32 million), C-44 spreader canal ($40 million), C-111 spreader canal ($5 million), C-43 spreader canal ($18 million), Tamiami Trail Bridge expansion ($90 million), Picayune Strand ($2 million), Kissimmee River ($5 million), Lake Worth Lagoon ($2.08 million), Northern Everglades BMPs ($3 million), Indian River Lagoon (IRL) dredging ($10 million), IRL resource recovery pilot ($1 million), water quality monitoring ($4 million), Alligator Alley tolls to South Florida Water Management District support ($8.6 million), SFWMD support ($2.7 million), dispersed water shortage ($13 million), and the Loxahatchee/St. Lucie Initiative ($4.15 million).

The Central Everglades Planning Project, or CEPP, which is central to water issues in the state, was not in the budget. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not approve the CEPP, saying it needed more time.

The CEPP was created to study the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, or CERP, created by Congress in 2000, to make sure it was on track to restore the Everglades. The CEPP draft was presented to the state in March by the Army Corps of Engineers.

President Barack Obama, Gov.Scott, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and other members of Congress expressed dismay at the unwillingness of the Corps of Engineers to approve the Central Everglades Planning Project so it could be placed on the budget.

As a prelude to the disappointment, Scott urged the Corps of Engineers this past April to adopt CEPP. The plan had already been approved by SFWMD, one of the CEPP partners, as is the Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville district.

Col. Alan Dodd, the Corps of Engineers district commander, said they were committed to CEPP and fully committed to the plan but that it needed more time to examine the 8,000-page document before approving it.

“There are still several required steps that must happen before CEPP can become a reality,” Dodd said in April. “First, the Corps must address any comments made during the state and agency review. The Corps must then prepare a ‘Chief of Engineers’ report to present to the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for approval and signature. The report is then forwarded to Congress for information and to the Department of the Army and the Administration for review. Once the Administration clears the report, it is sent to Congress for possible authorization and funding. These steps are required by law, and must be accomplished sequentially and cannot be done concurrently.”

On May 23, Dodd reported the Corps had accepted the plan and it would be moving forward for approval by state and agency review as early as this summer.

On one side, you can see the Corps’ position. In The Observer News June 5 article, “The Everglades: River of Interests,” the role the Corps of Engineers played in the destruction of the Everglades’ ecosystem and the Corps’ acknowledgement of that role through the “River of Interests” government document they commissioned, it is understandable that they are conservative in their progression of the CEPP.

Unfortunately, it means it may be years before the CEPP acquires the funding needed now to proceed in bringing back the ecosystem of the Everglades to what it used to be, as well as to harness the groundwater to serve the needs of Florida. Some 1.7 billion gallons of ground water flow out to the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean annually, according to Melissa Meeker, former head of SFWMD.

LIA MARTIN

DEP PERMIT FOR THE L-8

Critical water storage and treatment will be bolstered by latest construction effort

PALM BEACH COUNTY -The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Office of Ecosystem Projects issued a permit to the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) today to construct the L-8 Divide Structure, a key component of  strategies to restore south Florida ecosystems. The L-8 Divide Structure will assist the movement of stormwater into the L-8 Flow Equalization Basin providing much needed water storage and, when necessary, directing water from the L-8 Flow Equalization Basin south to designated stormwater treatment areas.  

“The department and the South Florida Water Management District continue to make progress on Governor Scott’s strategies to restore south Florida’s ecosystems,” said DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard. “This project is another significant step forward for the region as we work to increase our water storage and water treatment capacity and move cleaner water south, where it will ensure proper nourishment of Florida’s Everglades.”

The L-8 Flow Equalization Basin will use a 53-foot-deep reservoir capable of storing approximately 45,000 acre-feet of water, or the equivalent of 22,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water. The below-ground reservoir was a former rock mine site located in central Palm Beach County. The location’s unique geology allows for deep, below-ground storage, reduces water loss through seepage and minimizes levee safety concerns. The L-8 Flow Equalization Basin consists of seven interconnected cells that will be utilized to manage basin stormwater. During storm events and other peak flow times, the reservoir will act as a storage feature. During dry periods, the reservoir will deliver flows for optimized treatment prior to those flows entering the Everglades.  

Other project elements such as the construction of a permanent discharge pump station and the inflow feature are already underway and on schedule for completion by Dec. 2016. The construction of embankment protection features is also nearing completion. Total project cost for the L-8 Flow Equalization Basin and associated projects is $75.5 million, with $35 million spent to date. Construction of the L-8 Divide Structure is scheduled for Aug. 2014 through Oct. 2016. The total project cost for the divide structure is $5.6 million. When completed, the L-8 Equalization Flow Basin will store up to 15 billion gallons of water so it can be treated and moved south to the Everglades.

The  water quality plan includes:  

  • 6,500 acres of additional stormwater treatment areas, which are man-made managed wetlands that naturally remove phosphorus from water prior to the water being discharged into the Everglades;
  • 110,000 acre-feet of water storage capabilities in flow equalization basins or reservoirs that work with the proposed and existing stormwater treatment areas to regulate flows and optimize treatment efficiency; and
  • Other components of the plan include engineering projects in existing treatment areas and the modification of conveyance features necessary to move the water through the SFWMD’s massive flood control and water delivery features.

National Academy of Sciences Report Calls for Expedited Restoration

The National Research Council released a new report assessing progress towards Everglades Restoration. This independent review stresses the need to re-invest in restoration efforts, noting that the ecosystem continues to be in peril. Insufficient funding and delays in project authorization have slowed the pace of restoration efforts, leaving this unique habitat cutoff from the freshwater flows that keep the Everglades healthy.

Audubon urges state and federal decision-makers to heed the Review’s call to reinvest in science and monitoring, complete the Central Everglades Planning Project and accelerate restoration efforts in the face of rising seas and other impacts of climate change.

Click here to view Audubon’s summary of the National Research Council report

Water Quality Issues

Water resources looking for a hero

As Florida’s 2014 legislative session ended, the much-touted springs bill dried up as many predicted. The bipartisan bill pushed by several Senate co-sponsors couldn’t navigate through the man-made dam in the Florida House.

This wasn’t the only disappointment for those committed to protecting Florida’s natural resources. With a record high state budget of $77 billion, hopes ran high among those concerned about springs protection, Everglades restoration and water resources that this might be the session that we return to the environmental funding of the past.

Then, Florida Forever was fully funded at $300 million and Water Protection and Sustainability received the full $100 million originally intended.

This year, not even close.

While the Florida Legislature did fund some water projects that individual legislators requested, it failed to fund environmental programs that look at whole ecosystems and ongoing projects. One notable exception was considerable funding granted for the Indian River Lagoon restoration.

Another cause for celebration actually came from the federal government. In early June, President Obama signed a big water-projects bill that provides funding for some Everglades restoration projects.

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act will allow state and federal partners to start new restoration projects in the River of Grass after seven years of stagnation. It’s hard to believe the best environmental news for Florida came from Washington, D.C., the bastion of divisiveness, obstruction and inaction.

Why can’t Florida provide responsible environmental policy and consistent funding?

The fundamentals are in place. Our state revenues are increasing and our budget reached a record high. And documentary stamp revenue, the customary funding source for environmental and infrastructure funding, is also on the rise after years of a slowdown in the housing market.

And over the years good people fought hard and accomplished great things.

Florida Forever, the highly popular and successful voluntary land acquisition program, is still enshrined in state law, providing a strong framework for conservation efforts. The Water Sustainability and Protection Act set forth a solid blueprint to ensure an adequate and safe supply of water. It’s still the law of the land and focuses on both water quality and quantity. It created a matching fund program with local governments to address their water supply needs.

It was my hope the proposed springs legislation would join Florida Forever and the Water Sustainability Act in Florida’s statutes and that all three would receive the dedicated and continuous funding that’s necessary to restore and maintain our natural resources and quality of life.

Why didn’t that happen?

The springs bill failed, in part, because the incoming House speaker wants it done on his watch. Of course there are many user groups, some with deep pockets, that want a say. Accommodating them runs the risk that good springs protection legislation gets diluted.

The problem with water, land, springs and Everglades policy is that Florida has no long-term stability and continuity despite the hard-fought battles to put a funding source and meaningful legislation in place.

And, one might argue, no backbone to say No to the special interests that take a parochial view of our environmental policies.

As leadership in the House and Senate changes, the commitment to water resource funding ebbs and flows. When the economy slows, the environmental programs are the first to take a hit. When legislators are term-limited and leave office, new legislators need to be educated on the environment and, frankly, not too many are interested.

But they should be. Water is vital to our very survival — and our economy.

While the governor and legislators acknowledge the importance of an adequate water supply, their words are cheap. While they sing the praises of springs protection, their inaction hits a sour note.

We’re refighting the same battles. We’re not making the forward progress that we once did. Empty words and promises aren’t going to restore the Everglades, protect our springs, increase our water supply, or clean up our lakes, rivers and estuaries.

It’s time for a sincere commitment to our resources backed by dedicated, sustainable and continuous funding. Frustrated Floridians are looking for an environmental hero.

Clearly, it’s not going to come from our current leaders.

Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland.

Much of Florida is banking on Lower Floridan Aquifer

Water experts caution that south Lake County has just five years or so to find an alternative water supply before withdrawals from the aquifer could begin impacting lakes, wetlands and springs.

County leaders are looking for answers deeper underground – in the largely untapped Lower Floridan Aquifer – although they acknowledge that much is not known about that water source and they predict there will be substantial challenges in tapping it and using it.

Still, the lower aquifer is seen by many communities in Florida as the best hope for a cost-effective solution to the state’s approaching water shortage.

On the front lines of this effort is the South Lake Regional Water Initiative (SLRWI), a coalition which includes the cities of Clermont, Groveland, Minneola, Mascotte, Montverde, the South Lake Chamber of Commerce and the county.

Currently, most of the water consumed by Floridians is drawn from the Upper Floridan Aquifer, a meandering reservoir that sits just below the surface of the earth.

Water experts say the upper aquifer cannot supply a growing state, including Central Florida, much longer, so many counties – Orange, Marion, Polk and Lake among them – are beginning to explore the lower aquifer deeper beneath the ground.

One key challenge, however, is determining whether the two aquifers are truly separated by a confining layer of earth and are not simply part of the same aquifer system.

Scott Laidlaw, the bureau chief of Water Use Planning and Regulation for the St. Johns River Water Management District, said data about the lower aquifer is limited.

“If the nature of the confinement between the two units (the upper and lower aquifers) is leaky, drawing water from the lower Floridan may have the same impact to the minimum flows and levels bodies as pulling water from the Upper Floridan,” he said.

“The two units are hydrologically connected. The nature of that connectivity varies across the region.”

Indeed, in Georgia, municipalities have been withdrawing from the lower Floridan since 1998, having little impact on the upper Floridan, experts said.

“The geology of this aquifer system is different in Georgia,” said James Reichard, professor of geology at Georgia Southern University. “We have more confining layers that separate the upper and lower Floridan.”

But because the lower aquifer is largely untapped, much about it remains a mystery to scientists and geologists.

“We don’t know what the local geology looks like in the lower Floridan and whether you can withdraw a reasonable quantity of water,” said Alan Oyler, the technical consultant for the SLRWI, who previously worked for the city of Orlando for 28 years in the waste water department implementing reclaimed water systems. “Finding that out is not cheap.”

Oyler said there are areas can be pulled from that will have a smaller effect than other areas.

“Any withdrawal from the lower aquifer is bound to have some effect on the upper,” he said. “The question is how much.”

Even so, the SJRWMD has approved permits,, such as one to Niagara Bottling Co., to more than double the amount of water it draws from the Floridan Aquifer using the lower aquifer.

Niagara contends that withdrawing water from the lower aquifer will have less impact on lake levels.

In some places in Florida, the confining unit (between the two aquifers) is less than 50 feet thick and composed of permeable limestone and dolomite, whereas Niagara contends the area it’s looking at has a confining unit of clay up to 75 feet thick.

A permit condition also was included in the agreement that allows the permit to be revoked or the withdrawal reduced if aquifer tests demonstrate that using water from the lower aquifer does not provide the benefit anticipated, according to Water Management officials.

Lake County Commissioner Sean Parks said before the lower aquifer is utilized as a water source, “the best modeling and scientific data will have to demonstrate it has no effect on the Upper Floridan.”

“I do believe any permits issued for the Lower Floridan should be issued on a short-term basis,” he said, so if it is determined it has an impact on the upper aquifer, the permit can be revoked.

But studying the aquifers to assure there is separation between the upper and lower will be expensive.

Working in conjunction with the Central Florida Water Initiative, the SLRWI must come up with $300,000 to fund a study that will convince the Water Management District that using the lower aquifer is a viable option.

The Florida Senate has recommended full funding for the study, while the House of Representatives must still approve the funding. Even so, all parties, with the exception of the Lake County Commission, have agreed to share in the cost of the study. The County Commission is expected to vote for approval at an upcoming meeting.

And even if studies prove the aquifers are separated, the costs of drilling deeper and purifying the water that comes from the lower aquifer will affect water users.

Oyler said water rates across Central Florida will undoubtedly rise.

Parks said finding an alternative water source – whether it is tapping the lower aquifer or something else – can be just one part of a larger solution to the approaching water shortage. He also advocates conservation, water reuse, and capturing storm water for use by consumers.

Polk County, Lake’s neighbor to the south, is already seeking a permit to withdraw 30 million gallons a day from the lower aquifer.

“We have already done tests that will demonstrated no impact to the upper aquifer or surficial,” said Gary Fries, Polk’s utilities director.

The whole project is expected to cost $320 million because a major pipeline must be installed, Fries said.

Fries believes that the lower Floridan is the most cost-effective option for Polk County, even though they will have to treat the water because the quality is poor.

“It will probably impact our water rates by 15 percent,” he said.

The further south you go in Florida, the poorer the quality of water, Oyler explained. He said there are eight wells in the south Lake region currently withdrawing water needs from the lower aquifer.

The water quality tested in Minneola, Clermont and Groveland lower aquifer wells is excellent, but as you reach the Four Corners area, the quality gets worse, he said.
“That is a challenge to treat,” he said.

Drilling in the lower aquifer is like potluck, Oyler said, explaining that one area could produce good water quality and another area 15 miles away could have poorer quality

While Oyler said the Lower Floridan is a viable option, the question is whether it will meet all of south Lake’s needs.

That is why it cannot be the only solution to solving the problem, he noted.

“If you look at the general use pattern of water, 50 percent of potable water is used for irrigation,” he said. “If we can stop large-scale irrigation, we don’t have a water problem right now.”

While some areas are connected to reclaimed water, with many cities in the south region, including Groveland, expanding its reclaimed water networks, conservation is also key, Oyler said.

Groveland Mayor Tim Loucks said in the next few months the Eagle Ridge Reclaimed Distribution System would be online, reducing groundwater for irrigation by 400,000 gallons a day.

Regardless, people should cut back on their use of water, said.

“We are not in Costa Rica,” he said. “You can’t grow a jungle.”

Livi Stanford|Staff Writer|Daily Commercial|April 6, 2014

Opening the Taps: Detroit’s Fight for Public Water Is Also the Nation’s

Detroit made international news last month when its municipal water board resumed cutting off water to residents with unpaid bills. With thousands of community members struggling in homes with no running water, local groups reached out to the United Nations special rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation to intervene. Last Wednesday, U.N. officials responded, calling the water department’s actions a “violation of the human right to water and other international human rights.”

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department’s decision to cut off residents with unpaid bills has put the city in the crosshairs of a national press seemingly fascinated by yet another story of its dance on the economic brink. Community groups, zeroing in on residents’ inability to bathe, cook or use the toilet, saw the shutoffs as an indication that the department is desperate to bring down its $5.7 billion water and sewer debt.

Kevyn Orr, Detroit’s emergency manager, appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder last year to see the city through bankruptcy, is considering the privatization of the city’s water. According to a water department spokesman, “DWSD has no say in the matter.”

Any such consideration of full (or even partial) privatization of a vital public good such as water — especially under the guise that such a move would help straighten out the city’s finances — would be tremendously shortsighted.

Downsides of Private Water

Privatization of water has a terrible track record in the U.S. and around the world. According to a white paper out last month from Corporate Accountability International (CAI), water privatization overwhelmingly leads to higher prices for cities and people and, in many cases, decreased efficiencies.

In the United Kingdom, two decades of privatization increased the average cost of water by 50 percent. In France, the price of water shot up 16 percent under private management, the result in part of the private water companies’ legal mandate to return profit to their shareholders. In contrast, a public water system puts any revenue from ratepayers back into the system, which is how Paris saved $46 million in the first year after taking back the water department from a private company — and lowered rates for residents.

In New Jersey, where United Water, the U.S. affiliate of the global water company Suez, has a number of contracts, the firm has lobbied against bills requiring notification of rate increases or keeping local governments better apprised of water supplies, according to the CAI report. (Full disclosure: I am a strategic adviser to CAI.)

In Stockton, California, four years of private water — as well as neglected infrastructure and contract noncompliance — ended with the city reclaiming public control. In fact, CAI reports that since 2002, more than 20 municipalities in the U.S. have taken back control from private companies such as United Water.

Private water companies pitch their services as a way to balance budgets, but Detroit’s public water system is struggling in large part due to policy decisions, not because of some inherent inefficiency of the public sector.

An Unjust Water Policy

A big reason many of Detroit’s poorer residents are struggling with their water bills is inequitable water-pricing. The United States uses a uniform unit pricing scheme for water delivery; it’s a form of cost allocation that allows rate differences between categories (say, residential or commercial users), but not between different types of users — who might have vastly different incomes — within those categories.

Because water rates are felt disproportionately by low-income consumers, they burden public districts that have less wealthy residents. In a 2013 report on local government spending on public water, three mayors — Philadelphia’s Michael Nutter; Scott Smith of Mesa, Arizona; and Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, California — called the pricing scheme “regressive,” adding:

“Current public water cost allocation schemes that rely on uniform user class pricing place a tremendous financial burden on the lower median income households in a community. The financial burden is both substantial, and sometimes, widespread in a community.”

It’s a conclusion that might sound abstract but is very real to the 12,500 Detroit households that had their water cut off so far this year.

This water pricing structure was put in place with the birth of the Clean Water Act, but back in the 1970s when it passed there was significantly more federal support for local water districts. Since then, according to the watchdog group Food & Water Watch, federal spending “on improvements to our water and sewer systems has declined by more than 80 percent.” Even as the 2008-10 recession pushed more and more families into debt and increased unemployment, local water systems were forced to carry a greater burden for water services. In 2010, local government spent $111.4 billion on water needs — an all-time high.

With all eyes on Detroit, it’s important to realize what we’re seeing: A city water department cutting off residents appears — and is — extreme, but it’s a taste of what private water companies do. “The rate hikes and service cutoffs we’re seeing in Detroit,” CAI’s Erin Diaz told me, “while uncharacteristic of public water systems, are actually a very real glimpse into what the city’s system could be like if privatized — we’ve seen it all over the world.”

We need a renewed investment in public water. The mayors’ report on local water and wastewater spending warned that without more robust federal and state support for water systems, communities around the country will increasingly feel the pinch. But the solution is not privatization; we need what the mayors called “a fresh look at local affordability and national water policy” — a more equitable water policy that does not leave districts or needy citizens in the lurch. For thousands of community members in Detroit, this fresh look isn’t happening quickly enough.

Anna Lappé|7/4/2014

[Privatizing water would only cause a spike in water prices resulting in even more people not being able to pay their water bills. Detroit’s financial difficulties were not caused by the residents and cannot be resolved by charging the residents more for their services.]

Ratepayer Allegedly Stabbed Water Department Employee After Service Disconnected

A Missouri man allegedly stabbed a city water department staffer after his service was disconnected.

“A Caruthersville, Missouri City Hall employee was stabbed multiple times on June 26, according to police. Chief of Police Tony Jones said the suspect was mad his water was turned off,” KFVS reported. “It happened in the water department office around 11:15 a.m.”

Elizabeth Hardesty is the water department bookkeeper. On the morning of the attack, “an irate man came in about his disconnected water. Fifty-year old Richard Edward Jaworski of Caruthersville allegedly stabbed Hardesty multiple times,”  KZIM reported.

Jaworski, of Caruthersville, is facing potential charges of first-degree assault, burglary first degree, unlawful use of a weapon and armed criminal action, the report said. He was held without bond. Jaworski allegedly said, “I’ll teach you to turn my water off” before he left the government building.

“According to the probable cause statement, Jaworski went in the south door of city hall and walked into the water department. He walked past the service counter with a large knife in his right hand and began violently stabbing Elizabeth Hardesty. The statement shows the attack ended with 13 stabs and/or attempts to stab Hardesty,” the report said.

“Hardesty was flown to the Regional Medical Center in Memphis to be treated for numerous stab wounds,” the Blytheville Courier News reported.

Police chief Tony Jones, who made the arrest, described the encounter, per the Associated Press: “He said he stabbed her because his water was cut off.”

Sara Jerome|July 2, 2014

Is New York Trying To Use Water Treatment Funds To Build A Bridge?

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing criticism for allegedly trying to use funding intended for water treatment operations to instead build a new highway bridge.

The latest voice to raise concern about the plan is the federal government.

“Federal officials have begun questioning Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to use $511 million in loans from a clean water fund to help finance the new Tappan Zee Bridge,” CBS New York reported.

In a letter to the state, the EPA called the plan “unconventional.”

The EPA “said it is carefully reviewing the proposal,” the Wall Street Journal reported. “The agency says it wants to ensure it is appropriate to use the funds for [the bridge project], and urged state officials to allow public scrutiny of the proposal.

What does Cuomo’s proposal look like?

“The governor wants to take out a $511 million low-interest loan to cover part of the multi-billion dollar Tappan Zee replacement,” Streets Blog NYC reported. “Good government advocates are putting up a fight, saying the deal sets a dangerous precedent for a program intended for projects like wastewater treatment plants.”

Some New York politicians are wary of the plan.

“These funds have been intended to address wastewater treatment, sewage treatment needs of municipalities. It seems completely inappropriate to be drawing down these funds for this particular purpose,” state Assemblyman James Brennan said to WAMC.

Environmental advocates say Cuomo’s plan is misguided.

“Several environmental advocacy groups have lodged a formal protest against [the proposal],” the Associated Press reported. That includes the New York League of Conservation Voters and Environmental Advocates of New York.

The governor’s office has argued that the proposal considers environment factors.

“Cuomo says the loans will fund measures associated with the new bridge to protect the Hudson River and marine life,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

Sara Jerome|July 2, 2014

 

Fracking Wastewater Restrictions Passed By Jersey State Legislature

Concerned about potential threats to New Jersey waterways, the state’s legislature passed restrictions on the controversial practice of fracking on June 26. 

“[The state Assembly] overwhelmingly passed a bill designed to ban the treatment and disposal of waste generated by hydraulic fracturing,” The Record reported. “The Senate had already approved the measure last month, which now faces a final hurdle – the signature of Governor Christie.”

Christie, a Republican, previously halted efforts by the legislature to permanently ban fracking. It remains unclear how he will proceed this time. 

The bill cleared the Assembly with substantial support. “The Assembly passed S-1041, the state Senate’s version of the bill, in a 62-16 vote with one abstention,” Law 360 reported.

Fracking is not practiced in New Jersey, but it still has an impact on the state.

“It is a big industry in neighboring Pennsylvania. Some New Jersey facilities have handled the wastewater,” the Associated Press reported. New Jersey “lies on the Utica Shale, which has less abundant natural-gas reserves than the nearby Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and New York,” according to The Hill.

Back in 2012, Christie backed a one-year moratorium on fracking in lieu of legislation to permanently ban the practice in his state.

Christie said during that legislative session: “I share many of the concerns expressed by the legislators that sponsored this [fracking ban legislation] and the environmental advocates seeking a permanent moratorium on fracking. We must ensure that our environment is protected and our drinking water is safe,” according to The Hill.

“I am placing a one-year moratorium on fracking so that the [state] can further evaluate the potential environmental impacts of this practice in New Jersey as well as evaluate the findings of still outstanding and ongoing federal studies,” he continued.

To the consternation of environmental advocates, the legislature backed Christie’s plan two years ago. “Environmentalists had hoped the Democratic-controlled Legislature would try to override the governor’s conditional veto,” the Associated Press reported.

Sara Jerome|July 2, 2014

The 2014 Water Resource Development Act (WRDA) 

The 2014 Water Resource Development Act (WRDA)   provides an $8.2 billion boost to U.S. ports and waterways and authorized several environmental restoration projects.  Four additional CERP projects  were authorized for CORPS construction including the C43/Caloosahatchee West Basin Reservoir.  , the Broward County WPAs, the Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands project, and the C-111 Spreader Canal.

Project:                                                Federal Sponsor:                              State  Sponsor:

C-111 Spreader Canal                     $88,992,000                                        $88,992,000

Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands      $96,209,000                                        $96,209,000

Broward County WPAs                  $433,353,500                                      $433,353,500

C-43 Reservoir                                 $297,189,000                                      $297,189,000

Total:                                                 $915,743,500                                      $915,743,500

Grand total:       $1,831,487,000

The Central Everglades Plan (CEPP)    is not included in this legislation.   Congressional leaders have stated their intent to have another WRDA bill in 2016.

 

Modified Water Deliveries to Everglades National Park Project Tamiami Trail Modifications

The purpose of the Modified Water Deliveries to Everglades National Park Project is to restore natural hydrologic conditions in Everglades National Park, which were altered by the construction of roads, levees and canals.

The Modified Water Deliveries Project is an essential, foundation project for the Comprehensive Everglades restoration Plan (CERP), providing the first major restoration effort for Everglades National Park.

Many of the anticipated CERP projects will not be technically feasible without implementation of the Modified Water Deliveries project.

This project is necessary to help reestablish more natural flow patterns to Everglades National Park and improve the connectivity for wildlife.

It is also essential to getting the water right by providing the flow capacity necessary for future CERP projects and will contribute to improved operating flexibility of the entire water management system from Orlando to the Florida Keys.

This project will provide the increased flow capacity necessary to achieve the restoration benefits to Lake Okeechobee,

the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary, St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, the Everglades Water Conservation Areas, Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.

There are five major components of the Modified Water Delivers to Everglades National Park Project:

  • Tamiami Trail Modifications: Flow from Water Conservation Area (WCA)-3B to Everglades National Park Northeast Shark River Slough is blocked by both the L-29 levee and the Tamiami Trail highway. Tamiami Trail modifications include construction of two new water control structures (construction complete) to allow flow through the L-29 levee, along with raising US-41 Tamiami Trail and construction of a bridge to increase water conveyance under the road to provide essential flows to Everglades National Park.
  • L-67A Conveyance Features: This component will involve construction of new water control structures to allow water to flow from Everglades WCA-3A into WCA-3B.
  • 8.5 Square Mile Area Protection Features: This component includes a protection levee, seepage collection canal, pump station and detention area to maintain existing levels of flood protection to the 8.5 Square Mile Area under the higher stages expected with increased flow to Northeast Shark River Slough. Construction of this component is complete.
  • S-356 Pump Station: This pump station will collect water that seeps out of WCA-3B and Northeast Shark River Slough into the L-30 and L-31 canals and pump it into the L-29 canal so that it can be returned to Northeast Shark River Slough. This component will provide restoration benefits to Everglades National Park and avoid impacts on flood protection to the east.
  • Taylor Slough Bridge: Replacement bridge to increase the flow capacity through the main park road. Construction of this feature is complete. All five components are necessary to provide substantial flow increases to Everglades National Park.

Purpose and Benefits Objectives of the Modified Water Deliveries project include improving:

  • Timing: Change the water delivery schedule to Everglades National Park so that it fluctuates more in consonance with local meteorological conditions. Less regulatory releases and more flow dictated by rainfall.
  • Location: Restore Water Conservation Area 3B as a functioning unit of the Everglades hydrologic system and restore water deliveries to Northeast Shark River Slough; more flow through Water Conservation Area 3B and more overall flow into Northeast Shark River Slough.
  • Volume: Adjust water delivery volumes to the park to minimize effects of too much water. More flow during wet season and less regulatory flow during the last half of the dry season. At approximately 2,300 square miles, Everglades National Park is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. It is home to rare and endangered species and has been designated a World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve and a Wetland of International Importance, significant to all people of the world.

Project Status

  • This is a federal project completely funded by the U.S. Department of Interior and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This project has an estimated completion date of 2011, which is unlikely with the current funding. Lack of funding has been one of the factors resulting in the significant delay in implementing this project.
  • Completed water control structures in L-29 levee in 1996.
  • Completed Taylor Slough Bridge in 2007.
  • Completed 8.5 Square Mile Area Protection project in 2008.
  • 100 percent federal funds needed to construct a 1.0-mile bridge along Tamiami Trail and a conveyance channel under the bridge.
  • 100 percent federal funds needed to raise portions of the Tamiami Trail road base to protect the road from higher operating water levels in the L-29 canal.

Offshore & Ocean

A New Vision For Saltwater Fisheries Management

Congress is currently revising the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conversation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), the law that governs our nation’s marine resources. Recreational saltwater anglers and the sportfishing and boating industries are intensifying efforts to ensure that their social, conservation and economic priorities are well represented in the legislative process. Read the entire article and follow this issue. http://asaf.convio.net/site/MessageViewer?dlv_id=6469&em_id=1663.0

Good management requires good data.  Record your catch and your releases!

Wildlife and Habitat

  Summer Stingers—What You Should Know About Wasps And Yellow Jackets

It’s summer, and the yellow jackets are back in force. Should we be alarmed?

Well, it helps to know a little about these creatures.

Yellow jackets are a type of paper wasp—that is, they build structures out of a special paper made by adding saliva to chewed-up plant fibers.

In different parts of the country people call them hornets and meat bees, too.

Whatever their name, yellow jackets can be found across the United States. In fact, each region usually has at least one species that nests above ground and one species that nests below ground. Both types share similar life histories.

Yellow jackets, like some species of bees, ant wasps, and termites, live in colonies where many workers serve a single egg-laying queen. The colonies begin to form in early spring, when fertile females emerge from the sheltered locations where they spent the winter and search for nest sites.

At first the nest is just a spherical shell the size of a golf ball enclosing a honeycomb structure where the female lays five or six eggs. The eggs hatch into larvae, which the mother then nourishes with regurgitated insects.

When the larvae turn into adults, they assume all the work roles: foraging, feeding larvae, enlarging the nest, and defending the nest. The female that started the colony—the queen—never leaves the nest again. Its only responsibility now is to produce more eggs.

Through the spring and summer, the colony grows. The nest is enlarged as the workers add tiers to the honeycomb-like brood chambers.

The outer shell is built up, too, and by mid-summer the nest resembles a gray paper volleyball (some nests reach basketball-sized proportions).

These nests can become quite conspicuous, hanging from trees or suspended from the eves of buildings.

As for the species that nest underground, their homes usually begin in abandoned rodent burrows that are further excavated as the nest grows.

The nest structure, though, is the same as those above ground.

Once the nest reaches full size, the queen starts to lay the eggs that develop into the males and females that will leave the colony, mate, and begin the cycle again the following year.

All the workers and the year-old queen, meanwhile, will die.

It’s during this time, middle to late summer, that the workers get defensive. They’re focused on protecting the new males and virgin queens within, for these represent the total reproductive output of the colony.

It’s also during this time that we have most of our interactions with yellow jackets.

Many species begin to forage on carrion to feed the growing larvae, and this brings them to our outdoor meals.

But even yellow jackets at picnic tables are unlikely to sting people unless they’re physically threatened. Their aggressive behavior is reserved mostly for defending the nest.

Thus if a walkway near your house takes you close to a hanging nest or an underground nest entrance, you may be attacked for passing too close or for lingering too long in a certain spot.

A nest that was not previously a cause for concern becomes a menace when the yellow jackets change their zone of tolerance. The best solution is to avoid the area for a month or so. When that’s not possible, the nest may have to be removed or destroyed. But don’t approach this task lightly. Spraying with water, burying, or otherwise trying to tamper with a nest will likely result in repeated stings. Seek the help of a pest-control professional. It’s worth the price!

 Read more

Forestry

How Carbs Could Help Thirsty Trees Survive Droughts

Scientists have discovered that a particular kind of carbohydrate may help tropical trees survive drought conditions, adding to our understanding of how we might help support our rainforests as we face the challenges of global warming.

The study, which was published late last month in the journal Nature Climate Change, saw an international team of scientists, including researchers from the University of Oxford, plant 1,400 saplings, this group being made up of 10 different tropical tree species. The scientists wanted to investigate if restricting the trees’ ability to generate non-structural carbohydrates (NSC), which appear to play a part in keeping trees hydrated, would lead to the trees dying more quickly.

To discern this, the scientists raised one group of the saplings in dark conditions before exposing them to sunlight. The second group underwent the reverse, growing in sunlight before being exposed to dark conditions. Of course, plants need sunlight to photosynthesize and sustain themselves with chemicals and compounds like the NSCs. As a result, the second group had significantly lower NSC levels than the first.

After this, the scientists exposed both groups to drought-like conditions. What they found was that the saplings which were raised in the dark and, as a result, had lower NSC levels, died more quickly of desiccation, that is to say that they dried out, when compared to the first group which had normal NSC levels.

This research is part of a wider effort to assess just how well the world is doing with its conservation efforts in the Borneo rainforest and, as part of that, if the forests will be more susceptible to climate change as a result of deforestation. The research wanted to know whether different species had different NSC levels, and if so would that make them more or less resilient to drought conditions. The researchers now know this to be true, at least in some cases, and this helps to explain why certain tree species fair better under more dry and arid conditions.

Co-author of the study Andrew Hector, from the University of Oxford’s Department of Plant Sciences, believes that the different levels of NSCs “probably play an important role in defining their different ecological niches.” Why does this matter? There are a couple of reasons.

First, it might allow us to identify which areas of forest are more likely to suffer under drought conditions. That means we can concentrate efforts to keep the forests alive in those particular areas first, confident that the other areas of the forest which contain plants with higher NSC levels can probably manage on their own for a while.

Secondly, Professor Hector seems to think this discovery could help us to regrow our forests. The Borneo rainforests, like many, have suffered intense deforestation in the past few decades. Now, efforts are underway to regrow those forests but these efforts usually use only or two species of trees. The theories behind this are diverse but can include that it will cut competition among tree species, and that it’s also usually cheaper. However, this doesn’t take into account the wider ecosystem and how the different varieties of trees might have helped sustain the rainforest. By planting species of all one kind, and so potentially all with low NSC levels, the forests we’re regrowing might be vulnerable should drought conditions worsen, something that many climate models predict. The solution, then, is planting different species of trees.

“Diverse mixture of plants means you are spreading the risk,” Hector is quoted as saying. “Although you might lose your vulnerable species, you still have resilient ones in there so the forest maintains its function.”

Lastly, scientists can take this information and begin to predict which forests might be particularly vulnerable, and just how vulnerable they will be, as we face the temperature rises that climate change promises to impose. We have various models for different levels, so scientists in theory at least could begin to estimate how much of our forests are under threat, and how by diversifying the species, we could help ensure that our forests are more hardy when those conditions do eventually arrive.

Steve Williams|July 5, 2014

DRC deforestation escalates despite resource shortages, protests, rape, homicide

Forest loss increased nearly three-fold in some areas since 2011

Road construction, the promise of employment, and the conversion of forest to farmland – the effects of logging tropical forests are often not confined to the boundaries of the concessions, where, in the best case, a timber company has gained legal access to harvest trees. Along the Congo River in the northern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), recent data showing probable forest loss demonstrate the often-unforeseen consequences of timber harvesting.

It’s no secret that new roads to previously inaccessible forest can have deleterious environmental consequences. Since 2001, an area in DRC south and west of a logging plantation managed by a company called SIFORCO has lost more than 37,000 hectares of forest. Perhaps more startling, since the company’s operations were coming online in 2012, Forest Monitoring for Action (FORMA) alerts using NASA satellite data show likely forest loss adjacent to the town of Bumba has increased by more than 260 percent compared to 2011. Just halfway through this year, 2014 has already seen a 16 percent increase in FORMA alerts over last year.

“All of this deforestation north of Bumba is related to SIFORCO logging,” Raoul Monsembula told mongabay.com. Monsembula is the DRC country Coordinator for Greenpeace and a fisheries researcher at the University of Kinshasa. He has visited the region around Bumba in Equateur province more than a dozen times since 2006 for a variety of research projects and assessments, and he attests that the boom is the result of people moving their farms closer to the road. And it’s more than just subsistence agriculture.

With the road built by SIFORCO to move harvested logs from the concession, farmers also have easier access to Bumba, and thanks to its location on the Congo River, to the millions of consumers downstream in cities like Kinshasa and Brazzaville. SIFORCO trucks often ferry more than just logs, serving as de facto bush taxis for farmers and their produce.

These dense human communities moving into in formerly forested areas pose major problems to wildlife, as their habitat is destroyed to clear land for agriculture and people bring with them a taste for bushmeat. What’s more, a host of tributaries lace the areas adjacent to the SIFORCO concession, emptying into the great Congo River.

While Monsembula said he knows of no research on this specific part of the Congo watershed, he points to the mines, timber concessions, and farms along the Aruwimi River, another major feeder of the Congo River in central DRC. There, he said, local villages have seen their water sources dry up, affecting not only their access to fresh water but also local fisheries, a significant pillar of local economies and diets.

Forests serve as filtering mechanisms, sequestering harmful chemicals and minimizing agricultural and mining runoff. Ultimately, these contaminated waters end up in the Congo River, which carries the world’s second-highest volume of water to the sea (only the Amazon River carries more). Interestingly, a recent study led by Vera Verhaert of the University of Antwerp found surprisingly high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, man-made chemicals linked to cancer, in fish from the Itimburi River, which feeds into the Congo River near Bumba. However, the study does not directly connect this finding to deforestation.

Local populations have noticed other nefarious effects of tree loss, such as water sources running dry since there are no tree roots to hold water in the ground. In 2011, as SIFORCO was in the midst of getting the concession online, members of local villages began to protest. Greenpeace alleges SIFORCO managers bribed local police to halt the demonstrations, which they apparently did with vigor. Former Greenpeace International Campaign Officer Rene Ngongo said in a blog post that their response was so violent that one of the demonstrators was killed and multiple women were raped in the process. Several of those arrested also claimed to have seen police receiving payment for their services.

In the wake of these events, Danzer, a Swiss company that used to own SIFORCO, lost its Forestry Stewardship Council certification in May, 2013. According to a report by the Forest Peoples Program, Danzer has worked to fulfill promised development projects for local populations to ameliorate its relationship with them, and it appears as though Danzer will regain its certification soon. But the protest incident in 2011 shows how difficult it is to adequately take into account the myriad effects industrial-scale logging can have.


Even more complicating is the attempt to balance the benefits of SIFORCO’s road construction with the potential harm to the environment. Monsembula says the current reconsideration by the Forestry Stewardship Council only took into account the companies’ handling of “social issues,” not the impact that their operations would have on the environment.

Having access to the road does provide the opportunity for local farmers to move beyond subsistence farming and begin selling their produce at market. Economically, that’s a good thing. More cash in farmers’ pockets mean they have more control over their children’s education and healthcare and the chance to diversify their diet beyond subsistence crops like cassava and rice. Weighing these concerns against the results of environmental destruction has few easy answers, Monsembula admitted.
“It’s a crazy dilemma,” he added.


Satellite data from the university of Maryland shows the loss of tree cover in the area around Bumba, DRC, between 2001 and 2012. The area outlined in green lost nearly 37,000 hectares of forest during this time period. (Accessed on 4 July 2014). Map courtesy of Global Forest Watch.
He said that organizations such as the European Union have more robust certification rules that integrate environmental and social considerations into the decision of whether timber from the DRC can be sold in the EU. Monsembula said that, even though DRC does have forestry laws on the books, “due to various reasons” – rife corruption among them – “no one can follow them correctly. The problem is the implementation of the law.”

In fact, a recent report by the Chatham House, a think tank focused on international affairs based in London, figures that less than 10 percent of the industrial logging in the DRC is legal or sustainable. Absent the DRC government’s ability to assess environmental and social impacts of the harvesting of its own resources, the burden of regulation falls on the countries that buy these resources.

And while much of the timber harvested in the DRC can’t be imported to Europe because of EU regulations, that lack of demand is quickly compensated for by China, which doesn’t have “strong legislation against [buying] wood from countries like DRC,” according to Monsembula.
“That is the problem in the near future,” he said.

John C. Cannon|mongabay.com correspondent|July 10, 2014

Half a Million Ask EPA to Reject Expanded Agricultural Use of Toxic Pesticide 2,4-D

Center for Food Safety Exposes EPA’s “Deeply Flawed” Review

Over half a million people have submitted comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asking the agency to reject Dow Chemical’s plan to sell Enlist Duo herbicide for use on corn and soybeans genetically engineered (GE) to withstand 2,4-D. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has previously warned that approval of the herbicide and its corresponding GE crops would lead to a three- to seven-fold increase in agricultural use of 2,4-D, a toxic herbicide linked to Parkinson’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and other health harms.  Over 500,000 people submitted comments during the agency’s public comment period which ends today.

In detailed legal and scientific comments also submitted today, Center for Food Safety (CFS) outlined the deficiencies of EPA’s review of Enlist Duo. CFS asks the agency to deny the proposed registration or postpone approval pending rigorous analysis of recent science on the negative health impacts of 2,4-D and other issues ignored by EPA.

“American agriculture stands at a crossroads. Approval of these crops and pesticides would set American agriculture down a dangerous path that will only exacerbate the problems farmers are already facing,” said Bill Freese, science policy analyst at Center for Food Safety. “These crops would lead to more intensive use of old and toxic pesticides, increased rates of cancer and other diseases, environmental harms, more crop damage from herbicide drift, increasingly intractable weeds, and sharply rising production costs on the farm.”

EPA is poised to permit Dow Chemical to sell Enlist Duo herbicide for use on GE crops that are resistant to both Dow Chemical’s 2,4-D and glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup. Separately, USDA has proposed to allow Dow Chemical to sell corn and soybeans resistant to 2,4-D and glyphosate branded as Enlist corn and soybeans. USDA found during its environmental review that approval of the crops and corresponding pesticide would increase agricultural 2,4-D use to as much as 176 million pounds per year by 2020, a seven-fold increase over current use.

“Enlist is the first of a new generation of pesticide-promoting crops that will lead to dramatically increased use of pesticides with serious consequences for the American people.  While of obvious benefit to Dow, Enlist crops are strongly opposed by hundreds of thousands of average citizens, who have demanded that EPA reject the proposal,” said Freese.

“EPA’s review of Enlist Duo herbicide is wholly deficient. EPA must postpone any decision on Enlist Duo until it has the opportunity to carefully consider input from the public and redress the flaws.  We are confident that a fair, science-based assessment would lead to rejection of the proposed registration of Enlist Duo,” added Freese.

Center for Food Safety finds EPA’s assessment to be deeply flawed for several reasons:

1)       EPA is tasked with protecting the environment, but nowhere in its assessment does EPA even mention, much less discuss, the three- to seven-fold increase in agricultural 2,4-D use projected by Dow Chemical and USDA.

2)       In assessing the human health impacts, EPA ignores the medical literature linking exposure to 2,4-D and herbicides of its class with cancer, Parkinson’s disease and other harms; does not consider numerous reports of adverse reactions to 2,4-D; and leaves unanswered serious questions about contamination of 2,4-D with highly toxic dioxins.

3)       EPA greatly underestimates the potential for 2,4-D drift to damage neighboring and distant crops, and the mitigation measures it proposes are entirely unrealistic and unworkable in the real world.

4)       Even though Enlist Duo is a potent killer of common milkweed, and monarch butterfly populations have declined precipitously in part due to the loss of milkweed host plants, EPA fails to assess its impact on monarchs.

5)       Although use of Enlist Duo would lead to rapid emergence of 2,4-D and multiple herbicide-resistant weeds, EPA does not propose any mandatory measures to prevent their emergence, but rather only a Dow-led monitoring program that is certain to fail.

6)       EPA violates federal law by failing to assess the many economic and environmental costs of approving Enlist Duo.

7)       EPA has failed to make numerous key assessment documents and interagency memos available to the public in the docket, for instance “confidential memos” on the dioxin content of 2,4-D.

The half a million comments were submitted by a coalition of organizations including Center for Food Safety, Food & Water Watch, Pesticide Action Network, National Family Farm Coalition, Environmental Working Group, Just Label It, CREDO Action, SumOfUS and Organic Consumers Association.

Global Warming and Climate Change

Underground Volcanoes Responsible For Glacier Melting In Western Antarctica

Ocean water warmed by the effects of climate change is not the only factor responsible for the melting of Antarctic glaciers as hidden, underground volcanoes also contribute to the thawing, according to a new study, which is said to have changed the understanding of conditions underneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Researchers at the Institute for Geophysics at The University of Texas, or UTIG, at Austin examined the Thwaites Glacier in Western Antarctica and found that it was being melted from below by geothermal heat released by submerged volcanoes. The Thwaites Glacier recently became the focus of attention after some studies revealed that the glacier was nearing collapse from accelerated melting.

“The geothermal heat contributed significantly to melting of the underside of the glacier, and it might be a key factor in allowing the ice sheet to slide, affecting the ice sheet’s stability and its contribution to future sea level rise,” the researchers said, in a statement. “The cause of the variable distribution of heat beneath the glacier is thought to be the movement of magma and associated volcanic activity arising from the rifting of the Earth’s crust beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.”

The collapse of the Thwaites Glacier, which is the size of Florida and is “considered a gateway to the majority of West Antarctica’s potential sea level contribution,” can increase global sea level by 3.3 feet to 6.5 feet, according to researchers who used radar techniques to map the flow of water under ice sheets. The effort eventually helped them estimate the rate of ice melting and identify key sources of geothermal heat under the 2.5-mile-thick Thwaites Glacier in the Amundsen Sea Embayment.

“It’s the most complex thermal environment you might imagine,” Don Blankenship, a senior research scientist at UTIG and the study’s co-author, said in the statement. “And then you plop the most critical dynamically unstable ice sheet on planet Earth in the middle of this thing, and then you try to model it. It’s virtually impossible.”

According to the study, geothermal sources beneath the Thwaites Glacier release a minimum average heat of 100 milliwatts per square meter while the most concentrated hotspots emit heat at the rate of more than 200 milliwatts per square meter. A square meter is about ten square feet.

“The combination of variable subglacial geothermal heat flow and the interacting subglacial water system could threaten the stability of Thwaites Glacier in ways that we never before imagined,” Dusty Schroeder of UTIG and the study’s lead author, said.

Kukil Bora|June 10 2014

Extreme Weather

Japan braces for onslaught of ‘Super Typhoon’ Neoguri

Super Typhoon Neoguri is bearing down on Japan’s Ryuku Islands, a string of more than 100 islands that make up the southernmost part of the Japanese archipelago. The storm’s path could take it will very close to the biggest of the islands, Okinawa, where the largest U.S. military installation in the Asia-Pacific region is located.

Neoguri was about 300 miles away from Kadena Air Force Base as of the 11 a.m. ET update from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (or the JTWC, which is run by the U.S. Navy and Air Force) and had sustained winds of nearly 150 mph. While dry air has cut into the storm since that update, weakening it somewhat, there is a chance it could strengthen somewhat again before hitting Okinawa.

For those used to the storms that hit the East and Gulf coasts of the U.S., along with their terminology, Neoguri may be spurring a bunch of questions: Exactly what is a super typhoon and how is it different from a hurricane? Isn’t it kind of early in the season to see such a large, strong storm? (When is typhoon season anyway?) Climate Central has the answers for you:

Super typhoons are the same as strong major hurricanes

The swirling storms called hurricanes in the U.S., cyclones in Australia, and typhoons in Japan are all the same phenomenon (more generically known as a tropical cyclone). Each ocean basin has different, though sometimes overlapping, terms to describe the storms throughout their development, as well as different cut-off points to determine when storms reach the next level of strength.

For example, the National Hurricane Center in Miami, which monitors storms in the Atlantic basin, and the Japan Meteorological Agency and JTWC, both of which cover the Northwest Pacific, use the same terminology for weaker storms — tropical depression and tropical storm (though the JMA recognizes a sub-category of “severe tropical storm”). But when a storm’s sustained winds are above 74 mph, the National Hurricane Center uses the term “hurricane” and recognizes five strength categories with progressively higher wind speeds, while the JMA and JTWC use the term “typhoon.” It is the JTWC that uses the term “super typhoon” when a storm’s winds reach above 150 mph, as Neoguri’s have. A super typhoon is equivalent to a strong Category 4 or a Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic. So Neoguri was packing quite a punch before dry air infiltrated it.

Typhoon season never really ends

Unlike the Atlantic basin, which has a defined hurricane season (June 1 – Nov. 30), there is no official typhoon season. It’s basically always typhoon season in the Northwest Pacific, though activity definitely waxes and wanes through the year. Tropical cyclones depend on warm ocean waters to fuel the convection that drives them, so typhoon season hits its minimum around February, when waters are colder and less able to support cyclone development, and hits a maximum in the warm summer months, typically in August and September.

Typhoon2

Storm activity in the West Pacific during the year, with a minimum in February and a maximum in August-September. Credit: NOAA

While it’s July, “it’s not unusual at all to get a storm this strong this early,” said Adam Lea, a tropical storm researcher at University College London who helps write seasonal tropical cyclone forecasts with the Tropical Storm Risk consortium.

Storms are also helped along by some basic characteristics of the Pacific Ocean as compared to the Atlantic or Indian Oceans: “The NW Pacific typically sees a higher number of powerful typhoons given a larger body of water and more time to intensify,” said Steven Bowen, an associate director and meteorologist with the reinsurance group Aon Benfield.

It is unusual for Japan to be hit by a strong storm so early

Generally the storms Japan sees this early in the season are weaker, as sea surface temperatures around the island nation are comparatively cool still, hampering storm development. The prevailing atmospheric patterns usually seen around now also tend to tear storms apart.

Stronger storms that do form this time of year tend to be confined to more southerly latitudes and/or tend to curve out to sea. But unusually warm waters stretching up to Okinawa are keeping Neoguri with a steady fuel supply as it charges northward. Sea surface temperatures are a couple of degrees Fahrenheit higher than normal, Lea said. “There’s just a lot more heat content in the ocean for the storm to feed off,” he told Climate Central.

“It looks like it could be one of the stronger storms to affect southern Japan for awhile,” Lea said. (Super Typhoon Danas did clip the northern part of Okinawa last year, but hit in October.)

El Nino has the opposite effect on storms in the NW Pacific vs. the Atlantic

At the beginning of the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season, the National Hurricane Center forecast a somewhat below-average season in part because of an emerging El Nino. This cyclic climate phenomenon is characterized by warmer-than-average waters in the eastern tropical Pacific, which in turn affect atmospheric flow patterns. Patterns shift over the Atlantic so that there is more wind shear (or changes in the direction and strength of wind speeds with height in the atmosphere), which tends to quash hurricane development).

Typhoon3

The expected path of Super Typhoon Neoguri through Japan’s Ryuku Islands and later up to the main island of Kyushu as of the afternoon of July 7. Credit: JTWC

In the Northwest Pacific, on the other hand, El Nino tends to lead to a more active typhoon season by relaxing trade winds and allowing storms to more readily spin up. Typhoons during El Nino years also tend to wander farther north in the Northwest Pacific, Lea said, though he attributes Neoguri’s possible hit on Okinawa more to random chance, given the small footprint of the island.

But “it is quite possible that the basic track (not necessarily the intensity) could be replicated again this year by other storms,” Bowen said in an email.

The appearance of such a large, strong storm like Neoguri doesn’t necessarily signal a busy season ahead or more major storms, as there isn’t much correlation between activity early in the season and activity during the season’s peak, Lea said.

Japan’s terrain means flooding and mudslides are major concerns

While storm surge whipped up by Neoguri’s ferocious winds, as well as those winds themselves, are major concerns for coastal areas in the storm’s path, Japan’s mountainous terrain means that rainfall is also a major concern.

Mountains enhance rainfall as moisture-laden air is forced up over them, which means authorities in Japan are on the alert for flash flooding and mudslides.

The JMA has forecast that Okinawa could see up to 3 inches of rain per hour as Neoguri passes over, according to an article in Japan Today.

Just what the storm brings will depend on what happens in the next 24 hours, Lea said, including what path Neoguri takes and how much it recovers from today’s setback.

 Andrea Thompson|Climate Central|July 7, 2014

El Niño Chances Jump To Near 80%. Add In Global Warming And We Face Record Heat.

temperature anomalies

Chart of global temperature since 1950, also showing the phase of the El Niño-La Niña cycle. Via NASA.

The chances of an El Niño developing this year are now at almost 4 out of 5. The chart above from NASA makes clear El Niños are generally the hottest years on record — since the regional warming adds to the underlying man-made global trend.

The chart below is the consensus forecast for the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) and the International Research Institute (IRI) for Climate and Society:

CPC5-8

If this El Niño does start fairly quickly and become quite strong, as many currently expect, then 2014 could well become the hottest year on record, and 2015 would likely break all previous global records.

Rather than explaining in charts exactly what an El Niño is and why it matters, as I’ve done previously, this time I can share a terrific new video from climate auteur Peter Sinclair:

Australian climate expert Dr. Wenju Cai says the ocean data suggest this will become one of the strongest El Niños in decades. If so, then in addition to record temperatures, we can expect off-the-charts extreme weather. As the U.K. Royal Society and Met Office explained a few years ago, “We expect some of the most significant impacts of climate change to occur when natural variability is exacerbated by long-term global warming.”

Since this El Niño could be the defining climate event for the next few years, Climate Progress will be reporting on it regularly.

Joe Romm| May 8, 2014

Rare twin tornadoes devastates Nebraska town

watch a short video of the aftermath

Genetically Modified Organisms

Protecting Organic Seed Integrity

Organic seed should be free of genetically engineered (GE) DNA, because organic regulations prohibit genetic engineering.  Unfortunately, organic crops are threatened by inadvertent contamination from GE crops.  In response to the threat, the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) published a workbook, Protecting Organic Seed Integrity: The Organic Farmer’s Handbook to GE Avoidance and Testing. [1]

Although the workbook itself is geared primarily to seed growers, the integrity of our seed supply is important to all of us.  Contamination of seed planted by organic farmers will result in GE DNA in organic food and feed.  This is an economic loss for the farmer, because buyers may refuse to purchase contaminated seed.  Wide-scale contamination of our seed supply can destroy the genetic purity of seed varieties used by organic farmers.  The workbook claims “OSGATA’s membership believes that contamination of organic seed by GE seed constitutes irreparable harm to the organic seed industry by undermining the integrity of organic seed.

How do crops become contaminated?

There are many ways that GE DNA can find its way into other crops.  During the growing season, pollen from a GE crop can travel long distances and pollinate organic crops.  To help prevent this, some seed companies require seed crops to be at least 2 miles from any corn plantings, to ensure purity of the seed.  Gene flow can occur as seeds are dispersed to new areas by wind, water, and animals.  Another important source of GE contamination is through seed mixing.  This can occur in the equipment used during planting and harvest, or during transport and storage of the harvested crop.

Why is contamination a threat?

The spread of GE DNA can happen quickly.  Within a year of the release of GE alfalfa, contamination was found in the non-GE plantings of alfalfa.

Possible sources of GE contamination can be difficult to identify.  For example, test plots of unapproved GE crops can be a source of unknown and unsuspected GE DNA.  Before crops are deregulated and commercialized, they are field tested at undisclosed locations.  More than 8,000 field trials have been planted, throughout the U.S., often near seed producing areas.  Farmers may have no idea that a new experimental crop is being tested near their farm.

If genetic contamination from test plots does occur, it may be impossible to detect.  Testing for GE crops is based on detecting the novel DNA that has been inserted, or the proteins made from that DNA.  Testing laboratories can use DNA sequences of the approved, deregulated crops, but they do not have access to the DNA sequences of unapproved varieties being grown in field tests.   Since laboratories can only test for known DNA sequences, they may be unable to detect contamination that occurs from crops in test plots.  Since the location of the test plots is secret, farmers may not even be aware of the need to test.  Contamination can become widespread before it is detected.

All crops are at risk of contamination, but seed crops are particularly at risk, because the GE DNA in the seed will carry over to the food crop as well. After GE crops are commercialized, they may be grown anywhere, even near seed crops, and farmers who grow them are not required to notify their neighbors.

How can risk be mitigated?

Growers of organic seed crops are taking a pro-active stance to prevent contamination.  They are educating themselves about prevention methods, implementing management practices, and testing their own seed crops.  The National Organic Standards Board has discussed seed purity, and plans to continue working on it.

Consumers can support these efforts by purchasing organic food and garden seeds.  This is particularly important for corn, canola (and canola oil), soybeans, beets (and beet sugar), and squash.

Farmers and consumers depend on the integrity of organic seed stocks.  Without action, organic seed stocks could be permanently contaminated with GE DNA.

Pamela Coleman, PhD|June 27th, 2014

Why Monsanto Will Never Rule the Food World

The Three-Prong Movement That’s Stopping the Beast in Its Tracks

The issue of how we grow and process our food, while it’s always been important, is now a hot topic both at the kitchen table and on Wall Street. From the recent scandal about a chemical used in yoga mats being found in Subway bread to the rising awareness of GMOs and demands to label their presence in foods, the public is fast awakening to the need for safe, whole, natural nourishment.

In early May 2014, the stock price of Whole Foods Market (WFM) dropped about 20 percent in 24 hours, based largely on fears that Wal-Mart and other grocery giants will overtake WFM’s share of organic food sales. The number of equity funds looking to invest in the next Annie’s or Clif Bar is astounding. Astute investors now understand that food impacts not just waistlines but bottom lines.

The elephant in the room is that agriculture, not transportation, is globally the greatest contributor to greenhouse gases—an issue that gets glossed over by Al Gore and 350.org alike. The media, whether in the recent New York Times food reportage or in the May 2014 National Geographic cover story on “The New Food Revolution,” all fail to mention the three most pressing food issues: the climate change connection; the vast subsidies to corn, soy, and wheat; and the massive increase in the use of Monsanto Roundup with its human health and ecosystem impacts.

Central to the conversation are the questions How do we grow our food in a more sustainable way? and Who decides? Should America lead the world in turning over our heritage of ancestral seeds to Monsanto or DuPont for them to patent as intellectual property? It’s becoming ever more widely known that each firm has a long history of making lethal war chemicals, creating toxic manufacturing sites that leak carcinogens into disadvantaged communities everywhere, and influencing the EPA, USDA, Congress, and the White House so that decisions made—such as the recently passed Farmer Assurance Provision (widely called by its critics the “Monsanto Protection Act”)—favor biotech.

The recent good news is that, on May 8, 2014, per a law signed by Governor Peter Shumlin, Vermont became the first U.S. state to mandate the labeling of foods made with genetically modified organisms. The Grocery Manufactures Association (GMA) has challenged the new law in court in what is expected to be an epic legal battle of the people vs. corporations. Supporting members of GMA include Starbucks, Kellogg’s, and General Mills.

The Three Ways That Monsanto Is Being Defeated

In spite of Monsanto’s death grip on the food system, important progress is being made in three key areas: (1) public education via social media, leading to (2) wiser food choices and(3) more sustainable investments.

All great movements begin at a grassroots level. Think of the civil rights sea change in the 1960s: the government acted to pass the civil rights bill only after the people had reached a tipping point about racial injustice. Having started in a similar grassroots fashion, the organic food movement is now well on its way to changing the food system worldwide.

Yet Monsanto and Big Ag are much better at crafting propaganda than were the bigots of the 1960s. The three biggest lies: that GMOs will feed the world, that organic agriculture can coexist with GMOs, and that Roundup-tainted GMO foods have been proven safe.

Although tens of millions of Americans might not understand all the complexities, they have a gut sense that something is very wrong with our food system, and little faith that Monsanto should be in charge of a baby’s nourishment. They can’t help but wonder how much Monsanto herbicide content in a mother’s breast milk is safe.

Cheerios Go Non-GMO

Some of the biggest news in the food industry this year is the General Mills conversion of Cheerios to a non-GMO cereal. This cultural milestone signals not only the swelling consumer exodus from industrial GMO foods, but also the rise in the use of social media by foodies to educate the public.

The Cheerios conversion is representative of a broad and radical trend in the entire North American food industry, as exemplified by last year’s announcement from Whole Foods Market that GMO foods and supplements must be labeled by 2018—a revelation that the non-GMO movement was becoming big business.

The GMO Inside coalition (of which I’m co-founder and co-chair) had begun to target Cheerios, in part because General Mills, was a big funder of “no” on California’s Prop 37, the failed right-to-know labeling campaign. In subsequent months, GMO Inside got 50 thousand anti-GMO comments placed on the Cheerios Facebook wall.

The startling General Mills announcement was the result of the strongest adverse media coverage in the history of GMOs. And in early 2014, Post Foods announced it was rolling out a non-GMO Grape-Nuts cereal.

Tens of millions are now realizing the stakes of turning over the food supply to a cabal of war-chemical giants that also includes Bayer and Syngenta. In the wake of the Cheerio’s changeover, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Smuckers Jam, Land O’Lakes, and even Starbucks lattes are caught up in an epic fight for public opinion, with Monsanto and friends on one side and the real food movement on the other.

How alarmingly efficient our industrialized food system has become! Roundup is now in the rainwater that falls from the heavens, and in the blood and urine of newborn babies. Not a moment too soon, our society is waking up, smelling the Roundup, and choose life-affirming foods grown in a way that honors all the generations to come.

The hippy roots of the nascent organic food movement in the 1970s and ’80s held a vision of a revitalized food system—one that devoutly honors the health of the soil. Today’s devoted organic farmers realize that a healthy society must start with healthy soils.

Americans vote at every meal for their preferred version of a food system. Cost is an issue, largely due to the giant subsidies paid to the GMO industrial-ag corn, soy, wheat, and sugar beets used for cheap junk foods.

GMO Inside’s latest campaign targets Starbucks’ “Monsanto Latte,” due to the fact that their milk is sourced from cows fed GMOs and injected with antibiotics on factory farms. GMO Insiders are also directing their efforts against the factory-farmed “Monsanto butter” produced by Land O’Lakes and Alta Dena Dairy.

Social media has become an effective tool in the creation of a better food system.

A Monsanto Stock Plunge

An Iowa-based group, Food Democracy Now, is calling for all citizens who invest in mutual foods to close their account if their fund is invested in Monsanto. More details at http://bit.ly/1ozgKJo.

“Already, the phone lines at Fidelity, Vanguard, and State Street have been ringing off the hook as thousands have reported calling their financial advisors and discovering that they have inadvertently owned shares of Monsanto’s stock,” comments Dave Murphy at Food Democracy Now. “Unfortunately, if you have a retirement fund, a 401K, or mutual funds you could be profiting from Monsanto’s toxic products.” The movement is aiming for an unprecedented stock plunge for Monsanto.

According to Murphy, Food Democracy Now’s prime reasons for targeting Monsanto include the following: “As the manufacturer of Agent Orange, DDT, PCPs, and dioxin, Monsanto’s toxic legacy of harm to the environment and human health is without parallel. Now Monsanto owns patents on life and is genetically engineering the food that we eat. In the past two years alone, Monsanto has helped fund massive misinformation campaigns to the tune of $70 million to defeat GMO labeling.”

Connecting Carbon, Climate Change, and Food

In our efforts to reduce carbon emissions, it’s vital that we reduce the demand for coal, oil, and fracking via wind and solar systems and plug-in hybrids. From the Tesla Company to First Solar, exciting work is being done.

What’s not well understood about climate change is how agriculture is both the number one problem and the number one solution. As we race past carbon dioxide concentrations of 380 parts per million, not only is our atmosphere being overloaded with CO2. The dirty little secret is that the oceans are becoming the carbon sink.

While people debate whether the planet is getting hotter or storms stronger due to climate change, we know for a fact that the oceans are getting very acidic. Not one scientist—not even one on the payroll of the Koch brothers—can refute the fact of the oceanic pH fall. Fast-forward another two or three decades and this will have led to a massive fish and coral reef die-off.

The solution is simple, and already at our fingertips. We need to become carbon farmers, or the customers of carbon farmers. This means ending the use of synthetic fertilizers and toxic pesticides and growing via the organic methods that build healthy soils. Mainly it means moving from CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) to pasture-based systems for raising chickens, pigs, and cows. In the process, we’ll lock the massive amounts of atmospheric carbon atoms into the top six inches of our planet’s soil.

This is no pipe dream, but it will require continuance of the major shift in consumer habits that’s already gaining speed. That is, choosing grass-fed meats, with their much healthier omega-3 levels, over CAFO meats. And reducing our overall meat consumption by 50 percent or more is vital. Already many meat eaters are cutting back their total consumption by half or two-thirds and choosing to eat only pastured meats. We need to keep moving away from the carbon-centric, GMO-based industrial farming that releases vast amounts of greenhouses gases into the environment.

The United States also needs to restore the domestic farming of hemp, which locks carbon from the air into its fibrous stalks. Hemp fiber can be grown for construction (it’s more energy-efficient in walls than are wood–based walls), auto parts (it’s lighter in weight than fiberglass, and thus more fuel-efficient), and many other uses.

Another resource is Biochar, a name for charcoal when it’s used for particular purposes, especially as a soil amendment and it also holds great promise as a new tool for carbon farmers. Biochar is being seen as a possible approach to carbon sequestration to produce negative carbon dioxide emissions.

Finally, I am including this link to a recent article from Judith Schwartz on Yale’s Environment 360 website “Soil as a Carbon Storehouse: A New Weapon in the Climate Fight?” It looks at the degradation of soils from unsustainable agriculture and other development, which has released billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere. But new research shows how effective land restoration could play a major role in sequestering CO2 and slowing climate change. Read more at http://bit.ly/1j4lTZv.

In closing, to secure and ensure a vital and livable world, we need to keep shifting from Monsanto-style industrialized farming to the wisdom and foresight of such positive approaches as Biochar. Central to the implementation of this new food system will be the crop rotation, soil-building practices, and pasture systems that are the basis of sustainable organic foods.

John W. Roulac|July 10th, 2014|[Originally published in Green Money Journal]

Syngenta seeks exemption from neonicotinoid ban

When Europe approved a 2-year precautionary ban on neonicotinoid use for flowering crops, bee advocates cheered. With evidence mounting that neonicotinoid exposure is linked to unusually high numbers of bee deaths, the hope was that a two year ban could allow bee numbers to recover, and buy time for more research regarding whether permanent regulation is necessary.

Whether that will happen remains to be seen. As The Guardian reports, backed by the UK government’s Advisory Committee on Pesticides (ACP), agrochemical giant Syngenta is applying on behalf of British farmers for an emergency exemption for limited use of neonicotinoids:

Syngenta argues that seed treatments with neonicotinoids are needed to protect rape sown by mid-August from aphid damage and crops in areas where flea beetle pressure is historically high. It says there are no available alternatives. The exemption would allow up to 186,000 hectares of oilseed rape – 30% of the total crop area – to be planted with seeds treated with the insecticide. Bayer, another major neonicotinoid manufacturer, is not applying for an exemption.

As is so often the case with matters of science, the Guardian quotes researchers who back Syngenta’s claims that no viable alternatives currently exist, and others who suggest that this is nonsense, and simply a way to undermine a ban that the government, Syngenta and farmers’ unions so bitterly opposed anyway.

In an online discussion about the issue also hosted by The Guardian, Karl Mathieson explored whether farmers really do have no alternative to neonicotinoids readily available to them. Head over to The Guardian for a full rundown of the discussion, but here are a few pertinent points:

Julian Little, a spokesperson for Bayer (which is not applying for an exemption), claims that the ban will lead to increased uses of pyrethroid sprays instead.

Lin Field, President of the Royal Entomological Society, says that neonicotinoids are currently necessary for treating aphids and flea beetles, but then goes on to admit that her claims are influenced heavily by data that is in the hands of the companies that make these chemicals—data which they are often unwilling to share.

Professor Dave Goulson of the University of Sussex argues that the neonic ban is far from “knee jerk”, that years of studies have shown they pose an unacceptable risk, and then makes the case that there is grossly inadequate funding for biological or cultural controls because “you cannot patent a crop rotation system”.

It’s this last point, I suspect, that’s most pertinent. Whether or not a farming system based on large, chemically dependent monocultures will suffer losses when those chemicals are removed feels a little like suggesting a junky should keep using because withdrawal is really unpleasant.

We already know that we don’t have enough bees to pollinate our crops. We’ve seen plenty of evidence that small-scale agroecological operations can outperform chemically-dependent big farms. And even the conventional farming industry is showing increased interest in feeding the soil and focusing on the overall health of the system, rather than just looking for a chemical quick fix.

The biggest lesson from all this is that we need truly resilient agriculture.

If farmers can’t survive a temporary ban on one chemical, they need to rethink their system. If there’s one thing we know from history: shit happens. That shit might take the form of economic collapse, or wars, or civil unrest, or natural disasters, or resource depletion, or climate change, or pesticide resistance. What would these farmers do if these chemicals became unavailable or ineffective?

Never put your eggs in one basket. And grow some other food in case your eggs go bad.

Casey Coates Danson|Jul 8, 2014

Energy

Florida to drilling company: Meet demands or face fines

DEP secretary sends scathing letter to Dan A. Hughes Company making nine demands.

The state, in a scathing letter to the company that is drilling in Collier County, gave it two weeks to comply with nine demands or face penalties.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is demanding accountability from a Texas company drilling in rural Collier County, and Friday also put the property owner on notice.

DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. issued a letter Thursday night to the Dan A. Hughes Company, is drilling at the Collier-Hogan well near Golden Gate Estates. Opponents have labeled the company’s actions as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” On Friday afternoon, despite it being a holiday, Vinyard sent a letter to Collier Resources stating his expectation the landowner ensures compliance from its contractor.

“Ultimately, you stand to benefit financially from Dan A. Hughes’ operations,” Vinyard wrote to Collier Resources senior vice president Tom Jones. “It is your responsibility to ensure that activities by your contractor on your properties do not adversely impact the families of Collier County or the environment. As we have called on Dan A. Hughes to fulfill their obligations to families, we expect that you hold your contractor accountable and require the company to fulfill these obligations before the July 15 deadline.”

The state listed nine demands, some of which include holding public meetings, opening the site for media inspections, testifying before county commissioners and providing samples of material that has since been disposed. Dan A. Hughes has until July 15 to respond to the state’s demands, and Vinyard said the actions are not negotiable and require immediate response.

A concern is whether chemicals used in drilling have contaminated the water supply. At this point, no one knows if the water supply is unsafe, but no one knows if it’s safe, either. Jennifer Hecker, director of natural resource policy for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, told The News-Press on Friday the lack of answers from all parties is concerning.

“At this point, it’s the DEP that has responsibility to safeguard the public and safeguard our water supply,” Hecker said.

The Florida DEP fined Hughes $25,000 in April and required groundwater testing after it used an “enhanced extraction procedure” at the Collier-Hogan well. Collier County is seeking to have the company’s drilling permit revoked.

Aerial photographs and on-the-ground assessments, according to the state, have exposed oil sheen that allegedly results from Hughes’ technique of spraying oil into truck tanks.

Hughes’ spokesman David Blackmon said the company has seen DEP’s directive. “We find the press release quite extraordinary given the constant and open dialogue the company has been engaged in with the DEP at multiple points of contact over the last several months,” he said. “Our goal has been to communicate with the department in a manner that is traditional of a relationship between a regulator and its regulated industry.”

“As you know, the Department of Environmental Protection (Department), members of the Collier County commission and families in Collier County have had numerous unanswered concerns about your activities at the Collier-Hogan well,” the letter to Dan A. Hughes stated. “The activities that took place on land owned by Barron Collier Partnership has left families at unease. These matters must be remedied.”

The letter continued “how companies across Florida have treated Florida’s natural treasures with respect, your enterprise is the only one that engaged in an unauthorized acid treatment at the Collier-Hogan well.

“Indeed, the results of your actions have created unease among families across the county. Our number one priority at DEP is ensuring families are safe and that our environment is protected. We are concerned that your goals may be inconsistent with ours. For some time we have worked with you to operate transparently by asking you to share information and meet with families in Collier County; however, Dan A. Hughes has moved slowly on these requests and your inaction is unacceptable.”

Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association, said the Colliers have leased 450,000 acres for oil drilling, a massive amount that should concern environmentalists and residents alike.

“It’s some of the most biodiverse land in the United States,” Schwartz said.

DEP testing of shallow wells at the Collier-Hogan site showed no signs of contamination, but Hecker contends those samples were taken above the water supply.

Despite strongly worded letters and $25,000 fine, Hecker believes the DEP has been slow to enforce action, and those delays could be putting residents’ health at stake.

“This is a precedent,” Hecker said. “We need to set the bar high and give the message that irresponsible operators will be held accountable.”

Nine Demands

Herschel T. Vinyard Jr., secretary for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, has given Dan A. Hughes Co. until July 15 to respond to nine demands:

  • Publish dates and times Hughes will hold three public meetings to discuss plans for the Collier-Hogan site and future operations in Collier County.
  • Confirm whether Hughes took samples of the flowback material that was trucked off Collier-Hogan site prior to June 23, when DEP arrived to inspect. If samples exist, they must be provided to DEP. If samples were not taken, the company must explain why.
  • Announce media and public access to operations to ensure previous violations are not ongoing.
  • Commit to testify before the county commission Tuesday to discuss practices and long-term plans.
  • Explain agreement between Hughes and the facility that accepted flowback material that was trucked off-site, and include a copy of the renewed pretreatment permit issued by Miami-Dade County; the permit on file expired May 31.
  • Provide revisions of the groundwater monitoring plan as required by DEP to address deficiencies, and include a schedule of when Hughes will conduct on-site testing.
  • Provide names and qualifications of the individuals at Hughes who are responsible for carrying out requirements of DEP’s demands and on-site compliance.
  • Provide name of the company’s recommended independent expert who will conduct a study under the consent order.
  • Every 10 days, the company must furnish a status report as to utilization of its Spill Prevention and Cleanup Plan to ensure proper safety mechanisms are in place.

The News-Press staff|July 4, 2014

Read the letter

DEP Secretary addresses Collier Hogan well concerns

COLLIER COUNTY, Fla. – Oil well opponents want commissioners to revoke a Texas-based company’s permit at the Collier Hogan Well. On Tuesday, the Department of Environmental Protection was in town to address the on-going drilling concerns.

DEP Secretary Herschel Vineyard said he will do everything in his power to make sure our drinking water is protected. “I wanted to make sure that they knew that I was going to hold Dan A.Hughes accountable for any unlawful acts that they take.”

In order to do so, DEP Secretary Vineyard told county commissioners and concerned citizens that Dan A.Hughes must comply with his guildelines.

But for Commissioner Georgia Hiller, his plan comes a little too late. “My concern is, DEP has failed to do what it has an obligation to do via the citizens of the state of Florida.”

“How many chances does one need to get? If you are not adhering to the terms of your permit, it should be revoked,” said Jennifer Hecker with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

For months, different organizations around Collier County have been voicing their concerns.

“We are still hesitant about their intents because they surpressed information for over six months on this illegally fracked Collier Hogan Well and they have never met with the public to answer our questions.” Karen Dwyer, with the stone crab alliance, finally got to meet with Secretary Vineyard on Tuesday.

However, she still feels left in the dark. “Because we have so many unanswered questions about what happened at the Collier Hogan Well. It’s really important because the Collier Hogan Well is a test case; it will set a precedent for the 450,000 acres that has already been leased for extreme extraction in our everglades.”

Commissioner Hiller requested Secretary Vineyard come back to a meeting in September. She wants him to update them about whether or not the drilling done by Dan A. Hughes Company was safe or not.

Hecker also asked the commissioners to hire an independent consultant or outside council to help with the ongoing efforts. The County Attorney said he already has someone in mind to hire when needed.

Another Sacrifice Zone Courtesy of Fracking

In June 20, Colorado’s Cache La Poudre River—a National Heritage Area, and home to Colorado’s only naturally self-sustaining wild trout population—was contaminated by more than 7,500 gallons of crude oil, hazardous liquid waste, produced water and other fracking industry chemicals after a well-pad was engulfed by floodwaters from unusually heavy snowmelt.

Though more than 100 feet away from the river’s normal course, excessive runoff wiped out a protective berm at the Noble Energy well site State 7-36, damaged crude oil tanks and broke key valves on what industry terms a “produced water tank” causing the chemicals to drain into the river. While the crude oil and other liquid wastes were releasing, the oil tanks began to float—quickly becoming lifted by the buoyant liquids accumulating under the tanks and unhinging them from their moorings. The tanks then spilled even more crude oil and other toxins into the river. The state mandated anchors fastened to the tanks to prevent them from moving or spilling completely failed. Worse, because of inadequate oversight, it is unknown how long State 7-36 was draining into the Poudre before inspectors became aware of the situation.

Adding insult to injury, though the well was previously operated by Kerr McGee and then sold to Noble Energy, the actual mineral rights that this particular well was accessing belong to the State of Colorado. Another question that remains is how much revenue the state lost as the hydrocarbons owned by tax payers washed downstream—let alone how much additional costs will be born by those citizens because of the state’s decision to frack so close to the Poudre River in the first place.

Upon review by the oil and gas analyst and advocacy group, Fractivist.org, official form-19 “spill incident report” documents obtained from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) indicate that State 7-36 was inspected just after the surprise “tropical rainstorm” in September 2013 that poured historic volumes of water onto Colorado’s already unusually soaked mountains. Though wells all around it were heavily impacted by last year’s floods, 7-36 was not only listed as “undamaged,” but state documents show it wasn’t even a part of the last year’s flood impact list.

Despite recent inspection, the late spring surge of unexpectedly large flood waters, caught the regulators flatfooted. Not only were they unprepared to deal with the situation, they couldn’t even access the site for nearly a month after Noble reportedly “shut in” the well. It’s likely the public will never know how much crude and other toxins spilled into the river since Colorado’s already challenged inspection regime—less than 20 inspectors for more than 52,000 active wells—can not evaluate the full impacts of the spill. Dually mandated to both regulate and promote the industry, COGCC inspection reports reveal that more than 65 percent of Colorado’s wells and production facilities—in excess of 34,000—escaped inspection in 2013.

The headwater streams that constitute the sacred Cache La Poudre begin deep in the Front Range mountains in western Larimer County and the northern part of Rocky Mountain National Park. The river descends eastward carving a spectacular canyon through the Roosevelt National Forest emerging from the foothills north of the city of Fort Collins. East of the city, which voted to place a five year moratoria on fracking and other oil and gas production last fall—more than 500 fracked oil and gas industry wells line the river’s banks as it meets the South Platte near Greeley. The Platte itself is also lined with dozens of other wells, well-pads and other oil industry equipment. Last year’s floods sent water and debris crashing into 1,963 wells along these river corridors, overwhelming their integrity and resulting in more than 85,000 gallons of liquid industrial waste spewing into the swollen rivers.

The Poudre River is the only river in Colorado that boasts a naturally self-sustaining wild trout population. It is listed as a National Heritage Area—including the 100-year flood plain of the river from its emergence out of the mountains to its confluence with the South Platte River—but is now pockmarked with wells. Though all the recent spills occurred downstream, many water experts believe that even upstream impacts can be felt by various micro and macro-invertebrates, that the oil and gas associated chemicals can impact river fowl, and affect the river’s own conductivity, thus impacting mayfly populations and other insect populations vital to a healthy river ecosystem.

Other state documents obtained by Fractivist.org report that:

On May 24, 2014, in anticipation of potential flooding due to heavy precipitation and snowmelt, Noble Energy shut in oil and gas wells State M36-3, M36-5, 6-36, 7-36 and 8-36. Flooding and field conditions impeded safe access to the wells until June 20, 2014. Immediately upon access to the tank battery unit associated with the above mentioned oil and gas wells, evidence of an unintentional release resulting from flood-related impacts was observed. Available information indicates a loss of 173 barrels of condensate.

The cause of the unintentional release is believed to be a break in the produced water valve on the back of the condensate storage tank. Noble called a vacuum truck to the location to vacuum up pooling water as well as any remaining fluids in both the affected and non-affected storage tank. A third party environmental emergency response consultant was called immediately following the discovery of the unintentional release to assess the location and deploy clean up measures.

Fractivist.org analyst Shane Davis explains that the COGCC knew that swift moving snowmelt runoff was on its way downstream, increasing the size of the flood plain and placing hundreds of the fracking industry wellpads along the river in immediate danger from being impacted by large volumes of fast moving water.

“In preparation of flooding, the industry claims to have closed or ‘shut in’ the wells in the immediate flood path to control fluid loss from the wellbores themselves,” said Davis. ”But even though the wells were not producing at the time, all the unprepared industry could do was hope that crude oil and other industrial wastes stored onsite would not be released. We can see the results of their assumptions: almost 8,000 gallons of fish and fowl killing chemicals dumped into the river.”

Note too, that chemical waste flows into the Platte through some of the most highly productive farmland in the nation. It is also the source of drinking water for much of the beef stock grown in Weld County, northeastern Colorado and throughout Nebraska. “It’s an open question as to if municipal water facilities are truly capable of detoxifying that water,” said Davis.

One of the lessons learned from last year’s historic floods in Colorado is that, due to climate change, many of the assumptions COGCC regulators relied upon about the safety of placing fracked oil and gas wells and facilities along river systems were incorrect. Indeed, because of their proximity to increasingly flood-swollen rivers, these fracking facilities are increasingly subject to greater environmental risk than many of the other wells in the state. Even more disconcerting is that the COGCC’s own protocols for mitigating tank integrity risk by mandating anchoring systems continues to fail to prevent the release of hazardous wastes into state rivers.

“Is industry prepared for climate change? The COGCC should immediately address this anchoring failure and head back to the drawing board while mandating inspections to all wells that could be impacted by an updated analysis of where floodwaters are now reaching,” continued Davis.

“The health, safety and welfare of Colorado’s rivers and communities throughout the state are in peril due to inadequate state regulations and a failing regulatory regime that simply is not up to the task of preventing a multitude of environmental hazards from happening because of our rush to drill and frack as quickly as possible. Instead we have a sham regulatory system more concerned about industry’s quarterly profits than about long term impacts to the citizens and the environment of Colorado. To be sure, it will be citizens, not the corporations themselves, who will pay for the environmental clean ups now and down the road. Once again, profits are privatized while the debts corporations create for us are socialized.”

Gary Wockner, executive director of Poudre Waterkeeper added, “Due to millions of dollars spent on lobbying and in elections, our Colorado state government—and especially our Governor, John Hickenlooper—are practically bought and sold by the oil and gas industry. One of the many casualties of this corporate fossil fuel empire is the Cache la Poudre River. Dozens of fracked wells and tanks line its banks waiting for the next flood to fill the river with toxic pollution again.”

Lee Buchsbaum|Fractivist.org|July 6, 2014

Final phases of Enbridge pipeline begin

Eighty-foot segments of pipe are laid out along the Enbridge, Inc. right-of-way in St. Clair County, signaling the start of the final phase of the oil company’s pipeline replacement project.

Enbridge spokesman Jason Manshum said in an email the 30-inch pipe will remain above ground for three to four weeks while crews bend, weld and then bury the pipe.

Major pipeline construction on the final 50 miles of Enbridge’s Line 6B replacement began in Ortonville in May.

The beginning phases of the project in St. Clair County started last fall, when Enbridge cleared the right-of-way through Columbus and St. Clair townships and Marysville.

The $1.3 billion project replaces Line 6B from Griffith, Indiana, to Sarnia. The last 50 miles cuts through Oakland, Macomb and St. Clair counties. The line carries crude oil to refineries.

Columbus Township Supervisor Bruce Christy and St. Clair Township Supervisor Brian Mahaffy said pipe has started to show up along Enbridge’s path through their townships.

“They’ve got pipe laid all the way through the township,” Christy said. “They’re going under the roads first and then they’re going to connect it with the other pipe.”

Manshum said the next three to four weeks includes grading in the right-of-ways, placement of the 80-foot sections of pipe, bending it to match terrain, and welding it together.

In the last stage, crews will create ditches, lower the pipeline and backfill the trench.

Once the pipe is laid in the trench, the old line is deactivated, and the new line is buried. The deactivated pipeline will remain in the ground. It will be purged of oil, cleaned out and filled with nitrogen gas.

Mahaffy and Christy said Enbridge officials have kept in contact with the townships, and have tried to maintain the roads damaged by heavy construction equipment.

Mahaffy said he received some complaints from residents when Enbridge burned piles of wood accumulated along the right-of-way.

Christy said he hasn’t heard many complaints from residents.

“I’m happy that the residents are taking it in stride,” Christy said.

“They’re doing the best they can to make as little impact as possible, but it’s hard when they’re doing something like that.”

Marysville City Manager Randy Fernandez said Enbridge updates the city administration regularly on its progress in the city.

“It’s a massive project, so it’s very difficult for them to keep everybody happy,” Fernandez said.

“They’ve been a great corporate sponsor.”

Last week, Enbridge crews removed a former law office located along the right-of-way at the northeast corner of Busha Highway and East Huron Boulevard.

Fernandez said the city hopes to purchase the property for $1 from Enbridge after construction and possibly use it as a dog park.

He said the city has been in negotiations with Enbridge for about six months.

“There’s no timetable for the project other than when they would complete the (pipeline) project,” Fernandez said.

Beth LeBlanc|Times Herald|Jul. 7, 2014

[The pipeline will transport crude to refineries in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, and will cross the St. Clair River just south of the confluence with Lake Huron. Big Oil has no qualms about the possibilities of a spill polluting one of the Nation’s busiest and cleanest waterway systems.]

Proposed gas pipeline could cross 6 Michigan counties

St. Clair County residents will get about a year’s respite from Enbridge, Inc. construction before construction on another, larger pipeline begins — if a natural gas transfer company gets federal approval.

ET Rover Pipeline Company is getting ready to apply for permits for a proposed 380-mile, 36-inch to 42-inch natural gas pipeline that would reach from West Virginia and Pennsylvania through southeast Michigan and into Canada.

If approved by the Federal Energy Regulation Commission, construction on the interstate pipeline would begin in the first quarter of 2016, said Vicki Granado, a spokeswoman for Energy Transfer, Rover Pipeline’s parent company.

Granado said the project is in the early planning stages. The scope of the pipeline would depend on the number of companies that contract with Energy Transfer to ship their natural gas through the pipeline.

“That will ultimately determine the size of pipe you use and the different delivery points,” Granado said.

The project has contracted with three anchor shippers: American Energy, Antero Resources Corporation, and Range Resources Corporation.

The proposed project would include about 600 miles of natural gas pipeline — about 380 miles of 36-inch or 42-inch mainline pipeline and 197 miles of 24-, 36-, and 42-inch supply laterals.

The pipeline would carry natural gas from Marcellus and Utica shale fields at processing plants in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio to a Midwest Hub in Defiance, Ohio.

The natural gas then would be transmitted either through existing pipelines to the Gulf Coast, or through new pipelines to possible delivery points in Michigan — such as Consumers Gas Company, Vector Pipeline and MichCon — and to the Union Gas Dawn Hub in Ontario, Canada.

Granado said the company is proposing to have the line from the shale fields to the Midwest Hub finished by the fourth quarter of 2016.

“The remaining piece that would service markets in Michigan and Canada would be in service by the second quarter of 2017,” Granado said.

Beth LeBlanc|Times Herald|Jul. 7, 2014  

Company Seeks Barge Dock Permit for Shipping Fracking Wastewater

Ohioans are shocked to stumble on a new proposal by GreenHunter, a Texas-based fracking wastewater company, to build a barge off-loading facility on the Ohio River in Meigs County. Barging of liquid frack waste has not been approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, which received 60,000 public comments last December opposing the proposal.

The dock proposal to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was found by an individual scanning the Federal Register. No notice has been issued in state or local media. The online notice posted by the Corps on June 27, specifies that public comments must be hard copies and received at the Corps’ Huntington office by July 28.

Roxanne Groff, Bern Township (Athens County) Trustee and former Athens County Commissioner, stated:

It is imperative that the Corps allow more time for citizens to become informed and comment knowledgeably on this disastrous project. Most rural elected officials are not yet even aware of the project and only meet once a month. There is no time for discussion by citizens or time to even understand the potential impacts of toxic radioactive waste being offloaded to a facility that does not even have regulations for storage or transport from the river site.

Groff alluded to two June 2014 Ohio fracking explosions and fires, one in Monroe County in which 20 fracking trucks burned for two days and led to a “significant fishkill,” according to Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and another in which a frackwaste truck at Envirotank’s Belpre facility exploded and burned three men. One of the men, Kevin McClain, 32, remained in critical condition as of July 3. Both explosions involved transfers of hydrocarbon-laden frack liquids.

“Imagine an explosion from a barge carrying a half-million gallons of frackwaste at a site that is storing hundreds of thousands of gallons of this toxic radioactive waste. Can you imagine, if a spark ignited an off-loading bargeful, what a half-million gallons of flammable frackwaste would do to the riverside and downstream communities?” Groff asked.

Groups, including Athens County Fracking Action Network, People’s Oil & Gas Collaborative-Ohio, Center for Health, Environment & Justice, Freshwater Accountability Project and Southwest Ohio No Frack Forum are urging Ohioans to promptly email Corps Project Manager Teresa Spagna at teresa.d.spagna@usace.army.mil to request an extension of the comment period to Oct. 31 and ask the Corps to hold a public hearing (include RE: LRH 2013-848-OHR in the e-mail subject line).

“The summer months are a time when many people are on vacation,” said Athens County Fracking Action Network member Heather Cantino. “Is GreenHunter purposely trying to sneak this through without any public scrutiny?”

Athens County Fracking Action Network members Cantino, Groff and former Athens County Children’s Services Director Andrea Reik met with Athens County Commissioners on Tuesday. The commissioners passed a unanimous motion to call on the Corps for an extension of the comment period and a federal public hearing. They also agreed to contact and inform their Meigs County peers.

Joanne Gerson, of Cincinnati’s Southwest Ohio No Frack Forum, stated:

Each of the 5 million people who get their drinking water from the Ohio River need to know that the Army Corps of Engineers is considering granting permission to a Texas company to build barge docks along the Ohio River to receive millions of gallons of toxic, cancer-causing, radioactive, flammable fluid. Much more difficult to clean up than spills on land, fracking fluid spills and barge accidents will affect our drinking water supply and may permanently damage the ecosystems that keep our water supply healthy.

Cincinnati and other Ohio River city water officials are well aware of the risks after the Elk River chemical spill, which recently sickened West Virginia residents for months and alarmed residents throughout the region.

“Most people aren’t aware that no Environmental Impact Assessment or Statement has been conducted by a nonbiased third party group,” said Kari Matsko, director of People’s Oil & Gas Collaborative-Ohio. “With at least five endangered species known to be in the area, it is reckless to depend only on the results of a study commissioned by the corporation itself, GreenHunter.”

The proposal specifies that a dock will be built to accommodate two barges simultaneously and receive approximately 105,000,000 gallons of frackwaste annually. This quantity is not regulated so does not indicate an actual limit. The waste will be stored in aboveground tanks and trucked to any of Ohio’s more than 200 injection wells.

More than half of the more than 686 million gallons of frack waste dumped in Ohio injection wells last year came from out-of-state. Unlike its neighbors, Ohio runs its own injection well program, which does not conform to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permitting requirements. Nearby states, which must comply with U.S. EPA stricter and more time-consuming permitting requirements have only a handful of injection wells. Pennsylvania has ten.

Further, Ohio charges fees only on the first 500,000 gallons per year. “Some Ohio wells take in double or triple that amount in a year,” commented Teresa Mills of Center for Health, Environment & Justice. “This proposal would give a green light and a ‘dump for free here’ card to guarantee that Ohio becomes the Waste Capital of the Nation. And this company will be able to just punch holes and dump anywhere it wants in the state, given ODNR’s unwillingness to ever say ‘no’ to an injection well permit application.”

While the majority of frack waste dumped in Ohio currently comes from Pennsylvania and West Virginia, if GreenHunter’s requests to the U.S. Coast Guard and Army Corps are approved, the company may ship waste from Texas and Louisiana up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers as well. The groups that have come together to fight the dock proposal are among hundreds nationwide that earlier opposed the Coast Guard proposal to permit barging liquid frack waste on the nation’s waterways.

“The Corps is providing minimal information to the public about this massive plan to make Ohio the dump of it all,” said Lea Harper, managing director of Freshwater Accountability Project. “The public must weigh in quickly and demand more time and a public hearing by the Corps so that the public is informed and our concerns can be heard.”

Athens County Fracking Action Network|July 10, 2014

Major Scientific Document Shows Why NY Fracking Moratorium Is Imperative

Less than two weeks ago, local communities triumphed over the fracking industry in a precedent-setting case decided by the New York Court of Appeals. The court ruled that the towns of Dryden and Middlefield can use local zoning laws to ban heavy industry, including oil and gas production within municipal borders.

While the court decision is a victory for the two towns, many New Yorkers continue to rally and push for a statewide fracking moratorium. In this vein, Concerned Health Professionals of New York (CHPNY) today released a major resource to the public, including public officials, researchers and journalists—the Compendium of Scientific, Medical and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking.

“This compilation of findings brings together data from many fields of study and reveals the diversity of the problems with fracking—from increased flood risks to increased crime risks, from earthquakes to methane leaks,” said Sandra Steingraber, PhD, at a press conference held today. “What this multitude of threats all has in common is the ability to harm public health. That’s our message to Governor Cuomo and Acting Health Commissioner Zucker.”

As mounting evidence continues to find more costs than benefits to fracking, the compendium explains the motivation for compiling and making public the scientific, medical and media findings:

Despite this emerging body of knowledge, industry secrecy and government inaction continue to thwart scientific inquiry, leaving many potential problems—especially cumulative, long-term risks—unidentified, unmonitored and largely unexplored. This problem is compounded by non-disclosure agreements, sealed court records and legal settlements that prevent families (and their doctors) from discussing injuries. As a result, no comprehensive inventory of human hazards yet exists.

The compendium covers in detail the following 15 dangers, risks and associated trends created by the fracking process:

  • Air pollution

  • Water contamination

  • Inherent engineering problems that worsen with time

  • Radioactive releases

  • Occupational health and safety hazards

  • Noise pollution, light pollution and stress

  • Earthquake and seismic activity

  • Abandoned and active oil and natural gas wells (as pathways for gas and fluid migration)

  • Flood risks

  • Threats to agriculture and soil quality

  • Threats to the climate system

  • Inaccurate jobs claims, increased crime rates and threats to property value and mortgages

  • Inflated estimates of oil and gas reserves and profitability

  • Disclosure of serious risks to investors

  • Medical and scientific calls for more study and more transparency

In light of these findings, referenced with more than 300 citations, and remaining fundamental data gaps, CHPNY considers a fracking moratorium “the only appropriate and ethical course of action while scientific and medical knowledge on the impacts of fracking continues to emerge.”

CHPNY sent the compendium to Gov. Cuomo (D), Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Martens and Acting Department of Health Commissioner Zucker. The group also sent a letter to Acting Commissioner Zucker requesting a meeting.

The compendium of dangers, available on the group’s website, is designed as a living document that will be updated every six months. The first edition is current through June 30.

EcoWatch|July 10, 2014

Land Conservation

Governor Rick Scott Appoints Four to Florida Greenways and Trails Council  

Governor Rick Scott announced three appointments and one reappointment to the Florida Greenways & Trails Council.

Samuel Carr, 62, of Satsuma, is a retired district manager with Ford Motor Company. He succeeds Kathryn Starkey and is appointed for a term beginning June 25, 2014, and ending January 23, 2016.

Gil Hidalgo, 47, of Winter Park, is a photographer with Siemens Energy. He succeeds Gregory Golgowski and is appointed for a term beginning June 25, 2014, and ending January 23, 2016.

Peggy Mathews, 58, of Tallahassee, is the chief executive officer of Mathews-Webster Consulting Inc. She succeeds Michael Dannenhauer and is appointed for a term beginning June 25, 2014, and ending January 23, 2015.

Roberto Diaz de Villegas, 38, of Tallahassee, is a producer and editor with WFSU TV. He is reappointed for a term beginning June 25, 2014, and ending January 23, 2016.

The Florida Greenways and Trails Council (FGTC) was established pursuant to 260.0142, Florida Statutes. Among its duties, the Council serves to advise the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on greenway and trail related issues, promote intergovernmental cooperation and private partnerships for developing the greenways and trails system, recommend priorities for critical links in the system, and provide funding recommendations for developing and managing the system.       
The council typically meets four times a year at various locations throughout the state.

State set to give parkland to Orange County

Some of the most prized and protected public wilderness in Orange County is likely to be given Tuesday to Orange County.

The St. Johns River Water Management District board is set for a vote to hand the county full ownership of 111 acres of Hal Scott Regional Preserve and Park at the Econlockhatchee River.

On one level, it’s little more than a bookkeeping transaction; Orange County already owns 50 percent of the 111 acres. More notable is that the county intends to turn the parcel into an active park, with access, trails and possibly a fishing dock.

“It’s actually a very appealing piece of property,” said Beth Jackson, program supervisor at the Orange County Environmental Protection Division.

Hal Scott Preserve, named after a Florida environmental leader in the ’70s and ’80s, spans 9,400 acres in the heart of east Orange County minutes from Orlando.

Buying it was a coup, requiring years of purchases that began in 1992 and totaled more than $30 million.

It’s now a jewel of flatwoods – a thin forest, with low shrubs and expansive views – that are pristine except for trails and camp sites.

At the fast-growing edge of metro Orlando, Hal Scott Preserve has no admission fee, bathrooms or anything at all to buy. Yet it’s one of the most popular parklands of the 18-county St. Johns River Water Management District.

That anybody would give up any ownership of Hal Scott may have been unlikely until a few years ago when Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature ordered agencies to review their holdings and sell surplus parcels.

An attempt to do that by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection blew up early this year under pressure from wilderness and wildlife advocates who feared the department was planning to dump valuable lands.

But, proceeding separately in its review, the St. Johns River Water Management District held many public meetings and managed to largely avoid controversy.

After donating Hal Scott land this month, the district later this year will give up its share in thousands of acres of Volusia County holdings, including Gemini Springs Park and Deep Creek Preserve.

Ray Bunton, district bureau chief for real estate, said his agency opted to donate its 50 percent share of the 111-acre tract because of its location. The parcel is divided from the rest of Hal Scott Preserve by State Road 520, which makes it more difficult to take care of the smaller parcel.

No appraisal was done to determine a potential sale price. Whatever its value, the gift will include a “conservation easement,” a legal requirement that the county protect the environmental value of the 111 acres.

That’s fine for Orange County, which is likely to fold the land into its nearby Pine Lily Preserve and Long Branch parks.

Kevin Spear|Orlando Sentinel|July 7, 2014

Florida gets $2 million to conserve lands

Florida received $2 million of federal land conservation money on Tuesday to help protect wilderness areas, create parks and shelter public spaces from urban development while preserving the natural environment.

The announcement came in advance of a gathering of ranchers, sportsmen and federal officials in Fort Pierce on Wednesday to talk about the next steps for creation of an Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area.

Ranchers in Central Florida have agreed to allow conservation measures on their lands to keep them rural and available for grazing. The plan is to avoid development that leads to urban runoff that could add pollution to Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades.

Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will lead the discussion with members of the Northern Everglades Alliance and the Florida Sportsmen’s National Land Trust.

Federal officials are pointing to the Everglades Headwaters initiative as a leading example of land conservation.

They say it will conserve habitat for 88 threatened or endangered species, including the Florida panther, black bear, whooping crane, snail kite and wood stork. And they say it will help filter pollutants from the Everglades watershed while protecting the water supply for millions of residents.

It is part of a broader plan to take pressure off of Lake Okeechobee and prevent polluted discharges during rainy seasons that foul estuaries leading to the east and west coasts. Those discharges have impaired boating and other recreation in nearby waterways, forced communities to restrict swimming and depressed property values in parts of northern Palm Beach County and along the Treasure Coast.

But the headwaters project is just one form of conservation. Florida Park Service officials will decide how to distribute this year’s $2 million allotment, which comes from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The fund, generated from offshore oil-drilling revenue, has provided $134 million to Florida since 1965, and every county has benefited. The fund has been used in past years to help pay for parks, wilderness areas, access for hunting and fishing, veterans memorials, boat marinas and picnic areas.

“These local projects – parks, ball fields, open spaces – play an important role in improving the health and vitality of urban areas, and protecting natural areas for future generations of Americans to enjoy,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said on Tuesday.

Florida’s share is part of $43 million that will be distributed to the states.

Interior officials are using a national tour, including the Florida visit, to make a pitch for extending the program, which is set to expire unless Congress acts. They say it generates $4 of economic activity for every $1 spent.

 William E. Gibson|Washington Bureau|Sun Sentinel|July 8, 2014

Transportation

Elio: Sustainable Vehicles Come In A Variety Of Sizes And Configurations

Although many consider the center of the sustainable vehicle universe to be based on EVs, PHEVs, or parallel-drive hybrids, there are a number of other options for those of us who appreciate efficiency regardless of its fuel source. This is particularly true of the new Elio Motors three-wheeled vehicle, since it mixes long-range and low cost, with common sense driving amenities in order to produce something entirely new for the U.S. auto market.

In 2008 enterprising designer Paul Elio decided to see if he could create a new vehicle for the commuter market, where the cost of getting from home to work and back was becoming a significant financial burden. At same time, he wanted to re-energize the auto segment by building his new vehicle on the basis of an All-American supply chain that, in turn, would lead to more All-American jobs.

Consequently, he came up with an innovative tandem-seat ‘cartocycle’ made of equal parts auto and motorcycle, built on the premise of high-tech components while, at the same, cost accounting its way down to a low, low, low, low MSRP. The result is the highly-sustainable Elio commuter car, and I have to say the product appears to be very interesting indeed.

The launch MSRP for the new vehicle is $6,800 plus tax. Yes I wrote that correctly, so just for fun, let’s do it again to make sure; that’s $6,800 plus tax. Now, just on the basis of cost alone, the vehicle has to be a winner, but there’s much more under the skin than just a low price point.

The Elio has been test measured to produce between 80 and 84 MPG on unleaded regular gasoline, and with its integrated 8 gallon fuel tank, the vehicle is able to deliver 640 miles to the tank; which is just exactly what the designer wanted in the first place. The vehicle’s powertrain is driven by a German IAV three-cylinder 0.9 Liter engine, producing 55 HP.

The little power plant creates enough grunt to go from a standing start to 60 MPH in just over 9 seconds and tops out at over 100 MPH; which ain’t bad considering the fact that the vehicle also pushing a enclosed 1250 lb structure along. In addition to the Elio’s performance and efficiency measurements, the little three-wheeler hosts a complete standard amenities package including; AM/FM Stereo, optimized climate control, steering-wheel control sets, power window/door-locks, leather seating, a fold-down rear seat, and options for either manual or automatic transmissions.

All in all, the new Elio is likely to cause quite a splash when the vehicle rolls out of its new manufacturing plant in Shreveport LA during the 2015 model year, and along with the tech buzz, the company is also creating 1,500 new jobs. You can buy a production order-position for as low as $100, although you’re going to have to wait regardless, since Elio has already banked better than 20,000 orders already.

Rick Carlton | June 30, 2014

Watch a short Video

Sustainable Driving: Hertz And Zem2All Partner To Create Additional City Mobility

Hertz and electric charging operator Zem2All have announced a partnership that aims to put more sustainable vehicles on the city streets of Malaga and elsewhere across Spain.

“As a leader in the car rental industry, Hertz is well positioned to help customers and cities to gain first-hand experience with electric vehicles, said the company’s Michel Tirade. “We strongly believe that investing in innovative and convenient solutions that reduce the environmental impacts of travel is an important step towards sustainable transport on a global scale. In partnership with Zem2All, we will be working to create a compelling electric drive transport model that can be easily exported to other cities.”

The Hertz program will deliver zero-emissions electrical rental vehicles at a number of major locations across the city including its airport, various hotels and standalone outlets. The commercial rental program will employ the Nissan Leaf sedan, and will be based on an initial fleet of 160 vehicles.

Along with the Hertz/Nissan angle, Zem2All offers access to 23 charging units established at 9 charging facilities between the cities of Malaga, Fuengirola and Marbella. The advent of these regionally-emplaced charging facilities will support a base cost value of approximately 2 Euros per 100 miles of range.

The Zem2All project is based on a Spanish/Japanese partnership between Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, in conjunction with Spanish gas, electric and communications utilities Endesa, Telefonica and Ayesa, For its own part, Hertz sees the Zem2All deal as part of its larger HertzLargerJourney project focused on overall sustainable living.

The project has already engendered a number of life-based enhancements including expanded solar energy development, the integration of new LEED-based energy development across Europe, new recycling sites, the advent of specific recycling process centers at rental centers, along with the application of waterless vehicle washing.

Rick Carlton|July 2, 2014

Could a LEED for Roads Spur Greener Infrastructure?

In a recent interview for American Public Media’s Marketplace, President Obama once again acknowledged America’s crumbling infrastructure, and the fact that no one in Congress seems too terribly concerned about it:

“…we’ve got $2 trillion of deferred maintenance: roads, bridges, an air-traffic control system that’s creaky, an electrical grid that wastes too much energy and is highly inefficient, and we could be putting hundreds of thousands of folks back to work right now and not only put a big boost to the economy in the short term, but also lay the foundation for economic competitiveness in the long term. That creates a lot of middle-class jobs. The challenge we have is not that we don’t know what to do. The problem is that we’ve got a Congress right now that’s been saying no to proposals that would make a difference.”

In case you missed it, the 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gave the performance and condition of the nation’s infrastructure an overall grade of D+, up from a D in 2009 (hooray?).

The fact that bridges and dams are literally falling apart in this country seems an apt example of…everything, but that’s a discussion for another time. Regardless of bank account or political persuasion, every American relies on this infrastructure for survival. And from the highest levels of government on down, we’re scrambling to figure out which projects to tackle first, and how to ensure the updates are enough to bring us into the next century, and beyond.

The increasingly unpredictable consequences of global warming demonstrate our need for infrastructure that’s not only sound, but also smart and eco-friendly. Applying green building concepts to infrastructure is still a very new idea, one that there has been no comprehensive, standardized way to quantify — until now.

Introduced in 2012, the Envision rating system, created by the Zofnass Program and Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure, strives to be for infrastructure what the LEED certification system is for buildings.

“Roads are the connective tissue of commerce and make economic growth possible,” Bill Bertera, president and CEO of the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure, told GreenBiz.com. “Since connectivity drives GDP, how we prep our infrastructure for the future is an important consideration, especially for the business community.”

“The USGBC focuses on the vertical infrastructure and we focus on horizontal infrastructure,” Bertera continued. “Between the two organizations, we can offer a community a complete palette for making itself more sustainable.”

The Envision system is built on the idea that infrastructure products are most successful — and sustainable — when they employ a holistic approach that takes the environment into account during planning instead of applying mitigation “bandages” after the fact. At its most basic, Envision is a checklist for engineers and city planners. Structured as a series of yes/no questions, the system assesses projects across five categories — quality of life, leadership, resource allocation, natural world and climate and risk — for a total of 60 sustainability criteria, called credits. “As with LEED certification, Envision helps projects achieve different levels of designation from a third-party evaluator,” reports GreenBiz.

Although a lack of funding might make it difficult for current projects to achieve certification, the tools are freely available as a foundation for anyone interested in making a project more sustainable.

So far, 300 infrastructure projects are using Envision, and about 30 are expected to go through the verification process.

Beth Buczynski|July 6, 2014

ALL ABOARD FLORIDA UNVEILS FORT LAUDERDALE STATION DESIGN 

As Planned, Construction on South Segment (Miami to West Palm Beach) to Begin this Summer, with Segment North of West Palm Beach to Commence Following Completion of FRA’s Environmental Impact Statement.

Today marked another exciting milestone as Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief and Fort Lauderdale Mayor John P. “JackSeiler joined All Aboard Florida executives to reveal designs for All Aboard Florida’s new Fort Lauderdale station. Planned and designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM) in association with Zyscovich Architects, the downtown Fort Lauderdale station unveiling is the latest in a series of recent announcements made by All Aboard Florida as the project moves toward construction.

The Fort Lauderdale station will be located on 4.8 acres of land adjacent to the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) corridor on NW 2nd Avenue, between Broward Boulevard and NW 4th Street. Located at the northern end of downtown Fort Lauderdale, the nearly 60,000 square foot station and platform will stimulate a currently underutilized area, driving new visitors into downtown and the surrounding cultural, economic and shopping destinations.

“All Aboard Florida remains on schedule to start construction and deliver passenger service between Miami and West Palm Beach with a stop in Fort Lauderdale by the end of 2016,” said Mike Reininger, President and Chief Development Officer of All Aboard Florida. “Construction on Phase 2, which will connect Central Florida with the major South Florida markets, will commence immediately following the completion of the Environmental Impact Statement. This phase will deliver passenger service to Orlando by early 2017 and will coincide directly with the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority’s plans to build the Intermodal Station and Automated People Mover.”

Providing a new gateway into the city and Broward County, the Fort Lauderdale station will include a modern, multi-story lobby spanning, an elevated passenger lounge area for travelers, and parking facilities.  The station location was chosen as it provides convenient connections to the Sun Trolley, Broward County Transit system, the future Wave Streetcar and planned Tri-Rail station.

All Aboard Florida will bring new jobs, increased business opportunities, and an enhanced quality of life to Fort Lauderdale. This project helps to further our ‘Fast Forward Fort Lauderdale’ plan for the future, which includes becoming a fully connected ‘City of Tomorrow’ that is anchored by alternative modes of transportation and allows for less reliance on vehicles,” said Fort Lauderdale Mayor John P. “Jack” Seiler. “This exciting project will also assist in our downtown redevelopment and, from a tourism standpoint, this new mode of transportation should bring visitors right to our front door and allow us to showcase our many attractions and destinations.”

“All Aboard Florida’s Fort Lauderdale station will not only stimulate our local economy and drive consumers to the area, but will also create thousands of direct jobs during construction and implementation for locals and cities along the route,” said Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief. “All Aboard Florida will bring significant opportunities to Broward County and enable our local businesses to thrive in a global marketplace.”

For additional information, please visit our website to view the full press release, fact sheet and the unveiling slide show and video.

All Aboard Florida Team

Recycling

These 7 amazing recycling facts will make you think twice

Next time you finish that Diet Coke, decide to replace your cell phone, or toss that outdated phone book, take a moment to think about your next step. Before you head to your trash bin, ask yourself if there is a smarter option. The more you know about recycling, the more you will be motivated to do it. Not only does recycling keep waste from overcrowded landfills, it provides raw materials to create new product. Read on for seven reasons sure to convince you.

1. Using Recycled Paper Saves Water, Not Just Trees

When you use recycled paper instead of “virgin” paper, you are contributing to saving 7,000 gallons of water per ton of paper produced. That water can be better used combating the effects of drought. You’re also offsetting the 900,000,000 trees per year chopped down to make paper.

2. Enough Plastic Bottles are Tossed Each Year to Circle the Planet Four Times

In an Average Year, 8 billion pounds of plastic bottles are produced in the United States. If all of them had been recycled, the resulting material could have been used to create 22 million size XL T-shirts.

3. Americans Throw Away Enough Trash in an Average Year to Circle Earth 24 times

That trash is chock full of recyclables that were not recycled. Each day, Americans toss about 100 million tin and steel cans. Each year, Americans use more than 80,000,000,000 aluminum cans and most end up in landfills.

4. It Takes Centuries for a Disposable Diaper to Break Down in a Landfill

On average, one baby will go through 8,000 diapers. Cloth diapers are not as convenient, but they are reusable.


5. 25 Billion Styrofoam Cups are Trashed Each Year

It takes Styrofoam more than 500 years to decompose in a landfill. A coffee mug can be washed and reused for years generating no waste.

6. Recycling Aluminum Cans Saves 95% of the Energy Used to Make New Cans

When you recycle just one aluminum can, you save enough energy to power a 100-watt light bulb for 20 hours or to listen to a full album on your iPod. Thanks to state-of-the-art automated sorting and separating equipment, recycling facilities can process more than 3,500 pounds of aluminum cans per hour and send the aluminum to be reused in other products.

7. In a Recent Year, Americans Recovered, Reused, or Recycled 34% of Waste Generated

This means Americans threw out 161 million tons, or about 3 pounds of trash per person per day. If the recycling rate in the United States reaches 75%, it will be equivalent to the environmental impact of removing 50 million cars from the roads each year. Unfortunately, there is a long way to go. A 2011 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study estimated that only about 35% of households and 10% of businesses in the United States recycle.

Each recycled, re-purposed or reused item is an item that does not end up in a landfill. We have one earth, and we all should work together to take care of it.

Contributing Authors|July 3, 2014

Recycling Rates in Florida Continue to Climb

New 2013 recycling data released by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection shows Florida’s official recycling rate is now 49 percent, up one percent from last year. This represents a substantial increase in the amount of solid waste recycled — from 9.7 million tons in 2012 to 11.8 million tons in 2013.

The total recycling rate represents a combination of traditional recycling practices and renewable energy credits, which are calculated based on the amount of renewable energy produced using solid waste as a fuel. Per Florida Statutes, each megawatt-hour of electricity produced by waste equals one ton of recycling. For 2013, there were 3.4 million megawatt-hours of electricity produced from both waste-to-energy facilities and the use of landfill gas. Florida law pertaining to the recycling rate was amended by the legislature in 2012 to promote the production of renewable energy from solid waste.

It is also important to recognize gains in the traditional recycling rate, which does not include renewable energy credits. The traditional recycling rate increased by three percent from 35 percent in 2012 to 38 percent in 2013.

The overall amount of solid waste generated increased from 27.9 million tons in 2012 to 31.3 million tons in 2013. A large portion of this increase came from construction and demolition waste. This increase is consistent with the overall increase in economic activity in the state.

“As we get closer to the 2020 deadline for the 75-percent recycling goal, we need all Florida residents to step up recycling efforts,” said Division of Waste Management Director Jorge Caspary. “While we have made modest improvements again this year, it is still critical for the commercial sector to increase its recycling efforts before the goal can be achieved.”

In 2008, the Florida Legislature first established a new statewide recycling goal of 75 percent to be achieved by 2020. While the department is urging all sectors to actively increase recycling efforts, commercial municipal solid waste accounts for approximately 55 percent of the total municipal solid waste in Florida. However, only about half of the commercial solid waste in Florida is being recycled. Increasing commercial recycling would have a substantial positive effect on the recycling numbers as a whole.

The department continues to promote its Recycling Recognition Program and is working to raise awareness and interest, particularly for commercial recycling efforts throughout Florida. It is crucial that businesses, schools and other commercial recyclers increase their recycling efforts. The department has an easy tool for companies to input data and track their recycling efforts — the Florida DEP Business Recycling Tracking Tool.

According to the 2013 report for total recycling rates, including renewable energy credits, Hillsborough and Lee Counties have the top two total recycling rates at 73 and 70 percent, respectively. Sarasota County tops the rankings for the traditional recycling rates in 2013.

Top 10 Counties for Total Recycling Rates:

1. Hillsborough, 73 percent
2. Lee, 70 percent
3. Hendry, 68 percent
4. Pasco, 67 percent
5. Pinellas, 63 percent
6. Collier, 60 percent
7. Sarasota, 58 percent
8. Martin, Palm Beach, 56 percent (tie)
10. Monroe, 55 percent

Top 10 Counties for Traditional Recycling Rates:

1.  Sarasota, 58 percent
2.  Alachua, Martin, Collier, 54 percent (three-way tie)
5.  Brevard, 52 percent
6.  Manatee, 48 percent
7.  Orange, 47 percent
8.  Lee, 46 percent
9.  Duval, Leon, 45 percent (tie)

To view the complete 2013 Municipal Solid Waste Annual Report, click HERE.

For more information on the department’s Recycling Recognition Program, click HERE.

mburgerdep|July 3, 2014

Miscellaneous

6 Female Explorers Who Made History

Despite changing world history, pushing the boundaries of current scientific knowledge and challenging the social norms of their day, female explorers are often completely ignored in the history books. So to help bring a little more recognition to adventurous women everywhere, today we’re bringing you 6 profiles on women explorers past and present who’ve changed the course of history.

Jeanne Baret

Born in 1740 in the Burgundy region of France, Jeanne Baret was the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. Baret disguised herself as a man in order to join an expedition on the ship Etoile in 1766 with her lover, the botanist Philibert Commerson. At the time, women were forbidden from French Navy ships, so Commerson brought her on as his “assistant” and helped her conceal her identity from the rest of the crew.

There was apparently much speculation about her sex throughout the journey. (She even “confessed” to being a eunuch in response to some awkward questions from the sailors). At some point, her disguise was discovered, although the details vary depending on the report. The journals of three crew members, however, claim that Baret was forcibly stripped and gang-raped by the ship’s crew in Papua New Guinea.

Shortly after, Baret became pregnant. She was forced to leave the ship with Commerson on Mauritius island in the Dutch New Indies. Commerson grew ill and died during their stay, leaving Baret without the means to return to France on her own.

In 1774, she married a non-commissioned French Army officer named Jean Dubernat, who brought her with him back to France, completing her circumnavigation of the globe. While her story is tragic in many ways, Baret’s bravery and willingness to defy gender expectations has won her wider recognition in recent years.

Gertrude Bell

Born in 1868, Gertrude Bell was an English writer, archeologist, political officer and spy who is known for her role in founding modern Iraq. After becoming the first woman to graduate with a history degree from Oxford, Bell began her world travels.

Over the years she learned Arabic, Persian, French, German, Italian and Turkish. She made two around-the-world journeys within 10 years, and even survived a blizzard while while climbing the Alps in 1902.

Bell was particularly fond of the Middle East, and began a career in archeology there. When World War I broke out, she was hired by the British government to form an alliance with the Arabs against the Ottoman Empire. She was the only female political officer in the British forces at the time. In 1921, Bell was incredibly influential in determining the borders of the new state of Iraq, even serving as advisor to the first King of Iraq, Faisal bin Hussein. Bell died shortly after, in 1926, from an apparent overdose on sleeping pills.

Interestingly enough, Bell was a staunch anti-suffragist and seemed to have a rather dim view of the abilities of other women of her day. Despite working for the Imperialist British forces, she was loved by the people of Mesopotamia that she encountered in her travels and remains a figure of affection even today. She believed strongly that the people of Iraq should have the right to determine their own fate, a controversial stance at the time which was dismissed by the British government.

Nellie Bly

Nellie Bly was the pen name of American journalist Elizabeth Jane Cochrane. In 1880, at the age of only 18, Bly wrote a rebuttal to a misogynistic column in the Pittsburgh Dispatch and was immediately offered a job by the editor. Once the editor realized the letter writer was a teenage girl, he took a little more persuading, but she eventually talked him into hiring her. An early feminist, Bly wrote about the plight of working women, investigating the conditions of female factory workers in the city.

After editorial pressure forced her to start covering more “feminine” topics like fashion and gardening, she left for Mexico to serve as a foreign correspondent at age 21. After her political writing there put her in danger from the government, she moved to New York City in 1887. For her first gig, she took an undercover assignment and faked insanity in order to investigate the brutal conditions of a local asylum. After ten days of being offered spoiled food, given dirty water and left to freeze surrounded by her own filth, Bly was released. She published a report that was later adapted into a book entitled Ten Days in a Mad-House, which earned her lasting fame and launched a series of mental health reforms.

Only a year later, Bly decided to replicate the fictional trip from the book Around the World in 80 Days for an article in the New York World. A competing magazine called The Cosmopolitan sent their own journalist, Elizabeth Bisland, on a trip in the opposite direction to try to beat Bly’s time. On her travels, Bly met Jules Verne (the author of the book that inspired her trip) in France, and traveled through Penang, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. Her final travel time ended up being 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes and 14 seconds total — a world record at the time.

Valentina Tereshkova

On June 16th, 1963, Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to fly in space. Tereshkova was born to a poor family in 1937, and began working to support her mother and siblings when she was only 10 years old. Over the years she pursued her education while working as a seamstress, an apprentice in a tire factory, and a loom operator. An amateur parachutist, Tereshkova was selected from more than 500 applicants to be the first woman in outer space.

In many ways, her 3-day mission was simple political propaganda — the USSR wanted to launch a woman into space before the U.S. did. Her story of rising from a humble background was used to inspire the masses, but after her 1963 trip, she never visited space again. In fact, it would be another 19 years before another female cosmonaut was launched into space.

In the years since, Tereshkova has channeled her fame into a political career. She served in several political positions within the Soviet Union, and represented her country in many international efforts for peace abroad. Today, she serves in the Russian legislature.

At age 76, she says her current ambition is to join a manned trip to Mars and investigate the possibility of life on her favorite planet (other than Earth).

Ann Bancroft

Despite struggling with a learning disability in her early years, Ann Bancroft never let it hold her back. Instead of becoming frustrated with her studies, she turned her attention to the natural world, where she felt comfortable and safe.

As an adult, she has made the connection with nature her life’s calling. In 1986, she became the first woman to cross the ice to the North Pole, traveling 1,000 miles from Canada by dogsled. In 1992-93, she led an all-woman team to the South Pole, becoming the first woman to cross the ice on both poles. In 2001, she teamed up with Norwegian explorer Liv Arnesen to become the first women to ski across Antarctica.

Bancroft is using her fame to draw attention to a number of issues close to her heart. An out lesbian, she has publicly campaigned for marriage equality. She also helps develop educational curriculum and speaks about her struggles with dyslexia in order to raise awareness of learning disabilities. She has also used her experience as a polar explorer to draw greater attention to climate change.

Cindy Lee Van Dover

Cindy Lee Van Dover is a modern oceanographer and deep-sea explorer. She’s spent her career studying hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor. In 1990, she became the first and only female pilot of submersible. On her dozens of deep-sea dives, Van Dover has uncovered new species of mussels, shrimp, tube worms and bacteria.

She has led almost 50 deep-sea expeditions. In 2006, she became the first female director of the Duke University Marine Laboratory. Her discoveries have added to scientists’ understanding of what early Earth may have been like billions of years ago.

Van Dover is also doing her part to train the next generation of marine scientists: every fall she teaches a course on invertebrate zoology for undergraduates. She also teaches graduate courses and runs summer field programs, in addition to writing about her experiences for a lay audience.

Julie M. Rodriguez|July 7, 2014

India – now nuclear and environmental dissent is a crime

In modern India any form of dissent from the neoliberal corporate model of development is being criminalized, writes Kumar Sundaram. Opponents of nuclear power, coal mines, GMOs, giant dams, are all under attack as enemies of the state and a threat to economic growth.

We are fearful that this is a kind of witch-hunt with longer term implications to repress all kinds of popular struggles

In the same week that France decided to lower its appetite for nuclear energy and increase its reliance on renewable sources, the Indian home ministry started hounding Greenpeace for its role in “stalling India’s development” by opposing nuclear power and genetically modified organisms.

A crackdown on other anti-nuclear networks like the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP) and the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) is being widely anticipated.

The crackdown followed a confidential report by India’s premier internal intelligence agency, the Intelligence Bureau, titled ‘Concerning efforts by select foreign funded NGOs to ‘take down’ Indian development projects‘.

Stirring up a media frenzy

The 21-page report named a number of prominent anti-nuclear activists like Praful Bidwai, Achin Vanaik, Admiral Ramdas, and Surendra Gadekar as well as a number of organizations. Activists have raised questions about how the report made its way to the media before reaching the ministries and the Prime Minister’s office.

S. P. Udayakumar, a leading activist against the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, has taken the Indian government to court, highlighting the serious threat to his life posed by the media frenzy over the report. He fears for his life, stating in a recent interview:

“I am a threat to nuclear energy. I am a threat to the global nuclear industry. The governments of India, Russia, France and America are all together now.

“We are a threat to all of them. Their business interests are hurt. They are going to dump their outdated technology on the hapless people of India. We point out their faults and so we are being targeted.

It’s all rubbish – but the danger is very real

“Unfortunately some people in this country believe these stories. That is the irony of it. This is becoming a threat to my life and to the security of my family. When they name me like this. When they call me – an Indian – a security threat for whatever reasons, it sends a wrong message to the wrong people.

“When I walk on the streets someone may say here goes a traitor and attack me. I might get killed. My school has been attacked twice. You know my people were attacked inside the Tirunelveli collector’s office in full view of the public.

“If something happens to me the Intelligence Bureau and the Government of India are responsible. By maligning me and putting my life at risk.”

Anti-nuclear activists organised a press conference in Delhi in late June calling the Intelligence Bureau report unacceptable “scare-mongering”on the part of the government to malign local agitations and to further repress them. Achin Vanaik, an academic and leading anti-nuclear voice, said:

“We are concerned that the ground is being prepared, by whom we cannot say, to oppose and discredit a whole range of popular movements by targeting NGOs that are providing support to such struggles and resistances. We are fearful that this is a kind of witch-hunt with longer term implications to repress all kinds of popular struggles.”

Criminalizing dissent

The Intelligence Bureau report reduces the diverse political landscape of India – comprising Gandhians, leftists, tribal movements, funded NGOs and activists who despise them, spontaneous protests and organised groups, academics and independent researchers – to a homogenous block bent on putting roadblocks to the Indian growth dream.

Linking all aspirations for a safer and cleaner future for India to foreign instigation, the report seeks to criminalize dissent.

Raising the ‘foreign hand’ bogey against anti-nuclear activists is not new in India. In the course of the massive people’s resistance to the Kudankulam reactor, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh blamed US-based NGOs for instigating protests against the Russian-imported reactors.

Soon, this malignment from the top political level translated into brutal police violence against the villagers:

  • Fisherfolk’s houses and boats were ransacked, two agitators were killed, hundreds were arrested (including women and teens),
  • passports were confiscated from the youth in the area who used to work in the Arabian gulf countries, and
  • outrageous British-era charges of sedition and ‘war against the Indian state’ were leveled against thousands of protesters.

Economic growth not up to the mark? Blame the NGOs

But the recent Intelligence Bureau report takes this repression further and seeks to securitize ‘development’. In the first paragraph, it blames various NGOs and people’s struggle for a 2-3% loss in the country’s GDP.

While several reputed commentators and policy experts have called such assessment ridiculous, the report reflects the ruling elite’s mindset in which the any opposition to its own collaboration for profiteering global corporates is deemed anti-national.

Initial steps of the newly elected BJP government include opening the gates to 100% foreign direct investment in sensitive sectors like defence, and seeking to dilute environmental stipulations for big industries, mining and mega-projects.

The massive expansion of nuclear energy envisaged by the Indian government is itself a direct result of the government’s commitment to the nuclear supplying countries.

Nuclear power is the new must-have

India made advance promises for reactor purchases from France’s Areva, Russia’s Atomsroyexport and US giants like Westinghouse and GE in exchange for these countries’ support for an exemption for India at the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) in 2008.

India was thus permitted to engage in international nuclear commerce despite its status as a nuclear weapons state outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

It is under the pressure of the commitment to the international nuclear lobby that the Indian government has been bulldozing everything that stands in their way:

  • undermining and diluting safety norms
  • pushing through environmental clearances at gun-point
  • neglecting the adverse economics of these projects
  • crushing grassroots democratic dissent
  • trying to exempt the nuclear suppliers from liability in the event of any accident

Coal, hydropower, mining are security interests of the state

The Intelligence Bureau report mentions other people’s struggles to protect the environment and traditional lifestyles – such as movements against corporate-led mining, coal plants, big hydro dams and GM-crops etc.

It has a separate section on the people and activist groups who criticized the development model of the Gujarat state, whose Chief Minister has now become the Prime Minister.

The Gujarat model has been notorious for its corporate friendliness – tax holidays, cheap land acquisition and huge subsidies for big industrial houses in the face of rising inequality and malnutrition.

While such ostrich-like attitudes suit the national security hawks, the democratic ethos is under grave threat in India.

One can only hope that in a country that fought hard against colonialism to attain freedom and nurture a democracy, such attempts will eventually be thwarted by the majority.

Kumar Sundaram|4th July 2014

Food Labeled ‘Organic’ Is No Guarantee of Safety—Shocking Levels of Heavy Metals in Imported Food Highlight the Danger

Heavy metal pollution makes no distinction between how crops are grown. Irrespective of whether farming practices are organic or conventional practices are used, if the likes of cadmium, arsenic, lead, nickel and mercury are in the soil, water or air they can contaminate food and poison the people who consume it. With enough exposure, heavy metals can build up in the body, causing chronic problems in the skin, intestine, nervous system, kidneys, liver, and brain. Some heavy metals occur naturally in soil, but rarely at toxic levels, while human activities like mining, manufacturing and the use of synthetic materials like paint, and even some agricultural chemicals, can release heavy metals into the air and water, and from there they find their way to the soil. And once in the soil, heavy metals are virtually impossible to remove.

China acknowledged last April that a staggering one-fifth of its arable land is seriously polluted with heavy metals, thanks to decades of aggressive industrial development. China’s Environmental Protection Ministry looked at data sampled between 2006 and 2013 and described the situation as “not optimistic.” The most commonly found heavy metals were cadmium, nickel and arsenic. The revelation came after months of speculation about the report, which at one point was not going to be released as the results were considered to be a “ State Secret.”

Cadmium, one of the metals found in high concentrations in Chinese soil, is one of the most toxic heavy metal pollutants. It moves through soil layers with ease, and is taken up by a variety of plants, including leafy vegetables, root crops, cereals and grains. Last year it was discovered that nearly half of the rice for sale in the southern China city of Guangzhou was tainted with cadmium, which caused a major uproar.

Nickel and arsenic, the other two pollutants found in greatest amounts, aren’t so great either.

In the U.S., arsenic in apple juice has been on the popular radar since September 2011, when Mehmet Oz reported high arsenic levels in multiple samples of apple juice that were independently tested for his television show. More than half of the apple juice consumed in the U.S. comes from China.

Oz was taken to the woodshed for being alarmist by a number of experts and authorities, including the FDA, which disputed the results with its own data. ABC News’ senior health medical editor, Richard Besser, called Oz’s claims “extremely irresponsible,” comparing it to yelling fire in a crowded theater.

A few weeks later, FDA admitted it had withheld many test results which did, in fact, support Oz’s claim. Besser apologized to Oz on national television, and soon after the FDA collected about 90 retail samples of apple juice for a new round of analysis. According to FDA documents now available, the levels reported by Oz are in fact consistent with those detected by the agency in samples from China and Turkey.

Last year the agency set a limit, also known as an “action level,” on arsenic in juice, at 10 parts per billion, the same level that’s enforced in drinking water. Currently, FDA has import alerts set for four firms, two each in China and Turkey. The products of these companies, while regularly tested for arsenic because of previous violations of the action level, continue to be imported. 

While China is not the only polluted region from which we import food, with a combination of aggressive industrial development and legendarily lax enforcement, it’s become a poster child for scary food imports. But any region with rapid industrial development and suspect environmental regulations could be a candidate for producing food contaminated with heavy metals.

Ari LeVaux|AlterNet|July 1, 2014

The Jane Goodall Institute

The Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) is committed to the conservation of chimpanzees and their forest habitats found throughout Africa. A big part of this commitment is improving communities and the lives of people in these areas, which directly correlate to the health of the environment in and around the community.

As part of our email series for World Population Day, we would like to tell you about how JGI’s Peer to Peer Education Program provides girls living in our focus communities with the information they need to remain healthy and avoid contracting sexually transmitted diseases.

HIV/AIDS continues to affect nations across Africa. One of the nations where JGI works has become severely affected by the epidemic. As of 2012, 7.2% of the population of Uganda is infected with HIV. This figure represents men, women, and an estimated 190,000 children.

JGI is leading programs in Uganda to reduce the numbers of young women and children who are affected by HIV/AIDS. Not only will this better  the lives of women and their families throughout the nation, it will also help improve the health of their communities which in turn improves the health of their local natural environment. This is a critical step towards JGI’s goal of protecting 85% of chimpanzees and their habitat over the next 30 years.

The health of communities near wild chimpanzee populations is linked to the health of critical forest habitats.

As part of JGI’s Peer to Peer Education Program, JGI teaches girls about the risk of disease and ensures that they are well-informed about HIV/AIDS prevention, reproductive health, and family-planning methods. These girls are also trained on how to discuss these health issues with their peers. Then, armed with this life saving information, these girls go out into their community and teach other girls how to protect themselves from disease and take control of their own reproductive health.

Without improving the health of the people living near chimpanzee habitats, JGI cannot hope to save the remaining wild chimpanzees, of which there are now estimated to be less than 300,000 across Africa.

Our Peer to Peer Education program is critical to this mission; not only do we teach young women how to stay healthy in high-risk communities, we also increase the chances that these girls will be able to finish their education and become better stewards of the environment.

my.janegoodall.org/PeerEducation

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 714 A

Take a course in good water and air; and in the eternal youth of Nature you may renew your own. Go quietly, alone; no harm will befall you. John Muir

Announcements

The Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

preserves a portion of the once vast northern Everglades.

It provides habitat and protection for endangered wildlife such as the snail kite

and the wood stork and the formerly endangered American alligator.

 UPCOMING EVENTS

ARTHUR R. MARSHALL LOXAHATCHEE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

Cypress Swamp Boardwalk Closed Until July 16

The Cypress Swamp Boardwalk has been closed for cleaning and repairs.

It is expected to reopen July 16.

Visitor Center Exhibits to Close July 11 – 15

Starting Friday, July 11 and continuing through Tuesday, July 15, the exhibits in the Visitor Center will get some much needed cleaning and repair.

The Visitor Center exhibits opened in October of 2009; there has not been any significant cleaning or repair of the exhibits since then.

SCHEDULED PROGRAMS        

July 2014
Tram Tours of the Marsh

Every Tuesday, 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Every Wednesday, 1:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Every Thursday, 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. 

Take a Tram tour of the marsh with our volunteer naturalist, who will take you from the Visitor Center to the boat ramp to the LILA impoundments,

then back through the C10 impoundment and the Marsh Trail, across to the Arthur R. Marshall kiosk and back to the Visitor Center.

Your guide will talk about the Refuge, its birds and other wildlife, the ongoing research in the mini-Everglades impoundments of LILA,

and answer all your questions in the comfort of your shaded electric tram.  

RESERVATIONS REQUIRED.

  Call the Visitor Center at 561-734-8303. 

Guided Canoe Trips

Saturday, July 5, 8:00 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. 

Meet at the Lee Road Boat Ramp to enjoy a beautiful canoe tour through a portion of the Refuge interior. 

You may rent a canoe for $32 from Loxahatchee Canoeing or bring your own.  (One canoe seats 2 to 3 people.)

RESERVATIONS REQUIRED.  Call the Visitor Center at 561-734-8303.

njoy this 3-minute video made on the canoe trail: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BW49VXaOvGU&feature=related

Full Moon Guided Canoe Trips

Saturday, July 12, 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Saturday, August 9, 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Saturday, September 6, 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. 

Meet at the Lee Road Boat Ramp to enjoy a guided moonlight canoe tour through a portion of the Refuge interior. 

Wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants and bring a flashlight and bug spray.

Canoe rental from Loxahatchee Canoeing is $32; you may not bring your own.  (One canoe seats 2 to 3 people.)

RESERVATIONS REQUIRED – PLEASE CALL LOXAHATCHEE CANOEING at 561-733-0192.

Guided Bird, Butterfly and Wildflower Walks

Every Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. 

Join our volunteer naturalist for an early morning nature walk and see how many birds and other critters you can spot.  Learn about our migratory and year-round residents of the Refuge and their habitat. 

Your guide will discuss the marsh ecology, answer your questions and identify the birds, butterflies, plants, reptiles and anything else you might find along the way.   Meet in the Marsh Trail parking lot.

Roving Naturalist on Cypress Swamp Boardwalk

Every Tuesday, 1:30 p.m – 3:00 p.m.
Every Saturday, 9:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. 

A volunteer naturalist will be strolling around the Cypress Swamp Boardwalk, answering questions and discussing flora and fauna of the swamp.

Roving Naturalist on Marsh Trail
Every Saturday, 9:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.

A volunteer naturalist will be strolling around the Marsh Trail, discussing the marsh ecology, answering questions

and identifying birds, butterflies, plants, reptiles and anything else you might find along the way.

*** Programs subject to change, for more information on any of the activities and programs, please call the

Visitor Center at (561) 734-8303 or the Administration Office at (561) 732-3684.   

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 You are Invited to Interact

Direct Via Satellite

with Captain Charles Moore & his research crew

from

“The Great Pacific Garbage Patch”

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Registration 11:15am – Noon

Program 12:15pm – 4:15pm

Cabrillo Marine Aquarium Auditorium

3720 Stephen M. White Drive, San Pedro, CA

Admission Free – Reservations required

Call 562-598-4889 or contact jeanne@algalita.org

Shuttle service available from

22nd Street Landing parking lot in San Pedro to the Aquarium

Contact jeanne@algalita.org.to reserve your seat

In addition to a rare opportunity to communicate with researchers at sea, there will be a live panel of environmental experts

Friends of the Everglades

Friends of the Everglades was founded in 1969 by renowned journalist, author, and environmental activist Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

The mission of Friends of the Everglades is to preserve, protect, and restore the only Everglades in the world.

Our Goals:

  • Compel government agencies to comply with existing environmental laws, and resist any efforts to weaken such laws.
  • Encourage politicians to recognize the long consequences of their actions.
  • Spread awareness of the importance of the Everglades to the South Florida ecosystem.

Visit our Website!

Like us on Facebook

 Follow us on facebook

Of Interest to All

Big Sugar should pay cleanup costs

Leaders of Florida’s sugar companies, responding to Andy Reid’s recent story about taxpayers shouldering the costs of cleaning up the Everglades, objected to my description of the “ugly” legislative process that led to Gov. Rick Scott’s signing of HB 7065 last year. Lawmaking has been compared to sausage making, and the 2013 Everglades bill was no exception.

Audubon and other conservation groups pushed for the sugar companies to pay more and do more to clean up the water discharged from their fields to the Everglades. We signed off on a compromise that fell well short of our original goal. The bill did extend the modest tax paid by farmers to cover some of the costs of meeting water quality standards. But there is still an imbalance between what taxpayers and farmers pay, and sugar farmers can do more with reduced fertilizer use and on-farm treatment.

Audubon and others supported HB 7065 and applauded a key feature of the bill, which authorized additional water treatment projects.

The sugar industry makes much of that rare moment of Everglades compromise, and Audubon agrees that we need to work together to clean up Lake Okeechobee and the coastal estuaries and to move more clean water to the Everglades, rather than dumping dirty water to the coasts.

It is going to take a lot of money to deal with South Florida’s water problems — more money than is currently being budgeted. I challenge the sugar industry to step up and be partners on funding solutions. If the industry does not want to give more, then help get more.

Eric Draper|Executive Director|Audubon Florida|June 26, 2014

Ramsar Officers Approved

FGCU Professor Bill Mitsch, Eminent Scholar and Director of the Everglades Wetland Research Park, Florida Gulf Coast University, Naples, Florida, was approved as Chair of the United States National Ramsar Committee at a meeting of the Committee held at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Arlington Virginia on May 8, 2014. Suzanne Pittenger-Slear, President of Environmental Concern, St. Michaels, Maryland, was chosen as Vice-Chair and Ralph Tiner, Association of State Wetland Managers, was chosen as Treasurer. Deborah Hahn of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Washington DC, was renewed as Secretary of the Committee.

Members of the United States National Ramsar Committee include representatives of United States nongovernmental organizations NGOs, both nonprofit and for-profit, and local and state governmental organizations that have an interest in supporting the objectives of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. The Committee has as its mission to support the mission of the Ramsar Convention in the USA and to encourage and facilitate the development of wetlands of international importance in the USA and encourage their proper management.

The Convention on Wetlands, formally called the “Ramsar Convention” is an intergovernmental treaty that embodies the commitments of its member countries to maintain the ecological character of their Wetlands of International Importance and to plan for the “wise use”, or sustainable use, of all of the wetlands in their territories.

Unlike the other global environmental conventions, Ramsar is not affiliated with the United Nations system of Multilateral Environmental Agreements, but it works very closely with the other MEAs and is a full partner among the “biodiversity-related cluster” of treaties and agreements. It has its international headquarters in Gland, Switzerland.

AIRGLADES

A new international airport in Clewiston could become Florida’s next big air freight hub  

HENDRY COUNTY, THE POOREST OF FLORIDA’S 67 counties by some standards, could find its fortunes transformed before the end of this decade – but only if county officials and private investors working in tandem can convince the Federal Aviation Administration to go along with the deal they’re pushing.

Is it too good to be true?

Here, Florida Weekly describes the proposed deal, one that could turn a sleepy county-owned airport surrounded by sugar cane northwest of Clewiston into a privately owned international cargo hub, with a brand new 12,000-foot runway costing as much as $400 million, new water and sewer infrastructure, an efficient nearby highway transportation system, extensive warehousing and more.

The hub, to be known as Airglades International Airport, would take the huge import trade in cut flowers, fish and other perishables now flown into Miami International Airport from South and Central America, inspect and secure the goods, warehouse and refrigerate them only as long as necessary, and deliver them by truck and even train to states north and west of Florida.

Miami International Airport imports more international freight than any other U.S. airport. The Airglades plans would divert perishables such as cut flowers, produce and fish to Clewiston – about 50 of the 1,000 daily flights that MIA now hosts. COURTESY PHOTO In the official-ese of Hendry County Attorney Mark Lapp, who pitched the deal to FAA officials first in late 2010, “the county sees Airglades Airport as a logical place to establish a supplemental air cargo trans-shipment center as a reliever to Miami.”

MIA handled 71.2 percent of all U.S. perishable air imports in 2012, 90.2 percent of imports to the nation in flowers, 72.7 percent of fruit and vegetable air imports, and 57.5 percent of all fish imports by air, according to U.S. Department of Commerce trade data provided by officials at MIA.

The dealmakers and county officials say that business imported to Hendry County would provide hundreds if not thousands of jobs for those living in Hendry, Palm Beach and Lee counties, not to mention such job-needy towns as Immokalee, in northeastern Collier County.

It would also open MIA to increased and more lucrative passenger traffic, and help clean up the environment and congestion in Miami-Dade County by taking thousands of trucks off the road that now have to fight their way out of MIA some 80 miles to the southeast, before heading north or west on I-95 or I-75.

And that could change the economic and cultural face of the southern peninsula forever.

“It has the potential to be a generation changer, and at build-out it could be an international player with direct ties to Central and South America, and with many subsidiaries – the offshoot fingers that will allow smaller distribution centers and hundreds of thousands of square feet of warehousing,” says Hendry County Commissioner Karson Turner.

This map overlay shows what the proposed Airglades International Airport could look like before the decade ends. COURTESY GRAPHIC Mr. Turner was born and raised in this sprawling, 1,200-square-mile county of about 40,000 residents, like his boyhood friend, Andrew Couse.

“My entire life there was always something coming,” says Mr. Couse, vice president of First Bank in Clewiston. “Some deal, somebody was going to build something or do something and we weren’t just going to be a little agricultural town growing sugar cane and cows and oranges, anymore – it was always going to transform us. And we would always laugh and say, ‘Here we go, this is the next big thing.’”

Airglades could ultimately receive more than 90 percent of the cut flowers imported into the U.S. by air, 72 percent of fruit and vegetables, and 57 percent of fish. MIAMI-DADE AVIATION DEPARTMENT But Mr. Couse isn’t laughing now, he admits, because this might really be the next big thing.

“I’m optimistic about this. I love the idea. The impact of this is incalculable – what it would mean in terms of jobs, an infusion of the housing market – we’d have our own housing market spike.”

But those sugar-plum visions are still years away, with predictions about breaking ground ranging from two to three to five years.

Meanwhile, Hendry County sports the highest unemployment rate of 67 counties in Florida – the only county in double digits. And the county shows one of the highest rates of medically uninsured residents in the United States. 

Read more

If Plastic Bags Are Causing Infertility in Pigs, What Are They Doing to Us?

Pig farmers in Spain noticed a worrisome problem in 2010. Their pigs weren’t producing offspring anymore — or if they were, the litters were decidedly smaller. The disturbing reason for this phenomenon may give you pause.

It began happening in the spring of 2010. On 41 farms around Spain, the size of pig litters took an unnatural nosedive between April and June. Many sows couldn’t produce any piglets at all. These were large-scale farms, having between 800 and 3,000 pigs apiece.

It was no small problem and it threatened the farmer’s livelihoods. They scratched their heads in confusion. What was going on?

Investigating Pig Reproductive Failure Across Spain

The farmers called in investigators to find out. They examined everything, looking for a common denominator. Nothing was wrong with what the pigs were eating and drinking. They weren’t infected and hadn’t ingested any toxins. They even tested the boar semen used to impregnate the sows. Everything seemed perfectly fine.

The investigators delved deeper and looked at how the semen was being stored. These farms bred 100 percent of their sows via artificial insemination — a process routinely requiring that extracted semen be stored for future use.

Farmers stored semen doses collected from the boars at 17 degrees Centigrade in plastic bags for between 24 hours and approximately one week, according to a new study that examined this situation. As they reviewed these practices, investigators realized that every one of the farms experiencing this sudden breeding decline stored boar semen in the same type of plastic bag.

As it turned out, chemical compounds in adhesives within the Chinese-manufactured plastic were leaching into the semen, damaging the sperm’s DNA. This was happening despite the fact that the semen was stored only for a few days. That’s just scary.

Cristina Nerin, an analytical chemist at Spain’s University of Zaragoza, studies packaging materials. The company that sold these bags to the Spanish farmers reached out to Nerin to request that she help them find out why these particular bags caused this problem.

“They were desperate,” she told National Geographic, “because they didn’t find a reason why reproduction failed.” Nerin’s research team looked at what was going on and came up with some sobering realizations. They believe the adhesive compounds used to create these multilayer plastic bags were the culprits.

“This is the first described relationship between reproductive failure and toxic compounds released from plastic bags,” reported the team in its newly released study, published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Why You Should Care About Problems with Pig Semen Bags

Here’s why this story should matter to you. Some of the same chemicals found in the pigs’ semen storage bags are — wait for it — also in the plastic you’re probably using to store food. They are chemicals known to migrate from plastic to food. Not so appetizing, is it?

The study “provides evidence of the risk we [are] facing, and it emphasizes the importance of adhesive control in packaging.”

Adhesive compounds found in the multilayer plastic bags included:

  • Cyclic lactoneAccording to National Geographic, this compound is “a common by-product in adhesives used in potato chip bags and sliced meat packages.”
  • BADGE (bisphenol A diglycidyl ether) – A derivative of BPA. You remember our friend BPA, don’t you? It’s the substance we’re all trying to avoid in our plastic bags, bottles, food containers and elsewhere, though it reportedly lines 95 percent of the food and drink cans in the entire U.S. BPA is suspected to negatively affect the brain, behavior and even prostate glands of children, babies and fetuses.

Consider this finding: the pigs’ sperm cells behaved normally, moving as they should and entering eggs as they always do. Despite this, fertilized embryos failed to develop and would not implant themselves in the uterus. The pregnancies wouldn’t “take” — apparently because the damage done by these compounds had reached into the very DNA of the sperm and damaged it.

When the farmers switched to a different type of bag, the problem resolved itself, but the concern remains. Food contact materials (FCMs), including plastics, contain harmful properties like formaldehyde, endocrine disruptors, BPA, mutagens and more. These same compounds are in all sorts of packaging for everything from toothpaste to toys.

Scientists recently opined in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health that the lifelong risks of ingesting foods stored in FCMs is not yet documented. They noted:

Whereas the science for some of these substances is being debated and policymakers struggle to satisfy the needs of stakeholders, consumers remain exposed to these chemicals daily, mostly unknowingly.

Studying the effects of such exposure may well be impossible, they say. There really aren’t any unexposed populations they could use as a control group.

Other scientists feel this concern is overblown. “[H]igh levels of fat, sugar and salt in a lot of today’s processed food are more of a health concern than any migration of chemicals from the packaging,” Dr. Oliver Jones of Melbourne, Australia’s RMIT University told the BBC.

That’s probably true.  Now you feel better, right?  Right?

Susan Bird|June 30, 2014

Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce

Environmental Working Group believes that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has failed to tell Americans – as required under federal law – that they have a right to know about the risks of pesticide exposure and ways they can reduce pesticides in their diets.

Because the EPA has not complied in full with the Congressional mandate, for more than a decade EWG has stepped in to fill the void by publishing its Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.  EWG aims to help people eat healthy and reduce their exposure to pesticides in produce.

“EWG’s Shopper’s Guide helps people find conventional fruits and vegetables with low concentrations of pesticide residues,” said Sonya Lunder, EWG’s senior analyst and principle author of the report.  “If a particular item is likely to be high in pesticides, people can go for organic.”

The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 required EPA to assess pesticides in light of their particular dangers to children and to ensure that pesticides posed a “reasonable certainty of no harm” to children or any other high-risk group.  One provision of the act required that EPA inform people about possible hazards to their health brought about consuming pesticides with their food.  The agency provides some information on its website, but it does not list foods likely to contain the highest amounts of pesticide residues nor those that pose the greatest dangers to human health. Most importantly, it does not offer the “right to know” information Congress required on behalf of consumers in 1996:  how to avoid pesticide exposures while still eating a healthy diet

Apples topped this year’s annual Dirty Dozen list of most pesticide-contaminated produce for the fourth year.

Other fruits and vegetables on the Dirty Dozen are strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, sweet bell peppers, imported nectarines, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, potatoes and imported snap peas. Leafy greens – kale and collard greens – and hot peppers were frequently contaminated with insecticides that are particularly toxic to human health. EWG details this problem in a section called Dirty Dozen-Plus.

EWG’s Clean Fifteen consists of conventional produce with the least amount of pesticide residues.  Avocados were the cleanest, with only 1 percent of samples showing any detectable pesticides. Other items on the list include corn, pineapples, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwi, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower and sweet potatoes.

The guide ranks 48 popular fruits and vegetables based on an analysis of 32,000 samples tested by U.S. Department of Agriculture and the federal Food and Drug Administration.

In the latest report, 65 percent of the samples analyzed tested positive for pesticide residues.

Pesticides have been linked to cancer, hormone disruption and abnormal brain and nervous system development, among other health problems.  For these reasons, in 2012 the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a report asserting that children have “unique susceptibilities to [pesticide residues’] potential toxicity.”

The pediatricians’ organization cited research that linked pesticide exposures in early life and  “pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems.”  It said parents should consult “reliable resources that provide information on the relative pesticide content of various fruits and vegetables.”  One key resource, it said, was EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.

Conventional farming with pesticides is the number one source of drinking water contamination in the U.S.  It also harms wildlife and farm workers.

Other notable findings:

  • Every sample of imported nectarines tested and 99 percent of apple samples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue.
  • The average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other food.
  • A single grape tested positive for 15 pesticides. Single samples of celery, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and strawberries tested positive for 13 different pesticides apiece.
  • Some 89 percent of pineapples, 82 percent of kiwi, 80 percent of papayas, 88 percent of mango and 61 percent of cantaloupe had no residues.
  • No single fruit sample from the Clean Fifteen list tested positive for more than 4 types of pesticides.

To rank produce, EWG analysts use six metrics including, the total number of pesticides detected on a crop and the percent of samples tested with detectable pesticides.

Conventionally-grown apples have high concentrations of pesticides, primarily because of chemicals applied to the crop after harvest to preserve their appearance during long months of cold storage. EWG analysts reported last week that diphenylamine, or DPA for short, an antioxidant that prevents apple skin from discoloring during storage, was detected on more than 80 percent of raw apples in 2010, the most recent year they were tested. In 2012, DPA was banned for use on fruit grown in the European Union because of concerns it could form cancer-causing nitrosamines.

“For decades, various toxic pesticides were claimed to be ‘safe’ — until they weren’t, and either banned or phased out because they posed risks to people,” said Lunder. “While regulators and scientists debate these and other controversies about pesticide safety, EWG will continue drawing attention to the fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide loads.”

Click here for EWG’s 2014 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce

Editor Post|July 1, 2014

Court Overturns Arch Coal’s Backcountry Mining Plans

Arch Coal had planned to start bulldozing roads at the foot of Colorado’s iconic West Elk Mountains, pushing its coal mining further into the backcountry at the expense of our climate.

Thankfully, those plans have been thwarted.

Last Friday, a court agreed with us that the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management illegally approved Arch’s mining plans by failing to account for the cost of more carbon pollution that would result.

In doing so, the court “immediately enjoined” Arch Coal from proceeding with its mining, granting a vital reprieve for the 5,000 acre Sunset Roadless Area, which skirts the northern end of the West Elk Wilderness. 

This is a hard-earned game changer. Not only did the court overturn the feds, but the ruling makes clear that in approving more coal mining on our public lands, the costs of carbon pollution can’t be ignored.

In 2013, Earthjustice filed suit on behalf of WildEarth Guardians, High Country Conservation Advocates, and the Sierra Club in a last ditch effort to save the Sunset Roadless Area and make a stand for the climate. 

For several years now, we’ve been working tirelessly with our partners to keep Arch Coal at bay in western Colorado.

Last Friday, we won, Arch Coal lost, and the verdict is that the federal government can no longer ignore the costs of carbon pollution. In our work to safeguard our climate from coal mining throughout the American West, this is a significant precedent.

Today is a great day for our public lands and for our climate.

Claim that fracking is safe and well-regulated is unfounded

As a Collier County resident and environmental scientist, I have been following the responses of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Collier County commissioners, nonprofit organizations, and citizen groups to the unauthorized oil and gas drilling east of Golden Gate Estates by a Texas-based firm, the Dan A. Hughes Co.

Hughes’ drilling activities prompted FDEP to file a cease-and-desist order on Dec. 31, 2013.

Details of the drilling operation were not provided in the April 2014 consent order, a legal document that describes the settlement reached by FDEP and Hughes. Exhibit 1 referenced a Florida statute that protects trade secrets.

On June 22, a consultant representing Hughes wrote that the company did not use hydraulic fracturing on the Collier Hogan 20-3H well. (“Hydraulic fracturing is legal, safe, well-regulated,” David Blackmon.) Hughes used an acid stimulation treatment, then injected “sand mixed with a gel solution into the formation in order to hold open the channels that had been created by the acid treatment.”

Hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) involves pumping millions of gallons of water into an oil or gas well at high pressure to fracture the rock to allow water or gas to flow to the well bore. Chemical additives to the water include acids, propping agents, such as sand to keep fractures open once they are produced under pressure, gelling agents, friction reducers, surfactants, corrosion inhibitors, and antibacterial agents.

In its June 12 challenge to the consent order, Collier County commissioners petitioned FDEP to hold a public administrative hearing that will give Hughes an opportunity to clarify how its practices differ from hydraulic fracturing, and to explain its future plans for drilling and environmental monitoring.

Hughes’ claim that hydraulic fracturing is “very safe and well-regulated” is unfounded. EPA has not regulated hydraulic fracturing under the U.S. Safe Water Drinking Act. No plan exists to systematically sample drinking water wells and deep formation waters for contaminants. Companies are not required to disclose chemicals under federal or state law.

The EPA will soon release a study of hydraulic fracturing impacts on drinking water, specifically, the impacts of large volume water withdrawals on ground and surface waters; surface spills on or near well pads of drilling chemicals, flow back, and produced water; impacts of injection and fracturing; and inadequately treated wastewater. Duke University researchers reported that incomplete wastewater treatment from hydraulic fracturing and shale gas extraction damaged water quality in Pennsylvania. Impacts of nonconventional drilling on Florida geology and hydrology remain unstudied.

Hughes is permitted to drill in the Lower Sunniland formation, a porous, carbonate substrate. Carbonate rocks are readily dissolved by acids. Rainwater acidity is sufficient to dissolve limestone, creating sinkholes at the surface. Drilling practices that are “well within the scope of operations being performed in states like Texas, Pennsylvania and North Dakota” may not be safe in Florida.

In the consent order, Hughes agreed to supply information to the FDEP, including material safety data sheets for all chemicals used in the operation, proportion and volume of chemicals used, total volume of water used, total volume and management of flow-back material used, and provide an interim spill prevention and cleanup plan. FDEP may now have much of that information, but it has not yet agreed to the public hearing requested by the county.

Collier commissioners objected unanimously to the permit, and to the violations of Hughes.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida has also called for a more transparent process, the revocation of Hughes’ permit, and recommends additional remediation and financial commitments to address the unauthorized activities.

Citizens groups are asking salient questions. How different was the unauthorized drilling activity from hydraulic fracturing, or even from the first acid extraction Hughes used? Why is well water being tested almost six months after the operation? Why will FDEP not attend a public hearing?

A single, positive outcome for a well water test does not prove the process is safe. If water is tested too infrequently, at the incorrect depth, or if undisclosed chemicals are omitted from the analysis, test results will be misleading.

Commissioner Fred Coyle captured the significance of this case: “What we do now is going to set the stage for the next 20-25 years.” The time to regulate oil and gas drilling is not after the next chemical spill or gas leak or sinkhole appearance. FDEP should work closely with commissioners, in a public administrative hearing, to strengthen the regulatory process.

Anne Hartley|July 1, 2014|Anne Hartley is associate professor in the Department of Marine and Ecological Sciences at FGCU. Her field of expertise is terrestrial biogeochemistry.

The Government Wants to Kill 16,000 Birds Because They’re Eating Fish

First we blamed and killed sea lions for eating fish in the Columbia River, and now we’re blaming birds. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is ruffling feathers with its announcement of a controversial plan to kill 16,000 of them in an effort to save Coho salmon and steelhead trout in Oregon.

The Army Corps plans on targeting double-crested cormorants on East Sand Island, which is located near the  mouth of the Columbia River. It’s considered an important point for migrating salmon, but it’s also an important nesting site for cormorants and a variety of other birds.

According to the Audubon Society of Portland, the island is home to the largest double-crested cormorant colony in the west, the largest Brown Pelican roost in the Pacific Northwest and the largest Caspian Tern colony in the world. It has also been designated as an internationally recognized Important Bird Area by both the Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy.

Even with thousands of cormorants in the area, they only consume about 3.6 percent of the local salmon population. Still, the Army Corps wants them gone and has passed over non-lethal management options because it believes they would be less effective. Instead its first choice is to spend $1.5 million a year over the next four years to take out a total of 15,955 cormorants, along with using land and boat-based hazing to keep them from nesting on the island.

Needless to say the plan is drawing opposition from wildlife advocates who are concerned that the proposal isn’t just cruel and wasteful, but that its using birds as scapegoats for threats to salmon, which are mainly caused by human activities that range from water reallocation and the building of dams to pollution and habitat loss, among other things.

They’re also concerned about how killing cormorants on a grand scale will affect their future and that the plan may have unintended consequences. Some believe cormorants are still recovering from the effects of DDT that caused their numbers to drop in the 1960s and that other populations in the West are declining.

The Audubon Society of Portland called the plan “horrific” and pointed out the corps has already spent millions trying, unsuccessfully, to change bird behavior on the island and is calling for it to completely overhaul its approach to managing birds in the area and to focus instead on the primary causes of salmon decline: dams and habitat loss.

The organization’s sentiments were echoed by others who don’t believe that mass slaughter is the solution to saving salmon and that the Army Corp should be considering other options.

“This is a crazy, crude and needlessly cruel plan that should go right back to the drawing board,” Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility told Oregon Live. “This operation represents an extreme militarization of wildlife management. Cormorants do not need to be treated like terrorists simply because they eat fish.”

Alicia Graef|July 2, 2014

Your face wash is polluting the planet

There really is nothing like putting on an exfoliating face scrub after a hard day’s work.

You feel all the day’s stresses and worries just wash away down the sink (along with all that dead skin) and then you’re left with a smooth and radiant face!

But did you know your little bit of pampering could be doing a lot of damage?

Beauty products with plastic micro-beads that are in a lot of exfoliating products also contaminate the water and poison fish. It’s been shown that Neutrogena’s Deep Clean contains approximately 360,000 micro-beads in one tube

Unfortunately, it doesn’t end with your face mask either. The same micro-beads can also be found in body washes, toothpaste and hand sanitizers.

So when you’re washing your face, taking a quick scrub in the shower, brushing you’re teeth or washing your hands – you may be unwittingly contaminating the water.

But don’t wastewater treatment plants filter the micro-beads out?

Nope.

A 2009 study by Fendall and Sewell observed that micro-beads were too small for most wastewater treatment centers to filter out effectively. This means that micro-beads go directly into the environment, and once they get there: Well, that’s when things get messy.

Micro-beads absorb toxins in the water.

That’s anything from pesticides, motor oil to PCBs being absorbed into millions of teeny-tiny toxic bubbles that are left to float around in our rivers, lakes and oceans.

Sarah Burke|July 4, 2014

Last weekend TransCanada’s permit for Keystone XL in South Dakota expired.

They now no longer have a permit to build in 2 states — Nebraska and South Dakota. 

The South Dakota permit was issued way back in 2010 when Keystone XL was supposedly a done deal and 4 years was thought to be plenty of time to build the pipeline. Since then, a historic national alliance of farmers, ranchers, tribal leaders and climate activists have stopped Keystone XL in its tracks, and as of today the pipeline is stopped for at least another calendar year, if not forever.

As the permit expired, the Cowboy Indian Alliance hosted a cookout along the pipeline route to celebrate yet another setback for Keystone.

We can’t be sitting on our laurels, however. In the coming months, we need to press our advantage and confront Big Oil and the tar sands in every way possible. Here is some of what’s on deck:

Stopping the Alberta Clipper pipeline expansion:

Last summer, President Obama said he would reject Keystone XL if it contributed to climate change. The company Enbridge wants to expand its Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline, which runs from the northern border of Minnesota to Wisconsin, but they need President Obama’s sign off — and we’ll be organizing to make sure he applies the same climate standard to Clipper as well. The reason is simple: at this late hour, any project that contributes to climate change needs to be stopped, and it’s up to the President to lead the way. MN350 is leading the charge against the Alberta Clipper — click here to read more about what they’ve been doing.

Supporting Canada’s tar sands uprising:

Canadians are mobilizing against a huge number tar sands projects — from First Nations who have put up a legal wall of opposition to western pipelines, to the Eastern provinces where folks are getting together to fight the largest tar sands proposal ever, the Energy East pipeline, to a growing divestment movement taking aim at institutions bankrolling tar sands, to the heart of the destruction in Alberta where lawsuits and other actions are underway. We’ll need to keep showing our support for these tar sands fighters as they bring resistance to the industry’s back yard.

Defending communities from oil by rail:

Oil by rail shipments have been literally and figuratively exploding. While still just a trickle compared to the tar sands gusher of Keystone XL, oil by rail is expanding to communities across the US, meaning more derailments, spills and explosions. We’re gearing up for actions to confront big oil’s reckless dash for oil with a week of action in impacted communities starting July 6, and more to come after that.

All of this will help gather momentum for the Peoples Climate March, the biggest climate march in history, which will be on September 21st in New York City. That’s when we’ll be charting a course for our world leaders by showing them the huge number of people in this country and across the globe who stand for a safe climate future — which (it shouldn’t need to be said) is also a future without tar sands development.

Whether it’s continued birddogging to stop Keystone XL, fighting refineries or clearing out petcoke yards, our movement is demonstrating to this rogue industry that wherever they show up we’re ready to take them on and shut them down.

Duncan Meisel|350.org

Calls to Action

  1. Stop Monsanto and Dow’s New Toxic GMO Chemical Cocktailhere
  2. Save the Last of the 50 Ocelots – here
  3. Protect Endangered Species from Deadly New Pesticidehere
  4. Keep Toxic New Agent Orange GMOs off Your Plate – here
  5. Don’t lift the ban on drones in national parks – here
  6. STOP THE DESTRUCTION OF OUR FORESTS FOR FUELhere
  7. Save Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles from Extinction!here
  8. Demand that water is guaranteed for all!here
  9. Support the National Bison Legacy Act – here 

Birds and Butterflies

Uncover the Secret Lives of Puffins

On the lookout for Florida’s rare upland birds

Ornithological question of the day: Do American kestrels breed in Southwest Florida?

“That’s a good question,” said Keith Laakkonen, Fort Myers Beach’s environmental sciences coordinator. “During the winter, we see them quite a bit. They’re on every power line on every road in the area. Cape Coral and certain parts of Collier County are absolute hot spots for them.

“But during their breeding season, we’re not really sure. It would be helpful to know if these birds are breeding down here.”

To determine where kestrels breed, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is asking the public to be on the lookout for the small falcon species during its breeding season (May through June) and report sightings to FWC’s new Rare Bird Registry.

FWC also wants breeding season sightings of painted buntings, which don’t breed in Southwest Florida, and burrowing owls, which do.

Reported sightings will provide data that will help FWC scientist study and protect these species.

Populations of all three species are declining, said Karl Miller, lead researcher for FWC’s non-game bird program.

“They are disappearing because of habitat loss,” he said. “A lot of times, these critters occur in rural areas, which are not well-surveyed by other bird-monitoring methods. We can’t possibly cover all of the state, so we need people through this citizen-scientist program to help us.”

Although painted buntings winter in South Florida, they head to North Florida and along the east coast as far north as eastern North Carolina for breeding season, which runs May through July.

“They usually show up here around Oct. 10,” bird guide Vince McGrath said. “I show them off for the winter.”

With an estimated 1,000 breeding pairs, Cape Coral is the burrowing owl capital of Florida — burrowing owl breeding season is February through July.

Because much of the burrowing owl’s native habitat has been lost to development, the animals tend to dig their burrows in vacant lots in residential areas, but as houses are built on those lots, owls can be displaced.

“We’re concerned because we’re not seeing the numbers we used to see,” said Pasha Donaldson, past president of Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife. “There’s so much going on in Cape Coral, and we don’t know how all the building will affect the population of owls.”

Another Southwest Florida burrowing owl population center is Marco Island, where owls have dug burrows on 130 sites — 75 percent of the burrows are producing chicks, said Nancy Richie, a Marco Island environmental specialist.

“I’ve been monitoring burrowing owls here for almost 15 years, and this is probably the most productive year to date. When we had the big building boom in 2003 and 2004, we saw a the population dip a little bit. Plus, we were in a drought situation.

“Then the building slowed down, and we started getting rain, so there are lots of insects and frogs to eat. Now there’s plenty of food, and their able to propagate.”

As with Cape Coral, the future of Marco Island’s burrowing owls is uncertain.

“Marco will build out,” Richie said. “It’s inevitable. There are 1,200 undeveloped lots on Marco, and 90 percent of the nests are on undeveloped lots. Ultimately, this population will have to find nooks, crannies and niches to live in. As we lose empty lots, the population will go down.”

Programs such as FWC’s Rare Bird Registry provide good science, Laakkonen said.

“These things are really valuable,” he said. “The number of biologists and scientists in state agencies is limited. There is a large part of the public that really cares about nature, and a lot of them are birders. They may be observing species in places where the agencies aren’t aware of because they don’t have the resources to get out there and survey every scrap of Florida.”

Help Florida’s upland birds

To report sightings of burrowing owls, American kestrels and painted buntings, visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Rare Bird Registry at www.myfwc.com. Here is a closer look at the birds:

• American kestrel

Distribution: Throughout most of North and South America

Size: Length 8-12 inches, weight 3-6 ounces

Habitat: In Florida, the kestrel is found in open pine habitats, woodland prairies and pastures

Diet: Insects, mammals, birds, lizards, snakes, amphibians

• Burrowing owl

Distribution: Throughout Florida

Size: Length 9 inches, wingspan, 21 inches

Habitat: Historically preferred open prairies in Central Florida, but birds moved mostly to South Florida as former habitat was converted to farm lands and commercial and residential development. Found locally in Cape Coral and Marco Island.

Diet: Moles, mice, insects, small birds, amphibians and reptiles.

• Painted bunting

Distribution: There are two painted bunting populations. The Eastern population breeds from eastern North Carolina to North Florida. The Western population breeds from Gulf Coast of the United States west to southern New Mexico; and north to Kansas, and south to northern Tamaulipas, Mexico. Eastern painted buntings spend the winter in southern Florida (from the Keys to Manatee, Orange and Brevard counties), the Bahamas, and on Cuba.

Size: Length 5.5 inches, wingspan, 8.5 inches

Habitat: The coastal Southeast population breeds in scrub communities, wooded back dunes, palmetto thickets, maritime hammocks, hedges, yards, fallow fields, and citrus groves.

Diet: Seeds most of the year, switching to mostly insects during breeding season.

Butterflies and Weddings— A Match That Shouldn’t Be Made

Now that it’s high season for weddings, it seems a good time to remind folks that releasing butterflies at weddings is generally a bad idea. 

From reading the news, lots of folks probably will be releasing live butterflies at their weddings this [year].

It’s a way try to make the day special and connected to nature—and it sure seems more appealing than throwing rice or flower petals at the ceremony’s end. As one advertisement proclaims, the effect is “uniquely romantic, genuinely moving, and unforgettable.” Unfortunately, such releases also may be harmful.  And not just to the butterflies set free but to the other butterflies native to the location as well.

On one side of the debate are the people who breed butterflies for profit and those who want butterflies for their weddings. On the opposite side are the conservationists who consider the practice a form of environmental pollution.

The butterflies released at weddings more often than not come from the several dozen butterfly farms or ranches across the country. These establishments raise thousands of butterflies each year and ship them overnight in special containers with the insects either wrapped individually in small envelopes or packed together in a decorative box. A typical shipment will include anywhere from twelve butterflies to hundreds, with Monarchs and Painted Ladies being the most popular species.

At a cost of up to $10 per insect, not including shipping, live butterflies are certainly more expensive than rice or flowers. But the added expense doesn’t discourage some couples, especially when they hear that the butterflies released at their wedding will enhance the environment. The act can even be considered benevolent — that is, returning captive creatures to their natural habitat.

Conservationists, though, contest the claims made by butterfly breeders. Aside from a concern that the released butterflies will take food from the mouths of native butterflies, conservationists fear that released butterflies will introduce disease into their native counterparts and alter the native butterflies’ survival mechanism should the two populations interbreed.

Monarchs in Southern California, for example, don’t migrate to avoid a winter chill. So what happens when a Monarch raised in Southern California is released somewhere else? Will it know where to fly when fall arrives? And what will happen when its offspring face their first winter?

Among the organizations opposed to ceremonial butterfly releases are the American Museum of Natural History, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife. Yet the practice seems only to be gaining in popularity. The best conservationists can hope for at this time is that, like most fads, this one soon loses its appeal.

So if you know anyone planning a wedding this spring or summer, please share the word.  Your local butterflies will thank you!

eNature|June 22, 2012

New Study Projects Decline of Emperor Penguins

The report, whose principal author was Stéphanie Jenouvrier of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, analyzes emperor penguin populations in Antarctica and the impact that changes in sea ice will have on their breeding and feeding.  Using projections from climate models prepared for the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the study projects that the emperor penguin population will decline substantially by the end of this century.

“I believe emperor penguins fully deserve protections, including through the U.S. Endangered Species Act, because they face possible extinction throughout a significant portion of their range in the foreseeable future,” Jenouvrier said.
She said that emperor colonies in Antarctica’s Ross Sea may experience population declines later than others because sea ice conditions are still suitable for them. “Implementing a marine protected area in the Ross Sea could help buy time to avoid extinction and to put in place needed conservation and greenhouse gas mitigation strategies.”

To feed their young, emperor penguins leave the colony for months at a time and travel long distances across Antarctic ice to reach open water to find nourishment, such as krill.  These penguins are dependent upon an optimal amount of sea ice cover for a variety of reasons, including refuge from predators while foraging.  Changes to the sea ice cover can also significantly affect the abundance of krill, the emperor’s primary food source and a critical species in the Antarctic food web.  As the abundance of the food source declines, the parents are away from their young searching for food for longer periods, making it more likely that chicks will succumb to predation or starvation. 

The study shows that by 2100, at least 75 percent of emperor penguin colonies will be vulnerable to the effects of changes in sea ice cover, and 20 percent will be quasi-extinct. The anticipated decline would leave the population at a level that would be considered threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Such a listing would ensure that U.S. federal agencies act in a way that does no harm to the species and may include special care taken in approving fishing permits to mitigate the impact of melting and shifting ice.

“The projected decline of penguin habitat and populations is very disturbing,” said Andrea Kavanagh, director of global penguin conservation for The Pew Charitable Trusts. “For penguins to have a chance of survival, the international community needs to come together to protect the ocean and the fish that these iconic birds depend on.

The creation of large-scale, fully protected marine reserves would help alleviate pressure on penguin habitats and food, by limiting the distance that emperors must travel to seek food. Although they cannot stop climate change, marine reserves can help keep ecosystems resilient and food webs intact by placing large areas of ocean off limits to fishing. They would provide penguins such as the emperor with a long-term chance to adapt to changing conditions.

In October, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources will consider proposals for creation of Southern Ocean marine reserves in the Ross Sea and the waters off East Antarctica. This will be the fourth time that the consensus-based organization takes up the measures.

“This news about penguins is cause for great concern and is all the more reason for CCAMLR to act,” said Kavanagh. “It is time to take proactive steps to ensure that emperor penguins will be a permanent part of the Antarctic landscape.”

Global Penguin Conservation|June 30, 2014

Breeding duck numbers up 8 percent

Abundant precipitation boosts breeding pair estimates again

Memphis, Tenn.  – July  2, 2014 – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released its report on 2014 Trends in Duck Breeding Populations, based on surveys conducted in May and early June. Total populations were estimated at 49.2 million breeding ducks in the surveyed area. This estimate represents an 8-percent increase from last year’s estimate of 45.6 million birds, and is 43 percent higher than the 1955-2013 long-term average. This continues a three-year trend of exceptional water conditions and population numbers for many species.

“It looks like another good waterfowl breeding year for a good portion of the prairies and the boreal forest,” said DU CEO Dale Hall. “Precipitation in the form of snow and rain has provided sufficient water to fill important wetlands in key breeding habitats. We hope this will result in good production and another great flight of birds migrating in the fall. DU and its partners continue to work hard to protect and restore habitat to provide for the needs of these birds and so much more. While we still have much work to do in delivering habitat and securing key conservation policies for sustaining these populations, we are heartened by the good results we have seen in the past few years.”

The main determining factor for duck breeding success is wetland and upland habitat conditions in the key breeding landscapes of the prairies and the boreal forest. Conditions observed across the U.S. and Canadian survey areas during the 2014 breeding population survey were improved or similar to last year. Total pond counts for the U.S. and Canada combined showed 7.2 million ponds, which is similar to the 2013 estimate and 40 percent above the long-term average.

Reports from DU biologists indicate a strong breeding effort across the prairies,” said DU Chief Conservation Officer Paul Schmidt. “This is despite late winter conditions that delayed nesting activity in some areas by one to two weeks. We need more moisture in the Western Boreal Forest and in parts of southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, and higher-than-usual water levels have posed some challenges for nesters in the Eastern Region. But overall this is a good breeding season, and depending on local conditions hunters across North America should look forward to another strong fall flight.”

“This spring, as has been the case for the past several years, saw abundant moisture across much of North America’s most important duck breeding areas,” said DU Chief Biologist Scott Yaich. “That bodes well for duck breeding success this summer and, we hope, for hunting this fall. But we remain concerned with the continuing and escalating loss of nesting habitat in these areas. Because ducks need water, wetlands to hold the water and upland habitats to successfully raise their young, the ongoing loss of grasslands and wetlands across the Prairie Pothole Region will increasingly impact the number of ducks in the fall flight in the long-term.”

The spring surveys provide the scientific basis for many management programs across the continent, including hunting season dates and bag limits. The four flyway councils and the US Fish and Wildlife Service Regulations Committee will meet in late July to recommend the season structure and bag limits for 2014-15. Individual states will make their specific selections within a federal framework of season length, bag limit and dates. Hunters should check the rules in their states for final dates.

Species estimates are:

  • Mallards: 10.9 million, which is similar to the 2013 estimate and 42% above the long-term average.
  • Gadwall: 3.8 million, which is similar to the 2013 estimate and 102% above the long-term average.
  • American widgeon: 3.1 million, which is 18% above the 2013 estimate and 20% above the long-term average.
  • Green-winged teal: 3.4 million, which is similar to the 2013 estimate and 69% above the long-term average.
  • Blue-winged teal: 8.5 million, which is similar to the 2013 estimate and 75% above the long-term average.
  • Northern shovelers: 5.3 million, which is similar to the 2013 estimate and 114% above the long-term average.
  • Northern pintails: 3.2 million, which is similar to the 2013 estimates and were 20% below the long-term average.
  • Redheads: 1.3 million, which is similar to their 2013 estimates and were 85% above the long-term average.
  • Canvasbacks: 0.7 million, which is similar to their 2013 estimates and were 18% above the long-term average.
  • Scaup: 4.6 million, which is similar to the 2013 estimate and similar to the long-term average.
  • Black ducks: (Eastern Survey Area): 619,000, which is similar to the 2013 estimate and similar to the long-term average.

View all the data and get a species-by-species breakdown at www.ducks.org/DuckNumbers .

Mama and Baby Bird Found Snagged Together by Fishing Lure

International Bird Rescue (IBR) is an organization dedicated to helping aquatic birds, primarily those who have been damaged from oil spills.  On June 24, 2014, a member discovered a grizzly sight. While checking on the Elegant Tern colony at Terminal Island near Los Angeles, California, biologist Nick Liberato found a baby tern chick attached to his mama by a three pronged fishing lure.

“I spotted them as I was ushering some stray chicks back through the chick fencing and into the main rookery,” Liberato says. “As is usually the case, tangled birds become noticeable when the rest of the colony moves away as one approaches,” he says. “At first, I thought they were just tangled in monofilament [fishing line], but when I saw that multi-hooked lure puncturing both of them, I knew my tools wouldn’t cut it, so I got them over to you guys [IBR] as quickly as possible.”

The mama tern sustained injuries to her wing and the little chick was imbedded with two of the lure’s hooks through his left leg. Surgery was performed and the two are now separated but are still receiving intensive care and have a guarded prognosis. Andrew Harmon, Director of Marketing and Communication for IBR, told Care2 “at this point, it’s a 50/50 chance of survival for both.”

Bandage treatments and antibiotics are being administered in an attempt to save their lives. IBR writes “We’ve seen cases of monofilament fishing line entangling and injuring multiple seabirds, but this may be our first case of a fishing lure wounding both parent and chick.”

Elegant Terns are federally protected but enforcement of wildlife colonies is difficult at best. Human fishing has always presented a danger to aquatic birds. There is no way to discover how or who caused this horrible fate for the mama and chick.

The scientific name for Elegant Terns is Thalasseus elegans. Their name stems from the gracefulness of flight the terns demonstrate. During breeding season they have a down-turned bill and black crown.

Elegant Terns breed on a small island off the coast of Mexico’s Baja California. During winter time they migrate to Peru, Ecuador and Chile. They feed by plunge-diving for fish in primarily ocean waters. Males offer fish to females as part of the courtship ritual. They are not that aggressive by nature and often nest close to Heermann’s gulls and other more aggressive birds for protection from predators.

If the Terns do survive, IBR plans on releasing them back to the wild.

To discover more about International Bird Rescue and follow the progress of the mama and chick check out their website at www.birdrescue.org.

Megan Drake|July 4, 2014

 Florida Panthers

More Than 10 Percent of the Florida Panther Population Has Been Run Over So Far This Year

Officials estimate that there are fewer than 200 Florida panthers roaming the state. Although the method of counting is imprecise, the big cat is — by any measure — far from getting off the endangered species list. When one gets hit by a car and killed, it’s a pretty big deal.

The Associated Press reported last night that a 1-year-old uncollared female was squashed on the border of Lee and Collier counties. What’s actually kind of shocking is that it’s the 12th to have been run over this year so far. That could be as much as 10 percent of the entire population, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s guesses. About a week ago, the agency announced that there were between 100 and 180 left. (Before, there were supposed to be 100 to 160.)

In Collier County alone, more than $8 million has been spent on building underpasses and culverts for the panthers to use, according to a spokeswoman at the Florida Department of Transportation. It’s unclear, though, how often or why a wild cat would use an artificial concrete tunnel to cross the street.

When the FWC announced the new panther numbers, it also mentioned that the population had reached carrying capacity in South Florida. David Onorato, a panther biologist, says that if there were any panther “action” in other parts of the state, a female or a kitten would be hit by a car there. The fact that we haven’t seen one run over in Central or Northern Florida means there aren’t really cats there, basically. But that’s something the agency wants — or actually, needs — to change.

“The cookie’s crumbling in terms of habitat,” Onorato says. “We need a female to get the gumption to cross the Caloosahatchee [River].”

But if Byron Maharrey is to be believed, panther territory extends as far north as Lake Kissimmee. Back in April, the turkey hunter claimed to be the first-ever victim of a panther attack. But while the FWC uses run-over cats as a metric to measure the population, it isn’t factoring Maharrey’s testimony into its estimates.

“We heard the hunter’s story, and we saw the pictures,” Onorato says. “His story is that he was attacked by a panther. The evidence we were presented with didn’t allow us to make that determination. If they wanted to do damage to you, they would. I think it would be pretty evident.”

Allie Conti|Jun. 27 2014

Private Landowners May Hold Key To Increasing Florida Panther Population

Florida panthers have been listed as an endangered species since the ’70s, and have been threatened by everything from disease to territory loss. But now, private landowners may hold the key to taking Florida’s state animal off the list.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, or FWC, revealed in a Wednesday meeting that the Florida panther population is on the rise. Officials report the population estimate ranges between 100 and 180 animals, citing efforts including genetic restoration and improved roads as reasons for the increase. 

Conservationists have done much for Florida’s state animal. When it was first listed as an endangered species in 1973, only an estimated 20 to 30 panthers lived in the wild.

Now, with the panther population at a comparative high, the FWC and its partners are working with private landowners to accommodate the animal’s expansive habitat. FWC Deputy Division Director for Habitat and Species Conservation Kipp Frohlich says private habitats are necessary to foster the panther population.

“As the panther population grows and expands northward, our quantity of publicly owned lands are far less. We have some parks, and there’s a few areas, but if you look at a map they’re really spread out. So the panthers, by definition, will have to be living on private ranches, and other areas that are privately owned land,” Frohlich says.

He says FWC is working with landowners across the state ahead of the anticipated changes. “We are getting our resources further up the state so that we can be prepared for the good news that the panther range is expanding, but also be able to deal with the conflicts that arise when there are panthers in areas where they have not been,” he sys.

The FWC’s goal is to have the panther removed from the endangered species list. The commission is devising a more accurate means of estimating panther population, and Frohlich adds, while panther sightings are rare in Florida, citizens should report any sighting to FloridaPantherNet.org.

Matthew Stolpe

Crowded Florida Panthers May Find New Home In Central Florida

Just a few years ago panthers in South Florida were hard to find. But now, after state intervention, they’re numbers are up and the big cats are getting cramped. Increased inbreeding, territorial fighting, and human encroachment are prompting Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission talks about transferring a few female panthers from South to Central Florida.

“Male panthers are just built to travel. That’s something that’s natural in their behavior and that’s a mechanism that normally prevents inbreeding. The females on the other hand don’t travel far from where they were born so they just don’t have that natural tendency to travel very far.” Says FWC’s panther biologist Mark Lotz.

There is some concern about the move. Some believe if the panther population gets too expansive, farmers’ livestock will be at a greater risk. But Lotz says keeping the panthers confined to South Florida would make population recovery impossible and regardless of where they’re placed, human contact is inevitable.  By spreading the panthers out, Lotz believes inbreeding could be curbed. One solution Lotz agrees with is public education.

“You need to have the public onboard when you do something like this. If they understand that this repopulation effort, but they’re still free to use the land the way they always have to go hunting or fishing and to be aware that they’re there. That’s a big part of the equation.” Says Tallahassee Museum’s Animal Curator Mike Jones. The museum has two panthers in captivity.

The panther transfer is still only in the discussion phase. No dates or release locations are set.

Thomas Andrew Gustafson

  Invasive species

Millions of Ravenous Caterpillars Invade West Africa Causing People to Flee Their Homes

It sounds like a scene ripped from a hysterical sci-fi thriller — thousands of people fleeing their homes as an army of ravenous caterpillars take over town. But that’s exactly what’s happening in northern Liberia, in west Africa. Millions of caterpillars, believed to be related to the devastating crop pest the African armyworm are munching through fields and marching into homes, causing many people to abandon their houses until the flood of caterpillars recedes. There are also public health concerns as the sheer quantity of caterpillars means massive amounts of excrement is washing into rivers and other fresh water supplies.

“We are afraid. You see here, the caterpillars are all over and there is nowhere to sleep. I am leaving with my children to a different community,” Mary Tolbert who lives in Gbarpolu County told AllAfrica.

Both Dr. Sizi Subah, deputy agriculture minister for technical services in Liberia, and Winfred Hammond, a senior entomologist with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, have said that the recent and unprecedented caterpillar outbreaks may be linked to disruptions in the rainy and dry seasons, fueled by climate change.

“The biggest concern is the fact that this is becoming a regular occurrence,” Hammond told AllAfrica. “It’s about time we seriously consider putting in place early warning systems and looked at how we can contain or check this problem from becoming a big national concern.”

In 2009, a state of emergency was declared as a similar caterpillar outbreak, the worst seen in over 30 years, devastated coffee and cocoa farms. There were so many of the pests that year that they actually clogged wells and waterways with excrement. The pests also attacked key food crops like rice, cassava and maize, exacerbating the fragile food security situation in Liberia which is still recovering from years of civil war. In all, about 80 towns in Liberia were affected by the plague, which spilled over into neighboring Guinea.

According to the Liberia News Agency Lofa Correspondent, pesticide-spraying teams have been sent into the affected regions to combat the current outbreak. These actions have sparked new concerns of further water contamination. The Agriculture Ministry has also advised infested communities to cut and burn trees and brush around the town to slow the invasion.

Joanna M. Foster|ThinkProgress|June 30, 2014| This post originally appeared on ThinkProgress

Endangered Species

How much will a critical habitat designation for lynx cost?

New federal documents spell out how a critical habitat designation for lynx could affect activities on federally managed lands.

New lynx conservation studies posted for public comment

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Designating 41,000 square miles of critical habitat for lynx in the northern Rocky Mountains won’t have a huge economic impact, federal biologists said last week as they took another step toward finalizing conservation measures for the threatened wild cat. Most costs associated with lynx conservation will be on the administrative side, as the critical habitat designation would result in the need for more coordination among federal agencies. Visit this Federal Register page to view all the documents and comment.

Two draft studies examining the effects of the proposed critical habitat designation in Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Wyoming were posted July 21 in the Federal Register for public comment. The latest version of the long-contested proposal includes revised critical habitat maps  “based on where the best science indicates the habitat could support lynx populations over time,” but includes only areas where lynx populations already exist” — with the exception of Colorado.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been working on the critical habitat designation for almost 10 years. The first proposal, back in 2005, only designated about 1,800 square miles of habitat. Two years later, the agency started revising the proposal after “questions were raised about the integrity of scientific information used and whether the decision made was consistent with the appropriate legal standards,” according to the Federal Register announcement.

Since then, the process has been interrupted by several lawsuits filed by conservation groups trying to expand protections for lynx. Most recently, a federal judge set a deadline for the agency to complete recovery planning, chiding the Fish and Wild Service for continued delays.

“Lynx are such mobile and far-ranging predators that they frequently traverse great distances and inhospitable habitats in search of prey. Determining where protections are essential is critical to the effective long-term conservation of this charismatic cat,” said Michael Thabault, regional director for ecological services in the USFWS Mountain-Prairie Region.

Lynx were first protected under the ESA in 2000, when the USFWS identified lack of conservation measures as the primary threat to the cats. Since then, the U.S. Forest Service has adopted a series of lynx conservation measures that go a long way toward assuring protection for the species.

According to the draft economic analysis, incremental costs resulting from the critical habitat designation are unlikely to reach $100 million in a given year based on the number of anticipated consultations and per-consultation administrative and project modification costs. Because all proposed critical habitat is occupied by lynx populations and most has been designated as lynx critical habitat since 2009, section 7 consultation already occurs, and incremental costs are expected to be minimal and largely administrative.

The draft study also spells out how the critical habitat designation could affect various activities on federally managed lands, including recreation, timber harvesting and wildfire management. Proposed projects in those categories that fall within designated critical habitat would be subject to another level of scrutiny and would have to be modified in some cases.

The  30-day public comment period is open through July 21, 2014, to allow the public to review the draft documents.  All relevant information received from the public, government agencies, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested parties will be considered and addressed in the agency’s final identification of habitat essential to the species’ conservation.

Bob Berwyn| June 30, 2014

http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FWS-R6-ES-2013-0101-0182

Rare Plant Species Blossom After Prescribed Burn

Significant discoveries at a Northwest Florida Buffer Preserve are creating excitement for scientists, staff and residents alike. Several new sites of five rare plants were recently discovered at St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve by Allix North, park service specialist. These plants appeared after a prescribed burn of conservation land this spring, which had no recorded previous burn history. The new plants are tropical waxweed (Cuphea aspera), Florida skullcap (Scutellaria floridana), Chapman’s Crownbeard (Verbesina chapmanii), bog tupelo (Nyssa ursina) and Telephus spurge (Euphorbia telephioides).

Tropical waxweed is considered imperiled and Florida skullcap is listed as endangered in Florida and threatened in the United States. Chapman’s Crownbeard is labeled as globally vulnerable. These plants are very rare and are part of more than 20 species of rare, protected plants that have been documented on the St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve lands.

Prescribed burning takes place on Buffer Preserve lands to keep the natural communities of plants and animals healthy and help prevent destructive wildfires. The burn itself clears the forest floor of vegetation creating a clean slate for new growth, and at the same time releasing much needed nutrients back into the soil that is stored within the plants. The fire-dependent plants that thrive within the Buffer Preserve are able to recover quickly after a prescribed burn either through re-sprouting or the seed bank within the soil.

“The survey of the prescribed burn area brought about many new exciting plant sites. This survey process will continue monthly, for the next year, with the hope that more new sites will be discovered, and other rare or endangered plants will begin to grow and bloom,” said Park Service Specialist Allix North. “The opportunity to find new plants is fantastic and the idea that new life comes from fire is what makes natural plant communities wonderful.”

The foresight to conserve the property by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has been critical. As a coastal buffer of undeveloped land it protects the waters of the St. Joseph Bay Aquatic Preserve keeping water quality high in an important seafood production area. It also conserves the historical cultural and pre-Columbian sites on the uplands. The area offers researchers remarkable opportunities, while allowing the public sustainable recreational access.

First Fridays at the Buffer Preserve offer tram tours which introduce the flora and fauna of the Buffer Preserve. You can click HERE to make a reservation.

mburgerdep | July 2, 2014

Bans on Ivory Sweep Through the East Coast

Now here’s a fashion fad we can get behind: a growing number of states on the Eastern Seaboard are enacting ivory bans, or at least trying to. New York and New Jersey are both in the news this month thanks to celebrity activism and legislative activities that could lead to bans on the sale of ivory products. This would be a huge step for elephants and rhinos, both of whom are poached for their beautiful horns, which we think look the most gorgeous on the body of a living animal, not on the hilt of a knife, in jewelry, or on other manmade objects.

In New Jersey, the House and Senate have passed a bill that moved swiftly through committee and floor debate to the desk of Governor Chris Christie. The bill would ban the trade or sale of ivory throughout the state, protecting the dwindling numbers of elephants and rhinos in the wild. Walruses, whales and other animals hunted for their ivory are also protected under this legislation, which would provide exceptions for special situations like educational purposes and law enforcement activities. As if poaching on its own weren’t bad enough, funds from poaching fuel terrorist activities in the Middle East, with groups like Al Qaeda using poaching profits to buy guns and other equipment — this isn’t just an animal welfare issue, but also a national security one.

Actress Meryl Streep has issued a statement in support of the bill, urging the governor to vote yes and strike an important symbolic blow against the ivory trade in addition to cracking down on the state’s role in the ivory trade. While Christie vetoed a bill earlier this year to ban gestation crates for sows, supporters of this bill are hopeful that he can see the practical necessity as well as the compassionate one in this case.

Meanwhile, in New York, another celebrity is riding to the rescue for animals. Peter Dinklage issued an impassioned call to New York’s legislature, asking them to pass a bill that would enact a similar ivory ban. The ban is supported by the Humane Society of the United States as well as the New York City Bar. Like New Jersey’s, it would be a revolutionary piece of legislation that could become a model for other states to use, creating a groundswell of support for anti-ivory legislation across the United States.

Critics of the legislation argue that it will harm people with musical instruments, antiques, knives, and other items containing vintage and historic ivory. The very limited framing and interpretation of the bill, they suggest, will lead to arrests and confiscations of ivory that isn’t contributing to the current poaching trade.

Their concerns surround family heirlooms, antique instruments, and other items that aren’t a part of the current global black market in ivory — though these items, of course, do feed demand for ivory in the big picture. Already, confusion about endangered woods, ivory, and other restricted components can be an issue when transporting or traveling with antiques, especially instruments, and they’re concerned that this could compound the problem.

s.e. smith|July 1, 2014

Even After a Decade of Protection, Puget Sound’s Orcas Are Still Struggling

Even though scientists have learned a lot about the Southern Resident orcas since they were listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2005, a new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows their population still isn’t growing and has raised more questions about their future survival.

In the 1960s, the Southern Residents, which include three distinct pods ( J, K and L pods) numbered at about 140, but captures for public display caused their numbers to drop drastically. By the early 1970s there were only an estimated 71 left. As of last year there were still only 82.

Even with live captures being banned, federal protection and millions spent on research and recovery efforts, they’ve yet to make a comeback.

Recent news about them keeps going from bad to good and back again: from worries that they would have federal protection removed to the sightings of Springer, who was the first orca to be rescued and successfully released and who was spotted with a calf, and of 103-year-old Granny, who is believed to be the world’s oldest orca, to NOAA’s latest findings and the surrounding questions about whether and how we can help them thrive.

Scientists have answered a few questions about these orcas — including discovering where they go in the winter, how they identify and choose their preferred food and how noise from boats is changing their behavior, among other things — but still aren’t sure why their numbers haven’t increased more.

The Seattle Times notes that they have found that it’s not so much a single issue that can be addressed, as it is a battle against multiple, overlapping threats. The three main problems now are a lack of food, disturbance from boats and a buildup of pollutants in their bodies.

Their favorite food, chinook salmon is also endangered. Ken Balcomb, director of the Center for Whale Research, believes that addressing their food source is what matters most now and that if we want to help orcas recover the focus needs to be on recovering species of salmon they rely on.

Boats are also believed to cause them to hunt less, speed up and burn more energy than they would otherwise, which leaves them using more energy when there’s less food available. Even with rules that prevent boats from coming into 200 yards of them or designated critical habitat, they’re still struggling.

According to NOAA, these orcas are also the most contaminated marine mammals in the world and have been found to have DDT, PCBs and flame retardants in their systems, which have been linked to disease and reproductive problems.

Now, scientists will be working to address these three main issues, while enforcing current regulations, along with taking additional measures to protect them – adding steps that range from making sure we’re ready to deal with a catastrophic event like an oil spill and coordinating response efforts to help stranded orcas to working to raise public awareness through education and outreach programs.

Meanwhile, rumors of a potential pregnancy are swirling around Rhapsody, a member of the J pod, leaving orca enthusiasts cautiously optimistic and hopeful that a new addition might be on the way. Howard Garret, founder of the Orca Network, wouldn’t substantiate the rumor, telling the South Whidbey Record that there’s no way to tell short of a physical exam, but he did say she’s the right age and looks a little large.

Alicia Graef|July 1, 2014

A Global Outlook for Marine Mammals

The Marine Mammal Center hosted a reception last week for a delegation of visitors from Chile, along with representatives of the city of Sausalito,

the Sausalito Chamber of Commerce, the Chile California Council, and the Chilean Consulate.

Among the attendees was Mayor Ray Withy of Sausalito, Cheryl Popp, program chair of the Sausalito/Viña del Mar Sister City program, and a group of businesswomen from Viña del Mar, Chile. The purpose of the reception was to bring people together to discuss the creation of a Rehabilitation Center for Aquatic Animals in Chile.

The reception started off with a presentation by Dr. Mauricio Ulloa, International Veterinarian in Residence at The Marine Mammal Center. Dr. Ulloa is from Chile, where he is the Head of the Stranding and Conservation Unit for Protected Aquatic Species under the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Service, known in Spanish as the Servicio Nacional de Pesca y Acuicultura (Sernapesca). He has been at The Marine Mammal Center since April, as part of a program to provide marine mammal veterinarians across the globe an opportunity to gain experience in marine mammal medicine and rehabilitation. Dr. Ulloa’s trip is sponsored by the Center, and he has been selected from 20 applicants from over 15 countries. He will use the knowledge he acquires at the Center to train Sernapesca’s marine mammal veterinarians in rehabilitation, necropsy, and animal care.