ConsRep 1504 B

Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed; if we permit the last virgin forests to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases; if we drive the few remaining members of the wild species into zoos or to extinction; if we pollute the last clear air and dirty the last clean streams and push our paved roads through the last of the silence, so that never again will Americans be free in their own country from the noise, the exhausts, the stinks of human and automotive waste. ~Wallace Stegner 

Announcements

Evenings at the Conservancy Speaker Series

The Evenings at the Conservancy Speaker Series continues in April with a presentation by Sanibel author and lecturer Charles Sobczak.

He is the author of several best-selling titles including Living Sanibel-A Nature Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Islands, and a novel titled Six Mornings on Sanibel.

In his presentation, The Human Footprint, Sobczak will examine our intimate relationship with nature.

From preserving wilderness to climate change and adaptation, he will explore our impact on this spectacular place we all call home – Earth.

The presentation will be on Tuesday, April 14 in the Jeannie Meg Smith Theater, located inside Eaton Conservation Hall,

from 6:30-7:30 p.m. with an opportunity for questions and answers. 

The event is open to the public and all Conservancy members are encouraged to attend.

We will also be serving free wine, beer and food throughout the evening.

The lecture series frequently sells out. We encourage you to reserve your seat quickly.

To attend, please pre-register for the event by emailing Kelsey Hudson at kelseyh@conservancy.org or by calling 239.403.4228.

The Evenings at the Conservancy lecture series is sponsored by Arthrex and Vi at Bentley Village.

Members: FREE
General Admission: $10

Don’t miss these future Evenings lectures:

May 12
Conservancy Director of Natural Resource Policy Jennifer Hecker – “Oil Drilling and Water”

Conservancy of Southwest Florida – 1495 Smith Preserve Way,
Naples, FL 34102 – (239) 262-0304

DEP Expands Visitor Services at John U. Lloyd Beach State Park

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Park Service is pleased to announce that BG John U. Lloyd, LLC,

the new concessionaire at John U. Lloyd Beach State Park, is offering food, beverages and ice at the newly-named Whiskey Creek Hideout restaurant.

By July 2015, BG John U. Lloyd, LLC plans to expand its services to include additional items on the menu,

a gift shop, recreational equipment rental, boat tours and special event planning, such as family reunions, weddings and corporate events.

“Visitors frequently request onsite services at this busy park,” said Donald Forgione, director of the Florida Park Service. 

“This agreement with BG John U. Lloyd, LLC enables the park to provide a spectrum of services to meet the needs of the thousands of visitors who visit the park each year.”

In fiscal year 2013-14, there were 557,421 visitors to the park, generating more than $42 million in direct economic impact.

BG John U. Lloyd, LLC expects this new agreement will support approximately 25 private sector jobs by July 2015.

nataliarodriguez2015|April.7.2015

Oppose Turkey Point Nuclear Expansion and Help Protect Biscayne! ‏

Join NPCA in our efforts to prevent two new nuclear reactors from harming Biscayne National Park.

If expanded, Florida Power & Light’s Turkey Point Power Plant would become one of the largest nuclear generating facilities in the country.

Located directly on the shores of Biscayne National Park, our country’s largest marine national park,

the expansion of Turkey Point could pose serious environmental and public health threats.

Turkey Point’s current operations already impact Biscayne Bay’s marine habitat and salinity, which are vital for the health and productivity of the bay.

Expanding the power plant would only intensify these negative impacts.

NPCA needs you voice at upcoming public meetings to tell the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to deny

the proposed plan to expand Turkey Point to protect our national parks, water supply, and public health.

Event Details

WHAT: Public meetings to discuss the proposed expansion of Turkey Point Power Plant

WHEN & WHERE:

Wednesday, April 22, 7 – 10 p.m.

Florida International University, Stadium Club Room, FIU Stadium, 11200 S.W. 8th St., Miami, FL 33196

Thursday, April 23, 7 – 10 p.m.

Hampton Inn and Suites, Miami-South/Homestead, Reef Room, 2855 N.E. 9th St., Homestead, FL 33033

WHO: The meetings will be hosted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission

CONTACT: No RSVP is required.

Contact Caroline McLaughlin, 954.961.1280, ext. 403, with any questions or for additional information.

We hope you will join us in our efforts to protect Biscayne National Park.

Caroline McLaughlin|Biscayne Program Analyst

Earth Day Countdown: It’s Our Turn to Lead ‏

To commemorate the 45th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22, check out all the events and programs that drive our movement forward

Event Registry: What are you doing on Earth Day? Register your Earth Day event and search for events in your area! Almost 1,000 events have been registered

Green Cities:  EDN is calling on cities and their leaders to go 100% renewable by 2050. 

Climate Petition:  EDN has joined with other organizations in the promoting the largest climate petition ever, calling on all citizens to keep global temperature under the unacceptably dangerous rise level of 2°C.

Climate Education Week April 18-25:  Check out the free online Climate Education Toolkit for K-12 students around the globe.

MobilizeU: A higher-ed campaign led by concerned college and university students and administrators acting on climate. 

Faith Based Earth Day: Faith leaders as driving forces behind spiritually based care for our planet. EDN ‘s online and social media tools inspire congregations.

A Billion Acts of Green: This campaign inspires and rewards acts that reduce carbon emissions.

Over 1 billion acts have been registered. EDN aims to reach 2 billion Acts of Green by December 2015 and deliver this accomplishment at COP21 Paris.

Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day: Earth Day Network and The Global Poverty Project have joined forces for Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day, a free event on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, April 18, 2015. 

Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day will be headlined by No Doubt, Usher, Fall Out Boy, Mary J. Blige, Train, and My Morning Jacket, with special guests Common and D’Banj.

The Canopy Project: a campaign that plants trees that help communities – especially the world’s impoverished communities – sustain themselves and their local economies.  

The Sevenly Earth Day Collection: EDN has partnered with social enterprise Sevenly for this year’s official Earth Day apparel.

For every item purchased, 7 trees will be planted.

Make sure to place your order by April 13 to receive your items by Earth Day. Pick your design, pick your product, and wear how you care!

The Earth Day Network Team

1616 P Street NW STE 340

Washington, DC 20036

202-518-0044

info@earthday.net

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Public Hearing on FPL’s Proposed Turkey Point Reactors
April 22-23, 2015
Miami and Homestead, Florida
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is taking public comment on the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for FPL’s licensing application to build two costly,

water-intensive new nuclear reactors at their existing Turkey Point plant in Miami-Dade County near Homestead, about 25 miles south of Miami.

Please attend one of the public hearings to voice your concerns.

This is likely the last opportunity before a final EIS is issued for this project that, if built, will impact surrounding communities, the Everglades, Biscayne Bay,

local water and land resources and your utility bills. These reactors are not the answer to Florida’s energy needs.

In the face of climate change, we need real solutions now.

Clean, safe, and affordable renewable energy along with energy efficiency and conservation will not endanger our health, environment, or future.

View our talking points on clean energy solutions and visit our website. For information from the NRC, click here.

Can’t attend any of the hearings? Please send in your comments on the draft EIS by May 22, 2015 by:

Mail: Cindy Bladey, Office of Administration
Mail Stop: OWFN 12 H8 U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Washington, DC 20555–000

E-mail: TurkeyPoint.COLEIS@nrc.gov

Details and hearing locations below.

When: Wednesday, April 22, 7:00 – 10:00 p.m.

Where: Florida International University
Stadium Club Room
FUI Stadium
11200 S.W. 8th Street
Miami, FL 33196

More information here.

When: Thursday, April 23
First Session: 1:30-4:30 p.m.
Second Session: 7:00 – 10:00 p.m.

Where: Hampton Inn and Suites
Miami-South/Homestead
Reef Room
2855 N.E. 9th Street
Homestead, Florida 33033

More information here.

Questions? Contact Sara Barczak, sara@cleanenergy.org

Of Interest to All

HB 7003 and SB 918 House and Senate Water Bills

The Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee amended SB 918 to include the offensive Lake Okeechobee water quality program changes from HB 7003. Audubon now accepts that that it is likely that a final bill will include repeal of the requirement that discharges into Lake Okeechobee meet water quality standards. 

Agency leaders are united with sugar growers and Lake Okeechobee watershed agricultural landowners in concern that the requirement to meet water quality standards leaves the South Florida Water Management District vulnerable to litigation. They believe that the recently adopted Basin Management Action Plan’s projection of reducing 1/3 of the phosphorous entering the lake is enough. 

Audubon’s Eric Draper presented the committee with maps showing the structures that are discharging stormwater from as far away as the Orlando suburbs. Committee members seemed shocked to hear that along with the 1/3 phosphorous reduction that little of the 600,000 tons of nitrogen coming into the lake and being released to coastal estuaries is going to be reduced under the state’s plan. Audubon is now proposing that the Senate bill be amended to include deadlines for meeting the nutrient reduction targets.

Alligators, crocodiles get active this time of year

As spring weather replaces cold winter, Florida’s alligators and crocodiles become active. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) once again reminds state residents and visitors to be cautious when having fun in and around water.

Florida is home to two native crocodilians: the American alligator, which is found in all 67 counties; and the American crocodile, which may be found in coastal areas of the Keys and in southeast and southwest Florida. Both species have shared Florida’s waters with people for centuries.

The FWC recommends keeping pets away from the water. There are other precautionary measures people should take to reduce the chances of conflicts with alligators and crocodiles, and they are available in the Living with Alligators brochure at MyFWC.com/Alligator and the Living with Crocodiles brochure at MyFWC.com/Crocodile.

The FWC advises people who have concerns with an alligator or crocodile posing a threat to people, pets or property, to call the FWC’s Nuisance Alligator Hotline at 866-FWC-GATOR (392-4286).

Alligators and crocodiles are an important part of Florida’s heritage and play a valuable role in the habitats where they live. For more information on alligators and crocodiles, visit www.MyFWC.com/Alligator

Six Greenpeace Activists Climb, Camp Out on Shell Oil Rig Headed for Arctic

In the middle of the Pacific Ocean this Monday, six Greenpeace protesters from six countries — including the United States, Australia, Germany and Sweden — used rubber boats and climbing equipment to board the 400-foot Polar Pioneer oil rig that Royal Dutch Shell is sending to drill in Alaska’s icy waters.

The organization says its activists will not interfere with the drilling but will stay as long as they can, “determined to shine a white hot light on Shell’s reckless hunt for extreme Arctic oil. With them in spirit are millions of people from around the world who have joined the call for a global sanctuary in the Arctic.”

The Greenpeace action comes just after the Obama administration last week upheld a 2008 Bush-era lease of Arctic drilling rights to the multinational oil company (following a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies that had forced the feds to re-analyze the environmental impacts of the sale). We’re still waiting for a court decision on our challenge to Shell’s oil-spill plan — and we’ve filed another lawsuit challenging the Fish and Wildlife Service’s authorization for Shell to harass, and possibly harm, walruses in the Chukchi Sea this coming summer.

Read about the protest at U.S. News & World Report and follow the Greenpeace blog.

USDA invests in critical dam rehabilitation and assessment projects in 23 States

New assessments to focus on expanding water supply in drought-affected areas

WASHINGTON, April 9, 2015 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today $73 million to be invested this year to rehabilitate and assess dams across the nation to ensure this critical infrastructure is protecting Americans from harm, securing public health and expanding water supplies in drought affected areas.  About 150 projects and assessments in 23 states will be funded.  

“Millions of people depend on watersheds and dams for protection from floods and to provide safe drinking water.  With a changing and shifting climate, dams are also vital to holding stores of water for use during drought,” Secretary Vilsack said. “By investing in this critical infrastructure, we are helping to ensure a safe, resilient environment for agricultural producers and residents of rural America.”

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Assistant Chief Kirk Hanlin highlighted this round of watershed rehabilitation funding on Thursday near Alpine, Utah, where work is planned on Tibble Fork Dam to increase the water supply and improve flood damage protection for surrounding communities. This project is one of 19 in Utah that will receive nearly $30 million in overall funding.

Last year, NRCS made changes to the watershed rehabilitation program to allow for projects that also help increase water supply. Half of this year’s dam assessments, including 15 in drought-stricken California, will assess the feasibility of using watershed rehabilitation funds to mitigate drought.

“USDA continues to look for new ways to mitigate the impacts of drought across the West, and this change to the Watershed Rehabilitation Program allows us to use existing infrastructure to address water quantity issues,” Hanlin said.

This investment follows the Obama Administration’s call last year for federal agencies to increase investments in infrastructure to accelerate economic growth, create jobs and improve the competitiveness of the American economy.

There are nearly 12,000 dams across the United States.  In addition to nearly 50 rehabilitation projects, NRCS is conducting 100 dam assessments in 13 states through the Watershed Rehabilitation Program.

2015 projects include:

1. Tibble Fork Dam, Utah: Tibble Fork Dam is located in the American Fork-Dry Creek Watershed within US Forest Service lands of Utah County, Utah. The dam provides protection against flooding within American Fork Canyon, and the communities of Cedar Hills, American Fork, Highland and Pleasant Grove.  The rehabilitation project is expected to provide average annual benefits of $535,000 including water supply, recreation and flood protection.

2. Trinity River-East Fork above Lavon, Texas: Located in Collin County, this dam provides protection against flooding to an estimated 1,630 Texans who live and work downstream.  Additionally, it protects six city streets and one U.S. Highway that together support over 39,000 vehicles daily.  Among other critical infrastructure, the dam also protects power lines, water lines and fiber optic cables.  The rehabilitation project is expected to annually provide about $1.5 million flood damage reduction benefits.

3. Delaney Multipurpose Complex Dam, Mass.: The Delaney Multipurpose Complex consists of two dams, the Delaney Dam and the East Bolton Dam. Originally built in 1971, the Delaney Complex does not meet current dam safety criteria. Dam failure would result in damages to 272 buildings, nine roads, two bridges, other public infrastructure, public utilities and potential loss of life. The dam currently provides $382,130 in annual flood protection benefits to the downstream communities including recreational opportunities, water supply for irrigation, groundwater recharge and base flow for downstream wastewater assimilation.

The states and numbers of projects: Ala. (11), Calif. (15), Colo. (2), Ga. (4), Kan. (1), Ky. (1), La. (1), Mass. (1), Minn. (7), Miss. (2), Neb. (8), Nev. (1), N.C. (8), Ohio (3), Okla. (18), Ore. (4), Pa. (12), S.C. (4), Texas (26), Utah (19), Va. (3), W.Va. (1) and Wyo. (1)

See a full list of projects.

Watershed projects across the nation provide an estimated $2.2 billion in annual benefits in reduced flooding and erosion damages, as well as improved recreation, water supplies and wildlife habitat for an estimated 47 million Americans.

For more information on NRCS conservation assistance, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted or a local USDA service center.

Ciji Taylor|April 9, 2015

Victory for phase-out of lead ammunition ‏

The California Fish and Game Commission passed the regulations to phase-out lead ammunition at today’s hearing.

Today’s decision implements Assembly Bill 711, which Audubon California co-sponsored in 2013 with Defenders of Wildlife and the Humane Society of the United States.

The vote was unanimous and a great victory for vulnerable birds like the California Condor and the Golden Eagle. California is the first state to commit to protecting wildlife by phasing out lead.

[Let’s hope more states follow suit.]

EPA issues order to stop the sale of OxiTitan ‏

EPA Takes Action to Protect the Public from an Unregistered Pesticide 

ATLANTA – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued an order to EcoActive Surfaces, Inc. in Pompano Beach, Fla.; WellShield, LLC in Boca Raton, Fla.; and, BioRelief, Inc. in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. to stop the sale, use or removal of “OxiTitan.” The order includes other trade names such as “Bio Defender OxiTitan Anti-Microbial Treatment,” and any related products containing the same formulation. OxiTitan is being marketed by these companies for use in sites that include hospitals and schools.

The companies claim in advertisements and labeling that OxiTitan uses zinc nanoparticle as an active ingredient, to reduce and/or kill bacteria, viruses and fungi. The companies also make unsubstantiated efficacy claims that “OxiTitan” can last for 24 hours, 7 days a week, and as long as a year against harmful microorganisms and viruses when applied. Such public health claims can only be made on products that have been properly tested and are registered with the EPA.

Under federal pesticide law, products that contain a pesticide as an active ingredient or claim to kill or repel bacteria or germs are considered pesticides and must be registered with the EPA prior to distribution or sale. The Agency will not register a pesticide until it has been determined that it will not pose an unreasonable risk when used according to the label directions.

The EPA is committed to ensuring that products making public health claims in the marketplace meet stringent effectiveness and safety standards, since the public cannot readily determine with the naked eye the effectiveness and safety of antimicrobial pesticides. Due to potential human health implications if the pesticides are not effective or meet our safety standards, the EPA continues to place a priority on actions regarding non-complying pesticides.

For additional information about pesticides, visit: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/.

Contact Information: Dawn Harris Young|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE|April 9, 2015

Maryland Passes 2.5 Year Fracking Ban

Today, the Maryland House of Delegates passed legislation, voting 102 – 34, that would prohibit fracking permits in the state until October 2017. The bill will head to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk in the coming days.

Earlier this week, the Maryland State Senate passed the legislation, voting 45-2, to prohibit fracking permits in the in the state. The governor’s position on the bill is unknown, but the Senate and House passed the bill with a veto-proof majority.

“After months of campaigning, a bill that prohibits fracking for two and a half years passed overwhelmingly in the Maryland legislature today,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “This is a testament to the growing movement to protect our communities from the dangers of fracking. Conventional wisdom in the state was that we could never get a moratorium passed in Maryland, just as we were also told we could never get a ban in New York. But naysaying just inspired us all to work harder in bringing the voice of the people to Annapolis in this grassroots initiative. Now it is time for Governor Hogan to heed the call of the people and sign the bill that gives Marylanders more time to examine the impacts of fracking.”

Business owners in Western Maryland have expressed concern that fracking would greatly impact the booming tourism industry in that part of the state. More than 100 Western Maryland business owners signed a letter to the leadership of the General Assembly in support of the fracking moratorium.

“Maryland’s more sustainable businesses, like farming, tourism and restaurants would be devastated by fracking,” said Eric Robison, owner of Eagle Rock Construction, LLC and president of Save Western Maryland. “We don’t need a short term boom and bust economy, we need to maintain a strong economic foundation for future generations.”

Don’t Frack Maryland has sent more than 25,000 messages supporting a moratorium. Letters signed by more than 100 health professionals, and more than 50 restaurant owners, chefs, winemakers and farmers from across the state have also been delivered to the General Assembly. And last night, the Friendsville Town Council, whose city is the center of a thriving white-water rafting industry in the state, sent a letter supporting a moratorium to President Miller, urging him to encourage a vote in the Senate.

Earlier this week, actor and Maryland native Edward Norton lent his support to the Maryland fracking moratorium in a radio ad. The ad, paid for by Food & Water Watch, features Norton speaking out about how fracking could harm Maryland’s environment and public health, as well as tourism in the state.

Polling has also shown that a clear majority of Marylanders oppose fracking and support action from the General Assembly to prevent drilling in the state.

“This moratorium will give legislators more time to evaluate the public health, economic and societal dangers of fracking, and give our communities statutory protections against drilling in the meantime,” said Dr. Ann Bristow, a commissioner on Governor O’Malley’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, on behalf of the Don’t Frack Maryland campaign.

According to Food & Water Watch, more than 425 peer-reviewed scientific studies on the effects of shale gas development now exist, and 75 percent of those have been published since January 2013. Of the 49 studies that investigated the health effects of fracking, 47—more than 96 percent—found risks or adverse health outcomes.

Stefanie Spear|April 10, 2015

Calls to Action

  1. We Can End Arctic Drilling Plans–For Good – here
  2. Tell the EPA to Fight Fracking Now – here
  3. Save New Whale Species from Extinction – here
  4. Stop the destruction of our forests – here
  5. Mining industry on track to destroy Sacred Lands – here
  6. Stop Proposed Massive Klamath Salvage Timber Sale – here
  7. Tell Confluence Partners to keep their hands off the Grand Canyon – here
  8. Ban Fracking in Florida – here

Birds and Butterflies

The Annual Monarch Migration Is Underway!

Here’s How to Track It. 

Migration mysteries continue as songbirds return

It was like finding a needle in a haystack — if the haystack could be anywhere in about 17 countries.

A Golden-winged Warbler captured by Michigan Technological University bird researcher Amber Roth Jan. 25 had a small, silver band around its tiny leg. From its markings Roth learned the bird had been banded by a Rockford University researcher at a forest preserve in Illinois last Sept. 2. Roth at the time was at a private reserve created for Golden-winged Warblers on a coffee plantation in northern Nicaragua.

It’s believed to be the first time an individual Golden-Wing Warbler was observed on both ends of its annual fall migration, Roth said.

The bird was fitted with a geolocator — a data-collecting chip the small bird wears like a backpack — that records its location daily by measuring the earth’s rotation in relation to the sun. Researchers hope to learn more about exactly how the warbler makes its annual jaunt.

It’s one of about 5 billion migratory birds that every fall leave areas of North America, including Michigan, for an arduous journey of up to 3,500 miles or more, to winter homes in Central or South America. And right about now is when most start making their return to Michigan.

“You go outside, you can hear the robins that have moved back into the area. I’ve even heard killdeer,” said Don Burlett, president of the Oakland Audubon Society.

“In the next few weeks, birds will start pouring back into this area. It’s a bird-watcher’s favorite time of the year.”

But much about how the birds make that journey is still unknown, Roth said. For example, researchers believe some of the birds fly across large water bodies like the Great Lakes or Gulf of Mexico, while others of the same species will fly along the edge of the lakes and not risk it.

“You think about hummingbirds, warblers, little sparrows — all not very big — having to make that long water crossing, and not having many exits if something goes bad,” Roth said.

“Bird migration is still one of those fun mysteries we have. We have pieces of the puzzle, but we still don’t know what exactly goes on. With many of the birds, we don’t know the migratory paths they are taking.”
Golden-winged Warbler

The Golden-winged Warbler, a grayish, chickadee sized songbird colored black at its throat and around its eyes, with yellow patches on its crown and wings, has seen huge declines in its population over the past half-century. It spends its summers in the Midwestern U.S. — including Michigan — and surrounding areas of Canada, laying its eggs and raising its young. But every fall, the little bird makes a migration of up to 3,500 miles, to its winter home in Central or South America.

The bird’s twice-a-year migratory journeys remain a mystery, Roth said, because the birds are just so small — about 5 inches and weighing less than a half-ounce — nothing more than a simple geolocator chip can be attached to them. And that doesn’t transmit; the bird must be captured at some time in the future to retrieve data about where it’s been.

The bird seems to face particular risk during its migration, leading researchers to suspect loss of suitable stopover habitat as a factor — rest stops along the migratory way, Roth said.

“They need stopover habitat where they can find enough food to make the next leg of their journey — especially when they are going to be flying over water,” she said.

Bird migration researcher Frank Moore’s students from the University of Southern Mississippi have spent recent days along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, banding birds making the trip back to the U.S. and Canada. The birds tend to migrate at night, he said. Why is an interesting question.

“Birds likely have more than one compass,” he said. “They can use the stars to help find direction. The Earth’s magnetic field is thought to play a role in their ability to determine south from north, east from west. Even polarized light — something you and I can’t see — migratory birds are sensitive to.”

The warblers are highly susceptible to death from flying into the guide wires of large communication towers and the windows of tall buildings, Roth said.
Stopover habit
To understand why stopover habitat is important, imagine a Golden-winged Warbler on its trip back to Michigan from its winter grounds, Roth said.

“He’s probably on his way back from Nicaragua now,” she said. “He’s going to go to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, rest, and then make the trip across the Gulf of Mexico.”

The bird seeks open woodlands. But that’s not what it finds on key portions of its migratory flight.

“What’s the first thing he encounters on the north shore of the Gulf?” Roth said. “Oil refineries. Coastal development. Houses, beach resorts. His choice is, ‘Do I land in somebody’s backyard or at the oil refinery? Or do I keep f lying inward to find a place to stop and rest and feed for a few days?’” Areas such as the Ozark and Appalachian mountain ranges provide appropriate forest. But then, in the Midwest, the warblers encounter “nothing but agriculture,” Roth said.

KEITH MATHENY|Detroit Free Press|MICHIGAN.COM

Miami Blue Comeback

The Miami Blue butterfly, which appears on the Save Wild Florida license tag, is a small, brightly colored butterfly found only in Florida.

Not long ago, the Miami Blue, once flying across the entire southern half of Florida, teetered on the verge of extinction. Insecticide use in South Florida, as well as destruction of roadside vegetation, natural disasters and an invasive species of fire ant devastated the Miami Blue butterfly population, which, at its lowest point, dwindled to 35 individuals.

Because of timely and decisive efforts on behalf of the State of Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission through the Florida Museum of Natural History and the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, the Miami Blue population was successfully restored through breeding and re-release. From 35 individuals, the beautiful and rare Miami Blue butterfly has been returned to South Florida by captively bred individuals in the thousands.

In 2006 alone, wildlife watchers spent $3.1 billion on wildlife-watching activities in Florida, not including hunting, fishing, and boating. The Miami Blue butterfly is one of many of Florida’s unique natural attractions. Despite its recent comeback, the butterfly is still listed as endangered in the state of Florida.

from: www.floridabiodiversityfoundation.com/Miami%20Blue%20Page/Miami%20Blue.html

Bird Slaughter Imminent

Federal sharpshooters are planning to slaughter more than 11,000 Double-crested Cormorants — 15% of the entire western North American cormorant population. Cormorants will be shot out of the sky with shotguns as they search for prey, or shot with rifles at close range as the birds tend to their nests.

The killing could start any day. Audubon is fighting this tooth and nail.

It’s a misguided effort to boost endangered salmon numbers in the Columbia River region of Oregon. There is no question that endangered salmon need a boost, but killing cormorants won’t do much to help the fish. And it will devastate the birds by dropping their numbers to levels the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has said are unsustainable.

The cormorants live and nest on East Sand Island, a globally-significant Important Bird Area (IBA) in the Columbia River estuary. It is currently the largest breeding colony of cormorants west of the Rockies, and this action could destabilize the entire population.

The birds do eat some salmon, but that’s not why the fish are in trouble. The real culprits are dams, pollution, habitat loss, and an array of other factors that the government has failed to address.

The cormorants are nothing more than scapegoats for a dysfunctional river system.

Members of the Audubon Society of Portland are leading efforts on the ground to protect the birds. With your help we’re:

  • Mobilizing members nationwide to pressure the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider their plan to kill 11,000 cormorants — and pour lethal oil onto 26,000 nests to kill the eggs;
  • Using news media and the Internet to keep the public spotlight on the planned slaughter; and

Double-crested Cormorants in western North America have been struggling for decades. Their population is well below historical levels and the recent abandonment of the second largest breeding colony in the West, at California’s Salton Sea, underscores the peril.

You are the last best hope to stop this wanton slaughter.

We need your help to fight this unconscionable attack on these beautiful birds.

Thank you for all you do.

David Yarnold|President and CEO|National Audubon Society

From Many, One: How Many Species of Redpolls Are There?

The Hoary Redpoll is one of those hard-to-get lifelist-adds that can turn birders into Captain Ahab seeking a little whitish bird. The allure of these little ghost finches has drawn many a lister to places like Minnesota’s Sax-Zim bog—in the dead of winter—just for a chance to lock into a Hoary.

But new research by two scientists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology presents genetic evidence that reopens questions about the species status of the Hoary Redpoll, long thought to be the frosty cousin of the Common Redpoll. In a paper published this week in the journal Molecular Ecology, Nicholas Mason and Scott Taylor of the Cornell Lab’s Fuller Evolutionary Biology Program show that Hoary Redpolls and Common Redpolls have no differences at all across much of their genomes.

“Based on the samples of DNA we examined for Common and Hoary Redpoll, they’re probably best treated as a single species,” Mason says.

In other words, should this new evidence similarly sway the American Ornithologists’ Union’s checklist committee, all the heroic efforts birders have made to add a Hoary to their life lists may be for naught.

The division of redpolls into different species dates back to before the Civil War. In 1861, legendary ornithologist Elliot Coues (one of the founding fathers of the AOU) described eight separate redpoll species based on their visual appearances. Over time the AOU consolidated Coues’ list, but Hoary Redpoll, which has a snow-white breast, was still considered a separate species from Common Redpoll, which has a brown-streaked breast.

The researchers compared the DNA of 77 redpolls. The evolutionary tree they reconstructed shows that the three redpolls intermixed extensively in their evolutionary past. If they were separate species the branches of the tree would be much more distinct, as shown for their close relative, the White-winged Crossbill. Adapted with permission from Mason and Taylor 2015, Molecular Ecology; White-winged Crossbill by Nick Saunders via Birdshare.

Mason and Taylor looked beyond the plumage into strands of the birds’ DNA in the most extensive look ever at the redpoll genome. Whereas previous genetic analyses of redpolls looked at just 11 regions of the genome (at most), Mason and Taylor examined 235,000 regions. (That impressive number is a testament to the exponential advances in DNA-sequencing technology, but the researchers are quick to note it’s still less than 1% of the total genome.)

In all, the duo compared DNA from 77 redpolls, including specimens from museums around the world, from the Museum of Vertebrates at Cornell University to the Natural History Museum of Geneva in Switzerland. They found no DNA variation that distinguishes Hoary Redpolls from Common Redpolls. Furthermore, another redpoll species found in Europe—the Lesser Redpoll—also had extremely similar DNA sequences. This extreme similarity among all the redpolls stands in marked contrast to studies of other groups of birds—such as Black-capped and Carolina Chickadees—which show differences at many regions of the genome.

In nature, one of the key differentiators among distinct species is assortative mating, that is, members of a group breeding with each other more often than they breed with members of another group. According to Mason, when it comes to Hoary, Common, and Lesser Redpolls, “There are no clear-cut genetic differences, which is what we would expect to see if assortative mating had been occurring for a long time.”

Redpoll-CircumpolarRangeMap

The three current species of redpoll—Common, Hoary, and Lesser—stretch around the Arctic in a continuous swath that isn’t necessarily apparent from a normal map projection. Adapted with permission from Mason and Taylor 2015, Molecular Ecology.

Instead, Mason says the world’s three redpoll species seem to be “functioning as members of a single gene pool that wraps around the top of the globe.”

But how could it be that Hoary and Common Redpolls look so different given that their genetic makeup is basically the same? For that answer, Mason and Taylor delved into the birds’ RNA. (A quick flashback to high-school biology: If DNA is like the body’s blueprints, RNA is like the construction foreman communicating the instructions to build physical features, like hair or feathers.)

The physical differences among redpolls are associated with patterns in their RNA, not their DNA. In other words, the variation we see in plumage and size is probably not a matter of genetic variation, but of genetic expression. It’s kind of like how two humans might have the same gene for brown hair, but one person’s might be lighter than the other’s—that gene is being expressed differently. In the same way, Hoary and Common Redpolls have remarkably similar sets of genes, but those genes are expressed differently, causing the plumage and bill-shape differences we see.

To look simultaneously at both DNA and RNA, Mason and Taylor sampled birds—some with highly streaked plumage, some with white plumage, and some with in-between markings— from a large flock that had gathered in a fellow Cornell Lab employee’s backyard in Cortland, New York. If Hoary and Common Redpolls had long been separate species, then the birds sampled should have mostly fit neatly into two categories, both by visual appearance and genetically. Instead, there were a few birds that definitely fit the visual description of what we call a Common Redpoll, a few birds that definitely fit the pattern for a Hoary Redpoll, and a lot of birds in the middle—with varying degrees of whitish breast and faint brown streaks.

“We didn’t find distinct characteristics to separate the redpoll types, but rather a continuum, or a progression, of physical traits,” Mason says. “And many redpolls were somewhere in the middle.”

Next, Mason and Taylor are planning to work their research into an official proposal for the AOU to lump Hoary, Common, and Lesser Redpolls into a single species, based on the genetic evidence. If accepted by the AOU’s Nomenclature Committee, the end result may sting for birders who see a Hoary Redpoll subtracted from their life list. But Taylor hopes his research will change the way people look at redpolls altogether.

“I think this makes them a more interesting bird,” he says. “It means they’re part of an exciting, complicated system that can make a single species look different across different parts of its range.”

Posted by victoria|March 30th, 2015|Written by|Gustave Axelson

Monsanto Donates $4Mln to Save Monarch Butterflies

After Monsanto Co.’s weed killer Roundup caused the decimation of the monarch butterfly population, the agribusiness giant announced it will commit $4 million to help stem the decline of the iconic creatures.

Monsanto said it will donate $3.6 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund.

The company also will pledge $400,000 to aid experts and groups working on the butterfly’s behalf.

Environmentalists and scientists say the species has experienced a 90 percent decline in population. Most of the decline is blamed on habitat destruction, due in part to weed killers and herbicide-resistant plants like those Monsanto and other agribusinesses offer.

Orange-and-black spotted monarchs – renowned for migrating thousands of miles over many generations from Mexico, across the United States to Canada, and then back again – have seen their numbers fall dramatically in recent years.

The monarch population has plunged from 1 billion butterflies in 1997 to 56.5 million, the second-lowest number ever recorded, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The environmental group sued the EPA for failing to heed warnings about the dangers to monarchs posed by glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup and other herbicides.

The application of glyphosate to farm fields has destroyed the milkweed habitat that migrating monarchs rely on, the suit states.

Read more 

How to Stop 1 Billion Birds From Flying Into Windows and Buildings

A billion birds a year are accidentally flying into windows and buildings. The problem is particularly bad in the spring and fall, when birds are migrating across continents and hemispheres rather than staying put. Though birds have developed their migratory routes over thousands of years, evolution hasn’t prepared them for one particular obstacle: tall glass buildings.

Smaller birds are especially prone to crashing into glass windows and walls. When they’re flying, the birds get thrown off by lights left on inside buildings or get disoriented by smooth, transparent glass surfaces. They can slam right into a window and die upon impact.  Crews of volunteers in cities like Washington, D.C. have started monitoring fatalities by taking to the streets before dawn to collect and count all the dead birds they find on the sidewalk.

Fortunately, animal-friendly architects are starting to come to the birds’ rescue by designing structures to be less attractive to birds. For example, designers from the firm Kieran Timberlake built the new U.S. Embassy in London with an outer envelop that prevents birds from flying into the glass. The Aqua Tower in Chicago features wavy balconies to minimize its reflective surface and instead, provide places for birds to perch. In many cities around the world, citizens groups are trying to persuade building managers to adopt a “lights off” policy at night so that the birds won’t be attracted to the artificial night light.

At Swarthmore College, architects are installing “fritted” panes of glass in a new $71 million science building. The panes use small dots of opaque glass to impart a semi-frosted look, which hopefully will dissuade birds in flight. In Europe, some buildings may try using glass that looks opaque from just one side or that enables glass to easily switch from transparent to translucent.

If you’d like to make sure birds bypass your windows rather than crash land, you can do the following:

* Position bird feeders away from glass windows, so that birds won’t see a bird feeder reflected in the glass and aim for it instead of the actual feeder.

* Pull blinds or shades down in front of sunny windows to reduce reflections. This will also help keep the shaded room cooler during hot months.

* Plant trees where they can obscure glass somewhat and make bird strikes less likely.

* Install a slatted fixed screen like the one shown on Houzz.com. The slats eliminate glass reflections without impacting the view too much, and also help keep the building cool.

* If you’re building a home, angle the glass on walls or big picture windows so the glass reflects the ground, rather than the immediate surroundings.

* Use bird-safe glass. Ornilux bird-safe glass, invented by a German company, is embedded with a special layer that reflects a UV spectrum that birds can see but people cannot. The technology is similar to that found in spider webs, whose silky strands work similarly (and which is why birds don’t fly into webs).

* Use a patterned window film that allows light to enter a room, but will repel birds.

* During spring and fall migrations, affix temporary tape strips to your windows. ABC Bird Tape has been designed specifically for this purpose.

* Skip the decals. Bird specialists say putting decals on your windows doesn’t really work, since they don’t break up enough of the reflection from a whole pane of glass.

Diane MacEachern|April 7, 2015

Turn Your Yard into a Hummingbird Spectacular

Make smart plant choices and, with a little bit of work, your backyard can host these tiny miracles (and help scientists save them).

For creatures that weigh barely more than a penny, hummingbirds certainly give you your money’s worth—through their metallic colors, feats of aerobatics, and pugnacious, outsized personalities.

But for all their popularity, there is a lot that science still doesn’t know about the lives of even the most widespread hummingbird species. For example, what proportion of ruby-throats fly directly across the Gulf of Mexico twice a year, a nonstop trip of about 500 miles, instead of detouring around it? And why are many rufous and other western species of hummers expanding their winter range into the East and Southeast? (See “Rufous Hummingbirds Turning Up in Unusual Places,” March-April 2010.)

Climate change also poses serious threats. “Scientists are finding disturbing changes to blooming times of flowers and also to arrival times of hummingbirds,” says Gary Langham, Audubon’s chief scientist. “The potential mismatch of nectar sources and hummingbirds means we must monitor this closely and be thoughtful about what we plant in our yards and communities.”

Fortunately, it’s easy to make your yard a hummingbird haven even as you help scientists learn more about these feathered jewels.

Build a Habitat

Hummingbirds are attracted to flowering plants (see below), but they need more than just nectar. To draw hummers, create a complex, varied backyard with staggered blooms that also includes feeders, perches (dead saplings “planted” in the ground work well), a natural abundance of insects, and places to hide when predators are near. Avoid using toxic garden chemicals—after all, as much as 60 percent of a hummingbird’s diet is actually made up of tiny insects, spiders, and other arthropods, so the birds are providing some natural pest control. The hummingbirds will also appreciate a water mister that creates a fine spray in which they can bathe.

Feed ’em Right

Choose a hummingbird feeder that comes apart completely for regular scrubbing, inside and out, with a bottlebrush and hot water. Use only a mix of four parts water to one part plain white sugar—never use honey, which promotes dangerous fungal growth, molasses, or brown, raw, or organic sugar, which contain levels of iron that could be lethal. Plain white sugar perfectly mimics the chemical composition of natural nectar; don’t waste money on commercial mixes. It’s not necessary to boil the water, but keep any extra nectar refrigerated, and empty the feeder every few days, more often in hot weather. Never use red dye; nectar is naturally clear, and the coloring could be harmful.

Count Their Blessings

You can do your part by getting involved in a newly launched Audubon citizen science project called Hummingbirds at Home, which aims to provide details about which nectar sources hummers are using nationwide—and will give you a chance to explore these amazing, mysterious aerialists. Langham says, “The Hummingbirds at Home project asks people to help us determine what hummingbirds are feeding on in their communities, so we can better understand how to help.” Learn more at Audubon.org/citizenscience.

10 Plants for Hummingbirds

Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans). A sprawling, aggressive vine, it produces large, bell-shaped blossoms with abundant nectar. Plant it where it can climb a fence or a dead snag.

Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens). This vine is a reliable nectar source for rufous and other hummingbirds wintering along the Gulf Coast. But ruby-throats in the Southeast tend to avoid it.

Coralbells (Heuchera hybrids). Long a garden staple, coralbells come in a bewildering number of varieties. The masses of tiny flowers always draw hummingbirds.

Jewelweed/spotted touch-me-not (Impatiens capensis and I. pallida). One of the most important sources of late-summer nectar for migrant ruby-throated hummingbirds.

Scarlet gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata). Comes in shades from white and pink to orangish and purple, but the red form is most attractive to hummers.

Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis). The quintessential hummingbird plant, this widespread native bears intense red blossoms in summer and early fall.

Trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). Unlike the invasive Japanese species, this vine is not aggressive. It has long, tubular flowers (in yellow, orange, and red varieties).

Beebalm (Monarda). Available in a range of cultivars and colors; many native Monardas are also appealing to hummingbirds.

Penstemons. The genus Penstemon includes P. barbatus, which blooms in late summer when rufous hummingbirds are migrating.

Scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea). This tender Southern native is a Salvia, a genus that ranks among the very best for luring hummingbirds.

There’s An App for That

Audubon’s new Hummingbirds at Home project aims to enlist concerned citizens to help scientists understand how climate change, flowering patterns, and feeding by people are affecting hummingbirds. Get the app at Audubon.org/citizenscience.

Scott Weidensaul|May-June 2013

 Florida Panthers 

A Growing State Means Growing Threats for Florida’s Official State Animal

Florida is a pretty incredible place. It has some of the greatest biological diversity – the widest variety of plants and animals – in the entire country, and is home to many species found nowhere else in the world. It’s also home to people – lots of them. In fact, with nearly 20 million residents, Florida recently surpassed New York as the third most populous state in the entire country. The economy has picked up once again and development and road building are accelerating. Florida is also a top travel destination in the world, hosting 93.7 million visitors in 2013, and many visitors return to live in Florida, encouraging the building of more homes and highways. All this places the Sunshine State in the unique position of having both tremendous wildlife diversity and mounting pressure from development.

What’s At Risk

Among the many species threatened by this nonstop development is our state’s official animal, the Florida panther. With just an estimated 100-180 adults left in the wild, the Florida panther is one of the most endangered mammals in the country. Once ranging across the southeastern U.S., today it is restricted to south Florida, in just five percent of its historic home range. The greatest threat to panther survival is the loss of its habitat, which is continually being destroyed, fragmented and degraded. And it isn’t just the buildings, but also the roads that connect them that cause problems. Wide-ranging panthers have to cross dangerous roads and highways in their search for territory, food and mates, and collisions with vehicles take a toll on the small population. Vehicle strikes are the greatest source of human-caused mortality for Florida panthers. In fact, 2014 set a new and tragic record for panthers lost to vehicle collisions, with a total of 25 panthers killed.

 

florida panther, © Florida Fish and Wildlife

florida panther, © Florida Fish and Wildlife

The Work Ahead

Fortunately, Florida’s Water and Land Legacy Conservation Amendment was passed by an overwhelming 75% of Florida voters in November. This constitutional amendment (Amendment 1) will set aside an estimated $18 billion over the next 20 years to fund water and land conservation, management and restoration, including protecting important habitat for Florida panthers and other wildlife. It takes a percentage of the existing documentary stamp tax revenues generated by real estate transactions and dedicates them to protecting and restoring important habitat on land and water. This source of funding was used for nearly two decades to fund the land acquisition program and because it is tied to development, the very thing that contributes to habitat destruction is also helping to prevent it.

Defenders is hard at work to make sure that elected officials will put that money to use in the way that the conservation amendment (and the Floridians who voted for it) intended, not on shopping lists of inappropriate projects brought to them by lobbyists. We are working with our members and supporters to remind their elected officials that they knew exactly what they were doing when they voted for the amendment, and that they expect their legislators to carry out the voters’ wishes. Amendment 1 funds could be spent to help secure, manage and restore important habitat and corridors for the panther and its prey, expanding and buffering protected areas, and protecting lands to enable construction of more wildlife crossings.

When the Florida legislature designated the third Saturday in March as Save the Florida Panther Day they said, “it is proper and fitting for all Floridians to pause and reflect on the plight of the Florida panther and the task of preserving this rare component of Florida’s diverse natural resources as a legacy to generations of Floridians yet to come.” If we’re truly going to do that, we need to be planning ways to give these endangered cats more room to roam so that they can remain a viable part of the wild Florida landscape.

Elizabeth Fleming|18 March 2015

[Is there really hope for a critical habitat designation for our Florida panther?]

Panther Pulse page updated

One Year With Yuma: DEP Celebrates Florida Panther Cub

Yuma, a Florida panther, lives at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.        

Photo by Ralph Bischoff.

HOMOSASSA – Throughout April, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Park Service will celebrate the first anniversary of Yuma’s arrival at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. This past weekend, the wildlife park celebrated the anniversary with more than 2,500 visitors who attended the park’s Earth Day Egg-stravaganza.

Park staff will highlight Florida’s Big and Little Cats including Florida panthers and bobcats.

  • Park staff will present Yuma during the Wildlife Jeopardy program on Saturday, April 11 from noon to 12:30 p.m. in the Park’s Discovery Center (formerly called the Children’s Education Center). This program is presented by Barbara Cairns.
  • The Florida’s Big and Little Cats program will be presented by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission’s panther biologist Jennifer Korn on April 17 at 1 p.m. in the Florida Room of the Visitor Center on US 19.  There is no charge to attend this program.
  • The Wildlife Puppeteers will present a puppet show on Saturday, April 25 at 1 p.m. The puppet show is entitled “Yuma, Son of the Chief” and tells the story of our rescued Florida panther and stars Yuma, a Florida panther puppet.
  • Visitors have the opportunity to “adopt” Yuma for a $20 donation to the Friends of Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park. The adoption packet includes a certificate, photos of Yuma and his story. Learn more about adoption kits online, here.

Yuma (meaning “Son of the Chief”) arrived at the park on April 3, 2014, as a three-month-old panther kitten. He was found barely alive on Jan. 23, 2014, by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists who were checking on the den of female panther in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in Naples. The kitten had apparently been abandoned and was dehydrated and non-responsive. The kitten received emergency care at Animal Specialty Hospital in Naples and rehabilitative care at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa. Since he could not be returned to the wild, Yuma has been given a home at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park where he serves as an ambassador for his species.

Now, almost 15 months old, Yuma is a healthy and active panther weighing about 80 pounds. He lives in an 8,500 square foot landscaped habitat with its own rock-bordered pond, bushes, rocks and logs to climb on. He has become a favorite of park visitors who can easily observe him in his habitat from the Wildlife Walk.

nataliarodriguez2015|April 8, 2015

  Invasive species

FWC removal efforts target Nile monitors; public can help

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is on the lookout for Nile monitor lizards in Palm Beach County and is increasing efforts to locate and remove them. Biologists expect that these lizards will be breeding soon and may be more visible this time of year.

The FWC is surveying canals in the area and distributing fliers requesting the public’s assistance in locating these animals. Helping is easy. Just photograph and report any Nile monitor sightings; reports can greatly assist wildlife managers in directing removal efforts.

The Nile monitor is a species of lizard native to Africa. The color of its body can range from a light yellow to dark olive or brown. Nile monitors have a pattern of light yellow markings on the back, which appear as bands or stripes closer to the head and tail. A typical adult Nile monitor can grow to over 5 feet long and close to 15 pounds. Hatchlings are 7 to 12 inches in length. Nile monitors are semi-aquatic and can be seen basking or foraging near bodies of water. In Palm Beach County, this species is most frequently observed along canal banks near Southern Boulevard.

“Nile monitors eat a wide variety of food items including small mammals, reptiles, fish, amphibians and more,” said biologist Jenny Ketterlin Eckles. “Because their diet is so varied, we are assessing whether this species may have an impact on Florida’s native wildlife.”

Other lizards can easily be mistaken for Nile monitors, including green iguanas, spiny-tailed iguanas, curly-tailed lizards and more.

“Color and pattern variation is pretty common, so the most effective way to verfiy the species is to take a picture of the animal and submit it along with a report of your observation,” said Eckles.

Members of the public are advised not to attempt to capture a Nile monitor themselves. Monitors are not innately aggressive but like any wild animal they may defend themselves if aggravated or threatened.

How you can help:

  • Take a picture of any Nile monitor sighting and immediately report it online to IveGot1.org or by phone at 888-Ive-Got1 (888-483-4681).

  • If you own land in the identified area where this species lives, allow wildlife managers to survey or set traps on your property.

  • Deter monitors from your property by cutting back vegetation, clearing debris and securing small pets.

Learn more about the FWC’s efforts to manage and minimize the impacts of nonnative species on Florida’s fish, wildlife and marine life at MyFWC.com/Nonnatives.

Endangered Species

Bats In Pennsylvania Threatened By White Nose Syndrome

PITTSBURGH (AP) — One of the most common bat species in Pennsylvania is being threatened by white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has killed millions of bats of that species and others in North America.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the northern long-eared bat as a “threatened” species, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (http://bit.ly/1Cb0Nh3) reported Monday.

The agency was considering listing the species as “endangered” — a more serious designation — but decided on “threatened” because the bat’s population has not been affected outside areas where the fungal disease has caused problems, the newspaper reported.

The agency is proposing interim rules meant to safeguard the bat’s habitat, including limits on forest timbering. But the rules could also impact the wind energy and natural gas and oil drilling industries.

Lora Zimmerman, a project leader with the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the “threatened” listing in Pennsylvania might seem odd in light of the fact that the long-eared bat’s population in the state is only less than 5 percent of what it was before 2006, when the fungus that produces white-nose syndrome was discovered in a cave in upstate New York. Pennsylvania is an area hard hit by the white-nose syndrome, and the designation “will likely be re-evaluated regularly,” Zimmerman said.

The interim “threatened” listing was announced Thursday in the federal register and takes effect in 30 days along with interim environmental rules. The wildlife agency plans to take 90 days of public comment on those rules, in hopes of finalizing them by year’s end.

The Independent Petroleum Association of American has commented on the bat’s threatened designation, but it may not file comments on the accompanying environmental rules, spokesman Neal Kirby said. He said that’s because the bat’s habitat isn’t affected as much by drilling as it is by the fungus, and other industries, like timbering.

But Michael Gannon, a Penn State University bat expert and member of the Mammal Technical Committee for the Pennsylvania Biological Society, said rules to protect the bats are needed soon. That’s because bats feed on insects and pesticide use might have to increase if the bat population doesn’t rebound. Bats, in general, provide $22 billion worth of ecological services in the United States annually, including $292 million in Pennsylvania, he said.

“Shortsighted individuals that ignore the science and economics and feel protection of this valuable natural resource is not warranted will cost us considerably in the future,” Gannon said.

AP|04/06/2015

Florida considers first black-bear hunting season in two decades

TALLAHASSEE Florida is considering opening its first black-bear hunting season since 1994, under a set of rules that will be reviewed April 14 by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Commission staff has proposed that about 275 black bears be killed in a season that would start Oct. 24 and continue for a week or less, depending on when the “harvest objective” is reached. The hunt is proposed to manage the state’s growing population of about 2,500 bears and to reduce the risk of dangerous interactions between bears and people, and a final vote could come at the commission’s June meeting.

Under the proposal, a bear permit would cost $100 for Floridians, $300 for non-Florida residents. The limit would be one bear per hunter, and hunters would be allowed to use bows, crossbows, muzzle loading guns, rifles, pistols, revolvers and shotguns. The daytime hunts would be prohibited within 100 yards of any game-feeding station. Dogs would be prohibited from hunting bear, but leashed canines could be used to trail shot bears.

Diane Eggeman, director of the commission’s Division of Hunting and Game Management, said, “The bear population has grown for the last 15 years or 20 years, steadily and pretty rapidly, based upon all the information that we have. So our job, of the agency, is to manage that growing population and the best tool to manage that population growth across the board is to use hunting.”

The Animal Rights Foundation of Florida and the Humane Society of the United States oppose the plan. Kate MacFall, the Humane Society’s Florida director, questioned how the hunt will reduce conflicts. “The bears being hunted are the big bears deep in the woods, because you can’t go hunting in the neighborhoods. That’s not how it works,” she said. “Those deep in the woods, those are not the problem bears. And the bears going into human trash are the problem. And those are the ones not being hunted.”

MyPalmBeachPost.com|April 6, 2015

American Airlines to Stop Shipping Shark Fins

Turtle Island learned that endangered scalloped hammerhead sharks were being exported from Costa Rican ports and flown to plates, restaurants and markets in Hong Kong by way of stop-overs on U.S. soil.

With this evidence in hand, Turtle Island’s Legal Program Director Doug Karpa entered negotiations with American Airlines and was able to successfully convince them to ban shark fin shipments on their planes.  

Today, American Airline made an official announcement on Twitter stating that they no longer ship shark fins.

This is a huge success story, and major victory for endangered scalloped hammerhead shark populations that are in desperate need of all the protection they can get.

Joanna Nasar|Communications Manager|Turtle Island Restoration Network

Tip-off uncovers tiger poaching near Tadoba

CHANDRAPUR: Forest officials on Monday busted a case of tiger poaching carried out inside the buffer zone of Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR). Officials of buffer and territorial forest nabbed a gang of tiger poachers in intelligence-based raids in Mul town and Bhadurna village inside the buffer zone. Five tiger nails and two canines along with some whiskers and handful of disposed of bones of a poached tigress were recovered during the daylong raids.

“The tigress was poached in compartment no. 485 in protected forest of Mul range around six months back, before Diwali last year. The poachers had laid electrified wire for herbivores, but a full-grown tigress got trapped in it and died. The poachers removed all 18 nails, four canines and whiskers from the body and hacked the animal into pieces. The body parts were later burned at the same spot and un-burnt remains were buried in the sandy bed of Uma river,” said ACF VW Morey, who was part of the investigating team.

The poaching came to light after officials got a tip-off from Umeshsing Jhire of Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI). Jhire informed the officials about one Dilip Madavi who was willing to sell the tiger nails and canines. Madavi, who hails from Bhadurna village, was then lured with a handsome offer for tiger nails and canines and summoned with the booty to Mul.

“As soon as he stepped out of the MSRTC bus on Mul bus stop, he was nabbed by sleuths led by RFO AM Pathan and forester Vinod Jambhule. Madavi was then taken to Mul range office, where, during interrogation, he revealed the names of his accomplices. Two more accused Ramprasad Gurnule and Vinayak Mallerwar was arrested Bhadurna village later in the afternoon,” Morey said.

Investigators took the accused trio to the place of poaching to re-create the crime scene. They were also taken to place in Uma river where they had buried the remains of poached tigress. The un-burnt remains, buried into the sandy bed by poachers, were retrieved on their identification.

“We have so far recovered only five nails and two canines of the tigress. The accused have claimed selling off the remaining nails and canines to five people. We have got their names and addresses and they will be arrested soon,” said deputy director, TATR (buffer), Gajendra Narwane. Raids were underway till late in the night to round up the customers who had purchased the tiger parts.

Mazhar Ali|TNN|Apr 7, 2015

The BP Oil Spill Continues to Hurt One of the World’s Most Endangered Whales

It’s been almost five years since millions of gallons of crude oil were spewed into the Gulf of Mexico during the Deepwater Horizon spill, and scientists are still finding out how badly the toxic aftermath is affecting wildlife in the area.

Among the numerous of species impacted by this disaster is a population of whales in the Gulf who could potentially be the most endangered group of whales on earth. Their advocates fear that without meaningful protection, they could soon disappear entirely.

The whales in question are a genetically distinct subspecies of Bryde’s whale who live solely in the Gulf  in the DeSoto Canyon, off the Florida panhandle very near the site of the Deepwater Horizon explosion. These whales are the only resident baleen whales in the Gulf, who fill an ecological niche.

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There is no exact count, but their population is now estimated to be fewer than 50 individuals, with possibly as few as 15. Conservationists worry the host of threats they face from ship strikes and oil and gas exploration to noise and the pollution that remains from the Deepwater Horizon spill threaten their future survival.

Following the spill, researchers found higher levels of DNA-damaging metals such as chromium and nickel in sperm whales in the Gulf. According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a sample taken from a Bryde’s whale in the area also found similar concentrations of these two metals, which raised more concerns for them because their calves are particularly vulnerable to toxic buildup that is passed on by their mothers when they’re pregnant and nursing.

Not only has the spill itself caused problems, but new research suggests the dispersants used during the cleanup effort are now causing problems of their own for wildlife.

According to a recent report from the National Wildlife Federation, although not much is known about the toxicity of dispersants, or their long-term health effects in marine mammals, a recent study found that the two dispersants used in the Deepwater Horizon spill―Corexit 9500 and 9527―were both found to be damaging to sperm whale cells and DNA. While the population of sperm whales is much higher in the Gulf, the few Bryde’s whales left may not be able to cope with the pollution.

In September, the NRDC filed a petition asking the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to add this population of Bryde’s whale to the Endangered Species Act, arguing that they are evolutionarily distinct and in desperate need of protection.

Following an announcement from the NMFS this week, these unique whales are now a step closer to getting much needed protection. The agency agreed the petition to grant them federal protection was warranted and will now need to conduct a one-year status review.

With more oil and gas exploration and extraction predicted for the Gulf and surrounding areas, along with the toxic mess they’ve already been forced to live in, protection for these whales can’t come soon enough. Hopefully it will help stem the slew of threats they and other marine life face in our increasingly industrialized oceans.

Alicia Graef|April 8, 2015

Lowe’s takes action on bee-killing pesticides ‏

Today, Lowe’s announced that it’s making a public commitment to phase out neonicotinoid pesticides.

Now that Lowe’s is making progress, we need to turn up the heat on their competitors to join them in protecting bees, not pesticide industry profits.

Thanks to a strong network of allies working on this campaign, Lowe’s has made the most significant public commitment so far for a retailer of its size. It has joined a growing number of retailers that are taking action on neonics — including Home Depot and BJ’s Wholesale Club. 

So what does this mean? Lowe’s will phase out neonics and plants pre-treated with them by the spring of 2019 (or sooner, if possible). It is also working with suppliers to minimize pesticide use overall and move to safer alternatives.

Lowe’s progress is encouraging, but we can’t stop now. The next-largest garden retailers, True Value and Ace, have yet to make any similar commitments on bee-killing pesticides. If we can get them to join Lowe’s, it would be a huge step forward in ensuring that all of us can plant bee-friendly gardens!

Thanks for all of your hard work in this fight so far. It’s paying off! With your help, we’ll get bee-toxic pesticides off the shelves, out of our backyards, and out of our communities.

Tiffany Finck-Haynes and Lisa Archer|Food futures campaigners|Friends of the Earth

Ruling Protects Whales, Dolphins From Navy’s War Games

Whales, dolphins and other marine mammals in the Pacific just caught an important break: A Hawaii district court judge has ruled that the National Marine Fisheries Service wrongly approved U.S. Navy testing and training activities that posed serious harm to sea animals.

The Navy’s use of explosives and sonar, along with vessel strikes, could result in thousands of animals suffering death or injuries over a five-year period — potentially causing an estimated 9.6 million instances of harm.

The decision results from a December 2013 lawsuit brought by a coalition including the Center for Biological Diversity. Noting the “stunning number of marine mammals” the Navy’s activities could hurt, the judge said: “Searching the administrative record’s reams of pages for some explanation as to why the Navy’s activities were authorized … this court feels like the sailor in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ who, trapped for days on a ship becalmed in the middle of the ocean, laments, ‘Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink.’ “

“The Navy shouldn’t play war games in the most sensitive waters animals use for feeding and breeding,” said Miyoko Sakashita, the Center’s oceans director.

Read more from Miyo in The Huffington Post.

Crayfishes Proposed for Protection From Mountaintop Removal

Responding to a Center for Biological Diversity petition and lawsuit, the feds on Tuesday proposed to grant Endangered Species Act protection to two species of crayfish from Appalachia: the Big Sandy crayfish and the Guyandotte River crayfish.

Though these pincer-wielding, lobster-looking invertebrates aren’t the most conventionally charismatic species, this decision is historic: If their protections are finalized, they’ll be the first on the endangered species list due to the dangers of mountaintop-removal coal mining, which blows the tops off mountains to reach the coal inside. Resulting waste is dumped directly into surrounding streams and wetlands, where species like these crayfishes live. Both species have been lost from more than half of their ranges because of water pollution, primarily from coal mining — which also threatens human health in the region.

In 2011 the Center struck a landmark settlement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to expedite protection decisions for 757 imperiled species around the country. Now 142 have gained protection under the agreement, and another 12 have been proposed for protection, including these crayfishes.

Read more in The Courier-Journal.

Study: More Southeast Reserves Needed to Save U.S. Species

Saving species from extinction requires protecting the places where they live. But a new study finds that protected areas in the lower 48 states fail to safeguard some of the nation’s most important biodiversity hotspots: Protected areas, which occupy roughly 7 percent of the country, are found mostly in the western United States, but the Southeast commands the greatest concentration of species diversity.

The region is home to 493 freshwater fish species (62 percent of the U.S. total), more than two-thirds of North America’s species and subspecies of crayfishes, and more amphibians and aquatic reptiles than anywhere else. Rapid human population growth, pollution and lax regulation have taken a toll: The Southeast is not only the biodiversity capital of North America … but also its extinction capital.

The Center for Biological Diversity has been fighting to save Southeast species for years; this latest study is an important call for protecting the habitats that sustain them.

Read more about the study and check out some cool interactive maps at Buzzfeed.

[Could this include a critical habitat designation for the Florida Panther?]

Big Win for Endangered Owls, Salmon in Northern California

Whether they know it or not, 83 northern spotted owls in California’s Siskiyou County can breathe a little easier. A federal judge this week halted a logging plan that would have destroyed spotted owl habitat, hurt struggling salmon populations, and decimated old-growth forests on 150,000 acres near Yreka, Calif.

The Center for Biological Diversity and allies in 2013 sued the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service for approving a “habitat conservation plan” for Fruit Growers Supply Company that allowed logging for a decade, along with harming and killing endangered species (including nearly half the northern spotted owls believed to live in the area). This latest court decision stops that destructive logging plan in its tracks.

Read more in our press release.

There’s More Bad News For Polar Bears, And it’s Not Climate Change

Researchers studying polar bears in Greenland have identified plastic pollution as yet another threat to the survival of the species. Already threatened by climate change and shrinking sea ice, the study found that plastic pollution and pesticides are harming the endocrine systems and reproductive systems of these mammals.

Polar bears are classified as “vulnerable” (just one step away from “endangered”) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Climate change still poses the biggest problem, but there are other factors contributing to declining polar bear numbers.

“The health of the arctic polar bear is being attacked from all fronts, but among many other factors is the exposure to environmental contaminants,” said María Jesús Obregón in a press statement. Obregón is one of the authors of a paper on the findings, which is published by the journal Environmental Research. The researchers studied muscle tissues, liver tissue and plasma to identify contaminants and their metabolites.

It’s easy to imagine plastic pollution as bottles, bags and food packaging floating in the water, but most plastic contamination spreads through the ocean as tiny bits. These microplastics come from larger items disintegrating, are shed from synthetic fabrics or come in the form of microbeads used in personal care products. Tiny bits of plastic containing toxic compounds are easily eaten by fish and birds. The toxins bind to fatty tissues and can move up the food web. Because polar bears sit at the top of the food chain, their intake of toxins may be particularly magnified, according to the IUCN. An earlier study found that similar bioaccumulation has caused polar bears to consume high levels of mercury.

The researchers have also created a new tool to help assess polar bear health. The tool uses a survey to address the many factors that impact polar bear health, including access to food, stress, exposure to competitors, diseases, and climate change. Researchers hope the tool will help provide more data that can be used in polar bear conservation efforts.

Margaret Badore|TreeHugger|April 9, 2015

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.

Mountain Gorillas and Virunga National Park Still Need Protecting

Virunga National Park is the oldest and most biologically diverse park in Africa. Located in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the park is famously home to dozens of endangered species, including mountain gorillas. It’s also been plagued by armed conflict, and poachers are killing prized animals. Soco International, a British oil company, has tried to open the region to oil drilling. Care2′s Chris Wolverton launched a petition drive to stop that idea in its tracks. For the moment, Soco has agreed to end its oil exploration operations in Virunga. However, reports World Wildlife Fund, “for Virunga to be safe in the long-term, we need the DRC government to cancel ALL oil exploration permits.” You can still sign Care2′s petition and make a difference.

Virunga is truly extraordinary. It straddles both sides of the equator, and sports the wildlife to prove it: an incredible array of birds as well as lions, elephants, hippos, and chimps. A quarter of the world’s endangered mountain gorillas live here as well. Virunga is so special, it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site by the United Nations.

Normally, UNESCO designation would protect a place from oil drilling and other industrial development. Augustin Matata Ponyo, DCR’s prime minister, has said that his government wants to find a way to explore for oil in the park and will try to negotiate with the UN body to “explore judiciously,” reports The Guardian here.

According to the UNESCO convention, exploration and exploitation of oil are incompatible with world heritage site status. To allow drilling for oil wells legally, the government would have to declassify parts of the park, or Virunga as a whole.

“It would not be a minor modification of the park limits. It would be a major modification that would impair the universal value of the park,” Leila Maziz, the coordinator for Congo Basin projects at UNESCO, told the Guardian.

Care2′s petition is aimed at specifically at DCR Prime Minister Ponyo because he supports oil exploration in the park.

Global outcry against this idea has been widespread. Nobel Peace Prize Winner Desmond Tutu, billionaire businessman Richard Branson, and a group of 21 countries all proclaimed that Virunga oil permits should be cancelled, World Wildlife Fund reported.

World Wildlife Fund says that, in place of oil development, Virunga should develop hydropower, fisheries and ecotourism to create a sustainable future.

Care2′s Wolverton agrees. “The Congo needs to work to preserve this precious ecosystem, not enable oil exploration which will harm it further.”

Diane MacEachern|April 10, 2015

Wild & Weird

After 80-year wait to flower, agave removed

Plant flowers once in its life cycle, then dies

ANN ARBOR, MI An American agave’s job is to flower once and then die.

One of the plants that called the University of Michigan home for an unexpectedly long 80 years accomplished the former last year.

On Wednesday, its life came to an end.

Mike Palmer, the horticulture manager at the university’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens, used a hand saw to bring down the agave’s 20-plus-foot-tall stalk.

“It was time. It’s sad. Many people have said to me though they enjoyed the whole flowering that they were anticipating the sadness of its final days,” Palmer said after he and some workers carried the fallen stalk away, leaving a stump where it once stood.

Still, “the agave lives on,” said Palmer, who added new plants will be grown from its seedlings and sold. Plus, university music professor Michael Gould plans to make a flute from the stalk.

Once the new instrument is created, Gould and a colleague who plays the shakuhachi, or Japanese bamboo flute, plan to perform a concert at the botanical gardens “to give the plant a life again.

“There are instruments that are hundreds and hundreds of years old, so the agave can live on,” Gould said.

And a couple getting married this weekend at the botanical gardens have requested a seedling so they can use it as part of their wedding ceremony.

The agave had called Ann Arbor home since 1934. It grew to 28 feet after a rapid growth spurt in the spring of 2014 that preceded its flowering, which ended later in the year. The agave then went into rapid decline, which is normal for the species, Palmer said.

Although it is known as the century plant, the American agave typically lives up to 30 to 35 years. Palmer, who cared for the plant during the past 15 years, said he doesn’t know why it took this agave so long to bloom.

Regardless, “it was time to take it down. It was the natural process for the agave to die after it flowers and sets seeds,” he said.

“We have seedlings now, so they will create the circle of life.”

MIKE HOUSEHOLDER|ASSOCIATED PRESS

8 Smart Species Challenge How We Think of Animals

    Animals are smarter than we thought.

This matters not just because it’s cool and fascinating. It matters because people use lack of intelligence as the reason to treat humans and non-human animals differently. It’s okay to eat animals and experiment on them, the rationale goes, because they are just dumb animals.

Science is biting itself in the butt on this one by continually discovering that animals aren’t so different from us after all, which will make it harder to justify experimenting on them.

These are some of the smartest animals in no particular order:

1. Dolphins

These thinkers have been named the second smartest species, after us, of course. They “co-operate with military precision to round up shoals of fish to eat.” They recognize themselves in mirrors. One dolphin was held captive for three weeks and was taught to tail-walk; after her release, “scientists were astonished to see the trick spreading among wild dolphins who had learnt it from the former captive.” They can learn “a rudimentary symbol-based language.” Dolphins “can solve difficult problems” and have “a high level of emotional sophistication.” Plus, they have really big brains. Things have gone so far that scientists have suggested “they are so bright that they should be treated as ‘non-human persons,’” protected from imprisonment in tanks, exploitation in amusement parks and slaughter.

When people can no longer point to a huge gap in intelligence between humans and other animals, it gets harder to justify torturing and using them.

2. Ravens

Ravens have incredible recall for their friends’ voices. After living together for three years, then being separated for three years (during which time their calls may have changed), the ravens responded with friendly calls to recordings of the voices of their old friends.

They also remembered which birds they liked and which they didn’t. Recordings of the voices of ravens they didn’t care for elicited different reactions in deeper voices. They had yet a third reaction for the calls of birds they did not know.

3. Grey Parrots

Grey parrots can reason as well as three-year-old humans, as Mindy Townsend has written on Care2. When presented with two canisters and shown that one was empty, then “given the chance to choose one or the other,” they reliably picked the other one. Scientists performed more complicated versions of this study with the same result. The birds were showing “abstract, inferential thinking” by figuring out that if one is empty, the other has food in it. Humans can’t do that before age three.

4. Squirrels

Yes, squirrels are smart. They “put on elaborate shows” in which they pretend they are hiding food “to thwart would-be thieves.” When squirrels saw human researchers stealing their peanuts, they faked hiding even more food. This deception involves planning and a concept of what is happening in others’ minds — the squirrels are thinking about what may happen in the future (theft of their food), and about what observers are seeing and deducing (that there will be food where the squirrel is digging).

So there to all the squirrel haters, and especially to the wing nuts who held the “Hazard County Squirrel Slam” last weekend in upstate New York, where they awarded prizes for shooting and killing squirrels.

5. Elephants

Of course elephants have to be on any list of smart animals. They have proved their intelligence time and again. But here is one you may not have heard: they can sniff out the scents “of up to 30 absent members of their family” and build a mental map of where they are. Can you keep track of where 30 of your relatives are at any given time?

6. Chimpanzees

The latest revelation: chimpanzees have better short-term memory than humans. Not just good short-term memory. Not even just as good as ours. Better. They have a stronger mental ability than humans do.

The study, reported in Huff Post Science, flashed the numbers 1 through 9 randomly on a screen. Chimpanzee Ayumu “was able to recall the exact sequence and location of each number.”

When researcher Tetsuro Matsuzawa showed a video of the experiment “to a room of scientists and journalists, murmurs of amazement were heard. ‘Don’t worry, nobody can do it,’ Matsuzawa said… ‘It’s impossible for you.’”

Chimp Ayumu has also learned the numbers 1 through 19 and what order they go in.

7. Pigs

Pigs can learn to use a joystick to move a cursor to a target and can distinguish among a child’s various scribblings. Their intelligence is akin to that of chimpanzees. Comparing them to humans doesn’t come out that well for us: “even piglets only a few hours old will leave the nest to relieve themselves.” How long were your kids in diapers?

8. Crows

According to National Geographic, research now suggests that crows “share with humans several hallmarks of higher intelligence, including tool use and sophisticated social behavior.” Crows play tricks on each other, and different families have their own dialects. A nature writer describing one experiment on the birds writes that they are “in a class with us as toolmakers,” better even than chimps.

There is more going on behind animals’ eyes than we have given them credit for. Having learned more about their mental and social intelligence, it is time to reevaluate how we treat them.

Piper Hoffman|April 7, 2015

Everglades

Florida Activists Stand Up for the Everglades

More than 100 residents from all corners of Florida gathered recently at the headquarters of the South Florida Water Management District in protest of the Water Managers’ inaction on a land purchase deal to save the Everglades. 

Protesters held signs demanding the managers “BUY THE LAND” and two-sided signs with a healthy fish on one side and the same fish’s bare skeleton on the other. A protester dressed as a “Sugar Daddy” gave fake money to various “Florida Politicians,” with the face on the bills replaced with that of Governor Rick Scott.

The 48,600 acres of land to the south of Lake Okeechobee, currently owned by an agricultural business based in Florida called U.S. Sugar Corporation, could be used to store and naturally filter the heavily polluted overflow from the lake during storm season. This water could then be redirected to the Everglades to the south, delivering clean freshwater that the wetlands badly need. 

The Water Managers, appointed by Governor Rick Scott, faced a four-hour gauntlet of protester comments, rebuffing the managers’ list of constraints and calling on them to purchase the land.

“The real constraint is the lack of political will,” said Art Broughton, a Palm Beach County resident and Sierra Club activist.

The South Florida Water Management District has yet to take any of the preliminary actions that would allow for the purchasing of the land. They have had the contractual option to purchase the land from U.S. Sugar since 2009, an option which expires this coming October. Previously, the board of managers had said that it was waiting on a report from the University of Florida before it made a decision on the land purchase. The report found that buying the land would be beneficial, but no substantive decision has been made. 

Currently, overflow from Lake Okeechobee flows into nearby rivers and estuaries, spreading the fertilizers, pesticides, and other agricultural runoff in the habitats of a myriad of wildlife. In periods of heavy rains, the lake’s floodgates are opened, and a torrent of toxic water surges through these habitats with unnatural force. The Army Corps of Engineers has also expressed concern that the the dike that currently regulates water levels in the lake is falling into disrepair, and could allow a breach into the Everglades and nearby communities.

The purchase and use of the land would allow for the building of an earthen reservoir to contain the lake’s seasonal overflow, and due to the composition of the soil, this reservoir would filter most of the pollutants out of the water, allowing for it to be directed into the Everglades.

“The Everglades are shrinking and dying because Lake Okeechobee water is being redirected elsewhere,” said Broughton. “The buying of this land and the  building of this reservoir will enable the Everglades to live. Without it, the Everglades will die. It is that simple.”

Zach Moore|March 20, 2015

Water Quality Issues

Drought-Stricken California Exempts Big Oil and Big Ag from Mandatory Restrictions

The April 1 snowpack assessment in California, which set an all-time record for lowest snowpack levels in the state’s history, finally spurred Governor Brown’s office to issue an executive order to residents and non-agricultural businesses to cut water use by 25 percent in the first mandatory statewide reduction in the state’s history.

But some groups have been exempted from the water restrictions, specifically big agriculture, which uses about 80 percent of California’s water, and oil companies. Democracy Now! discussed on their show today the new mandates and the implications of exempting some of the biggest water users in the state.

Food & Water Watch California is one of the groups critical of Governor Brown for failing to cap water usage by oil companies and corporate farms, which grow water-intensive crops like almonds and pistachios, most of which are exported out of state or overseas, reports Nermeen Shaikh of Democracy Now! “In the midst of a severe drought, the governor continues to allow corporate farms and oil interests to deplete and pollute our precious groundwater resources,” says Adam Scow of Food & Water Watch California.

Shaikh and fellow reporter, Amy Goodman, then turn to Mark Hertsgaard, author of a new book, Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth, and whose latest story is “How Growers Gamed California’s Drought.” Hertsgaard, an expert on big agriculture and the drought in California, discusses how the price of water is far too low and how we’re still wasting far too much water. “If we priced [water] properly, which means a little bit higher, there’s enormous strides California could be taking with water efficiency,” says Hertsgaard. “We could essentially wipe out the effects of the drought.”

But right now we have billionaire farmers like Stewart Resnick bragging about record profits and record production in water-intensive crops like pistachios, almonds and alfalfa, while poorer communities where farmworkers live “don’t have water coming out of their taps anymore,” says Hertsgaard.

Cole Mellino|April 2, 2015

Pacific water could quench thirst in Calif.

Amid deep drought, state is investing in desalination plants

California has a giant reservoir to its west that could supply the parched state. It’s called the Pacific Ocean.

To tap this salty resource, desalination plants and related technology are being introduced or revived in the state.

Part of Gov. Jerry Brown’s executive order last week to manage water included streamlining the permitting process for water infrastructure projects such as desalination facilities.

The $1billion Carlsbad desalination plant, south of Los Angeles, is scheduled to open in 2016.

Santa Barbara has a mothballed desalination plant from the 1990s that was built after California’s severe drought from 1986 to 1991. The City Council is considering whether to bring it back into operation.

Towns in Monterey County, including Carmel, are also exploring desalination plants.

The problem with desalination is that it’s energy-intensive and expensive.

The holy grail of desalination is to draw on renewable power to remove salt from ocean water. That’s where all natural fresh water comes from: Solar energy evaporates the water, which rises into the atmosphere — leaving the salt in the ocean — and falls as pure rain.

So far, no one has found an efficient way to mimic Mother Nature, but engineers are trying. A competition that gets underway Monday in Alamogordo, New Mexico, at the edge of the White Sands desert, is one attempt to find that particular grail.

Five teams of engineers will deploy machines they’ve built to run on renewable energy to provide clean water as part of USAID Global Development Lab’s Securing Water for Food initiative.

They are vying to win the Desal Prize by producing cost efficient, durable and easy-to-maintain water purification units.

Doyle Rice and Elizabeth Weise|USA TODAY

California Sees Dismal Water Savings In February, Following Driest January On Record

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California cities face mandatory targets to slash water use as much as 35 percent while regulators warn voluntary conservation hasn’t been enough in the face of a devastating drought.

Underlining their point was data released Tuesday showing a new low in saving water. Residents did less to curtail water use in February than any other month since officials started tracking conservation.

Along the south coast, home to more than a third of Californians from San Diego to Los Angeles, residents actually showed an increase in water consumption despite longstanding calls for cutbacks.

“These are sobering statistics and disheartening statistics,” said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board.

Overall, the numbers indicate that statewide water use fell by less than 3 percent in February as compared to baseline data established in 2013, the last year before Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency.

The figures mirrored preliminary reports that helped spur Brown last week to demand that urban water users statewide cut back their consumption by 25 percent.

To meet that goal, the water board on Tuesday released draft water reduction targets for more than 400 water agencies ranging from 10 to 35 percent. The targets are set based on per-capita water use.

Some cities must drastically improve water savings. San Diego and Los Angeles must cut water use by 20 percent after cutting only 2 percent and 7 percent since June.

Others such as Santa Cruz, which cut its water use by a quarter, are likely to easily meet smaller targets.

State officials say they’re prepared to slap large fines on agencies that don’t take steps to conserve or meet reduction targets, although they haven’t used similar powers earlier in the drought.

The newly released water use data show the difficulties of changing longstanding habits, such as watering lawns, washing cars and taking long showers, board members said at the Tuesday meeting. Also, they noted, that water use in February 2013 was already low because the weather was cooler that year.

Still, the governor should be able to use the figures to his advantage. His call for a mandatory 25 percent cutback goes beyond his request asking residents to voluntarily reduce their use by 20 percent when he declared the drought emergency in January 2014. Statewide conservation has been about 9 percent since then.

The board credited some already water-conscious communities, including Stockton, Santa Cruz and Mountain View, for slashing use in February.

Places such as Newport Beach expected to make drastic improvements. Water use must plummet by 35 percent in the wealthy beach town during the same months consumption fell only 7 percent.

Newport Beach has reduced lawn watering to four times a week, which is twice as often as state recommendations allow, and it prohibits residents from refilling their pools more than 1 foot a week.

Since July, Newport Beach residents used about 120 gallons a day, compared to about 100 for others who live along the southern coastline.

Newport Beach officials have spent months informing residents about new regulations and ways to cut back, and they’re now seeking new authority to issue fines.

“We liked the friendly approach, and it seems to be working well, but we aren’t afraid to issue citations,” said George Murdoch, the city’s utilities general manager.

The water board has given local water departments discretion to come up with their own conservation rules, but it has established some statewide regulations, such as banning lawn watering 48 hours after rain and prohibiting restaurants from serving water unless customers ask.

The agency also plans to have municipalities penalize overconsumption through billing rates.

Water use along the coast is expected to increase this summer as tourists and seasonal residents flock to beach homes.

Meanwhile, some water agencies are working on more drastic actions of their own. Southern California’s giant Metropolitan Water District will vote next week on a plan to ration water deliveries to the 26 agencies and cities it supplies, according to spokesman Bob Muir.

The cuts, which would take effect July 1, were proposed before the governor imposed the mandatory restrictions and are expected to drive agencies to curb demand and help meet the conservation goals.

AP  |FENIT NIRAPPIL|04/07/2015

Carly Fiorina: Environmentalists To Blame For ‘Man-Made’ Drought In California

WASHINGTON — Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina on Monday blamed environmentalists for what she called a “man-made” drought in California, which has led to the state’s first water restrictions.

“With different policies over the last 20 years, all of this could be avoided,” Fiorina, a likely 2016 Republican presidential contender, said in an interview with radio host Glenn Beck. “Despite the fact that California has suffered from droughts for millennia, liberal environmentalists have prevented the building of a single new reservoir or a single new water conveyance system over decades during a period in which California’s population has doubled.”

Fiorina, California’s 2010 GOP nominee for U.S. Senate, said it was a “classic case of liberals being willing to sacrifice other people’s lives and livelihoods at the altar of their ideology. It is a tragedy.”

The drought, now officially in its fourth year, prompted Gov. Jerry Brown (D) last week to order a 25 percent reduction in water consumption. The order does not apply to the agriculture industry, which consumes nearly 80 percent of the state’s water.

Lawmakers in Congress and in the state legislature have proposed bills authorizing construction of new dams and reservoirs, citing the need to capture water that ends up in the ocean. They have been opposed by environmental groups, which argue the projects would endanger the state’s habitat and endangered species. Last year, House Republicans proposed pumping additional water to Southern California, but the bill failed under a veto threat from President Barack Obama.

There is significant debate about whether the state has enough water left, at this point, to justify the cost of building new dams and reservoirs. According to The Sacramento Bee, some new reservoirs, wouldn’t supply significant new water.

“There’s nothing magical in and of themselves to build a (reservoir) facility,” Lester Snow, the executive director of the California Water Foundation, told the Bee last year. “If we had two more surface storage facilities that we built 10 years ago — pick any of the two that people are talking about — they would both be very low right now. There’s a tendency to pull down our surface storage when we get mildly short of water.”

NextGen Climate, the climate-focused political group run by billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, on Monday evening called Fiorina’s comments “irrational.”

“For a science denier to opine that Democrats caused the drought in California is about as irrational as believing someone who failed at running a business in California and then failed as a candidate for office in California has any cause to be running for the highest office in the land,” Bobby Whithorne, the group’s spokesman, said in a statement.

The Sierra Club, a national environmental group, disputed Fiorina’s assertion that more dams and reservoirs would have lessened the impact of the drought.

“For more than 100 years, environmentalists have failed to stop the damming of nearly every significant river in California. And yet all of the hundreds of dams out there have done nothing to produce rain or snow pack over the last four years. That’s because you can’t store what’s not there,” said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club’s California chapter. “We simply don’t have rain or snow pack and are suffering the worst California drought since water agencies and weather trackers started keeping records.”

“What we are seeing is exactly what climate scientists have predicted would happen in California with the onset of human-caused climate disruption: Weather and precipitation would become less predictable and droughts would become more frequent and more severe,” Phillips added.

Igor Bobic|04/06/2015

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Michigan wants dredging limit to help sturgeon

April 20 meeting set to discuss problem

SAUGATUCK TWP. The state wants to limit the times of year when dredging is allowed in part of southwestern Michigan to protect lake sturgeon, officials announced Monday.

The Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Environmental Quality plan a public meeting April 20 at Saugatuck Township Hall to discuss dredging windows for Kalamazoo Lake and the Kalamazoo River aimed at protecting the threatened species.

Kalamazoo Lake is an important area for adult sturgeon migrating up the Kalamazoo River to spawn, officials said, and the lake also provides excellent habitat for juvenile sturgeon.

“The goal of this program is to open the lines of communication among the community, business owners and contractors on ways to protect lake sturgeon and their habitat,” Jay Wesley, DNR fisheries unit manager, said in a statement. “This protection effort will dovetail nicely with our other Kalamazoo River lake sturgeon rehabilitation efforts.”

The proposal would limit dredging between March 15 and June 30 to protect adult lake sturgeon and between Sept. 1 and Dec. 15 to protect juvenile sturgeon.

The DNR and DEQ noted, however, that they recognize the need to conduct dredging projects. If a dredging project needs to be completed within a no-dredging window, the state will discuss safeguards and work to determine whether lake sturgeon habitat is affected.

“These windows are meant to guide dredge operations on the best times to do so when lake sturgeon are less vulnerable,” the DNR said.

Sturgeon can grow to about 8 feet, weigh 200 pounds and live for 150 years. They once were abundant in the Great Lakes region and are the subject of decades- long restoration efforts.

JEFFREY SMITH|TIMES HERALD

Oil Spills Into Mississippi River After Ship Collision In Louisiana

CONVENT, La. (AP) — About 420 gallons of oil spilled into the Mississippi River and a nine-mile stretch of the waterway was closed after a ship broke free of its mooring in southern Louisiana and hit two other vessels, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

The Privocean, a 751-foot bulk carrier, broke free near Convent around 4:00 p.m. Monday, drifted downriver and struck a 98-foot towing vessel, the Texas, according to a statement from the Coast Guard.

The Texas began taking on water but was able to ground itself on the river bank before sinking, according to Petty Officer Carlos Vega.

The Privocean continued to drift downriver and hit the 816-foot tank ship Bravo, which was discharging crude oil, the Coast Guard said.

Initial assessments show about 420 gallons of oil discharged into the river, which is closed from mile marker 163 to 154, according to the statement. Another 126 gallons spilled on the deck of the Bravo but was contained and will be cleaned up.

All three ships have been secured. The cause of the incident is under investigation, and Coast Guard response teams and an environmental services company are responding to the spill.

The crew of the Texas was taken to a hospital for evaluation but no injuries were reported, the statement said.

Convent is about 60 miles west of New Orleans.

AP|04/06/2015

Offshore & Ocean

24 Utterly Bizarre Sea Creatures

New study enables detailed projections of coral reef bleaching

FRISCO — After issuing a general warning about the potential for widespread coral reef bleaching this year, federal scientists now say they have the ability to make more detailed projections about the timing and geographic distribution of such events.

The concerns this summer focus around emerging El Niño conditions, which could overheat parts of the world’s oceans that have already been hovering at near-record temperatures. Most coral reefs in  the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico will experience bleaching by mid-century, but if scientists can pinpoint the timing, it gives them more conservation options.

Coral bleaching happens when water is too warm and corals expel the algae living in their tissue, causing the coral to lose its vibrant colors and turn completely white. Bleached corals are under more stress and are more likely to die. Extensive coral bleaching events have increased in frequency and severity over the past two decades due to climate change.

There are regions within many countries where some reefs are projected to experience annual bleaching conditions 15 or more years later than neighboring regions. This applies to reefs in Florida, the Bahamas, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos, and Mexico. Reefs projected to experience bleaching conditions later can be conservation priorities.

“Our new local-scale projections will help resource managers better understand and plan for the effects of coral bleaching,” said lead author Ruben van Hooidonk, a coral and climate researcher with the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School and NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory.

“At some locations, referred to in our study as ‘relative refugia,’ lower rates of temperature increase and fewer extreme events mean reefs have more time to adapt to climate change,” he said. “Managers may decide to use this information to protect these locations as refuges or protected areas. Or they may take other actions to reduce stress caused by human activities.”

The new research is published in Global Change Biology by NOAA scientists and colleagues.

The loss of coral reefs can have economic, social and ecological effects. Coral reefs provide rich habitat for valuable fisheries that people depend on for food. They serve as protective buffers to coastlines by absorbing wave energy from storms, and they boost local economies by attracting tourists who fish, dive and explore these underwater treasures.

Bob Glazer of Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said he welcomed the new research.

“Coral bleaching poses a grave threat to coral reefs and these high-resolution projections provide vitally needed spatial information about the degree of threat and will help us make better management decisions.”

Bob Berwyn|April 2, 2015

Study: Florida’s reefs will be seared by climate change by 2030

Parts of Florida’s vast coral reefs, including a pristine tract in the Dry Tortugas, might get seared by climate change as early as 2030 — about a dozen years sooner than scientists previously projected.

And that could mean that coral bleaching — a whitening that can be damaging and potentially deadly to colorful corals — might become an annual event in the Tortugas west of Key West but also in the middle Keys and reefs south of Turkey Point popular with divers.

The prediction comes from a just-released study by National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration climate scientists, who used a supercomputer to crunch piles of data on sea temperatures around the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean already identified as vulnerable to bleaching outbreaks. Their findings not only confirmed what they already knew — bleaching could be widespread by mid-century — but revealed it might start to show sooner in some areas than others, including swathes off the South Florida coast.

The findings are important because scientists consider reefs an important earlier indicator of more serious trouble.

“They’re the canary in a coal mine,” said the study’s lead author, Ruben van Hooidonk, a University of Miami coral expert and climate scientist at NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory.

On the flip side, the discovery that bleaching might happen more slowly in some places offered a rare bit of hope on the climate front. Where temperatures remain lower for longer, the living creatures that create coral reefs might have time to acclimate to rising sea temperatures, Hooidonk said.

Coral reefs have long been identified as one of the ecosystems most vulnerable to climate change. Years of pounding from polluted coastal run-off, fishing and anchors have already done heavy damage, shrinking Florida’s reefs to a fraction of their historic range. Swings in temperature, scientists say, just add to the stress.

Cold water can kill tropical reef gardens. But increases in temperature, even slight ones, can cause coral to spit out life-sustaining algae. Acidification, another malady linked to climate change and rising carbon in oceans, could also weaken reefs.

Up until now, bleaching has occurred periodically, but never regularly. The first documented wide-scale bleaching in the Keys occurred in 1983, followed by years of weakened reefs susceptible to diseases, said Billy Causey, regional director for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. In 1997 and 1998, an El Niño fueled the first years of back-to-back bleaching. But in the years since, the region struck a kind of balance, with no more loss of reefs. But also no gains.

Cool weather, like the recent cool front, has always given reefs a respite and chance to rebound.

“The Tortugas has looked great,” said Frank Wasson, president of Spree Expeditions who captains the MV Spree to the remote islands some 70 miles west of Key West for dive trips in deeper waters where strong currents have helped keep reefs healthy. “Out on the bank, it has been incredibly healthy.”

But that could change under new climate conditions. Last year, divers documented widespread bleaching throughout the Keys that could be worsened by forecasts for another El Niño weather pattern, said Chris Bergh, the South Florida Conservation Director for The Nature Conservancy. Divers are just now starting to assess damage, he said.

By mid-century, Hooidonk said yearly bleaching will likely occur along large swaths of reefs at the south end of Biscayne Bay past Key Largo and from the middle Keys south to the Dry Tortugas. Corals can survive bleaching if waters cool quickly enough to allow algae to return. But prolonged temperature spikes like those predicted by climate models could spell doom.

“Obviously, we can’t go out there and move the corals out of the way, but there are a multitude of things we can do,” Causey said.

Scientists are already on the lookout for corals that do better in inhospitable conditions, which they could use to graft onto colonies to fortify valuable reefs that bring in tourism dollars and provide the first line of defense for coastal cities against rising seas. Knowing which areas remain tolerable to the colonies could also help determine where to locate nurseries.

“So while we may be having more frequent bleaching, we may start to see more coral colonies acclimate,” Causey said. “That’s the Pollyannaish side of me.”

More information could also improve existing conservation programs and heighten awareness about the dangers of coral bleaching, which is already a leading killer of Florida’s reefs, Bergh said.

“Those things are already important but they become even more critical knowing that coral bleaching is going to become more of a problem in the future,” he said.

Jenny Staletovich|MiamiHerald.com|04/03/2015

Wildlife and Habitat

Study ranks Florida among top places where rare wildlife not being protected

The Florida Keys and parts of the Panhandle rank among the most vulnerable places in the nation for wildlife in danger of disappearing, according to a new study published Monday.

By comparing protected lands to places where most rare and disappearing species live, scientists found the United States is doing a poor job of guarding the country’s biodiversity or even taking adequate steps to track where species live. Most national parks and conservation land are found in the west or areas, like the Everglades, inhospitable to human development. But the highest concentrations of potentially imperiled species — those rare lizards, fish and trees that live in small, specific ranges that can be found no place else— inhabit primitive forests and isolated waters in the Southeast that may face development threats.

National parks — long considered a key to conservation efforts — it turns out, may not be doing what you’d think.

“What we protected is the opposite of the patterns of species we should be most worried about,” said lead author Clinton Jenkins, a visiting professor at Brazil’s Institute for Ecological Research.

Pinpointing the mismatch is important, Jenkins said, because habitat loss is the leading cause of extinction on the planet. Species are now estimated to be going extinct at a yearly rate of between .01 and 1 percent — a massive acceleration due to human activity, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

To produce the study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Jenkins and scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Duke University and the University of Maryland looked at 3,000 mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, freshwater fish and trees to create biodiversity maps. They then compared that to the nation’s portfolio of protected land in the lower 48 states. A substantial amount, about 8 percent, is protected and includes a large swaths in private ownership shielded with conservation easements, the study said. But areas set aside for conservation poorly reflect the needs of rare plants and animals found only in specific places like pine rockland and tropical hammocks in the Florida Keys.

“The U.S. has protected many areas, but it has yet to protect many of the most biologically important parts of the country,” Jenkins said.

The study was edited by E.O. Wilson, a Harvard University entomologist whose work helped define the importance of biodiversity. In a release, Wilson called the findings among the most important in the last decade with implications for better conservation measures and future policy.

National parks were created more than a century ago. But most were forged by a desire to preserve natural wonders like Yosemite’s grand granite cliffs, Jenkins said, and not wildlife. Unique wildlife, meanwhile, flourished in very old and isolated places like the Keys or Appalachia, where complex topography and sheltered watersheds led to fish and plant diversity.

Park boundaries also often fell on land still owned by the government or not useful for anything else. So the eastern United States, already in private ownership, got shorted. South Florida’s three largest conservation areas cover wetlands and Biscayne Bay.

In ranking hotspots, Jenkins and his team considered not just the distribution of the species, but whether any of their range was already protected.

The team targeted nine regions for concern, starting with the Blue Ridge Mountains, Sierra Nevada Mountains, the California Coast and watersheds in Tennessee, Alabama and north Georgia where thick forests and shallow pools hide a menagerie of salamanders and fish living in solitude for eons. The Florida Panhandle and Keys ranked five and six on the list, followed by Oregon’s Klamath Mountains, south-central Texas and the Channel Islands in California.

Jenkins, who researched parts of the Everglades for his doctoral study, said South Florida’s trees won it a spot on the list. Other unique species, like grasses, would probably qualify as well, he said, but not enough data was available for the kind of mapping the team conducted. The same applies to butterflies, he said — while rare, unique and well-studied, the team lacked the right kind of mapping data to include them.

“This emphasizes the plight of endemic species,” coauthor Kyle Van Houtan, a NOAA population ecologist, said. “While they may not all be rhinos, lions and pandas, it is these species that are essential in their ecosystems that compose the American landscape.”

Jenny Staletovich|MiamiHerald.com|04/06/2015

Environmentalists Sue to Tell the Feds: Hands Off Our Grizzly Bears

The Sierra Club, together with the Western Watersheds Project and a number of local tribes, is suing the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for giving the go ahead to kill four grizzly bears so that people can safely hunt elk in Grand Teton National Park.

The lawsuit, which was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the campaign groups and tribes, calls into question the legality of a 2013 decision by the FWS and the National Park Service to allow the “taking”–which is code for killing–of four grizzly bears over the next seven years so as to preserve fall elk hunts in Grand Teton, where hunters are given a license to kill certain elk within the park as a means of controlling overall elk numbers.

This perhaps surprising authorization to kill the bears came as a response to a Thanksgiving Day 2012 incident in which three hunters participating in the elk hunt that day shot and killed an adult male grizzly after attempts to ward off the bear had failed. There was no indication that the hunters had acted unlawfully and, after a thorough investigation, no criminal proceedings were brought against the three licensed hunters. Simply, it appeared that the male bear had tried to defend its food source and refused to back down when the hunters went to retrieve a fallen elk.

The federal agencies in question have noted that this kind of problem–while rare–could become more frequent, with the bears turning to hunter-caught and killed meat as part of their own survival strategy as other food sources have become scarce.

As a result, federal officials said that it was acceptable to kill up to four more grizzly bears in connection with future elk hunts in Grand Teton up to the year 2022. This doesn’t mean that they have authorized pro-active bear hunts, but it does mean that if these deaths occur that they will not be treated as criminal cases.

The suit claims that the federal agencies have issued this allowance and others like it without considering the total impact on grizzlies in the park, and in particular that they have failed to realize that other killings that they have authorized could add up to the killing of as many as 65 female bears in a single year–which the suit claims exceeds the agencies’ own so called sustainable level for female bears by more than than three times. The suit specifically says the federal agencies have violated section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) in order to exempt the grizzly bear killings in the park.

Allowing four additional grizzly bears – a threatened species – to be killed in one our nation’s most iconic national parks, without even requiring significant measures to reduce conflicts between people and bears, is inexcusable. The Fish and Wildlife Service has repeatedly increased the number of grizzly bears that can be killed, without looking at the broader impact on grizzly recovery in the region.

The suit aims to stop both the park’s elk reduction program until this matter is properly addressed.

While of course we might balk at any form of hunting, it’s undeniable that the elk hunt does bring in a valuable cash flow for the park. In fact, the park is considering higher fees on businesses operating within its borders that connect with the elk hunt, so that it can raise more revenue and keep its conservation efforts going. As such, anything that threatens the elk hunt could be detrimental to that cash flow. Yet grizzlies are by most standards a species under threat, so the threshold of what is acceptable is quite high and critics say both the park and the federal agencies have been handing out permits to kill the bears without being mindful of the overall impact, and without considering how the several states the park spans, like Wyoming, have been steadily trying to undermine the protections in order to court lucrative hunting programs.

For its part, Grand Teton National Park is aware of the suit but has said it doesn’t comment on pending legislation. With that in mind though, Grand Teton National Park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs had this to say according to told Jackson Hole News & Guide:

“It’s important to note that the most common cause of deaths for grizzly bears in Grand Teton has resulted from vehicle collisions,” Skaggs said via email. “Park managers and staff take the loss of a single grizzly bear quite seriously, and we will continue to protect grizzlies in every way possible, including providing additional safety warnings for drivers or proper food storage alerts for campers, as well as implementing appropriate changes to management of the elk reduction program when necessary.”

This comes as wildlife agencies also continue to dither on whether grizzly bears should keep their endangered status, something that conservationists say is necessary because, even though the bear population is now relatively stable, it is in no way at a level that we could deem sustainable. They also point out that any relaxing of that status will essentially encourage wider hunting of the bears, leading to further and possibly devastating population reduction.

Steve Williams|April 9, 2015

Forestry

6,000 Acres of Old Growth Forests Slated for Logging, the Largest Sale in Decades

Two coalitions of conservation groups filed Notices of Appeal before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last week from recent district court opinions approving old growth logging in the Tongass National Forest. In one case, four groups challenged the U.S. Forest Service’s Big Thorne old growth timber sale and associated road construction. In a separate lawsuit, a partially overlapping set of groups challenged provisions in the Tongass Land Management Plan that the Forest Service relies on when preparing old growth sales across much of Southeast Alaska.

The Big Thorne sale is by far the largest Tongass old growth sale in decades. The conservation groups argue that it undercuts the region’s $2 billion fishing and tourism industries while continuing an unsustainable log export industry. The groups are also concerned about damage to vital habitat for salmon, bears, Sitka black-tailed deer, goshawks and the Alexander Archipelago wolf, and impacts to sport and subsistence hunters as well as recreational use of the forest.

The Big Thorne sale would clearcut more than 6,000 acres of old-growth rainforest on Prince of Wales Island. Though the Forest Service estimates the sale would cost taxpayers $13 million, the economics of recent sales indicate taxpayer costs could eventually climb over $100 million. The Forest Service has been widely criticized for offering old-growth sales at an economic loss to American taxpayers and its Tongass timber program is currently under review by the federal General Accounting Office. Timber makes up less than 1 percent of economic activity in Southeast Alaska.

By contrast, economic reports value Southeast Alaska’s fishing and tourism industries at a combined $2 billion annually. Some reports suggest road building and industrial activity associated with Big Thorne would harm fish habitat and is inadequately analyzed by the Forest Service. Wild coho runs, an economic staple for the region’s troll fleet, are particularly sensitive to habitat impacts to headwater streams.

While concerns have been raised that the Big Thorne sale is vital to a local mill, the groups presented evidence to the court of ample timber supply from State of Alaska timber sales as well as existing sales under contract to maintain operations. Additionally, in seeking to halt the old growth sale, the groups exempted the project’s second-growth and stewardship components.

The separate suit over the management plan challenges its failure to ensure that adequate old growth is left after timber sales for stable populations of wildlife—including Sitka black-tailed deer. It also alleges that the Forest Service failed, when adopting the plan, to give the public an accurate picture of how plan implementation would affect wildlife and those – like subsistence hunters—who rely on healthy wildlife populations.

“We’re looking for a solution that keeps jobs in the woods without sacrificing key habitat for deer, bear, wolf and salmon. We support projects that will be compatible with the region’s fishing and tourism industries—as well as deer hunting opportunities—over the long run,” said SEACC executive director Malena Marvin. “For years, SEACC has worked with regional partners to advocate micro sales, develop community-scale forest projects that support local businesses, and promote the region’s small sawmills,” she continued. “Our organization remains opposed to industrial-scale clearcuts that rely on exports—curtailing the export of round logs to Asia would increase jobs per log cut on the Tongass while eliminating massive, controversial old-growth sales.

“Economic prosperity in Southeast Alaska depends on vibrant, healthy old growth forests to support the economic drivers of our region—world-class fishing, hunting, recreation, and tourism,” said Holly Harris, staff attorney with Earthjustice.  “While Southeast Alaska loses thousands of acres of irreplaceable old growth habitat in sales like Big Thorne, taxpayers are paying tens of millions of dollars a year to prop up the old growth timber industry. The Forest Service’s tired reliance on these kinds of massive, subsidized old growth sales devastates the environment and jeopardizes the future of our region.”

“Allowing massive sales like Big Thorne is yet another blow to the Tongass National Forest and southeast Alaska,” said Kristen Miller, Conservation Director at Alaska Wilderness League. “Continuing to subsidize sales like Big Thorne threatens the viability of the wildlife and scenery that bring one million people to hike, hunt, fish, kayak and tour the Tongass each year. Southeast Alaska’s economy has moved on from timber. Instead of continuing to pour money into massive old growth giveaways like Big Thorne, why not put taxpayer dollars where they will give us the largest return on our investment year after year, and allow us to preserve a national treasure in the process.”

“It’s clear that the Big Thorne sale is not the best path forward for taxpayers, for local communities, or for wildlife,” said Alli Harvey, Alaska Representative for Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign. “We should be safeguarding this amazing rainforest and its old growth trees, not clear-cutting the future.”

“The Big Thorne timber sale is bad for wildlife, birds, fish and the people who care about them,” said Jim Adams, Audubon Alaska’s Policy Director. “The science tells us it is long-past time for the Forest Service to transition away from large-scale old-growth timber sales on the Tongass.”

Appealing the Big Thorne decision are the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Alaska Wilderness League, Sierra Club, and Audubon Alaska. Appealing a separate decision related to the Tongass Land Management Plan are Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Natural Resources Defense Council, Alaska Wilderness League, and Sierra Club. Earthjustice represents the groups in both appeals.

Earthjustice|March 30, 2015

Iconic Alaskan Yellow Cedar Considered For Endangered Protection

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — An iconic Alaska tree may warrant protection as a threatened or endangered species due to climate warming, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Thursday.

The agency will begin a status review of yellow cedar, a tree revered and used by Native Alaska cultures and valued as of high value to the timber industry.

The decision is great news for the Tongass National Forest and for yellow cedar, said Rebecca Noblin, an attorney in Anchorage for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that petitioned to list the tree.

“We’re losing yellow cedar rapidly to climate change, and if we don’t start addressing our greenhouse gas emissions, we’re going to lose yellow cedars,” she said.

Owen Graham, executive director of the Alaska Forest Association, a timber industry trade association, said no listing is warranted.

“It’s kind of silly,” he said from Ketchikan. “Yellow cedar is not in any danger.”

Yellow cedar trees can live more than 1,000 years. Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people use the rot-resistant wood for canoe paddles and totem poles. They can take a lengthwise strip of bark from a living tree for weaving baskets and hats, and as backing in blankets. The tree can compartmentalize the injury and continue growing.

However, the yellow cedar’s shallow roots make the tree vulnerable to changes brought on by climate warming, according to petitioners.

In a paper published in 2012, U.S. Forest Service researchers concluded that climate warming has meant less snow and less insulation for the ground. Elevated mortality began around 1880-1890 and peaked in the 1970s and 1980s, according to the study.

Across 781 square miles of Alaska’s Panhandle, more than 70 percent of yellow cedar trees have died because of root freeze induced by climate change, according to the listing petition.

Owen, of the forest association, disputed the Forest Service study and called its conclusions a hypothesis. Experts dispute the conclusions, he said. Die-off events are sporadic and “certainly not a crisis” that will affect all trees.

“It doesn’t prevent the young growth from coming in behind it and being healthy,” he said.

A listing would require federal agencies to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to make sure their actions don’t jeopardize the species. The law also requires designating critical habitat, and bans destruction or “adverse modification” of the habitat.

Under endangered species law, the agency has 12 months from submission of the petition to conduct a status review, which considers information and public comment to determine whether a species warrants listing.

If the management agency decides that a listing is warranted, it has one more year to collect additional public comment before making a final decision.

A yellow cedar listing would be the first for an Alaska tree and only the second plant listed for the state.

DAN JOLING| AP|04/09/2015

Global Warming and Climate Change

Antarctica Has Never Been This Hot: The Record Was Broken Twice Last Week

When you think of setting high temperature records, Antarctica might not be the first place that comes to mind. But because climate change is warming the poles of our planet faster than the rest (NASA explains: “energy in the atmosphere that is carried to the poles through large weather systems.”), records tend to fall rather quickly. Dr. Jeff Masters at Weather Underground writes that “the warmest temperature ever recorded on the continent of Antarctica may have occurred on Tuesday, March 24, 2015, when the mercury shot up to 63.5°F (17.5°C) at Argentina’s Esperanza Base on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.” (shown above)

When was the previous record? The day before: “the previous hottest temperature recorded in Antarctica was 63.3°F (17.4°C) set just one day previously at Argentina’s Marambio Base, on a small islet just off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula.”

Before that you have to go back to April 24, 1961, to hit 62.8°F (17.1°C), which was also recorded at Esperanza Base.

Note that the World Meteorological Organization has not yet had time to certify that last week’s temps are all-time records for Antarctica, but the Argentinian weather service has verified that the temperatures measured at Esperanza Base and Marambio Base were the highest ever measured at each site. A lot more details about temperature records in Antarctica can be found here.

But warm weather isn’t the only thing that the coldest continent has to contend with. All this heat is affecting the ice, and it is estimated that Antarctica loses about 160,000,000,000 tons of ice… every year. There’s also a hole in the ozone layer over there that is about the size of North-America. Oh, and there’s even a trash problem on King George’s island… Nowhere is safe!

Kara|Michael Graham Richard|TreeHugger|April 1, 2015

Thawing permafrost could be the worst climate threat you haven’t heard of

Some things get better when you take them out of the freezer. Ice cream, for example, is unarguably more delicious when it gets a little melt-y. (Unarguably, I say! Come at me, trolls.) But other things get remarkably worse. Take bananas — the next time you whip up a smoothie, leave the frozen banana to defrost on your counter and watch in horror as it turns into a yellowish brown pile of watery mucus.

And then there’s permafrost: You don’t even want to know what happens to [it] when it thaws … but actually, it’s pretty important when it comes to climate change, so let’s talk about it.

Permafrost is basically soil that stays frozen all year long. Because it never melts, it holds thousands of years worth of dead plants and their carbon. About 24 percent of land in the Northern Hemisphere is covered with the stuff. But here’s Chris Mooney at the Washington Post on what might happen to all that frozen dirt as the earth gets warmer:

As permafrost thaws, microbes start to chow down on the organic material that it contains, and as that material decomposes, it emits either carbon dioxide or methane. Experts think most of the release will take the form of carbon dioxide — the chief greenhouse gas driving global warming — but even a small fraction released as methane can have major consequences. Although it doesn’t last nearly as long as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, methane has a short-term warming effect that is many times more powerful.

So, Mooney explains, thawing permafrost would classify as one of those juicy “positive feedback” cycles that make climate change so exciting in that life-is-an-action-movie-and-someone-will-save-us-in-the-end-right?-RIGHT?!! sort of way:

More global warming could cause more thawing of Arctic permafrost, leading to more emissions of carbon into the atmosphere, leading to more warming and more thawing of Arctic permafrost — this does not end in a good place.

According to the National Academy of Sciences, the amount of carbon stored in northern permafrost (1,800 billion tons) is more than double the amount that’s currently in the atmosphere (800 billion tons).

Kevin Schaefer, a scientist with the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder, told Mooney that the latest IPCC climate projections didn’t account for thawing permafrost because this area of research is relatively new. Still, early estimates show that permafrost could be emitting an average of 160 billion tons of carbon per year by the end of the century.  Which would be bad since, according to the National Academy of Sciences, we need to keep atmospheric carbon below 1,100 billion tons if we want to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

Of course, this is climate science, so uncertainties abound. As Schaefer pointed out, scientists are only beginning to understand the implications of thawing permafrost. Still, it seems like something worth paying attention to … kind of like that pile of watery banana-mucus you left on your kitchen counter.

Suzanne Jacobs|3 Apr 2015

[Methane is estimated to be 30 times worse than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.]

Long-Awaited ‘Jump’ In Global Warming Now Appears ‘Imminent’

NASA temperature data dispel the myth of a recent slow-down

The fact that NOAA projects that the current El Niño could last most of 2015 means we are still on track for what is likely to be the hottest calendar year on record – very possibly beating 2014 by a wide margin (0.1°C).

And record global temps mean extreme temperatures and weather locally. So far this year, “five nations or territories have tied or set all-time records for their hottest temperature in recorded history,” explains meteorologist Jeff Masters.

in long-term warming trend. But there was a big jump in temps during the mid-1990s. Many scientists believe another jump is “imminent.’

We may be witnessing the start of the long-awaited jump in global temperatures. There is “a vast and growing body of research,” as Climate Central explained in February. “Humanity is about to experience a historically unprecedented spike in temperatures.”

A March study, “Near-term acceleration in the rate of temperature change,” makes clear that an actual acceleration in the rate of global warming is imminent – with Arctic warming rising a stunning 1°F per decade by the 2020s.

Scientists note that some 90 percent of global heating goes into the oceans – and ocean warming has accelerated in recent years. Leading climatologist Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research explained here in 2013 that “a global temperature increase occurs in the latter stages of an El Niño event, as heat comes out of the ocean and warms the atmosphere.”

In March, NOAA announced the arrival of an El Niño, a multi-month weather pattern “characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific.”

How much of a temperature jump should we expect? Last month, Trenberth explained to Living on Earth:

Trenberth says it could mean a rise of two- or three-tenths-of-a-degree Celsius, or up to half a degree Fahrenheit. The change could occur “relatively abruptly,” but then stick around for five or 10 years.

I interviewed Trenberth this week, and he told me that he thinks “a jump is imminent.” When I asked whether he considers that “likely,” he answered, “I am going to say yes. Somewhat cautiously because this is sticking my neck out.”

Trenberth explained that it’s significant the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) “seems to have gone strongly positive” because that is “perhaps the best single indicator to me that a jump is imminent.” During a PDO, he explains, “the distribution of heat in the oceans changes along with some ocean currents.”

The PDO is a “pattern of Pacific climate variability similar to ENSO [El Niño Southern Oscillation] in character, but which varies over a much longer time scale.” While El Niños and La Niñas tend to last only 6 to 18 months, the PDO can remain primarily in one phase for a decade or even longer, as this figure from NOAA’s March “Global Ocean Monitoring” report shows:

“The positive phase of PDO [Pacific Decadal Oscillation] index has persisted 8 months since Jul 2014 with PDO index = + 1.6 in Feb 2015.” Via NOAA.

If you compare the PDO chart with the NASA global temp chart at the top, you’ll see that a negative PDO appears to temporarily offset the long-term global warming trend, whereas a positive PDO corresponds to a “catch up” phase (see discussion here). That is one reason, Trenberth explains, that global temperatures seem to look more like a staircase than a ramp (a steadily-rising straight-line or linear trend).

Making things even more confusing, the staircase-shaped rise in temperatures is further modulated by El Niños, which tend to set the record for the hottest years (since the regional warming adds to the underlying global warming trend) and by La Niña years, which tend to be cooler than normal years.

The fact that NOAA projects that the current El Niño could last most of 2015 means we are still on track for what is likely to be the hottest calendar year on record – very possibly beating 2014 by a wide margin (0.1°C).

And record global temps mean extreme temperatures and weather locally. So far this year, “five nations or territories have tied or set all-time records for their hottest temperature in recorded history,” explains meteorologist Jeff Masters.

Antarctica appears to have set its all-time temperature record – 63.5°F (17.5°C) – on March 24 at the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. That is “more than 30°F (17°C) above average.” This was actually part of a heat wave since the Antarctic record it broke was set the day before (63.3°F). Also in March, the Chilean desert was deluged by “over fourteen years of rain in one day.”

It was the hottest February on record in California, a full 1°F higher than the second-warmest February on record. And that followed California’s driest January ever recorded. These type of records are not good news.

“So it is a bad year for the Earth and an equally bad year for the politicians, talk show radio ‘scientists’, climate-denial funders, and second rate scientists who told us not to worry,” as climate expert Professor John Abraham told me. “They told us global warming had stopped nearly two decades ago. The problem is, science and climate change marched forward. Perhaps next time we will believe the real scientists.”

Indeed it will be a very bad year for the Earth and for climate science deniers if 2015 proves to be the beginning of the long-awaited temperature jump.

The last time global temps jumped sharply (see top chart), it was during an extended period of positive PDO, from 1992 and 1998. The super El Niño in 1998 at the end of that period set a new global temperature record by a wide margin. That was a high bar for subsequent years to match, which cherry-picking climate science deniers used – with some success – to persuade conservative politicians and media outlets that global warming had paused or slowed down. In fact we have merely been in an extended period of the PDO negative phase, with only occasional switches to a mild positive phase. And that, coupled with some recent La Niñas, gave an appearance of a short-term slowdown in warming in some datasets.

But the NASA chart at the top makes clear there has in fact been no slowdown in warming. Indeed the March study, “Near-term acceleration in the rate of temperature change” makes clear the only “pause” there has been was in the long-expected speed-up of global warming. The rate of surface warming should have started to accelerate in the past decade, rather than stay fairly constant.

The authors warned that, by 2020, human-caused warming will move the Earth’s climate system into a regime of rapid multi-decadal rates of warming. It projected that within the next few years, “there is an increased likelihood of accelerated global warming associated with release of heat from the sub-surface ocean and a reversal of the phase of decadal variability in the Pacific Ocean.”

That would be Trenberth’s imminent jump. And it may be starting now.

JOE ROMM|APRIL 2, 2015

Big Money, Big Politics, and Big Infrastructure: Florida’s Saga Illustrates Climate Change’s Deep Challenges

Investigative journalists reported earlier this month that top appointees at Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection and other state agencies ordered employees not to use the terms “climate change” or “global warming” in official communications. Politically coded euphemisms such as “climate drivers” and “climate variability” were to be used instead. “Sea-level rise” was to be replaced with “nuisance flooding.” The news swiftly went viral, with commentators noting the irony of such censorship occurring in Florida – essentially ground zero for climate change in the Global North.

Banning words does nothing, of course, to ward off the very real impacts of climate change, but the Orwellian move does illustrate one of the chief obstacles to preparing proactively for climate change. The dynamics at play in Florida – massive infrastructure projects with unintended consequences, intensifying effects of environmental change, and political resistance – are a microcosm of what makes adjusting to climate change such a vexing societal challenge.

A Perfect Storm

Florida has 8,400 miles of tidal shoreline and more than 75 percent of Floridians live in coastal counties. Southeastern Florida, in particular, is “uniquely vulnerable,” thanks to a perfect storm of environmental factors, development patterns and infrastructural legacies.

A microcosm of what makes adjusting to climate change such a vexing societal challenge

As a subtropical peninsula located within a major Atlantic hurricane alley, South Florida is already subject to extreme climate variability and unpredictability, which global warming will exacerbate. The pace of sea-level rise in the region is above the global average and appears to be accelerating. The U.S. Army projects a rise of three to seven inches by 2030 and 9 to 24 inches by 2060. Some 2.4 million people live less than four feet above the high-tide line, and highly porous limestone bedrock undermines the effectiveness of physical barriers, like those employed by the Netherlands.

These environmental vulnerabilities are amplified by dense urban development within the coastal zone, from Miami to Palm Beach. A 2008 OECD study ranking cities’ vulnerability to coastal flooding placed Miami first in financial assets and fourth in population exposure.

The final element of southeastern Florida’s vulnerability trifecta is infrastructural. Intense urban and agricultural development is a recent phenomenon here, made possible by a massive flood-control system built in the 1950s. Historically, almost the entire southern third of the peninsula was part of the greater Everglades ecosystem: a 3-million-acre marsh that was inundated for months every year. Now, a vast network of canals, levees, pump stations, and gates swiftly removes floodwaters and discharges them into the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico at an average rate of 1.7 billion gallons a day. This system has successfully carried out its mission for half a century, but with disastrous unintended consequences for both natural systems and people.

The Achilles Heel

Climate change is altering the calculus of an already-daunting hydraulic system. Some 6 million residents draw their potable water from the shallow Biscayne Aquifer, but decades of flood control have lowered the water table, allowing seawater to intrude. Several cities have had to move wells further inland, and sea-level rise is accelerating this process. If nothing changes, the region will increasingly have to rely on costly and energy-intensive desalination for drinking water.

The canals that discharge floodwaters from urban areas into the Atlantic are gravity-driven – that is, they flow downhill. As sea level rises above canal stages, pumps must be installed to keep flow moving. These can cost up to $70 million each plus fuel. According to a study by Florida Atlantic University, just three to nine inches of sea-level rise would incapacitate 70 percent of coastal floodgates.

map_flow_managed1maps_flow_pre_drainage1

A system of canals and levees have changed flows out of Lake Okeechobee (South Florida Water Management District)

The lowest-lying areas already experience “sunny-day flooding,” when high tides push seawater through storm drains into the streets. Miami Beach recently spent $15 million on two underground pumps, which successfully prevented street flooding during last fall’s biannual king tide. These were merely the first installment in a $300-500 million plan to install 80 more pumps by 2020, along with other structural measures such as raising streets and sidewalks. Yet this plan is designed to accommodate only six inches of sea-level rise; beyond that, city leaders place their faith in “human innovation.”

Recent stories in The New York Times, National Geographic, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, and other high-profile outlets have drawn attention to the problems of seawater intrusion and coastal flood protection in southeastern Florida, but none have delved into the broader vulnerabilities of the flood-control system. The system’s lynchpin is the vast and shallow Lake Okeechobee, which serves as a multi-purpose reservoir. It is the primary site for storing floodwaters during wet periods but also supplies water for nearby agricultural irrigation. These two functions are at cross-purposes. Ensuring adequate water supply for dry years requires keeping more water in the lake, but higher levels mean less capacity for retaining floodwaters. This operational dilemma is particularly vexing in a subtropical setting already subject to unpredictable climate extremes – and lined up for more.

“A grave and imminent danger”

In southeastern Florida, climate change is expected to bring more droughts, but also more severe storms. Global reinsurance firm Swiss Re predicts annual storm-related losses in the area “to reach $33 billion by 2030, up from $17 billion in 2008.” A major hurricane striking an urban area would inflict staggering costs. The Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 caused around $1 billion-worth of damage, according to The Economist (inflation adjusted). “Were it to strike today the insured losses would be $125 billion.”

A less widely recognized threat is the integrity of the 143-mile dike, built in the 1930s and 1950s, that encloses Lake Okeechobee. The lake now holds much higher water levels than the earthen berm was designed for, and an independent technical review in 2006 concluded that structural inadequacies and internal erosion render it “a grave and imminent danger,” with a one-in-six chance of failing in any given year. According to the Florida Division of Emergency Management, if a Category 4 or 5 hurricane were to hit Lake Okeechobee, the dike would certainly fail, forcing the evacuation of nearly 3 million people, while putting hundreds of miles of evacuation routes under two feet or more of water for weeks. Dike repairs are underway but not scheduled for completion until 2021. Until then, the dike remains “a gun pointed at South Florida,” according to one of the authors of the 2006 review.

Political Roadblocks

The only way to combat seawater intrusion is to retain more of the floodwater currently discharged to tide and use it to recharge the aquifer. Additional retention capacity would also greatly reduce the risks and trade-offs of Lake Okeechobee management. A multi-billion dollar state-federal program launched in 2000 seeks to do just that, but has yet to produce a viable strategy. The failure is due, in part, to the technical challenges of large-scale water storage in South Florida. The flat topography means there are no river canyons to dam. The heat subjects surface impoundments to large losses from evapotranspiration. The porous bedrock causes underground water seepage. And the unpredictable climate greatly complicates operational decision making.

But another key constraint is political. Highly influential agribusinesses have been largely unwilling to sell needed lands to the state, and the state has been unwilling to compel them through condemnation. At present, the governor and legislature are resisting calls to take advantage of a rare opportunity to buy available land.

Miami-Dade County SLR

Sea-level rise could inundate large swathes of Miami-Dade County (Peter Harlem/Florida International University)

The water-storage dilemma is one example of how politics stands in the way of proactive climate adaptation in Florida. Property insurance is another. The simplest and least costly way to reduce climate vulnerability is to discourage development in high-risk areas. It has long been recognized that subsidizing insurance in flood zones, as both the state and federal governments do, perversely encourages such development, often underwriting multiple rounds of re-building storm-flattened beachfront communities. Congress finally passed a law sharply reducing federal subsidies in 2012, but repealed the reforms two years later in the face of bipartisan backlash. In Florida, where heavy hurricane losses have led most private insurers to pull out, state programs offering below-market rates are now the largest insurers. According to Reuters, Florida leads the nation in the value of property covered by the National Flood Insurance Program. A single hurricane, thus, could bankrupt the state.

Nevertheless, according to a disaster-impact analyst quoted in Rolling Stone, “There is no serious thinking, no serious planning, about [climate adaptation] going on at the state level.” Governor Rick Scott was elected in 2010 as a climate-change denier and has made national headlines since by steadfastly refusing to discuss the issue, repeatedly stating, “I am not a scientist.”

Fortunately, given the lack of state and federal leadership, some of the most powerful tools for steering development are wielded by local governments. Southeastern Florida’s four counties recently joined forces to create a regional climate change compact that is encouraging municipalities to rewrite land-use regulations and building codes in order to “discourage new development or post-disaster redevelopment in vulnerable areas.” It remains to be seen how many will take up this challenge.

Meanwhile, Miami Beach, the most vulnerable municipality of all, is pursuing precisely the opposite strategy, actively promoting more high-end real estate. Twelve luxury condo towers are currently under construction, with another 20 proposed since 2011, largely by cash-rich South American developers “more concerned by currency instability in their home countries than encroaching saltwater,” as The Washington Post’s Danielle Paquette writes. In one of the most profound ironies of the Florida climate saga, the costs of new pumps and other defensive measures are motivating city officials to continue pro-growth policies in order to increase property-tax revenues.

Preparing for the Unspeakable

Local officials are generally more open to discussing climate change than employees of state agencies, but there is one word they rarely utter in public: “retreat.” The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact has been lauded by the White House as a national leader in climate action, but at its sixth annual summit in October 2014, amidst much discussion of pumps and other structural flood- and storm-protection fixes, I heard only one reference to the R-word, by an architecture professor who noted that it is never discussed because it is “too scary.”

“There’s going to be a lot of throwing money in the ocean”

Local officials have the regulatory authority to discourage development in, and even promote retreat from, vulnerable areas. But as long as developers believe they will find buyers for their properties, they are likely to resist any efforts to curb growth – and local politicians are often unduly influenced by such developers.

At the state and national level, as long as leaders continue to deny the existence of climate change, they are unlikely to press local officials to do more, or use the tools at their own disposal, such as insurance reform.

Unless the political landscape shifts substantially, the costs of climate change will eventually force a retreat – managed or otherwise. Unfortunately, vast sums will have been sunk by then into short-term fixes, devalued real estate, and avoidable expenses like desalination, leaving society with less capacity to adapt to the no-longer deniable realities of an altered climate.

Perhaps the most disturbing take-away from Florida’s experience is an extrapolation: If changing our way of thinking is such a challenge in the world’s richest democracy, how can we expect others to do better?

In the words of the University of Miami’s Hal Wanless, “there’s going to be a lot of throwing money in the ocean before we realize it’s time to move on.”

Katrina Schwartz|March 31, 2015

Wisconsin Bans Staff Of Public Lands Board From Talking About Climate Change

According to Wisconsin’s Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, working on climate change, or even just talking about it while at work, is a waste of public funds.

On Tuesday, the board voted 2-to-1 to prohibit staff “from engaging in global warming or climate change work” while on the clock at the Board of Commissioners.

The move comes as Republicans on the board expressed outrage that the board’s executive director, Tia Nelson, had served on a state global warming task force in 2007 and 2008, which was organized by former Gov. Jim Doyle (D).

“[Climate change is] not a part of our sole mission, which is to make money for our beneficiaries,” said state Treasurer Matt Adamczyk (R), the leader of the effort, according to a Bloomberg Business report on the hearing. “That’s what I want our employees working on. That’s it. Managing our trust funds.” Adamczyk, Secretary of State Doug La Follette (D) and Attorney General Brad Schimel (R) make up the board.

La Follette, the only vote against the measure, said Republicans are trying to “gag employees” on climate change. He also accused Adamczyk of having personal motivations on the subject.

“Part of it is he hates environmental people,” La Follette told the Wisconsin State Journal. “And that includes me.”

Nelson is the daughter of former Wisconsin governor, U.S. senator and Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson. “It honestly never occurred to me that being asked by a sitting governor to serve on a citizen task force would be objectionable,” said Nelson, according to Bloomberg.

Adamczyk, who took office in January, has made getting rid of official positions a major focus — including advocating for getting rid of his own role as state treasurer. He’s also tried to get rid of Nelson, and previously complained about the mention of climate change as a threat to ecosystems on the board’s website. “Why is the BCPL concerned with discussing the hot button issue of ‘global climate change,'” he wrote in an email to Nelson, according to The New York Times.

He also reportedly asked Nelson to end the office’s subscription to The New York Times, arguing that it was “simply a want and NOT A NEED.”

Kate Sheppard|huffingtonpost.com|04/08/2015

First Florida, Now Wisconsin, Bans the Words ‘Climate Change’

The idea that you can make climate change go away by not talking about it is spreading.

One month ago, we heard how officials and staff at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection were ordered not to use the terms “climate change” or “global warming” even when they were discussing the all-too-obvious impacts to their vulnerable state.

Now it’s Wisconsin’s turn. The staff of its Board of Commissioners of Public Lands (BCPL) has been told they can’t even discuss climate change, no matter what they call it. Staff members aren’t even permitted to respond to emails on the subject, following a vote this week by the three-member panel overseeing the agency. It includes two Republicans and one Democrat and the vote was 2-1.

“It’s not a part of our sole mission, which is to make money for our beneficiaries,” State Treasurer Matt Adamczyk, a Republican member of the panel, told Bloomberg Business. “That’s what I want our employees working on. That’s it. Managing our trust funds.”

He suggested any emails relating to climate change be forwarded to the oversight board.

The Wisconsin BCPL oversees income-producing land to help fund schools and communities. The lands include some that receive income from the timber industry, which can be affected by such climate change impacts as droughts, wildfires and harmful insects.

The BCPL’s own website explains that, as part of their benefit to citizens, “We contribute to Wisconsin’s sustainable timber economy, combat forest fragmentation, protect unique natural areas and secure public access to large blocks of northern forests.”

Adamczyk complained at the meeting this week that BCPL executive director Tia Nelson had devoted work time to global warming. She had, in fact, done so—in 2007-2008 when she was appointed co-chair of a global warming task force by a previous governor.

“It honestly never occurred to me that being asked by a sitting governor to serve on a citizen task force would be objectionable,” she told Bloomberg Business.

Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette, who chairs the oversight panel and voted against the measure, said afterward, “Having been on this board for close to 30 years, I’ve never seen such nonsense. We’ve reached the point now where we’re going to try to gag employees from talking about issues, in this case, climate change.”

Adamczyk called Nelson’s participation in the task force seven-eight years ago “a waste of time.” According to the meeting minutes, “[La Follette] thought it bordered on the ‘edge of an irresponsible witch hunt,’ which he did not want to be a part of.”

NextGen Climate, which announced its “Hot Seat” campaign earlier this week to hold Republican presidential candidates accountable for their statements and positions on climate change, jumped on the incident to call out Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, considered by some observers to be a promising candidate.

“This surely comes as good news to Koch-funded Governor Scott Walker who has signaled he wants to be the candidate for the Climate Change Denial Caucus,” said NextGen Climate. “Walker has signed a Koch-backed anti-climate pledge, raised money for the Heartland Institute, an organization that spreads climate misinformation, and even dislikes recycling. You can bet NextGen Climate will be putting Governor Walker on the ‘Hot Seat.’ NextGen Climate urges Scott Walker to lift the misguided restrictions on government workers. It is our hope that Republicans seeking the nomination for president won’t remain silent on this critical issue and will denounce these severe restrictions.”

Anastasia Pantsios|April 9, 2015

David Suzuki: Koch Brothers Continue to Oil the Machine of Climate Change Denial

Brothers Charles and David Koch run Koch Industries, the second-largest privately owned company in the U.S., behind Cargill. They’ve given close to US$70 million to climate change denial front groups, some of which they helped start, including Americans for Prosperity, founded by David Koch and a major force behind the Tea Party movement.

Through their companies, the Kochs are the largest U.S. leaseholder in the Alberta oilsands. They’ve provided funding to Canada’s pro-oil Fraser Institute and are known to fuel the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory, which claims a 1992 UN non-binding sustainable development proposal is a plot to remove property rights and other freedoms.

Researchers reveal they’re also behind many anti-transit initiatives in the U.S., in cities and states including Nashville, Indianapolis, Boston, Virginia, Florida and Los Angeles. They spend large amounts of money on campaigns to discredit climate science and the need to reduce greenhouse gases, and they fund sympathetic politicians.

In late January, 50 U.S. anti-government and pro-oil groups—including some tied to the Kochs and the pro-oil, pro-tobacco Heartland Institute—sent Congress a letter opposing a gas tax increase that would help fund public transit, in part because “Washington continues to spend federal dollars on projects that have nothing to do with roads like bike paths and transit.”

The letter says “transportation infrastructure has a spending problem, not a revenue problem,” an argument similar to one used by opponents of the transportation plan Metro Vancouver residents are currently voting on. Vancouver’s anti-transit campaign is led by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation—a group that doesn’t reveal its funding sources and is on record as denying the existence of human-caused climate change—along with Hamish Marshall, a conservative strategist with ties to Ethical Oil.

American and Canadian transit opponents paint themselves as populist supporters of the common people, a tactic also used against carbon pricing. Marshall told Business in Vancouver, “I love the idea of working on a campaign where we can stand up for the little guy.” The U.S. letter claims the gas tax increase “would disproportionately hurt lower income Americans already hurt by trying times in our economy.” Both fail to note that poor and middle class families will benefit most from public transit and other sustainable transportation options.

Although many organizations that promote the fossil fuel industry and reject the need to address climate change—including the Heartland Institute, International Climate Science Coalition, Ethical Oil and Friends of Science—are secretive about their funding sources, a bit of digging often turns up oil, gas and coal money, often from the Kochs in the U.S. And most of their claims are easily debunked. In the case of the U.S. Heartland Institute, arguments stray into the absurd, like comparing climate researchers and those who accept the science to terrorists and murderers like the Unabomber and Charles Manson!

In some ways, it’s understandable why fossil fuel advocates would reject clean energy, conservation and sustainable transportation. Business people protect their interests—which isn’t necessarily bad. But anything that encourages people to drive less and conserve energy cuts into the fossil fuel industry’s massive profits. It’s unfortunate that greed trumps the ethical need to reduce pollution, limit climate change and conserve non-renewable resources.

It’s also poor economic strategy on a societal level. Besides contributing to pollution and global warming, fossil fuels are becoming increasingly difficult, dangerous and expensive to exploit as easily accessible sources are depleted—and markets are volatile, as we’ve recently seen. It’s crazy to go on wastefully burning these precious resources when they can be used more wisely, and when we have better options. Clean energy technology, transit improvements and conservation also create more jobs and economic activity and contribute to greater well-being and a more stable economy than fossil fuel industries.

To reduce pollution and address global warming, we must do everything we can, from conserving energy to shifting to cleaner energy sources. Improving transportation and transit infrastructure is one of the easiest ways to do so while providing more options for people to get around.

Those who profit from our continued reliance on fossil fuels will do what they can to convince us to stay on their expensive, destructive road. It’s up to all of us to help change course

Dr. David Suzuki|April 8, 2015

Extreme Weather

Massive Tornado Hits Northern Illinois, Reports Of Heavy Damage

Multiple tornados were reported in Illinois on Thursday evening, with at least one massive twister touching down near the town of Rochelle causing damage in the nearby communities of Fairdale, Kirkland and Ashton.

At least two people were killed, including a 67-year-old woman in Fairdale, and around a dozen others were treated for injuries at local hospitals, according to the fire department from the nearby town of Rockford, which has been performing search and rescue operations in the community.

The department said on Twitter that every building in Fairdale had suffered damage:

The department also posted videos from the scene on its Facebook page:

The Red Cross has opened shelters in the area. Anyone seeking shelter can locate one on the organization’s website.

In addition to tornadoes, here have also been thunderstorms, hail and high winds throughout the area.

Images on social media showed some of the damage to buildings and homes:

“We have five people trapped inside a restaurant at 251 on Route 64,” Randy Travis, assistant fire chief in Oregon, Illinois, told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Several homes have been leveled near Flagg Center and Hillcrest, which is north of Rochelle. They are both little villages.”

Twelve people were later rescued from the restaurant, Grubsteakers, storm chaser Scott McClellan reported on Twitter. He added that there were only minor injuries.

However, the restaurant was severely damaged:

Heavy damage was also reported in the small town of Fairdale:

The Rockford Fire Department reported “significant damage” in the town of Kirkland and said it was searching for trapped victims.

The Summerfield Zoo in Belvidere was also hit by the tornado.

Ed Mazza|The Huffington Post|04/09/2015

Genetically Modified Organisms

EPA Approves GMO Weed Killer Enlist Duo in Nine More States

Ignoring the World Health Organization’s (WHO) conclusion that the crop chemical glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved the glyphosate-containing herbicide Enlist Duo for agricultural use in nine more states. It had previously been approved for use on genetically engineered crops in six states.

Enlist Duo’s active ingredients are glyphosate and 2,4-D, both of which have been shown to increase the risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

“This poorly conceived decision by EPA will likely put a significant number of farmers, farm workers and rural residents at greater risk of being diagnosed with cancer,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at Environmental Working Group. “The agency simply ignored a game-changing new finding from the world leading cancer experts, and has instead decided the interests of biotech giants like Dow and Monsanto come first.”

Last month, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the WHO, elevated its risk assessment of glyphosate to “probably carcinogenic to humans” based on a review of the evidence by a panel of 17 leading oncology experts.

Glyphosate is the most used pesticide in the U.S. The bulk of it is applied to genetically engineered corn and soybean crops. It is also the main ingredient in Monsanto’s signature weed killer RoundUp.

EPA’s decision will allow Enlist Duo to be sprayed on fields of genetically engineered corn and soybeans in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and Oklahoma. It was previously approved for use in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

“Instead of taking steps to protect the public from toxic chemicals, the EPA has only sped up the pesticide treadmill that will now put millions more people at risk,” added Faber. “These toxic herbicides easily make their way off farm fields and into the air and water we and our children breathe and drink.”

Environmental Working Group|April 2, 2015

World Health Organization Won’t Back Down From Study Linking Monsanto to Cancer

The scientists behind a recent World Health Organization study which concluded the herbicide glyphosate “probably” causes cancer, say they stand behind their assessment. The comments come in response to criticisms from Monsanto Co., who said the study was based on “junk science”. The main ingredient in Monsanto’s Round Up product is glyphosate. Monsanto executives said they are reviewing their options as they move forward.

Aaron Blair, a scientist emeritus at the National Cancer Institute and lead author of the study, told Reuters,“There was sufficient evidence in animals, limited evidence in humans and strong supporting evidence showing DNA mutations and damaged chromosomes.” The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) published their study of glyphosate on March 20, finding that the popular herbicide may contribute to non-hodgkins lymphoma.

IARC report was published in The Lancet Oncology detailing evaluations of organophosphate pesticides and herbicides. The report concluded that there was “limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.” The evidence for this conclusion was pulled from studies of exposure to the chemical in the US, Canada and Sweden published since 2001.

The researchers found “convincing evidence that glyphosate can also cause cancer in laboratory animals.” The report points out that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) had originally classified glyphosate as possibly carcinogenic to humans in 1985. The IARC Working Group evaluated the original EPA findings and more recent reports before concluding “there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.” Despite the WHO’s findings, the EPA approved Monsanto’s use of glyphosate as recently as 2013.

The battle around glyphosate is also closely linked to the debate around Genetically Engineered or Modified foods. The herbicide is typically used on GM crops such as corn and soybeans that have been specifically modified to survive the harmful effects of the herbicide. Corporations like Monsanto are heavily invested in the success of the chemical. The herbicide has been found in food, water, and in the air in areas where it has been sprayed.

In 2014 Anti-Media reported on a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health which claims to have found a link between glyphosate and the fatal Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown origin (CKDu), which largely affects rice farmers in Sri Lanka and other nations. In response Sri Lanka has banned glyphosate and Brazil is considering doing the same.

Sri Lanka’s Minister of Special Projects S.M. Chandrasena stated that President Mahinda Rajapaksa issued a directive to ban glyphosate sales in the country. “An investigation carried out by medical specialists and scientists have revealed that kidney disease was mainly caused by glyphosate. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has ordered the immediate removal of glyphosate from the local market soon after he was told of the contents of the report.”

The researchers believe glyphosate could be helping carry toxic heavy metals present in certain agri-chemicals to the kidneys. Chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology (CKDu)  was first seen in the north central areas of Sri Lanka in the 1990s and has taken an estimated 20,000 lives. Before being pushed by Monsanto for use as herbicide, glyphosate was a de-scaling agent to clean mineral deposits in hot water systems.

Although the paper did not offer new scientific evidence, the researchers proposed a theory for how CKDu is spread. The researchers believe that glyphosate is contributing to a rise of heavy metals in drinking water. Dr. Channa Jayasumana, lead author of the study said, “glyphosate acts as a carrier or a vector of these heavy metals to the kidney.” Glyphosate itself is not the toxic agent, however when combined with metals in the ground water the herbicide becomes extremely toxic to the kidneys.

In recent years there has been a spike in CKDu patients in farming areas of El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica.

The Minister stated that a new national program would be launched encouraging Sri Lankan farmers to use organic fertilizer. The Ministry of Agriculture is hoping to plant 100,000 acres of land throughout the country using organic methods.

Monsanto spokesman Thomas Helscher stated,“There are no epidemiologic studies suggesting that exposures to glyphosate-based products are associated with renal disorders either in Sri Lanka or elsewhere. The paper presents a theory, the theory has not been tested, and there are a significant number of publications supported by data that make the Jayasumana hypothesis quite unlikely to be correct.” Despite promises from Monsanto, the evidence indicating dangers related to glyphosate continue to pile up.

With the USDA’s decision late last year to approve a new batch of genetically modified corn and soybean seeds designed to be resistant to glyphosate, we should expect to see an increase in herbicide use overall, and with it, many disastrous health effects. In fact, the approval by the USDA now partners DOW Chemical and Monsanto together, a move which will only further entrench the control that corporate entities have over governments.

Derrick Broze|Global Research|March 31, 2015

Herbicide horror

Once thought safe enough to drink, the most popular weed killer on earth is increasingly difficult to avoid – and critics charge it’s contributing to chronic illnesses

The bestselling herbicide in Canada and the world, glyphosate was once promoted as safe enough to drink. But some critics are raising renewed alarm. One of them is Thierry Vrain, a plant pathologist and former head of biotechnology with Agriculture Canada, who says there is no safe intake level for this toxic chemical, which appears to be linked to a rising tide of chronic illnesses. Indeed, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has just declared glyphosate a “probable carcinogen.” (More on IARC’s study here).

Farmers have used glyphosate to weed Ontario fields since 1978. But the introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops in 1997 – most of them designed to be glyphosate-tolerant – was a game changer. Farmers could now raze weeds with a single blanket spray of glyphosate without killing their crops. 

Though industry promised GM crops would drive down pesticide application, glyphosate use has risen dramatically, by some 76 per cent between 2003 and 2008 in Ontario. 

That helped reverse a decades-long decline in pesticide use that was already well under way before a single GM plant appeared in farm fields. By 2012, glyphosate had captured almost 53 per cent of the western Canadian herbicide market – more than the dozen next-most-popular herbicides put together.

But GM crops aren’t powering glyphosate’s growth single-handedly. 

Farmers are increasingly using the herbicide as a desiccant (dryer) on both GM and conventional plants, making harvesting easier or moving up a harvest threatened by bad weather. 

There are no official Ontario data on how widely desiccation is practiced, though Slumskie estimates it’s used on up to 15 per cent of GM soy. 

It’s increasingly difficult to avoid the most popular herbicide on earth. A recent study of U.S. honey found 59 per cent of samples contained glyphosate. Though a safe glyphosate level in honey hasn’t been determined, recent research suggests the current level of glyphosate exposure in general may constitute a health threat to the population.

You might think organic crops would be free of this chemical, but glyphosate has recently been discovered in samples of air and water, so all food may now be tainted.

Pesticide makers say their products have never been safer, and pesticide residues represent such a minute health risk that people need not worry. 

Well, critics disagree. They point to the chemistry behind the herbicide’s action.

Glyphosate was first thought to pose little threat because neither human nor animal cells have shikimate pathways, a metabolic route used by plants and bacteria. Glyphosate does its deadly work by binding to the metal atoms of enzymes in the plant’s pathways, preventing them from producing critical amino acids. Without those, the plant dies. 

New discoveries about the human microbiome – including the 100 trillion bacteria in the human gut – are starting to reveal the critical role microorganisms play in promoting human health. 

Don Huber, professor emeritus of plant pathology at Purdue University, says that just as it attacks plants, glyphosate can demobilize the bacteria on which humans and animals depend.

But Joe Schwarcz, director of the Office for Science & Society at McGill University, says the theories need to be proven under proper laboratory conditions before they should be believed.

On the issue of nutrition, Schwarcz agrees that glyphosate binds to minerals, which humans and animals need for health. He insists, though, that the chemical is applied in just the right strength to kill weeds but not enough to disable the minerals plants pull up from the earth. 

But some studies suggest the opposite is true. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture found herbicide-tolerant soy contained lower nutrient levels than conventional soybeans.

Further evidence might be the manganese and B12 deficiencies often found in the livers of slaughtered animals. Commercial packing houses are said to throw out 80 per cent of their livers because they are so damaged, says Huber.

But another possible health threat is glyphosate’s antibiotic action.

Monsanto patented the chemical as an antibiotic in 2010, a tacit acknowledgement of its effectiveness in killing microbes, though the pesticide industry maintains it’s applied to fields in concentrations too low to produce any serious antimicrobial effects in the animals, including us, consuming those crops. Schwarcz insists the antibiotic effect is “absolutely trivial.”

But Huber argues that increasing miscarriages, birth defects and chronic botulism in cattle, sheep and pigs are signs of glyphosate’s strong antibiotic activity against beneficial organisms. 

Backing up Huber, Vrain points to research from 2013 showing that, at a concentration of just one part per million, glyphosate killed all the beneficial bacteria in the guts of poultry. Only salmonella and clostridium survived – pathogens blamed for farm animal illness.

In the meantime, a recently published study by Nancy Swanson virtually twinned increasing rates of glyphosate use with rising incidence of a host of chronic diseases. They include liver, kidney and bladder cancers; Crohn’s and celiac disease; stroke, diabetes and autism, among others. 

Some shrug these correlational studies off as coincidence. But to dismiss them because they don’t prove cause “is a completely unscientific position,” says Vrain. The Swanson study’s close correlations are a hugely strong argument for more research, he says.

Huber goes so far as to call for a return to the precautionary principle until that research is done, but there are no signs of any curbs being contemplated for glyphosate use. 

New GM seeds resistant to glyphosate, as well as 2,4-D, are expected to start rolling out across Canada this year. The new seeds will help farmers battle glyphosate-resistant weeds.

While Vrain admits that biotechnology has been transformative for the just over 2 per cent of Canadians who farm, “One hundred per cent of people eat,” he says. 

Slumskie remembers when the herbicide atrazine was first introduced years ago. Farmers started applying it at 2 pounds per acre, which soon ballooned to 8. Nearby rivers became badly contaminated. 

“Now here we are with glyphosate, 40 or 45 years later, and the same thing is going on,” he says. “History will repeat itself when the lesson is never learned.”

Michelle Adelman|April 1, 2015

Monsanto Scientist Drops Bombshell: Entire Department Exists To “Discredit” Other Scientists

There’s nothing better than seeing those who work for the devil get their feet caught in their mouths. There have been two events recently that make one cheer for our side as Monsanto embarks on challenging the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) analysis of Roundup as a carcinogenic that was published in the March 2015 journal The Lancet Oncology.

Monsanto’s vice president of global regulatory affairs Philip Miller asserted the following:

“We question the quality of the assessment. The WHO has something to explain.” In other words, we think we have the clout to make sure the WHO discredits this finding as “unscientific”.

After all, Monsanto has managed to keep their false PR front up for a couple of decades while getting scientists who question Monsanto’s science discredited, their publications removed, and even fired from long term academic positions. Nasty bunch they are.

Interesting that Monsanto challenges independent studies while not producing their own funded research studies for scrutiny. A lot of scientists are on the dole with Monsanto. But it appears Monsanto’s bad karma may be catching up with them.


Monsanto’s Discredit Bureau

Daily Kos posted an article by occupystephanie where she attended a talk to agricultural students by Dr. William “Bill” Moar, whose mission it is to assure everyone of Monsanto products safety. Here’s what she revealed:

One student asked what Monsanto was doing to counter the “bad science” around their work. Dr. Moar, perhaps forgetting that this was a public event, then revealed that Monsanto indeed had “an entire department” (waving his arm for emphasis) dedicated to “debunking” science which disagreed with theirs. As far as I know this is the first time that a Monsanto functionary has publically admitted that they have such an entity which brings their immense political and financial weight to bear on scientists who dare to publish against them. The Discredit Bureau will not be found on their official website.

The challenge for Monsanto’s Discredit Bureau is steep in attacking the unimpeachably respected Lancet and the international scientific bodies of WHO and IARC. However, they have no choice but to attack since the stakes are so very high for them. Glyphosate is their hallmark product upon which the majority of their profits are based. Make no mistake, this is extremely bad news for Monsanto.

Monsanto holds up the sheer abundance of their own well-funded studies citing the safety of Glyphosate, done over only the past twenty years which is a short period of time in scientific inquiry particularly when dissenting research is actively suppressed.  They also hold up the findings of regulatory bodies, particularly in the United States where the revolving door between agrochemical corporations and government spins at high speed.

PAUL FASSA

Glyphosate’s under the spotlight

Pesticide Action Week 2015 had just started when I had read some interesting news: “Roundup weedkiller ‘probably’* causes cancer, says WHO study”

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – an agency affiliated with the World Health Organization – had recently published the assessment of carcinogenicity of five organophosphate pesticides, among which glyphosate, the active ingredient on which Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, is based.

And, thanks to Monsanto, of the five compounds, glyphosate is the most widely used, since it is the main herbicides against which crops have been genetically engineered (GE) to be tolerant to, as “GE Roundup Ready” crops.

When the GE crops were first introduced, one of the many claims was that they would need less chemicals to thrive. But, we have seen a dramatic rise in the number and extent of weeds that have become resistant to glyphosate and, as a consequence, the amount of this herbicide used by farmers has kept increasing too.

This is not the first study on glyphosate. Its toxicity has been studied both alone and in combination with the other ingredients used in the Roundup formulation.

In the US, where 73.1 million of acres are dedicated to GE crops, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has given its thumbs up on the use of glyphosate. The same authority also controls the residues of pesticides permitted in food. These same levels were raised in 2013 following a request by Monsanto.

Doubts have been growing even in the communities of users as witnessed by some US farmers after they’d been convinced that GE crops would improve their yields, assured this latest IARC assessment will add weight to arguments by those who believe that Roundup could be damaging their health.

For Monsanto the IARC assessment is bad news. The company’s representatives told Reuters they will seek a retraction of the report. After all, ‘Monsanto’s $15.9 billion annual sales are closely tied to glyphosate. And most of the company’s crops are designed to be used in tandem with it.’

Huge interests are at stake, but also huge responsibilities, and I am not referring to Monsanto’s stakeholders, but to the farmers and the consumers, and ultimately to the planet and its biodiversity.

“Probably” the time has come to make sure that what’s driving the decisions of the kind of agriculture that will feed the world in the future are not companies with a pocket-filling agenda.

Our planet has limited resources and we have many challenges to cope with.

Climate change is already heavily affecting agriculture.

What we need to do is to invest in an agriculture that can face the changing climate: reliable and achievable biotech improvements that don’t include GE crops. We need an agriculture that helps nourish our soil and protects biodiversity. An agriculture where farmers and consumers have their say and they are not just numbers in the great scheme of corporate agribusiness.

We need to invest in ecological-farming. We need to take ownership once more of the connection with our food. This is the first step if we want to be healthy humans living on a healthy planet.

Patrizia Cuonzo|Media Specialist|Greenpeace International|30 March, 2015

Profits of World’s Leading GMO Producer Monsanto Fell 15%

The company’s earnings fell about 15 percent as sales decreased to $5.2 billion in 2015 from $5.8 billion in 2014.

WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — The leading producer of genetically engineered seeds and herbicides Monsanto reported lower earnings in the first half of 2015 caused by weaker sales, according to a press release issued by the company on Wednesday.

“The company’s second quarter earnings per share was $2.90 on an ongoing basis and $2.92 on an as-reported basis,” the press release said. “For the first half of fiscal year 2015, cash flow from operations was a source of approximately $1.5 billion, compared to $1.8 billion the same period last year.”

Monsanto second-quarter profit stood at $1.42 billion, compared to $1.67 billion, in the second quarter of 2014.

The company’s earnings fell about 15 percent as sales decreased to $5.2 billion in 2015 from $5.8 billion in 2014.

The industry-wide decline in corn plantings and a stronger US dollar influenced Monsanto’s performance, according to the press release.

US-based Monsanto is one of the world’s largest agricultural companies, producing genetically engineered seeds as well as herbicides.

In February 2015, the US environment watchdog Center for Food Safety issued a report saying that Monsanto’s signature herbicide Roundup Ready is leading to the decimation of Monarch butterfly populations.

In 2013, multiple protests started against Monsanto in about 400 cities around the world. The protesters accused the biotechnology giant turning a blind eye to the potentially deadly effects of its genetically modified organisms in crops and food that it sells globally.

Die Grünen Kärnten|01.04.2015

GMO Trees Approved in Brazil in Violation of National Law and International Protocols

Common Sense & Precaution Ignored

Montevideo, UY and New York, US (10 April 2015) Yesterday the Brazilian Technical Commission on Biosafety (CTNBio) formally approved an industry request to release genetically engineered (GE) eucalyptus trees.  The application was made by FuturaGene, a company owned by Brazilian pulp and paper company Suzano. This is the first approval for commercial release of GE trees in Brazil or Latin America. Organizations in Brazil are exploring legal avenues to stop the commercial release of GE eucalyptus trees, pointing out that this decision violates national law.

An email from CTNBio member Paulo Pase de Andrade to the Campaign to STOP GE Trees dated 8 April, stated that the decision to approve GE eucalyptus was already made, indicating that yesterday’s meeting was merely a technicality where FuturaGene’s request would be rubber stamped.

World Rainforest Movement’s International Coordinator Winnie Overbeek stated, “CTNBio’s approval of GE eucalyptus trees was no surprise. Over the years, CTNBio has made many decisions in favor of releasing GMO crops in Brazil, ignoring – as also happened in this case – protests and valid concerns from a wide range of groups of society. They also ignored protest letters signed by more than 100,000 people.” 

He continued, “The Commission systematically disregards the precautionary principle, including the urgent need for detailed studies of the various impacts of this dangerous technology, even though this violates the 2008 decision on GE trees

made by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (UN CBD), to which Brazil is a signatory.” 

In his email, Paulo Pase de Andrade of CTNBio discounted the decision of the UN CBD, which he incorrectly referred to as the Cartageña Protocol, stated, “Trans-boundary movement of transgenic eucalyptus plantlets or seeds is highly improbable and accidental seed propagation elsewhere is even more improbable …Therefore the release of this GM tree is solely a Brazilian question and no other country or group of countries has the right to interfere in our decision.”

Geneticist Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher, co-Director of EcoNexus and member of the Federation of German Scientists countered by explaining, “Regulation of GE trees at a national level will not be sufficient. The large-scale dispersion of reproductive material means GE trees are likely to cross national borders, and even continents given the extent of human activity, trade and travel,” adding, “A review of the scientific literature shows that currently there is insufficient data and understanding for meaningful risk assessments of GE trees. Both scientific literature and in-field experience show that contamination by and dispersal of GE trees will inevitably take place. The CBD decision was taken in the understanding of the risk to global forest ecosystems – and this is an international matter, both scientifically and judicially.” http://econexus.info/taxonomy/term/11

In Brazil, there are also major concerns about the impact of GE eucalyptus trees on the thousands of families that produce honey in the regions where eucalyptus are planted. These families risk losing the international markets for their honey if it is contaminated by GE eucalyptus pollen.

On Wednesday, the Brazilian Forum to Combat Agrotoxins, coordinated by the Public Prosecution Service and with participation of relevant groups and civil society, government and academia, warned that CTNBio has repeatedly violated the National Brazilian Policy of Biosafety.

In spite of the approval, the coalition of groups organizing to stop GE eucalyptus, are highlighting the many worldwide actions that have taken place against legalizing GE eucalyptus. In Brazil, organizations and activists mobilized to denounce the release during a public hearing on FuturaGene’s request last September in Brasilia.  

More recently, on 5 March 2015, about 1,000 women from several rural and urban social movements occupied the operations of FuturaGene in Brazil’s São Paulo state. At the same time, 300 peasants organized by La Via Campesina occupied and shut down the meeting of CTNBio in the country´s capital, where the decision on FuturaGene’s GE eucalyptus was supposed to be made. Outside Brazil, global weeks of action were organized at Brazilian Embassies and Consulates on five continents against the release of the GE eucalyptus of FuturaGene.

“Our challenge now is to continue to strengthen the movement against GE trees, in solidarity with Brazilian organizations and social movements, and also worldwide,” stated Anne Petermann, Coordinator of the International Campaign to STOP GE Trees. She added, “During the occupation of the FuturaGene operations on 5 March, A woman from the Brazilian MST pointed out ‘… this model of agribusiness is the model of death,
not of life,’ and ‘… we are here to defend a model of life, defend food sovereignty, and defend agrarian land reform.”

As Brazilians say: “A Luta Continua! – The struggle continues!”

Anne Petermann|Campaign to STOP GE Trees

Toxic Weed Killer Glyphosate Found in Breast Milk, Infant Formula

The widely-used herbicide glyphosate, now classified as probably carcinogenic to humans by the World Health Organization (WHO), has been found in a number of items, including honey, breast milk and infant formula, according to media reports.

“When chemical agriculture blankets millions of acres of genetically engineered corn and soybean fields with hundreds of millions of pounds of glyphosate, it’s not a surprise babies are now consuming Monsanto’s signature chemical with breast milk and infant formula,” said Ken Cook, president and co-founder of Environmental Working Group. “The primary reason millions of Americans, including infants, are now exposed to this probable carcinogen is due to the explosion of genetically engineered crops that now dominate farmland across the U.S.”

“Through their purchasing power, the American consumer is fueling this surge in GMO crops and the glyphosate exposure that comes with it,” added Cook. “It’s time the federal FDA require foods made with GMOs be labeled as such so the public can decide for themselves if they want to send their dollars to the biotech industry that cares more about profits than public health.”

According to a report by Carey Gillam of Reuters, laboratories are receiving a surge in requests to have everything from food to urine samples tested for glyphosate in the aftermath of last month’s announcement by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer that the weed-killer is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

“The requests keep coming in,” Ben Winkler, laboratory manager at Microbe Inotech Laboratories in St. Louis, told Gillam. Winkler said his lab is getting several testing requests a week since the announcement by the WHO, up from three to four requests a year for glyphosate, Gillam Reported.

“People should be concerned,” Cook said. “If a few lab tests have found glyphosate in honey, soy sauce, baby formula and breast milk, it’s a fair bet the herbicide is in a number of other products most Americans are consuming or in contact with daily.”

According to press reports, food companies have submitted a number of products, including breakfast cereals, for testing. Many mainstream cold cereals are made with genetically engineered ingredients, including GMO corn where the bulk of glyphosate is used.

“The food companies should come clean with their test results and let customers know if they’ve been buying and eating products that contain glyphosate,” said Cook. “People should be aware if the food they and their families are eating include a pesticide so strongly linked to cancer.”

Environmental Working Group|April 10, 2015

Energy

Fracking’s Most Wanted

How easy is it to get information about an oil or gas company’s legal violations in your state—any spills, contaminations or equipment failure that may have occurred?

In 33 of the 36 states with active drilling operations, it’s almost impossible. And in the three which do make information available to the public—Colorado, Pennsylvania and West Virginia—that information is often incomplete, hard to access and difficult to interpret.

That’s the conclusion of a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and FracTracker Alliance, Fracking’s Most Wanted: Lifting the Veil on Oil and Gas Company Spills and Violations.

“People deserve to know what’s happening in their own backyards, but too often homeowners aren’t even informed if there’s a threat to their health,” said Amy Mall, report co-author and senior policy analyst at NRDC. “Our representatives have a responsibility to protect the people who elect them, not help keep a dangerous industry shrouded in secrecy. States are falling down on their responsibility to be a watchdog for the people who live there.”

Taking the famous 1914 statement by U.S. Supreme Court Justine Louis D. Brandeis that “Sunlight is said the be the best of disinfectants” as its jumping-off point, the report exposes how difficult it is for local communities to find out if fracking operations in their backyards are doing anything that might jeopardize their health or safety.

“Communities want to know whether a company interested in fracking in their neighborhoods is a good corporate citizen that abides by the rules established to protect public health and safety, the environment, and quality of life,” the report says. “A credible measure of a company’s compliance lies in the documented violations incurred from state or federal regulatory agencies. Public access to this information is particularly important in this context because, unlike other industries, oil and gas wells and associated infrastructure and equipment are widespread and often operate in the middle of residential, rural and agricultural areas.”

But, it says, “Sadly, in most of the U.S., neither state nor federal agencies are providing information on violations in a transparent, easily accessible or comprehensive way.”

The report evaluated such factors as whether the information was available online in an easy-to-use, downloadable format, whether the date, location and company incurring the violation were included, whether there was an understandable text description of the violation, and whether the regulation or code violated was cited. It found that even in the three states where information was readily available to the public, none complied with all these parameters for transparency.

It found, for instance, that while Pennsylvania frequently cited companies for filling toxic waste pits too close to the top, there’s no easy way to discover if the contents actually overflowed. Colorado provides no searchable data. And both Pennsylvania and West Virginia frequently group the violations in overly vague categories. Colorado and West Virginia both maintained multiple databases.

In all other states, there were steep obstacles to public access.

“In Ohio, citizens are required to submit a formal request for inspection and violation records for specific operators,” the report found. “Arkansas does not include a description of violations, but merely cites the legal code provision that was violated, and violation documents do not include the name of the responsible operator. In Texas and North Dakota, citizens must pay for access to data and the data are extremely cumbersome to analyze and may not capture all violation issues.”

The study’s analysis of just the limited data from three states offered a snapshot of why new ground rules need to be set for public disclosure and why such transparency needs to become standard in all states with oil and gas operations.

“The data that is available in each of these three states reveals significant violations—in number and severity,” it said. “Incidents include a wide range of dangerous infractions like spills, drinking water contamination, illegal air pollution, improper construction or maintenance of waste pits, failure to conduct safety tests, improper well casing and nonworking blowout preventers.”

It found an average of 2.5 violations per day in those states, minuscule fines for violations and companies continuing to operate after multiple violations. It discovered that landowners and neighbors were not informed when violations occurred. In fact, with enforcement resources so scanty, many violations were initially reported by citizens, making it clear that they were being underreported.

The report even offered a list of the worst players in the oil and gas industry in terms of the violations uncovered, which FracTracker dubbed “Fracking’s Most Wanted.” Chesapeake Energy lead the pack with 559 violations, followed by Cabot Oil and Gas (565), Talisman Energy (362), Range Resources (281), EXCO Resources (249), ExxonMobil (246), EQT Corporation (245), Anadarko Petroleum Corporation (235). Shell (223) and Penn Virginia Corporation (186).

The report concluded that all states should institute policies that require essential information to be available to the public, that violators be held accountable, and that repeat offenders should be shut down, all of which, it says, indicates the need increased enforcement resources. It also pointed out that violations don’t include potentially dangerous practices that are legal due to weak laws or special loopholes for the oil and gas industry, and suggests that both state and federal laws should be strengthened to close these loopholes.

“The limited information that is actually available is eye-opening, both in terms of frequency and the sometimes shocking nature of the impacts when things go wrong,” said Matt Kelso, FracTracker’s manager of data and technology. “This industry is already immense and rapidly growing. It develops in residential communities, sensitive ecological areas and everywhere in between. Our research shows the need for increased transparency about the compliance record of the industry, especially given those vulnerable areas and populations.”

Anastasia Pantsios|April 3, 2015

Staggering Rise in Fracking Earthquakes Triggers Kansas to Take Action

It seems unlikely that Kansas, known as one of the most conservative states in the U.S. and home to fossil fuel barons the Koch Brothers, would take action against the oil and gas industries. But in the face of a new wave of earthquakes attributed to the underground injection of fracking wastewater, its industry regulating body, the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC), ordered a reduction of wastewater injection in two counties abutting Oklahoma, finding that increased earthquake activity correlated with increasing volumes of injected fracking water.

“Because individual earthquakes cannot be linked to individual injection wells, this order reduces injection volumes in areas experiencing increased seismic activity,” said its official report. It added, “The commission finds increased seismic activity constitutes an immediate danger to the public health, safety and welfare. The commission finds damage may result if immediate action is not taken.”

The commission’s report pointed to findings by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) that the number of earthquakes in Kansas has risen over the past several years.

“USGS data shows from 1981 through 2010, Kansas experienced 30 recorded earthquakes,” it said. “In 2013, there were four recorded earthquakes in Kansas. The number of recorded earthquakes reported in Kansas during 2014 increased to 127. From January 1, 2015, to March 16, 2015, Kansas has experienced 51 recorded earthquakes. The majority of the earthquakes have occurred in Harper and Sumner Counties. The increased number of recorded earthquakes in Kansas coincides with an increase in the number of injection wells and the amounts of injected saltwater in Harper and Sumner Counties.”

As a result of this jump in earthquake activity, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback convened a task force last year which delivered its Seismic Action Plan in September. The commission issued its order a few weeks ago. While it doesn’t ban injection wells, it limits them, imposing fines on companies that don’t comply. It will no longer issue permits for certain types of high-volume injection wells in the two impacted counties.

The Tulsa World reports that the Kansas Corporation Commission’s new order resulted from a complaint filed by a citizen, Frank Smith, who lives in the affected area. He said that earthquakes have damaged homes, businesses and a historic courthouse.

“Prior to the ruling, we had zero protection here in Kansas, and Oklahoma at least gave a bit more than lip service to looking out for the welfare of its residents,” said Smith.“The KCC has now taken a much more proactive stance than I feel Oklahoma has done.”

In Kansas’ heavily fracked neighbor to the west, regulators and scientists have been under pressure from its oil and gas industry to downplay the link between wastewater injection and its dramatic increase in earthquake activity.

A trove of state government emails obtained by media in response to a public records request revealed that Oklahoma state seismologist Austin Holland had been called into a meeting with Oklahoma City-based oil and gas tycoon Harold Hamm where Hamm expressed his “concern” that earthquakes were being linked to the fracking process. Holland called that meeting “intimidating.”

The Tulsa World reported that, when asked at a recent town hall meeting whether Oklahoma is learning from other states how to stop man-made earthquakes, Holland nodded and said  “Earthquakes don’t stop at state lines.”

Apparently, aggressive action does. The paper said that, in contrast to Kansas, whose report and order are posted online, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has convened an earthquake committee that is “holding meetings that are closed to the public. The committee does not plan to issue any reports or recommendations.”

Anastasia Pantsios|April 2, 2015

Fracking’s Most Wanted

How easy is it to get information about an oil or gas company’s legal violations in your state—any spills, contaminations or equipment failure that may have occurred?

In 33 of the 36 states with active drilling operations, it’s almost impossible. And in the three which do make information available to the public—Colorado, Pennsylvania and West Virginia—that information is often incomplete, hard to access and difficult to interpret.

That’s the conclusion of a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and FracTracker Alliance, Fracking’s Most Wanted: Lifting the Veil on Oil and Gas Company Spills and Violations.

“People deserve to know what’s happening in their own backyards, but too often homeowners aren’t even informed if there’s a threat to their health,” said Amy Mall, report co-author and senior policy analyst at NRDC. “Our representatives have a responsibility to protect the people who elect them, not help keep a dangerous industry shrouded in secrecy. States are falling down on their responsibility to be a watchdog for the people who live there.”

Taking the famous 1914 statement by U.S. Supreme Court Justine Louis D. Brandeis that “Sunlight is said the be the best of disinfectants” as its jumping-off point, the report exposes how difficult it is for local communities to find out if fracking operations in their backyards are doing anything that might jeopardize their health or safety.

“Communities want to know whether a company interested in fracking in their neighborhoods is a good corporate citizen that abides by the rules established to protect public health and safety, the environment, and quality of life,” the report says. “A credible measure of a company’s compliance lies in the documented violations incurred from state or federal regulatory agencies. Public access to this information is particularly important in this context because, unlike other industries, oil and gas wells and associated infrastructure and equipment are widespread and often operate in the middle of residential, rural and agricultural areas.”

But, it says, “Sadly, in most of the U.S., neither state nor federal agencies are providing information on violations in a transparent, easily accessible or comprehensive way.”

The report evaluated such factors as whether the information was available online in an easy-to-use, downloadable format, whether the date, location and company incurring the violation were included, whether there was an understandable text description of the violation, and whether the regulation or code violated was cited. It found that even in the three states where information was readily available to the public, none complied with all these parameters for transparency.

It found, for instance, that while Pennsylvania frequently cited companies for filling toxic waste pits too close to the top, there’s no easy way to discover if the contents actually overflowed. Colorado provides no searchable data. And both Pennsylvania and West Virginia frequently group the violations in overly vague categories. Colorado and West Virginia both maintained multiple databases.

In all other states, there were steep obstacles to public access.

“In Ohio, citizens are required to submit a formal request for inspection and violation records for specific operators,” the report found. “Arkansas does not include a description of violations, but merely cites the legal code provision that was violated, and violation documents do not include the name of the responsible operator. In Texas and North Dakota, citizens must pay for access to data and the data are extremely cumbersome to analyze and may not capture all violation issues.”

The study’s analysis of just the limited data from three states offered a snapshot of why new ground rules need to be set for public disclosure and why such transparency needs to become standard in all states with oil and gas operations.

“The data that is available in each of these three states reveals significant violations—in number and severity,” it said. “Incidents include a wide range of dangerous infractions like spills, drinking water contamination, illegal air pollution, improper construction or maintenance of waste pits, failure to conduct safety tests, improper well casing and nonworking blowout preventers.”

It found an average of 2.5 violations per day in those states, minuscule fines for violations and companies continuing to operate after multiple violations. It discovered that landowners and neighbors were not informed when violations occurred. In fact, with enforcement resources so scanty, many violations were initially reported by citizens, making it clear that they were being underreported.

The report even offered a list of the worst players in the oil and gas industry in terms of the violations uncovered, which FracTracker dubbed “Fracking’s Most Wanted.” Chesapeake Energy lead the pack with 559 violations, followed by Cabot Oil and Gas (565), Talisman Energy (362), Range Resources (281), EXCO Resources (249), ExxonMobil (246), EQT Corporation (245), Anadarko Petroleum Corporation (235). Shell (223) and Penn Virginia Corporation (186).

The report concluded that all states should institute policies that require essential information to be available to the public, that violators be held accountable, and that repeat offenders should be shut down, all of which, it says, indicates the need increased enforcement resources. It also pointed out that violations don’t include potentially dangerous practices that are legal due to weak laws or special loopholes for the oil and gas industry, and suggests that both state and federal laws should be strengthened to close these loopholes.

“The limited information that is actually available is eye-opening, both in terms of frequency and the sometimes shocking nature of the impacts when things go wrong,” said Matt Kelso, FracTracker’s manager of data and technology. “This industry is already immense and rapidly growing. It develops in residential communities, sensitive ecological areas and everywhere in between. Our research shows the need for increased transparency about the compliance record of the industry, especially given those vulnerable areas and populations.”

Anastasia Pantsios|April 3, 2015

Investigation Finds Dirty Coal Projects Being Financed by Climate Funds

Findings underscore the lack of rules designed to steer the United Nations’ ‘climate finance’ initiative

Close to $1 billion in funds meant to finance global climate-mitigation projects is going toward the construction of power plants fired by coal—the biggest human source of carbon pollution—according to an Associated Press investigation.

The findings underscore the lack of rules designed to steer the United Nations’ ‘climate finance’ initiative, through which rich countries funnel money to poor countries to help tackle global warming, Karl Ritter and Margie Mason wrote for the AP.

“The money for coal highlights one of the biggest problems in the UN-led effort to fight climate change: A lack of accountability,” they pointed out. “Climate finance is critical to any global climate deal, and rich countries have pledged billions of dollars toward it in UN climate talks, which resume Monday in Lima, Peru. Yet there is no watchdog agency that ensures the money is spent in the most effective way. There’s not even a common definition on what climate finance is.”

The news outlet reported Monday that Japan, a top contributor of so-called climate finance, gave $958 million to help build three coal-fired plants in Indonesia—plants they said burn coal more efficiently than older facilities.

“However, they still emit twice as much heat-trapping carbon dioxide as plants running on natural gas,” the AP noted. “Villagers near the Cirebon plant in Indonesia also complain that stocks of shrimp, fish and green mussels have dwindled.

Japanese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Takako Ito maintained that for countries “that cannot afford to have other methods than coal,” so-called ‘clean coal’ technology may be the best option.

But it’s not clear that they have institutional backing for that stance. The AP story continued:

UN climate chief Christiana Figueres, who was unaware that the Japanese-funded coal plants in Indonesia were labeled as climate finance, said “there is no argument” for supporting such projects with climate money.

“Unabated coal has no room in the future energy system,” she told AP. “Over time, what we should be seeing is a very, very clear trend of investment into clean renewable energy.”

Even the newly launched Green Climate Fund, a key channel for climate finance in the future, still only has vague guidelines on how to spend the money. Board member Jan Cedergren said he didn’t believe the fund would support fossil fuels but acknowledged no decision has so far been made.

Earlier this year, when 24 members of the Board of the Green Climate Fund met at that body’s headquarters in Songdo, South Korea, a coalition of more than 300 international civil society organizations urged against including dirty energy in climate finance agreements.

“We’ve seen first hand how international financial institutions include fossil fuel and other harmful energy projects in their climate and energy finance under the flawed logic of ‘lower carbon’ energy and switching to ‘lower emissions’ fuels,” said Lidy Nacpil, director of Jubilee South Asia/Pacific Movement on Debt and Development. “Financing any fossil fuels and harmful energy through the Green Climate Fund is unacceptable.”

Environmentalists are hopeful that this week’s climate talks in Lima will push governments to consider climate finance as a vehicle for a paradigm shift—rather than as merely a short-term solution.

“Climate finance is such a mess. It needs to get straightened out,” Karen Orenstein of Friends of the Earth told the AP. “It would be such a shame if those resources went to fossil fuel-based technologies. It would be counterproductive.”

The AP further explained: “Unlike Japan, the U.S. and many other rich countries have cut public funding for coal projects in developing countries. Germany still supports such projects, but doesn’t count them as climate finance.”

Deirdre Fulton|staff writer|Common Dreams|December 01, 2014

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Shell to buy BG Group in $70 billion energy deal

LONDON Oil and gas company Royal Dutch Shell agreed Wednesday to buy Britain’s BG Group in a $69.7 billion cash and stock deal that creates a massive European energy giant in one of the biggest deals for the sector in more than a decade.

The mega-merger comes amid a slump in oil prices, prompting energy companies like Shell to seek girth to better compete.

The deal, which still needs to be approved by both companies’ shareholders, will see BG Group shareholders get $5.70 in cash, plus 0.4454 Shell B shares for each BG share.

BG shareholders will own around 19 percent of the combined group that will have a market capitalization of about $240 billion — or twice as big as British oil major BP but still smaller than Exxon-Mobil, the world’s largest oil company that has a market capitalization of $360 billion.

The announcement sent BG’s London listed shares rocketing 38 percent while Royal Dutch Shell’s stock price fell more than 2 percent on Britain’s FTSE 100 index, amid fears that Shell might have overpaid for BG.

Shell executives pitched the deal Wednesday as a positive — one that will add to earnings and cut costs during a period of uncertainty in pricing.

“The combination of our two businesses is a powerful one, which has sound strategic logic,” said Andrew Gould, chairman of BG Group in a conference call. “BG’s deep-water positions and strengths in exploration, liquefaction and (liquefied natural gas) shipping and marketing will combine well with Shell’s scale, development expertise and financial strength.”

Shell said the deal would produce financial gains of around $2.5 billion a year. It will add 25 percent to its proved oil and gas reserves, 20 percent to production, and provide it with new, undeveloped oil and gas projects in Australia, Brazil and East Africa.

The deal also represents an opportunity for both firms to cut overlapping costs at a time when the energy sector is vulnerable to low oil prices. Indeed, Shell executives said the merger will cut their spending on oil and energy exploration by close to half.

It won’t boost Shell’s earnings until at least 2017, however. In the conference call, executives said the deal will be “mildly accretive to earnings per share in 2017 and strongly accretive thereafter.”

JANE ONYANGA-OMARA, KIM HJELMGAARD AND KAJA WHITEHOUSE|USA TODA Y

Thanks To Conservatives, Florida Is Now One Step Closer To Making Solar Energy More Accessible

A pro-solar conservative group in Florida cleared a major hurdle this week in its journey to make solar more accessible in the state.

Floridians for Solar Choice reached 72,000 signatures on a petition that seeks to allow Floridians to purchase solar power directly from other consumers – something that isn’t currently allowed in the state. That number of signatures clears the way for the petition to be reviewed by the state’s Supreme Court, which will decide whether or not the petition’s language legally qualifies it to be a ballot initiative for Floridians in 2016. Getting its petition on the 2016 ballot is the main goal for Floridians for Solar Choice.

“We are thrilled to reach this important milestone,” Tory Perfetti, founder of Floridians for Solar Choice, said in a statement. “It shows broad support among Florida’ families and businesses for removing barriers to commerce in solar power.”

The petition for the initiative seeks to “encourage and promote local small-scale solar-generated electricity production and to enhance the availability of solar power to customers.” Under Florida’s current law, only utilities can sell electricity directly to consumers. Florida is one of only five states in the country with a law like that, and solar advocates say that it’s holding the Sunshine State back from its solar potential. If the ballot initiative is successful in 2016, businesses and property owners in the state would be able to produce up to 2 megawatts of solar power and sell it directly to consumers.

If the state Supreme Court does approve the petition’s language for a ballot initiative, Floridians for Solar Choice will still have some work to do. In order to get on the ballot in Florida, an initiative must collect 683,149 signatures from Floridians in at least seven congressional districts by February 1. Any delays in the Supreme Court’s approval of the petition means there’s less time for Floridians for Solar Choice to collect signatures. Already, supporters have expressed frustration that the state took too long to acknowledge that they had received enough signatures for Supreme Court review.

Perfetti’s group began circulating the petition in January, and he said at the time that he received “overwhelming” response to it. Perfetti and Debbie Dooley, a tea party activist who founded the original chapter of Conservatives for Energy Freedom in Georgia, say that they’re tackling solar in Florida because increasing access to the energy source makes sense from a conservative standpoint.

“Free market and the freedom to choose – those are core conservative principles,” Dooley told ThinkProgress in January. “Unless you cherry-pick your principles, if you’re a true conservative, this is something that resonates with you. I think the residents are fed up with the government telling them who to purchase their power from.”

Floridians from Solar Choice has gained multiple backers of the ballot initiative. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) voiced its support of the initiative earlier this week, and it’s also gained the support of the Tea Party Network, the Christian Coalition, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the Florida Retail Federation, the Sierra Club, and other groups.

“This fight is about consumer choice and private property rights – cherished, long-standing American principals that we strongly support as an organization and an industry,” Rhone Resch, president and CEO of SEIA, said in a statement. “We urge Floridians to sign this critically important, freedom-of-choice petition, allowing it to be placed on next year’s ballot.”

Conservative group Americans for Prosperity has attacked the initiative, however, saying that it’s “about money, and using government and taxpayers to prop up the solar industry.” Supporters reject that claim, saying the measure isn’t calling for solar subsidies or mandates; instead, it simply wants to make it easier for Floridians to gain access to solar.

Katie Valentine|March 26, 2015  

  Land Conservation

Florida lawmakers set aside little for environmental land acquisition

Local environmentalists are urging lawmakers to buy the sugar land just south of Lake Okeechobee. They want state leaders to use the money from the recently passed amendment one to purchase that land.

TALLAHASSEE — There’s money for rural lands, beaches and the Everglades. But as lawmakers prepare to negotiate details of the new state budget, debate continues over whether more money from Florida’s land and water conservation amendment should go toward buying property for conservation.

Amendment 1, sponsored by Florida’s Water and Land Legacy, passed with 75 percent of the vote in November. The measure sets aside one-third of money collected through taxes on real estate documentary stamps to protect environmentally sensitive areas for the next 20 years.

About $750 million is expected to be set aside in the first year, and Florida’s Water and Land Legacy had hoped the state would dedicate $170 million of that to Florida Forever, a state program to buy land for preservation, to protect and maintain conservation lands and local parks.

House and Senate leaders don’t appear to be close to that number. The state House set aside $10.5 million for Florida Forever in its budget, while the Senate initially put $2 million toward the land buying program.

“It’s an abysmally low figure compared to $750 million,” said Ray Judah, coordinator for the Florida Coastal and Ocean Coalition. “It’s really very distressing.”

Some lawmakers and Southwest Florida officials said there needs to be a greater focus on managing the land Florida already owns. They’re at odds with others who argue the intent of the amendment was clear — more money is needed to acquire land.

“Growth and development is starting to pick up again, and a lot of valuable lands that are either on the state acquisition list or have been identified are going to be increasingly threatened by development” said Will Abberger, chairman of Florida’s Water and Land Legacy.

The state Senate on Wednesday bumped up its Florida Forever spending to $15 million. But many environmental organizations said that funding level still doesn’t cut it, especially when there is believed to be about 2 million acres on the Florida Forever priority purchase list.

Neither the state House nor Senate allocated money to buy 46,800 acres from U.S. Sugar Corp., south of Lake Okeechobee to build a reservoir to move lake water into the Everglades and reduce discharges into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers.

“The Legislature has been balking at purchasing it for lack of funds,” said Judah. “Now they have the option. They have the funds and they have the documentation from the Water Institute stating it needs to be taken advantage of.”

The state has an option to buy the property in the Everglades Agriculture Area at fair market value until Oct. 12. Legislative leaders have said they aren’t supportive of the purchase. The company has told lawmakers the purchase would be a waste of money and the state should focus on restoration projects already on the books.

But Rae Ann Wessel, the natural resources policy director for Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, said that property “is the only project of all the projects” that will address high flows.

While the push to buy the U.S. Sugar property may be getting most of the attention in the battle over Amendment 1 dollars, there’s also a push to buy small parcels of property to complete the land preservation puzzle.

Jennifer Hecker, director of natural resource policy at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, said while the U.S. Sugar property is important, the state needs to be setting aside money to help organizations across the state pursue executing smaller, local projects.

In Collier County, she said there are still inholdings in places like the Fakahatchee Strand that can be purchased as they become available. She also said there are spots near the Estero Bay and Charlotte Harbor that need to be funded.

“We’re missing certain pieces of the puzzle,” she said. “We don’t want to leave it unfinished.”

But not everyone believes the state needs more land in its inventory. Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, said 9.4 million acres, or 27 percent of the state, are publicly owned in Florida.

“We don’t want to be known as the land hoarding state,” he said last month as the Senate appropriations committee considered its budget.

Hays said money should be used to take care of the land the state already owns. The Senate has set aside more than $115 million for land management, while the House earmarked more than $144 million. The proposals also set aside money for rural lands, beaches, and agency operating and regulatory expenses.

Collier County Commissioner Tim Nance said more than 75 percent of the land in Collier County is in conservation or under public ownership. He said the county is anticipating “a lot of needs going forward” when it comes to maintaining and operating the land that is already publicly owned.

“Collier County has really dispatched its responsibility in putting its land in conservation,” said Nance. “I’m more concerned with taking care of that land than trying to acquire more. Collier County is loaded.”

But Alex Sulecki, coordinator for Conservation Collier, said it’s unclear how much money from Amendment 1 will help out when it comes to land management in Collier. While money could help manage state owned lands, Sulecki said it’s unlikely the state will fund land management on land local governments own.

Environmental groups are still holding out hope that more money will be set aside for acquisition. Television advertisements have been airing across the state urging lawmakers to move forward with the U.S. Sugar purchase. Groups like the Conservancy are sending out alerts to members to tell them to encourage lawmakers to support more money for land purchases.

“It’s not like this is a new idea. It’s not like this is the latest new shiny toy,” said Wessel. “It’s a legacy opportunity.”

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster|Tribune/Naples Daily News Capital Bureau|April 5, 2015

Isadora Rangel of Treasure Coast Newspapers and Matt Dixon of the Naples Daily News contributed to this report.

At session midpoint, disappointment replaces promise

What had become the “year of the environment” for the 2015 legislative session has become a year of disappointment for some environmentalists.

Amendment 1 and statewide water policy were major issues heading into the session, with growth management also emerging once the opening gavel dropped.

Approved by 75 percent of voters in November, Amendment 1 provides an estimated $742 million for water and land conservation programs.

But the House-proposed spending plan includes at least $10 million for land-buying – House leaders say it’s $205 million for the Florida Forever program – while the Senate is proposing $37 million. Environmental groups say both proposals ignore voters on Amendment 1.

Senate and House water bills would replace a Lake Okeechobee pollution permitting program with “basin action management plans.” Supporters say the bills provide statewide consistency for permitting, but environmental groups say the basin plans lack enforcement.

With Florida coming out of the recession and with a record level of revenue, environmentalists had hoped that environmental spending would be restored from earlier cuts, said Charles Pattison, policy director of 1000 Friends of Florida.

“You would hope that would mean better stewardship of our resources, whether it was land management or land acquisition, (and) managing water resources as well,” he said. “I think people are just generally disappointed there hasn’t been more comprehensive and widespread discussion of both of those topics.”

Sens. Thad Altman and Darren Soto, both of whom last week offered but later withdrew budget amendments to boost spending on land-buying, also expressed disappointment. The Senate agreed to add $35 million for land-buying after initially proposing $2 million.

“I’m very disappointed with where we are now in both the House and the Senate – extremely disappointed,” said Altman, a Republican from Melbourne. “I hope the Legislature listens. I know the people are making their voices heard.”

“While we had some progress, it clearly was not enough yet,” said Soto, a Democrat from Kissimmee.

Eric Draper of Audubon Florida said he felt a shift in tone recently as people flooded legislators with calls requesting more money for land-buying.

“I think as people are waking up around the state and getting more engaged,” he said, “I’m hoping we’ll see a different tone from legislators.”

In addition to environmental issues, seven House bills have been combined into one growth management bill, HB 933. It would eliminate the state “developments of regional impact” review program and presume that “constrained” agricultural lands proposed for development are not prohibited “urban sprawl.”

Industry groups and developers are supporting the bill while environmentalists, cities and counties are raising concerns. And there is some skepticism on both sides that the legislation can pass both chambers.

Sen. Wilton Simpson, a Republican from Trilby, is sponsoring five of the Senate bills that were combined into the House bill. He describes the legislation as “clean-up” for growth management rather than a significant policy change.

He said eliminating the development of regional impact process and moving those large developments into the streamlined state “coordinated review” process will encourage large-scale planning rather than smaller developments.

On Amendment 1 spending, he said people all over the state have different ideas where the focus should be. In North Florida, he said, they want money spent on springs, while in South Florida they want more spent Everglades restoration – and there are other spending priorities on both coasts.

With the changes in water policy, growth management and legislation to structure the Amendment 1 spending process, “I think this is going to be a great session for the environment,” Simpson said.

Bruce Ritchie|April 6, 2015

Florida’s Water and Land Legacy Newsletter, Vol 4, Issue 7, Apr 10, 2015

Next Steps

A lot has happened in Tallahassee in the past few weeks regarding Amendment 1 spending. Allow us to give you a quick recap:

The House and Senate budgets have a long way to go to meet voter intent for Amendment 1 spending. That’s largely because neither provides meaningful funding for Florida Forever projects. The Senate proposes spending only $15 million to acquire environmentally sensitive lands under Florida Forever. (For anyone who’s counting, that is only $2.5 million more than Florida spent on Florida Forever last year, before we passed Amendment 1). The House proposes a bonding strategy that would use $8.5 million to allow for

  • $50 million for land acquisition and conservation easements related to springs protection,
  • $10 million for conservation easements under Florida Forever, and
  • $2.5 million for Rural Family Lands conservation easements under Florida Forever.

The biggest threat to Amendment 1 is the fact that both the Senate and House budgets allocate roughly $230 million to existing state agency expenses. Once that money is allocated to salaries for existing staff and other day-to-day agency operations, it will be difficult to get it back in next year’s budget process. If you’d like to dig into the details, read our comparison of the Governor’s, House, and Senate budgets posted online here.

Despite these hurdles, your civic engagement is making a huge difference. Thanks to you, Florida Forever was a hotly debated item on the Senate floor with several Senators standing up in support of land acquisition under Florida Forever. Thanks to your calls and emails, the substandard $2 million allocated to Florida Forever in Sen. Hays’ budget was amended to $15 million, and $20 million of the springs protection funds were earmarked for land acquisition.

Our work is not done yet. The next step, legislatively speaking, is for both houses to go into conferencing, which is a closed-door negotiation of the budget. We’ve been assured by numerous senators that the $15 million is starting point for negotiations in the Senate, and they know they can do better by Florida voters, but we need to keep up the pressure on both houses to do right thing and fund the conservation programs that we know work.

Keep trucking. That’s why we need you to keep up the calls and emails to your lawmakers. Tell them you voted for Amendment 1 to increase funding for Florida Forever, not to supplant existing agency operating expenses. Tell them you want restored springs, more parks and wildlife habitat, and real solutions to the Lake Okeechobee discharges that are destroying our estuaries in the Indian River Lagoon and the Caloosahatchee. With all of us advocating for Amendment 1, we will make a difference.

Go to our action page: yes1fl.org/action0315 and continue to make calls and send emails. There are only 3 weeks left of session and the first year of Amendment 1 implementation will set the tone for the next 20 years of its lifespan. We have to make sure our lawmakers honor its intent and we need your help to do it.

A note about the House budget

We’ve received word from supporters that Rep. Caldwell (District 78, which covers part of Lee County) is claiming that the House is allocating $200 million to Florida Forever. We’d like to clarify the House’s budget recomendations with a statement from our chair Will Abberger:

How the House budget defines “Florida Forever” is very different from the state’s flagship conservation land acquisition program started under the leadership of Gov. Bush in 1999, re-authorized by the Florida Legislature in 2008, and found in Chapter 259.105 of the Florida Statutes. The House budget uses existing Florida Forever bonding authority to provide $205 million as follows (these numbers are taken directly from Rep. Albritton’s, Chairman of the House Agricultural and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee, budget documents):

  • $100 million to the Water Management Districts for “water resource development” projects – this is NOT land acquisition;
  • $50 million acquire land to protect springs – This is laudable and something we support, but again not under the Florida Forever program; it circumvents the existing project selection process to fund a single, albeit important, natural resource;
  • $25 million to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for the Rural and Family Lands program – Again, a program we support and have recommended be funded, but not Florida Forever;
  • $20 million to the South Florida Water Management District for land acquisition to complete the Kissimmee River restoration – This is an important component of Everglades restoration and something we support, but again not Florida Forever; there is no Kissimmee River project on the existing Florida Forever priority list;
  • $10 million for Florida Forever – These funds are restricted in the House budget and can ONLY be used for conservation easements, with 50-50 funding another source to match state funding, and to acquire military base buffers.

The House budget does not provide anywhere near adequate funding to protect parks and wildlife habitat under the conservation land acquisition program known as Florida Forever.

With just 3 weeks left of session, we must keep up the pressure on our lawmakers to follow the intent of Amendment 1 and implement the will of the people.

For Florida!|Aliki and Laura

Air Quality

3 ways climate change harms health ‏

Yes, there’s always been climate change. But human civilization has thrived during tens of thousands of years of a relatively stable climate. We weren’t around to experience the large climate swings of the past; we could never survive the extreme heat and dramatic sea level rise triggered by too much CO2.

Now, our climate is changing again. And scientists know that today’s climate change is caused by us. By how we get our energy. It is affecting everyone’s health–and especially that of our children and our grandparents.

We can still avoid the worst of it. We know what to do. We must cut our carbon and methane pollution–and welcome a clean energy future.

Here are three ways climate change harms our health.



Dominique Browning|Co-Founder and Senior Director|Moms Clean Air Force 

Transportation

Inexpensive Electric Cars May Arrive Sooner Than You Think

A new study suggests that battery-powered vehicles are close to being cost-effective for most people.

Transportation accounts for roughly a quarter of the world’s annual carbon dioxide emissions.

Electric cars may seem like a niche product that only wealthy people can afford, but a new analysis suggests that they may be close to competing with [the big] 3.

The true cost of lithium-ion batteries in electric cars is a secret closely held by manufacturers. And estimates of the cost vary widely, making it tough to determine just how much lower they must go before electric vehicles with long ranges can be affordable for most buyers. But a peer-reviewed study of more than 80 estimates reported between 2007 and 2014 determined that the costs of battery packs are “much lower” than widely assumed by energy-policy analysts.+

The authors of the new study concluded that the battery packs used by market-leading EV manufacturers like Tesla and Nissan cost as little as $300 per kilowatt-hour of energy in 2014. That’s lower than the most optimistic published projections for 2015, and even below the average published projection for 2020. The authors found that batteries appear on track to reach $230 per kilowatt-hour by 2018.+

If that’s true, it would push EVs across a meaningful threshold. Depending on the price of gas, the sticker price of an EV is expected to appeal to many more people if its battery costs between $125 and $300 per kilowatt-hour. Because the battery makes up perhaps a quarter to a half of the cost of the car, a substantially cheaper battery would make the vehicle itself significantly cheaper too. Alternatively, carmakers could maintain current EV prices but offer vehicles with much longer ranges.6

The range would likely be crucial for many buyers because it’s so much cheaper to “fill” an EV with electricity-charging a car with a 300-mile range could cost less than $10. Given the disparity in gasoline and electricity prices, the study’s authors, Bjӧrn Nykvist and Måns Nilsson, research fellows at the Stockholm Environment Institute, say that if batteries fall as low as $150 per kilowatt-hour, this could lead to “a potential paradigm shift in vehicle technology.”5

The analysis suggests that the cost of packs used by the leading EV manufacturers is falling about 8 percent a year. Although Nykvist acknowledges that “the uncertainties are large,” he says it’s realistic to think that this rate of decline could continue in the coming years, thanks to the economies of scale that would be created if large manufacturers like Nissan and Tesla follow through with their separate plans to massively increase production. The speed at which the cost appears to be falling is similar to the rate that was seen with the nickel metal hydride battery technology used in hybrids like the Toyota Prius, he says.1

Nykvist and Nilsson relied on estimates from a variety of sources: public statements by EV manufacturers, peer-reviewed literature, news reports (including from MIT Technology Review), and so-called gray literature, or research papers published by governments, businesses, and academics.+

Luis Munuera, an energy analyst for the International Energy Agency, and Pierpaolo Cazzola, a transport policy analyst for the same agency, caution in an e-mail to MIT Technology Review that the cost reductions implied in the new analysis “should be taken with care,” since battery cost figures from disparate sources are often not directly comparable. Further, they point out, the degree to which cost decline trends for energy technologies can be extrapolated into the future is unclear. Still, they admit, “we have seen events moving quicker than expected in lithium-ion battery technology.”

Mike Orcutt|April 2, 2015

9 Tips for Sharing the Road With Cyclists

More and more people are choosing bikes for getting to work, traveling to campus, and just having fun, which is great news for the planet. Bikes are an energy-efficient and non-polluting way to get around. Unfortunately, riding a bike carries certain risks, especially in countries like the United States where cyclists are forced to share the road with motorists to get from place to place. While both have to follow the same traffic laws, bicyclists are much smaller and easier to injure than motorists—so if you drive a car, do the world a favor and keep an eye out for your two-wheeled friends.

1. Always check your blind spots

Before changing position in the road (turning, changing lanes, moving around a double-parked vehicle), look over your shoulder to check your blind spot. Don’t assume that the road is clear; someone may have come on from a side street, or caught up to you while you were stopped at a light.

2. Always use your signals

They’re not optional. The law requires you to use them so that everyone sharing the road knows where you’re going. If you’re planning to pass someone, make a turn, change lanes, park, or engage in related activities, signal. If you see a cyclist approaching, try to meet her gaze so you can be sure she knows what you’re doing.

3. Pay attention to hand signals

Cyclists signal too. When a cyclist signals a turn or stop, pay attention so you don’t accidentally hit her. Be aware that while cyclists are counted like vehicles, the law also allows them to engage in reasonable defensive maneuvers if they think they might be in danger, like taking a sharp turn to avoid a collision. Make sure you know what the cyclists around you are doing. Watch for body language and eye contact, too—cyclists often look at drivers to make sure other people in the roadway understand what they’re doing.

4. Watch out for dooring

Dooring—being slammed by a car door as it opens into a bike lane—is an extremely common cycling injury. On a low level, it can create some bruising and discomfort. It can also cause serious injuries and property damage, and in some cases, a cyclist could be forced into traffic and struck by a car. To avoid dooring cyclists, open your car with your off hand (right hand in right hand drive countries, left hand in left hand drive countries), so you’re forced to look all the way over your shoulder to see if someone’s coming. Moreover, don’t leave streetside car doors open—a cyclist halfway down the block might assume that you’ll close your door by the time she arrives at your car.

5. Give cyclists leeway

Some states, like California, specifically require drivers to provide a certain amount of clearance to cyclists (in California, it’s three feet). Even when a street is narrow or doesn’t have bike lanes, still provide clearance—it keeps everyone safer. Be aware that on extremely narrow streets, a cyclist may opt to “take the lane,” which could be the safest and most practical thing to do—and in most states, it’s also entirely legal.

6. Check for “stop and yield”

Some states have what’s called a “stop and yield” law, in which cyclists can treat a stop sign like a yield if no one is present. If you’ve ever been annoyed with a cyclist for breezing through a stop sign, it could be because it was legal for her to do so—she didn’t see you coming, and you weren’t at the intersection to contest the stop sign, so she opted to keep going rather than make a full stop. It’s best practices in general while driving to approach intersections cautiously and look across the whole intersection before going through it.

7. Surprise! Bikes are fast!

A bicyclist can move very quickly, especially going downhill. When car traffic is clogged up, a cyclist might whizz by (another reason to consider picking up a bike for yourself). Don’t cut bikes off or try to drive around them, because they can collide with your car in a potentially extremely dangerous accident. Be aware of the fact that cyclists may also be forced to swerve quickly to avoid road hazards you don’t notice or can’t see, and if you’ve come up sharply behind or next to them, they could be injured.

8. When drivers hit cyclists, they’re usually at fault

Depending on state laws, in bike versus car collisions, it’s always the driver’s fault. It’s a legal incentive to encourage drivers to avoid hitting cyclists. If you are involved in a bike accident, be aware that fleeing the scene is illegal and can come with criminal penalties, especially if the cyclist is severely injured or killed. Call emergency services and stay on the scene until police officers and medical personnel, if needed, arrive.

9. Don’t be a jerk to cyclists—even when they’re in the wrong

Cyclists can be victims of road rage, and the results can be far more deadly for them. Even if a cyclist is behaving badly or engaging in dangerous or illegal activities like running red lights, not wearing a helmet or bike lights, it’s not cause to take out your frustrations on her—or other cyclists. Honking your horn is illegal unless it’s necessary to prevent an imminent accident, so don’t honk at cyclists who are annoying you, and don’t shout at them either—among other things, it can distract them, increasing their risks of getting into an accident.

s.e. smith|April 6, 2015

Hydrogen fuel breakthrough could pave the way for clean cars (+video)

A new method of hydrogen fuel production, developed by Virginia Tech researchers, could be used in zero-emission vehicles.

Researchers from Virginia Tech have developed a way to drastically cut the time and money necessary to produce hydrogen fuel. By using discarded corn cobs, stalks, and husks, they have improved on previous methods deemed too inefficient by energy experts. Their research, which was funded in part by Shell, was published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences .

“This means we have demonstrated the most important step toward a hydrogen economy – producing distributed and affordable green hydrogen from local biomass resources,” lead author Percival Zhang said in a press release.

Hydrogen is by far the most abundant element, making up about three quarters of the entire universe. In its gaseous form, it is also an incredibly clean fuel. It is combustible – just like gasoline – but instead of carbon dioxide, it produces only energy and water. And we already have the technology to harness hydrogen fuel – many major auto companies have prototype and commercial hydrogen cars, and the first (very primitive) hydrogen internal combustion engine was developed over 200 years ago.

But hydrogen is an energy carrier, not an energy source. Pure hydrogen gas doesn’t occur naturally on Earth, so it needs to be separated out of hydrogen-based compounds, such as water. Running an electrical current through water will release free hydrogen gas – but the process, called electrolysis, is usually too expensive to be considered practical. Certain microbes can separate hydrogen fuel out of decaying biomass, but only in tiny amounts. So while they look great on paper, hydrogen engines trail behind their electric counterparts in practice.

But Virginia Tech’s new method could change that. Corn “stover” – which includes the cobs, husks, and stalks – decays into hydrogen and carbon dioxide. Using genetic algorithms, Dr. Zhang and co-author Joe Rollin developed an “enzymatic pathway” that speeds up this reaction. By including two simple plant sugars, glucose and xylose, they were able to increase the rate of hydrogen production while emitting an “extremely low amount” of carbon dioxide.

Cost effective and productive in volume, this method could breathe new life into the hydrogen car. Biomass relies on readily available (and usually discarded) material, which reduces initial fuel costs. The method also increases the reaction rate three times over – as such, the fuel can be produced in smaller, gas station-sized facilities, further driving down cost. These facilities could be stationed alongside processing plants, potentially spurring local industries.

“We believe this exciting technology has the potential to enable the widespread use of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles around the world and displace fossil fuels,” Rollin said.

Whether it can make hydrogen fuel commercially viable remains to be seen – the team plans to scale up before estimating the wider costs of their method. But Zhang and company have cleared a major obstacle in the path to renewable fuel.

Joseph Dussault|Staff Writer|April 8, 2015

And the World’s Greenest Car Is …

There’s a reason why this plug-in hybrid is described as “the most progressive sports car.” The BMW i8 was presented with the 2015 World Green Car Award at the New York International Auto Show, repeating the automaker’s win last year with their purely electric BMW i3.

The international jury recognized the car for its plug-in hybrid drive technology, its lightweight construction as well as its Avant-garde design.

With its scissor doors, low ground clearance and (optional) laser headlights, the i8 is every bit the futuristic Hot Wheel. The car claims to go from 0 to 60 in about 4.5 seconds, achieves more than 56 mpg for everyday commuting when the battery is fully charged and has an overall fuel consumption that’s about 50 percent better than conventionally powered sports cars.

At a starting price of $135,700, the luxury vehicle is not for everyone. To satisfy the eco-minded driver, the i8’s battery can be charged at a conventional power outlet, at a charging station or while driving.

The car has three different driving modes: its default setting will determine the most efficient balance between fuel and electric power; sport mode combines fuel and power for the best performance; and its eDrive mode goes on electric power alone for up to 22 miles. Chris Knapman of the UK’s Telegraph Cars noted in a review that when driving the car with battery power exclusively, the i8 releases 49g/km (about 0.17lbs/m) in CO2 emissions. “Despite all of its technology, the i8 is as user-friendly as a Toyota Prius,” Knapman noted.

According to a press release, to qualify for the World Green Car Award, the vehicle had to be all-new or substantially revised and at least 10 units had to be sold or leased in a major market between Jan. 1, 2014 and May 31, 2015. Also taken into consideration were tailpipe emissions, fuel consumption and use of a major advanced power plant technology aimed specifically at increasing the vehicle’s environmental responsibility.

Because of the complex nature of “green” technologies, five experts from around the world were tasked with extensively reviewing all documentation and specs with each green car award candidate. Seventy-five World Car Awards jurors then voted for the best green car based on the experts’ recommendations.

“The BMW i8 gasoline hybrid looks so cool, it should be the icon for all ‘green’ cars,” one of the experts said of the machine. “The i8 adds so much enjoyment to a sensible lifestyle that it needs to be recognized as a great green car.”

The BMW i8 was chosen from an initial entry list of 10 new vehicles from all over the world. A short list of this year’s finalists also included the Mercedes-Benz S 500 Plug-In Hybrid and the Volkswagen Golf GTE.

“I am delighted to accept this award on behalf of the team in Munich,” said Dr. Ian Robertson, head of Sales and Marketing and member of the Board of Management at BMW. “The BMW i8 represents the future with its unique lightweight construction and unrivaled connectivity. To win this award for the second year in a row shows that our BMW products are truly leading the world.”

Lorraine Chow|April 7, 2015

Could Apple Have An Electric Car By 2020?

The early years of electric vehicles were not very promising, and according to businessmen and entrepreneurs at the time, it wouldn’t be much of a success for different reasons. The market for electric cars didn’t automatically boom when it was introduced, but several companies have tried making their way through to success, to no avail.

That was until Tesla Motors introduced its first electric vehicle, and the electric car market was given a much-needed boost. Tesla has since paved the way for aspiring electric car companies to aim higher.

Apple is one of – if not the biggest – names in the electronics industry. As a massive tech company, Apple has introduced us to a whole new range of personal computing devices and smartphones. More recently, however, instead of greeting us with innovations in tech design and development, Apple has chosen a different path – one with wheels.

Yes, the brand behind the success of the iPhone has been the subject of rumors in the automotive industry, after sensor-laden minivans registered to the California-based company have been spotted cruising throughout the state.

Who would have ever thought Apple would be serving us alongside Tesla, BMW, and other names in the auto industry? And if they do, will they succeed?

How much money can a solar roof save you in Florida?

Sources say Apple will have its electric car on the streets in the next five years. It is also rumored to take on the pioneers of electric car manufacturing – an example of which is the recently successful Tesla motors. And similar to its main competitor in the smartphones business, Google, Apple too is said to be aiming to develop a self-driving vehicle with its growing team of experts in robotics and engineering.

It can be remembered that in the past year, Tesla’s Elon Musk confirmed his meetings with Apple in the latter’s effort for acquisition, which Musk declined with a statement saying Tesla isn’t for sale. Apple has also been rumored to have acquired a few of Tesla’s employees.

In addition to Musk’s claims, Apple has made no secret about their ambitions to have their iOS software embedded in vehicles. Dubbed ‘CarPlay’, the software “takes the things you want to do with your iPhone while driving and puts them right on your car’s built-in display.”

In early February, we also learned of the A123 Systems, an American company in Massachusetts, filing a lawsuit against Apple for allegedly luring a number of engineers in an effort to start the company’s massive engineering project.

Bloomberg reports that the “car team” is 200 strong and is looking to make their introduction into the automobile world in no more than 5 years. A strenuous task at best, but with such financial leverage and powerful branding, Apple will definitely be shown respect.

With its success in the electronics world, Apple is looking conquering the world of automotives should the rumors prove to be factual with similar dominance. An autonomous car, one we normally see in movies set in the future, will no longer be just seen in movies. Technology has taken man farther than he can imagine thanks to electronics giants who constantly think outside the box in an effort to make the everyday man’s life more convenient.

Callum Newcombe|April 8, 2015

Recycling

New Study Says We Should Nix Biodegradable Additives in Our Plastics

Plastics play a huge role in all of our lives. From our phones to our shampoo bottles, most of us consume and throw away over one billion pounds of plastics every year. However, in recent years additives in plastic have promised consumers that the product will be broken down and biodegrade naturally. Well, according to a new scientific study, this is simply not true.

The study, which was carried out by Michigan State University, explored the most common methods of trash disposal to rate the effectiveness of these additives. The first method left plastics out in the open air (think composting). The next method studied how plastics biodegraded in an anaerobic or non oxygenated atmosphere (think bottom of the landfill) and for the third method, scientists simply buried plastics in the soil.

The study length was three years long and compared five of the most common additives used to make plastics biodegradable. According to Rafael Auras, the co-author of the study, “There was no difference between the plastics mixed with the additives we tested and the ones without.”

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In the abstract of the study, it becomes increasingly clear that the average ways that we, the consumer, dispose of these biodegradable plastics is not doing the environment any favors:

Biodegradation was evaluated in compost, anaerobic digestion, and soil burial environments. None of the five different additives tested significantly increased biodegradation in any of these environments. Thus, no evidence was found that these additives promote and/or enhance biodegradation of PE or PET polymers. So, anaerobic and aerobic biodegradation are not recommended as feasible disposal routes for non-biodegradable plastics containing any of the five tested biodegradation-promoting additives.

The study’s authors say that manufacturing companies need to start telling consumers the truth about the products they are using. Further, for those that worry about additives in their plastic products, especially in containers they drink or eat food from, it only cements the fear that unnecessary compounds are being added to the mix.

So what’s a well meaning person living in today’s modern world to do? Of course cutting down on plastic bags is always an option. Some countries, such as Rwanda, go so far as to ban them entirely, including plastic bags sourced outside of the country. In fact, it’s considered normal procedure for customs agents to go through luggage at the Rwandan border, and if they find any plastic bags, they will dispose of them right there before you can proceed into the country.

It’s true that these bans have worked to decrease our plastic trash. Yet so many items are made of plastic that it would be nearly impossible to remove it from our lives entirely.

In recent years, science has found a few methods that help break down the components of plastics. Fungi, as reported on at Care2, can be used to actually turn plastics into consumable food. However, as great as this method is, it’s not a realistic solution for our everyday trash issues.

So scientists have turned back to nature for the solution. Enter the waxworm. This pre-caterpillar larvae is known for being able to eat through beeswax in the wild. However, when exposed to plastics, it seems two strains of these larvae can also digest plastics. Scientists are now looking into ways to harness the microbes inside the guts of waxworms to help naturally degrade plastics.

However for now, when it comes to so-called “biodegradable” additives for plastics, scientists are warning consumers to not believe the hype, and recycle rather than assuming a product is safe to throw away.

Lizabeth Paulat|April 3, 2015

20 Year Old Claims He Can Rid the World’s Oceans of Plastic

Last June, an intrepid teenaged environmentalist made headlines after developing The Ocean Cleanup, described as the “world’s first feasible concept to clean the oceans of plastic.”

Boyan Slat, a Dutch former aerospace engineering student, said his plastic-capturing concept can clean half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in a decade. The project was inspired after the young man took a diving trip in Greece in 2011 and saw more plastic in the water than fish.

Slat’s ambitious project—proposed when he was only 17—received a slew of accolades and was recently named a finalist in London’s Design Museum′s Design of the Year awards, which “celebrate design that promotes or delivers change, enables access, extends design practice or captures the spirit of the year.”

The design involves a static platform that passively corrals plastics as wind and ocean currents push debris through V-shaped booms that are 100 kilometers long. The floating filters would catch all the plastic off the top three meters of water where the concentration of plastic is the highest, while allowing fish and other marine life to pass under without getting caught. Besides natural currents, the self-sufficient platform would also be powered by 162 solar panels.

Traditional strategies of capturing ocean plastic usually involve vessels and nets, but Slat’s study pointed out, “Not only would by-catch and emissions likely cancel out the good work, but also, due to the vastness of areas in which the plastics concentrate, such an operation would cost many billions of dollars, and thousands of years to complete.”

The platform would be emptied of its haul every month and a half. As for what can be done with the plastic, the Ocean Cleanup team tested degraded plastic from the Hawaiian shoreline and found that it’s suitable to be turned into oil. They have also tested whether or not the plastic can be recycled.

Critics have written off the idea, but Slat and 70 other scientists and engineers composed a 530-page feasibility report, and concluded that the concept “is indeed likely a feasible and viable ocean cleanup technique.” Their conclusion has also been peer-reviewed by external experts, Slat wrote in a blog post.

After releasing the feasibility report, Slat launched an extremely successful crowdfunding campaign that garnered support from 38,000 funders from 160 countries, and raised $2 million in 100 days. The project is currently in phase two in which a team will build a large-scale, fully operational pilot of the design near the Azores Islands within the next three to four years.

After introducing the idea at a 2012 TEDx Talk conference in the Netherlands, the Ocean Cleanup crew has since gone on several gyre expeditions. Last month, a sampling team took off for a month-long trip to the North Atlantic Gyre. Slat tweeted some good news from the crew:

We previously mentioned that plastic threatens marine life and marine ecosystems, and also causes about $13 billion in damages to marine ecosystems each year. In the video below, Slat talks about how his concept could rid the world of this costly environmental menace with seemingly little effort.

“Why move through the oceans, if the oceans can move through you?” he said. “Instead of going after the plastics, you could simply wait for the plastics to come to you without requiring any added energy.”

Watch Slat’s Ted Talk.

Lorraine Chow|April 8, 2015

This Video Will Make You Want to Give Up Plastic (Plus 5 Ways to Break the Habit)

We all know that humans have created a garbage problem for the planet. But do we really have an understanding of what that problem looks like?

A wildlife photographer learned just how bad our garbage problem is, and he kept snapping his lens to make sure we don’t forget. When I recently saw his video on Viral Dump, it worked — I couldn’t forget. He captured the injustice for our consumption’s silent victims.

The Journey to MIDWAY

Chris Jordan is the photographer and our guide in this journey to MIDWAY. On the Midway Journey site, Jordan’s project is described as “a powerful visual journey into the heart of an astonishingly symbolic environmental tragedy.” Jordan’s team traveled to some of the most remote islands in the world — Midway Atoll — to confront us with the reality of our out-of-control consumption. The consequences of our consumption habits mean: “tens of thousands of baby albatrosses lie dead on the ground, their bodies filled with plastic from the Pacific Garbage Patch.”

And for critics who would rather deny than find solutions, this isn’t an isolated photography session. Jordan’s team has returned to the island over many years. Through the years and tens of thousands of innocent bodies, we’re confronted with horror, grief and our own complicity in making this floating island of garbage.

While difficult to watch, the video effectively conveys this is not how things are supposed to be and we can do better. In a very poetic way, MIDWAY isn’t just a journey to a remote island — it’s a journey to a midway point in what kind of environmental story we want to write. Because there are lots of things we don’t have control over, but we can control what and how much we consume. And since garbage is projected to double by 2025, now is the time to clean up the mess we’ve made.

5 Simple Ways to Cut Plastic Out of Your Life

Plastic is one of the most environmentally-destructive materials that we use every day. Breaking your plastic habit may seem impossible, but it’s not. And if you’re committed to doing your part in not adding to this floating island of garbage and protecting the albatrosses, here are a few tips to get you off the plastic from Forbes:

1. Kick the straw habit. Admittedly, I was a straw fanatic because I thought my teeth wouldn’t stain as much when I drank coffee or tea. But when I weigh my vanity next to tens of thousands of dead albatrosses, that’s a pretty stupid reason. The only way to keep straws in a sustainable way is to bring your own glass or stainless steel ones.

2. Thanks but no thanks to pizza tables. It seems small, but what purpose does that tiny, white plastic table inside the pizza box serve? It doesn’t enhance your pizza or your experience, and we know exactly where it’s going to go: straight to the garbage. Little things matter and they add up. While we’re on the subject of small changes, check out the toilet paper companies that are going tubeless.

3. Scream for ice cream cones. When indulging in some delicious ice cream, or “nice cream,” stick with the cones: no container or utensils needed.

4. Go solid or powdered. Products in solid or powdered forms are just as effective as their liquid counterparts. All they did was add water and add extra packaging. Go with a bar of soap over liquid soap and lather up!

5. Can the canned and bagged goods. Buying in bulk when possible saves the need for extra cans that may end up on that floating island. Staples like beans and rice are easy to buy and store in bulk.

Bonus tip: Say no to-go. Ask yourself, “Do I really need this to-go?” The answer might surprise you. Because if you really don’t have to, then you could swap containers and plastic utensils for in-house dishes and utensils that will be re-washed, not thrown away.

Jessica Ramos|April 10, 2015

Miscellaneous

Why Does This Florida County Have So Many Secret Animal Testing Facilities?

Many countries around the world are clamping down on the breeding and testing of primates due to ongoing pressure from animal rights campaigners and increasing consumer concerns over the ethics of animal tested cosmetics.

However, this worldwide movement away from animal testing is not catching on in Labelle County, Fla., where there are an alarming number of primate testing facilities, with another huge breeding and research lab due to be built imminently.

If the proposed opening of the very secretive Primera facility goes ahead as planned, they will be housing over 3,000 macaques in this lab alone, and with the three facilities already in operation in Labelle County, this would make the total number of primates living in the county higher than the human population of 4,600 residents.

The U.S. Is the End Destination for Many 

There is a large web of macaque trade spanning across the globe, and Florida is becoming a hotspot for breeding and research centers which animal rights campaigners say are the focal point of the industry within the U.S.

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection has been investigating the international trade of primates for animal testing and argue that Primate Products, one of the existing Florida facilities, buys their Macaques from the island of Mauritius, where adults are captured from the wild and forced to reproduce in captivity, producing babies which are then sent abroad.

In a statement, BUAV spokeswoman Sarah Kite explained that “the trapping and removal of wild primates from their natural habitat and social groups has a substantial negative impact on these individuals. Over the years, official bodies and organizations have called for a move away from this practice.” Yet U.S. companies continue to engage in this unethical practice.

Gary Serignese from South Florida Smash HLS, recently made a statement claiming “these are the places that supply helpless animals to the rest of the U.S. These animals are suffering in a horrible way, and they know they’re suffering.”

Florida’s Secret New Animal Testing Facility

The fact that many other countries are closing down their primate testing facilities is having little effect on the U.S., and in some instances is even increasing the amount of primates being shipped into the country. A facility recently closed down in Israel, but rather than rehoming the primates to a sanctuary, it seems like they were en-route to Florida’s secretive new primate testing facility Primera.

Little is known of the new facility, except that local officials and planning executives ushered through the proposal without first notifying the public. A company calling itself Primera published a letter in the local newspaper to try and quiet public concern over news that the facility had been secretly given planning permission. Further investigation from animal rights campaigners uncovered papers appearing to show that the company was in fact owned by a company called Pre-Labs in Chicago.

With public perception about the ethics of animal testing changing drastically over the past few years, it seems like the breeding and testing facilities are doing all they can to hide their activities so that they can avoid public scrutiny.

Businessman and conservationist Ady Gil stepped in and purchased 1,250 monkeys from the breeding facility in Israel in an attempt to halt their move to Primera, although it’s not clear if this will have any meaningful impact on preventing Primavera’s activities.

Proper Primate Protection

Locals, animal rights campaigners, and the Animal Defenders International have stepped in to question the legality of the new Primera facility, and have begun legal proceedings to prevent it from going ahead. The future of this particular facility remains unclear, but there are plenty of others out there, just the same.

Unfortunately, while the law allows the use of animals for medical and cosmetic testing, facilities such as this will continue to exist. There is intolerable cruelty, and unthinkable pain and suffering being inflicted on animals in the industry every single day, and the law currently supports this.

For a real victory for the animals, we need to win the war against animal testing, not just the battle against the proposed Primera facility.

Abigail Geer|April 3, 2015

More mystery craters appear in Siberia

hole

Huge holes have been discovered in a Siberian region nicknamed “the end of the world,” reports the ‘Siberian Times.’ (Photo: Yamalo-Nenets Press Service via AP)

(NEWSER) – More mysterious craters have been spotted in Siberia, and researchers are starting to sound more than a little alarmed about the phenomenon. Vasily Bogoyavlensky, deputy director of Russia’s Oil and Gas Research Institute, says at least seven suspicious craters have now been spotted—five of them in a region known as the “end of the world”—and a satellite image shows one of them has at least 20 water-filled “baby craters” around it. “I would compare this with mushrooms: When you find one mushroom, be sure there are [a] few more around. I suppose there could be 20 to 30 craters more,” he tells the Siberian Times. He’s calling for urgent research “to prevent possible disasters” that could affect cities and oil industry infrastructure in the region.

Bogoyavlensky and other experts believe gas emissions, possibly linked to climate change, are causing the holes to appear and suspect there are many more to be found, reports NBC News. “The processes that are causing them to form likely occur over a wide area of the continuous permafrost in this part of Siberia,” the chief of the US Geological Survey’s Gas Hydrates Project tells the Huffington Post. She hasn’t researched the holes firsthand, but she agrees they demand further study “to determine the processes that cause their formation, how they evolve with time, and whether it is possible to predict where new ones will occur.” Bogoyavlensky plans an upcoming expedition to the craters (only one of them has been studied in depth thus far) and intends to install seismic stations in the region.

Rob Quinn|Newser staff|February 26, 2015

Kaiduan dam in Borneo meets fierce opposition

Activists are calling on the government of Sabah, Malaysia, to reconsider the proposed Kaiduan dam, saying the Infrastructure Development Ministry (IDM) has not considered other solutions to Sabah’s looming water crisis and has failed to consult with the indigenous people who will be displaced if the project proceeds.

The government first proposed building the Kaiduan dam in 2008. The IDM insists the project is necessary to ensure an adequate water supply for the west coast of Sabah, one of the two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo. The dam would be built on the Papar River in the Ulu Papar valley, and would be 150 meters (492 feet) high, according to the website of the Taskforce Against Kaiduan Dam, a group that opposes the dam. It would submerge as much as 12 square kilometers (about 3,000 acres) of forest and parts of the Crocker Range, which the Sabah government itself nominated to be a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and is home to numerous endangered species. An associated water treatment plant would be built some distance away.

The number of homes and communities that will be impacted is one of the hottest points of contention. IDM officials have asserted that only 110 families will be displaced. But in a statement issued on March 26, a group representing affected communities that oppose the dam called Sabah Save Rivers argued that each of the 110 homes that will be rendered uninhabitable houses two or three families. The group’s website asserts that more than one thousand indigenous people belonging mainly to the Dusun ethnic group will be ultimately displaced.

The IDM is ignoring Ulu Papar’s role as a watershed for the west coast of Sabah, as well as the part the indigenous villagers who will be driven from their homes play in conserving the ecosystems that all residents of Sabah rely on, Mary Giun, a spokesperson for Sabah Save Rivers, said in the statement.
“Indigenous people in the area are safeguarding the west coast’s water tank,” Giun said. “We want the public to be aware of this. One day, those who live in the city and its surrounding areas will be thankful to these very same communities who are struggling today to get the Government to listen to their side of the story.”

Giun said in the statement that the dam would rob local indigenous people of their ancestral lands and traditional ways of life. The government’s plan to resettle displaced villagers “is the worst nightmare for the community and it is like death for us,” she told mongabay.com. “The younger generation of Ulu Papar will lose everything from their identity as Indigenous Peoples who are rooted in our soil, the historical sites, the local knowledge, culture and traditional belief which have a deep connection with the nature around us,” Giun said.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples calls on governments and institutions to consult with communities that will be impacted by development projects and to ensure that projects have their “free, prior and informed consent.” However, the Sabah government has not initiated the consultation process with the indigenous villagers who will be displaced by the dam, according to an earlier statement Sabah Save Rivers issued on March 24.

A stretch of the Papar River, where the Kaiduan dam would be built. Credit: Sabah Save Rivers

In that statement, the group called on Infrastructure Development Minister Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan (commonly referred to as Pairin) to visit Ulu Papar and discuss the dam with the people who would displaced by it.

Pairin asserted that the government is making plans to initiate a dialogue with the affected communities, The Borneo Post reported on March 23. He said the dam is necessary to keep fresh water flowing to Sabah’s west coast, especially the rapidly growing capital city, Kota Kinabalu, according to the news report, which stated that Sabah’s population grew from 930,000 in 1980 to 3.12 million in 2010, and is projected to continue increasing. Pairin asserted that the dam must be built within the next three years in order to avoid a water crisis expected to arrive as soon as 2030, the report stated.

“What we hope is for the people to appreciate that we are doing our best to think of the future requirement of water for everyone,” the report quotes Pairin saying. “The increase in demand has made the management of water resources more challenging and complex.”

“Kaiduan Dam cannot be the best solution or measure to avoid water crisis,” state assemblyman Terence Siambun told The Borneo Post, speaking at a protest against the dam in the district of Penampang on March 25. “Why not look into the existing services and management, including leakages; how is it that 57 per cent of the clean water supplied to our people is wasted?”

Giun told mongabay.com that she and other opponents of Kaiduan Dam understand the need to address the approaching water crisis, but that they have yet to receive adequate information from the government to justify the project, such as how much water is really needed and whether anything has been done to address Sabah’s poor water management systems.

“Communities are not protesting to deny the people of Kota Kinabalu continuous water supply,” she said in the March 24 statement. “What they want is for the Government to look for sustainable solutions. Make use of the money that will be spent on this dam to better manage water resources.”

Mike Gaworecki |April 06, 2015

Big Beef’s In Big Trouble

Big beef is having a cow over this.

The USDA and the US Department of Health & Human Services are updating their dietary guidelines, as they do every 5 years.

But this time, as far Big Beef is concerned, something has gone terribly wrong.

It all started innocently enough, when the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans Committee decided to recommend that the guidelines include, for the first time, sustainability in their recommendations. If the U.S. government did indeed recommend food that is good for both our health and the environment, the impact would be felt in schools and other government facilities across the country – and across our entire food system. It might also be good for the future of our planet.

Why? Because livestock production, and most especially industrialized beef production, is responsible for 15% of global carbon emissions. Halve your meat intake, and you could cut your diet-driven carbon footprint by more than 35 percent. Go vegan, and the difference could be 60%.

In drought-ravaged California, water is part of any sustainability equation. And here again, the livestock industry is not happy with the data. A quarter of the state’s entire water budget is used to produce meat and dairy. Stunningly, California’s livestock industry uses more water than all the homes, businesses and government in the state combined. And even with all that water, California still imports most of the meat consumed in the state.

One thing California exports is Alfalfa. And alfalfa is a thirsty crop. California, it turns out, exports more than 100 billion gallons of water per year in the form of alfalfa to countries like China, who use it for livestock feed. How much sense does it make, in a state that is facing a devastating water crisis, to in effect ship away more than three times enough water to meet the needs of every household in the city of San Francisco, so China can eat more beef?

Want to conserve water? Since it takes 1,799 gallons of water to produce a single pound of grain-fed beef, it turns out that, if you want to save water, reducing industrialized beef consumption could be the most powerful single step you can take.

Meat consumption in the United States has already fallen by more than 15% in the last 10 years. But in January, the Washington Post said that including sustainability in dietary guidelines could be the meat industry’s worst nightmare. An article on Nasdaq.com titled “How The ‘Death Of Meat’ Could Impact Your Portfolio” urged investors to think twice about holding long positions in meat industry stocks, stating that “investors shouldn’t underestimate the potential effect of this on the meat industry.”

And sure enough, when the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans Committee released its recommendations on February 19, the committee stated that: “Consistent evidence indicates that… a dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based foods… and lower in animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact (GHG emissions and energy, land, and water use).”

The industry, of course, isn’t taking all this lying down. Not with hundreds of billions of dollars on the line. A recent headline on FOX News reads, “Beef producers say Obama is trying to kill their industry.”

The North American Meat Institute and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association have each issued statements denouncing any suggestion that environmental impact should dictate dietary guidelines. Having apparently decided that any attempt to convince researchers that meat was environmentally benign would be fruitless, they are now trying to assert that the committee has overstepped its bounds.

While the dietary guidelines committee was charged specifically with looking at food and health, there is a decidedly strong rationale for including sustainability in the picture. Our environment does, after all, dramatically impact our health — as well as our ability to grow the food we need to provide for an expanding human population. In an increasingly hungry world, it matters a great deal that we use about 8 times as much land grow food for animals as we do to grow food for humans.

Between now and the fall, the USDA and the Department of Health & Human Services will be evaluating the committee’s recommendations, and deciding how they’ll actually translate into official government policy. The lobbyists will be out in full force, and there’s no telling whether or not government officials will ultimately heed the recommendations of the independent experts on the committee they created. (To add your voice saying whether or not you think sustainability recommendations should be included in the report, submit a comment between now and May 8, here.)

Whatever the ultimate policy outcome, the environmental impact of our food choices is getting more attention than ever.

And while the industrialized beef industry might not like that one bit, it just might be good news for our planet.

Ten Simple Ways to Clean Green

Make your own nontoxic cleaners, or find eco-friendly products from Green America’s Green Business Network™ members.

There are many benefits to making your own green cleaners. You may already have most of the ingredients in your cupboards. You’ll save money by not buying an array of expensive products, each targeted to clean only one type of surface in your home. And, in most cases, green cleaners work just as well as their commercial counterparts.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to use green cleaners is to keep potent toxins out of your home. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that many household cleaners contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde and harsh acids.
Since indoor VOC levels are often two to five times greater than outdoor levels, humans can experience “eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches; loss of coordination; nausea; and damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous systems” from indoor exposure to these chemicals, according to the EPA.

“Some [VOCs] can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans,” the agency says. Most modern chemical cleaners are, quite simply, overkill, notes the nonprofit Children’s Health Environmental Coalition (CHEC). “Atomic energy is not necessary to unclog a drain, nor are the Marines necessary to combat ants,” Jan Williams writes in the CHEC’s book Household Detective. “Most of the time, we can use milder, natural chemicals … to do the same jobs.”

Sure, you say, but who has time to make their own cleaners?

You do—with our help. Just ten basic ingredients that are probably already in your home will tackle most cleaning jobs Your home will sparkle, germs will still run in fear from your sponges and rags, and your indoor air will be better than ever.

The Basic Ten

Stock your cupboards with these ten products, and you can clean just about anything:

1) White vinegar: An antifungal that also kills germs and bacteria.

2) Baking soda: Eliminates odors and works as a gentle scouring powder.

3) Borax: Borax, the common name for the natural mineral compound sodium borate, eliminates odors, removes dirt, and acts as an antifungal and possible disinfectant. Use with care around children and pets, as it can be toxic if swallowed.

4) Hydrogen peroxide (3% concentration): A great nontoxic bleach and stain remover, as well as a proven disinfectant.

5) Club soda (fresh): A stain remover and polisher.

6) Lemon juice: A pleasant-smelling nontoxic bleach, grease-cutter, and stain remover.

7) Liquid castile soap: An all-purpose cleaner, grease-cutter, and disinfectant. “Castile” means the soap is vegetable-based, not animal-fat-based.

8) Corn meal: Great at picking up carpet spills.

9) Olive oil: Makes a wonderful furniture polish.

10) Pure essential oils: Adding all-natural, organic essential oils to your cleaning concoctions can add wonderful scents to your housekeeping endeavors. Some—such as lavender, peppermint, eucalyptus, lemongrass, and tea tree oils—also may have antibacterial, antifungal, or insect-repelling properties. To find pure, organic essential oils, visit your local health food store or consult the “Aromatherapy/ Essential Oils” category of our National Green Pages™. Remember to use care with essential oils, as they can cause harmful reactions when ingested or put directly on the skin. Some are considered dangerous for pregnant women (To be safe and simplify things, stick with eucalyptus, lemongrass, and tea tree oils for all recipes below if you’re pregnant).

If you want to try an oil we haven’t mentioned in this article, consult a reliable source on its proper usage, such as the aromatherapy education section of Frontier Natural Products Co-op’s Web site.

The Basic Ten at Work

Now that you know what products you need, grab a few clean, empty spray bottles; some rags and sponges; and a bucket of water, and you’re ready to clean your house the green way.
All-purpose cleaners: An all-purpose cleaner is just that—something you can use for just about every surface in your home, from kitchen counters and appliances to bathroom surfaces and walls. Clean House, Clean Planet author Karen Logan offers this recipe for the all-purpose “Alice’s Wonder Spray”: Put 2 Tbsp. white vinegar and 1 tsp. borax into a 16 oz. spray bottle. Fill the rest with very hot water and shake to blend until the borax is dissolved. Add 1/4 cup of liquid castile soap only after you’ve completed the above steps. If you want to scent your spray, also add 10–15 drops of an essential oil, such as lavender, lemongrass, thyme, eucalyptus, rosemary, rose, or clove. The spray will keep indefinitely. For an even simpler solution, try cleaning with two cups of club soda in a spray bottle.

Hard floor cleaner: Author and Care2.com healthy living editor Annie Bond (a.k.a. Annie Berthold-Bond) recommends this solution for all hard floors (except when directed by the manufacturer to avoid even mild detergents): Combine 1/4 liquid castile soap, up to 1/2 cup white vinegar or lemon juice, and 2 gallons of warm water in a large plastic bucket. Use with a mop or sponge.

Carpet cleaner: To clean and disinfect your carpet, the CHEC recommends blending 1/2 cup baking soda, 1 cup borax, and 1 cup cornmeal. Sprinkle mixture over rug and rub with a cloth. Be sure to sprinkle, rather than dump, the mixture on your carpet. Large clumps of cornmeal could clog your vacuum. Let rest for several hours or overnight, then vacuum. To remove stains from your carpet, Logan advises mixing 1/4 cup liquid castile soap and 1/3 cup water in a blender until foamy. Spread the mixture on the carpet and let sit for a few minutes, then scrub the stain with a brush or clean rag. Also, club soda will remove many acidic stains, like coffee, wine, or juice. To deal with big carpet spills, pour cornmeal on the spill, wait 15 minutes, then vacuum.

Glass cleaner: To make your windows shine, you can simply use club soda in a spray bottle. Add 1 tsp. of lemon juice to increase your window cleaner’s degreasing power. Logan recommends using a terry-cloth cotton rag for best results.

Bathroom surface cleaners: You can use the all-purpose cleaners recommended above or, for even simpler bathroom cleaning, use baking soda or borax as a scouring powder. For a softer scrub, Bond says to combine 1/2 cup baking soda with enough liquid soap to achieve a frosting-like consistency. You may want to add 5-10 drops of an essential oil for fragrance. Club soda works wonders on plumbing fixtures.

Toilet cleaner: Sprinkle baking soda or borax, or pour white vinegar into the toilet, and let sit for a few minutes. Scrub with a good toilet brush. oven cleaner: Cover the oven floor with baking soda, spray with water until very damp, and let set overnight. Spray with water every few hours before you go to bed to keep damp. In the morning, clean out the baking soda, and the stuck-on gunk will be loosened and ready to scrub off.

Mold remover: Bond recommends combining 1/2 cup hydrogen peroxide or white vinegar with 1 cup water. Spray on mold and do not rinse. She also recommends treating mold with a spray mixture of 2 tsp. tea tree oil and 2 cups water.

Wood polish: To polish wood furniture, dab olive oil onto a soft cloth and rub.

Germs and Other Concerns

You may be worried about do-it-yourself green cleaners not being able to kill germs effectively. Researchers at Tufts New England Medical Center, on the other hand, worry that we’re killing too many microorganisms, saying that disinfectants found in household cleaners may contribute to drug resistant bacteria. The CHEC says that ordinary soap and water do the job well enough to keep our families safe, barring someone with a seriously compromised immune system.

For most of us, the best way to prevent the spread of harmful microorganisms is to wash our hands frequently. Also, disinfect any sponges you’re using weekly by boiling them in water for three minutes and then microwaving them for a minute or two. Launder dish rags every week.

If you prefer over-the-counter products, look for green cleaners made with natural ingredients. Check your local health food store, or consult the box below for screened green cleaning product companies listed in our National Green Pages™.

Tracy Fernandez Rysavy|April 2015

Environmental Links

SFAS International Wildlife News Audubon Advocate Audubon Restore Eco-Voice South Florida Wildlife Care Center Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital The Turtle Hospital The Marathon Wild Bird Center Climate change info Audubon’s Coastal Strand Audubon of Florida News Blog Bioenergy News Climate Progress – climate science, politics and solutions Collins Center for Public Policy Comprehensive Everglades Restoration News EcoWatch – feeds from the WaterKeeper Alliance Everglades Foundation – press releases Everglades Hub Fort Myers News – Press Green Front Pages from Florida Newspapers Herald Tribune Newspapers –  Environmental News 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 1504 A

For 200 years we’ve been conquering Nature. Now we’re beating it to death. ~Tom McMillan

Announcements

The critically acclaimed anti-fracking film Groundswell Rising is coming to Broward County!

This film tells the story of people from all walks of life and across the political spectrum who are working to stop fracking.

Join us on our Florida film tour for a free film screening and conversation with special guest Craig Stevens.

As you may know, Craig Stevens is a Pennsylvania resident and activist whose fight for clean water is featured in the film.

Craig will share his personal experiences in battling fracking on his land.

Stick around and find out how you can plug in to the movement to ban fracking!

RSVP to reserve a seat and join the conversation.

What: Screening of Groundswell Rising with special guest Craig Stevens
When: Tuesday, April 7 at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Fern Forest Nature Center, 201 Lyons Rd. South, Coconut Creek, FL 33063

Sign up today to let us know you can join us.

Vickie Machado|Florida Organizer|Food & Water Watch
vmachado@fwwatch.org

Welcome our new Board Member, Phil Kushlan

BBWK is thrilled to have Phil join our Board of Directors. Phil’s dedication and passion for protecting Biscayne Bay,
as well as his scientific expertise, will be an asset to BBWK as we continue to grow and advocate for our watershed.
Get to know Phil here.

All turtles are not equal; the gopher tortoise lives on land so don’t ‘help’ it into water

          Last month, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) received three known reports of well-intentioned good Samaritans

incorrectly releasing gopher tortoise hatchlings into the ocean. Gopher tortoises cannot swim well and can easily drown.

Because gopher tortoises often nest in dunes adjacent to sea turtle nesting beaches, correct identification of these terrestrial

animals is important before deciding what action, if any, is necessary.

          To distinguish gopher tortoises from sea turtles, simply inspect their limbs from a distance:

Gopher tortoises have toes, with claws on each toe. Sea turtles have flippers with only one or two claws present on each fore-flipper.

Proper identification can be achieved without handling the animals.

Please see our gopher tortoise photos at http://bit.ly/1ysPccM for help discerning gopher tortoises from sea turtles.

          All five species of sea turtles found in Florida are federally endangered or threatened and managed under the Endangered Species Act as well as under Florida Statutes;

the gopher tortoise is listed under state law.

If you spot any of these species in danger on the beach, please do not disturb the animal.

Instead, call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or call #FWC or *FWC on your cell phone.

Of Interest to All

4 of Harry Reid’s Biggest Accomplishments

Democrat Harry Reid, the current Senate Minority Leader, has announced he will not seek re-election when his term expires in 2016. After nearly 30 years in the Senate, Reid has established quite a legacy for his efforts in advancing liberal ideology. Here are four of his progressive accomplishments:

1. Health Care

The Affordable Care Act may be better known as Obamacare, but the law could just as easily have received a Harry Reid nickname as well. The senator made passing the health care bill a top priority and negotiated with politicians on both sides of the aisle to ensure it would have enough votes to pass. According to political analysts, it’s no exaggeration to say that the legislation was unlikely to pass without Reid’s efforts.

Reid himself called the ACA “the most important thing we’ve done for the country.” Although the Republican Party still threatens to dismantle Obamacare, getting it passed in the first place was the real trick. Now that Americans have had the opportunity to see that expanding access to medical insurance to those who previously could not afford or qualify for it is hardly the evil idea it was rumored to be, Republicans will have a much harder time getting rid of something that’s wound up being fairly popular amongst citizens.

2. Downgrading the Filibuster

With partisanship running strong in the Senate, Reid grew tired of the incessant filibustering that blocked the legislative body from accomplishing even the most routine of tasks. In order to minimize future obstructions, Reid helmed a controversial decision to change the way presidential appointments and judicial nominees are approved. Now, rather than needing a hard-to-obtain 60 votes to get approved, a simple majority is all it takes.

Republicans called Reid’s change a “power grab,” but it’s a rule that they now benefit from since Republicans now have the majority in the Senate. Pointless posturing over appointees just leaves important federal jobs unfilled. It’s a way of reducing the gridlock and saving the filibustering for issues that really matter.

3. Reproductive Issues… in a Roundabout Way

While most Democrats support a woman’s right to choose, Reid actually considers himself “pro-life.” Unlike most politicians who oppose abortion, however, he’s not anti-woman’s reproductive health altogether. It’s crazy when the same people who gripe about abortions also vote to block birth control, sex education and other ideas that would help women avoid having unwanted pregnancies in the first place.

In 2006, Reid teamed with (then) Senator Hillary Clinton to launch the Prevention First Amendment. The law acknowledged that people on both sides of the abortion debate have deeply held convictions, and called on the government to put forward more money to expand access to family planning programs and emergency contraception

He may not be pro-choice, but at least Reid is a man who understands that decreasing abortion means starting to eliminate the reasons women have abortions. His 92 percent approval rating from Planned Parenthood proves that a politician can have personal objections to abortions and still not be a jerk when it comes to reproductive health.

4. Environment

When it comes to the environment, Reid has never waivered, earning a perfect score from the League of Conservation Voters. He may not be the most vocal politician on this issue, but that doesn’t stop him from always doing the right thing.

Reid’s office includes three energy/environmental staffers so that he can help safeguard the EPA’s powers. He’s voted to close coal plants, protect public lands, maintain clean water, slow the effects of climate change, and even give extra consideration to endangered species. The planet will miss having his consistent vote, un-swayed by private interests.

Kevin Mathews|March 28, 2015

[Environmentalists in government positions are hard to find – he will be missed.]

Major 7.7 Quake Strikes Off Papua New Guinea, Tsunami Warning Issued

YDNEY, March 30 (Reuters) – A major earthquake with a magnitude 7.7 struck off Papua New Guinea on Monday, official monitors said, and a tsunami warning was issued soon after.

The epicenter of the 33 km (22 mile) deep quake was near the town of Rabaul in the northeast of Papua New Guinea, The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii said “hazardous tsunami waves are possible for coasts located within 1,000 km (620 miles) of the earthquake epicenter along the coasts of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.”

Tsunami waves reaching 1-3 meters (3-9 feet) above the tide level are possible along some coasts of Papua New Guinea, said the center.

No destructive, Pacific-wide tsunami was expected, it said.

“Persons located in threatened coastal areas should stay alert for information and follow instructions from national and local authorities,” it added.

Rabaul, a town on East New Britain Island, lies in the shadow of Mount Tavurvur, an active volcano. Rabaul was destroyed in 1994 during a severe eruption.

Jane Wardell|Paul Tait and Michael Perry|Reuters|03/29/2015

The Lights Go Off At St. Peter’s Basilica For Earth Hour

St. Peter’s Basilica joined more than 1,400 of the world’s iconic landmarks on Saturday to take a stand for stronger climate action.

The Vatican’s central square plunged into darkness on March 28 for Earth Hour, a global campaign held between 8:30 pm and 9:30 pm local time in 172 countries and territories. Rome’s Great Synagogue and Great Mosque also took part in the initiative this year, along with other iconic religious sites, like St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.

Like his two predecessors, Pope Benedict XVI and Saint John Paul II, Pope Francis has taken a serious interest in promoting action on environmental issues. He’s currently drafting an encyclical about man’s relationship with nature, reportedly with the hopes of influencing the United Nation’s upcoming climate change conference.

In the past, Francis has called the exploitation of nature a grave sin.

“This is one of the greatest challenges of our time: to convert ourselves to a type of development that knows how to respect creation,” he said while addressing students at a university in southern Italy last year.

“When I look at America, also my own homeland (South America), so many forests, all cut, that have become land … that can longer give life. This is our sin, exploiting the Earth and not allowing her to her give us what she has within her.”

Carol Kuruvilla|The Huffington Post|03/30/2015

Minnesota Professor Accused Of Smuggling Elephant Ivory And Rhino Horn

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A St. Cloud State University philosophy professor was arrested Tuesday on charges of conspiring to smuggle rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory out of the United States and into China.

Yiwei Zheng, who appeared in U.S. District Court Tuesday, faces a federal indictment accusing him of conspiracy, smuggling and making a false statement to agents. Zheng also is charged with violating the federal Lacey Act, which bans trade in wildlife, fish and plants that have been illegally taken, transported or sold.

Zheng, who has taught at St. Cloud State since 1999, was arrested by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents in St. Cloud, the Star Tribune reported. Zheng appeared in court, surrendered his passport and was released on $25,000 unsecured bond, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office.

An email sent to Zheng’s defense attorney for comment was not immediately returned Tuesday. A university spokesman said he can’t comment due to the investigation.

The indictment alleges Zheng conspired with two unnamed co-conspirators in a scheme that ran from 2006 through 2011. The two co-conspirators are not named as defendants.

According to the indictment, the black rhinoceros is listed as an engendered species and international trade in elephant ivory is largely banned. Trade in rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory has been regulated by an international treaty since 1976. Any animal species listed as protected under the treaty cannot be legally exported from the U.S. without approval from the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Zheng, who grew up in Shanghai, China, is accused of importing into the U.S. objects made from rhinoceros horn from his co-conspirators in China. Demand for libation cups and other ornamental carvings made of rhinoceros horn has resulted in a thriving black market and has pushed most species of rhinoceros to the brink of extinction, the indictment said.

The indictment also alleges Zheng smuggled objects made from rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory from the United States to China by using the U.S. mail. Among the items Zheng is accused of smuggling to China in April 2011 are potted flower carvings, a fan and a carved lion all made with elephant ivory.

Zheng also is accused of facilitating the sale in March 2010 of a rhinoceros horn libation cup that was fraudulently imported into the U.S. and of exporting two rhinoceros horns in July 2010.

In September 2011, the indictment alleges, Zheng told agents he had sold two rhinoceros horns to a Chinese national named Mr. Zhang at a McDonald’s restaurant in St. Cloud. In fact, Zheng knew that he had illegally sent to the rhino horns from the U.S. to China, the indictment said.

AP|JEFF BAENEN|03/31/2015

Why Vertical Farming Could Be On The Verge Of A Revolution — And What’s Keeping It Down

Could the future of modern agriculture be found completely indoors?

That’s the question on the mind of Caleb Harper, the research scientist behind the CityFARM project of MIT Media Lab’s City Science Initiative.

On any given day on the fifth floor of the glass-walled Media Lab building, a team of 15 researchers led by Harper can be found operating the project’s small indoor vertical farm. The CityFARM team includes mechanical engineers, biologists, architects and more, who manage pests, monitor water chemistry and grow produce such as tomatoes, leafy greens and herbs.

The goal of CityFARM, Harper explained, is to create a sustainable, scalable, open-source vertical farming system and solutions that can be shared by others in the still-nascent industry — like buzz worthy projects just announced in Jackson, Wyoming, and Newark, New Jersey.

“What I’m trying to do is be like the Linux foundation for [agricultural] technology, to develop the cross platform that can go between these farms,” Harper told HuffPost.

Plants at most vertical farms are grown hydroponically, or without soil, nourished instead by the recycling of a nutrient-rich water solution. Some such farms rely on aeroponics, where the water solution is misted onto the plants’ roots. The farms are typically several stories tall, allowing for crops to be stacked in an enclosed space. Photosynthesis is brought about by artificial light, and sometimes augmented by natural light, like in a greenhouse.

The benefits of vertical farming are many, according to advocates such as Dickson Despommier. He authored what could be considered the industry’s Bible, The Vertical Farm, in 2010.

According to Despommier’s theory, by as soon as 2050 the world will run short on land suitable for the amount of traditional farming that will be required to feed a growing population. Vertical farming, he argues, would make for more efficient use of the limited land. It also comes with a number of other benefits, including year-round crop production regardless of climate and a shorter distance between farms and consumers.

Further, all the produce grown in vertical farms is, due to the nature of its cultivation, organic and free of any chemicals, herbicides or pesticides — meaning that the food is both local and healthy.

The industry is growing so quickly, according to Maximilian Loessl, the Munich-based vice chair of the Association for Vertical Farming, that it can be difficult to keep track of where new vertical farm operations are being built. Though all of the world’s vertical farms were based almost entirely in Japan as recently as seven years ago, about 100 companies were already spread throughout the world by 2012. Loessl says there are 24 farms currently operating in the U.S., ranging from large commercial operations to smaller research facilities like CityFARM.

These aren’t just pie-in-the-sky startups chasing after the latest micro-trend either, Loessl argues. He points out that major companies like Philips and General Electric have entered the industry to help develop lighting solutions.

“These companies wouldn’t invest hundreds of millions of dollars if they thought it would be a trend that would fade out,” Loessl said. “I think vertical farming is here to stay and that we’re just at the very, very beginning of really seeing the potential it has in making the world more food secure and more food safe, providing clean and local food to basically any location in the world.”

Still, success is no guarantee. VertiCrop, a large vertical farm founded in 2011 in Vancouver, British Columbia, declared bankruptcy earlier this year. Harper points out that no farms have yet released data proving that their operations are profitable. None most likely are, he says — at least currently.

What’s holding many farms back is the struggle to simultaneously increase their yield-per-square-foot and decrease the cost of production — particularly the cost of powering round-the-clock lights, which is high.

Another factor, Harper argues, is that many operations are working in a “black box mode,” trying to address too many production concerns completely in-house rather than attempting to collaborate and share information with other farms. He likens the current state of vertical farming to the automobile industry prior to the Industrial Revolution — and hopes his initiative will help spread information to ensure a better, sustainable bottom line.

“Before Ford, everyone was designing a car, every single component of it. Some of them were too slow, some were unsafe, some use too much gas, and some people at the time said cars will never work,” Harper said. “It’s going to take this industry to come together to really make a big impact.”

Harper also questions whether consumers will embrace produce grown in such an unusual and unfamiliar way.

“People are incredibly skeptical of science and technology in food and are scared of it,” Harper said. “How do we talk about that? Will people accept or understand it, and ultimately will they buy it?”

Carl Zulauf, a professor at Ohio State University’s Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics, agrees that the consumer response to vertical farm produce will also be key to whether the industry growth will continue.

“Marketing becomes preeminent,” Zulauf told HuffPost. “Will people buy into it and what aura will they assign to that product? If that aura isn’t a good aura, it will be hard to get a premium price out of the product.”

Marketing is already front of mind for Mark Thomann, CEO of FarmedHere. The company operates a massive, 90,000-square-foot farm in a formerly abandoned warehouse in Bedford Park, Illinois.

FarmedHere says it’s been “growing in leaps and bounds” toward profitability since it launched the suburban Chicago facility, its third and largest farm, in 2013. Today, its basil, arugula and other greens are distributed to more than 400 grocery stores in the Chicago area, including Whole Foods, and will later this year launch a retail partnership with local Jewel and Target stores. Thomann declined to disclose more specific financial information about the company.

FarmedHere is also converting their fluorescent lighting to LED lighting, a change that five years ago would have been too costly. It’s not only more affordable today but also more energy-efficient and, according to their research, better for crop yields. The company is also building additional growing operations within the facility to help them meet demand, which currently exceeds output. Thanks to utilizing ever-evolving technology, Thomann believes the next facility the company builds could look very different from those they’re operating today.

“What we’re doing could potentially be a major significant way to grow produce and other types of crops in the future,” Thomann told HuffPost.

Recognizing that educating consumers about how the produce is grown is also important for the company, FarmedHere welcomes field trips of Chicago Public School students and their parents to come and see the facility for themselves.

Thomann is confident the firm will be a success, pointing to recent research indicating that consumers are willing to pay a premium for foods they perceive as better for them.

As for the naysayers: “I like the skeptics best because they’re the ones I like to prove we can do this, that this is something we can do,” Thomann said. “We are trying to feed the world sustainable, healthy, organic, local food. It’s why we exist as a company and why the category is continuing to improve.”

Joseph Erbentraut|huffingtonpost.com|03/12/2015

EPA Classified Roundup as Carcinogen 30 Years Ago…But Mysteriously Reversed Decision

Scientists and environmentalists have been saying for decades that the world’s most common weed killer, glyphosate, also known as Monsanto’s Roundup, is a carcinogen. Last week, a World Health Organization report indicated that, indeed, glyphosate is a “probable carcinogen.” Now there’s evidence that the Environmental Protection Agency knew glyphosate was a probable carcinogen thirty years ago, but approved it for use anyway. Here’s a summarized chronology of events:

1985: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was aware of the herbicide’s ability to cause cancer 30 years ago, even categorizing it as a ‘Class C Carcinogen.” Class C carcinogens have “suggestive evidence of carcinogenic potential.”

1991: The EPA already had evidence of multiple studies showing glyphosate is a possible carcinogen, but still reversed its decision suggesting that suddenly, six years later, there wasn’t enough evidence. It approved the herbicide for widespread use, classifying it as “Group E: evidence of NON-carcinogenicity for humans.” According to the Organic Consumers Association: “Six years (after the EPA classified glyphosate as a carcinogen), just about the time former Monsanto lawyer Michael Taylor got himself installed in a key position at the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), the EPA reversed that decision.”

2013: Although the evidence of glyphosate’s carcinogenicity had been mounting for years, the EPA increased the upper limits of allowable amounts of glyphosate that can be sprayed on crops.

2015: World Health Organization declares glyphosate a “probable carcinogen.”

The Research:

Study after study continues to link Roundup to cancer. A few months ago, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found a link between some pesticides and a significantly increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma — a type of cancer of the lymphatic system. In this type of cancer, tumors of the lymph nodes or within the lymph system can form. According to the review of 44 studies, 80 active ingredients in 21 classes of chemicals, researchers found that exposure to glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, doubles the risk of this deadly cancer.”

Other research links Roundup to the growing incidence of infertility and sterility.

When I consider the timeline and the recent news, it screams negligence on the part of the EPA

Michelle Schoffro Cook|March 31, 2015

Shell’s Arctic Drilling Plans Approved by Department of Interior

It seems like the battle to save the wild and remote Arctic seas from predatory oil and gas companies never ends. Despite court cases finding it had illegally sold oil and gas exploration leases in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska and despite its own environmental impact study depicting the dangers of drilling there, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) has opened the door to selling offshore drilling leases in the Arctic seas again. Currently there are no gas or oil operations in the Arctic seas, and environmental groups would like to keep it that way.

But this week the DOI announced that it is re-affirming the 2008 Bush-era leases opening 30 million acres of the Chukchi Sea—an area about the size of Pennsylvania—to oil drilling, even though a court-ordered re-analysis showed that the environmental impacts could be far worse than previously thought.

In 2010, a federal district court in Alaska found the 20o8 lease sales violated the National Environmental Protection Act. The following year the Obama administration re-affirmed the sale. Shell attempted to start drilling operations in 2012 but was plagued with misadventures such as a drilling rig running aground. It abandoned its plans to drill in 2013 and 2014.

The leases were again shot down in court in January 2014 after 14 conservation and Native groups represented by Earthjustice brought a lawsuit against Chukchi Lease Sale 193. The court again found the impact study inadequate and determined that the DOI had only analyzed the best-case scenario that “skews the data toward fewer environmental impacts and thus impedes a full and fair discussion of the potential effects of the project.”

“Interior rushed the process of reconsidering the leases, issuing a flawed final environmental impact statement less than two months after it received hundreds of thousands of comments on the draft,”according to Earthjustice. “Rather than take the time fully to assess the impacts and alternatives of leasing in the Chukchi Sea, Interior catered to Shell Oil’s desire to drill as early as this summer.”

Because the area is subject to severe and often dangerous weather conditions and is hundreds of miles from the nearest Coast Guard facility, it would be impossible to respond to or clean up an oil spill there, something the DOI’s environmental impact study concluded had a 75 percent chance of happening. Given the quantity of residual oil and the ongoing ecological impacts of the Deepwater Horizon spill five years ago in the warmer and more accessible Gulf of Mexico, that’s a frightening thought.

“Our Arctic ocean is flat out the worst place on Earth to drill for oil,” pointed out Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)’s Alaska director Niel Lawrence. “The world’s last pristine sea, it is both too fragile to survive a spill and too harsh and remote for effective cleanup. Shell’s disastrous misadventures there in 2012 prove it can never be a secure source of energy for America.”

“It is unconscionable that the federal government is willing to risk the health and safety of the people and wildlife that live near and within the Chukchi Sea for Shell’s reckless pursuit of oil,” said Friends of the Earth‘s Marissa Knodel. “Shell’s dismal record of safety violations and accidents, coupled with the inability to clean up or contain an oil spill in the remote, dangerous Arctic waters, equals a disaster waiting to happen. Alaska, beware: with a 75 percent chance of a large oil spill and a 100 percent chance of environmental degradation from drilling-related activities, today’s decision foreshadows dark days to come for the state warming twice as fast as the rest of the nation.”

Greenpeace’s executive director Annie Leonard agrees. “Shell may now have approval from the Obama administration to drill in the Arctic, but it does not have approval from the people. Millions around the world are saying ‘no’ to Arctic drilling and other extraction projects that we have to freeze to avoid catastrophic climate change. On the same day President Obama pledges to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by nearly a third, he opens the back door for one of the most irresponsible oil companies to drill in the Arctic.”

Oil spills and their impact on wildlife and the isolated Native communities that rely on the sea for their livelihood are only part of the concern of the environmental groups opposing the re-opening of the leases. They’re concerned that upsetting its balance would hasten the melting of its ice cover, something drove tens of thousands of walruses ashore last fall in both Alaska and Russia, and help fuel climate change.

“Interior still has time to make a better decision when evaluating Shell’s drilling plan, and we sincerely hope it says no to Shell’s louder, bigger and dirtier tactics, loaded with potential environmental harm,”said Earthjustice staff attorney Erik Grafe. “The region is suffering dramatically under climate stress, and drilling will only further stress the region’s wildlife and people and ultimately worsen climate change.”

“The industrial oil development that Interior hopes will flow from its decision to approve the Chukchi lease sale gives us a 75 percent chance of a large oil spill and a 100 percent chance of worsening the climate crisis,” said Rebecca Noblin, Alaska director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “I don’t like those odds.”

Anastasia Pantsios|April 1, 2015

Port Everglades Harbor Deepening & Widening Project Reaches Milestone in Federal Approval Process

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works Review Board Moves Plan Forward

DATE: February 27, 2015
MEDIA CONTACT: Ellen Kennedy
Assistant Director
Port Everglades Business Development Division/Communications
PHONE: 954-468-3508; 954-868-0220 (cell)
EMAIL: ekennedy@broward.org
BROWARD COUNTY, FL – Broward County’s Port Everglades reached a major milestone today in its effort to deepen and widen its navigational channels and turning basin as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works Review Board approved the final environmental and economic feasibility studies for the project.

The Civil Works Review Board met today in Washington, DC, to discuss various aspects of the project before unanimously approving that the plan move forward for state and agency review. There will now be a 30-day comment period for oversight agencies, followed by time for the Corps to address any questions. The final step in the Corps’ project approval process is a Chief of Engineers Report recommending the project to Congress for construction authorization.  The Chief’s Report is anticipated by the end of May 2015.

“The future of this economic powerhouse depends on being able to keep up with Florida’s growing population, larger ships, and competition from international and domestic ports that are expanding and modernizing their infrastructure. Any delay to the expansion risks the new larger freight ships contracting with other ports, passing us by and taking thousands of jobs with them,” said Congresswoman Lois Frankel, whose district includes Port Everglades. Congresswoman Frankel attended the meeting in Washington along with staff from the South Florida Congressional Delegation and Richard Biter, Assistant Secretary for Intermodal Systems Development for the Florida Department of Transportation.

Port Everglades has been working with the Corps for more than 18 years on this project, designed to enable safe passage of deep draft post-Panamax cargo ships, those too large to fit through today’s Panama Canal. Port Everglades already handles Post-Panamax ships from Europe, but the ships must be lightly loaded, which is inefficient, and older fleets are being replaced with much larger ships.  Main features of the project are to deepen the main navigational channels from 42 feet to 48 feet (plus 1-foot required and another 1-foot allowable overdepth for a total of 50 feet) and to widen the Entrance Channel and the maneuverability constrained Southport Access Channel, including the “knuckle” area between berths 23-26.

The project is anticipated to create an estimated 4,700 total construction jobs and nearly 1,500 permanent direct jobs locally. The estimated cost is $374 million which will be paid with Port Everglades revenue generated through port user fees, federal appropriations and state grants. No local tax dollars will be used for this project because Port Everglades is a self-funded enterprise fund.

At the crossroads of north-south and east-west trade, Broward County’s Port Everglades is Florida’s leading container port, handling more than one million TEUs (20-foot equivalent units, the industry standard measurement for container volumes) and serving as a gateway to Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia. Located within the cities of Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, and Dania Beach, Florida, Port Everglades is in the heart of one of the world’s largest consumer regions, including a constant flow of visitors and up to a combined 110 million residents and seasonal visitors within a 500-mile radius. Port Everglades has direct access to the interstate highway system and the newly opened 43-acre Florida East Coast Railway (FECR) intermodal hub, and is closer to the Atlantic Shipping Lanes than any other Southeastern U.S. port. Ongoing capital improvements and expansion will ensure that Port Everglades can continue to handle future growth in container traffic. A world-class cargo handling facility, Port Everglades serves as an ideal point of entry and departure for products shipped around the world.

More information about Broward County’s Port Everglades is available at porteverglades.net or by calling toll-free in the United States 1-800-421-0188 or emailing PortEvergladesCargo@broward.org .

Water Cutbacks Now Mandatory In California For First Time In History

  Conserving water in California isn’t just a suggestion anymore.

On Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown announced there will be mandatory water cutbacks in the drought-stricken state for the first time in history.

“Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow,” he said in a statement. “This historic drought demands unprecedented action. Therefore, I’m issuing an executive order mandating substantial water reductions across our state. As Californians, we must pull together and save water in every way possible.”

The orders come the same day Brown joined officials at a snowpack measure in the Sierra Nevada mountains that revealed levels are are at an all-time recorded low, at just 6 percent of the long-term average for this time of year. The previous low was 25 percent, set in 1977 and again in 2014.

Images Brown’s office released with his announcement show the shocking difference in snowpack measured in April of previous years.

Under the new restrictions, the State Water Resources Control Board will enforce a 25 percent water use reduction in every city, conserving about 1.5 million acre-feet of water throughout the next nine months. According to the governor’s office, that’s nearly the amount of water currently left in Northern California’s Lake Oroville. Shrinking water levels made the lake one of the drought’s most jaw-dropping visuals.

The mandatory cutbacks come a little over a year after Brown asked Californians to voluntarily reduce their water use by 20 percent. Maps from the National Drought Mitigation Center show the increasingly dry conditions the state is facing as it suffers through its fourth year of drought.

drought

The state will also partner with local governments to rid California of 50 million square feet of lawns and replace the water-intensive greenery with drought-tolerant landscaping. Campuses, golf courses, cemeteries and other large landscapes often covered in sprawling lawns will be required to make significant cuts, the announcement notes. Watering ornamental lawns on public street medians will be banned.

Residents will also be able to take advantage of a new temporary, statewide consumer rebate program that rewards them for replacing appliances with more water-efficient ones. All new residences and developments will be prohibited from irrigating with potable water unless they use water-efficient drip irrigation systems.

Brown also called for increased enforcement of these water restrictions. He’s requiring local water agencies to implement conservation pricing and agricultural water users to report additional water use activity to state regulators.

Lydia O’Connor|The Huffington Post|04/01/2015

Good News: Our Planet Might Actually Be Getting Greener

The threat of deforestation is understood as one of the major problems in the world today, but a new study suggests that the total amount of vegetation in the world appears to have increased in the past decade, suggesting a rare ray of light in conservation and climate change news.

The study, which was published late last month in the journal Nature Climate Change, saw researchers from Australia assess the amount of carbon stored in living plant mass, also known as biomass, stored above ground. This is one established way that we can measure not just how much carbon is stored but also the density of biomass in any given area and so provides us with an interesting way of assessing regional and global forest densities.

To assess this, the researchers developed a new technique. The researchers explain:

We developed a new technique to map changes in vegetation biomass using satellite measurements of changes in the radio-frequency radiation emitted from the Earth’s surface, a technique called passive microwave remote sensing. The radiation varies with temperature, soil moisture and the shielding of water in vegetation biomass above the ground.

We extracted this vegetation information from several satellites and merged them into one time series covering the last two decades. This allowed us to track global changes in biomass from month to month, something that was not possible before.

When the researchers looked at the years between 2003 and 2012, they saw that the amount of carbon stored above ground in biomass increased by 4 billion tons. This indicates that, despite ongoing and severe deforestation in tropical rainforests, other areas have actually managed to “re-green” quite successfully. The researchers indicate one key effort that seems to have had an impact is China’s tree planting known as the Three-North Shelter Forest Program. The effort has seen China create a strip of wind-breaking trees that are specifically designed to halt the expansion of the Gobi Desert. This ongoing effort is set to be completed by 2050, with estimates suggesting that by that time the corridor of forest will stretch 4,500km. While the project has hit some problems, and has had its share of criticism, it seems that in this regard at least, it may have been helpful. It also makes China the only region that has purposefully contributed to the identified restoration of forests.

Other factors that appear to have contributed to this increase in vegetation include the practice of abandoning farmland in Eastern Europe and forests being allowed to, effectively, reclaim that land. Another thing that seems to have helped, and one that is mostly outside of human control, is increased rainfall across Australia, Africa, and South America.  The researchers note that the increase found in Australia happened despite land clearing operations — which perhaps suggests that this effect is already under threat, but that forests are proving robust and are capable of bouncing back given the right conditions.

This study also identified the areas of greatest decline, and unsurprisingly they occurred on the southeastern edge of the Amazon forest, in particular areas like Sumatra and Kalimantan, where vast land clearing and logging operations continue despite conservationists warning that the reduction of these vital habitats are driving hundreds of species toward decline and possible extinction.

The news that there appears to have been an increase in forests when looking at the world as a whole is good in some respects, but it’s not out of the blue. It has been suspected that a certain reversal happened in overall vegetation loss because the carbon storage effect known as “carbon sink” appeared to go up in recent studies examining data from the past couple decades. Carbon sink refers to how trees and other vegetation take in and in effect hold on to carbon from our atmosphere. While not a permanent solution to greenhouse gas emissions, carbon sinks are an important part of our climate change management strategy. As such, news that forests are making a comeback is very encouraging.

Let’s not celebrate too fast though. Other research has shown that when it comes to carbon sinks, not all forests are created equal and unfortunately for us, it is the tropical forests that we need in order to have the maximum off-setting for our climate damaging fossil fuels and manufacturing practices. All that said though, this research does indicate that, alongside saving tropical forests and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, concerted efforts to re-green really can be successful and can create a meaningful contribution to ongoing climate change reduction efforts.

Steve Williams|April 2, 2015

Florida’s national parks losing their looks

WASHINGTON – The backlog of maintenance work at Florida’s national parks is approaching $195 million, according to a new report by the National Park Service.

Everglades National Park has the most deferred maintenance, with a $58.9 million price tag. It is followed by Dry Tortugas National Park ($56.9 million), Canaveral National Seashore ($22.2 million), Gulf Islands National Seashore ($20.9 million) and Big Cypress National Preserve ($20 million).

Nationwide, national parks face a $11.5 billion backlog – an increase of $190 million over last year’s estimate. The park service counts as deferred maintenance repairs to roads and bridges, visitor centers, trails, and campgrounds that have been put off for more than a year.

In releasing the maintenance report, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis pointed out President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2016 budget proposes additional funding to reduce the backlog and spruce up the parks as part of efforts to mark the agency’s 100th birthday.

“As we invite more Americans to discover the special places in the national park system during our centennial celebration, we need to have facilities that can accommodate them and provide the best possible visitor experience,” Jarvis said.

Crumbling park roads and bridges account for about half the maintenance backlog. Florida is no exception:

*At Everglades National Park, which had more than 1.1 million visitors last year, most postponed work involves repairing paved and unpaved roads, NPS records show. Another $7.8 million is for building renovations.

*At Canaveral National Seashore on the Space Coast, which hosted more than 1.4 million visitors, deferred maintenance on roads accounted for almost all the park’s backlog.

*At Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida’s Panhandle, visited by nearly 4.5 million in 2014, $16.4 million of the backlog is earmarked for roads.

Obama’s budget calls for increasing parks spending by $433 million, to $3 billion. The park service estimates its staffing would increase by almost 500 full-time employees.

The budget includes $242.8 million to deal with the most urgent deferred maintenance.

Chilly reaction

But the proposal has received a chilly reaction from some Republicans in the GOP-controlled Congress.

Republican Rep. Tom McClintock of California, chairman of the House Natural Resources subcommittee that oversees the park system, said during a budget hearing last week record attendance at the parks is “an illusion” created by the huge numbers visiting the new World War II Memorial and the Franklin Roosevelt Memorial.

He said lodging is down by 330,000 annually, or about 10 percent, and RV and tent camping also have declined. He questioned why the park service would be looking to add new properties when it’s having difficulty maintaining existing parks.

Craig Obey, senior vice president with the National Parks Conservation Association, told a different House subcommittee last week 73 percent of people polled in a recent survey said it’s important the nation’s parks are fully restored and ready for the centennial in 2016.

“This is a critical time for our national park system and the National Park Service, which celebrate their 100th birthday next year,” Obey said. “Our parks, though beloved by Americans from all walks of life and celebrated worldwide, are under significant financial strain.”

Ledyard King and Bill Theobald|USA TODAY

National Park maintenance backlog

National Parks in Florida face a maintenance backlog amounting to about $195 million. Here’s a list of the parks and cost of addressing that backlog:

*Everglades National Park $58.9 million

*Dry Tortugas National Park $56.9 million

*Canaveral National Seashore $22.2 million

*Gulf Islands National Seashore $20.9 million

*Big Cypress National Preserve $20 million

*Biscayne National Park $6.7 million

*Castillo de San Marcos National Monument $5.7 million

*Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve $3.6 million

*De Soto National Memorial $151,369

Source: National Park Service

Senate Republicans pass hydraulic fracturing limits

 Democrats argue for ban

TALLAHASSEE- A proposal to regulate hydraulic fracturing cleared a Senate panel Tuesday, despite calls from opponents and some state lawmakers to ban the method in Florida.

The measure (SB 1468) cleared the Senate’s environmental preservation and conservation committee, 6-2 along party lines with Democrats opposing.

That proposal, sponsored by Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, would increase penalties to $25,000 a day, create a chemical disclosure registry and require companies to disclose the chemicals being used in the process.

A companion measure (SB 1582) also cleared the committee with only Republicans supporting. That measure creates a public records exemption for proprietary business information.

“I believe this bill is intended to pave the way for fracking in the state of Florida,” said Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, who sponsored legislation to ban it. “I believe that is short sighted. I don’t believe the answer here is to regulate. It is to eliminate.”

Paula Cobb, the deputy secretary for regulatory programs at the state Department of Environmental Protection, said hydraulic fracturing and high-pressure well stimulation already are allowed under existing law and the Senate proposal puts “protections in that don’t already exist.”

“I really believe this is a work in progress,” Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said. “I believe it is better to have regulation.”

Drilling has come under increased scrutiny in the past few years, in part because the Collier-Hogan well, south of Lake Tafford, was fracked at the end of 2013. Cobb said it “is very clear” the proposed legislation is, in part, a response to what happened in 2013.

“Because we did not have … what we have in this bill today, that activity went forward without the proper or robust framework,” she said.

But some question whether the proposal would have even covered what happened in Collier County. The measure defines high-pressure well stimulation as an intervention performed by injecting “more than 100,000 gallons of fluids into a rock formation at a high pressure.” In a March 30 staff analysis, Senate staff said the limit “might not capture all well stimulation activities.”

Stephanie Kunkel, who represents the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and Clean Water Action, said the Conservancy supports efforts to put regulations in place but called on lawmakers to strengthen the proposal before it becomes law.

The organization has offered several suggestions for ways to

strengthen the measure, including broadening the definition of high-pressure well stimulation, prohibiting companies from using drinking water in the process and holding companies accountable for remediation associated with contamination.

While Kunkel said the organizations she represents are generally supportive of the measure, many others were not. Kim Ross, president of ReThink Energy Florida, said lawmakers need to take up proposed legislation to outlaw hydraulic fracturing. Ross called the Senate proposal a “look-good bill.”

“It makes everyone look like they’re doing something, when they’re not,” she said. “We’re in favor of a ban. We think the only way to go is a ban.”

That is unlikely to happen, though. Two bills (SB 166 and HB 169) have been filed this session that aim to ban hydraulic fracturing. Neither of those proposals have received a committee hearing, and House and Senate Democrats held a news conference Tuesday urging lawmakers to hear the bills.

This was the first committee stop for the Senate proposal. It needs to clear two more committees before it makes it to the Senate floor. A similar House proposal (HB 1205), sponsored by Estero Republican Rep. Ray Rodrigues, cleared the first of three committees on March 17.

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster|Scripps-Tribune Capital Bureau

Calls to Action

  1. Tell the EPA and FDA- Immediately Suspend Monsanto’s Roundup Herbicide – here
  2. Fight Sea-Level Rise- Cut Carbon Pollution – here
  3. National forests and wilderness areas are not for sale – here

Birds and Butterflies

Plans Move Forward to Kill Thousands of Cormorants

Last summer, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers caused some major upset when it announced a controversial plan to kill 16,000 double-crested cormorants who it believes need to die simply because they eat fish.

The Army Corps planned on targeting cormorants on East Sand Island, which is located near the mouth of the Columbia River. The spot is 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.

Bird and wildlife advocates raised serious concerns that the proposal was cruel, wasteful and pointless, and used these birds as scapegoats for problems affecting salmon that are caused by humans – namely dams and habitat loss.

They also worried the plan could potentially have dire unintended consequences for cormorants who may be doing well on the island, but aren’t thriving elsewhere, which could potentially push them towards needing endangered species protection.

Criticism was also brought by researchers from Oregon State University who were hired by the Army Corps to study the bird population on the island. They say the Army Corps ignored their findings and isn’t using the best available science in its plan to protect young salmon.

Unfortunately, despite widespread opposition from the public and scientific community, the Army Corps announced it has finalized its decision that will slightly reduce the number of cormorants targeted, but will still kill nearly 11,000 of them and destroy more than 26,000 of their nests in an effort to reduce their numbers by more than half.

As of now, it still has to get permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to begin, which will likely bring in contractors from the notorious Wildlife Services to start the killing this spring. Still, if permits are granted there’s now hope a lawsuit could shut down the plan and save cormorants from this massive slaughter.

In response to the Army Corp’s latest plan, the Audubon Society of Portland announced its Board of Directors has voted to sue both the Army Corps and the FWS if permits are granted. Bob Sallinger, the organization’s conservation director, said in a statement:

We are deeply disappointed that despite more than 145,000 comments opposing this decision, the federal government has chosen to move forward with the wanton slaughter of thousands of protected birds. Rather than addressing the primary cause of salmon decline, the manner in which the Corps operates the Columbia River Hydropower System, the Corps has instead decided to scapegoat wild birds and pursue a slaughter of historic proportions. Sadly this will do little or nothing to protect wild salmon but it will put Double-crested Cormorant populations in real jeopardy.

The organization is hoping to get the Army Corps to focus instead on non-lethal measures that will protect both birds and salmon. For more info on how to help protect these cormorants from being needlessly killed, visit the Audubon Society of Portland.

Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/plans-move-forward-to-kill-thousands-of-cormorants.html#ixzz3Vl6xxHcp

Alicia Graef|March 27, 2015

Plant Native Milkweed to Aid the Monarch Migration

To ensure that the next generation of monarch butterflies thrives this spring, you can do one simple thing: plant native milkweed.

Milkweed is essential for the butterflies because it is the only food of monarch caterpillars. It makes me both sad and furious that milkweed is disappearing because of human greed and carelessness, falling victim to heavy use of herbicides and monocrop agriculture. Please join me this spring in welcoming the return of the monarchs by planting native milkweed, untreated by pesticides.

Not all milkweed is alike: it is very important that you plant the species of milkweed native to your area and that you do not buy it from vendors who pre-treat it with pesticides.

Our friends at the Xerces Society have all the resources you need to find milkweed native to your region. If you can’t plant this spring, you can also plant milkweed seed this fall to aid next spring’s migration. You can even plant milkweed in a pot or planter box.

In the coming weeks monarchs will embark on their return journey to the United States, and they’ll need food and places to lay their eggs when they arrive. I hope you will help monarchs along their remarkable migration by planting milkweed.

Planting milkweed is an incredibly simple action you can take to preserve an astounding natural phenomenon and create habitat for these important pollinators.

Ask your friends, family, school and community gardens “Got Milkweed?”

Together, we can help save the monarch migration.

Bethany Cotton|Wildlife Program Director|WildEarth Guardians

The Rise of Jerdon’s Babbler

This babbler’s back. Or maybe it never left?

Jerdon’s babbler, a small brown bird the size of a house sparrow, was first described by the British naturalist T.C. Jerdon in 1862. In the ensuing decades, its native grasslands near Yangon, Myanmar, were swallowed up by human development. By the 20th century, the bird was feared extinct.

Recently, though, Jerdon’s babbler was rediscovered by a WCS-led scientific team. The group was surveying the site of an abandoned agricultural station and heard the bird’s distinct call. Over the next 48 hours, the team repeatedly found Jerdon’s babblers at several locations in the immediate vicinity and managed to obtain blood samples and high-quality photographs. They published their findings in Birding Asia, the magazine of the Oriental Bird Club.

According to Colin Poole, Director of WCS’s Regional Conservation Hub in Singapore, the discovery proves that not only is the bird still around but it’s native grassland is, as well. “Future work is needed,” he said, “to identify remaining pockets of natural grassland and develop systems for local communities to conserve and benefit from them.”

Wildlife Conservation Society|March 2015

Migratory Dragonfly Partnership Annual Report

4 Epic Bird Migrations

Do you have a long commute to work? You may think so, but take a look at how far migrating birds travel. Every year, as the cycle of nature keeps turning, thousands upon thousands of birds fly from their feeding grounds to their breeding grounds. And that journey can cover almost the entire globe.

These are very risky flights that involve huge amounts of energy.

Townsends Warbler

Take the Townsends Warbler, (seen above), which follows the pattern of wintering south and breeding north. It spends winters in central Mexico and Costa Rica, and also along the coast of California. During migration, the species disperses across the western United States, but to breed, it moves into northern Idaho and the Pacific Northwest, much of British Columbia, and southern Alaska.

Blackpoll Warbler

This tiny bird flies 1,700 miles over open ocean in a non-stop flight lasting fewer than three days.

A study involving miniature electronic backpacks to monitor the birds’ movements has revealed that the Blackpoll Warbler takes off from the north-east corner of North America and flies due south over open water without stopping until it reaches landfall in the Caribbean about two or three days later, before flying on to Venezuela and Colombia.

“We’re really excited to report that this is one of the longest non-stop overwater flights ever recorded for a songbird, and finally confirms what has long been believed to be one of the most extraordinary migratory feats on the planet,” said Bill DeLuca of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the first author of the study published in the journal Biology Letters.

Sanderling

Shorebirds make some of the farthest trips. The Sanderling is a good example: every year this 3-ounce bird goes around the American continent. Starting in California, Sanderlings fly east across the top of North America and down the Atlantic Coast in the autumn to wintering grounds in Chile and Peru, then back north in the spring through the western United States to their Arctic breeding grounds. Finally they return to California. That’s an exhausting schedule!

British Swallows

Another epic journey is the one taken by British Swallows. These birds arrive in the UK in April and May and take off for their wintering grounds in South Africa in September and October. To get to South Africa, they cover 200 miles a day, mainly during daylight, at speeds of 17 – 22 miles per hour. Maximum flight speed is 35 mph.

Their route takes them through western France, across the Pyrenees, down eastern Spain into Morocco, and across the Sahara. Some birds follow the west coast of Africa avoiding the Sahara, and other European swallows travel further east and down the Nile Valley.

How do these tiny birds find their way? They use clues such as land forms, rivers, shorelines. At night they orient themselves by the stars and by the earth’s magnetic field. By day they use the sun. They also use smells to help them know where they are (like trout and salmon returning to breed). With these tools, birds find their way to and from their breeding grounds – the same trip every year.

So next time you’re tempted to complain about your commute, think first about these tiny creatures and their amazingly long journeys!

Judy Molland|April 2, 2015

Tiny Songbird Discovered to Migrate Non-Stop, 1,500 Miles over the Atlantic

For more than 50 years, scientists had tantalizing clues suggesting that a tiny, boreal forest songbird known as the blackpoll warbler departs each fall from New England and eastern Canada to migrate nonstop in a direct line over the Atlantic Ocean toward South America, but proof was hard to come by.

While other birds, such as albatrosses, sandpipers and gulls are known for trans-oceanic flights, the blackpoll warbler is a forest dweller that migrates boldly where few of its relatives dare to travel. Most migratory songbirds that winter in South America take a less risky, continental route south through Mexico and Central America. A water landing would be fatal to a warbler.

A Long Overwater Flight
Now, for the first time an international team of biologists report “irrefutable evidence” that the birds complete a nonstop flight ranging from about 1,410 to 1,721 miles (2,270 to 2,770 km) in just two to three days, making landfall somewhere in Puerto Rico, Cuba and the islands known as the Greater Antilles, from there going on to northern Venezuela and Columbia. Details of their study, which used light-level, or solar, geolocators, appear in the current issue of Biology Letters.

As for why the blackpoll undertakes such a perilous journey while other species follow a longer but safer coastal route, the authors say that because migration is the most perilous part of a songbird’s year, it may make sense to get it over with as quickly as possible. However, this and other questions remain to be studied.

First author Bill DeLuca, an environmental conservation research fellow at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, with colleagues at the University of Guelph, Ontario, the Vermont Center for Ecostudies and other institutions, says, “For small songbirds, we are only just now beginning to understand the migratory routes that connect temperate breeding grounds to tropical wintering areas. We’re really excited to report that this is one of the longest nonstop overwater flights ever recorded for a songbird, and finally confirms what has long been believed to be one of the most extraordinary migratory feats on the planet.”

How Do You Track A Tiny Bird Over The Ocean?
In the recent past, geolocators have been too large and heavy for use in studying songbird migration and the tiny blackpoll warbler, at around half an ounce (12 grams) or about as much as 12 business cards, was too small to carry even the smallest of traditional tracking instruments. Scientists had only ground observations and radar as tools.

But with recent advances in geolocator technology, they have become lighter and smaller. For this work, the researchers harnessed miniaturized geolocators about the size of a dime and weighing only 0.5g to the birds’ lower backs like a tiny backpack. By retrieving these when the warblers returned to Canada and Vermont the following spring, then analyzing the data, first author Bill DeLuca, an environmental conservation research fellow at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and his colleagues could trace their migration routes.

For this work the scientists fitted geolocator packs on 20 birds in Vermont and 20 more in Nova Scotia. They were able to recapture three birds from the Vermont group and two from the Nova Scotia group for analyses.

A Daring Flight
To prepare for the flight, the birds build up their fat stores, explains Canadian team leader Ryan Norris of the University of Guelph. “They eat as much as possible, in some cases doubling their body mass in fat so they can fly without needing food or water. For blackpolls, they don’t have the option of failing or coming up a bit short. It’s a fly-or-die journey that requires so much energy.”

He adds, “These birds come back every spring very close to the same place they used in the previous breeding season, so with any luck you can catch them again. Of course there is high mortality among migrating songbirds on such a long journey, we believe only about half return.”

eNature|March 31, 2015

 Florida Panthers

DEP Celebrates First Year of Care of Florida Panther Kitten

HOMOSASSA – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Park Service is celebrating the first anniversary of Yuma’s arrival at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.

Yuma (meaning “Son of the Chief”) arrived at the park on April 3, 2014, as a three-month-old kitten. He was found barely alive on Jan. 23, 2014, by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in Naples, Florida. Apparently abandoned, the kitten was dehydrated and non-responsive. The kitten received emergency care at Animal Specialty Hospital in Naples and rehabilitative care at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa. He could not be returned to the wild, so Yuma has been given a home at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park where he serves as an ambassador for his species.

Yuma is almost 15 months old and is healthy and active. The 80-pound panther has become a favorite of park visitors who can easily observe him in his habitat from the Wildlife Walk.

The anniversary of Yuma’s arrival at the Wildlife Park will be celebrated at the park’s Earth Day Egg-stravaganza on Saturday, April 4, 2015. Visitors will be able to adopt Yuma for a $20 donation to the Friends of Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park.

The Earth Day Egg-stravaganza event kicks off with a complimentary Easter Egg Hunt starting at 9 a.m. on the green behind the Park’s Visitor Center parking area. Families should arrive early to register their children and to meet the Easter Bunny and other costumed characters. Children will redeem the Easter Eggs they collect for candy.

WHAT:      Celebration of Yuma and Earth Day Egg-stravaganza

WHEN:      Saturday, April 4, 2015

WHERE:    Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

4150 S. Suncoast Blvd.

Homosassa, FL 34446

There is no charge to participate in the Easter Egg Hunt, but regular admission fees to the park apply. Please contact the park at (352) 628-5343 for additional information.

The Friends of Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park encourage participants to bring canned goods for donation to the We Care Food Pantry to help needy families in the community.

nataliarodriguez2015|March.31.2015

Florida Panther FIELD UPDATE

FP 238’s Port Royal adventure

Few people get to see a Florida panther, so when a gardener working on a Naples Port Royal waterfront estate saw a large cat resting in the shrubbery the morning of February 3, 2015, it’s not surprising he told the owner it was a tiger.  The homeowner went outside to see what was in his shrubs.  After seeing that there was a panther in his bushes, the homeowner called 911.  The dispatcher was more than a little surprised to get a call about a panther in the upscale neighborhood and notified the Naples police.  The police, first on the scene, asked the neighbors to stay inside their homes.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Wildlife officers were dispatched to the scene prior to the panther capture team. The capture team responded as quickly as seasonal traffic would allow.  The on scene personnel notified the in route capture team, that the panther was resting in shrubs in an alcove between residences.  The biologists asked the officers to keep onlookers from disturbing the panther. Upon arrival, the biologists saw that the panther was still resting in the shrubs, and estimated the cat’s weight so they could prepare an anesthetic dart.  The capture team then positioned the biologists and officers to be able to watch and follow the panther if he ran after he was darted.  There was a Naples Police boat in the adjacent waterway.

Fortunately, the panther stayed put and was out after about 10 minutes.  The biologists moved the panther to a shady area on the walkway between the two houses, and with the assistance of local veterinarian Dr. Noble, began the capture examination and data collection (Figure 1).  The panther, now known as FP238, was given a routine capture workup.  They collected blood, hair, and ear tissue samples, vaccinated, tattooed, inserted a transponder chip, weighed, and fitted him with a GPS radio-collar. FP 238 appeared to be in good condition, so he was loaded into a transport crate, and taken to the FWC office to recover from the anesthesia.  (The effects of the drugs used in emergency situations lasts longer than the typical capture drugs, FP 238 did not leave his transportation crate until after sunset.) During his holding in the transportation crate one of the biologists noted he had fishy breath, perhaps a result of his coastal habitat diet.  Although the panther had most likely come from Rookery Bay, the FWC biologists decided to release him in Picayune Strand State Forest because it was further from roads and housing developments.  He stayed in Picayune for a couple of days then crossed US 41 at Collier Seminole State Park and headed west between Fiddlers Creek and Marco Airport.  Since then he has been using the northern area of Rookery Bay, west of Treviso Bay.

Mac Hatcher|Volunteer|Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge (FPNWR)|MARCH 2015

16 Year Old Panther Littermates Found in February

In late February of 1999, female Tx107, one of 8 panthers brought from Texas to improve the diversity of Florida panther genes, gave birth to 3 kittens, 2 females and 1 male, in Big Cypress National Preserve. Their dad was the infamous FP79, aka Don Juan. They were the 56th, 57th, and 58th kittens handled by panther biologists and each were marked with a unique ID, a tiny microchip beneath their skin. The 2 females were caught later as adults and radio-collared.  K58 was collared in 2000 when she was just a year old. She became FP93. Her sister, K56, eluded capture until 2011 when she was 12 years old. She became FP191. Both females have successfully raised 3 young some years and FP191 even denned when she was 14 years old.

The Big Cypress panther team handled both of these female littermates this past February when they were 16 years old.  Unfortunately, FP191 was found dead and too decomposed to determine her cause of death.  Old age, however, is unlikely, given that the team also caught her sister, FP93, this year. She weighed 77 pounds and was in excellent condition for her age. She had been MIA since 2011 when her collar failed.

Panther biologists efforts to find and mark kittens at dens with microchips have been one of the best ways to monitor panther productivity and survival on a long-term basis.

They were two of 20 kittens from Texas panther and Florida panther parents. The genetic restoration program, in which FP 93 and 191 played a key role, is believed to have resolved significant abnormalities prevalent in the Florida panther population.  The genetic introgression has improved the likelihood of kittens to reach adulthood.

Deborah Jansen|Big Cypress National Preserve|MARCH 2015

Naples Zoo

In fall 2014, a motorist on Immokalee Road slowed down because a panther was walking right next to the road and was then struck by a following vehicle.  The FWC panther biologists thought they were capturing a panther injured by a vehicle.  After the panther was captured, the biologists discovered he had been shot in the face and rear with birdshot and was emaciated.

FWC sent him to Animal Specialty Hospital in Naples for initial treatment, and then to Lowry Park Zoo for additional treatment, in their recently completed veterinary hospital.  (He was named Uno because he was the first patient at the Lowry Park Zoo veterinary hospital.)   He is blind so cannot be returned to the wild but has made a sufficient recovery and is a good candidate for managed care.  He will be placed at the Naples Zoo later this spring in a newly refurbished exhibit where he will serve as an ambassador for his species.

His story will hopefully inspire peaceful coexistence with wildlife. Additionally, in conjunction with creating a new exhibit for Uno, the Naples Zoo is building facilities to temporarily house panthers in need of short-term care.

This will be a beneficial local asset used to provide care for panthers in need.

  Invasive species

Researchers link Everglades’ mammal drop to invasive pythons

EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, Fla. Researchers have linked invasive Burmese pythons to the severe drop in the population of small mammals in the Florida Everglades.

A University of Florida research team outfitted 30 marsh rabbits with radio collars and set them free. When they later tracked the signals they found mostly pythons.

U.S. Geological Survey herpetologist Bob Reed says the study is the first hard evidence of invader pythons causing mammal declines in Everglades National Park.

Scientists believe the pythons in the Everglades are related to discarded or escaped pets introduced about 30 years ago.

The Gainesville Sun reports (http://bit.ly/1Bu01LZ) that trappers and scientists have also found bobcats and deer inside snakes.

The UF biologist who led the experiment says he hopes the findings reinvigorate efforts to solve the python problem.

|March 30, 2015

[The hard evidence has been here all along – now it’s official.]

Endangered Species

Sea turtle nesting season

Sea Turtle Nesting Season (March – October) is underway on Greater Fort Lauderdale’s beaches — and these ancient mariners need all the help they can get. Nearly 90% of sea turtle nesting in the U.S. occurs in Florida. From March through October these creatures will return to their home beaches to lay eggs. Greater Fort Lauderdale’s coastal residents and beach visitors can help sea turtles during the nesting season by keeping beaches clean, being aware of nesting sites and reducing artificial lighting near beaches that can distract and confuse mothers and hatchlings. Sea turtle hatchlings use light and reflections from the moon to find their way to the water at night. Artificial lighting discourages adult females from nesting on the beach.

Turtles deposit approximately 100 golf-ball size eggs, gently cover the eggs with sand and then they spread sand over a wide area to obscure the exact location of the chamber. They then leave the nest site and reenter the water.

Since adult sea turtles do not nurture their hatchlings, the female never sees the nest site again. A single female may nest several times during a season and then not nest again for one or two years. Approximately half of all emergences result in a female crawling on the beach for long distances and reentering the water without digging a nest. These are called “false crawls” and usually occur because the turtle was disturbed or it could not find a suitable nest site. The crawl tracks left on the beach are always made by female sea turtles and they resemble marks left by a tractor tire. Male sea turtles never leave the ocean.

Incubation of the nests takes about 45-55 days. Here in Broward County the eggs that are deposited in the chambers are either left to incubate naturally or are moved, (relocated) to a safer area of the beach. Some of the nests are relocated because of the extent of the development on our beaches and the bright lights from condos, streets, and highway traffic. The relocation process serves to protect the emerging hatchlings so they can exit the nest and traverse the beach to the water on their own. Nests that are not moved are those that are already on safe beaches.

After incubation, the hatchlings emerge from the nest en masse and, using various environmental and inherited cues, quickly migrate to the water’s edge. If artificial lights are lighting the beach, the hatchlings will be disoriented, travel in the wrong direction, and possibly never make it to the water.

Once in the water the hatchlings swim directly out to sea, facing a perilous struggle to survive to adulthood. The best scientific estimates available indicate that only one in 1,000 hatchlings will survive (anywhere from 12-50 years) to become a reproductive adult sea turtle.

Pick the Winner: 32 Endangered Animals Face Off in March Sadness Bracket

Are you worried about what climate change is doing to the Earth’s innocent animals?

Then you’ll want to participate in ClimateProgress’ March Sadness: A Bracket Battle of Cute Animals, now underway. Thirty-two animals threatened by climate change and environmental degradation were selected to compete. The bracket divided the animals into four categories: Paws and Claws, Fins and Flippers, Horns and Hooves, and Shells and Wings. One animal out of the 32 that began round one almost two weeks ago will emerge as champion after the final round of voting April 6. Voting takes place via Twitter using the hashtag #CPMarchSadness and via comments on the ClimateProgress Facebook page.

“The creatures within this bracket were lovingly chosen by ClimateProgress’ staff, based both on their cuteness and the severity of the environmental threat they face,” says ClimateProgress. “They were ranked semi-arbitrarily, but with our perceived likelihood of how popular each animal would be in mind.”

One of the primary goals of March Sadness is education. As part of each round, readers learn more about each animal and how it’s being endangered by climate change impacts such as drought, sea level rise and rising temperatures. The “winner” will get a deep-dive story put together by a ClimateProgress research team, detailing the extent of the climate threats to that particular animal.

“The basis for how you vote is up to you—you can choose the animal you like the most, the one you think is the cutest, or if you’re really into the end-game of the competition, the one you’d most like to read a deep-dive feature story about,” says Climate Progress.

Anastasia Pantsios|March 30, 2015

15 animal species have the lowest chance for survival

Climbing rats, seabirds and tropical gophers are among the 15 animal species that are at the absolute greatest risk of becoming extinct very soon. Expertise and money is needed to save them and other highly threatened species.

A new study shows that a subset of highly threatened species – in this case 841 – can be saved from extinction for about $1.3 billion a year. However, for 15 of them the chances of conservation success are really low.

The study published in Current Biology concludes that a subset of 841 endangered animal species can be saved, but only if conservation efforts are implemented immediately and with an investment of an estimated US $1.3 billion annually to ensure the species’ habitat protection and management.

Researchers, led by Assistant Prof. Dalia A. Conde from University of Southern Denmark and Prof. John E Fa from Imperial College, developed a “conservation opportunity index” using measurable indicators to quantify the possibility of achieving successful conservation.

To estimate the opportunities to conserve these species the researchers considered:

1. Opportunities of protecting its remaining habitats, which are restricted to single sites. Important factors are costs, political stability, and probability of urbanization.

2. The possibility to establish protected insurance populations in zoos: Important factors are costs and breeding expertise.

The researchers computed the cost of, and opportunities for, conserving 841 species of mammals, reptiles, birds and amphibians listed by the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) as restricted to single sites and categorized as Endangered or Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

“AZE sites are arguably the most irreplaceable category of important biodiversity conservation sites,” said Dr. Dalia A. Conde, lead author on the paper and Assistant Professor at the Max-Planck Odense Center at the University of Southern Denmark, adding:

“Conservation opportunity evaluations like ours show the urgency of implementing management actions before it is too late. However, it is imperative to rationally determine actions for species that we found to have the lowest chances of successful habitat and zoo conservation actions.”

While the study indicated that 39% of the species scored high for conservation opportunities, it also showed that at least 15 AZE species are in imminent danger of extinction given their low conservation opportunity index (see list below).

The estimated total cost to conserve the 841 animal species in their natural habitats was calculated to be over US$1 billion total per year. The estimated annual cost for complementary management in zoos was US$160 million.

“Although the cost seems high, safeguarding these species is essential if we want to reduce the extinction rate by 2020,” said Prof. Hugh Possingham from The University of Queensland, adding:

“When compared to global government spending on other sectors – e.g., US defense spending, which is more than 500 times greater -, an investment in protecting high biodiversity value sites is minor.”

Prof. John E. Fa said, “Our exercise gives us hope for saving many highly endangered species from extinction, but actions need to be taken immediately and, for species restricted to one location, an integrative conservation approach is needed.”

The paper stated the importance of integrating protection of the places these particular species inhabit with complementary zoo insurance population programs.

According to Dr. Onnie Byers, Chair of the IUCN SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group, “The question is not one of protecting a species in the wild or in zoos. The One Plan approach – effective integration of planning, and the optimal use of limited resources, across the spectrum of management from wild to zoo – is essential if we are to have a hope of achieving the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.”

Dr. Nate Flesness, Scientific Director of the International Species Information System, stressed “We want to thank the more than 800 zoos in 87 countries which contribute animal and collection data to the International Species Information System, where the assembled global data enables strategic conservation studies like this.”

Dr. Markus Gusset of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums added “Actions that range from habitat protection to the establishment of insurance populations in zoos will be needed if we want to increase the chances of species’ survival.”

The 15 species with the lowest chances for survival in the wild and in zoos are:

Amphibians:

1. Bay Lycian salamander, Lyciasalamandra billae, Turkey.
2. Perereca Bokermannohyla izecksohni, Brazil.
3. Campo Grande tree frog, Hypsiboas dulcimer, Brazil.
4. Santa Cruz dwarf frog, Physalaemus soaresi, Brazil.
5. Zorro bubble-nest frog, Pseudophilautus zorro, Sri Lanka.
6. Allobates juanii, Colombia.

Birds:

1. Ash’s lark, Mirafra ashi, Somalia.
2. Tahiti monarch, Pomarea nigra, French Polynesia.
3. Zino’s petrel, Pterodroma madeira, Madeira.
4. Mascarene petrel, Pseudobulweria aterrima, Reunion Island.
5. Wilkins’s finch, Nesospiza wilkinsi, Tristan da Cunha.
6. Amsterdam albatross, Diomedea amsterdamensis, New Amsterdam (Amsterdam Island).

Mammals:

1. Mount Lefo brush-furred mouse, Lophuromys eisentrauti, Cameroon.
2. Chiapan climbing rat, Tylomys bullaris, Mexico.
3. Tropical pocket gopher, Geomys tropicalis.

Their low chance for survival is due to at least two of the following factors:

  • High probability of its habitat becoming urbanized
  • Political instability in the site
  • High costs of habitat protection and management.
  • The opportunity of establishing an insurance population in zoos for these 15 species is low, due to high costs or lack of breeding expertise for the species.

    Springtime brings close encounters of manatees, boaters ‏

    As springtime arrives, chances increase that manatees and boaters will have close encounters.

    Boaters can enjoy opportunities to observe one of Florida’s unique species but to avoid colliding with manatees, people on the water should take basic steps such as slowing down, watching out for the animals and complying with regulations in manatee zones.

    Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) law enforcement officers will be on patrol in state waters to remind boaters of the seasonal manatee speed zones that go into effect in April. They will be taking enforcement actions when necessary.

    “Our officers do their very best to support conservation of this species,” said FWC Capt. Gary Klein. “We ask that boaters take notice of the zones and do their part as well.”

    In effect from April 1 through Nov. 15, seasonal manatee zones require boaters slow down in certain areas to prevent manatees from being struck by motorboats or personal watercraft. For more information on manatee zones and maps, go to MyFWC.com/Manatee and select “Protection Zones,” where there are links to county maps.

    In spring, manatees leave their winter warmer-water habitats, such as freshwater springs and power plant discharge areas, and disperse along Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf coasts and inland waters.

    Because manatees are large, slow-moving and difficult to detect when underwater, operators of boats and personal watercraft need to take basic steps to avoid causing injury to the marine mammals:

    • Wear polarized sunglasses to help spot manatees.
    • Look for the large circles on the water, also known as manatee footprints, indicating the presence of a manatee below.
    • Look for a snout sticking up out of the water.
    • Slow down and comply with manatee speed zones.

    The FWC also asks anyone seeing an injured, distressed, sick or dead manatee to call the agency’s Wildlife Alert Hotline, 888-404-3922 (FWCC) or dial #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone.

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

    For more about manatees, go to MyFWC.com/Manatee, where you can find the brochure, A Boater’s Guide to Living with Manatees.

    Photos available on FWC’s Flickr site: https://flic.kr/s/aHsjxNrc5v

    Suggested Tweet: Boaters, watch out! #Manatees are on the move this spring! http://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/FLFFWCC/bulletins/fc344c @MyFWC #Florida #boating

    Watch Manatee Videos

    Protect People From Bears Without Killing The Bears

About 3,000 bears live in the state of Florida. When they get hungry, they do what all animals do: they look for the easiest-to-find, most accessible food. In some cases, that seems to be people’s trash, backyard birdfeeders, and outdoor bowls of pet food, all of which are bringing bears in closer contact with humans — which isn’t good for either species. It doesn’t help matters when people actually feed bears, since that only conditions the animals to want more human contact. And that contact can sometimes lead to attacks.

Care2 member Sue Lee is concerned that the bears’ feeding habits is going to lead to them being hunted. She has launched a petition to encourage the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), which is charged with managing bears and other wildlife in the state, to find more humane ways to keep bears at bay.

According to the FWC, it is illegal to hunt bears in Florida and the Commission is not proposing a bear hunting season. But according to their website, “FWC has a bear management plan that lists hunting as one of several options that could be considered as a management tool in the future.” Additionally their website states that the question of whether to hunt black bears is being “carefully considered.”

FWC says that hunting is usually used to “attain wildlife population objectives, such as slowing population growth rates, rather than to resolve conflict issues.”  The most successful way to reduce human-bear conflicts, they say, is to secure items that attract bears into neighbors.

Care2′s Sue Lee agrees, which is why her petition advocates humane measures such as relocating bears far from population centers. The Humane Society in Florida also says it is important to get people to stop feeding bears and to use bear-proof trash cans that will deter the animals from human areas. Sue Lee cites the example of 20-year old Caster, a bear that started going to people’s homes and even going in their garages. The Fish and Wildlife Service relocated the animal about 150 miles away. Happy bear, happy people.

Sue Lee’s petition, aimed at Florida state lawmakers and the FWC, asks these officials to devise more humane methods to control bear attacks. She also urges them to educate the public against intentional feeding while considering trapping, moving and releasing bears into more remote areas.

If you agree, you can sign Sue Lee’s petition here.

Diane MacEachern|March 31, 2015

New Snow Leopard Equipped With GPS Collar

Good news from the base camp of our long-term snow leopard study in Mongolia’s Tost Mountains: Our team has managed to equip a new male snow leopard with a GPS collar, allowing them to track the cat’s movements in the months to come.

“The cat weighed 44.3 kg [just under 100 lbs.] and we think he is 4-5 years old”, field scientist Örjan Johansson reported. This is the 20th snow leopard the Trust has been able to equip with a GPS collar since the long-term study began in 2008, and the 11th male.

With the long-term snow leopard study in the South Gobi region of Mongolia, the Snow Leopard Trust and its partners have been breaking new ground in the research of this elusive, endangered cat. Results from this study have vastly expanded our knowledge of the snow leopard’s behavior, its spatial and nutritional needs, its reproductive cycle and population dynamics.

Data gained from the previous 19 cats that had been equipped with GPS collars have yielded insights into snow leopard cub dispersal, migration between mountain ranges, and predation patterns, i.e.

These insights have informed conservation approaches and have been crucial in efforts to protect parts of the cats’ habitat in the area.

It will be interesting to compare the movement patterns of this new cat, which will be named in the coming days, to its predecessors. Analysis of existing research camera photos from the area will perhaps also shed some light on the cat’s history and family connection to other known snow leopards in the area.

Snow Leopard Presence Confirmed in Western Sichuan

A team of researchers from our Chinese partner organization, Shan Shui, found signs of snow leopard presence in Sichuan’s Ganzi Prefecture, an area that had last been surveyed 8 years ago. However, densities appear to be lower than elsewhere in China.

The China team just finished a one-month-long survey in the Ganzi Prefecture of Sichuan Province to evaluate the status of and threats to snow leopards.

Dr. George Schaller, the Vice President of Panthera, initiated this trip to revisit this area after his initial trip in March of 1998. Mr. Zhou Huaming, Director of Gongga Mountain Natural Reserve, joined the survey and contributed greatly with his over 20 years of wildlife experience.

Personnel from Shan Shui and Peking University joined this survey, including Liu Yanlin, Cheng Chen, He Bing, Mei Suonancuo, Xiao Lingyun, Zhao Xiang, Hu Yanan and two volunteers.

The mountainous area of Ganzi Prefecture was suggested to hold potential habitats for snow leopards according to Dr. Li Juan’s prediction, but little information was known besides some presence records from camera traps in Luoxu NR in the west and Gongga Mountain NR in the east, respectively since 2007.

This survey covers twelve sites in five counties, including Kangding, Luhuo, Shiqu, Ganzi and Batang. The team was divided to check snow leopard signs, count blue sheep, and interview communities. The field observations, combined with thirty household interviews, also indicate that historical hunting from 1950s to 1990s might be responsible for blue sheep depletion in many areas.

The presence of snow leopards and leopards is now confirmed in Gongga Mountain and Luoxu Township. However, the researchers only found a few snow leopard spoors during the trip, which may indicate that a lower density of snow leopards inhabit the Ganzi Prefecture than Sanjiangyuan and the Qilian Mountain region in the Qinghai province.

Forty nature reserves have been established to cover 24% of the land in Ganzi and in each reserve, village rangers are hired to manage wildlife.

A meeting with Sichuan Forestry took place on March 27th. The survey team presented the finding to Mr. Wang Hongjia, Director of the Conservation Office in Sichuan Forestry.  Mr. Wang Hongjia encouraged the team to develop monitoring and conservation protocols on snow leopards.

These protocols could then be used by nature reserves and forestry departments to help train staff and students for snow leopard conservation.

During and after this trip, Dr. Schaller gave three inspiring presentations respectively in Yushu Vocational School, Youth Zone in Chengdu, and Natural History Museum in Beijing.  All three speeches attracted lots of young people, even kids, who were interested in wildlife. Dr. Schaller shared his wildlife research experiences in Tibetan Plateau, China and all around the world, and encouraged people to take part in wildlife conservation.

Dr. Schaller also gave his comments in an interview on a controversial TV ape show in China. He said the television station should be blamed for its irresponsibility, but above all we should call for more robust laws and moral principles on how we treat great apes.

Portland Bans Neonicotinoid Insecticides On City Lands To Protect Declining Honey Bees

April 1 (Reuters) – Oregon’s biggest city on Wednesday banned the use of an insecticide on city lands blamed by conservationists as a factor in the decline of honey bees in recent years.

Despite protests from farmers who argued the insecticide was crucial for crop production, the Portland City Commission voted unanimously to immediately suspend use of products that contain neonicotinoids.

Such pesticides are widely used on crops and on plants as well as trees in gardens, parks and commercial nurseries.

Portland brings to at least eight the number of U.S. municipalities, including Seattle and Spokane in neighboring Washington state, that have banned the chemicals amid what conservationists say is mounting evidence the insecticide is a culprit in the decline of bees and other pollinating insects.

Portland Commissioner Amanda Fritz successfully sought approval of the measure on Wednesday as a public health issue requiring emergency action that would immediately outlaw use of neonicotinoids in such areas as municipal parks, streets and gardens.

“I think we’re doing another good thing for the city of Portland, Oregon … and maybe the entire world,” Fritz said.

Opponents like Oregonians for Food and Shelter, a coalition of farmers, foresters and other pesticide users, said findings by some scientists suggesting honey bees have been severely harmed by the insecticide have been refuted by other researchers.

Scott Dahlman, the group’s policy director, said the decision by Portland leaders was based on “fear and ideology” rather than sound science about bees and other pollinators, which are vital for food production.

“Farmers have a huge investment in honey bees but they also need insecticides to protect their crops from destructive pests,” he said.

Aimee Code, pesticide program coordinator for the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, said momentum was building among local governments to prohibit use of such chemicals even as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mulls restricting or curtailing their use.

Eugene, Oregon, and Shorewood, Minnesota, are among eight municipalities that have passed bans similar to the one in Portland, said Code.

The federal Fish and Wildlife Service is to prohibit neonicotinoid use at national wildlife refuges by next January.

The agency found that the insecticide, which is taken up by plants through roots and leaves, was not preferred because it could be broadly distributed and potentially affect “a broad spectrum of non-target species.”

Laura Zuckerman|Reuters|04/01/2015|Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Sandra Maler

EPA Unlikely To Approve New Or Expanded Use Of Some Pesticides Amid Honey Bee Decline

(Reuters) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said on Thursday it was unlikely to approve new or expanded uses of certain pesticides while it evaluates the risks they may pose to honey bees.

The so-called neonicotinoid pesticides are routinely used in agriculture and applied to plants and trees in gardens and parks. But their widespread use has come under scrutiny in recent years after a drop in the number of honey bees and other pollinating insects, which play key roles in food production.

The decline is attributed to factors including pesticide and herbicide use, habitat loss and disease, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The EPA notice came the day after Oregon’s largest city suspended the use of the pesticides on its property to protect honey bees.

The unanimous vote on Wednesday by the Portland City Commission came despite protests from farmers, nursery owners and others who claimed the insecticide was crucial in combating pests that destroy crops and other plants. Portland is among at least eight municipalities that have banned the chemicals.

The EPA is conducting an assessment of the six types of neonicotinoids and their impact on honey bees, with its evaluation of four expected by 2018 and the remaining two a year later.

In the interim, the agency said in a statement that its move stemmed from the agency’s “ongoing effort to protect pollinators.”

But the federal environmental regulators said they would review the suspension “if a significant new pest issue should arise that may be uniquely addressed by one of these chemicals.”

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation said the EPA’s latest measure on neonicotinoids, which are taken up by plants through roots and leaves, was insufficient.

“The reality is, there are risks to our pollinators with current uses (of the insecticide),” said Amy Code, the Xerces Society’s pesticide program coordinator.

The EPA and a group representing farmers and other pesticide users could not immediately be reached for comment.

Laura Zuckerman|Editing by Curtis Skinner and Alan Raybould|Reuters|04/02/2015

Wild & Weird

Now We Know It’s True: Animals Can Predict Earthquakes

Reason #435 why animals are amazing: they can predict earthquakes.

The Amazon rainforest teems with animal activity throughout the day and night. When animals suddenly withdraw and go silent, however, something unusual is going on. Many believe that this reaction can mean an earthquake is imminent.

Scientists now say they’ve got proof this belief is true. They’ve published their study’s findings in the journal Physics and Chemistry of the Earth.

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Researchers set up a series of motion-activated camera traps in Peru’s Yanachanga National Park to observe animal activity at ground level. They filmed rodents and other ground dwellers as they went about their busy forest lives.

In 2011, just weeks before the 7.0 magnitude Contamana earthquake hit this area, those cameras revealed something amazing. Those animals suddenly dropped out of sight. They packed their bags and headed for the hills, so to speak.

Animal activity began dropping noticeably about 23 days before the quake struck. On a normal day, the cameras captured between five and 15 animals moving about. During those 23 days, they captured only five such daily sightings.

Even more astounding — for five of the seven days immediately preceding the earthquake, the cameras picked up absolutely no animal movements of any kind. In an area so rich with animal life, this development clearly meant something important.

“As far as we know, this is the first time that motion-triggered cameras have documented this phenomenon prior to an earthquake,” Dr. Rachel Grant, lecturer in Animal and Environmental Biology at Anglia Ruskin University and the report’s lead author, said in a news release.

“The park was 320km from the epicenter, and I thought, there was not much going to be happening,” Grant told Sky News. “But when I saw the results I was totally shocked. It was amazing. The analysis showed that just before the earthquake animal activity dropped right down.”

So what was going on? It seems that when the Earth’s surface experiences stressors, electrically charged molecules cause elevated serotonin levels in the bloodstream. This in turn causes animals and humans to experience confusion, agitation, headaches, restlessness and hyperactivity. Animals will naturally depart an area in which they experience this kind of discomfort.

In the week before the 2011 quake hit in Peru, an especially big fluctuation of this type occurred. This was the same time frame in which rodents and other smaller ground dwelling animals went to ground or left the area. Clearly, they knew something bad was coming.

“Animals have the potential to be reliable forecasters of earthquakes and could be used alongside other monitoring systems,” Grant told Reuters. “The system could be used in developing and earthquake-prone countries, it is affordable and feasible to implement as it just requires someone to monitor animal behavior… there is no need for satellites.”

Just when we thought we knew all the reasons it’s important to stop the decimation of our world’s rainforests, here’s one more. All those animals living in those pristine forested areas can actually assist humans in identifying when an earthquake might hit. We don’t have to harm or interact with them in any way to make this happen.

If we continue to allow deforestation in these areas, we’ll have little opportunity to observe how animals are reacting to naturally occurring changes around them. How many more reasons do we need to stop destroying these beautiful and life-sustaining forests?

Susan Bird|March 30, 2015

Everglades

Finally, Here’s One Thing We Can All Agree On: Helping the Everglades

What is it about the Everglades that brings people together who can’t otherwise seem to agree on anything?

For example, you might not expect Democratic National Committee Chair and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to have much in common with Tea Party-backed Republican Congressman Curt Clawson. They have different views on immigration, health care, and what a responsible federal budget looks like. Yet they both spoke at the most recent Everglades Coalition Conference and both support Everglades restoration. Clawson even shared movingly in his State of the Union response that he originally got into politics in part to help preserve the Everglades, calling it “a real national treasure we must protect.”

Maybe it’s not such a surprise, then, that in a political climate where members of Congress engage in tense debates and crippling stand-offs over seemingly every dollar, funding for Everglades restoration projects have won wholehearted bipartisan support.

In February, President Obama released a Fiscal Year 2016 budget that would provide $240 million for Everglades restoration, an amount that’s significantly higher than it was a year ago. This money would fund on-the-ground restoration projects led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, an important federal partner that accomplishes much of the planning, design, construction, and management of the restoration work. The money would also fund Department of the Interior initiatives, such as combatting invasive species like the infamous Burmese python.

We are optimistic that these projects will receive the requested funding in the coming year, despite other measures proposed in the president’s budget that will likely fail due to partisan wrangling. Here’s a look at some of the projects that this money would advance on the ground.

  • C-111 South Dade:The C-111 South Dade project will provide a series of detention basins that hold water in places that need it, like Everglades National Park, instead of releasing it to places that don’t need it, like the agricultural and urban areas of Miami-Dade County. Ultimately it will allow more freshwater to flow south through Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.
  • Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands: This project will rehydrate freshwater wetlands in Biscayne National Park by returning more freshwater to Biscayne Bay in a more natural pattern via a spreader canal system.
  • Kissimmee River Restoration: A major restoration project that is very near completion, this project will restore more than 40 square miles of river-floodplain ecosystem, including almost 20,000 acres of wetlands and 44 miles of historic river channel.
  • Picayune Strand Restoration: This project will restore wetlands in an 85-square-mile area that was originally slated for residential development located on the edge of Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve by removing canals and roads. Doing so will also restore important habitat for the endangered Florida panther.
  • C-43 and C-44 Reservoirs: Building these two reservoirs and water treatment marshes will directly improve the health of the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, respectively, by capturing and storing water from Lake Okeechobee and allowing harmful nutrients to filter out before being sent to the estuaries.

NPCA is now working with Congress to pass these budgetary measures so we can continue to build on the recent political momentum supporting the Everglades. Fortunately, this bipartisanship is nothing new. Democratic President Bill Clinton and Republican Governor Jeb Bush came together back in 2000 to sign the landmark legislation that made many of these projects possible in the first place, the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

That’s right: Even a Clinton and a Bush joined forces to celebrate—and fund—this unique and spectacular subtropical wetland.

It’s an investment that pays off. An economic study by Mather Economics found that for every dollar invested in Everglades restoration, more than four dollars are returned to the economy. Everglades restoration work also employs thousands of workers, while supporting a robust tourism economy. According to the National Park Service, in 2013 alone, Everglades and Biscayne National Parks and Big Cypress National Preserve created more than 2,670 jobs and generated approximately $202 million in visitor spending. Sustained funding for these restoration projects is critical for the ecosystem, economy, and water supply for nearly 8 million Americans.

So, what is it that brings people together to protect the Everglades? Perhaps, like many of America’s Great Waters, it captures our imagination or connects us to fond memories. Maybe it provides a loved one’s drinking water or employs a friend. In these ways, and many more, protecting the Everglades continues to be a bipartisan success story in these often politically divided times. And that should give us all hope for the future.

Sarah Gaines Barmeyer|March 25, 2015

Water Quality Issues

Epic Drought Spurs California to Build Largest Desalination Plant in Western Hemisphere

“The U.S. Drought Monitor shows nearly 40 percent of the state of California remains in exceptional drought, the highest level of drought and many communities are working to come up with long-term solutions as reservoirs and rivers continue to diminish,” says Jeremy Hobson of NPR’s Here and Now.

On the show yesterday, Hobson discussed desalination as a solution to the drought with David Jassby, assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering at the University of California, Riverside and Sandy Kerl of the San Diego County Water Authority. There are currently 13 desalination projects under consideration along the California coast.

Jassby explains how desalination works, why in the U.S. we rely on reverse osmosis rather than thermal-based plants and the environmental impacts of the process. Desalination has been proposed for years in the U.S., but has always been shot down for being too expensive and requiring too much energy. Now, “the first desalination plant in Carlsbad is coming online in 2016 or maybe even sooner,” says Jassby.

The cost of desalinized water has come down significantly in recent years, making it “pretty comparable” to conventional water sources, according to Jassby. He expects that places that have “ready access to the ocean” and are water-stressed will employ desalination in the coming years. It’s already widely used in other parts of the world such as the Middle East, Australia and parts of Southern Europe.

When the Carlsbad Desalination Project is completed this fall, it will be the largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere. Kerl of the San Diego County Water Authority, which is partnering with Poseidon Water on the project, explains why she believes the desalination plant is environmentally sound and also necessary for the state of California. The state’s recent snowpack survey reveals that the snowpack, a major source of drinking water for residents, is currently five percent of average, according to Kerl.

Cole Mellino|March 10, 2015

California moves to kill lawns, save water

LONG BEACH, Calif. — What’s it going to take to get people to use a lot less water in drought-stricken California, the Technicolor landscape of lush yards, emerald golf courses and aquamarine swimming pools?

The state might be about to find out as it imposes the first mandatory water- use restrictions in California history later this year.

Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday ordered a 25 percent overall cutback in water use by cities and towns, but not farms, in the most sweeping drought measures ever undertaken by the nation’s most populous state.

The crackdown comes as California moves toward its fourth summer of drought with no relief in sight. Record low snowfall over the winter has left the state of nearly 40 million people with a year’s worth of water in its reservoirs and dwindling groundwater for wells.

On Thursday, retired secretary Brenda Johnson stood in the doorway of her Sacramento home contemplating her lovingly tended lawn and azalea bushes. Johnson did not love the idea of brown as the new green.

“With the money I put into it, I don’t want it to go dry,” said Johnson, who got a warning letter from the city last year for watering her front yard on the wrong day.

“I don’t want a dead lawn,” she said. “But change is hard, and you do adjust.”

In Southern California’s sunbathed city of Long Beach, homeowner Katherine Rusconi stood among the bright red, pink and yellow succulents and desert plants that make up her front yard, basking in the knowledge of being ahead of the game.

The city of Long Beach gave her $3,000 in rebates for ripping out her own lawn less than two years ago. Some of her neighbors have since followed her lead, making the block a showpiece of water-saving, wildlife-friendly yards.

“You know, this is a desert climate. This should have been in place for some time,” Rusconi said.

Brown’s move to get tough on water use came after his push for voluntary conservation yielded mixed results. Asked by Brown in January 2014 to cut their water consumption by 20 percent, Californians achieved only about half that.

Affluent Southern California communities with lots of landscaping on automatic timers were some of the worst offenders, topping 300 gallons of water per person a day compared with 70 gallons for some San Francisco Bay Area communities.

Homeowners will get rebates for replacing lawns with greenery more suited to the semi-arid state and for installing more water-thrifty appliances and plumbing fixtures. The state will also press water agencies to impose higher, graduated rates to discourage water guzzling.

Homeowners and water districts that violate the rules will be subject to fines, but many of the enforcement details have yet to be worked out.

Californians should water enough to save their trees, water board head Felicia Marcus said, but should let their lawns go the way of all mortal things.

Some water experts and economists are dubious the crackdown will succeed.

Californians will embrace saving water if they feel everyone is doing the same, water experts said. Brown’s cutback order, however, exempts agriculture, which consumes 80 percent of all the water Californians use.

But farmers have already done their part, fallowing land and paying more for water, said Shawn Stevenson, a farmer in California’s agricultural heartland, the Central Valley.

ELLEN KNICKMEYER AND GILLIAN FLACCUS|ASSOCIATED PRESS

Fracking In California Used 70 Million Gallons Of Water In 2014

SAN FRANCISCO, April 2 (Reuters) – California oil producers used 214 acre-feet of water, equivalent to nearly 70 million gallons, in the process of fracking for oil and gas in the state last year, less than previously projected, state officials told Reuters on Thursday.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, occurs when water and some chemicals are injected deep underground at high pressure to break up rock and release oil and gas into wells.

The practice has been criticized in the state, which is suffering from a drought so severe that Governor Jerry Brown announced the first-ever mandatory 25 percent statewide reduction in water use on Wednesday.

“Hydraulic fracturing uses a relatively small amount of water – the equivalent of 514 households annually,” said Steven Bohlen, the state oil and gas supervisor.

About 100,000 gallons of water is used on average, he said. [That’s a per well figure.]

Previous industry estimates said that fracking used about 100 million gallons of water in California a year.

Bohlen said that not all of the water used for fracking is fresh water. Some portion of it is “produced” water, or water that comes to the surface during oil drilling that is not suitable for drinking or agricultural use.

The industry brought 387,000 acre-feet of produced water to the surface last year, Bohlen said. Of that, two-thirds was put back into the aquifers from which it came or was used to produce more oil through drilling techniques including steam flooding and cyclic steam injection.

The remaining third was put into underground injection, evaporated in surface ponds, or cleaned up for beneficial use, he said.

About 25,000 acre-feet of produced water is used for beneficial use in the San Ardo, Cawelo, and Arvin water districts, he said.

A law passed last year requires oil producers to report the sources of water used in all oil and gas extraction as well as where the water goes.

The first data report is due April 30 and will be made public soon after, Bohlen said.

Rory Carroll|Reuters|04/02/2015|Editing by Ken Wills

Water is life; we can’t afford to waste it

How long can you go without water? You could probably survive a few weeks without water for cooking. If you stopped washing, the threat to your life might only come from people who can’t stand the smell. But most people won’t live for more than three days without water to drink. It makes sense: our bodies are about 65 per cent water.

According to the United Nations, about 750 million people lack access to safe water — that’s one in nine! One child dies every minute from a water-related disease and 1.2 billion people, a fifth of the global population, live in areas where water is scarce. And it’s not just in other countries. As of January, at least 1,838 drinking water advisories were in effect in Canada, including 169 in 126 First Nations communities — some ongoing for years.`

With Canada’s abundant glaciers, lakes, rivers and streams, we often take water for granted. (In my home province, we give it away to large corporations that bottle and sell it back to us at exorbitant prices!) We shouldn’t be so complacent. People in California thought they had enough water to fill swimming pools, water gardens and yards, support a fertile agricultural industry and shoot massive volumes into the ground to fracture shale deposits to release the oil they contain. Now, with the state in its fourth year of severe drought, regulators are considering emergency legislation and have imposed restrictions to deal with shortages.

Droughts in California and elsewhere are serious warnings about what we could face in Canada and around the world as growing human populations and industry require ever more water, and as climate change wreaks havoc on the Earth’s hydrologic cycle, causing drought in some areas and flooding in others.

According to a UN report, as water supplies dwindle, demand from manufacturing, thermal electricity generation and domestic uses will increase 55 per cent by 2050. The report, “Water for a Sustainable World”, says that unless we find better ways to manage water, the world could face a 40 per cent shortfall by 2030. About 20 per cent of the world’s aquifers are already overexploited.

Water shortages and unsafe water lead to many problems, including food scarcity and crop failure, increased poverty and disease, ecosystem collapse, problems for industry and increasing conflicts over dwindling supplies.

As individuals, we should do everything possible to conserve water, but avoiding massive shortages of clean water will take concerted action at all levels of society. The UN report concludes: “The global water crisis is one of governance, much more than of resource availability, and this is where the bulk of the action is required in order to achieve a water secure world.”

Water conservation is the best way to ensure we have enough to go around. Recycling wastewater and reserving clean water for drinking, moving away from water-intensive agricultural practices, reducing water pollution and avoiding industrial activities that use excessive amounts of water are also important. The report states that the growing demand for meat, large homes, motor vehicles, appliances and other energy-consuming devices “involves increased water consumption for both production and use.” And while population is a factor, the report shows the increase in water demand is double the rate of population growth.

At the policy level, better supply and sanitation infrastructure and improved management are essential. Protecting natural assets such as forests and wetlands that purify and store water and reduce flooding will help, especially in light of expected increases in natural disasters as the world continues to warm. Of course, doing all we can to reduce climate change and its consequences is also crucial.

The report also notes the world’s current obsession with economic growth has “come at a significant social and environmental cost,” including greater demands on water resources.

Getting a handle on water management and conservation concerns us all. It’s also about social justice, as the poor feel the brunt of negative impacts from water pollution and shortages.

As the UN report points out, “It is now universally accepted that water is an essential primary natural resource upon which nearly all social and economic activities and ecosystem functions depend.” Water makes life possible. We must never take it for granted.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

2014 record year for Columbia River salmon, concerns raised

Salmon returns in the Columbia River, counted at Bonneville Dam, were the largest in 2014 than in any year since 1938, when fish counting began at the site, according to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

The 2014 run was about 2.5 million fish.

This is indeed good news.

But, NWPCC says these big numbers “may portend less benefit for future generations of fish” because the productivity of naturally spawning salmon is decreasing. Citing a mechanism called “density dependence,” which regulates the grown of populations, NWPCC indicates robust runs are exceeding habitat limits in some areas. These limits include the types and amounts of available food, shelter from predators and competitors, and the ability to move to other suitable habitats when needed. These limits, along with others, define the “carrying capacity” of habitat, NWPCC says. “When carrying capacity is exceeded, salmon runs can collapse quickly to levels the habitat will support.”

The Independent Scientific Advisory Board — a panel of 11 experts that advises NWPCC, NOAA Fisheries and Columbia River Basin Indian tribes — released a report containing detailed scientific evidence on the above. The report contains a number of recommendations for fish managers and planners, including:

— Understanding why density dependence occurs in particular habitats and life stages of fish and accounting for density dependence when evaluating the responses of fish populations to restoration actions

— Setting biologically based spawning escapement goals that sustain fisheries and also a resilient ecosystem

— Balancing hatchery production and releases with the basin’s capacity to support existing natural populations

— Improving stream habitat to help resident fish, as well as those that go to the ocean

The report, entitled Density Dependence and its Implications for Fish Management and Restoration Programs in the Columbia River Basin, is available here.

NWPCC is charged by the Northwest Power Act to develop a fish and wildlife program for the Columbia River Basin that achieves its biological objectives with minimum economic cost.

Elizabeth Ingram|Managing Editor|PORTLAND, Ore., U.S.|03/25/2015

Smeltdown: Great Lakes fish vanishing act

Tom Durecki remembers the glory days for smelt fishing — or smelting — in Michigan in the 1970s.

“The smelt are running!” was a call that sent fisherman scrambling to Michigan rivers and streams to dip nets and catch buckets full of the silvery fish as they moved into tributaries to spawn at the onset of spring — right around this time, every year.

“It was absolutely fantastic,” said Durecki, owner of Tom’s Bait and Tackle Shop in East Jordan. “Even into the ‘80s, we’d go up to Carp River in the U.P. and you’d get what you wanted in an hour — five, 10, 15 gallons.”

Those days are gone. The smelt population has declined so much, so quickly over the past two decades that most fishermen don’t even bother trying anymore.

Why it’s occurring isn’t simple to explain. Researchers believe the arrival in the Great Lakes of invasive species like zebra mussels disrupted the food chain and plays a role. But it’s not the entire answer. Adult smelt today are almost a third smaller than they were less than 40 years ago. Even more puzzling, a new study shows smelt hatchling survival is improving, but it doesn’t seem to impact the dwindling adult population.

The smelt’s plight matters, researchers say, because smelt are an important food source for some of the sport fish that drive Michigan’s multi-billion-dollar fishing tourism industry. They also can tell scientists key things about the Great Lakes through their behavior, such as about water temperatures that contribute to harmful algae blooms in Lake Erie.

“People ask about it every spring: ‘What happened to the smelt?’” said Michigan Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist David Clapp, who’s based in Charlevoix.

There’s no simple answer, and the mystery in some ways is deepening.

“Trying to explain it is not that easy,” said Chuck Madenjian, a research fishery biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Great Lakes Science Center in Ann Arbor.

“There’s nothing really that obvious about what’s driving that pattern.”

Invasive species

Like so many fish people associate with the Great Lakes, the rainbow smelt is an invasive species. The approximately 6-inch fish is native to the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, but moves into freshwater to spawn. It was first stocked in Crystal Lake in Benzie County in 1912, after several unsuccessful attempts to stock smelt in the St. Mary’s River to support another transplanted fish, Atlantic salmon. Smelt were found in Lake Michigan in 1923 and then spread throughout the Great Lakes.

Smelt quickly thrived in their new freshwater home. The commercial harvest of smelt on the Great Lakes reached 4.8 million pounds by 1941. The population showed large fluctuations over the years, impacted by lamprey eels and the emergence of whitefish and lake trout.

Some 94 percent of smelt harvested from the Great Lakes come from Lake Michigan — on both the Michigan and Wisconsin sides. It was around 1993 when smelt stocks began to plummet.

The Great Lakes Science Center does annual prey fish surveys in the lakes, trawling the lake bottom and counting what they find. Their 2013 survey found 11juvenile smelt — smelt less than a year in age — per hectare, an area of 10,000 square meters. That was only 6% of the long-term average count.
“Rainbow smelt biomass in Lake Michigan during 1992-1996 was roughly four times higher than rainbow smelt biomass during 2001-2013,” scientists from the Science Center wrote in a report on Lake Michigan prey fish populations last year.

Clapp noted that the start of the decline coincides with the arrival and spread of zebra mussels in Lake Michigan.

“That changed the reproductive and nutrient dynamics of the lake,” he said. Smelt eat zooplankton, small aquatic shrimp-type creatures, and they have declined significantly over the same time period, Clapp added.

But that’s not a perfect answer, Madenjian said. “We don’t know why smelt would be affected, but not a lot of other species,” he said.

The take by fisherman also doesn’t fully explain the drop, Madenjian said. Nor does larger fish, such as salmon and lake trout, preying upon smelt, he said.

“The amount of predation on them by salmon and trout was bigger in the 1980s than the 1990s, and yet the big drop was in the1990s,” he said. “You begin to doubt that predation was a driver.”

Plot thickens

The plot further thickened with new research out of Purdue University that shows smelt offspring survival is rising in Lake Michigan, but with no impact on the adult population of smelt, which are now on average 2 inches shorter than they were in the 1970s — down to about 4.5 inches in length.

“Traditionally, the ratio of the number of offspring that survive and the number of adults that are around is pretty constant,” said Zachary Feiner, a doctoral candidate in Purdue’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, who was part of the research team.

“We saw that the number of offspring was increasing. It was really unexpected, especially since adults are smaller, so they should be laying fewer eggs, and laying worse eggs.

“We really don’t have an answer for it.”

One theory: Smelt are known to engage in cannibalism on their hatchlings. With fewer adult smelt, the juveniles have a chance to thrive.

As scientists continue to seek answers, Feiner outlined why it matters.

“Smelt, alewives, they were invasives. Now they’re supporting a multibillion- dollar fishery,” he said. “These are the forage fish at the base of the food chain.”

Smelt also illustrate how the smallest plant and aquatic life in the Great Lakes are changing, Feiner said. And as a fish that likes colder water, they can show how stratification — changes in a lake’s water density and temperature — is changing on Lake Erie, where algae b looms have sparked drinking water crises in recent years.

“Smelt can be a canary in the coal mine in a few ways,” he said. “They can tell you what’s going on in the environment.”

KEITH MATHENY|Detroit Free Press

Offshore & Ocean

Florida coral restoration may take $250 million, and 400 years

Staghorn coral is one of two coral species off southeastern Florida named in a new report listing steps for recovery.

Climate change threatens Florida coral, but the government has a plan

$250 million — an underestimate — is the price tag for saving two coral species

Here’s the estimated price for restoring two declining coral species found in South Florida and the Caribbean: about $250 million.

How long will it take? 400 years or so (assuming all goes smoothly).

No one expected it would be easy to restore elkhorn and staghorn corals, the once-abundant, reef-building species that since the 1970s have vanished from almost all of their old range. A recovery plan released this month by the National Marine Fisheries Service says the biggest current threat is climate change, a problem beyond its power to solve.

Assuming the oceans continue to warm, the plan recommends about two dozen steps to help these species survive. Among them: growing the corals in nurseries for transplantation to the ocean floor, tightening fishing regulations, identifying resilient genetic strains, and reducing the amount of fertilizer and other pollutants washing into the ocean.

“While the climate threats are the most significant, reducing the local threats will provide a buffer for the species to be able to deal with the climate threats,” said Jennifer Moore, a fisheries service biologist.

Often compared to tropical rainforests, coral reefs support a vast range of marine life, from sea anemones and sponges to angelfish and lemon sharks. They are among South Florida’s major tourist attractions, drawing visitors for fishing, diving and snorkeling, accounting for about $483 million in national recreation spending.

Elkhorn and staghorn corals, which can be found in the reefs that stretch from the Florida Keys through Palm Beach County on the state’s southeast coast, have been declining for at least 40 years from a variety of causes.

An outbreak of white-band disease wiped out about 80% of them in the early 1980s, Moore said. Rising ocean temperatures have made them more vulnerable to bleaching, in which they expel the colorful algae on which they depend for energy.

“Climate change is beginning to creep up in terms of causes,” Moore said. “The indications are that bleaching events will become more frequent and more severe due to climate change.”

The plan puts a price tag of $254,540,000 for recovery but admits it is “an extreme underestimate,” considering what other countries in the Caribbean also would have to spend.

Among the costs: basic research on their genetics, physiology and resistance to disease ($9.6 million), increasing land-based nurseries ($10 million per year), restocking sea urchins that clear algae from corals ($5 million) and improving sewage treatment in the U.S. and Caribbean ($10 million-$20 million).

No one expects this amount of money to be spent. The federal government this year has budgeted $500,000 to $800,000 for protecting coral, but Moore said not all the money would come from the federal government.

Coral grows extremely slowly, and some of the living coral reef structures off southeast Florida are hundreds of years old.

“The recovery team estimated that it will take approximately 400 years to achieve recovery based on the significant mitigative actions identified in this plan,” the plan states.

The next step for the fisheries service will be to set up implementation teams of governmental and environmental representatives, outside scientists and others with knowledge of the reefs. These teams, expected to be in place by September, should also be a means of leveraging money from other agencies, state and local governments and nonprofits, Moore said.

Meanwhile, the federal government is working on regulations to protect 20 other coral species found in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

David Fleshler|Sun Sentinel

[In the meantime, both Port Miami and Port Everglades are blasting and dredging through our reefs exacerbating an already bad situation.]

State and Local Funds Awarded to the Lake Worth Lagoon Initiative

PALM BEACH COUNTY —State and local governments have committed a combined $4,150,000 to the Lake Worth Lagoon Initiative, an interagency organization that protects Lake Worth Lagoon coastal habitats. With these extra funds, the Lake Worth Lagoon Initiative will expand its restoration of seagrasses, mangroves and oyster reef habitats along with the construction of stormwater control projects. Coastline monitoring will assess the lagoon‘s environmental health, including its water quality, and track the restoration and natural construction projects along the shoreline.

“This initiative will provide long-term environmental, recreational and economic benefits to the region,” said DEP Secretary Jon Steverson. “Improving water quality in Lake Worth Lagoon will support the wildlife population and provide an ecotourism destination that supports fishing and kayaking activities.”

The Lake Worth Lagoon estuary, stretching for 20 miles along the shores of 13 municipalities from North Palm Beach to Boynton Beach, provides habitat for many endangered and threatened species. The lagoon’s living shorelines provide important habitat for marine organisms, feeding areas for birds and shelter for a variety of wildlife. Mangrove habitat serves as a nursery for juvenile fish and traps sediments in its roots, providing a natural defense for coastal erosion.

“We have seen success in monitoring water quality, restoring seagrasses and planning new protection projects under the Lake Worth Lagoon Initiative,” said South Florida Water Management District Governing Board member Melanie Peterson. “This work highlights the effectiveness of the lagoon partnership, and the additional investment will help ensure we continue to deliver results for a significant South Florida waterway.”

Human activities have degraded lagoon habitat and water quality, and runoff from residential and commercial growth around the lagoon continues to stress this valuable urban estuary. Along with educating residents about the lagoon’s importance, the Lake Worth Lagoon Initiative has focused on restoring the shoreline to a healthier, more natural state. Grant funds will allow the following initiative projects to continue and expand:

  • Artificial Reef Projects along the Peanut Island Reef Complex, located in the city of Riviera Beach, will create reef habitat to benefit marine life and enhance recreational snorkeling and diving. These reef structures will provide important marine refuge during prolonged high-volume inflows of freshwater into the Lake Worth Lagoon system.
  • The Grassy Flats Restoration Project will create more than 12 acres of seagrass, mangrove, salt marsh and oyster habitat in a degraded area of the lagoon. The creation of extra wetland will restore critical estuarine habitat for fisheries and wildlife and improve water quality.
  • Living Shoreline Projects along West Palm Beach Currie Park, Bryant Park and Old Bridge Park will create new mangrove, Spartina cordgrass and oyster reef   habitats that were removed as a result of development. Restored shoreline will provide an important marine refuge during prolonged high-volume freshwater inflows into the Lake Worth Lagoon system. A natural living shoreline will absorb waves and boat wakes, prevent erosion, increase the life span of the seawalls and enhance recreational fishing opportunities.
  • Various monitoring projects will track the health of lagoon habitats, including the populations of oyster, seagrass and fish in the area.

“The habitat and water quality benefits that have accrued to the Lagoon are simply amazing,” said Palm Beach County Commissioner Paulette Burdick. “Fisheries have rebounded, and birds are nesting where they haven’t been seen in decades.Snorkelers, kayakers and bird watchers are enjoying the sights. It is wonderful to see what this partnership is accomplishing.”

The Lake Worth Lagoon Initiative is an interagency collaboration that includes the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Palm Beach County, the South Florida Water Management District and the Florida League of Cities. Through this program, over $17 million in state funds and $59 million in local funds have been dedicated to restoring Lake Worth Lagoon to date.

nataliarodriguez2015|March 27, 2015

What the Slowing of Oceanic Circulation Means for You

A new study has revealed with 99 percent certainty that Atlantic circulation is slowing, not due to any natural presence, but rather due to man-made climate change. This is causing a shift in the Gulf Stream, and creating a ‘cold bubble’ over the North Atlantic which could lead to widespread environmental damage.

A slowing of oceanic circulation has been predicted for years, starting back when greenhouse gasses first emerged as a new buzz word. And although this was not the first scientific study to prove that circulation was winding down, it does prove that man, not nature, is responsible.

So what are the impacts that could come with the slowing of oceanic circulation? The author of the study stresses that the Statue of Liberty will not dip under the icy waters of the ocean in some “Day After Tomorrow” scenario. However, sea levels, particularly in New York and Boston will rise.

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There will also likely be damage to fisheries up and down the coast, which could damage economies and fishing communities throughout the East Coast. It is also likely the North Atlantic will have record freezing temperatures over the winter and there will be an increase in storms across Western Europe.

In fact, the process is already underway on a number of seaboards. As noted by Chris Mooney at the Washington Post, scientists recorded a four inch rise in the sea level on the East Coast in a one year period from 2009-2010.

The Gulf Stream, which is also slowing, is one of the most powerful forces on earth. A large oceanic ‘river,’ it pushes more water across the ocean than all the rivers on earth combined. It keeps a regular flow of cooler and warmer currents and ensures that there is a sort of ‘balance’ between the continents. This is true from the Florida Keys to West Africa the western coast of the British Isles.

The Gulf Stream controls a number of factors in the world, from western winds to ice distribution and snowfall. With the Gulf Stream slowing down it is likely that climates across the globe will become far more extreme. Colder than normal temperatures are predicted on the USA’s eastern coast and hotter than normal temperatures will likely be seen across Europe.

In the rest of the world, certain areas of sub-Saharan Africa are likely to see hotter than average temperatures, which could exacerbate food and water scarcity issues.

However, it’s the weather patterns in the Atlantic that could also lead to catastrophic incidents. For instance, just off of the Gulf Stream is something known as the North Atlantic Gyre, which is partly responsible for weather anomalies such as cyclones.

For those living on the eastern seaboard of the United States, a risk of more turbulent weather patterns mixed with a sharp increase of sea levels could have disastrous consequences, including loss of life. Surges during hurricanes and cyclones could make their way further inland, devastating important crops and communities along the way.

It is well known that our disregard for climate change has led to a number of irreversible issues within our environment. However, slowing down ocean currents to their weakest point in over 1,000 years could take us into uncharted territories that have immediate and lasting consequences on the rest of our lives.

Lizabeth Paulat|March 29, 2015

Scary New Proof That We Have Seriously Screwed Up the Planet’s Oceans

Scientists confirm that climate change is stalling a major Atlantic Ocean current, and that could lead to flooding and food shortages

The powerful ocean current that carries tropical warmth from the South Atlantic to northern countries has slowed down to a degree “unprecedented in the past millennium,” according to newly published research. The phenomenon has created an unusual pocket of cooling temperatures in the far North Atlantic, even as global warming heats the world overall.

Yes, it’s the exact climate catastrophe envisioned in The Day After Tomorrow, the 2004 movie about how a slowing current triggers a new ice age and deep-freezes New York City. In real life, the current could cause severe coastal flooding between New York and Boston and affect the distribution of marine wildlife, putting coastal fishing industries at risk.

If the slowdown persists or intensifies, weather could significantly change in parts of the Northern Hemisphere that have traditionally been warmed by this current, affecting everything from agriculture to urban transportation.

“These are the kinds of things that scare me,” said oceanographer Scott Rutherford of Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, who coauthored the new study. “How much is this going to change temperature, sea level, marine ecosystems? We’re starting to mess with big things now.”

“Can we stop this? Yes,” he said. “We’re already locked into a little bit of warming. I would say that we ought to be concerned with minimizing it as much as we can.”

It’s the first time scientists have analyzed trends in the “Atlantic meridional overturning circulation” over such a lengthy period, which allowed them to contrast its contemporary state to preindustrial conditions and beyond.

The slowdown is one more recent sign that burning fossil fuels, the leading cause of global warming, has fundamentally disrupted Earth’s climate.

Last week the National Snow and Ice Data Center announced that less sea ice formed in the Arctic this winter than at any other time in the 35-year satellite record. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, meanwhile, announced that globally, the winter of 2014–15 was the warmest ever—except on the East Coast of the United States and in parts of West Africa and Western Europe, all areas that that saw unusually cool or cold weather, and that depend on this current to supply them with heat.

The study, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, looked at trends in the current, which flows between North and South America, transporting heat northward and cold southward. (The Gulf Stream current that many of us learned about as schoolchildren is a part of this larger circulation.)

In addition to the written record, the researchers used data that came from interpreting nature’s own records—ice and sea sediment core samples, as well as tree rings—to go far back in time.

By deducting sea surface temperatures from averaged land and sea temperatures, they figured out what temperature the current must have been, and based on that, determined its salinity and speed.

“For about 900, nearly 1,000 years, the AMOC stays relatively stable,” said Rutherford. “It bounces around, but it’s not until about 1900 that we start to see a relatively steady decline.”

“From 1970 to 1990, we see a very rapid drop in temperature” in the current, he added, followed by a warmer period from 1990 to 2010. But “from 2010, we’re starting to see a decline again,” he said.

Both current cool-downs happened shortly after large amounts of freshwater appeared in the North Atlantic. The earlier pulse of freshwater came from a load of Arctic Ocean ice flowing into the North Atlantic; the latest came from Greenland’s glaciers, which have been melting faster since the 1990s.

Ocean Current Climate
(Infographic: Courtesy NOAA)

“It really showed up this past winter in the surface temperature maps,” Rutherford said. “That very, very cold spot reappears just south of Greenland.”

Scientifically, “it’s a bit of stretch right now” to link this winter’s record low temperatures and snowfall on much of the East Coast to the slowed ocean current, he said. “But it’s the kind of thing that we might expect to see” based on climate change modeling.

“As a scientist, this is just one more data point to add to our records,” said climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University. “As a human, though, it’s a stark reminder that our choices have consequences, and the door is rapidly closing on our opportunities to choose a different future.”

Emily J. Gertz|March 24, 2015

Miami Beach ‘rising’ to challenge of encroaching seas

In Miami Beach, Fla., flooding is not unusual. Vehicle owners are accustomed to salt water getting into their cars, corroding the metal, and getting stuck in traffic when floods turn streets into shallow canals.

Several years ago, flooding got so bad, people were kayaking through the city.

“Everything becomes a challenge,” said Eric Carpenter, public works director for the city of Miami Beach.

To cope with the sea-level-rise-related flooding, the city is changing its coastline. In the next five years, 70 to 80 pumps will be installed to keep the streets free of water — a project that will cost $300 million to $500 million, according to Carpenter. Funding comes primarily through city bonds and should buy the city about 30 years in its efforts to adapt to sea-level rise, he said.

At the same time, the city may raise roads and sidewalks by 1.5 to 2 feet along the west side that faces the Biscayne Bay.

“We’re anticipating that the elevation of roadways will not cost more than 10 to 15 percent more for stormwater improvements,” Carpenter said. “It’s a long-term prospect.”

While raising Miami Beach above sea level could slow flooding, the city may need to raise itself an additional 2 to 4 feet in the next four years.

Florida is one of the states most vulnerable to climate change. Sea levels rose 8 to 9 inches in the last hundred years and are expected to rise 3 to 7 inches more in the next 15 years, according to federal projections.

Cities across the state are preparing their coastlines for the imminent sea rise, raising bridges, installing backflow preventers to protect drinking water supplies, building sea walls and managing dunes. In 2012, Miami Beach implemented a Storm Water Management Master Plan to assess the city’s needs and implement effective adaptation strategies.

Preparing while Tallahassee drifts away

“We can only postpone the problem,” said Luiz Rodrigues, executive director of the Environmental Coalition of Miami and the Beaches. “We need to do what we can to preserve what we have. The city [of Miami Beach] is doing what it can right now.”

In the last 10 years, Miami Beach’s economy has suffered from the effects of sea-level rise, Rodrigues added. Businesses along West Avenue on the western coast suffered damage from being flooded two to five times a year until recently, when pumps installed ahead of a major tide in 2014 were built to keep the streets dry and diminish the impact of flooding.

Though the city has actively implemented sea-level adaptation strategies, Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco said a lack of support from the state is forcing cities like Miami Beach to fend for themselves. At a sea-level-rise summit last Friday, he said he sent lobbyists to “beg” for money from the federal government but that the government in Tallahassee didn’t “want to deal with realities.”

Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales, who also attended the summit, said the state has been supportive of the city’s plans to adapt to sea-level rise and expedited necessary permits.

Florida’s position on climate change has been under fire since reports that the governor banned the phrase “climate change” came out earlier this month. Environmentalists are concerned about what this could mean for how the state addresses climate change, but government officials are not too concerned.

“Our officials have embraced the idea that the sea is rising no matter what the source may be,” Carpenter said. “We don’t have time to debate the causes.”

For Susanne Torriente, assistant city manager of Fort Lauderdale, climate change is part of the daily vocabulary in South Florida. Like Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale has faced flooding and sea-level rise. The city has developed coastal resilience by improving roads damaged in flooding to mitigate future risks, Torriente said. Though funding is always a challenge, it has nothing to do with opinions on climate change.

“Cities all over the country are dealing with aging infrastructure,” she said. “There’s no new pot of money that appears from the federal government.”

Manon Verchot|E&E reporter|ClimateWire|April 1, 2015

Oceans Could Take 1,000 Years to Recover From Climate Change

More bad news in climate science: it could take our oceans up to 1000 years to recover from decades of degradation from global warming.

Researchers at UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory have found that climate change and the resulting de-oxygenation of seawater has altered the oceans’ ecology rapidly.

Now these scientists say that getting back to normal could be on the scale of 1000 years, rather than 100 years as previously thought.

They found their results by going back in time to the last glacial period.

Study leader Sarah Moffitt and her team analyzed about 5,400 invertebrate fossils in a sediment core off the shore of Santa Barbara, Calif.

The fossils cover a period between about 3,000 and 16,000 years and help provide a snapshot of what the world was like before, during and after de-glaciation, which saw a dramatic climate warming as we are currently experiencing.

This was a period, not unlike ours, of melting polar ice caps and the lowering of oxygen in the ocean.

Using this information the scientists can show how long it took for the recovery of the ocean ecosystem – and it took awhile.

“The recovery does not happen on a century scale; it’s a commitment to a millennial-scale recovery,” said Moffitt, according to the Los Angeles Times. “If we see dramatic oxygen loss in the deep sea in my lifetime, we will not see a recovery of that for many hundreds of years, if not thousands or more.”

Primarily, this means the disappearance of species and a rapidly changing ocean ecology, the consequences of which can be ugly.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Alexander Besant|RYOT|April 2, 2015

This post originally appeared on RYOT

A Silent Victory

A federal judge stands up to the noisy navy for the sake of marine mammals.

Last summer, the United States Navy invited 22 countries to participate in exercises across a wide swath of the Pacific Ocean. For whales and dolphins, though, the gathering probably felt more like war than war game. Training exercises such as the biannual RIMPAC event—which includes naval ships, submarines, aircraft, and all the noise pollution that comes with them—are dangerous to cetaceans. In short, noise can be a deadly weapon.

The tide may finally be turning in the whales’ favor, though. A federal court ruled yesterday that the government has fallen short of its legal obligation to protect marine mammals from naval exercises in the Pacific.

Active sonar—bouncing sound waves off physical objects to produce an underwater map—is a major threat to marine mammals. Whales, for example, are exquisitely attuned to sound. Their ear bones are about the size of a human head, and those ears provide the animal with most of its sensory information in the dark underwater environment. Whales rely on their sensitive hearing to find food, communicate with peers, and mate. Marine biologists have a saying that sums this up succinctly: A deaf whale is a dead whale.

Deploying active sonar near a whale that’s trying to hunt is a bit like shining a spotlight in the eyes of a human in the grocery store. So when sonar-equipped ships enter an area, whales stop feeding. They also stray from migration paths and abandon their traditional habitats. If a whale is close to the ship when sailors switch on their sonar system, the consequences can be even more dramatic. The blast of sound can damage the whales’ lungs and digestive system and cause temporary or permanent hearing loss.

Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the National Marine Fisheries Service must review any activities that could pose a threat to, well, marine mammals. Its review isn’t always satisfactory, though. In December 2013, the NMFS approved the navy’s five-year plan for sonar and ordinance use in the Pacific Ocean—even though the military’s own data showed that the activities would inflict harm on marine mammals 9.6 million times. The plan represented a 1,100 percent increase in incidents of harm to whales and dolphins.

The following month, NRDC and a coalition of environmental groups sued the NMFS for failing to fulfill its obligations. (Disclosure.) The organizations demanded that the government develop better safeguards to protect marine mammals from the navy’s sonar and explosives, such as declaring certain areas off-limits when whales are feeding or mating. In response, the navy pointed out that it had set aside a plot of sea—3.1 miles in length—near the Hawaiian coast to protect humpback whales and contended that any additional restrictions would hamper its operational ability. That argument, though, seems a teeny bit unreasonable, considering it claims its exercises need 2.7 million square nautical miles, an area larger than the continental United States.

Federal Judge Susan Oki Mollway rejected the arguments made by the navy and the NMFS—and the language she used in her opinion verged on mockery in some places. When the NMFS said it would have come to the same conclusion even if it had used superior data, she dismissed this as an “it makes no difference” argument and accused the agency of offering “after-the-fact explanations.”

Judge Mollway even waxed nautical in describing her search for a rational justification for the NMFS’ decision: “This court feels like the sailor in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, who, trapped for days on a ship becalmed in the middle of the ocean, laments, ‘Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink.’ ”

Although the whales won this round, Judge Mollway’s ruling is only on the merits, not on the remedies. That’s a fancy legal way of saying that the judge hasn’t yet decided on what the NMFS must do to bring itself into compliance with the law. That decision is likely months away. Until then, whales can breathe a sigh of relief, presumably out of their blowholes.

Brian Palmer|@PalmerBrian

Wildlife and Habitat

Global War Against Nature: 100 Elephants Killed Each Day in Illegal Ivory Trade

Maybe baby steps will help, but the world needs a lot more than either the U.S. or China is offering to combat the illegal traffic in wildlife, a nearly $20-billion-a-year business that adds up to a global war against nature. As the headlines tell us, the trade has pushed various rhinoceros species to the point of extinction and motivated poachers to kill more than 100,000 elephants since 2010.

Last month China announced that it would ban ivory imports for a year, while it “evaluates” the effectiveness of the ban in reducing internal demand for ivory carvings on the current slaughter of approximately 100 African elephants per day. The promise, however, rings hollow following a report in November (hotly denied by China) that Chinese diplomats used President Xi Jinping’s presidential plane to smuggle thousands of pounds of poached elephant tusks out of Tanzania.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has launched its own well-meaning but distinctly inadequate initiative to curb the trade. Even if you missed the roll-out of that policy, you probably know that current trends are leading us toward a planetary animal dystopia, a most un-Disneyesque world in which the great forests and savannas of the planet will bid farewell to the species earlier generations referred to as their “royalty.” No more King of the Jungle, while Dorothy’s “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” will truly be over the rainbow. And that’s just for starters.

The even grimmer news that rarely makes the headlines is that the lesser subjects of that old royalty are vanishing, too. Though largely unacknowledged, the current war is far redder in tooth and claw than anything nature has to offer. It threatens not just charismatic species like elephants, gibbons, and rhinos, but countless others with permanent oblivion.

If current trends hold, one day not so very long from now our children may think of the T. rex and the tiger as co-occupants of a single Lost World, accessible only in dreams, storybooks, and the movies. Sure, some of the planet’s present megafauna will be bred in zoos for as long as society produces enough luxury to maintain such institutions. Even the best zoo, however, is but a faint simulacrum of wild habitat and its captives are ghosts of their free-roaming forebears.

That’s why the Obama administration deserves some credit for highlighting the urgent need to curb the wildlife trade. Its plan calls for using assets of the National Intelligence Council to advance enforcement efforts. Unfortunately, the administration proposes boosting the enforcement budget of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency with primary responsibility in this area, by only $8 million. Such an increase would lift its force of inspectors just slightly above the levels of 30 years ago when the illicit trade in wildlife was far smaller.

To grasp the breadth of the carnage now going on, it’s essential to realize that the war against nature is being waged on an almost infinite number of planetary fronts, affecting hundreds of species, and that the toll is already devastating. Among the battlefields, none may be bloodier than the forests of Southeast Asia, for they lie closest to China, the world’s most ravenous (and lucrative) market for wildlife and wildlife parts.

China’s taste for wildlife penetrates even the least visited corners of the region, where professional poachers industriously gather live porcupines and turtles, all manner of venison, monkey hands, python fat, pangolin scales, otter skins, gall bladders, antlers, horns, bones and hundreds of other items. These goods, dead or alive, are smuggled to markets in China and elsewhere. Meanwhile, an expanding economy enables ever more millions of people to purchase expensive animal commodities they believe might stave off disease or provide the fancy restaurant meals that will impress in-laws and business associates.

To put the present war in perspective, think of it this way: every year, more and more money chases fewer and fewer creatures.

Slaughter at the Ground Level

In a typical forest in Southeast Asia you might encounter a snare line stretching a kilometer or more along a mountain ridge or running down one side of a canyon and all the way up the other. These barriers are waist-high walls of chopped brush, with gaps every few meters. They are hedges of death.

Almost any mammal traveling in this landscape, if larger than a tree shrew (which would fit in a modest handbag), sooner or later will have to pass through one of these gaps, and in each a snare awaits. Powered by a bent-over sapling, it lies beneath a camouflage of leaves and hides a loop of bicycle brake cable—or truck winch cable for larger animals like tigers. The trigger controlling each snare is made of small sticks and can be astonishingly sensitive. I’ve seen snares set for deer and wild pig that were no less capable of capturing creatures as light of foot as a jungle fowl, the wild cousin of the domestic chicken, or a silver pheasant, the males of which shimmer in the dusky forest like bundles of fallen moonbeams.

On an expedition to central Laos, my companions and I made our way into a forest distinguished mainly by its remoteness. The Vietnamese border lay perhaps a dozen kilometers to the east, closer by far than the nearest village, four days’ hard march away, where we’d recruited the guides and porters traveling with us. That village, in turn, lay two days by foot and motorized pirogue from the end of the nearest road. The head of our expedition, conservation biologist William Robichaud, the only other westerner in our group of 14, told me that, unless a distressed American pilot had parachuted into the sprawling watershed that lay before us during the Vietnam War, ours were the first blue eyes that had glimpsed it.

Isolation, however, failed to protect the canyons and ridges we surveyed. Evidence lay everywhere of commercial poachers who had crossed the mountains from Vietnam to feed the Chinese market. In a matter of days, we collected wires from almost a thousand snares. In them, we found the decaying carcasses of ferret badgers, hog badgers, mongooses, various species of birds, and several critically endangered large-antlered muntjacs, a species of barking deer, one of which, in its struggle to free itself, had pulled off its own foot before dying nearby.

We camped by fish-rich rivers that had been stripped of their otters and saw the remains of dozens of poachers’ camps, some elaborately equipped with butchering tables and smoking racks. Saddest of all was the sight of a red-shanked douc (also called a douc langur), perhaps the most beautiful monkey in the world, dangling upside down at the end of a snare pole, having succumbed to as slow and cruel a death as might be imagined.

The indiscriminant wastefulness of this massive trapping enterprise is hard to absorb even when you see it yourself. Poachers check their snare lines haphazardly and leave them armed when they depart the area. This means the killing goes on indefinitely, no matter if the bodies languish and rot.

A Unicorn Still in the Wild?

Though we were in that forest in part to remove snares and assess the nature of the ongoing damage, our main goal was to find a unicorn—or actually an animal almost as rare, a creature that might indeed have already moved, or might soon move, from Earth’s natural realms to the realm of mythology. We were searching for any sign of saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis), one of the rarest large mammals on the planet. Its very existence, though known to locals, was revealed to science only in 1992, when researchers spotted a strange set of horns on the wall of a hunter’s shack high in the mountains of Vietnam.

Saola proved to be much more than a new species. It represented a new genus, possibly even a new taxonomic tribe, although the jury is still out on that. A kind of bovid, a ruminant with cloven hooves, its nearest evolutionary relatives appear to be wild cattle, yet it looks nothing like a cow or bison. A saola stands a little higher than a carousel pony. Deer-like, but thicker in form, its powerful build helps it push through the densest vegetation. Its muzzle is splashed with camo patterns of white, and its tri-colored tail—white, chocolate brown, and black—blends with similar bands of color on its rump. Its long, nearly straight horns are elegantly tapered, and in profile they seem to blend into a single horn, giving the creature the otherworldly look of a unicorn.

At best, the existing population of saola numbers between a few dozen and a few hundred, making it nearly as rare and hard to find as a unicorn. Even stranger, its disposition, except when the animal is directly threatened, appears to be as gentle as that of the unicorns of medieval European lore.

In 1996, Robichaud spent two weeks in a rough crossroads town in central Laos observing a captive saola. The unfortunate creature did not survive long in the menagerie in which it was held—no saola has lasted more than a few months in confinement and none is held anywhere today—but he had ample opportunity to note that it reacted alertly, even violently, to the presence of a dog outside its enclosure. (Wild dogs, or dholes, are among its natural enemies.)

Eerily, however, the saola was calm in the presence of humans—far more so than the barking deer or the serow (a species of mountain goat) in nearby cages, even though they had been in the menagerie far longer. Captured in the wild just before Robichaud arrived, the saola proved calmer than any domestic goat, sheep, or cow he had known from farms in his native Wisconsin. The captive saola even let him pick ticks from its ears. Local information buttressed Robichaud’s sense of the creature’s almost unearthly serenity. A Buddhist monk from a nearby temple told him that people in the area had dubbed the creature “sat souphap,” which translates roughly as “the polite animal.”

Today, no one knows if the clock of extinction for the species stands at two minutes before midnight or two minutes after. The greatest threat to its survival is the kind of snaring we witnessed on our expedition, which is doubly tragic, for saola do not appear to be a target of the poachers. In spite of its exotic horns, the animal is unknown in traditional Chinese medicine. (Its omission from that medical tradition’s encyclopedic command of Asian fauna and flora testifies to its profound isolation from the rest of the world.) Rather, the last living remnants of the species risk being taken as by-catch, like sea turtles in a shrimper’s net.

The Politics of Extinction

The situation may be terrible, but at least there are parks and protected areas in Southeast Asia where wild creatures are safe, right?

Alas, wrong. Our travels took place in an official National Protected Area in Laos where snaring of the kind we witnessed is blatantly illegal. Yet the deadly harvest continues, there and elsewhere, thanks to insufficient investment in protection and law enforcement, not to mention insufficient political will in countries whose overriding priority is economic development. Last year in the protected area of more than 4,000 square kilometers (1,544 square miles) that we visited, a small number of government patrols removed nearly 14,000 snares, undoubtedly a small fraction of what’s there.

The same is true elsewhere. According to the Saola Working Group, a committee sponsored by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, patrols that its members help to fund and supervise in just five protected areas in Laos and Vietnam (including the one in which we traveled) have destroyed more than 90,000 snares since 2011. And yet that, too, is just a drop in the bucket of the wildlife trade.

While the trade’s reach is global, the stakes may be highest in Southeast Asia (including Indonesia and the Philippines). About half the world’s people live there or in the adjacent countries of China, Bangladesh, and India. The region leads the world in the proportion of its birds and mammals that are endemic; that is, found nowhere else. Unfortunately, it also leads in the proportion in imminent danger of extinction, due in large measure to the wildlife trade. Worse yet, no country in Southeast Asia possesses a tradition of effective biological conservation.

Already many forests that once were rich in tigers, leopards, gaur, banteng, and gibbons are devoid of any mammals larger than a cocker spaniel. If the rest of the world truly wants to protect the planet’s endangered biodiversity, assisting the governments and NGOs of Southeast Asia in safeguarding their region’s natural heritage needs to be a global priority.

Critics often point out that the West is hypocritical in urging the East to do what it failed to accomplish in its own grim history of development. Indeed, the present sacking of Asian forests is analogous to the stripping of beaver from western American streams and the subsequent extirpation of bison herds in the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, if the West has learned one thing, it’s that conservation in advance of calamity costs much less than repairs after the fact and that it is the only way to prevent irreparable mistakes. No matter what moral ground you stand on, the facts in the field are simple: our best chance to avert catastrophe lies before us, right now.

Other critics complacently observe that extinction has always been part of evolution and that other epochs have seen similar waves of species loss. New species, they say, will emerge to take the places of those we destroy. Such a view may be technically correct, but it commits an error of scale.

Evolution will continue; it cannot not continue. But the inexorable emergence of what Darwin called “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful” proceeds at a nearly geological pace. By comparison, our human tenancy of Earth is a fleeting breath. Within the time frame of what we call civilization, the extinctions we cause are as eternal as any human accomplishment.

A Loneliness That Could Stretch to Infinity

The essential conservation task before the world is to protect key habitats and wildlife populations long enough for generational attitudes to change in China and its neighbors. At least in part, this means meeting the war on nature with a martial response. Whether protecting elephants in Kenya, mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (a cause movingly depicted in the documentary film Virunga), tigers in Thailand, or saola in Laos, one has to prepare, quite literally, to meet fire with fire.

In the case of our expedition in Laos, three of our guides doubled as militia and carried AK-47s. The weapons were not for show. Poachers are generally similarly armed. On one occasion, such a band, traveling in the dead of night, nearly walked into our camp, only to melt back into the forest when they realized they’d been discovered.

Good news, however, glimmers amid the bad. Although the shift will take time, cultural values in Asia are beginning to change. Witness the recent abandonment of shark fin soup by Chinese consumers. The San Francisco-based NGO WildAid reports that sales of shark fins have plummeted 82 percent in Guangzhou (formerly Canton), the hub of the shark trade, and that two-thirds of the respondents to a recent poll cited public “awareness campaigns” against the global destruction of shark populations as a reason for ending their consumption.

Only by rising to the challenge of species protection—not “eventually,” but now—can we ensure that nature’s most magnificent creations will persist in the wild to delight future generations. Only through generous cooperation with Asian partners, boosting both law enforcement and political resolve, can we preserve the stunning, often cacophonous, and always mysterious diversity of a large share of the planet’s most biologically productive ecosystems.

The dystopian alternative is terrible to consider. Uncounted species—not just tigers, gibbons, rhinos and saola, but vast numbers of smaller mammals, amphibians, birds and reptiles—are being pressed to the brink. We’ve hardly met them and yet, within the vastness of the universe, they and the rest of Earth’s biota are our only known companions. Without them, our loneliness would stretch to infinity.

William deBuys|TomDispatch|March 24, 2015

Construction starts on river walk wetlands

Construction crews have started building a wetlands this week, something that takes thousands of years for nature to make.

Workers should be finished by mid-June, said Mark Brochu, director of St. Clair County Parks and Recreation.

The wetlands will encompass about 2.5 acres of property in Port Huron, Michigan at the south end of the Blue Water River Walk.

The river walk, which stretches nearly a mile along the St. Clair River south of the Black River, opened to the public in June 2014.

“It will be contingent on the weather and also the planting of the native species,” Brochu said. “That may push some of the plantings into August if they are not able to get in by June.

“All of the excavation, contouring, bringing in topsoil and all of the underground construction should be done by then,” he said.

Boddy Construction, with offices in Port Huron Township, is doing the work. Workers were using a bulldozer and other equipment on Thursday to start construction of a small berm along the river.

The county used a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant of about $150,000, along with $150,000 from the county recreation tax, to purchase about 2.75 acres of property from Acheson Ventures along the St. Clair River. A bike and pedestrian path runs through the property.

The county also plans to buy an additional 2.1 acres from Acheson Ventures. It has a trust fund grant of $118,400 that will be matched with $41,600 in county parks funds.

The wetlands will not have a direct connection to the river, Brochu said.

“We were not able to engineer that,” he said. “The engineering did not work out on that.

“The storm water off the adjacent hillside will be collected and directed into the wetland.”

The wetlands also will collect some storm water from the city’s storm sewer system, he said, and a pump will be available to draw water from the river in the event of a prolonged dry period.

The wetlands will include three small pools. Other areas will be wet during wet seasons and dry during dry seasons, Brochu said.

The work and the project engineering is being funded by a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant of $1.04 million. Brochu said the acquisition of the property was considered the match for the NFWF grant.

SmithGroupJJR of Detroit, which did the engineering for the river walk, also is the engineer for the wetlands project.

Brochu said the project will provide habitat for birds, including waterfowl, and small animals.

“There will be amphibians and reptiles around the area, but there won’t be a fishing hole per se,” he said.

The county is trying to secure funding from the Coastal Zone Management Program, Brochu said, to build boardwalks and elevated viewing platforms for a second phase of the project.

He said the county also will be working with adjacent property owners to remove invasive plants, such as Japanese knotweed, and replace them with native wildflowers.

BOB GROSS|TIMES HERALD

Forestry

6,000 Acres of Old Growth Forests Slated for Logging, the Largest Sale in Decades

Two coalitions of conservation groups filed Notices of Appeal before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last week from recent district court opinions approving old growth logging in the Tongass National Forest. In one case, four groups challenged the U.S. Forest Service’s Big Thorne old growth timber sale and associated road construction. In a separate lawsuit, a partially overlapping set of groups challenged provisions in the Tongass Land Management Plan that the Forest Service relies on when preparing old growth sales across much of Southeast Alaska.

The Big Thorne sale is by far the largest Tongass old growth sale in decades. The conservation groups argue that it undercuts the region’s $2 billion fishing and tourism industries while continuing an unsustainable log export industry. The groups are also concerned about damage to vital habitat for salmon, bears, Sitka black-tailed deer, goshawks and the Alexander Archipelago wolf, and impacts to sport and subsistence hunters as well as recreational use of the forest.

The Big Thorne sale would clearcut more than 6,000 acres of old-growth rainforest on Prince of Wales Island. Though the Forest Service estimates the sale would cost taxpayers $13 million, the economics of recent sales indicate taxpayer costs could eventually climb over $100 million. The Forest Service has been widely criticized for offering old-growth sales at an economic loss to American taxpayers and its Tongass timber program is currently under review by the federal General Accounting Office. Timber makes up less than 1 percent of economic activity in Southeast Alaska.

By contrast, economic reports value Southeast Alaska’s fishing and tourism industries at a combined $2 billion annually. Some reports suggest road building and industrial activity associated with Big Thorne would harm fish habitat and is inadequately analyzed by the Forest Service. Wild coho runs, an economic staple for the region’s troll fleet, are particularly sensitive to habitat impacts to headwater streams.

While concerns have been raised that the Big Thorne sale is vital to a local mill, the groups presented evidence to the court of ample timber supply from State of Alaska timber sales as well as existing sales under contract to maintain operations. Additionally, in seeking to halt the old growth sale, the groups exempted the project’s second-growth and stewardship components.

The separate suit over the management plan challenges its failure to ensure that adequate old growth is left after timber sales for stable populations of wildlife—including Sitka black-tailed deer. It also alleges that the Forest Service failed, when adopting the plan, to give the public an accurate picture of how plan implementation would affect wildlife and those – like subsistence hunters—who rely on healthy wildlife populations.

“We’re looking for a solution that keeps jobs in the woods without sacrificing key habitat for deer, bear, wolf and salmon. We support projects that will be compatible with the region’s fishing and tourism industries—as well as deer hunting opportunities—over the long run,” said SEACC executive director Malena Marvin. “For years, SEACC has worked with regional partners to advocate micro sales, develop community-scale forest projects that support local businesses, and promote the region’s small sawmills,” she continued. “Our organization remains opposed to industrial-scale clearcuts that rely on exports—curtailing the export of round logs to Asia would increase jobs per log cut on the Tongass while eliminating massive, controversial old-growth sales.

“Economic prosperity in Southeast Alaska depends on vibrant, healthy old growth forests to support the economic drivers of our region—world-class fishing, hunting, recreation, and tourism,” said Holly Harris, staff attorney with Earthjustice.  “While Southeast Alaska loses thousands of acres of irreplaceable old growth habitat in sales like Big Thorne, taxpayers are paying tens of millions of dollars a year to prop up the old growth timber industry. The Forest Service’s tired reliance on these kinds of massive, subsidized old growth sales devastates the environment and jeopardizes the future of our region.”

“Allowing massive sales like Big Thorne is yet another blow to the Tongass National Forest and southeast Alaska,” said Kristen Miller, Conservation Director at Alaska Wilderness League. “Continuing to subsidize sales like Big Thorne threatens the viability of the wildlife and scenery that bring one million people to hike, hunt, fish, kayak and tour the Tongass each year. Southeast Alaska’s economy has moved on from timber. Instead of continuing to pour money into massive old growth giveaways like Big Thorne, why not put taxpayer dollars where they will give us the largest return on our investment year after year, and allow us to preserve a national treasure in the process.”

“It’s clear that the Big Thorne sale is not the best path forward for taxpayers, for local communities, or for wildlife,” said Alli Harvey, Alaska Representative for Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign. “We should be safeguarding this amazing rainforest and its old growth trees, not clear-cutting the future.”

“The Big Thorne timber sale is bad for wildlife, birds, fish and the people who care about them,” said Jim Adams, Audubon Alaska’s Policy Director. “The science tells us it is long-past time for the Forest Service to transition away from large-scale old-growth timber sales on the Tongass.”

Appealing the Big Thorne decision are the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Alaska Wilderness League, Sierra Club, and Audubon Alaska. Appealing a separate decision related to the Tongass Land Management Plan are Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Natural Resources Defense Council, Alaska Wilderness League, and Sierra Club. Earthjustice represents the groups in both appeals.

Earthjustice|March 30, 2015

Conservationists Halt Public Lands Clearcutting Outside of Eugene, Oregon

BLM Pulls Decision After Lawsuit for Largest Lane Co Clearcut in 20 Years

Public opposition and a legal challenge from Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild has prompted the Eugene Bureau of Land Management to place on hold its plans to clearcut 259 acres of public lands just outside of Springfield, Oregon near Shotgun Creek.  The “Second Show” timber sale would have been the largest clearcut on federal lands in Lane County in 20 years.

This logging proposal elicited over 700 public comments, largely in opposition to the proposed clearcutting .  Local residents raised concerns about clean water, Chinook salmon, and logging some of the last old forests in an already degraded watershed.

“I am extremely relieved that these mature trees may now have a chance to become a real old growth forest. They are located very near the BLM Shotgun Park and Recreation Area and I believe the BLM should focus on preserving our public lands for wildlife, recreation, and future generations,” said Ellen Furstner, a Marcola resident who commented on the sale.  “Protecting the old forest that is left should be our priority to fight global warming. It’s just a shame our federal agencies do not see it that way.”

After the BLM’s decision to move forward with logging, Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild filed a “protest” with BLM but BLM failed to pick up their mail at the post office and refused to consider the protest. Seneca Sawmill then purchased the sale, and Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild were forced to file suit in federal court arguing that the BLM neglected to analyze the effects of clearcutting in conjunction with ongoing commercial logging and road construction in the same area.  BLM withdrew their decision to log the Second Show timber sale on March 19 before answering the complaint and before the court could rule on the merits of the case.

“Our federal timber lands have been hammered by reckless clearcut logging for the past 90 years.  Salmon and spotted owl populations are plummeting, water quality is terribly diminished, and our federal timber lands have more roads than Los Angeles,” said Nick Cady, Legal Director of Cascadia Wildlands. “Yet despite the science and public opposition, the BLM continues to target mature forests.  The agency refuses to open its eyes.”
Decades of past clearcutting has resulted in federal lands that are now overstocked with dense young Douglas fir plantations.  Conservation groups have been working with the BLM for the past decade to meet timber targets by commercially thinning these younger forests.

“The Second Show proposal is a big step backward,” said Doug Heiken of Oregon Wild. “Restoration thinning has allowed the agency to meet its timber goals without clearcutting and without doing undue harm to wildlife habitat and watersheds. Clearcutting public lands should be put in the dust-bin of history where it belongs.”

The Second Show decision has been pulled, but the agency may again elect to proceed with the controversial logging after revising its analysis documents.  The revision process will be open to the public, and the BLM will respond to public concerns and questions about the proposed logging.

Nick Cady|Legal Director|Cascadia Wildlands|Doug Heiken|Conservation and Restoration Coordinator|Oregon Wild|March 23, 2015

Sequoias, the True Giants of the World Photos

Agribusiness giant tells suppliers to stop cutting down forests

Today, the state of New York announced that, after negotiations with the global agribusiness conglomerate Archer Daniels Midland, ADM will adopt a no-deforestation policy for soy and palm oil.

This is really freaking good news, and it comes at a critical time. There is some evidence that, after years of progress, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is increasing again. Meanwhile, people have been cutting down the forests just outside the Brazilian Amazon — in Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, and in Brazil’s Cerrado region — where there has been less pressure to stop. The move from ADM will provide a clear warning to farmers who are considering the costs and benefits of clearing more land.

ADM laid out a specific set of commitments and a plan for implementation. This announcement is the latest in a cascade of no-deforestation commitments set off when Wilmar, the largest palm-oil company, pledged to stop buying from suppliers who cut down rainforest. ADM owns 16 percent of Wilmar.

“ADM has a steadfast commitment to the development of traceable and transparent agricultural supply chains that protect forests worldwide,” wrote Victoria Podesta, ADM’s chief communications officer, in an email. “We are confident that our No Deforestation policy is both strong and appropriate for our company.”

Last year, another agribusiness, Cargill, announced a plan to stop buying all commodities that caused deforestation. While this ADM commitment is more narrowly focused on soy and palm oil, it applies more stringent rules than the Cargill pledge, said Ben Cushing, spokesperson for the advocacy group Forest Heroes. “For soy, this puts ADM out front,” he said.

“I don’t think there’s any agribusiness company in the world that hasn’t been thinking about how to improve their supply chains as they’ve watched the dominos fall,” Cushing said.

The New York State Common Retirement Fund had asked ADM to take this step. The retirement fund holds $83.1 million in ADM stock. A group of NGOs — Forest Heroes, Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the National Wildlife Federation, SumOfUs, and NRDC — had written to ADM urging the company to make its business more sustainable. Nordic investors and Green Century Capital Management also asked ADM to take action.

Nathanael Johnson|31 Mar 2015

Global Warming and Climate Change

How Climate Change May Be Ruining Your Pizza

Love scrumptious vegan pizza? You’d better enjoy it while you can, because climate change is moving in to hog a slice. According to an Australian report, Appetite for Change, climate change isn’t just going to decimate existing crops — it’s also going to change the way the survivors taste. And not in a good way. The researchers say that we’re going to be eating increasingly bland, tasteless, mushy food because of the way shifting temperatures are affecting farming, and in fact, it’s already started happening.

We’re already aware that climate change is forcing agriculture to adjust. The amount of arable land on Earth is decreasing, and the types of food we can grow are also shifting — some regions are getting too hot and dry for traditional crops, for example. Changes in the climate may eventually wipe out some crops altogether, while others may become extremely rare and expensive. Coffee and cocoa, two extremely popular luxury crops, are particularly unhappy examples of this situation, as the plants are fussy and require very particular conditions to grow. Once those conditions are disrupted, they find it extremely difficult to recover.

The most stark illustration of the problem with climate change and produce may actually come from a Japanese study conducted in 2013. The researchers evaluated nearly 40 years of data on apples, looking at a number of quality metrics like texture, flavor and firmness. Over time, they discovered that apples were mushy, grainy, bland and less tart than before — in other words, our apples were really starting to get pretty terrible. Importantly, they found that trees were blooming earlier than before, and that even when harvest times were adjusted to account for the earlier blooming period, the apples collected were still of poor quality. This reflected a problem not just with the growing season, but also with how the fruit matured — bad news for apple fans.

Poor root vegetables took a particular beating in this study. They rely on rich, loose soil with excellent drainage and good moisture, otherwise they can’t grow to full size and they can become wooden and flavorless. They also need lush, healthy greens to photosynthesize and draw energy into the root — that’s what gives roots their size and flavor. Moreover, it’s important that the plants not “bolt” — go to seed too early — because the roots won’t fully develop if that’s the case. That means thin, woody, straggly carrots and beets without much flavor. Blech. Meanwhile, potatoes will be more prone to blight.

Fruit and nut trees may also get into trouble if the weather doesn’t get cool enough in the winter months to trigger important seasonal changes, while wheat and other grains will suffer too. These could amount to massive expenses for farmers on wasted and failed crops as well as conversions — if, for example, a farmer decides to stop growing almonds, she needs to invest in tearing out the orchard and planting new crops. If she’s planning on replacing her almonds with other fruit or nut trees, she’ll have to wait for years for them to mature.

One small consolation: if you’re vegan or vegetarian, you won’t be facing the crisis for animal products predicted in this study. Changes to the environment are likely to cause a radical decline in the quality of meat, eggs and dairy — all issues you won’t have to deal with. Moreover, that quality decline could lead to a drop in consumption, which would be good for both animals and the planet.

s.e. smith|March 27, 2015

A second giant blob of Antarctic ice is getting ready to drown us

Remember when we found out last year that the West Antarctic ice sheet had started to collapse, that the collapse more or less can’t be stopped, and that it will eventually result in 10 to 15 feet of sea-level rise? Now we have some more bad news of that caliber.

An enormous glacier, one on the other side of the continent from the ailing ice sheet, is doing pretty much the same thing, researchers have discovered. Chris Mooney reports for The Washington Post:

The findings about East Antarctica emerge from a new paper just out in Nature Geoscience by an international team of scientists representing the United States, Britain, France, and Australia. They flew a number of research flights over the Totten Glacier of East Antarctica — the fastest-thinning sector of the world’s largest ice sheet — and took a variety of measurements to try to figure out the reasons behind its retreat. And the news wasn’t good: It appears that Totten, too, is losing ice because warm ocean water is getting underneath it. …

The floating ice shelf of the Totten Glacier covers an area of 90 miles by 22 miles. It it is losing an amount of ice “equivalent to 100 times the volume of Sydney Harbour every year,” notes the Australian Antarctic Division.

That’s alarming, because the glacier holds back a much more vast catchment of ice that, were its vulnerable parts to flow into the ocean, could produce a sea level rise of more than 11 feet — which is comparable to the impact from a loss of the West Antarctica ice sheet. And that’s “a conservative lower limit,” says lead study author Jamin Greenbaum, a PhD candidate at the University of Texas at Austin.

If you haven’t already done the math, this means we could see well upwards of 20 feet of sea-level rise over the next few centuries, double the rise expected from the West Antarctic ice sheet alone — and those are conservative estimates.

Though it’ll be awful for the entire world, the newly liberated Antarctic ice melt will affect some of us more than others. The Northern Hemisphere (including, of course, North America) will be hit particularly hard: As Antarctica melts, it exercises less gravitational pull on the seas, and will head northward.

Researchers have made it pretty clear that the West Antarctic ice sheet’s collapse is unstoppable. The Totten Glacier has almost reached that same point. “The ice loss to the ocean may soon be irreversible unless atmospheric and oceanic conditions change so that snowfall outpaces coastal melting,” the researchers said in a press release. So with climate change moving forward — something that’s not likely to change anytime soon — it’s probably too late for both of these ice blobs. “[I]t’s difficult to see how a process that starts now would be reversed, or reversible, in a warming world,” one of the study’s coauthors, Martin Siegert, told Mooney.

So maybe just cross your fingers and hope that your grandchildren are born with gills.

John Light|17 Mar 2015

On Thin (and Rapidly Disappearing) Ice

This small Alaskan town is the front line of America’s battle with climate change.

Colleen Swan holds an unusual municipal title—town “relocation project manager.” Because her entire town might soon relocate.

Swan lives in Kivalina, Alaska, a tiny island town with a population just above 350 people. The problem is that, thanks to climate change, warmer temperatures and higher seas are eroding the island’s shores at an alarming rate. “Strange things are happening up here that people need to be aware of,” she says. “And they’re only going to get worse.”

Kivalina is essentially a sandbar off the coast of Alaska that used to be 2.9 square miles, but today clocks in at 1.9 square miles (Central Park in New York City, for comparison, is about 1.3 square miles). The community of Inupiat Alaskan natives who call it home were historically semi-nomadic hunters, but in 1905 the U.S. government built a school on the island, and the community coalesced around it. Its permanence, however, was fleeting—the island will be inhospitable within 10-15 years, according to a 2006 analysis by the Army Corps of Engineers. That makes Kivalina a northerly test case for a scenario that’s already happening farther south—in Miami as well as in North Carolina’s Outer Banks (read the cover story from Audubon’s March-April issue).

Encroaching Waters

Located above the Arctic Circle, Kivalina experiences brutal winters for about nine months a year, and until recently, the water surrounding the island froze several feet thick; on hunting expeditions for whales or seals or fish, hunters would camp right on the ice. Today that’s far too risky: The Inupiat used to ride snowmobiles over nearby rivers, treating them as roads—since there are no real roads or even a bridge to connect Kivalina with the mainland—but after a few snowmobiles fell through the ice in the middle of winter, boats became the only option.

The thick ice also used to serve as a barrier, keeping the relentless ocean away from sandy land vulnerable to erosion. Now, even into the heart of winter, the ocean cuts through ice to eat away at the shoreline. A rock revetment, or retaining wall, was constructed in 2008 to slow erosion. It’s helped, says Shearer, but doesn’t stop the flooding—another consequence of the ice-less sea.

The erosion brought about by global warming is compounded by increasingly variable weather that makes it harder for the Inupiat to survive on the island. Sometimes, says Swan, it’ll be the regular -30 degrees Fahrenheit one day and then break the freezing point the next. “We’ve had rain, we’ve had subzero temperatures, we’ve had wet snow, we’ve had a lot of wind from the south, wind from the north,” she says. The animals don’t know what to do; some starve to death after melting ice prevents them from getting to their prey, and some abandon the migration and behavioral patterns that have made it possible for the Inupiat to survive for centuries. “It’s been very hard to find caribou,” says Swan. “That’s the main meat for us.”

Stalled Politics

That Kivalina was facing an imminent crisis was clear back in the early 1990s; the Arctic is experiencing climate change twice as fast as the rest of the world. Despite many studies, many books, many floods, and many fears, in 2009 the federal Government Accountability Office essentially declared that even though the threat had been obvious for years, nothing had been done to save the people of the sinking hamlet.

“What they’re dealing with is not something they’re going to be dealing with alone,” says Christine Shearer, a researcher at UC Irvine and author of Kivalina: A Climate Change Story. Unfortunately, she adds, “we don’t really have relocation policies, we don’t have a government agency in charge of it.”

Last month, Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior, became the first U.S. cabinet member to ever visit Kivalina, making a brief stop to hear from residents. But Swan is doubtful that any policy could save the island at this point—what’s left is to relocate the village, a daunting challenge for a population that is impoverished, isolated, and non-white. Relocating would cost somewhere north of $100 million, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, yet Obama’s proposed plan to assist the coastal regions of Alaska only includes $50 million for all of the state’s coastal communities. During Jewell’s visit, she announced that the Department of the Interior would provide another $8 million, says the Native Times, to “fund projects that promote tribal climate change adaptation.”

“I don’t know what those [next] steps are going to be yet,” Jewell said at the time, according to KMOM. “But what I do know is the situation out here is very serious, and it’s indicative of the kind of impacts we’re seeing in climate change everywhere, that this is probably the beginning of what may be to come in other areas.”

Swan was surprised and pleased by Jewell’s visit, but says she’s not sure what will come of it. In the current Congress, climate change’s status as a political punching bag seems to preclude anything being done, no matter how dire the circumstances. To the people of Kilvana, however, the debate over whether global warming is fact or fiction has been settled. The issue has been researched enough, they say, and now is the time to act.

Dan Nosowitz|Mar 26, 2015

Scientists: Orbital Variations Main Cause of Climate Change

Global warming theorists have taken yet another hit with a new study out of Denmark which demonstrates that variations in Earth’s orbit are the primary causes of climate change, and have been for at least the last 1.4 billion years.
Scientists from the University of Southern Denmark and the China National Petroleum Corporation investigated marine sediment from the Xiamaling Formation in China and determined that the sediment shows evidence that “the same orbital forcing that caused the climate to change 1.4 billion years ago is the underlying force behind global warming today,” the Daily Caller reports.

The research, published in PNAS, states: “There is a wealth of evidence pointing to dramatic short-term climate change on Earth over the last few million years. Much of this climate change is driven by variations of Earth’s orbit around the Sun with characteristic frequencies known as Milankovitch cycles.”
Milankovitch cycles are fluctuations which occur in Earth’s orbit every 20,000, 40,000 and 100,000 years, which bring about an ice age every 100,000 years or so. Currently, Earth is in the middle of a warming period, and has been for the last 11,000 years, Dr.  Donald Canfield, professor at the Nordic Center for Earth Evolution at the university and one of the principle researchers, said, the Daily Caller reported.
“This research will also help us understand how Milankovitch cyclicity ultimately controls climate change on Earth,” Canfield said in a statement.
“The way our planet revolves around the sun is the ultimate control knob over the climate,” the Daily Caller commented.

The study approximates findings from a study of sea surface temperatures and diatoms, marine algae, from Aarhus University in Denmark. Researcher Marit-Solveig Seidenkrantz commented: “We know that the sun is very important for our climate, but the impact is not clear. Climate change appears to be either strengthened or weakened by solar activity. The extent of the sun’s influence over time is thus not constant, but we can now conclude that the climate system is more receptive to the impact of the sun during cold periods, at least in the North Atlantic region,” Eureka Alert reported.
Other climate researchers dispute the effect of the sun and Earth orbits on climate change.
Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told the Daily Caller: “While the ranking of individual years can be affected by chaotic weather patterns, the long-term trends are attributable to drivers of climate change that right now are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases” from fossil fuels.
Science 2.0 states: “Natural forces have always caused climate on Earth to fluctuate — sometimes quite a bit. We can’t control everything. The Earth is still going to orbit the sun and such orbital forcing of climate change happens over thousands of years and brings ice ages and warming periods.”

John Blosser|11 Mar 2015

[It’s no secret that cyclical changes are partially responsible for global warming. As the poles tip closer to the sun, the world has no choice but to get warmer. However, that doesn’t alter the fact that mankind has exacerbated the situation by allowing the greenhouse gasses to build up to the point we are at currently. The fact remains that if we cut pollution we will slow  global warming.]

Antarctica Records Hottest Day Ever, New Study Finds Rapid Acceleration of Ice Melt

The warmest temperature ever recorded in Antarctica may have occurred last Tuesday with a thermometer reading 63.5 degrees Fahrenheit at Argentina’s Esperanza Base on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, according to Weather Underground. The previous record was set the day before at 63.3 degrees at Argentina’s Marambio Base on a small islet just off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Prior to this week’s record heat wave for the icy continent, the hottest known temperature in Antarctica was 62.8 degrees Fahrenheit, recorded at Esperanza Base on April 24, 1961. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has not officially declared last week’s temperatures as all-time weather records for Antarctica, but “the Argentinian weather service has verified that the temperatures measured at Esperanza Base and Marambio Base were the highest ever measured at each site,” said Weather Underground.

The WMO has traditionally had a more narrow definition of Antarctica, which only include sites south of the Antarctic Circle and not the Esperanza and Marambio bases. But even if the WMO doesn’t officially recognize the recordings, the message is clear. The Antarctic peninsula is one of the fastest warming spots on the planet.

The record heat coincides with the release of a new study from Science that finds “ice shelves in West Antarctica have lost as much as 18 percent of their volume over the last two decades, with rapid acceleration occurring over the last decade. The study found that from 1994 to 2003, the overall loss of ice shelf volume across the continent was negligible, but over the last decade West Antarctic losses increased by 70 percent,” says Think Progress.

The heat wave also coincides with Robert Swan and his 2041 team’s Antarctic Expedition, which wrapped up last week. The point of the trip was to document the firsthand effects of climate change, which was obviously very apparent.

Cole Mellino|March 30, 2015

Arctic ice melt sets yet another record

Every year around the end of February, after a long winter, Arctic ice reaches its maximum extent. This year that happened around Feb. 25, when it encompassed 14.54 million square kilometers (5.61 million square miles) of ice around the North Pole.

Sound like a lot? It’s not. Really, really not. This year’s maximum extent was the lowest on record.

Ice extent (area covered at least 15 percent by ice) for 2015 (solid blue line) compared with 2012 (dashed) and the average from 1981-2010 (black line).Ice extent (area covered by at least 15 percent by ice) for 2015 (solid blue line) compared with 2012 (dashed) and the average from 1981-2010 (black line).NSIDC

The plot above shows the situation. The solid line shows the average ice extent over the year (measured from 1981 to 2010) and the gray area represents a statistical measure of random fluctuations; anything inside the gray is more or less indistinguishable from the average (in other words, an excursion up or down inside the gray area could just be due to random chance).

The dashed line was the extent in 2012, when unusual conditions created the lowest minimum extent in recorded history. The solid blue line is 2015 so far. As you can see, it’s already reached maximum, and it’s well below average. It’s also outside the gray zone, meaning it’s statistically significant. It’s the earliest the peak has been reached as well. Both these facts point accusingly at global warming — more warmth, and shorter winters.

We have to be careful here, because individual records can be misleading. The trend is what’s important. However, the trend is very, very clear: Ice extent at the North Pole is decreasing rapidly over time. Note that this record low extent is about 1 percent lower than the previous record … which was last year.

Here’s a NASA video describing this year’s low maximum:

The implications of losing Arctic ice are profound. First, high latitudes are more affected by warming; the temperature trends in the extreme north are twice what they are at lower latitudes.

Melting ice does contribute to sea-level rise, though not as much as melting glaciers on land. The bad news: Those glaciers are melting faster than ever. This has a second effect that may prove just as disastrous, too. All that fresh water dumped into the salty ocean changes the way the water circulates around the world. This circulation is one of the key ways warmth gets redistributed around the planet. Disrupting this cannot possibly be good news for us. You can read more about this at RealClimate, and climatologist Michael Mann discussed it in a recent interview.

At the other pole, Antarctic land ice is melting at a fantastic rate, and the slight increase in sea ice is not even coming close to making up for it. Deniers love to point at the sea ice, but that comes and goes every year and is roughly stable; the land ice is melting away at huge rates. Claiming global warming is wrong because Antarctic sea ice is increasing is like pointing toward a healing paper cut on your finger when your femoral artery has been punctured.

Arctic ice is like the fabled canary in a coal mine; it’s showing us very clearly what we’re in for. And what’s headed our way is a warmer planet, an even more disrupted climate, and a world of hurt if we do nothing about it.

Phil Plait|30 Mar 2015

This story was originally published by Slate and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Mexico just shamed the rest of the world with its climate plan

Mexico is the first developing country to formally make its climate action pledge ahead of U.N. negotiations to be held in Paris later this year. And its plan is actually pretty ambitious, analysts say.

Mexico on Friday said it intends to have its greenhouse gas emissions peak by 2026 and then begin to decline. It will cut its “black carbon” emissions — particulate pollution generated by burning fuels like wood and diesel — in half by 2030. The net effect is that, by 2030, Mexico’s emissions will be 25 percent lower than if the country had continued without making any changes, and by 2050, emissions will be 50 percent below 2000 levels. The country is also working on reducing its “carbon intensity” — the amount of CO2 emitted per unit of GDP.

“That would make Mexico’s announcement a bit more ambitious than what is expected from China, but not as ambitious as what the U.S. will offer,” InsideClimate News’s John Cushman notes, referring to the November 2014 agreement between the Obama administration and China. Developing countries like China and Mexico are expected to allow their emissions to keep rising for a few years while their economies grow and their people rise out of poverty, whereas rich nations like the U.S., which have done most of the polluting in the past, are expected to start cutting emissions right away.

“While the devil is in the details, Mexico’s plan to peak its emissions by 2026 is particularly encouraging and should inspire others to follow a similar course,” said Jennifer Morgan of the World Resources Institute, a think tank that’s tracking progress toward a 2015 climate deal.

As part of the process of working toward a climate pact, 190 countries are each submitting their own plan for how they intend to voluntarily reduce emissions (in wonk speak, the plans are known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs). In the years ahead, the U.N. will monitor each country’s progress toward realizing its plan, though the international body won’t have much power to penalize countries that don’t meet their goals. Developing countries and the European Union had pushed for a binding treaty that would punish nations that don’t curb emissions as agreed, but Obama would never be able to get that sort of treaty by the current U.S. Senate, so, in order to keep the U.S. in the game, the U.N. is now working toward a nonbinding agreement.

The U.S. is expected to submit its plan by the U.N.’s deadline, the end of the first quarter of 2015, but other nations are not on track to do so. Still, not everyone is dragging their feet: The E.U., Switzerland, and Norway have outlined their INDCs, representing more than 10 percent of global emissions. And once the U.S. submits its plan, a third of world emissions will be accounted for.

Analysts tracking the process say many countries’ delays are probably at least partially strategic: If a country gets its commitment in at the last minute, the world has less of a chance to ask it to commit more. China and India, the world’s first and third biggest polluters, plan to submit their INDCs this summer.

Mexico’s contribution — and China’s anticipated contribution, based on last November’s joint announcement with America — set the reductions for the developing world on a fairly ambitious path. That’s encouraging, given that differences between rich and poor nations have scuttled past attempts at a climate deal. But some developing countries (India, notably) have been difficult to pin down on their likely commitments.

It will take commitments from all of the world’s major polluters, rich and poor alike, to put us on something even resembling a sustainable path — and with so many INDCs as yet undeclared, it’s impossible to determine if 2015 will be the year that the U.N. finally pulls off the climate deal its been attempting for decades. And even under a best-case scenario, diplomats have repeatedly warned that any deal likely won’t be enough to keep global warming under 2 degrees Celsius, the threshold scientists say we must meet to fend off the worst climate impacts.

Still, gotta start somewhere, and Mexico’s announcement is an encouraging step. Olé!

John Light|30 Mar 2015

 

U.S. Commits To Slashing Emissions Up To 28 Percent By 2025

WASHINGTON – The United States officially submitted its emissions-cutting target to the United Nations on Tuesday morning, formalizing its commitment to reducing emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

The Obama administration had previously announced the goal in its work with China on a bilateral climate agreement. The Tuesday submission makes the pledge official.

“With today’s submission of the U.S. target, countries accounting for more than half of total carbon pollution from the energy sector have submitted or announced what they will do in the post-2020 period to combat climate change,” wrote Brian Deese, senior adviser to the president, in a blog post Tuesday morning.

Under a system established through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, individual countries are putting forward their own emissions commitments, referred to as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs. Countries are supposed to submit their INDCs to the U.N. by March 31. The submissions will be the basis for an international climate agreement, which leaders expect to reach at the upcoming negotiation session in Paris at the end of 2015.

The U.S. described its target as “fair and ambitious” in the U.N. document, and said that the country has already undertaken “substantial policy action to reduce its emissions.” The submission says that the U.S. is already on a path to reach its previously submitted goal of cutting emissions 17 percent by 2020, and the new commitment will require the country to speed up its rate of emissions reduction.

The European Union, Norway and Mexico submitted their commitments last week.

The Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change, which includes 34 Democratic senators and 83 Democratic House members, sent a letter to President Barack Obama on Tuesday praising the commitment. “One of the three pillars of the Climate Action Plan is to lead international efforts to address global climate change. As a nation that has contributed more than a quarter of all global carbon pollution, it is our responsibility to lead,” they wrote. “As a nation already feeling the effects and costs of climate change, it is also in our national interest to do so.”

Jennifer Morgan, global director of the climate program at the World Resources Institute, called the U.S. target “a serious and achievable commitment” in a statement. Based on WRI’s research, the U.S. can meet the goal by using existing federal authority, and make even further reductions as technology advances, Morgan said.

Other environmental groups were more critical of the submission, arguing that the U.S. could make a more ambitious commitment. Greenpeace legislative representative Kyle Ash said in a statement that the pledge “begins to treat the wound, but does not stop the bleeding.” “As the world’s second largest emitter, the US must strengthen its commitment to climate solutions before Paris to ensure an agreement that immediately spurs the necessary transition away from fossil fuels and towards 100 percent renewable energy,” said Ash.

The Obama administration is expected to face staunch opposition from the Republican-led Congress to any sort of international climate agreement. It remains unclear at this point whether the international agreement will be finalized as a treaty, which would require Senate approval, or take some other legal form that does not require approval. The Obama administration has long sought an alternative format to try to avoid a battle with the Senate.

Kate Sheppard|huffingtonpost.com|03/31/2015

Polar Bears Can’t Rely On Land-Based Foods When The Ice Melts, Study Finds

 Polar bears need sea ice in order to hunt for seals and other food in the ocean. But climate change is taking that away from them.

The bears are spending more and more time on land, but there is not enough food there to truly sustain them, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey, Washington State University and conservation group Polar Bears International conducted a first-of-its-kind review of terrestrial Arctic ecosystems’ ability to support polar bear populations with enough of the energy-dense food they need.

The results are grim.

“There simply isn’t enough food to feed polar bears on land,” study co-author and Polar Bears International chief scientist Steven Amstrup told The Huffington Post.

Several earlier studies of Arctic animals have observed polar bears consuming land-based foods, like geese and their eggs. But this evidence is “absolutely” anecdotal, Amstrup said.

He explained that there have only been about 30 observations of polar bear populations eating on land, among 20,000 to 25,000 bears. Arctic bird eggs are more nourishing than most land-based foods available to the bears, but they are too limited in quantity to sustain entire populations.

Previous terrestrial feeding stories are “really simply a distraction from the threat of climate change and melting sea ice,” Amstrup told HuffPost.

The researchers wrote that more quantitative studies are needed on polar bear feeding habits and nutrition. But, they wrote, “available data do not support the conclusion that polar bears can replace lost access to marine-mammal resources with terrestrially derived foods.”

Amstrup says he definitely sees hope for the future, “if we mitigate the rise of greenhouse gas emissions.” A continued decline in polar bear populations is likely inevitable, as the heat-trapping emissions humans are releasing now will remain for some time and continue to melt the Arctic. But “we could save substantial [polar bear] habitat,” Amstrup said, if “we get our act together.” Arctic sea ice could begin to stabilize in several decades if emissions are reduced, he explained.

Amstrup and others showed in a 2010 study that mitigating greenhouse gas emissions could mean a greater number of polar bears in more places later this century. Current trends and modeling of Arctic sea ice loss this century suggest big trouble for polar bears if greenhouse emissions continue unabated.

But mitigating the impacts of climate change is about far more than polar bears. “They’re not the only creature that will be influenced [by climate change],” Amstrup said. “Ultimately, this is about all of us.”

The polar bears’ Arctic home may be warming about twice as fast as the global average, but the entire planet saw the warmest year on record in 2014, and this year’s winter was likewise the warmest on record.

James Gerken|The Huffington Post|04/01/2015

Extreme Weather

California snowpack at lowest level on record
California’s snowpack is at historically low levels, a casualty of the state’s wimpy winter and ongoing drought.

In Northern California, the Sierra Nevada snowpack’s water content was at its lowest late-March level since records began in 1950, at just 6 percent of the late-March average, the California Department of Water Resources said Monday.

The snow’s water content is a key measurement for water resource managers, since it measures the amount that will trickle into the state’s reservoirs when it melts later in the spring.

More than 98 percent of the state of California remains in some level of drought, according to the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor, a website that tracks drought across the country.

Severe droughts are not new to California. However, the drought has been exacerbated by the state’s warmest winter on record.

A manual snow survey will be conducted Wednesday in the Sierra, about 90 miles east of Sacramento. Normally, snowpack is at its peak April 1.

USA TODAY|4/1/15

Typhoon Maysak Hurtles Towards Central Philippines

MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines put troops on alert on Wednesday and prepared food and medical supplies as it warned residents and tourists along its eastern coast to be ready for a super typhoon expected to land some time in the next 72 hours.

Typhoon Maysak, initially a top-rated category 5 typhoon, weakened slightly as it moved towards the Philippines, hurtling over the Pacific Ocean with winds gusting up to 225 kph (140 mph), the weather bureau said.

It is expected to further weaken once it hits the central or northern parts of the main Philippine island of Luzon on Saturday or Sunday, the agency said, as the Philippines celebrates the Easter long weekend.

“This is very strong and it will maintain its strength as it nears, although we expect that the typhoon will weaken,” Esperanza Cayanan, an officer at the weather bureau, said in a televised briefing.

“But this will still be typhoon intensity so it will bring strong winds when it makes landfall on the eastern coast,” Cayanan said.

British-based Tropical Storm Risk said Maysak would likely weaken to a category 2 typhoon, with maximum winds of up to 175 kph (110 mph), when it hits land.

The typhoon could damage rice and corn crops in central and northern areas of the Philippines, although damage is likely to be minimal because the major harvest of the national staple rice was finished around February.

Alexander Pama, executive director of the national disaster agency, said the biggest challenge for authorities would be keeping foreign and Filipino tourists traveling to northern provinces for the weekend safe when Maysak makes landfall.

Thousands of Filipinos have already begun traveling to the provinces and popular tourist spots before the Easter weekend.

Maysak is not expected to make landfall where another category 5 typhoon, Haiyan, struck more than a year ago, leaving nearly 8000 dead or missing.

Reporting by Rosemarie Francisco|Editing by Paul Tait and Jeremy Laurence|Reuters|04/01/2015

Genetically Modified Organisms

 Roundup Herbicide Is Endocrine Disruptor in Human Cells at Drinking Water Levels

Roundup is an endocrine disruptor and is toxic to human cells in vitro (tested in culture dishes in the laboratory) at levels permitted in drinking water in Australia, a new study has found.

This is the first study to examine the effects of glyphosate and Roundup on progesterone production by human female cells in an in vitro system that models key aspects of reproduction in women.

Glyphosate alone was less toxic to human cells than glyphosate in a Roundup formulation; both glyphosate and Roundup caused cell death which resulted in decreased progesterone levels – a form of hormone/endocrine disruption. Endocrine disruption did not precede the toxicity to cells but occurred after it. The decreases in progesterone concentrations were caused by reduced numbers of viable cells.

A 24h exposure to a concentration of glyphosate (in Roundup) similar to that recommended as an acceptable level for Australian drinking water caused significant cytotoxicity in vitro, which supports a call for long-term in vivo (in live animals) studies to characterise the toxicity of Roundup.

The possibility that Roundup has endocrine disrupting activity independent of its ability to kill or disable cells needs further study.

Find the Full Study Here:
Authors: Fiona Young, Dao Ho, Danielle Glynn and Vicki Edwards

German agency says IARC glyphosate decision based on poor evidence

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) commented as rapporteur for the active ingredient glyphosate as part of the EU reevaluation this classification by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) based on the published summary report.

At a meeting of the IARC of the World Health Organization in March 2015 Lyon the gathered experts have classified glyphosate differently based on their available studies, namely as a carcinogen group 2A, so probably carcinogenic to humans. This classification was published in a brief report in the journal “Lancet” on March 20, 2015.

The pesticide active ingredient glyphosate has been evaluated by the authorities responsible for the health assessment in national, European and other international institutions, including the WHO / FAO Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) after considering all available studies, not causing cancer.

The publication of 20 March 2015 in the magazine “Lancet”, classifying glyphosate as a Group 2A carcinogen (“probably carcinogenic to humans”) was based, according to BfR, on available information scientifically poorly understood and apparently only based on a few studies.

This risk is derived from three epidemiological studies from the USA, Canada and Sweden. However, this assessment has not been confirmed in a large cohort of well-cited “Agricultural Health Study” and other studies.

In the current report of the BfR in the EU, however, over 30 epidemiological studies were evaluated. In the overall assessment, there was no validated relationship between Glyphosate exposition and an increased risk of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma or other cancers.

David Tribe|GMO Pundit|March 24, 2015

[One report is enough for me.]

GMOs Will Not Feed the World, New Report Concludes

By the year 2050, the Earth’s population will reach more than 9 billion people. With so many mouths to feed, agribusiness giants have argued that genetically modified crops are the answer to global food security as these plants have been spliced and diced to resist herbicides and pesticides and (theoretically) yield more crops.

However, a new analysis from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) slams this conventional agribusiness argument—and recommends much more sustainable solutions to feed the world.

The report, Feeding the World Without GMOs, argues that genetically engineered crops (also known as GE or GMOs) have not significantly improved the yields of crops such as corn and soy. Emily Cassidy, an EWG research analyst who authored the report, found that in the last 20 years, yields of both GE corn and soy have been no different from traditionally bred corn and soy grown in western Europe, where GE crops are banned. Additionally, a recent case study in Africa found that crops that were crossbred for drought tolerance using traditional techniques improved yields 30 percent more than GE varieties, she wrote.

The report also said that in the two decades that GE crops have been a mainstay in conventional agriculture, they “have not substantially improved global food security” and have instead increased the use of toxic herbicides and led to herbicide-resistant “superweeds.” (FYI: superweeds have spread to more than 60 million acres of U.S. farmland, wreaking environmental and economic havoc along the way).

She pointed out that while corn and soybeans take up the vast majority (about 80 percent) of global land devoted to growing GE crops, they are not even used to feed people but instead as animal feed or fuel.

Unfortunately, this practice is unlikely to change in light of increased consumption of meat around the world, as well as U.S. biofuel policy requiring production of millions of gallons of corn ethanol to blend into gasoline, Cassidy observed. “Seed companies’ investment in improving the yields of GMOs in already high-yielding areas does little to improve food security; it mainly helps line the pockets of seed and chemical companies and producers of corn ethanol,” she said. “The world’s resources would be better spent focusing on strategies to actually increase food supplies and access to basic resources for the poor, small farmers who need it most.”

Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Just Label It, an organization advocating for federal labeling of GMO foods that also provided funding for the EWG report added, “Biotech companies and their customers in chemical agriculture have been attempting to sell the benefits of GMOs for two decades. Between exaggerated claims about feeding the world and a dramatic escalation in the use of toxic pesticides, it is no wonder consumers are increasingly skeptical.”

Fortunately, as Cassidy noted, there are ways out of this mess that will not only produce enough food for the world’s burgeoning population but will also make minimal impacts on our environment. It comes down to four main approaches:

  • Smarter use of fertilizers: Fertilizer should be used in places with nutrient-poor soils where it would have the greatest impact, instead of over-fertilizing industrial-scale farms. This switch could increase global production of major cereals by 30 percent, the report said.
  • A dramatic shift in biofuels policy: A World Resources Institute analysis found that by 2050, biofuels mandates could consume the equivalent of 29 percent of all calories currently produced on the world’s croplands. According to the report, reversing course on food-based biofuels policies could alleviate the need to double the global calorie supply.
  • A significant reduction in food waste: By weight, a third of all food grown around the world—accounting for a quarter of calories—goes uneaten, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. Food gets tossed before it reaches the market, much less anyone’s plate. So in theory, by eliminating all food waste in fields, grocery stores and at home would increase the global calorie supply by 33 percent, the report noted.
  • A better diet: Meat production currently uses up three-quarters of all agricultural land, and on average, it takes about 10 calories of animal feed to produce just one calorie of meat. This suggests that a shift from grain-fed beef to a diet emphasizing chicken or grass-fed beef could reduce the amount of land devoted to growing animal feed such as corn and soy (Beef also stands far above the production of other livestock for its negative environmental impact).

Lorraine Chow|March 31, 2015

Monsanto’s “Discredit Bureau” Really Does Exist

Reuters is reporting that Monsanto is demanding a sit-down with members of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). This international scientific body is being called on the carpet for reporting that Monsanto’s most widely sold herbicide, which is inextricably linked to the majority of their genetically engineered products, is probably carcinogenic to humans.

In a DO-YOU-KNOW-WHO-WE-ARE moment, Monsanto’s vice president of global regulatory affairs Philip Miller said the following in interview:

“We question the quality of the assessment. The WHO has something to explain.”

Evidence for the carcinogenicity of Glyphosate comes from a peer-reviewed study published in March of 2015 in the respected journal The Lancet Oncology.

Carcinogenicity of tetrachlorvinphos, parathion, malathion, diazinon, and glyphosateGlyphosate is a broad-spectrum herbicide, currently with the highest production volumes of all herbicides. It is used in more than 750 different products for agriculture, forestry, urban, and home applications. Its use has increased sharply with the development of genetically modified glyphosate-resistant crop varieties. Glyphosate has been detected in air during spraying, in water, and in food. There WAS limited evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of glyphosate.

Glyphosate has been detected in the blood and urine of agricultural workers, indicating absorption. Soil microbes degrade glyphosate to aminomethylphosphoric acid (AMPA). Blood AMPA detection after poisonings suggests intestinal microbial metabolism in humans. Glyphosate and glyphosate formulations induced DNA and chromosomal damage in mammals, and in human and animal cells in vitro. One study reported increases in blood markers of chromosomal damage (micronuclei) in residents of several communities after spraying of glyphosate formulations.
[emphasis mine]

Recently, I attended a talk by Monsanto’s Dr. William “Bill” Moar who presented the latest project in their product pipeline dealing with RNA. Most notably, he also spoke about Monsanto’s efforts to educate citizens about the scientific certainty of the safety of their genetically engineered products. The audience was mostly agricultural students many of whom were perhaps hoping for the only well-paid internships and jobs in their field.

One student asked what Monsanto was doing to counter the “bad science” around their work. Dr. Moar, perhaps forgetting that this was a public event, then revealed that Monsanto indeed had “an entire department” (waving his arm for emphasis) dedicated to “debunking” science which disagreed with theirs. As far as I know this is the first time that a Monsanto functionary has publically admitted that they have such an entity which brings their immense political and financial weight to bear on scientists who dare to publish against them. The Discredit Bureau will not be found on their official website.

The challenge for Monsanto’s Discredit Bureau is steep in attacking the unimpeachably respected Lancet and the international scientific bodies of WHO and IARC. However, they have no choice but to attack since the stakes are so very high for them. Glyphosate is their hallmark product upon which the majority of their profits are based. Make no mistake, this is extremely bad news for Monsanto.

Monsanto holds up the sheer abundance of their own well-funded studies citing the safety of Glyphosate, done over only the past twenty years which is a short period of time in scientific inquiry particularly when dissenting research is actively suppressed.  They also hold up the findings of regulatory bodies, particularly in the United States where the revolving door between agrochemical corporations and government spins at high speed.

Critics of the agrochemical industry have often cited the history of these corporations who rush their products to market with protestations of safety only to discover down the road that they have become persistent ecological and health nightmares. We are seeing the end of that road for Glyphosate.

Energy

4 years after Fukushima, Japan considers restarting nuclear facilities

Progress at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant may be softening some opposition

A pressing issue is what to do with nearly 158 million gallons of contaminated water stored at Fukushima site

‘If they are going to be restarting plants in Japan, they need to think harder about it,’ nuclear expert says

On many Friday evenings, 38-year-old Tomo Iwabuchi and six friends can be found on a street corner in Fukushima City, banging drums, chanting and singing. “Zero nukes!” Iwabuchi yells into a microphone as a few pedestrians stride by.

“The Fukushima disaster — it’s not over yet,” chimes in Kazushi Machida, another demonstrator, referring to the nuclear power plant about 50 miles southeast that experienced a triple meltdown after Japan’s massive March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. “The cleanup is still going on, and yet the government wants to restart other nuclear plants!”

Nearly four years after Japan shut down all of its atomic energy plants in the wake of the disaster, the country is inching toward a momentous decision on whether to bring some of them back on line, perhaps within the next year.

Such a move would have been unthinkable immediately after the disaster, which struck terror in the hearts of many Japanese and caused concern around the world. Though nuclear power provided 30% of Japan’s energy before the accident, the government of then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan called on the country to give up its reliance on the technology, and opinion surveys showed that up to three-quarters of the public supported such a move.

An October poll by Kyodo News found 60% of respondents still opposed to restarts, but the conversation has started to shift because of a variety of factors, including the introduction of more robust regulation and the creation of new oversight bodies, and the installation in late 2012 of a government led by Shinzo Abe, who introduced a new energy policy last year backing nuclear power.

Japan is the only nation to have nuclear bombs dropped on it, and emotions about radiation here are deep and complex. But mounting concern about higher electricity costs, greater dependence on imported fossil fuels and rising carbon emissions are also figuring into Japan’s calculus. After an initial summer of brownouts, the country replaced lost nuclear power by revving up plants fueled by natural gas and coal.

Progress at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant may be softening some opposition as well. The four damaged reactors have been in “cold shutdown” mode for more than three years, and about 7,000 people are on site doing decommissioning work. They reached a milestone in December by completing the removal of all spent and fresh fuel from the spent-fuel pool in Unit 4.

But decommissioning activities are expected to take at least two decades, and inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency said last month that the situation at Fukushima remains “very complex.” Worker safety is still a critical concern, and high radiation means technicians are still unable to enter some structures and must rely on robots to inspect some damaged reactors.

One of the most pressing issues highlighted by the IAEA is what to do with nearly 158 million gallons — or 600,000 cubic meters — of contaminated water being stored in an ever-growing tank farm on the site. With engineers still unable to stop groundwater from flowing into the damaged reactors, 300 cubic meters of water is added to the inventory each day. In January, a worker inspecting a tank fell and died.

This month, Tokyo Electric Power Co., known as Tepco, said 750 tons of water contaminated with strontium-90 may have seeped from the tank area into the ground. Small amounts of contaminated water have also been leaking into the Pacific Ocean, Tepco acknowledged last month, though it called the amounts inconsequential.

Tests in January found that only 0.3% of all seafood samples caught by the Fisheries Agency of Japan exceeded legal limits for radiation. But with fresh leaks occurring, concern about the effect on marine life has not abated, and coastal fishing off Fukushima prefecture remains suspended, as it has been since the accident.

Whether the government can find a technically feasible — and politically palatable — solution to the water issue is crucial both for reducing hazards for workers at the Fukushima site and building confidence at home and abroad that Japan is turning the corner on the disaster and is ready to restart other nuclear plants.

“This issue of water, it involves everyone — from fishermen, to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, to civil engineers at the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism,” said Tatsuya Shinkawa, director of the Cabinet Office’s Contaminated Water and Decommissioning Issues Team. “Other countries are asking questions too, so the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is involved as well.”

I think the Tepco people are criminals but they have never been dealt with. People in the nuclear industry have learned from this that they will never be punished.- Hiromitsu Ito, fisherman from Ogatsu, Japan

Edwin Lyman, coauthor of “Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster” and a nuclear expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the post-accident management of water “has been a lot more complex than anyone imagined.”

“If they are going to be restarting plants in Japan, they need to think harder about it,” he said.

Over the last four years, Tepco and the government have tried, with limited success, to halt the inflow of groundwater, and now are even trying to freeze the ground around the reactors. They’ve installed systems to treat the contaminated water, removing a variety of radioactive contaminants, including cesium and strontium. The company said March 16 that 90% of stored water would be processed through those systems by May.

But those systems can’t remove radioactive tritium, which is closely related to hydrogen. Water is a compound of hydrogen and oxygen, and tritium bonds like hydrogen with oxygen to produce “tritiated water.” Tritiated water is odorless and colorless, and the tritium is hard to isolate.

Tritium is not considered as dangerous as cesium or strontium, because it emits very low-energy radiation, has a short half-life and if ingested leaves the body relatively quickly. Tritium is one of the least dangerous radionuclides, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The IAEA has even called on Japan to consider releasing its stores of tritiated water, presumably into the ocean.

“But any release of radioactivity is very emotional,” said Lake Barrett, director of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Three Mile Island cleanup site office from 1980 to 1984, who is now a special advisor to Tepco’s president.

“Fishermen will tell you if this is released, no one will buy our fish. South Korea and China may protest and act holier-than-thou, even though they have reactors that release tritium on a regular basis,” Barrett said. “My opinion is it should be released, but Japan is looking at all the available technology to deal with this.”

A tritium task force has been studying the issue.

“We’ve got about one year to figure this out,” said Teruaki Kobayashi, general manager in Tepco’s nuclear power and plant siting division. “As of now, inside the company, we have no certain direction about what to do, but after we hear the suggestions from them, we will decide our course of action.”

Central to the deliberations is an Orange County company, Kurion, which received a multimillion-dollar contract from Tepco last year to try to devise a solution for the tritiated water.

Gaetan Bonhomme, chief technical officer for Kurion, said the company has a system that can separate tritium from water but needs to show that it can scale it up to deal with the massive amounts of liquid at Fukushima. Kurion’s system, he believes, could remove the tritium from 800,000 cubic meters of water so that only about a cubic meter of the radioactive material remained.

By his estimates, the process would take five to eight years, and cost about $1 billion to set up, plus several hundred million dollars a year to operate.

“Some people will say that’s expensive, but compared to what? I’d be very interested to talk to someone who says you should release this water, and discuss the costs of that,” he said. “How would you do it? What would be the impact? And how would you compensate people who might be affected?”

(Decommissioning is already expected to cost $8.5 billion, Kobayashi said, but Tepco believes it will need an additional $8.7 billion over the next 10 years for “unanticipated” expenses.)

In Japan, cost considerations may take a back seat to other concerns, such as convincing the public that Tepco is adhering to national guidelines on releases of radioactive material.

Japan, Bonhomme said, has regulations both on the concentration of tritiated water that can be released and annual total volume limits. Tepco could find ways to dilute the tritiated water, he said, but the amount of tritium it has on hand now is 40 times the annual release limit.

Barrett said that the rules should be changed and that technology to remove tritium is “not practical.” But he noted that “the Japanese are much less sensitive to cost than we Americans.” The Three Mile Island cleanup cost about $2.3 billion in today’s dollars, he said, but the Fukushima cleanup “is much more expensive than I would have thought.”

No matter what Tepco or the government spends on remediation and decommissioning at Fukushima, it’s unlikely to convince people like Hiromitsu Ito that restarting nuclear plants is a good idea.

The fisherman from the northern town of Ogatsu near Sendai says he’s long been against nuclear power and he’s outraged by the fact that no one has been criminally prosecuted for the Fukushima meltdowns.

“I think the Tepco people are criminals but they have never been dealt with,” he said. “People in the nuclear industry have learned from this that they will never be punished.”

Eiju Hangai is another skeptic. A former Tepco board member, he retired from his position a year before the Fukushima disaster and now has thrown himself into promoting solar power.

In the city of Minamisoma, just north of the mandatory evacuation zone around the nuclear plant, he has built a small solar park and conducts workshops for schoolchildren, teaching them about green energy.

“I am one of the people responsible for this accident. I need to help the reconstruction of this area,” he said. “I don’t think we should even be talking about nuclear now — not until we do a much better job of raising awareness about renewable energy.”

Julie Makinen|LA Times|3/30/15

Six Flags to Build New Jersey’s Largest Solar Farm and Become First Theme Park to Be Entirely Self-Powered

New Jersey theme park Six Flags Great Adventure announced that it is partnering with New Jersey-based KDC Solar to construct a solar farm that will provide virtually all its energy needs. It will be the largest solar farm in New Jersey and will make the sprawling, 2,200-acre Six Flags Great Adventure the first theme park in the country to be entirely self-powered. The park is located in Jackson Township in central New Jersey, 26 miles from Asbury Park on the Jersey Shore.

“We are continually searching for new ways to operate more efficiently and enhance our role as good stewards of the environment,” said the park’s president  John Fitzgerald. “Solar power will significantly reduce our reliance on harmful fossil fuels.”

Six Flags said that the 90-acre, 21.9 megawatt (MW) facility will take about 16-18 months to construct and should be up and running in late 2016. It’s expected to produce about 98 percent of the park’s electricity, accounting for some cloudy days.

Jackson township councilman Kenneth Bressi told the Asbury Park Press that the township, whose planning board gave the project the green light earlier this month, is enthusiastic about it because the undeveloped property east of the park that the solar farm will be located on will be taxed at a higher rate and the new facility helps assure the park will stay open for the long term.

“God knows what their electric bill is and what they’re going to be saving annually,” said Bressi. “They wouldn’t be doing projects like this if they weren’t going to around for a long while, so this is great for Great Adventure and for Jackson.”

David Beavers, solar campaign organizer at Environment New Jersey, also expressed enthusiasm for the project, telling the Asbury Park Press, “This is going to be the biggest installation in New Jersey, which is going to be a huge step in the right direction.”

It was also revealed the 18,000 trees would be removed to make way for the facility. Six Flags spokesperson Kristin Siebeneicher told the Asbury Park Press the trees were mostly in poor condition and that the Six Flags and KDC Solar would be replanting 25,000 trees over a seven-year period.

“Hearing that they are going to be replanting those trees, it definitely sounds like it’s going to be a worthwhile initiative,” said Beavers.

While Six Flags Great Adventure is boasting it will be the largest U.S. theme park to rely entirely on clean energy, it doesn’t have much competition yet. Last April, Tampa’s much smaller, 150-acre Legoland Florida announced that it was the first U.S. theme park to run entirely on renewables for one day when it did so to celebrate Earth Day. The park’s Imagination Zone area features permanent solar panels that continue to feed energy to that section of the park.

Currently, the Tinton Fall Solar Farm and Pilesgrove Solar Farms are the largest solar facilities in New Jersey, each generating about 20 MW of power. New Jersey ranks sixth among states in the amount of solar installed in 2014 with 239.8 MW and currently has the third highest amount of installed capacity after California and Arizona, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Anastasia Pantsios|March 28, 2015

In Texas Oil Town, Early Signs Of Economic Strain As Drilling Slows

NEW YORK, March 29 (Reuters) – Sales tax receipts in the thriving oil town of Midland, Texas, fell this month, only the third decline in five years and one of the first signs of how low oil prices are beginning to ripple beyond oil company bottom lines and into the wider economy.

Midland’s sales tax revenues, which reflect commercial and residential spending, dipped to $5.119 million in March from $5.126 million in March 2014, according to data from the Texas Comptroller released last week.

The fall was slight, but it was just the third year-over-year decline since April 2010, when an oil production boom was just beginning to transform Midland.

It also marks a stark and potentially protracted turnaround from recent years: last year in March, when oil prices soared above $100 a barrel, sales tax receipts increased 11 percent.

“These numbers are more significant to me than anything else,” said Karr Ingham, an economist who compiles the Texas PetroIndex, an annual analysis of the state’s energy economy.

“There is no doubt that local spending is going to suffer, and we are just seeing the beginning of this,” said Ingham, who expects an economic downturn to last for months and potentially years, even after oil prices rebound.

Midland has a population of around 140,000, and an economic decline there alone should not seriously dent the state economy. However, the town has become a potent symbol of the oil boom, and its economy could shed light on the potential future impact for Texas and other oil producing regions across the country.

Moreover, the fact that the first cracks in the Midland economy are appearing nine months after oil prices began falling, highlight how long it can take for an oil price slump to seep into a more general economic indicators.

At the heart of the Permian Basin, one of the biggest oil deposits in the country, Midland experienced lightning fast growth over the past five years as energy companies flocked in, bringing jobs, investment and large construction projects.

Now, a 50 percent drop in oil prices since June to below $50 a barrel, the biggest decline since the recession, has forced drillers to cut their workforces, slow drilling and halt investments.

The city’s overheated housing market has also shown signs of easing. The 514 unsold houses on the market in Midland County in January was most in years, according to county statistics. The average sale price fell 20 percent from June to January. Foreclosures starts jumped 193 percent from 40 in 2013 to 117 in 2014, with most of that growth occurring in the second half of the year, according to data from Realty Trac.

“The most visible sign of cracks in the armor of the Midland housing market is the rise in foreclosure starts in 2014,” said Realty Trac vice president Daren Blomquist.

City officials are aware of the early warning signs. An annual city council retreat that will focus on maintaining economic growth amid the oil industry downturn has been delayed until May to allow the city to gather more sales tax data before making budgeting decisions, said Midland mayor Jerry Morales.

“We feel this is a cooling period,” he said. “We know sales taxes will decline, we just do not know to what level.”’

So far, the effects have been limited. Oil companies including Chevron, Occidental Petroleum and Schlumberger are all building facilities in Midland, according to city building official Steve Thorpe. Apache Corp an EOG Resources have sought approval for building permits.

The City Council is considering a permit for a $100 million boutique hotel, health club and food emporium on city land. A plan by Xcor Aerospace to build a launch pad for 90-minute, $90,000 tourist space shuttle rides from Midland airport remains on track.

It is anyone’s guess how long oil prices will remain depressed. Some say it could be months, even years, before oil producing regions recover from low oil prices.

“There is an incorrect assumption that we are further into this than we already are,” said Ingham. “We have a long way to go.”

Edward McAllister|Reuters |03/30/2015 |Editing by David Gregorio

Northeast Resists More Pipelines, Despite Higher Energy Costs

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — There is near universal agreement that the Northeast has to expand its energy supply to rein in the nation’s highest costs and that cheap, abundant, relatively clean natural gas could be at least a short-term answer. But heels dig deep when it comes to those thorniest of questions: how and where?

Proposals to build or expand natural gas pipelines are met with an up-swell of citizen discontent. At the end of last year, a Massachusetts route selected by Texas-based Kinder Morgan generated so much venom that the company nudged it north into New Hampshire — where the venom is also flowing freely. During this winter’s town meetings, a centuries-old staple of local governance in New England, people in the nine towns touched by the route voted to oppose the project.

That Northeast Direct line is one of about 20 pipeline projects being proposed throughout the Northeast, where savvy environmental and political forces combine with population density to provide a formidable bulwark. There’s another reason the loudest protests are all coming from the region: They’re where the gas is, waiting just east of the gas-rich Marcellus Shale region.

“Everyone seems to know the Northeast has a pipeline capacity problem, but not many seem to be willing to make many concessions to fix that problem,” said Andrew Pusateri, senior utilities analyst for Edward Jones.

And these are folks who pay a lot to stay warm in the winter and keep the lights on in summer. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, New Englanders paid $14.52 per thousand cubic feet of gas in 2014, compared to $10.94 for the rest of the nation. ISO-New England, which operates the region’s power grid, said in its 2015 Regional Electricity Outlook that natural gas availability is “one of the most serious challenges” the region faces as more coal and oil units go offline.

The Kinder Morgan plan would take gas from the plentiful Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania and pump it through a 36-inch line from Wright, New York, to Dracut, Massachusetts. Along the way, it would cut across a 70-mile stretch of southern New Hampshire, tickling the Massachusetts line. About 90 percent of the project would be along an existing power line corridor.

Homer Shannon and his wife raised three children on their suburban plot in Windham, New Hampshire, where the pipeline would pass a few hundred feet from their house. The retired high-tech salesman is part of a 10-family group of neighbors opposed to the pipeline’s route.

“This whole Northeast Direct thing is just fraught with question marks,” Shannon said. “Why in the hell is it in New Hampshire anyway? They want to get it from New York to Massachusetts and if you draw that line on a map, it sure doesn’t go through New Hampshire.”

Opponents — on the route and far from it — worry about environmental and scenic harm, lower property values, the potential for accidents and the idea that relying on natural gas only forestalls a switch to more renewable sources like wind or solar.

“It would be really nice if, as a region, we had a coherent energy policy that stated, ‘These are the things we need to do to improve our energy situation,'” Shannon said. “And if one of those things is I have to sacrifice part of my backyard for the greater good, I’d be willing to have that discussion. But I don’t see it that way. I see it as them enriching themselves on my back and I don’t like that.”

In New York and Pennsylvania, the 124-mile Constitution Pipeline has also fanned flames of opposition, some of it pegged to the price the gas company is paying to take land. Of 651 landowners in New York and Pennsylvania affected by the $700 million pipeline project, 125 refused to sign right of way agreements. Condemnation proceedings undertaken by Constitution have largely resolved the remaining disputes, either through settlements or access granted by a judge.

Donald Santa, president and CEO of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, said it follows that the most complaints would come from the Northeast because that’s where most of the pipeline activity is happening, largely because of the boom enabled by the Marcellus Shale.

“Having so much of this gas literally on the doorstep of the market has really increased the need to get the gas to consumers,” Santa said.

Richard Wheatley, a spokesman for Kinder Morgan, said the company’s pipeline is not the only one getting pushback. He declined to address the opposition specifically but said the company continues to reach out to landowners and others as the siting process moves along. The company expects to file a certificate with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this year.

Pusateri, the Edward Jones analyst, said part of the resistance may also be inflamed because of how the gas gets out of the ground. The Marcellus Shale gas is extracted using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The process, which blasts chemical-laden water into wells to crack open rock, has drawn heavy criticism. In New York, much of the antipathy toward pipelines was driven by the anti-fracking sentiment that resulted in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ban on shale gas development in New York.

“All major projects have some opposition, but I would say this pipe has garnered more attention and protests and gained more steam than average,” he said. “I think Kinder has done what they can to move the right of way of the pipe as much off of people’s property as possible. They can do this by utilizing utility easements at times. I don’t know that opposition really softens.”

RIK STEVENS|AP|03/29/2015

Deepwater Horizon oil spill caused lasting damage, report says

Since the oil spill, about 1,000 dolphins have been found dead from Florida to Texas

WASHINGTON — Dolphins are dying in unusually high numbers. Sea turtle nests are declining.

Tuna are developing abnormally. And pelicans and gulls are still suffering from the lasting effects of a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico five years ago, the National Wildlife Federation warned in a report released Monday.

The impact is concentrated in the northern Gulf, but scientists say the long-term damage affects spawning waters for many fish that migrate to South Florida, the Caribbean and along the East Coast.

“Wildlife from sperm whales to marsh ants are still feeling the effects of the disaster,” said Ryan Fikes, the environmental group’s Gulf restoration scientist.

The report rounds up research findings on the Deepwater Horizon disaster in April 2010 that spewed 134 million gallons of oil into the Gulf.

An oil slick from the spill slathered much of the Gulf Coast, coating beaches, forcing a temporary fishing ban and ruining the region’s summer tourist season. Scientists remain concerned that the submerged oil is causing untold damage to fish and their habitat, depleting their numbers, disrupting the food chain and ultimately pinching Florida’s commercial and recreational fishing operations.

A research consortium drawing from nine institutions and spearheaded by scientists at Nova Southeastern University plans to launch another mission in late April or May to study fish, shrimp, squids and microbes in the deep waters of the Gulf. The team received an $8.5-million grant, which is drawn from $500 million provided by BP, the giant oil company that had leased the rig when it exploded, killing 11 workers.

“It’s important we keep looking. Sometimes it takes a long time for these long-term effects on fish populations to show themselves,” said Tracey Sutton, director of the research team.

The consortium’s three-year study will help determine the impact of submerged oil and of chemical dispersants used to break up the giant slick. The results have implications for the Atlantic side of Florida because powerful currents bring fish and pollutants through the Florida Straits before turning north on the Gulf Stream near the coast.

“We know that oil is still below the surface, on the beaches and in the sand,” said Jose Victor Lopez, one of the NSU scientists. “We know that if the sea currents are not in our favor, some of the particles of dispersants could make it over [to the East Coast].”

The National Wildlife Federation, an advocacy group, is pushing for more research on the spill’s lasting effects in the Gulf and beyond. Its report says that:

• Since the spill, about 1,000 bottlenose dolphins have been found dead in an area stretching from the Florida Panhandle to Texas. Dolphins on the Louisiana coast were found dead at four times the historic rates.

• The number of endangered sea turtle nests, which had been increasing rapidly, has declined on average since the spill.

• Exposure to oil has caused abnormal development in many species of fish, including mahi mahi, Gulf killifish and bluefin and yellowfin tuna.

• 12 percent of the brown pelicans and 32 percent of the laughing gulls in the northern Gulf may have died as a result of the oil spill.

• 2010 and 2011 had the lowest numbers of juvenile red snapper seen in an eastern Gulf fishery since 1994.

William E. Gibson|Washington Bureau|Sun Sentinel|3/31/15

North Dakota’s New Oil Train Safety Checks Miss Risks, Experts Warn

WASHINGTON, March 31 (Reuters) – New regulations to cap vapor pressure of North Dakota crude fail to account for how it behaves in transit, according to industry experts, raising doubts about whether the state’s much-anticipated rules will make oil train shipments safer.

High vapor pressure has been identified as a possible factor in the fireball explosions witnessed after oil train derailments in Illinois and West Virginia in recent weeks.

For over a year, federal officials have warned that crude from North Dakota’s Bakken shale oilfields contains a cocktail of explosive gas – known in the industry as ‘light ends.’

The new rules, which take effect on April 1, aim to contain dangers by spot-checking the vapor pressure of crude before loading and capping it at 13.7 pounds per square inch (psi) – about normal atmospheric conditions.

The plan relies on a widely-used test for measuring pressure at the wellhead, but safety experts say gas levels can climb inside the nearly-full tankers, so the checks are a poor indicator of explosion risks for rail shipments.

It is “well-understood, basic physics” that crude oil will exert more pressure in a full container than in the test conditions North Dakota will use, said Dennis Sutton, executive director of the Crude Oil Quality Association, which studies how to safely handle fossil fuels.

Ametek Inc, a leading manufacturer of testing equipment, has detected vapor pressure climbing from about 9 psi to over 30 psi – more than twice the new limit – while an oil tank is filled to near-capacity. (Graphic: http://reut.rs/1EHChG4)

About 70 percent of the roughly 1.2 million barrels of oil produced in North Dakota every day moves by rail to distant refineries and passes through hundreds of cities and towns along the way.

The state controls matter to those communities because there is no federal standard to curb explosive gases in oil trains.

North Dakota officials point out that the pressure limit is more stringent than the industry-accepted definition of “stable” crude oil. They also say that they lack jurisdiction over tank cars leaving the state and that the pressure tests are just one of the measures to make oil trains safer.

“We’re trying to achieve a set of operating practices that generates a safe, reliable crude oil,” Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, has said. Helms has also said that test readings for near-full containers were less reliable.

However, given different testing and transport conditions, industry officials say the pressure threshold may need to be lowered to reduce the risks.

Limiting vapor pressure to 13.7 psi in transit would require an operator to bring it to “something well below that” at the loading point, Sutton said.

The uncertainty about regulatory reach and safety has spurred calls for the White House to develop national standards to control explosive gas pressure.

“Let me be really clear,” Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington state told reporters last week. “They should set a standard on volatility.”
The National Transportation Safety Board, an independent safety agency, has already encouraged a federal standard for “setting vapor pressure thresholds” for oil trains citing Canadian findings linking such pressure and the size of explosions in train accidents.

Meanwhile, the American Petroleum Institute, a leading voice for the oil industry, is lobbying lawmakers to resist federal vapor pressure benchmarks and last week urged lawmakers to oppose “a national volatility standard.”

The industry’s argument is that wringing ‘light ends’ out of Bakken crude adds expense and may keep a share of valuable oil from reaching refineries.

Reuters reported early this month that Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx took his concerns about Bakken oil volatility to the White House last summer and sought advice on what to do about the danger of explosive gases.

The administration decided that rather than assert federal authority it would allow the North Dakota rules to take root, according to sources familiar with the meeting.

Patrick Rucker|Reuters|03/31/2015|Additional reporting by Ernest Scheyder in North Dakota|Editing by Tomasz Janowski

Deep in the Amazon, one tribe is beating big oil

The people of Sarayaku in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest are a leading force in 21st century indigenous resistance, writes David Goodman, resisting the incursion of oil exploration into their lands, winning legal victories, and inspiring other communities to follow their example.

We are millionaires. Everything we need we have here. We are a small pueblo, but we are a symbol of life. Everyone must come together to support the life of human beings and Earth.

Patricia Gualinga stands serenely as chaos swirls about her. I find this petite woman with striking black and red face paint at the head of the People’s Climate March in New York City on September 21, 2014.

She is adorned with earrings made of brilliant bird feathers and a thick necklace of yellow and blue beads. She has come here from Sarayaku, a community deep in the heart of the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador.

Behind Gualinga, 400,000 people are in the streets calling for global action to stop climate change. Beside her, celebrities Leonardo DiCaprio, Sting, and Mark Ruffalo prepare to lead the historic march alongside a group of indigenous leaders.

Gualinga stands beneath a sign, “Keep the Oil in the Ground.” She has traveled across continents and cultures to deliver this message.

“Our ancestors and our spiritual leaders have been talking about climate change for a long time”, she tells me in Spanish above the din, flashing a soft smile as photographers crush around the celebrities. She motions to the throngs around her. “We are actually speaking the same language right now.”

A year earlier, I traveled to her village in the Ecuadorian Amazon to research the improbable story of a rainforest community of 1,200 Kichwa people that has successfully fended off oil companies and a government intent on exploiting their land for profit. How, I wondered, has Sarayaku been winning?

This is not the story most people know from Ecuador. Headlines have focused on northern Ecuador, where Chevron is fighting a landmark $9.5 billion judgment for dumping millions of gallons of toxic wastewater into rivers and leaving unlined pits of contaminated sludge that poisoned thousands of people.

A beacon of hope for indigenous communities across Ecuador

Sarayaku lies in southern Ecuador, where the government is selling drilling rights to a vast swath of indigenous lands – except for Sarayaku. The community has become a beacon of hope to other indigenous groups and to global climate change activists as it mobilizes to stop a new round of oil exploration.

What I found in Sarayaku was not just a community defending its territory. I encountered a people who believe that their lifestyle, deeply connected to nature, holds promise for humans to save themselves from global warming and extinction.

They are fighting back by advancing a counter-capitalist vision called sumak kawsay – Kichwa for ‘living well’ – living in harmony with the natural world and insisting that nature has rights deserving of protection.

Naively romantic? Think again: In 2008, Ecuador’s constitution became the first in the world to codify the rights of nature and specifically sumak kawsay. Bolivia’s constitution has a similar provision, and rights-of-nature ordinances are now being passed in communities in the United States.

Sarayaku residents describe sumac kawsay as “choosing our responsibility to the seventh generation over quarterly earnings, regeneration over economic growth, and the pursuit of well-being and harmony over wealth and financial success.”

The people of Sarayaku are the face of 21st-century indigenous resistance. Sarayaku may be a remote, pastoral community, but it is engaging the Western world politically, legally, and philosophically.

Patricia Gualinga and other Sarayaku community members have traveled to Europe to meet with foreign leaders and warn energy company executives about their opposition to oil extraction from their lands, produced their own documentary film about their struggle, filed lawsuits, leveraged their message with international groups such as Amazon Watch and Amnesty International, marched thousands of kilometers in public protest, and testified at the United Nations.

Sarayaku’s resistance has angered the pro-development Ecuadorian government-which bizarrely hails sumak kawsay while selling hotly contested oil drilling leases-but has inspired other indigenous communities across the globe.

Defending life and land

I climb aboard a four-seater Cessna parked at a small airstrip in the town of Shell, a rambling settlement on the edge of the Amazon rainforest in southeastern Ecuador. The town is named for Shell Oil Company, which established operations here a half century ago.

Our plane flies low over the thick green jungle. The dense growth below is broken only by rivers the color of chocolate milk, the sinewy arteries of the rainforest.

The forest canopy parts to reveal a grass airstrip and clusters of thatched huts. This is Sarayaku. Moist jungle air envelops me as I step out of the plane. The villagers escort me and my daughter, Ariel, who has been living in Ecuador and is translating for me, past a large communal hut where a woman tends a small fire.

Gerardo Gualinga, Patricia’s brother and one of the community leaders, arrives dressed in jeans, a T-shirt, and knee-high rubber boots, the signature footwear of the rainforest. He carries a tall, carved wooden staff, a symbol of his authority.

“The community is in the middle of a three-day meeting to plan our political and development work for the next year. Come along-I think you will find it interesting”, he says, motioning for us to follow him down to the edge of the broad Bobonaza River.

We board a motorized canoe and head upstream, passing slender dugouts propelled by men pushing long poles. In 10 minutes, we clamber out on the river bank and hike up to a sandy village square.

Inside an oval building with a thatched roof, we find José Gualinga, another of Patricia’s brothers, who was then president of Sarayaku. He is holding his ceremonial staff and wearing a black headband and a Che Guevara T-shirt.

Gualinga is leading a discussion of how the community should pressure the Ecuadorian government to comply with the judgment of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, which ruled in 2012 that the Ecuadorian government should have obtained the consent of the native people when it permitted oil drilling on Sarayaku’s territory.

Compensation awarded for a long history of abuse

Following hearings in Costa Rica, the court ordered the government to apologize and pay Sarayaku $1.25 million, plus attorney’s fees.

The court decision, declared Mario Melo, attorney for Sarayaku from the Quito-based Fundación Pachamama, is “a significant contribution to a more profound safeguard of indigenous peoples’ rights, and it is an example of dignity that will surely inspire many other nations and peoples around the world.”

At a lunch break, Mario Santi, Sarayaku’s president until 2008, explains the history of the struggle here. In the early 2000s, “The government let oil businesses exploit and explore for oil in this territory. There was no consultation. Many communities sold out to the oil companies. Sarayaku was the only pueblo that didn’t sell the right for oil companies to explore.”

Ecuador’s government ignored the community’s refusal to sell oil-drilling rights and signed a contract in 1996 with the Argentinian oil company CGC to explore for oil in Sarayaku. In 2003, CGC petroleros – oil workers and private security guards – and Ecuadorian soldiers came by helicopter to lay explosives and dig test wells.

Sarayaku mobilized. “We stopped the schools and our own work and dedicated ourselves to the struggle for six months”, says Santi. As the oil workers cleared a large area of forest-which was community farmland-the citizens of Sarayaku retreated deep into the jungle, where they established emergency camps and plotted their resistance.

“In the six months of struggle, there was torture, rape, and strong suffering of our people, especially our mothers and children”, Santi recounts. “We returned with psychological illness. All the military who came … “. He pauses to compose himself. “This was a very, very bad time.”

Political power …  down the barrel of a gun

In their jungle camps, the Sarayaku leaders hatched a plan. The women of the community prepared a strong batch of chicha, the traditional Ecuadorian homebrew made from fermented cassava. One night, a group of them traveled stealthily through the jungle, shadowed by men of the village. The women emerged at the main encampment of the petroleros. They offered their chicha and watched as the oil workers happily partied.

As their drinking binge ended, the petroleros fell asleep. When they awoke, what they saw sobered them: They were staring into the muzzles of their own automatic weapons. Wielding the guns were the women and men of Sarayaku.

The Sarayaku residents ordered the petroleros off their ancestral land. The terrified workers called in helicopters and fled, abandoning their weapons. The oil workers never returned. An Ecuadorian general came later and negotiated with community leaders – five of whom had been arrested and beaten – for the return of the weapons.

I ask Santi why Sarayaku has resisted. His tan, weathered face breaks into a gentle smile even as he recounts a difficult story.

“Our fathers told us that for future generations not to suffer, we needed to struggle for our territory and our liberty. So we wouldn’t be slaves of the new kind of colonization.

“The waterfall, the insects, the animals, the jungle gives us life”, he tells me. “Because man and the jungle have a relationship. For the Western capitalist world, the jungle is simply for exploiting resources and ending all this. The indigenous pueblos without jungle – we can’t live.”

Sarayaku now wants to help indigenous people around the world resist and defend their way of life. “Our message that we are also taking to Asia, Africa, Brazil, and other countries that are discussing climate change, we propose an alternative development-the development of life. This is our economy for living – sumak kawsay – not just for us but for the Western world. They don’t have to be afraid of global warming if they support the life of the jungle.

“It’s not a big thing”, he says understatedly. “It’s just to continue living.”

Indigenous climate change warriors

The Sarayaku story is just the latest in a long-running battle over Ecuador’s natural resources. Oil extraction began in northern Ecuador in 1964, when the American oil giant Texaco set up drilling operations in indigenous lands (Chevron later purchased Texaco).

When the oil company exited in 1992, it “left behind the worst oil-related environmental disaster on the planet”, according to Amazon Watch, a nonprofit organization that defends indigenous rights. The devastated and poisoned region is known as the ‘rainforest Chernobyl’.

Despite pursuing Chevron for damages, the Ecuadorian government of President Rafael Correa has embarked on an aggressive new round of oil development in southern Ecuador, opening thousands of acres to exploration.

The government has cracked down on resisters, recently ordering the closure of the Quito headquarters of CONAIE, Ecuador’s national indigenous organization, attempting to stop Ecuadorian activists opposed to oil drilling from attending a U.N. climate summit in Peru, and closing Fundación Pachamama, an NGO supporting indigenous groups.

Most of Sarayaku’s land has been excluded in the new round of oil drilling, though nearby communities, including those of the neighboring Sápara people, are threatened. Sarayaku is joining the protests of its neighbors.

José Gualinga says these struggles have bigger implications. “We are doing this to stop carbon emissions and global warming. This struggle of indigenous pueblos is a doorway to saving Pachamama [Mother Earth].”

Women have been at the center of the indigenous resistance. Patricia Gualinga tells me, “The women have been very steadfast and strong in saying we are not negotiating about this. We are the ones who have mobilized for life.”

She recounts how, in 2013, 100 women from seven different indigenous groups marched 250 kilometers from their jungle communities to Quito, where they addressed the National Assembly. In the 1990s, Patricia’s mother embarked on a similar march with thousands of other indigenous women.

“We want to continue living a good life within the forest”, Patricia tells me. “We want to be respected, and we want to be a model that could be replicated.”

The living jungle

I follow Sabino Gualinga, a 70-year-old shaman, as he walks lightly through the dense tangle of growth. He deftly flicks his machete to make a path through the jungle for me and Ariel. He stops and points up toward a tree.

“The bark of that tree helps cure grippe [flu]. This one”, he says, pointing to a weathered, gray tree trunk, “helps to break a fever. That one”, he motions to a fern-like plant, “helps with psychological problems.”

That night, Sabino’s sons, Gerardo and José, join us in front of a flickering fire to talk about Sarayaku’s journey. They are unwinding after a long day of meetings. José wears a white soccer jersey and his long black hair hangs loosely at his shoulders.

José, president of Sarayaku from 2011 to 2014, led his community to take its fight to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights. Part of the court judgment required Ecuadorian government leaders to apologize to Sarayaku. I doubted this would occur, but José was insistent that it would.

In October 2014, Ecuador’s Minister of Justice, Ledy Zuniga, stood in Sarayaku’s sandy community square and delivered an extraordinary message:

“We offer a public apology for the violation of indigenous property, cultural identity, the right to consultation, having put at serious risk their lives and personal integrity, and for the violation of the right to judicial guarantee and judicial protections.”

The court decision and official apology appear to have given Sarayaku an extra measure of protection from new oil exploration. The government must now secure at least the appearance of consent, contested though it may be, lest they get dragged back into court. “We’ve shown that laws can change”, reflects Gerardo. “We’ve won not only for Sarayaku, we’ve won for South America.”

A key element in Sarayaku’s success is telling its story everywhere it can. Sarayaku resident Eriberto Gualinga trained in videography and made a film about his community, Children of the Jaguar, which won best documentary at the 2012 National Geographic All Roads Film Festival.

Sarayaku has also embraced social media. Community members showed me to a thatched hut. Inside, young people were clustered around several computers updating Facebook pages and websites via a satellite Internet connection.

Now, says José, “When the state says, ‘Sarayaku, we are going to destroy you,’ we have international witnesses. We can tell people the truth.”

José draws a distinction between Sarayaku’s struggles and those led by leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Che Guevara. “They wanted their freedom. We don’t need to win our freedom. Here in Sarayaku, we are free. But we take from the experience of these leaders. It strengthens us.”

A steady rain falls on the thatched roof overhead. The fat raindrops make a hard thwack on the broad leaves of the trees. A guitarist strums softly in another hut. Chickens and children run free.

“We are millionaires”, says Gerardo, motioning to the jungle that embraces us. “Everything we need we have here.” José peers into the fire. “We are a small pueblo, but we are a symbol of life. Everyone must come together to support the life of human beings and Earth.”

David Goodman|30th March 2014

US coal sector in ‘structural decline’, financial analysts say

Over 200 mines shut down and industry loses 76% of its value in five years, report finds

 

The US coal sector is in a “structural decline” which has sent 26 companies bust in the last three years, according to financial analysts.

A report by the Carbon Tracker Initiative found that in the past five years the US coal industry lost 76% of its value. At least 264 mines were closed between 2011 and 2013. The world’s largest private coal company, Peabody Energy, lost 80% of its share price.

These declines were in spite of the Dow Jones industrial average increasing by 69% during the same period. Authors said this indicated a decoupling of US economic growth from coal.

Co-author Luke Sussams said the coal industry had been pummeled by cheap shale gas and a series of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations.

“It was something of a one-two punch. Gas took the legs out from the sector and the EPA really held it down,” he said.

The US shale gas price fell 80% since 2008. Meanwhile, renewable energy has become increasingly competitive. From 2005 to 2013 the amount of US electricity generated by burning coal dropped by 10.5%. This was picked up by gas (8.7%) and renewables (4.1%).

But Chiza Vitta, a credit analyst from Standard and Poor’s, said he did not believe coal was in a terminal decline, although its share of the US electricity market would diminish somewhat in the coming years.

Vitta said the drop in share prices noted by Carbon Tracker was due to a complex series of factors, including a cyclical dip in metallurgical coal demand. He said despite the slowdown “coal will continue to be an integral part of the energy portfolio. It’s going to get a little smaller so the share price is going to fall. But there is always going to be a place for coal”.

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Carbon Tracker first introduced the idea of a ‘carbon bubble’, the overvaluation of the fossil fuel industry, in 2011. A key part of their argument was the idea that carbon intensive fuel sources would become less valuable because of increasingly stringent regulation from international and national bodies. This would leave many companies holding vast reserves of essentially worthless fossil fuels. A concept known as ‘stranded assets’.

The coal industry has been subject to seven major EPA regulations since 2008. This includes 30% cuts by 2030 to carbon emissions from coal power plants announced by president Barack Obama last year. But mostly the measures target forms of pollution other than carbon. Sussams said the decline of US coal “proves the [stranded assets] concept doesn’t rely on international regulations”.

In order to avoid the increasingly hostile domestic market, Sussams said the industry had banked heavily on a future where US coal exports to China and India grew significantly. But this has been undercut by cheap supply from Indonesia, Australia and South Africa. Additionally, Chinese coal consumption fell 3% last year and India has said it may stop imports of coal within three years.

Andrew Grant, report co-author said the report issued a warning that even without an international agreement on carbon emission, the most carbon intensive sectors of the economy were risky investments.

“The roof has fallen in on US coal, and alarm bells should be ringing for investors in related sectors around the world. These first tremors are amongst the clearest signs yet of a seismic shift in energy markets, as high carbon fuels are set to be increasingly outperformed by lower carbon alternatives,” he said.

Karl Mathiesen|24 March 2015

Fracking penalty proposal clears Senate panel

A proposal to regulate the oil and gas industry, particularly when it comes to hydraulic fracturing and high pressure well stimulation, cleared a Senate panel Tuesday, despite dozens of speakers calling on lawmakers to vote against it.

The proposal (SB 1468), sponsored by Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, passed the Senate environmental preservation and conservation committee 6-2, along party lines. The proposal would increase penalties to $25,000 a day, create a chemical disclosure registry and requires companies disclose the chemicals being used.

Opponents to the measure said it doesn’t go far enough, and said the state should ban hydraulic fracturing. Three amendments, including one to put a moratorium on the process, were not introduced because they failed to get the necessary support to be considered.

The vote came just hours after House and Senate Democrats held a press conference to call on leadership to pass legislation that would ban the method, not regulate it.

“We ought to be ashamed of ourselves,” said Sen Dwight Bullard, a Miami Democrat whose district includes parts of eastern Collier County, during the press conference. “The idea that we’re even having a conversation about regulating the process for poisoning Floridians speaks volumes about where our priorities are on the other side of the aisle.”

This was the first committee stop for Richter’s bill. A similar House proposal (HB 1205), sponsored by Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, has cleared its first committee on March 17.

Matt Dixon|Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster|March 31, 2015

Oil and Gas Billionaire Pressured Oklahoma Scientist to Ignore Fracking-Earthquake Link

Hillary Clinton’s emails aren’t the only ones making news, at least not in Oklahoma. A trove of emails were released by the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS), which regulates the state’s oil and gas industries, in response to public records requests from news outlets such as Bloomberg and EnergyWire. They appear to reveal that oil and gas billionaire Harold Hamm, known as the founding father of the U.S. fracking boom, inserted himself into the conversation about whether fracking was causing a dramatic upsurge in earthquakes in the state.

Bloomberg reports that in November 2013, state seismologist Austin Holland, who works for the OGS, got a request from University of Oklahoma president David Boren to meet with him and Hamm in Boren’s office. Boren is on the board of Hamm’s company, Continental Resources.

Hamm isn’t known as a guy shy about slinging around his money and his influence. He’s given millions to the University of Oklahoma including $20 million for a diabetes center. He contributed almost a million dollars to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign and was named his energy advisor. And according to Holland, at that meeting with Boren, he wanted to express his “concern” about the growing evidence that the wave of earthquakes was an outcome of the fracking process.

As fracking has exploded in Oklahoma in the last five years, so have earthquakes, going from an average of two a year over 3.0 magnitude from 1975-2008 to 538 in 2014. Last year, Oklahoma surged past California as the most seismically active state in the lower 48. And scientific studies have been piling up showing a connection between earthquakes and fracking, not just in Oklahoma but also in Texas, Colorado and Ohio.

“Large areas of the U.S. that used to experience few or no earthquakes have, in recent years, experienced a remarkable increase in earthquake activity that has caused considerable public concern as well as damage to structures,” says the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). “This rise in seismic activity, especially in the central U.S., is not the result of natural processes. Deep injection of wastewater is the primary cause of the dramatic rise in detected earthquakes and the corresponding increase in seismic hazard in the central U.S.”

“Holland had been studying possible links between a rise in seismic activity in Oklahoma and the rapid increase in oil and gas production, the state’s largest industry,” wrote Bloomberg reporters Benjamin Elgin and Matthew Phillips. “Hamm requested that Holland be careful when publicly discussing the possible connection between oil and gas operations and a big jump in the number of earthquakes, which geological researchers were increasingly tying to the underground disposal of oil and gas wastewater, a byproduct of the fracking boom that Continental has helped pioneer.”

“It was just a little bit intimidating,” said Holland. When he emailed a colleague that he had been summoned to have “coffee” with Boren and Hamm, she replied, “Gosh, I guess that’s better than having Kool-Aid with them. I guess.”

The previous month, Holland had a meeting in the office of Patrice Douglas, then one of the three elected members of the OGS, that was attended by Jack Stark, then senior vice president for exploration at Continental and now its president. Holland updated his superiors following the meeting, saying, “The basic jist [sic] of the meeting is that Continental does not feel induced seismicity is an issue and they are nervous about any dialogue about the subject.”

It appears their nervousness was making Holland and the OGS nervous as well, and that they bowed to Hamm’s suggestion that they “be careful” about linking earthquakes and fracking operations. When the journal Geology published a paper attributing a 2011 5.6 magnitude Oklahoma quake in 2011 to the injection of fracking wastewater, OGS put out its own statement attributing it to “natural causes.”

And when a new disposal well was turned on in southern Oklahoma’s Love County and the area began to experience multiple quakes a day, which disappeared when the well was de-activated, Holland wrote, “We cannot rule out that this observation could be simply a coincidence.” After Holland stonewalled residents at a public meeting, ExxonMobil geologist Michael Sweatt emailed him, saying, “I would like to congratulate you on a job well done at the Town Hall meeting in Love County. I believe you delivered an unbiased report on the recent earthquake activity and answered the residents’ questions the best you could.”

Both Boren and Continental dismissed concerns that there was anything improper in the November 2013 meeting in Boren’s office or other contacts that Continental had with the OSG.

“The insinuation that there was something untoward that occurred in those meetings is both offensive and inaccurate,” Continental Resources spokeswoman Kristin Thomas told Bloomberg. “The Oklahoma Geological Survey had a solid reputation of an agency that was accessible and of service to the community and industry in Oklahoma. We hope that the agency can continue the legacy to provide this service.”

Boren called the meeting in his office “purely informational,” and said, “Mr. Hamm is a very reputable producer and wanted to know if Mr. Holland had found any information which might be helpful to producers in adopting best practices that would help prevent any possible connection between drilling and seismic events. In addition, he wanted to make sure that the OGS had the benefit of research by Continental geologists.”

Holland has denied that pressure from the oil and gas executives influenced his thinking, telling EnergyWire “None of these conversations affect the science that we are working on producing.”

And today for Holland, the evidence seems to have overwhelmed Hamm’s push for discretion. While saying that Oklahoma has seen spikes in earthquakes in the past when no drilling was going on, he told Bloomberg that he believes most of the new seismic activity is due to the injection of oil and gas wastewater.

“We don’t work in a vacuum, although a lot of people think science does occur in an ivory tower or vacuum,” Holland told the Tulsa World earlier this year. “So clearly we feel pressures on both sides, and really we are trying to serve Oklahomans and understand things as best we can.”

Anastasia Pantsios|April 1, 2015

EPA Report Finds Nearly 700 Chemicals Used in Fracking

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a report on Friday that found there are nearly 700 chemicals used in the fracking process. The EPA completed the analysis by looking at more than 39,000 FracFocus disclosures in the last two years. The FracFocus Chemical Disclosure Registry was developed by the Groundwater Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission in response to public concern about the contents of fracking fluid, says the EPA report.

“FracFocus is a publicly accessible website where oil and gas production well operators can disclose information about the ingredients used in hydraulic fracturing fluids at individual wells,” says the EPA report. However, only 20 states require fracking companies to use FracFocus “to publicly disclose the chemicals they inject into wells,” says The Hill. Additionally, the report found that 10 percent of all chemicals used during the fracking process were not disclosed.

Despite all these limitations, the findings were still alarming. The report found that the median number of chemical additives per fracking job was 14. Hydrochloric acid, methanol, and hydro-treated light petroleum distillates were the most common additives, being reported in 65 percent of all disclosures, says The Hill. Even in low doses, these are known to cause skin irritation, chemical burns, headaches and blurred vision, according to the Center for Disease Control and California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. At higher concentrations, exposure to these chemicals can cause shortness of breath, blindness and possibly death.

The report has been heavily criticized for its reliance on a voluntary reporting system and for not probing deep enough into the toxicity of these chemicals. “Launched in 2011 and delayed repeatedly, the study was supposed to provide definitive answers to the public’s concerns about fracking’s possible effect on drinking water,” says InsideClimate News. “But pushback from the oil and gas companies and the EPA’s weakness relative to the multi-billion dollar fossil fuel sector narrowed the project’s scope.”

Specifically, the $29 million initiative “will not include baseline studies that provide chemical snapshots of water before and after fracking,” says InsideClimate News. “Such data is essential to determine whether drilling contaminated water or whether toxic substances were present before oil and gas development began.” However, EPA researcher, Tom Burke, assured The Hill that “This report really focuses on the first step, and that is collecting information about what is used and the volumes of what is used. As part of our broader assessment, we will definitely be focusing on toxicity, though.”

Cole Mellino|April 1, 2015

Pemex Oil Platform Fire Kills At Least 4, Injures Dozens In Gulf Of Mexico

MEXICO CITY, April 1 (Reuters) – Mexican state-run oil company Pemex said at least four people died after a fire broke out on a production platform in the Gulf of Mexico early on Wednesday, sparking the evacuation of around 300 workers.

Local emergency services said as many as 45 people were injured in the blaze, which erupted overnight on the Abkatun Permanente platform in the oil-rich Bay of Campeche.

Pemex said it was battling the flames with eight firefighting boats and that a contractor for Mexican oil services company Cotemar was one of the dead.

Videos posted on Twitter showed the platform engulfed in flames, lighting up the night sky, as rescue workers looked on from nearby ships.

The fire broke out in the dehydration and pumping area of the platform, Pemex said, though it was not clear what caused it. A Pemex spokesman could not immediately say whether local oil production had been affected.

A spokesman for emergency services in the nearby city of Ciudad del Carmen said earlier that authorities had registered 45 people with injuries from the fire. Other officials put the total at around 16 injured.

The platform forms part of the Abkatun-Pol-Chuc offshore complex. According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, production at the complex has fallen steadily since the 1990s to below 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) in 2013.

Mexico currently produces just under 2.3 million bpd, and is the world’s No. 10 crude producer.

Pemex has suffered a number of accidents in recent years, with at least 37 people killed by a blast at the company’s Mexico City headquarters in 2013. Another 26 people were killed at a fire in a Pemex natural gas facility in September 2012.

Cotemar is based in Ciudad del Carmen and provides offshore services to Pemex including platform refurbishment, maintenance, and maritime transport, according to its website.

Reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez and Gabriel Stargardter|Editing by Kieran Murray and Peter Galloway|Reuters|04/01/2015

States Fail to Properly Manage Fracking Waste, Says Groundbreaking Report

It might seem illogical, but in 1988 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put a loophole in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) which regulates hazardous and solid waste, exempting the waste from oil and gas exploration, development and production (E &P) from oversight. While it conceded that such wastes might indeed be hazardous, it said that state regulations were adequate.

That was then, and this is now. The fracking boom has brought oil and gas operations into states and communities that never dealt with them before. Elected officials in those states are often beholden to those oil and gas interests, especially as the amount of money flowing into elections has multiplied exponentially. Basically, the fox is guarding the henhouse.

A new study, Wasting Away: Four states’ failure to manage oil and gas waste in the Marcellus and Utica Shale, conductedby Earthworks, explore just how inadequate state oversight of drilling operations is today. It specifically looks at four states that sit on top of the lucrative Marcellus and Utica shale deposits—New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia—to discover exactly how well they are doing in overseeing the identification and handling of the potentially hazardous waste materials left behind after the shale has been fracked.

Not very well, it found.

“Many of the questions asked about oil and gas field waste decades ago persist, including what it contains and how it is, and should be, treated and disposed of,” the report says. “Also debated is whether states have the ability and resources to adequately protect water, soil, and air quality in the process. Many policymakers and advocates have started to ask: as drilling continues, where is all the waste going and what happens as a result? States are revising regulations and policies in an attempt to catch up with growing volumes and associated problems. However, these efforts by states, both current and proposed, are lacking.”

The report points out that a series of  high-profile events over the last seven years has raised public awareness and concern—events such as illegal dumping, wastewater spills and earthquakes. That awareness has also increased thanks to a burgeoning number of studies documenting the toxic ingredients in fracking waste and how they can enter the environment. Those studies were cited by Dr. Howard Zucker, New York state’s commissioner of health, in his testimony that led that state to ban fracking in December 2014.

“Thirty years ago the Environmental Protection Agency exempted oil and gas waste from federal classification as hazardous, not because the waste isn’t hazardous, but because EPA determined state oversight was adequate,” said report lead author and Earthworks’ eastern program coordinator Nadia Steinzor. “But our analysis shows that states aren’t keeping track of this waste or disposing of it properly. States must take realistic, concrete steps to better protect the public.”

Earthworks’ report made a series of specific recommendations of the types of regulations states should adopt. They include state-level legislation identifying oil and gas waste as hazardous, filling in gaps in current state laws, requiring testing of wastes before they leave the site, implementing “cradle to grave” tracking of wastes and requiring detailed documentation throughout its lifespan, upgrading testing and monitoring of wastes, and requiring treatment and disposal of wastes at specialized facilities designed to detoxify them.

It found all four states lacking. While it pointed out that West Virginia has adopted some new regulations and Pennsylvania is currently revising its regulations, it cited numerous shortcomings in how those states handle fracking waste. Of Ohio it said, “Even as shale gas development surges in Ohio, the state has done little to strengthen regulations and procedures related to waste management. HB59, passed in 2013, directed Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) to adopt rules for waste storage and disposal—but critical regulations have still not been put forward for public review and adoption. As a result, operators and disposal facilities have wide discretion to decide whether waste is contaminated and how to dispose of it.”

“Ohio’s land and water are at great risk from improper and under-regulated disposal of fracking wastes,” said Melanie Houston, director of water policy and environmental health at the Ohio Environmental Council. “As this report details, regulations in Ohio remain woefully inadequate when it comes to protecting human health and the environment from the radiological and chemical risks associated with fracking waste.”

And although New York has banned fracking inside its borders, it still produces waste from conventional drilling and increasingly accepts fracking waste from other states. And like the EPA rule, it said that New York law specifically excludes all oil and gas field waste from the definition of industrial and hazardous waste.

“As a result, operators can dispose of waste at municipal waste landfills and sewage treatment plants,” the report says. “The actual tracking of waste is currently left up to drillers and the operators of disposal facilities. Oil and gas operators are not required to report the volume, type, chemical content, disposal process, or origin and destination for waste with any specificity.”

“This report illuminates the dirty secret of oil and gas development—what to do with the enormous amount of waste generated each year. In New York, problems with the improper reuse and disposal of oil and gas waste persist despite the ban on high-volume fracking,” said Riverkeeper staff attorney Misti Duvall. “We have a state that not only allows importation of waste from Pennsylvania into New York’s landfills, but also permits the not-so-beneficial reuse of oil and gas waste on our roads.  It’s past time for New York to rethink its haphazard approach to oil and gas waste.”

The report condemned the piecemeal “Create it now, figure it out later” approach taken by the states in the Marcellus and Utica shale region, saying “All four states have taken essentially the same approach—one that unfortunately has inadvertently created an opaque picture of what’s really happening with waste and inadequate efforts to fix problems associated with it.”

“Drilling waste harms the environment and health, even though states have a mandate to protect both,” said report co-author and Earthworks energy program director Bruce Baizel. “Their current ‘see no evil’ approach is part of the reason communities across the country are banning fracking altogether. States have a clear path forward: if the waste is dangerous and hazardous, stop pretending it isn’t and treat it and track it like the problem it is.”

Anastasia Pantsios|April 2, 2015

Shell inches closer to spilling oil all over the Arctic

Shell has passed another hurdle in its push to resume Arctic drilling operations this summer. On Tuesday, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell reaffirmed her department’s 2008 decision to lease part of the Chukchi Sea, off the coast of Alaska, to the company, and accepted a revised environmental impact statement for the lease.

“The Arctic is an important component of the Administration’s national energy strategy, and we remain committed to taking a thoughtful and balanced approach to oil and gas leasing and exploration offshore Alaska,” Jewell said in a statement.

“Thoughtful” might not be the most applicable word to describe Shell’s activities in the Chukchi Sea. The company suspended its Arctic drilling operations in 2012 after a series of screw-ups and delays that culminated with a drilling rig running aground on New Years Eve. But, undaunted, the company is hoping to resume operations this summer. Shell’s 2015 plans involve working with the same contractor, Noble Drilling, that was hit with eight felony counts for the results of those disastrous few months in 2012.

After the 2012 setbacks, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals put the Chukchi Sea lease on hold in response to a suit filed by Alaskan Natives and environmental groups. The coalition argued that the Department of Interior had underestimated the amount of oil that Shell could get out of the lease, and, thus, the amount of damage that drilling in the sea could cause.

In response, the DOI released a revised environmental impact statement this February. It found that, over the course of Shell’s 77-year lease, there’s a 75 percent chance the company will be responsible for an oil spill of more than 1,000 barrels. The report also forecast 750 smaller spills.

The latest news on DOI’s decision has environmental groups enraged, obviously. “No one in her right mind would trust Shell to deliver a pizza safely across town, so trusting the company to drill in the Arctic is nothing short of negligence,” Greenpeace USA Executive Director Annie Leonard said in a statement. Earthjustice attorney Eric Grafe, who has coordinated green groups’ legal appeals in their suits against Shell’s Arctic operations, suggested to the Associated Press that the DOI was rushing through the process to help Shell get back to work.

Green groups also noted the irony of the DOI’s announcement coming on the same day the Obama administration affirmed its commitment to a global climate deal under which the U.S. would reduce its emissions by as much as 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. Shell’s leadership also recently affirmed its commitment to engaging seriously in discussions about climate change. Yet the company’s plan to operate in the Chukchi Sea for the next three quarters of a century, and the DOI’s plan to allow it, fly in the face of much-discussed research published in the journal Nature earlier this year which found that all the oil in the Arctic would have to stay put if the world is to avert disastrous climate change. Though the DOI’s environmental impact statement does look at the significant chances of a major oil spill resulting from Shell’s operations, it does not analyse the effect on the environment that burning all of that oil would cause.

In a statement, Earthjustice’s Grafe expressed hope that the DOI would reverse course. “Interior still has time to make a better decision when evaluating Shell’s drilling plan, and we sincerely hope it says no to Shell’s louder, bigger, and dirtier tactics, loaded with potential environmental harm,” he said.

Before drilling can go ahead, Shell will still have to get drilling permits and win approval for its exploration plan from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, an agency within the DOI.

John |1 Apr 2015

Land Conservation

University of Miami Researchers Contaminated Rare Pine Rockland, DOJ Lawsuit Alleges

Critics of a plan to develop rare forest land in southwest Miami-Dade County say that radioactive materials dumped there by University of Miami researchers during the Cold War show that the university was a poor steward of such sensitive land and should never have been allowed to sell that land last year.

In 2006, the U.S. Department of Justice sued UM under the federal Superfund law, accusing the school of releasing hazardous waste into the ground during a 20-year period when school scientists conducted medical and biological experiments at its old south campus. The university quickly settled the lawsuit. The 140-acre property, located near Zoo Miami, is predominantly pine rockland, a disappearing native habitat home to more than a dozen endangered species, including the bald eagle and indigo snake, the Florida bonneted bat, which was given federal protection last year, and two rare butterflies expected to be protected this summer.

Last July, UM announced the sale of 88 acres of the land for $22 million to Palm Beach Gardens-based Ram Realty, which plans to build a retail and residential project called Coral Reef Commons. To secure a zoning change, Miami-Dade County, UM and Ram agreed to set aside 40 acres for a preserve.

Since then, activists and environmentalists have waged a public campaign to stop the new development. While the lawsuit and settlement didn’t generate media coverage, opponents are now bringing up the settlement as proof UM is a negligent custodian of environmentally sensitive land.

“The University of Miami took this property and pretty much trashed it,” said Grant Stern, a Miami mortgage broker and anti-Walmart activist. “The public should be made aware that the university was producing hazardous waste out there.”

A UM spokeswoman said the school declines to comment for this story, as did representatives from Ram Realty.

Pine rockland, which is found only in the Sunshine State and the Bahamas, once blanketed 185,000 acres between Florida City and Miami. Today, only 2,900 acres remain outside of Everglades National Park, and in 1984, Miami-Dade County passed a law requiring preservation of at least 80 percent of rockland if an owner is to build on such land.

In 1946, the federal government leased 140 acres that were once part of the Richmond Naval Air Station to UM for use as a south campus that provided housing, dining, recreational facilities and classrooms to 1,100 students, mostly freshmen.

Two years later, after many students complained that the south campus was too remote, UM converted the sprawling site into a research facility. Experiments ran the gamut, from development for the packaging of frozen TV dinners to the first scientific tests that produced cancer cells in embryonic chicks.

A half-dozen buildings totaling about 70,000 square feet housed malaria research, studies on food and sound, and provided storage. The school also built primate cages on nine acres. Between the early 1980s and 1990s, the federal government donated the property to UM.

According to the 2006 DOJ lawsuit, one of the buildings housed a laboratory where experiments using radioactive materials were conducted from 1946 to 1966. Supporting court documents filed with the lawsuit state that researchers “disposed of radionuclides by burying them in trenches” and similarly “disposed of radiated animal carcasses, derived from radiological experiments.” The “hazardous substances,” including carbon, cesium, cobalt, zinc, tritium, iron, iodine, chromium and sulfur, were “pumped, poured, emitted, discharged, dumped, or injected, or otherwise spilled, leaked, escaped or leached, into surface water, groundwater, drinking water supply, land surface or subsurface strata, or ambient air,” according to the court documents.

In addition, a radiological survey in 1985 found several hazardous substances — cesium-137, cobalt-60, Hydrogen-3 and carbon-14 — at the site. A 2001 geophysical survey found metallic material in 12 trenches, according to the lawsuit.

“The government seeks compensation from the university, which now owns the property in question, under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, commonly known as the Superfund law,” the complaint states.

DOJ claimed the Army Corps of Engineers spent $763,336 cleaning up the hazardous waste. On Oct. 6, 2006, UM settled with the government by agreeing to pay $393,473 without admitting any liability. The only media coverage came from a single article by the journal Inside Higher Ed.

Dennis Ollie, president of the Miami chapter of the North American Butterfly Association, said the lawsuit shows UM had a reckless disregard for protecting the pine rockland.

“One would think UM would have been more responsible with land that was essentially given to them by the federal government,” Ollie said. “The lawsuit shows what a bad steward the school has been.”

In early March, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said he would ask the state to help the county buy the 88 acres from Ram to conserve the site, but the company’s principal, Peter Cummings, told the Miami Herald he has no intention of selling.

Francisco Alvarado|Florida Center for Investigative Reporting|March 31, 2015

Update on Sector Planning Legislation ‏

For more than a month 1000 Friends has worked with stakeholders and Senate staff to improve Senate Bill 832 which, as originally filed, would have severely weakened the planning process for Florida’s largest developments. We are pleased to report that yesterday a much improved strike-all of Senate Bill 832 unanimously passed the Community Affairs Committee.

1000 Friends Policy Director Charles Pattison testified during the committee hearing and thanked Senator Simpson for addressing many of our concerns with the bill. Most importantly the amended bill allows local governments to require information and conditions beyond the minimum criteria set in state law. Additionally, provisions which would have delayed the recording of conservation easements to protect vital natural lands were removed in favor of compromise language which provides more flexibility to developers without lessening environmental protection.

We remain concerned about provisions in the bill which could allow for extended water use permits near springs, especially those that do not have minimum flow and level regulations in place. We will continue to work with stakeholders and Senator Simpson to try to address this issue, as well as the timing for recording conservation easements and opportunities to further improve the sector planning process through this legislation.

One of the state’s leading experts on Florida’s community planning process, 1000 Friends of Florida Policy Director Charles Pattison, FAICP, will provide detailed information on the process to amend local comprehensive plans, elements and future land use maps, the state review process, citizen participation requirements including information on citizen challenges, plan implementation through land development regulations and development orders, sector planning and other Florida-specific planning issues. Long-time environmental advocate Pegeen Hanrahan will focus on promoting meaningful citizen involvement in the local planning process both from her perspective as a former City of Gainesville Mayor and Commissioner and citizen advocate. The session will conclude with a question and answer period. This event has been approved for 1.5 AICP CM LEGAL CREDITS for planners.  1000 Friends has applied for professional certification credits for Florida attorneys (CLE) and environmental health professionals (CEHP) but cannot guarantee these will be approved.

1000 Friends of Florida|4/1/15

Tribe members oppose plans for bike path across Everglades

MIAMI Some Native Americans are protesting plans for a bike path across Florida’s Everglades.

Betty Osceola of the Miccosukee Tribe and Bobby Billie of the Panther Clan of the Miccosukee Simanolee Nation have led a nearly weeklong march along the route proposed for a biking and hiking trail alongside a highway that cuts across the wetlands.

Osceola tells The Miami Herald (http://hrld.us/1G6DZ9G ) that the path from Miami-Dade County into Collier County “opens the door to more development in the Everglades.”

Others who joined the march expected to end Thursday call the path “a desecration.”

County officials planning the bike path say it will offer a green, more intimate entry into the vast wilderness. It will be years before any construction starts, though. A feasibility study is expected to conclude this month.

April 2, 2015

Recycling

A Not-So-Beautiful Ode to Plastic Bags

Marine debris is man-made waste that either directly or indirectly is disposed of in oceans, rivers or other waterways.  Most trash reaches the sea via rivers, and 80 percent of that originates from landfills or other urban sources. In the Florida Keys where we are surrounded by water, a blowing plastic bag has a high likelihood of reaching the ocean within just days, or sometimes immediately. We’ve all seen plastic bags blowing across the bridges as we cross, haven’t we? This waste often ends up in huge ocean gyres, and along coastlines like those in the Florida Keys, that are home to numerous threatened, protected and endangered species.  Plastic bags are consumed by fish, sharks, sea turtles, birds, and can cause life-threatening entanglements to wildlife. In the Florida Keys, we also have the only coral reef in the continental United States; studies indicate that even our reefs are becoming contaminated by plastic bags and the chemicals released by them.

The Worldwatch Institute claims that Americans alone use 100 billion plastic bags per year… Less than 1% of these are recycled.

There are 5 major ocean gyres worldwide or in the world’s oceans. The Pacific Ocean is home to the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” an area now twice the size of Texas, extending at least 20 feet down into the water column.  Scientists estimate that for every 2.2 pounds of plankton in this area there are 13.2 pounds of plastic.

Plastic bags choke and entangle wildlife, wrap around boat propellers, and get sucked into boat engines.  Californians Against Waste estimates that plastic marine debris kills over 100,000 sea turtles and marine mammals every year.

All plastic products, including plastic bags, are made from polymers or polymer resin that require oil or natural gas to manufacture. According to the New York Times, the 100 billion bags used per year in America require an estimated 12 million barrels of oil for their production.  Since approximately 25% of plastic bags used in the West are made in Asia, even more fossil fuels have to be used to transport the bags to their destination.

Plastic bag pollution is a global problem in all oceans, and the waters of the Florida Keys are not exempt. Fortunately, we are home to The Turtle Hospital, a rescue/rehab/release sea turtle facility. The Turtle Hospital treats a large number of sea turtles with entanglement injuries and impactions from ingesting plastic bags, although many are too sick to save. Another significant cause of sea turtle mortality are fibropapillomas, large tumors that inhibit a turtle’s ability to see, eat and swim.  These tumors are caused by a virus that often affects internal organ functions.  In Florida, fibropapillomas have become an epidemic.  Scientific studies are trying to determine if human activities on land are related to the development of fibropapilloma tumors.

Plastic bags take 500-1000 years to degrade but they don’t really “go away.” Instead, the plastic eventually breaks down into minute bits of plastic which are ingested by sea turtles and other marine life. As the plastic bags break down, they are releasing toxic chemicals into the water and being ingested by many animals that may eventually find their way into our own food chain and onto our dinner plates.

Video: Why Plastic Bags are Evil

Miscellaneous

Will Rachel Carson Be the First Woman on the $20 Bill?

There’s a movement afoot to put a woman on the $20 bill and retire the slavery-supporting, Trail-of-Tears-blazing President Andrew Jackson from his long-held post.

Among the top 15 nominees is marine biologist Rachel Carson. In 1962, Carson authored Silent Spring, a seminal book for the environmental movement that warned of the degradation of natural systems if pesticide use continued unchecked. Drawing from many scientific studies, she described how DDT enters the food chain by accumulating in the fatty tissues of animals (humans, too). Today DDT is classified internationally as a probable carcinogen that persists in the environment for long periods.

Silent Spring was a bestseller, in part because, as the President’s Science Advisory Committee under John F. Kennedy acknowledged when it examined and later defended Carson’s findings, the American public had previously been unawares that pesticides were toxic.

The scientific community also largely backed Carson up, but chemical companies and some government scientists went on the attack. Carson’s gender was regularly used as a means to undermine her work; she was called “hysterical,” a “nun of nature,” and a “sentimental woman who loved cats.”

During the several years it took to finish Silent Spring, Carson learned she had breast cancer—a diagnosis she kept secret for fear that the chemical industry would use it to discredit her. She died in 1964. Carson didn’t live to see the formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency six years later or the 1972 ban of the sale of DDT within the U.S.—two events she helped bring about.

Although best known for Silent Spring, Carson wrote three other bestsellers about the sea. Environmental writer and activist Bill McKibben once told the New York Times Magazine, “She was Jacques Cousteau before there was Jacques Cousteau.”

That may be true, but let’s remember her name was Rachel. And she’d look great on a $20.

Perrin Ireland|onEarth|March 30, 2015

EPA Takes Action to Protect the Public from an Unregistered Pesticide

 EPA issues order to stop the sale of BioStorm and NanoStrike

ATLANTA – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued an order to Nano Defense Solutions, Inc. in Saint Augustine, Fla. to stop the sale of “BioStorm” and “NanoStrike.” BioStorm and NanoStrike are products that are being marketed by the company for use in sites that include hospitals and athletic facilities.

The company claims in advertisements and brochures that BioStorm and NanoStrike use silver nanoparticle as an active ingredient and that these products are highly effective against bacteria, viruses, fungi, algae and yeasts. The company also makes unsubstantiated efficacy claims that “BioStorm and NanoStrike are designed to swiftly eradicate all microorganisms and keep surfaces free of colonization for up to a full year”. Such public health claims can only be made on products that have been properly tested and are registered with the EPA.

Under federal pesticide law, products that contain a pesticide as an active ingredient or claim to kill or repel bacteria or germs are considered pesticides and must be registered with the EPA prior to distribution or sale. The Agency will not register a pesticide until it has been determined that it will not pose an unreasonable risk when used according to the label directions.

The EPA is committed to ensuring that products making public health claims in the marketplace meet stringent effectiveness and safety standards, since the public cannot readily determine with the naked eye the effectiveness and safety of antimicrobial pesticides. Due to potential human health implications if the pesticides are not effective or meet our safety standards, the EPA continues to place a priority on actions regarding non-complying pesticides.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE March 30, 2015

Contact Information: Dawn Harris Young, (404) 562-8421 (Direct), (404) 562-8400 (Main), harris-young.dawn@epa.gov

For additional information about pesticides, visit: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/.

Connect with EPA Region 4 on Facebook: www.facebook.com/eparegion4

And on Twitter: @EPASoutheast ###

Extinct Tree Resurrected from Ancient Seeds is now a Dad

Ten years since the Judean Date Palm was miraculously brought back to life following the chance discovery of seeds in the 2,000-year-old ruins of Masada, the male date palm tree named Methuselah, the only one of his kind, has become a father.

For thousands of years, the date palm was a staple crop in the Kingdom of Judea, as it was a source of food, shelter and shade.  Thick forests of the palms towering up to 80 feet and spreading for 7 miles covered the Jordan River valley from the Sea of Galilee in the north to the shores of the Dead Sea in the south.

So valued was the tree that it became a recognized as a symbol of good fortune in Judea.  It is chronicled in the Bible, Quran and ancient literature for its diverse powers, from an aphrodisiac to a contraceptive, and as a cure for a wide range of diseases including cancer, malaria and toothache.

However, its value was also the source of its demise and eventual extinction.  The tree so defined the local economy that it became a prime resource for the invading Roman army to destroy.  Once the Roman Empire took control of the kingdom in 70 AD, the date palms were wiped out in an attempt to cripple the Jewish economy. They eventually succeeded and by 500 AD the once plentiful palm had completely disappeared, driven to extinction for the sake of conquest.

But all was not lost, because in 1963, the late archeologist Yigael Yadin began excavating Masada, a mountaintop fortress built over 2,000 years ago on the shore of the Dead Sea where King Herod built a spectacular palace. Masada was the last stand of a small band of Jewish rebels who held out against three Roman legions for several years before committing mass suicide in A.D. 73.

aprilholloway|29 March, 2015

House Sugar Reform Act Would Make Much-Needed Reforms to America’s Costly Sugar Program

Washington, DC – Today, the Coalition for Sugar Reform issued the following statement welcoming the introduction of the bipartisan Sugar Reform Act of 2015 in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill, which would reform the Depression-era U.S. sugar program, is the companion bill to legislation (S. 475) introduced in the Senate on February 12.

“We applaud Representatives Pitts, Davis, Goodlatte and Speier and others for their leadership in introducing this legislation, which calls for modest reforms to fix the outdated U.S. sugar program and would ultimately benefit all Americans – from consumers and taxpayers to the sugar-using industry and the hundreds of thousands they employ across the country.

“The proposed reform measures would provide the Secretary of Agriculture with the flexibility to adjust marketing allotments and import quotas to stabilize the U.S. sugar market when needed, ensuring we have a sugar program that reflects the realities of today’s market, not a program that is stuck in the 1930s.

“We ask lawmakers to think of their constituents, the American consumers and taxpayers who continue to foot the bill for the U.S sugar program, which the Congressional Budget Office forecasts will cost taxpayers $115 million over the next 10 years. Why is one small, special interest group being propped up at the expense of American consumers, taxpayers and sugar-using businesses?

“It is time to address the shortfalls of America’s protectionist sugar policy. We call on lawmakers to support this legislation.”

Green Concrete for a Sustainable Future

Dubai – Hours after switching off lights for Earth Hour, Dubai on Sunday announced its decision to switch to green concrete to make its ever-expanding built-up areas healthier and more sustainable.

From April, all new buildings coming up in Dubai will have to use green alternatives for original Portland cement (OPC), the major component of concrete mix that is found to emit toxic gases.

With each ton of OPC produced puffing out more than one ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other toxic gases, the Dubai Municipality (DM) has made it mandatory for consultants and contractors to use more of greener and safer alternatives like Fly Ash, and Ground Granulated Blast Furnace Slag (GGBFS), officials said at a Press conference.

Hussain Nasser Lootah and other officials watching the green concrete mixing process in Dubai on Sunday. – Supplied photo

The aim is to keep Dubai a healthy city that follows the highest standards of sustainable development and provide residents clean and pollution-free environment. The move followed a study by the municipality’s Building Department that ascertained the negative impacts that Portland cement can have.

When one ton of cement is produced, studies have found, 164kg of dust is also dumped to the air, which contributes to intensifying the phenomenon of global warming and also causes several diseases including cancer.

“We are keen to provide what is best for the city. We are looking at every element of buildings,” said Dubai Municipality Director-General Hussain Nasser Lootah.

He said the new options comply with green building requirements, are more durable and offer better quality at the same or even cheaper rates.

Officials said the construction industry in the UAE depends solely on a dozen cement-manufacturing companies. “The capacity of the 12 cement companies in the UAE is 39 million tons. But we are producing only 19 million tons as per the demand, which is going up slowly,” said DM Assistant Director-General for Engineering and Planning Sector Abdullah Raffia.

These factories will now be producing more of GGBS and Fly Ash.

With a minimum of 66 per cent of these materials in the concrete, which are recyclable byproducts from other industries, the concrete mix becomes stronger.

Apart from causing less emission of dust and fume, they are better resistant to water, salt and sulfate.

Raffia said the ash and slag are considered lifetime materials that give 40 more years for buildings. “We have calculated an estimated saving of Dh192 billion for Dubai because of the extended durability of buildings.”

Depending on the design and specifications of buildings, he said, only up to a maximum of 34 per cent of OPC will be allowed in the concrete mix.

Industry prepared

The industry here is very well prepared to switch to the green concrete, according to Robin Styles, technical support manager of CEMEX.

“From the ready-mix industry perspective, I think we are very well prepared for the change…The municipality has been engaging with the stakeholders for a few years. By using these alternative options, you can reduce the carbon footprint of concrete by up to 45 per cent,” he said.

Talking about the benefits for individual building owners, Styles said: “If you have a villa, you have less maintenance, less problems and the structure will last longer…You get more rentable time before you need to do repairs.”

As part of the “#Sustainable Dubai” initiative, the ready-mix concrete trucks in Dubai will also go for a makeover in their looks. A truck wrapped in the new design showing a green skyline of Dubai and carrying the tagline “Green Concrete for a Sustainable Future” was displayed at the venue where officials also witnessed a demonstration of the green concrete mixing process.

Sajila Saseendran|Senior Reporter|30 March 2015

Why You Should Think Twice About Feeding Wild Animals

When people provide food to wild animals, it usually comes from a place of love and compassion, not malice. Alas, sometimes these feedings can put the animals in harm’s way by increasing the spread of disease. The good news is that scientific researchers are just starting to understand the dos and don’ts of feeding wild creatures, so that animal lovers can do it more responsibly.

Having seen from various studies that feeding wild animals can either raise or decrease the rate of disease, a research team at the University of Georgia set out to figure out the overall trend for this kind of activity. Examining over 20 independent studies, they determined that feeding animals does indeed often have a harmful impact on wildlife, although that’s not always the case.

The problem with feeding animals — be it birdhouses, food left out in a yard or even feeding stations at a park — is not the food itself, it’s that it tends to bring a lot of animals to one centralized location. The inevitable proximity of the animals makes it that much more likely that they will pass diseases between each other and expedite the spread.

Another problem is that humans don’t often have an understanding of what’s nutritious for animals. If food is easily accessible, they’ll probably tend toward whatever is put out, even if the food they normally eat in the wild would be healthier for them. By switching their diets, the animals are also at a heightened risk for disease.

And if the human-provided food is more nutritious? Well, it does benefit the animals, but not enough to negate the spread of disease by eating in proximity to other animals.

Oddly, the main exceptions to increasing disease risk seem to come from unintentional feedings by humans, like when animals make their way into garbage cans or landfills. This kind of dining for some animals is more common as human expansion is encroaching into previously untouched habitat. Since human garbage is less likely to have certain parasites that affect animals, an animal is actually at a decreased risk of becoming infected by landfill meals than when they eat, say, a rodent in the wild.

Before you take the researchers’ findings as an admonishment not to feed animals, they want to clarify that that’s not their intention. “For a lot of people, feeding animals provides a crucial connection to nature, increases their appreciation of wildlife and presents opportunities for outreach and education,” said ecology professor Sonia Altizer. “We don’t want to suggest that all feeding of wildlife should be avoided, but we do need to find ways to minimize the risks for human and wildlife health.”

For their part, the researchers say they want to continue studying this subject, so they can give the public more specific information on what is safe and what isn’t when it comes to feeding wild animals.

In the meantime, the researchers have some actionable steps for animal lovers to minimize the risk of spreading disease while still feeding their wild friends:

  • Clean birdhouses semi-regularly to get rid of harmful bacteria present
  • Spread out feeding stations/birdhouses as far as possible to allow animals to have less close contact with each other.
  • Choose food that is more nutritious for the species you are attracting since that at least helps the animals to have stronger immune systems to combat potential disease exposure.

Kevin Mathews|March 31, 2015

Why Earthquakes Could Be Even Worse for the Environment Than We Thought

The devastation caused by Japan’s 2011 earthquake and resulting tsunami is hardly a secret, but now researchers believe the earthquake and other earthquakes like it may have been damaging in an unexpected way due to the amount of climate-warming and ozone-depleting chemicals released into the atmosphere as a result of an earthquake’s destructive powers.

The 9.0 earthquake, which took place on March of 2011 with an epicenter in the waters off the Pacific coast of Tōhoku, is noted as one of the most devastating earthquakes in recent history. The quake was directly responsible for over 15,000 deaths and billions of dollars worth of damage to infrastructure, but according to a study published this month in Geophysical Research Letters, it also released around 6,600 metric tons (7,275 U.S. tons) of damaging chemicals into the atmosphere.

The researchers decided to look into the presence of these chemicals, known as halocarbons, after local monitoring stations recorded surprisingly high levels of the chemicals after the quake. The researchers combined measurements from air monitoring stations across the region and then used standard atmospheric models and mathematical models to work out the probable increase — and it was marked. In fact, the researchers believe that the earthquake resulted in an increase from 21 percent to 91 percent over typical levels of these chemicals.

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So what chemicals are we talking about? The researchers say that about half of them were HCFC-22, which went up by 38 percent and probably got into the atmosphere as a result of refrigerators, air conditioners and other electrical goods with cooling units or heat pumps, being destroyed. HCFC-22 is a well known ozone-depleting substance and is subject to the Montreal Protocol as a Class II restricted chemical, meaning that it is slowly being phased out and replaced with less antagonistic substances.

Other chemicals included CFC-11, which went up 72 percent and was probably released due to damaged insulation foams that are used in buildings and elsewhere in construction and manufacturing. Others, including HFC-134a and HFC-32, also increased sharply, going up 49 percent and 63 percent respectively, when comparing the year immediately before the disaster and the year after.

This is the first study of its kind to zero in on this kind of ozone depleting and climate-affecting chemicals being released as the result of an earthquake, and for this reason the data is being widely scrutinized and discussed.

“What we found is a new mechanism of halocarbon emissions coming from the earthquake,” said Takuya Saito, a senior researcher at the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Tsukuba, Japan.

So has this contributed to climate change? On its own, that’s unlikely. While the figures are significant enough to be of interest, their actual total worth would add up to only a very small impact. However, there are reasons to take this data seriously.

For one thing, the figures offered by the Japanese government on national halocarbon emissions didn’t take into account the release of chemicals with any degree of accuracy as shown here. That means that Japan underestimated the amount of halocarbons released into the atmosphere — and this isn’t just a problem for Japan.

While the 2011 Japanese earthquake was particularly devastating, the earth is constantly moving and quakes are happening all the time. While some do not cause major damage, this research points to the fact that when major damage does occur, the release of halocarbons and other gasses that have a climate-altering and ozone-depleting effect, can be significant. As isolated incidents, they may not add up to very much, but when looked at more expansively, they could add up to quite large gas release events, and at the very least this may be something we need to account for and factor in as we attempt to gather accurate atmospheric data.

This, the scientists say, should be reason enough to change how we measure the chemicals in the atmosphere. Instead of working from data that simply predicts what gases are present based on industrial data on chemical releases and broader atmospheric estimates from previous counts, which is what many governments do today, we should rely more closely on actual atmospheric readings to gain accurate insight. Though undoubtedly more costly, this research suggests that if we really want to assess greenhouse gases and ozone-depleting chemicals, ensuring our data is as robust and up-to-date as possible will be an important step in the right direction.

Steve Williams|March 31, 2015

Who says a better world is impossible?

Cars, air travel, space exploration, television, nuclear power, high-speed computers, telephones, organ transplants, prosthetic body parts… At various times these were all deemed impossible. I’ve been around long enough to have witnessed many technological feats that were once unimaginable. Even 10 or 20 years ago, I would never have guessed people would carry supercomputers in their pockets — your smart phone is more powerful than all the computers NASA used to put astronauts on the moon in 1969 combined!

Despite a long history of the impossible becoming possible, often very quickly, we hear the “can’t be done” refrain repeated over and over — especially in the only debate over global warming that matters: What can we do about it? Climate change deniers and fossil fuel industry apologists often argue that replacing oil, coal and gas with clean energy is beyond our reach. The claim is both facile and false.

Facile because the issue is complicated. It’s not simply a matter of substituting one for the other. To begin, conservation and efficiency are key. We must find ways to reduce the amount of energy we use — not a huge challenge considering how much people waste, especially in the developed world. False because rapid advances in clean energy and grid technologies continue to get us closer to necessary reductions in our use of polluting fossil fuels.

It’s ironic that anti-environmentalists and renewable energy opponents often accuse those of us seeking solutions of wanting to go back to the past, to living in caves, scrounging for roots and berries. They’re the ones intent on continuing to burn stuff to keep warm — to the detriment of the natural world and all it provides.

People have used wind and solar power for thousands of years. But recent rapid advances in generation, storage and transmission technologies have led to a fast-developing industry that’s outpacing fossil fuels in growth and job creation. Costs are coming down to the point where renewable energy is competitive with the heavily subsidized fossil fuel industry. According to the International Energy Agency, renewable energy for worldwide electricity generation grew to 22 per cent in 2013, a five per cent increase from 2012.

The problem is that much of the world still burns non-renewable resources for electricity and fuels, causing pollution and climate change and, subsequently, more human health problems, extreme weather events, water shortages and environmental devastation. In many cities in China, the air has become almost unbreathable, as seen in the shocking Chinese documentary film Under the Dome. In California, a prolonged drought is affecting food production. Extreme weather events are costing billions of dollars worldwide.

We simply must do more to shift away from fossil fuels and, despite what the naysayers claim, we can. We can even get partway there under our current systems. Market forces often lead to innovation in clean energy development. But in addressing the very serious long-term problems we’ve created, we may have to challenge another “impossibility”: changing our outmoded global economic system. As economist and Earth Institute director Jeffrey Sachs wrote in a recent Guardian article, “At this advanced stage of environmental threats to the planet, and in an era of unprecedented inequality of income and power, it’s no longer good enough to chase GDP. We need to keep our eye on three goals — prosperity, inclusion, and sustainability — not just on the money.”

Relying on market capitalism encourages hyper-consumption, planned obsolescence, wasteful production and endless growth. Cutting pollution and greenhouse gas emissions requires conserving energy as well as developing new energy technologies. Along with reducing our reliance on private automobiles and making buildings and homes more energy-efficient, that also means making goods that last longer and producing fewer disposable or useless items so less energy is consumed in production.

People have changed economic systems many times before, when they no longer suited shifting conditions or when they were found to be inhumane, as with slavery. And people continue to develop tools and technologies that were once thought impossible. Things are only impossible until they’re not. We can’t let those who are stuck in the past, unable to imagine a better future, hold us back from creating a safer, cleaner and more just world.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

Terps Leave Tinier Water Footprints

The University of Maryland (UMD) is one of the largest consumers of freshwater in the state of Maryland, but it’s making big steps in water conservation across campus. Despite the addition of a new dorm in 2011, which added 640 beds and over 180 bathrooms to campus, water consumption levels have remained relatively steady at about a half a billion gallons annually since 2009. This is thanks to mass implementation of new water saving devices such as low-flow toilets, showers, faucets and moisture sensors on irrigation fields.

Although I’ve been a student at UMD for the past three years, it wasn’t until I came to intern for EPA’s Office of Water this semester that I truly began to appreciate the innovative ways UMD conserves water. During my internship, I learned about WaterSense, a partnership program started by EPA’s Office of Water, which offers people a simple way to use less water with water-efficient products, new homes, and services. Three water efficient products in the program are low-flow toilets, faucets and showerheads. According to EPA, one WaterSense low flow showerhead will save 2,900 gallons of water and $70 a year. To earn the WaterSense label, a showerhead needs to be under a 2.00/gallon per minute flow.

Residential facilities at UMD says that every single shower on campus (1,236 to be exact) has a 1.5/gallon per minute flow. They even have an entire residence hall that utilizes showers with 1.25/gallon per minute flow. The campus also boasts 1,370 toilets equipped with low-flow flush valves, and 1,370 sinks equipped with low flow aerators. To illustrate how effective this is, let’s consider the case of Washington Hall. In 2011-2012 Washington Hall used an average of 65,750 gallons of water annually. However, after the installation of low-flow products, the building used an average of 34,250 gallons of water annually in 2013-2014, saving over 30,000 gallons a year.

When organizations buy WaterSense products, they empower the individual to make a difference without even realizing it, simply by using the WaterSense products offered. Recruiting larger organizations and companies – or even universities — could be an effective solution to curb the immense amount of water wasted by toilets, faucets and showerheads, like at the University of Maryland.

Madeleine Raley|2015 March 31

Death by strangulation? Hydropower threatens to kill the mighty Mekong

Over 18 million people live off the natural bounty of the The Mekong Delta, writes Tom Fawthrop – the source of huge annual harvests of fish, rice, fruit, and one of the world’s most productive ecosystems. But now huge dams threaten to strangle the Mekong river and the abundant life it supports, while the world sits idly by.

Killing off the Irrawaddy Dolphins is just the beginning of a chain of calamities that would be set in motion by the Don Sahong dam construction, and the Xayaburi dam already under construction.

In its 4,880km journey from the snow-capped mountains to Tibet to the delta in Vietnam, Sipandon in southern Laos stands out as a critical part of the Mekong’s uniquely wonderful ecosystem, blessed by raging waterfalls, picturesque islands, and graced by a colony of highly endangered freshwater dolphins.

Irrawaddy dolphins symbolize the magnificence of the Mekong River and its continued high biodiversity. WWF regards the dolphins as a flagship species, reflecting the health of the river ecosystem for other species, including humans.

But the dwindling numbers of surviving dolphins – estimated between 78 and 91 individuals confined to Sipandon in Laos, and neighbouring Cambodia, should ring alarm bells that all is not well in the river. Dolphin conservation is also vitally important to local villagers who have come to revere them.

The area’s dolphins alone would justify designating Sipandon – which translates as ‘Four Thousand Islands’ as a wetland sanctuary protected by the Ramsar Convention.

And that’s before taking into account its spectacular beauty, its extraordinary biodiversity, and its enormous importance for fish which feed 60 million people downstream.

But instead of protecting Sipandon, Laos is bent on its destruction

“If this special wetlands zone is protected, it could be one of the great wonders of the world”, says Carl Grundy-Warr, a geography professor at the National university of Singapore (NUS). “But now it is far from being a secure sanctuary.”

Instead of signing up to the Ramsar Convention for Wetlands Protected Areas, the government of Laos has perversely opted to launch a hydro-electric dam in this Mekong wetlands zone in 2015, spurning opportunities for the Lao people to further benefit from expanding ecotourism, and nature conservation.

“The dam builders intend to excavate millions of tons of rock using explosives, creating strong sound waves that could create grave, potentially lethal threats to the only dolphin population in Laos”, WWF reports. “These dolphins have highly sensitive hearing structures.”

Mekong specialist Dr Grundy-Warr concluded that “if these dams along the mainstream of the Lower Mekong go ahead we are talking about massive calamity”.

Killing off the Irrawaddy Dolphins is just the beginning of a chain of calamities that would be set in motion by the Don Sahong dam construction, and the Xayaburi dam already under construction. There are nine more dams in the pipeline.

With so much water diverted from magnificent Khone Phapheng waterfalls to fuel the Don Sahong dam, Mekong experts fear this national treasure, the widest waterfall in Southeast Asia, would be undermined and lose its iconic status.

A great and productive ecosystem may soon be unraveled

Downstream nations Cambodia and Vietnam fear that the huge freshwater fisheries that support a population of 60 million will be massively reduced. Food security will be undermined. Poverty will be increased and nutrition will decline.

80% of Cambodian protein comes from fish, most of it coming from the Mekong and Tonle Sap, the great lake is also an integral part of the same ecosystem connected directly to the Mekong via the Tonle Bassac River.

WWF program officer in Cambodia Chit San Ath commented: “The Don Sahong Dam will only push Cambodia and Vietnam closer to a food crisis. Have they forgotten that fish are our lifeline and the backbone of our economy?”

The Lao refusal to heed the chorus of opposition prompted a strong reaction from Cambodia-based ecologist Taber Hand, who told the Phnom Penh Post:

“I view it like a declaration of war by Laos on Cambodia and Vietnam. The impact of reducing fisheries and sediment flow is more subtle than most acts of war, but it has the same or greater effect on national security.”

Laos unfazed by the anti-dam opposition

“For Laos, any dam is very important, because Laos has no other options to improve its economy”, Daovong Phonekeo, director-general of Laos’ Department of Energy Policy and Planning, told the Voice of America news site. “Our only option is to develop hydropower.”

In fact Laos has several other development options and other alternative paths to generate energy. But solar energy, wind power and other clean and renewable technologies fail to generate the same financial concentrations that feed lucrative commissions to well-connected intermediaries, and subsidize the powerful contracting companies that benefit from big dam projects.

The neo-liberal ideology adopted by the ruling communist party state of Lao [the Lao PDR] pushes a policy of ‘dam every river’ to turn the landlocked country into “the battery of Asia” – an idea conceived by the World Bank and endorsed by the ADB – the Asia Development Bank.

This blind obsession with damming rivers regardless of the environmental consequences puts them on a collision course with downstream countries – Cambodia and Vietnam.

So far the the Mekong River Commission (MRC) – the inter-governmental agency that works with the governments of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam on the “joint management of shared water resources and sustainable development of the Mekong River” – has managed to avoid open conflict. But maybe not for much longer.

The toothless Mekong River Commission

The first big test of whether the MRC legal framework of consultation and cooperation could manage the conflict of interests between member states was the first Lao dam project – the Xayaburi dam project in 2011

The controversial dam was launched 2012 in defiance of protests from Cambodia and Vietnam that maintained the consultation process had not been completed. (See ‘The Mekong must run free!’, The Ecologist 14th December 2013.)

The Don Sahong dam is now the second attempt to resolve water disputes over dam projects under the auspices of the MRC. The lack of credible environmental impact studies and the flawed plans of the dam developer were exposed during a MRC-regional consultation in December 2014 hosted in Pakse Laos.

Malaysian dam developer Mega-First has opted to engineer a fish diversion (see map). With the dam blocking the Sahong channel, the scheme aims to divert fish away from the Sahong channel and the dam construction, to two other lesser channels, that are now being deepened and widened.

The grassroots communities in Cambodian and Vietnam participated in public forums to discuss the dam impacts, and in January 2015 the official National Mekong Committees reported back to the MRC that there was overwhelming opposition to the dam and even Thailand backed the chorus of complaint.

Vietnam’s National Mekong Committee (NMC) insisted that the regional consultation process should be extended till the end of 2015, when the findings of a special study of hydropower impacts on the river would be completed. Cambodia and Thailand added their voice of concern and requested more time to study the dam project.

Laos: ‘We don’t need consensus!’

However the Lao government absolutely refused to consider any extension of the six-month period. As Daovong Phonekeo, director-general of Laos’ Department of Energy Policy and Planning, told Voice of America: “For the development of the Mekong River, we don’t need consensus!”

On a very narrow reading of the international agreement that created the MRC, the Lao government is correct. No country has any veto power. The CEO of the MRC Hans Guttman has clarified that “the MRC is not a regulatory body. We can only facilitate dialogue between member states, we cannot enforce anything.”

However the 1995 Mekong Agreement also stipulates an important caveat that “no country has the unilateral right to use water without taking into account other riparian’s rights.”

The US-based International Rivers argues that “taking into account” by any reasonable interpretation must surely include taking into account the weight of riparian opposition overwhelmingly against the project.

All the regional NGOs likewise insist the Lao government PDR is obliged to halt the dam project order to avoid conflict between member states, and promote MRC’s proclaimed spirit of international cooperation and equitable sharing of water resources.

MRC throws precaution to the winds

However the MRC’s CEO Hans Guttman insisted: “Prior consultation is not a process to seek approval for a proposed project.” This helped the Lao government to deflect the consultation away from the core issue of whether the dam should be built or not, into a secondary issue of how best to mitigate the negative consequences of the dam.

Dr. Philip Hirsch, director of Sydney University’s Mekong Research Centre, told The Ecologist “In such an environmentally sensitive area you don’t just go ahead with a project..It is a highly risky project so you need to take a precautionary approach, and make sure you have got it right, before you take a decision to build a dam.”

But MRC Chief Mr. Guttman claimed the consultation had a far more limited role to restricted to ” review the project, raise concerns, and see how problems can best be mitigated.” Hirsch is astonished by this approach: “It is very odd that Mr. Guttman’s statements only focus on mitigation, and ignore the precautionary principle.”

Mega First, the Malaysian company planning to dam Hou Sahong, claims making adjacent channels wider and deeper will provide fish with a detour route.

But Dr So Nam, a Cambodian fisheries expert with the MRC, considered this Malaysian company had failed to provide any scientific proof that MRC’s recommended guidelines of a 95% success rate for effective fish mitigation could be met.

So on what basis can the MRC secretariat possibly justify the sustainability of this dam project if there is no realistic prospect of fish mitigation?

Earthrights regional coordinator Daniel King is highly critical: “The attempt by the CEO of the Mekong Commission to limit consultation to dam mitigation measures is misleading, irresponsible and dangerous for the Mekong River’s future.”

Is the Mekong doomed?

If the Don Sahong dam goes ahead against all the weight of scientific evidence on hydropower impacts, in defiance of regional and riparian opposition, it is widely expected nine more dams will follow suit.

Vietnamese Mekong experts have concluded it will strip one of the world’s great rivers of its natural flow, block sediment and destroy the river’s immense biodiversity. In a nutshell the delta will be doomed.

River flows will change. Much of the rich sediment and nutrients that has long made the Vietnamese delta a rice bowl of the region will be blocked. The relentless damming of the river will exacerbate salinization from the ocean. In a world already facing climate change and worsening natural disasters, here is a classic example of a man-made disaster rapidly unfolding.

Yet most aid from western governments and other donations to the MRC are targeted at adapting to climate change, rather than dealing with the far greater threat from the dams.

Vietnamese experts at the Delta’s Cantho University are not happy with this exclusive focus, including Dr Duong Van Ni, Director of the Centre for Biodiversity, who insists that dams will erode all attempts to cope with climate change.

At a recent forum Dr Ni declared: “While we are busy adapting to climate change and rising sea levels, the dam will hit us like a rock to the back of the head.”

Killing the Golden Goose

Wetlands specialist Nguyen Huu then reported that the loss of fish alone in the Mekong estimated at over $3 billion, outweighs the sum total of all the benefits that dams can offer from hydropower: in total the Mekong Delta alone earns $10 billion a year in export revenues alone, mostly from rice, fruit, and fish.

Yet the Delta is facing a devastating collapse. The domino effect of the dams will undermine the rice crop, fisheries and food security. With such a severely damaged agriculture. Mr Then predicts that if all the dams go ahead, in about 20 years time, Vietnam the second largest rice exporter in the world will have lost its capacity to export any rice at all.

If the delta is lost, the problems won’t stop at Vietnam’s borders. Not only the 18 million people living in the Delta will be the losers, but all who depend on her bounty. The removal of Vietnam from the list of top rice exporters would have a disastrous impact on global food security, and rice prices.

And the increasing poverty of small farmers and fishermen in all the Mekong countries that would follow is certain to trigger turbulence and instability along the banks of the Mekong and beyond, and a flux of millions of environmental refugees that is certain to prove unmanageable in this land-hungry region.

Yet the battle to Save the Mekong led by International Rivers and civil society organizations in the region has so far sadly failed to kindle an uprising of global outrage sufficient to tip the balance against the Don Sahong dam.

And the wider world remains largely ignorant of, and silent about about the mighty Mekong’s imminent slow death by strangulation, and the crippling social, ecological, economic and human impacts impacts on the region and far beyond.

Tom Fawthrop|27th March 2015

New Zealand Bans Animal Testing for Cosmetics

In another historic victory for animals in labs, New Zealand has just become the latest country to ban their use in cosmetics testing.

Following heavy campaigning by animal advocates and the Green Party to end the practice, this week the government voted to amend the Animal Welfare Act to make it illegal for companies to test finished products or their ingredients on animals in the country.

Even though it was a slightly different bill than the one pushed by the Green Party’s animal welfare spokesperson Mojo Mathers, she said she’s still “over the moon” that the government has acknowledged her work and agreed to a ban.

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While no known testing is currently taking place in New Zealand, the new measure will ensure it never does. Now animal advocates are celebrating a win they believe will protect animals and bring the country in line with what consumers want. The New Zealand-based animal advocacy organization SAFE, which has also been working on the issue, highlighted a poll that found 89 percent of adult New Zealanders do not support using animals to test cosmetics, especially in light of the fact that there are already so many safe products and ingredients available to choose from and work with.

“We are thrilled that New Zealand’s politicians have taken this important step to vote out cosmetics cruelty. This is a moment to be celebrated for animal welfare and compassionate consumers, and yet another achievement for the #BeCrueltyFree campaign,” said Claire Mansfield, Humane Society International’s Global #BeCrueltyFree Campaigns Director.

Unfortunately the ban doesn’t affect imported cosmetics that have been tested on animals, which make up a majority of products currently on store shelves, but animal advocates say they will focus their attention on those next in an effort to grow the global community of nations that have taken a stand against this.

Already a number of countries have taken progressive steps to stop the unnecessary suffering of animals used in tests for personal care and household products, including India, Israel, Brazil’s São Paulo, the European Union and China, which recently removed a huge barrier when it officially announced it would end its mandatory requirement for animal testing.

Now efforts are also now underway in Australia, Canada, Brazil, Korea and Taiwan.

While the U.S. is still lagging behind on the issue, last year legislation was introduced that would make it illegal to conduct or commission animal testing for cosmetics after a one year phase in, which would be followed by a ban on the interstate sale of products and ingredients that were made using animal testing after three years.

Alicia Graef|April 2, 2015

India Deploys Army to Clean Up Trash on Mount Everest

India’s Prime Ministers Narenda Modi has deployed 34 skilled members of his nation’s Army to beat back a force that’s taken hold of the world’s tallest mountain for countless years.

Their mission? To haul some 4000 kilos, or roughly 8818 lbs of non-biodegradable waste left behind by generation after generation of climbers who’ve made the pilgrimage to the highest of terrestrial heights.

Over the years, the slopes have accumulated everything from small food and beverage packaging to oxygen cylinders, camping equipment, clothing, and all sorts of other discarded goods that might weigh down climbers as they make the perilous ascent.

Nepal recently implemented rules that climbers must descend the mountain with 18 lbs of trash, which is roughly the average amount of waste a climber produces over the course of a trip to the iconic crown of the Himalayas. Still, those measures have only slowed the further buildup of trash, not the trash that already exists as mountains in and of themselves.

The team will set out for Kathmandu on April 4 ahead of a May ascent, which will actually comprise two separate advances on the mountain. One team will scale Everest while the other will scale its neighbor and fourth tallest peak in the world, Mt. Lahoste. While there will be other activities taking place, at least 30 days of the mission will be devoted to the arduous task of hauling as much waste down as they can.

Most of their work will take place either at base camp (17,700 feet), though they will document and attempt to haul down as much waste as they can from the four Everest mission camps that dot heavily trafficked South Col route.

With a year of training under their belt for this mission, we can only hope for their safe passage.

Ben Roffee|RYOT|April 2, 2015

This post originally appeared on RYOT

Environmental Links

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ConsRep 1503 E

Earth Day 1970 was irrefutable evidence that the American people understood the environmental threat and wanted action to resolve it. Barry Commoner

Announcements

Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves Celebrates March as Seagrass Awareness Month

MIAMI – Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves staff joined the Mayor of North Bay Village Connie Leon-Kreps,

North Bay Village Commissioners and area residents, to discuss the importance of seagrasses to Miami-Dade County’s ecology and economy.

Mayor Leon-Kreps read the official proclamation along the aquatic preserves shoreline with several seagrass species exhibited.

“Awareness of the dangers facing seagrass, a vital natural resource, will help to create an understanding

of the ways seagrass damage can impact both the economic and ecological value of our marine resources,” said Mayor Leon-Kreps.

Participants visited a seagrass restoration site by catamaran cruise, learned proper boating techniques in a shallow bay,

viewed endangered Bottlenose Dolphins foraging and listened to the calls of birds roosting at a bird rookery.

The highlight was the release of a rehabilitated pelican, injured from marine debris, by the Pelican Harbor Seabird Station staff.

“From residents to the city manager, the chief of police to the mayor herself, the North Bay Village community came out to celebrate Seagrass Awareness Month,”

said Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves Manager Pamela Sweeney. “For many participants, this was the first time actually seeing their city – a chain of islands – by water.”

Seagrass beds, an important economic driver, provided over $4.1 million in commercial harvest to Miami-Dade County last year.

Thousands of acres of seagrass beds run throughout Biscayne Bay, comprising all seven species of seagrasses known to grow within the Caribbean.

Master gardeners, Master naturalists, Habitat Stewards… EARTH DAY AT TRADEWINDS PARK.. Sat Apr 11th ‏

Please join us for EARTH DAY AT TRADEWINDS PARK . 

We would like to see our Master Gardeners and Master naturalists participate…..

Master Gardeners, please sign up on the VMS… Volunteer Event Calendar

Master Naturalists… please sign up by emailing Adam Pitcher… apitcher@broward.org, with a copy to me.

Your Opinion Counts: Please CLICK HERE to complete a short survey

or copy this link into your browser:

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/RJNJFXQ

John J. Pipoly III, Ph.D., FLS

Extension Agent

FFL-FYN, Master Gardener & Master Naturalist Coordinator

UF-IFAS/Broward Co Extension Ed Section

Parks and Recreation Division

c/o Tree Tops Park  3900 SW 100th Avenue

Davie, FL 33328-1705

Tel: 954-357-5270

Extension Education Hosts Presentation by Renowned Landscape Architect Akiko Iwata ‏

Ladies and Gents….

OPEN TO THE PUBLIC…. NEW AND IMPROVED, CUTTING-EDGE CURRICULA

Also, a  unique opportunity to meet our new class of Master Gardener trainees, our Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists, and others. 

We hope our academic friends feel free to bring their classes along as well.

This is a fabulous opportunity for we of like mind to collaborate and learn from Ms. Iwata, all done in the spirit of FLORIDA FRIENDLINESS…..

Hope to see you there !

Your Opinion Counts: Please CLICK HERE to complete a short survey

or copy this link into your browser:

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/RJNJFXQ

Semper parat

John J. Pipoly III, Ph.D., FLS

Extension Agent

FFL-FYN, Master Gardener & Master Naturalist Coordinator

UF-IFAS/Broward Co Extension Ed Section

Parks and Recreation Division

c/o Tree Tops Park  3900 SW 100th Avenue

Davie, FL 33328-1705

Tel: 954-357-5270

DEP’s Coral Program Offers Free Classes to Encourage Coral Reef Protection

by nataliarodriguez2015

March.24.2015

MIAMI – In honor of “Earth Month” in April, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Coral Reef Conservation Program

will be teaching a variety of free, educational classes at the Biscayne Bay Environmental Center.

April 2: 6-9 p.m. Professional Association of Diving Instructors Project Aware Class

April 7: Noon-3 p.m. Stony Coral Identification Class

April 9: 6-9 p.m. Stony Coral Identification Class

April 14: Noon-2 p.m. Southeast Florida Action Network (SEAFAN) Bleach Watch Class

April 16: 6-8 p.m. SEAFAN Bleach Watch Class

April 21: Noon-3 p.m. Marine Invertebrate Identification Class

April 23: 6-9 p.m. Marine Invertebrate Identification Class

April 28: Noon-3 p.m. Reef Fish Identification Class

April 30: 6-9 p.m. Reef Fish Identification Class

Reservations are required as space is limited, and guests may register for one class per person.

Reservations can be made by emailing coral@dep.state.fl.us.

For more information on the classes, please click here or contact Ana Zangroniz at 305-795-1222.

All classes will be taught at Biscayne Bay Environmental Center located at 277 NE 79 St., Miami, FL 33138.

National Find Your Voice Campaign to Support America’s National Parks Kicks off in Biscayne ‏

On Saturday, April 18–the start of National Park Week–the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) will host the official East Coast

launch of its Find Your Voice campaign in Biscayne and Everglades National Parks.

This national campaign aims to help inspire people to take action on behalf of America’s most treasured places, and to become life-long park advocates.
To start the day, catch the free national park trolley or drive to Biscayne where lunch will be provided for participants, along with fishing lessons and boat rides on the bay.

You’ll also meet with a Lancelot Jones re-enactor who will talk about his role in the creation of Biscayne National Park

and a ranger who will discuss the maritime history of the largest marine park in the National Park System.
While at Everglades, you can take a tour of the Anhinga Trail to see alligators, wading birds, and other native wildlife,

and see an exhibition and film about young urban writers who recently ventured into the park’s wilderness for the first time.
Event Details
WHAT:
Find Your Voice East Coast Kick-Off Event at Biscayne and Everglades National Parks
WHEN: Saturday, April 18 from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., with keynote address at noon. Find a more detailed schedule of events here.
WHERE: You can catch the trolley at 9:35 a.m. from Losner Park in Homestead (104 N. Krome Ave.), or drive to either park (see below).
10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Biscayne National Park, Dante Fascell Visitor Center, 9700 SW 328 Street, Homestead, Florida 33033
2 – 4 p.m.
Everglades National Park, 40001 State Hwy 9336, Homestead, Florida 33033
WHO: NPCA and invited partners: Mahogany Youth, City of Homestead, YMCA, Blue Star Families,

Baptist Health System, Junior Scientists in the Sea, and the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, among others.
RSVP: Please RSVP to Jackie Crucet at SunCoast@npca.org by April 15.
OTHER INFO: Free parking is available in downtown Homestead and at both national parks.
NPCA’s Find Your Voice activities help to provide a lasting legacy for our national parks.
We hope you will join us!

Jackie Crucet|NPCA Program Analyst

Of Interest to All

Fossil Fuel Industry Is Quietly Building Pipeline Network That ‘Dwarfs Keystone’ XL

Despite public opposition that has so far blocked the building of the Keystone XL pipeline, the fossil fuels industry has successfully—and quietly—expanded the nation’s domestic oil network by installing thousands of miles of pipeline across the country, according to new reporting by the Associated Press.

“Overall, the network has increased by almost a quarter in the last decade,” the AP reports. “And the work dwarfs Keystone. About 3.3 million barrels per day of capacity have been added since 2012 alone—five times more oil than the Canada-to-Texas Keystone line could carry if it’s ever built.”

While the Keystone project is still in limbo, the petroleum industry has “pushed relentlessly everywhere else to get oil to market more efficiently, and its adversaries have been unable to stop other major pipelines,” writes AP journalist Henry Jackson.

That’s not to say they haven’t tried.

In Minnesota, for example, local opponents succeeded last year in getting state regulators to consider rerouting a 616-mile pipeline proposed by Toronto-based Enbridge around lakes and forests, delaying it for at least a year.

“More typical, though, was an Enbridge project to double the capacity of a 285-mile stretch of pipeline in Michigan,” Jackson writes. “Groups like the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands fought the proposal, citing a spill in 2010 that caused serious environmental damage. But the Michigan Public Service Commission ruled the project acceptable, and the expansion went ahead.”

Opposition to local pipeline projects is ongoing. In Iowa, the Meskwaki Indian tribe is objecting to a Texas company’s plans to construct a 343-mile crude oil pipeline across 18 Iowa counties, the Des Moines Register reported Monday.

“As a people that have lived in North America for thousands of years, we have environmental concerns about the land and drinking water,” tribal chairwoman Judith Bender wrote in a letter filed last month with state officials. “As long as our environment was good we could live, regardless of who our neighbors were.”

She continued: “Our main concern is Iowa’s aquifers might be significantly damaged. And it will only take one mistake and life in Iowa will change for the next thousands of years. We think that should be protected, because it is the water that gives Iowa the best way of life.”

An analysis released in November by the Center for Biological Diversity found that there have been more than 8,700 significant incidents with U.S. pipelines involving death, injury, and economic and environmental damage since 1986—more than 300 per year.

In fact, a new proposal from the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration “is an implicit acknowledgment that some of the oil industry’s testing technology isn’t sophisticated enough to detect cracks or corrosion in time to prevent a pipeline’s failure,” according to Energy & Environment Publishing’s EnergyWire, which reported exclusively on the plan on Monday.

According to EnergyWire:

Almost two years after an Exxon Mobil Corp. pipeline split open and sent Canadian crude flowing through a neighborhood in Mayflower, Ark., federal regulators have quietly proposed a sweeping rewrite of oil pipeline safety rules.

If the proposal is finalized in its current form, as much as 95 percent of the U.S. pipelines that carry crude, gasoline and other liquids—182,000 miles—would be subject to the new rules and about half the system may have to undergo extensive tests to prove it can operate safely, according to information from the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

The plan, known as the Hazardous Liquids Integrity Verification Process, is an implicit acknowledgment that some of the oil industry’s testing technology isn’t sophisticated enough to detect cracks or corrosion in time to prevent a pipeline’s failure. And for the first time since PHMSA was created, it may wind up telling companies they have to replace certain aging pipelines.

The oil and pipeline industries are already lobbying against the idea, EnergyWire reports, though few details about the plan are publicly available.

According to EnergyWire journalist Mike Lee: “PHMSA declined to make any of its officials available for interviews over a five-day period and wouldn’t answer written questions on the record—even though the agency has already briefed two oil industry trade associations about the proposal.”

Deirdre Fulton|Common Dreams|March 23, 2015

A $600-Million Fracking Company Just Sued This Tiny Ohio Town For Its Water

A tiny town in eastern Ohio is being sued by an Oklahoma-based oil and gas company that bought more than 180 million gallons of water from the town last year. That water use, combined with a dry fall, prompted the village to temporarily shut off water to Gulfport Energy. Now, a second company has a water agreement, and there might not be enough water to go around.

Gulfport Energy alleges in the lawsuit that the village of Barnesville, population 4,100, violated its agreement to provide water from its reservoir by entering into a contract with oil and gas company Antero Resources. Gulfport says the village’s contract with Antero allows for withdrawals beyond what Gulfport is allowed to take.

Gulfport’s water supply can be shut off whenever water levels in the reservoir create a risk to the health and safety of the village residents and businesses. Last fall, the reservoir was down three feet below average when village officials stopped all outside withdrawals.

“We felt like we had to shut everyone off to protect the regular users,” said village solicitor Marlin Harper. “We don’t have unlimited water.”

But here’s the catch: Only Gulfport pumped water out of the reservoir last year. So even though, as Harper admits, the Antero contract has “a little bit of a priority” over the Gulfport contract, that’s not the reason Gulfport’s water supply was shut off. During the unusually dry fall, water withdrawals by Gulfport alone were too much for the reservoir to sustain.

Environmentalists stress how valuable water is in the area, and particularly how valuable the reservoir at the heart of the lawsuit is. The water being sold to Gulfport comes from the Slope Creek Reservoir, which supplies water to all the town’s residents as well as another 8,000 people in neighboring areas, said John Morgan, a spokesman for Concerned Barnesville Area Residents.

“It’s one of the best reservoirs in the area,” Morgan told ThinkProgress. “North of us, everything was strip mined years ago, so having a good water supply is valuable here.” When the reservoir got low last year, residents got alarmed, he said.

Concerns over water supplies make sense in Ohio, a state that has steadily increased the number of drilling permits it has issued over the years. In 2010, Ohio issued 651 drilling permits. In 2013, the last year the state provides data on, it issued 1,000 drilling permits.

In Belmont County, where Barnesville is located, 63 horizontal drilling permits were issued in 2013. Belmont and its neighboring eastern Ohio counties have the most active oil and gas development in the state, according to documents from the state’s Division of Oil and Gas Resource Management. By 2019, there will be an estimated 3,240 horizontal oil and gas wells in Ohio, according to Iryna Lendel, assistant director of the Center for Economic Development at Cleveland State University.

But critics of Ohio’s oil and gas boom have worried that there isn’t enough regulation on either the drilling or the subsequent disposal of waste water. During the hydraulic fracturing process, known as fracking, water mixed with sand and chemicals is ejected into underground layers of rock, freeing tiny pockets of oil or natural gas. The wastewater often can’t be reused, is filled with chemicals, and can sometimes be contaminated with naturally occurring radiation from the shale.

“Once it’s been used, it is polluted,” Morgan said. “Other states have been realizing their need to catch up and regulate better. Ohio has been going the other direction and deregulating.”

The risks from fracking are myriad. Twenty-five families about 50 miles south of Barnesville were evacuated last year after a fracking well sprung a leak. Fracking in Ohio has triggered earthquakes, and there is concern about how waste water is treated and stored. A study in the Akron Beacon Journal found that one drilling well can have nearly 1 million pounds of liquid chemical additives.

Gulfport claims that if Barnesville fails to provide water, Gulfport could lose millions of dollars. The company pays more than $75,000 a year for water, it said in court documents.

Protecting water rights against the interests of the gas and oil industry in Ohio is a struggle, Morgan said. His group, Concerned Barnesville Area Residents, formed around the issues of potential water pollution from oil and gas extraction in the area.

The state Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been developing a Source Water Assessment and Protection Program, but the agency has limited oversight. All regulation of oil and gas extraction falls under the Division of Oil and Gas Resource Management.

“The EPA is trying to help up with the source water protection plan, but they can’t directly have any say about oil and gas wells,” Morgan said.

Other avenues for protecting water have also been blocked. Last month, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that towns can’t ban fracking through local zoning laws.

For now, water withdrawals continue at the reservoir, and there is enough for everyone. But locals expect that Antero will start up operations this year, which will mean two companies taking water from the reservoir. Another dry summer could mean another mandatory shut off and another round of litigation for Barnesville.

Samantha Page|March 24, 2015

  FEMA to states like Florida: no climate planning, no money

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is making it tougher for governors to deny man-made climate change. Starting next year, the agency will approve disaster preparedness funds only for states whose governors approve hazard mitigation plans that address climate change.

This may put several Republican governors who maintain the earth isn’t warming due to human activities, or prefer to do nothing about it, into a political bind. Their position may block their states’ access to hundreds of millions of dollars in FEMA funds. Over the past five years, the agency has awarded an average $1 billion a year in grants to states and territories for taking steps to mitigate the effects of disasters.

From 2010 to 2014, Florida received about $260 million.

“If a state has a climate denier governor that doesn’t want to accept a plan, that would risk mitigation work not getting done because of politics,” said Becky Hammer, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s water program. “The governor would be increasing the risk to citizens in that state” because of his climate beliefs.

The policy doesn’t affect federal money for relief after a hurricane, flood or other disaster. Specifically, beginning in March 2016, states seeking preparedness money will have to assess how climate change threatens their communities. Governors will have to sign off on hazard mitigation plans. While some states, including New York, have already started incorporating climate risks in their plans, most haven’t because FEMA’s old 2008 guidelines didn’t require it.

“This could potentially become a major conflict for several Republican governors,” said Barry Rabe, an expert on the politics of climate change at the University of Michigan. “We aren’t just talking about coastal states.” Climate change affects droughts, rainfall and tornado activity. Fracking is being linked to more earthquakes, he said. “This could affect state leaders across the country.”

Among those who could face a difficult decision are Republican Govs. Rick Scott of Florida, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Chris Christie of New Jersey, Greg Abbott of Texas and Pat McCrory of North Carolina – all of whom have denied man-made climate change or refused to take action. The states they lead face immediate threats from climate change.

The five governors’ offices did not return requests for comment.

Environmentalists have been pressing FEMA to include global warming in its hazard mitigation guidelines for almost three years. FEMA told the Natural Resources Defense Council in early 2014 that it would revise the guidelines. It issued draft rules last October and officially released the new procedures last week as partisan politics around climate change have been intensifying.

On March 8, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting said the Scott administration instituted an unwritten ban on the use of “climate change” or “global warming” by Florida officials. Gov. Scott denied the claim, telling reporters in Tallahassee, “Well, first off, that’s not true. At our Department of Environmental Protection, there’s lots of conversation about this issue. From my standpoint, like every issue, my goal is: Instead of talking about it, let’s do something about it.”

Still the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has filed a complaint arguing that a state employee, Bart Bibler of the Department of Environmental Protection, was reprimanded for speaking about climate change at an official meeting and keeping notes on the subject in official minutes.

The complaint says that on March 9, Bibler got a letter of reprimand, was ordered to take two days leave and then was told not to return until he had medical clearance of his fitness for duty.

“There’s no such policy banning the use of ‘climate change,’ ” DEP spokeswoman Lauren Engel told the Palm Beach Post. She had no specific comment on the Bibler case, the Post reported.

In the reprimand letter, provided by PEER to the Palm Beach Post, Marianne Gengenbach, chief of environmental services, said Bibler “engaged in personal political advocacy related to the Keystone XL Pipeline” and that he provided his supervisors a summary suggesting climate change was on the agenda when it wasn’t.

“Your actions were disrespectful, unprofessional and represent insubordination,” Gengenbach wrote.

According to PEER’s complaint, Bibler – currently land management plan coordinator for DEP’s Division of State Lands – attended a Florida Coastal Managers Forum on Feb. 27 at which climate change and sea-level rise were discussed.

PEER said Bibler later “was directed to remove any hot button issues, especially explicit references to climate change, and then was given a letter of reprimand for supposedly misrepresenting that the ‘official meeting agenda included climate change.'”

FEMA wrote in its new procedures, “The challenges posed by climate change, such as more intense storms, frequent heavy precipitation, heat waves, drought, extreme flooding, and higher sea levels, could significantly alter the types and magnitudes of hazards impacting states in the future.”

FEMA’s disaster preparedness program has been granting money to states since the 1980s for projects as diverse as raising buildings out of floodplains and building safe rooms. States are required to update their plans every five years to be eligible for the agency’s mitigation funding. Since 2010, FEMA has doled out more than $4.6 billion to states and territories as part of this program.

Republican-led regions constitute 8 of the top 10 recipients of this category of FEMA money between 2010 and 2014. Louisiana was No. 1, having received almost $1.1 billion from FEMA for hazard mitigation. New Jersey was third with nearly $379 million, and Texas fourth with almost $343 million. Florida was sixth.

The gubernatorial approval clause was included in the new guidelines to “raise awareness and support for implementing the actions in the mitigation strategy and increasing statewide resilience to natural hazards,” said FEMA spokeswoman Susan Hendrick.

The new federal rules don’t require public involvement in the creation of states’ disaster preparedness plans, eliminating the opportunity for environmental groups and concerned citizens to submit comments or concerns about the assessments.

InsideClimate News is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that covers clean energy, carbon energy, nuclear energy and environmental science. More information is available at http://insideclimatenews.org/

Katherine Bagley|InsideClimate News (TNS)|March 19, 2015

World Water Day

March 22 was World Water Day; here are 10 facts to consider and some ways you can make a difference.

Since 1993, the United Nations has designated March 22 as World Water Day. It’s a day devoted to promoting activities within member nations regarding the world’s water resources.

Facts:

Ten percent of the world’s population live without access to safe water.

More than 1,400 children die a day from water-related diseases.

Around the world, women spend 200 million hours a day carrying water.

Every American uses 7,500 liters (1,981 gallons) of water a day, with most of that going to produce the food they consume.

One liter (.26 gallons) of water is needed to irrigate one calorie’s worth of food.

It takes 15,000 liters (3,962 gallons) of water to produce two steaks.

Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of water withdrawal worldwide.

By 2050, the agriculture sector will need to produce 60 percent more food globally than current rates.

Droughts in the United States in 2012 affected 80 percent of farms and ranches, with crop losses of more than $20 billion.

It takes 91 liters (24 gallons) of water to create 500 grams (17.6 ounces) of plastic.


What you can do:

Conserve water at home by taking shorter showers, investing in a low-flow toilet and turning off the tap while brushing your teeth or shaving.

Plant low-water species in your yard.

Buy a rain barrel to collect rainwater to use for watering the lawn or garden.

Run your washer or dishwasher only when they are full, which can save up to 1,000 gallons of water a month per household.

Buy recycled paper products, because they take less water to produce.

Have a vegetarian meal from time to time, since the ingredients take less water to produce than a burger, pork chop or chicken sandwich.

Consider donating to an organization such as Water.org, WaterAid or Food & Water Watch.

Contact your federal legislators and urge them to support a dedicated Sustainable Development Goal on water and sanitation.

Sources: UNESCO, UN Water, Water for Food, wateruseitwisely.com, WaterAid America, Water.org.

Modern Farmer|March 22, 2015

Radiation, climate change force Bikini Islanders to seek refuge in the US

 

A tiny central Pacific community, forced to evacuate their homes because of US nuclear testing, are now demanding refuge in the United States as they face a new threat from climate change.

“We want to relocate to the United States,” Nishma Jamore, mayor of the atoll of Bikini, said on the weekend as Pacific waters continued to eat away at the small Kili and Ejit islands in the far-flung Marshall Islands archipelago.

Jamore heads a community of about 1,000 islanders who have lived in exile on the islands for decades because their original homeland of Bikini remains too radioactive for resettlement.

There were 24 nuclear tests conducted on the atoll in the 1950s, including “Bravo”, the largest hydrogen bomb detonation conducted by the United States.

Unable to return to Bikini, the islanders are now faced with increasingly heavy flooding from high tides and storms hitting Kili and Ejit with waves washing over the islands and wiping out food crops.

Jamore voiced their concerns to US Assistant Secretary of Interior Esther Kia’aina during her visit to the Marshall’s capital of Majuro this month.

“We want to relocate to the United States,” Jamore said. “Kili has been repeatedly flooded since 2012 and we’ve asked the Marshall Islands government for help with no response.”

There is also serious concern over a recent legislative move by the Marshall’s parliament, known as the Nitijela, to take authority for Ejit Island away from the Bikinians.

The latest flooding at Kili hit last month during annual high tides, and Jamore described the island’s airport runway as like “the Nile River” as water flooded over it.

As the floods damaged houses and damaged crops, the 1.6 kilometer (one mile) long runway, which is 2.5 metres (8.2 feet) above sea level, disappeared beneath about 25 centimeters of saltwater.

This is the second time Bikini Islanders have called to be resettled in the United States.

In the 1980s, following an aborted resettlement on Bikini atoll that ended with the islanders exposed to high levels of radiation, they attempted to buy a tract of land on Maui in the state of Hawaii for resettlement.

The plan was vetoed when it ran into considerable opposition from Maui residents, but it is gathering steam again because of the damage to homes and agriculture caused by repeated flooding of Kili and Ejit in recent years.

“We’re going to Washington next month,” Jamore said, insisting he would take the plan to the US government.

Arkansas, Oklahoma and Hawaii have been identified as ideal locations as they are already home to significant populations of Bikini islanders.

Jamore and other Bikini Council executives want to use the US-funded Bikini Trust Fund to purchase property for the resettlement.

Currently the Fund allows for property purchase only in the Marshall Islands, but Jamore said they have asked the Interior Department to change the agreement so they can buy land in the United States.

“This will give the people options for education and jobs,” he said.

Agence France-Presse|3 Mar 2015

McConnell ratchets up fight against EPA ‏


McConnell ratchets up fight against EPA

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell demands nation’s governors reject the EPA’s carbon pollution limits.


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just decided to take his war against the EPA to a whole new level.

Late last week, Senator McConnell sent a letter to every governor in the nation telling them to ignore the EPA’s carbon pollution limits on coal-fired power plants, our country’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

This is sickening and despicable. Senator McConnell is out of control. He hasn’t succeeded in taking down the EPA through official means, so instead he’s asking state governments to reject creating their own plan, a vital tool to build their clean energy future.

McConnell is out to ensure that the EPA’s Clean Power Plan fails and is dictating to states his own plan to make this happen.

Here are the facts: Peabody Energy, the very definition of Big Coal, has been the fourth largest contributor to Senate Majority Leader McConnell over the course of his career. And in 2014, the Koch brothers and other polluting interests pumped more than $700 million into supporting McConnell and his allies.

Not content with the damage he’s doing in the US Senate, McConnell is now meddling in statehouses and courtrooms across the country — parts of the government he has no business messing with. McConnell’s efforts are leading up to the Paris climate change talks coming in December. It’s McConnell’s hope that if enough states reject the Clean Power Plan, the President will be weakened in his attempts to negotiate a global climate change treaty. McConnell’s plans are both audacious and unprecedented. It’s going to take an army of activists to stop him.

Gene Karpinski|President|League of Conservation Voters|3/25/15

Statement from Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Assoc., on Reintroduction of Federal Bill to Kill States’ Rights to GMO Labeling Laws

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, March 25, 2015

FINLAND, Minn.—The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) issued the following statement today in response to plans by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) to reintroduce a federal bill to preempt states’ rights to enact GMO labeling laws, and create a voluntary non-GMO labeling scheme.

International Director Ronnie Cummins said:

“The Pompeo bill, aptly dubbed the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act, is not only anti-consumer, but anti-democracy and anti-state’s rights as well.

“The bill will take away the right of states to require GMO labeling and will legalize the routine industry practice of labeling genetically engineered (GE) foods as ‘natural’ or ‘all natural.’ It also includes a complicated scheme for voluntary labeling of non-GMO foods.

“The DARK Act overturns the century-old balance of power between the federal government and the states, whereby states have exercised their right to pass numerous laws regarding food safety or food labels when the federal government failed to act.

“Since 1994, when controversial GE foods were forced onto the market, with no labeling nor independent safety testing required, consumers have demanded mandatory labeling of GE foods and food ingredients. After 20 years of waiting for the federal government to heed the people’s will, citizens have begun lobbying in every state and organizing ballot initiatives to pass mandatory GE food labeling at the state level. Vermont passed the nation’s first mandatory labeling law in 2014, prompting Big Food and the chemical industry to try to reverse the law in federal court.

“Understanding that they are losing the battle at the state level to keep consumers in the dark about whether or not their food is genetically engineered, Monsanto and its minions are now prepared to abolish consumer choice and overturn state’s constitutional rights so that they can continued to force feed us their GMO foods—foods grown with the toxic chemical, glyphosate, which just last week the World Health Organization declared a ‘probable human carcinogen.’

“More than 90 percent of consumers want the same basic right that consumers in more than 60 other countries already have—a simple label stating whether or not a product contains GMOs. Research has shown that GMO labels will not increase food prices, contrary to industry claims. The sole reason to pass this bill is to keep consumers in the dark about what’s in their food.

“We must the stop the Pompeo Bill dead in its tracks. This is a fight, not just for consumer rights, but for democracy as well. “

Contact: Katherine Paul, Organic Consumers Association, katherine@organicconsumers.org, 207.653.3090

Organic Consumers Association|March 24, 2015

Strengthen dispersant protections ‏

After hearing from thousands of people, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is moving forward on new reforms for the use of toxic dispersants when responding to oil spills.

Almost 2 million gallons of dispersants were released into the Gulf of Mexico during the BP drilling disaster despite widespread recognition that little was known about the health and environmental effects of applying such massive quantities of these chemicals. The debacle of that emergency response highlighted the pressing need for a new rule on dispersants.

EPA’s proposed reforms require more rigorous science and safety information when evaluating the use of dispersants.

This new rule, although not strong enough, is a step in the right direction. It improves testing of dispersants for toxicity and effectiveness, requires companies to release the ingredients in dispersants and increases monitoring of the effects of dispersants when used in some oil spills. We need your help to ensure that the final version provides the strongest possible protection for public health and the environment.

Cyn Sarthou|Gulf Restoration Network|3/26/15

Click here to tell the EPA to make these reforms as strong as possible.

Calls to Action

  1. Tell Anheuser-Busch: Support clean water – here
  2. Support the EAA Reservoir, buy the land, build the reservoir, and save Florida’s drinking water – here

Birds and Butterflies

Check out Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Bird Cams – here

There Are So Many Beautiful Birds in the World

Logging Industry Fails Again to Strip Threatened Seabird of Protections

Victory: Court upholds marbled murrelet protection in Washington, Oregon, and California

Five strikes and you’re out—there is no support in science, law, or public opinion for the industry’s continued demand to log the public old-growth murrelet forests.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals last Friday rejected yet another attempt by the timber industry to remove federal endangered species protections from the marbled murrelet, a unique coastal bird found in the Pacific Northwest. The appeal was the timber industry’s fifth attempt in the past decade to eliminate protections for the old-growth forests that marbled murrelets call home, despite undisputed scientific evidence which has shown that murrelets are continuing to disappear from the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California.

“The D.C. Circuit soundly disposed of industry’s arguments, most of which it called ‘frivolous,’” said Kristen Boyles, staff attorney with Earthjustice. “Five strikes and you’re out—there is no support in science, law, or public opinion for the industry’s continued demand to log the public old-growth murrelet forests.”

The marbled murrelet is a shy, robin-sized seabird that feeds at sea but nests only in old-growth forests along the Pacific Coast. Murrelets don’t build nests, instead laying their single egg on large, moss-covered branches in old growth Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, western hemlock, and redwood trees. In 1992, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protected marbled murrelets in Washington, Oregon, and California as a threatened species due to logging of coastal old-growth forests. The timber industry has waged a 15 year legal campaign to eliminate protections for the small seabird in order to increase logging of some of the region’s last-remaining mature and old-growth forests.

“It’s time to move forward with recovering these unique seabirds,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We know what we need to do to save the marbled murrelet and that is protecting the last coastal old-growth forests in Washington, Oregon and California.”

Tom Wheeler, program and legal coordinator with the Environmental Protection Information Center in Arcata, California, agreed. “Murrelets down here in the southern end of their range need more, not less, protection and recovery.”

“The marbled murrelet’s coastal old-growth habitat is known the world around for its biological treasures,” said Dave Werntz, science and conservation Director at Conservation Northwest. “This court ruling ensures the murrelet and its old forest habitat have a shot at recovery.”

“Marbled murrelet populations have continued to decline in the Pacific Northwest, even as the timber industry has continuously tried to strip their protections ,” said Bob Sallinger, Conservation Director of Audubon Society of Portland. “We stand ready to defend murrelets if the time industry continues to push for their extinction.”

Represented by Earthjustice, Audubon Society of Portland, Seattle Audubon Society, Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Environmental Protection Information Center, Oregon Wild, and Sierra Club intervened in the lawsuit to defend the murrelet listing and critical habitat.

Kristen Boyles|Attorney|Earthjustice|March 2, 2015

Panhandle Rooftops Now Safe for Nesting Seabirds

Threatened seabirds, such as Least Terns and Black Skimmers, prefer to lay their eggs in shallow, sand scrapes on open beaches, but human disturbance around their beach nest sites sometimes causes these seabirds to nest on gravel rooftops along Florida’s developed coasts. Where rooftop edges, rain gutters, and drains aren’t protected, the chicks of rooftop nesting birds fall to the ground as a result of disturbance from crows or hawks or after heavy rainfall. Those that survive the fall can easily dehydrate on the ground, get stepped on or run over, or eaten by predators.

In Northwest Florida, Audubon Rooftop Nesting Program staff are working with 30 local businesses to protect Least Terns and other imperiled seabirds at rooftop nesting sites. Last summer, Audubon staff, volunteers, and business employees searched the parking lots for fallen chicks around active rooftop colonies. In 2014, over 100 Least Tern chicks fell from rooftops, 70 of which were safely returned to their colony by dedicated chick-checkers. During the non-nesting season winter months of 2014-2015, Audubon staff enlisted the help of volunteers and business partners to chick-proof rooftops throughout the Panhandle.

On Monday, February 9, the Chateau Motel in Panama City Beach, Florida became a much safer nest site for Least Terns. Staff from Audubon Florida, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Gulf Coast Tree Specialists, and seven brave volunteers installed “chick-fencing” along the perimeter of Chateau Motel’s rooftop. Volunteers attached hardware cloth to brick pavers with corner brackets to create a permanent barrier around the Chateau’s rooftop. The Gulf Coast Tree Specialists lifted the materials and volunteers up to the rooftop using their bucket truck. The result was a one-foot high chick-fence that will save the lives of many Least Tern chicks this breeding season. Six more rooftops will be chick-fenced before the Least Terns, Black Skimmers, and other seabirds return this spring to raise their young in the Florida Panhandle.

Coastal Strand|Audubon Florida|3/24/15  

Give Florida’s beach-nesting shorebirds space to help them survive

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) asks beachgoers to watch out for and avoid disturbing beach-nesting shorebirds on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the state. Shorebirds build nests out of sand and shells on Florida beaches in spring and summer, hatching chicks that are difficult to see.

Shorebird nests, eggs and chicks are well camouflaged and can be easily missed and even stepped on unless people know to look out for them. The snowy plover, least tern, black skimmer, American oystercatcher and Wilson’s plover are several of Florida’s beach-nesting shorebird species that face conservation challenges and need people’s help to survive.

“People can still enjoy the beach while keeping shorebirds and their chicks safe,” said Nancy Douglass, who works on shorebird conservation at the FWC. “Following a few simple steps while at the beach can have a tremendous positive impact on shorebirds. People’s actions can directly affect the success of shorebird nesting and whether future generations will get to see these iconic birds along our coasts.”

Ways to protect beach-nesting shorebirds:

  • Keep your distance, whether on the beach or paddling watercraft along the shore. If birds become agitated or leave their nests, you are too close. A general rule is to stay at least 300 feet from a nest. Birds calling out loudly and dive-bombing are giving signals for you to back off.
  • Never intentionally force birds to fly or run. They use up energy they need for nesting, and eggs and chicks may be left vulnerable to the sun’s heat or predators. Teach children not to chase shorebirds and kindly ask fellow beach-goers to do the same.
  • Respect posted areas. Avoid posted nesting sites and use designated walkways when possible.
  • It is best not to take pets to the beach, but if you do, keep them on a leash and avoid shorebird nesting areas.
  • Keep the beach clean and do not feed wildlife. Food scraps attract predators such as raccoons and crows, which can prey on shorebird chicks. Litter on beaches can entangle birds and other wildlife.
  • Spread the word. If you see people disturbing nesting birds, gently let them know how their actions may hurt the birds’ survival. If they continue to disturb nesting birds, report their activities to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922), #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone or by texting Tip@MyFWC.com. You can also report nests that are not posted to Wildlife Alert.

Wildlife photographers also should follow the rules that protect shorebirds:

  • Remain beyond the posted area, with no part of you or your camera equipment extending beyond the string or signs.
  • Restrict photography to no more than 10 minutes. Too much time photographing near the nest may stress birds.
  • Don’t “push” birds around the beach. Stay far enough away so the birds do not change their behavior in response to your presence. They need to feed and rest without disturbance.

For more information, go to MyFWC.com/Shorebirds and download the “Share the Beach with Beach-Nesting Birds” brochure. Read the FWC’s plan for four imperiled beach-nesting bird species, part of the broader Imperiled Species Management Plan: http://myfwc.com/media/2720106/Imperiled-Beach-Nesting-Birds-Species-Action-Plan-Final-Draft.pdf. Or go to the Florida Shorebird Alliance at www.flshorebirdalliance.org.

Government Under Fire After Killing Tens Of Thousands Of Starlings In Nevada

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Land owners surprised to discover tens of thousands of dead birds across the high desert are criticizing the federal government over a mass killing of starlings in northern Nevada.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesman said a pesticide was used to destroy the birds to prevent the spread of disease to dairy cows.

Some area residents, however, say the government should have done more to alert the public and to dispose of the dead birds.

European starlings, introduced to the U.S. in 1890, are considered an invasive species and have been the target of similar eradication efforts in Nevada and elsewhere for decades. About 2 million starlings were destroyed in 2013, nearly 50,000 in Nevada, to assist farmers, according to Agriculture Department records.

Authorities have used DRC-1339 in recent weeks to kill flocks of birds at the request of farmers in Fallon and Fernley east of Reno, and Yerington, about 90 miles southeast of Reno, Agriculture spokesman Travis Kocurek said.

Starlings transmit livestock diseases and cause crop losses, Kocurek said in an email.

“Bird feces can contaminate food and water sources, putting cattle at risk for salmonella and E. coli infections if ingested,” he wrote.

Hundreds of thousands of starlings usually pass through northern Nevada each winter. But their numbers spiked this year as over a million flocked to the state, possibly due to extreme cold temperatures in Canada and the northern U.S., Kocurek said.

Gary Smith, of Fallon, said an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 starlings had roosted near his home.

“It was like a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds,'” he said.

The eradication program wiped them out and left dead birds scattered across the area, he said.

Like others, Smith said the government should have given the public notice. He didn’t learn about the effort until he began smelling the dead birds, many of which were eventually removed by a federal employee.

“I have no problem with the dairyman and ranchers having to do this. These are an introduced species, and they don’t want starlings messing their operations more than you and I want mice in our house,” Smith said.

“My concern was that they get the word out” to the public about potential health risks and its offer to pick up dead birds, he said.

Kocurek said the government followed notification procedures by informing local officials, but it will review the process to determine whether changes are needed.

The public can dispose of dead birds in the trash, using disposable gloves or a plastic bag to avoid exposure to disease or parasites, he said.

The Humane Society of the United States, meanwhile, said the Agriculture Department should have chased the birds off, rather than kill them.

DRC-1339 leads to prolonged deaths and can kill non-target birds including golden eagles, said Wendy Keefover, a spokeswoman for the national animal protection group.

“It can take up to three days for a bird to die after ingesting it, and it’s a cruel and horribly inhumane death,” she said.

Kocurek said studies show death will occur within one to three days, but the majority of starlings that eat the bait die within 12 hours. A scavenging animal or raptor should not be harmed by eating a dead starling, he said.

MARTIN GRIFFITH| AP |03/24/2015

The story was first reported by the Lahontan Valley News newspaper of Fallon.

23 Butterfly Species that may go Extinct Soon Photos

Celebrating 50 Years of Nest Monitoring!

Volunteers have been helping the Cornell Lab of Ornithology monitor nesting birds for 50 years, keeping tabs on open-cup nests and nest boxes alike. What started as the North American Nest Record Card Program in 1965, and later became The Birdhouse Network, is now known as NestWatch. But the goal of these projects hasn’t changed: collect quality data on nesting success across the country for use in “big picture” studies of bird reproduction.

Our nest-monitoring data have been used in more than 130 scientific studies, yielding valuable information for scientists and land managers, such as:

  • When, where, and how many eggs are laid by certain species across a wide range
  • How to minimize the effects of forestry and agricultural practices on nesting birds
  • Revealing that some species, such as Tree Swallows and Eastern Bluebirds, are nesting earlier as spring temperatures have risen.

Even after five decades, there’s still a lot to learn. For example, data on the Eurasian Collared-Dove, a relative newcomer to North America, remain sketchy. We still don’t know how its presence affects our native Mourning Doves, or even how many times they can nest in one year. NestWatch needs more data to understand how and why species respond differently to large, continent-level changes in the environment.

To encourage everyone to commit to monitoring at least one nest this year, and to celebrate 50 years of volunteer nest monitoring, we’ll be giving away prizes to three lucky participants for (1) most nest attempts submitted, (2) most species monitored, and (3) a random winner with at least one nest attempt. We will draw winners in late November, and prizes (TBD) will ship in time for the holidays. It’s our way of saying “Thank you” and kicking off a great 50th year.

Florida Panthers

A Growing State Means Growing Threats for Florida’s Official State Animal

Florida is a pretty incredible place. It has some of the greatest biological diversity – the widest variety of plants and animals – in the entire country, and is home to many species found nowhere else in the world. It’s also home to people – lots of them. In fact, with nearly 20 million residents, Florida recently surpassed New York as the third most populous state in the entire country. The economy has picked up once again and development and road building are accelerating. Florida is also a top travel destination in the world, hosting 93.7 million visitors in 2013, and many visitors return to live in Florida, encouraging the building of more homes and highways. All this places the Sunshine State in the unique position of having both tremendous wildlife diversity and mounting pressure from development.

What’s At Risk

Among the many species threatened by this nonstop development is our state’s official animal, the Florida panther. With just an estimated 100-180 adults left in the wild, the Florida panther is one of the most endangered mammals in the country. Once ranging across the southeastern U.S., today it is restricted to south Florida, in just five percent of its historic home range. The greatest threat to panther survival is the loss of its habitat, which is continually being destroyed, fragmented and degraded. And it isn’t just the buildings, but also the roads that connect them that cause problems. Wide-ranging panthers have to cross dangerous roads and highways in their search for territory, food and mates, and collisions with vehicles take a toll on the small population. Vehicle strikes are the greatest source of human-caused mortality for Florida panthers. In fact, 2014 set a new and tragic record for panthers lost to vehicle collisions, with a total of 25 panthers killed.

The Work Ahead

Fortunately, Florida’s Water and Land Legacy Conservation Amendment was passed by an overwhelming 75% of Florida voters in November. This constitutional amendment (Amendment 1) will set aside an estimated $18 billion over the next 20 years to fund water and land conservation, management and restoration, including protecting important habitat for Florida panthers and other wildlife. It takes a percentage of the existing documentary stamp tax revenues generated by real estate transactions and dedicates them to protecting and restoring important habitat on land and water. This source of funding was used for nearly two decades to fund the land acquisition program and because it is tied to development, the very thing that contributes to habitat destruction is also helping to prevent it.

Defenders is hard at work to make sure that elected officials will put that money to use in the way that the conservation amendment (and the Floridians who voted for it) intended, not on shopping lists of inappropriate projects brought to them by lobbyists. We are working with our members and supporters to remind their elected officials that they knew exactly what they were doing when they voted for the amendment, and that they expect their legislators to carry out the voters’ wishes. Amendment 1 funds could be spent to help secure, manage and restore important habitat and corridors for the panther and its prey, expanding and buffering protected areas, and protecting lands to enable construction of more wildlife crossings.

Elizabeth Fleming|www.defendersblog.org | March 22, 2015

  Invasive species

Burmese Pythons Are Wiping Out the Everglades, Scientists Conclude

The Burmese python problem down here is a problem. So much so that there was, once upon a time, a state-sanctioned open hunt for the invasive snakes. That went bust. And now, according to a study published in The Royal Society this week, it looks like the Burmese python’s quest to completely take over the Everglades is nearly accomplished.  

Specifically, the snakes are becoming the apex predator with no equal, and they are eating everything that moves. And this is not good.

The snakes prey on wading birds, rabbits, foxes, and deer while having no real threat themselves. The study says a group of experts ranging from the University of Florida, the Fort Collins Science Center, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission released marsh rabbits into and on the fringes of the Everglades, along with radio trackers.

Within nine months, the scientists found that the majority of the rabbits released inside the Everglades had been eaten. None of the rabbits that were released outside of the Everglades was harmed.

The experiment had the rabbits released between September 2012 and August 2013. The study says the rabbits placed inside the park did well for themselves for a little while, getting acclimated to their environment and even breeding. But they slowly started getting picked off and disappearing, leading the scientists to confirm that the Burmese python problem is a serious one indeed.

Marsh rabbits are known to be extremely resilient creatures and, in normal situations, thrive and are able to escape predators. So the swift way in which the rabbits in this experiment were taken out is alarming. The scientists eventually concluded that every rabbit was released into the Everglades was found inside a python’s belly — radio trackers included. 

From the study:

Our findings provide strong empirical evidence that pythons caused reductions in marsh rabbit populations […]. Not only were pythons the dominant predators of marsh rabbits in Everglades National Park (ENP), but only one mammalian predation event occurred in the park. Outside of ENP, mammals (bobcats Lynx rufus and coyotes Canis latrans) were the dominant cause of marsh rabbit mortalities. The lack of mammalian predations of marsh rabbits in ENP was consistent with the reported declines of most mammalian species in the park  and may be attributed to direct (predation) or indirect (e.g. depletion of prey base) impacts of pythons on populations of mammalian predators.

More alarming, the pythons seem to be breeding at a quicker clip than scientists first feared. Last year, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida found that more and more Burmese python eggs were hatching in Southwest Florida . In 2012, researchers found a 17-foot Burmese that had been pregnant with 87 eggs.

And the snakes are roaming the Everglades eating not just rabbits. All manner of animals and critters have been found inside pythons, including raccoons and deer. Bottom line: The Everglades are a smorgasbord for the Burmese, and there isn’t another animal that can stop it. This means that, unless the invasive creatures are taken under control somehow, the Everglades could be irrevocably damaged.

Between 2003 and 2011, a team of scientists reported a 99.3 percent drop in the frequency of raccoon observations, a 94 percent drop in white-tailed deer observations, a 98.9 percent drop in opossum observations, and an 87.5 percent drop in bobcat observations.

The Everglades is an already fragile ecosystem to begin with, and scientists fear that it’s being decimated and changing faster than it should. 

For now, there is no real answer on how to fix the problem. The FWC says that if you spot one, call them immediately. And it’s perfectly legal to kill Burmese pythons when you see them, though it’s probably best to let the experts handle that.

Chris Joseph|March 20, 2015

Invasive termites in Florida are cross-breeding into terrifying new species of “Super Termites”

A new study is the latest sign that climate change is going to affect us in strange and horrible ways

Oh man guys, buckle up: two of Florida’s most destructive invasive termite species are interbreeding, and their offspring is a new, hybrid species of “super termite” that’s even worse than its parents.

In the latest indication that climate change is going to affect us in strange and horrible ways, University of Florida entomologists have documented how unusual weather patterns appear to be causing the swarming seasons of the two species — the Asian and Formosan termites — to overlap for the first time, giving them an opportunity to meet and mate. (In fact, they say, male Asian termites seem to prefer Formosan females over their own species, further increasing the rate at which this is happening.)

Their study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, documents how this phenomenon is facilitating the development of brand-new hybrid colonies, capable of developing twice as fast as their parent species. The scientists aren’t sure yet whether the super termite itself can reproduce, which would bring even more problems — like the potential for the new species to itself invade other areas beyond Florida. But they’re worried either way.

“Because a termite colony can live up to 20 years with millions of individuals, the damaging potential of a hybrid colony remains a serious threat to homeowners even if the hybrid colony does not produce fertile winged termites,” author Nan-Yao Su explained in a statement. Or, as the study puts it, “a kick from a mule is as good as a kick from a donkey.”

And it may be a harsh kick indeed. Asian and Formosan termites already cost as much as $40 billion in damage each year, globally. And that’s nothing, the authors say, compared to what’s coming for Florida: they predict Florida will experience “dramatically increased damage to structures in the near future.”

The two termite species have always been capable of mating — again, it appears to be a shift in climate that’s gotten them actually doing it. Specifically, the authors points to the unusually warm winters of 2013 and 2014,to explain the wide overlap in their swarming seasons. If this sort of thing continues, as predicted, with climate change, they warn that the interbreeding could become a common occurrence.

“Right now, we barely see the tip of the iceberg,” Su said in a statement. “But we know it’s a big one.”

Lindsay Abrams|Staff Writer|Salon|Mar 26, 2015

[State inspectors reviewed my home a week ago and no problems were discovered.]

Endangered Species

One in Ten Wild Bee Species Now Face Extinction in Europe

Following the first-ever assessment of Europe’s wild bee population, scientists are warning that one in 10 species of bees are now facing extinction.

The study, which was published as part of the IUCN European Red List of Bees and the Status and Trends of European Pollinators (STEP) project, examined the population distribution, trends and threats for 1,965 species of wild bees.

According to the IUCN, 9.2 percent of bee species are at risk of extinction while another 5.2 percent are likely to be threatened in the near future. More concerning is that scientists believe the number of species they found were facing extinction might be a very low estimate because there was not enough information on many of the less common species to determine how they’re doing.

Researchers cite a number of reasons behind the decline, ranging from climate change, which brings extreme weather from heavy rains to drought that alters habitats, to an increase the frequency of fires. Still ,the biggest threat to these valuable pollinators comes with habitat loss and degradation as a result of urban development and agriculture, which also brings the use of pesticides, insecticides and fertilizers that can kill pollinators like bees and the flowering plants they rely on for food.

“This report should be a wake up call to the ecological disaster that is unfolding in Europe’s countryside,” Ariel Brunner, the head of EU policy at Birdlife, told the Guardian. “It’s very clear that something is going horribly wrong with our agricultural practices which are the main driver of these declines, whether it is increased pesticide use, the destruction and conversion of grasslands, or the loss of natural vegetation and intensified farming methods.”

The loss of bees and other pollinators don’t just pose a threat to biodiversity and healthy ecosystems, but also threatens our food security. The IUCN points out that in Europe, 84 percent of crops need insect pollinators and the services bees provide are estimated to be worth 22 billion euros annually. Globally, more than 80 percent of the crops we need for food rely on pollinators.

“Our quality of life – and our future – depends on the many services that nature provides for free,” said Karmenu Vella, EU Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Commissioner. “Pollination is one of these services, so it is very worrying to learn that some of our top pollinators are at risk! If we don’t address the reasons behind this decline in wild bees, and act urgently to stop it, we could pay a very heavy price indeed.”

Now scientists are calling for a number of measures that will help with monitoring and conservation efforts across Europe that include, among other things, acting to reduce the potential for the spread of diseases between domestic and wild bees, providing support for farmers to diversify their crops, making a commitment to reduce the use of pesticides, expanding the network of experts and creating a Europe-wide database to improve knowledge gaps.

Hopefully their research will lead to a greater awareness of how bad the loss of pollinators will be and serve as a serious call to action for policy makers to reduce the threats that we can control.

Alicia Graef|March 20, 2015

There’s Good News for Imperiled Green Sea Turtles

After conducting a global status review for green sea turtles, federal officials say some of their populations have rebounded enough to be downlisted from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which conducted the review, have proposed reclassifying green sea turtles, who can be found in oceans around the world, into 11 distinct populations, which the agencies stated will allow for a more tailored approach when it comes to protecting each population from different threats they face.

Globally, green sea turtles are listed as endangered by the IUCN and continue to face a number of threats ranging from a loss of coastal habitat to capture and entanglement in fishing gear. They also suffer as a result of pollution, plastic and other marine debris they may eat, disease, climate change and poaching of adults and eggs that is believed to have led to severe declines in their numbers over the years.

There is, however, good news for green sea turtles who live and nest in Florida and along the Pacific Coast of Mexico, who the agencies believe have recovered enough to have their status downgraded. Conservationists are celebrating the announcement and highlighting it as proof the Endangered Species Act is working as it should to provide a critical lifeline to species on the brink.

“The proposal to revise the status of green sea turtles breeding in Florida and Mexico from endangered to threatened shows that conservation is making a difference, and once again demonstrates the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act in protecting and recovering our most at-risk species,” said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe.

There’s also good news for green sea turtles who live in Hawaii. The Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs also petitioned NOAA to have federal protection removed in 2012, but in this announcement the agencies denied the request.

Patrick Opay, the endangered species branch chief of NOAA’s Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office, told the Associated Press that even though their numbers are increasing slowly Hawaii still has fewer than 4,000 green sea turtles. He added that an estimated 96 percent of them also nest in the same place in the Northern Hawaiian Islands, which makes them vulnerable to disease outbreaks, climate change and rising sea levels.

There is also continued widespread public support for keeping Hawaii’s green sea turtles, or honu as they’re known, protected. More than 36,000 people signed the Center for Biological Diversity’s Care2 petition urging the National Marine Fisheries Service to keep them listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Under the proposal, Hawaii’s green sea turtles will be included in the Central North Pacific population, and will continue to remain protected as a threatened species. For populations that aren’t doing as well, protection will also be increased in American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

The proposal is now open for a 90-day public comment period, which will be available until June 22, while a public hearing will be held later on April 8 at the Japanese Cultural Center in Honolulu.

Alicia Graef|March 23, 2015

Census shows China’s wild giant panda population growing

Good news for China’s national treasure: Wild giant pandas, which have spent more than two decades on the endangered species list, are increasing in number.

The species’ population throughout China grew by nearly 17 percent over the past decade, officials said Saturday, according to a census by China’s State Forestry Administration.

The country’s fourth national giant panda survey documented a growth of 268 pandas to a total population of 1,864 in the country since the last census was conducted in 2003 — more than a decade after the species was downgraded from rare to endangered status.

The report found that nearly 67 percent of wild giant pandas live in nature reserves, which also grew in number from 40 to 67, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which partially funded the census.

The giant panda has been the logo for the WWF since its inception in 1961 and has grown to become a worldwide symbol of the conservation movement.

Farms That Save Space for Flowers Give Bees a Boost

For over a decade, bee populations have been declining dramatically all over the world. There are likely a number of compounding causes, including pesticide use, viruses and global warming. But another major factor is a loss of habitat and a decline in wildflowers, particularly species preferred by bees.

Wilderness often loses ground to agricultural uses, but a new study from the University of Essex shows that farms can boost wild bee populations by saving room for flowers. The paper was published this week in the scientific journal “Molecular Ecology.”

In 2005, England introduced incentives to farmers to plant more bee-friendly flowers on their land. Similar incentives also exist in the E.U. These agri-environmental schemes have been shown to attract bees a provide them with a good source of food, but the new paper shows for the first time that they are also associated with increased populations.

“A consistent problem in assessing the response of bumblebees to agri-environment schemes has been that it is unclear whether a high observed abundance of bumblebees was merely an attraction of workers to sown forage patches or a genuine population level increase,” write the authors. So, they set out to determine the number of wild bee colonies on the different types of farms, which they say is a good measure of the overall population of bees.

Using this measure, the researchers compared nine farms that have areas planted with flowers for bees with nine farms that don’t have special pollinator-targeted planting over the course of two years. In addition to observing and counting the bees, the researchers collected non-lethal DNA samples to determine how many bee colonies visited the different types of farms.

The researchers found that the colony density of the four most common types of bees was significantly higher at farms with flower-rich patches. They also observed a greater number of individual bees. That’s good news for the crops and wild plants that rely on bees for pollination. It’s also good for the people that eat those crops and enjoy those wildflowers.

However, the researchers did not find that the farm intervention is significantly helping the rarer species of bees that may need support the most, like the large garden bumblebee (Bombus ruderatus). One possible explanation is that these species may have smaller foraging ranges, and the farms with flower patches may be too few and far between to benefit them. It’s possible the rarer bees may need more targeted planting if our goal is to prevent them from disappearing. Since the 1940s, two species of bumblebees have gone extinct in the UK.

Nonetheless, it’s encouraging to see that with the right policy incentives, farms can be a part of the solution to the global bee decline.

Margaret Badore|TreeHugger|March 24, 2015

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger

Bat maternity season starts April 15

Bat maternity season starts April 15 in Florida, so if you have groups of bats roosting in attic, eve or chimney spaces and you want them to roost elsewhere, now is the time to act. It is illegal to harm or kill bats in Florida, but they can be legally excluded from a building or structure by following recommended and effective practices that protect bats and people. Exclusions of bat colonies must be complete by April 15, when bats begin giving birth to their young.

Florida is home to 13 resident bat species, including threatened and rare species such as the Florida bonneted bat. Many of those species do not roost in man-made structures. For bats that do roost in structures such as houses and other buildings, guidelines have been developed to more effectively and safely exclude bats when it is not their maternity season in Florida.

“Maternity season begins when groups of bats gather to give birth and raise their young and lasts until the young bats are able to fly and feed themselves,” said Melissa Tucker, who works in species conservation planning for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). “In Florida, this season occurs from mid-April through mid-August for most bat species.”

Exclusion guidelines on how to remove bats from buildings can be found at MyFWC.com/Bats. Exclusions are illegal during the maternity season, from April 16 through August 14, to prevent young bats that cannot yet fly from being trapped inside structures and dying. Materials and methods used to exclude bats can affect the success of that process. For more information on how to conduct a bat exclusion, watch this YouTube video: How to Get Bats out of a Building. Further details on bat exclusions can be found at Bat Conservation International.

Bats are beneficial to people and are an important part of the ecosystem. The state’s native bats help keep insect populations under control, with the average bat eating hundreds of insects a night. In addition to the benefit of keeping mosquitoes and other night-flying insects at bay for residents enjoying the outdoors, the dollar value of insect suppression by bats to U.S. agriculture has been estimated to be in the billions.

There are ways that residents can help bats thrive in Florida:

  • Preserve natural roost sites, including trees with cavities and peeling bark. Dead fronds left on palms can also provide roosting spots for bats.
  • Put up a bat house.
  • Report unusual bat behavior to: MyFWC.com/BatMortality

For more information on Florida’s bats, go to MyFWC.com/Wildlife, click on “Species Profiles” and look under “Mammals.”

Contact your closest FWC Regional Office to speak with a regional Wildlife Assistance Biologist for more information.

Court Throws a Lifeline to Idaho’s Rare Caribou

There’s new hope for endangered mountain caribou in Idaho and Washington: In response to a coalition lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, a federal court on Monday ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to revisit a 2013 decision that reduced, by 90 percent, its designation of protected “critical habitat” for the caribou. A judge ruled the agency had not given the public sufficient opportunity to comment.

Mountain caribou have dinner-plate-sized hooves that work like snowshoes; these remarkable animals can subsist for months on nothing but arboreal lichens found on old-growth trees. Fewer than 20 of them have been found on the U.S. side of the border in recent years. So in response to a 2002 petition, the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2011 proposed to protect more than 375,000 acres — but in 2012 it sharply reversed course, dramatically slashing the area to only about 30,000 acres.

“We can recover mountain caribou in Idaho and Washington, but it can’t be done without protecting their habitat,” said Noah Greenwald, the Center’s Endangered Species director. “I’m encouraged the lower 48’s last caribou will get another chance at being awarded the amount of critical habitat that will truly foster their recovery.”

Get more from ABC News.

Suit Launched to Save Southern Salamanders

Two species of unique amphibians — reticulated and frosted flatwoods salamanders — were once found throughout extensive longleaf pine forests of the coastal plain in Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and Georgia, but are now reduced to a handful of small populations. So, along with Gulf Restoration Network, we filed a notice of intent this morning to sue the feds for failing to develop recovery plans for the rare and vanishing creatures.

Both species are moderately sized salamanders that are black to chocolate-black with light gray lines and specks that form a cross-banded pattern across their backs. They spend most of their lives underground, emerging in the early winter rains to breed.

Although these salamanders have been protected under the Endangered Species Act for more than 15 years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has never developed the legally required recovery plans needed to save them from extinction, which they’re being driven toward at breakneck speed largely due to habitat destruction and poor forest management.

Read our press release and check out our new page about these flatwoods salamanders

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

 Hundreds of European Bee Species Threatened With Extinction

Researchers say more than 60 percent of the continent’s bee species may be in decline owing to pesticides, industrial farming, and climate change.

Are we about to see a pollinator apocalypse in Europe?

That’s the buzz from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which has just released a report warning that at least 9.2 percent of Europe’s 1,965 wild bee species are threatened with extinction. Another 5.2 percent, the report found, are likely to be threatened in the future. But researchers warn that more than 60 percent of European bees could be in trouble.

The major factors putting these bees at risk include habitat loss, insecticides, fertilizer (which suppresses flowering plants in favor of grasses), and climate change.

Most of these problems stem from the rise of industrial agriculture in Europe. Ironically, bees are essential in agriculture and provide approximately $24 billion in pollination services in Europe every year and $167 billion worldwide.

“It is true that agriculture presents a key threat to many species, not just bees,” said Angelika Pullen, a spokesperson for the IUCN’s European Union office in Belgium. “This is often counterproductive as it harms essential ecosystem services, such as pollination, soil, and water quality.”

Simon Potts, coordinator for the IUCN’s Status and Trends of European Pollinators project, said in a statement that helping wild bee populations benefits wildlife, improves food production, and preserves the natural beauty that people have come to expect. “We must not forget that most of our wildflowers and crops are pollinated by a whole range of different bee species,” he said.

Even though the study found that around 200 European bee species face possible extinction, the IUCN said that may be the tip of the iceberg. The study was not able to assess the health of more than half of Europe’s bee species and classified them as “data deficient.”

That doesn’t mean they’re in the clear.

“It is likely that many of the data-deficient species are in fact threatened with extinction,” Pullen said. The IUCN calculated that if all of the data-deficient species are at risk, then the number of threatened bee species in Europe could be higher than 60 percent.

The high level of data-deficient bee species in Europe is not an aberration, as most bee species around the world are poorly studied.

“In the United States, we know even less about our native bee fauna than Europe does,” said Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Insect Conservation in Portland, Oregon. “We’ve got 4,000 species of native bees in North America, and we don’t really know much about most of them.”

The only species regularly studied in North America, he said, is the western honeybee, which is not native to the continent.

Many of the species the IUCN identified as at risk were probably rare to begin with and live in extremely small ranges. Southern Europe and the countries along the Mediterranean Sea have high levels of bee biodiversity, with some areas playing host to more than 100 species. Other areas, such as islands in the Mediterranean, have high levels of “range-restricted” bees, although each island only holds a few species.

The problem, however, is not restricted to these “rare endemics.” Many species with wider ranges are also disappearing.

“We’re also seeing declines in pollinator species that were once common,” Black said.

The report offers a range of recommendations for helping Europe’s bees and, in the process, the agricultural industry that depends on them. Proposals include targeting specific bee species for conservation, preserving key habitats, and establishing agricultural policies that would benefit bees, such as encouraging farmers to provide diverse crops of flowering plants that would serve as food for local bees. The report also calls for expanding the pool of academic and government experts who can study bees, especially the data-deficient species.

Even with the high level of data-deficient bee species, the IUCN and its partners in the EU say it’s time to move forward. “We certainly know enough to justify taking urgent action now,” said Pullen

John R. Platt|March 26, 2015

Everglades

From coastlines to the Everglades, researchers tackle sea level rise

Under the streets of Miami Beach, seeping up through the limestone, water creeps into storm drains and pours into the streets. It happens once a year when the sun and moon align in such a way that gravity pulls at Earth’s water. The phenomenon is known as King Tide. It is the highest of high tides, and every year, it puts Miami Beach at risk of major flooding.

FIU researchers were on-site during the latest King Tide event to collect and assess data. The efforts are part of a university-wide initiative to study, better understand and develop solutions for sea level rise. Plans are under way to create an institute dedicated to the interdisciplinary work being done at FIU, which includes collaboration among researchers from Arts & Sciences, Architecture and the Arts, Business, Law, Public Health and Social Work, Engineering, Hospitality and Tourism Management, as well as Journalism and Mass Communication.

South Florida ranks as the world’s most vulnerable urban region in terms of assets exposed to the effects of sea level rise. FIU’s research is dedicated to developing and implementing solutions for the major environmental and economic challenges created by the rising seas.

Beyond the Shoreline

When King Tide arrived in October of 2014, all eyes were on Miami Beach and a new pump system that helped to keep the water off the streets-this time. But the manner in which the water traditionally invades is a stark reminder that when it comes to sea level rise, there is more to be concerned about than just the shoreline. The hidden danger is largely the water within. In South Florida’s case, that means the Everglades.

“The greater South Florida ecosystem is predicated on the balance of freshwater and saltwater,” said Todd Crowl, researcher within the institute and director of FIU’s Southeast Environmental Research Center. “When that ecosystem hits its tipping point and an imbalance occurs, that’s when this whole
thing collapses.”

A natural region of subtropical wetlands, the Everglades is a complex system that features sawgrass marshes, cypress swamps, mangroves and marine environments. The Everglades is also the main source of freshwater for the Biscayne Aquifer, South Florida’s primary water supply. Beneath the river of grass, rising sea levels are pushing saltwater inward into the Everglades.

This intrusion is already affecting South Florida residents through a shrinking and tainted aquifer. Some communities, such as Hallandale Beach, can attest to the problem as underground wells have been closed due to saltwater, forcing communities to buy water from other sources.

“Few people might make the connection between sea level rise and the water pouring out of their faucets,” said Evelyn Gaiser, a wetland ecologist and interim executive director of the School of Environment, Arts and Society. “We simply don’t have freshwater moving in at the rate we need it, but Everglades restoration provides a solution for that.”

The River of Grass

In 2000, the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan was approved as part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Water Resources Development Act. The 30-year plan provides a framework to restore and protect the water resources of Central and South Florida.

Every two years, the National Research Council issues a report evaluating the progress of the plan. In the 2014 report, the authors raised concerns about slow progress, noting sea level rise is causing new concerns for the already troubled Everglades.

“Climate change and sea level rise are reasons to accelerate restoration to enhance the ecosystem’s ability to adapt to future changes,” authors of the report wrote.

Much of FIU’s work in the Everglades is based on research conducted within its Florida Coastal Everglades Long Term Ecological Research program, which studies how hydrology, climate and human activities interact with ecosystem and population dynamics in the Everglades. With 9 million residents in the greater South Florida region, long-term data will be the key to long-term solutions.

Certainty in Uncertain Times

One of the greatest uncertainties with sea level is just how high and how fast the seas will rise. Without that knowledge, it’s difficult to plan for how South Florida should adapt. Conservative projections suggest sea levels could rise by almost a foot by 2100, but some scientists believe that number will be closer to three feet.

Earth and Environment Professor René Price, along with a team of international researchers, recently completed a study, based on historical data that identifies the timings at which accelerations might first be recognized.

While she can’t say for sure today, Price knows a data-driven prediction about rate and height is near.

“Our results show that by 2020 to 2030, we could have some statistical certainty of what the sea level rise situation will look like in 2100,” Price said. “That means we’ll know what to expect and have 70 years to plan. In a subject that has so much uncertainty, this gives us the gift of long-term planning.”

Even with long-term predictions on the horizon, immediate action is still required as sea level rise is the reality today. Communication and collaboration among scientists, policy makers and community members are crucial in FIU’s efforts to not only study climate change but also to help define how South Florida responds to the rising seas.

Hydrologist Henry Briceño spends much of his time in the community sharing what he and his students are working on and engaging policy makers in the issues they uncover.

“It’s really not enough what we do in the lab and field. What we discover has to transcend the decision-makers,” Briceño said. “We have to take this crisis and turn it into an opportunity. South Florida has the opportunity to become a leader worldwide to tackle sea level rise. We have a way out. We can adapt. Humanity can deal with this and can prevail.”

Phys-Org|March 18, 2015

New organization opposes $500 million Everglades land purchase

A group of Florida residents formed a new organization to oppose a $500 million taxpayer-funded purchase of thousands of acres of farmland recommended by environmental activists and the Everglades Foundation.

“Everglades restoration and protection are high priorities for all Floridians,” says Miami resident Nicholas John Kakanis, one of the founders of Florida Citizens Against Waste. “Taxpayers, farmers, businesses and water managers have devoted more than two decades and $10 billion in a cooperative and massive effort to restore a precious resource, and that effort is working.”

The newly formed group is asking residents sign an online petition through its website, http://www.Stopthelandgrab.org, urging state legislators to reject the proposed land purchase.

Environmental groups, including the Everglades Foundation, are asking the state of Florida to exercise its option to purchase approximately 46,000 acres in the Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake Okeechobee. The purchase option is set to expire in October, providing a limited window of opportunity to purchase land at market prices.

This particular 46,000 acres, the Foundation says, could be useful for additional storage, treatment or as lands that the state could trade with other agricultural interests.

Florida Citizens Against Waste argues that taxpayers, farmers, and businesses already spent more than $10 billion to restore and protect the Everglades, with another $5.5 billion planned. The land purchase would divert resources away from the “real work” of restoration.

“Court mandated Everglades water quality tests today surpasses federal standards,” Kakanis adds, “Experts have a science-based plan to complete the restoration project. Governor Rick Scott recently provided $900 million to more finish the effort.”

Kakanis points to “environmental and political special interests” working to convince the legislature to divert $500 million to purchase land south of Lake Okeechobee. He calls it a “land grab” not part of the restoration plan, with no science behind it.

The move only adds to the government’s “already ample real estate portfolio,” he says. “This land would have little or no impact on Everglades Restoration.”

The group says the purchase would leave Florida taxpayers holding the bag for an unnecessary reservoir with potentially billions in future costs.

“Floridians deserve to know the truth about this land grab, and once they do know the truth,” Kakanis concludes. “We are confident they will let their legislators know that the state needs to spend our tax dollars finishing the real work of Everglades restoration — not buying more real estate.”

Phil Ammann|March 25, 2015

[What this group fails to recognize is the fact that the water coming from Lake Okeechobee is contaminated with agricultural runoff and must be stored and vegetatively cleansed prior to its being sent south. The land in question is needed for this purpose.]

Army Corps pour $500M into Hoover Dike Rehabilitation

    LAKE OKEECHOBEE, Fla.- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is getting close to the half-way mark in its efforts to rehabilitate the Herbert Hoover Dike, 143 miles of earthen levee around Lake Okeechobee.

The project will go on for several more years and probably will top the $1 billion mark when done.

Engineers and contractors are replacing 26 of 32 culverts in the dike, devices that allow water to flow out to nearby towns and farms.

Workers are replacing the old culverts will much larger and stronger ones.

The corps inventoried all dams in the country after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It found the Hoover Dike urgently needed some repairs to prevent a catastrophic breach of the dike.

WINK News was given exclusive access to some sites  near Moore Haven and Clewiston, where engineers are improving the dike’s ability to hold back water.

The dike was built in the 1930s, and updated in the 40s and 50s. The current project is supposed to ensure the dike’s ability to hold up for at least the next 80 years.

Mike Walcher|March 26, 2015

Water Quality Issues

1 in 3 Floridians get their drinking water from the Everglades 

We have an opportunity to protect our drinking water for future generations, but our elected leaders must act now. On May 1st, the legislative session will end.  If the legislature does not allow the use of voter approved funds to buy land to be used to store and clean drinking water south of Lake Okeechobee, we could lose our last chance to save Florida’s drinking water and the Everglades.

Watch this informative video to better understand why we can’t let the legislature fail to act by May 1st.

Last November, 75% of us voted to change the constitution and approve funds to buy land to protect the Everglades and our drinking water. Now the legislature needs to act before it’s too late. We can’t let this opportunity to save our drinking water pass us by.

Watch the video and contact your legislator today

Mary Barley|The Everglades Trust

Water and Math in the Caloosahatchee Watershed

One acre foot equals

  • 326,000 U.S. gallons

  • 43,560 cubic feet

  • 1233 cubic meters

  • 893 gallons per day for 365 days

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

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

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

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

courtesy of Friends of the Charlotte Harbor Preserve 

Why We Should Celebrate Wetlands on World Water Day

World Water Day, celebrated every March 22nd, encourages citizens around the world to celebrate water and calls for collective learning and action on water-related issues. With Canada being home to one fifth of the world’s freshwater, it is easy to forget that clean water is a precious resource.

Some say water is the lifeblood of this planet, and it’s true! The areas where land and water meet (wetlands, coasts, shorelines and stream banks, to name a few) are places that brim with biodiversity and rare species. The healthy state of these ecosystems is crucial for nature’s provision of services such as purification of air and proper nutrient cycling.

Healthy wetlands and watersheds play key roles in the quality of our water resources. They act like giant sponges that help absorb and replenish water to buffer flood and drought risks. They are also vital nesting, breeding and staging grounds for waterfowl and many other species and continue to be among the most diverse ecosystems of all!

But in spite of their important roles, our world’s wetlands are facing serious woes.

Troubling statistics estimates that 64 percent of world’s wetlands have disappeared since the 1900s (Ramsar Fact Sheet, 2015). Canada, home to a quarter of the world’s wetlands, is not immune to these trends. Southern Ontario for example has lost an estimated three-quarters of its wetlands through agricultural conversion.

Dan Kraus, Weston conservation scientist with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, says wetlands are under various kinds of human-induced environmental stresses. For example, “wetland losses have significant impacts on species, habitats and ecosystem functions, which is why there is a lot of interest in finding ways to mitigate and offset the negative impacts of infrastructure development on wetlands.”

The good news is that there is an increasing recognition that humans and nature’s needs are inextricably linked together.

“We are coming to better understand and appreciate that nature is a key part of the infrastructure for our cities and communities. Just as we need pipes and pumps as a part of our water system, we also need healthy wetlands, rivers and watersheds to ensure a future of clean and abundant fresh water,” says Kraus.

Hope for Canada’s wetlands

Conservation organizations like the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) have long been working to protect and restore these precious ecosystems for the benefit of wildlife and humans alike.

In honor of World Water Day, here is a sampling of internationally acclaimed wetlands that NCC has protected across Canada:

British Columbia – The Campbell River Estuary, once an industrial site, is now a thriving hub of wildlife. After years of restoration efforts from NCC staff and partners, the estuary epitomizes nature’s swift ability to recover when given the chance. The area is a paradise for paddlers and a boon for wildlife-watching enthusiasts year-round.

Alberta – Just 100 kilometres southwest of Edmonton, the Coyote Lake property is one of the richest biological areas of Alberta, supporting more than 22 mammal species, 154 bird species and 266 plants species.

Manitoba – The Oak Lake Sandhills and Wetlands Natural Area, in the southwest corner of the province, supports migrating and nesting waterfowl.

Saskatchewan – Quill Lakes, located north of Regina, is ideal for shorebird and waterfowl watching. An Important Bird Area and Heritage Marsh, the property is home to endangered species like piping plover.

Ontario – The Minesing Wetlands is one of the largest wetland complexes in southern Ontario. It is home to at-risk turtles, eastern prairie white-fringed orchid and many species of fish.

Quebec – The Malbaie Salt Marsh, where NCC owns 20 properties, features picturesque lagoons as far as the eye can see. Situated just 50 kilometres southeast of Gaspé, the area’s salt and freshwater composition is the perfect mix for a wide range of species.

Atlantic Canada – NCC has protected a number notable wetland properties in Atlantic Canada, including the Tabusintac Estuary in New Brunswick, St. Peter’s Lake Run in P.E.I., Pugwash River Estuary in Nova Scotia and Grand Codroy River Estuary in Newfoundland and Labrador. Each of these properties is an excellent destination for birders and a chance of spotting moose or otters.

There are many ways to “tap into” the water conservation conversation. If you’d like to get active and lend a helping hand to nature, conservation volunteering is a great way to make a difference for our water systems across the country.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada|March 21, 2015

[Florida alone has lost over 80,000 acres of wetlands since President Clinton signed an Executive Order in 1995 calling for “No Net Loss”of wetlands.]

Energy’s Thirst for Water ‏

Water. It covers 71% of our planet’s surface, which is really something special: the Earth is the only known planet with large, stable bodies of liquid water on its surface.
Water and energy are inseparably intertwined and today, on World Water Day, we acknowledge our obligation—and our need—to ensure they innovate and improve together.
As a society, we use a tremendous amount of water to generate electricity…

…and a tremendous amount of electricity to pump and purify our water. Demand for water is expected to grow 40% by 2030—and as climate change makes water more scarce in many regions, it’s absolutely critical that we use water with maximum efficiency.
Today, the next time you take a drink of water or turn on the lights, take a moment to appreciate it and make a commitment to yourself to protect it.

Emily Stevenson|Manager|Online Membership|Environmental Defense Fund|3/22/15

The Most Brazen Rip-Off Ever? How the Beverage Industry Brainwashed You to Fear Tap Water

 Tap water is superior to bottled water. Why don’t consumers know that?

The biggest con job perpetrated on the consumer is not some shady operation selling bogus cures through TV infomercials. America’s biggest snake-oil salesman is actually the beverage industry, or Big Bev, which resells the simplest and most vital product for thousands of times its value. That product is drinking water.

Multinationals like PepsiCo, the Coca-Cola Company and Nestle rake in a combined $110 billion a year selling bottled water worldwide. In the U.S. alone, more than half the population drinks bottled water, which accounts for about 30% of liquid refreshment sales, far exceeding the sales of milk and beer (only soft drinks sell more).

But the expensive water the beverage industry sells is no better — and possibly worse — than the water you get from your tap (and often, the water they sell is tap water). So how did these companies fool the public into paying a few bucks for something that costs a few pennies per gallon from a faucet?

Fear. These multinationals have spent millions on marketing to convince consumers that tap water tastes bad, contains high levels of contaminants and poses a danger to human health. Municipal water, they claim, is a scourge, and the only way you get drink healthy water is to buy it through private beverage companies, at up to 2,000 times the cost of getting it from a tap.

And it appears that their tactics are working. With some 92% of tap water meeting state and federal standards, the U.S. has the cleanest and safest public water supply in the world. Yet polls have shown that that a great majority of Americans worry a great deal about the public water supply.

To make matters worse, the supposedly healthy alternative is virtually unregulated. The water from a public utility is constantly monitored under Environmental Protection Agency standards, but bottled water does not have to meet those standards. In fact, independent testing of bottled water has indicated that microbiological impurities and high levels of fluoride and arsenic posed health concerns.

Misplaced Doubts

“Water fountains used to be everywhere, but they have slowly disappeared as public water is increasingly pushed out in favor of private control and profit,” writes Peter Gleick in his book Bottled & Sold. “[They] have become an anachronism, or even a liability, a symbol of the days when homes didn’t have taps and bottled water wasn’t available from every convenience store and corner concession stand. In our health-conscious society, we are afraid that public fountains, and our tap water in general, are sources of contamination and contagion.”

When towns and cities still didn’t have the means to provide all homes access to clean water, sanitary water fountains were a benefit to public health. The irony today is that public water is no longer viewed as a safe option, yet poorly regulated bottled water is.

Nine years ago, the high-end bottled-water brand Fiji began a marketing campaign in which it sniffed, “The label says Fiji because it’s not bottled in Cleveland.”

Clevelanders, angered they were being unfairly insulted because of some issues with their water decades back, took action. The city’s water utility even bought some bottles of Fiji and other top brands like Dasani, Evian and Aquafina and tested them against Cleveland tap water. And guess what? Cleveland’s tap water was the purest of them all. Moreover, Fiji had a 6.31 micrograms of arsenic per bottle. While under the amount of 10 micrograms allowed by the EPA and Food and Drug Administration, it was notably high in comparison.

But Cleveland only tested a few samples of bottled water. Consumers can’t be sure what they’re getting, as the contents can vary from bottle to bottle. That’s because bottled water, which is regulated by the FDA, doesn’t have to meet the stricter standards the EPA requires. Tap water needs to undergo regular testing for bacteria and microbes such as E. coli, while bottled water doesn’t. Further, the EPA requires water suppliers to use certified labs to test their water, but there’s no such FDA requirement for water bottlers. The bottlers also don’t need to send off reports to regulators about problems they might find with their product. There are no requirements for disinfection or filtration for bottlers that water utilities must meet. Consumers are left at the mercy of a corporation to protect them from their product.

What’s in a Name?

While Fiji water actually comes from the South Pacific Island that bears its name, close to half of the bottled water bought by consumers is nothing more than filtered tap water with fancy names, according to Food & Water Watch. Much of the bottled water Americans drink, including top brands like Aquafina and Dasani, is pretty much the same stuff you get from your own faucet, perhaps run through an additional filter by the bottler.

“These are the numbers the bottled water industry doesn’t want you to see,” says Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter. “These figures reveal that more and more bottled water is basically the same product that flows from consumer taps, subsidized by taxpayer dollars—then poured into an environmentally destructive package, and sold for thousands of times its actual value.”

The environmental concerns of bottled water are well documented. Made from fossil fuels, the plastic bottles are often not subject to state bottle-return programs and end up littering the landscape, even invading our waterways and oceans where they break down, leaching petrochemicals back into the water and severely impacting marine life. There are even some questions about the industrial chemicals the bottles are made out of mixing with the water contained inside. Bisphenol A is notably worrisome. It’s an endocrine disruptor that could lead to reproductive issues, is known to disrupt normal heart muscle function and has been linked to some cancers.

Why are the health issues of bottled water so widely ignored, while at the same time consumers are fed Big Bev’s horror stories about tap water? It’s clear the industry works hard creating a climate of fear regarding tap water in order to maximize its profits. And seeing how we consume bottled water in such great quantities, it’s obvious that the public has bought into this nonsense.

Tap water has a bad reputation, which is not well deserved, making it an easy target for the beverage industry. And while Big Bev has lobbyists, industry organizations and public relations companies to boost its profile, this is not really an option for our nation’s water utilities. There’s nobody to put a correct perspective on unfortunate events such as water main breaks and cryptosporidium and E. coli contamination on the rare occasion that they impact water quality in an area. In the U.S., our water utilities are very safe overall, but we only hear about them when something goes wrong. This has led to mistrust of the utilities and even conspiracy theories about public water.

Fluoridated water, in particular, is widely believed to be proof of some government malevolence. As far back as the Cold War era, anti-fluoride activists claimed that fluoridation was part of a mind-control scheme. Critics of fluoride point to a pile of other health consequences that have never been proven. To date, the only known negative consequence of proper water fluoridation is dental fluorosis, which can create pitting and mottling on children’s teeth, a condition which is mostly cosmetic.

There is a legitimate debate as to whether governments have the legal basis to add chemicals, such as fluoride, to drinking water that do not improve its safety. There’s also a point to be made that people can’t opt out of public fluoridated water. But unfortunately, any valid discussion of the topic is overshadowed by conspiracy theories that further fuel fears of tap water.

But while public water resources must reveal the contents of their water, including fluoridation, you have to do some digging to find out if your bottled water contains it; this information is not on any label. Unsuspecting consumers who thinking they’re avoiding fluoride by drinking bottled water could be getting a good dose of it anyway.

This lack of transparency helps Big Bev in its mission to convince the consumer that its product is superior, and that tap water is dirty and contaminated. Such omissions help the beverage industry create a perceived need for bottled water.

Now that it’s got people genuinely afraid of tap water, Big Bev is trying to take public water sources away from the public. After all, “the biggest enemy is tap water,” according to Robert S. Morrison, the vice chairperson of PepsiCo in 2000.

The industry is working on restaurants, convincing them to sell customers bottled water instead of giving them tap water as they’re seated. Even worse, whole sports stadiums, where beverage companies heavily market their products, are being built without any drinking fountains in order to force thirsty fans to buy bottled water and other beverages at inflated prices.

“When we’re done, tap water will be relegated to showers and washing dishes,” says one beverage executive.

Casey Coates Danson|Mar 20, 2015

36 Eye-Opening Facts About Water

In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly designated March 22 as the first World Water Day. And with good reason – without water, we’d be nothing. Just dust. Water is one of the most common substances on earth, and one of the most vital; it’s a tremendously valuable resource, yet one we squander and pollute prodigiously.

Water is deceptive. For while it pours freely from the heavens and seems to flow endlessly in rivers, it’s a finite resource; we only have what we have. And although there is about 332,500,000 cubic miles of it on earth – only one-hundredth of one percent of the world’s water is readily available for human use. We really need to learn how to show it some respect. Which is where World Water Day comes in.

Even though water deserves celebration every day, we’ll take this occasion to give a shout-out to this incredible compound that gives us life and sustains the planet around us. So with that in mind, consider the following facts – some wondrous, some disconcerting, all eye-opening:

1. The average human body is made of 50 to 65 percent water.

2. Newborn babies have even more, ringing in at 78 percent water.

3. A gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds.

4. A cubic foot of water weighs 62.4 pounds.

5. An inch of water covering one acre (27,154 gallons) weighs 113 tons.

6. Water covers 70.9 percent of the planet’s surface.

7. Ninety-seven percent of the water on Earth is salt water; the water found in the Earth’s lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, swamps, etcetera accounts for only 0.3 percent of the world’s fresh water. The rest is trapped in glaciers or is in the ground.

8. There is more water in the atmosphere than in all of our rivers combined.

9. If all of the water vapor in our planet’s atmosphere fell as water at once and spread out evenly, it would only cover the globe with about an inch of water.

10. More than one-quarter of all bottled water comes from a municipal water supply – the same place that tap water comes from.

11. Approximately 400 billion gallons of water are used in the United States per day; nearly half of that is used for thermoelectric power generation.

12. In a year, the average American residence uses over 100,000 gallons.

13. Since the average faucet releases 2 gallons of water per minute, you can save up to four gallons of water every morning by turning off the tap while you brush your teeth.

14. A running toilet can waste up to 200 gallons of water each day.

15. At one drip per second, a faucet can leak 3,000 gallons in a year.

16. A bath uses up to 70 gallons of water; a five-minute shower uses 10 to 25 gallons.

17. The first water pipes in the U.S. were made from hollowed logs.

18. Leaks in the New York City water supply system account for 36 million gallons of wasted water per day.

19. There are around one million miles of water pipeline and aqueducts in the U.S. and Canada, enough to circle the globe 40 times.

20. 748 million people in the world do not have access to an improved source of drinking water

21. And 2.5 billion people do not have use of an improved sanitation facility.

22. Some 1.8 billion people worldwide drink water that is contaminated with feces.

23. The World Health Organization recommends 2 gallons per person daily to meet the requirements of most people under most conditions; and around 5 gallons per person daily to cover basic hygiene and food hygiene needs.

24. On average, an American resident uses about 100 gallons of water per day.

25. On average, a European resident uses about 50 gallons of water per day.

26. On average, a resident of sub-Saharan Africa uses 2 to 5 gallons of water per day.

27. It takes .26 gallons of water to irrigate one calorie of food.

28. (Yet it takes 26 gallons for one calorie of food when water is used inefficiently.)

29. It takes 2.6 gallons of water to make a sheet of paper.

30. It takes 6.3 gallons of water to make 17 ounces of plastic.

31. It takes 924 gallons of water to produce 2.2 pounds of rice.

32. It takes 2,641 gallons of water to make a pair of jeans.

33. It takes 3,962 gallons of water to produce 2.2 pounds of beef.

34. It takes 39,090 gallons more water to manufacture a new car.

35. In developing nations women and girls are primarily responsible for collecting water; on average, 25 percent of their day is spent on this task.

36. Collectively, South African women and children walk a daily distance equivalent to 16 trips to the moon and back to fetch water.

Melissa Breyer|TreeHugger|March 22, 2015

Sources: UN World Water Day; EPA Water Sense; EPA Water.

This post originally found on TreeHugger

Millions of gallons of wastewater to be injected underground

A new deep injection well has been operating for about a week now in a process that injects the brine 1,700 feet below ground. It’s part of an agreement between the city and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. “It takes away any impact that we have on the bay, any anthropogenic effect that we might have on the bay is now ceased and the bay can return to a pristine setting” said Gerald Boyce, City of Sarasota Utilities GM.

Before the well was installed last Friday, 9 million gallons of water treatment residue and treated waste water was legally discharged into Hog Creek and Whitaker Bayou each day, which leads to the Sarasota Bay.

In the next few weeks the city will also pump the 6 million gallons of treated waste water, that was being disposed in the Whitaker Bayou, into the new well.

This new process is not without risk, “there are chances for the material you’re injecting below the aquifer to seep into the aquifer, which would be our drinking water, and for things to go wrong” said Justin Bloom, Executive Director of the environmental group Suncoast Water Keeper.
Both city officials and environmentalists say the well is designed to prevent that from happening, and will be continually tested for safety.

The well, which is located on the north side of the utilities campus on 12th street, is able to receive up to 18 million gallons of brine a day.

Rebecca Vargas|MySunCoast.com|March 19, 2015

City In Vermont Losing 600,000 Gallons Of Water A Day Due To Leak

RUTLAND, Vt. (AP) — The city of Rutland, Vermont, is losing more than 600,000 gallons of water a day because of a leak.

The Rutland Herald reports (http://bit.ly/1DYsVKU) that officials are trying to figure out the source of the leak. They say residents have experienced a drop in water pressure since Saturday.

Public Works Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg says the water isn’t running through the streets and doesn’t appear to be finding its way into the sewer. He says that means it may be going into a stream.

Wennberg says workers are inspecting valves, hydrants and vacant buildings. He planned to isolate and check the three transmission lines running from the water plant into the city of about 16,500 residents.

He says the leak isn’t an immediate threat to the city’s water supply.

AP|03/25/2015

Global water crisis causing failed harvests, hunger, war and terrorism

The world is already experiencing water scarcity driven by over-use, poor land management and climate change, writes Nafeez Ahmed. It’s one of the causes of wars and terrorism in the Middle East and beyond, and if we fail to respond to the warnings before us, major food and power shortages will soon afflict large parts of the globe fuelling hunger, insecurity and conflict.

Countries like Iraq, Syria and Yemen, where US counter-terrorism operations are in full swing, are right now facing accelerating instability from terrorism due to the destabilizing impacts of unprecedented water shortages.

The world is already in the throes of an epidemic of local and regional water shortages, and unless this trend is reversed, it will lead to more forced migrations, civil unrest and outbreaks of conflict

Behind the escalating violence in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, as well as the epidemic of civil unrest across the wider region, is a growing shortage of water.

New peer-reviewed research published by the American Water Works Association (AWWA) shows that water scarcity linked to climate change is now a global problem playing a direct role in aggravating major conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa.

Numerous cities in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia are facing “short and declining water supplies per capita”, which is impacting “worldwide” on food production, urban shortages, and even power generation.

In this month’s issue of the Journal of the AWWA, US water management expert Roger Patrick assesses the state of the scientific literature on water scarcity in all the world’s main regions, finding that local water shortages are now having “more globalized impacts”.

US still playing catch up with the dry facts

He highlights the examples of “political instability in the Middle East and the potential for the same in other countries” as illustrating the increasing “global interconnectedness” of water scarcity at local and regional levels.

In 2012, a US intelligence report based on a classified National Intelligence Estimate on water security, commissioned by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, concluded that after 2022, droughts, floods and freshwater depletion would increase the likelihood of water being used as a weapon or war, or a tool of terrorism.

The new study published in the Journal of the AWWA, however, shows that the US intelligence community is still playing catch-up with facts on the ground.

Countries like Iraq, Syria and Yemen, where US counter-terrorism operations are in full swing, are right now facing accelerating instability from terrorism due to the destabilizing impacts of unprecedented water shortages.

The AWWA is an international scientific association founded to improve water quality and supply, whose 50,000 strong membership includes water utilities, scientists, regulators, public health experts, among others. AWWA operates a partnership with the US government’s Environment Protection Agency (EPA) for safe water, and has played a key role in developing industry standards.

Study author Robert Patrick, formerly of Price Waterhouse Cooper, is a government consultant and water management specialist who has worked on water scarcity issues in Jordan, Lebanon, New Mexico, California and Australia.

Thirsty people, failing states

The UN defines a region as water stressed if the amount of renewable fresh water available per person per year is below 1,700 cubic metres. Below 1,000, the region is defined as experiencing water scarcity, and below 500 amounts to “absolute water scarcity”.

According to the AWWA study, countries already experiencing water stress or far worse include Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Israel, Syria, Yemen, India, China, and parts of the United States. Many, though not all, of these countries are experiencing protracted conflicts or civil unrest.

Patrick’s Journal of AWWA paper explains that the grain price spikes that contributed to Egypt’s 2011 uprising, were primarily caused by “droughts in major grain-exporting countries” like Australia, triggered by climate change.

He points out that such civil unrest could signal an Egyptian future of continuing unrest and conflict. He highlights the risk of war between Egypt and Ethiopia due to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, threatening to restrict Egypt’s access to the Nile River, which supplies 98% of Egypt’s water supply.

As Egypt’s population is forecast to double to 150 million by 2050, this could lead to “tremendous tension” between Ethiopia and Egypt over access to the Nile, especially since Ethiopia’s dam would reduce the capacity of Egypt’s hydroelectric plant at Aswan by 40%.

Water wars and the ‘war on terror’

The nexus of countries in the Middle East and North Africa where the United States is currently leading a multi-year military engagement against the ‘Islamic State’ (IS) all happen to be drought-stricken.

Before Syria erupted into ongoing civil war, Patrick reports, 60% of the country went through a devastating drought that led over a million mostly Sunni farmers to migrate to coastal cities dominated by the ruling Alawite sect, fuelling sectarian tensions that culminated in unrest and a cycle of violence.

A new paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has provided the most compelling research to date on how climate change amplified Syria’s drought conditions, which in turn had a “catalytic effect” on civil unrest.

But Patrick’s concern is that the Syria crisis could be a taste of things to come. Citing the findings of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) sponsored by NASA and the German Aerospace Centre, he notes that between 2003 and 2009, the Tigris-Euphrates basin comprising Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and western Iran “lost groundwater faster than any other place in the world except northern India.”

A total of 117 million acre-feet of stored freshwater was lost due to reduced rainfall and bad water management. If this trend continues, “trouble may be brewing” for the region.

Read more

Nafeez Ahmed|27th March 2015

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

EPA Awards Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Grants to Reduce Runoff that Contributes to Algal Blooms

CHICAGO (March 26, 2015)  — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced the award of 14 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grants totaling over $17 million to fund projects that will improve Great Lakes water quality by preventing phosphorus runoff and soil erosion that contribute to algal blooms and by reducing suspended sediments in Great Lakes tributaries. 

“These Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grants will be used for critical projects to prevent soil erosion and reduce phosphorus runoff that contributes to algae growth in the Great Lakes,” said Great Lakes National Program Manager Susan Hedman. “Many of these grants target Great Lakes watersheds where there have been harmful algal blooms in recent years – such as Maumee Bay on Lake Erie, Saginaw Bay on Lake Huron and Green Bay on Lake Michigan.”

The projects funded by the GLRI grants announced today will be implemented by conservation organizations and by state and local governments:

  • Fox-Wolf Watershed Alliance Inc. ($4,196,221) will use conservation practices – such as stream buffering and cover crops – in key sections of the Lower Fox River watershed to reduce nutrient runoff and soil erosion that impacts Green Bay and Lake Michigan.
  • Ohio Environmental Protection Agency ($3,696,182) will retire 270 acres of cropland, restore six miles of streams, stabilize 1,000 feet of eroding stream banks and restore 70 acres of wetlands at eight locations in the Maumee River watershed to prevent phosphorus from entering Lake Erie.
  • The Nature Conservancy ($2,558,853) will administer a program to reimburse farmers for implementing conservation practices (tillage, cover crops and drainage water management) on 10,000 acres of cropland in the Saginaw Bay watershed. The project will reduce nutrient runoff and soil erosion that impacts Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron.
  • Green Bay Metropolitan Sewerage District Council ($1,686,669) will work with partners to implement conservation practices on over 70 percent of cropland in the Duck Creek watershed to reduce nutrient runoff and soil erosion that impacts Green Bay and Lake Michigan.
  • Western Reserve Land Conservancy ($750,000) will purchase 1,000 acres of easements in northern Ohio’s Grand River watershed — protecting five miles of streams and 400 acres of wetland — to reduce nutrient runoff and soil erosion that impacts Lake Erie.
  • Delta Institute ($750,000) will lead a coalition of community organizations to prevent nutrient runoff and soil erosion in the Bear Creek/Bear Lake watershed to reduce impacts on the Muskegon Lake Area of Concern and Lake Michigan. The coalition will promote the use of best practices to reduce nutrient runoff and soil erosion from farms and urban areas. 
  • The Stewardship Network ($745,000) will work with partners to provide farmers in the River Raisin watershed with technical assistance on best practices to prevent nutrient runoff and soil erosion into the river and Lake Erie.
  • Grand Traverse Bay Watershed Initiative ($729,840) will work with two major landowners to restore eroding stream banks and install green infrastructure at Kids Creek– reducing stormwater runoff and soil erosion that impacts Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan.
  • Ohio Environmental Protection Agency ($689,060) will expand agricultural conservation practices to 8,000 acres of cropland in five northern Ohio watersheds that flow into the Sandusky River. The project will reduce nutrient runoff and soil erosion into Lake Erie.
  • Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee ($580,000) will excavate, re-grade and stabilize 900 feet of stream banks along the Menomonee River, which flows through Milwaukee and discharges directly into Lake Michigan. The stream banks are composed largely of building debris which contains contaminants such as asbestos and lead. The project will reduce the discharge of contaminants and sediment into the river and Lake Michigan.
  • Muskegon River Watershed Assembly ($356,970) will work with partners to establish cover crops on 2,000 acres of agricultural land. In addition, buffers will be established on 24 acres of stream banks, and 500 feet of stream banks will be stabilized at community parks.  The project will reduce nutrient runoff and soil erosion into Tamarack Creek, the Muskegon River and Lake Michigan.
  • Superior Watershed Partnership ($330,403) will restore about 1,500 feet of eroding stream banks at a rural river (Salmon-Trout River) and an urban river (Dead River) in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The project will reduce stormwater runoff, improving water quality in both rivers and in the near-shore waters of Lake Superior.
  • Outdoor Discovery Center ($250,000) will restore over 40 acres of wetlands and floodplain to increase floodwater storage capacity along the Macatawa River which will reduce soil erosion and the quantities of nutrients and streambed sediment entering Lake Michigan.
  • Chagrin River Watershed Partners Inc. ($178,479) will partner with the City of Wickliffe, Ohio, and Cleveland Metroparks on a project to restore 640 feet of streams and wetlands in the Deer Creek/Gully Brook watershed. The project will reduce soil erosion and the quantity of nutrients and streambed sediment entering the Chagrin River and Lake Erie.

This year, EPA has awarded GLRI grants totaling over $25 million to fund 29 projects to protect and restore the Great Lakes. Earlier this month, EPA announced 15 GLRI grants totaling over $8.1 million to fund projects to combat invasive species.   

Since 2010, EPA has funded more than 700 Great Lakes restoration and protection projects totaling over $570 million.  For more information about the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, visit www.glri.us.

Contact Information: Peter Cassell, 312-886-6234, cassell.peter@epa.gov

15-OPA128

Offshore & Ocean

Dredged sand not landing on beaches

In letter to Corps, mayor expresses frustration, says ‘mutual commitment was ignored.’

Town officials are disappointed that sand from inlet maintenance dredging is being placed several feet into the ocean rather than on the beach.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began dredging the Lake Worth Inlet on March 1 as part of an annual project to maintain the navigability of the Port of Palm Beach. By the end of the month, the Corps expects to dredge about 80,000 cubic yards of sand.

Mayor Gail Coniglio wrote a letter to Corps District Commander Col. Alan Dodd last week expressing her frustration with the sand placement and with lack of communication between the Corps and the town .

“I am disheartened that our mutual commitment was ignored,” she wrote. “Sand is being placed in 17 to 25 feet of water, which is counterproductive to the success of our long-term goals. As we move forward together, I want to ensure that our partnership will get back on track and that the Corps keeps its commitment to the town.”

The town dismissed a civil lawsuit against the Corps in May 2013 after Dodd announced at a Town Council meeting that dredged sand would be placed on the dry beach at no cost to the town.

Coniglio recently rode on the dredge with Corps officials to observe the operation and sand placement.

“This certainly isn’t what the outcome of our lawsuit was meant to be,” Coniglio told the Town Council last week. “It is very unfortunate. It is of concern.”

Corps spokeswoman Susan Jackson has said it’s cheaper and easier to place sand in the nearshore rather than the beach, especially because the Corps hired a small hopper dredge for the project.

What’s next?

Coniglio said she’s been in contact with Corps officials, Congresswoman Lois Frankel, port officials and the town’s federal lobbyists with Greenberg Traurig to discuss the matter. Her goal is to have everyone in agreement for next year’s maintenance dredge.

The Corps’ permit with the state Department of Environmental Protection does not require placing sand on the dry beach, Public Works Director Paul Brazil said. But town officials hope to change that.

“The state and the DEP need to get involved in our long-term plan,” Coniglio said. “I have had conversations with the DEP staff but we need to have a visit to Tallahassee. I’m prepared to meet with the director of DEP and his staff to begin the process to ensure that permit requirement.”

The 2016 maintenance dredge should produce much more sand, possibly 200,000 cubic yards, Brazil said Corps officials have told him.

“Although I am disappointed to see the ongoing project again placing the sand out in the nearshore,” Coniglio wrote in her letter, “I am encouraged to hear that next year’s project is being planned for dry beach placement.”

Aleese Kopf|Daily News Staff Writer|3/20/15

Town watching, waiting as scaled-back port project moves forward

    The Port of Palm Beach Commission is staying the course with an inlet expansion project it downsized because of opposition from town officials and others.

“The board didn’t specify any specific direction so we are going to continue to work with the (community) stakeholders and the Army Corps of Engineers,” Manuel “Manny” Almira, the port’s executive director, said Friday. “It’s the status quo, basically.”

Last June, the Corps withdrew its permit application with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for an $88.6 million deepening and widening project because DEP officials believed that the application didn’t fully address questions about potential impact on the environment. The Corps has federal approval for the project, however, and will be submitting a new application.

In January, after hearing opposition from Palm Beach and other communities that border the inlet, the port asked the Corps to scale back the project, in part by keeping the inlet’s depth at 33 feet instead of the proposed 39 feet and scrapping a plan to expand the width of the inner channel from 300 feet to 450 feet.

Town officials, civic groups and others had raised concerns about the project’s potential impact on the marine environment, recreational boaters and storm surge.

After hearing community concerns, Col. Alan Dodd, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Jacksonville District, said in 2014 that the deepening and widening of the port as originally proposed would cause water in the vicinity of the inlet to rise at most 4 inches during a once-in-a-century hurricane. Mayor Gail Coniglio has said that increase in storm surge is a concern as some streets in town are prone to flooding.

On Friday, Almira said the port wants to preserve a Corps proposal to widen the entrance of the inlet by 50 feet, on the north side.

The port also wants the inlet deepened in the area behind the Grand Celebration cruise ship so that it has more room to clear sandbars near Peanut Island when the ship exits port, he said. Boat captains also want the southeast corner of the inlet widened, he said. “The pilots are extremely concerned about coming close to that area with the stern of any ship on entrance and equally important on departure,” Almira said.

Almira said the port, by modifying its plan, is showing cooperation with Palm Beach and other communities near the inlet. Parts of the inlet, however, need to be widened and/or deepened for safety’s sake, he said.

“We’ve illustrated to you that we can be flexible and we are willing to work not only with the town of Palm Beach but also neighboring communities,”Almira said. “But at the end of the day, the port has to look out for what’s best for the port and in this case, safety is a major concern.”

Palm Beacher Bradford Gary attended Thursday’s port commission meeting. In an email sent to Coniglio Friday, Gary urged the town to not oppose safety dredging designed to help boats avoid sandbars that hamper boat traffic south of Peanut Island and southwest of Singer Island.

“Not only are these areas characterized as ‘hazardous’ by the port pilots but smaller recreational vessels are at risk of grounding,” Gary wrote.

Coniglio attended the meeting and has been monitoring the Corps’ dredging proposal since the Corps gave the plan final approval in April 2014.

“This is a long process and we continue to monitor all of the aspects of the project to determine whether or not they have unintended consequences and detrimental impacts not only to the lagoon neighborhood (Riviera Beach, Palm Beach Shores and West Palm Beach) but also to Palm Beach,” Coniglio said Friday.

Coniglio said Palm Beach and the broader community want more information on the methodology the Corps is using to determine what work should be done, as well as more data on what would be done to minimize any impact the inlet’s expansion would have on the environment and the communities near it.

In response to Gary’s email, the mayor said she could not comment on individual aspects of the project. The port has not clearly defined each zone, Coniglio said.

Another question yet unanswered is whether Congress will provide money for the project.

“It’s a very nebulous situation right now,” Coniglio said.

David Rogers|Daily News Staff Writer|3/20/15

Florida coral restoration may take $250 million, and 400 years

Climate change threatens Florida coral, but the government has a plan

$250 million — an underestimate — is the price tag for saving two coral species

Here’s the estimated price for restoring two declining coral species found in South Florida and the Caribbean: about $250 million.

How long will it take? 400 years or so (assuming all goes smoothly).

No one expected it would be easy to restore elkhorn and staghorn corals, the once-abundant, reef-building species that since the 1970s have vanished from almost all of their old range. A recovery plan released this month by the National Marine Fisheries Service says the biggest current threat is climate change, a problem beyond its power to solve.

Assuming the oceans continue to warm, the plan recommends about two dozen steps to help these species survive. Among them: growing the corals in nurseries for transplantation to the ocean floor, tightening fishing regulations, identifying resilient genetic strains, and reducing the amount of fertilizer and other pollutants washing into the ocean.

“While the climate threats are the most significant, reducing the local threats will provide a buffer for the species to be able to deal with the climate threats,” said Jennifer Moore, a fisheries service biologist.

Often compared to tropical rainforests, coral reefs support a vast range of marine life, from sea anemones and sponges to angelfish and lemon sharks. They are among South Florida’s major tourist attractions, drawing visitors for fishing, diving and snorkeling, accounting for about $483 million in national recreation spending.

Elkhorn and staghorn corals, which can be found in the reefs that stretch from the Florida Keys through Palm Beach County on the state’s southeast coast, have been declining for at least 40 years from a variety of causes.

An outbreak of white-band disease wiped out about 80% of them in the early 1980s, Moore said. Rising ocean temperatures have made them more vulnerable to bleaching, in which they expel the colorful algae on which they depend for energy.

“Climate change is beginning to creep up in terms of causes,” Moore said. “The indications are that bleaching events will become more frequent and more severe due to climate change.”

The plan puts a price tag of $254,540,000 for recovery but admits it is “an extreme underestimate,” considering what other countries in the Caribbean also would have to spend.

Among the costs: basic research on their genetics, physiology and resistance to disease ($9.6 million), increasing land-based nurseries ($10 million per year), restocking sea urchins that clear algae from corals ($5 million) and improving sewage treatment in the U.S. and Caribbean ($10 million-$20 million).

No one expects this amount of money to be spent. The federal government this year has budgeted $500,000 to $800,000 for protecting coral, but Moore said not all the money would come from the federal government.

Coral grows extremely slowly, and some of the living coral reef structures off southeast Florida are hundreds of years old.

“The recovery team estimated that it will take approximately 400 years to achieve recovery based on the significant mitigative actions identified in this plan,” the plan states.

The next step for the fisheries service will be to set up implementation teams of governmental and environmental representatives, outside scientists and others with knowledge of the reefs. These teams, expected to be in place by September, should also be a means of leveraging money from other agencies, state and local governments and nonprofits, Moore said.

Meanwhile, the federal government is working on regulations to protect 20 other coral species found in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

David Fleshler|Sun Sentinel

Watch Ocean Acidification Explained

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say

The Gulf Stream that helps to keep Britain from freezing over in winter is slowing down faster now than at any time in the past millennium according to a study suggesting that major changes are taking place to the ocean currents of the North Atlantic.

Scientists believe that the huge volumes of freshwater flowing into the North Atlantic from the rapidly melting ice cap of Greenland have slowed down the ocean “engine” that drives the Gulf Stream from the Caribbean towards north-west Europe, bringing heat equivalent to the output of a million power stations.

However, the researchers believe that Britain is still likely to become warmer due to climate change providing the Gulf Stream does not come to a complete halt – although they remain unsure how likely this is.

Calculations suggest that over the 20th century the North Atlantic meridional overturning circulation – the northward flow of warm surface water and the southward flow of deep, cold water – has slowed by between 15 and 20 per cent, said Professor Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

“There is more than a 99 per cent probability that this slowdown is unique over the period we looked at since 900 AD. We conclude that the slowdown many have described is in fact already underway and it is outside of any natural variation,” Professor Rahmstorf said.

The scientists calculated that some 8,000 cubic kilometres of freshwater has flowed from Greenland into the Atlantic between 1900 and 1970, and this rose significantly to 13,000 cubic kilometres between 1970 and 2000.

Freshwater is lighter than salty water which means that it tends to float on the surface of the ocean and in doing so disturbs the normal sinking of dense, cold saltwater to the ocean floor, which is the main driver of the Atlantic circulation.

In a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, Professor Rahmstorf and colleagues point out that maps of global surface temperatures have consistently indicated an overall warming trend around the world, except for the region of the North Atlantic south of Greenland. 

“It is conspicuous that one specific area of the North Atlantic has been cooling in the past hundred years while the rest of the world heats up,” said Professor Rahmstorf, who added that previous research had indicated that a slowdown in ocean currents may be the explanation.

“Now we have detected strong evidence that the global conveyor has indeed been weakening in the past hundred years, particularly since 1970,” he said.

The study used proxy measurements of the Atlantic currents, using ice cores, tree rings, coral growth and ocean and lake sediments, to estimate regional temperature variations and so assess how the Gulf Stream has changed over the past 1,000 years.

Jason Box of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, who helped to calculate the amount of freshwater flowing into the Atlantic from melting ice caps, said that the slowdown can be linked to man-made climate change.

“Now freshwater coming off the Greenland ice sheet is likely disturbing the circulation. So the human-caused mass loss of the Greenland ice sheet appears to be slowing down the Atlantic overturning, and this effect might increase if temperatures are allowed to rise further,” Dr Box said.

Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University said: “Common climate models are underestimating the change we’re facing, wither because the Atlantic overturning is too stable in the models or because they don’t properly account for Greenland ice melt, or both.”

Steve Connor|Science Editor|The Independent|23 March 2015

Port Everglades reports out for public, agency review

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District announces the release of the Port Everglades Feasibility Study and Final Environmental Impact Statement for public, state and agency review and comments.  The study and report will be available for review and comment during a 30-day period that starts Friday, Mar. 20.

“The release of this report is a significant milestone for Port Everglades and reflects the efforts of many people to successfully address complex issues and produce this quality report,” said the Jacksonville District Commander, Col. Alan Dodd.

The recommended plan, which was unanimously approved by the Corps’ Civil Works Review Board Feb. 27, includes deepening and widening the harbor. The configuration of the current Federal project dates back to the 1980s, making it difficult to accommodate today’s larger container and tanker vessels. The recommended plan accommodates existing and future vessel movements, resolves navigation restriction problems, and presents opportunities for national economic development.  Since release of the draft feasibility study in June 2013, the Corps has continued consultation with state and federal agencies regarding the new endangered species coral listings, and refining the environmental mitigation and monitoring plans.

The Port Everglades Feasibility Study and Environmental Impact Statement is available starting Mar. 20 at http://1.usa.gov/1AFFapp.  The Corps will accept comments through Apr. 20, 2015.  There are two ways to submit comments, via email to Terri.Jordan-Sellers@usace.army.mil or mailed to:

Ms. Terri Jordan-Sellers

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

P.O. Box 4970

Jacksonville, FL 32232-0019

The Corps will incorporate comments and responses as appropriate into the final report, which will be followed by completion of the Chief of Engineers Report in May 2015. The signed Chief’s Report will then be submitted to the administration for review.

Wildlife and Habitat

Bear hunt expected to take place in October

Florida hunters could start taking aim at bears in Rock Springs Run and Seminole State Forest in October under a state wildlife plan.

The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission’s bear-management program has proposed a seven-day bear hunting season, the state’s first in more than two decades, despite protests from members of Audubon Florida, the Humane Society of the United States, and other conservation groups.

Florida hunters would pay $100 for a bear permit and out-of-state hunters would have to pay $300 for the privilege of killing a bear.

The plan must be approved by a majority vote of FWC’s seven, governor-appointed commissioners, only one of whom raised an objection to a possible hunt during the panel’s most recent meeting in February when they listened to five hours of testimony for and against resuming a bear hunt.

A seven-day hunt, as outlined on the agency’s website, would begin Saturday, Oct. 24, and run through Friday, Oct. 30.

The proposed rules forbid the use of bait or dogs to hunt Florida’s largest native land mammal. But hunters could use the same weapons now allowed in deer hunts, including crossbows, handguns, rifles and shotguns. They could not take a bear with cubs or a bear that is less than 100 pounds.

Hunters could stalk bears on approved public lands, including Rock Springs Run, the Seminole State Forest and the Ocala National Forest.

Conservation groups say the wildlife agency should focus more of its energy on persuading people to use lock-top garbage cans in neighborhoods close to bear habitat and less effort organizing what they call a “trophy hunt.”

They also contend FWC should wait until it has updated a 2002 bear-population study, which estimated 3,000 bears were roaming the state. The wildlife agency launched a new study last spring, but does not expect to finish it until 2016.

“It’s disappointing to us that they seem to be moving so quickly on a trophy hunt,” said Kate MacFall, state director of the Humane Society of the United States. “What’s the rush?”

Bears are blamed in four separate attacks on people since December 2013, including three women in Seminole County where two were mauled while walking their dogs. Residents of Heathrow and other gated neighborhoods have reported attacks on pets and property damage blamed on bears.

The state has insisted the hunt is not a solution for human-bear conflicts in residential neighborhoods, where hunting will not be permitted.

It’s not clear yet how many bears FWC will allow hunters to take.

While the state will not place a limit on the number of bear permits it will sell, it will limit the number of bear kills by ending the season early if necessary, said Diane Eggeman, FWC’s director of hunting. She said the state wants to approach the first bear hunt conservatively, allowing hunts only in regions of the state where the bear population was estimated to have at least 200 bears in 2002.

“Every indication is that those subpopulations have increased dramatically over that time,” Eggeman said.

Statewide, according to the FWC’s latest estimate, Florida will allow “in the ballpark” of 275 bear kills, she said.

The state also plans to limit the number of kills per region using a formula that takes into account bears killed in collisions with cars and trucks.

Under that formula, hunters would be able to kill about 60 bears in Central Florida.

From 1981 until 1994, when Florida outlawed bear hunting, hunters killed an average of 46 bears a year.

In New Jersey, which re-established a bear hunt five years ago and has a bear population similar to Florida’s, hunters have killed 1,886 bears since 2010, including 592 the first year.

Stephen Hudak|Orlando Sentinel

Which Wildlife Issues Top Your List?

Earlier this month, to celebrate National Wildlife Federation Membership Month, we asked supporters to vote for their top three wildlife issues.

Thousands responded, and we’re so grateful to be working side-by-side with such caring conservationists. Behind every great wildlife victory – from defending species from extinction to restoring waterways to protecting pristine habitat – is a caring supporter.

Here are the results of the 2015 Membership Month Survey.

63%: Permanently protecting amazing wildlife habitat areas and wild lands especially in the 600 million acres of public lands in this country

52%: Stopping the destruction of crucial wildlife habitat from mining, agriculture and development

36%: Keeping our waters safe and healthy for wildlife like great blue heron, dolphin and orcas

33%: Helping endangered species like the red wolf, Hawaiian monk seal and manatee recover from the brink of extinction

32%: Combating runaway carbon pollution and other emissions that fuel climate change and harm wildlife

20%: Saving native grassland habitat and the milkweed that grows there for pollinators like monarch butterflies

19%: Restoring coastal water habitat for fragile wildlife like sea turtles, songbirds and horseshoe crabs

19%: Creating safe habitat havens so neighborhood wildlife from backyard birds to native bees can thrive in and around our cities and suburbs

15%: Restoring magnificent species like the American bison and bighorn sheep back to their native habitat

12%: Ensuring every child in our country has the opportunity to get outside and experience all of America’s wild places

Collin O’Mara|Wildlife Promise|3/27/2015

Twelve Native Milkweeds for Monarchs

The monarch butterfly population in North America has plummeted by over 90% in just the last 20 years. Destruction of America’s grasslands ecosystems, commercial agricultural practices and even conventional gardening have all contributed to the precipitous decline of this iconic species. National Wildlife Federation has launched a comprehensive campaign to help save the monarch, and there are many ways you can get involved.

One of the biggest factors in monarch decline is the increasing scarcity of its only caterpillar host plant: milkweed. Without milkweed, monarchs can’t successfully reproduce and the species declines. By planting milkweed in your own garden, landscape and throughout your community, you can help reverse the fortune of these beautiful insects.

Meet twelve of the most ornamental milkweeds native to different parts of the country. Make it a goal to include a few plants of at least one native milkweed type to help the monarchs.

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Native Range: AL , AR , CT , DC , DE , GA , IA , IL , IN , KS , KY , LA , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MO , MS , MT , NC , ND , NE , NH , NJ , NY , OH , OK , OR , PA , RI , SC , SD , TN , TX , VA , VT , WI , WV

Description: This tall perennial has large balls of pink or purplish flowers that have an attractive odor. The flowers bloom from June to August.

Growing Conditions: Shade intolerant, needs lots of sunlight, moist soil

Plant Size:  Usually 3-5 feet (90-150 cm), sometimes reaching 8 feet (240 cm) in ditches and gardens

Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa​)

Native Range: AL , AR , AZ , CA , CO , CT , DC , DE , FL , GA , IA , IL , IN , KS , KY , LA , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MO , MS , NC , NE , NH , NJ , NM , NY , OH , OK , PA , RI , SC , SD , TN , TX , UT , VA , VT , WI , WV

Description:  Sometimes called Orange Milkweed, this perennial has large, flat-topped clusters of yellow-orange or bright-orange flowers and blooms May to September.

Growing Conditions: Needs sunlight, drought tolerant, dry or moist soil

Plant Size:  1-2 ft (30-60 cm)

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata​) 

Native Range: AL , AR , CO , CT , DC , DE , FL , GA , IA , ID , IL , IN , KS , KY , LA , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MO , MT , NC , ND , NE , NH , NJ , NM , NV , NY , OH , OK , PA , RI , SC , SD , TN , TX , UT , VA , VT , WI , WV , WY

Description: Also known as Pink Milkweed, this perennial has large blossoms composed of small, rose-purple flowers. The deep pink flowers are clustered at the top of a tall, branching stem and bloom June to October.

Growing Conditions: Needs lots of water, shade tolerant, moist to wet soil

Plant Size: 2-5 ft (60-152 cm)

Antelope-horns Milkweed (Asclepias asperula)

Native Range: AZ , CA , CO , ID , KS , NE , NM , NV , OK , TX , UT

Description: Also known as Spider Milkweed, this perennial is clump-forming with stems that are densely covered with minute hairs. As the green seed pods grow, they curve to resemble antelope horns. It has pale, greenish-yellow flowers, tinged maroon that bloom March to October.

Growing Conditions: Needs sunlight, dry or moist soil, medium water use

Plant Size: 1-2 ft (30-60 cm) tall

Purple Milkweed (Asclepias​ purpurascens) 

Native Range: AR , CT , DC , DE , GA , IA , IL , IN , KS , KY , LA , MA , MD , MI , MN , MO , MS , NC , NE , NH , NJ , NY , OH , OK , PA , RI , SD , TN , TX , VA , WI , WV

Description: The milky juice from this perennial is known to remove warts. The flowers are deep magenta red and bloom May to July.

Growing Conditions: Needs sunlight and dry soil

Plant Size: 2-4 ft (61 to 122 cm)

Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa​) 

Native Range: AZ , CA , CO , IA , ID , IL , KS , MI , MN , MT , ND , NE , NM , NV , OK , OR , SD , TX , UT , WA , WI , WY

Description: This perennial has large, oval, blue-green leaves and spherical clusters of rose-colored flowers. The flowers occur at the top of the stem and on stalks from leaf axils and bloom May to September.

Growing Conditions: Shade intolerant, needs sunlight, medium water use, moist soil

Plant Size: Generally 1 ½ – 3 ft (46 – 91 cm) but can reach 6 ft (183 cm) under favorable conditions

California Milkweed (Asclepias californica)

Native Range: Central and southern California

Description: This perennial is a white-woolly plant with milky sap and deep purple flowers. It blooms May to July.

Growing Conditions: Drought tolerant, dry slopes

Plant Size: Maximum height 3 ft (91 cm)

White milkweed (Asclepias variegata)

Native Range: AL , AR , CT , DC , DE , FL , GA , IL , IN , KY , LA , MD , MO , MS , NC , NJ , NY , OH , OK , PA , SC , TN , TX , VA , WV

Description: This perennial has small white flowers with purplish centers crowded into round, terminal clusters that resemble snowballs and blooms May to September.

Growing Conditions: Low water use, dry soil, moderately shade tolerant

Plant Size:  1-3 ft (30- 91 cm)

Whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata)

Native Range: AL , AR , AZ , CT , DC , DE , FL , GA , IA , IL , IN , KS , KY , LA , MA , MD , MI , MN , MO , MS , MT , NC , ND , NE , NJ , NM , NY , OH , OK , PA , RI , SC , SD , TN , TX , VA , VT , WI , WV , WY

Description: This single-stemmed perennial has narrow, linear leaves whorled along the stem. Small, greenish-white flowers occur in flat-topped clusters on the upper part of the stem and bloom May to September.

Growing Conditions: Low water use, moderately shade tolerant, dry soil

Plant Size: 1-3 ft (30- 91 cm)

Mexican Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis)

Native Range: CA , ID , NV , OR , UT , WA

Description: Also known as Narrowleaf milkweed, this perennial has narrow, whorled leaves with clusters of greenish-white flowers, often tinged with purple and blooms June to September.

Growing Conditions: Needs sunlight, drought tolerant, dry to moist soils

Plant Size: 1-2½ ft (30-76 cm)

Desert Milkweed (Asclepias erosa)

Native Range: AZ , CA , NV , UT

Description: Desert milkweed has white to yellow flowers and a green to yellow stem and blooms April to October. Identification is somewhat difficult because its leaves vary from mostly smooth to covered with fine cream-colored hair.

Growing Conditions: Best grown in deserts or desert conditions with sandy soils, needs sunlight, dry soils, not shade tolerant

Plant Size: 1-3 ft (30- 91 cm)

Green Milkweed (Asclepias viridis)

Native Range: AL , AR , FL , GA , IL , IN , KS , KY , LA , MO , MS , NE , OH , OK , SC , TN , TX , WV

Description: Also known as Green Antelopehorn Milkweed, this perennial has white flowers – mostly one per plant and lacks the “horns” seen on Antelopehorn Milkweed. These milkweeds bloom from May to August.

Growing Conditions: Needs sunlight, cold and heat tolerant, moist soil, low water use

Plant Size: Matures to 4 ft (122 cm) in height

Milkweed Resources

Now that you’ve met some milkweeds, head over to the National Wildlife Federation’s Milkweed Resources page to learn about more milkweed species and where you can find milkweed for your garden! Also stay tuned on how to become a Butterfly Hero this March to receive a free pack of milkweed or nectar plant seeds to get your monarch garden started.

Forestry 

Up Next on the GOP’s To-Do List: Selling US National Forests

Friday, 20 March 2015 00:00 By Dan Faris, Truthout | Op-Ed

To prove a point, a conservation group held a mock auction for ownership of the Grand Canyon back in February. At the time, they were trying to provide an example of what would happen to public land if Congress stripped the president’s authority to identify and protect national monuments. While this scenario may seem a bit extreme at the outset, it could actually happen soon with public land – including national forests like Yellowstone, along with many others.

Several parties have drawn up a proposal for the House GOP budget resolution that calls for the seizure and sale of US national forests and public land. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, believes that control over US public lands should be transferred to the state level. The real kicker is that he demands $50 million in taxpayer funds – yes, you’ll be the one paying for it – to jumpstart these property transfers. This way, they can be done “immediately.” All of this was proposed in a recent memo addressed to the House Budget Committee, explained by none other than Senator Bishop.

The memo claims that public lands “create a burden for the surrounding states and communities,” and his “solution is to convey land without strings to state, local and tribal governments.”

Back in reality, this proposal is very bad news, not only for the US people, but also for the properties involved in the deal. It’s probable that affected regions would see higher taxes for locals, in addition to the sale of these properties to private parties just to cover associated costs. This would, in turn, make the land vulnerable to drilling and mining projects, which would certainly result in it being destroyed and defaced. We’re not talking about prime urban real estate or barren land here – we’re talking about prized national forests and parks.

Without a doubt, proposals like this check all the wrong boxes: They’re generally expensive, don’t go over well with citizens and last – but certainly not least – are unconsti[tu]tional. Of course, those kinds of considerations haven’t stopped politicians in the past, and they don’t appear to be putting a damper on Bishop’s plan, either. There’s a good chance that this proposal will be included in the House GOP budget.

Various right-wing politicians and public interest groups invested time and money lobbying for plans like this. For instance, the American Lands Council (ALC) – an organization founded by Representative Ken Ivory (R) of Utah state – hired a lobbyist, Michael Swenson, last year to “educate congressional lawmakers on the benefits of relinquishing federal lands to the states.” Evidence of this can be found on disclosure forms, which clearly state that ALC paid Swenson $150,000 for three months of lobbying. Why does Swenson even matter, you ask? Swenson has been tied to various clients with interest in this segment, particularly a Utah mining company. Of course, Swenson later claimed in an interview with the E&E Daily that the disclosure was a simple “mistake,” and that he’d only been paid $20,000.

What this all means is that we – as US citizens and residents – should be highly concerned about the 2016 budget resolution that has just been released, and by a House Republican majority, no less. The Washington Post called their budget “a gimmick,” while Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, during a call to “The Diane Rehm Show,” said it resembles “Robin Hood in reverse.”

Should this proposal actually succeed, it will cost taxpayers a great deal of money. To make matters worse, it could potentially open up our country even more to private and commercial parties.

Selling off public lands to satiate corporate interests? Another innovation brought to you by our American Oligarchy.

Dan Faris|Truthout|20 March 2015

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Citrus world feeling squeezed

The big squeeze is on in citrus industry, and it isn’t expected to lessen anytime soon.

Florida growers have yielded far fewer oranges over the past decade due to citrus greening, resulting in less juice in the market and fewer dollars in their pockets.

“Everything starts and ends with citrus greening,” said Fritz Roka, a University of Florida agricultural economist at the Southwest Florida Research & Education Center in Immokalee. “For the next several years, citrus greening will still be the focus of attention.”

Greening is caused by a bacterium that interrupts the flow of nutrients, weakening the plant and affecting its production.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently said this season’s Florida orange production will be down 1 percent from an earlier forecast. The 2014-15 crop was already expected to be below the 2013-14 yield.

Greening has the attention of state lawmakers, and state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has asked for $18 million to fight diseases impacting the citrus industry.

The House and Senate, however, are far apart in their citrus budget proposals released this week. The House proposal is for $17.9 million – including $8 million for citrus greening research and $5.75 million for marketing, while the Senate plan calls for $8 million, all for greening research. Money in the House plan would also be used to grow clean citrus stock and plant new trees in areas where diseased trees have been removed.

In another development, the possible establishment of a federal research and promotion program for orange juice was discussed Wednesday by the Florida Citrus Commission, the first such hearing on the issue.

Most of the research money has been poured into biotechnology, Roka said, along with antimicrobials and thermotherapy, also known as heat therapy. Antimicrobial products kill or slow the spread of microorganisms such as bacteria, while thermotherapy cooks a tree enough to kill the bacteria but allows the plant to survive. Those procedures have found limited success.

“We’re experimenting and learning more and more,” Roka said. “As with anything with citrus, it takes years to prove it out.”

Genetic modification – a scary term in some circles – may play more of a role in the long run, experts say.

Besides funding from growers and the Legislature, the federal government is kicking in $25 million per year to fight greening over the next five years. Even with all of this funding, growers wonder if it will be enough.

“We’re running out of money to research this and still no answer,” said Wayne Simmons, a LaBelle-based grower and president of the Gulf Citrus Growers Association, noting growers alone have spent tens of millions of dollars over the years for research. “There’s just no silver bullet yet on the horizon.”

Simmons, whose orange crop grows on roughly 200 acres, said time is running out. Some Florida processors, he said, have already gone out of business because there isn’t enough production.

“We’re starting to lose our infrastructure,” Roka echoed. “That processing infrastructure is really of concern.”

Simmons, who has worked in the industry since 1980, pointed to the resiliency and and adaptability of growers. At the same time, he wonders how long they can hang on.

“It’s tough, it’s tough,” he said wistfully. “We’ve got our sleeves rolled up. We’re trying to come up with an answer. There’s just no quick answer.”

The only reason growers have been able to hang on this long is that prices have increased substantially since citrus greening was first identified in 2005. About 95 percent of all Florida oranges ends up as juice. The price for those oranges has more or less doubled compared to 12 years ago. On the flip side, the production cost per acre to the point of harvest has nearly tripled for many growers.

Chet Townsend not only produces oranges on a few acres in Fort Denaud, between Alva and LaBelle, he puts out an e-newsletter that tracks the industry.

“It’s more of a hobby today,” said Townsend, who got his citrus start in the 1970s. “It doesn’t really make a lot of money but it does get me an agricultural exemption.”

In the end, despite the challenges, growers take pride in what they do and want to continue to contribute to one of the industries that makes the state unique.

“We still want to maintain the great Florida sunshine product that we produce,” Simmons said.

CASEY LOGAN|NEWS-PRESS.COM|March 21, 2015

Global Warming and Climate Change

Antarctic Expedition Team Finds Clear Signs of Climate Change at the Bottom of the World

“If Antarctica were music it would be Mozart. Art, and it would be Michelangelo. Literature, and it would be Shakespeare. And yet it is something even greater; the only place on Earth that is still as it should be. May we never tame it.” Robert Swan offers this quote from Andrew Denton, an Australian television producer, as his inspiration for fighting to protect the great icy continent.

Swan, the famed Arctic and Antarctic explorer, and his team at 2041 are leading a group of intrepid travelers to Antarctica right now as part of the International Antarctic Expedition. The team, which has been documenting the trip on its Expedition 2015 blog, welcomed travelers from all over the world as they arrived in Ushuaia, Argentina on Friday. They spent Friday and Saturday gearing up for their departure on Sunday. As prep for the expedition, the team hiked up to the Martial Glacier in the mountains overlooking Ushuaia on Saturday. The glacier, which has been steadily retreating for the last 15 years, serves as the first of many physical impacts of climate change that the crew will take in over the next few weeks. In a video from the hike, one trekker says, “Here we are, where the glacier used to be, and that’s really frightening.”

On Friday and Saturday, participants were briefed on the current, political and environmental status of Antarctica. The 2041 team explained how climate change is drastically impacting the icy continent, which has huge implications for the entire globe. All hope is not lost though: Participants brainstormed ways to advocate for change at every level starting with their own communities. Then, on Sunday, the team set sail for Antarctica. Galyna Tymoshenko, who represents Bain & Company, a global management consulting firm, is on the trip and wrote a blog post on the day of the crew’s departure. He ended his post with “Today, full of thrill, we are heading south. The journey will take us beyond the edge of the world, beyond the edge of ourselves.”

You can track the expedition through the “Ship Tracker” page on 2041’s website. They just hit the tip of Antarctica yesterday. The plan is to make numerous shore landings in inflatable rubber boats, or “zodiacs.” They will take in stunning ice shelves, calving glaciers, whales and one of the largest gatherings of penguins on the continent.

Robert Swan made a video this weekend explaining the International Antarctic Treaty and the goal of the expedition. In it, he asks: “Do we have the sense to leave one place alone on Earth as a natural reserve for science and peace?”

Cole Mellino|March 18, 2015

Thawed Frost Releases Extra Carbon, Too

By now, most people are aware of the devastating effects climate change is having on the Arctic’s glaciers. Unfortunately, that’s hardly the only thing that’s melting due to the rising global temperatures. Permafrost, areas of land that are coated in a layer of frost year-round due to the (normally) cold temperatures, is now defrosting, too… and an alarming new study shows that that process in itself is causing additional amounts of carbon into the air.

Permafrost – which has wound up being a bit of a misnomer in the wake of climate change – has helped to trap frozen carbon beneath the ground for centuries. As it defrosts, however, this long dormant carbon is finally able to escape. While we didn’t know exactly how much carbon was breaking free, researchers at the United States Department of Energy created a computer simulation to see how problematic it could be, and the results were not encouraging.

Previously, scientists had hoped that permafrost thaw could possibly have an overall positive impact on carbon emissions since the land would then be able to produce vegetation. During the thawing process, nitrogen beneath the surface breaks down and increases the soil’s fertility.

Theoretically, a rise in regional plant life would help to absorb some of that carbon back, but the computer simulation demonstrates that, while the vegetation can alleviate the situation, it’s still a net negative. In fact, it’s not even close – a lot more carbon will be released thanks to the disappearance of permafrost.

Part of the problem that the scientists have discovered is that the thawing doesn’t reach its peak until late autumn. By that point in the year, there aren’t many plants growing that would benefit from the decomposed nitrogen.

The researchers are the first to admit that they need to explore this subject further. The experiment could only conclude that an additional 21 to 164 petagrams of carbon would enter the atmosphere because of thawing within the next 300 years, which is quite a large range. While the high end of the estimate would be equivalent to 16-years worth of carbon emissions currently created by human, the low end of that spectrum is only 2-years worth. Even the conservative estimate is enough to frighten scientists though, since the threats of climate change necessitate us finding ways to slow the process, not accelerate it.

The study just goes to show that in not being more proactive against climate change, the situation is only compounding. Existing carbon emissions aren’t just thawing permafrost, they’re also releasing more carbon in the process, making the situation even more dire. There’s no excuse to keep turning a blind eye to this mounting problem.

Kevin Mathews|March 22, 2015

Climate change is spreading diseases you haven’t even heard of yet

Hollywood tradition dictates that in Act One of the outbreak narrative, we begin deep in the bowels of the CDC, cell cultures sloshing around a petri dish, a gaggle of white coats huddled around a microscope. Cut to the limb-flailing, flesh-eating symptoms, entire families frothing at the mouth — once unleashed, the pathogen will sweep the globe and consume us all before you can finish your Hail Marys: I’ve always loved you, Nancy!

But according to Daniel Brooks, who’s been studying the rise of emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) for 40 years, the Hollywood model needs to be recalibrated in light of climate change.

“It’s not that there’s going to be one ‘Andromeda Strain’ that will wipe out everybody on the planet,” says Brooks, professor emeritus at Toronto University and a senior research fellow at the University of Nebraska’s H.W. Manter Parasitology Lab. “There are going to be a lot of localized outbreaks that put a lot of pressure on our medical and veterinary health systems. There won’t be enough money to keep up with all of it. It will be the death of a thousand cuts.”

Brooks, whose article on the relationship between these new diseases and climate change was published last month in the journal Philosophical Transactions, claims that evolutionary history suggests EIDs spike along with major climate change events. When organisms flee their native habitats in search of more amenable climates, they expose themselves to pathogens they’ve never encountered — and to which they haven’t developed a resistance. Human activities only serve to accelerate this process, Brooks says, scattering organisms across the planet at an unprecedented rate.

The idea — called the “Stockholm Paradigm,” by Brooks and coauthor Eric Hoberg — runs counter to earlier host-pathogen theories, which generally assumed that because pathogens evolve in tandem with their hosts, they couldn’t easily switch to new ones. Under the new paradigm, diseases can and do jump hosts when given an opportunity, leading to crossover diseases we may have never dealt with before.

The most notorious example of this is the recent outbreak of the Ebola virus, which swept across West Africa last fall and has so far killed more than 10,000 people. The epidemic was ultimately triggered by humans moving into landscapes they’ve never occupied before, where they came into closer contact with fruit bats and their weird pathogens.

But even Ebola is straightforward, compared to what Brooks sees as the real danger of climate-driven disease outbreaks.

“Pathogens that jump into human beings, like Ebola or West Nile Virus — they’re only part of a larger story,” Brooks says. “If you think of every species of plant and animal on this planet that human beings depend on — every single crop, livestock, wild species, everything — all of them are going to experience some kind of emerging disease over the next 35 to 50 years.”

Regardless of the severity of each individual outbreak, humans will be left to foot the economic bill, to clean up what Brooks and his colleagues call “pathogen pollution.” And the costs could add up quickly.

“Either these diseases are going to reduce the population of the animals or the plants, and that’s going to hurt people economically, or it’s going to cost people a lot of money to try to treat them,” he says. “Either way, because most of the world’s biodiversity is where most of the world’s poor people live, disproportionately poor societies are going to be hit the hardest.”

And while you may not hear about them in the headlines like West Nile and Chikungunya, outbreaks in other species are already happening all the time. For example, in recent years a black yeast-like fungus (Exophiala cancerae) has several times virtually wiped out the mangrove land crab population along the Brazilian coast. Not only do poor coastal Brazilians consume mangrove land crabs as a primary food source, says Walter Boeger, coauthor of a 2012 study on the fungus, but they also sell them as a cash crop. A Google search for “Lethargic Crab Disease” yields little beyond a scientific abstract, and yet as a consequence of this EID, some of the poorest, hungriest Brazilians have become even poorer and hungrier.

Brooks also points to a group of nematodes, Setaria tundra, that has destroyed reindeer populations across northern Scandinavia and Finland. Driven by climate change and severe short-term weather events, the resulting disease outbreak is “a direct threat to sustainability and food security,” according to the 2013 Artic Biodiversity Assessment.

“What’s happening now is irreversible,” Brooks says. “Just as it’s becoming more and more difficult to predict the weather, it’s going to be more and more difficult to predict what species will move to what places, and who’s going to survive, and which populations are going to go up and down.”

There may not be zombies roaming the streets — and Brad Pitt may not be ramrodding a Jamboree through Philadelphia — but it’s a grim scenario all the same. And it’s important that everyone stay calm, Brooks says, lest we regress to a more primitive stage of our own evolution [insert Congress joke here].

“A lot of us are concerned that the natural history of human beings is that when they see a potential crisis approaching, they freeze. And then when the crisis is upon them, they scatter,” he says. “If you’ve ever seen any wild primates, that’s exactly how they are.”

Instead, Brooks and his colleagues have proposed a number of proactive steps to help mitigate the cost of future EIDs. Foremost among them: the immediate compilation of a complete global inventory of species, which biologists have been advocating for decades without managing to convince anyone to bankroll it. In order to more successfully predict where EIDs will strike next, scientists from a slew of different fields would need access to information on pathogens and their hosts alike.

“Here’s the irony,” Brooks says. “The countries that have the money and the technology to actually make a difference don’t feel the crisis, and the countries that feel the crisis don’t have the money to do anything.”

Funny, I don’t remember a scene in Contagion in which Congress approves massive funding to inventory life on the planet, pathogens included. Maybe that’s because it’s pretty far-fetched, even for Hollywood. Brooks concedes that it would be a monumental undertaking. And terribly expensive, he says — but it will never be cheaper than it is now.

Carson Vaughan|6 Mar 2015

Antarctic ice shelves melting 70% faster, study shows

Melt accelerates on ice shelves holding back glaciers in Antarctica

The frozen fringes of western Antarctica have been melting 70% faster in the last decade, raising concern that an important buttress keeping land-based ice sheets from flowing to the sea could collapse or vanish in coming decades, a new study shows.

An acceleration in the flow of massive ice sheets would add substantially to the ongoing rise of sea levels, according to Fernando Paolo, a geophysics PhD candidate at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and lead author of the study published online Thursday in the journal Science.

“They hold back the ice discharge from the ice sheet into the ocean,” Paolo said. “In the long term, that is the main concern from losing volume from an ice shelf.”

The study adds to growing concern that climate change has altered the equilibrium of growth and melt on a part of the continent holding an estimated 530,000 cubic miles of ice. That’s enough ice to raise the sea level by 11 feet, by some estimates.

“If the rate of change that we have observed remains the same, then we should expect a larger contribution of the ice sheet to sea level rise,” Paolo said.

Shelves in the Bellingshausen and Amundsen seas had the most rapid thinning, losing an average of 24 to 63 feet per decade, according to the study, which analyzed satellite-based radar data from 1994-2012. 

The most dramatic loss occurred on the Venable ice shelf on the Bellingshausen Sea, which thinned by an average of 118 feet per decade, according to the study. At that rate, it could disappear in 100 years. The same fate could befall the Crosson shelf on the Amundsen Sea, the study found.

Those rates are conservative “lower bound” estimates, said Paolo.

On the eastern side of Antarctica, previous ice sheet growth has ground to a halt over the last decade, the study showed.

The mechanics behind the changes in the east and west of Antarctica, however, are different, largely because the geology of each is distinct.

Glaciers form from the long-term accumulation of snowfall that compresses and flows slowly downhill toward the sea. In the east, these ice masses are predominantly anchored to land, so growth and decline are driven largely by changes in snowfall. Those glaciers nonetheless have tongue-like extensions floating on the sea, and studies have shown these shelves are thinning as rapidly as those in the west. 

In the west, most of the ice sheet already is marine, and “grounded” to the continent below sea level. Warmer waters coming into contact with that boundary, or grounding line, are thinning it from the bottom, causing more of the sheet to become buoyant. That effectively causes this grounding line to migrate inward, potentially for many miles.

Such a retreat is particularly dangerous in the many areas of western Antarctica where ice sheets lie on a retrograde bed – where the inland slope is downward. The retreat of the grounding line in those areas could trigger runaway acceleration of land glaciers, according to the study.

“After we pass that tipping point, the ice sheet just keeps flowing” regardless of the ocean water’s influence, Paolo said.

The forces driving both trends point toward altered wind patterns over Antarctica that bring less precipitation to east Antarctica and warmer water to the continent’s ice shelves. That, in turn, is likely caused by long-term changes in climate linked to the warming effect of increased carbon building up in Earth’s atmosphere, Paolo said.

By clustering the data in three-month snapshots over 18-mile swaths, the researchers were able to offer a high-resolution view of many individual shelves and differentiate short-term, local fluctuations from longer climate-related trends. Several earlier studies of ice sheets looked at shorter intervals over much broader regions, the authors noted.

The more detailed mosaic presented by the new study nonetheless offered little to surprise Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at UC Irvine and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada-Flintridge.

His research, which analyzed 40 years of data, suggests that many glaciers already have reached a point of no return.

“It does emphasize that a number if ice shelves are not healthy, which is bad news for the glaciers that flow into them because the glaciers will start flowing faster and raise sea level faster,” Rignot said.

See videos here and here

Geoffrey Mohan|March26,2015

Genetically Modified Organisms

These Three Companies are Using GMOs in their Baby Formula

It seems with the many reports of birth defects, organ failure, cancer, and other unsavory health conditions associated with GMO consumption, we should limit the use of GMO in baby products. After all, babies are very sensitive to the foods they consume, and we already know that pesticides found in mother’s milk can be damaging. Below you will learn of three companies which represent more than 90% of baby formula sales in the US that won’t consider removing GMOs from your baby’s food.

Health-Damaging GMOs in Baby Formula

Why would we knowingly feed our children GMOs before it has really been proven to be ‘safe’ as Monsanto, BASF, and other companies like Abbott Laboratories, Mead Johnson Nutrition, and Nestlé USA, the company who wants to own water rights, tout?

If you feed your baby one of the following three infant formulas, you are perhaps, unknowingly, feeding them GMO corn, sugar beets, and soy, since they are often used these companies’ products:

1. Similac

One of the widest used brands and often given out for ‘free’ at hospitals, this baby formula is made by Abbott Laboratories. The company is selling you a can of baby formula for over $100 that is full of GMO poisons. You could contact the company to ask why it would include GMOs, or, you can just boycott it altogether. Shareholders are supposed to vote on whether the company is able to continue to use GMO in baby formulas. Abott Laboratories is one of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies – go figure.

2. Enfamil

Another baby formula often given out as ‘free’ samples to new mothers is made by Mead Johnson Nutrition. Their website boasts, ‘Enfamil, scientifically designed to meet the nutritional needs of newborns and infants.’ The following Mead Johnson formulas are known to have GMO toxins:

  • Enfamil with Iron
  • Enfamil with low Iron
  • Enfamil Lacto Free
  • Enfamil 22
  • Enfamil Next Step (both soy and milk varieties)
  • Enfamil Nutramigen
  • Enfamil Pro-Soybee

3. Gerber Good Start

The GMO-riddled formula made by Nestlé USA is perhaps the most questionable since the company has knowingly tried to ‘patent’ water and make it a commodity though it is all part of life itself on this planet. Do we really want to trust a company who wants privatize water with feeding our children health foods? The company went GMO free in South Africa, according to Corporate Action Network, but continues to sell American families the contaminated GMO formula we feed our babies every day.

Nestlé USA and Mead Johnson Nutrition have dismissed calls to remove genetically-modified organisms (GMO) from their infant formula products in the US – citing the approved use of GMOs by several national and global regulatory bodies.

You can boycott all these companies and start making your own home-made, natural baby formula without toxic chemicals and pesticides and nasty GMOs. The assistant director of the FDA, Nick Duy, says we shouldn’t make our own baby formula, but why isn’t he ousting these companies for using questionable (at best) and health-damaging GMOs?

How genetic engineering can fight disease, reduce insecticide use and enhance food security: Pamela Ronald speaks at TED2015

Pamela Ronald is here to talk about her work as a plant geneticist, about her work “studying genes that make plants resistant to disease and tolerant of stress.”

But first, she’d like to introduce us to her husband. “This is Raoul. He’s an organic farmer,” she says. “People say, ‘Really? An organic farmer and a plant geneticist? Can you agree on anything?’ Well, we can. Because we both have the same goal: we want to help nourish the growing population without further destroying the environment.”

Genetic improvement of plants isn’t new, she says. Ancient corn had a case so hard that it couldn’t be chewed; the ancient banana was full of large seeds; ancient Brussels sprouts weren’t actually individual objects. “To create these crops, breeders used many kinds of genetic techniques,” says Ronald. “Today breeders have even more the options choose from. Some of them are extraordinarily precise.”

She moves on to her own work on rice, “the staple food for more than half the world’s population.” Every year, 40% of the rice harvest is lost to pests and disease. “Farmers rely on varieties that carry genes for resistance.”

When Ronald started her work, no one knew exactly what those genes were. Her lab helped isolated a gene called “XA21″ that makes rice resistant to bacterial infection, and engineered it into plants. After the publication of this work, Ronald was approached by a colleague, Dave Mackill, who was working on how to make rice more resilient in the face of flooding.

“Although rice grows well in standing water, most varieties will die if they’re submerged for more than three days. Flooding increasingly problematic as climate changes,” says Ronald. “[Mackill] said, ’70 million rice farmers are having trouble growing rice because their fields are flooded. They’re living on less than $2 a day.”

The two launched a decade-long quest, with graduate student Kenong Xu, to identify and isolate a gene that might help. Eventually, they succeeded with the discovery of the gene Sub1. In a greenhouse test, rice engineered with Sub1 survived 18 days of flooding, while the standard rice died. Ronald shows a time lapse of what happened when breeders at the International Rice Research Institute developed new varieties carrying this gene using precision breeding. Both the IRRI variety and the conventional variety grow well at first. But after 17 days of submergence, the conventional rice has withered while the Sub1 rice thrives. “And they produce three-fold more grain than the conventional variety,” says Ronald.

Last year,  3.5 million farmers grew Sub1 rice thanks to financial support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“A lot of people don’t mind genetic modification when it involves moving rice genes around,” says Ronald, “but when it comes to taking genes from viruses and bacteria and putting them into plants, people say ‘Yuck! Why would scientists do that?’”

Ronald’s answer: “Because sometimes it is the safest, cheapest and most effective technology to advance sustainable agriculture and enhance food security.”

She walks us through a few examples. In the 1950s, the papaya crop on the island of Oahu in Hawaii was threatened by a ringspot virus. “Many people thought the Hawaiian papaya was doomed,” says Ronald.

A local Hawaiian plant pathologist named Dennis Gonsalves had an idea. He spliced a snippet of the DNA of the virus into the papaya genome — and it worked. It made the papaya resistant to the virus. “His pioneering work is credited with rescuing the papaya industry,” says Ronald. “Twenty years later, no other method is as effective.” 80% of all Hawaiian papaya is now engineered in this way.

Next, she brings us to Bangladesh, where a caterpillar pest is ravaging the eggplant crop. “To control this pest, farmers spray insecticides 2 to 3 times a week, sometimes even twice a day,” says Ronald. Of course, this threatens their own health. “It’s estimated that 300,000 people die every year because of exposure and misuse of insecticides.”

Organic farmers like Ronald’s husband use a spray called Bt, which is highly specific to caterpillars while being safe for humans, birds and other animals — it’s less toxic than table salt, says Ronald. But this approach does not work for farmers in Bangladesh because it is expensive and hard to find. “In the genetic approach, scientists cut the gene for Bt out of the bacteria and insert it directly into the eggplant genome,” says Ronald. This was used last season and it helped farmers take insecticide use down to zero.

And one final example has to do with malnutrition. “In less developed countries, Vitamin A deficiency causes nearly 500,000 children to go blind every year. More than half die,” says Ronald.

To try to help, scientists created genetically engineered “golden rice,” that has B-carotene, a precursor of Vitamin A. “Scientists predict that just one cup of golden rice per day will reduce blindness and the deaths of thousands of young children each year,” says Ronald. “But Golden Rice has been virulently opposed by activists who are against genetic modification.”

She points to a moment last year when activists stormed and destroyed a golden rice field trial. “When I heard about it, I wondered if the activists realized that they had destroyed much more than an important scientific research project — that they had destroyed medicines that children desperately need.”

Genetic engineering has been used commercially for 40 years in wines, cheeses and much more. And in that time, there hasn’t been a case of harm to human health or the environment, she points out. “Look, I’m not asking you to believe me. Science is not a belief system. My opinion does not matter.  Let’s look at the evidence. After 20 years of careful study and rigorous peer review by thousands of independent scientists, every major scientific organization in the world has concluded that the process of genetic engineering is as safe or safer as older methods of genetic modification.”

She ends: “What scares me most about the loud arguments and misinformation about plant genetics is that the poorest people, the people who most need the technology, may be denied access because of the fears and prejudices of those who have enough to eat.”

Kate Torgovnick May|March 18, 2015

[I have long said that genetic engineering has been in use for centuries. When hunter/gatherers started to cross-pollinate crops for quality or quantity improvement, genetic modification was born. It is no secret that many of our genetically modified foods are an improvement over ancestral crops, but the engineering that takes place today, that involves splicing genes from unrelated food groups, needs further study before marketing. So far, a food that is modified in this fashion will more often than not be allowed to hit our shelves without sufficient proof that the combinations are safe for our consumption. This is my main objection to the use of genetic modification without labeling. At the very least, people should be allowed to choose for themselves as to whether or not they will be test specimens.]

Opossums Could Hold the Key to Saving Snakebite Victims

Scientists pinpoint a compound in the marsupial’s blood that neutralizes venom—could it help in the quest to create a universal antivenin?

The opossum may be known for being stupid, ugly, and the animal voted Most Likely to Become Roadkill in high school, but scientists say its blood may be key to fighting the effects of snakebites worldwide.

In lab experiments with mice, a team discovered the exact molecule, called a peptide, in the North American marsupial’s blood that can neutralize snake venom. The peptide worked against several venomous snake species, including America’s western diamond back rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) and India’s Russell viper (Daboia russelii).

“The mice that were given the venom incubated with the peptide never showed any signs [of being sick],” says Claire Komives, a professor of chemical engineering at San Jose State University in California.

“It was like a miracle, that this peptide really has this activity,” says Komives, who presented her preliminary findings on March 23 at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Denver.

Scientists have known since the 1940s that Virginia opossums (Didelphis virginiana) possessed some level of immunity to snake venom, Komives notes. Other mammals, such as ground squirrels and honey badgers, also have natural immunity to venom.

But now that her team has isolated the component responsible for the opossum’s superpower, Komives says, scientists could mass produce the substance as an inexpensive and universal antivenin for use in the developing world.

The World Health Organization estimates that as many as 94,000 people die each year as a result of snakebites. While antivenoms already exist for many snake species, the compounds can be costly and need to be tailored to each animal—making a universal antivenin vital to saving lives.

Not So Fast?

The opossum research is fascinating, but venom expert Zoltan Takacs cautions against popping open the champagne just yet.

The problem is that a snake’s venom contains hundreds of different compounds, each with its own method of subduing the victim.

is a multipoint assault. One set of toxins might attack your nerve cells while another set of toxins attacks your muscles,” says Takacs, who is also a National Geographic emerging explorer.

“Once you have a hundred toxins or more in your body, you would have to deactivate all of them, or at least the really bad ones, in order to prevent symptoms of the bite.”

Takacs worries that isolating a single peptide from opossums will most likely neutralize only one class of toxins, while the others would continue to wreak havoc on the body. (See “What’s the Most Toxic Snake?”)

Furthermore, he says the specific compounds found in a snake’s venom can vary depending on the species, the sex, the snake’s age, and even geographic location. So even if the opossum peptides work on one sample of Russell viper in the lab, the antidote might not hold up against all Russell vipers, which kill thousands of people a year in India.

Asked about some of these hurdles, Komives says Takacs definitely has a point.

However, she said her research speaks for itself.

“It is almost not reasonable that the peptide alone neutralized the rattlesnake venom,” she says in a follow-up email, “but that is what happened.”

The idea that a single peptide could combat venom in several snakes is “truly revolutionary,” agrees Robert Harrison, a venom expert at the U.K.’s Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

Though “invigoratingly innovative,” the approach requires much more experimentation, notes Harrison, who’s working on a universal antivenom project.

Antivenin Crucial

Any new research on venom and antivenom is crucial, says Takacs, who has witnessed the devastating effect of snakebite firsthand.

He has seen a man lying on a gurney in rural Nepal six hours after being bitten by a cobra. Antivenom is rare there, as are expensive medical devices such as artificial regulators, so the man remained alive yet in complete respiratory paralysis. His brother sat next to him using a rubber ball to manually squeeze air into his lungs for each breath. Takacs never found out what happened to the man.

The first antivenin was invented over a hundred years ago, says Takacs. But because of various roadblocks, such as the complexities of the venom compounds involved and the cost of research, much of the world is still powerless to fight the effects of snakebites.

“There are very few situations in life,” he says, “where you get up in the morning perfectly healthy and by the end of the day you’re dead.”

Jason Bittel|National Geographic|March 23, 2015

[A person bitten might be grateful for a life-saving genetic modification.]

Engineers Develop New Yeast Strain to Enhance Biofuel and Biochemical Production

Researchers in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin have used a combination of metabolic engineering and directed evolution to develop a new, mutant yeast strain that could lead to a more efficient biofuel production process that would make biofuels more economically competitive with conventional fuels.

Their findings were published online in the journal Metabolic Engineering in March.

Beyond biofuels, the new yeast strain could be used in biochemical production to produce oleochemicals, chemicals traditionally derived from plant and animal fats and petroleum, which are used to make a variety of household products.

Hal Alper, associate professor in the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering, and his team have engineered a special type of yeast cell,Yarrowia lipolytica, and significantly enhanced its ability to convert simple sugars into oils and fats, known as lipids, that can then be used in place of petroleum-derived products. Alper’s discovery aligns with the U.S. Department of Energy’s efforts to develop renewable and cost-competitive biofuels from nonfood biomass materials.

“Our re-engineered strain serves as a stepping stone toward sustainable and renewable production of fuels such as biodiesel,” Alper said. “Moreover, this work contributes to the overall goal of reaching energy independence.”

Previously, the Alper team successfully combined genetically engineered yeast cells with ordinary table sugar to produce what Alper described as “a renewable version of sweet crude,” the premium form of petroleum. Building upon this approach, the team used a combination of evolutionary engineering strategies to create the new, mutant strain of Yarrowia that produces 1.6 times as many lipids as their previous strain in a shorter time, reaching levels of 40 grams per liter, a concentration that could make yeast cells a viable platform in the creation of biofuels. The strain’s high lipid yield makes it one of the most efficient organisms for turning sugar into lipids. In addition, the resulting cells produced these lipids at a rate that was more than 2.5 times as fast as the previous strain.

“This significant improvement in our cell-based platform enables these cells to compete in the biofuels industry,” Alper said. “We have moved to concentration values that begin to align with those in other industrial fuel processes.”

Alper and his team improved the performance of Yarrowia through a combination of metabolic engineering and directed evolution, which, like the process of natural selection, seeks to identify and cultivate the high-performing cells. In this work, the researchers recognized that cells with high lipid content would float to the top of a tube, whereas cells with lower lipid content would settle down to the bottom. The researchers used this “floating cell scheme” to identify the best-performing cells.

The researchers used these high-performing cells, cells that produced more lipids and at a faster rate, to obtain the final yeast with improved function.

“We were able to iterate the strain through a process of directed evolution, which involves mutation and selection, and with each cycle we were able to get things better and better,” Alper said.

In addition to using lipids for biofuels, the cell-based platform is able to produce oleochemicals, including nutritional polyunsaturated fatty acids, waxes, lubricants, oils, industrial solvents, cosmetics and a type of vitamin supplements called nutraceuticals.

The researchers’ method and platform are patent pending. Alper’s lab is continuing to work on ways to improve how the yeast strain converts sugar into lipids, and on the types of lipid products they can produce.

This research received funding from the Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Program, the DuPont Young Investigator Award and the Welch Foundation.

The University of Texas at Austin|March 24, 2015

What happened when Patrick Moore was challenged to drink a glass of glyphosate?

Lobbyist tells the world that Monsanto herbicide is safe enough to drink, then refuses to drink it!

In the wake of the World Health Organization’s designation of the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide as a “probable carcinogen”, the French investigative journalist and film maker Paul Moreira has released a sensational video of an interview with the high-profile GMO advocate Patrick Moore.

In the film, Moore first assures Moreira that you can drink a whole quart of glyphosate without suffering any harm and then refuses to drink it, telling the film maker, “I’m not an idiot.”

The interview was recorded as part of Moreira’s six-month-long investigation for the documentary “Bientôt dans vos assiettes” (Soon on your plate), originally broadcast by the French TV channel Canal +.

The film shows the terrible damage done in Argentina over the last 15 years by the use of increasingly large and uncontrolled amounts of agrochemicals in the GMO soy-growing areas. The documentary notes the explosion of illnesses, including cancer, among those living in the areas where the Roundup Ready crop is being cultivated.

Here’s the transcript of Moreira’s interview with Moore, which is conducted in English:

Moore: Do not believe that glyphosate in Argentina is causing increases in cancer. You can drink a whole quart of it and it won’t hurt you.

Interviewer: You want to drink some? We have some here.

Moore: I’d be happy to actually… Not, not really, but…

Interviewer: Not really?

Moore: I know it wouldn’t hurt me.

Interviewer: If you say so, I have some glyphosate.

Moore: No, I’m not stupid.

Interviewer: OK. So you… So it’s dangerous, right?

Moore: No. People try to commit suicide with it and fail, fairly regularly.

Interviewer: Tell the truth. It’s dangerous.

Moore: It’s not dangerous to humans. No, it’s not.

Interviewer: So you are ready to drink one glass of glyphosate?

Moore: No, I’m not an idiot.

Interviewer looks puzzled.

Moore: Interview me about golden rice. That’s what I’m talking about.

Interviewer: Really?

Moore: OK. Then it’s finished.

Interviewer: Except it’s…

Moore: The interview is finished.

Interviewer: That’s a good way to solve things.

Moore (getting up to leave): Yeah. You’re a complete jerk.

Not shown in the video is Moore’s dismissal as “lies” suggestions Roundup could be contributing to the cancer explosion in Argentina. This can be seen however in an advert for Moreira’s documentary, which also shows how totally taken aback Moore was when offered glyphosate to drink.

Of course, the interview with Moore was recorded before the World Health Organization’s panel of scientists from 11 countries announced their decision to list glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. But Moore has subsequently used social media to dismiss the WHO’s statement about glyphosate as “anti-science“, comparing it to the IPCC’s statements on human-induced climate change – something else Moore hotly denies.

You might conclude from all this that Moore so clearly lacks credibility that he can only be some kind of fringe figure. But in fact he’s a darling of the GMO lobby, who love his aggressive attacks on GM critics. They even ran a high-profile campaign to have Moore adopted as an Ambassador for science at the current EXPO 2015 in Milan.

And Moore has only just returned from a tour of Asia where he met with Bangladesh’s Minister of Agriculture, among others. He was there to promote the adoption of golden rice, even though this GMO remains both unproven and unavailable. Other effective approaches to Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) are not only readily available but have already substantially reduced VAD in for example the Philippines.

Let’s hope that others among Moore’s interlocutors prove as astute as Paul Moreira in exposing the hollowness of Moore’s claims. Sadly though, Moore’s many critics, like the journalist George Monbiot, have been waiting for years for Moore to be recognised as a toxic brand.

It’s well worth watching the actual video, which you can see here.

Jonathan Matthews|GMWatch

Opal Apple: non-browning, non-GMO alternative to GMO apple

Growing fruit comes naturally to Ralph Broetje—Broetje Orchards in eastern Washington State, developed with his wife Cheryl, is the largest contiguous orchard in the US. When he tried out a new apple variety bred in the Czech Republic, a cross between the Golden Delicious and the Topaz, the bright yellow fruit turned out to be firm, crispy and crunchy, with a sweet/tangy flavor and floral aroma. And, by “happy coincidence,” the Opal Apple was non-browning: its low occurrence of the browning enzyme delays the process.

Today, Ralph grows one million Opal trees, spanning nearly 1,000 acres of the total 8,000 acres (10 million trees) the company oversees. The Opal debuted in the US in 2010. To distinguish Opals from the recently approved genetically modified, non-browning Artic Apple, Broetje put the seal on it—last year, the Opal became the first apple to achieve Non-GMO Project verification.

Centralization for Quality Control

Broetje Orchards is unique in that produce is grown, stored, and packed in the same location, with a 1.1 million square-foot modern warehouse and packing facility on-site, with 105 atmosphere-controlled rooms. The company packs 25,000 boxes a day—8 million boxes a year—of 15 different varieties, including Opal, Fuji, Gala, Pink Lady, Braeburn, and Golden Delicious. Broetje employs 1,100 year-round, with 1,000 seasonal workers.

Opals are only available December through April; almost 12 million pounds are distributed each season. Around 15% of the Opals are organic.

Keith Mathews, CEO of sales and marketing at FirstFruits, said extensive funds have gone into social media outreach and public events to market the Opal, including tastings at 5K races, winter carnivals and conferences, and in-store demos. Currently the Opal is priced midway between mainline apples and the Honeycrisp.

Threats from GM apples

Mathews said contamination from the new GM Arctic Apple is a definite possibility. “Washington farmers have put their entire lives into apples since the early 1900s. Our Northwest Horticultural Council lobbied hard in DC to oppose GM apples, but we lost. The risk lies in bees pollinating our non-GMO acres.”

Ralph notes that none of the farmers he knows are eager to grow a GM apple, and that its presence might create doubts among consumers about eating apples at all. “There’s no need for a GM apple,” he said.

Mathews noted that the sliced apple business is the only point of value for a non-browning apple, and it’s an important but very small niche of the apple market at about 7-8 million bushels each year.

The company enrolled in Non-GMO Project verification to reinforce consumer awareness that a non-browning apple doesn’t have to be a GM apple. “The folks at the Project were very helpful,” Mathews said. “One complication occurred because I put through my organic and conventional Opals at the same time, and we normally wax our conventionals. There is a miniscule ingredient in the wax we had to deal with, so that took a bit of fine-tuning and frequent checking.”

Mathews expects demand for Opals to build. “We will easily get to one million boxes each season with what’s in the ground already.”

Arianne Pfoutz|March 27, 2015

[When the opening paragraph says that the apple is the result of a cross between a golden delicious and a topaz, how can one say that it is not genetically modified and receive Non GMO verification?]

Is Monsanto on the side of science?

Monsanto positions itself as a champion of science and GM supporters tar critics as ‘anti-science’.* But is this accurate? Claire Robinson looks at how scientists who investigate the safety of GM foods are treated.

When Australian scientist Judy Carman decided to carry out an animal feeding study with GM crops, she asked three GMO companies to supply seeds. One company didn’t reply; another wanted the details of her study first.

Monsanto sent her a legal document to sign stating that she would give the company the results of the study before publication. Carman said: ‘We would have been legally bound to do that whether they gave us seeds or not. No sensible scientist would agree to such conditions, and we didn’t.’

Scientists who want to find out if a GM crop is safe to eat or harms the environment need access to seeds of the GM variety as well as the non-GM parent (isogenic) variety it was developed from, grown in the same conditions.

This way, any differences found in an experiment studying the effects of the GM crop and the non-GM control are known to be due to the genetic modification and not to some other factor, such as different growing conditions.

But Monsanto and other GMO companies restrict access to their seeds for independent researchers. Anyone who buys Monsanto’s patented GM seed has to sign a technology agreement saying they will not use the seeds or crop for research or pass them to anyone else for that purpose. Even if permission to carry out research is given, companies typically retain the right to block publication if the results are ‘not flattering’, according to Scientific American.

In the end, Carman used non-isogenic crops for the control pigs’ diet, noting that GMO companies had claimed, and many government authorities had agreed, that the GM crops used were ‘substantially equivalent’ to non-GM crops. She found toxic effects in the GM-fed pigs – so the GM crops could not be substantially equivalent.

The French scientist Gilles-Eric Séralini also had difficulty accessing seed for his rat-feeding study with Monsanto’s GM maize NK603. No farmer wanted to risk breaching their technology agreement with Monsanto. Eventually a farm school agreed to grow the crops on condition it was not named, out of ‘fear of reprisal’ from Monsanto.

Food writer Nathanael Johnson has claimed that since 2009 the problem of access to seeds has been ‘largely fixed’, due to research agreements being reached between GMO companies and certain universities. But to Carman’s knowledge, these are ‘commercial-in-confidence’ research agreements to make new GMOs, not to test for safety. In any case, we are not permitted to see them to check what conditions are imposed on the researchers.

Scientists under attack

What’s wrong with telling Monsanto about your research in advance? Scientists whose research has questioned the safety of GM crops claim to have suffered attacks on themselves and their studies. They say they fear that giving Monsanto notice of planned research will help attacks to be prepared in advance.

In some cases, pro-GMO scientists have tried to bully journal editors into not publishing the study, or retracting it after it has been published. In the 1990s the editor of The Lancet said he was threatened by a senior member of Britain’s Royal Society that his job would be at risk if he published the research of Arpad Pusztai, a scientist at the Rowett Institute in Scotland.

Pusztai’s research had found toxic effects in rats fed GM potatoes. The editor published the paper anyway, but Pusztai was subjected to a campaign of vilification by pro-GMO scientific organizations and individuals in an attempt to discredit him and his research.10 He lost his job, funding and research team, and had a gagging order slapped on him which forbade him to speak about his research.

According to a former Rowett administrator, the campaign to silence Pusztai was set in motion by a phone call from Monsanto to US President Bill Clinton, who called British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who in turn called the Rowett Institute.

A Rowett director said: ‘Tony Blair’s office had been pressured by the Americans, who thought our study would harm the biotechnology industry, and particularly Monsanto. A similar smear campaign against a 2001 study that found GMO contamination in native Mexican maize was traced to Bivings Woodell, a PR company working for Monsanto.

The climate for independent researchers looking at GMO risks has not improved, though Monsanto and other GMO companies are less visible in attack campaigns – and may not need to be involved at all. They have plenty of foot-soldiers at universities and institutes to fight their battles without any apparent involvement on the part of the company, as the following examples of treatment of researchers show.

Gilles-Eric Séralini: In 2012 the French researcher published in Food and Chemical Toxicology a long-term two-year study which found liver and kidney damage in rats fed Monsanto GM maize and tiny amounts of the Roundup herbicide it is engineered to be grown with.

As soon as the study was published, university-based scientists joined a vicious smear campaign against it. After a year of pressure and the appointment of a former Monsanto scientist to the journal’s editorial board, the editor retracted the study. The reason he gave was the supposed ‘inconclusive’ nature of some of the results.

But David Schubert, a professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California, commented: ‘As a scientist, I can assure you that if this were a valid reason for retracting a publication, a large fraction of the scientific literature would not exist. Séralini’s study was later republished by another journal.

Many of Séralini’s attackers had conflicts of interest with the GMO industry – but these were not made clear to the public.19 The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) also criticized the study, but it is not independent: over half of EFSA experts have been found to have conflicts of interest with the industries they regulate.

Judy Carman: After Carman received government funding for a GMO feeding study, she suffered six personal attacks by pro-GMO scientists over a 10-year period. They attacked her through her university, alleging she was lying, bringing the university into disrepute, or defaming them. Carman said: ‘It was clear to me that they wanted me sacked.’

Following the attacks, Carman says she was forced out of two successive university posts. She is fortunate not to need income from a university position, but points out that isn’t true of most scientists: ‘Any scientist in my shoes relying on a university income to eat or pay a mortgage would feel forced to stop investigating GMOs.’

Manuela Malatesta: The Italian researcher found that Monsanto’s GM soy disturbed the functioning of the liver, pancreas and testes of mice. After she published her papers, she says she was forced out of her job at the university where she had worked for 10 years, and could not obtain funding to follow up her research.

She commented: ‘Research on GMOs is now taboo. You can’t find money for it… People don’t want to find answers to troubling questions. It’s the result of widespread fear of Monsanto and GMOs in general.

Commenting on these cases, Michael Antoniou, a London-based molecular geneticist, says the normal scientific response to worrying findings is to design more experiments to get to the bottom of whether there really is a health concern or environmental impact.

Yet in the area of GM crops and foods, this does not happen. Instead, Antoniou says, ‘the GMO lobby attempts to discredit the study and the scientists who conducted it. It’s despicable and unprecedented in the history of science.’

The corporate university

It’s no surprise that many public scientists and organizations ally themselves with the GMO industry, as they rely heavily on industry funding. GMO companies have representatives on university boards and fund research, buildings and departments.

Monsanto has donated at least a million dollars to the University of Florida Foundation. Many US universities that do crop research are beholden to Monsanto. Some academic scientists own GMO patents and are involved in spin-off companies that develop GM crops.

‘Research on GMOs is now taboo… You can’t find money for it… It’s the result of widespread fear of Monsanto’

In Britain, the public institute Rothamsted Research counts Monsanto as a collaborator. Monsanto reportedly sponsored the Rowett Institute prior to Pusztai’s going public with his GM potato findings. Universities have become businesses and scientists have become entrepreneurs and salespeople.

Sponsorship of public institutions enables companies to steer research resources into areas that profit them. The companies develop patented GM crops in partnership with the institution and the institution generates research that, with its stamp of academic objectivity, can convince regulators of the safety or efficacy of GM crops.

An added bonus for companies is a supply of scientists who are prepared to act as GMO advocates. They are often described only by their public affiliations, even though they and their institutions depend on GMO industry money.

Is Monsanto on the side of science? The answer appears to be: ‘Only if it can control and profit from it.’ That runs counter to the spirit of scientific inquiry, which must be free to go wherever the data leads – however inconvenient it may prove to a company’s bottom line.

Monsanto Demands World Health Organization Retract Report That Says Roundup Is Linked to Cancer

Last week, the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) released a report, compiled by a team of scientists, that said glyphosate—sold by Monsanto in the herbicide Roundup—was probably linked to cancer.

This week, Monsanto is demanding the WHO retract the report, essentially repudiating years of research by multiple scientists. Monsanto is claiming the report was biased and that glyphosate products like Roundup are safe when the directions are followed. The company says that the WHO report contradicts regulatory findings, which can, of course, be influenced by politics and lobbying. So far, WHO has not responded.

“We question the quality of the assessment,” Philip Miller, Monsanto vice president of global regulatory affairs, told Reuters. “The WHO has something to explain.”

Miller claimed that the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) was provided by Monsanto with information on glyphosate’s safety, and that it ignored Monsanto’s input.

That response indicates a level of panic on Monsanto’s part because the report could hit it where it hurts—its profits. Its Roundup, formulated to be used on GMO or “Roundup Ready” crops engineered to be resistant to it, is the most widely used herbicide in the world. Originally introduced in the early ’70s to control weeds, it took off when the planting of GMO crops skyrocketed in the last 15 years. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimated that glyphosate use in the U.S. increased from about 20 million pounds in 1992 to 110 million pounds in 2002 to more than 280 million pounds in 2012.

GlyphosateUseByYearThe use of glyphosate weed killers has exploded since the introduction of GMOs engineered to be resistant to it. Image credit: USGS

What Monsanto is demanding is the equivalent of declaring a person innocent because there is insufficient evidence to prove his guilt. The WHO report did not claim definitely the glyphosate causes cancer, but rather that multiple scientific studies have suggested a link.

“For the herbicide glyphosate, there was limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans for non-Hodgkin lymphoma,” the study said. “The evidence in humans is from studies of exposures, mostly agricultural, in the U.S., Canada and Sweden published since 2001. In addition, there is convincing evidence that glyphosate also can cause cancer in laboratory animals. Glyphosate also caused DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells. One study in community residents reported increases in blood markers of chromosomal damage after glyphosate formulations were sprayed nearby.”

It points out that “limited” does not mean “nonexistent” as Monsanto wants it to declare. When a substance is categorized as “probably” carcinogenic to humans, it says “there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. Limited evidence means that a positive association has been observed between exposure to the agent and cancer but that other explanations for the observations could not be ruled out. This category is also used when there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and strong data on how the agent causes cancer.”

And, as the Reuters article points out, Monsanto says such studies are invalid, but critics say they merit attention. According to Dave Schubert, head of the cellular neurobiology laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, “There are a number of independent, published manuscripts that clearly indicate that glyphosate … can promote cancer and tumor growth. It should be banned.”

Several leading public interest organizations agree with Schubert and today urged the Obama administration to “weigh heavily” the WHO’s recent conclusion that glyphosate is a “probable human carcinogen.” The groups believes that “As a result of WHO’s rigorous and independent review, the link between glyphosate and cancer has now been greatly strengthened.”

In a letter to Gina McCarthy, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, JLI, Consumers Union, Center for Food Safety, Environmental Working Group and Natural Resources Defense Council, among others, called the WHO announcement “extremely timely, as EPA is preparing to issue its preliminary risk assessment of the widely used herbicide under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.”

“Consumers deserve to know which foods are made with GMOs considering it’s their dollars that are largely driving the use of this dangerous herbicide,” said Gary Hirshberg, the chairman of the board for the Just Label It campaign. “This new evidence that the main pesticide used on GMO crops is a ‘probable human carcinogen’ is even more reason consumers should have the right to know what’s in their food.”

One proponent of the “glyphosate is absolutely safe” narrative is former environmentalist/current environmental contrarian/sometime Monsanto consultant Dr. Patrick Moore, who was interviewed by filmmaker Paul Moreira for a French TV documentary. He not only insisted “[Roundup] is not dangerous to humans, he also said “You can drink a whole quart of it and it won’t hurt you.” But when Moreira said, “You want to drink some? We have some here,” Moore responded “I’d be happy to … not really, but I know it wouldn’t hurt me,” and walked off the set when Moreira repeated his offer, calling the him an “idiot.”

Anastasia Pantsios|March 26, 2015

GMO Labeling: Nation’s ‘Biggest Food Fight’ Hits DC

Food products containing genetically modified ingredients (GMOs) are labeled in 64 countries all around the world, including Japan, China, Russia, Australia and the European Union. In many countries, consumers’ right to know what they’re eating is uncontroversial.

Not so in the U.S. While a vast majority of American consumers would like this information, industrial-scale food companies and chemical companies like Monsanto and DuPont that developed GMO crops and the pesticides and herbicides they’re engineered to resist don’t think they need it. While three states—Vermont, Maine and Rhode Island—have passed GMO labeling laws, ballot issues in California, Colorado and Oregon have gone down to defeat, thanks to massive spending by Monsanto, DuPont and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents the corporate food business.

Now the battle has shifted to the national level, where the corporations that benefit from GMOs are pushing for the so-called DARK (Denying Americans the Right to Know) Act, introduced by Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo, which would preempt states from setting up their own GMO labeling systems and bar them from defining “natural” foods as free from GMOs. Food safety advocates and consumer groups are fighting back, supporting a national mandatory labeling bill called the Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act, re-introduced in February by a group of congressional Democrats.

This morning, the House Agriculture Committee held a hearing on a national GMO labeling law. Following the hearing, Tom Colicchio, cofounder of Food Policy Action, Just Label It chairman Gary Hirshberg, Environmental Working Group (EWG) president Ken Cook and EWG vice president of governmental affairs Scott Faber held a teleconference to offer their thoughts on the bills, on GMO labeling in general and on the hearing, which Faber called “probably the most biased and unbalanced hearing in history of Congress.”

Colicchio rebutted one of the main arguments made by the companies battling against labeling: that it would dramatically increase food costs.

“The opposition would suggest that costs to consumers will skyrocket,” he said. “Manufacturers change labels all the time. Also the idea that we have to create a whole new system to track food—that’s already in place. A lot of this is scare tactics to get people to think prices will go through the roof and we don’t see that.”

Cook pointed out that it’s something people overwhelmingly want—as many as 90 percent, according to one poll.

“More than 1.4 million responded to a petition to label genetically engineered ingredients,” he said. “We’re seeing more and more state action. Seventy bills were proposed in 30 states in last two years. The food companies are coming to Washington for a big government solution because of a consumer uprising that caught them off guard. This is designed for one reason and one reason alone—to extinguish this consumer uprising that these companies thought would never happen in the U.S. They thought [GMO labeling] was a European phenomenon.”

There’s been a push by GMO supporters to declare their safety for consumption a “settled” issue and compare those questioning it to climate deniers, despite the lack of solid evidence either way. Science Guy Bill Nye earned a flurry of attention recently when he appeared to walk back on his skepticism about safety claims following a meeting with Monsanto.

But Hirshberg pointed out that even if that debate WERE settled in favor of GMOs, there’s still a big problem.

“There have been all kinds of exaggerations on both sides of the labeling debate—what I think we can call the biggest food fight in America,” he said. “But one fact that is not in dispute is that genetically engineered foods have led to enormous increases in herbicide use because crops are engineered to be tolerant of herbicides. In many cases farmers become dependent on an herbicide spiral and more resistant weeds, leading to stronger chemicals.”

He cited a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study that found the herbicide glyphosate, sold by Monsanto as Roundup which its “Roundup Ready” crops are engineered to resist, is found in most of the water sources in the Midwest.

“Higher yields [a commonly cited benefit of GMO crops] may come to pass, but 90 percent are engineered to tolerate more chemicals,” he said. “So it’s no surprise that companies selling these are chemical companies. We’ve been told since 1996, since the first herbicide-tolerant corn was introduced, that glyphosate is safe but as of Friday, we now know that what scientists have been saying for some time: the World Health Organization  (WHO) has said glyphosate is probably a carcinogen. And it’s in our rainwater, streams and air.”

Hirshberg said he believed that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has the power now to require GMO labeling, which the DARK Act would block, and brushed aside another common industry claim, that labeling would be equivalent to telling consumers to avoid a product, pointing out that orange juices made from concentrate must be labeled and it’s only considered a point of information, not a warning.

“This is economic tyranny being exercised by companies that want to protect status quo,” he said. ‘The fastest growing segment of the marketplace is organic and non-GMO. Mandatory labeling gives consumers choices. The bill [the DARK Act] is really diabolical and it’s really deceptive. It’s made to look like the sponsors support transparency but it really prevents it. This is really about selling pesticides and herbicides.”

Anastasia Pantsios|March 25, 2015

Energy

New Fracking Rules on Public Lands ‘A Giveaway to Oil and Gas Industry,’ Advocates Say

Earlier this week, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said that the new regulations for fracking on federal lands from the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) would be released “within the next few days,” following a four-year process that included receiving more than 1.5 million public comments. Today she unveiled those new rules, which take effect in 90 days. The BLM claimed they would “support safe and responsible hydraulic fracturing on public and American Indian lands.”

“Current federal well-drilling regulations are more than 30 years old and they simply have not kept pace with the technical complexities of today’s hydraulic fracturing operations,” said Jewell. “This updated and strengthened rule provides a framework of safeguards and disclosure protocols that will allow for the continued responsible development of our federal oil and gas resources. As we continue to offer millions of acres of public lands for conventional and renewable energy production, it is absolutely critical the public have confidence that transparent and effective safety and environmental protections are in place.”

Drilling has been occurring on federal lands for years with more than 100,000 wells in existence. However, following the fracking boom of the last two decades, more than 90 percent of new drilling operations involve that process, evading the regulations of 30 years ago.

Rather than the ban on new drilling that many environmental and citizen groups sought, the rules focus on safety issues like well construction, and chemical management and disclosure.

Specifically, they include:

• Ensuring the protection of groundwater supplies by requiring a validation of well integrity and strong cement barriers between the wellbore and water zones through which the wellbore passes;
• Requiring companies to publicly disclose chemicals used in fracking to the Bureau of Land Management through the website FracFocus within 30 days of completing operations;
• Higher standards for interim storage of recovered waste fluids from fracking to mitigate risks to air, water and wildlife; and
• Measures to lower the risk of cross-well contamination with chemicals and fluids used in the fracturing operation, by requiring companies to submit more detailed information on the geology, depth and location of preexisting wells to give the BLM the chance to better evaluate and manage site characteristics.

“This rule will protect public health and the environment during and after hydraulic fracturing operations at a modest cost while both respecting the work previously done by the industry, the states and the tribes and promoting the adoption of more protective standards across the country,” said Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Janice Schneider. “We know how important it is to get this right.”

“This rule was informed and shaped by the technical expertise, interests and concerns of all of our partners, and builds on the work of states and tribes to ensure best practices on a nationwide basis,” added BLM director Neil Kornze. “The new regulations are essential to our mutual efforts to protect the environment and the communities that depend on vital water, land and wildlife resources. This rule is good government.”

That opinion was far from universal. Some environmental groups hailed it as a good start.

“Our public lands and the people who live near them deserve the highest level of protection from the oil and gas industry,” said Earthjustice senior legislative representative Jessica Ennis. “Today’s Interior rules take an important step forward by moving toward the use of tanks to store toxic produced water and removing the flawed ‘type well’ concept and replacing it with a requirement for integrity tests on all wells, but there is more to be done. The U.S. must ramp up its expansion of clean energy and keep oil and gas in the ground.”

“The BLM fracking rule is a significant improvement over business as usual,” said Earthworks policy director Lauren Pagel. “For the first time, the BLM will prohibit fracking waste pits on public lands, and require oil and gas companies to test the integrity of every well to help prevent pollution. But in other important ways this rule falls short of what is needed to protect communities and the environment and continues the Obama administration’s pattern of prioritizing fossil fuel extraction over clean energy development and people’s health.”

Others were more emphatic about how much the new rules fall short.

“Our precious public lands have and are continuing to be sacrificed by the Obama administration, only for the short-term profit of the oil and gas industry,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “Our work will continue to truly protect the millions of acres of federal lands that will remain in harm’s way until fracking is halted entirely. Americans believe that preserving the environmental integrity of these areas for generations to come is a critically important policy goal, especially in light of new evidence about fracking-related harm to natural resources.”

“Our public lands are too precious to spoil with fracking,” said Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky of Illinois who, along with Congressman Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, introduced a bill in December to ban fracking on public lands. “The BLM regulations are a step in the right direction, but more must be done to ensure that public lands are protected and preserved for future generations. We will continue to work to completely ban fracking on public lands.”

But even these modest, common-sense rules were too much for some industry players. The American Petroleum Institute (API) called them “duplicative” and a hindrance to job growth. “Despite the renaissance on state and private lands, energy production on federal lands has fallen, and this rule is just one more barrier to growth,” said API director of upstream and industry operations Erik Milito. “Under the strong environmental stewardship of state regulators, hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have opened up a new era of energy security, job growth and economic strength.”

Mark Ruffalo, an advisory board member for Americans Against Fracking, couldn’t disagree more. “Our U.S. national parks and public lands are some of our most treasured places and should be protected from fracking. Yet instead of following the lead of New York in banning fracking, the Obama Administration has devised fracking regulations that are nothing more then a giveaway to the oil and gas industry. These regulations take from us our heritage and hands it to an industry that doesn’t need a hand out. Industrialization and parks don’t belong together.”

Charlie Cray, research specialist at Greenpeace, agrees, “The President should direct BLM to stop issuing any new leases immediately until there is evidence that we won’t cross the climate tipping point, or the very least until their new methane pollution regulations are finalized and binding. All of the above should mean no more from below.”

Anastasia Pantsios|March 20, 2015

Appeal Decision Blocks Shell Oil Train Project

 County must first analyze environmental and public health risks of dangerous oil rail project

With last weekend’s oil train explosions in Ontario and West Virginia fresh in our minds, this is a commonsense victory for communities along the rail line.

The Skagit County Hearing Examiner today halted Shell Oil Refinery’s planned crude-by-rail expansion until it undertakes a full, transparent environmental review. The decision blocks the project until such a comprehensive review can be completed.

The Hearing Examiner found that Shell’s proposed project, which would receive hundreds of tank cars of crude oil every week, posed a significant risk of harm to people, water, and wildlife. 

The decision finds that:

“The crude oil being brought in large quantities to a small area in the northwest Washington State is highly flammable and explosive. Catastrophes have occurred elsewhere. No one doubts that such a thing could occur here … Unquestionably, the potential magnitude and duration of environmental and human harm from oil train operations in Northwest Washington could be very great.”

“With last weekend’s oil train explosions in Ontario and West Virginia fresh in our minds, this is a commonsense victory for communities along the rail line,” said Jan Hasselman, an attorney with Earthjustice representing the conservation groups. “Before allowing more oil trains, Skagit County must make sure they pose no threat to our communities, our waters, and our way of life.”

In Skagit County, the oil trains pass right through the downtowns of Burlington and Mount Vernon. The oil trains also cross the old Burlington/Mount Vernon bridge spanning the Skagit River immediately above the Anacortes Water Treatment Plant and the old swing bridge spanning the Swinomish Channel directly adjacent to the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. While there is pending state legislation that would enhance public information on oil transport, those laws are not yet on the books.

“The Hearing Examiner correctly found that the enormity of the environmental impacts associated with Shell’s Bakken oil trains warrants a full environmental and safety review,” said Tom Glade, president of local watchdog group Evergreen Islands, one of the appellants. “We applaud the Hearing Examiner for listening to the evidence and to the community.”

Shell is the latest of several projects that would involve increases in transportation of Bakken crude oil through Washington state, none of which received any meaningful environmental review. The decision highlights the failure of the state to grapple with the cumulative impacts of multiple projects, finding: “The total impact of the entirety of the massive upsurge in shipments of crude along this route has not been analyzed. The risks that adding one more actor to this scene poses to the environment and to health and safety can only be appreciated after a cumulative analysis of the entire picture.”

The Hearing Examiner also highlighted the importance of the unique ecosystem near the refinery on Padilla Bay—which support an “astonishing diversity” of aquatic life—and the County’s failure to analyze the risks of an oil spill there.  He also observed the importance of the Skagit River for salmon production and the need to review potential spill impacts on salmon habitat.

Jan Hasselman|Attorney|Earthjustice|February 23, 2015

RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, Friends of the San Juans, ForestEthics, Washington Environmental Council, Friends of the Earth, and Evergreen Islands filed the Shell appeal, represented by Kristen Boyles and Jan Hasselman of Earthjustice.

Groups File Suit to Protect Greater Chaco Region From Dangerous Fracking

Feds Approving Oil Drilling at Expense of Public Health, Cultural Treasures, Safe Climate

Santa, Fe, NM—A coalition of local, regional, and national watchdog groups filed suit today to put the brakes on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s ongoing approval of fracking in the Greater Chaco region of northwestern New Mexico. The suit comes as community members and organizations today are rallying at the New Mexico State Legislature in support of a moratorium on fracking in Greater Chaco.

“It’s time to put the brakes on an out of control agency that wants to promote fracking at the expense of our clean air, scarce water, and a safe climate,” said John Horning, Executive Director of WildEarth Guardians. “The Bureau of Land Management has to stop putting the oil and gas industry ahead of our public lands and our future.”

Filed in federal court, the suit challenges the Bureau of Land Management for illegally authorizing a surge of new fracking in the Greater Chaco region. Home to Chaco Canyon, extensive Ancestral Puebloan ruins, and Navajo communities, the region is considered the cultural heart of the American Southwest.

Over the last two years, the Bureau of Land Management has approved more than 130 new fracking proposals, primarily near Lybrook and within 20 miles of Chaco Canyon. This, despite the agency’s acknowledgment that it has never analyzed how this development will impact public health and the environment, and has no plan in place to protect the regions’ air, water, and communities.

“The Bureau of Land Management is not taking serious consideration of the sacredness of the Greater Chaco region and the impacts on surrounding Diné communities as they continue to approve more drilling and fracking,” said Colleen Cooley with Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment. “It’s time to account for what really matters, our health, our environment, and future generations.”

Today’s suit also comes as 30 groups, including Navajo, community, environmental, and for-profit energy companies called on New Mexico Senators Udall and Heinrich and Congressman Luján to support a moratorium on oil and gas fracking until the Bureau of Land Management can assure protection of the region.

“The Bureau of Land Management is recklessly leaping before looking, turning its back on our public lands in favor of the oil and gas industry,” said Mike Eisenfeld, New Mexico Energy Coordinator for the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “With all signs that fracking is costing us dearly, it’s time to put the brakes on this disaster.”

The fracking approvals have come amidst industry pressure to exploit oil from the Mancos shale using horizontal drilling. An intensively industrial form of fossil fuel development, horizontal drilling has besieged the region with truck traffic, oil tanks, pipelines, flares, and fracking