ConsRep 1508 D

Civilization… wrecks the planet from seafloor to stratosphere. ~Richard Bach

Announcements

FWC to meet Sept. 2-3 in Fort Lauderdale

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will meet Sept. 2-3 at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina,

1881 SE 17th St., Fort Lauderdale. Both sessions are open to the public.

The meeting both days starts at 8:30 a.m. and the public will be provided opportunities to speak.

For the full Sept. 2-3 agenda and links to background reports, go to www.MyFWC.com/Commission and select “Commission Meetings.”

Those who cannot attend can follow live coverage at Twitter.com/MyFWC (Twitter@MyFWC) and join in the conversation at the #FWC2015 hashtag.

Check the Florida Channel for possible live video coverage at TheFloridaChannel.org.

Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge Announces Proposed Expansion of Public Uses  

The Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge is proposing to expand the walking, hiking and bicycle riding public access on the A.B,C impoundments as well as on the L-40, L-39, and L-7 levees. 

The proposed expansion of uses will provide visitors additional areas to experience the myriad of wading birds, waterfowl, hawks, and alligators

that use the Refuge and surrounding natural areas.  The Refuge interior is bounded by a perimeter canal and

levee system.  The draft compatibility determination (CD), based on sound professional judgment,

is a written determination that proposed uses will not interfere with or detract from the fulfillment of the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System or purpose of the Refuge.  

A copy of this draft CD can be downloaded from the following web site:

http://www.fws.gov/refuge/ARM_Loxahatchee/

We respect and appreciate your input on the compatibility determination for the expansion of public use opportunities at the Refuge. 

Comments and suggestions can be submitted to ARMLoxahatchee@fws.gov  Subject Line: Compatibility Determination. 

The public comment period is scheduled to run through Aug. 31, 2015. 

The National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act of 1997 identifies six priority public uses that are appropriate on National Wildlife Refuges,

including hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, wildlife photography, interpretation, and environmental education. 

The overall goal for the hunt program at the Refuge is to develop and conduct a quality and biologically sound program that:

1) leads to enjoyable recreation experiences;

2) leads to greater understanding and appreciation of wildlife resources;

and 3) aids in the conservation of wildlife populations and their habitats.

The refuge is located off U.S. 441/SR 7, two miles south of SR 804 (Boynton Beach Blvd.) and three miles north of SR 806 (Delray Beach’s Atlantic Avenue). 

The refuge is currently open from 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., seven days a week. 

Refuge hours are posted at each entrance. 

The Visitor Center hours are 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.,

seven days a week.  An entrance fee of $5.00 per vehicle or $1.00 per pedestrian is charged.  A variety of annual passes, including a $12.00 refuge specific annual pass, are available. 

Please visit the refuge website at   www.armloxahatchee.fws.gov

or call the Administration Office at (561) 732-3684.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve,protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of  the American people.

We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence,

stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service.

For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov

Big Float for Clean Water Postponed until Sept. 12th

Due to Tropical Storm/Hurricane Erika, we’re pushing back our clean water celebration! We hope you can still join us for a day of family fun at the beach with Miami Waterkeeper, Biscayne Nature Center, Sweetwater Brewery, and Sidewalk Salads.

Of Interest to All

As River Runs Orange, Mining Industry Attacks Tool to Prevent Toxic Spills

The images are frightening, surreal, sickening. A spill of polluted water from a closed gold mine turned the blue Animas River in Colorado’s southwest corner a vomit orange hue last week. 

And while initial tests seemed to show fish could weather the hugely increased levels of toxic metals in the bright plume, the spill immediately dealt a body-blow to communities in the Four Corners region. Many communities, including the Navajo Nation, couldn’t drink the water and were desperately searching for alternate water sources. Rafting companies and anglers—both important to the local economy in and around Durango, Colo.—were ordered off the river. Without safe irrigation water, many farmers crops may dry up.

As High Country News’ Jonathan Thompson put it in his excellent article:

The Animas River courses through the middle of Durango, provides a portion of its drinking and irrigation water, and over the last few decades has become the recreational and aesthetic, wild, green heart of the city. The spill essentially stopped the heart’s beat.

And it may be years, if not decades, before the long-term impacts to the health of the Animas and the people and wildlife who use it are known.

The immediate cause of the spill was a botched effort by the EPA to shore up a dam holding polluted water from the inactive Gold King mine. Enter politicians attacking the EPA’s slow response and poor communications.

Some criticism of the EPA was deserved. And the agency still has a lot of work to do to ensure that people and businesses get the help they need to recover from this disaster.

But it’s important to remember that bashing the EPA won’t fix the bigger issue. The agency was not the ultimate cause of the pollution. It was the mining industry, which has a rich tradition of walking away from its messes. The Colorado River watershed is home to hundreds of abandoned mine sites, many of which are ticking toxic time bombs because they haven’t been properly cleaned up or reclaimed.

There’s a lot that could be done to address mine pollution. One long-discussed way to reduce the huge number of potential mine pollution accidents is to pass legislation that shields from liability the “good Samaritans” who take over mine sites to clean them up.

The best approach, though, is always prevention; that is, restricting damaging mining in areas where mining poses a threat to watersheds, wildlife and people. 

But as the mass of orange water makes its way from the Animas, to the San Juan and then to the Colorado River, the National Mining Association is fighting in court to make it impossible for the federal government to wield one of its more powerful tools to prevent future mining pollution.

That tool is called a mineral “withdrawal.” Under current law, the Secretary of the Interior has the power to place public land more than 5,000 acres in size off-limits to new mining claims areas for 20 years. In the past decade, the secretary has used that power to protect habitat for bighorn sheep, desert tortoise and antelope, to safeguard rivers, and to put the brakes on uranium mining around Grand Canyon National Park.

But in a lawsuit challenging the Grand Canyon withdrawal, the mining industry argues that the legal provision giving the Interior secretary authority to withdraw large areas from mining is unconstitutional.  It’s an argument that Earthjustice helped defeat in federal district court in Arizona. But the industry continues to fight to gut the Interior Department’s authority in an appeal to the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco. We’ll be filing our brief opposing the industry association early next month.

The stakes are huge, as the spill in the Las Animas underscores.  If the mining industry succeeds in gutting the secretary’s withdrawal authority, it will be impossible for the Interior Department to put large areas off limits to new mining claims for more than a few years, whatever pollution or environmental damage new mining may cause. And so it will become more difficult to prevent future spills. 

Because no matter how modern the mining industry’s methods are today, accidents can happen.  And, as we were reminded last week, they almost always do.

A short video with footage of the spill.

Ted Zukoski|August 12, 2015

California Pushes to Label Foods Containing Produce Irrigated With Fracking Water

The race to find cleaner energy sources has led to a boon in hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in search of natural gas. Highly pressurized chemicals and water are pumped deep underground to break shale and release natural gas for harvesting. Residents and environmentalists have long been opposed to the process, which has seen an increase of health issues due to contaminated water. In drought stricken California, there is also concern about the amount of water being used in fracking operations, as well as what is done with the wastewater.

California farmers are frustrated with oil companies that have encroached on their areas. Fertile farm land is also filled with natural gas and there has been an increase in fracking operations. As the name implies, hydraulic fracturing is a water-intensive process. At the front-end, freshwater is infused with chemicals and is pumped into the shale. This has put farmers and oil companies in competition for the ever decreasing amount of water available.

As a result, more farmers are purchasing treated fracking wastewater from the oil and gas companies to irrigate their crops. An estimated 21 million gallons a day of treated wastewater are sent to Central Valley farmers. While this practice has happened for nearly two decades, the drought-induced increase has caused alarm. Through lobbying, oil and gas companies have been successful in limiting the amount of testing of the fracking water. The limited testing that is done is over a decade old and only tests for known chemicals and not the ones used in the fracking process.

California has been slow to act on regulation, but has started pushing for greater transparency. Last year, a law establishing stricter reporting requirements was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year. It requires companies to indicate the source of the water, what chemicals are used to treat it, and how the wastewater is disposed. The disposal report is required to include information as to whether the wastewater is reused in the fracking process, as well as if it is recycled and sold for other purposes – like farming.

One of the main concerns about the use of fracking wastewater for irrigation is that no one knows how or if the chemicals end up in the food chain. Part of the problem has been that farmers and scientists don’t even know what to test for. The first reports under the new requirements were issued this March. This allowed scientists to discover there are 316 chemical additives used in fracking. Many have never been studied to determine the impact on water quality. Still, it will be some time for research to be done to detail how much of the known chemicals end up in the treated water and if there is any risk to the food chain.

In the meantime, another California legislator wants to keep the public informed that recycled fracking wastewater is used on the food they eat. Rep. Mike Gatto of Glendale wants to amend the California Health and Safety code to require manufacturers that “produces packaged food that contains a plant irrigated with wastewater from oil and gas field activities” to label the package accordingly. In addition, farmers and other suppliers are required to inform buyers if they used fracking wastewater during irrigation.

The bill does not stop the use of recycled fracking wastewater, but allows for greater transparency of its use. Activists have pushed for more labeling on foods in light of greater knowledge of how our food is grown and distributed. A proposition to require labeling of products that use GMO crops failed to pass by voters in 2012. The fracking wastewater bill takes a similar approach to labeling requirements.

The amount of water used for fracking is much less than that used for agriculture. Nevertheless, with water sources literally drying up every drop matters and the prioritization of its use is paramount. Interestingly, a new process to increase the amount of wastewater that is reused in the fracking process has been developed. Instead of using freshwater at the front end, wastewater is treated and modified enough and reduces the amount of freshwater used. A fracking site in Pennsylvania has been able to recycle nearly 80 percent of its water.

Some companies in California have started reusing a small amount of wastewater, but still all rely on freshwater. While the bill introduced by Gatto will do nothing to reduce the use of wastewater in irrigation, if passed, it will allow Californians to be more aware. Consumers have no control over food production. However, knowing what’s involved in the process allows them to make an informed choice as to what makes it to the dinner table.

Crystal Shepeard|August 23, 2015

Broward County takes step to oppose Everglades drilling

Cities, county vow to fight Everglades drilling proposal

In a County Commission meeting Tuesday, commissioners unanimously voted to pursue an amendment to state law clarifying that counties have the power to decide whether drilling can occur in unincorporated areas, just as state law says cities do within their borders.

Opposition to the proposed drilling has grown since the company applied for an exploratory drilling permit in early July.

Edna LaRoche, executive assistant to Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam, said a “league of cities” stands with Miramar to oppose Kanter’s application, including Sunrise, Pembroke Pines, Hallandale Beach, Plantation, Tamarac, Weston and Wilton Manors.

Miramar, the closest city to the proposed drilling site, will hold a town hall meeting Tuesday, Aug. 18, at 6:30 p.m. in the Miramar City Hall.

The meeting will allow Broward County cities to discuss methods to organize efforts and respond to actions taken by the state, LaRoche said.

According to Jay Schwartz, a Pembroke Pines commissioner, the city will also hold a town hall meeting on Aug. 20 at the River of Grass Theater at 7 p.m.

Of the 18 people who spoke Tuesday, only one supported exploratory drilling in the Everglades.

Commissioner Dale Holness said he wholeheartedly supports the effort to amend the statute.

“This is a critical thing that we must do,” he said. “We have to protect [the environment] not only for us today, but for our children and grandchildren. I hope our steps to get the legislation in place that gives us more empowerment will be done as speedily as possible.”

Brooke Baitinger|Sun Sentinel

Why Miami [and all of South Florida] is mostly unprotected from hurricanes

On the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is far better protected now than it was then. The same can’t be said about Miami.

As Tropical Storm Erika stalks the Western Atlantic Ocean and threatens to morph into a hurricane, Miami’s multibillion dollar coastline has little protection from storms.

Erika could change course or intensity at any time, meaning that it could weaken by the time it reaches the coast as easily as it could strengthen. Emergency preparations are already underway in some Florida communities, even though the storm is not expected to reach the state until early next week.

It brings to mind a daunting realization: America’s coasts are packed with people and property, and yet they are highly vulnerable to extreme storms.

“Of the 20 large (global) cities that people talk about as being highly at risk for coast storms, about eight of them are on the American coast: the East Coast and the South coast,” said Greg Baecher, a professor of engineering at the University of Maryland.

“If a Katrina directly hit Miami, you are talking about damages that could be several multiples of what happened in New Orleans,” Baecher told CNBC. “First, you have the size of the city, and the fact that there is nothing between the coast and the ocean.”

Miami has become more committed to storm preparedness since Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992, causing $26 billion in damage. At the time, Andrew was the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history.

South Florida does have levees, canals and other systems for reducing the impacts of flooding. For example, there are levees that prevent the Everglades from flooding nearby dry land. But there is still little shielding the city from the ocean and the path of ocean hurricanes.

The rock beneath Miami—and the ocean water immediately around it—is a kind of porous limestone that presents challenges as the population of South Florida grows, as its coastline becomes developed, and as nature changes. The limestone bedrock makes rising sea levels a concern—saltwater from the ocean can penetrate the rock and seep into Florida’s freshwater supply, said Ben Kirtman, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Miami.

The limestone is so porous, “that to build a seawall, you would actually have to drill way deep to get past the limestone in order to build an effective wall,” Kirtman said.

Building levees or seawalls on that kind of rock may protect against the force of some storm surge, but water can still seep up through the pores, bypassing the walls entirely.

“I have seen that even during hurricanes, where houses are flooded not because of overland flooding, but because the water is coming up through the rock from underneath,” said Harold Wanless, a professor of geological sciences at the University of Miami.

But even above the ground and water level, Miami isn’t well protected. The area has a few seawalls in select places, but nothing resembling a complete levee system. The city also is low lying.

“Only 9 percent of Miami-Dade County is more than 10 feet above sea level at high tide,” Wanless said. “It’s crazy how low we are, and how vulnerable we are to storm surges, to flooding.”

Miami relies heavily on a pumping system to push water back out faster than it can flood the city.

“That sounds crazy, but for the near term, that is probably one of the most viable solutions,” Kirtman said.

Sea levels around South Florida are expected to rise between 6 and 9 inches by 2030, and Kirtman’s own guess is toward the high end of that.

Rising sea levels will cause average yearly global flood losses to increase to $52 billion by 2050, up from about $6 billion a decade ago, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

“Due to their high wealth and low protection level, three American cities”—Miami, New York and New Orleans—”are responsible for 31 percent of the losses across the 136 cities” by 2050 around the world, the report said. New Orleans and New York have already been hit in recent years by Katrina and Sandy, respectively.

Some of that flooding will be chronic, or seasonal. But a severe storm with a large surge of ocean water is also a danger.

Robert Ferris|27 Aug 2015

A HISTORY OF DECEIT-  HOW DUPONT POISONED THE WORLD

Be prepared to be amazed and angered.

Birds and Butterflies

Male Eastern Bluebirds learn to shout above the traffic

A new study, led by scientists from the University of Exeter, has been looking at how Eastern Bluebirds in the US change their songs in response to increases in nearby background noise such as traffic.

They found that the birds altered their songs immediately after noise levels intensified, making ‘real-time’ adjustments in order to produce songs that are both louder and lower-pitched.

This enabled them to produce songs that were more likely to be heard by potential mates or rivals. 

The results suggest that birds are able to perceive increases in noise and respond accordingly – not unlike the way humans do when they are in a noisy environment.

Dr Caitlin Kight, a behavioral ecologist based at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, led the study entitled Eastern Bluebirds Alter their Song in Response to Anthropogenic Changes in the Acoustic Environment, and published in the scientific journal Integrative and Comparative Biology.

Dr Kight says that the research could help improve our understanding of environmental constraints on animal communication, as well as enhance our awareness of what sorts of human modifications can impact animals, and how we might be able to reduce any negative effects of these disturbances.

“Although many manmade noise regimes are often very different from those found in nature,” he says. “There can be surprising similarities in certain features, including volume, pitch, or timing.

“Sounds caused by traffic, for example, may not be hugely different from those produced by waterfalls or heavy winds.

“Animals that evolved in habitats with those natural features may therefore already have, within their existing repertoires of behaviours, the flexibility to respond to noise pollution. This certainly seems to be the case with bluebirds.”

Although it has previously been shown that birds in noisier areas tend to sing differently to those in quieter surrounds, it was not immediately clear whether birds were able to make vocal adjustments in real time.

However, real-time modifications have now been observed in five different avian species, although the current study is the first to describe this behaviour in a member of the thrush family.

Dr Kight recorded songs produced by 32 male Eastern Bluebirds, and analysed two from each male – those produced during the quietest and loudest period of ambient noise – to investigate whether males changes their songs between these two conditions. 

Co-author Dr John Swaddle, from The College of William and Mary in Virginia, USA, cautions against interpreting these findings as evidence that noise pollution has no adverse impacts on wild animals.

Dr Swaddle says: “Unfortunately, the world is getting so noisy that even the most flexible of species will eventually reach a threshold beyond which they will have difficulty communicating – which will impact their ability to breed successfully.

“When we build roads and airports near human neighbourhoods, we employ noise abatement protocols in an effort to mitigate against the negative impacts of noise pollution.

“It is time to apply similar caution to conservation, management, and landscaping plans that impact wildlife and their habitats.”

From Wildlife Extra

Majestic Monarch Mural Unveiled in Minneapolis

In the third installment of the Center’s Endangered Species Mural Project, artist Roger Peet has painted a beautiful, colorful mural of one of North America’s most beloved and iconic butterflies, the monarch, on the wall of Toni’s Market, in diverse south Minneapolis.

The monarch butterfly undertakes an amazing multigenerational migration each year, with the butterflies that metamorphose in Minnesota and other northern locales in late summer flying all the way to Mexico to overwinter before heading north to lay the next generation of eggs in the southern United States the following spring. Once the common backyard friends of children across the continent, monarchs have declined by more than 80 percent in the past 20 years due to pesticide use and development.

The unveiling of the monarch mural included music, educational events and a talk by Center biologist Tierra Curry, a lead author on a petition by the Center and allies to protect monarchs under the Endangered Species Act. It was the third gala in our new Endangered Species Mural Project. The others are in Sandpoint, Idaho, and Butte, Mont.

Learn more about our Endangered Species Mural Project and read about the monarch’s plight in The Washington Post.

http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/about/creative_media/endangered_species_mural_project/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/08/26/nearly-a-billion-monarch-butterflies-have-vanished-now-their-haven-in-mexico-is-also-disappearing/

Center for Biological Diversity |Endangered Earth

Earth’s Highest-flying Bird Soars Seven Miles Up

On Nov. 29, 1973, a commercial aircraft cruising over western Africa collided with a Rüppell’s griffon vulture. The impact damaged an engine, shutting it down. Fortunately, the plane was able to land safely; unfortunately, the bird was not. Investigators had to rely on five complete feathers and 15 partial feathers, cross-referenced with material in the National Museum of Natural History, to identify the species as Gyps rueppellii.

In the age of high-volume commercial air traffic, the event may seem ordinary: More than 9,000 birds are reported struck annually by planes in the United States alone, and since pilots don’t have to log “inconsequential” bird strikes, the numbers are likely higher than that.

What’s extraordinary is the altitude at which the impact took place: 37,000 feet. No other bird had ever been recorded soaring more than 7 miles above the Earth.

Tragically, these extraordinarily high flyers — like nearly all species of vulture in Africa — are at high risk of extinction.

Center for Biological Diversity |Endangered Earth

Galapagos Penguin: The Beach Bum

Think of a penguin. What do you see? Allow me to hazard a guess: You see a cathedral of snow and ice, and towering glaciers. You see, in the cold, crystalline waters, icebergs so white they seem to glow blue. You see a remote and forbidding landscape, thousands of miles from everywhere, and in the midst of that emptiness you see a gathering of monkish, black-and-white birds huddled against the unrelenting winds, the very essence of animal stoicism.

Now let me propose an alternative. Replace the snow with sand. Instead of ice, think of lava rock. Instead of bitter cold, think dazzling sun. And instead of a somber group of birds utterly at home in those freezing climes, far removed from any trace of people, imagine a gaggle of penguins who enjoy frequent visits from a steady stream of human well-wishers, and who have never encountered ice or snow in their entire lives—and wouldn’t even know what to do with the stuff if they did.

You can, however, keep the wind.

This is the life of the small (a little more than a foot tall, weighing about five pounds), churlish (it’ll snatch fish right out of a pelican’s beak), and vocal (its territorial call sounds a heck of a lot like a donkey braying) Galapagos Penguin, or Spheniscus mendiculus. Truth be told, it’s actually the life a surprising number of penguins—only two of the 18 penguin species live solely in Antarctica—but the Galapagos Penguin does have the distinction of being the only penguin in the world that breeds in the northern hemisphere. Debating whether penguins have it better down at the icy southern tip of the world or the sunny, sandy middle is as fruitless as debating the merits of L.A. versus New York—but I know which one I’d choose.

Living as they do smack on the equator, Galapagos Penguins have had to adapt to the hot desert, where temperatures regularly run north of 100 degrees, and they beat the heat in a number of ways. For one thing, feathers can get burdensome in the heat, so when they breed, Galapagos Penguins will shed the feathers around their bills and eyes, exposing bare skin, which helps keep them cool. They’re also experts in thermodynamics: They know to stand so that the glaring sun is facing their reflective white belly, not their heat-absorbing black back. And then there’s the matter of refrigerating their eggs: The sun-exposed lava rocks over which Galapagos daintily hop can become so hot as to boil an egg, so the penguins will nest in lava tubes, caves, cracks in the rocks—any place they can squeeze into and find a little shade.

One more thing: They pant, like dogs.

So the Galapagos Penguin has adapted to the heat—but so have a lot of animals. What really sets these birds apart is how they have adapted to the predictable unpredictability of their environment. One of the quirks of living on the equator is that the Galapagos Penguin doesn’t encounter the strong seasonality that penguins elsewhere have to deal with. Instead, it is subject to the whims of the currents, and one in particular: the Cromwell Current. A deepwater current that runs along the equator, the Cromwell Current is extremely productive: During periods of upwelling, when its deep, cold, nutrient-rich waters are hauled to the surface, marine life abounds around the Galapagos. For the penguins, this means a glut of fish on which they happily feast—anchoveta, pilchard, and mullet, among other things.

But while these penguins can be sure that the eating will be good when the Cromwell Current comes to town, they can never be sure when that will actually happen. And a visit from the Cromwell doesn’t mean that all the penguins have to do is kick back and gorge themselves—the wealth of nutrition also makes it prime breeding time. That means that the Galapagos Penguins have to be ready to breed at a moment’s notice. March, November—it doesn’t matter to them; when the water gets cold they get down to business. Sometimes pairs will successfully breed two or three times a year to take advantage of abundant food—each go of it results in a two-egg clutch, and the chicks will be ready to fledge a few months later—and then go for months or longer without breeding at all.

That the Galapagos Penguins have adapted to roll with the currents has the unfortunate side effect of making them vulnerable to strong El Niño events, during which the ocean around the islands stays warm, food levels plummet and penguins stop breeding. And these birds need to breed: The Galapagos Penguin is one of the rarest penguins, with a population of somewhere between 1,500 and 4,700 individuals. As climate change takes its toll, El Niños are only expected to increase in frequency and strength, which has scientists worried about the Galapagos Penguin’s future. On the other hand, just last week scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution released a study suggesting that climate change may actually be helping the Galapagos Penguin by shifting the path of the Cromwell Current so that it reaches parts of the island that haven’t in the past been graced by its cold, fish-filled waters, expanding the penguins’ habitat. Hot sun, cold grub, a (possible) lifeline from the threat of climate change—those little guys down in Antarctica don’t know what they’re missing.

Audubon Sketch|8/18/15

Florida Panthers

HELP PROTECT THE FLORIDA PANTHER

On Wednesday, September 2, 2015, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will have a meeting to discuss the fate of Florida panther management in the state of Florida. 

The panther, Florida’s official state mammal, is an endangered species with a recent official population estimate of only 160-180 individuals. The current Florida Panther Recovery Plan is rooted in science and determines when the panther population is considered to be secure from the threat of extinction. Unfortunately, a proposed FWC policy change undermines these scientifically-based recovery goals and would limit agency resources for expanding panther populations north of the Caloosahatchee River.

At the FWC’s last meeting, the state wildlife agency reviewed a draft Position Statement regarding panther management, and directed staff to amend the statement to ensure that protections and recovery actions would not be weakened for the critically-endangered panther. While the revised draft has improved, the proposal still contains detrimental new policies and should not be approved:

  • The Position Statement inappropriately asserts that the current recovery goals are not achievable, though they are based on best available science. The Florida panther population has improved from a low of approximately 20 panthers, the current population is making progress to an ultimate goal of 3 populations of 240 cats each. Scientific studies show that this is necessary to fully protect and recovery the panther.

  • The Position Statement asks for revision of the science-based recovery goals in spite of their federal partner US Fish and Wildlife Service’s current process (the Panther Recovery Implementation Team) to review recovery criteria. The state agency should wait for the completion of this process.

  • The Position Statement inappropriately seeks to limit the panther population to a size that is “compatible” with human-panther conflicts, even though the species is still imperiled and the population needs to increase. This may result in the FWC seeking to limit panthers to a population below what is needed for recovery.

Instead, the FWC should be working with the federal lead agency, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, through the existing Panther Recovery Implementation Team process which the FWC is a participant in, to collaboratively develop consensus-based policy positions on the recovery of the federally endangered Florida panther.

Here are ways you can weigh in on this major decision concerning panther conservation:

Invasive species

Hunting Pythons in the Park ?

Environmental group challenges 2016 Python Challenge

A national environmental group has challenged the 2016 Python Challenge.

From Jan. 16 through Feb. 14, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will hold its second competition to remove pythons from public lands in South Florida; this year, hunting grounds have been expanded to include parts of Everglades National Park.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, based in Washington, D.C., oppose the park’s involvement because, among other things, hunting in U.S. National Parks is illegal, PEER executive director Jeff Ruch said.

At fault, Ruch said, is Pedro Ramos, who became superintendent of Everglades National Park in January after five years as superintendent of Big Cypress National Preserve.

“This is about the unprofessionalism of park management, particularly the superintendent,” Ruch said. “He doesn’t have the statutory authority to allow a hunt in Everglades National Park. He just came from Big Cypress, where hunting is allowed: Perhaps he didn’t realize there’s no hunting in national parks.”

Ramos could not be reached for comment, but he is quoted in a recent press release about the 2016 Python Challenge as saying, “We look forward to expanding access into the park and to providing more opportunities for members of the public to become approved authorized python agents.”

In response to a letter from PEER to the National Park Service concerning the Python Challenge, park service officials are reviewing its authorized agent program, through which members of the public are trained to capture pythons in and remove them from Florida’s national parks, spokesman Bill Reynolds said.

According a Project Synopsis for the program: “Within the Parks, existing regulations prevent ‘hunting’ and removal of wildlife from the Parks. Through the authorized agent program, members of the public are authorized to participate in python removal as ‘agents of the NPS.'”

Reynolds also said the service would “not respond to name-calling” or to specific concerns raised by Ruch to The News-Press.

“The review will be complete next week and will address all of PEER’s questions,” Reynolds said. “I can’t speculate on what the results of the review are going to be.”

Burmese pythons are non-natives and a major ecological concern in South Florida because they are apex predators that feed on many native mammal, bird and reptile species.

Pythons were first documented in Everglades National Park in 1979, and more than 2,000 have been removed from the park since 2000.

FWC held the first Python Challenge in 2013 in four Wildlife Management Areas, which are managed by FWC; Everglades National Park was not part of the 2013 event.

About 1,600 people from 38 states, the District of Columbia and Canada registered for the 2013 challenge; FWC officials don’t know how many people actually participated, but those who did removed 68 Burmese pythons.

In the 2013 Python Challenge, cash awards were given for most and longest pythons captured; categories for the 2016 challenge haven’t been determined, but awards will be given for the longest snakes captured, according to FWC spokeswoman Carli Segelson.

“This is not an Everglades National Park activity,” Ruch said. “It’s an FWC activity, billed as a competition with awards. If you let this kind of thing in National Parks, it would set a precedent, and you’d have competitions in National Parks to see who can shoot the biggest bison. It would change the character of National Parks.”

FWC officials didn’t want to weigh in on PEER’s concerns, Segelson said.

Another PEER complaint is that Ramos didn’t take steps to make sure capturing pythons in Everglades National Park complies with the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires national agencies to assess environmental effects of proposals before making decisions.

“The last time they did this, they had 1,600 people, and this one is supposed to be bigger,” Ruch said. “So, say you have 2,000 people tromping through the Everglades, capturing things they think are snakes. We don’t know what collateral damage it will have. A NEPA analysis would lay that out.

“This is like the Mickey Rooney Andy Hardy movies, where he says, ‘Hey, kids, my uncle has a barn: Let’s put on a show,’ except it’s the superintendent saying, ‘I got a National Park: Let’s put on a high-profile python hunt.’

KEVIN LOLLAR|NEWS-PRESS

Endangered Species

California Has its First Wolf Pack After Nearly a Century

Wolf advocates are celebrating big news with the confirmation that California has become home to its first official pack for the first time in almost 100 years.

Officials from the Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) confirmed there are now two adult wolves and five pups living in Northern California. They’ve been designated the Shasta Pack.

Just weeks ago, the agency confirmed a sighting of a lone wolf who was captured in images by a remote trail camera set up in southeastern Siskiyou County. After the sighting, more cameras were set up, which caught the adults and pups who are believed to be about four months old.

“This news is exciting for California,” said Charlton Bonham, director of the CDFW, in a statement. “We knew wolves would eventually return home to the state, and it appears now is the time.”

The news is definitely big for wolves and for those who have been pushing for them to return to their historic range. The first confirmed wolf to make its way the state since the last one was killed in 1924 was the now infamous 0R-7, who appeared in 2011.

He’s since returned home to Oregon and has settled down and started his own family. But his appearance helped clear the way for others to safely follow. In an effort to prepare for their eventual return, last year the the California Fish and Game Commission voted to protect gray wolves under the state’s Endangered Species Act, which makes it illegal to harm, harass or kill wolves in the state – who are also still federally protected.

The latest sighting also couldn’t have come at a better time either, as the CDFW is preparing to release its wolf management plan for public comment, giving those who want to see wolves return to California’s landscape a chance to weigh in on their future there. Opposition to their presence is being made known by the hunting and ranching community, so now is the time to grow the conversation about how we can coexist with wolves as they establish territories in their rightful place in the wild.

According to the CDFW, they will be working to revise the plan to reflect the pack’s arrival before releasing it for public comment, while the agency has meanwhile declined to share their exact location in an effort to protect them from both people who are curious and anyone who might intend to harm them.

The confirmation of California’s new wolf family also coincides with news that another lone wolf was spotted in the Black Hills in South Dakota. Unfortunately for these lone wanderers, like we saw with the Grand Canyon’s lone wolf Echo, who was shot and killed, without enough awareness about their presence, they’re far easier to kill by hunters who claim they mistook them for coyotes.

California’s wolves are at least black, making that a poor excuse. But others trying to disperse might not be so lucky. Following the sighting in South Dakota the Center for Biological Diversity called on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to increase public education about the difference between wolves and coyotes and highlight the fact that they are protected as endangered species under federal law. Unfortunately, as of last week, the agency declined to do anything.

Alicia Graef|August 24, 2015

Sumatran Rhino Goes Extinct in Malaysia, Is Indonesia Next?

By now, most of us care about the plight of African rhinos. But a new report shows that the less-known plight of Asian rhinos is just as bad. For instance, a new study published in Oryx, the International Journal of Conservation, declared that the Sumatran rhinoceros is extinct in Malaysia’s wild. The only hope for the Sumatran rhino is less than 100 individuals roaming free in Indonesia and nine rhinos in captivity.

The time to act is now!

Indonesia Could be the Next Malaysia

This is a critical time for the Sumatran rhinos, a species who used to roam most of South-east Asia. The less than 100 wild rhinos left are divided into three main populations, one of which has been cut by 70 percent. The rhinos disappeared right before our eyes: the population fell from around 500 to extinction between 1980 and 2005 in Sumatra’s largest protected area, Kerinci Sebelat National Park.

Like African rhinos, Asian rhinos are also poached for their horns. The Sumatran rhino is one of three rhino species left in Asia. The Sumatran rhino shares the honor with the greater one-horned rhino and Javan rhinos, and all three species have been on the brink of extinction.

While this is a heartbreaking loss, we’ve seen the bad news coming. Except for the two female rhinos who were captured for breeding in 2011 and 2014, a wild Sumatran rhino hasn’t been seen in Malaysia’s wild since 2007.

But conservationists urge Indonesia to step up their conservation efforts to avoid the same fate. The experts suggest treating the remaining population as one entity because they’re too scattered right now. Treating the rhinos like they’re a metapopulation will ensure that they are “managed in a single program across national and international borders in order to maximize overall birth rate.” Sumatran rhinos in captivity should still fall under the same metapopulation.

While captivity can benefit some species, breeding rhinos in captivity is easier said than done. For example, one zoo took the desperate measure of breeding a brother and sister. The appropriate breeding technology just isn’t there, and it “may still take years to develop, during which time we may lose the Sumatran rhino in the wild, says the authors.”

Saving the Sumatran rhino won’t take a miracle — it will take political clout from Indonesia’s leadership. Political muscle is needed for the necessary intensive management zones and anti-poaching teams. Additionally, Widodo Ramono, co-author and Director of the Rhino Foundation of Indonesia (YABI), stresses the following to ensure the Sumatran rhino’s survival:

Jessica Ramos|August 24, 2015

Thousands of Saiga Antelope die in mass mortality mystery

Nearly 140, 000 of the critically endangered saiga antelope (saiga tatarica), which lives in the Central Asian steppe, have died suddenly in Kazakhstan, almost half the global population, over a two week period.

The reason for this mass die-off is still unknown, and the mystery continues to baffle conservationists, who arrived in the breeding areas to find entire herds dying or dead on the ground, the majority consisting of mothers and new born calves. Herds several kilometres apart succumbed at the same time, mystifying scientists as to what has caused this population crash.

Nida Al Fulaij, from one of the charities involved in investigating the circumstances, People’s Trust for Endangered Species, says, “PTES has been supporting work on saiga antelope through the Saiga Conservation Alliance for some years and, because we have such strong links with the teams on the ground, we are able to respond quickly to channel much needed financial support where it’s most needed. This event is simply catastrophic for the long term survival of this critically endangered species.

“Right now we need the public’s help, and donations are urgently required so our team can determine what has caused such a high number of saiga antelope to die in Kazakhstan in such a short space of time. This was an abnormal occurrence, and it’s important to us to find some immediate answers’.

For many years saiga antelope have been persecuted, and since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, their global population has plummeted by 95%, with over a million animals being lost. As the USSR collapsed, the saiga population fell with it. Previously closed borders opened up and uncontrolled illegal hunting for their horns, for use in traditional Chinese medicine, surged. Poaching is still a major threat and this antelope, unique to Central Asia, is unlikely to survive in the wild unless something is urgently done to help them.

Researchers and scientists are now trying to investigate the cause to try and prevent it from happening again.

From Wildlife Extra

Insect thought extinct found in Edinburgh

The Bordered Brown Lacewing (Megalomus hirtus) has been rediscovered on Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh after having not been seen for over 30 years, and feared to be extinct in the UK. 

The last record was from Edinburgh in 1982. The new specimen was found by Mike Smith, an intern with Buglife as part of a project supported by the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species (PTES). 

Mike Smith, Buglife intern says:  “Finding the lacewing has been a really exciting start to my project and now we know that it’s not extinct, we can start learning more about it.

“We think it might live on Wood Sage but we’re not sure and so we need to investigate further to make sure that this rare Scottish insect has everything it needs to survive.”

Colin Plant, the national recorder for lacewings, who confirmed the identification, says: “The rediscovery of the Bordered Brown Lacewing in Edinburgh is really good news for biodiversity.

“The discovery gives hope that other rare invertebrates might still be hanging on in areas where their micro-habitats still remain.

“The ongoing campaign by Buglife to preserve habitats remains key to the long term survival of a huge range of invertebrates.”

Further work will now be done to work out how healthy the population at Arthur’s Seat is, as well as searching other old sites where the lacewing had been found previously.

Nida Al-Fulaij, Grants Manager at PTES, which has been supporting the internship, says: “It’s really important to support and nurture the next generation of conservation scientists and biologists here in the UK.

“Mike Smith, who discovered the specimen as part of his intern project, has shown what can be achieved by an enthusiastic and dedicated young researcher when given the backing and guidance they need.”

From Wildlife Extra

How Drones and Marines Are Helping Save Olive Ridley Sea Turtles

The heartbreaking viral video of one Olive Ridley turtle getting a straw removed from its nose made headlines, but the sad truth is that the entire species is crying out “S.O.S.” The turtles don’t need to be saved from plastic — they need to be saved from poachers. After centuries of overexploitation, Mexico is enlisting the help drones and marines to save the turtles in the beaches of Escobilla and Morro Ayuta.

Cracking Down on Egg Extraction, Commercialization, Sale and Distribution

It’s an amazing sight to behold. Starting in May, droves of turtles appear on Mexican beaches and get to work. They’ll scoop holes in the sand about two feet deep. The mothers will carefully place their eggs in them, using the sand to incubate. At peak, there could be thousands of turtles on the beach at once. But human greed is stopping these eggs from ever hatching.

As reported in teleSUR, Mexico’s is devoting $4 million to buy drones to survey the popular egg-laying beaches. And Mexico is using some of its highest intelligence to catch the poachers in the act and dismantle their entire network. Apart from capturing the physical egg extraction on film, government officials will also investigate the commercialization, sale and distribution of the eggs.

The goal of the initiative is to eradicate the illegal activity. The combination of drones and marines looks promising. In the past month, with only two drones, footage of locals stealing hundreds of turtle eggs has been captured. If eggs are retrieved within a few days — before the fetus develops — then they can be returned to incubation. Otherwise, the eggs will be sold for $0.90 each.

Saving the Olive Ridley Turtles Won’t Be Easy

But the fight to save the Olive Ridley turtles won’t be easy. This isn’t Mexico’s first rodeo trying to save the Olive Ridley turtles and their eggs. The military has been involved in their protection before. In 1996, the military was forced to abandon the beaches and an estimated 800,000 to 1,000,000 eggs were stolen.

The incentive to steal the eggs isn’t entirely monetary. Obviously, money is a factor. But there’s more to the story. Stealing the turtle eggs only became a crime resulting in federal prison two decades ago. Consuming turtle meat and eggs and using turtle skin dates back to the ancient civilizations of the Americas. As one local told NPR, “You make a small hole, put lemon and chili, and it is delicious. That’s one of our pre-Hispanic dishes — before the Spanish arrived, our people would eat them.” Like rhino horn, there’s also a bogus claim that turtle eggs are a type of aphrodisiac.

But the Mexican government can no longer keep its head buried in the sand — the time to protect the Olive Ridley turtles is now. Without any protection, the struggling turtles are doomed. According to the IUCN Red List, “On unprotected solitary nesting beaches (most are unprotected), egg extraction often approaches 100%.”

On top of the egg stealing, the species is also still trying to recover from centuries of overexploitation. In Mexico’s Pacific coast during the 1960s, over 1 million turtles were slaughtered for their meat and skin. While this practice is illegal today, turtles continued to be slaughtered and sold on the black market.

Jessica Ramos|August 25, 2015

Giant Panda Gives Birth to Twins at National Zoo

Giant panda’s aren’t too interested in having sex, so when the endangered species produces offspring, it’s a big deal.

Mei Xiang, a 17-year-old giant panda, gave birth to healthy twin cubs at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, DC, on Saturday.

The cubs are Mei Xiang’s third and fourth. She gave birth to two cubs in 2013, although one was stillborn. Her first cub was born in 2005.

There are roughly 1,800 giant pandas left in the world, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Pandas are vital to China’s forests, as they help facilitate vegetation by spreading seeds, but they’ve become endangered owing to habitat loss. They are also notoriously difficult to breed: Female pandas only have a 24- to 72-hour fertility window each year. While in captivity, pandas appear to lose interest in mating or simply don’t know how.

That’s why Mei Xiang was artificially inseminated back in April. Zookeepers discovered she was pregnant just three days before she gave birth.

panda3

Photo credit: Smithsonian National Zoo

Veterinarians examined one of the cubs. It weighs 4.8 ounces and is hairless and blind—totally normal for a baby bear. Although the cubs appear healthy, zoo officials note that this is crucial time for their survival.

panda2

Photo credit: Smithsonian National Zoo

“We’re very cautious,” zoo director Dennis Kelly said at a press conference. “In 2012, we lost a cub after six days. This is still a very fragile time.”

panda1

Photo credit: Smithsonian National Zoo

Mei Xiang will care for one cub at a time while veterinarians care for the other, so both can receive sufficient bonding time. The sex of the cubs has yet to be determined, with officials waiting to name them until they determine the genders.

Samantha Cowan|TakePart|August 24, 2015

Panda cub’s a boy; zoo says father is Tian Tian

The surviving panda cub at Smithsonian’s National Zoo is a boy, and his father is the zoo’s own Tian Tian, the zoo announced Friday morning.

National Zoo staff also revealed details about the newborn cub’s deceased fraternal twin, who was also male and shared the same father.

The panda cub’s mother, Mei Xiang, was artificially inseminated with semen from Hui Hui in China and Tian Tian from the National Zoo. There was a possibility that the two cubs could have had different fathers.

For the paternity tests, scientists compared the cubs’ DNA profiles to profiles from Mei Xiang, Tian Tian and Hui Hui, a panda living at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Wolong, China. Veterinarians collected the cheek-cell samples from the cubs with a small swab during a preliminary health check Monday.

Mei Xiang gave birth to the twins Aug. 22. The smaller cub died Wednesday. Zoo officials believe he died from complications associated with aspiration of food into its respiratory system, which caused pneumonia.

WUSA-TV

Craigslist: Elephant Haters or Lovers? 

Thought Craigslist was a harmless forum for posting local classifieds? Think again. A report published this spring by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) reported finding that $1.5 million worth of ivory was available for sale on Craigslist at one time, with an estimate of $15 million annually. So, is Craigslist now contributing to the potential extinction of elephants? Sadly, yes.

It is illegal to buy or sell ivory that has recently been imported into the United States. Craigslist can have no doubt that the sale of the vast majority of all ivory being sold on its site is prohibited by this law. It has been estimated that upwards of 90 percent of the ivory sales in Los Angeles and San Francisco are actually illegal.

In a news piece covering the story, Vice.com has quoted one of the world’s largest online petition site Avaaz’s senior campaigner Joseph Huff-Hannon as saying: “Craigslist bans ivory on their site, but without enforcement it’s an empty gesture—the company can do much more to monitor sales, and report illegal ivory sales to authorities.”

Click here to read more and to take action.

Critically Endangered Seals Get a Boost in Hawaii

Critically Endangered Seals Get a Boost in Hawaii

Hawaii’s monk seals have become one of the most endangered marine mammals on the planet, but this week they got a boost with an announcement from the government that their protected habitat will be exponentially expanded in an effort to help them recover.

Monk seals were first listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1976, but despite protection their numbers have continued to decline since the 1950s. Today, there are only an estimated 1,100 left in the wild whose numbers are believed to be dropping at a rate of 3 percent every year.

They face the many of the usual threats marine life including limited food, entanglement, pollution, disease and development, which could be made worse as climate change continues to alter their environment and beaches they rely on to give birth.

In 2008, the Center for Biological Diversity, KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance and the Ocean Conservancy petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to expand their critical habitat under the ESA to include areas of undeveloped coasts of the main Hawaiian Islands, including Oahu and Kauai, where it’s believed their best chances of survival are.

The Center for Biological Diversity notes that federal data shows that endangered species with critical habitat protections are twice as likely to recover as those without. With so few left, efforts to protect them need to be undertaken before it’s too late.

This week their efforts paid off with an announcement from the NMFS that it will be protecting an additional 7,000 square miles for these seals as critical habitat.

The designation won’t stop anyone from enjoying beaches, or engaging in other activities like recreational or subsistence fishing, but it will help put limits on activities that could that could alter, damage or destroy their homes.

Several conservation organizations issued a joint statement applauding the move and hope additional measures will help keep these seals from disappearing forever.

“Hawaiian monk seals have been in serious trouble for a long time, and these new habitat protections will give them a desperately needed chance at survival,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Monk seals are nearly extinct, so we need to make sure our coasts offer them a safe haven.”

In a separate action to help them recover, the NMFS also just released its latest management plan, which aims to more than double the population on the main islands to at least 500 by protecting their habitat, reducing the threat of diseases and conflicts with fisheries and by engaging the public through conservation education and outreach, among other actions.

“Preventing the monk seal from going extinct is not rocket science; we can do this. The seals in the main Hawaiian Islands need critical habitat, NOAA has to be serious about implementing its own recovery plan, and we need to work with the communities and fishers in Hawaii to listen to their concerns and reduce any conflicts with the seals. If we lose the battle to save the Hawaiian monk seal, we’ll have only ourselves to blame,” said Mike Gravitz, director of policy for Marine Conservation Institute and leader of its monk seal program.

The management plan is now open for public comment until September 9, 2015. To submit one in support of increasing protection for these imperiled seals, send it to monkseal@noaa.gov.

Alicia Graef|August 27, 2015

Baby Sea Lions Are Dying

Here’s why.

Sea lions have been having a rough couple of years. In 2013, starving pups began washing up on California beaches by the hundreds. This year, the number of stranded sea lions has increased dramatically. And now, a giant toxic algal bloom is growing in the Pacific and poisoning sea lions’ sources of food. How bad has it gotten for these playful critters? We talked to wildlife experts to find out more about how much danger they’re in and what’s in store for their future:

What’s going on here? What’s causing sea lions to get so sick? An unusually warm pocket of water in the Pacific, dubbed “the blob,” has rocked the sea lions’ environment on the Pacific coast. The anchovies, hake, squid, and shell fish that sea lions eat have been moving farther away to find nutrient-rich cold waters. While adult sea lions have been adapting and going longer distances to find food, pups and yearlings don’t have the strength to swim far enough or dive deep enough. Instead, young sea lions have been washing up on shore. Often they are malnourished, dehydrated, and stranded from their mothers, who are searching for faraway food.

How unusual is the the current situation? Pup strandings happen every year when young sea lions start trying to feed themselves in late spring or early summer. But beginning in 2013, sea lion pups started washing up on shore in much greater numbers than usual, and as early as January—long before pups typically wean. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration deemed the spike in sea lion deaths an “unusual mortality event.” This year, the number of stranded pups skyrocketed far above 2013 levels: During the first five months of 2015, more than 3,000 stranded sea lion pups washed up onto California beaches. That’s seven times the annual average over the past decade, and nearly three times as many as in 2013.

As a result, wildlife groups have been working overtime. During a typical year, the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California, rescues between 500 and 700 stranded marine mammals along California’s coast. But according to Claire Simeone, a veterinarian at the center, during the past few years that number has dramatically increased, mostly due to the stranded sea lion pups. The center has rescued more than 1,500 young sea lions alone this year, although in recent weeks the pups finally stopped appearing (either because they’ve all been rescued or have already died at sea, according to Simeone). But with warm waters likely to remain, pups are expected to begin stranding again next season, as early as December.

The strandings represent a stark reversal in the fortunes of sea lions. After Congress passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972, the species thrived on the Pacific Coast. It was just six or seven years ago that sea lion populations began to show some signs of stress due to climate variability driving away prey, according to Sharon Melin, a wildlife biologist at NOAA’s National Marine Mammal Laboratory. Now things have become far worse.

Will El Niño exacerbate the situation? Yes. With a strong El Niño system predicted to hit California later this year, warm waters are expected to persist and allow similar patterns to continue: Sea lions’ food will continue to migrate farther to find cold waters, and sea lions, especially the pups, will continue to struggle to find it.

I’ve heard about that giant toxic algal bloom. Is that affecting sea lions, too? Yes. As if their food sources swimming away wasn’t enough to deal with, a giant toxic algal bloom has been expanding in the Pacific since May. It’s poisoning much of the sea lions’ remaining food. The Marine Mammal Center has seen an increase in the number of sea lions washing up with amnesiac shellfish poisoning caused by exposure to domoic acid, a neurotoxin produced by the algal bloom. It’s made sea lions lethargic and can cause memory loss and seizures.

On Tuesday, yet another adult sea lion washed up onto a beach in Alameda county on the San Francisco Bay. The center attempted to rescue the animal, but it did not survive. No trauma was immediately visible on the critter’s body, which is being tested for domoic acid poisoning. (The test results won’t be available for months.)

Where does climate change fit into all of this? There’s no established connection between human-caused climate change and the blob, the toxic algal bloom, or the coming El Niño. But experts warn that increased climate variability linked to global warming could make these sorts of events more frequent—and more intense—in the future. “With a changing climate and increasing temperatures, we are only going to see more of the same,” Simeone says. She adds that sensitive animals, such as sea lions, should be looked to as bellwethers for how the changing environment will affect animal life more broadly, including humans. “It’s important to listen to what they are telling us,” she says.

So what’s going to happen to the sea lions? Melin points out that sea lions live a long time, up to 30 years. Over the years, they amass knowledge about their environment, which helps them predict the location of food sources. Finding prey quickly is especially important for mothers who cannot be away from their pups for very long while they nurse and wean them. Events such as warm water bands and algal blooms are creating a particularly difficult challenge as they struggle to adjust to constantly changing conditions in the ocean. But while wildlife groups are making plans to take in more animals and train more volunteers for the coming year, Melin remains optimistic about sea lions’ ability to adapt. After decades of robust growth, she says, sea lions are far from endangered. “They are going to work it out,” she says.

Luke Whelan|Aug. 26, 2015

Bad news for bees

Bees are dying by the millions—and pesticide companies have launched a major PR offensive to block action.

Retailers are taking bee-killing pesticides off the shelf. Local governments are taking action. President Obama even announced a federal action plan.

But now a coalition backed by the pesticide industry is threatening to halt and even reverse our momentum—teaming up with pro-polluter lobbying groups like ALEC to block action to save the bees.

And their strategy appears to be working. In fact, the U.K. just lifted a ban on bee-killing pesticides—one of the first countries to pass and then actually repeal a law that protects bees.5 Now polluters are pushing similar attacks here in the U.S.

The companies that produce bee-killing pesticides are using the same tactics used by oil companies to deny climate change to stop progress to save the bees.

They’re funding pro-pesticide scientists, using PR “greenwashing” to make it seem like they care, and lobbying policymakers to block, weaken, or delay any action at all.

A whopping 71 percent of our food crops are pollinated by bees. We’re talking about apples, grapes, tomatoes, broccoli, beets… the list goes on.

No bees, no food.

Elizabeth Ouzts|Regional Program Director|Environment Florida|8/27/15

Everglades

Everglades Water Quality Improvement Program Marks 20 Years of Success

Everglades Agricultural Area consistently achieves phosphorus reduction goals

West Palm Beach, FL — For a milestone 20th year, water flowing from farmlands in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) achieved phosphorus reductions that significantly exceed those required by law.

Implementation of improved farming techniques, known as Best Management Practices (BMPs), produced a 79-percent phosphorus reduction in the 470,000-acre EAA farming region south of Lake Okeechobee for the Water Year 2015 monitoring period (May 1, 2014 – April 30, 2015). The requirement is a 25-percent phosphorus reduction.

Over the program’s 20-year compliance history, the overall average annual reduction from the implementation of BMPs is 56 percent, more than twice the required amount.

“Two decades of successfully meeting and exceeding phosphorus reductions to improve Everglades water quality is a great accomplishment,” said Daniel O’Keefe, Chairman of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board. “South Florida’s agricultural communities are clearly demonstrating a long-term commitment to restoration efforts.”

Examples of BMPs include refined stormwater management practices, on-farm erosion controls and more precise fertilizer application methods. These and other management practices by agricultural growers reduce the amount of phosphorus transported in stormwater runoff that reaches the Everglades and its connected water bodies.

BMP Program Delivering Successful Results

To meet the requirements of Florida’s Everglades Forever Act, the amount of phosphorus leaving the EAA must be 25 percent less than before reduction efforts started. A science-based model is used to compute the reductions and make adjustments that account for variable rainfall.
When measured in actual mass, 147 metric tons of phosphorus were prevented from leaving the EAA and entering the regional canal system, which sends water into the Everglades, during the Water Year 2015 monitoring period. Over the past 20 years, the BMP program has prevented 3,001 metric tons of phosphorus from leaving the EAA.

Just west of the EAA, in the 170,000-acre C-139 Basin, a BMP program has been in place for the past 11 years. In November 2010, the program requirements were enhanced to better control the nutrient runoff. For the Water Year 2015 monitoring period, data show the actual mass of phosphorus discharged from the basin during that time was 27 metric tons. Ongoing work continues to focus on improving phosphorus reductions in this basin, which historically has reported elevated nutrient levels in its soils and runoff.

Stormwater Treatment Areas Provide Additional Improvements

Water leaving the EAA and C-139 Basin receives additional treatment in one of several Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs) before entering the Everglades. These constructed wetlands are filled with native vegetation that serve as “green technology” to further reduce phosphorus levels.

Since 1994, the network of five STAs south of Lake Okeechobee — currently with 57,000 acres of effective treatment area — have treated more than 16 million acre-feet of water and retained approximately 2,012 metric tons of phosphorus that would have otherwise entered the Everglades. Last year, the STAs treated approximately 1.4 million acre-feet of water, retaining 83 percent of phosphorus from water flowing through the treatment cells.

Through the end of April 2015, more than 4,860 metric tons of phosphorus have been prevented from entering the Everglades through treatment wetlands and the BMP program combined. Overall, Florida has invested more than $1.8 billion to improve Everglades water quality since 1994. Additional improvements in Everglades water quality are being achieved by Governor Scott’s Restoration Strategies initiative, which includes more than 6,500 acres of STA expansions and construction of 116,000 acre-feet of additional water storage.

Water Quality Issues

Two Major US Aquifers Found to Be Saturated with Uranium

Researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have just completed a comprehensive analysis of roughly 275,000 water samples from 62,000 locations across the United States. These samples were mostly derived from two massive underground aquifers that supply drinking water for millions of people, and what they reveal about the safety of drinking water in America is absolutely horrifying.

They found that the parts of the High Plains Aquifer (also often referred to as the Ogallala) is saturated with uranium at a level that is 89 times higher than the EPA’s safe limit. The southern half of California’s Central Valley was even worse, with a uranium concentration that is 180 times higher than the EPA’s “maximum contaminant level.”

Altogether, almost 2 million people live above the most contaminated sections of these aquifers. The research suggest that the uranium contamination is being caused by agricultural activities. The nitrates in fertilizers and animal waste can cause the oxidation of naturally occurring uranium, which makes it more water-soluble.

However, this research won’t come as a surprise for many Americans. Two years ago it was revealed that Texas state officials had been concealing the radioactive content of state drinking water for many years, so this is no isolated incident. In truth, the toxicity of the drinking water found across America, is an open secret.

Joshua Krause|Daily Sheeple|August 21, 2015

6.5 Million Americans Drink Water Contaminated With the Chemical Used to Make Non-Stick Pans

When you drink a glass of water, you expect it to be clean and pure, not contaminated with invisible toxic chemicals. But nationwide testing has found that 6.5 million Americans in 27 states are drinking water tainted by an industrial compound that was used for decades to make Teflon.

The chemical, known as PFOA, has been detected in 94 public water systems. The amounts are small, but new research indicates that it can be hazardous even at the tiniest doses. PFOA and closely related fluorinated chemicals—including PFOS, once used to make Scotchgard—can cause cancer, birth defects and heart disease and weaken the immune system.

Even the lowest level of PFOA detected by the water testing, which was mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), was about five times higher than what’s safe to drink, according to the new research. This means that even if the EPA has not reported finding PFOA in your drinking water supply, it could still be contaminated.

Want to know whether the testing found PFOA, PFOS or any one of four other highly fluorinated chemicals in your drinking water? Environmental Working Group’s interactive map below shows every U.S. county where the chemicals were detected. Click on your county to see if your water utility found any.

In a signal of the growing scientific alarm over the dangers of PFOA, the National Toxicology Program recently announced a systematic re-evaluation of the chemical’s effect on the immune system. The program’s Office of Health Assessment and Translation will evaluate ongoing and upcoming studies. It also plans to assemble an expert panel of scientists to review the findings.

Americans should be protected against water contamination by PFOA and other so-called perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs. PFOA and PFOS are just two members of this large family of chemicals, which do not break down in the environment. They’ve spread to the farthest reaches of Earth, are in virtually every American’s blood and can be passed from mother to child in the womb and in breast milk. PFOA and PFOS have been phased out in the U.S., but scientists have raised concerns that the new chemicals that replaced them may be no safer.

David Andrews|Environmental Working Group|August 28, 2015

New Study Highlights Toxic Chemicals Travelling Through Breastmilk

Many new mothers worry about what they consume while they’re breastfeeding. Obvious risks such as passing along medications or alcohol are well known to impact the development and health of their child. But a new study from Harvard shows that a certain chemical composition, all around us, could be impacting newborns more than we ever realized. 

The study looked at a group of chemicals known as perfluorinated alkylate substances, also referred to as PFASs.

PFASs are found in products that are designed to repel water and oil such as food packaging, clothing, cosmetics, paints and stain-proof fabrics. These chemicals often make their way into the water supply and that’s how they wind up in our bodies. These are present in most mammals all over the world and are known to have impacts on the reproductive system, immune function and certain types of cancers.

The transfer of PSAFs in breast milk has been studied before, but most of those studies looked at the quantity of PSAFs in the milk itself, which is usually fairly low. This study, however, looked at the build up in the blood of infants over time. What they found is that these chemicals tend to increase by 20-30 percent in the blood stream every month the child is breastfed. As breastfeeding stops, the amount decreases. Those who were partially breastfed also tended to have lower levels of PFASs in their system.

Phillipe Grandjean, the adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard Chan School says that, “There is no reason to discourage breastfeeding, but we are concerned that these pollutants are transferred to the next generation at a very vulnerable age.” He also notes that currently there is no legislation in the U.S. that requires testing of PFASs and their ability to move through mediums such as breast milk.

It seems like just another worry to add onto a pile of endless worries when a new baby arrives. But women can help keep PSAFs at bay by avoiding tap water while breastfeeding – which is the primary way that humans ingest these chemicals. In addition, women who are worried about continuous build up can supplement with formula during their breastfeeding period.

Yet the public must demand more studies on how certain products and chemicals can transfer to infants via breast milk. Many scientists lament the lack of funding and published, peer reviewed data on the subject. Judith S. Schreiber, a PhD who works for the Environmental Protection Bureau in New York State, writes that at the moment we mostly test for chemical toxicity in full grown adult men, and often at high doses. “Maternal, chemical, and physiologic factors influence the degree to which environmental chemicals are present in breast milk and are important determinants of the magnitude of the potential exposure of the infant,” she writes. So why aren’t there more tests out there to help determine the effect such chemicals can have on infants?

Organizations to combat this dearth of information, such as Make Our Milk Safe (MOMS), have sprung up, advocating for more studies and legislation on hazardous chemicals and how they are ingested and transferred.

MOMS spells out their mandate: “We believe that corporations have a responsibility to ensure the safety of the products they sell. We believe that government has a responsibility to ensure that pregnant women, nursing mothers, and their children are adequately protected by environmental health regulations.”

However, despite such grassroots efforts, it will take a coming together of the scientific community, activists and environmental protection officers to really impact the level of PFASs that are currently finding their way into our water system.

Lizabeth Paulat|August 28, 2015

Thirsty Yet? Eight Cities That Are Improbably Running out of Water


The amount of rainfall a place gets isn’t the only factor in how much water is available to it. These major urban areas show how dire the coming global freshwater shortage could get.

Earlier this year, an obscure United Nations document, the World Water Development Report, unexpectedly made headlines around the world. The report made the startling claim that the world would face a 40 percent shortfall in freshwater in as soon as 15 years. Crops would fail. Businesses dependent on water would fail. Illness would spread. A financial crash was likely, as was deepening poverty for those just getting by.

The U.N. also concluded that the forces destroying the world’s freshwater supply were not strictly meteorological, but largely the result of human activity. That means that with some changes in how water is managed, there is still time—very little, but enough—for children born this year to graduate from high school with the same access to clean water their parents enjoyed.

Though the U.N. looked at the issue across the globe, the solutions it recommended—capturing rainwater, recycling wastewater, improving sewage and plumbing, and more—need to be implemented locally. Some of the greatest challenges will come in cities, where bursting populations strain systems designed to supply far fewer people and much of the clean water available is lost to waste and shoddy, centuries-old infrastructure.

We’ve looked at eight cities facing different though representative challenges. The amount of water in the earth’s atmosphere is more or less fixed, meaning that as populations and economies grow, what we have needs to be clean, available, and conserved. Economies, infrastructure, river systems, and climates vary from place to place, and the solutions will have to as well. Here is how eight of the world’s major cities are running out of water, and trying to save it.

TOKYO

Tokyo shouldn’t have a water problem: Japan’s capital enjoys average precipitation similar to that of Seattle or London. But all that rainfall is compressed into just four months of the year, in two short seasons of monsoon and typhoon. Capturing and storing so much water in such a short period in an area four times as dense as California would be a challenge anywhere. One weak rainy season means droughts—and those are now coming about once every decade.

Betting on the rain will be a precarious strategy for the world’s most populous city and its suburbs, home to more than 30 million people. When the four rivers feeding Tokyo run low, crisis conditions arrive fast. Though efficient, 70 percent of Tokyo’s 16,000-mile-long plumbing system depends on surface water (rivers, lakes, and distant snowpack). With only 30 percent of the city’s water coming from underground aquifers and wells, there are not enough alternative sources to tap during these new cyclical droughts.

The Japanese government has so far proved forward-thinking, developing one of the world’s most aggressive programs for capturing rainwater. In Sumida, a Tokyo district that often faces water shortages, the 90,000-square-foot roof of Ryogoku Kokugikan arena is designed to channel rainfall to a tank, where it’s pumped inside the stadium for non-potable use.

Somewhat more desperate-seeming is a plan to seed clouds, prodding the environment to do what it isn’t doing naturally. Though tested in 2013 with success, the geo-engineering hack is a source of controversy; scientists debate whether the technique could produce enough rain to make much of a difference for such a large population.

MIAMI

Though most Americans’ concern with water shortage in the U.S. is firmly focused on California at the moment, a crisis is brewing in the last place you’d figure: South Florida, which annually gets four times as much rain, on average, as Los Angeles and about three times as much as San Francisco.

But according to the U.S. Geological Survey, the essential Biscayne Aquifer, which provides water to the Miami–Dade County area, is falling victim to saltwater intrusion from the Atlantic Ocean. Despite the heavy rains replenishing the aquifer year-round, if enough saltwater enters, all of it will become unusable.

The problem arose in the early 20th century, after swamps surrounding the city were drained. Osmosis essentially created a giant sucking effect, drawing the Atlantic into the coastal soils. Measures to hold the ocean back began as early as the 1930s, but seawater is now bypassing the control structures that were installed and leaking into the aquifer. The USGS has made progress mapping the sea water intrusion, but ameliorating it seems a ways off. “As sea level continues to rise and the demand for freshwater increases, the measures required to prevent this intrusion may become more difficult [to implement],” the USGS noted in a press release.

LONDON

London faces a rapidly growing population wringing every last drop out of centuries-old plumbing. Water managers estimate they can meet the city’s needs for the next decade but must find new sources by 2025—even sooner than the rest of the world, by the U.N.’s measure. London’s utility, Thames Water, looked into recycled water—aka “toilet-to-tap”—but, being English, found it necessary first to politely ask people if they’d mind.

At least four urban districts in California use recycled water, which is treated, re-treated, and treated again to be cleaner than conventional supplies before being pumped into groundwater or other supply sources. The so-called “yuck factor” could be an impediment to this solution spreading to London and elsewhere.

CAIRO

Five thousand years ago, an ample water supply and a fertile delta at the mouth of the Nile supported the growth of one of the world’s great civilizations. Today, while 97 percent of Egypt’s water comes from the great river, Cairo finds itself downstream from at least 50 poorly regulated factories, agricultural waste, and municipal sewage systems that drain into it.

Though Cairo gets most of the attention, a UNICEF–World Health Organization study released earlier this year found that rural areas to the city’s south, where more than half of Egyptians live, depend on the river not just for irrigation and drinking water but also for waste disposal. Engineer Ayman Ramadan Mohamed Ayad has noted that while most wastewater discharged into the Nile upriver from Cairo is untreated, the river’s enormous size has historically been sufficient to dilute the waste to safe levels (and Cairo’s municipal system treats the water it draws from the river). Ayad argues, however, that as the load increases—with 20 million people now discharging their wastes to the Nile—this will no longer be possible. The African Development Bank recently funded programs to chlorinate wastewater before it’s dumped in the river, but more will need to be done.

On the demand side, more than 80 percent of the water taken from the Nile each year is used for irrigation, mostly the inefficient method of just flooding fields, which loses significant amounts to evaporation. Two years ago, initial steps were taken to modernize irrigation techniques upriver. Those programs have yet to show much progress, however. 

SÃO PAOLO

When it rains in Brazil, it pours. In São Paolo, where in an average year it rains more than it does in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, drains can’t handle the onslaught, and what could be the resource of desperately needed drinking water becomes instead the menace of urban floodwater.

With the worst drought in a century now in its second year, São Paolo’s reservoirs are at barely a quarter of capacity, down from 40 percent a year ago. Yet the city still sees heavy rainstorms. But reservoirs outside the city are often polluted and are too small even at capacity to supply the metropolitan area of 20 million. Asphalt covering the city and poor drainage lead to heavy floods on city streets after as little as a quarter-inch of rain. It’s hard to believe a drought is under way if your house is ankle-deep in water, so consumers haven’t been strident about conservation. The apparent paradox of flooded streets and empty reservoirs will likely fuel an ongoing debate over proposed rationing.

BEIJING

Poor air quality isn’t the only thing impinging Beijing citizens’ ability to enjoy a safe environment. The city’s second-largest reservoir, shut down in 1997 because of pollution from factories and agriculture, has not been returned to use.

Ensuring the cleanliness of its water is even more crucial in China than elsewhere, as there is little it can afford to lose: With 21 percent of the world’s population, China has only 6 percent of its freshwater—a situation that’s only going to get worse, as it’s raining less in northern China than it was a century ago, and glaciers in Tibet, once the largest system outside the Antarctic and Greenland and a key source of drinking water in the country’s south and west, are receding even faster than predicted. The U.N. Environment Programme estimates that nationally, Chinese citizens can rely on getting just one-quarter to one-third of the amount of clean water the rest of the world uses daily.

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Hope emerged, however, from a 2013 study from Montreal’s McGill University, which found that an experimental program targeting farmers outside the capital showed promising results over nearly two decades. The vast Miyun reservoir, 100 miles outside Beijing, had seen its reserves reduced by nearly two-thirds because of increasing irrigation demands—while becoming polluted by agricultural runoff. Revenue from a tax on major water users in Beijing was spent paying farmers upstream from Miyun to grow corn instead of rice, which requires more water and creates more runoff.

Over the following 15 years, the study authors wrote, “fertilizer runoff declined sharply while the quantity of water available to downstream users in Beijing and surrounding areas increased.” Farmer income was not significantly affected, and cleaner water downstream led to higher earnings for consumers in the city despite the tax.

BANGALORE, India

Earlier this year, a report by India’s comptroller and auditor general found that the southern city was losing more than half its drinking water to waste through antiquated plumbing systems. Big losses from leaks aren’t uncommon—Los Angeles loses between 15 and 20 percent—but the situation in Bangalore is more complicated. A technology boom has attracted new residents, leading to new housing construction. Entire apartment blocks are going up faster than local officials can update the plumbing to handle additional strain on the water and sewage systems.

Bangalore’s clean-water challenges illustrate a dynamic that’s repeating itself across the world’s second-largest nation. India’s urban population will grow from 340 million to 590 million by 2030, according to a 2010 McKinsey study. To meet the clean-water needs of all the new city dwellers, the global consulting firm found, the government will have to spend $196 billion—more than 10 percent of the nation’s annual GDP. (McKinsey has a potential financial interest in India’s infrastructure, so its numbers may be inflated.)

In Bangalore, they’re already behind schedule. The newspaper The Hindu reported in March that a 2002 plan to repair the existing system and recover the missing half of Bangalore’s freshwater had yet to be implemented.

MEXICO CITY

Gravity always wins. At more than 7,000 feet above sea level, Mexico City gets nearly all its drinking water by pumping it laboriously uphill from aquifers as far as 150 miles away. The engineering challenge of hauling that much water into the sky adds to the difficulty of supplying more than 20 million residents through an aging system. Mexico City’s public works loses enough water every second—an estimated 260 gallons—to supply a family of four for a day, according to CONAGUA, Mexico’s national water commission. CONAGUA estimates that between 30 and 40 percent of the capital’s potable water is lost to leaks and spills. The good news is that leaks can be fixed.

Water quality remains a worry, however. Unsurprisingly, companies selling bottled water have done very well in Mexico. The economy growing around the lack of potable water has attracted companies such as Coca-Cola and France’s Danone, whose Bonafont (“good spring”) brand is advertised in Mexico as a weight-loss aid. (Toting a bottle will help you “feel thinner anywhere,” according to a popular television ad.)

Meanwhile, disputes over who will get access to underground supplies have turned violent: In February 2014, residents of the town of San Bartolo Atepehuacan, on Mexico City’s outskirts, clashed with police over a waterworks project they feared would divert local springs to the city’s business district. At least 100 people were injured and five arrested as the disturbances continued for more than three months.

Marc Herman|June 26, 2015

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Grand Canyon Stretch of the Colorado River Threatened by Mercury Pollution

Even one of America’s most iconic landmarks is not immune from pollution. The Grand Canyon segment of the Colorado River is suffering from exposure to toxic chemicals, including mercury, according to a study from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

“Concentrations of mercury and selenium in Colorado River food webs of the Grand Canyon National Park regularly exceeded risk thresholds for fish and wildlife,” the USGS team said in a statement. The concentrations of toxins in some fish were so high that they could be harmful if consumed by wildlife or humans. The researchers noted that their findings build further evidence that even extremely remote ecosystems, such as this stretch of the Colorado River, are “vulnerable to long-range transport and bioaccumulation of contaminants.”

“Managing exposure risks in the Grand Canyon will be a challenge because sources and transport mechanisms of mercury and selenium extend far beyond Grand Canyon boundaries,” said Dr. David Walters, lead author of the study.

Researchers took samples from six sites along the nearly 250 miles of the Colorado River downstream from Glen Canyon Dam within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Canyon National Park in the summer of 2008. They found that “mercury and selenium concentrations in minnows and invertebrates exceeded dietary fish and wildlife toxicity thresholds.”

Though researchers point out that the number of samples was relatively low, bigger trout did not seem to be as affected.

“The good news is that concentrations of mercury in rainbow trout were very low in the popular Glen Canyon sport fishery, and all of the large rainbow trout analyzed from the Grand Canyon were also well below the risk thresholds for humans,” said co-author of the study Dr. Ted Kennedy.

This made for some surprising findings because “biomagnification usually leads to large fish having higher concentrations of mercury than small fish,” says the researchers. “But we found the opposite pattern, where small, three-inch rainbow trout in the Grand Canyon had higher concentrations than the larger rainbow trout that anglers target.” Why this happened has to do with the unique ecology of the Grand Canyon.

“Insect food sources for fish are quite limited in the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam, most likely due to temperature and flow regimes of the regulated river,” Kennedy told The Arizona Daily Sun. “While smaller fish can satisfy their caloric needs by eating just insects, there aren’t enough of the invertebrates to make up the entire diet of larger fish, forcing them to feed on other less calorie-dense organic matter like algae.”

But one of those insects, the black fly—a major food source for trout—is also a prime source of mercury contamination because it consumes a kind of algae that contains large amounts of a bioavailable form of mercury. “We think [the mercury] is getting picked up by that algae in Lake Powell and exported into Grand Canyon,” Kennedy said.

Another interesting finding was that the fish they sampled had none of the deformities often associated with mercury poisoning.

“That finding is evidence of a well-documented relationship between selenium and mercury whereby, in the right concentrations, selenium protects animals from mercury toxicity,” Kennedy said. “If both of these things are at high levels together, it can mitigate effects of having just one of them in a high concentration.”

The researchers believe most of the mercury isn’t coming from Lake Powell, though. They blame airborne transport and deposition for most of the mercury pollution in the Grand Canyon. This is a common way for remote ecosystems to become contaminated, says the USGS team. As for the selenium, they believe pollution from upstream sources is the culprit. “Irrigation of selenium-rich soils in the upper Colorado River basin contributes much of the selenium that is present in the Colorado River in Grand Canyon,” say researchers.

Though environmental groups have honed in on the Navajo Generating Station and other coal-fired power plants around Lake Powell for their mercury pollution, David Gay of the National Atmospheric Deposition Program, points out “Linking mercury contamination in Lake Powell, or in the Colorado River Basin, to specific sources is difficult because it remains in the atmosphere for up to six months after it is initially emitted. That’s long enough for mercury emitted in one place to waft up into the atmosphere and then get carried hundreds or thousands of miles.” He points to studies which show that mercury pollution in the area can come from as far away as California and even Asia.

“Mercury is a global pollutant,” Gay said. “Everybody is in it together.”

No human consumption advisories have been put in place yet, but researchers plan to do further studies to assess the potential risks to humans that may consume fish from this area. Selenium and mercury exposure has been linked to lower reproductive success, growth, and survival of fish and wildlife, say the researchers.

Experts warn people of all ages, but in particular pregnant women and children, to monitor their seafood intake due to high levels of mercury in some species. Consumer Reports even found that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was advising people to consume fish at levels for which its own data indicated elevated risks. And last year, consumer protection and environmental advocates sued the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for failing to give consumers clear, accurate and accessible information about toxic mercury in the seafood they eat.

Cole Mellino|August 25, 2015

FWS Would Make Three Sisters Springs A True Winter Sanctuary

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has released a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) containing several proposed alternatives to address out-of-control human overcrowding and manatee harassment at the small 1.5 acre Three Sisters Springs in Citrus County, Florida. Keep in mind that there are nearly 600 acres and many other places in Kings Bay for swimmers and divers. 

For more details, click here to review the Draft EA and related documents.

Offshore & Ocean

Droves of Whales Are Dying Off the Alaska and British Columbia Coast

An unusually large amount of whale deaths has been reported off the coast of both Alaska and Canadian British Columbia. The amount of dead whales, nearly unprecedented, has left scientists baffled as they scramble to discover the cause.

The first group of whales, from the fin whale family, were discovered near the Kodiak Archipelago in late May and early June. Fin whales are the second largest whales on earth, and are only susceptible to attack from killer whales or humans.

Kate Wynne, a professor and marine mammal specialist and the University of Alaska told reporters, “The evidence suggests that all of these whales that we’ve found died at about the same time, which is like the third week of May, around the 20th, in a short period of time in a fairly localized area.” Wynne went on to say they would be testing for toxins and algae blooms in the water because, “the fact that the carcass are intact, it rules out killer whale predation. But other than that, we’re at a loss.”

Yet the mystery deepened when water taken from the area showed no signs of bio-toxin and samples from one of the carcasses came back negative for algae bloom toxins. And as the months rolled by the death toll rose. By August, a mix of humpbacks and fin whales amassed a startling total of 30 deaths in Alaska. Scientists say this is over three times the normal rate.

And this frightening pattern is now extending south; last week the discovery of six dead humpbacks along the BC coastline had marine biologists and conservationists searching for answers. Two fairly fresh carcasses washed ashore and were immediately taken for a necropsy, which is an animal autopsy, however the results are unlikely to come back before the month is out.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada is now collaborating with the US’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). A biotoxin is still being batted around as a possible cause despite earlier testing. However, some are raising concerns that the cause of these deaths could be far more nefarious.

Some are speculating that the Fukushima nuclear disaster that rocked Japan in 2011 could be to blame. Fukushima Watch, a website that has followed the disaster for years writes that, “Scientists predicted that radiation leaking from the power plant should hit North American coasts by early 2014…Some scientists have tried to annul these worries by claiming that the radiation from the Fukushima power plant has become so diluted in the Pacific Ocean that it does not pose a serious health threat to the coast. Yet the recent rise in whale deaths shows otherwise…Furthermore, the radiation from the Fukushima power plant has not stopped leaking into the Pacific Ocean.”

And although there hasn’t been any credible scientific proof that radiation played any role in the whale deaths, scientists do say they will be testing the newest carcasses washed up on the BC coastline for any form of radioactive poisoning.

It is likely that when the results of the necropsies are returned we will have more answers. However for now both the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the NOAA are asking citizens to be on the lookout and to contact them immediately if any dead whales are discovered in the waters or washed onto the coastline, as the sooner they can get to the site and test, the sooner this mystery can be unraveled.

Lizabeth Paulat|August 24, 2015

The World’s Oceans Are in Peril

The world’s oceans—covering nearly two-thirds of the Earth’s surface, and on which much of human life depends—are under severe pressure, a new report says.

Overfishing has dramatically reduced fish stocks. The thousands of tons of rubbish dumped in the oceans wreak havoc on marine life, while climate change is warming and acidifying them, putting them under further stress.

Over-exploitation of fish stocks compounds ocean damage from climate change. Photo credit: John Wallace / NOAA via Wikimedia Commons

Over-exploitation of fish stocks compounds ocean damage from climate change. Photo credit: John Wallace / NOAA via Wikimedia Commons

These are the sobering conclusions of a wide-ranging study of the Earth’s ecosystems by the Worldwatch Institute, a U.S.-based organization widely rated as one of the world’s foremost environmental think-tanks.

“Our sense of the ocean’s power and omnipotence—combined with scientific ignorance—contributed to an assumption that nothing we did could ever possibly impact it”, says Katie Auth, a researcher at Worldwatch and one of the authors of the report.

“Over the years, scientists and environmental leaders have worked tirelessly to demonstrate and communicate the fallacy of such arrogance.”

Decadal Doubling

More than 50 percent of commercial fish stocks are now fully exploited with another 20 percent classified as over-exploited, the report says, while the number of dead zones—areas of the ocean depleted of oxygen and incapable of supporting marine life—has doubled in each decade since the 1960s.

The oceans play a key role in absorbing vast amounts of greenhouse gases and slowing the warming of the atmosphere.

The report says: “… Evidence suggests that as the ocean becomes saturated with CO2, its rate of uptake will slow, a process that has already begun.”

Sea surface temperatures are rising, putting marine systems under pressure and causing fish and sea bird populations to migrate to colder areas.

Worldwatch says there must be big cutbacks in fossil fuel emissions: “If emissions continue at current levels, ocean acidity in surface waters could increase by almost 150 percent by 2100, creating a marine environment unlike anything that has existed in the past 20 million years.”

The Worldwatch report, State of the World 2015, examines a range of sustainability issues. It says the goal of continued economic growth—an economic doctrine which has prevailed only since the 1950s—is a threat to the sustainability of multiple ecosystems.

The world’s resources—whether its fossil fuels or water resources—cannot go on being plundered. Changes in climate—in particular the prevalence of drought in some of the world’s main food-producing regions—is threatening the planet’s ability to feed itself.

The report concludes: “There is no question that scholars and scientists who study the human economy, the earth and the interactions between them are drawing profoundly troubling conclusions…

“It is time for homo sapiens sapiens to live up to its somewhat presumptuous Latin name, and grow up.”

Kieran Cooke|Climate News Network|August 23, 2015

Scientists Explore Remote, Healthy Reef In Gulf Similar To Florida Keys Reef

Submerged 250 to 300 feet in the Gulf of Mexico lies a coral reef that could hold the key to crucial information and resources for the Florida Keys reef.

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research cruise is currently operating at Pulley Ridge, 100 miles west of Key West, where scientists are using a remotely operated vehicle to collect videos and samples from the sea floor.

“What they’re looking at is its connectivity, in terms of natural resources, to the Florida Keys,” said Sean Morton, superintendent of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. “Many of the coral we have here in the Florida Keys are the same ones we have out in Pulley Ridge, as are many of the fish that spawn. That spawn comes into the Gulf Stream and populates the Florida Keys.”

Coral reefs, although usually associated with shallow water, easily accessible by scuba divers and snorkelers, can be found at greater depths.  

This year’s expedition, which is scheduled to last until Sept. 4, is part of a five-year mission to explore the area. The Keys sanctuary is in the middle of a review and update of its management plan. That update might include extending its boundaries to include Pulley Ridge.

The area is important, even if it is too deep to be visited by recreational divers, Morton said.

“The Pulley Ridge is a special place,” Morton said. “It’s an area that certainly needs more study, because of its health in terms of coral reefs and the problems that we’re seeing with the coral reefs here in the Florida Keys but also worldwide.”

Nancy Klingener|Aug 27, 2015

A Giant Glob of Deadly Algae Is Floating off the West Coast

Here’s everything you need to know about it.

From the air, the Pacific algal bloom doesn’t look like much of a threat: a wispy, brownish stream, snaking up along the West Coast. But it’s causing amnesia in birds, deadly seizures in sea lions, and a crippling decline in the West Coast shellfish industry. Here’s what you need to know about it, from what this bloom has to do with the drought to why these toxins could be a real threat to the homeless.

“These are the highest levels of toxicity we’ve ever seen,” says one expert.

What’s causing it? The culprits are single-celled, plant-like organisms called pseudo-nitzschia, a subset of the thousands of species of algae that produce more than 50 percent of the world’s oxygen through photosynthesis. They’re a hardy variety usually found in cool, shallow oceans, where they survive on light and dissolved nutrients, including silicates, nitrates, and phosphates. “They’re sort of like the dandelions of the sea,” says Vera Trainer, who manages the Marine Biotoxin Program at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. “They’re always there in some low numbers, just waiting for nutrients to be resupplied to the ocean’s surface.” In most years, blooms in the eastern Pacific are contained near “hot spots” that dot the West Coast—relatively shallow and sheltered places like California’s Monterey Bay or the Channel Islands. They usually flare up in April or May as trade winds cycle nutrient-rich waters from offshore depths to the coast in a process called “upwelling,” but they fade after only a few weeks.

Why is it sticking around so long? The jury’s still out, but scientists are beginning to get a clearer idea. These past few years have been “incredibly weird” in the northeast Pacific, says Nate Mantua, a research scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in Santa Cruz. He points to the same “ridiculously resilient ridge” of high pressure that’s been causing the historic drought in the western United States: This pressure also resulted in a pool of exceptionally warm water in the Pacific (known as “the blob”), with little weather to disperse it. Those conditions, along with prevailing winds and colder currents that ferry nutrients back to the coast, seem to be supplying the algae with a seemingly endless feast.

That makes the source of this bloom different from its cousin in the Gulf of Mexico, where fertilizers flowing from as far as Iowa are feeding a zone of algae that’s as large as New Jersey. “We’re seeing them in relatively pristine waters of the US West Coast,” Trainer explains, though she adds runoff and sewage discharge may be playing some role in the blooms off Southern California.

So just how big is this thing? Bigger than researchers have ever seen: a patchy stream that stretches from Southern California up along the Alaskan coast. The hot spot blooms that appear each spring are merging for the first time, Trainer explains. Though the combined mass has ebbed and flowed over the past four months, it hasn’t let up; her team finds algae each time they journey out to sea, with no signs of abatement soon. And it’s also unusually potent. “These are the highest levels of toxicity we’ve ever seen,” says Raphael Kudela, a professor of ocean sciences at the University of California-Santa Cruz. “It’s a truly extraordinary phenomenon.”

How deadly are these “dandelions”? The algae produce a compound called domoic acid, a type of amino acid that leads to a condition commonly known as “amnesic shellfish poisoning” in humans. Shellfish and some small fish, like sardines and anchovies, feed on the algae and concentrate the toxin in their flesh. When animals further up the food chain—like birds—eat those fish and shellfish, the domoic acid seeps into the bloodstream and eventually the brain, where it attacks cells in the hippocampus, the brain’s command center for memory and learning. The result: amnesia-stricken birds that will repeatedly fly into windows, and sea lions that writhe on the shore, plagued by seizures. Both are symptoms of rapidly firing neurons in the hippocampus, which will eventually burn out and kill the animal. Beaches have been littered with dead fish, birds, and sea lions up and down the Pacific coast since May—all the way up to Alaska, where NOAA is investigating the deaths of fin whales in connection with the toxin.

Will it kill me? Probably not. Amnesic shellfish poisoning was discovered in 1987, when what was then a mysterious illness killed three people and sickened 105 more on Prince Edward Island, Canada. But cases since then have been rare. That’s due to a bevy of regulations that shut down recreational shellfish harvesting when toxicity spikes and require commercial shellfish operations to test each batch for toxins. Those moratoriums have cut into Washington’s $84 million crab industry, while a ban on recreational clam digging has hurt smaller, more remote communities, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. Trainer points to indigenous regions in coastal Washington, like the Quinault Indian Nation, where many members make ends meet by harvesting razor clams for healthy meals in the winter. Though fish are also tested, the toxins seep into their guts, which don’t usually find their way to the dinner table.

Homeless people looking to shellfish as a free meal could be inadvertently exposing themselves to the toxins.

Researchers are also investigating what low levels of domoic acid can do to the brain over many years of exposure. Trainer cautions that the mild symptoms of low-level contamination mean most people wouldn’t be aware of the problem: “They might think they have a cold, or a little flu,” she says. Results from an ongoing inquiry into the effects of domoic acid on Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest have found evidence of memory and learning impairment, while studies in sea lions found antibodies for domoic acid, suggesting even low-level contamination can cause an adverse physiological response. Kudela also suggests that the homeless around Monterey Bay, where his team is located, could be looking to shellfish as a free meal, inadvertently exposing themselves to the toxins.

What happens next? Researchers are waiting for this fall’s big coastal storms, which should churn up waters and disperse the nutrients that allow the algae to thrive. Those systems should gather between late September in the Pacific Northwest and early winter in California. But from then on it’s harder to say. The “blob” could persist through or return after the El Niño expected this winter. But if it is strong enough, the El Niño could also lead to less predictable conditions come spring and even make another large bloom unlikely for years to come, explains Mantua, the NOAA climate scientist. That would make this current, extreme algal bloom look more like an anomaly than a new trend.

Still, even if the coast sees some relief from algae for the next few years, big changes can be expected in the coming decades as oceans warm worldwide. That could produce more hospitable conditions for algae and lead to different ecological threats, like red tides and dead zones, in the Pacific. “I think this is a window into the future,” Trainer says. “We can expect more of this to come.”

Gregory Barber|Aug. 25, 2015

Wildlife and Habitat

Beneficial Spiders Become Victims of Pesticides

The things we do for science are sometimes strange, as evidenced by a recent study at McGill University in Canada, where a team of scientists set out to learn more about the effects of the pesticide Phosmet on spiders. In the field, they’d noted erratic spider behavior in arachnids exposed to the pesticide, and they wanted to take it into the lab to learn more — in this unfortunate case, they had to use living creatures in research because simulations of spider nervous systems aren’t available yet, but their spider intoxication study provided important information for protecting spiders as a whole. The findings of the study were valuable, though, as they demonstrated that while Phosmet is not toxic to the bronze jumping spiders they studied, it does have some potentially devastating effects on the rather charming, and useful, arachnids.

Bronze jumping spiders, like many of their fellow spiders, might be scary for some humans, but they actually serve a very important role in the environment and they’re considered an example of a beneficial organism — terrifying for humans, but very good for ecology. This holds true in agricultural settings as well, where jumping spiders eat a variety of harmful insects, limiting crop damage the natural way. Farmers interested in farming holistically often actively work to encourage beneficial insects (as well as plants) to thrive on their farms so they can manage pests without having to resort to agricultural chemicals. Other farmers, however, prefer to use various pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals to manage their farms.

Regulatory agencies test compounds used on farms for both human and animal safety — sadly, usually they use inhumane studies to do so, and most of those studies don’t result in thoughtful policy changes that reflect what they observed in the lab. This case provides an example of a failing of such testing, and evidence that when alternatives to animal testing aren’t available — as when we need to know how a pesticide acts in the nervous system of a living insect and there’s no way to simulate it — we need to use the outcomes of such studies responsibly and ensure that they weren’t conducted in vain. One issue government regulators evaluate is whether agricultural chemicals cause what amounts to collateral damage — in other words, if they target organisms other than those they’re supposed to. This has become a subject of particular interest in the world of bees, where there are concerns that pesticides may be harming the global bee population. In the case of bronze jumping spiders and the popular pesticide Phosmet, however, authorities determined that the chemical isn’t fatal, and thus could be used without additional regulation.

However, there’s a difference between “fatal” and “harmful,” and that’s what the McGill researchers set out to explore.

Their study focused on something that members of the general public might find hard to believe: spider personalities. Spiders, just like everyone else, have distinct personalities, as well as gene clusters that tend to code for particular behaviors. In particular, bronze jumping spiders can be loosely divided into bold and shy categories. Bold spiders are more aggressive and they’re more active hunters, while shy spiders are more withdrawn, as their categorization implies. The researchers took at look at spiders in both groups exposed to Phosmet, and they found that the chemical effectively acted like an intoxicant, changing the way the spiders behaved when they had ingested it.

Bold spiders became more confused and less aggressive, sometimes refusing to eat at all. Shy spiders became more aggressive and behaved erratically. The personality changes caused by Phosmet exposure wouldn’t read as fatal to regulatory agencies, but they would interfere with ability to function, and could potentially endanger spider populations. Changes in behavior can alter the way spiders interact, breed, hunt, lay eggs and more, all of which can add up to reductions in spider populations — and a subsequent imbalance in the populations of the insects they feed on, which can have a magnifying effect. The farmer who uses minimal amounts of Phosmet, for example, might increase the amount she applies to compensate for the uptick in the insect population caused by a drop in the spider population, harming the spiders even more.

The researchers hope their findings will encourage regulators to think more carefully when they evaluate new agricultural chemicals and look at reported incidents in field environments. Potential effects on animal populations aren’t as simple as life and death, as it turns out, and require thoughtful research into how individual behaviors change when under the influence, so to speak. The study also highlights the fact that the use of agricultural chemicals can have unintended consequences, something people are already thinking about in an era when bees appear to be struggling at least in part because of poor regulation of pesticides. Being more aggressive about evaluation of chemical compounds before they hit the market could result in a safer environment for everyone.

In addition, the sad story of the bronze jumping spider illustrates something else about farming: Beneficial animals, insects and plants are free, while agricultural chemicals are not, and they generate animal suffering to boot. Firms that manufacture such chemicals have to perpetuate a market for them and use a variety of tactics to do so, from lobbying regulatory agencies to growing crops tailor-made to work with specific compounds. This can create dependency on such compounds, making it difficult to transition to forms of agriculture that rely on beneficial insects and crops to manage soil and pests and locking farmers into dependence on potentially expensive and sometimes hazardous compounds. Fighting for spiders doesn’t just benefit them, but other organisms at risk from agricultural chemicals, as well as workers endangered by pesticide and herbicide exposures.

Despite the apparent necessity of using animals in this study, we don’t endorse using animals — of any species — in research. Care2 promotes the development of detailed simulations that allow researchers to explore the possible effects of drugs, cosmetics and other compounds on living organisms without using animals as study subjects.

s.e. smith|August 25, 2015

Forestry

Big Ag Is Devastating the Amazon, but a New Plan Could Preserve Rainforests and Wildlife

Scientists propose creating networks of forests within farming areas to keep species from winking out.

What’s the hidden cost of your coffee, tobacco, and beef?

Every year, the U.S. imports more than $3 billion worth of agricultural goods from Brazil. Those products, more often than not, are grown in the Amazon, where deforestation has removed or devastated the habitat of thousands of native species.

Numerous studies over the past few years have linked deforestation to declines in biodiversity, but a new study takes our understanding a bit further. Published in the journal Ecology Letters, the study examined forest areas that have been converted for logging zones, livestock grazing, or agriculture and found universal declines in the numbers of plant, ant, bird, beetle, and bee species that once called the forests home.

That might seem obvious, but previous studies have focused more on individual species or the difference between forests and ex-forests. The new paper is broader. It examined 300 types of landscapes and nearly 2,000 species to provide a more complete picture of the effects of deforestation.

Those effects varied quite dramatically, said the study’s lead author, Ricardo Solar of Brazil’s Universidade Federal de Viçosa. Degraded forests had much lower levels of biodiversity, which Solar said indicates that many species are “forests specialists” restricted to undisturbed forests. These forest specialists were the species most likely to have suffered as logging, wildfires, or agriculture started to chip away at their habitat.

Other species, however, stuck around. “We were surprised by the fact that degraded forests, over large scales, can sustain diversity levels comparable to intact forests,” Solar said. The effect varied by how much the forests had been impacted by development, but “some of the disturbed forests were able to maintain up to 80 percent of the species found in pristine forests.”

This, he said, was enough to give the research team hope. The paper suggests that creating a network of forest reserves nestled inside agricultural areas would be the most beneficial way to preserve biodiversity. These would include a mix of undisturbed and partially degraded forests.

That’s not the way reserves are created. Instead, they tend to be focused on specific areas located outside agricultural or private land.

“There remains a widespread assumption that concentrating conservation efforts on the protection of isolated reserves is the best way we can safeguard biodiversity,” study coauthor Toby Gardner, of the Stockholm Environment Institute, said in a statement. “Our work shows that in areas of private land that have already been disturbed—which dominate much of the tropics—we need to maintain and protect a wide network of forest areas. Without such a landscape-scale approach we can expect many species to go regionally extinct.”

The landscape approach would have many benefits, including the ability for species to migrate from one patch of forest to another, he said.

Solar said selectively controlling logging and preventing wildfires in all forests, including those on private land, would be an important part of that process, as would laws recently enacted in Brazil that allow for the creation of privately held reserves.

The research offers new clues, but the team isn’t done yet. Solar said it plans to follow up to try to determine what factors in forest preservation would also enable species conservation. That might make your next burger a bit more palatable. 

John R. Platt|Aug 25, 2015

Malaysia’s crackdown on courageous environmental activist

Malaysia has issued a warrant for the arrest of investigative journalist Clare Rewcastle Brown. Her “crime”: exposing the unholy alliance of the timber mafia and highest levels of government. Tell Malaysia to fight environmental destruction, not the courageous individuals who bring the truth to light!

Fight high-level corruption and deforestation in Malaysia, not those who bring it to light.

Sarawak’s timber companies are relentless – not even the most pristine, biodiverse forests are safe from them. Their greed is abetted by friends in the highest places: former Chief Minister Taib Mahmud is said to have pocketed billions as the alleged gray eminence of the Malaysian state’s timber mafia. Corruption and deforestation are tightly intertwined in Sarawak.

London-based investigative journalist Clare Rewcastle Brown has spent years exposing the drivers of deforestation in her blog, Sarawak Report. The Malaysian government is now striking back: in early August, it issued a warrant for her arrest. The government accuses her of engaging in “activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy” and publishing false reports that “caused concern in the minds of the public”. If convicted on both counts, she could face 25 years in prison.

Rewcastle Brown had provoked the Malaysian government’s ire by reporting that nearly $700 million had been paid into the personal accounts of Prime Minister Najib Razak from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a state investment fund.

The journalist is convinced that her e-mail has been hacked, as her contacts in Malaysia have been arrested. She has been put under police protection after being stalked and photographed around London.

The Rewcastle Brown case is typical of the heavy hand with which the Malaysian government deals with its critics. She has little doubt about the government’s motives: “I’m not scared, this isn’t about intimidating me, this is about intimidating [Malaysia’s] own domestic population.”

When critical journalists are silenced and corrupt businessmen and officials are left unfettered, democracy, the people and the environment all suffer.

Rainforest Rescue |8/28/15

Global Warming and Climate Change

4 Surprising Countries That Give You Hope for Climate Action

The fossil-fuels crowd seems to have a thing for China and India. It feels like at least in the U.S., at least half the discussions of clean energy and climate change you see on television end with the anti-renewable voice saying, “Well what about China and India? It doesn’t matter what we do if they keep polluting.”

The world’s first largest economy, China, is stepping up its commitment to renewable energy and working to peak its carbon emissions by 2030.

The rest tends to go to script as, almost without fail, a satisfied smirk the size of Texas then creeps into view as our fossil-fuels friend then leans back in his or her chair. Job done. Mission accomplished. Time to head home and light up a victory-lap Cuban.

But here’s the thing. When we think about the biggest reasons for hope that humanity is finally getting its act together to protect this precious planet of ours from climate change, what comes to mind isn’t the Gigafactory that Tesla CEO Elon Musk is building to revolutionize electric vehicles and energy storage. Or how Costa Rica is committed to going carbon-neutral by 2021. Or the fact that Norway is dropping coal investments from its sovereign wealth fund.

It’s China and India.

The world’s first and third-largest economies in 2015 (measured by purchasing power parity) are both stepping up their commitment to renewable energy and China in particular is also working to peak its carbon emissions by 2030—and aiming to do so sooner. Maybe the most exciting part of all is the fact that this choice isn’t driven by any kind of misguided idealism. It’s a clear-eyed business decision made by leaders looking at the realities of fossil fuels and what they mean for the health of millions of citizens and their respective economies – and recognizing that clean energy is the smart long-term bet.

Admittedly, China’s further along this path than India and both have some ways to go before their power plants are no longer belching dirty coal soot and carbon pollution by the metric ton. But when nations of this size and aspiration begin shifting to new models of development increasingly powered by renewables and seeing it pay off as their economies keep growing, it sends a clear signal to other emerging countries that clean energy can work.

After highlighting some of the countries with a track record of embracing renewables and flourishing today we’re looking at how recent converts to the clean-energy cause are showing over and over that the way to economic success in the twenty-first century is powered by smart technologies like wind and solar. So the next time someone says, “Well what about China and India,” you can say, “Well let me tell you about China and India. And Brazil and Mexico too …”

China

Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room right up front: China’s powered much of its remarkable growth in the twentieth and twenty-first century with fossil fuels. So much so that it’s poised to catch up with the US on the list of all-time historical carbon polluters before too long (which does beg the question, does the fossil fuel crowd in China try to end debate with the question, “Well what about the Americans?”).

That said, in recent years, China has become a renewable-energy juggernaut, moving full-steam ahead and showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Without the space to single out everything happening in a nation of about 1.4 billion, a few headlines really stand out:

  • Last year, China led the world in investments in renewable energy, upping its stake in the sector to $89.5 billion.
  • China also led the world in building new generating capacity from renewable sources like solar, wind, and hydropower.
  • China keeps setting increasingly ambitious goals for solar year after year and is working to more than triple its solar capacity to 100 GW by 2020.
  • To put a finer point on it, China set a new record for new wind power capacity in a single year in 2014 and aims to nearly double its already significant capacity to 200 GW by 2020.
  • Thanks in part to such initiatives, the nation pledged to use non-fossil fuel sources to supply 20 percent of its energy use by 2030 in its recent commitments for the UN climate talks in Paris. In the same set of commitments, China also increased its goal to reduce the country’s carbon intensity by 60—65 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

We’ve made this point before, but China is choosing to do all of this—and a whole lot more—as the world’s largest economy. With the lives and well-being of nearly 1.4 billion people on the line. And if that’s not proof that clean-energy can work on a massive scale—and that’s before counting all the health and other benefits of addressing climate change in the near term—then nothing could be.

India

India hasn’t always made the right kind of headlines when it comes to climate change, thanks to the serious amounts of coal powering its economy—and air pollution choking its cities. But what many critics overlook is how the nation is also making some very ambitious commitments to renewable energy. Two things India has going for it are abundant natural resources (read: “lots and lots of sun and wind”) and a strong entrepreneurial culture  with a habit of seizing big growth markets. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made solar an integral part of the government’s efforts to end energy poverty and bring electricity to every Indian household, including the 300 million people currently living without it. Some clear indicators of this progress include:

  • Renewables made up about 14 percent of India’s installed energy capacity in 2013 and the nation is looking to quintuple—quintuple—this number to 175 GW by 2022.
  • As part of this effort, the government recently raised its targets for growing solar by a factor of five, raising its targets from 20 GW by 2022 to 100 GW in the same year.
  • The country is also the world’s fifth-largest market for wind power, with a cumulative capacity of nearly 22.5 GW installed at the end of last year.
  • Investors are taking note, pouring $7.9 billion into clean energy projects in 2014. For 2015, this number is projected to surpass $10 billion, a sign of real confidence in the sector’s promise.

To propel these efforts, the Indian government has also introduced a range of forward-looking policies that mandate reductions in energy use from large industries and encourage state electricity providers to use renewables, among other measures. And while there’s no way around the fact that the nation clearly has a long ways to go, the fact that real progress is happening in a nation of India’s size and footprint is a real reason for hope.

Mexico

The clean-energy turnaround stories happening in China and India aren’t the only ones pointing to an ongoing shift in global attitudes. Though its noisy neighbors to the north tend to hog the spotlight when it comes to climate news, Mexico has quietly been building the second-largest clean energy market in Latin America while making strong commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Along the way, it’s also been reforming its electricity sector to pave the way for significantly greater use of renewables in the years ahead.

What does this all mean in practice? Well, one research firm ranked Mexico second in Latin America for solar installations in 2014 and forecasted that the sector would grow by 84 percent through 2018. The country has also set ambitious goals to grow domestic wind power from just over 2,500 MW of capacity last year to 15,000 MW by 2022. Which is not a small undertaking.

Of course, if you want to get a real picture of what’s happening, follow the money (we’ve heard that’s a smart idea). And in Mexico, the money is moving into clean energy, with investors first putting $2.2 billion into renewables in 2013 and then adding $1.3 billion more in just the first six months of 2014. Fueled by this support, developers are busy working on a range of clean energy projects in areas from biofuels to geothermal to small hydropower to solar to wind.

Brazil

From the second-largest clean energy market in Latin America to the largest: Brazil. While many countries in the region have looked to fossil fuels or foreign resources to power their economies, Brazil has a long history of working for self-sufficiency and using its own natural resources. The result is that the nation has been able to supply over 80 percent of its electricity needs with renewables, with the bulk coming from hydropower.

Admittedly, large-scale hydropower is not without its own issues and so the good news is that other sectors like wind and solar are starting to really pick up in Brazil. Already, the nation was one of the top 10 globally for clean energy investment in 2013. Plus, wind, to pick just one sector, could reach 12 percent of the nation’s generation capacity by 2023 if Brazil meets its current goals. And with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff recently pledging that the country will generate 20 percent of its energy with non-hydropower renewables by 2030, there’s every reason to expect it will.

Perhaps most importantly, while Brazil was creating a low-carbon economy, it was also living through a decade of extraordinary growth and social progress from 2003—2013 in which over 26 million people emerged from poverty and the country made major strides in reducing inequality.

Reasons For Hope

The bottom line is that we’re seeing countries in every part of the world and all along the economic spectrum increasingly turn to clean energy and thriving as a result. So while the recent headlines on what’s happening in Greenland and Antarctica make for some sobering reading, places like China and India and Mexico and Brazil are proving that we can make smart decisions on how we power our lives without plunging our economies into chaos, like the fossil fuel crowd would have you believe. And that’s a reason for hope worth sharing.

The Climate Reality Project|August 14, 2015

Glacier May Have Lost Largest Chunk of Ice in Recorded History

With the world’s glaciers melting at record rates, the Jakobshavn—Greenland‘s fastest-moving glacier and one of the fastest melting in the world—may have lost its largest chunk of ice in recorded history.

The Washington Post reported that members of the Arctic Sea Ice Forum examined satellite images of the glacier between Aug. 14 and Aug. 16 and found that a large chunk of ice (an estimated total area of of 12.5 square kilometers or five square miles), had broken away from the glacier’s face. The amount is quite possibly the largest ever recorded, some members have speculated.

According to forum member Espen Olsen, this loss is “one of the largest calvings in many years, if not the largest.” (Calving is the sudden release and breaking away of a mass of ice from a glacier, iceberg, ice front, ice shelf or crevasse).

As the Post noted in its report, calving isn’t unusual for this area in Greenland due to rising air and sea temperatures in the Arctic. “As of 2012, the glacier was pouring out ice at a speed of 150 feet per day, nearly three times its flow rate in the 1990s,” the report stated.

“Overall, I don’t think that they really can nail the ‘largest’ [calving event] or not,” he wrote in an email to the publication. “I wouldn’t get too excited on this, even though it is not good news.” He added that the satellite images the forum members observed were only spaced by one full day and the ice loss could have broken off in separate smaller events instead of one giant calving.

Even if this event isn’t the largest ice loss recorded on the glacier, as you can see from these satellite images captured on July 31 and Aug. 16 of this year (just two weeks apart!) by Joshua Stevens, a senior data visualizer and cartographer at NASA’s Earth Observatory, the Jakobshavn is going through tremendous ice loss.

“The calving events of Jakobshavn are becoming more spectacular with time, and I am in awe with the calving speed and retreat rate of this glacier,” said Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a NASA Earth Observatory post. “These images are a very good example of the changes taking place in Greenland.”

The Jakobshavn Glacier on July 31, 2015. Photo credit: NASA

The Jakobshavn Glacier on July 31, 2015. Photo credit: NASA

The same glacier on August 16, 2015. Photo credit: NASA

The same glacier on August 16, 2015. Photo credit: NASA

“What is important is that the ice front, or calving front, keeps retreating inland at galloping speeds,” Rignot said.

The Jakobshavn is of particular significance since it is responsible “for draining a large portion of the Greenland Ice Sheet,” and “could contribute more to sea level rise than any other single feature in the Northern Hemisphere,” the Earth Observatory post stated.

According to University of Washington glaciologist Ian Joughin, Jakobshavn’s calving front has moved about 600 meters (2,000 feet) farther inland than the summer before for the last several years.

The Jakobshavn is also one of the fastest-flowing glaciers in the world. In the summer of 2012 alone, the glacier accelerated at a rate of 17 kilometers (10 miles) per year, a speed never witnessed before. On average, the glacier moved nearly three times faster in 2012 than it did in the mid-1990s.

Worldwide, the current rate of glacier melt is without precedent. Recent data compiled by the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) show that several hundred glaciers are losing between half and one meter of thickness every year—at least twice the average loss for the 20th century—and remote monitoring shows this rate of melting is far more widespread.

Lorraine Chow|EcoWatch|August 24, 2015

New Orleans launches resilience roadmap to tackle climate and social challenges

As well as focusing on climate-related catastrophes, the 41-step resilience strategy addresses social issues such as poverty, racial inequality and crime

In the week that marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans officials have launched a comprehensive “resilience strategy” aiming to secure the city’s future.

As well as seeking ways for the city to both prevent and survive more climate-related catastrophes, it treats social challenges such as poverty, racial inequality and crime as disasters that must be addressed if New Orleans is to become truly “resilient”. In the strategy’s parlance, it tackles both “shocks” and “stresses”.

Resilient New Orleans is a joint effort between the city and the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative, which provides money and technical support for urban areas facing threats to their long-term prosperity.

Conceived as a roadmap that highlights priority areas and seeks to close gaps in existing plans, the strategy proposes 41 actions designed to make the city more equitable, adaptable and prosperous, from promoting energy efficiency to enlarging the public transportation network to establishing personal emergency savings accounts to boosting resources to combat the erosion of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands, which are a vital line of defence against severe weather.

While numerous plans and ideas to improve conditions have been proposed in the wake of Katrina, which killed some 1,000 people in Louisiana and displaced hundreds of thousands when levees failed and flooded 80% of New Orleans, officials insisted that the wide-ranging blueprint has the means to succeed.

A short film created to mark the launch of the New Orleans resilience strategy

“People in New Orleans are tired of planning and this strategy is a means to take action,” said Jeff Hebert, the city’s chief resilience officer, at the launch on Tuesday. A statement said that “partners in the private and philanthropic sector will provide greater than $1m in immediate tools and services” to begin implementing the strategy, and more funds will be sought from a variety of sources.

“All of the actions have pretty clear ownership and there’s been a lot of work already to identify who the partners are who will support the actions,” said Michael Berkowitz, the 100 Resilient Cities president. “Cities that have that catalyst for change, the ones that have suffered through severe events or have really clear risk profiles, those cities sometimes do the most innovative work because the mayor doesn’t have to convince anyone that business as usual’s not going to work. Everybody in the city describes time as ‘before Katrina’ and ‘after Katrina’.”

The mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, said the city is in negotiations with FEMA, the federal emergency management agency, about how to proceed with the reconstruction of its water and drainage system. In an example of how the project seeks to foster interconnectedness, Landrieu said he hoped the overhaul would provide employment and training opportunities for many of the city’s jobless. “Everything we do now has a resilience lens on it,” he said.

The 90-page strategy (PDF) was developed over nine months and sought input from members of the local community. One, Jeffrey Schwartz, is the executive director of Broad Community Connections, an organisation aiming to revitalize one of the city’s most historic and busy thoroughfares.

“New Orleans has horrible rates of obesity and diabetes; that is in part because we suffer from not having enough fresh food access and access to healthcare,” Schwartz said. He said that one of the group’s aims is to “overlay real-estate development with programming” – not installing business tenants who are able to pay the highest rents, but ones who best meet local needs.

The strategy calls for leveraging resources for coastal projects – for example, by using money from the BP oil spill settlement – as well as an outreach campaign to improve public awareness of environmental issues. It also stresses the importance of implementing projects that will help urban areas live with stormwater, not simply keep it out.

A microgrid project is planned that will enhance the city’s backup electricity generation and mitigate the effects of outages, which could be vital in keeping essential services running in the event of another hurricane. Another suggestion is to put solar panels on New Orleans’ city hall.

“If you’re going to live in a coastal city, you have to speed up your ability to respond. It’s not just about building to prevent a disaster, it’s got to be about the response and the comeback after a disaster,” said David Muth, director of the Gulf Restoration Program at the National Wildlife Federation.

Muth said the rebuilt levees ($14.5bn has been spent on upgrades to the flood defence system since Katrina) plus a recent influx of new residents who were not in the city during the 2005 storm risked breeding a sense of complacency that is dangerous given the worsening effects of climate change on the region.

Jeff Hebert was moved to return home to New Orleans by the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. In the decade since, he has been at the heart of efforts to rebuild a stronger city, culminating in today’s launch of a future master plan

Read more

On average, the Louisiana coast is losing wetlands at the rate of a football field every hour: “Deltas are not static … the sea has been winning for 300 years and that victory has accelerated over the past 100 years,” Muth said. “The cost of prevention is tiny compared to the cost of rebuilding and eventually having to move much of the city’s infrastructure because we can’t hang on to it where it is … We’ve had a series of storms that really bring home the message: ‘Guys, we’re way more vulnerable than we thought.’”

As part of the strategy, a “resilience center” will open in New Orleans to serve as a resource and training facility for cities around the world, encouraging the sharing of ideas and best practices.

“What makes [the strategy] so impressive is that it’s so fully integrated,” said Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation. “It really is looking at the physical infrastructure, both natural and built, and linking it to economic and social resilience. For New Orleans to really recover and for most cities around the world to become truly resilient, the three domains – physical, economic and social – need to be tightly interwoven, and this really does do that.”

Video: 100 Resilient Cities

Tom Dart in New Orleans|26 August 2015

Extreme Weather

Deadly Heat Waves Sweep the Globe

This summer is undoubtedly one for the record books. Brutal heat has literally melted roads, ignited forest fires and affected millions around the planet. Extreme weather has scorched the Middle East, Asia, Europe and the U.S, as weather experts predict that this year will surpass last year as the hottest in recorded history.

“I’d not be surprised if 2015 ends up the warmest year on record,” said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) climate monitoring chief Derek Arndt in June.

The Middle East

Death tolls are currently climbing in Egypt as temperatures soar to 114 degrees Fahrenheit. The Associated Press reported that more than 60 people—mostly elderly—have died from the heat and high humidity. An additional 581 people have been hospitalized for heat exhaustion.

The entire region has been devastated by the relentless heat. Earlier this week, Iran hit a sweltering 164 degrees—just a few degrees shy of the highest ever record heat index. Pakistan’s devastating heat wave in June killed 1,233 and hospitalized more than 1,900 due to dehydration, heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses. In neighboring India, 2,500 people succumbed to heat a month earlier.

Asia

Japan is experiencing heat-related deaths in 29 out of its 47 prefectures, with Tokyo currently experiencing an “unprecedented” streak of temperatures over 95 degrees, according to Weather.com. The week of July 27 through Aug. 2—where 25 people died from heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses—was considered the “deadliest” week in the country and nearly equaled the death toll of 30 in the preceding three months combined, Weather.com added in its report.

Elsewhere in Asia, Chinese weather authorities have issued heat wave alerts as some parts of the country experienced temperatures in the triple digits. The Guardian also reported in July that North Koreans were ordered to start work at 5 a.m. in order to cope with temperatures around 104 degrees Fahrenheit in Pyongyang.

Europe

The heat has smashed records across the continent, reminding some of the devastating summer of 2003 that claimed 30,000 lives. “Europeans have been painfully aware of the dangers of extreme heat since the killer heat wave of July 2003,” said Weather.com senior meteorologist Nick Wiltgen.

“This July 2015 was the warmest July on record for Spain, Italy, Switzerland and Austria,” Dr. Jeff Masters, Weather Underground’s director of meteorology, told the website.

Eastern Europe is also seeing temperatures up to the mid-90s, when highs around 75 are more common this time of year, AccuWeather wrote. And Poland is also experiencing the mass extinction of one very unsuspecting victim: IKEA meatballs.

North America

Although summer is coming to an end, many parts of the U.S. will still be baking in the sun’s rays. Some Los Angelenos, for instance, will feel temperatures in the 100s this week, the Los Angeles Times reported. Stuart Seto, a weather specialist with the National Weather Service, told the publication on Monday that while the city’s temperatures are not record-breaking, they are still about 10 degrees above average for this time of year.

The American summer of 2015 has also been marked by destructive wildfires that have burned through the West. So far, flames have burned nearly 5 million acres (an area the size of Connecticut) in the state of Alaska. Climate Central even created an interactive map that shows in real time the active wildfires in the U.S.

Climate change?

Global warming has been suggest as one of the possible culprits of this extreme heat.

“The heat wave is still ongoing and it is premature to say whether it can be attributed to climate change or whether it is due to naturally occurring climate variability,” stated Omar Baddour, who coordinates the World Meteorological Organization’s World Climate Data and Monitoring Program.

“But climate change scenarios predict that heat waves will become more intense, more frequent and longer. It is notable that the time between major heat waves (2003, 2010 and 2015) is getting shorter,” he added.

Lorraine Chow|August 13, 2015

Drought may worsen wildlife encounters

Scarcity of food spurs unusual activity in Calif.

LOOMIS, Calif. The scarcity of food in the wild has been blamed for unusual animal activity during California’s drought including a recent bear attack, mountain lion sightings and an uptick in orphaned animals.

But the devastating four-year drought that’s dried up streams and vegetation isn’t the sole cause, state officials and experts say. Instead, they say the drought is worsening long-term trends and natural animal behaviors in a state that is becoming increasingly developed.

Pools and lush gardens in residential areas are attractive to animals forced out of their normal homes. The construction of roads and business developments, along with man’s increased movement into rural areas, had begun fragmenting habitats before the drought.

“You have a longer-term trend exacerbated by this acute change in water availability,” said Dick Cameron, a scientist who studies habitat fragmentation for The Nature Conservancy in California.

Diane Nicholas, 63, believes a dearth of water and fresh vegetation in the Sierra Foothills is behind what’s been the busiest year for her fawn rescue in Loomis, California, near Sacramento. For nine years, the Kindred Spirits Fawn Rescue has cared for hundreds of fawns found injured on roads or caught in fences, near dead mothers in the wild or alone on suburban lawns.

Nicholas, an interior designer, said she received more baby deer in April than in any other year and is on track to rehabilitate a record 200.

Some were found stuck in nearby canals where they had gone in search of water. Five fawns came to her weighing less than 2 pounds, the first she’s ever seen them so small. Others were found near underweight mothers that apparently died in childbirth.

“These does have been in such poor health that when they give birth it takes it all out of them,” Nichols said. “We have to assume it’s a lack of food and water.”

Marc Kenyon, who oversees the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s human conflict program, said rangers are also seeing an uptick in orphaned mountain lion kittens and bear cubs. He said officials need years of data before determining a drought link because unusual trends may also be driven by climate change, disease or genetics.

Meanwhile, Nichols isn’t only worried about deer in the drought. A bear wandered on her property for the first time.

Unusual bear activity around the state has raised alarms. An increased number of bears — in new areas — have been spotted in Bakersfield in Southern California. Statewide, there has been an uptick in black bear-human encounters, including a recent non-fatal attack on a man who lives near Yosemite National Park.

Wildlife officials say it’s indisputable that some bears are expanding their search for food, but populations have been thriving.

“Just the sheer fact you see animals around you doesn’t mean it’s a true drought relationship,” said Jason Holley, a supervising wildlife biologist for the state. “Most large animals are drought-adapted in California. They’ve gone through this stuff before, and they’ll find resources they need.”

Even though California is almost entirely in drought, food supplies have been replenished in pockets of the state. Summer thunderstorms in the Sierra Nevada are helping mushrooms and grass sprout in swaths of forestland.

Fraser Schilling, co-director The Road Ecology Center at the University of California-Davis, said his study of 29,000 road kill reports from volunteers over five years makes him think animals seem to be crossing more roads in the search for food.

“There are so many stresses on wildlife populations from things that are our responsibility that when drought comes along, it really slams them up against the ropes,” Shilling said.

FENIT NIRAPPIL|ASSOCIATED PRESS|8/23/15

Extreme weather could bring food shortages

Food shortages and price increases caused by extreme weather will be three times more likely in the coming decades, according to a new report.

The U.K.-U.S. Taskforce on Extreme Weather and Global Food System Resilience found that unless better planning, modeling and trade arrangements are put in place, massive disruptions to the food supply that usually only occur once a century will happen every 30 years.

Extreme weather in areas that produce the most important crops is largely the cause. A massive drought is already underway in California — the world’s richest food-producing region — causing a loss of 30 percent of its cropland.

The U.S. isn’t alone in feeling the effects of extreme weather. Venezuela is undergoing beer shortages because of a heat wave.

Countries that are heavy grain importers will be the most vulnerable, the task force reported. The U.S. and European Union will likely be sheltered from widespread effects because of the ability to outbid other countries for food supplies, the report found.

USA TODAY|8/23/15

California Isn’t the Only State With a Drought Problem

National headlines are dedicated to California’s wildfires this year, as the state is already experiencing massive and difficult to control fires. Unfortunately, the situation will likely get worse as the summer progresses. However, as a series of very aggressive fires in Oregon and Washington illustrates, California isn’t the only state struggling to get a handle on runaway fires — and it’s also not the only state facing the severe drought that tends to fan the flames. As California occupies a lion’s share of national and international headlines about extremely dry conditions, other states are getting short shrift. This isn’t just an issue of losing out at the senior dance: Such coverage can affect water policy and financial aid to help affected states.

Some climatologists believe that the United States may be looking at a “megadrought.” All states west of the Mississippi are experiencing water shortages, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data indicates that California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Idaho and Montana are all likely to experience an “intensification” of drought conditions. Arizona and New Mexico are also looking at low water supplies, though NOAA officials believe it’s possible drought conditions may be lifted in future climate projections.

Climatologists assessing the possible causes of the megadrought are also reluctant to blame it on global warming, as historic evidence suggests that it may be natural and part of a cyclical pattern. Native communities may have survived droughts via tactics like relocating and changing their practices — though some, like the Pueblo, appear to have been unable to cope with the change in climate — but Europeans stumbled upon North America when the continent was rich in water supplies, and colonized it accordingly, without consideration for future water conservation. Now, they’re dealing with the consequences.

This illustrates that shrinking water supplies and inadequate rainfall aren’t just a problem in the Golden State, and all states need to begin to think about reforming water policy to address the possibility of a long-term change in water availability. Water shortages across the West have already caused problems like mass livestock dieoffs in Texas, uncontrolled wildfires in Montana, and the deaths of acres of orchards in California. These problems are having a direct social and economic impact on affected states, cutting at the baseline of their economy and making financial survival difficult for those who rely on the land to make a living — farmers in particular are struggling across the West because they can’t irrigate crops and provide water for their livestock. That has a ripple effect along the economic chain, as reduced farm profits equate to reduced tax profits, export dollars and other benefits for the state economy as a whole, while fires necessitate substantial expenses for paying fire crews, evacuating affected communities, and providing financial aid and assistance for fire recovery.

The drought is also permanently changing the landscape of the American West. Low rainfall paired with depletion of the region’s aquifers has resulted in desertification in some regions, and some authorities believe that so-called “desert bands” may be on their way North. Desert conditions currently seen in regions like Arizona and Southern California could work their way into some of the most fertile parts of the country, which could be potentially devastating for food security as well as economic health; California, for example, could go from an extremely wealthy state to one that needs considerable federal assistance to cope with changes in the landscape.

California’s famous changes to water policy — many of which unfortunately focus on individuals rather than big culprits like the agricultural industry — are capturing attention, but other Western states have been slow to enact water restrictions. Some, like Arizona, believe they have sufficient reserves to weather out, so to speak, conditions that they see as temporary. Others may not realize the extent of the problems they’re facing, an issue that could potentially have a devastating effect on residents and the natural environment. Water rights have historically been an extremely contentious issue in the West, with states battling for bigger shares of sources like the Rio Grande River, and the problem will escalate unless they can reach a uniform convention, not just on water rights, but water policy within individual states, as those with more radical conservation measures may come to resent those without such measures in place.

s.e. smith|August 24, 2015

Extreme Drought Hits South Florida

While the drought in California grabs headlines across the country, other places around the U.S. and the world are experiencing brutal droughts. It’s well known that much of the Western U.S. is in some level of a drought—parts of Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana are all experiencing severe to exceptional drought. But little attention has been paid to the drought gripping South Florida.

Much of South Florida is in severe to extreme drought. Photo credit: U.S. Drought MonitorMuch of South Florida is in severe to extreme drought. Photo credit: U.S. Drought Monitor

While it has not been languishing for four years like the state of California, South Florida is in the midst of a severe to extreme drought, according to the latest data from the U.S. Drought Monitor. And South Florida happens to be home to a whole lot of people—the drought there is affecting more than 5.5 million.

South Florida’s tropical savanna climate has two distinct seasons: wet and dry. The dry season is considered to be roughly from November to April and makes up for about 25 percent of yearly rainfall. That means three-quarters of South Florida’s rainfall arrives between May and October, and to date, many areas are recording 10 to 16 inches below normal with North Perry Airport recording a whopping 20 inches below normal as of Aug. 20. Rainfall that low has resulted in the driest wet season on record for North Perry along with Fort Lauderdale and Tamiami. And almost every other area in South Florida is having one of its driest wet seasons on record.

In addition to a lack of rainfall, “fresh water usage has been a big factor” in South Florida’s drought, reports The Washington Post. “Agricultural irrigation, commercial and residential needs place demands on the region’s fresh water supply, both in lakes and in the subterranean aquifers,” said The Post.

Far too much of the freshwater that is available is polluted from farm runoff. The South Florida Water Management District board applauded farmers earlier this month for reducing phosphorus pollution again this year, but environmentalists were quick to point out that due to water quality restrictions the water could not go to the southern Everglades, where the water is desperately needed.

Cole Mellino|August 25, 2015

Humans to Blame for Catastrophic Drought in California, Scientists Say

One way or another, humans are to blame for the catastrophic drought in California that scientists say may be emerging as a “new normal.”

Either humans have mismanaged the state’s water or human-triggered global warming has begun to help turn America’s landscape of wine and roses into a dustbowl, according to two new studies.

And the arguments have relevance extending far beyond the U.S. west, as the European Drought Observatory has warned that much of mainland Europe is now caught up in the continent’s worst drought since 2003.

The consequences of any drought could also be more enduring than expected. A research team in the U.S. reports in the journal Ecological Applications that trees that survived severe drought in the U.S. southeast 10 years ago are now dying—because of the long-ended drought.

Such statements are simple, but the connections with climate change are complex. That is because drought is a natural cyclic turn of events, even in well-watered countries. It is one of those extremes that, summed up, make the average climate.

Global warming or not, droughts would happen. California in particular has a history of periodic drought that dates back far beyond European settlement and the state’s growth to become the most populous in the U.S.

But the drought that began in 2012—and which has cost the agricultural industry more than $2 billion, lost 17,000 jobs and so far killed 12 million trees—is the worst in at least a century.

Amir AghaKouchak, a hydrologist at the University of California Irvine and colleagues say in Nature journal that they want authorities to recognize that human factors are making cyclic water scarcity worse.

They say:

“Severe and long-lasting droughts have occurred in reconstructions of the region’s past climate, so it is not clear whether California’s current drought is a temporary weather condition or is the emergence of a ‘new normal.’

“Observations and climate projections indicate that California’s climate is warming, with more winter rainfall instead of snow, earlier snow melt and decreases in spring and summer stream flows. Future droughts will be compounded by more-intense heatwaves and more wildfires.

“Soaring temperatures will increase demand for energy just when water for power generation and cooling is in short supply. Such changes will increase the tension between human priorities and nature’s share.”

The researchers leave open the question of the role of global warming, fueled by rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide because of increasing fossil fuel combustion. But U.S. scientists report in Geophysical Research Letters that they think global warming could have contributed up to 27 percent of the present drought.

Their study, based on analysis of month-by-month meteorological data for more than a century, identifies a trend towards drought that is in step with warming since 1901. And they argue that even through the present drought is natural, it has been modestly intensified by climate change.

More ominously, global warming has amplified the probability of severe drought. The new study suggests that by the 2060s, California may be in more or less permanent drought. Rainfall might increase, but not enough to make up for greater evaporation because of rising temperatures.

“A lot of people think that the amount of rain that falls out the sky is the only thing that matters,” says the report’s lead author, A. Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “But warming changes the baseline amount of water that’s available to us, because it sends water back into the sky.”

Tim Radford|Climate News Network|August 28, 2015

Ten Years After Katrina

Hurricane Katrina killed more than 1,800 people, devastated a great American city and caused more than a hundred billion dollars of damage. An enormous natural disaster was amplified by governmental incompetence and indifference into a human tragedy that shocked the world. Today, a full decade later, aftershocks of Katrina are still being felt, particularly in New Orleans, which has never completely recovered.

Although the events of 10 years ago were certainly momentous enough in and of themselves to warrant commemoration, Katrina is also a harbinger of our future. We know that climate disruption threatens to increase the frequency of extreme weather events, from droughts to heat waves to hurricanes. Extreme storm surges like those from Katrina and Superstorm Sandy will become 10 times more frequent, even if we succeed in limiting global temperature increase to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. That works out to a Katrina every other year.

But the most important lesson we can take from Katrina has more to do with people than weather. The storm itself was only partially responsible for the extensive damage and suffering in New Orleans. When the levees failed, it was because no one cared enough to ensure that they were properly engineered and constructed. When thousands of people found themselves caught in the storm’s path, it’s because no one cared enough to help them evacuate. Even after the storm had passed and survivors were sickened by the formaldehyde in FEMA trailers … well, you get the idea.

When it comes to disasters caused by climate disruption and extreme weather, there’s nothing fair about which people will end up being hurt the most. Low-income communities and communities of color are not only the first in the line of fire but also the last when it comes to getting help. In New Orleans, for Katrina, it was the Lower 9th Ward. In New York, for Sandy, it was the outer boroughs. But look almost anywhere and you’ll find people living in frontline communities that are both more vulnerable to disasters and less able to recover in the aftermath.

In fact, the same kind of injustice applies on a global scale—many of the poor and developing nations that have been the least responsible for climate disruption will nevertheless be the hardest hit by its effects.

That is why we cannot tackle climate disruption without also addressing climate justice. That means dismantling the racial and economic injustice that leaves some people, through no fault of their own, at much greater risk from the effects of climate disruption.

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Michael Brune|President and Director|Sierra Club|August 29, 2015

Thousands of Walruses Stranded Ashore in Alaska Once Again Due to Rapidly Melting Sea Ice

In what has now become a regular occurrence, thousands of walruses are being forced ashore on a remote barrier island in Alaska, threatening their survival. Walruses use sea ice to rest and feed. But with Arctic sea ice hitting a new low this past winter and fears that the Arctic could be entirely ice-free in summer months by the 2030s, walruses have no choice but to crowd ashore in mass numbers.

The first reported sighting this year was earlier this week. Gary Braasch, an environmental photographer, told The Guardian he first spotted the walruses coming ashore on the southern end of the barrier island, about two miles from the hamlet of Point Lay. The mass stranding comes ahead of President Obama’s visit to Alaska to shed a spotlight on the toll climate change is taking on the Arctic region.

Last year, upwards of 35,000 walruses were forced ashore, setting a record. U.S. government agencies and the Native village of Point Lay ask that the media refrain from visiting the community to film or “sightsee” as “the walruses need space to reduce disturbance and possible trampling of animals.” Since at least 2007, due to the loss of sea ice in the Chukchi Sea, “walrus females and calves are coming ashore in the late summer/early fall in large numbers near the community,” said U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Geological Survey in a joint statement.

Thousands of walruses are once again forced ashore due to rapidly melting Arctic sea ice. Photo credit: NOAA

Thousands of walruses are once again forced ashore due to rapidly melting Arctic sea ice. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries

The site has been occupied by as many as 20,000 to 40,000 animals at its peak, according to Jim MacCracken, supervisory wildlife biologist with the USFWS. Scientists worry that any disturbances could lead to large stampedes, which injure and kill some walruses, especially calves.

“Last year, it was estimated that 60 young walruses were killed because of the sheer number of animals gathered together,” said the agencies. The noise from overhead aircraft is of particular concern, and the agencies are considering placing temporary flight restrictions within the vicinity of the “haulout”—the term given to when walruses rest and feed in coastal areas during their migration.

It’s common for Pacific walruses to use coastal haulouts for resting during the fall southward migration, the agencies explained. Adult males, in particular, routinely use coastal haulouts along the Bering Sea in both Russia and the U.S. during the summer months, as evidenced by this live cam of 14,000 walruses relaxing on an Alaskan island. But females and their calves prefer to rest and feed more on ice floes until they begin to migrate back to the Bering Sea for the winter.

“Ice floes provide protection from predators, allow walrus to haul out in smaller groups and provide easy access to feeding areas below,” said the agencies. With Alaska and the rest of the Arctic rapidly warming, that leaves walruses no choice but to come ashore.

Cole Mellino|August 28, 2015

Genetically Modified Organisms

The Latest Herbicide Scare: Here’s What You Need to Know

Two scientists have spoken out in the New England Journal of Medicine saying that the EPA’s continued support for the herbicide glyphosate, better known as the major component of Roundup, may be putting people at risk. Are these claims credible, and if so what should happen next?

The researchers, Doctor Philip Landrigan, Dean for Global Health at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, and Professor Chuck Benbroo of Washington State University’s crops and soil science department, argue that the GMO crop boom teamed with “growing” herbicide use may pose a risk to public health and at the very least requires further study. 

The researchers are also highly critical of the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent approval of Enlist Duo, a weed killer that contains glyphosate as well as a herbicide known as 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, another herbicide that some campaigners contend is dangerous. In approving Enlist Duo, the EPA said there was no convincing evidence of glyphosate being unsafe, however the opinion piece disputes that claim:

In our view, the science and the risk assessment supporting the Enlist Duo decision are flawed. The science consisted solely of toxicological studies commissioned by the herbicide manufacturers in the 1980s and 1990s and never published, not an uncommon practice in U.S. pesticide regulation. These studies predated current knowledge of low-dose, endocrine-mediated, and epigenetic effects and were not designed to detect them. The risk assessment gave little consideration to potential health effects in infants and children, thus contravening federal pesticide law. It failed to consider ecologic impact, such as effects on the monarch butterfly and other pollinators. It considered only pure glyphosate, despite studies showing that formulated glyphosate that contains surfactants and adjuvants is more toxic than the pure compound.

The researchers call for the EPA to “delay implementation of its decision to permit use of Enlist Duo.” It also urges authorities to “revisit the United States’ reluctance to label GM foods,” arguing, “Labeling will deliver multiple benefits. It is essential for tracking emergence of novel food allergies and assessing effects of chemical herbicides applied to GM crops.”

While there is a side-swipe at GMOs in this opinion piece (which we’ll return to later), the underlying complaint about glyphosate use has taken on renewed importance this year.

What is the Current Thinking of Other Nations on Glyphosate Support?

Countries like El Salvador have already banned glyphosate use for general farming purposes. A number of European states have also banned or restricted glyphosate-based products. However other governments argue that glyphosate actually makes crop management safer because it doesn’t require multiple insecticides and instead can be blanket applied and its effects carefully tracked.

That acknowledged, we can’t help but mention that earlier this year the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization (known as the International Agency for Research on Cancer) issued a determination saying glyphosate herbicides are “probably carcinogenic” to humans and should be classed as a Group 2A substance, this being the second highest risk classification. The researchers noted that there are few studies that directly link glyphosate exposure to an increased risk of cancer, and even some large reviews dispute it, but there is limited evidence to show crop field workers tend to be at higher risk of lymphoma, while animal studies have shown that exposure to high levels of the herbicide appears to increase tumor risk.

Supporters of the herbicide have hit back saying that those animal tests all used exposures that were far higher than would actually be present in every day life, but critics of glyphosate reply that, given that glyphosate is being specifically prepared for use with the growing GMO crop industry and therefore will be used more widely in the future, highlighting the potential–though not proved–risk is sensible.

Monsanto, the company behind Roundup, has arranged for an independent review of WHO’s findings and disputes its claims.

Is This Opinion Piece Credible?

Some critics of the opinion piece point out that it scaremongers about GMO crops–which of themselves have been found to be safe by literally hundreds if not thousands of studies–but that this is no surprise because both scientists but particularly Charles Benbrook are anti-GMO and anti-herbicide campaigners. This of course isn’t proof of bias however. 

In terms of more substantial criticism, a number of researchers have accused Benbrook and Landrigan of misleading people with their choice of facts. Dr. Andrew Kniss of the University of Wyoming is quoted as saying: Dr. Landrigan and Dr. Benbrook cite glyphosate-resistant weeds as a primary reason why “fields must now be treated with multiple herbicides.” … [G]glyphosate-resistant weeds may certainly have increased the number of herbicides used per acre compared to 5 years ago, but the change has been relatively modest when compared to herbicide use before the adoption of GMO crops.”

It appears that while the piece raises a number of important issues, like that of weed resistance and the World Health Organization’s determination against glyphosate, there are several weaknesses that make its general points difficult to take seriously.

What Can We Take From This Media Storm?

The good news is that this opinion piece actually provides little in the way of evidence to support any major concerns over glyphosate that weren’t already known. Going forward then, continued discussion and investigation into herbicide use will be key.

In the meantime, campaigners will no doubt continue to call on the EPA to rethink its support for glyphosate products, especially in light of the World Health Organization’s controversial findings.

Steve Williams|August 23, 2015

Pesticides in paradise: Hawaii’s spike in birth defects puts focus on GM crops

Local doctors are in the eye of a storm swirling for the past three years over whether corn that’s been genetically modified to resist pesticides is a source of prosperity, as companies claim, or of birth defects and illnesses

Pediatrician Carla Nelson remembers catching sight of the unusually pale newborn, then hearing an abnormal heartbeat through the stethoscope and thinking that something was terribly wrong.

The baby was born minutes before with a severe heart malformation that would require complex surgery. What worried her as she waited for the ambulance plane to take the infant from Waimea, on the island of Kauai, to the main children’s hospital in Honolulu, on another Hawaiian island, was that it was the fourth one she had seen in three years.

In all of Waimea, there have been at least nine in five years, she says, shaking her head. That’s more than 10 times the national rate, according to analysis by local doctors.

Nelson, a Californian, and other local doctors find themselves in the eye of a storm swirling for the past three years around the Hawaiian archipelago over whether a major cash crop on four of the six main islands, corn that’s been genetically modified to resist pesticides, is a source of prosperity, as the companies claim – or of birth defects and illnesses, as the doctors and many others suspect.

After four separate attempts to rein in the companies over the past two years all failed, an estimated 10,000 people marched on 9 August through Honolulu’s Waikiki tourist district. Some held signs like, “We Deserve the Right to Know: Stop Poisoning Paradise” and “Save Hawaii – Stop GMOs” (Genetically Modified Organisms), while others protested different issues.

“The turnout and the number of groups marching showed how many people are very frustrated with the situation,” says native Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte of the island of Molokai.

Seventeen times more pesticide

Waimea, a small town of low, pastel wood houses built in south-west Kauai for plantation workers in the 19th century, now sustains its economy mostly from a trickle of tourists on their way to a spectacular canyon. Perhaps 200 people work full-time for the four giant chemical companies that grow the corn – all of it exported – on some 12,000 acres leased mostly from the state.

In Kauai, chemical companies Dow, BASF, Syngenta and DuPont spray 17 times more pesticide per acre (mostly herbicides, along with insecticides and fungicides) than on ordinary cornfields in the US mainland, according to the most detailed study of the sector, by the Center for Food Safety.

That’s because they are precisely testing the strain’s resistance to herbicides that kill other plants. About a fourth of the total are called Restricted Use Pesticides because of their harmfulness. Just in Kauai, 18 tons – mostly atrazine, paraquat (both banned in Europe) and chlorpyrifos – were applied in 2012. The World Health Organization this year announced that glyphosate, sold as Roundup, the most common of the non-restricted herbicides, is “probably carcinogenic in humans”.

The cornfields lie above Waimea as the land, developed in the 1870s for the Kekaha Sugar Company plantation, slopes gently up toward arid, craggy hilltops. Most fields are reddish-brown and perfectly furrowed. Some parts are bright green: that’s when the corn is actually grown.

Both parts are sprayed frequently, sometimes every couple of days. Most of the fields lie fallow at any given time as they await the next crop, but they are still sprayed with pesticides to keep anything from growing. “To grow either seed crops or test crops, you need soil that’s essentially sterile,” says professor Hector Valenzuela of the University of Hawaii department of tropical plant and soil science.

When the spraying is underway and the wind blows downhill from the fields to the town – a time no spraying should occur – residents complain of stinging eyes, headaches and vomiting.

“Your eyes and lungs hurt, you feel dizzy and nauseous. It’s awful,” says middle school special education teacher Howard Hurst, who was present at two evacuations. “Here, 10% of the students get special-ed services, but the state average is 6.3%,” he says. “It’s hard to think the pesticides don’t play a role.”

At these times, many crowd the waiting rooms of the town’s main hospital, which was run until recently by Dow AgroSciences’ former chief lobbyist in Honolulu. It lies beside the middle school, both 1,700ft from Syngenta fields. The hospital, built by the old sugar plantation, has never studied the effects of the pesticides on its patients.

The chemical companies that grow the corn in land previously used for sugar refuse to disclose with any precision which chemicals they use, where and in what amounts, but they insist the pesticides are safe, and most state and local politicians concur. “The Hawai‘i legislature has never given the slightest indication that it intended to regulate genetically engineered crops,” wrote lawyer Paul Achitoff of Earthjustice in a recent court case.

As for the birth defects spike, “We have not seen any credible source of statistical health information to support the claims,” said Bennette Misalucha, executive director of Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, the chemical companies trade association, in a written statement distributed by a publicist. She declined to be interviewed.

Nelson, the pediatrician, points out that American Academy of Pediatrics’ report, Pesticide Exposure in Children, found “an association between pesticides and adverse birth outcomes, including physical birth defects”. Noting that local schools have been evacuated twice and children sent to hospital because of pesticide drift, Nelson says doctors need prior disclosure of sprayings: “It’s hard to treat a child when you don’t know which chemical he’s been exposed to.”

Her concerns and those of most of her colleagues have grown as the chemical companies doubled to 25,000 acres in a decade the area in Hawaii they devote to growing new varieties of herbicide-resistant corn.

Today, about 90% of industrial GMO corn grown in the US was originally developed in Hawaii, with the island of Kauai hosting the biggest area. The balmy weather yields three crops a year instead of one, allowing the companies to bring a new strain to market in a third of the time.

Once it’s ready, the same fields are used to raise seed corn, which is sent to contract farms on the mainland. It is their output, called by critics a pesticide delivery system, that is sold to the US farmers, along with the pesticides manufactured by the breeder that each strain has been modified to tolerate.

Corn’s uses are as industrial as its cultivation: less than 1% is eaten. About 40% is turned into ethanol for cars, 36% becomes cattle feed, 10% is used by the food industry and the rest is exported.

‘We just want to gather information’

At a Starbucks just outside Honolulu, Sidney Johnson, a pediatric surgeon at the Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children who oversees all children born in Hawaii with major birth defects and operates on many, says he’s been thinking about pesticides a lot lately. The reason: he’s noticed that the number of babies born here with their abdominal organs outside, a rare condition known as gastroschisis, has grown from three a year in the 1980s to about a dozen now.

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“We have cleanest water and air in the world,” he says. So he’s working with a medical student on a study of his hospital’s records to determine whether the parents of the gastroschisis infants were living near fields that were being sprayed around the time of conception and early pregnancy. He plans to extend the study to parents of babies suffering from heart defects.

“You kind of wonder why this wasn’t done before,” he says. “Data from other states show there might be a link, and Hawaii might be the best place to prove it.”

Unbeknownst to Johnson, another two physicians have been heading in the same direction, but with some constraints. They’re members of a state-county commission appointed this year to “determine if there are human harms coming from these pesticides”, as its chairman, a professional facilitator named Peter Adler, tells a meeting of angry local residents in Waimea earlier this month. Several express skepticism that the panel is anything but another exercise in obfuscation.

The panel of nine part-time volunteers also includes two scientists from the chemical companies and several of their critics. “We just want to gather information and make some recommendations,” Adler tells the crowd of about 60 people. “We won’t be doing any original research.”

But one of the two doctors, a retired pediatrician named Lee Evslin, plans to do just that. “I want see if any health trends stand out among people that might have been exposed to pesticides,” he says in an interview. “It won’t be a full epidemiological study, but it will probably be more complete than anything that’s been done before.”

The panel itself, called the Joint Fact-Finding Study Group on Genetically Modified Crops and Pesticides on Kauaʻi, is the only achievement of three years of failed attempts to force the companies to disclose in advance what they spray and to create buffer zones – which they do in 11 other states, where food crops receive much less pesticides per acre.

The pushback from the expansion of the GMO acreage first emerged when Gary Hooser of Kauai, a former state senate majority leader who failed in a bid for lieutenant governor in 2010, ran for his old seat on the Kauai County council in 2012.

“Everywhere I went, people were concerned about GMOs and pesticides. They were saying, ‘Gary, we gotta do something’,” he recounts over coffee at the trendy Ha Coffee Bar in Lihue, the island’s capital. “Some were worried about the GMO process itself and others by the threats of the pesticides, and it became one of the dominant political issues.”

Once elected, Hooser, who has a ruddy complexion, piercing blue eyes and arrived in Hawaii as a teenager from California, approached the companies for information about exactly what they were spraying and in what amounts. He was rebuffed.

In the process of what he called “doing my homework”, he discovered that the companies, unlike regular farmers, were operating under a decades-old Environmental Protection Agency permit to discharge toxic chemicals in water that had been grandfathered from the days of the sugar plantation, when the amounts and toxicities of pesticides were much lower. The state has asked for a federal exemption for the companies so they can avoid modern standards of compliance.

He also found that the companies, unlike regular farmers, don’t pay the 4% state excise tax. Some weren’t even asked to pay property taxes, worth $125,000 a year. After pressure from Hooser and the county tax office, the companies paid two years’ worth of back taxes.

So with the backing of three other members of the seven-member Kauai council, he drafted a law requiring the companies to disclose yearly what they had grown and where, and to announce in advance which pesticides they proposed to spray, where and when. The law initially also imposed a moratorium on the chemical companies expanding their acreage while their environmental impact was assessed.

After a series of hearings packed by company employees and their families wearing blue and opponents wearing red, the bill was watered down by eliminating the moratorium and reducing the scope of the environmental study. The ordinance then passed, but the companies sued in federal court, where a judge ruled that the state’s law on pesticides precluded the counties from regulating them. After the ruling, the state and the county created the joint fact-finding panel officially committed to conducting no new research.

Hooser is confident the ruling will be overturned on appeal: the Hawaii constitution “specifically requires” the state and the counties to protect the communities and their environment.

In his appeal, Achitoff of Earthjustice argued that Hawaii’s general pesticide law does not “demonstrate that the legislature intended to force the county to sit and watch while its schoolchildren are being sent to the hospital so long as state agencies do not remedy the problem.”

In the Big Island, which is called Hawaii and hosts no GMO corn, a similar process unfolded later in 2013: the county council passed a law that effectively banned the chemical companies from moving in, and it was struck down in federal court for the same reasons. A ban on genetically modified taro, a food root deemed sacred in Hawaiian mythology, was allowed to stand.

In Maui County, which includes the islands of Maui and Molokai, both with large GMO corn fields, a group of residents calling themselves the Shaka Movement sidestepped the company-friendly council and launched a ballot initiative that called for a moratorium on all GMO farming until a full environmental impact statement is completed there.

The companies, primarily Monsanto, spent $7.2m on the campaign ($327.95 per “no” vote, reported to be the most expensive political campaign in Hawaii history) and still lost.

Again, they sued in federal court, and, a judge found that the Maui County initiative was preempted by federal law. Those rulings are also being appealed.

In the state legislature in Honolulu, Senator Josh Green, a Democrat who then chaired the health committee, earlier this year attempted a fourth effort at curbing the pesticide spraying.

In the legislature, he said, it’s an open secret that most heads of the agriculture committee have had “a closer relationship with the agro-chemical companies than with the environmental groups”.

Green, an emergency room doctor who was raised in Pennsylvania, drafted legislation to mandate some prior disclosure and some buffer zones. “I thought that was a reasonable compromise,” he says. Still, he also drafted a weaker bill as a failsafe. “If even that one doesn’t pass, it’s going to be obvious that the state doesn’t have the political will to stand up to the chemical companies,” he said in a phone interview at the time. “That would be terrible.”

The chairman of the senate agricultural committee, Cliff Tsuji, didn’t even bring the weaker bill to a vote, even though Hawaii’s governor had pledged to sign any bill that created buffer zones.

Asked by email what he would do now, Green replied with a quip: “Drink scotch.”

Christopher Pala in Waimea|23 August 2015

The New England Journal of Medicine Asks FDA to Reconsider Labeling GMO Foods

If 64 countries including Russia and China have transparency in labeling genetically modified foods, or GMOs, why doesn’t the U.S.?

Two big reasons: Big Food and Big Ag lobbyists. Our policy is to approve first and ask questions later.

Trans fats are a perfect example. Trans fats killed hundreds of thousands of people before they were banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration 50 years after they were found to be harmful.

Do we have to wait that long for GMOs? If the conservative The New England Journal of Medicine is calling for better research, clear food labeling and calling out a warning about GMOs, we should be worried!

Here’s an excerpt from what The New England Journal of Medicine said in its recent post “GMOs, Herbicides and Public Health”:

The application of biotechnology to agriculture has been rapid and aggressive. The vast majority of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States are now genetically engineered. Foods produced from GM crops have become ubiquitous. And unlike regulatory bodies in 64 other countries, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require labeling of GM foods.

Two recent developments are dramatically changing the GMO landscape. First, there have been sharp increases in the amounts and numbers of chemical herbicides applied to GM crops, and still further increases—the largest in a generation—are scheduled to occur in the next few years. Second, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified glyphosate, the herbicide most widely used on GM crops, as a “probable human carcinogen” and classified a second herbicide, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), as a “possible human carcinogen.”

Finally, we believe the time has come to revisit the United States’ reluctance to label GM foods. Labeling will deliver multiple benefits. It is essential for tracking emergence of novel food allergies and assessing effects of chemical herbicides applied to GM crops. It would respect the wishes of a growing number of consumers who insist they have a right to know what foods they are buying and how they were produced. And the argument that there is nothing new about genetic rearrangement misses the point that GM crops are now the agricultural products most heavily treated with herbicides and that two of these herbicides may pose risks of cancer. We hope, in light of this new information, that the FDA will reconsider labeling of GM foods and couple it with adequately funded, long-term post-marketing surveillance.

Write to your representatives, sign petitions and boycott GMO foods (by buying organic when you can). But don’t be complacent. Your future and your children future is at stake!

Dr. Mark Hyman|August 24, 2015

Damning New Study Demonstrates Harm to Animals Raised on GMO Feed

Just when you thought the market for controversy over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) was completely saturated, a new study published in the Journal of Organic Systems finds that pigs raised on a mixed diet of GM corn and GM soy had higher rates of intestinal problems, “including inflammation of the stomach and small intestine, stomach ulcers, a thinning of intestinal walls and an increase in hemorrhagic bowel disease, where a pig can rapidly ‘bleed-out’ from their bowel and die.” Both male and female pigs reared on the GM diet were more likely to have severe stomach inflammation, at a rate of four times and 2.2 times the control group, respectively. There were also reproductive effects: the uteri of female pigs raised on GM feed were 25 percent larger (in proportion to body size) than those of control sows. (All male pigs were neutered, so scientists were unable to study any effects on the male reproductive systems.)
The study confirms anecdotal evidence from hog farmers who’ve reported reproductive and digestive problems in pigs raised on GM feed. Those who were following this sort of news in 2011 will remember an open letter to the USDA from Dr. M. Huber, a professor at Purdue University, about an unknown organism in Roundup Ready crops causing miscarriages in farm animals.
A common complaint from critics of GM technology — often painted as “anti-science” by GM proponents — is that they’ve been inadequately studied. (Don’t think about that for too long — your first instinct is correct, it doesn’t make sense.) The European Union has long based its regulatory framework (and resultant slow adoption of GMOs) on the precautionary principle. And in fact, according to this study, most of the research on the health impacts of GMOs has either been short term (less than 90 days), performed on non-mammals or failed to examine multiple GM traits concurrently, despite that many new GM crops “stack” traits, and that many diets — of both animals and humans — include multiple types of GMOs.

The scientists behind the study report having chosen pigs as their subject for the similarity between their digestive systems and those of humans, and the mixed GM diet for its similarity to the real-life diets of both swine and humans, so this is really damning stuff. They also describe their findings as conservative, noting that even the control group is likely to have been exposed to GMOs in indirect ways they couldn’t avoid, such as trace amounts of GMOs in non-GM feed, and parents fed GM diets.

As one might expect, the scientists conclude their report with a call for more testing, particularly of whether the findings also apply to humans. Scientists at the Consumers Union go one further, saying that concerns raised by the study further underscore the need to label GMOs.
Will the government listen? Time will tell. It’s also  hard to predict the potential impact of this study on the U.S. pork market — or on the prices of corn and soy. As we saw recently when Japan and South Korea canceled orders for U.S.-produced wheat after the discovery of unapproved GM wheat in Oregon, not all countries take a laissez-faire approach to GMOs. And what about that merger/takeover of Smithfield Foods by Chinese-held Shanghai, rumored to have been spurred in part by friction over the livestock drug ractopamine? For that matter, will American hog farmers — seeking rightly to avoid sickening their own hogs — seek non-GM feed from other countries?
For now, more questions than answers, but if the findings of this study are as serious as they look, American agriculture may be on the verge of paying a very dear price for a long roll in the hay with the biotech industry.

Leslie Hatfield|Senior editor|GRACE|06/11/2013

Originally published at Ecocentric.

Monsanto ups Syngenta bid, values firm at $47B

U.S.-based Monsanto sweetened its offer to buy Switzerland’s Syngenta, valuing the company at around $47 billion as it tries to lure the Swiss firm to the negotiating table, a person familiar with the matter said on Monday.

Monsanto, which wants to combine its world-leading seeds business with Syngenta’s own seeds and pesticides, raised its offer to 470 Swiss francs ($501.98) per share from CHF 449 per share, the person said.

The increased offer, which sent Syngenta’s shares jumping, is aimed at ending the stalemate between the two firms. Syngenta rejected a previous proposal in April and has refused to open its books to its rival.

Monsanto’s sweetened offer is primarily comprised of an increase to the cash portion of its cash and stock proposal, the person added.

Some top investors had been pushing Syngenta to at least sit down with Monsanto and seek a better offer. Cedric Lecamp, senior investment manager at Pictet Asset Management, the 17th-biggest investor in Syngenta, told Reuters earlier this year he thought a deal could get done above 500 Swiss francs.

A Sanford C. Bernstein survey earlier this month of nearly 100 current and former Syngenta investors found that about 92 percent were in favor of a negotiated deal, and would accept a 5 percent higher offer from Monsanto. The average acceptable offer price among the investors was 473 Swiss francs, according to the report.

The new offer also includes an increase in the break-up fee to $3 billion from $2 billion if the transaction is blocked by regulators or falls apart for other reasons, the person said.

The offer is not necessarily Monsanto’s best and final bid, and the door could be open to negotiations if Syngenta engages, according to the person familiar with the matter.

A representative for Syngenta, the world’s largest maker of farming pesticides, told Reuters on Monday, “There is no comment to make.” A spokeswoman for Monsanto, the world’s leading seed company, declined to comment.

The increased offer was first reported by Bloomberg on Monday.

The value of Monsanto’s share and cash offer has been challenged by a souring U.S. agricultural economy and the recent ructions in the global financial markets.

Its stock price has fallen nearly 20 percent in the past three months, as grain prices remain soft and U.S. grain exports are hampered by a strong dollar. Its market capitalization is now about $45.6 billion.

Syngenta’s U.S. listed shares jumped 10 percent on Monday after closing in Zurich at 357.6 Swiss francs a share, putting the company’s market value at roughly $35.5 billion.

While Monsanto has so far ruled out taking its bid hostile, sparring between the two companies has become increasingly tense with both launching websites promoting their cause and executives from each meeting investors.

Monsanto, which courted Syngenta twice previously without success, has argued the deal will make both firms more efficient by developing seeds and pesticides in tandem and integrating sales and distribution strategies for the two product categories.

Syngenta has argued the deal faces tough regulatory hurdles that Monsanto has not addressed and that the offer undervalues the company.

“We said no in 2011, we said no in 2012, we said no in 2015. What part of no don’t they understand?” Chief Executive Michael Mack told a press conference in July at the group’s Basel, Switzerland headquarters.

Monsanto has promised to sell off Syngenta’s overlapping seed and chemical assets if it wins control of the Swiss company. But the deal could still face regulatory challenges in the U.S., Brazil, China and elsewhere, creating hurdles that could delay or force major concessions to the deal, should it go forward.

Reuters|25 Aug 2015

Energy

Nine States Prove Cutting Carbon Saves Money, Generates Jobs

The Clean Power Plan, the EPA’s safeguard to rein in carbon pollution from its largest domestic source, coal-fired power plants, has taken more than its share of criticism and attacks from the courts, Congress and industry since it was unveiled last year. But a recent study provides solid evidence in favor of the plan based on a large-scale project that successfully reduced carbon pollution and could be used as a reference and inspiration for state and regional efforts to comply with the Clean Power Plan.  

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, (pronounced REh jee) has been around since 2009. It’s a program to cap and reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector in nine trailblazing states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. And it has worked in more ways than its founders thought possible.

A recent study by the Analysis Group of RGGI from 2012 to 2014 shows that the program has proven economic benefits. The reduction in electricity costs and fossil fuel imports, along with net job increases in the region, can all be attributed to RGGI. Households, businesses and government entities have recouped about $460 million dollars through lower energy bills. By RGGI’s second three-year term, the program had also created 14,200 new jobs.

RGGI also provides states with flexibility and authority during implementation. States can choose how much of their revenue is invested in RGGI. From there, state allowances generated from greenhouse gas reductions are auctioned off and the money is given back to the states depending on how much was originally invested. In the past six years, auctioning these CO2 allowances has generated almost $2 billion in profit that was then reinvested. States have the discretion to use the profits however they see fit. Examples of reinvestment include education and job training, renewable power projects, and assistance to help lower-income customers pay electricity bills.

Of course, RGGI also reduces carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, the primary goal of the initiative. The initial emissions cap was set at 188 million tons of carbon dioxide from power plants in 2009. In 2014, the cap was 91 million tons and it is expected to fall at a constant rate of 2.5 percent per year. By 2018, the initiative should lead to an overall 10 percent drop in carbon dioxide emissions.

Although RGGI has performed above expectations, it has also been the target of criticism. The power sector is expected to sustain a profit loss of $500 million by 2025 from greater energy efficiency. But at the end of the day, the benefits outweigh the losses energy providers will incur, and ratepayers come out ahead. The report points out, “Given the complex relationship within economies, the multiplier effect of the economic gains ends up having larger impacts than those attributable to power plant owners’ revenue losses.”

RGGI is a model states can look to when crafting their policies to meet Clean Power Plan standards. If RGGI has managed to create a working relationship among nine separate states and their economies, other states and regions would do well to follow the example. 

Elaine Lac|July 31, 2015

Illegal Oil and Gas Leases Once Again Threaten the Badger Two-Medicine, Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness

Blackfeet Tribe and others call for the cancellation of the leases

Today’s ruling is not the last word on the fate of the Badger-Two Medicine region. The remaining oil and gas leases in the Badger-Two Medicine were never validly issued in the first place. They should be cancelled in the interest of preserving one of our country’s last great wild places and an irreplaceable spiritual home for the Blackfeet Nation.

Federal District Court Judge Richard Leon in Washington, D.C. ruled today on a Louisiana oilman’s bid to drill for natural gas in the heart of the Badger-Two Medicine area of Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front. The judge has ordered the U.S. Forest Service to “submit, and to stick to, an accelerated and fixed schedule” for determining whether to lift the suspension. The government must submit this schedule to the court within 21 days. The decision advances the efforts of Solenex, LLC to construct six miles of new road, a bridge across the Two Medicine River and a four-acre drill pad—all on public, roadless lands directly adjacent to Glacier National Park.

Kendall Edmo, a member of the Blackfeet Nation who has become deeply involved in the Badger-Two Medicine area and now works as the Bison Project Coordinator for the tribe, views the recent ruling as a serious threat to both spiritual practices and critical natural resources.

“The Badger-Two Medicine area should be protected not only because it is culturally significant to the Blackfeet people, but because we as human beings deserve access to clean water,” she says. “Solenex is threatening the same ecosystem my ancestors belong to, including major headwaters that run into the Blackfeet Reservation.”

Prior to the ruling, two local groups, the Blackfeet Headwaters Alliance and Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance, joined 10 conservation organizations supporting the Blackfeet Tribe’s request for the cancellation of all oil and gas leases it the Badger-Two Medicine area.

The 165,588-acre area (encompassing lands within the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, the Lewis and Clark National Forest, and Flathead National Forest) was designated a Traditional Cultural District under the National Preservation Historic Act in recognition of its importance to the Blackfeet people. Biologically, this area is the last remaining stronghold along the Front for genetically pure west slope cutthroat trout. The area also provides key winter and summer range for over 800 elk and represents a large block of crucial secure habitat for grizzly bears.

In a letter delivered to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, the 12 organizations, representing tens of thousands of Montanans, requested that the natural and cultural resources of the Badger be protected and the threat of development finally be put to rest. The letter states that the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service issued the leases in violation of bedrock environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, and that the agencies have a legal and moral responsibility to cancel them.

“Today’s ruling is not the last word on the fate of the Badger-Two Medicine region,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso. “The remaining oil and gas leases in the Badger-Two Medicine were never validly issued in the first place. They should be cancelled in the interest of preserving one of our country’s last great wild places and an irreplaceable spiritual home for the Blackfeet Nation.” 

Two additional letters, one from Backcountry Horsemen of Montana and another from five sportsmen’s groups, also support lease cancellation.

The history of conservation efforts in this area of northern Montana spans more than a century, beginning with the creation of Glacier National Park (1910), followed by the establishment of the Sun River Game Preserve (1913) and the designation of the Bob Marshall Wilderness (1964). These historic milestones have been complemented by recent activities that directly impact the Badger, including the ban on future oil and gas leases (2006 law introduced by then Senator Burns, R-MT), the prohibition on motorized use (2009 Travel Plan Decision), and the ultimate establishment and expansion of the Traditional Cultural District (2014). These Reagan-era leases stand out as dramatic inconsistencies and were granted without either tribal consultation or sufficient review of cultural resources.

Kendall Flint, of the Glacier Two-Medicine Alliance, sees today’s decision as having serious implications.

“Aside from sanctioning the unethical idea of invasive oil and gas exploration in a sacred and federally-recognized Traditional Cultural District, this ruling poses a grave threat to the landscape’s glorious wildlife, breathtaking scenery, and widely-enjoyed recreation,” he said. “The threat of lifting the Federal suspension leaves the entire Badger-Two Medicine vulnerable to the extractive industrial development by all four remaining lease holders.”

Five tribal and conservation organizations—including the Blackfeet Headwaters Alliance, Glacier Two Medicine Alliance, National Parks Conservation Association, Montana Wilderness Association, and The Wilderness Society, all represented by Earthjustice—filed for intervenor status in the Solenex, LLC lawsuit, but the request was denied. The groups subsequently filed an amicus curiae or “friend of the court” brief to explain why Solenex had failed to justify its request to drill for oil and gas in the midst of sensitive cultural and environmental resources.

“The stories handed down for generations by Piikani People have taught us about the connections we have with all things,” says Terry Tatsey, Director of Institutional Development at Blackfeet Community College. “The relationships our people have with this area date back to our origin stories where it was known as a place for learning and respecting. 

Tim Preso|Managing Attorney|Earthjustice|July 27, 2015

You won’t believe who is attacking rooftop solar ‏

One of our best hopes in the fight against climate change is the massive explosion of rooftop solar, which has more than tripled since 2010!

But a multi‐billionaire has launched a war against the rooftop solar market in Nevada, and his name is not David or Charles Koch.* 

Believe it or not, it’s Warren Buffett, the “Oracle of Omaha” known for his personal frugality and folksy charm.

Buffett, through NV Energy — a utility that he owns — is urging the Nevada Public Utilities Commission to gut the state’s popular net metering program, which pays solar panel owners for the energy they send back to the grid.

NV Energy claims that rooftop solar customers raise prices for other Nevadans, even though a report prepared for the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) says exactly the opposite! But Buffett’s real reason is that rooftop solar cuts into the profits of his utility.

If Buffett get his way, the solar market in Nevada would tank, costing as many as 6,000 jobs. But this is way bigger than Nevada — because a victory there would embolden Buffett and other utility owners as they attack rooftop solar across the country.

The Public Utilities Commission in Nevada will make a decision this week. Shining a light on Warren Buffett’s role will help ensure that the nation is paying close attention, and push the PUC to do the right thing.

Warren Buffett is known as an advocate for renewable energy, and he has promised to spend as much as $30 billion on solar and wind projects. But it turns out that the only renewable energy Warren Buffett likes is the kind he can make money from. When homes and businesses go solar on their own, they cut into the profits of Buffett’s utilities, which is why he’s leading this attack in Nevada and has done the same in Utah via Rocky Mountain Power, another utility he owns.

Buffett’s attack on rooftop solar hinges on one crucial piece of disinformation: the idea that rooftop solar customers and net metering raise costs for everyone else.

Here’s how a Berkshire Hathaway Senior Vice President put it at a conference last July:

“…allowing DG [distributed generation] customers to continue to be served by residential rates that do not reflect the costs of serving DG customers and which shift costs to other customers is arguably the situation that would be deemed unreasonably discriminatory.”

The problem with this argument is that it’s not supported by the facts. A study commissioned by the Nevada PUC to answer this exact question found that “… we do not estimate a substantial cost shift to nonparticipants due to (net metering) going forward …” Similar studies in Missouri, Vermont, Arizona, and Hawaii have found the same thing. Because while rooftop solar customers do pay less for grid maintenance, they also bring many benefits like reducing the demand for power at peak times (when it is the most expensive to produce), reducing energy loss during transmission, and reducing the need for new power plant construction.

ClimateTruth.org spends most of our time fighting the most blatant forms of disinformation, like outright denial of climate science. But as we are increasingly successful in pushing climate deniers to the margins, the half‐truths we need to counter will become more subtle and even more pernicious. That’s why it’s so important to push back against Warren Buffett’s attack on rooftop solar.

The Nevada PUC will make a decision about net metering in Nevada this week.

Brant Olson|ClimateTruth.org|8/24/15

Study: Florida Third-Worst For Power Plant Pollution

Even though Florida is known for its sunshine, we have the third-worst carbon* pollution of any state, at least according to one report.

A citizen advocacy group, Environment Florida,  released a report today called “America’s Dirtiest Power Plants.”  Environment Florida used 2011 federal data to rank the dirtiest power plants nationwide. Florida ranks third in electric power sector emissions, particularly in carbon dioxide.

The top polluting power plant is Duke Energy’s Crystal River Plant, which is up for retirement. The second most polluting power plant is TECO’s Big Bend in Apollo Beach.
Environment Florida spokeswoman Jennifer Rubiello said these findings shouldn’t be ignored. 
“If we want a cleaner, safer future for our kids, we can’t afford to ignore power plants’ overwhelming contribution to global warming,” Rubiello said.
TECO spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs is disputing the report’s claims.

“Tampa Electric, over a 10 year period, has invested more than $1.2 billion in state-of-the-art environmental improvement at our power plants including Big Bend,” Jacobs said. “We have fully scrubbed the Big Bend power plant.”
According to the study, Florida’s power plants produce as much carbon dioxide yearly as almost 25 million cars.
It also states that Florida’s power plants are the single largest source of carbon pollution, making up 49 percent of statewide emissions.

The Worst 5 States in Power Plant Carbon Dioxide Emissions

  1. Texas
  2. Ohio
  3. Florida
  4. Pennsylvania
  5. Indiana

Top 5 Most Polluting Power Plants in Florida

  1. Duke Energy’s Crystal River (Crystal River)
  2. Tampa Electric Company’s (TECO) Big Bend (Riverview)
  3. West County Energy Center (Palm Beach County)
  4. Seminole Electric Cooperative Inc.’s Seminole (Tampa)
  5. JEA’s St. Johns River Power Park (Jacksonville)

Yoselis Ramos|Sep 11, 2013

Fracking Linked to Heart Conditions and Neurological Illness

People who live near fracking sites suffer higher rates of heart conditions and neurological illnesses, says new research.

People who live in fracking zones appear to suffer a higher rate of heart conditions and neurological illnesses, according to new research.

Although the U.S. study was unable to determine a specific reason, it suggests there may be a link between drilling and ill health, scientists said.

Residents in high-density areas of fracking made 27 per cent more hospital visits for treatment for heart conditions than those from locations where no fracking took place, according to a new study of drilling in Pennsylvania between 2007 and 2011.

“This study captured the collective response of residents to hydraulic fracturing in zip codes within counties with higher well densities,” said Reynold Panettieri, professor of medicine at Penn University.

“At this point, we suspect that residents are exposed to many toxicants, noise and social stressors due to hydraulic fracturing near their homes and this may add to the increased number of hospitalizations.”

The findings revealed that cardiology and neurological in-patient prevalence rates  were significantly higher in areas closer to active wells. Hospitalizations for skin conditions, cancer and urological problems also increased with proximity to wells.

Prof Panettieri cautioned that the study did not prove that fracking actually caused the health problems and said more research was needed to determine exactly what effect any pollution associated with the technique may be contributing to heart conditions or neurological illnesses.

But the significant increase in hospital visits observed relatively quickly after fracking began in an area “suggests that healthcare costs of hydraulic fracturing must be factored into the economic benefits of unconventional gas and drilling”, said the report, which is published in the journal PLOS One and also involved Columbia University in New York.

The highly controversial technique of fracking, that releases oil or gas from shale by blasting a mixture of water, chemicals and sand into rock, is yet to be employed in the U.K. on a commercial scale. It is widespread in the U.S., however, where it has frequently been linked to groundwater and air pollution.

Yet a series of reports in the U.K. have concluded that the problems arising from fracking in the U.S. are down to weak regulations and poor techniques. Advocates say that any fracking in the U.K. would be done safely, meaning residents will be shielded from the difficulties experienced by locals in the U.S.

But opponents of fracking – including the Scottish and Welsh Governments – argue that still far too little is known about the effects of the technique, and say more research needs to be done before it is deployed in the U.K.

This latest report will be seen as further evidence that more research needs to be conducted before fracking is allowed in the U.K. – even though it does not get to the bottom of the causes of the health problems

Tom Bawden|The Independent|July 17, 2015

Algae Nutrient Recycling is a Triple Win

Nitrogen and phosphate nutrients are among the biggest costs in cultivating algae for biofuels. Sandia molecular biologists Todd Lane and Ryan Davis have shown they can recycle about two-thirds of those critical nutrients, and aim to raise the recycling rate to close to 100 percent.

Recycling nitrogen and phosphate has benefits that go far beyond cost. While nitrogen can be produced through a costly artificial nitrogen fixation process using natural gas and atmospheric nitrogen, phosphate is a limited natural resource that can be toxic at high concentration.

“We have a finite amount of phosphate in the world, but it’s in high demand as a fertilizer. Half of the phosphates that go into our crops in the form of fertilizer end up in the Gulf of Mexico, contributing to hypoxic zones,” said Lane. Better known as “dead zones,” hypoxic zones are areas of low oxygen concentration that kill or drive out marine life.

Economic models show that replacing just 10 percent of liquid transportation fuels with algal-derived fuels, though beneficial to the environment in many ways, could double fertilizer consumption, which, in turn, would drive up the cost of food.

But recycling phosphates means everyone wins: algal-derived biofuels producers, farmers and the environment. “By recycling phosphates from one batch of algae to the next, we save money, no longer compete with agriculture for a non-renewable resource and keep those phosphates out of the environment,” said Lane.

Lane and Davis are considering other applications for their closed-loop algae nutrient recycling methods.

“Our method could be used to strip phosphates from the agricultural runoff before it reaches the Salton Sea,” said Davis. Fertilizer runoff into the saltwater sea, California’s largest lake, has led to dead zones that threaten fish and other wildlife. “Those nutrients that would otherwise further contribute to the dead zone could be used to grow algae intentionally for biofuels and other biobased commodities.”

Osmotic Shock Key to Releasing Phosphates

Lane and Davis found their nutrient recycling method works on many different algae feedstocks, even mixed feedstocks. Because algae have more genetic diversity than any other organism, many methods developed in the past haven’t worked universally.

The researchers use a fairly simple process, osmotic shock, to liberate phosphate from the cultivated algae. “We shock the algae with fresh water while controlling certain conditions like pH and temperature. This disrupts the internal structure of the cell and releases naturally occurring enzymes,” explained Lane. “These enzymes chew up the cell and rapidly release the phosphates.”

The next step is fermentation to convert the nitrogen, which is mostly in the form of amino acids, into ammonia. The phosphates and ammonia are then recombined — with help from magnesium, present in great quantities in the algal biomass — to form struvite, a solid salt.

In 2014, a Sandia team proved the method with 20 weeks of continuous recycling and reuse of phosphates and nutrients. They were able to carry over 60 to 80 percent of the nutrients from batch to batch.

“Every two weeks, we recycled the nutrients and fed them back into the next batch of algae,” said Davis. “The process worked better than we expected, as we saw enhanced growth with the recycled nutrients. We aren’t quite sure why this happened. It could be from trace metals carried over in the phosphate.”

Lipid Extraction Enables Nutrient Recycling

The algae nutrient recycling research is part of a larger project funded by the Department of Energy’s BioEnergy Technologies Office, part of the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program. The Sandia team’s partners include Texas A&M AgriLife Research, which grows marine strains of algae, and Texas-based OpenAlgae, which patented methods to lyse algal cells and recover algal lipids without using solvent. Recovered algal oils could be turned into fuel.

“We were very interested in OpenAlgae’s lipid extraction because it doesn’t use solvents, so the biomass is left in a native conformation that works very well with our process,” said Lane.

OpenAlgae’s method subjects algae cells to high energy electromagnetic pulses that rupture the cell walls and cause the cells to burst, releasing the lipids. In this disrupted state, the algae cells are much more susceptible to osmotic shock.

The nutrient recycling process also releases more compounds that can be turned into fuels. “There is a lot of protein in biomass and that soaks up the nitrogen. As we’re liberating the ammonia, we’re also capturing that carbon so it can be turned into fuel,” said Davis.

Better and Easier Nutrient Recycling

Lane and Davis are working to further refine their method to recycle more of the nutrients, including a collaboration with James Liao of the University of California, Los Angeles, to genetically refine their fermentation strain to increase yield and extract different fuel products. Liao runs the Metabolic Engineering and Synthetic Biology Laboratory and is chairman of the department of chemical and bio-molecular engineering and the department of bioengineering.

Another facet of the project is the development of a reactor system to capture the ammonia as the biomass is fermented to release phosphates. Currently, these steps are performed separately.

“The goal is a one-pot system,” said Davis. “That will be the tipping point for scaling up our method. We grew 2 liters of algae in our 20-week test. The next step is to grow 3,000 liters in our raceways.” Later this year, Sandia will open three 1,000-liter raceway testbeds, shallow artificial ponds for algae cultivation.

Pond-side processing is another goal. A single module combining lipid extraction and nutrient recycling could separate biomass into nutrients and fuel at a cultivation facility.

Panning for Phosphate Gold

Lane and Davis think their method could help the environmental if applied to agricultural runoff.

Nutrient recycling is like panning for gold — or in this case, phosphates — anywhere that fertilizer-laden agricultural runoff enters bodies of water. The key, said Lane, is getting the concentrated runoff before it enters the body of water and dilutes.

“Our method can’t fix the existing dead zones,” said Lane. “But it can stop them from growing. The irony is that those nutrients are so valuable to growing plants, but so damaging when they flow into large bodies of water. Isaac Asimov famously called phosphates ‘life’s bottleneck.’ We aim to put an end to that bottleneck.”

Patti Koning|Sandia National Labs|August 24, 2015

Corporate Rights Trump Democracy in Ohio Fracking Fight

People who oppose having their communities transformed into corporate resource colonies are familiar with the Halliburton Loophole, a secretly drafted edict that places the oil and gas industries above the law, exempting them and no one else from obeying the clean water act, the clean air act, the safe water drinking act, and others. Now, Ohio Sec. of State Jon Husted has unilaterally placed those same corporations above the Ohio State Constitution.

On Aug. 13, Husted declared that the people’s right to change their government, ensconced since 1851 in Article 1, Section 2 of the Ohio Constitution, is null and void when it interferes with the profit interests of these industries. Under that Section’s title “Right to alter, reform, or abolish government, and repeal special privileges,” Ohio’s highest law declares:

All political power is inherent in the people. Government is instituted for their equal protection and benefit, and they have the right to alter, reform, or abolish the same, whenever they may deem it necessary; and no special privileges or immunities shall ever be granted, that may not be altered, revoked, or repealed by the general assembly.

Clearly, the general assembly has no intention to subordinate the special privileges of giant energy corporations to the right of the people to govern in their own communities. And when citizens, in whom “all political power is inherent,” attempt to alter their county governments by asking the voters to consider a home rule style of government, the state, represented by Husted, steps in to block them from exercising that right.

Apparently seeking any legal means available to justify a decision that was foreordained by the power of money, Husted erroneously claimed that the charters proposed for Fulton, Medina and Athens Counties were flawed because they would not create an executive power, as required by law for alternate forms of county government. But home rule is not one of the alternate statutory forms available. It is unique in that it allows the people to fully exercise their right to alter their government by creating a local constitution, a county charter. There is no requirement for a proconsul-like executive under home rule.

County commissioners and corporate industry associations encouraged everyone with an interest in keeping the average citizen out of the democratic process to file complaints and legal briefs opposing the proposed charters for Medina, Athens and Fulton Counties. The charters propose new forms of county governments that allow people in unincorporated parts of these counties to exercise initiative and referendum powers—what’s known as direct democracy. But complainers claimed foolishly, duplicitously, that the charters would change nothing.

Not to be outdone, corporate players and their social representatives entered friend of the court briefs, arguing that expanding democratic rights for all would interfere with their “right” to make money in those people’s communities, with or without their consent. The American Petroleum Institute, Ohio Oil and Gas Association and Ohio Chamber of Commerce all weighed in against democracy.

The government formula Husted, along with the multiple complaint filers, and the amicus brief filers, presumed they have a right to control the governing authority of the people, and not the reverse. But their efforts are patently anti-democratic, and Husted’s use of his power as Secretary of State illustrate just how removed from democracy Ohio’s state government has become. As a representative of the executive branch of government, he presumes to act the role of judge and jury, based on what he mistakenly perceives as “unfettered authority” to act the tyrant. Husted is busted.

Imperial comments like “I am unmoved by petitioners’ argument,” “I am empowered by the unique language … that provides unfettered authority …”  “I am unconvinced,” and “I am un-persuaded” pepper Husted’s unilateral decision, which he arrogantly announced to the world in a press release without deigning it necessary to inform the petitioners or their legal representatives first, so certain he seems to be in the righteousness of his position.

But it is the people of Ohio, and these bold county citizens, who are empowered by right to define the kind of government and the permissible corporate activities that will be allowed in their communities. This is the lesson to be learned as this political ordeal unfolds. And if, as the petitioners appeal Husted’s democracy loophole, the Supreme Court rules that the Secretary of State indeed can act so imperiously, so undemocratically, perhaps it is time to amend the state constitution in order to make very plain that it is WE THE PEOPLE and not “they the corporations,” who have authority to govern the places where we live and raise our families.

Ben Price|Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund|August 24, 2015

Why Coal Is No Longer King

In West Virginia, the writing has been on the wall for decades. Scholars have been predicting this day for 40 years. But coal companies and their representatives in Charleston and Washington, DC, have traditionally viewed economic diversification in southern West Virginia as bad for business.

State officials choose not to look inward. They blame the federal government for the dramatic downturn in the coal industry. And many West Virginians have bought into the coal industry-fed narrative. They’ve been taught to believe the only things preventing prosperity in West Virginia are environmentalists and federal regulations.

President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency is the latest to face the wrath of West Virginians. But state officials, including the West Virginia Coal Association, were blaming outsiders for downturns in the coal sector long before Obama took office in 2009.

“You’re dealing with decades of the companies controlling the narrative around here,” Chuck Keeney, a West Virginia historian and expert on the state’s coal industry, told EcoWatch. “It wasn’t just as though Obama getting elected exasperated all these feelings. These feelings were already there against the federal government.”

Across southern West Virginia’s coalfields, “Friends of Coal” signs are everywhere, paid for by the West Virginia Coal Association. Keeney, who grew up in West Virginia and attended West Virginia University, said students in schools are taught climate change is a hoax or a liberal lie.

“Many families think they’re losing their job because some Washington politicians believe in a hoax. But of course that ignores the fact that the coal industry has failed to compete in the open marketplace. Natural gas is overtaking it,” explained Keeney, who teaches history at Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College.

Only a few years ago, coal companies active in Appalachia were making huge acquisitions. Among the largest was Alpha Natural Resources Inc.’s $8.5 billion combination with Massey Energy Co. in 2011.

“When Alpha bought Massey, they couldn’t pay for it. They had to take out huge loans. They were expecting a big boom to come in metallurgic coal. And it didn’t come. And as a result, coal is now taking this unbelievably dramatic downturn,” Keeney said.

West Virginia native, journalist and environmental communicator Jeff Young believes it is important for people to recognize that West Virginia is “less a fully functioning state government than a resource-extraction colony.” From timber and salt to coal and now natural gas, the political, economic and institutional forces of the state are almost completely aligned with the needs of the companies who are taking raw natural gas materials form the state and exporting them.

“Yes, there have been heroic political stands against coal’s abuses [Ken Hechler and Denise Giardina] and, yes, many have fought for environmental sanity and economic justice in the coal fields [RIP Judy Bonds, Larry Gibson and James Weekley],” Young told reporter David Roberts in 2014. “But the politics are such now that the electoral winners will be the ones who double down on the dumbness of ‘standing up for coal.’”

Anybody who speaks about economic diversification in southern West Virginia, Keeney emphasized, gets quashed very quickly. “The industry has self-serving reasons for that. You don’t want to have an automobile plant here because then your coal miners can vote with their feet. They can go to the job that they may not get squashed to death. You don’t want the people here to have options,” he said.

In West Virginia, Keeney contends the industry and the politicians remain one in the same. “Many of the key politicians have major stock holdings in companies and many of them are executives themselves,” he said. “We have a number of our House of Delegates who are executives in coal companies and in the land companies.”

Today, coal is still king only in the minds of most West Virginia politicians. Unlike in Kentucky, where political leaders have approved state-sponsored economic transition efforts for the coal industry, West Virginia’s political establishment has pushed residents to fend for themselves in the midst of coal’s decline over fears of angering the coal companies.

“People are afraid of being seen as anti-coal because it is such a dominant political force,” said Jeff Kessler, a West Virginia state senator and gubernatorial candidate who tried (but failed) in 2014 to get support for a publicly funded jobs initiative similar to one pushed by political leaders in Kentucky.

Mark Hand|August 17, 2015

A Key Carbon Offset Program May Have Increased Emissions!

A central part of the UN’s carbon emission reduction program has been the carbon credit scheme. But a new review of that process reveals that, rather than reducing carbon emissions, countries abusing that system may have produced millions of tons of extra emissions.

The problem centers around the only binding international environmental agreement to tackle climate change known as the Kyoto Protocol and its use of carbon credits. We have a thorough exploration of carbon credits here but, briefly, the Protocol allows for countries to buy and sell carbon credits which are created when countries cut carbon emissions. This was seen as a necessary incentive to ensuring that nations would adhere to the Protocol, as it meant that there could be reimbursement and even profit made for whatever outlay was needed to cut carbon emissions in the first place.

However, new research by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) shows that several countries may have abused a particular facet of the carbon credit scheme known as Joint Implementation. Under the scheme, countries like Russia and the Ukraine have been claiming carbon credits for things like putting restrictions on gas emissions from petroleum production and the like. They then sold those carbon credits on for a profit. But the SEI says those reductions in emissions weren’t real and would have happened anyway independently of the carbon credit scheme.

Why is this important? Given that Europe and the UN have been building targets around the carbon markets and claims of offsetting and trade, this means the figures have to be revised and, if the SEI’s analysis is anything to go by, substantially. 

Says the SEI:

“The analysis indicates that about three-quarters of JI offsets are unlikely to represent additional emissions reductions. This suggests that the use of JI offsets may have enabled global GHG emissions to be about 600 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent higher than they would have been if countries had met their emissions domestically.”

Out of all the programs the SEI assessed, it found that only the N2O abatement from nitric acid production program appeared to have what has been dubbed “environmental integrity” or, to put it another way, translated into real-world reductions that wouldn’t have happened as a result of other practices or trends. 

In terms of the real world harm that this could have done to European emission tracking, the researchers believe it may add up to around $2 billion, which is the equivalent to about 400 million tons of carbon.

Of particular concern was that the review, part of which is published in Nature this month with more to come later, finds that Russia and the Ukraine made money from saying they had reduced the chemicals HFC-23 and sulphur hexafluoride, which have both been found to have a heavy warming effect when in our atmosphere. Rather than cutting emissions, though, the research suggests that Russia and Ukraine ramped up production of the chemicals specifically in order to destroy them. That means that they likely released more emissions into the atmosphere on top of that, and so could have ended up causing more total emissions as a result.

Russian officials speaking to the BBC deny these accusations and say that Russia has always acted within the rules of the Kyoto Protocol. However, a UN official speaking anonymously to the Guardian confirmed for the paper that this report is “thoroughly researched and probably correct”, and that widespread abuse of the credit scheme by some countries was well known to the UN. Experts from the Ukraine have also agreed that there appears to have been a desire to game the system in order to benefit, particularly in the face of the EU tightening its grip on credits in other areas.

The review did find some positives though. Carbon offsetting in other countries such as Germany and Poland was regulated by strict criteria, and the carbon credits these countries sold were found to largely tally with real efforts to reduce emissions. As such, we know that schemes like this can work but must be tightly controlled. As such, experts are warning that this is a wake up call ahead of December’s climate talks in Paris.

In addition to ensuring that countries like China and India–who are among the biggest producers of carbon emissions in the world today–are not left out of these talks, there is a need to create a binding agreement that has strict enforcement measures that are not left up to the discretion of individual nations. Instead, they should be assessed by a central body whose own selection is carefully monitored and is completely transparent.

What’s clear from the SEI’s revelation about carbon credits is that there remains an appetite to undermine and even profiteer from environmental policies, and usually at the cost of the environment we are seeking to protect. Only an agreement that actually has teeth will be acceptable come December’s talks. Sadly, that’s anything but guaranteed, but some nations, including the US, are making encouraging steps toward meaningful change.

Steve Williams|August 27, 2015

EPA Urged by Nearly 100,000 Americans to Redo Highly Controversial Fracking Study

The public comment period for the highly controversial U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) fracking study ends today. Food & Water Watch, Environmental Action, Breast Cancer Action and other advocacy groups delivered nearly 100,000 comments from Americans asking the U.S. EPA to redo their study with a higher level of scrutiny and oversight.

The study produced significant controversy due to the discrepancy in what the EPA found in its report and what the agency’s news release title said. The study stated that “we did not find evidence” of “widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources,” but the title of the EPA’s news release said, “Assessment shows hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources”—a subtle but significant difference that led to most news coverage having headlines like this one in Forbes, “EPA Fracking Study: Drilling Wins.”

In addition to the misleading EPA headline, the groups were also quick to point out that the study had a limited scope and was conducted with a lack of new substantive data. “Concluding that fracking is safe based off a study with such a limited scope is irresponsible,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch. “How many more people must be poisoned by the oil and gas industry for the EPA to stand up and protect people’s health? It’s time for the agency to do its job and stop letting industry shills intimidate it.”

The groups emphasize that despite the limitations of the report, the agency still found numerous harms to drinking water resources from fracking. For instance, the EPA found evidence of more than 36,000 spills from 2006 to 2012. That amounts to about 15 spills every day somewhere in the U.S.

“By downplaying its findings of water contamination from fracking, the EPA ultimately provided cover for the fracking industry to continue to poison our drinking water with chemicals linked to a variety of health problems, including breast cancer,” said Karuna Jaggar, executive director of Breast Cancer Action. “When the EPA finalizes its study, they need to focus on protecting public health—not the fracking industry—by highlighting and condemning drinking water contamination from fracking.”

But still, groups claim that there was huge oversight in the report. “The EPA’s report clearly shows that fracking pollution harms our water supplies, but the agency also turned a blind eye to some of the biggest risks of this toxic technique,” said Clare Lakewood of the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s bizarre and alarming that the EPA report refused to look at the harm caused by the disposal of toxic fracking waste fluid into unlined pits and underground injection wells. The EPA needs to get serious about the threat of fracking and look at every pathway to water contamination.”

Jennifer Krill, Earthworks‘ executive director, agrees. “In its June study on fracking’s impacts on water, EPA cited more than 140 waste spills alone that contaminated water. And they found those instances despite industry obstruction, and despite not looking in places where community complaints and EPA’s own investigations suggested such pollution was occurring.”

Cole Mellino|August 28, 2015

Alarm sounded as TransCanada set to drill in Bay of Fundy

‘No consent for Energy East’: New Brunswick groups say they weren’t consulted or warned

“TransCanada has botched both their public relations strategy and their official application to build Energy East, so it’s not surprising that they seem desperate to get some shovels in the ground prior to the federal election.” – Keith Stewart, Greenpeace Canada climate campaigner.

An open letter was released today by 20 groups in New Brunswick opposed to TransCanada’s plans to begin drilling in the Bay of Fundy. The signatories cite a six-page document obtained outlining TransCanada’s work plans for exploratory borehole drilling related to the Saint John, New Brunswick terminal of the proposed Energy East pipeline. TransCanada has confirmed to Ricochet that drilling work is slated to begin shortly.

The open letter warns the drilling could begin as early as today: “This procedure is invasive and has the potential to hurt resident’s foundations, drinking water, along with the natural environment that we all value and protect. Why are boreholes being drilled before this project is approved without consultation with residents and others affected?”

Hotly debated pipeline

Concerns enumerated in the open letter include potential impacts on nearby homes and roads, and on shorebirds and marine life. A recent study by the Conservation Council of New Brunswick found that the increased tanker traffic associated with Energy East would increase stress levels for the Bay of Fundy’s endangered North Atlantic right whales.

The letter also alleges the company has not received free, prior and informed consent from local Indigenous communities, noting “this shore and seabed is on un-ceded Wolastoq territory.”

The signatories say they were only informed of the drilling plans by “a last-minute release of a letter from TransCanada on August 25.”

Energy East would be the largest tar sands pipeline in North America, carrying an estimated 1.1 million barrels per day from Alberta to the Atlantic coast. The proposed mega-project has been one of the most hotly debated issues in the federal election campaign.

The Conservatives support Energy East, while the NDP and Liberals have taken more ambivalent positions. All three major parties have been targeted by protesters opposed to the pipeline. The Bloc Quebecois have made opposition to Energy East a signature of their campaign efforts.

Growing opposition

In New Brunswick, visible opposition to Energy East has been growing in recent months, despite strong political support for the pipeline and marine export terminal from the provincial government led by Premier Brian Gallant.

“As a resident of New Brunswick my biggest concerns are about water as it goes through nearly 300 waterways in this province and then on to the Bay of Fundy,” local organizer Lynaya Astephen told Ricochet by email. “It’s not if but when a pipeline spill happens.”

In late May, over 500 people marched through the Saint John, N.B. community of Red Head to the Bay of Fundy to oppose the pipeline.

Drill first, get approval later?

The open letter complains that TransCanada’s drilling is proceeding without Energy East first completing the National Energy Board review process and receiving the necessary federal and provincial permits. (The TransCanada work plan document, it’s important to note, describes this new drilling as “an extension of preliminary work conducted in 2014.”)

Under the Conservative government, the NEB review process for major projects like pipelines has been significantly weakened.

“Any assessment that includes a rigorous assessment of climate impacts will have to reject this project,” Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada told Ricochet by email, noting that the NDP in particular has promised to include climate impacts and Canada’s ability to meet international greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments in a revamped NEB process.

With the election campaign underway and a pivotal United Nations climate summit beginning at the end of November, the timing of TransCanada’s work in the Bay of Fundy is potentially inflammatory.

“I believe the work being done right before an election is not a coincidence,” Astephen told Ricochet.

“TransCanada, with the support of the Harper Conservative government, continues to operate in a way that does not respect democracy in Canada or the right to free, prior, and informed consent of First Nations affected by this ludicrous proposal,” said Clayton Thomas-Muller, a climate justice organizer with 350.org.

UPDATE Aug. 27 1:05 PM EDT: Energy East spokesperson Tim Duboyce has replied to our request for comment, sending us the following statement by email:

“To answer your question this geotechnical work is a critical part of the design process for the proposed Canaport/Energy East Marine Terminal. The sampling the barge will be collecting is the continuation of work which we began in 2014. This work will help determine things like composition of rock and soil to ensure the Canaport/Energy East Marine Terminal is planned and designed in the safest manner possible.

We first made land owners located adjacent to the proposed Canaport site aware of this work back in mid-July. It is important to note the work will not be disruptive. We simply wanted to keep people informed of what the barge was doing there.

The actual beginning of the work will depend on weather and some other factors, but it will be starting soon.”

Derrick O’Keefe|August 27, 2015

Land Conservation

Injunction Seeks to Restore Money to State’s Conservation Land-buying Fund

TALLAHASSEE – In a legal filing today, the Florida Wildlife Federation and three other citizen groups are seeking an injunction to stop state officials from diverting the state’s conservation land-buying fund to pay for other state functions.

“The voters who approved the Water and Land Conservation Amendment 1 last November are clear – by a 75 percent majority – that they want this tax money to buy conservation land,” Florida Wildlife Federation president Manley Fuller said.  “In our court filing today, we point out that the Legislature took the land conservation money and earmarked it for a variety of things it isn’t supposed to pay for, including worker’s comp claims and executive salaries.”

The suit asks a Leon Circuit Court judge to order the Legislature to return monies back to the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund. Earthjustice is representing the Wildlife Federation and three other groups — Sierra Club, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida in the lawsuit. Today’s action is an amendment to a legal complaint the groups filed in June.

According to today’s legal complaint, the Legislature has diverted funds from the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund to pay for various appropriations, including:

– $1,222,158 for risk management insurance for the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Department of State and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, covering liability for, among other things, damage awards for Civil Rights Act violations, damage claims against the agencies for negligent injuries to people and for property damage, and worker’s compensation claims;

– $623,043 to pay for executive leadership and administrative services to wildlife programs in the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission;

– $21,697,449 to the Department of Agriculture ($5,000,000 of which was vetoed by the Governor) to pay for implementation of agricultural best management practices on non-conservation, privately owned  lands;

– $174,078,574  for salaries and overhead for personnel within the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the Department of State;

– $838,570 for wildfire suppression vehicles for the Department of Agriculture;

– $5,000,000 to the Department of Agriculture to pay agricultural operations to keep their pollution on their own land;

– $38,575,538  to the Department of Environmental Protection that can be used to build sewage treatment plants and storm water treatment systems.

“We understand that many of these programs are important state programs, but they should not be funded by the conservation amendment funds,” Fuller said. “They should be funded by other state revenue sources.”

The Water and Land Conservation Amendment that voters passed in November, 2014 requires that, for the next 20 years, 33 percent of the proceeds from real estate documentary-stamp taxes go for land acquisition. It did not impose a new tax; the documentary-stamp tax has long funded Florida’s conservation land-buying programs. For the upcoming year, the share of the real-estate tax is projected to bring in more than $740 million.

Because the case seeks an injunction to transfer surplus budget money into the Amendment 1 fund instead of invalidating existing appropriations, it would not stop any project that the Legislature has already funded.

“We are hoping the court will correct the Legislature’s mistake, and return money to the conservation land-buying fund, because that is what the voters directed,” Fuller said. 

Manley Fuller|President|Florida Wildlife Federation|August 27, 2015

Sierra Club and allies file for an injunction to restore Amendment 1 funding

(August 28, 2015 -Tallahassee)  The Sierra Club, the Florida Wildlife Federation, St. Johns Riverkeeper and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida represented by Earthjustice filed suit today asking the courts to force the Florida Legislature to return Amendment 1 funds to a conservation land buying fund.

“We are asking for Florida’s courts to uphold the constitution as amended by the voters,” said Sierra Club Florida Conservation Chair Tom Larson. “The legislature needs to be held accountable for ignoring the will of the people.”

The funds from documentary stamps on land transactions, which are expected to reach $740 million next year, were diverted by the Legislature to accounts that had nothing to do with land acquisition. Among other things, they were used to pay state executive salaries, agricultural pollution subsidies and insurance premiums.

According to the suit: “The Legislature owes the people of the State of Florida a duty to honor and effectuate the intent of the voters in the use of the funds placed in trust under this constitutional amendment.”

The November 2014 ballot summary stated:

Funds the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation lands including wetlands and forests; fish and wildlife habitat; land protecting water resources and drinking water sources, including the Everglades, and the water quality of rivers, lakes and streams; beaches and shores; outdoor recreational lands; working farms and ranches; and historic or geologic sites, by dedicating 33 percent of net revenues from the existing excise tax on documents for 20 years.

An extraordinary 75 percent of the electorate voted for Amendment 1 proving that the people of the state understand the need to protect the richness of Florida’s wild heritage and unique waters.

Recycling

Boyan Slat’s ‘Mega Expedition’ Shows ‘Our Oceans Are Riddled With Plastic’

A few years ago, when then-17-year-old Boyan Slat claimed he could rid the world’s oceans of plastic, many thought it was just a nice idea. But flash forward four years and what appeared to be merely youthful idealism has turned into concrete action. Yesterday, Slat’s nonprofit The Ocean Cleanup returned from a 30-day voyage through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

The team was on a reconnaissance mission to determine just how much plastic is floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, “a swirling mass of human-linked debris spanning hundreds of miles of open sea where plastic outnumbers organisms by factors in the hundreds.”  

The researchers collected samples ranging from microscopic to as large as a 2,000-pound fishing net in what the group claims is “the largest ocean research expedition in history.” Using a series of measurement techniques, including trawls and aerial surveys, the fleet of close to 30 vessels sampled the concentration of plastic—all in preparation for the largest clean up of the area set to begin in 2020.

The team’s findings confirm the well-documented fact that our oceans are riddled with plastic.

“I’ve studied plastic in all the world’s oceans, but never seen any area as polluted as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” Dr. Julia Reisser, lead oceanographer at The Ocean Cleanup, said.

“With every trawl we completed, thousands of miles from land, we just found lots and lots of plastic.” In so-called “hot spots” of the garbage patch, “there were hundreds of times more plastics … than there were organisms,” Reisser told Reuters.

Although the samples collected during the expedition still have to be analyzed, preliminary findings indicate a higher-than-expected volume of large plastic objects floating in the ocean.

“The vast majority of the plastic in the garbage patch is currently locked up in large pieces of debris, but UV light is breaking it down into much more dangerous microplastics, vastly increasing the amount of microplastics over the next few decades if we don’t clean it up,” says Slat. “It really is a ticking time bomb.”

The next phase begins in 2016 when the team will test out a one-mile barrier of its ocean-cleaning system near Japan. The system will contain “floating stationary booms tethered to the ocean floor and linked in a V shape intended to skim and concentrate surface plastics floating on top of ocean currents,” according to Reuters. Ultimately, Slat’s goal is to develop a 60-mile barrier in the middle of the Pacific.

Some have criticized the effort as being too costly and ineffective, but one of the project’s financial backers, Sales force chairman, CEO and founder Marc Benioff had this to say: “Protecting the oceans should be a priority for all of Earth’s citizens. The Ocean Cleanup is taking an innovative approach to preserving one of our most critical resources and raising visibility of this global challenge.”

Cole Mellino|August 24, 2015

10 Tips For Using Less Plastic

It’s impossible to avoid plastic entirely, but there are effective ways to limit your exposure.

Plastic is so commonplace in our world today that it’s nearly impossible to imagine a life without it. Striving for a plastic-free life, however, remains a noble and worthwhile goal – and it’s becoming easier with every year that passes, as more people demand plastic alternatives and refuse to participate in the grotesque plastic waste that’s filling our planet’s landfills. Here are some tips on how to get rid of plastic at home. Don’t worry; it’s easier than you think!

1. Avoid the worst plastic offenders

If you check the bottom of any plastic container, you’ll see a number (1 through 7) inside a triangle made of arrows. The worst plastics are:

  • #3 – Polyvinyl Chloride, an extremely toxic plastic that contains dangerous additives such as lead and phthalates and is used in plastic wrap, some squeeze bottles, peanut butter jars, and children’s toys
  • #6 – Polystyrene, which contains styrene, a toxin for the brain and nervous system, and is used in Styrofoam, disposable dishes, take-out containers, plastic cutlery
  • #7 – Polycarbonate/Other category, which contains bisphenol A and is found in most metal food can liners, clear plastic sippy cups, sport drink bottles, juice and ketchup containers
2. Use non-plastic containers

Carry a reusable water bottle and travel mug wherever you go. Pack your lunch in glass (Mason jars are wonderfully versatile), stainless steel, stacking metal tiffins, cloth sandwich bags, a wooden Bento box, etc. Take reusables to the supermarket, farmers’ market, or wherever you’re shopping, and have them weighed before filling. (Here is a list of 7 plastic-free lunch options.)

3. Never drink bottled water

Buying bottled water in North America is absurd, especially when you consider that bottled water is less regulated than tap water; it’s usually just filtered tap water; it’s exorbitantly expensive; it’s a gross waste of resources to collect, bottle, and ship it; and it results in unnecessary plastic waste that’s usually not recycled. (via Life Without Plastic)

4. Shop in bulk

The more items you can buy in bulk, the more you’ll save in packaging. While this mentality has been the norm for years at special bulk food stores, it’s fortunately becoming more common in supermarkets. You’ll save money in food costs and, if you drive, in the gas used for extra trips to the store.

Search for items such as large wheels of cheese, without any plastic packaging, and stock up on those whenever possible.

5. Avoid frozen convenience foods

Convenience foods are among the worst culprits for excessive packaging waste. Frozen foods come wrapped in plastic and packaged in cardboard, which is often lined with plastic, too. There’s not any way around it; it’s a shopping habit that will have to go if you’re serious about ditching plastic.

6. Avoid non-stick cookware

Don’t expose yourself and your family to toxic perfluorochemicals that are released when non-stick surfaces such as Teflon are heated. Replace with cast iron (which works just as well as non-stick if seasoned and cared for properly), stainless steel, or copper cookware.

Katherine Martinko|TreeHugger|August 27, 2015

This could be a fun experiment in canning, and if you dedicate a whole day to it, you could have enough to last the whole year. Make cucumber or zucchini relish and ketchup when late-summer vegetables are at their peak. Items such as chocolate sauce, mustard, and mayonnaise are quick and simple to make once you get the hang of them. Everything can be kept in glass jars.

8. Let baking soda and vinegar become your new best friends

Baking soda, which comes for cheap in large cardboard boxes, and vinegar, which comes in large glass jars, can be used to clean, scour, and disinfect the house and wash dishes, replacing plastic cleaning bottles; soda can be turned into an effective homemade deodorant; and both soda and vinegar (apple cider, specifically) can replace shampoo and conditioner bottles. (Read about how I haven’t used shampoo for 18 months.)

9. Use natural cloths instead of plastic scrubbers

If you need something with scrubbing power, go for copper instead of plastic. Use a cotton dishcloth or a coconut coir brush for dishes, instead of a plastic scrub brush. Use cotton facecloths instead of disposable wipes. Don’t underestimate the versatility of old rags!

10. Keep your laundry routine plastic-free

Use soap flakes, soap strips, or soap nuts instead of conventional laundry detergents that come in plastic-lined cardboard with plastic scoops or thick plastic jugs. They are truly awful for the planet. You can read more about that here.

Along the same lines, use bar soap instead of liquid hand soap. Bar soap works as a good shaving cream alternative, too.

Katherine Martinko|TreeHugger|August 27, 2015

Miscellaneous

Treating Bee, Wasp and Hornet Stings – Know the Difference

This summer while rafting the Salmon River in Idaho, my youngest daughter stepped on a bald-faced hornet—and her misstep did not end well for either the hornet or my child. After realizing why she was screaming bloody murder, and then identifying the culprit, I immediately began recalling what I learned about insect stings from when I lived in the Amazon and worked as a jungle guide.

First, I remembered that not all stings are treated in the same way since some insects have alkaline venom while others have acidic venom. Knowing who injects which poisons is key to treatment and pain alleviation. So, let me share with you my home remedy guide to basic stings:

For Hornet and Wasp Stings:

OUCH! You, or someone with you, has been stung. First try to identify the culprit, and second, if the stinger is still embedded in soft tissue, remove it as soon as possible. Tweezers, a needle, a credit card or fingernails can be used to scrape/pop out that venom-laced mini-dagger. Try not to “pinch” the stinger as that can cause more venom to be released. Then wash the area with soap and water, if available.

Most insects under the category of hornets and wasps possess powerful alkaline venom. Thus, the best home treatment is something powerfully acidic such as white vinegar. The acid will neutralize the alkaloid, which may ring a bell if you were paying attention in high school chemistry class. Apply the vinegar by first directly pouring a small amount on the sting.  Relief may be nearly immediate. For continued application, which may be needed, soak a thin cloth or bandage with the vinegar and leave on the sting for 15 minutes or until the pain has subsided.

If the pain reappears, as it often does minutes to hours later, just repeat the remedy. In addition to the vinegar treatment, I also gave my daughter a homeopathic remedy called Apis mellifica.

If you are backpacking, rafting or otherwise going to be in the great outdoors, I advise adding a a little vial of white vinegar to your first aid medical kit.

For Yellow Jacket and Bee Stings:

Most insects in this category have acidic venom and therefore need an alkaloid, such as baking soda to neutralize the venom. The easiest way to apply the baking soda is by making a paste by adding a bit of water. Cover the sting site with the paste for 5 to 15 minutes. Reapply as needed. Again, I recommend adding a little vial of baking soda in medical kits, so it is on hand when needed. Additionally, wet chamomile tea bags or a chamomile tincture are both effective at soothing the skin post-sting and after/between the baking soda treatments. The homeopathic remedy Apis mellifica is also effective for yellow jacket and bee stings.

For all insect stings, ice is also recommended to cool the skin, if available. Of course, all of the above home remedies can be complimented with over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen and over-the-counter antihistamines.

When to Seek Emergency Care:

The above home remedies are fine and good when the body’s reaction is mild, but according to WebMD, if any of the following severe symptoms emerge, seek medical care immediately, as they could be life-threatening (anaphylaxis):

  • Difficulty Breathing or Wheezing
  • Feeling of Dizziness or Faintness
  • Tightness in Throat
  • Hives
  • A Swollen Tongue
  • A history of severe allergic reaction to insect strings
  • Nausea, abdominal pain or vomiting
  • Loss of Consciousness
  • Severe skin reaction

If you plan to be in an area without quick access to emergency care like we were in the Frank Church Wilderness of No Return in Idaho, consider taking an EPI Pen, which requires a doctor prescription, but can save lives. In fact, while being an Amazon jungle guide, the one time I was confronted with a life and death situation was not with snakes, piranhas or jaguars, but with a simple bee sting.

Asbestos cleanup delays DTE plant implosion
Destruction of the remainder of the site put off until mid-October

MARYSVILLE More asbestos than originally anticipated has prolonged the possible implosion of the Marysville power plant.

From afar, the former DTE power plant gives the illusion of standing on steel stilts — crews have carefully dismantled nearly 70 percent of the building since work started in spring 2014 at the site on Busha Highway and Gratiot Boulevard.

Implosion of the remainder of the site has been delayed to mid-October as crews waited for regulatory approvals, said Randall Jostes, Environmental Liability Transfer chief executive officer. Officials had hoped to bring the building the ground this summer.

“The quantities have proven to be more than originally anticipated,” he said. “But we are moving forward and properly disposing of that material.”

Jostes said work is ongoing to remove asbestos and other environmentally hazardous materials.

Commercial Development Company, based in Missouri, purchased the old plant from DTE Energy in May. Commercial Development Company is the parent company of Environmental Liability Transfer, which is tasked with conducting the environmental property assessments.

The energy plant operated from 1932 through 2001 and generated about 167 megawatts of electricity. The plant was decommissioned in 2011.

Marysville City Manager Randy Fernandez said the delay and extra work did not cost the city anything since the owners of the building are responsible for cleaning it up, not the city.

While Jostes said the implosion of the 12-story building that sits on a 45,000square-foot footprint will happen in mid-October, Fernandez said the implosion is not a done deal yet.

Once knocked down, it will take 18 to 24 months to clean the site before redevelopment can begin.

Fernandez said he is hoping for an update from Sitetech, the company contracted to dismantle the building, at the next city council meeting Sept. 14.

“The fact that the building has not been imploded has nothing to do with

whether or not the city has approved the site for implosion,” said Marysville Mayor Dan Damman. “Sitetech and the sub-contractors are finishing the abatement of asbestos on the site and then the Michigan (Department of Environmental Quality) has to sign off that the asbestos has been abated.”

Damman said he believes that the asbestos abatement process will be complete by Labor Day.

“The city has some concerns before we give approval to implode,” Damman said.

For example, Damman wants to know how loud the explosion will be and if residents will feel the ground shake before giving his OK.

“We are of the opinion that (the implosion company) will be able to comply with our conditions and ultimately the site will be imploded,” Damman said. “CDI has an impeccable track record and a long history of imploding buildings in far more precarious places than the DTE site.”

Controlled Demolition Inc., will be the company imploding the building, if it is imploded.

Damman said the implosion delay is not a concern to him because if it means ensuring the safety of the city’s residents and the site workers.

“We are thankful that time is being spent to dismantle the building properly,” he said. “When it’s a project of this magnitude there are things that are often unexpected that come up, but I think progress is moving along well.”

As for the future of the site, Damman said the city is hoping for a mix of commercial and hospitality.

“We have reached out to some well-known, but local restaurants to determine whether or not they would be interested on coming on to the premises,” Damman said. “We would like to ultimately see a destination area with a hotel, restaurants, retail space and a marine — someplace that pulls people from our area and outside of the area to the site.”

NICOLE HAYDEN|TIMES HERALD|8/27/15

[This is the plant that supplied my family’s electricity when I was growing up. It was an extremely large coal-fired plant that stored coal in a pile that covered 25 acres at around 75 feet high. Glad to see it go.]

Risk of large wildfires rises, study finds

This year’s catastrophic wildfire season — more than 7.6million acres already burned — could be just a glimpse at what the future holds.

The risk of so-called “very large wildfires” could increase as much as six times in the U.S. by mid-century as a result of man-made global warming, researchers concluded in a study announced Wednesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Very large fires” are defined as the top 10 percent of fires based on acreage. Such blazes account for the majority of burned acres across the U.S. each year. There are currently 66 large fires burning, a step down from “very large.”

Climate change is expected both to intensify fire-friendly weather conditions — such as heat and drought — and to lengthen the season during which these fires tend to spread, according to the study, published in the International Journal of Wildland Fire.

Huge sections of the West would see the risk of very large fires increase by as much as 200 to 500 percent.

USA TODAY

A healthy environment nurtures healthy people ‏

If a home is not cleaned and cared for, it will become rundown and less habitable or even unlivable. It’s no different with our broader surroundings, from the immediate environment to the entire planet.

If we disconnect from the natural world, we become disconnected from who we are — to the detriment of our health and the health of the ecosystems on which our well-being and survival depend.

Understanding that we’re part of nature and acting on that understanding makes us healthier and happier, and encourages us to care for the natural systems around us. A growing body of science confirms this, including two recent studies that explore the ways nature benefits human health.

A Toronto-based study, published in Nature and co-authored by a team including University of Chicago psychologists Omid Kardan and Marc Berman and David Suzuki Foundation scientist Faisal Moola, examined the relationship between urban trees and human health. According to “Neighborhood greenspace and health in a large urban center”, people living in areas with many trees, especially large trees, report feeling healthier than people in areas with fewer trees.

The other study, published in Ecosystem Services and co-authored by scientists from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, reviewed a range of previous research to explore “observed and potential connections among nature, biodiversity, ecosystem services and human health and well-being.” The authors of “Exploring connections among nature, biodiversity, ecosystem services, and human health and well-being” concluded, “the significance of biodiversity to human welfare is immense.”

According to the Toronto study, adding 10 or more trees to a city block offered benefits to individuals equivalent to earning $10,000 more a year, moving to a neighborhood with $10,000 higher median income or being seven years younger. As well as self-reporting of health and well-being, the study also found reduced rates of heart conditions, cancer, mental health problems and diabetes in areas with more trees.

The NOAA study delved even deeper into specific physical and mental health outcomes, finding that people living in areas with abundant green space live longer and experience lower rates of “anxiety and depression (especially), upper respiratory tract infections, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), severe intestinal complaints, and infectious disease of the intestine” than people deprived of nature.

The researchers concluded that increased exposure to nature “can have positive effects on mental/psychological health, healing, heart rate, concentration, levels of stress, blood pressure, behavior, and other health factors.”

They also found that, although evaluating nature according to the services it provides to humans “may lead to a human-centric view of the biosphere,” preserving these ecosystems and natural biodiversity for our own benefit will improve ecosystem health and the natural services other species need to survive and thrive.

As noted in a Toronto Star article, the Toronto research also found that, “within cities, urban tree lines often follow the fault lines of social, economic, political and ecological disparity.” In other words, protecting and increasing green spaces and improving access to them is a social justice as well as a health issue.

This isn’t news to anyone who gets outside regularly. People who spend at least 30 minutes a day in nature for 30 consecutive days as part of the David Suzuki Foundation’s annual 30X30 Nature Challenge report numerous benefits, including improved mood and vitality and a greater interest in the natural world. It’s why the Foundation is launching the Back to School Superhero Challenge on September 21 to encourage kids, families, students and teachers to get outdoors, learn about environmental issues and make a difference.

Science is giving us a better understanding of the many ways preserving, caring for and restoring natural spaces can improve the lives of humans and other beings — and how connecting with nature increases our desire to protect and reduce our negative impacts on our surroundings.

Earth is our only home. But it’s more than that. We’re a part of the natural systems that make up our planet and its atmosphere, and what we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves — as I conveyed in my book

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

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

Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

ConsRep 1508 C

Man must feel the earth to know himself and recognize his values…. God made life simple. It is man who complicates it. ~Charles A. Lindbergh

Announcements

Save the Date

Join us for the Everglades Coalition’s 31st Annual Conference,

to be held January 7-10, 2016 at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, FL

The conference’s theme: “Voices of the Everglades: All for Restoration

Visit our website for event details, including how to make hotel reservations.

Reserve your room early to take advantage of discounted conference rates.

Conference early registration will begin Oct 15th.

Sponsorship opportunities are also available!
Questions can be directed to info@evergladescoalition.org.

Event flyer can be downloaded from our conference web page

NPCA 2016 Tour Schedule in partnership with Off the Beaten Path
Isle Royale Wilderness Sojourn
July 17-24, 2016 and August 28-September 4, 2016

From $3,895 per person double occupancy; $625 single supplement

An Ocean of Grass: Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
October 2-6, 2016

From $1,695 per person double occupancy; $400 single supplement

Deep in the Everglades
April 3-8, 2016 and October 23-28, 2016
From $3,345 per person double occupancy; $560 single supplement

Splendor in the Smokies
April 10-15, 2016 and October 16-21, 2016
From $2,995 per person double occupancy; $640 single supplement

Acadia in Color
September 17-21, 2016 and October 15-19, 2016
From $2,095 per person double occupancy; $525 single supplement
North to Alaska
June 23-30, 2016 and August 11-18, 2016

From $6,145 per person double occupancy; $1,050 single supplement

Glacier Bay and the Inside Passage
July 10-16, 2016 and August 21-27, 2016

From $3,795 per person double occupancy; $650 single supplement; On-trip air estimated at $300

Alaska’s Winter Magic
March 13-18, 2016

From $4,195 per person double occupancy; $795 single supplement; On trip air estimated at $175

Vintage Northwest
August 28-September 2, 2016 and September 18-23, 2016

From $2,995 per person double occupancy; $840 single supplement

Seasons of Yosemite
May 8-13, 2016, May 22-27, 2016, September 4-9, 2016, and September 25-30, 2016

From $3,195 per person double occupancy; $985 single supplement

Joshua Tree and Death Valley
March 20-25, 2016 and October 30-November 4, 2016

From $3,195 per person double occupancy; $1,050 single supplement

Crown of the Continent: Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks
July 17-22, 2016, July 24-29, 2016, August 7-12, 2016, and August 21-26, 2016

From $3,095 per person double occupancy; $810 single supplement

The Great American West: Black Hills to Yellowstone National Park
June 26-July 2, 2016, July 10-16, 2016, and July 31-August 6, 2016

From $3,095 per person double occupancy; $785 single supplement

Essence of Yellowstone and Grand Teton
June 26-July 1, 2016, July 17-22, 2016, August 7-12, 2016, and September 11-16, 2016

From $2,995 per person double occupancy; $1,035 single supplement

Yellowstone for Fun: Family Adventure
July 3-8, 2016, July 17-22, 2016, July 31-August 5, 2016, August 14-19, 2016

From $2,895 per person double occupancy; $700 single supplement

Yellowstone Wildlife Safari
May 15-20, 2016, May 22-27, 2016 and September 11-16, 2016

From $2,495 per person double occupancy; $600 single supplement

Yellowstone’s Winter Wonders
January 24-29, 2016, December 21-26, 2016, December 30, 2016-January 4, 2017, January 16-21, 2017, February 13-18, 2017

From $3,195 per person double occupancy; $730 single supplement

Grand Canyon Medley
March 28-April 2, 2016 and October 23-28, 2016

From $2,995 per person double occupancy; $830 single supplement

Grand Canyon New Year
December 29, 2016-January 3, 2017

From $2,795 per person double occupancy; $850 single supplement

Zion and Beyond
May 14-20, 2016, June 11-17, 2016, July 23-29, 2016, September 17-23, 2016

From $3,195 per person double occupancy; $950 single supplement

Puebloan Mystery: Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, and Canyon de Chelly
May 1-8, 2016 and October 9-15, 2016

From $2,745 per person double occupancy; $675 single supplement

Arches, Canyons, and Cataracts
July 10-15, 2016, August 7-12, 2016, September 4-9, 2016

From $3,095 per person double occupancy; $425 single supplement

Big Secret, Big Bend National Park
April 3-9, 2016, April 17-23, 2016, October 23-29, 2016

From $2,895 per person double occupancy; $700 single supplement

National Parks of Hawaii
October 30-November 7, 2016

From $5,995 per person double occupancy; $1,325 single supplement

Fa’a Samoa: The National Park of American Samoa
April 29-May 6, 2016 and October 21-28, 2016

From $4,295 per person double occupancy; $625 single supplement; $280 inter-island flights

Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
November 9-15, 2016

From $3,495 per person double occupancy; $150 single supplement
Costa Rica Under the Radar

April 9-15, 2016

From $3,695 per person double occupancy; $1,150 single supplement; $800 for internal air
Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley

April 24-May 1, 2016 and September 25-October 2, 2016

From $4,295 per person double occupancy; $1,200 single supplement; $550 for internal air

Afoot in the Galapagos Islands
February 29-March 6, 2016 and October 19-25, 2016

From $4,395 per person double occupancy; $750 single supplement; $600 for internal air
Patagonia Adventure

March 13-21, 2016 and December 4-12, 2016

From $4,995 per person double occupancy; $1,850 single supplement; $750 for internal air

Jane Goodall’s Fall 2015 North American Lecture Tour Announced!

With summer coming to a close and back to school right around the corner, we are excited to announce Jane’s fall 2015 North American lecture tour.

Her schedule still keeps her on the road nearly 300 days each year, but at the moment she is spending time with her family at home in England. 

During the months of September and October, Jane will begin her lecture tour in the United States and Canada,

giving you the opportunity to hear her speak and meet her in person.

During her lecture, Jane will share stories from her early life, her fascination with animals and Africa,

her groundbreaking chimpanzee behavioral research, exciting updates from the work of the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI),

and discuss the magical world of plants, as described in her newest book Seeds of Hope.

Jane will have just come from a global gathering of program leaders for JGI’s global youth action program Roots & Shoots,

her annual summer visit to Gombe, and a tour of countries where JGI is leading conservation efforts.

Be sure to join us for an exciting fall tour and before Jane visits, join her in making the world a better place.

With the launch of our new Team Jane program, you can start your very own custom fundraiser to help JGI fulfill its mission.

So get involved in the solution today! 

Please Vote for Vista View Park Burrowing Owlet Photo to Win – Nature Conservancy ‏

Hello All – Our very own Susan Faulkner Davis needs our help to win.

Her photo of a sleepy burrowing owlet from Vista View Park and an article on ethical

photography won an honorable mention from the Nature Conservancy
and now she is trying for a people’s choice award.

Click for Options

Please vote for her and our owls!  She’s got 61 votes but others have more!

From Susan: 

This image of a sleepy Florida Burrowing Owl placed me among100 finalists in The Nature Conservancy’s “New Wild” digital photo contest.

I hope you will consider voting for me. Here is the link..you must press “vote” in the upper right hand

corner to get to the images, then scroll through until you the photo attached. 

The picture slides down when you hover over it, revealing the spot for voting.

Vote until August 30th
http://www.nature.org/new-wild/photo-contest/index.htm

Thanks for voting and sharing!  It’s a good cause!

Kelly Heffernan|SFAS’s Project Perch
Of Interest to All

Marshes and Wetlands Beat Seawalls When It Comes to Protecting People and Wildlife

As the U.S. fortifies coasts to fight rising seas, new research points to the benefits of ‘living shorelines.’

Salt marsh tidal pools at Boat Meadow Beach in Orleans, Massachusetts. (Photo: John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)

As the United States’ coastal population surges, it is battening down the hatches, building seawalls, bulkheads, and breakwaters to protect people from rising seas and ever-stronger storms. The result: 14 percent of the nation’s tidal shoreline has been “hardened.” By the end of the century, a third of the coast could be armored if the trend continues.

But new research finds that wetlands, marshes, and other natural barriers are more effective than concrete at protecting coasts.

“Nature knows best, in the sense that natural shorelines are resilient to erosion and storm events,” said Rachel Gittman, a marine ecologist at Northeastern University and author of a trio of new papers about living shorelines.

Gittman said hardened vertical structures made of concrete, rock, wood, or vinyl are typically flat surfaces rather than the complex salt marshes or low-sloping rocky areas that they often replace. That results in fewer habitats for a diverse set of marine life, including fish, crabs, and other creatures.

“Sea level rises and falls over time, and marshes have persisted through those changes,” said Gittman. “What you’re doing [with a barrier] is essentially stopping that transgression.”

In one study in press at the journal Ecological Applications, Gittman and colleagues looked at a natural coastline, a bare bulkhead shoreline, and a hybrid coastline made of rocks and marsh plantings, comparing the abundance of juvenile fish and crustaceans. They were surprised to find that the hybrid rock and marsh grass shorelines had the highest diversity and abundance of marine life.

In another study, the researchers used Hurricane Irene, which struck the East Coast in August 2011, to test how different types of shorelines fare in big storms. Gittman collected data on shorelines before the storm made landfall and did damage assessment afterward on some of the hardest-hit shorelines.

In the central Outer Banks of the North Carolina, Irene damaged 76 percent of bulkheads surveyed. Across marsh sites within 15 miles of the hurricane’s landfall, the storm had no effect on marsh surface elevations. Although the storm temporarily reduced the density of vegetation at those sites, the plants recovered to pre-hurricane levels within a year.

Gittman isn’t alone in her interest in making shorelines more natural. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has a Web page dedicated to helping people figure out how living shorelines can help them. Living shorelines can include materials such as sand, wetland plants, oyster reefs, submerged aquatic vegetation, and stones.

Homeowners should know that they don’t always need to build a giant bulkhead, said Gittman. “Natural shorelines in combination with engineering solutions in moderation can be better than bulkheads to stabilize the shoreline. Using natural components can lead to better results in both the long-term protection of shoreline and ecologic resources we value.” 

Katharine Gammon|Aug 14, 2015

Japan raises warning level on volcano 50 km from just-restarted nuclear plant

The Meteorological Agency said Saturday that Mount Sakurajima in Kagoshima Prefecture, 50 km from a just-restarted nuclear plant, is showing signs of increased volcanic activity and that nearby residents should prepare to evacuate.

In line with the move, the Kagoshima municipal government issued an evacuation advisory to the residents of three districts on the island where the volcano is located.

Sakurajima is one of Japan’s most active volcanoes and erupts almost constantly. But a larger than usual eruption could be in the offing, an official at the weather agency said.

“There is the danger that stones could rain down on areas near the mountain’s base, so we are warning residents of those areas to be ready to evacuate if needed,” the official added.

The agency also said it had raised the warning level on the peak, 990 km southwest of Tokyo, to an unprecedented 4, for prepare to evacuate, from 3.

Japan on Tuesday restarted a reactor at the Sendai nuclear plant, some 50 km from Sakurajima. It is the first reactor to be restarted under new safety standards put in place after the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

Critics have long pointed out that the plant is also located near five giant calderas, crater-like depressions formed by past eruptions, with the closest one some 40 km away.

Still, the Nuclear Regulation Authority has said the chance of major volcanic activity during the life span of the Sendai plant is negligible.

Two years ago, Sakurajima shot ash some 5,000 meters into the air.

Japan lies on the “Ring of Fire” — a horseshoe-shaped band of fault lines and volcanoes around the edges of the Pacific Ocean — and is home to more than 100 active volcanoes.

Last year, Mount Ontake in central Japan erupted unexpectedly, killing 63, the worst volcanic disaster for nearly 90 years. In May, a remote island south of Kyushu was evacuated due to another eruption.

Reuters, Kyodo|Aug 15, 2015

Avian Flu: A Chicken & Egg Story?

Avian Flu has ravaged industrial poultry farms this year, especially in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. In all, about 200 farms in 15 states were affected by this year’s outbreak, costing U.S. egg and poultry exporters more than $380 million, said the Poultry & Egg Export Council, as reported by Associated Press.

The outbreak was no picnic for the birds, either. In Iowa, 30 million hens and 1.5 million turkeys were euthanized because of the H5N2 virus. Nationwide, the flu killed about 50 million birds

Avian Flu affects poultry farm workers, who lose their jobs. And consumers, who pay more for eggs.

Is the solution to develop and use more vaccines?

Definitely not, says Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, COO of the Main Street Project, a large-scale organic regenerative poultry project under way in Minnesota, Mexico and Guatemala. Haslett-Marroquin argues that we should focus more on prevention, and less on a cure. That means replacing today’s poultry factory farms with an alternative organic, regenerative model, where healthier birds, with healthier immune systems are—unlike their unfortunate feathered friends in factory farms—able to resist disease.

It turns out that when it comes to Avian Flu, we haven’t been asking the right question, which is: Which came first? The diseased chicken? Or the chicken disease?

Read the essay

Senators Soto and Bullard Once Again Target Fracking in Florida

Orlando – Concerned by the threat of significant environmental damage, State Senator Darren Soto (D-Orlando) on Monday will hold a press conference to roll out legislation banning fracking in Florida. The bill, co-sponsored by Senator Dwight Bullard (D-Miami) is being filed for the upcoming 2016 legislative session.

Senator Soto will be joined at the event by Eric Rollings, Chair of the Orange County Soil and Water Conservation District, to discuss the effects of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water and other natural resources.

The press conference will be held on Monday, August 24, at 2:00 pm outside the Orange County Board of County Commissioners Building, 201 S Rosalind Ave, Orlando, FL 32801.

Michelle DeMarco|Communications Director|Florida Senate Democratic Office

Richard Corbett resigns as Florida Fish and Wildlife commissioner

Richard Corbett, the Tampa mall developer who chaired the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission when it decided to bring back bear hunting after 21 years, has resigned.

Corbett sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott dated Tuesday in which he said he wanted to “retire” before his term on the commission officially ended in 2018. His last day is Sept. 1.

Corbett’s letter makes no mention of the controversial decision to bring back bear hunting, a move he strongly supported even though 75 percent of the 40,000 people who called, emailed or wrote letters to commissioners opposed it. He gave no reason for his resignation, and could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Scott moved quickly to fill the position. On Friday he appointed another developer to replace Corbett. The new commissioner is Robert Spottswood, a wealthy hotel builder and attorney from Key West. His first day in office will be the first day of the commission’s next meeting, at which it is supposed to discuss a new policy on Florida panthers and also set a limit on how many bears can be killed during the October hunt.

[Makes me wonder if a certain amount of pressure from above influenced the decision to go on with the hunt.]

Calls to Action

  1. Ask Congress to Save America’s Songbirds – here
  2. Return Eagle Mountain Lands to Joshua Tree National Park – here
  3. Tell the Interior Department some places are simply too special for energy development – here
  4. Tell Congress to stop attacks on the Endangered Species Act – here
  5. Submit Your Comment – Fracking Contaminates Drinking Water – here

Birds and Butterflies

A Hummingbird for All Seasons

Buffalo Audubon creates a year-round hummingbird conservation program.

February in New York isn’t the most natural time to be thinking of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Mounds of snow might be an obvious focus instead. But Lauren Makeyenko, Director of Education for Buffalo Audubon Society, enjoys talking about hummingbirds out of season because it helps people think about how their actions in the dead of winter, such as planning their spring planting, will help birds once the mounds of snow are but distant memories.

This year, Audubon’s science division teamed up with five of Audubon’s centers to educate visitors about the importance of native nectar sources to a healthy hummingbird habitat, and the Hummingbirds at Home program. Hummingbirds at Home is a continent-wide network of citizen scientists helping uncover how hummingbirds are affected by climate change through observations of hummingbird feeding preferences and behavior.

On the Ground in Buffalo

Each Audubon center focused on their programs on habitats unique to their respective locations. This local focus helps people understand how healthy patches of native plants will help hummingbirds as they face changes in their environment from climate change. The February hummingbird focus was the first of several programs that Buffalo Audubon created to that end. Talking about Ruby-throated Hummingbirds before spring migration got people to think about their gardens. Once migration is in full force, the native plant garden at Buffalo Audubon’s Beaver Meadow Audubon Center in North Java, New York, provides an excellent focus for hummingbird discussions. Observing feeding hummingbirds in the garden often sparks a chat about  which plants each bird prefers. This has been an important tool to engage people when they ask about hummingbirds.

But talking to the public about hummingbirds is only the first step. A big bird-themed banner,created by Audubon’s climate change program,was put up nearby and volunteers use pins that boldly say “Ask me how you can help birds,” tying the interest in birds to more direct action, including joining Hummingbirds at Home. Makeyenko says another way they introduce Hummingbirds at Home to the public is when the gift shop staff talk about the program with every hummingbird feeder sale.  “Tying in to climate change with hummingbirds is actually a really good fit,” says Makeyenko, explaining that people first want to know about the birds, and then they want to learn challenges and what they can do to help the birds.

The next step for Buffalo Audubon is to develop school programming that introduces the conversation about climate change and the importance of a healthy habitat by focusing on pollinators and gardens. School gardens have become a common teaching tool and can be a springboard to more than just learning about the plants. Parents and teachers have been very positive about the proposed program.

Reaching a Wider Audience

But Buffalo Audubon isn’t just focused on the audiences it can reach through its school and center programs. Using printed materials and posters and a traveling exhibit, Buffalo Audubon has sparked conversation about Hummingbirds at Home at various venues like the Pollinator Festival at Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens,  the Tragically Hip Concert at Seneca Allegany Casino, and the Wyoming County Fair. These events have provided an opportunity to get information about Hummingbirds at Home to many people in a short amount of time.

In addition, partnering with other organizations can drive involvement in Hummingbirds at Home, learning about healthy habitats and climate change, and encouraging native plant sales. Buffalo Audubon developed plant stake cards for native nectar plants that have been used at local nurseries, and these nurseries have also been promoting Hummingbirds at Home by distributing program brochures. The key to this type of relationship is the “win-win” strategy for both partners.  Partners in this effort include the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeepers, Urban Roots Community Garden Center, Menne Nursery and Garden Artistry, and Johnson’s Nursery and Garden Center.

Kathy Dale|August 01, 2015

Outstandingly successful breeding year for rare Chinese Crested Tern

news/Chinese_Crested_Terns_photo_by_Simba_Chan

Chinese Crested Terns photo by Simba Chan, Senior Conservation Officer of BirdLife Asia Division

The Chinese Crested Tern (Thalasseus bernsteini) is one of the rarest birds in the world, with an estimated breeding population of only 100 birds.

Assumed extinct for the past six decades, it was rediscovered 15 years ago but is Critically Endangered with a very small population and only three known breeding sites.

A BirdLife International Partnership including the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society (BirdLife Partner), has recently announced that the Chinese Crested Tern has had its most successful breeding season since its rediscovery, thanks to a project to restore a breeding colony on Tiedun Dao, in the Jiushan Islands .

Also as part of this successful project, conservation groups and volunteers from mainland China, Hong Kong and the US successfully initiated the first ever tagging operation of Chinese Crested Tern and other seabirds on Jiushan Islands, where 31 birds were fitted with numbered bands on their legs so more can be learned about the species.

Simba Chan, Senior Conservation Officer of BirdLife Asia Division, braved a severe typhoon to ensure the colony’s breeding success: for the second year running he stayed on the island throughout the season to monitor and protect the birds and dissuade illegal egg-collectors.

As a result, at least 25 breeding pairs of Chinese Crested Tern formed and at least 16 chicks hatched and successfully fledged.

The birds were attracted to this safe nesting site by the team’s decoys and sound playback system, which they employed in 2013 and 2014.

In 2015 it has been the first year that birds have been attracted to all three known breeding sites: the Jiushan Islands and the Wuzhishan Islands of Zhejiang Province, and the Mazu Islands along the coast of Fujian Province. In 2014 the birds only successfully bred on the Jiushan Islands.

Initiated by the Xiangshan Ocean and Fishery Bureau, the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History and the Wild Bird Society of Zhejiang in 2010, the project shows the benefit of a team of partners working to secure the future of this species.

“The main reasons for the success of the project are sound scientific methodology, good planning, and commitment from all sides,” says Simba Chan.

The decoys and audio playback technology to attract the birds to the safe island were developed by Dr Stephen Kress of Cornell University and the National Audubon Society (BirdLife in the USA), and proved very effective from the outset.

Regarding follow-up work, Simba Chan adds: “This year, we will work with Burung Indonesia (BirdLife in Indonesia) to promote awareness at potential wintering sites for the recovery of these birds.

“Suitable transmitters are being considered for tracking the migration of Chinese and Greater Crested Terns in the coming years to reveal their migratory route.”

The regular monitoring and banding of terns was documented by China Central Television. The documentary will be shown throughout China on major television channels in late 2015 and will bring a greater awareness of bird conservation among the general public in China – important for all the depleted seabird populations along China’s coast.

“The restoration project is not only important to save Chinese Crested Terns from extinction, but also has significance to wildlife conservation in China,” said Simba Chan. 

From Wildlife Extra

Saving the Beach to Save the Red Knot

For some, New Jersey is paved, industrial, and polluted, but for the red knot, New Jersey is life or death. Each year the red knot makes an awe-inspiring migration of 9,000 miles from the Arctic to the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego in South America and back again. Without New Jersey’s bayshores, the red knot would not survive; without our help, the red knot may not have a place to stop much longer.

Red knots

Red knots. Photo by Greg Breese, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

I recently walked the grounds of the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge on the southern tip of New Jersey. Over the next few months thousands of horseshoe crabs will converge on the refuge’s five-mile stretch and other stretches along the Delaware Bay. Under the cover of night, the living fossils that resemble a rusted iron helmet with a dagger tail, will team at the break before scuttling from the waves in search of the high-tide line.

The females emerge from the surf to dig nests, some with males two-thirds their size already attached in their mating ritual. They lay pearl-sized green eggs – more than 60,000 each over three nights – before returning to the safety of the water. The males fertilize as many eggs as possible before they too return to the surf, and let the waves wash sand over the nest.

It’s those eggs that are key for the red knot and other shorebirds. As the robin-sized red knot migrates, it visits its last stopover in New Jersey just in time to feast on fatty horseshoe crab eggs. By the time the birds depart, they will have doubled their body weight.

The spectacle of hundreds of thousands of shorebirds descending on the beach to devour millions of eggs is truly a marvel. But this national treasure is under threat, as the number of red knots decline precipitously. Since the 1980s, the red knot’s population has fallen by about 75 percent. Eroding beaches from climate change and coastal development, and the impacts of years of horseshoe crab overharvesting have pushed the bird to near extinction.

NWF and its affiliate New Jersey Audubon are making a difference for the red knot in New Jersey. Also, along with affiliates in Pennsylvania and Delaware, NWF and the New Jersey Audubon are helping species across the Delaware River Watershed. From wetlands and living shorelines to restored dunes and oyster reefs, natural infrastructure projects are strengthening communities and defending the red knot’s habitat. Through the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, we’re working to make sure those efforts scale up to create a watershed that works together for clean water and healthy habitat.

But when Superstorm Sandy slammed into the Cape May and the bayshores it put an exclamation point on the threat to the red knot. An aerial survey conducted two months after the storm revealed that Hurricane Sandy destroyed 70 percent of the state’s prime horseshoe crab habitat. The population declines were bad enough that late last year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially listed the rufa subspecies of the red knot as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. “Rufa” is the subspecies of red knot in America.

“The red knot migration is among the great wildlife marvels on the world. This listing will allow us to build upon our great successes in the Delaware Bayshore and help replicate our work in Delaware and New Jersey to improve critical red knot habitat in other parts of the country.”

–          Collin O’Mara, President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Wildlife Federation.

Protecting and Restoring the Red Knot’s Home

This year the coming of the red knot will herald another important event: the reintroduction of the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act (DRBCA). The DRBCA, reintroduced on Tuesday in the Congressman John Carney of Delaware in the House of Representatives and Senator Tom Carper of Delaware in the Senate creates a $5 million grant program that will help protect and restore the Delaware River Watershed and create a comprehensive planning framework that would increase cooperation among groups in the basin. All of that adds up to a better chance for the red knot.

Grant LaRouche|8/17/2015

Maintaining Habitat For Birds and Monarchs

Chelsea Benson, writes about how to manage grassland habitat for both birds and the declining monarch butterfly.

Open meadow and grassland habitat is home to an important ecological community. Many kinds of birds nest in grasslands, from bluebirds to goldfinches. So, how do you know when it’s safe to mow, especially if you’re trying to help other wildlife, like monarchs? 

This article refers to those grassy areas you may have set aside for wildlife, which has grown tall enough for critters to inhabit (as opposed to manicured lawns). If you don’t have such an area yet, consider carving out a chunk of lawn and converting it.

Even a small patch is helpful for birds and pollinators.

Read the article

Florida Panthers

Video Catches Rare Glimpse of Florida Panther Family

Check this out: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute recently got permission to post trail camera footage of a female Florida panther and her three young offspring walking through Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in southwest Florida. The footage, from photographer Brian Hampton, is a rare glimpse of a panther family.

The Center has been working for years to protect Florida panthers and expand their habitat in the Southeast. There are fewer than 200 left in the wild, and since 2014 more than 50 have been discovered dead, most from vehicle strikes.

Here’s to hoping this panther family stays safe and wild. Watch the video and then sign our petition supporting reintroduction of panthers to northern Florida.

Invasive species

Snakes on the ‘Glades

In the past decade, giant serpents have slithered into the Everglades in large numbers and wreaked unbelievable havoc.

They eat everything, from bunnies to gators. They are almost impossible to spot in the wild, making their exact numbers just as elusive. And they are destroying one of the nation’s most precious ecological treasures.

Huge snakes have invaded Florida’s Everglades – and to researchers and policymakers alike, they are an enormous problem.

“The Burmese pythons are unique in that they’re an apex predator species,” said Phil Andreozzi of the National Invasive Species Council, meaning they are at the top of the heap, with no natural predators of their own. “They’re eating deer … They’re eating wood storks. They’re devastating the raccoons and rabbits.”

The list of prey goes on, and Andreozzi said the cascading impacts of the snakes’ eclectic eating habits make their threat to the environment both considerable and difficult to predict.

The Burmese pythons — which can grow to be 23 feet long and weigh up to 200 pounds — are a small part of a nationwide invasive species dilemma. A 2005 Cornell University study found the U.S. spends more than $120 billion each year dealing with 50,000 introduced species of plants, animals and microbes.

Every region has its own problem, Andreozzi said — from kudzu in Georgia to quagga and zebra mussels in the Great Lakes. Coiling kudzu vines are known as “the vine that ate the South,” while the pesky shellfish latch onto boats and damage their motors.

Researchers point to the damage the Burmese python has done as a cautionary tale, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeks public comment on listing five additional snake species — boa constrictors, reticulated pythons and three species of anacondas — as injurious wildlife. Doing so would ban their import or transportation across state lines without a permit. The Burmese python, Northern and Southern African pythons, and yellow anaconda are already listed as injurious.

The four species already listed and the five that might be added were all proposed for injurious listing in 2010. The United States Association of Reptile Keepers, the United States Herpetoculture Alliance and other groups representing the reptile trade argue that adding more snake species to the list would cripple the pet snake industry and threaten breeders’ livelihoods. But researchers see it as a necessary preventative measure to keep additional invasive species from slithering into the Everglades, an already precarious ecosystem.

Pythons are not just a Florida problem

The Everglades might be a faraway tourist attraction to many, but the python problem could endanger many regions outside Florida. One 2008 study from the U.S. Geological Survey warned the snakes could spread across the southern third of the nation. The possibility is not as far-fetched as it might seem.

“Thinking about it objectively, they can live in fairly temperate climates in their native range, so why couldn’t they do it here?” said J.D. Willson, professor at the University of Arkansas.

It’s tempting to think the snakes’ current residence means they can only survive in hot, humid climates, but in their home turf in Asia, the snakes thrive in places cooler than the Sunshine State. Research suggests the snakes might not make it as far north as South Carolina, Willson said, but several studies suggest the Gulf Coast and maybe even further north could be suitable climates for the pythons.

Even if the snakes stay put, the ecological destruction they cause will have repercussions beyond Florida. As mammals run out, birds could become a bigger part of the snakes’ diets – a big concern to researchers for a variety of reasons. Birds play a vital role in marsh ecosystems everywhere, but their migration patterns make population declines harder to track. Willson said the Everglades could become a sinkhole for bird populations, as birds migrate to the area and only some make it out alive.

A serious cautionary tale

The giant snake problem cropped up alarmingly quickly: People first started encountering them with notable frequency in the early 2000s. By the time the Burmese python population was considered established – meaning the snakes were breeding, and all age groups could be seen regularly – they had apparently already started having noticeable effects on the Everglades.

The Burmese python first arrived in Florida as part of the exotic pet trade, and over time made its way into the Everglades as overwhelmed pet owners released the animals into the wild or they escaped. Scientists have soundly dismissed a theory that Hurricane Andrew might have damaged breeding facilities, releasing the snakes.

“Our analysis suggests that they were probably around a lot longer than that,” Willson said. “It doesn’t support that scenario very strongly.”

Regardless of how the problem started, the search for a solution has involved removal agents, state and federal agencies and researchers.

One prong of the effort involves snake removal: Authorized agents may humanely capture the snakes and collect data on their locations and habitats, and hunters are also allowed to remove pythons from wildlife management areas. Last year Florida conducted its Python Challenge, allowing the public and permit-holders alike to try to capture the snakes. The month-long challenge only removed 68 snakes, but Carli Segelson, a spokeswoman with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said the event drew national and international attention to the Burmese python and other nonnative species.

The effort’s policy side involves both federal and state agencies. In 2010 the commission listed eight types of snakes as conditional species, banning individuals from acquiring one within the state for personal use. The USFWS placed three of those snakes on the injurious species list in 2012, and its current proposal would add two more of Florida’s conditional species to the injurious species list.

Florida residents are urged to report Burmese python sightings; Exotic Pet Amnesty Days allow overwhelmed pet owners to turn in any species of nonnative animal – not only pythons – without penalty. Education initiatives also emphasize responsible pet ownership and the importance of not releasing these animals into the wild.

These efforts might be raising awareness and preventing new problematic populations from growing, but Willson says there hasn’t been any real marked decline in the already-established Burmese pythons.

“One of the big problems with the Everglades is even if you remove them from one area, there are many other areas where they’re not even accessible,” he pointed out.

Hope for the future

Learning more about how to best detect and capture the snakes is a crucial first step to addressing the problem. Density estimates could provide better information on how many pythons are out there, and how many would need to be removed to make real headway.

Studies to understand the snakes’ movements, habitat use, thermal biology and impact on the ecosystem, along with tests of range-expansion hypotheses, which theorize how far and fast the snakes could spread, are already underway, said Gavin Shire, a representative with the USFWS.

Linda Friar, a spokeswoman with Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks, also pointed to small-scale solutions, like stemming the growth of other invasive snake populations that are less remotely located. The Northern African python, for example, is still a relatively small population, established in a less remote area outside Everglades National Park. Friar said that population could potentially be eliminated — an effort currently in the works.

Pythons “live a very long time — decades, many of them — and they get very large, and require a lot of different kinds of feeding that really would not be typical of your average pet,” she explained.

However difficult the solution might be, Willson said the ecological threat is too severe and potentially widespread to ignore.

“It’s an extremely difficult problem, but I think that it’s one that’s serious enough that we can’t afford to throw up our hands and say it’s impossible,” Willson said. “I’m not willing to give up the Everglades.”

Laura Bradley|July 21, 2014

FWC announces details of 2016 Python Challenge™ with partners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information on Burmese pythons and other nonnative species in Florida, go to MyFWC.com/nonnatives  .

Hunters, Pythons Await in Bigger-Better 2016 Challenge

The Python Challenge™ is back. Trademarked this time. “Building on the success of its 2013 Python Challenge™,” the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida Inc. (Foundation) announced Tuesday additional details of the 2016 Python Challenge™. 

The Challenge is a conservation effort that includes public outreach on invasive species and a month-long competition to remove Burmese pythons from public lands in Florida.

Researchers say the snakes, which aren’t native to Florida, are eating wildlife at an alarming rate and don’t have natural predators in the state.

Some have said the 2013 event wasn’t a success at all, that it was a bust and a waste, and should never be repeated.

In 2013 the state-sponsored Python Challenge attracted roughly 1,600 hunters in January and February and made headlines worldwide. In all that time, among a population of an estimated 200,000-plus snakes, hunters netted only 68 of the creatures, the longest measuring more than 14 feet.

But FWC officials are sure they can improve on those numbers.

Besides, almost as important as the kill is the publicity the pythons get worldwide as a dangerous, invasive predator in the Florida Everglades — in fact, throughout rural South Florida.

By skipping the last two years, the state was able to beef up its established programs that train licensed hunters and people who regularly work in areas known to contain pythons to kill or report exotic snakes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy Smith|August 18, 2015

Endangered Species

Blueprint For A Black Bear Bloodbath ‏

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) is selling bear hunting permits like candy. In just two weeks FWC has sold nearly 2,000 permits — and it’s believed that the number of permits will soon vastly exceed the estimated bear population with sales lasting for two more months. FWC isn’t even trying to hide its conflict of interest, as the Commission’s Vice-Chairman, Aliese Priddy who voted for the hunt, purchased a permit for herself.

After dealing with FWC at three separate hearings, we’re not surprised that a commissioner who voted for the hunt purchased a permit. Commissioners have show no regard for the safety and survival of this beautiful species. But what really scares me is that Ted Nugent recently purchased a permit — and he’s locked and loaded. You know Ted Nugent, the Kill-For-Thrills poster boy who referred to bears as a liability, and was fined $10,000 for illegally killing bears in Alaska.

FWC’s rules for the hunt are so arbitrary, trophy-seeking hunters like Nugent will have a blueprint to shoot first and ask questions later. FWC doesn’t even know how many bears actually live in the state. That’s why we have started the Black Bear Legal Fund, to stop this Black Bear Bloodbath. 

FWC has done everything they can to kill the bears except pull the triggers themselves. And if bear hunters like Nugent kill more than the 375 bears FWC is planning to hunt, there’s no plan for how to stop the slaughter once it’s started. Get this, FWC says they plan to “keep in touch with hunters via text and email” to let hunters know when to stop. I don’t hunt myself, but I’m pretty sure most hunters don’t bring laptops into the wilderness with them. And even if they did, it’s not like cell service is optimal in the Apalachee forest.
This lawsuit is basically the last chance to save these bears. We can’t count on FWC since they’re already ignoring the 1998 voter-approved amendment to create the commission as an independent body, “to conduct management, preservation and conservation decision-making based on sound science.”

They aren’t following science, they’re not even following basic arithmetic. That’s why we are joining our friends at Speak Up Wekiva, Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity to mount a legal challenge against FWC that will stop this hunt dead in its tracks before it tracks a bunch of dead bears.
Ted Nugent is coming for the bears, the Vice Chairman of FWC is coming for the bears and 2,000 trophy seekers and counting are coming. The bears are literally surrounded and this lawsuit is all that stands in the way of potential Black Bear genocide.

If you would care to help fund the action against FWC, please click here

Anthony and the Environmental Action Bear Brigade

And Then There Were None
Sudan, a 42-year-old northern white rhino, is the last of his sub-species

In a wildlife refuge in Kenya, a 42-year-old northern white rhino called Sudan is showing his age. He is the last male of his kind, and except for armed guards that surround him 24 hours a day, he is completely alone. When Sudan dies — hopefully quietly and not at the hands of poachers — that will mark the end of his subspecies.

With unrelenting threats like climate change, habitat destruction, and merciless poaching, many species like the northern white rhino — whose only crime was being born wild — are fighting for their lives. And they will lose, if they fight alone.

At this moment of international, interspecies crisis, anti-environment members of Congress — many of the same people who deny climate change — are trying to dismantle the most basic, fundamental protections for hundreds of species. They’re trying to tear apart the Endangered Species Act for their Big Polluter buddies who are itching to drill, mine, and clear-cut habitats. Without the critical protections offered by the Endangered Species Act, the fragile areas that many endangered species call home could easily be opened up to Big Polluters looking to make a quick buck.

But we know what they’re up to and we can’t let it happen. Extinction is forever — and allowing these species to disappear is far too serious a loss to not speak up.

This year alone has seen a record-setting 66 attacks on the Endangered Species Act — everything from defunding protections to delisting species. Anti-environment members of Congress like Senator Cory Gardner, Senator Ron Johnson, and the king of climate science denial Senator Jim Inhofe are all doing their best to slowly chip away at the Endangered Species Act, protection by protection. Bills are being introduced left and right that undermine anti-poaching efforts and strip away critical protections for endangered animals like gray wolves.

Still, as a movement we’ve succeeded in stopping this trend of declining populations before. Thanks to a strong public outcry and support for protections, the bald eagle was brought back from the brink of extinction and is now thriving throughout the U.S. Humpback whales, sea turtles, brown pelicans — all have had incredible comeback stories thanks to ambitious, aggressive efforts to stave off extinction. And just this year, public outrage over wildlife trafficking inspired President Obama to announce major restrictions on the ivory trade, and the outcry even pushed Delta Airlines to ban big-game trophies from its flights. Over and over, the Endangered Species Act and strong public support has been a winning combination.

All that progress could disappear if Congress succeeds in shredding the Endangered Species Act. We have to speak out today and let them know that we’re watching — and that we demand they stop attacking our endangered wildlife.

Hundreds if not thousands of species succumb to extinction each year — some are famed and documented; others go quietly with little notice. Still more we never knew, and never will know.

Without the critical protections in the Endangered Species Act, this dangerous trend will continue until American skies, oceans, and lands are empty.

Don’t let that be the world we live in. Speak out today »

Brooke Still|Online Campaigner|League of Conservation Voters

Not just rhinos: Hornbill horns fetch stunning prices in illegal wildlife trade

From her base in southern China, ALERT member Alice Hughes provides this commentary on the appalling impacts of the illegal wildlife trade on one of Southeast Asia’s most magnificent birds:

While the exploding illegal trade in rhino horns and elephant ivory is squarely in the global spotlight, the “golden ivory” of the Helmeted Hornbill is fetching up to five times the market price of true ivory.  As a result, hornbill populations are plummeting across Southeast Asia.

More valuable than ivory

More valuable than ivory

Unlike other hornbill species, the Helmeted Hornbill has a solid ‘horn’ (known as a “cacique”) on the upper side of its beak that can weigh up to one-third of the bird’s body weight.

And given its semi-translucent, golden color, the hornbill’s horn has become a prized item for the wealthy.  At a cost of US$4-8 per gram, a single cacique can bring around US$1,000.

Just in West Kalimantan, Borneo, an average of 500 birds a month were killed in 2013.  Yet only around 6% of these killed birds were confiscated by authorities. 

Under CITES — the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species — it is illegal to sell any part of a Helmeted Hornbill.  But that has had little real impact. 

In just a few minutes on the Internet here in China, one can easily find open sales listings for Helmeted Hornbill casiques. 

China is by far the biggest consumer of illegal Helmeted Hornbill parts, where the valuable casiques are often carved up and sold by the gram — to be used for decorations or traditional ‘medicines’.

Carved hornbill beaks illegally sold on the Internet.

Many of the poached birds are likely to come from protected areas, such as Gunung Leuser National Park in Sumatra, Indonesia, given that the species is rapidly losing much of its remaining forest habitat. 

In June, a poaching ring involving around 30 hunters was broken up in northern Sumatra.  Most of the killed birds were destined for China, according to the arresting authorities

In a recent report, an official from the Environmental Investigation Agency said, “There is little to no awareness about these birds.  Few buyers know what they are, let alone the impact the purchase of these products creates.”

For this spectacular species not to follow in the wing-beats of the passenger pigeon, swift action is needed.  The Helmeted Hornbill should be a high priority on the global conservation radar.

Bill Laurance|August 19, 2015

Earth Is Facing Most Severe Extinction Crisis in 65 Million Years

Earth’s living community is now suffering the most severe biodiversity crisis in 65 million years, since a meteorite struck near modern Chicxulub, Mexico, injecting dust and sulfuric acid into the atmosphere and devastating 76 percent of all living species, including the dinosaurs.

Ecologists now ask whether or not Earth has entered another “major” extinction event, if extinctions are as important as general diversity collapse and which emergency actions we might take to reverse the disturbing trends.

Biodiversity decline is now higher than any time since the Chicxulub asteroid impact. Photo credit: Todd Warshaw / Greenpeace

Biodiversity decline is now higher than any time since the Chicxulub asteroid impact. Photo credit: Todd Warshaw / Greenpeace

In 1972, at the first UN environmental conference in Stockholm, Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich, linked the collapse of “organic diversity” to human population and industrial growth. In 1981, he published Extinction, explaining the causes and consequences of the biodiversity crisis and providing response priorities, starting with stabilizing human population and growth.

This summer, Ehrlich, Gerardo Ceballos (University of Mexico) and their colleagues, published “Accelerated modern human–induced species losses” in Science Advances. “The study shows,” Ehrlich explains, “that we are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event.” To demonstrate that Earth is experiencing a “mass extinction event” depends on showing that current extinction rates far exceed normal “background” extinction rates. To be absolutely certain, Ehrlich and Ceballos used the most conservative estimates of current extinctions, which they found to be about 10-to-100-times faster than the background rate.

There are three points worth keeping in mind:

  1. most extinction rate estimates from biologists range from 100 to 1000 times faster than background.
  2. this modern extinction rate is accelerating with each passing year.
  3. the general diversity collapse, even among species that don’t go extinct, remains equally serious for humanity.

Biodiversity decline is now higher than any time since the Chicxulub asteroid impact. This time, however, humans are the asteroid.

I’ve used the term “ninth extinction” because the so-called “five major extinctions” occurred in the last 450 million years, but three earlier extinctions are significant and teach us something important about ecology and our potential role in emergency response.

Ancient toxic waste

Some 3.5 billion years ago, as Earth cooled enough to sustain complex molecules, anaerobic bacteria formed, single-cell marine organisms living without oxygen and extracting energy from sulphur. Within a few hundred million years, some bacteria and algae learned to collect solar energy through photosynthesis, releasing oxygen into the sea. About 2.5 billion years ago, free oxygen became life’s first global ecological crisis.

Oxygen is toxic to anaerobic bacteria. Some species perished at only 0.5 percent oxygen, while others survived up to 8 percent oxygen. Oxygen eventually saturated the oceans, leaked into the atmosphere and oxidized methane, triggering a global cooling, the “Huronian glaciation,” which led to more extinctions.

The evolutionary success of photosynthetic bacteria and algae triggered impacts similar to our own: crowded habitats, toxic waste, atmospheric disruption, temperature change and biodiversity collapse. Sound familiar? The die-off continued until certain organisms evolved to metabolize oxygen and the ecosystem regained a new dynamic equilibrium. We could help our situation by encouraging organisms that metabolize carbon dioxide, namely plants, but we are reducing forest cover, adding to the crisis.

Ediacaran Extinction

In Newfoundland, Canada, in 1868, Scottish geologist Alexander Murray, found unusual disc-shaped organisms, Aspidella terranovica, in rock formations that pre-dated known animal forms, so most paleontologists doubted they represented a new fauna. However, in 1933, more specimens appeared in Namibia and in 1946, jellyfish fossils from this era appeared in the Ediacara Hills of Australia. These organisms, now known as the “Ediacaran” fauna, had no shells or skeletons, so they left only rare fossil impressions.

Oxygen metabolism allowed organisms to use nitrogen and to transform more energy, allowing complex morphologies, cell nuclei and symbiotic relationships within cells and among organisms. For another billion years, cells diversified, learned how to replicate by dividing (mitosis), then by sex (meiosis) and how to cooperate to form multi-cellular plants and animals. By 650 million years ago, Ediacaran life had diversified into unipolar, bipolar and radial organisms, including worms, sponges and jellies.

This abundance collapsed about 542 million years ago, possibly associated with meteorite impacts and an oxygen drop. More than 50 percent of the species probably perished. Typically, however, this extinction opened ecological niches for the explosion of life forms that followed.

Life tries again

Organisms that survived the Ediacaran collapse diversified during the so-called “Cambrian explosion.” Life had already evolved for three billion years, before the appearance of crustaceans, arthropods (insects), Echinoderms (starfish, urchins), mollusks and our own ancestors, the chordates. Earth had been warming, but burgeoning marine plant life captured carbon-dioxide from the atmosphere, causing a cold period and around 488 million years ago, some 40 percent of the Cambrian species disappeared.

Typically, we measure extinction events by the numbers of species or families that disappear, but in this case, some phyla—fundamental life forms—perished. The extent of Cambrian phyla diversity remains controversial among biologists. In 1989, Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould published A Wonderful Life, in which he proposed numerous extinct Cambrian Phyla.

Some unusual Cambrian creatures may be earlier stages of existing forms, but some phyla likely perished at the end of the Cambrian. These early animals remain difficult to classify, so modern taxonomy incorporates “stem groups” of partially formed phyla. Cambrian oddities such as Odontogriphus and Nectocaris—may be stem groups related to mollusks. Or maybe not. Nectocaris possesses an arthropod-type head on a body with fins, similar to the chordates. Aysheaia, a lobopod with walking appendages, may represent a stem group related to later arthropods. The stunning Cambrian Pikaia—with a rudimentary backbone, no clear gills, unique muscle styles and tentacles—could be an extinct phyla. Vetulicolia—a worm-like animal with insect features, vertebrate, no eyes and no legs or feelers—probably represents an extinct phyla.

Losing phyla may be a unique quality of this Cambrian extinction event. After three billion years and three major extinctions, life’s fundamental forms settled into the roughly 90 phyla that endure to this day: 35 animal forms (many rare; Placozoa, for example consists of a single known species), 12 plant forms, 14 fungi and 29 bacteria, plus the more obscure microorganisms archaea and protista. Most of the species we discuss and protect—birds, fish, reptiles, mammals—arise from a single phyla, the chordates and occasionally insects, mollusks, worms and corals.

Modern Extinctions

After the Cambrian collapse, species diversity did not significantly increase for 300 million years, as life filled the marine habitats and moved onto land. Dozens of serious diversity collapses occurred during this time. The “Lau Event,” 420 million years ago (mya), caused by climate change, erased about 30 percent of the species. During the Carboniferous period, 305 mya, a booming rainforest captured carbon and set off a global cooling that triggered widespread extinctions.

The approximately 90 essential life forms, however, endured through these disruptions and through the modern “5 major extinctions:”

Ordovician: 440 million years ago (mya), 85 percent species, 25 percent families perish, all marine, possibly caused by a solar gamma ray burst that depleted ozone protection.

Devonian: 370 mya, 83 percent species, 19 percent families perish, all marine, likely caused by volcanoes, meteorite or both.

Permian, the big one: 250 mya, 95 percent marine, 70 percent terrestrial species and 54 percent of the families perished, the largest known diversity collapse in Earth history, likely caused by volcanic eruptions that increased carbon-dioxide and warming.

Triassic, 210 mya, 80 percent marine, 35 percent terrestrial species, 23 percent families gone, likely caused by volcanic eruptions releasing carbon and sulphur dioxide, triggering more warming.

Cretaceous: Demise of the dinosaurs, 65 mya, 76 percent species loss, caused by the meteorite that struck near Chicxulub, Mexico.

The three ancient extinctions and five modern extinctions, bring us to the current diversity collapse, primarily caused by human expansion on Earth.

The Human Asteroid

Massive biodiversity reductions, even among animals that do not go extinct, destabilize an ecosystem. “There are examples of species all over the world,” Paul Ehrlich explains, “that are essentially the walking dead.” Certain plant and animal populations may become so small that they may not recover, or may lose symbiotic function in the ecosystem. Depleted pollinators or prey species can create cascading extinctions. According to World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London, Earth has lost half its wild animals in 40 years, through habitat loss, hunting, poaching, climate change, toxins and invasive species.

At Seahorse Key, formerly the largest bird colony on the Gulf Coast of Florida, thousands of herons, spoonbills, egrets and pelicans have abandoned the rookery, possibly in response to low-flying drug-enforcement aircraft. Bird species are declining in most habitats and more than 12 percent are threatened with extinction.

Amphibians suffer the highest extinction and depletion rates (McCallum, 2007). More than a quarter of all reptiles are at risk and 37 percent of freshwater fish (IUCN). More than 100 mammals have gone extinct in the era of European expansion and today, 22 of the 30 surviving large mammal carnivores are listed as “endangered” by the World Conservation Union, including African wild dogs, Black rhinos and the few surviving Mountain gorillas.

Today, 22 of the 30 surviving large mammal carnivores are listed as "endangered" by the World Conservation Union. Photo credit: Andrew Wright / www.cold-coast.com

Today, 22 of the 30 surviving large mammal carnivores are listed as “endangered” by the World Conservation Union. Photo credit: Andrew Wright / http://www.cold-coast.com

About 1.7 million species have been classified by taxonomists and about 15,000 are added to this list each year. Biologists estimate that there may be 30-40 million species, plus perhaps billions of microbe species.

The conservative Ehrlich/Ceballos study confirmed that the extinction rate was up to 100-times the background rate, but most studies estimate much higher: A Brown University study in 2014 estimates that current extinctions are 1000-times faster than background. A study from S.L. Pimm and colleagues in Science journal estimates 1000-times higher. A study by Pimm and Jurriaan de Vos, published in Conservation Biology suggests current extinction rates are 1,000 times higher than background and heading toward 10,000 times higher.

Thus, by any reasonable measure Earth is undergoing a major biodiversity collapse, almost entirely caused by human activity. “If it is allowed to continue,” Gerardo Ceballos warns, “life would take many millions of years to recover and our species itself would likely disappear early on.”

Ehrlich, identified the fundamental cause more than forty years ago: Human sprawl. Ehrlich and colleagues calculated in 1986 that humanity was using about 40 percent of Earth’s Net Primary Productivity. Today, with 7.1 billion humans, we are using more than half of Earth’s productivity and the other 30-million species survive on the left-over habitats. If human population reaches 11 billion, we will likely require about 80 percent, although such a scenario may not be biophysically possible.

The history of life on Earth teaches us that successful life forms—bacteria, forests, or tool-wielding primates—typically grow beyond the capacity of their habitats, change those habitats and set the stage for their own decline. Are we smarter than the bacteria? Will humanity find ways to slow down, limit our own growth and preserve wild nature? Our track record is not promising. Our desires, economic and religious doctrines and polluting technologies all work against the necessary changes. We need a large-scale ecological renaissance in human affairs, a shift in awareness that will allow human enterprise to accept limits on its own expansion.

Rex Weyler|Greenpeace|August 19, 2015

Hawaiian Monk Seals Get 7,000 Square Miles of Protected Habitat

A lifeline for Hawaii’s charismatic and unique seals: The National Marine Fisheries Service issued a final rule on Tuesday protecting more than 7,000 square miles of critical habitat for them. Monk seals are among the world’s most endangered marine mammals, and several have been brutally killed in recent years in crimes that are yet unsolved. These monk seals’ population is down to around 1,100 and falling at 3 percent annually.

“Hawaiian monk seals have been in serious trouble for a long time, and these new habitat protections will give them a desperately needed chance at survival,” said Miyoko Sakashita, our oceans program director. “Monk seals are nearly extinct, so we need to make sure our coasts offer them a safe haven.”

Tuesday’s action is the culmination of a process that began in 2008 with a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies. Critical habitat requires the federal government to consult biologists before allowing any activities that may disturb or damage the home of these rare and vanishing creatures; species with critical habitat are twice as likely to be recovering as those without.

Read more in Maui Now.

[Still nothing for the Florida Panther.]

Suit Aims to Protect Canada Lynx From Trapping Deaths, Injuries in Maine

The Center for Biological Diversity  and allies filed suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday for allowing trappers in Maine to kill and seriously injure Canada lynx. Along with coyotes, foxes, mink and other animals, the snow cats are accidentally caught and killed in brutal traps every year — including body-gripping Conibear traps, which snap shut in a viselike grip.

The lawsuit challenges a federal permit, issued to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife last year, that allows for three trapped lynx to be killed over 15 years, nine to suffer severe injury and 183 to suffer “minor” injuries and be immediately released. These numbers don’t adequately show the problem, since the Service has found that 75 percent of trapped lynx aren’t even reported.

“I’m outraged that endangered lynx continue to needlessly suffer and die in cruel traps,” said the Center’s Collette Adkins. “A few common-sense changes could prevent most of this suffering, but the Service refuses to require Maine’s trapping programs to make those changes.”

Read more in the Portland Press Herald.

You can help bring monarchs back from the brink

Jode Roberts has spent a lot of the summer checking out ditches and fields along the sides of roads, railways and trails. At first, he didn’t like what he was seeing. Roberts, who is leading the David Suzuki Foundation’s effort to bring monarchs back from the brink, was searching for signs that the butterflies had visited patches of milkweed plants. Despite the bleak start, he recently hit the jackpot: a half-dozen eggs and a couple of monarch caterpillars, calmly munching on milkweed leaves.

Over the past millennium, eastern monarch butterflies have migrated northward from Mexico in spring, arriving in southern Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes in early summer, where they lay eggs on the undersides of milkweed leaves. In the following weeks, their caterpillars hatch and eat a steady milkweed diet. In late summer, they form chrysalises and undergo the amazing transformation into butterflies. They then begin fattening themselves for the arduous return to the Mexican alpine forests where they overwinter.

Concerned citizens, scientists and conservation groups were starting to think monarchs might largely be a no-show in Canada this summer. The eastern monarch population has plummeted from more than a billion butterflies in the 1990s to an estimated 35 million in 2014 — a drop of more than 95 per cent. They bounced back to about 55 million in Mexico this past winter, but a cool start to their journey northward coupled with the virtual eradication of milkweed plants — mainly thorough widespread use of the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) over the past two decades — left monarch experts wondering whether the butterflies would make it across the border this year.

The good news is that citizen scientists and backyard butterfly lovers from across the northeastern U.S. and southern Canada have reported through social media that monarch butterflies are arriving and laying a remarkable number of eggs. But it’s too early to gauge whether the numbers will meet already low expectations.

While monarch enthusiasts are breathing a momentary sigh of relief, Roberts and colleagues have launched the Monarch Manifesto, encouraging people throughout the monarchs’ path to pledge to do their part to ensure the butterflies continue to recover. Visit davidsuzuki.org/monarchmanifesto to sign.

Participants are asked to commit to do three simple things this summer: grow milkweed, report monarch sightings and avoid using pesticides on their properties. They also commit to two simple tasks for the fall: reach out to at least one neighborhood school, faith group, business or other institution about planting a butterfly garden and call local garden centers or nurseries to ask them to order native milkweed plants for next spring. Manifesto signatories will receive information and tips on how to begin these conversations.

The Monarch Manifesto is part of a growing movement to bring back monarch butterflies and help other important pollinators, like honeybees and wild bees. If all goes well, we’ll see thousands of participants, hundreds of new butterfly gardens and more local milkweed sources next spring.

The backyard and urban-focused campaign is bolstered by research by University of Delaware entomologist Douglas Tallamy, who found monarchs lay more eggs on garden plants than on milkweed in meadows. The campaign also complements a research project the David Suzuki Foundation will launch this fall, in partnership with University of Guelph researchers Tyler Flockhart and Ryan Norris, examining best practices for cultivating milkweed and encouraging monarch populations along rail and hydro lines, roadways and trails.

What can you do to help? An easy first step is to sign the Monarch Manifesto, which includes information on how to attract butterflies to your neighborhood. If you already have milkweed in your garden or on your balcony, consider collecting seeds this fall and sharing them with friends and neighbours. If you don’t have a garden or balcony, you can look for places where you live, work and play that could become new butterfly garden patches.

While Roberts continues his hopeful hunt for signs of monarchs this summer, I hope you’ll join thousands of people who are taking action, adding pollinator-friendly plants to their yards, spurring butterfly gardens in their neighbourhoods and transforming a multitude of spaces into safe havens for bees and butterflies. Together, we can bring monarch butterflies back from the brink.

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Homegrown National Park Project Manager Jode Roberts.

More good wolf news!!! ‏

Gray wolves seem to love California!

We just learned that an entire new pack has been discovered in northern California. The pack, dubbed the “Shasta Pack,” consists of a breeding pair of adults and five pups. The pups are thought to be three or four months old.

This news comes just weeks after officials announced sightings of a suspected wolf caught on trail cameras in May and July.

This is a landmark development in the return of wolves to their historic Golden State habitat. And because these wolves are protected by both federal and California state law, it is unlikely this new pack will face the same fate as so many of its Northern Rockies brethren.

Hope for re-establishing wolves in California soared in 2011 when OR-7, the famous wandering wolf, became the first wolf in decades to enter the state. This new pack means that restoration of wolves in California is now a dream that’s finally coming true.

We have been given a second chance to restore this iconic species to a landscape they had been missing from for nearly one hundred years. We must seize this opportunity to forge new partnerships to help wolves live in harmony with people and livestock in their California home.

Please join us in celebrating California’s first wolf family of the 21st century!

For the wolves,

Jamie Rappaport Clark|Defenders of Wildlife|8/21/15

Rare Philippine Eagle Shot Dead After Being Nursed To Health

Rare Philippine Eagle Shot Dead After Being Nursed To Health

A rare Philippine Eagle has been found shot dead just two months after being released back into the wild.

Pamana, whose name means “heritage” in Tagalog, was rescued as a juvenile in 2012 and brought into the Philippine Eagle Center (PEF) with gunshot wounds; she spent the next three years recuperating there.

On June 12, the Philippines’ Independence Day, she was released back into the forest on Mount Hamihuitan, situated on the large southern island of Mindanao. Just weeks later, on August 16, the eagle’s carcass was recovered about half a mile away from where she was released, after a fitted radio transmitter indicated the bird had stopped moving.

According to the Philippine Inquirer, she was found in an advanced state of decomposition, and had probably been dead at least five days. 

“Her body had an approximately 5mm puncture wound and a tiny metal fragment believed to be from a shattered gun pellet was also retrieved from her remains. PEF veterinarian Dr. Ana Lascano said that the bird “suffered from gun shot wound leading to possible trauma.”

“Unfortunately, one person with a gun thinks he can shoot anything,” said the PEF’s executive director Joseph Salvador, adding no one has been arrested in the latest incident.

“The potential to teach people the importance of the eagles to wildlife and biodiversity has been compromised.”

Critically Endangered Eagle

The Philippine Eagle is classed as a “critically endangered” species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The killing of one of these birds is punishable by up to 12 years in jail and a fine of up to one million pesos ($21,600).

Salvador said the foundation would press charges once the eagle’s killer was found, but added that guarding the bird is compounded by inadequate forest rangers, with just six assigned to the vast Hamiguitan range on Mindanao.

This eagle, also known as the “monkey-eating eagle,” has a wingspan of nearly seven feet and a weight of up to 14 pounds. Out of the ten largest eagles in the world, the Philippine eagle comes in at number six; the Berkut gold eagle is the largest, while America’s bald eagle is number five.

However, finding food has become increasingly difficult, thanks to deforestation and also to development in the Philippines. Today, those that remain struggle to find enough food and habitat to survive. 

Conservationists are dedicated to providing the national bird a secure home. The PEF is working hard to save the species from extinction through its conservation and education efforts. Officially established in 1987, the center’s captive-breeding program has raised 21 birds over the past two decades.

The Bald Eagle

Perhaps they can take a lesson from the story of the bald eagle. By 1963, with only 487 nesting pairs of bald eagles remaining, the species was in danger of extinction, owing to loss of habitat, shooting and DDT poisoning.

Following enactment of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) listed the species in 1978 as endangered throughout the lower 48 states, except in Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin, where it was designated as threatened.

Twenty years later, in July 1995, the USFWS announced that bald eagles in the lower 48 states had recovered to the point where those populations previously considered endangered were now considered threatened, and, in 2007, the bald eagle was removed from the list of threatened and endangered species. There are now estimated to be around 70,000 bald eagles in the United States.

Quite a success story, and it would be wonderful if the Philippine Eagle could also be rescued from extinction. 

Meanwhile, let’s hope there will be justice for Pamana.

Judy Molland|August 21, 2015

The World’s Most Endangered Wild Cat Is Bouncing Back

The World’s Most Endangered Wild Cat Is Bouncing Back

For many years now conservationists have grown increasingly concerned that the world’s most endangered wild cat, the Amur leopard, was too far gone to save, but there’s good news this month as the latest figures show the population is bouncing back.

The leopard, sometimes referred to as the Far Eastern leopard, lives on the border areas between the Russian Far East and north-east China. The leopard, which is characterized by its unique coat of widely spaced and thick black rosettes, is critically endangered, with previous figures having suggested that breeding adults might be down to as few as 25 in the wild. Largely, this extinction threat is a result of habitat destruction, general failure to manage the habitat, and the poaching of Amur leopards for their distinctive coats.

Yet, there is some good news for this beleaguered leopard. Researchers from Beijing Pedagogical University, which is the leading researcher in conservation efforts for the Amur as well as the Siberian tiger, together with Russia’s Land of Leopard National Park have said that their latest data gathering efforts show there may be in excess of 80 adults in the wild, a substantial increase on 2007′s numbers when there were just 30 recorded sightings. 

It is worth noting that the leopards–like many wild cats of their kind–are notoriously difficult to track and so getting accurate numbers is hard. In addition, until recently it wasn’t clear how many of the leopards might have expanded out from previous territories and further into Russia’s national park. As such, it may be that previous counts missed these isolated populations and that this increase may not solely be down to the conservation efforts alone. Regardless, it is a boon for all those concerned about the leopard’s numbers.

As a side note, the researchers also identified a previously unaccounted for group of Siberian tigers, which consisted of as many as 38 individuals living in the border area of the territory.

The researchers argue that it is only through conservation efforts that have protected the big cats that their populations have been able to expand beyond their previously identified strongholds and into new regions, so this does show both the power and need for conservation efforts.

“The findings show that the populations of Amur leopards and Siberian tigers are in a stage of rapid expansion. It reflects the remarkable progress of protective efforts by both countries,” researcher Ge Jianping is quoted as saying.

However, the researchers are concerned that the only way the leopards and tigers will be able to thrive is if they have habitats that are big enough to support their territories, and in particular their hunting practices, and that’s not guaranteed under current land management strategies.

Russia’s Land of Leopard National Park–which was set up by Russia specifically to protect the leopards–and Beijing’s Pedagogical University have signed a long term cooperation agreement that will allow them to monitor the leopards as they move across the joint border, and it is hoped that this agreement will allow the two bodies to inform their governments about the need for greater investment in maintaining these vital conservation efforts.

5 Quick Facts About the Amur Leopard

  • The Amur leopard’s fur is paler than other leopard species which provides them better camouflage in the snow.
  • The Amur leopard is a solitary animal and so the species needs vast areas to roam in order to avoid meeting other leopards and hunting animals.
  • With so few numbers, inbreeding is another major issue for this critical species. That is why returning some of the leopard’s historic territory is so crucial, so that the leopards have a broader range to roam and so are less likely to encounter closely related kin.
  • It’s estimated that there are around 200 Amur leopards who are housed in specialized wildlife parks throughout Europe. The vast majority of these leopards are there as a means to safeguarding the population, and many are housed with a mind toward one day releasing them or their young back into the wild.
  • While the above numbers are very encouraging, the Amur leopard remains on the critically endangered species list, and will do for the foreseeable future.

Steve Williams|August 21, 2015

Researchers Pull Plastic Straw Out of Sea Turtle’s Nose in Heartbreaking Effort to Help

Researchers Pull Plastic Straw Out of Sea Turtle’s Nose in Heartbreaking Effort to Help

We talk a lot about the problems with plastic pollution and the effect it’s having on marine life, but the magnitude of the issue doesn’t always hit home until we see the direct impact our actions are having.

Researchers studying sea turtles off the coast of Costa Rica just offered a harrowing glimpse into just how badly one tiny little disposable item can hurt an animal by sharing a video of their efforts to help a sea turtle who had a plastic drinking straw lodged up its nose.

A team working with Christine Figgener, a Marine Biology PhD candidate at Texas A&M University, and Dr. Nathan J. Robinson, a post-doctoral fellow who specializes in sea turtles at Indiana-Purdue University, discovered an olive ridley sea turtle who was in need of some help.

At first, they thought the object in the turtle’s nose was a parasitic worm, but after cutting a piece off and examining it, they realize it’s a plastic straw as one very unimpressed sea turtle is seen sneezing and gasping through the effort.

They explain that because they were on a small boat way out in the water — a “few hours away from the coast and several hours away from any vet (probably days from any vet specialized in reptiles, not to mention sea turtles) and x-ray machines” — they decided to take action to try to help where they were. Figgener has since launched an effort to support more research and create first aid kits for scientists who will likely have more encounters like this so they can be better prepared to help.

After the ordeal, they disinfected the area and observed the turtle for a while before releasing him back into the ocean.

No one will ever know for sure how exactly the straw got in there, but the researchers theorize that the turtle may have eaten it at some point and gagged, or tried to throw it up – having somewhat similar anatomy to us when it comes to vomiting, it may have gotten lodged in his nasal cavity when he did.

Just trying to imagine how painful and uncomfortable that must have been for this poor sea turtle who was left to suffer like that for who knows how long is a tough reminder about our use of plastic and single-use items like straws that we can easily live without.

It’s estimated that we go through 500,000 plastic straws every single day. Put end to end, they could circle the earth two and a half times. While we can work on better waste management systems and recycling programs, the fastest and easiest way to start making a difference is to change our habits.

As Robinson put it, “There is a solution and it lies in our own decisions. Please say no to all single-use plastic. Every plastic straw, plastic bag, or plastic bottle that ends up in the oceans could mean the difference between life or death for any number of marine animals.”

For people who really need straws to drink, or anyone looking for a reusable alternative, there are glass and stainless steel options that are easy to find.

Watch the video (Warning: Graphic content and some strong language.)

Alicia Graef|August 19, 2015

Wild & Weird

Wild & Weird: Watch This Giant, Stinky Flower Bloom Live

Titan arum, an enormous flowering plant known by many as the “corpse flower” due to its delicate bouquet of decomposing flesh, can produce a massive bloom more than 10 feet in height.

Its peak smell comes a few hours after full bloom and attracts beetles, carrion flies and other insects on the hunt for rotting meat — many of which, in the wild, carry pollen on their bodies from other nearby corpse flowers. Temporarily stuck in the bloom, these insects ensure pollination and then are released by the plant.

You can watch a live feed of titan arum blooming at the Denver Botanic Gardens and then check out this time-lapse video of one blooming over a two-week period.

Everglades

Moving Stormwater from the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) into Wetlands

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) has approved construction of canal upgrades to enhance flexibility for moving stormwater from the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) into wetlands that improve the quality of water before it reaches the Everglades.

Improvements on the Bolles East Canal, which runs east /west in the EAA south of Lake Okeechobee, will also help reduce the potential need for emergency pumping of excess stormwater into the lake.

  • “Expanding the District’s flexibility for managing water south of Lake Okeechobee provides multiple benefits across the entire region,” said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Daniel O’Keefe. “Further, this project reflects our commitment to ensure that our flood control mission is integrated with achieving Everglades water quality goals.”

The Bolles East Canal currently provides a link between the Hillsboro and the North New River canals, serving adjacent agricultural landowners by supplying irrigation and drainage. As currently configured, the canal has limited capacity to convey water, because it is shallow and has constrictions at a bridge and culvert.

Work that includes expanding the canal bottom width to 40 feet will improve water flow east /west across the EAA. This in turn will provide increased flexibility for moving water into the Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs), which use aquatic vegetation to remove excess nutrients in the water before it reaches the Everglades.

The STAs are an integral part of the Governor’s Restoration Strategies to improve Everglades water quality.

Canal upgrades will also have the ancillary benefit of providing water supply and flood protection for nearby farms.

Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company, LLC, the lowest responsive and responsible bidder, will soon begin work on the approximately $3.8 million project. Work is expected to be complete by early 2017.

From SFWMD

20-year success story for Everglades restoration, farmers

Florida farmers are being recognized for their ongoing efforts to help restore the Everglades and improve water quality, verifying that their on-farm cleanup programs are making a big difference.

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) recently announced a record 79 percent reduction in the annual level of phosphorous flowing from Florida sugar cane and vegetable farms south of Lake Okeechobee, one of the nation’s most productive farming regions known as the Everglades Agriculture Area (EAA).

To put this achievement in perspective, state law requires EAA farms to achieve an annual 25 percent reduction in phosphorous. Not only did local farmers reduce phosphorous levels by more than three times what the law required, they continued a 20-year trend in which farmers have reduced phosphorous levels by an average of 56 percent annually.

Even as debates regarding Everglades restoration have continued over the past two decades, farmers in South Florida have been actively working every day to help clean up our cherished ecosystems. This good news about 2015 historic phosphorus reductions is just the latest measure of this success. SFWMD’s announcement illustrates that EAA farmers are actively engaged in Everglades restoration and improving water quality.

As a former chairman of the governing board of the water district, I congratulate and applaud the region’s farmers for taking an active role in protecting our environment and partnering with SFWMD in Everglades restoration. As a result, nearly 95 percent of the Everglades today is meeting the stringent 10 parts per billion water quality standard and we are nearing the final phase of restoring Everglades water quality.

A common misconception is that farm fertilizers are the source of phosphorus on sugar cane farms. The rich, organic “muck” soils south of Lake Okeechobee naturally are high in phosphorus. Therefore, the main strategy since the start of the program to reduce phosphorus has been to keep soil sediments on the farm rather than discharging soil with water flowing off the farms. (moderator’s note: really?)

Some of the more effective management practices involve modifications to pumps and pumping practices to prevent soil sediment from being pumped with water as it moves off farms. Additionally, sugar cane farmers use high-tech lasers to level fields, reduce soil erosion and improve water control. Other examples of best management practices include promoting vegetation growth along canal banks to trap soil sediment, improving canal- and ditch-cleaning programs, planting cover crops to minimize wind and water soil erosion, and using precision agricultural testing and technology to manage crop nutrients.

Local sugar cane and vegetable farmers have played a major role in cleaning water flowing south through a program of innovative best management practices. These on-farm practices – paid 100 percent by the farmers – were researched and developed in conjunction with scientists at the University of Florida and the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

EAA farmers were the first in Florida to implement extensive best management practices, and their on-farm water and soil management techniques have served as the model for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services program that now covers farms, ranches, nurseries and other agricultural operations throughout the state. As evidenced by the most recent best management results, EAA farmers are not content to rest on previous successes, but in fact have continued to fund scientific research on identifying and improving best practices.

Farmers have worked hard to develop best management practices that are clearly making a difference in water quality. Everyone with a stake in Everglades restoration should be encouraged by the sustained, 20-year success of the EAA’s on-farm programs providing clean water for the Everglades. It’s further proof that farmers have a long-term stake in helping the region solve its water problems and are committed to real solutions.

Joe Collins|Senior vice president|Lykes Bros. Inc.|Former board chairman|South Florida Water Management District

Water Quality Issues

SB536 Study Update

Senate Bill 536, which passed in the 2014 legislative session, requires the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), in coordination with stakeholders to conduct a comprehensive study and submit a report on the expansion of use of reclaimed water, storm water, and excess surface water in the state. The report is due to the Legislature on Dec. 1, 2015.

Below is information about the draft study report and upcoming meetings/webinar where DEP will present the draft study report and receive public comment. 

The draft study report is available for review on the DEP SB536 Study web page.

FDEP will accept written comments on the draft report until Sept. 18, 2015. Comments may be emailed to sb536study@dep.state.fl.us or mailed to:

Janet Llewellyn

Office of Water Policy

Florida Department of Environmental Protection

3900 Commonwealth Blvd.

Mail Station #46

Tallahassee, FL  32399

FDEP will hold a statewide meeting/webinar to present the draft study report and receive public comment. The meeting will be held on Aug. 20, 2015, at 9:30 a.m. in Conference Room A of the Douglas Building at 3900 Commonwealth Blvd. in Tallahassee. The meeting will be available as a webinar for those who do not wish to travel to Tallahassee. The webinar registration link is:  https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/5508455766377959681.  After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

A second opportunity to provide in-person input will be available on Aug. 25 at 1 p.m. at the St. Johns River Water Management District office at 601 South Lake Destiny Road, Suite 200, Maitland, FL. FDEP will present the same information at this meeting that was presented at the Aug. 20 meeting.

Florida DEP Division of Water Resource Management|8/17/15

We Need to Empower Everyone to Tackle Water Issues

As we enjoy the last of summer, I find myself reflecting on the last few months with bittersweet memories. While swimming in the Pacific Ocean and sailing on Lake Champlain, Vermont, I have enjoyed the best our water resources have to offer. News reports across the U.S., however, have been a reminder that our water systems are increasingly at risk of nutrient pollution.

North Carolina’s Chowan River, the Great Lakes and the entire Pacific coast have experienced hazardous algal blooms this year that have prevented recreational activity, threatened the health of aquatic species and even endangered the health of communities living along these waterways.

I cannot imagine, and do not want, a future where our water is too polluted to enjoy the gifts it brings our lives.

Changing the course of our water future requires a collaborative approach that informs and empowers everyone—from national leaders and scientists to community groups and individual citizens. While efforts like the U.S. Open Water Data Initiative are championing unprecedented transparency of water information, there is a need to translate the complex science behind water data into tangible and accessible opportunities to increase the general public’s understanding of the state of water in the U.S.

With today’s innovative technology achievements, we know its possible to bring the power of storytelling and the science of water data together to inform communities and disturb the water management status quo.

The U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Blue Legacy International hosted the 2015 Visualizing Nutrients Challenge where solvers produced creative and compelling interpretations of nutrient water data demonstrating the possibilities for communicating risks, impacts and solutions related to nutrient pollution.

The visualization created by Matthew Seibert, Benjamin Wellington and Eric Roy of Landscape Metrics won the first price in the challenge for its interactive tutorial about algal blooms on Lake Erie, a water body that the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts will see algae growth this year that could rival the record-setting 2011 bloom.

Between government policy and engagement like the Visualizing Nutrients Challenge, momentum is building and public awareness of water issues is improving. Now is the time to come together around kitchen counters, in city halls and across conference tables to take collective action toward a more sustainable water future that is championed by each and every one of us.

Alexandra Cousteau|August 19, 2015

First groundwater test taken from first fracked well in Florida
Critical groundwater sampling just began a week ago at the Hogan well, where unauthorized fracking had occurred more than a year and a half ago.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) had withheld authorization of the technique due to concerns about its potential impact on groundwater resources.

Yet, after it occurred, the DEP only did minimal shallow groundwater testing at around 13 feet — even though where the fracking chemicals were injected was thousands of feet underground.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida insisted that meaningful groundwater testing for potential contamination be done, intervening and then entering into a legal agreement that required DEP to conduct deep groundwater testing to approximately 1,850 feet no later than February 2015.

We are pleased to see that DEP has now completed its first round of sampling in a deep groundwater monitoring well; however, we are disappointed that the results come over a year and a half after the fracking operation and roughly six months after the deadline in our legal agreement.

Six months is a tremendously long time for citizens to wait for monitoring for potential contamination of drinking water supply sources.

This meaningful groundwater investigation is crucially important; however this sampling is not without limitations. For instance, the significant delay of time between the fracking operation and the sampling means that there was ample time for pollution to potentially be dispersed and diluted.

Alternatively, the possible migration of pollution from such a great depth could take even longer than the year and a half that has elapsed.

For this reason, the initial results will not be conclusive and DEP has committed to ongoing monitoring for another five years from whenever the Hogan well is plugged.

Other outstanding issues with the Hogan well

Other potential contamination risks are still present at the Hogan well site and must be addressed.

The State’s consultant acknowledged in an assessment of the Hogan well site that a nearby abandoned well may present a risk of saltwater intrusion into fresh groundwater and should be re-plugged. The Department has yet to act on this recommendation. This is a crucial next step to prevent potential future contamination of water supply sources.

The fracking operation at the Hogan well highlights the need to immediately suspend the use of all unproven unconventional drilling techniques. The state is not currently prepared to respond to unconventional proposals. This was demonstrated by DEP’s request for an extended review period of the December 2013 fracking proposal for the Hogan well. When DEP’s request was ignored and fracking occurred, DEP was unable to promptly initiate groundwater monitoring, leaving citizens at risk.

Furthermore, the State’s review of this operation found several problems with the installation of the Hogan well. Florida’s geology poses added challenges in well construction due it being highly fractured naturally. This makes it difficult to properly install well casings to protect water supplies. Unconventional extraction including hydraulic fracturing, acid fracturing and acid stimulation with fracking chemicals should not continue to be allowed in the absence of science and regulatory safeguards to protect water supply sources from any potential contamination.

Jennifer Hecker|Director of Natural Resource Policy|Conservancy of Southwest Florida|August 14, 2015

Teflon Found in Drinking Water in 27 States

A new study issued by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found chemicals used in the manufacture of Teflon in the drinking water of 27 American states. The report indicates that 94 public water systems contain a toxic chemical known as PFOA (short for perfluorooctanoic acid). PFOA is a polyfluorinated chemical (PFC) and is non-stick, waterproof and grease-proof. PFCs are used in clothing, cookware, carpets, furniture, food wrappers and other consumer and industrial products.

The report was released nearly a decade after DuPont, the manufacturer of Teflon committed to virtually eliminate the chemical from Teflon and consumer products coated in it by 2015. In the article in the Washington Post a decade ago, DuPont indicated “processes will be developed to ensure that perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) would not be released into the environment from finished products or manufacturing plants.” But the new study finds that the drinking water of over 6.5 million Americans is contaminated with the toxic substance. Some samples ranged between 5 and 175 times the level considered safe by new research.

PFOA is not naturally found in the environment, but is a synthetic chemical introduced into water and the environment as a result of hundreds of manufacturing and industrial processes. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PFOA is highly persistent in the environment and is now found in in the environment and the blood of the general American population, and is known to cause developmental and other adverse effects in humans. The EWG indicates that PFOA are linked to cancer, birth defects, and heart disease.

In 2005, one of the world’s largest chemical and genetically-modified seeds companies, DuPont, settled a class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of 70,000 mid-Ohio Valley residents for contaminating their drinking water with PFOA for decades as part of the company’s manufacture of the chemical Teflon. According to the EWG the company is paying to filter the water, but not eliminate, the toxin from six of the area’s water systems. It is interesting to note that in the same year DuPont was selected by BusinessWeek as a best-practice leader in environmentalism for cutting carbon gas emissions.

The new research by the Environmental Working Group indicates that not only does PFOA-contaminated water exist well beyond the borders of the Ohio Valley, the level of PFOA previously considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency is now hundreds or thousands of times higher than it should be. The report also indicates that the “danger (of PFOA) may be much greater than residents or regulators thought.”

DuPont claims to no longer use PFOA in the manufacture of Teflon. The EPA also states that consumer products made with Teflon are not PFOA, but then the regulators also indicate on their website that some of them contain PFOA.

DuPont is well-known for its development of fabrics like Lycra, polyester, acrylic and nylon, as well as genetically-modified seed. As an aside, DuPont is the same company that in 1910 published a brochure entitled “Farming with Dynamite.” Next month, the first of 3500 personal injury lawsuits from mid-Ohio Valley residents who became ill after drinking the PFOA-contaminated drinking water will go to trial. In the meantime, agency officials indicate that they may take until 2021 to decide whether to set a legally-enforceable maximum amount for PFOA since industry standards for the chemical are currently voluntary

Michelle Schoffro Cook|August 21, 2015

Insecticide found in half of sampled U.S. streams

Concern over bees, other non-target insects

The U.S. Geological Survey found insecticides known as neonicotinoids in a little more than half of both urban and agricultural streams sampled across the nation and Puerto Rico, according to a study by the agency published Tuesday in Environmental Chemistry.

This study, conducted from 2011 to 2014, represents the first national-scale investigation of the environmental occurrence of neonicotinoid insecticides in agricultural and urban settings. The research spanned 24 states and Puerto Rico and was completed as part of ongoing USGS investigations of pesticide and other contaminant levels in streams. 

“In the study, neonicotinoids occurred throughout the year in urban streams while pulses of neonicotinoids were typical in agricultural streams during crop planting season,” said USGS research chemist Michelle Hladik, the report’s lead author.

“The occurrence of low levels in streams throughout the year supports the need for future research on the potential impacts of neonicotinoids on aquatic life and terrestrial animals that rely on aquatic life,” said USGS scientist Kathryn Kuivila, the research team leader. “These results will serve as an important baseline for that future work.”

The foundational study is the first step needed to set priorities for environmental exposure experiments and the potential for adverse impacts to terrestrial and aquatic organisms. Scientists and others have raised concerns about potential harmful effects of neonicotinoids on non-target insects, especially pollinating honey bees and native bees.

In May, the White House released the Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, which includes a Pollinator Research Action Plan.

“This research will support the overall goals of the Strategy, by helping to understand whether these water-borne pesticides, particularly at the low levels shown in this study, pose a risk for pollinators,” said Mike Focazio, program coordinator for the USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology Program.

At least one of the six neonicotinoids tested by USGS researchers was found in more than half of the sampled streams. No concentrations exceeded the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s aquatic life criteria, and all detected neonicotinoids are classified as not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.

Detections of the six neonicotinoids variedimidicloprid was found in 37 percent of the samples in the national study, clothianidin in 24 percent, thiamethoxam in 21 percent, dinotefuran in 13 percent, acetamiprid in 3 percent, and thiacloprid was not detected.

Use of neonicotinoids to control pest insects has been increasing over the past decade, especially on corn and soybeans. Much of this increase is due to a shift from leaf applications to using the insecticides prophylactically on seeds.

KTVZ.COM news sources|August 18, 2015 

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Locals protest Canadian nuclear waste dump site
Company wants to bury waste across the lake from Port Huron

On Sunday 9-year-old Keara Reeder was petitioning with a sign that read “Dump the dump” in Pine Grove Park.

She was one of a couple of hundred people who were raising their voices against Ontario Power Generation, a Canadian power company, burying 7 million cubic feet of nuclear waste beside Lake Huron.

Valerie Daggett, of Port Huron, who organized the International Rally to Protect the Great Lakes, said she wanted to inform people about the possible nuclear dump.

Daggett said while the petitions volunteers are collecting to be sent to Canada’s federal Minister of Environment don’t hold any legality, she is hoping it sends a message of what the public wants.

And she said she does not want any nuclear waste near any of the Great Lakes.

The public comment period regarding the low- and intermediate level nuclear waste extends to Sept. 1 and the Minister of Environment, Leona Aglukkaq, will issue her decision on whether or not OPG will be granted the license to move forward by Dec. 2.

The nuclear waste is currently being stored above ground at OPG’s Kincardine, Ontario site. They would like to bury the waste about 2,200 feet below ground, about half a mile from Lake Huron.

Beth Lloyd, 51, of Port Huron, said while she doesn’t know what the right solution for nuclear storage is, she doesn’t believe storing the waste near a Great Lake is it.

“There are other solutions,” Lloyd said. “If we just stopped using nuclear materials then we wouldn’t have to find someplace to put it when done. There are promising alternatives out there, like combining it with other materials to make easier to store and more stable.”

Jan Thomas, 66, of Port Huron, said she wants to protect Michigan’s Great Lakes.

“The Great Lakes are our God-given gift and it is our responsibility to protect them for generations to come,” Thomas said. “Why take a chance at ruining that?”

Katheryn VanCamp, 28, of Port Huron, was protesting for similar reasons.

“I am worried about what happens if the materials leak out into the water,” VanCamp said. “I grew up jumping into the river and I want my kids to enjoy the same thing.”

People can submit comments on the potential nuclear waste facility by emailing comments to ceaa.conditions.acee@ceaa.acee.gc.ca or by mailing comments to National Programs, Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, 22 nd Floor, 160 Elgin St., Ottawa, ON K1A 0H3.

NICOLE HAYDEN|TIMES HERALD|8/17/15

Navajo Nation seizes EPA tanks after spill, claims water is unsafe

NAVAJO NATION —Navajo Nation police have seized water tanks delivered to the Shiprock community in the wake of a devastating Colorado mine spill.

An Environmental Protection Agency-supervised crew accidentally unleashed an estimated 3 million gallons of waste two weeks ago from the abandoned Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado. The waste, which consisted of high levels of toxic metals, floated out of the mine and into the Animas River, then traveled south into the San Juan River.

Many Navajo farmers and cattle ranchers use the San Juan for crops and livestock. The Navajo Nation has yet to lift water restrictions on the river, so the EPA has been delivering water to communities and storing them in large tanks.

However, President Russell Begaye believes that some of the water that the Navajo Nation is getting is not up to snuff.

Several reports have surfaced from farmers saying that the tank water is oily.

Begaye and other Navajo Nation leaders visited one of the tanks in Shiprock on Wednesday. A photo of Begaye holding a cup of water from the tank and with a black hand was taken and has spread across the Internet.

“I reached my hand into the tank and felt my hand getting oily,” Begaye said. “There are these black beads in the water, and when you rub them, black streaks go down your hands.”

It’s unclear what the substance is.

Begaye ordered three water tanks delivered by the EPA seized by Navajo Nation police for evidence gathering.

This is the latest in a series of frustrations for the nation.

Last week, Begaye accused the EPA of not being straightforward about the spill. He’s also asked residents not to fill out claim forms for damages, saying that they may keep people from getting bigger payouts down the road.

Begaye said he is considering suing the EPA.

The EPA could not be reached for comment.

Matt Howerton|General Assignment Reporter|hearst.com

 

Intake for Flint water line nears completion

74-mile project expected to be finished next June

With a large wave and big splash, a massive 285,000-pound wooden structure slid into the St. Clair River Thursday.

The 11-foot-high, 52-foot-wide octagonal crib will be floated from Blue Water Aggregates in Marysville to about a mile and a half off of Worth Township where it will be loaded with stone and sunk to the bottom of Lake Huron.

The crib is one of the finishing pieces of the water intake tunnel that will bring Lake Huron water to a pump station on Lakeshore Road. From there, pumps will send the Lake Huron water through miles of pipeline to Genesee County.

The roughly 74-mile line, managed by the Karegnondi Water Authority, is set for completion in June 2016.
Officials have said the $274 million project will allow Flint and Genesee County to disconnect from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and save millions of dollars a year.

Eventually, Lapeer and Sanilac counties will have the opportunity to tap into the line.

Genesee County Drain Commissioner Jeff Wright, who also is chief executive officer of the Karegnondi Water Authority, said the pipeline portion of the project is about two weeks behind schedule because of rain delays. He said about 31 of the 74 miles of pipeline have been laid. The intake portion — which includes the cribs, water line under Lake Huron, and a pump station on the west side of Lakeshore Road — was scheduled for completion in spring 2016, but likely will be finished before the end of the year.

“That’s probably the most critical piece of the Karegnondi project, that 7,200 feet of intake line,” Wright said. “And the cribbing had the biggest potential of problems and we haven’t had any.” The crib launched Thursday by BIDCO Marine Group will cap the water intake line and work as a screen to ensure that fish and other aquatic life aren’t sucked

Officials have said the $274 million project will allow Flint and Genesee County to disconnect from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and save millions a year.

into the water line. It will be filled with stone once it’s on location off Worth Township, then sunk and capped with a concrete hood. The crib was made on site at Blue Water Aggregate. It was launched into the water Thursday and filled with about 48 yards of concrete. Another crib was launched last year, and was sunk over a secondary line last week.

Locally, pipeline is being laid along Fisher Road, the county line between St. Clair and Sanilac counties.

Wright said that construction has been held up by rain delays. Officials also have heard some complaints about dust and mud resulting from the construction.

“We’re doing everything we can to combat that,” Wright said.

Flint currently pumps its water from the Flint River and treats it at a city water plant, Wright said. Outside the city, Genesee County continues to receive its water from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

BETH LEBLANC|TIMES HERALD|8/22/15

Mississippi River Mouth Must Be Abandoned to Save New Orleans from Next Hurricane Katrina

Three nationwide design teams reveal realistic plans to massively rebuild the disintegrating delta

 

An image from 2001 of the active delta front before Hurricanes Katrina and Rita destroyed much of it in 2005.

Credit: NASA

Hurricane Katrina demolished New Orleans 10 years ago, a grim anniversary to be marked next week. Huge earthen levees dissolved and concrete floodwalls toppled over. But the real culprit when the tropical cyclone made landfall was outside the city. Thousands of square miles of wetland marshes and swamps that had once provided a buffer between the city’s coastline and the ocean had been badly tattered from decades of human damage. Thick, robust wetlands would have absorbed much of the surge of water that Katrina pushed up from the Gulf of Mexico. But levees had starved the wetlands of needed nutrients, making plants weak, and thousands of miles of manmade canals had torn the vegetation apart, allowing Katrina’s onrushing storm surge to flow right into New Orleans.

Extensive studies done after Katrina verified what lifelong residents of southeastern Louisiana already knew: Unless the rapidly disappearing wetlands are made healthy again, restoring the natural defense, New Orleans will soon lay naked against the sea .

So, how does one reengineer the entire Mississippi River delta—one of the largest in the world—on which New Orleans lies?

Three international engineering and design teams have reached a startling answer: leave the mouth of the Mississippi River to die. Let the badly failing wetlands there completely wither away, becoming open water, so that the upper parts of the delta closer to the city can be saved. The teams, winners of the Changing Course Design Competition, revealed their detailed plans on August 20.

Scientists worldwide agree that the delta’s wetlands disintegrated because we humans built long levees—high, continuous ridges of earth covered by grass or rocks—along the entire length of the lower Mississippi River. The leveed river rims the southern boundary of New Orleans and continues another 40 serpentine miles until it reaches the gulf. The levees, erected almost exclusively by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, prevented regular floods from harming farms, industries and towns along the river’s course. However those floods also would have supplied the brackish marshes with massive quantities of silt and freshwater, which are necessary for their survival.

Silt carries nutrients that grasses and mangroves need to stay lush, and it provides new material to build up the soft substrate beneath those plants, which subsides naturally under its own weight. Incoming freshwater mixes with the delta’s saltwater to create the reduced salinity required by the region’s vegetation. This soup also prevents pure ocean water from intruding further inland, which kills grasses and trees from the roots up.

Instead, hundreds of miles of navigation channels, cut by the Corps for more than half a century through the wetlands have torn the wetlands apart from within. So have thousands more miles cut by industry during the same period to build and maintain oil and gas pipelines running in from the Gulf.

The studies done by university experts, engineering firms and the Corps itself since Katrina concur that the only realistic way to reconstitute healthy wetlands is to make cuts in the levees, install gates, and open those gates periodically to allow sediment and freshwater to once again flow into the marshes. The three winning design teams rely heavily on that strategy, yet they also differ in where and how to use the so-called diversion structures.

The river nowadays only carries perhaps half of the sediment it used to, because communities on its banks for hundreds of miles siphon off water for irrigation, industry and many other uses. There is simply not enough sediment to rebuild the entire delta, according to the winning teams, which operated independently. Rather than try that and fail, the teams found it is better to essentially end the river many miles north of the current mouth, where much sediment is sent like a shot out into the deep ocean and lost. Then engineers could redirect all the sediment to portions of the delta closer to New Orleans. “Capture every grain,” is one team’s slogan.

The need to let the end of the delta, known as the bird’s foot because of its shape, die is also assumed in the official Louisiana Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast, although not necessarily called out in detail. The plan took seven years to develop, after significant political wrangling among state, federal and local authorities.*

The master plan would tap about half the river’s sediment for diversions, and try to restore as much of the delta as possible. Founders of the Changing Course competition, led by the Van Alen Institute and the Environmental Defense Fund, and supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, Kresge Foundation and other large institutions, saw that approach as a weakness, and announced the competition to seek alternative ideas.

The competition also encouraged a 100-year outlook for the delta, instead of the 50 years outlined in the master plan. In the end, the three winning blueprints, chosen from 21 entrants, complement the state plan well, says Steve Cochran, director for Mississippi River Delta Restoration at the Environmental Defense Fund, who oversaw the competition.

Cochran also hopes the winning designs will prove valuable to other delta regions around the world: “Every place is different, but the kinds of innovations needed are similar.”

Only one of the three groups, the Baird Team, included a cost estimate: between $4.3 billion and $5.7 billion. But it also cited savings of up to $2 billion in eliminating the need to replace certain aging flood control structures now on the river. The other two plans are larger in scope and would likely be more expensive. Cochran says his committee did not require cost estimates “because the state and the Corps would decide which aspects of the plans to implement, and do their own estimates.”

The winning teams received neither prize money nor other rewards. The teams got involved primarily to gain notoriety for potential large contracts in the future. “The coming work in southeastern Louisiana is huge, even on a global scale,” Cochran notes. The real goal for Changing Course was to educate the state, the Corps and other industries and authorities that will be involved in reengineering the region about how to best exploit the Mississippi River to save the region. “The teams have been explaining their ideas to all these people along the way,” Cochran says.

Mark Fischetti|August 20, 2015

Offshore & Ocean

JAX Chamber pulls out of highly touted river-dredging truce with environmental watchdog

Citing an unworkable time line for progress, the JAX Chamber is pulling out of a highly touted truce it helped craft with an environmental watchdog that was intended to avoid a potentially time-consuming court battle over the controversial project to dredge the St. Johns River.

The chamber’s exit from the unlikely alliance — a fragile partnership with the St. Johns Riverkeeper, Jacksonville City Hall and JaxPort — virtually ensures the Riverkeeper will push full steam ahead with a federal lawsuit alleging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ dredging plan fails to include adequate river protections.

It also quickly shattered some good will between environmental advocates and business leaders about the contentious dredging project.

“If the chamber was truly committed to this unusual partnership, if they uncover new obstacles, you’d think they would have the courtesy to have conversation with all the partners,” St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman said Friday. “It makes us question their sincerity about protecting the St. Johns River.”

Signed by each organization in January, the non-binding agreement stipulated that the coalition would push for money and permission to breach the Rodman dam in Putnam County, a hotly debated proposal long sought by river advocates because it would restore the Ocklawaha River, the largest freshwater tributary to the St. Johns River. The Riverkeeper believes breaching the dam would significantly help offset potential salinity increases when the Army Corps begins its project to deepen 13 miles of the river from 40 feet to 47 feet.

If that push had been successful, the Riverkeeper agreed to drop a planned federal lawsuit, removing a roadblock and mollifying dredging supporters who are racing to keep up with other East Coast ports in pursuing deeper harbors. This week, the Riverkeeper filed a notice of intent to file a federal lawsuit against the Army Corps — the organization had said since the January signing that it would continue to pursue the lawsuit until the money and authorization to breach the dam was secured.

But JAX Chamber officials say it’s now clear the amount of work and time required to breach the dam is unworkable — by the time the bureaucratic and regulatory boxes could be checked to move forward, chamber and port officials hope to be well into the dredging project. The port is hoping deepening could begin as early as next year.

“When we entered into this memorandum of understanding in January, we were under the impression that the regulatory steps were in place and the funding was the last piece of the puzzle to complete the project. In our due diligence, we discovered that not only was the regulatory process not complete, it hadn’t been started,” Chamber spokesman Matt Galnor wrote in a prepared statement.

“Because of the time line, any lawsuit on the dredging project will almost certainly be resolved before a permit can be issued on any breach of the dam. We cannot responsibly ask the state Legislature to allocate funding for a project that is contingent on a study that will not be completed for years.”

Rinaman said the chamber was being disingenuous and that it’s been well documented that permitting issues are “not an overwhelming obstacle” to breaching the dam.

Based on decades of federal and state studies, it is very clear that the dam has not been breached due to political obstacles not scientific, permitting obstacles,” she said. “JAX Chamber has now added the newest hurdle to restoring the Ocklawaha River and protecting the St. Johns River. We will continue to our efforts to allow science to overcome politics.”

In a prepared statement, Mayor Lenny Curry said he regretted the news . The statement does not explicitly mention the Rodman Dam issue, though Curry had said during the mayoral campaign earlier this year he supported the coalition’s goal of breaching it and restoring the Ocklawaha River.

“While I am disappointed that the accord has fallen apart, my administration believes the scientific process followed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers has fully examined the potential environmental impacts and has determined that they are entirely manageable within the scope of work to be performed,” he said. “What’s important is that all involved parties work together cooperatively find a workable solutions that protect the St. Johns River while still allowing port expansion and redevelopment to go forward.”

The Chamber’s move imperils — if not effectively ends — a partnership that was met in Jacksonville with optimism and fanfare. JaxPort wants a deeper harbor so it can accommodate fully loaded mega cargo ships that are becoming more common in the industry. Other East Coast ports are also pursuing dredging plans — the prospect of the Riverkeeper dropping its lawsuit was enticing as JaxPort is still lobbying for federal and state money to pay for the dredging.

In Putnam County — where officials had not been briefed before media reports about the plan appeared — the signing ceremony was met with outrage.

In a February public meeting, JAX Chamber CEO Daniel Davis came face-to-face with residents, fishermen and community and business leaders who resented what they perceived as outsiders messing with their community and a treasured asset.

The Rodman Dam, formally called the Kirkpatrick Dam, has been a source of controversy for years. The Ocklawaha, the largest tributary of the St. Johns River, was dammed up in 1968 as part of an abandoned project called the Cross Florida Barge Canal, a controversial, decades-long effort to link the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico with a shipping channel.

The dam created a stump-filled reservoir that is recognized as a top bass fishing spot in the Southeast, and it’s been fiercely — and successfully — protected by some locals and bass fishermen for years amid multiple efforts at tearing it down.

Nate Monroe|Aug 14, 2015

PortMiami dredge damages more coral than feds expected

Deepening Port Miami to make way for bigger ships has caused far more damage to rare coral at the bottom of Biscayne Bay than federal wildlife managers originally calculated.

In a series of letters and emails with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing dredge work, the National Marine Fisheries Service warned between February and June that damage “greatly exceeds” what was anticipated, risking harm to a stretch of reef on the south and north sides of Government Cut up to four times the size originally projected. Yet efforts to get an accurate take on damage have been rebuffed by Corps officials. And Fisheries Service divers hoping to survey the area have repeatedly encountered obstacles, they complained.

The correspondence reveals deep differences between the two federal agencies over impacts of a controversial Deep Dredge project long sought by PortMiami and South Florida political leaders but fought for years by environmentalists. In one count, a Corps contractor concluded that only a handful of coral showed stress — just 2 to 6 percent of the coral checked. But a Fisheries Service count of the same reef four years later showed damage to 67 percent.

On Monday, five months after the agency asked the Corps to provide a complete survey, a Fisheries Service spokeswoman said the agency was still waiting. The Corps did not respond to repeated requests emailed Monday to several people.

Even as work winds down — the underwater excavation is expected to end this summer — tensions continue between agencies and groups monitoring the $205 million expansion, which will deepen the port to 52 feet by scooping up 6 million cubic yards of bay bottom.

In 2011, when wildlife managers signed off on the project, they anticipated some marine life would be damaged. But as work proceeded, the project has drawn both warnings from state and federal officials and repeated trips to court by environmentalists and anglers angry as plumes of sediment smothered marine life.

“The Corps has been dragging their feet and not providing the information,” said Rachel Silverstein, a marine biologist and executive director of Miami Waterkeeper.

The more time that passes without an accurate survey, she said, the harder it will be to save struggling coral or determine just how much damage has been done. In June, Silverstein surveyed the area and found surrounding reefs dusted with silt. Fisheries Service divers found a similar moonscape, with sediment about a half inch to four inches deep.

“Everything is being eroded out there and it’s hard to tell what has died,” she said. “That information is critical to holding the Corps accountable.”

Moving the sediment to a dump site five miles offshore also continues to encounter problems. Six months ago, the Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees dumping, warned that the flat-bottomed barges that move sand, called scows, were leaking. The leaks can create large plumes of sand that block sunlight and smother marine life. Eight leaks were reported in March and five more in April. While he praised the Corps for improving its record, Water Management Division director James Giattina said in June the agency was considering assessing civil fines.

Environmentalists have long complained that surveys intended to count coral were incomplete.

The dredge work was expected to consume about seven acres of reef, including five undisturbed acres at the mouth of the channel, and eight acres of seagrass meadows. Reefs and seagrass are both critical to coastlines — coral provides a barrier against hurricane storm surge and rising seas, while seagrass can absorb carbon projected to rise in the next century. Meadows also provide nurseries and places for marine life to graze.

The Corps had originally planned on transplanting only threatened species, including 38 staghorn corals. But after environmental groups sued in 2011, Miami-Dade County and the Corps agreed to transplant coral from about 16.6 acres and eventually moved about 1,000.

But no complete surveys of the reefs on either side of the channel were ever completed. Divers for the Corps surveyed the south side of the channel. But only a small section on the north side of the channel — just four spots — were mapped. The Corps gave biologists a chance to rescue some coral before dredging began in June 2014, but rescuers complained the 12 days they were given were far too short for the hundreds of coral they could have saved. University of Miami biologist Andrew Baker has said the urban coral could be particularly useful for learning more about hardy coral that might do better in harsher conditions projected in climate change scenarios.

Less than a year ago, when Fisheries Service divers tried to survey the site, they not allowed to dive the entire channel because of the dredge work. In May, they made another attempt to survey sediment damage but were told they would instead be checking coral within a150 meters of the channel. Still, based on earlier dives, officials said they calculated sediment had settled over 161 acres on both sides of the channel, a larger area than anticipated. They also looked at other surveys done by state and Corps divers and estimate the total could rise to 262 acres.

Wildlife managers say the length of time sediment stays on the coral has also taken a toll and in May warned there “is no indication … effects will be temporary.”

Jenny Staletovich|MiamiHerald.com

NOAA Says Port Miami Dredge Disaster For Reef

MIAMI (CBSMiami) — In a project all but finished, the Army Corps of Engineers has dredged the channels at and leading to Port Miami for nearly two years, but another U.S. government agency says the Corps wreaked environmental havoc in the process.

The deepened channels will allow the port to handle much bigger ships and do a lot a more business. Politicians from President Obama to Governor Rick Scott on down have hailed the dredge as an economic boon. But environmentalists have opposed it from the start, saying it would destroy the sensitive coral reef off Miami Beach.

In a series of letters and emails, the Corps has been slammed by the National Marine Fisheries Service, a part of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

In one letter, the agency says damage to the reef “greatly exceeds” projections, perhaps more than ten times over, and “there is no indication the effects will be temporary.”

Environmentalists who fought the dredge feel vindicated.

“The language used by the National Marine Fisheries Service to describe the condition of the reef is very severe and intense language, and we think it accurately depicts what’s going on out there.” said Rachel Silverstein of the organization Miami Waterkeeper. Miami Waterkeeper, the Audubon Society and Sierra Club are among a dozen groups, called the Biscayne Bay Coalition, that fought a losing court battle to block the dredge.

The project saw six million cubic yards of gunk dredged up, much of it dumped on the sensitive living reef – killing it. Never mind that it is – or was – vital habitat for fish and other living things, the reef is a money maker.

“It provides industry in terms of tourism and fishing and diving. It protects the shoreline of Miami Beach that has to deal with a lot of flooding issues,” Silverstein said.

And now a large piece of a reef that some estimate generates six billion dollars a year for South Florida is gone.

“It’s very unlikely this reef is going to recover in any of our lifetimes – if ever,” Silverstein said.

Late Tuesday, the Army Corps of Engineers issued a statement saying it has worked closely with all agencies, including the National Marine Fisheries Service, in preparing for and carrying out the dredge of Miami’s port channels.

“The environmental effects of the Port Miami dredging project are in line with what was expected,” the Corps’ statement said in part.

As environmentalists mourn the damage done by the Port Miami dredging, they are vigorously opposing a dredge proposed for Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale that they fear will do similar environmental damage.

Gary Nelson|August 18, 2015

    Tampa Bay’s seagrass beds to take big hit from rain-fueled algae blooms

Seagrass beds, which flourish in less than 6 feet of clear water, are among the bay’s most vital habitats.

TAMPA — Besides the standing water in yards and homes and the cars left half submerged in the streets, the constant rains over the past month are poised to claim another victim: Tampa Bay.

The rain runoff, much of which carries substantial amounts of nitrogen and other nutrients, wound up in the bay. The huge influx of nutrients is expected to result in algae blooms that will cloud the water, block the sun from reaching the bottom and likely kill off vast beds of seagrass, considered one of the key building blocks of a healthy estuarine system, environmental officials said.

“We are funneling an awful lot of storm water runoff into the bay,” said Tampa Bay Estuary Program spokeswoman Nanette Holland O’Hara. “There are lots of things in the runoff, mainly nitrogen loadings, which spark the growth of algae, turns the water green and consumes oxygen.

“I would not be surprised to see localized fish kills as well,” she said, “particularly in areas of the bay that have limited circulation, like upper Tampa Bay.”

A fish kill was reported along Bayshore Boulevard in Hillsborough Bay last week. State scientists were called in to test the water, but the results of those tests were unavailable Wednesday.

Seagrass beds, which flourish in less than 6 feet of clear water, are among the bay’s most vital habitats. The beds are important nurseries and feeding grounds for numerous species in Tampa Bay, including shrimp, spotted sea trout, red drum and snook.

The runoff’s impact down the road is unclear.

“We’ve had unrelenting runoff going into the bay,” O’Hara said. “In my lifetime, and everyone I’ve talked to says the same thing, I haven’t seen an event like this, with this kind of torrential rain day after day after day for weeks.”

In the winter of 1997-98, parts of Tampa received about 10 inches of rain in two days, resulting in an algae bloom that led to the loss of about 1,200 acres of seagrass in the bay, she said.

This year is much worse. Some local areas saw more than 20 inches of rain fall within a two-week period at the end of July and beginning of August.

The rain over the past month has presented problems for local governments on both sides of the bay. Runoff was mixed with raw sewage and overcame the capacities of treatment plants. The end result: Much of the runoff and sewage went untreated into the bay, providing a fetid soup that is perfect for algae growth.

“Local government wastewater systems have just been overwhelmed,” O’Hara said. “It’s an aging infrastructure that is just not designed to handle this type of event.”

She said some algae blooms already are occurring in pockets of the Bay where water circulation is at a minimum.

“We would not be surprised to hear about algae blooms particularly in the upper part of the bay,” she said, where algae blooms are frequent, even without driving rains.

Just when algae blooms will take hold is uncertain.

O’Hara said a portion of Old Tampa Bay near Clearwater already has a bloom that is visible from the Bayside Bridge.

“It really depends on how much runoff makes it into the bay,” she said. “We’ve been getting close to an inch of rain every day and blooms could pop up at any time.”

Seagrass beds have made a remarkable comeback since the 1970s and now cover more than 40,000 acres of bay bottom.

“Unfortunately,” said Tom Ash, assistant director of water management with the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission, “seagrass beds will take a step backwards this year. They will take a hit.”

Algae is a microscopic plant and grows with sunlight, he said. So as the clouds cleared and the sun broke through for the better parts of the days this week, algae blooms are the natural result.

The seagrass damage from algae blooms is disheartening, but not permanent, O’Hara said.

“The bay has been fairly resilient to these types of unprecedented, extreme events,” O’Hara said. “We will see a rebound.”

Keith Morelli|Tribune Staff|August 19, 2015

30 Whales Have Died Off the Coast of Alaska and No One Knows Why

Whales are dying off the coast of Alaska and no one knows why. Yesterday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officially declared the recent deaths of 30 large whales in the western Gulf of Alaska an “unusual mortality event,” triggering an investigation into the cause of the mass die off. NOAA defines an unusual mortality event as “a stranding event that is unexpected, involves a significant die-off of a marine mammal population, and demands immediate response.”

Since May, 11 fin whales, 14 humpback whales, one gray whale and four unidentified cetaceans have stranded around the islands of the western Gulf of Alaska and the southern shoreline of the Alaska Peninsula. The uptick is nearly three times the average for the area. Last year, there were only five whale strandings for the entire year. There were also six dead stranded whales reported along British Columbia’s north coast in the last few months, which is a significant increase above annual seasonal numbers for that area as well.

“NOAA Fisheries scientists and partners are very concerned about the large number of whales stranding in the western Gulf of Alaska in recent months,” said Dr. Teri Rowles, NOAA Fisheries’ marine mammal health and stranding response coordinator. “While we do not yet know the cause of these strandings, our investigations will give us important information on the health of whales and the ecosystems where they live.”

NOAA is encouraging the public to help out by immediately reporting any sightings of dead whales or distressed live animals they discover, but warns people not to get close or touch the animals.

“The prevailing theory is that a large toxic algae bloom off the West Coast might be to blame,” reports CBC News. “However, scientists have been unable to make a concrete connection.”

The West Coast has experienced the largest toxic algae bloom in a decade, forcing the closure of fisheries from California to Washington. This isn’t the first time scientists have linked algae blooms and whale die offs. A toxic algae bloom this spring off the coast of Chile is the suspected cause of death for 20-30 sei whales.

Cole Mellino|August 21, 2015

Project restoring Grassy Flats in Lake Worth Lagoon finishes successfully

Today’s completion of the planting of nearly 4,000 marsh grass plugs and 200 mangrove seedlings represents the final touch to a multiyear restoration project in a portion of the Lake Worth Lagoon. This project is designed to restore critical marine habitats so fish, oysters and wildlife will return to an area known as Grassy Flats that was previously uninhabitable because of accumulated muck on the seafloor.

Preliminary signs of the restoration’s success are apparent. American oystercatchers and least terns began nesting on newly created islands upon completion of the project. Both are state-listed imperiled species.

This dynamic project involved many stages, one of which was spreading 51,000 cubic yards of sand over 13 acres of the lagoon using specialized equipment. The sand was used to cap muck sediments on the lagoon seafloor and construct two islands. Later stages of the project included placing thousands of tons of limestone rock around the man-made islands to protect them and planting thousands of native wetland plants.

More than 50 volunteers, including those from the West Palm Beach Fishing Club, the Marine Industries Association of Palm Beach County and the Youth Environmental Alliance, have helped with the planting effort.

“The Grassy Flats restoration project in Palm Beach County’s Lake Worth Lagoon is restoring mangrove, seagrass, oyster and saltmarsh habitats, and creating healthier communities for fish and wildlife,” said Kent Smith, who leads FWC’s Marine and Estuarine Habitat Conservation and Restoration subsection.

Most of the sand used was made available through beneficial reuse. Non-beach compatible sand was transferred from a dredge project in the South Lake Worth Inlet, making the lagoon project more cost-efficient. Over time, seagrass will naturally move back in from surrounding areas, followed by the return of fish.

The challenge of restoring Palm Beach County’s largest estuary and reviving its appeal to anglers, bird watchers and boaters attracted support from national, state and local levels. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) was one of many partners engaged in the effort, as were the Palm Beach County Department of Environmental Resources Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Atlantic Coastal Fish Habitat Partnership, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, town of Palm Beach, city of Lake Worth, West Palm Beach Fishing Club and Marine Industries Association of Palm Beach County.

“The Atlantic Coastal Fish Habitat Partnership was pleased to endorse the Grassy Flats project for the benefits it will bring to coastal habitats and water quality,” said Emily Greene of the partnership. “We commend the efforts of the project team in developing an innovative approach to fish habitat conservation, and forging partnerships across jurisdictions.”

“Palm Beach County was excited to work with so many partners on a nationally significant project to enhance the lagoon’s valuable natural resources and boost opportunities for people to enjoy the area,” said Rob Robbins, director of the county’s Department of Environmental Resources Management.

For more on habitat conservation and restoration, go to www.MyFWC.com, click on “Wildlife & Habitats,” then “Habitat Information.” For more on the Grassy Flats project, go to www.PBCgov.org, click on “Departments,” then “Environmental Resources Management.” On the right side of that webpage, select “Project Fact Sheets.”

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission|8/22/15

Wildlife and Habitat

5 keystone species crucial to balance of the ecosystem

The reason sea otters are a key species is that if they were to die out, sea urchins would boom in numbers

The reason sea otters are a key species is that if they were to die out, sea urchins would boom in numbers

As we travel the world watching wildlife, we often seek out the largest and most impressive creatures – lions and tigers, whales and sharks, bears and elephants, writes Stephen Moss. But these are not just the most noticeable species, but may also be the most crucial to the survival of the whole ecosystem where they live.

These animals are known as ‘keystone species’: a term that comes from architecture, and refers to the stone at the very top of an archway that, if it is taken away, will cause the whole structure to collapse. Keystone species play the same critical role in he natural world: if they disappear, this risks setting off a domino effect of local and global extinctions, as their very presence is what keeps the ecosystem where they live in balance.

Sadly, in the past century or so we have seen the decline of many of these crucial creatures. And where the keystone species has been removed, we often see an imbalance in the remaining wildlife. For example the loss of wolves in the Scottish Highlands means that deer no longer have any predators to keep their numbers in check, and are now causing all sorts of problems because of overpopulation.

Conservationists are now working hard to secure the future of keystone species, in the knowledge that money spent on saving tigers or elephants also benefits a host of other wild creatures, and indeed the entire habitat where they all live.

We can play our part too: by travelling to see these animals, we alert local people to their importance, and bring much needed tourist revenues that can then be used in conservation projects.

TIGER

The sight of this magnificent beast – the largest and heaviest of all the big cats – is always the highlight of a trip to India. And yet encounters are becoming harder and harder to achieve: tiger numbers have plummeted in the last century or so due to hunting, habitat loss and unlawful killing – with a population of more than one billion people, India simply doesn’t have the room for tigers to co-exist with human beings.

Today the world population of tigers may be as low as 3200 individuals, of which about half are in India, making this the most important population from a global point of view. This is down from about 100,000 at the turn of the twentieth century: a devastating loss.

Tigers are what are known as ‘apex predators’: at the very top of the food chain. So if they disappear this upsets the delicate balance of the forest ecosystems where they live, allowing herbivorous animals such as deer to increase in numbers, which in turn leads to habitat destruction.

You can still see tigers at special reserves in India such as Corbett and Ranthambore National Parks, and various reserves in Madyha Pradesh to the south of Agra. But be prepared to make several game drives to increase your chance of connecting with this spectacular animal.

SEA OTTER

These delightful and endearing creatures are a different species from our own European otter – larger and greyer in colour – and are found along the Pacific west coast of South America from Canada in the north to California in the south, and also in eastern Russia. They feed on sea urchins, which they pick up from the ocean floor by diving, and then using a stone or rock break them open on their chest.

The reason sea otters are so important is that if they were to die out, the sea urchins would boom in numbers, and because they feed on kelp, the underwater forests of this giant seaweed, home to a wide range of marine species, would start to die back, reducing the biodiversity of the whole coastline. Other species that depend on kelp for food, such as crabs and abalones, would also suffer if sea urchin numbers were to increase.

Once very common, sea otters declined dramatically during the twentieth century until only about 1000-2000 individuals were left. Thanks to careful conservation measures, their numbers have bounced back, and they are now fairly easy to see. One hotspot is off the coast of Monterey in northern California, or in the creeks and estuaries nearby, where special boat trips often allow a very close approach.

BEAVER

Although many keystone species are top predators, others are herbivores rather than carnivores. These maintain the ecosystem not through preying on other animals but by creating new opportunities through changing the habitat.

Beavers – both the North American and European species – both play this vital role. North American beavers famously make dams by cutting down huge trees with their sharp teeth and then using the logs to hold back the water of rivers and other waterways. This can lead to problems with flooding, but also creates new habitats by changing the flow of the water.

European Beavers, although slightly larger and heavier than their American cousins, are far less destructive. They too cut down trees and saplings, but do not make the dams; instead they cordon off smaller areas of water on the edge of rivers and lakes. This has massive benefits for a wide range of creatures, including amphibians such as frogs and newts, and insects including dragonflies and damselflies, which lay their eggs in the pools created by the beavers. Many woodland species, including birds, bats and butterflies, also benefit from the thinning out of the trees, which allows sunlight to reach the forest floor.

Having declined dramatically, beavers have been reintroduced to many European countries, including Scotland, where despite opposition from farmers, landowners and anglers the species has been shown to have many beneficial effects. The River Tay holds the largest population, but beavers can be very tricky to see; so patience if vital. There are also semi-captive beavers at experimental sites at Aigas Field Centre in Scotland and in various places in England.

SOUTHERN CASSOWARY

As the third tallest and second heaviest bird in the world, after the ostrich and emu, the cassowary is a pretty formidable creature: two metres tall, and able to kill a human being with one kick of its powerful legs with their razor sharp claws. But it is also a crucial species for the coastal Queensland rainforest in its native Australia; because of the way it enables certain plants to complete their complex lifecycle.

Despite their huge size, cassowaries live mainly on fruit, though they are opportunist feeders and will take a range of other plant and animal food including rats, frogs, flowers, fungi and even carrion. But their place as a keystone species is because not only do they distribute the seeds of the fruits they eat over the forest floor, but their dietary processes also enable some seeds to germinate – without the cassowaries, the seeds might never be able to do so. The bird’s dung also acts as a convenient ready-made fertiliser, enabling the seeds it contains to grow and flourish.

Cassowaries can be seen at special reserves and lodges in northern Queensland, but with only about 2500 individuals remaining they can be surprisingly hard to find for such a huge creature. They are suffering from habitat loss but are also frequently run over by cars, putting pressure on an already small and declining population.

COMMON CRANE

Some creatures are ‘keystone species’ in another crucial sense: in that their presence in or absence from a particular location has a major cultural and economic importance, because they attract visitors to see them. One such is Europe’s tallest bird, the common crane.

Cranes are elegant waterbirds, found across a wide range of Northern and Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Like all waterbirds, they suffered major declines during the past few centuries, but have bounced back with the protection of wetlands, and the creation of new ones.

In Britain cranes went extinct as breeding birds almost 500 years ago, due to persecution and the draining of their watery homes. A small population returned to breed in Norfolk in the late 1970s, and since then the species has been reintroduced onto the Somerset Levels, where more than 100 birds have been released.

Cranes can be seen around the West Sedgemoor area south of Glastonbury; but to enjoy the true spectacle of this magnificent waterbird you need to head north to Lake Hornborga in southern Sweden, where in spring hundred of cranes perform their spectacular courtship dance; or south-east to the Hula Valley in northern Israel, where up to 20,000 cranes spend the winter. In all these places, cranes have helped conservationists flag up the importance of the wetland habitat, and so preserve it for other wildlife.

From Wildlife Extra

Simple solution proposed to save Blue Whales from being struck by ships

news/Blue_Whale_ThinkstockPhotos

Research into Blue Whale distribution around one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and analysing their fatal collisions with ships has led scientists to offer a simple solution to the deadly threat.

Heavy ship traffic crossing the Indian Ocean passes close to the southern coast of Sri Lanka, bringing it into waters also occupied by the endangered Blue Whale, the largest animal on the planet.

Survey work coordinated by the University of Ruhuna in Sri Lanka, local whale watch operator Raja and the Whales, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Biosphere Foundation and Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) in 2014 and 2015, was carried out with the aim of finding ways to address Blue Whale deaths in the ship strike hotspot off the coast of Mirissa.

A paper on the findings, Distribution patterns of blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) and shipping off southern Sri Lanka, was recently accepted for publication in Regional Studies in Marine Science.

Eleven Blue Whales are known to have been killed by ships between January 2010 and April 2012 but the true number of ship strike-related deaths is likely to be much higher as for part of the year the current and winds are offshore, meaning additional whales could have been killed but their carcasses not found.

Surveys conducted perpendicular to the shipping lane were used to determine the relative density of whales close to the shore, both in the existing shipping lane and further offshore. The highest density of Blue Whales was observed in the shipping lanes.

Previous data on Blue Whale distribution and coastal upwellings (a process by which deep, cold water usually rich in nutrients rises towards the surface) indicates consistent and predictable patterns of whale distribution. This provides considerable potential for effective measures to keep ships and whales apart.

Data from the study suggests the risk to Blue Whales could be reduced by 95 per cent if the shipping lane was to be moved slightly so that traffic passes 15 nautical miles further south than at present.

Patrick Ramage, IFAW’s Global Whale Program Director, says: “It is not often that a serious threat to whales can be so easily resolved and at minimal cost, but here we clearly see not only the problem, but also a straightforward practical solution which can prevent more endangered Blue Whales from suffering fatal ship strikes.

“A little more analysis is needed before Sri Lanka can start the process of asking for the shipping lane to be moved, but we are confident that this step will result in a dramatic reduction in the number of fatal collisions involving this great whale.”

Vivek Menon, Executive Director of WTI, adds: “Moving the shipping lane this short distance would provide a positive solution for all. It would increase protection for whales and whale watching boats in the area and therefore also help tourism.”

Researchers estimated that more than 1,000 interactions between blue whales and ships are likely to occur each year. An interaction is defined as an incident where a collision would have occurred if neither ship nor whale had taken avoiding action. Moving the shipping lanes could reduce this to around 50.

Shipping lanes in other parts of the world have been successfully moved in similar circumstances. In 2007, a shipping lane in the approaches to Boston Harbour in America was moved in order to lower the risk of collision with Right Whales by avoiding the main area of density, cutting the risk of collision by an estimated 58 per cent.

In order for the shipping lane to be moved, Sri Lanka will need to bring forward a proposal for consideration by the International Maritime Organisation. Additional data continues to be gathered and further analyses will be coordinated through the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission.

From Wildlife Extra

How Reintroducing the Tasmanian Devil Could Help Save Australia’s Feral Cats

Australia is poised to slaughter millions of feral cats in a cull that the government says is the only option to save Australia’s wildlife. As staunch criticism of that move grows, a group of scientists have announced they believe there may be an alternative, and it involve’s reintroducing to the mainland one of Australia’s most iconic animals.

Feral cats as well as feral foxes have been getting out of hand in Australia lately. The reasons for this are diverse, but one of the main problems is that the local apex predator, the dingo, has declined significantly over the last ten years, this due in large part to government-backed culls that were requested by big farming firms in order to protect livestock.

As is common in this kind of situation, when you remove an apex predator, other smaller predators that would have been kept in check begin to flourish. That is why there is a feral cat and fox problem today. The Australian government has been quick to propose more culls and is threatening to kill up to two million feral cats. At the same time, animal campaigners have hit back saying that culls are not the answer as they have been proved ineffective. Instead, they propose mass neutering programs that will work in the long term to drive down feral cat numbers.

Now, scientists from the University of New South Wales have come up with another option that might help as part of that less aggressive strategy: reintroduce the Tasmanian devil. The devil, which is a small carnivorous marsupial, went extinct on the mainland about 3,000 years ago. However, the researchers say it would offer new competition to the feral foxes and cats, and that this in turn would serve to keep their numbers in check.

They point to the fact that evidence from Tasmania shows that the devils are not interested in livestock and have proved to be effective at keeping fox numbers down.

The researchers specifically examined data with a mind to how the devils would integrate back into South Eastern parts of New South Wales, Australia. Their research, which is published this month in the journal Biological Conservation, examined data from previous studies that cataloged the behavior and impact of the Tasmanian devil. They then took that information and created models of scenarios that could happen if the devil was reintroduced. These included scenarios where the devils coexisted with the competing predators, eradicated them or had no effect.

The researchers, based on that previous data, were then able to say that reintroduction of the Tasmanian devil would likely drive down numbers of feral foxes and cats but would not completely eradicate them. This is obviously the ideal outcome, and the researchers also had some more good news.

The Tasmanian devil is currently facing a population threat of its own: a disease that causes facial tumors has blighted the devil. Culling is an ineffective method of controlling this problem, and while some other population management strategies have had limited success, the best hope is currently a vaccine . However, the researchers in this latest study have shown that selecting healthy Tasmanian devils to repopulate certain areas of Australia would be a boon to the the devil’s long-term survival too.

Furthermore, the researchers also highlight that the evidence supports the Tasmanian devil’s reintroduction being good for other species, for example bandicoots and ringtail possums, though the research did show that overall those animals that have been made vulnerable by the feral fox problem would still be vulnerable due to the overlap in which prey species foxes and the devils will take–that shows that this isn’t a perfect solution, but that it might be one good option in a multi-pronged approach. Altogether, the researchers believe that while this wouldn’t solve the feral fox and cat problem, it is one in a range of solutions that could have meaningful benefits if employed intelligently and with care.

“We suspect that they help control the fox and cat populations by directly attacking them and their young,” co-author Associate Professor Mike Letnic is quoted as saying. “There is very good evidence from Tasmania that cats modify their movements and numbers are lower where there are healthy devil populations. Devils aren’t a silver bullet, but we think that they could do a lot of good on the mainland, and this study indicates that a monitored process of reintroduction could actually work,” adds Professor Letnic. “We need to take action to arrest the extinction crisis we have in Australia, and that requires being bold and trying something new.”

This research will no doubt be good news for animal welfare campaigners and environmentalists as a whole who say that culling as a management strategy is rarely the best approach and certainly isn’t right for the feral cat and fox problem currently facing Australia. What is quite elegant about this solution is that bringing in another apex predator could help to readdress the imbalance we have caused by attacking dingo numbers and benefit a number of other species, thus being an example of how effective species management can rely on subtle balancing and science, rather than knee-jerk politicking.

Steve Williams|August 17, 2015

Forestry

They’re dragging their heels while forests fall ‏

Forests are being destroyed, and communities are losing their lands and livelihoods, all so leading fashion brands can have cheap fabric. Far too many fashion brands STILL haven’t taken action to ensure that these egregious impacts never enter their supply chains.

With 15 fashion companies on notice, some of them may have felt they could sneak under the radar.

Last week, RAN released a new report, “Lessons from the Incense Forest” where we told the story of just one of the communities impacted by pulp and paper expansion — the community of Pandumaan-Sipituhuta in North Sumatra, Indonesia. This community has been fighting to protect their traditionally-owned forest for the last six years — community forests have been clearcut by pulp producer Toba Pulp Lestari and converted to plantations to create the raw material for rayon, viscose, and other wood-based fabrics. This community isn’t just losing their livelihoods — the deforestation has also hurt the local ecosystem, drying up rivers used for farming. When the community has taken nonviolent action, the police have responded with brutality, threatening children and elders, beating villagers, and arresting protesters. This is simply unacceptable.

Brutality, destruction, and violence in order to provide cheap fabric to Big Fashion cannot be tolerated.

We have been telling leading fashion brands about these issues since we launched this campaign — almost a year ago. While some companies have started to pay attention, most of them are still ignoring this important issues. Without taking action, it is impossible for these brands to ensure that forest destruction and human rights abuses are not part of the clothing they are selling every day.

Click here to tell leading fashion brands that they can’t ignore this issue any longer — it is time to develop a strong public policy and due diligence systems that eliminate egregious sources, prevent future risks and to ensure that the policy is implemented throughout their entire supply chain.

The community of Pandumaan-Sipituhuta, and so many others, are on the frontlines of the fight against forest destruction for fashion. It’s time that fashion companies take action to ensure that these forests and communities are protected, and that these abuses never end up in our clothing.

Brihannala Morgan|Senior Forest Campaigner|Rainforest Action Network

Global Warming and Climate Change

The time for feeling powerless in the face of climate chaos is over. ‏

2015 is on track to be the hottest year in recorded history, and this December hundreds of world governments will meet in Paris to try to strike a global climate agreement. It will be the biggest gathering of its kind since 2009, and it’s potentially a big deal for our global movement.

In Paris our governments are supposed to agree on a shared target for climate action, based on the national plans governments have been putting together all year — but the numbers just aren’t adding up. Everything being discussed will allow too many communities that have polluted the least to be devastated by floods, rising sea levels and other disasters.

This has the makings of a global failure of ambition — and at a moment when renewable energy is becoming a revolutionary economic force that could power a just transition away from fossil fuels. Click here to join us in telling world leaders to keep fossil fuels underground and finance a just transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050.

Our movement has grown tremendously — and it shows every time a new leader stands up to declare we must keep fossil fuels under ground, or a university, church or pension fund divests from fossil fuels. The problem is the power of the fossil fuel industry.

The Paris negotiations could potentially send a signal that world governments are serious about keeping fossil fuels in the ground. If they fail, it will embolden the fossil fuel industry and expose more communities to toxic extraction and climate disasters.

The solutions are obvious: we need to stop digging up and burning fossil fuels, start building renewable energy everywhere we can, and make sure communities on the front lines of climate change have the resources they need to respond to the crisis.

This could be a turning point — if we push for it. Click here to join our global call for action to world governments, telling them to commit to keeping at least 80% of fossil fuels underground, and financing a just transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050.

The time for feeling powerless in the face of climate chaos is over. No matter what happens in the negotiating halls, we must build power to hold them accountable to the principles of justice and science.

After many months of consultation with our global network, here is the plan for what I call “The Road Through Paris”: the plan to grow our movement and hold world leaders accountable to the action we need.

First, in September we will launch a global framework to grow the movement before and after the Paris talks. On September 10th, Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein and others will be joined by global movement leaders in New York City to lay out our vision for the road ahead. Then on September 26th communities across the globe will hold workshops to plan for the coming months of action. After that, I think we’ll see several months of escalating activity as communities drive the message home that we can’t wait for action.

The talks in Paris start on November 30th, and run for 2 weeks. But before the talks start, the world will stand together in a weekend of global action, paired with an enormous march in the streets of Paris. During the talks, 350’s team on the ground will do their best to help keep you in the loop on the most important developments. And when the talks wrap up, we’re planning a big action in Paris on December 12th to make sure the people — not the politicians — have the last word.

But most importantly, we won’t stop there. I want you to mark your calendars for the month of April in 2016. That’s when we will mobilize in a global wave of action unlike any we’ve seen before. Not one big march in one city, not a scattering of local actions — but rather a wave of historic national and continent-wide mobilizations targeting the fossil fuel projects that must be kept in the ground, and backing the energy solutions that will take their place.

In the 6 years 350.org has been around, this is the most ambitious plan we’ve ever proposed. But ambition is what is called for, along with courage, faith in each other and the readiness to respond when disaster strikes, plans change, or politicians fail to lead.

We are nearer than ever to the changes we’ve been fighting to see. I hope to stand with you in the coming months to see them through.

May Boeve|Executive Director|350.org|8/17/15

Sea unicorn goes north as Arctic warms

Record sighting of Narwhal at 88 degrees north by Russian scientific expedition.

The sighting was made by the four-month North Pole-2015 expedition on a drifting ice floe which began one degree from the pole. The 17 scientists and two dogs drifted 700 kilometres through Arctic waters. 

Unexpected for the scientists was the discovery of the Narwhal – which has been called the Unicorn of the Sea – in such northerly waters. Zoologist Vladimir Tushkevitch said it was a ‘real scientific discovery’ because until now such whales do not generally appear above the 82 degrees of latitude. 

Several sources said the most northernmost sightings until now have been north of Franz Joseph Land, at about 85 degrees. But Tushkevitch’s sighting was much further north. 

‘I stood on the observation tower with a camera and then appeared the whales – male and female,’ he said after the expedition arrived back at the Russian arctic port of Murmansk on board  icebreaker Captain Dranitsin.

The images have not been released as yet. 

The scientists were met by Russian Natural Resources Minister Sergei Donskoi and the chairman of the Russian Association of Polar Explorers Arthur Chilingarov, and received a commitment that such missions will continue to be held at least until 2019.

During this year’s expedition the floe area decreased by 16 times but there was no emergency evacuation as occurred last year. The participants ‘constantly fell into thawed holes’, and cracks appeared user the scientific station and camp set up on the ice, requiring it to be moved to a safer location. 

Director of the State Oceanographic Institute Yuri Sychev said the expedition confirmed assumptions of scientists about rapid warming in polar regions. ‘The Arctic is warming and changing rapidly,’ he said. ‘This relates to the quality and chemical composition of the ice and the composition of species in the biota under the ice. These findings are extremely important for the economy, so that it can prepare for the changes.’

Donskoy praised the mission for its ‘really valuable’ data gathering relating to biodiversity and climate change. 

Scientist Kirill Filchuk said: ‘Predictions that the warming is coming, the ice disappears in the Arctic, where do they come from? This is the result of mathematical models. The only way [to confirm it]  is to come here and measure and get this data.’

Explorer Chilingrov said: ‘I believe that we need to continue this work, need to seek funds. We realize that it is very important for Russia, especially today, when the government has filed an application for the enlargement of its continental shelf boundaries.

‘We are in the Arctic for a long time, forever! And in order to be here forever, we need to work hard.’

The Siberian Times reporter|17 August 2015

One of World’s Fastest Melting Glaciers May Have Lost Largest Chunk of Ice in Recorded History

With the world’s glaciers melting at record rates, the Jakobshavn—Greenland‘s fastest-moving glacier and one of the fastest melting in the world—may have lost its largest chunk of ice in recorded history.

The Washington Post reported that members of the Arctic Sea Ice Forum examined satellite images of the glacier between Aug. 14 and Aug. 16 and found that a large chunk of ice (an estimated total area of of 12.5 square kilometers or five square miles), had broken away from the glacier’s face. The amount is quite possibly the largest ever recorded, some members have speculated.

According to forum member Espen Olsen, this loss is “one of the largest calvings in many years, if not the largest.” (Calving is the sudden release and breaking away of a mass of ice from a glacier, iceberg, ice front, ice shelf or crevasse).

As the Post noted in its report, calving isn’t unusual for this area in Greenland due to rising air and sea temperatures in the Arctic. “As of 2012, the glacier was pouring out ice at a speed of 150 feet per day, nearly three times its flow rate in the 1990s,” the report stated.

“Overall, I don’t think that they really can nail the ‘largest’ [calving event] or not,” he wrote in an email to the publication. “I wouldn’t get too excited on this, even though it is not good news.” He added that the satellite images the forum members observed were only spaced by one full day and the ice loss could have broken off in separate smaller events instead of one giant calving.

Even if this event isn’t the largest ice loss recorded on the glacier, as you can see from these satellite images captured on July 31 and Aug. 16 of this year (just two weeks apart!) by Joshua Stevens, a senior data visualizer and cartographer at NASA’s Earth Observatory, the Jakobshavn is going through tremendous ice loss.

“The calving events of Jakobshavn are becoming more spectacular with time, and I am in awe with the calving speed and retreat rate of this glacier,” said Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a NASA Earth Observatory post. “These images are a very good example of the changes taking place in Greenland.”

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The Jakobshavn Glacier on July 31, 2015. Photo credit: NASA

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The same glacier on August 16, 2015. Photo credit: NASA

“What is important is that the ice front, or calving front, keeps retreating inland at galloping speeds,” Rignot said.

The Jakobshavn is of particular significance since it is responsible “for draining a large portion of the Greenland Ice Sheet,” and “could contribute more to sea level rise than any other single feature in the Northern Hemisphere,” the Earth Observatory post stated.

According to University of Washington glaciologist Ian Joughin, Jakobshavn’s calving front has moved about 600 meters (2,000 feet) farther inland than the summer before for the last several years.

The Jakobshavn is also one of the fastest-flowing glaciers in the world. In the summer of 2012 alone, the glacier accelerated at a rate of 17 kilometers (10 miles) per year, a speed never witnessed before. On average, the glacier moved nearly three times faster in 2012 than it did in the mid-1990s.

Worldwide, the current rate of glacier melt is without precedent. Recent data compiled by the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) show that several hundred glaciers are losing between half and one meter of thickness every year—at least twice the average loss for the 20th century—and remote monitoring shows this rate of melting is far more widespread.

Lorraine Chow|August 20, 2015

Public Lands, Oceans Hold 450 Billion Tons of Climate Pollution

Ending new fossil fuel leasing on America’s public lands and offshore areas would keep up to 450 billion tons of greenhouse gases from polluting our atmosphere, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis commissioned by the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth.

The study, by consultants EcoShift, reveals that allowing these publicly owned fossil fuels to be developed would cripple the United States’ ability to meet its obligations to avert the worst effects of the global climate crisis. Our publicly owned coal, oil and natural gas resources are controlled by the federal government, so President Barack Obama has it in his power to make sure they’re never burned — he just needs to commit to it.

The report kicks off a Center campaign to halt new fossil fuel leasing on public lands and offshore areas.

“Our climate can’t afford the pollution from more federal fossil fuel leasing,” said the Center’s Taylor McKinnon. “The natural place for President Obama to start leading the global fight to keep fossil fuels in the ground is on our public lands and oceans.”

Check out our Keep It in the Ground website, sign our petition to keep these fuels in the ground and share it with your networks.

Extreme Weather

4 Endangered Animals Affected by the Drought

If you think the California drought is devastating for humans, just wait until you see how it impacts some of the state’s most vulnerable creatures. The lack of water – or in some cases, the human solution to the lack of water – is taking a toll on a number of endangered species. Here are four at-risk animals that are going to need some extra protections if they’re to survive these drought conditions.

1. Tiger Salamander

Salamandra_Tigre

This 8-inch long black and pale yellow salamander relies on having wet habitats to survive. In ideal conditions, you’ll find the tiger salamander making its home in a pond for up to half of the year. It likes to eat the water bugs and zooplankton, and tends to return to the same pond where it was born in order to breed as an adult.

The drought, however, is responsible for a lot of dried up ponds in California. Unless the ponds have a sufficient amount of water, a lot of the tiger salamander larvae laid there will not mature to a healthy size. When droughts are most severe, dried up ponds mean there is no breeding ground for the salamanders altogether. Given that their numbers are already dangerously low, skipping any breeding seasons spells trouble.

2. Giant Kangaroo Rat

Dipodomys_ingens

This cute little critter isn’t nearly as intimidating as its name suggests. Perhaps if it were actually “giant,” the kangaroo rat would have been able to prevent having 98 percent of its habitat destroyed in the 1980s. Because of this loss of environment, the giant kangaroo rat received endangered status.

For a long time, the giant kangaroo rat had a reputation for being able to withstand having no access to water since it hydrates itself off the small seeds it collects. Unfortunately, a drought still leaves this species vulnerable to starvation. Without rainfall, the grassland it calls home turns into desert. Because the kangaroo rat subsists mainly on grass for food, the population is taking a dive in this drought.

3. Amargosa Vole

California_Vole_(Microtus_californicus)

Voles, sometimes known as meadow mice, are mainly suffering from human response to the drought. When rainwater was more plentiful, the Amargosa vole could successfully drink from marshes. Now, however, people are installing water diversion equipment that alters how the water flows and leaves less for the voles to drink.

Things have gotten so bad for the Amargosa vole that scientists have begun capturing them and breeding them in captivity to make sure they don’t go extinct during this period of drought. Earlier this year, the scientists released a bunch of Amargosa voles back into nature where they can hopefully help to repopulate in the wild. The voles were released by two marshes that have so far gone untarnished by humans during this period of drought.

4. Delta Smelt

Hypomesus_transpacificus

Just decades ago, the delta smelt were one of the most dominant species in California rivers despite their tiny stature. Now, however, their population has declined so drastically that many scientists expect they could be extinct in the not-too-distant future.

In truth, the delta smelt’s downfall began well before the current drought. Humans’ dependence for water meant freshwater was being taken from rivers and leaving the smelt without a place to live.

The drought certainly hasn’t helped matters for the delta smelt any. Now utility companies are taking even more of the freshwater delta smelt’s call home to keep up with human demand. At the same time, the smelt’s numbers keep decreasing.

Kevin Mathews|August 16, 2015

How to Beat the Drought by Hoarding Water (If It Ever Rains Again)

Harvesting rainwater is easy—in theory.

Rainwater harvesting sounds simple, right? People have been setting out containers to catch rain for thousands of years, but collecting rainwater in our thirsty modern world is a messy business. Here’s what you need to know if you’re hoping to stick a bucket under a gutter to conserve water and cut down your water bill.

Why should I collect rainwater?

Rainwater can be used for just about anything—from watering plants and flushing toilets to drinking and cooking. With many states facing a serious drought and some areas enacting water-use rules, water conservation has become a popular motive for collecting rainwater. In some rural areas where groundwater is drying up, rainwater catchment has become a necessity.

In urban environments, most rainwater is lost: Only 15 percent of storm water reenters the ground on developed landscapes (as opposed to 50 percent on natural landscapes). The rest runs off or evaporates. A 2,500-square-foot roof can harvest around 1,500 gallons of water from an inch of rainfall, enough to supply a four-person household for four days. By that formula, a similarly sized roof in the San Francisco Bay Area, where it rains almost 24 inches a year (usually), could collect a 100-day supply of water.

Not surprisingly, sellers of rainwater catchment systems are seeing increased interest in dry states. Jesse Froehlich, founder and owner of Blue Barrel Systems, says she has seen an uptick in business over the past year or so. “The drought has raised a lot of people’s consciousness about conserving water and the benefits of rainwater catchment,” she says. Mark Pape, a board member of the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association and an investor in Rain Harvesting Supplies, says the company’s business has doubled during the last couple of years.

What’s the best way to collect rainwater?

Rainwater catchment systems can range from a couple of 55-gallon barrels in the backyard to industrial-scale cisterns that can supply an entire building. But barrels will only get you so far. If you want to use rainwater for flushing toilets or washing clothes, you’ll need a much more complex system. Pape’s company’s systems include 30,000-gallon cisterns, pumps, gauges, and filters, and they can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 for a single household.

Wait, I heard it’s illegal to harvest rainwater.

In every state but Colorado, you can install barrels under your gutters without permits or professional installers, as long as you only use the water outdoors. Colorado lawmakers recently made news when they failed to pass a bill that would allow homeowners to install two 55-gallon rain barrels on their property. The bill failed because of long-standing rules that guarantee the water coming down from the sky to the holders of downstream water rights.

Most states’ rainwater catchment laws are not so strict. While some states like Utah limit the amount of rainwater you can harvest, most states, especially in the drought-ridden Southwest and West, allow and even encourage residents to collect all they can. Albuquerque’s water authority recently began an initiative to install free rainwater catchment systems to see how much water it can save. Other states and cities across the country have also introduced incentives for rainwater harvesting. Tucson, San Diego, Austin, Seattle, and other cities have rebate programs for rainwater catchment installation, and Texas grants a property tax exemption to residents who install rainwater catchment systems.

What if I want something fancier than a couple of rain barrels?

Beyond basic rainwater collection, you’ll have to check the law. While about a dozen states have laws that define rainwater catchment practices, most don’t. If no state law exists, you’ll have to defer to local laws. There are two major plumbing codes in the United States, but only one has a section on installing rainwater catchment systems. So if your local code doesn’t mention rainwater catchment, you may have to apply for a waiver, and if that doesn’t work, you may be out of luck.

Even if your municipality does allow rainwater catchment, you might have to ask public health officials to approve your system if it connects to your plumbing. (If the system loses pressure, the water in your barrels could flow into city water pipes.) Many health inspectors are unfamiliar with rainwater harvesting and may not approve permits for rainwater harvesting systems, according to Neal Shapiro, a longtime rainwater harvesting advocate who leads the watershed management program in the Office of Sustainability and the Environment in Santa Monica, California.

How big could rainwater catchment get? Perhaps the biggest impediment for rainwater harvesting is the cost. Large-scale rainwater catchment systems remain pricey and municipal water remains very cheap. When you factor in the cost of the collection system, harvested rainwater can cost anywhere from 75 cents to a few dollars per gallon, while municipal water in most areas is as cheap as a fraction of a cent per gallon.* Furthermore, cisterns require a lot of space, which can be hard to come by in dense urban areas.

But as the drought drags on in Western states, the cost of municipal water is increasing, creating new incentives to scoop up rainwater. Last year California voters approved Proposition 1, which will allocate state funds for rainwater harvesting. Some cities have revised their building codes to require new construction to catch rainwater and reuse it on site, including Santa Monica and San Francisco, which recently required large buildings and commercial developments to use recycled water for irrigation and toilet flushing. Most ambitious of all, Los Angeles is developing a plan to harvest rainwater on a large scale by installing cisterns and massive basins around the San Fernando Valley.

Now all we need is some rain.

Luke Whelan|Mon Aug. 17, 2015

[My house was built in 1960 and utilized 2 750 gallon septic tanks. We recently converted to the city sewer system, and instead of crushing and filling in my tanks, I cleaned and chlorinated the tanks and plumbed them to my gutter system so that I catch as much rainwater as possible. I use the water for irrigation of flower and vegetable gardens by installing 12 volt pumps and solar panels to charge 12 volt batteries to run them. The pumps are the same pumps used in RVs that pump only when the discharge valve is open. At any time I have up to 1500 gallons of rainwater on hand.]

The Drought in California Is So Bad the Ground Is Literally Sinking

Vast stretches of California’s Central Valley are sinking faster than in the past as the state continues to pump out massive amounts of groundwater during its epic drought, NASA said in a report released Wednesday. The Golden State has been forced to rely more and more on groundwater as it grapples with a four-year drought, record low snowpack and reservoirs that are running dangerously low.

The report found that some places are losing nearly two inches per month.

“Because of increased pumping, groundwater levels are reaching record lows—up to 100 feet lower than previous records,” said Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin. “As extensive groundwater pumping continues, the land is sinking more rapidly and this puts nearby infrastructure at greater risk of costly damage.”

Sinking land, or subsidence, has been a problem in California’s Central Valley for decades as the state has had to rely on increasing amounts of groundwater. But now NASA data, which the agency obtained by comparing satellite images of the Earth’s surface over time, reveals the problem is the worst its ever been.

NASA says:

Land near Corcoran in the Tulare basin sank 13 inches in just eight months—about 1.6 inches per month. One area in the Sacramento Valley was sinking approximately half-an-inch per month, faster than previous measurements. NASA also found areas near the California Aqueduct sank up to 12.5 inches, with eight inches of that occurring in just four months of 2014.

The increased subsidence rates have the potential to damage local, state and federal infrastructure, including aqueducts, bridges, roads and flood control structures. Long-term subsidence has already destroyed thousands of public and private groundwater well casings in the San Joaquin Valley. Over time, subsidence can permanently reduce the underground aquifer’s water storage capacity.

In response to the findings, Gov. Brown’s Drought Task Force has pledged to help local communities reduce subsidence, protect infrastructure and to better manage sustainable groundwater supplies. The Department of Water Resources will also launch a $10 million program to help communities with groundwater-stressed basins, or strengthen local ordinances or conservation plans.

And Californians aren’t the only ones with that sinking feeling. Last week, a study showed parts of southern Arizona are sinking too. The U.S. Geological Survey has identified more than 17,000 square miles (an area the size of New Hampshire and Vermont combined) of land subsidence in 45 states.

Cole Mellino|August 20, 2015

Old Farmer’s Almanac Disagrees with El Niño Outlook

Forecasters have been predicting El Niño for months, but this month are saying not only are we in an El Niño pattern, it may be the strongest in recent history.

NOAA is predicting that the El Niño will peak in the late fall/early winter with sea surface temperatures near or exceeding 2.0°C (3.6°F) above normal. If that forecast comes to be, the 2015 El Niños will be one of the strongest since 1950.

El Niño doesn’t affect U.S. weather directly, but changes the overall flow or circulation of the atmosphere. When warmer tropical Pacific waters release more heat to the atmosphere, air rises and leads to storms in the central and eastern tropics. The rising air moves north (and south) away from the tropics, traveling to the mid-latitudes, where it shifts the North Pacific jet stream farther southward and eastward. Movement and extension of the jet stream can bring more storms to the United States, and change the seasonal temperature and precipitation patterns.

The further away from the Pacific, the more variation in what El Niño may mean. 

In the Southeast, for example, people likely are in for a dry late summer (relatively dry due to fewer tropical storms), followed by a cool, wet winter and a stormy spring.

NOAA is currently predicting a 90 percent chance that El Niño will continue through winter.

The odds that El Niño will continue and that it will be strong stacks the deck for providing California with some drought relief, but it’s not a guarantee.

“The chances that southern California will receive above- normal, near-normal, or below-normal rainfall in winter (December – February) are equal: 33.3% above normal, 33.3% near normal, and 33.3% below normal. During a strong El Niño year, these odds might shift to, say, 60% chance of above, 30% chance of near normal, and 10% chance of below,” NOAA’s Emily Becker explained in the agency’s blog.

“In other words, even a strong El Niño is not a sure-fire drought-buster for California … However, a strong El Niño does increase the chance of more precipitation overall during the winter, and also brings the potential for extreme rainfall. This may help alleviate the drought, but also can also lead to mudslides and flooding,” she wrote.

While forecasters are fairly certain that California will get rain and the Southeast will have a cool, wet winter, the Old Farmer’s Almanac disagrees – at least about part of the El Niño forecast.

In the annual edition released on Wednesday, the 224-year-old periodical predicted:

“Winter will be cold again in much of the nation, with below-normal temperatures along most of the Atlantic seaboard and in the Ohio Valley, Great Lakes, Pacific Northwest, and southwestern states.”

That’s not all. It also predicts a dry winter in the Southeast.

“Super cold is coming,” said the Almanac’s editor, Janice Stillman. “But the good news is that areas with record-shattering snow last winter — like Boston — won’t have to deal with quite so many flakes.”

This year’s edition also calls for a cold and dry winter in California, going against the hopes (and scientific forecasts) that El Niño might bring heavy rain and snow to the drought-plagued West Coast. 

Allison Floyd|Growing America|August 20th, 2015

NOAA: July Was Hottest Month Ever Worldwide

July was a scorcher, globally speaking. Last month was the warmest on record worldwide with many countries and the world’s oceans experiencing intense heat waves, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said today in a report.

The report found that “the July average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.46°F above the 20th century average.” And since July is “climatologically the warmest month for the year, this was also the all-time highest monthly temperature in the 1880–2015 record, at 61.86°F, surpassing the previous record set in 1998 by 0.14°F.” It comes as no surprise that Arctic sea ice hasn’t fared well with all this warmth. The average Arctic sea ice extent was the eighth smallest since records began in 1979.

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Graphic credit: NOAA

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Graphic credit: NOAA

The report also found that it’s been the warmest January to July period on record, all but ensuring that 2015 will be the hottest year on record. “I would say [we’re] 99 percent certain that it’s going to be the warmest year on record,” Jessica Blunden, a climate scientist with ERT, Inc., at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said during a press teleconference on Thursday.

Evidence of this record heat is everywhere you look. Thirteen of the last 15 years have been the warmest years on record. According to a Climate Central analysis, “the odds of that happening randomly without the boost of global warming was 1 in 27 million.” At EcoWatch we have covered extensively the heat waves hitting the globe in recent months. India and Pakistan both had heat waves that killed thousands of people and even melted the roads. Extreme weather has scorched the Middle East, Asia, Europe and the U.S. Earlier this month, the heat index in Iran hit 164°F, among the hottest temperatures ever endured by mankind.

Cole Mellino|August 20, 2015

Genetically Modified Organisms

GM Bacteria ‘Suffocates’ Soil, Says Retired EPA Scientist

How GM crops literally suffocate the soil

Dr. Ramon Seidler, a retired senior scientist from the US Environmental Protection Agency, has become a leading spokesperson against genetically modified foods and the increasing use of pesticides with GM crops. Dr. Seidler has published numerous papers on the subject of GMOs, arguing against them, rather than for them, as many other industry puppets do. He notes the effect genetically modified bacteria has on our soil as one reason why GMOs aren’t so great.

Dr. Seidler was part of the first team in the world to conduct an outdoor experiment involving different types of genetically engineered alfalfa inoculated with GE beneficial root bacteria. We discovered that the GE bacteria survived for years in the soil, even after the removal of the alfalfa plants. The doctor also found issues with transgenic DNA and Bt toxins, specifically because they were damaging to the ecosystems in which they were planted.

Dr. Seidler told The Organic and Non-GMO Report:

“From the risk assessment, economic, and legal perspectives there are many issues. There is a mixture of unfilled promises, concerns over litigation resulting from cross pollination and seed comingling events, and a disappointment that crop management practices have had significant negative impacts upon environmental biosafety. All of these side effects are happening despite no yield or production advantages of GE crops over traditional crops. There are also major concerns over whether the increased use of pesticides on our food crops have impacts upon the human population.”

So, why is it a problem if GM bacteria stays in our soil?

GM crops literally suffocate the soil. Our soil is full of billions of tiny micro-organisms, and without them, the larger organism – the plant – cannot grow properly. Soil is a complex mixture of these micro-organisms, minerals, rock, fungi, organic matter, and bacteria. If you alter just one aspect of the soil, you alter everything that grows in it.

For example:

“. . . the function of mycorrhizal fungi that surround plant roots and aid plant uptake of nutrients, resist disease and tolerate drought. These are especially vulnerable to human impacts [including GMO].

Mycorrhizae establish a symbiotic relationship with the roots of most plants and then send out their filaments, called hyphae, up to 200 times farther into the soil than the roots they colonize.

They enable the plant to better tap into a wider area for water and nutrients, especially phosphorus. This extended feeding area makes mycorrhizae associated plants healthier, with better root formation, fewer root diseases and pest problems and consequently require less moisture and fertilizer.

These delicate organisms are known to be affected by pesticides and fertilizer and so it is little wonder that the toxins from GM Bt crops, produced from every cell of the plant, have a negative impact on the colonisation of the roots and surrounding soil.”

Furthermore, GM crops are taking important enzymes and minerals out of our soil. Glyphosate and other herbicides and pesticides act as chelators, ruining the healthful nature of organic soil. In fact, glyphosate was first patented as a mineral chelator, so why would Monsanto try to tell us it isn’t ruining the minerals in our soil?

Here is one reported example of how GM corn is nutritionally-inferior to non-GM corn:

  • Non-GMO corn has 6130 ppm of calcium while GMO corn has 14 — non-GMO corn has 437 times more calcium.
  • Non-GMO corn has 113 ppm of magnesium while GMO corn has 2 — non-GMO corn has about 56 times more magnesium.
  • Non-GMO corn has 113 ppm of potassium while GMO corn has 7 — non-GMO corn has 16 times more potassium.
  • Non-GMO corn has 14 ppm of manganese while GMO corn has 2 — non-GMO corn has 7 times more manganese.

This means that if the damage GM crops cause to our soil persists for years, possibly even decades, then our chances for growing healthful, robust food full of the nutrients we need is ever-declining.

Might it be time to grow a non-GMO garden of your own? This may be the only way to ensure that we continue to have healthy soil. It isn’t just about ruining GM crops anymore – the very soil is being damaged by the biotech industry made up of a handful of multinational corporations (Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, DuPont, etc.).

Right now, biotech is winning. They control $19,600 million in proprietary seeds. Private farmers have their own seed-saving techniques which account for $6,100 million of the food market, according to this report.

How many millions of acres of land have these companies ruined, though? How many miles of farmland will be unusable until it is heavily remediated for decades after being planted with GM corn and soy for years? The damage can hardly be assessed as it stands. Likely, the trillions we will have to spend righting the wrongs of biotech will have these companies and their executives indebted to humankind for millennia.

Grassroots efforts could start restoring the soil, now, though, if we all acted together. You can watch how one gardener in Portland, Oregon, re-mineralized his soil to grow amazing, organic plants. He does it one garden bed at a time. If that’s what it takes to fight Monsanto, then so be it. It starts with us.

Christina Sarich|August 16, 2015

New revelation about glyphosate-cancer link

Glyphosate narrowly missed being classed as a known rather than a probable carcinogen in the World Health Organisation evaluation.

An excellent article by Andrew Cockburn in Harpers explains that anti-invasive species hysteria is prevalent across the US, from university biology departments to wildlife bureaucracies to garden clubs. Glyphosate is the weapon of choice for battling invaders that are seen as threatening native species.

Over 90 percent of California’s land managers use the compound, which is particularly recommended as a slayer of eucalyptus trees. Last year, the federal government spent more than $2 billion to fight the alien invasion, up to half of which was budgeted for glyphosate and other poisons.

This resulting high exposure to glyphosate of the American public is an especially serious issue since the decision of the World Health Organisation’s cancer agency IARC that the herbicide is a “probable” carcinogen. Monsanto has tried to bamboozle the public about the significance of the IARC decision by confusing the 2A (probable human carcinogen) category that IARC put glyphosate into with the 2B category – “possible human carcinogen”, a group occupied by common substances like coffee and pickled vegetables. The message is: many of us drink coffee and eat pickled vegetables without worrying, so we shouldn’t worry about glyphosate either.

Cockburn’s article reveals that the discussion at IARC was NOT about whether glyphosate should be in category 2A (probable carcinogen) or category 2B (possible carcinogen). Instead the discussion was about whether glyphosate should be classed in category 1 (known human carcinogen).
The IARC group was headed by Aaron Blair, an epidemiologist who spent thirty years at the National Cancer Institute. Cockburn paraphrases Blair as follows:

“According to Blair, there were good grounds to declare that glyphosate definitely causes cancer” – in other words, it should be classed in category 1 as a known human carcinogen. But “This did not happen, [Blair] said, because ‘the epidemiologic data was a little noisy’. In other words, while several studies suggested a link, another study, of farmers in Iowa and North Carolina, did not. Blair pointed out that there had been a similar inconsistency in human studies of benzene, now universally acknowledged as a carcinogen. In any case, this solitary glitch in the data caused the group to list glyphosate as a probable (instead of a definite) cause of cancer.”

Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant called the IARC study “junk science” that should be retracted. But Blair replied, “Historically, the same thing happened with tobacco, the same thing happened with asbestos, the same thing happened with arsenic… It’s not junk science.”

The bottom line is that Blair has placed the row in historical perspective by comparing glyphosate with benzene, tobacco, asbestos and arsenic. And we all know how dangerous they are.

Iowa and North Carolina study not reassuring

Blair of the IARC mentions the Agricultural Health Study in Iowa and North Carolina as a study which, in Cockburn’s paraphrases, did not find a link between glyphosate and cancer. In reality, though, the study is not reassuring and doesn’t contradict other studies that did find a link, for two reasons.

1. The study did find “a suggested association” between glyphosate exposure and multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer. A rebuttal study commissioned by Monsanto and published in 2015 ahead of the re-evaluations of glyphosate by the US and the EU used a different dataset and concluded “no convincing evidence” of a link. Whether the Monsanto re-analysis is more reliable than the findings of the publicly funded Agricultural Health Study is debatable.

2. In a separate study also conducted in Iowa, detectable levels of glyphosate were found in urine samples from farm families and non-farm families. The researchers put this down to the fact that glyphosate herbicides are used in home gardens as well as in agriculture. Thus in the Agricultural Health Study the control population is as likely to be exposed to glyphosate as the “exposed” population, so the differences between the groups may be small or non-existent. The implication of the urine study is that the real link between glyphosate and cancer could be far stronger than was found in the Agricultural Health Study.

Glyphosate-resistant weeds: the ultimate invasive species

The massive irony emphasized by Cockburn’s article is that America’s reliance on the probable carcinogen glyphosate has backfired. Glyphosate over-use on both invasive species and GM glyphosate-tolerant crops has led to the spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds. The agricultural consultant Dr Charles Benbrook is quoted in the article as saying, “It’s a disaster… As resistant weeds spread and become more of an economic issue for more farmers, the only way they know how to react — the only way that they feel they can react — is by spraying more.”

It has become common for farmers to spray three times a season instead of once, and Benbrook estimates that the extra doses of herbicide will add up to 75,000 tons in 2015. Farmers now have to contend with glyphosate-tolerant mares tail that grows up to eight feet tall, with stems thick enough, according to one farmer, to “stop a combine in its tracks”. It is, according to Cockburn, the ultimate “alien invasive, made right here in America”.

Claire Robinson|13 August 2015

Scotland Will Bar All Genetically Modified Crops

Country uses new European law allowing ban for reasons “other than science.”

The Scottish government has announced that it intends to ban the cultivation of GM crops approved by EU regulatory authorities within its borders. Scotland’s GM crop ban became feasible legally earlier this year after the European parliament approved a new law that allowed EU member nations to ban GMOs for reasons ‘other than science’, including country planning and socio-economic impact. The new law also extends to devolved administrations, such as Scotland’s, as well as member states.

The announcement was welcomed by environmental groups opposed to GMOs, but unleashed a torrent of criticism from scientists, agribusiness leaders and farm organisations.

Huw Jones, head of cereal transformation at agricultural science institute Rothamsted Research, UK, said: ‘This is a sad day for science and a sad day for Scotland.’

In announcing the ban, the rural affairs secretary Richard Loch argued that prohibiting cultivation of GM crops would protect and enhance Scotland’s ‘clean, green status’ and be beneficial to Scotland’s economy. He pointed to the £14 billion food and drink sector ‘valued at home and abroad for its natural, high quality’ suggesting that this could be threatened by growing GM crops.

‘The Scottish government has long-standing concerns about GM crops – concerns that are shared by other European countries and consumers, and which should not be dismissed lightly,’ he said. ‘I firmly believe that GM policy in Scotland should be guided by what’s best for our economy and our own agricultural sector rather than the priorities of others.’

Jones countered: ‘GM crops approved by the EU are safe for humans, animals and the environment and it’s a shame the Scottish parliament think cultivation would harm their food and drink sector.’

Anne Glover, of the University of Aberdeen, UK, and former chief scientist to the European commission, agreed, saying that the safety of GM crops has been ‘supported by a global scientific consensus’. She added that GM crops could also be capable of fulfilling the Scottish government’s stated desire to enhance the country’s clean, green status. ‘With appropriate choices, GM technology can offer one approach to sustainable farming by reducing the need for chemical inputs which benefits the consumer, the farmer and the environment,’ she said.

An official request to ban GM crop cultivation will ‘shortly’ be submitted to EU authorities, Loch said, adding that the Scottish ban would include the already approved insect resistant maize MON810 and six other GM crops awaiting EU authorisation.

Thus far only Latvia and Greece have made use of the new law by submitting requests to the EU to ban GM crop cultivation, according to Enrico Brivio, European commission spokesperson for health and food safety. Brivio tells Chemistry World that nine nations (Austria, Hungary, Luxembourg, Germany, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, France and Poland) had previously banned cultivation of MON810 under so-called safeguard clauses.

While proponents of GM crops are critical of Scotland’s intention to ban GM crops under the new law, Brivio notes that the commission initiated the law and therefore ‘notes with satisfaction that member states make use of this new possibility given to them’.

Ned Stafford and ChemistryWorld|August 14, 2015

This article is reproduced with permission from Chemistry World. The article was first published on August 12, 2015.

Energy

EPA Proposes First Methane Cuts for Fracking Industry as Part of Obama’s Climate Efforts

Today, the Obama administration released its proposed rule to limit air pollution from fracking and other oil and gas operations. The Methane Pollution Standard is the first limits on methane emissions from new and modified facilities including well pads, compressor station, storage facilities and other infrastructure.

At Earthworks we have witnessed the impacts of air pollution from oil and gas drilling for decades. But, it was only when we purchased our FLIR Gasfinder camera a year ago that we were able to see firsthand the methane and volatile organic compounds spewing from nearly every oil and gas site we visited. It was scary for us to see and it is even scarier for communities to live with.

These Clean Air Act rules come at a time when the rush to drill has scarred our landscapes and the hearts of families whose children are suffering from environment-induced asthma, nosebleeds and headaches. Fracking and the web of infrastructure that comes with it, has reached its spidery fingers into our most vulnerable neighborhoods, far beyond the point of extraction. The oil and gas industry has left no stone unturned and neither can we.

Better regulations to rein in this out-of-control industry are one tool in our toolbox to help reduce the harm of fracking across the country. These rules will make a difference for people from California to Texas to Ohio and Pennsylvania who are faced with oil and gas knocking on their front door.

The rules address threats to our air, our planet and our common sense:

  • Fracking and related activity is bad for our climate. President Obama likes to talk about reducing our carbon footprint, but CO2 is only one of many greenhouse gases that worsen the impacts of climate change. Methane, the gas specifically targeted by this rule, is 86x worse for climate than CO2, but it gets about 86x less attention. This rule can change that.
  • Oil and gas operations pollute our communities with health-harming chemicals like Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), benzene, a known carcinogen and ozone, which is hazardous to human health and can cause premature death. Exposure to hydrogen sulfide gas, found in many shale oil and gas formations, can cause difficulty breathing and eye and throat irritation. High levels of exposure can be fatal. These harmful air toxins often “hitchhike” along with methane pollution, allowing this new rule to capture a whole host of pollutants.
  • And finally, allowing these chemicals to pollute our air wasteful. Methane, by another name, is natural gas. Yes, the exact thing that we are trying to produce more of is what we are recklessly releasing into the air and allowing to pollution our communities. By plugging the leaks we will stop our natural resources from becoming polluting waste.

We can see the pollution and we can stop it.

But the rule falls short. It only covers new facilities, leaving people who have already signed leases, already grown their families in areas infiltrated by industry, in danger. We cannot afford to turn down any solutions, but we also cannot afford to stop fighting for comprehensive solutions that protect everyone.

And that’s the elephant in the room. In order to protect our clean air for the long haul, we must expedite the transition to renewable energy—today. We have the solutions, it’s time our leaders in Washington take decisive action to realize the renewable energy future we need now.

Lauren Pagel|Earthworks|August 18, 2015

Fossil Fuel Leasing on Public Lands Must End to Prevent Global Climate Crisis, Report Finds

Ending new fossil fuel leasing on lands and offshore areas controlled by the U.S. government would keep up to 450 billion tons of greenhouse gases (GHG) from polluting the atmosphere, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis by EcoShift on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth released today.

The Bureau of Land Management has leased 2.2 billion tons of publicly owned coal during the Obama administration, unlocking 3.9 billion metric tons of carbon pollution. Photo credit: Tim Aubry / Greenpeace

The Bureau of Land Management has leased 2.2 billion tons of publicly owned coal during the Obama administration, unlocking 3.9 billion metric tons of carbon pollution. Photo credit: Tim Aubry / Greenpeace

The analysis, The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions of U.S. Federal Fossil Fuels, models the life-cycle greenhouse gas pollution that would result from developing federally-controlled coal, oil shale, natural gas, crude oil and tar sands on public lands and offshore ocean areas under government control.

Allowing these publicly owned fossil fuels to be developed would cripple the U.S.’ ability to meet its obligations to avert the worst effects of the global climate crisis, the report finds.

“The facts have been increasingly clear for a long time and we believe that this analysis finally puts the issue of continued development of federal fossil reserves to rest. We cannot afford to continue ignoring reality,” said EcoShift Principal Dr. Alexander Gershenson.

Among the key findings:

  • Potential GHG emissions of federal fossil fuels (leased and un-leased) if developed would release up to 492 gigatons (Gt) (one gigaton equals 1 billion tons) of carbon dioxide equivalent pollution (CO2e); representing 46 percent to 50 percent of potential emissions from all remaining U.S. fossil fuels.
  • Of that amount, up to 450 Gt CO2e have not yet been leased to private industry for extraction.
  • Releasing those 450 Gt CO2e (the equivalent annual pollution of more than 118,000 coal-fired power plants) would be incompatible with any U.S. share of global carbon limits that would keep emissions below scientifically advised levels.

“Our climate can’t afford the pollution from more federal fossil fuel leasing,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The natural place for President Obama to start leading the global fight to keep fossil fuels in the ground is on our public lands and oceans.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects that maintaining a good chance of avoiding 2°C warming by century’s end requires limiting global emissions to about 1390 Gt CO2e (or 1000 Gt CO2). Emissions from un-leased federal fossil fuels exceed U.S. emissions quotas for maintaining only a 50 percent chance of avoiding 2°C of warming. The potential emissions of un-leased federal fossil fuels are entirely precluded after factoring in the emissions of developing non-federal and already leased federal fossil fuels.

“Our government has already leased more public fossil fuels than can safely be burned,” said Marissa Knodel, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth. “Each new lease puts us farther down the path toward climate catastrophe and is a direct contradiction to the president’s pledge to attack the climate crisis head-on.”

Federal agencies do not track or report the nationwide cumulative greenhouse gas emissions that result from federal leasing of fossil fuel reserves. Likewise, they do not assess the potential emissions of remaining fossil fuel resources and reserves.

“This analysis shows that the U.S.’ remaining federal fossil fuels contain vast potential for greenhouse gas pollution,” said EcoShift Principal Dr. Dustin Mulvaney. “To our knowledge, this is the first-ever attempt to understand the pollution potential of the publicly-owned fossil fuels that the federal government controls.”

Friends of the Earth|Center for Biological Diversity|August 19, 2015

Solar Cell Efficiency Could Double with Novel “Green” Antenna

With the goal of producing solar energy conversion devices that are environmentally friendly, green and sustainable, scientists at UConn are designing and evaluating artificial light antenna systems using biological soft materials.

The use of solar energy in the U.S. is growing, but panels on rooftops are still a rare sight. They cost thousands of dollars, and homeowners don’t recoup costs for years even in the sunniest or best-subsidized locales for at least a few years. But scientists may have a solution. They report today the development of a unique, “green” antenna that could potentially double the efficiencies of certain kinds of solar cells and make them more affordable.

The researchers are presenting their work at the 250th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS, the world’s largest scientific society, is holding the meeting in Boston through Thursday. It features more than 9,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics.

“Most of the light from the sun is emitted over a very broad window of wavelengths,” says Challa V. Kumar, Ph.D. “If you want to use solar energy to produce electric current, you want to harvest as much of that spectrum as possible.”

But the silicon solar cells people buy today are not very efficient in the blue part of the light spectrum. So Kumar’s team at the University of Connecticut built an antenna that collects those unused blue photons and then converts them to lower energy photons that the silicon can then turn into current.

“Many groups around the world are working hard to make this kind of antenna, and ours is the first of its kind in the whole world,” he says.

Commercial solar cells do a good job of converting light from about 600 to 1,000 nanometers (nm) into electric current but not from the 350 to 600 nm range. That’s part of the reason solar cells on the market today are only about 11 to 15 percent efficient. High-end panels can reach 25 percent efficiency but are unaffordable for most customers. Lab prototypes can reach even higher efficiencies but are difficult to scale up.

Converting the mostly unused portion of the light spectrum to wavelengths solar cells can use in an affordable way is far from a simple task. To tackle this problem, Kumar turned to organic dyes. Photons in light excite dye molecules, which can then, under the right circumstances, relax and emit less energetic but more silicon-friendly photons.

But to get dye molecules to work together, they need to be wrapped individually and densely, while satisfying certain quantum mechanical requirements. To address this issue, they embed the dyes inside a protein-lipid hydrogel by mixing them together, warming them up and then cooling them to room temperature. With this simple process, the material wraps around individual dye molecules, keeping them separated while packing them densely. Rather than creating a radio-like antenna, however, the procedure results in a thin, pinkish film that can be coated on top of a solar cell.

“It’s very simple chemistry,” Kumar says. “It can be done in the kitchen or in a remote village. That makes it inexpensive to produce.”

These antennas are made with biological and non-toxic materials that are edible in theory, Kumar says. “Not that you would want to eat your solar cells, but they should be compostable so they won’t accumulate in the environment,” he says.

Now his team is working with a Connecticut company to figure out how to apply the artificial antenna to commercial solar cells. In other projects, they also are figuring out ways to use the versatile hydrogel for drug delivery and white light-emitting diodes.

Kumar acknowledges funding from the University of Connecticut and the National Science Foundation.

Renewable Energy World Editors|August 18, 2015

Illegal Dumping of Fracking Wastewater May Be Linked to Radioactivity in PA Creek, Experts Say

Recently released testing results in western Pennsylvania, upstream from Pittsburgh, reveal evidence of radioactive contamination in water flowing from an abandoned mine. Experts say that the radioactive materials may have come from illegal dumping of shale fracking wastewater.

Water at the edge of the Clyde Mine discharge in East Bethlehem Township turns the water orangey red where it flows into Ten Mile Creek. Photo credit: Natasha Khan / PublicSource

Water at the edge of the Clyde Mine discharge in East Bethlehem Township turns the water orangey red where it flows into Ten Mile Creek. Photo credit: Natasha Khan / PublicSource

Regulators had previously found radioactivity levels that exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) drinking water standards more than 60-fold in waters in the same area, which is roughly three miles upstream from a drinking water intake, but those test results were only made public after a local environmental group obtained them through open records requests.

At the end of July, the West Virginia Water Research Institute released the results from its tests of water flowing from an abandoned coal mine.

Most of the sampling results showed no detectable radioactivity, but one test result showed roughly 13 picocuries per liter (pci/l) of gross alpha radioactivity, just below the EPA‘s drinking water limits, confirming the presence of radioactive materials in the mine’s discharge.

“There’s something going on there that’s not right,” Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazett. “The radiation, together with higher bromide levels than you would expect to see coming out of a deep mine, point to drilling wastewater.”

In April 2014, under pressure from local environmental groups, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) had taken samples from the same mine, the Clyde Mine in Washington County, Pennsylvania, as it discharged into 10 Mile Creek, a popular destination for boaters and fishermen.

Those tests showed one sample with radioactive materials (specifically radium 226 and radium 228) totaling 327 pci/l at and a second totaling 301 pci/l—in other words, up to 65 times the radium levels that the EPA considers safe in drinking water.

Some had speculated that the 2014 test results could simply have been flukes or false positives, a claim that seems less likely now that the subsequent round of testing by independent researchers also showed the presence of radioactivity.

The DEP is continuing to investigate, but some in the region say that these efforts are less than satisfactory.

“The DEP has known of elevated levels of radiation in the streams for more than a year, during which time countless people have recreated in (the water) and been exposed to possible harm,” Patrick Grenter, director of Center for Coalfield Justice, told the state press.

The discharges from the Clyde Mine flow into Ten Mile Creek, a tributary of the Monongahela River, which serves as a drinking water supply for much of Pittsburgh and the surrounding region.

One drinking water intake, the Tri County Joint Municipal Authority, is located just three miles downstream from the mine and has been plagued for years by problems with another drilling wastewater-related substance, trihalomethanes.

Very low levels—1 pci/l—of one form of radium were found when that drinking water was tested last year. But tests for other radioactive materials known to be associated with fracking have not been done for years at the plant.

In 2011, the New York Times reported that Pennsylvania was allowing drillers to legally dump shale gas wastewater through sewage treatment plants, knowing that the plants could not remove the radioactive materials found in shale waste—and that no testing had been done to find out whether the state’s drinking water supplies were safe.

Since then, high levels of radioactivity have been found in sediments downstream from wastewater treatment plants, but the April 2014 testing was the first to show illegally high levels of wastewater in the state’s rivers and streams.

Ken Dufalla, a local environmentalist who filed the open records request, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he was concerned that the more than 1.6 trillion gallons of water trapped in the Clyde Mine’s underground labyrinth had been contaminated by illegal shale wastewater dumping. “I’m going to keep turning every stone over until we find out what’s going on,” he added.

The recent tests showed radioactivity was present, but at 13 pci/l, slightly below the 15 pci/l that the EPA considers the maximum for drinking water safety.

Prof. Ziemkiewicz told DeSmog Blog that it is unusual to see any radioactivity at all coming out of deep mines like Clyde Mine, so that while July’s results were below the EPA’s drinking water standard, his organization would be continuing to test. He had not conducted tests of the sediments in the riverbed, he added.

State environmental regulators also launched a new round of their own testing, with results due out before the end of this month.

But those tests have drawn strong criticism from those closely following the issue because the creek was flowing unusually fast—more than ten times its normal volume—when the samples were taken. That means that the discharge from the mine would be far more diluted than normal, so tests would return abnormally low numbers.

The DEP’s testing has drawn outrage from local environmental organizations as a result.

“DEP’s recent sampling of Ten Mile Creek flies in the face of common sense and reveals a disturbing lack of seriousness that is dismissive of the community in Greene County and the significance of this situation,” Mr. Grenter told PublicSource.

The half-life for radium 226 is 1,600 years, meaning even then it will still be half as potent at it is today. According to the EPA, long term exposure to radium increases risk of lymphoma, bone cancer and leukemia.

The state’s testing methods are also under scrutiny.

Earlier this year, a peer-reviewed study found that the EPA’s approved method for testing drinking water for radioactivity can understate radium levels in fracking wastewater by as much as 99 percent because the high levels of corrosive salts also in fracking waste can throw off testing results.

The DEP’s 2014 test results used a different and more accurate technique, gamma spectroscopy, to measure radioactivity levels, but state regulators in the Marcellus region have at times used the EPA’s flawed testing methods, known as EPA 903 and EPA 904 to measure radium in fracking waste.

This is not the first time that regulators have suspected that abandoned coal mines are being used to surreptitiously get rid of fracking wastewater. In 2011, leaked internal EPA emails gave the public a window into one such investigation involving suspected illegal dumping in the Gateway Mine near Ruff Creek, Pennsylvania.

Fracking and drilling generate hundreds of billions of gallons of wastewater a year nationwide and disposing of the waste is proving to be one of the most intractable issues associated with fracking. As evidence grows that injecting it underground is causing earthquakes, drillers are increasingly looking to dispose of their waste by treating it to remove toxic materials. But the highly variable mix of various elements, corrosive salts, petroleum byproducts and other dangerous substances is extremely difficult to adequately treat.

Concern over radioactivity and other contaminants in fracking waste led the EPA to announce in July that it planned to officially block drillers from dumping waste at sewage treatment plants nationwide. Pennsylvania regulators had previously asked drillers to voluntarily refrain from using the plants, but there has been no mandatory bans on the practice until now.

The proposal drew immediate pushback from the oil and gas industry, which argued that the EPA would likely next move to stop the industry from using all treatment plants that dump into rivers.

“If that is foreclosed,” Lee Fuller, Independent Petroleum Association of America’s (IPAA) executive vice president, told FuelFix, “then we’re facing a loss of production because the water can’t be managed.”

Sharon Kelly|DeSmog Blog|August 20, 2015

Donald Trump: Keystone XL Pipeline Would Have ‘No Impact’ on The Environment

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump believes that the Keystone XL pipeline would have “no impact” on the environment and, if elected president, he said he will “immediately approve” the project.

Though, the proposed pipeline’s impact has been widely debated, it’s rare for a policymaker (or would-be policymaker in Trump’s case) to claim that there would be no environmental impact.

“Even the U.S. State Department said that, while there would not be a major impact on climate change, the pipeline would likely experience spills in the course of its lifetime,” reports Think Progress.

Trump has been very vocal in his support of the project, which comes as no surprise given his personal disclosure statements last month, which revealed he holds at least $250,000 worth of stock in TransCanada Pipelines Ltd., the Canadian company hoping to build the pipeline.

Trump’s financial disclosure forms also revealed his extensive holdings in many of the largest fossil fuel companies.  

The project, which is still under review by the Obama administration, is supported by “nearly all Republicans, including their presidential candidates,” according to CNN.

In March, Republicans in the House and Senate passed a bill authorizing the construction of the pipeline, which President Obama vetoed.

Lindsey Graham used the first GOP primary debate as an opportunity to call out Hillary Clinton for wavering on the pipeline, saying, “Hillary Clinton won’t build the Keystone pipeline. I will.” And it’s not just conservatives who are critical of Clinton’s stance (or lack thereof) on Keystone. She has come under intense scrutiny from environmentalists for not opposing the project outright.

Though she has called climate change “one of the defining threats of our time,” environmentalists want to see her take a strong stance on pressing issues such as fracking, Arctic drilling and the Keystone XL pipeline. She has dodged a stance on the pipeline by saying she doesn’t want to second guess the President on an issue that she has personally worked on while at the State Department. But it appears Clinton is finally acknowledging her so-called “climate credibility gap” because after saying she was “skeptical” of President Obama’s plans to allow drilling in the Arctic a few weeks ago, she officially came out against Arctic drilling earlier this week.

There is little doubt that the move comes at least in part because Clinton’s top competitor for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders, is very vocal on climate issues. Last month, he called Clinton out for her silence on Keystone.

“I have helped lead the opposition against the Keystone pipeline,” said Sanders. “I don’t believe we should be excavating or transporting some of the dirtiest fuel on this planet. I think Secretary Clinton has not been clear on her views on that issue.”

Her evolving position on Arctic drilling has left many wondering if she won’t have the same change of heart when it comes to the Keystone pipeline.

Cole Mellino|August 21, 2015

The Massive Nexen Oil Spill and the Illusion of Safety

Last week, Canada had one of its largest oil spills ever. And this was from a brand-new, state–of-the-art pipeline owned by tar sands oil company, Nexen. The spill is an important reminder of how misleading the oil industry’s promises about safety are.

As opposition to risky pipelines and tar sands expansion has grown in Canada in recent years, Canadians have been increasingly bombarded with empty talking points about oil industry safety. Oil companies, pipeline operators and government alike boast about their commitment to developing Canada’s resources ‘responsibly.’ Familiar slogans tout ‘responsible resource development’ ‘world class safety’ and ‘state-of-the-art’ technology.

What’s responsible about spilling more than 5 million litres of tar sands slurry into the ecosystem?  What’s state-of-the-art about a leak detection system that failed, allowing a spill to continue for two weeks before it was discovered by someone walking by?  What’s world class about safety regulators that haven’t meaningfully responded to prevent repeated spills like this?  

Industry’s slogans may sound nice but none of their claims are true. The slogans are just slick spin by the oil industry.

No industry or government catchwords change the facts. Producing tar sands oil releases significant quantities of carbon pollution into our atmosphere, polluting the air while consuming, disturbing and contaminating vast amounts of water and land.

Transporting tar sands bitumen carries significant risks for people and the environment no matter which method of transportation is used. These are real risks for the health and safety of Canadians, for the environment and our economy.

Oil pipelines, like the one owned by Nexen, can and do rupture at high pressure, releasing vast quantities of oil onto land, lakes and rivers. In recent years we have seen major spills from so many familiar pipeline operators including TransCanada, Enbridge, Exxon, and Kinder Morgan.

The question must not be how we develop or move oil in Canada, but if we should. Canada’s oil industry wants to recklessly expand the tar sands for export. If industry gets its way and triples tar sands expansion by 2030, it will cause carbon emissions to climb by 250 per cent. This will make it impossible for Canada to meet its commitments to address climate change, while putting communities across the country at direct risk.

The good news is that expansion of the tar sands is not inevitable. We can say no to more oil pipelines, oil-trains and the polluting tar-sands production they facilitate. And we can say yes to building a low carbon economy powered by clean energy.

Adam Scott|Climate & Energy Program Manager|Environmental Defence|Jul 28 2015

1st US tar sands mine set to open for business in Utah

 BOOK CLIFFS, Utah (AP) — On a remote Utah ridge covered in sagebrush, pines and wild grasses, a Canadian company is about to embark on something never before done commercially in the United States: digging sticky, black, tar-soaked sand from the ground and extracting the petroleum.

The impending opening of the nation’s first tar sands mine has become another front in the battle across the West between preservationists and the energy industry.

U.S. Oil Sands has invested nearly $100 million over the last decade to acquire rights to about 50 square miles, obtain permits and develop what it says is a brand-new, non-toxic method of separating out the oil with the use of an orange-peel extract similar to what’s in citrus-scented household soaps and detergents.

“We’re dedicated to having the world’s most environmentally responsible oil sands project ever built,” CEO Cameron Todd said in a boast that has failed to reassure protesters.

Across the rolling green hills of the Book Cliffs of eastern Utah, about 165 miles from Salt Lake City, the company plans this fall to begin digging the first in a series of pits, each the size of a football stadium, and start unsticking oil from the sand that crumbles in your hand like a brownie.

Tar sands, also called bitumen, are naturally occurring deposits of petroleum. Unlike the oil that flows out of wells, the hydrocarbons in tar sands must first be separated from the dirt by mixing the stuff with hot water and solvent. The oil is then sold to refineries for eventual use as fuel or an industrial ingredient.

Oil production from tar sands has been going on for years in Canada and Venezuela. The Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline that has been blocked by the Obama administration is supposed to carry tar sands oil.

While tar sands mining involves higher operating costs than traditional drilling, it can be highly profitable, especially when crude prices are high. But whether U.S. Oil Sands can make any money on this project remains to be seen.

What looked like a shortage of oil when the company began raising money has now become a glut, in part because energy companies have learned to extract petroleum from formations long thought out of reach.

By the company’s own estimate, it will make little to nothing at crude oil’s current price of $48 per barrel, down from a peak of $147 in 2008. As of Tuesday, U.S. Oil Sands stock was trading at just 12 cents.

Protesters have tried to thwart the mine’s construction for two summers in a row and have gotten arrested for chaining themselves to equipment. They argue that the project is an eyesore and that it could contaminate nearby springs and ruin habitat for deer, beaver and bears.

The mine sits on a cleared swath of land enclosed by barbed wire, with modular buildings, bulldozers, large metal posts and rails and a massive metal cylinder with a cone-shaped bottom where the tar sand mixing will be done.

Demonstrators who have been camping out all summer near the site gathered outside the front gate on a recent day to show their opposition. Some wore chipmunk masks. Other banged drums. Some held signs with messages such as “Dirty Energy Kills.”

“It’s heartbreaking to see what they’ve been doing out here,” said Melanie Martin of the Tar Sands Resistance Movement. “It’s impossible to reclaim and rehabilitate the land once they do what they are planning to do with it. The land is not going to come back for millennia.”

Opponents also worry the mine will spur more projects in this pristine area that attracts hikers, campers and hunters. A 45-mile, $86 million highway as smooth as an autobahn has been built out to the mine. And the state has given approval for three other tar sands operations in the same corner of Utah.

Instead of relying on the usual industrial-strength hydrocarbon solvent, U.S. Oil Sands says it will employ the biodegradable citrus extract that is in grease-cutting household products.

Utah officials who recently approved the mine also imposed a key requirement environmentalists considered a victory: The company must monitor water and air quality.

And instead of leaving open pits, ponds of mining debris and barren land, U.S. Oil Sands says it will fill in the holes with the clean leftover sand and plant grass and other vegetation.

U.S. Oil Sands estimates there are 180 million barrels of oil close to the surface on the land it is leasing. It plans to begin turning out 2,000 barrels per day later this year — a puny share of the 9.3 million the U.S. produces daily — and take it by truck to refineries. It says the mine will create about 50 full-time jobs when opened.

“This is a breakthrough in technology,” Todd said by telephone from Calgary. “If we’re able to demonstrate to the investment world that this is possible, there are many, many places where this could be done.”

Alex Beeker, an industry research analyst, said he doesn’t expect the mine to set off an explosion of tar sands mining in the U.S., where the prospects are basically limited to Utah. “But if U.S. Oil Sands starts to do very well, you’re going to see more operators try to mimic what they’re doing,” he said.

Brady McCombs|Associated Press |Aug 21st, 2015|Associated Press Energy Writer Jonathan Fahey contributed to this report from New York.

Land Conservation

USDA to invest $20 million to help 15 states increase recreational public access on private farm, ranch, and forest lands

WASHINGTON, Aug. 17, 2015 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will invest $20 million to partner with 15 state agencies to improve and increase wildlife habitat and public access for recreational opportunities on privately-owned and operated farm, ranch and forest lands. The projects are being funded under the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP).

“Our partnerships with state governments will help them work with interested landowners to enhance hunting and fishing and other wildlife-dependent recreation, to enhance wildlife habitat, and to protect wildlife species and encourage new opportunities for local businesses,” Vilsack said. “These projects are excellent examples of USDA’s successful efforts to connect public and private partners for long-term conservation gains that benefit sportsmen, wildlife, private land owners, and the public.”

The selected state governments will encourage owners and operators of privately held farm, ranch or forest land in their respective states to voluntarily open their land for hunting, fishing and other wildlife-dependent recreation and to improve fish and wildlife habitat on that land.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation (NRCS) awarded grants for projects in Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

This fiscal year’s selected projects include:

Massachusetts – The state’s Mohawk Trail Woodland Community Habitat Program will use the VPA-HIP grant of approximately $836,500 to build on an existing Regional Conservation Partnership Program project designed to create wildlife habitat in a 28-town region in western Massachusetts. The state will create and improve recreational opportunities with a flexible program to ensure all citizens, including low income residents, can participate and enjoy benefits such as hunting, fishing and wildlife watching on about 10,000 acres of private forestland.

Nebraska – The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission will use the VPA-HIP grant of $1.35 million to improve and expand its efforts to open private land to hunting, fishing, and other compatible public recreation activities.  These funds will enable new access to up to 260,000 land acres, 400 new surface acres, and 55 new miles of streams and rivers for hunting and/or fishing.

Washington – The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife will use the VPA-HIP grant of approximately $1.4 million to expand access on up to 60,000 acres of upland bird hunting in the Southeast Washington, up to 10,000 acres of deer and turkey hunting access Northeast Washington and Klickitat County, and deer hunting access on sites near the Puget Sound urban center on small ownerships.  They will also focus on waterfowl hunting access on sites near the Puget Sound urban center and encourage practices that provide important food resources to birds wintering in the region.

See list of all 2015 projects.

According to a 2013 study commissioned by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the outdoor recreation economy in the United States supports 6.1 million direct jobs, $80 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenue, and $646 billion in spending each year.  In evaluating proposals for funding, NRCS looked for projects that would:

  • Increase private land acreage available for public use;
  • Offer a public access program that gains widespread acceptance among landowners;
  • Make special efforts to reach historically underserved or socially disadvantaged landowners;
  • Ensure appropriate wildlife habitat is located on enrolled land;
  • Strengthen existing wildlife habitat improvement efforts;
  • Follow NRCS conservation practice standards for VPA-HIP habitat improvement activities; and;
  • Inform the public about the locations of existing and new lands where public access is available.

When Congress reauthorized VPA-HIP in the 2014 Farm Bill, Secretary Vilsack assigned administration of the program to NRCS.  In fiscal years 2014 and 2015, USDA has invested the Farm Bill-authorized $40 million for VPA-HIP, which has helped 21 states and one tribal nation complete projects to increase wildlife-dependent outdoor recreation opportunities.

Under VPA-HIP, state and tribal governments apply for grants to encourage owners and operators of privately held farm, ranch or forest land to voluntarily open that land for public wildlife-dependent recreation activities such as fishing, hunting and birding. State and tribal governments may use VPA-HIP funds to create new public access programs, to expand existing public access programs, and to improve wildlife habitat on enrolled public access program lands. Projects can span up to three years.

For more information, visit the NRCS VPA-HIP website.

Justin Fritscher|8/17/15

Florida’s Babcock Ranch: Where alligators, panthers, black bears, deer, exotic birds and real-life cowboys roam

Part of Babcock Ranch is called Telegraph Swamp. There’s a mud road through the swamp with telegraph poles along the route.

The driveway leading to Edward Babcock’s house is nearly five kilometres long.

That gives you some idea of the size of his ranch outside Fort Myers in southwest Florida. It was 154,000 acres (62,321 hectares) when Babcock, a Pittsburgh lumber baron and former mayor, bought it in 1914 when southern Florida was mostly swamp and dense forests. And while around him, the sunshine state grew by millions of people, thousands of hotels, endless condos, luxury homes, amusement parks and marinas, Babcock kept his massive ranch looking much as it did 100 years ago.

He eventually donated 60,000 acres (24,281 hectares) to the state as a wildlife management area. Twenty years ago, Babcock’s heirs opened up the remaining 94,000 acres (38,040 hectares) at Punta Gorda to the public and Babcock Ranch became one of the most popular eco-tourism stops in Florida. The entire ranch was sold to a real estate development firm, but it’s not as bad as it sounds.

The developer then sold 74,000 acres (29,947 hectares) to the State of Florida for $350 million US to maintain in perpetuity as a wilderness preserve. So, you will still be able to roam through the swamps, forests and pastures of the ranch in a unique swamp bus looking at alligators, panthers, black bears, deer, exotic birds and real-life cowboys.

On the other 18,000 acres (7,284 hectares), developer, Syd Kitson, a former NFL lineman with the Green Bay Packers, plans to create the world’s most sustainable city with 19,600 homes. Kitson plans to have his community powered solely by solar power by having Florida Power & Light build the world’s largest photovoltaic power station.

While riding through the Cypress swamp areas of Babcock Ranch, you will be able to rub the soft underbelly of an alligator and understand why their skin is held in such high regard by designers of high-end shoes and luggage. That gator gets right on the rugged, open-air bus with you. Thankfully, it’s only a baby (with sharp teeth), and is held firmly in the grip of guide Mike Winters.

Other alligators, some nearly four metres long and with much bigger teeth, come within a metre of the bus passengers, but thankfully, they aren’t welcome aboard. They remain in the shallow swamp waters through which the bus rumbles.

And although the elusive Florida panthers that prowl around the ranch at night are rarely seen, you’ll get to look one or two of them right in their deep green eyes. Two panthers live on the ranch in a large penned-in area. Others roam freely in the woods.

Other species on the ranch also flourish, including Florida Cracker cattle, the oldest breed known in America. They look like Texas Longhorns, but they are smaller and their horns are not as wide, which is important. With wider horns, they would never have been able to survive their feral lives in the Florida swamps, for the horns would tangle in the dense foliage, according to guide and swamp bus diver Winters.

Real-life cowboys wrangle the cattle on this huge ranch. And they look like the cowboys you remember from Saturday afternoon movies. They live on the ranch, some in bunkhouses, ride horses everywhere and have holsters on their hips, but Winters says the holsters are for their cell phones. Exposed guns are illegal in this county.

Part of the ranch is called Telegraph Swamp. There’s a mud road through the swamp with telegraph poles along the route. Winters said the telegraph lines carried the message in 1898 that the U.S. battleship Maine had been blown up in Havana Harbour to spark the Spanish American War.

The state’s purchase of 74,000 acres (29,947 hectares) completes a publicly owned wildlife corridor of 400,000 acres (161,874 hectares) connecting Lake Okeechobee west to the Gulf of Mexico.

The swamp bus tour takes 90 minutes and costs $18 for adults and $11 for children three to 11 years old. On the tours, you might see bald eagles, black bears, bison, wild turkeys, wild pigs, burrowing owls, sandhill cranes, quails, fox squirrels, rattlesnakes and the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. After the tour, you can visit the Babcock Ranch Museum, which depicts the natural and cultural history of southern Florida. The museum is in a small trapper’s shack and it might look familiar. It played a significant role in the Warner Bros. movie Just Cause with Sean Connery and Laurence Fishburne, which was filmed on the ranch in 1995.

Pat Brennan|Postmedia News|Aug. 20, 2015

Air Quality

Deadly Massive Chemical Explosion Raises Concerns of Toxic Brew Released Into the Environment

In the wake of the deadly explosion that ripped through Tianjin, China that has claimed at least 114 lives and left 70 more still missing since last Wednesday, attention is now being turned to what might have triggered the disaster as well as the toxic chemical brew released into the environment.

While the exact cause is currently unclear, we know that the blast occurred at a warehouse owned by Rui Hai International Logistics, a private company licensed to handle potentially hazardous cargo, The New York Times reported.

Officials from the Tianjin Tanggu Environmental Monitoring Station reported that the company stored a number of toxic industrial chemicals—sodium cyanide, toluene diisocyanate and calcium carbide—and was licensed to handle highly combustible substances such as compressed and liquefied natural gas, the Times wrote.

A closer look of an aerial view of the crater in Tianjin, China. Photo credit: EPA

An aerial view of the crater in Tianjin, China. Photo credit: EPA

Deborah Read, an associate professor at Massey University’s Center for Public Health Research in New Zealand, described to the The National Business Review the dangerous nature of these three chemicals on human health.

“Sodium cyanide releases hydrogen cyanide gas on contact with acids or water. Hydrogen cyanide interferes with the body’s ability to use oxygen particularly affecting the brain, heart and lungs and can rapidly lead to death,” she said.

As for the other chemicals that were reportedly present in the warehouse, Read continued that “toluene diisocyanate irritates eyes and airways and can cause asthma and fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema).”

“Contact of calcium carbide with water can result in fire and explosion. Calcium carbide is corrosive to skin, eyes and airways and can cause fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema),” she said.

Sodium cyanide, which is primarily used in the mining industry and for plastic production, is of particular concern; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying that exposure to chemical can be “rapidly fatal.”

According to the Associated Press, the warehouse stored 700 tons of sodium cyanide, a quantity that violated safety rules. Safety laws require facilities as such to be 1,000 (3,300 feet) away from residences, public buildings and highways, but the warehouse was within 500 meters of both an expressway and a 100,000-square meter (1 million-square foot) apartment complex, the AP reported.

In the images below, you’ll see the trail of destruction as a result from the horrific incident.

Bao Jingling, the chief engineer from Tianjin’s environmental protection bureau, said at a press conference this morning that excessive levels of sodium cyanide—with the highest levels at 27 times the acceptable limit—were detected in surface wastewater at the blast site, The Guardian reported.

Meanwhile, as NBC News reported, impending rain and thunderstorms have raised concerns about the potential of poisonous hydrogen cyanide being released into the air, as sodium cyanide is water-soluble.

“If there is rain, it will produce hydrogen cyanide, so we are monitoring it closely,” said Bao.

Greenpeace East Asia noted in a press release that residents within the 3 kilometer safety zone surrounding the blast have been evacuated due to the presence of hazardous chemicals.

The organization also released a separate statement that highlights the need for more government regulation:

“In the first half of 2015, over 13 chemical industry explosion accidents have occurred. The severity of the Tianjin explosion should be a wake-up call for the government. Loopholes must be closed, and regulations must be implemented strictly and effectively. If not, we will continue to see these kinds of dangerous accidents.”

Greenpeace East Asia’s Toxics Campaigner Wu Yixiu added:

“The horrific Tianjin explosion on Wednesday night and the worrying scenes we have witnessed over the last five days are just the tip of the iceberg. What lies beneath the surface is years of negligence in regards to hazardous chemicals policies and their implementation.”

Researchers recently found that in the notoriously polluted country, 1.6 million people die every year from heart, lung and stroke due to polluted air. That’s 4,000 people a day.

The Chinese government has rolled out investigations into any abuse of power that may have contributed to the lethal explosion, The Guardian reported.

“We must thoroughly investigate [the incident] and hold accountable all those responsible,” Premier Li Keqiang said. “We must give an answer for families of the victims, an answer for all residents of Tianjin, an answer for all Chinese people, and an answer for history.”

Chinese Public Security Minister Guo Shengkun also said that those responsible for the disaster will be “punished severely.”

In addition to the death toll and those still missing, about 6,300 people have been displaced and 721 have been injured, NBC News reported (via China’s Xinhua news agency).

Watch the video for footage of the blast (video might be disturbing for some).

Lorraine Chow|August 17, 2015

Miscellaneous

Human sore throat bacteria found to have led to the death of a hedgehog

news/Young_healthy_hedgehog_(Tony_Wills)

A post mortem carried out by the Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) Institute of Zoology has, for the first time, identified that a human sore throat pathogen was responsible for the death of a wild hedgehog.

The free-living European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) was found dead in northern England and a post-mortem examination and detailed laboratory testing confirmed the presence of the pathogen Streptococcus pyogenes, typically found in humans with sore throat or rash-like symptoms.

The pathogen was characterised as emm 28, a strain associated with invasive disease in humans. The discovery is the first known report of this human pathogen in a hedgehog, and in any free-living wild animal, as confirmed by gene sequencing.

The pathogen was determined to be the cause of death in the hedgehog, the bacteria having likely entered the body via a tooth root abscess, before spreading to other tissues.

A paper, written by Lydia Franklinos, a wildlife veterinarian within ZSL’s Institute of Zoology, and published in EcoHealth, hypothesizes that the case may have resulted from the transfer of infection from human to hedgehog via anthroponotic infection, or reverse zoonosis.

It is thought that the opportunities for direct and indirect contact between wild hedgehogs and humans could be a possible explanation for this unexpected finding.

Franklinos says: “While it is more common to hear about zoonotic diseases originating from wildlife, we rarely encounter disease transferring from human to animal, as appears to be the case here.

“We need to be vigilant, and continue to monitor the threat to wildlife from humans and their activities.

“The hedgehog is in decline in the UK, and I would encourage further research on the pathogens of hedgehogs to better understand disease threats to the species in order to inform conservation efforts.”

The post mortem was carried out as part of Garden Wildlife Health (www.gardenwildlifehealth.org), an initiative which aims to monitor the health of, and identify disease threats to, British wildlife.

From Wildlife Extra

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

Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

ConsRep 1508 B

Where profits alone count, there can be no thinking about the rhythms of nature, its phases of decay and regeneration, or the complexity of ecosystems which may be gravely upset by human intervention… It is not enough to balance, in the medium term, the protection of nature with financial gain, or the preservation of the environment with progress. Halfway measures simply delay the inevitable disaster.  – Pope Francis, Papal Encyclical “Laudato Si,” June 18, 2015

Announcements

Gopher tortoise workshop set for south Florida

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is holding regional workshops to present information on

opportunities for local governments to help conserve gopher tortoises in Florida.

The last of the south Florida workshops is scheduled for Aug. 19 in Port St. Lucie. Representatives from local governments in nearby counties are encouraged to attend.

The goal of these workshops is to identify ways cities and counties can participate in conserving one of Florida’s threatened species.

In addition, the FWC will discuss financial incentives available for local governments.

“Partnerships involving cities, counties and the FWC have led to wonderful projects to conserve gopher tortoises and their habitats,”

said Alex Kalfin, local government coordinator for the FWC’s gopher tortoise management program.

“We look forward every year to our regional workshops, where representatives of local governments can find out how to get involved in gopher tortoise conservation.”

The upcoming workshop is in:

St. Lucie County

Wednesday, Aug. 19

9 a.m. – noon

Oxbow Eco-Center

5400 NE St. James Dr.

Port St. Lucie, FL 34983

The workshop is free, but registration is required, as space is limited.

To register, please send your name and the name of your organization to Alex.Kalfin@MyFWC.com.

For more information, and to download the Gopher Tortoise Management Plan, visit MyFWC.com/GopherTortoise and click on “Management Plan.”

Working Group-sponsored public workshop for Integrated Delivery Schedule (IDS) August 20

The South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force will be holding a Working Group-sponsored public workshop for

the Integrated Delivery Schedule (IDS) Thursday, Aug. 20 from 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. at the South Florida Water Management District Headquarters

in the Governing Board Auditorium, Building B-1, 3301 Gun Club Road, in West Palm Beach.

The updated Integrated Delivery Schedule will provide the sequencing of federally cost-shared Everglades restoration projects.

It will provide the sequencing strategy for planning, designing, and constructing federal projects cost-shared with local sponsors

as part of the Central and Southern Florida Projects (C&SF), based on ecosystem needs, benefits, costs and available funding.

Public discussions related to the IDS will include construction timelines, interdependencies and benefits related to multiple projects.

The Task Force will provide feedback from the workshop to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

and the South Florida Water Management District during the IDS update.

The public is advised that it is possible that one or more members of the Water Resources Advisory Commission and

Governing Board of the South Florida Water Management District may attend and participate in this meeting.

The draft agenda for the Working Group-sponsored public workshop is available at:

http://www.evergladesrestoration.gov/content/ids/meetings/082015/agenda.pdf

A live webcast link will be available shortly before the workshop begins at 1 p.m.

This link, along with additional information on the Task Force’s Working Group-sponsored public workshops, available at:

http://www.evergladesrestoration.gov/content/ids.html

New Superintendent  Named for Big Cypress

Big Cypress National Preserve is getting

a new superintendent. Tamara “Tammy”

Whittington was appointed 

to replace Pedro Ramos, who left Big

Cypress in January to take the top job

at Everglades National Park. A native of Colorado

and a 27-year veteran of the NPS and

U.S. Fish & Wildlife, Whittington

  enjoys hiking, biking and kayaking – all perfect pursuits for the

  Big Cypress. She’s expected to start her new job in October.

Of Interest to All

Oil Exploration in Big Cypress National Preserve

Oil exploration is planned for 70, 540 acres of publicly owned land within Big Cypress National Preserve 

 

An oil company is proposing to conduct a large scale seismic survey in search of oil over 70,540 acres in the Big Cypress National Preserve. These lands are critical to maintaining water flows in the Everglades and provide a sanctuary to numerous endangered species including, the Florida panther, red-cockaded woodpecker, Florida bonneted bat, and the wood stork.

Oil and gas interests threaten the integrity of the Preserve

The oil exploration project proposed for the Preserve is a type of seismic survey using vibroseis buggies weighing over 67,000 lbs. each. A seismic vibrator is mounted on these buggies which injects vibrations into the earth.  A recording device is then used to evaluate how these vibrations travel through the ground. This data is analyzed to determine the nature of the underground rock formations, including likelihood of oil reserves. Vibroseis buggies are proposed to traverse in the Big Cypress National Preserve, stopping to vibrate every 82 feet or a total of 32,657 times across the project area. While the Preserve allows reasonable access to mineral rights, this plan and its methodology will create unacceptable negative impacts and therefore the permit for it should be denied.

The survey will require the use of heavy equipment in addition to the vibroseis buggies including utility transport vehicles, semi-tractor trailers, and helicopters. The use of such machinery may result in damage to vegetation, cause soil compaction, direct impact to critical wetlands, and/or crack shallow rock formations resulting in sinkhole formation or the drainage of nearby surface waters.

Additionally, the noise generated by the activity may disturb wildlife impacting feeding, nesting, and denning behavior while increases in vehicle traffic may lead to more frequent wildlife deaths on roadways. No wildlife surveys or traffic studies have been conducted as part of the application process, and only minimal buffers were proposed from imperiled species. Without conducting wildlife surveys and traffic studies, it is impossible for the applicant to quantify impacts and for the Park Service to make an informed permitting decision.

This project will also utilize the public parking in the Preserve, limiting access and disturbing visitors who wish to enjoy these public lands.

This project will likely result in long term impacts on wildlife habitat, vegetation communities and water resources. Once completed, such exploration activities are expected to lead to additional oil drilling within the Preserve, resulting in further damage to sensitive natural resources.

Broward County takes step to oppose Everglades drilling

Cities, county vow to fight Everglades drilling proposal

Broward County vowed to fight Kanter Real Estate’s application for a drilling permit in the Everglades..

In a County Commission meeting Tuesday, commissioners unanimously voted to pursue an amendment to state law clarifying that counties have the power to decide whether drilling can occur in unincorporated areas, just as state law says cities do within their borders.

Opposition to the proposed drilling has grown since the company applied for an exploratory drilling permit in early July.

Edna LaRoche, executive assistant to Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam, said a “league of cities” stands with Miramar to oppose Kanter’s application, including Sunrise, Pembroke Pines, Hallandale Beach, Plantation, Tamarac, Weston and Wilton Manors.

Miramar, the closest city to the proposed drilling site, will hold a town hall meeting Tuesday, Aug. 18, at 6:30 p.m. in the Miramar City Hall.

The meeting will allow Broward County cities to discuss methods to organize efforts and respond to actions taken by the state, LaRoche said.

According to Jay Schwartz, a Pembroke Pines commissioner, the city will also hold a town hall meeting on Aug. 20 at the River of Grass Theater at 7 p.m.

Of the 18 people who spoke Tuesday, only one supported exploratory drilling in the Everglades.

Commissioner Dale Holness said he wholeheartedly supports the effort to amend the statute.

“This is a critical thing that we must do,” he said. “We have to protect [the environment] not only for us today, but for our children and grandchildren. I hope our steps to get the legislation in place that gives us more empowerment will be done as speedily as possible.”

Brooke Baitinger|Sun Sentinel|August 11, 2015

DuPont Caught Covering Up Deadly Risks of Chemical that’s in Nearly Everything & Everyone

Thousands of people have filed lawsuits against DuPont for poisoning them with a chemical that causes birth defects, multiple types of cancer, and death. According to internal DuPont documents and emails, the company knew about the health risks to their employees and local communities but covered up the data in order to increase their profit margin. After decades of dumping this toxic chemical into the ocean, rivers, landfills, and the air, DuPont has contaminated the bloodstream of nearly every American with this non-biodegradable chemical.

In 1946, Teflon was introduced with an essential ingredient known as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) or C8. For several decades, DuPont and seven other corporations contaminated the U.S. by using C8 in hundreds of products, including Gore-Tex and other waterproof clothing; coatings for eyeglasses and tennis rackets; stain-proof coatings for carpets and furniture; bicycle lubricants; communications cables; fast food wrappers; fire-fighting foam; microwave popcorn bags; pizza boxes, ski wax; non-stick cookware; and satellite components.

According to internal DuPont documents, an employee named R.A. Dickison noted in 1954 receiving an inquiry into the possible toxicity of C8. Seven years later, a group of in-house researchers discovered that C8 was toxic and should be handled with extreme care. However, DuPont decided not to disclose this information to its own employees. Over the years, DuPont scientists have conducted experiments exposing dogs, rats, rabbits, monkeys, and humans to varying doses of C8, which killed many of the lab animals.

During the first trimester of her pregnancy, former DuPont employee Sue Bailey was transferred to the Teflon division at the Parkersburg plant in 1980. Her son, Bucky, was born with tear duct deformities, only one nostril, an eyelid that started down by his nose, and a condition known as keyhole pupil. According to a recent article in The Intercept, at least one of eight babies born to women who worked in the Teflon division had birth defects.

While on maternity leave, Bailey received a phone call from a DuPont doctor asking if her baby had any birth defects. Before Bailey returned to work, she learned that DuPont decided to remove all female employees from the Teflon division. When Bailey returned to work and visited the plant doctor, Dr. Younger Lovelace Power told her that Bucky’s birth defects were not caused by C8 and also told Bailey that the company had no record of her working in the Teflon division.

When the female employees were removed from the Teflon division at the Parkersburg plant, Ken Wamsley began working in Teflon after his supervisor assured him that C8 only affects some pregnant women. After years of exposure to C8, Wamsley was diagnosed with rectal cancer and underwent surgery in 2002 to treat it.

Due to the fact that C8 is so chemically stable, scientists have determined it will never break down and expect C8 to remain on the planet long after humans have gone extinct. During the early 1960s, DuPont buried approximately 200 drums of C8 on the banks of the Ohio River. An internal DuPont document from 1975 revealed that the company had also been packing the toxic chemical into drums loaded with stones and dumping them into the ocean.

As DuPont eventually ceased dumping C8 into the ocean, they began disposing the chemical in unlined landfills and ponds. DuPont also contaminated the air by releasing the chemical through smokestacks and pouring waste directly into the Ohio River. According to a 2007 analysis from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), C8 is in the blood of 99.7% of Americans. C8 has also been found in arctic birds, bald eagles, bottlenose dolphins, caribou, harbor seals, lions, tigers, polar bears, walruses, and sea turtles.

A study by Dennis Paustenbach published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health found that the DuPont plant in West Virginia spread nearly 2.5 million pounds of C8 into the area surrounding Parkersburg between 1951 and 2003. Roughly 80,000 residents filed a class-action lawsuit against DuPont in 2001. After reaching a settlement in 2005, DuPont agreed to pay $343 million for residents’ medical tests, the removal of as much C8 from the area’s water supply as possible, and a science panel’s study into the toxic effects of C8 on humans.

After seven years, the science panel found that C8 was “more likely than not” linked to ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol, pregnancy-induced hypertension, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, and kidney cancer. The scientists also found that even extremely low levels of exposure were associated with health problems.

Next month, the first of approximately 3,500 personal injury claims is set for trial. Among the lawsuits is a wrongful death claim filed by Virginia Morrison of Parkersburg, West Virginia. Morrison is accusing DuPont of causing the death of her husband in 2008 from injuries related to kidney cancer.

Marred with a history of deceit and negligence, DuPont has repeatedly violated state and federal laws while causing the deaths of numerous employees. The production of leaded gasoline at its New Jersey plant caused madness and several violent deaths of employees. During the 1930s, employees were diagnosed with bladder cancer after exposure to certain dye chemicals. In 1989, DuPont employees at the Parkersburg plant experienced an elevated number of leukemia deaths and an unexpectedly high number of kidney cancers among male workers.

On November 15, 2014, a gas leak resulted in the deaths of four DuPont employees at the La Porte plant. On January 23, 2010, a phosgene gas leak killed a DuPont employee at the Belle plant. And on November 11, 2010, two contractors were welding when sparks ignited flammable vapors and caused an explosion at the DuPont facility outside Buffalo, New York. The explosion killed one contractor and left the other seriously injured.

DuPont has denied any wrongdoing or breaking any laws even though the EPA, OSHA, and other agencies have repeatedly cited the company for serious safety violations. Instead of taking responsibility for causing multiple types of cancer and birth defects, DuPont claims that the plaintiffs’ injuries were “caused by acts of God” over which DuPont had no control.

In 2006, DuPont and seven other companies signed on with the EPA’s 2010/2015 PFOA Stewardship Program and agreed to reduce C8 emissions and cease producing the toxic chemical by 2015.

Andrew Emett|August 13, 2015

Whale Choking on Plastic Seeks Help From Fishermen

Did you know that whales can have tongues as heavy as an elephant and a heart the size of a car, but their throats are incredibly tiny? For instance, blue whales—the largest animals on Earth—have throats about the size of a beach ball so they can dine on krill and zooplankton.

So it’s no wonder that this big, beautiful creature, found by a group of fishermen in Middle Harbour, Sydney, was struggling with a plastic bag and fishing line caught in its mouth. One of the men, Ivan Iskenderian, was able to lean over his boat and remove the waste from the whale, the Daily Telegraph reported.

“It was right on his lip … he seemed like he wanted it off,” Iskenderian told the publication. He added that the whale ­appeared to show its appreciation by slapping its fin on the water.

Ron Kovacs captured video of the encounter and also attempted to relieve the whale. “He had a big scar on his back, and some fishing line and two plastic bags on his head,” he said, according to the Independent.

“He [kept] popping his head up so you could reach out and remove the garbage. He tried on my boat bit [it was] a bit harder as we are a bit higher—I made one grab for the bag but missed,” he said. “He later came up to a trailer boat and presented his head as they removed the bag and [then] the fishing line. It was as if he wanted them to take it off.”

This particular whale appears to be the endangered Southern right whale, according to marine biologist Tegan A. L. Mortimer. She told EcoWatch that these whales are found all around the temperate and sub-tropical Southern Hemisphere and related to more endangered species, the North Pacific right whale and the North Atlantic right whale.

Mortimer, who is researching the impact of plastic pollution on mysticete whales including humpback within Massachusetts Bay, said that this story reminds us all that these creatures live in our backyards and are impacted by human activities.

“Globally, the leading threats to whales, dolphins and porpoises are entanglement in fishing gear and strikes from vessels,” she said. “The impacts of plastic pollution on these animals isn’t well understood but we do know, from examples like this, that these animals are interacting with our plastic trash. Plastic in the ocean is something that everyone can have a positive impact on.”

A recent study found that 8 million metric tons of plastic waste is dumped into the world’s oceans every year, or as Mortimer puts it: “That’s five shopping bags filled with plastic trash for every foot of coastline in the world!”

Lorraine Chow|August 14, 2015

Why Tens of Thousands of Toxic Mines Litter the U.S. West

The spill in Colorado’s Animas River highlights the problem of wastewater building up in abandoned mines

The fouled waters of the Animas River are slowly clearing, but the widespread hazards posed by toxic mine waste will be with us for centuries.

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accidentally released three million gallons of toxic waste into the Colorado waterway during efforts to clean up a long-defunct gold mine. The spill turned the blue-green waters of the Animas bright orange, and the gunk has spread from Colorado into New Mexico and Utah.

While the colorful incident made global headlines, the situation on the Animas came as no surprise to environmentalists. The EPA estimates that mining has already contaminated streams in the headwaters of more than 40 percent of the watersheds in the American West—and more problems are lurking below Earth’s surface. Mining was largely unregulated across much of the West until the 1970s, and today the tunnels of those mines lie abandoned and are often flooded with a toxic stew like the one the EPA accidentally unleashed from Gold King Mine on August 5.

“Abandoned mines sites are sitting out there in the tens of thousands, just in the West, and a significant component of them are releasing this acid mine drainage to receiving waters,” says Ronald Cohen, a professor at the Colorado School of Mines and at North-West University in South Africa.

So what is it about mining that generates so much toxic material? The nasty-looking runoff that inundated the Animas River was created from a set of seemingly benign ingredients. The process begins when groundwater, rainwater and snowmelt, kept in check by pumps while the mine operates, fill up the tunnels once the site is abandoned. The water mixes with pyrite (iron sulfide) and the mine’s air to produce hydrogen ions and sulfates—which pair up to form sulfuric acid. As if that acid isn’t bad enough, it soon goes to work dissolving metals like iron, aluminum and manganese, as well as metalloids like arsenic, from the rocks commonly found in and around mines.

“Toxic metals are most soluble when the acidity is high, when the pH levels are low,” Cohen explains. “So when the pH goes down to pH 3, pH 2, the metals are very soluble and the acid sort of feeds back to dissolve those metals and make the water even more toxic.” Once a volume of watery toxic waste forms, the job of handling it safely becomes very difficult. The first step, Cohen notes, is to try to keep waste inside the mine until it can be removed and treated at a controlled rate. “You put a cork in it,” he says.

If the EPA has enough funding to tackle a site with best practices, they might install a 12-foot-thick reinforced concrete bulkhead to keep water inside the mine. Bulkheads are fitted with pipes so that when water builds up in the mine, it can be released through the pipes at a controlled rate for treatment. The Gold King Mine was blocked with a dam of bulldozed rock, Cohen adds, which is a less expensive but common method of containment. The EPA accidentally breached that plug while attempting to fit a pipe for water treatment, according to statements from the agency’s on-scene coordinator Hayes Griswold.

Some catastrophic runoffs like the Animas spill produce a shocking visual effect, staining the water with hues so distinctive they’ve been made into their own paint colors. But many of the abandoned mines in the U.S. and around the world create less dramatic but equally disturbing pollution that makes far fewer headlines.

“Water has this habit of finding the path of least resistance,” Cohen says. “So it goes from coming out one place to coming out in every little fracture around the mountainside.”

Even when mine waste can be safely contained, cleaning it up requires money and commitment over the span of many lifetimes. “You’re going to be treating, as they say, in perpetuity,” Cohen explains. “Now, I’ve done work in South Africa where we’ve calculated when the oxygen may run out inside a particular mine and found out it’s not really perpetuity but 200 years. But a mindset of treating for perpetuity is the way you have to approach it.”

Treatment might mean anything up to and including a multistage water treatment plant, but that’s something rarely seen in the world of mine remediation. Far more common is construction of a watery pit that employs the flip side of the chemical equation that loaded the water with metals in the first place.

“Just as acidic water dissolves the metals, if you make the water in a pit very basic in nature—a pH significantly above 7—then you knock those dissolved metals out of the solution and they settle to the bottom of the pit,” says Cohen. Four such ponds have been built to capture and treat water at the Gold King Mine site, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said on August 11 during a previously scheduled appearance at the Washington research group Resources for the Future. Ponds of this type, however, must be safely maintained. That can be a difficult proposition, as evidenced by the failures of many such structures around the world—including a water treatment tailings pond that unloaded on the Animas River watershed in 1974.

Luckily, it’s looking like the short-term human health impacts from the recent downstream surge will be minimal. Even though extremely high levels of contamination have been reported in some places, humans can limit their exposure by avoiding swimming or fishing in the river and not drinking its water. Wildlife, of course, has no such option. Acidity levels control aquatic organisms’ ability to keep contaminants from crossing membranes in their bodies. Fish, for example, may admit toxic metals across their gills when pH plunges, and they become less efficient at transferring oxygen across their gills to breathe.

So far, most reports from the Animas River suggest relatively good news for fish and perhaps for other aquatic species subjected to the initial spill. The spill moved downstream so quickly it wasn’t likely to have caused significant health effects to animals in the river system, EPA toxicologist Deborah McKean said Tuesday, according to the Associated Press. Work by Colorado Parks and Wildlife has also been encouraging. Before the yellow plume reached Durango, biologists intentionally put 108 caged fingerling trout into the waters there. With the exception of one fish, which died immediately of apparently unrelated causes, all of them survived six days of swimming in the fouled water, which was a surprise to agency spokesman Joe Lewandowski. “That plume of acid runoff looked pretty bad. Survival, honestly, wasn’t expected,” he told the Durango Herald.

Johnnie Moore, a University of Montana geologist, was also encouraged by the lack of obvious mortality: “Generally when there are events like this, if they are very toxic and the pH drops very low, you’ll see dead fish all over the place,” Moore says. “In the old days in the Clark Fork River here in Montana, when we had releases of mining contaminants on floodplains during storms, you’d see hundreds and thousands of fish floating belly-up in the river. I’ve seen no reports of dead fish like that, so that’s a good thing.”

But the immediate impacts of a spill are only part of the problem, Moore cautions. “Aquatic ecosystems tend to be pretty resilient if you don’t have a residual of contaminants that have an effect. So that’s really the issue for the longer term. How much contaminated sediment ended up in the boulders and rocks down in the bed and in the shallows alongside the river? And how long will that stuff stay there kind of oozing out metal and having longer-term effects? Those are much more subtle, but they are quite real.”

During studies on the Clark Fork River, Moore and his colleagues noted that stretches with high metal contamination produced fewer and less diverse insects. In turn, the fish that ate them didn’t grow as well and suffered more diseases. And once the river is reopened for human use, there are risks that people will eat fish that have accumulated toxins like mercury or lead at harmful levels. 

Unfortunately, there are no good options for remediating the damage downriver once a spill occurs. Trying to dig and remove contaminated sediments would be more harmful to the ecosystem than simply leaving it alone, Moore says. “Instead we’re looking at natural remediation—which means that you have to let it be contaminated, you have to monitor it, you have to manage it so people aren’t being affected, because there’s not a heck of a lot you can do with wildlife, and you’ve got to hope for the best.”

For the Animas, the best case would be lots of snow this winter. A big snowpack and a long high-runoff season would be an ideal aid to nature’s own remediation efforts, Moore says. “That moves sediment from tributaries that are not contaminated, which mix with and dilute the contaminated sediments, so by the time you get to Lake Powell you’ve not only dumped the contaminates in the lake’s delta, but also mixed them with a bunch of fine grain sediments to bury them there.”

As for the rest of the nation’s abandoned mines, it’s still unclear how the Animas spill will influence efforts to mitigate their risk. The known numbers of abandoned mines across the West and the world are daunting enough, Cohen adds, but to make matters worse, the surveys of such sites typically include the caveat that much more work is needed on the ground to determine just how many mines are really out there.

“It’s a very big problem—it’s a combination of problems really,” he notes. “The hazard of these abandoned mines is a focus of EPA and the states, but because they are abandoned there’s generally no identifiable, responsible party who caused this problem that you can access anymore. So these places are just sitting out there in very large numbers.”

 Brian Handwerk|smithsonian.com\August 13, 2015

EPA chief attempts damage control after spill of toxic waste into Colorado’s Animas river

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency toured the sludge-coated banks of Colorado’s Animas River on Wednesday, as the Obama administration sought to limit the environmental and political damage from last week’s 3-million-gallon toxic waste spill — one caused in part by the agency’s own contractors.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy ordered a temporary halt to the agency’s cleanup at the Gold King mine and several similar sites after traveling to the region to pledge a thorough investigation into an accident she has called “tragic and unfortunate.”

“It is a heartbreaking situation,” McCarthy said at a news conference in Durango, Colo., about 48 miles downstream from the site of the Aug. 5 spill. “We are going to be transparent and collaborative in making sure people have the information they need.”

The regulatory agency has been criticized for its response to the spill, which began as crews were investigating leaks from a toxic waste pond in the inactive gold mine north of Durango. An earthen barrier gave way, sending toxic wastewater into the Animas, turning the river bright orange-yellow for miles.

A week after the incident, the contractor involved in the work at the site was identified as Environmental Restoration LLC, a St. Louis-based firm. EPA officials said the company’s crews worked under the direction of the EPA in consultation with Colorado’s Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.

McCarthy met with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) and Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.) to coordinate responses to the spill.

“The good news is, the river seems to be restoring itself,” she said. The EPA reported Thursday that water quality had returned to normal along the entire stretch of the Animas from the spill site to Durango. “EPA plans to continue to monitor, analyze and share data for downstream river segments as it becomes available,” the agency said in a statement.

The Environmental Protection Agency says the spill of toxic wastewater from a mine in Colorado is three times larger than previously thought. Residents are being advised not to drink or bathe in well water. (Reuters)

Photos of kayakers floating in mustard-hued river water last week embarrassed the agency at a time when it is battling Western states over new regulations for water and air pollution. While no injuries or serious damage to wildlife have been reported, the spill raised levels of arsenic, lead and other toxins in the river for dozens of miles through southwest Colorado and northern New Mexico. Wastewater from hard-rock mines often contains heavy metals that can be toxic at high concentrations. Residue from spills can linger on the bottom of a river for months or years, to be re-dispersed with new storms and floods.

Traces of orange residue from iron were still visible on some riverbanks Wednesday, as state officials met to consider possible lawsuits against the EPA. They have complained about what they describe as a slow EPA response to the spill and inadequate precautions to prevent the accident from occurring.

“I was just horror-stricken that this could happen in our state,” Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, a Republican, told Denver’s Fox 31 TV station after a Wednesday visit to the Animas River, near Durango.

Officials from Colorado, New Mexico and Utah have complained about what they describe as a slow EPA response to the spill and inadequate precautions to prevent the accident from occurring. Longtime foes of the EPA’s pollution controls for air and water seized the opportunity to bash the agency.

“This disaster emphasizes the need for the EPA to focus on fulfilling its existing responsibilities, instead of focusing its resources on imposing expensive new regulations that kill jobs and hurt family budgets,” Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said in a statement.

At the time of the spill, the EPA was attempting to determine how to deal with a common pollution problem in many parts of the Rocky Mountain West: the steady leaching of toxic waste from hundreds of hard-rock mines scattered throughout the region. At the Gold King site, the crew was moving heavy equipment near the mine’s wastewater pond when the barrier gave way.

EPA officials accused critics of seeking to obscure a larger pollution problem affecting waterways through the West.

“EPA was assessing cleanup efforts in a mine that had been leaching toxic material for years,” said an EPA official familiar with the accident, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the accident investigation is still underway.

Joby Warrick|August 12

Calls to Action

  1.   Urge the National Park Service to halt Big Oil’s fracking plans and protect Big Cypress – here
  2. Tell the Interior Department to protect wild rivers from strip mining – here
  3. Save Our Public Lands – here
  4. Don’t Let Florida Panthers Slip Back Near Extinction – here
  5. Tell Indonesia: ban the trade in wild birds – here

Birds and Butterflies

Little Tern’s air miles equal two and a half times round the world

news/Little_Tern_Chesil_Beach

One of the Little Terns on Chesil Beach having its leg ring checked

Wildlife conservationists studying rare Little Terns nesting on Chesil Beach in Dorset have discovered that two of them have notched up more than 60,000 miles each during their annual African migrations.

Given that the circumference of the earth is 24,860 miles, that means these small birds have travelled the equivalent of two and a half times round the world.  

The discovery was made during the fitting of new colour rings to the Chesil Little Terns in conjunction with the EU LIFE Little Tern Project.

Thalassa McMurdo Hamilton, Little Tern Project Officer says; “Steve Hales, a local bird ringer, carried out the colour ringing with Luke Phillips of the RSPB.

“As the ringing got underway we noticed some of the adults were glinting silver on their legs – they already had a metal ring on – and luckily, we managed to catch a few of these.

“We excitedly wrote down the ring number and Steve went home to check the BTO [British Trust for Ornithology] records to see how old they were.

“A few hours later Steve revealed, incredibly, that he had ringed these birds at Chesil Beach in 1999 and 2000 – making these adults 15 and 16 years old!”

Steve Hales says “Handling a bird which I had ringed as a week-old chick on the same beach 16 years ago was very rewarding.

“It emphasized just what an age some of our smaller seabirds can reach. The next three years of colour ringing the  Little Terns under the EU LIFE partnership will hopefully produce other exciting discoveries.”

The Chesil Beach Little Tern project is in its sixth year and, with the number of breeding pairs increasing, project staff were delighted to be included in the national ringing project.

Thalassa adds: “I was amazed to discover that these birds are returning here where they were first reared and that they are still breeding after 16 years.

“They are such small birds – an adult weighs the same as a tennis ball – and deal with lots of stress during chick rearing so I couldn’t believe they were so old.

“They are much tougher than we think, as these birds have travelled over 100,000km in their lifetime which is astounding.”

“Being able to identify individuals at a colony has huge benefits to this species, the second rarest breeding seabird in the UK. 

“It allows conservationists to understand the movement of Little Terns between different colonies, how faithful they are to their breeding colonies and, moreover, we can learn more about adult and juvenile survival. 

“These questions remain largely unanswered and so armed with this information we will be better able to conserve this species.

“We’ve made a great start in 2015 and we will hopefully ring many more over the next few years, and gain an insight into these tough Little Terns, at the only colony in the southwest of England.”

Marc Smith, Dorset Wildlife Trust Chesil Centre Officer says: “It is great to know that that these Little Terns are returning to Chesil Beach, even after such a long time.

“It just goes to show how important this area is for this rare little bird. The colony has been very successful over the last three years, with well over a hundred fledglings.

“Hopefully we will be seeing many of these return in the years to come.”

The Chesil Beach Little Tern Project is a partnership between RSPB, Natural England, Crown Estate, Portland Court Leet, Dorset Wildlife Trust and the Chesil and Fleet Nature Reserve. 

From Wildlife Extra

A New Hummingbird Species Revealed

Bahama Woodstar and Inaguan Woodstar, side by side comparison

The Inaguan Woodstar, named as a new species (right), was formerly lumped with the Bahama Woodstar (left).

Differences in the tail feathers produce distinctive sounds and visual displays. Photo by Anand Varma.

The American Ornithologists’ Union has named a new hummingbird species, the Inaguan Woodstar. A member of the Bee Hummingbird group, it was formerly lumped with the similar-looking Bahama Woodstar. Scientists from Yale, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the University of California, Riverside, found differences in song, behavior, physical measurements, and DNA sequences suggesting that the species have been separated genetically for half a million years. Learn more about these dazzling Caribbean hummingbirds and the backyard clues that led to a new species.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology|8/11/15

Puffin Joy bids farewell!

After an amazing (and adorable) season in the Puffin Burrow, the little chick Joy has fledged, leaving her home Tuesday evening on a big journey out to sea. Catch the video highlight of her preening her feathers before she steps out into the night.

She’ll remain on the open ocean for the next 2-3 years. Then she’ll likely return to Seal Island, or its vicinity, and may even make her own nest near the burrow where she hatched.

Though Joy has left, proud puffin parents Finn and Phoebe remain behind for now and won’t accompany their chick on her voyage. But the show goes on! We can learn so much about puffin behavior after a chick fledges. Will they both stay in the burrow? If so, for how long? Will they reconnect with bill rubbing?

So keep watching the Burrow Cam, and continue to report any observations in the comments, citizen scientists! Thanks for another wonderful Puffin Burrow season.

Surprise, Surprise: Killing Thousands of Birds to Kill Fish Won’t Work

Surprise, Surprise: Killing Thousands of Birds to Kill Fish Won’t Work

Last summer, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ruffled a lot of feathers when it announced an offensive plan to kill thousands of cormorants in an effort to save salmon in the Pacific Northwest. Now wildlife advocates are calling for an immediate stop to the killing and an investigation following the release of documents showing the effort would a complete waste.

The Army Corps targeted cormorants on East Sand Island, which is located near the mouth of the Columbia River, but 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.

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.

Those opposing the plan also worried it could potentially have serious 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.

Despite widespread opposition from the public – more than 102,000 people signed a Care2 petition opposing this plan– and the scientific community, in March the Army Corps announced a final plan that slightly reduced the number of cormorants targeted, but would 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 it turns out, wildlife advocates were entirely right about the senselessness of killing thousands of birds to save salmon. As a result of a lawsuit filed by conservation organizations earlier this spring, documents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) own scientists were just released showing the slaughter won’t do anything to recover salmon.

How many salmon the plan would actually save is kind of an important detail here. Yet scientists from the FWS said in a report that it wouldn’t save any – the salmon the cormorants were eating would have died from other causes anyway. The Army Corps, meanwhile, failed to acknowledge this information or include it in its Environmental Impact Statement.

“The Service’s analysis confirms what we’ve argued for years,” said Bob Sallinger, Audubon Society of Portland conservation director. “The federal agencies responsible for recovering endangered fish should take steps to save salmon and steelhead by improving federal dam operations rather than making native birds the scapegoats for human-caused declines in Columbia Basin salmon runs. This is a senseless slaughter and the government knew it and chose to conceal this information during the public process.”

Now a coalition of groups is calling on FWS Director Dan Ashe to open an investigation into why this information was never released during the public process, in addition to asking the agency to withdraw permits allowing these birds to be killed because there’s no actual scientific justification for taking their lives.

“Dead set on killing cormorants, the Service ignored its own science,” said Collette Adkins, an attorney and biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The agency’s own analysis makes clear that its cormorant-killing program is doing nothing to help endangered fish. My heart aches for all the birds that have needlessly suffered and died. The killing needs to stop now.”

Alicia Graef|August 15, 2015

Florida Panthers

Protect America’s Greatest Conservation Program ‏

Florida panthers are the most endangered mammal in the eastern U.S. We only have 50 days to save the conservation program that helped give them the habitat they need to survive.

Just 20 years ago, Florida panthers almost vanished along with the wilderness they depend on. Today, these big cats are making a fragile but steady comeback.

Still the most endangered mammal in the eastern U.S., Florida panthers may lose the very conservation program that provided crucial habitat for their populations to grow—the national Land and Water Conservation Fund—unless Congress reauthorizes this program BEFORE Sept. 30.

Florida panthers will not thrive as a species without protected habitats. Today these stealthy cats number less than 200 and live in only a few safe places on earth—including the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge made possible by the Land and Water Conservation Fund in 1989.

We just got this species back on its feet, but further progress cannot be made without more habitat. Please don’t let panthers and other vulnerable species remain in danger because their habitat can’t be expanded.

We’re putting the pressure on Congress to throw a lifeline to Florida panthers and wildlife in peril.

In its 50 years, five million acres of habitat, landscapes and recreational areas in every state have been safeguarded by this important conservation program, including:

  • WILDLIFE-SAFE NATIONAL PARKS such as Mount Rainier National Park in Washington
  • PRISTINE FISHING AREAS such as Dakota Grasslands Conservation Area
  • IRREPLACEABLE NATURAL TREASURES such as Cape Cod National Seashore
  • URBAN OASES such as the Golden Gate National Recreation Area

But the Land and Water Conservation Fund will wither and die if Congress does not renew it by Sept. 30.

If you would care to make a donation to help save our panthers, see item # 4 in ”Calls to Action” above.

National Wildlife Federation Action Fund (info@nwa.org)

Invasive species

A Mesquite Invasion Is Threatening Africa’s Zebras

Zebras are one of the most iconic — and endearing — features of the African savannah. These curiously striped equids are eye-catching, but unfortunately, many of them are facing significant environmental threats. One species in particular, the Grevy’s zebra, is under grave threat, with a little over 2,000 left in Ethiopia and Kenya. Now, they’re facing an unexpected challenge: The rapid spread of devil tree, better known to most Americans as mesquite. The story of how mesquite ended up thousands of miles from home is an instructive lesson in conservation gone wrong, and wildlife experts are going to have trouble addressing the problem thanks to the stubborn nature of devil’s tree.

Mesquite, native to the Americas, is known for thriving in very dry, nutrient-poor conditions. It also grows extremely rapidly. These traits were precisely why the government imported it in the first place, hoping to encourage mesquite to uptake salts from the soil in order to improve fertility. Unfortunately, these traits are also the secret to mesquite’s spread across the landscape, as it spreads rapidly and wherever it takes hold, it begins to quickly choke out native plants and grasses because no animals in the region have evolved to eat it. The invasive species effectively thrives without being stopped, and even clearance for building materials and firewood can’t keep pace with its race across the landscape.

For Grevy’s zebras, as well as many other animals on the savannah, this poses a significant problem. These equids evolved to eat African grasses, and prefer just two for the vast majority of their needs. As the invasive species races through the plains, it takes up water, eliminates grasses, and leaves the animals with no food — a serious problem when their remaining numbers are so low and every single individual is needed to preserve biodiversity. With 16 percent of the plain already thoroughly covered in mesquite, the region is looking at a conservation crisis and the need for authorities as well as ecological conservation organizations to act quickly.

Should devil tree keep spreading, as it assuredly will without interventions, the region will see a significant decline in biodiversity. Already, researchers are identifying warning signs as flowers, grasses, and plants shrink away because they can’t access water and nutrients when they’re competing with mesquite. Some of these species are unique to the region and their loss would be impossible to reverse, an issue that is repeating itself around the world as we lose ground to climate change, invasive species, and poor land use practices. As more and more animals face down extinction, cases like these feel especially important, because conservationists want to put the breaks on any more extinctions even as we near a tipping point that some have threatened may presage the next mass extinction event.

For the Grevy’s zebra, aggressive intervention in its natural habitat is an important component of conservation. Ultimately, as has been the case with many endangered species around the world, it may also be necessary to capture individuals for breeding and maintain a carefully curated genetic pool in conservation parks around the world. Someday, the only individuals left alive could be living in captivity, a tragedy for the species as well as its native region.

s.e. smith|August 10, 2015

Yipes! More Uninvited Aliens! Now It’s Tegu Lizards

Tegu Lizard

Tegu Lizard

Make room, Burmese pythons … Tegu lizards are crowding your turf, they’re big and scary, and they’ve been multiplying in South Florida ever since the first one was spotted in 2008 near a Homestead trailer park in the southern part of Miami-Dade County.

Tegus are an invasive species which reproduces quickly and ravenously consumes all kinds of things, including small animals and the eggs of many wildlife species. Tegus are now known to have established significant breeding populations in Miami-Dade, Polk and Hillsborough counties, but plenty have been spotted in Lee, Collier, Palm Beach, and even counties much farther north.

The black-and-white tegu is about 3 feet in length and is native to South America — specifically Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina. How the first one ended up in South Florida, though, is not entirely clear, although many researchers believe it was either an escaped or freed pet.

They do very nicely, thank you, in much of the Sunshine State, but they are particularly happy in the wet, steamy, food-rich Florida Everglades.

“Their threat potential is serious,” University of Florida biologist Frank Mazzotti told the Florida Keys Free Press. “It’s hard to accurately measure their numbers, but the extent of their population is definitely growing rapidly.”

Mazzotti, along with a team of researchers, has been trapping tegus for the last five years. More recently, he was contracted as part of a South Florida Water Management District and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission trap-kill-study program.

The program, in place for the last three years, serves two purposes, Mazzotti said. It helps eradicate the tegus while allowing their behavior to be studied.

Mazzotti told the Florida Keys newspaper the Free Press that these non-natives have been found all the way north to the Florida Panhandle, mainly because of their adaptation to colder climates. Pythons, on the other hand, have not strayed too far from tropical South Florida.

“We do not know their exact boundaries,” Mazzotti said. “So it’s difficult to measure their full impact.”

In fact, tegus have not been outlawed. They are still readily available for purchase in many pet stores and especially from breeders dotted around the Everglades. 

An area along a jarring dirt road in the Southern Everglades, not far from the Dade Juvenile Residential Center located off the 18-Mile Stretch, seems to be the prime real estate for the majority of the tegu population, according to researchers.

The lizards spend most of their time on land, though they can swim and may submerge themselves for long periods of time. Tegus can often be seen on roadsides or other disturbed areas. Like many reptiles, they are primarily active during the day and will burrow or hide overnight.

Mazzotti said. “I’d hate to be a Key Largo woodrat or a Lower Keys marsh rabbit,” Mazzotti said.

Tegus have also been caught feasting on alligator eggs on multiple occasions, he said. Another potential victim, considering around 30 to 40 percent of the invasive species diet is made up of small animals, is the endangered Cape Sable seaside sparrow.

“The frequency of small animals they prey on is just astonishing,” Mazzotti told the newspaper.

Both pythons and tegus “are very serious threats [to the Everglades ecosystem]. And we’re spending billions of dollars to restore the Everglades,” he said. “Are we just going to let invasive species take it over?”

Nancy Smith|August 12, 2015

Endangered Species

Why Is Craigslist Censoring Anti-Ivory Ads But Not Real Ivory Sales?

Craigslist’s infamous “missed connections” section is a great place to write a love ballad to that special someone you made fleeting eye contact with at the grocery store. Or, you know, that African elephant that was slaughtered by poachers last week.

If you’ve been seeking a human on Craigslist recently, you might have noticed a surprising number of charismatic megafauna cropping up in your search results. That’s because online activism network Avaaz recently launched a campaign to pressure Craigslist into enforcing the website’s own ban on the sale of ivory. After signing up for Avaaz’s campaign, you’ll be directed to a page prompting you to post the following picture to your local Craigslist missed connections section, along with a personalized message:

Why Is Craigslist Censoring Anti-Ivory Ads But Not Real Ivory Sales?

Those who frequent Craigslist to find computers and futons may not be aware that the site also hosts a flourishing black market ivory trade. In April, a study conducted by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) found that during a one-month period, over 615 ivory items were posted for sale in 28 US cities, with a total estimated value of $1.4 million dollars. Many of these items were listed as antiques, which could make them acceptable under international regulations, but the vast majority came with no documentation whatsoever. It’s hard to imagine that all of this ivory is truly antique, given that an estimated 96 elephants are poached every day for their tusks.

After the study was published, Craigslist immediately agreed to add ivory to the site’s list of prohibited items. But the website has taken no apparent measures to enforce the ban, and a quick search still turns up many ivory items.

“When the study was being put together, it was heartening to see they’d [Craigslist] moved on the ivory issue,” John Calvelli, WCS’s Executive Vice President of public affairs told me over the phone. “I think they were trying to be responsible at that point. Having said that, there are many other things they could be doing.”

According to Calvelli, WCS has seen no signs of further movement from Craigslist since April. Joseph Huff-Hannon, a campaign manager at Avaaz, tells me the site has stopped returning the WCS’s phone calls and “hasn’t given any indication that they plan on doing anything more about the problem.”

“We think Craigslist can still play a constructive role, but they clearly need a little more nudging and direct communication from people who use Craigslist,” Huff-Hannon told me over the phone.

Hence the recent deluge of missed connections ads asking where all the elephants have gone. This, at least, Craigslist seems to have noticed. The campaign began last week, and the fake ads are now being taken down almost immediately after they’re posted.

“They’ve been very aggressive about taking down these ads,” Huff-Hannon told me. “They’re not so aggressive about taking down real ivory ads, which we find more than a little ironic.”

I’ve reached out to Craigslist for comment and will update if I hear back.

Maddie Stone|7/29/15

New Golden Jackal species discovered

For the first time in 150 years a new canid species has been discovered in Africa, by scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

The Golden Jackal of Africa (Canis aureus) has long been considered the same species as the Golden Jackals distributed throughout Eurasia, with the nearest source populations in the Middle East.

However, recent research indicates that they are actually two different species and that some African Golden Jackals aligned more closely to Gray Wolves (Canis lupus).

This is surprising given the absence of Gray Wolves in Africa and the phenotypic divergence between the two species.

The DNA results of the study provide consistent and robust evidence that populations of Golden Jackals from Africa and Eurasia should be recognised as two separate and distinct species, and it has been suggested that the Eurasian species should be named Eurasian Golden Jackal. 

From Wildlife Extra

Zimbabwe bans hunting of lions, leopards and elephants

Following the illegal killing of Cecil the lion the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority has banned the hunting of lions, leopards and elephants in areas outside of Hwange National Parks, where it was previously allowed.

From now on all such hunts will only be conducted if confirmed and authorized in writing by the Director-General of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, and only if accompanied by parks staff whose costs will be met by the landowner.

Under previous law hunting was banned in the Hwange National Park and the new measures are meant to prevent instances of illegal killings of wildlife outside the park. Cecil was lured outside the park’s grounds and then killed.

Members of the hunting fraternity are being reminded that it is illegal for quotas to be transferred from one hunting area to another.

Any case of quota transfer is regarded as poaching. The Authority will not hesitate to arrest, prosecute, and ban for life any persons including professional hunters, clients and land owners who are caught on the wrong side of the law.

From Wildlife Extra

Interns Help Protect Sea Turtles at Rookery Bay Reserve

With 110,000 acres of coastal lands and waters that protect 150 species of birds and many threatened and endangered animals, Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve has a big responsibility– and a devoted team of volunteers that work daily with staff to help achieve it. Through the Reserve’s citizen support organization, Friends of Rookery Bay, volunteers and interns are assisting with a variety of duties, from taking care of the butterfly garden at the Environmental Learning Center to maintaining beach-nesting bird area postings and even monitoring sea turtle nests at the Cape Romano complex.

Two young women, Sarah Norris and Anna Windle, filled this summer’s internship positions in the sea turtle monitoring program and are conducting their work from the Ten Thousand Islands Field Station through October. This facility also serves as the hub for the Team OCEAN stewardship program, many of the reserve’s monitoring programs, and research conducted by visiting scientists.

Sarah Norris, from Bradenton, Florida, is a 2013 graduate of Florida Gulf Coast University. She enjoys the beach, being outdoors, reading and crafting. She will be returning to FGCU this summer to pursue a master’s degree in environmental science. Her internship is funded by the Friends of Rookery Bay.

“I really love Southwest Florida and turtles,’’ said Norris. “I would love to have a career in marine conservation, specifically with sea turtles. I think they are fascinating creatures.”

Sarah lucked out on her first week on turtle patrol when she and Jill Schmid, one of the Rookery Bay researchers, found the first nest of the summer on the northern tip of Morgan Beach. A short, faded out crawl led to the eggs, which they secured by putting up a wire cage to deter predators, such as raccoons.

Anna Windle is from Elkton, Maryland, and is a student at Washington College. She is studying environmental science and enjoys reading, running and crafting when she’s not monitoring the Southwest Florida turtle population. She chose the Rookery Bay Reserve internship because of its location. Windle hopes to get her master’s degree in marine science and one day research the biology of marine animals.

“I would love to do more research on sea turtles in the future or get a job working to protect them,” Windle said.

Windle applied for the Reserve’s internship through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Internship Program. This program connects students at several colleges around the nation with research internships at marine laboratories and other institutions, such as Rookery Bay Reserve. Interns from this program demonstrate a high level of commitment and professionalism, and gain valuable experience working in a research lab, performing data analysis and conducting field work. This is the third year the reserve has received a student from a NOAA program for the summer sea turtle internship.  

The Reserve works in cooperation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Collier County Natural Resources and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida to protect threatened sea turtles nesting on area beaches. Team OCEAN volunteers and summer interns serve an important role by helping patrol the beaches of Sea Oat Island, Cape Romano, Kice Island, and other islands in the Ten Thousand Islands five days a week during nesting season (May through October), rain or shine. All volunteers are trained to locate nests and place cages over them to protect the eggs from predators.

While interning at the Reserve, these young women will have the opportunity to be involved in many activities, working alongside researchers and other staff to gain knowledge and experience. They are also developing outreach skills by hosting a monthly website blog and delivering a final presentation to staff and volunteers to share the results of their work and the knowledge they gained.

Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve is managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Coastal Office in cooperation with NOAA, and serves as an outdoor classroom and laboratory for students and scientists from around the world.

For more information on the Reserve or to volunteer with the sea turtle monitoring program, visit Sea Turtle”

 Intern Blog|17 June 2015

5,000-plus Acres Protected for Rare California Wildflower

A big day for a small California flower: This week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protected 5,755 acres of critical habitat for the yellow Vandenberg monkeyflower, which is known to exist in just nine locations in the world — mostly open spaces on sandy soils between shrubs in Santa Barbara County.

The biggest threat to the monkeyflower is competition from invasive plants, but it’s also threatened by military activities, residential and commercial development, fire and climate change. Much of its habitat, maritime chaparral vegetation, has already been lost to development. The newly protected land is mostly public, in or near Burton Mesa Ecological Reserve, La Purisima Mission State Historic Park and Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Saving rare plants has long been an integral part of the Center for Biological Diversity’s work. We won Endangered Species Act protection for this rare monkeyflower in August 2014 as part of our historic agreement in 2011 to speed protection decisions for 757 animals and plants around the country. So far under the agreement, 143 species have been protected and another 10 have been proposed for protection.

Read more in our press release.

[Still no help for the Florida Panther.]

Wild & Weird

10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Fireflies

10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Fireflies

Taking a walk after dark in the Catskill mountains of New York state last fall, I was fascinated by the number of bright blinking lights flashing all around me. I grew up in England, and now live in California, and had never witnessed such a magical display of fireflies.

Here are 10 things you probably didn’t know about these fascinating creatures.

1. There are more than 2,000 species of fireflies in the world, but they are actually bioluminescent beetles — not flies as their name suggests. To be specific, they are members of Lampyridae, a family of insects within the beetle order Coleoptera, or winged beetles. They are also known as lightning bugs.

2. Fireflies are warm-weather icons in many eastern states of the U.S., but some also live west of the Rocky Mountains. However, those western firefly areas are less abundant, and of the 2000 species of fireflies, not all come with the ability to glow; those that don’t generally live in the western U.S.

3. These Lampyrids are not putting on a light show to make your twilight stroll a magical event. Instead, the flashes from male fireflies are mating signals; when the female sees the “right” flash, meaning one from her own species, she replies with her own species-specific flash, helping guide the male to her in the darkness. Or maybe not, if she’s not interested?

4. The magical glow is caused by a chemical reaction: as Sarah Sander explains on Science Friday, the enzyme luciferus and the substrate luciferin, found inside the abdomen/tail of the firefly, react together in the presence of magnesium and energy and oxygen to make this amazing light. Nature is awesome!

5.  The light produced by fireflies is the most efficient light in the world. Almost 100 percent of the energy produced by that chemical reaction is emitted as light. By contrast, an incandescent light bulb puts out just 10 percent of its energy as light, and the rest is lost as heat. 

6.  Fireflies make a variety of different colors, including yellow, yellow-red, green, and orange, and these colors can change. Researchers believe that if fireflies are in a predominantly green area, then it’s possible they can switch their light to a color such as yellow, in order to create a strong contrast with their background.

7. Many fireflies taste disgusting! They use foul-tasting defensive compounds to deter predators. These steroids, called lucibufagins, cause the predator to vomit. Presumably one experience trying to eat a firefly will teach that predator, perhaps a spider or a bird, to never again eat bugs that glow.

8. Fireflies have very short lives: a female adult firefly lives just long enough to mate and lay eggs. Once the larvae emerge from the eggs, they usually live for approximately one year, from one mating season to the next, before becoming adults and giving birth to the next generation.

9. A new firefly species was recently discovered in California.  In June, 2015, Joshua Oliva, a student at the University of California at Riverside, found a specimen of a new species of firefly while collecting insects in the Santa Monica Mountains for his entomology class. “He wasn’t 100 percent certain it was a firefly, and brought it to me for confirmation,” says Doug Yanega, senior scientist at the UC-Riverside Entomology Research Museum. “I know the local fauna well enough that within minutes I was able to tell him he had found something entirely new to science. I don’t think I’ve seen a happier student in my life.” Nice!

10. The number of fireflies is declining. In spite of Oliva’s discovery, firefly light shows seem to be disappearing due to habitat loss and the interference of human-made lights. And according to Smithsonian.com, if a field where fireflies live is paved over, the fireflies don’t migrate to another field, they disappear for good.

Judy Molland|August 9, 2015

Coming eye to eye with the world’s most mysterious whales

AFTER YEARS OF DIVING, I thought I understood marine hazards when I jumped into the open Pacific to photograph marlin feeding on masses of sardines off Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. The marlin were dashing about at high speed, their rapier-like bills thrusting wildly. Above, fishing boats with spinning propellers charged over the schools, the men at the helm in a worse state of frenzy than the marlin. I was alert to these perils but unprepared for the sudden appearance of a dark shape exploding into view—the expansive maw of a feeding whale.

It was instantly upon me. Bouncing off the behemoth’s lower jaw, I tumbled down the outside of a throat pouch that was ballooning with a mass of sardines and seawater. Escaping the mouth, I faced a worse hazard: I was directly in the path of the powerful tail.

This was a terrifying moment for me because I knew that the area between a whale’s dorsal fin and tail has been called the “arc of death.” When the tail flashed past without contact, I surfaced to breathe a sigh of relief, realizing I had just survived a feeding rush by a Bryde’s (pronounced Bree-dah’s) whale. Cetacean biologist Elizabeth Burgess of the New England Aquarium calls the species “the most mysterious large whales in the world.” I’ve come to learn why.

Probing for Clues

Perhaps the least studied of all the great whales, Bryde’s is classified as “data deficient” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Although the whales occur in tropical to warm-temperate waters in the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, breeding populations are poorly defined and their numbers unknown. Scientists do not even agree as to whether the Bryde’s represents one, two or several species or if the variants are just inshore and offshore forms of a single species.

While they can grow to more than 50 feet long, Bryde’s whales are smaller than most of the dozen or so species of baleen (filter-feeding) whales. Yet “biologically, they’re amazing,” says researcher Matt Leslie, a biologist at the University of California–San Diego. “Small, speedy, very agile . . . not the big lumbering brutes that you think of as baleen whales.”

I can attest to that. Encountering Bryde’s whales in Mexico and South Africa, I’ve experienced them more as Polaris missiles than bloated behemoths. When their throat pleats are not expanded, they have a slender eel-like appearance. They also display more cunning than I’ve seen in other whale species. In Mexico, they’d repeatedly rise into view, examine a bait ball and then sink out of sight before suddenly appearing again in a feeding rush. Likewise, when I was photographing sharks and birds feeding on sardines in South Africa, I was unaware of the Bryde’s whale lurking below. My heart nearly stopped when it erupted from the depths and bit off a giant chunk of the bait ball.

Indeed, Bryde’s have been dubbed “rocket whales” for their high-speed charges through concentrations of prey such as small fish or krill. As the only baleen whale to feed almost exclusively in warm waters, they do not need thick blubber or a large body mass to conserve heat. Lacking a heavy blubber layer to store energy, however, requires them to hunt voraciously and constantly. 

Perhaps the most fascinating quality of these whales is their adaptability. Rochelle Constantine, a biologist at New Zealand’s University of Auckland, hypothesizes that resident Bryde’s whales in the Hauraki Gulf off New Zealand’s North Island shift their diet throughout the year, depending on zooplankton abundance. “We’ve found that they’re eating what I call plankton soup,” a mix of larvae and zooplankton, Constantine says. “And then they’re targeting clouds of red mysid shrimp and krill. Also they’re feeding on fishes.”

Mooching off the Hunt

To feed efficiently on small fish, the whales need the help of industrious fellow predators such as marlin, dolphins and sharks. These smaller hunters might spend hours herding prey fish into a compact bait ball for their own dining convenience, yet a crafty Bryde’s whale may suddenly come rushing in and demolish the mass of bait fish in a single lunge. Because of this behavior, Burgess calls the Bryde’s the largest parasitic organism on Earth, or more specifically, a “50-foot kleptoparasite.” She recorded one whale following a school of dolphins for an hour and a half, “until the timing was right when that bait ball was at the mature phase [and the whale] could just lunge through.” Yet Bryde’s also feed on prey they catch unaided, even fish as large as mackerel and pollock.

The species’ appetite for fish has earned it the enmity of the commercial fishing industry. Japan continues to take about 50 Bryde’s whales per year under a “scientific whaling” exemption to the International Whaling Commission moratorium, with hopes to resume larger-scale commercial whaling in the future. Burgess calls this lethal scientific-research exemption “a threat, because we don’t know enough about the species . . . to know how many you can take.”

It’s clear that fewer whales would boost the take of commercial fisheries. One study by the Institute of Cetacean Research in Japan estimates that killing 4 percent of the biomass of minke, sei and Bryde’s whales would increase the catch of such fisheries as anchovy, skipjack tuna and mackerel. This suggests that Japan’s interest in resuming commercial whaling may have more to do with eliminating perceived competition than with providing whale meat for markets, especially given that catches in certain fisheries around Japan have been declining. While the International Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that Japan must halt its whale hunt in Antarctica, the ruling has no direct effect on Japan’s hunt for Bryde’s whales, which occurs in the Western North Pacific under a different program.

Dangers at Sea

The oceans hold other threats as well. Collisions with shipping vessels, increasing ocean noise and debris and climate change could have drastic impacts on the whales and on their prey, the latter by altering ocean temperatures, currents and acidity.

In New Zealand—the only country where Bryde’s whales are ranked as critically endangered—the problem is not whaling but the whales’ habit of resting in shipping lanes near the Port of Auckland. Constantine reports that of 20 Auckland-area whales for which the cause of death could be identified, 17 were killed by vessel strike, and two or three became entangled in floating aquaculture lines. The shipping industry has voluntarily agreed to reduce ship speeds entering and leaving the port, perhaps providing relief for a population that scientists believe cannot support the current levels of mortality.

Elsewhere in the world’s seas, scientists do not have a handle on Bryde’s whale population sizes and know nothing about whether they are rising or falling. “These whales just don’t have the exposure or the people working on them,” says Nicky Wiseman, who earned her doctorate studying Bryde’s whales off New Zealand. “Until people do study them more, in every population around the world, there is still a lot needing to be found out about them.”

Excerpted from an article by Doug Perrine|07-27-2015

Everglades

SFWMD Awards Contract for Caloosahatchee Reservoir Construction

Work will help achieve early water storage benefits for estuary

Fort Myers, FL – The South Florida Water Management District today approved a contract authorizing the start of early construction on the massive Caloosahatchee River (C-43) West Basin Storage Reservoir project. The work is a precursor for achieving water storage benefits before the entire reservoir is complete.

“While just the first step in construction of the reservoir, this work is crucial to making tangible improvements in the health of the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary,” said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Daniel O’Keefe. “This is yet another example of the recent progress that is being made on restoration projects throughout our region.”

The $10.8 million contract awarded to Blue Goose Construction, LLC, begins the first phase of work on the reservoir. The contract includes:

· Demolishing existing agricultural features such as buried pipes, culverts, irrigation pump stations and above-ground facilities across the 10,000-acre reservoir site

· Construction of 7 compacted, above-ground earthfill mounds reaching 56 feet high at select locations to help compact the ground to support future structures

· Moving approximately 1.8 million cubic yards of fill for the mounds, enough to fill 1 acre of land to a height of 1,100 feet, or 120 feet higher than the Eiffel Tower

· Preparation of the foundation for construction of the 16-mile dam that will surround the reservoir

The work is the first step for the SFWMD to undertake expediting construction of the facility as part of Governor Rick Scott’s commitment to South Florida ecosystem restoration. The project as a whole is a joint effort between the District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP).

Today’s action follows a June vote by the SFWMD Governing Board that authorized entering into an agreement designed to help the District receive federal cost credit for expediting construction.

C-43 Project Overview:

The C-43 reservoir project was authorized by Congress in the Water Resources and Reform Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014.

It will one day hold approximately 170,000 acre-feet of water to be used during dry periods to help maintain a desirable minimum flow of fresh water to the Caloosahatchee Estuary. During the rainy season, the reservoir will capture and store excess stormwater and regulatory releases from Lake Okeechobee, helping to prevent excessive freshwater flows to the estuary.

Since 2012, the SFWMD has put the reservoir property to use with emergency water storage of summertime rainfall and high runoff. Temporary pumps and levee improvements have helped capture approximately 4.2 billion gallons of water that would have otherwise flowed to the river.

Words of Support for Early Construction on the C-43 Reservoir

“As the Lee County Board of County Commissioner liaison, I am honored to be a part of this process and improving water quality in the Caloosahatchee and the surrounding waterways. I look forward to continuing working with the SFWMD and state and federal officials to continue our efforts to preserve Florida’s natural resources.” Cecil Pendergrass, Commissioner, Lee County Board of County Commissioners.

“We are very pleased that the District awarded the first contract for early construction of the C-43 Reservoir Project. This will be the first step towards getting the critical water storage that we need within the Caloosahatchee basin.”

Water Quality Issues

EPA: Mine Waste Spill 3 Times Larger Than Original Estimate

The spill which sent toxic waste from an abandoned mine into a Colorado waterway last week released 3 million gallons of contaminates into the state’s 126-mile Animas River—not 1 million, as previously announced, according to new estimates by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Animas River in Colorado before the spill (left) that began Wednesday after one million gallons of wastewater containing lead, arsenic, and cadmium leaked from a goldmine, turning more than 100 miles of the river orange. Photo credit: Solarb on imgur

Animas River in Colorado before the spill (left) that began Wednesday after 3 million gallons of wastewater containing lead,

arsenic and cadmium leaked from a goldmine, turning more than 100 miles of the river orange. Photo credit: Solarb on imgur

As the orange-hued sludge kept flowing through Colorado and into the San Juan River in New Mexico on Monday, the fallout from the massive accident continued to spread, with communities declaring states of emergency and the Navajo Nation vowing to take action against the EPA, which caused the spill.

The county of La Plata and the city of Durango, both in Colorado, each declared a state of emergency at Noon on Sunday.

La Plata County manager Joe Kerby said in a statement: “This action has been taken due to the serious nature of the incident and to convey the grave concerns that local elected officials have to ensure that all appropriate levels of state and federal resources are brought to bear to assist our community not only in actively managing this tragic incident but also to recover from it.”

Water quality tests along the rivers were still being conducted as of Monday afternoon. According to preliminary data released by the EPA on Sunday, arsenic levels in the Durango area were, at their peak, 300 times higher than normal. Lead was 3,500 times higher than normal. The waste also includes copper, zinc, aluminum and cadmium.

Meanwhile, the mine continues to discharge at 500 gallons per minute. Although the EPA maintains that the waste is unlikely to have harmed wildlife in the area, local officials in affected areas have advised residents not to use the river for agricultural or recreational purposes or to allow their pets to drink the water.

The Navajo Nation Commission on Emergency Management also declared a state of emergency. During a meeting Saturday at the Shiprock Chapter House in Shiprock, New Mexico, Navajo Nation president Russell Begaye said he intends to take legal action against the EPA for causing the spill.

“The EPA was right in the middle of the disaster and we intend to make sure the Navajo Nation recovers every dollar it spends cleaning up this mess and every dollar it loses as a result of injuries to our precious Navajo natural resources,” Begaye told those in attendance.

“I have instructed Navajo Nation Department of Justice to take immediate action against the EPA to the fullest extent of the law to protect Navajo families and resources,” he said. “They’re not going to get away with this.”

Nadia Prupis|Common Dreams|August 11, 2015

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Massive Mine Waste Spill Reaches New Mexico

Just days after workers with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accidentally spilled a million gallons of toxic mine waste into a Colorado waterway, the free-flowing sludge that turned portions of the state’s Animas River orange reached New Mexico, where health and wildlife officials say they were not alerted to any impending contamination.

As the cities of Aztec and Bloomfield scrambled to cut off the river’s access to water treatment plants, they criticized the EPA for what they said was a lackluster effort in providing warnings or answers about the spill. The contaminants seeping into the river—at a rate of 548 gallons per minute—include arsenic, copper, zinc, lead, aluminum and cadmium.

The Animas flows into the San Juan River in New Mexico, which in turn joins the Colorado River in Utah’s Lake Powell.

Workers unleashed the waste while using heavy machinery to investigate toxic materials at Colorado’s non-functioning Gold King Mine. But the accident, while “unexpected” by EPA’s admission, is a reminder that defunct mines still heavy with contaminates exist throughout the West.

The Associated Press writes:

Until the late 1970s there were no regulations on mining in most of the region, meaning anyone could dig a hole where they liked and search for gold, silver, copper or zinc. Abandoned mines fill up with groundwater and snowmelt that becomes tainted with acids and heavy metals from mining veins which can trickle into the region’s waterways. Experts estimate there are 55,000 such abandoned mines from Colorado to Idaho to California and federal and state authorities have struggled to clean them for decades. The federal government says 40 percent of the headwaters of Western waterways have been contaminated from mine runoff.

There are a number of factors which contribute to the abandonment of such sites. One is cost, as cleaning up toxic materials can be an expensive endeavor. But more complex is the legal liability involved. According to the Clean Water Act, anyone who “[d]ischarges a pollutant from a point source into a water of the U.S.” without a permit can be prosecuted for a federal crime, even if they were trying to clean up pollution. That has prevented green groups from engaging in those cleanup efforts—particularly as an ongoing push for a “Good Samaritan” exception to the law has gone ignored by the federal government, AP writes.

“There’s still a whole generation of abandoned mines that needs to be dealt with,” Steve Kandell of Trout Unlimited, one of the organizations backing the “Good Samaritan” bill, told the AP.

Yet that ongoing issue is exactly what the EPA crew had been attempting to address last week—and the reason it won’t accept help. The Denver Post reports:

Silverton and San Juan County officials have resisted efforts to launch a full-scale federal “Superfund” cleanup to address this problem due to fears of a stigma that could hurt the tourism they count on for business.

“These are historic abandoned mines that have had acid drainage for decades. That is the very reason why we were up there,” EPA regional chief McGrath said. “We were trying to reach that drainage coming off the Gold King Mine. They were trying to put in a treatment system.

“We have been in conversations with the town of Silverton … and the state of Colorado about listing this area under Superfund. And if it is listed then, of course, removal (of waste) is part of Superfund that would allow us to take action up there. We have not been able to move this area to a listing under the Superfund.”

In the meantime, cities have closed access of the river to recreational and agricultural users, while health and wildlife officials conduct additional tests to determine the potential impacts of the spill. Long-term exposure to arsenic and lead can be fatal to humans.

Recent heavy rains have also raised the prospect that some of the waste which washed up onshore as it flowed down the Animas last week would rinse back out into the river, causing additional damage.

“It’s hard to know what is going to happen as more river flows join it,” EPA’s on-scene coordinator Craig Myers, in Durango, told the Post. “It is diluting. (The sludge of contaminants) is going to be settling out in places.”

La Plata county director of emergency management Butch Knowlton was more direct in his assessment. “The population that lives along this river is at the mercy of the EPA,” he said.

Nadia Prupis|Common Dreams|August 10, 2015

Offshore & Ocean

Why Are Some Fish Species More at Risk From Trawling Than Others?

The problem of depleted fish stocks is probably familiar to everyone, but now a new scientific study looks at why some fish might be more at risk from trawling than others.

The research, which appears this month in the journal Royal Society B, saw scientists from the University of Glasgow look into why some species of fish seem more prone to being caught in trawling nets than others, and asks the question whether this might in fact be driving evolutionary changes in the fish.

The researchers took 43 different fish representing different species and analyzed their personal characteristics, so for example their overall swimming ability (measured by speed and agility), their metabolic rate, and whether they were better at producing swift bursts of speed or swimming over long distances. They then simulated a trawler scenario to see which fish would be prone to getting caught–something that did not harm the fish but allowed researchers to assess their swimming behavior.

The research repeatedly showed that some fish were more likely to get caught in the trawler simulation, while others were never caught. The researchers then analyzed what the fish who managed to evade capture had in common.

From observations of trawling in the open seas the researchers already know that fish tend to swim steadily at the mouth of the net for as long as they can, hoping to essentially outpace the net and be left free when the net is retracted. However, not all the fish are able to do this and many will grow tired and fall back into the net after a few hours. It seems that the adaptations that give some fish the ability to outpace trawling nets are those that allow them to enact a quick burst of speed as soon as they realize the trawling net has been deployed. This puts them further out from the mouth of the net, and so allows them a greater “safe-distance” than fish who are not capable of this feat, and this is what the researchers believe may be key in what is saving some fish and not others.

Dr. Shaun Killen, lead author in the study, suggests that:

“Fish that escape trawling are those that can propel themselves ahead of the net or move around the outside of the net. The key question is whether those that escape are somehow physiologically or behaviorally different than those that are captured. Most trawlers travel at the about same speed as the upper limit of the swim speed of the species they are targeting.”

The researchers go on to theorize that the pressure that trawling places on fish populations may actually be leading to evolutionary changes in how they develop so that they have a better chance of outpacing the nets.

Reports the BBC:

“We found that the ones that were capable of really fast bursts of movement were the ones most able to avoid capture.”

[Dr Shaun Killen] explained that there was a growing body of evidence suggesting fish populations that had experienced a lot of fishing pressure seemed to be maturing earlier and smaller, adding “there is a big question as to whether or not that is an evolutionary effect of fishing pressure”.

It certainly is plausible that trawling is removing the fish without the ability for quick bursts of speed, and fish that are larger and so have more difficulty navigating away from the nets, and that this in turn could effectively be selecting adults that are better able to evade trawling: namely those that are smaller and quicker. The researchers aim to explore that theory more as they move their experiments into open water and test with more species of fish who are being trawled.

However, this research raises a number of questions. This suggests that those fish that cannot produce fast bursts of speed will continue to be vulnerable to trawling regardless of how many controls we put in place. Sustainable fishing is built on a premise that all fish are affected equally by trawling nets and therefore that fishing will not deplete specific species at a faster rate than others. Consistently, data has shown that, for instance in the case of the Sea Bass, this doesn’t appear to be true and that there are some species whose numbers seem to be more adversely affected while others remain strong, though admittedly that may at least in part be down to a failure to properly estimate the impact of over-fishing and trawling in the first place.

If these observations do hold true in wider tests, it should prompt a rethink about how viable trawler fishing actually is if we want to preserve our fish species–and our fish stocks–and it also suggests that we may need to reevaluate our current conservation measures to tackle falling fish numbers. The good news is we know that some of our strategies, such as strict fishing quotas, have been able to help some fish populations recover, and continuing strategies like this will be vital even as we accommodate new findings like the above.

Steve Williams|August 9, 2015

Rules Would Help Keep Whales, Dolphins From Dying in Fishing Gear

A new proposal from the National Marine Fisheries Service will prohibit seafood imports that don’t meet U.S. standards for protecting whales, dolphins and other marine mammals. Scientists estimate that each year more than 650,000 marine mammals are caught and killed in fishing gear; typically the animals are unintentionally snared and either drown or are tossed overboard to die from their injuries.

The plan released this week would be an important step toward limiting the number of marine mammals that die senseless deaths. The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 has prohibited the United States from importing seafood unless it meets U.S. standards for protecting whales and dolphins. But the ban has been largely ignored, so the Center and allies filed suit in 2014 — and the new regulations were proposed as part of a settlement.

“The new regulations will force countries to meet the U.S. conservation standards if they want to access this market, saving thousands of whales and dolphins from dying on hooks and in fishing nets around the world,” said Sarah Uhlemann, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s international program.

Read more in our press release.

Is another bay disaster on the horizon?

SOUTH FLORIDA — An extremely dry start to South Florida’s rainy season, which typically begins in June with hurricane season, has caused worry among some environmentalists who wonder how a continued lack of fresh water and rising salinity levels will affect marine life in the Florida Bay going forward.

Stephen Davis, a wetland ecologist with the non-profit Everglades Foundation who has been conducting research on the bay since the mid-1990s, said it’s likely a bay catastrophe, such as a toxic algae bloom, could occur in the near future.

“Even if we can dilute it some, we are still likely to see a disaster,” he said.

Lake Okeechobee, which state water managers use as a reservoir to furnish the Everglades and Florida Bay with fresh water, had its levels lowered earlier this year by the South Florida Water Management District in anticipation of the wet season. But, so far, that period has yet to begin.

Around 6 inches of rain, following a dry spring season, has fallen across the SFWMD’s 16-county region which includes the Florida Keys. That’s more than 2 inches below the average.

The lack of fresh water, in turn, causes saltier conditions in the bay. That problem is supposed to be corrected by the state-federal Everglades restoration plan, a slow-going affair among whose objectives is to increase the flow of fresh water to the South Florida estuary.

Salinity levels are monitored by many entities including the National Audubon Society and the SFWMD, which both have buoy systems in place from Biscayne Bay to Cape Sable.

A heavily-used reference point to gauge salinity levels is located on the southeastern part of the Everglades in Taylor Slough, a natural channel that SFWMD uses as a major pipeline for funneling water into the bay.

Currently, Davis said, salinity levels are around 35 parts per thousand and climbing there. Since seawater is 35 parts per thousand, the normally brackish bay should fall below that level, he said.

“It is a cause for concern. We’ve only seen a few years like this,” Davis said. “It’s not optimal conditions for plants and animals [in the bay].”

Peter Frezza, a research manager with the Tavernier branch of the National Audubon Society, shared Davis’ unease.

“Levels are extraordinarily high in the bay,” Frezza said. “They are comparable to when we had the algae bloom in 1990-91.”

That drought-caused bloom, which flourished when overly salty water caused seagrass meadows to die and release their nutrients, decimated popular fishing grounds and staggered the ecosystem for a few years.

Another algae bloom, which happened in the eastern part of the bay in 2005-06 during reconstruction of the 18-Mile Stretch, saw levels in the 30 parts per thousand. But Davis said now levels there are 50 parts per thousand.

That, though, does not necessarily mean an algae bloom is inevitable.

Davis said a number of factors come into play when talking about algae blooms, not just hyper-salinity. The abundance of nutrients, caused by sediment stir-up when water enters the bay, is another factor as is seagrass die-off. But Davis did note that the majority of seagrass in the bay can withstand high levels of salinity.

Other denizens of the bay may not be so adaptable.

Recent research compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed that a decline in the number of juvenile spotted seatrout in the western waters, the second most commonly caught fish there, had a direct correlation to hypersalinity in the bay. The population of the fish over the last five to 10 years has dropped significantly because of the rise. Their larvae have increased mortality rates at salinity levels less than 5 and greater than 50 parts per thousand.

Chris Hanson, a longtime Upper Keys fishing guide, has noticed the population decline of seatrout over the years. But he said the salty bay and diminished fish numbers don’t bother him too much, yet.

Frezza, meanwhile, noted that the drought provides adequate conditions for wading bird nesting, due to low water levels, but said it hurts their fish-centric food supply. It, he said, is a bit of a double-edged sword.

The drought also has the potential to affect South Florida’s drinking water supply in the Biscayne Aquifer, which could be threatened by saltwater encroachment from underground.

“Right now, we can’t do anything about the salinity levels [except hope for some tropical storms to roll through],” Davis said. “We are at the mercy of Mother Nature.”

BRIAN BOWDEN|Free Press Staff

 

Wildlife and Habitat

Arizona’s Famed Salt River Horses Face Removal From Their Native Habitat!

A famed herd of wild horses are facing potential eradication in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest due to the fact that they’ve been deemed “strays” as opposed to “wild,” despite the fact that the horses reportedly have ties to the area stemming back over 100 years. Semantics. It’ll get ya every time.

Known as the Salt River Horses, the herd of roughly 500 horses are known to locals and visitors alike for their presence in the area. While debate rages on about how they got there (some say they originated with the arrival of Spanish conquistadors 400 years ago, while the Forest Service thinks the horses have managed to merely wander away from private property over the years), one thing remains certain — people love seeing them when they visit their stomping grounds.

Arizona's Famed Salt River Horses Face Removal From Their Native Habitat After Being Deemed 'Strays'

The herd was reportedly around 500,000 strong in 1927. 

“This is probably the most popular wild horse herd in the country,” said Simone Netherlands, president of the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group (SRWHMG). “People come from miles, nationally and internationally, to see this herd because they have learned to be peaceful and tolerant of people.”

According to a Forest Service official, though, the horses pose a risk to the very people they seem to be so tolerant of: “It just boils down to a safety concern for the Forest Service. We have horses out there on Forest Service land and we have no authority to manage horses and this is how they’re proceeding to remedy the safety issue.”

Carrie Templin, a different spokesperson for Tonto National Forest, also stated, “They are coming into one of the highest use recreational areas and we do not want a child, or a dog, or a horse to get hurt by somebody trying to go up and pet them.”

This sounds reasonable, except for the fact that there have been no reported human/horse injury related incidents in the area. Sure, there have been plenty of instances when someone drunkenly floated off from their group when the inner tube holding their beer cooler went rogue along the winding river, never to be heard from again, as well as a bevy of other examples of pretty severe safety concerns for the area involving cliff jumping accidents and drownings … but by all means, we should avoid the potential for a horse to maybe, perhaps, possibly kick someone someday.

Seems as though worrying about actual danger might make more sense than worrying about possible danger.

Which brings us to the crux of the issue. Due to the failure of the federal government to grant this herd a designated wild horse territory, they lack federal protection and are subsequently not defined as ‘wild.’ It’s the belief of the Forest Service that these horses are merely abandoned, domesticated animals from neighboring properties and, as such, they are to be treated like unauthorized livestock who fall outside of their jurisdiction. Basically, these aren’t the Forest Service’s Legos, so they don’t wanna have to pick them up before bed.

This isn’t the first time fun with names has created a potentially detrimental situation for animals in the state of Arizona either. A recent bill that would have placed livestock in a classification that no longer recognized them as “animals” was vetoed by the state’s governor after considerable public outcry.

It’s like the rules for “Whose Line is it Anyway” down there, where names are made up and reality doesn’t matter.

In the case of these horses, it appears that an act of Congress recognizing them as wild and giving the Forest Service the power to oversee them will be the only way to allow these creatures to stay put. Especially after a 50 page Humane Management Proposal presented by SRWHMG was rejected by the service.

“We’re very upset that the Forest Service has chosen not to work with us,” Netherlands told local Arizona station KPHO. ”We’ve offered humane solutions [to manage the horse population] at no cost to the Forest Service.”

Netherlands went on to say, “It’s so indicative, we believe, of mankind and our government to just say, ‘Let’s manage this into extinction’.”

The Forest Service Plans to remove the horses over the course of this year, beginning with 100 starting Friday, August, 7th.

Sadly, the numbers seem to back up Netherlands assertions. Wild horses are routinely rounded up and relocated in the U.S. by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in order to keep wild populations down. They’re taken to holding facilities with the idea that they can be adopted out, but not all of the horses captured see that future. It’s estimated that nearly 100,000 of these horses are sent to slaughter annually.

The Forest Service has stated via public notice that the horses must be claimed by August 7th, with proof of ownership, or they can be captured, auctioned off and/or disposed of. Public outcry has been swift and furious, with those familiar with the horses taking to social media in an effort to stop the Forest Service’s actions and attending protests in an effort to save these majestic animals.

Dan Moon|Editor/Publisher|Animal News Sentinel|Aug 8 2015

Update: Salt River Wild Horses Safe For Now

Forest Service Calls Off Plan to Round Up Famed Arizona Herd 

Last week, the famed and beloved Salt River wild horses in the Tonto National Forest near Mesa, Arizona were in immediate threat of total eradication thanks to a U.S. Forest Service plan to begin rounding them up as early as Friday, August 7. These special horses have been present on the lands in and around the Salt River for over a century, but the Forest Service claimed that they are “estray livestock” and intended to “impound” all “unauthorized” horses in just a few short days. 

This is a precarious situation because the Salt River horses lack federal protection due to the Forest Service’s failure to designate a protected Wild Horse Territory for them after the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act was passed in 1971. At the same time, the Forest Service admits that the horses have been present in the National Forest since the 1930’s, and historic articles document their presence on those lands since the late 1800’s. The legal upshot of the Forest Service’s failure to protect the Salt River horses is that they can be rounded up and sold at auction, where kill buyers could purchase them for slaughter.   

Thanks to the tremendous outpouring of support from the local Arizona community and from advocates all around the world, the U.S. Forest Service has abandoned this controversial plan to remove dozens of horses from their Salt River home and is currently searching for alternative plans to manage them.

American Wild Horses Preservation Campaign

Bangladesh police kill six alleged tiger poachers

A Bengal tiger, pictured in India

Bengal tiger populations in Bangladesh have slumped

Six suspected tiger poachers have been shot dead in a gunfight with Bangladeshi police at a hideout in the world’s largest mangrove forest.

Police seized three tiger pelts which they said were from animals that appeared to be freshly killed.

The Sundarbans in south-east Bangladesh are home to the rare Bengal tiger.

A recent survey found that just over 100 were living there – a sharp decline from the 440 animals recorded 10 years ago.

Experts say the dramatic slump is down to more accurate surveying methods, but also to rampant poaching.

A local police official, Harendra Nath Sarkar, told the BBC that during a raid, the alleged poachers began shooting and the officers fired back.

“The gunfight went on for about 15 to 20 minutes. We recovered three tiger skins, and five guns and ammunition. From the look and smell of the skins, it seemed that the tigers were killed not more than a week ago,” he said.

But some local media cast doubt on the police’s version of events, saying the suspects had been arrested before being shot dead.

Bangladesh has stepped up efforts against poachers since the news of the tiger population’s decline.

There are now fewer than 2,300 Bengal tigers left in the wild – mainly in India and Bangladesh, but with smaller populations in Nepal, Bhutan, China and Myanmar (Burma).

BBC News|Asia|10 August 2015

Grizzly Bear Euthanized After Fatally Attacking Yellowstone Hiker

63 year-old Lance Crosby was killed by a Grizzly Bear in Yellowstone National Park earlier this month. His body was discovered on August 7 near the Elephant Back Loop Trail in the Lake Village area by a park ranger after Crosby missed work and was reported missing. The experienced hiker was alone at the time of the attack and had worked and lived in Yellowstone for five seasons.

It’s a heart-breaking situation, of course for Crosby who lost his life and his loved ones who are left to mourn his passing, but also for the bear involved, and her cubs.

Wildlife biologists captured a female Grizzly Bear near the scene on the night Crosby’s body was discovered, and her two cubs were eventually captured as well. Biologists waited for test results to confirm that the adult bear that they caught was the one responsible for killing Crosby, and on August 13 park officials confirmed that the adult female Grizzly they captured was in fact the bear involved in the fatal attack, so she was euthanized.

At least the bear’s two cubs were spared. Since the cubs are too young to survive in the wild without their mother, arrangements have been made to transfer them to a facility accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which sets strict standards for facilities with regard to animal handling and care. The result: Later this fall the orphaned cubs —both female and less than a year old, will officially call the Toledo Zoo home.

When I first heard about this incident and that the bear involved would most likely be euthanized, my heart sank. At the time the female Grizzly and one of her cubs had been captured, awaiting their fate. The other cub was caught soon after. It was hard for me to imagine such a beautiful creature just waiting in a cage to be put down, separated from her babies with no hope of survival.

Like many, I feel a special connection to Yellowstone Park and its inhabitants. In my formative years I worked at Yellowstone for a summer, in the same Lake area where this recent bear attack took place. I hiked the backcountry and got to see many of the park’s wild inhabitants, including moose, buffalo, elk, eagles, mountain goats and, yes, a Grizzly Bear, though that spotting was from a distance. It was from the road and I was on the back of a motorcycle at the time.

So when I heard that a mama Grizzly was going to be euthanized, I was shocked and saddened. Sentencing a wild Grizzly Bear to death sounded harsh, when you consider that she was with her cubs at the time of the attack. Isn’t it natural for her to protect them, and if so, why should she be punished for fulfilling her natural duty?

I needed to understand, so first I looked up the park’s explanation. Here’s what Dan Wenk, superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, had to say:

“The decision to euthanize a bear is one that we do not take lightly. As park managers, we are constantly working to strike a balance between the preservation of park resources and the safety of our park visitors and employees. Our decision is based on the totality of the circumstances in this unfortunate event. Yellowstone has had a grizzly bear management program since 1983. The primary goals of this program are to minimize bear-human interactions, prevent human-caused displacement of bears from prime food sources, and to decrease the risk of bear-caused human injuries.”

I wanted to know more about “the totality of the circumstances” and whether there were other options worth exploring besides euthanasia, like re-location or placing the bear in a sanctuary, so I spoke with park spokesperson Amy Bartlett, and she shed some interesting light on the situation.

Not to get unnecessarily morbid, but investigators identified what appeared to be defensive wounds on Crosby’s forearms, and his body was found partially consumed and cached, or covered. That’s a significant detail, because as Bartlett explained to me, the bear “didn’t fully act in a defensive manner.” When confronted by a human, she explained, “Typically a bear will take her cubs and retreat, but in this case, she consumed a significant portion, and the consumption factor pushes this beyond looking at this as a defensive attack.”

Because the bear didn’t act in a defensive manner, Bartlett said, “that’s what pushes this over the limit and why we can’t let her keep roaming Yellowstone.” If the Grizzly had simply defended her cubs before fleeing, she would most likely be alive today, but that’s not what happened based on the evidence collected.

The other key factor in determining the bear’s fate, Bartlett explained, was the covering up of Crosby’s body. That alludes to the bear’s desire to consume more at some point, and the park can’t in good conscience allow a Grizzly Bear with a taste for human flesh to roam its woods.

So what about alternatives to euthanasia like relocation or placing the bear in a sanctuary? Bartlett explained, “It’s really hard to relocate bears, and it’s hard to put a bear in an area where they’re not going to encounter people,” adding, “We don’t like to transfer our problems.”

According to Bartlett, the typical home range for a Grizzly Bear is 800-2,000 square miles for a male and 300-550 square miles for a female, so it’s hard to place a bear within that large an area. She also pointed out that bears will typically try to get back to their home range anyway, which it seems, would defeat the purpose of relocation.

As for placing the bear in some sort of zoo or sanctuary, Bartlett stated plainly, “Adults typically don’t do well in captivity.” Cubs are apparently able to adapt better.

While putting a healthy, wild animal down and leaving her offspring motherless may seem harsh, Bartlett points out, “It’s not about just one bear. We have to look at a population of approximately 750-800 in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. We have to look at the future of our program and the entire population of bears, and we have to strike a balance.”

It’s also a matter of protecting people. Crosby was alone at the time of the attack, (which is not recommended in bear country) so some of the details about what happened that fateful day will remain a mystery. Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk said, “We may not be able to conclusively determine the circumstances of this bear attack, but we will not risk public safety.”

Here’s what Wenk had to say about the decision euthanize:

“As managers of Yellowstone National Park, we balance the preservation of park resources with public safety. Our decision takes into account the facts of the case, the goals of the bear management program, and the long term viability of the grizzly bear population as a whole, rather than an individual bear.”

National Parks are recreational destinations for people seeking to enjoy the great outdoors, but they are also home to a plethora of wild animals. When it comes to bears, Yellowstone’s warning to visitors is, “Your safety cannot be guaranteed.”

There is an average of one bear attack in Yellowstone each year. In 2011, in separate incidents, two visitors were killed by bears inside the park.

The park provides helpful suggestions for reducing the risk of a bear encounter. Hikers are advised to stay on designated trails, carry bear spray, be alert for bears, make noise to help avoid surprise encounters, and travel in groups of three or more people. (91 percent of the people injured by bears in Yellowstone since 1970 were hiking alone or with only one hiking partner.)

Still, I know from experience, that people will do what they want. Despite all the warnings and information provided to the public by park officials, I remember being asked numerous times by visitors when I worked at Yellowstone, “Where should we go to see bears.”

“Ugh, don’t you get it people?!” That was my feeling at the time. For the safety of humans and bears, the point is to avoid encountering them.

It’s heartbreaking what happened to Crosby, and one can only imagine the pain his loved ones must be feeling. My heart aches not only for them, but for that mama bear whose life was prematurely cut short, and I’m left wondering what if anything, can we learn from this tragedy where there are no winners, only loss?

If you ask me, the best way for humans to remain safe and to prevent animals in national parks from being euthanized is to follow the safety suggestions and warnings set forth by park officials while visiting, though Bartlett was quick to point out to me that these safety suggestions are just that – suggestions, as opposed to laws or requirements.

Still, I think it’s safe to say that these suggestions are well worth acting on.

Tex Dworkin|August 14, 2015

Global Warming and Climate Change

Greenland’s ice sheets are melting fast

NASA’s Oceans Melting Greenland study will deploy 200 robot probes to measure the full extent of Arctic climate change

An urgent attempt to study the rate at which Greenland’s mighty ice sheets are melting has been launched by NASA. The aim of the six-year project, called Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG), is to understand how fast the world’s warming seas are now eroding the edges of the island’s vast icecaps. Warming air temperatures are already causing considerable glacier loss there, but the factors involving the sea that laps the bases of its great ice masses, and which is also heating up, are less well understood.

Greenland contains vast reservoirs of ice which, if completely melted, would raise world sea levels by more than six metres. However, some influences on its current dramatic melting are poorly understood. Hence the decision to launch OMG, an acronym that the project leader, Joshua Willis, admits he “barely squeezed past the censors”.

The project will include a four-year program involving the release of more than 200 robot probes from aircraft of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s specialist fleet. These will measure sea water temperature and depth round the island while the elevation of its coastal glaciers will also be measured in detail. At the same time, ships, including the retired trawler MV Cape Race, will be used to make careful studies of the shape and size of the fjords that channel water from the ocean to the base of Greenland’s glaciers. The information gleaned this way “should give us a better handle on understanding the [ice] mass loss that is currently going on in Greenland,” says Willis, of Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Greenland is the world’s largest island and is almost completely covered by ice. Scientists estimate that about 695,000 square miles of its surface is coated with glaciers, an area 14 times the size of England. (By contrast, only 135,000 square miles of Greenland is ice-free.)

That coating is now disappearing at an alarming rate thanks to the impact of global warming, triggered by rising emissions of greenhouse gases. According to University of Colorado climate scientist Konrad Steffen, the amount of ice Greenland lost in 2007 was “the equivalent of two times all the ice in the Alps”. Sea ice in the Arctic ocean around Greenland has also been decreasing while permafrost in tundra in the far north has been thawing rapidly.

The problem facing oceanographers and climatologists is the nature of Greenland’s intricately carved coast, which features long fjords that push, like fingers, deep into the island’s interior. The extent of this problem is revealed by the science journal Nature. According to a recent report, scientists who studied three particularly important fjords found that existing maps underestimate their depths by several hundred metres. In addition they found that glaciers flowing into these fjords were also doing so to a far greater depth than had previously been estimated and could reach the warm, salty layer of water that flows up from the Atlantic. This would make those glaciers more vulnerable to melting than had been previously anticipated. “With OMG, we are going to reveal the depth of those fjords,” project scientist Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at the University of California Irvine, told Nature.

Another aim of the project is to gain a better understanding of Greenland’s glaciers on land at the island’s edge. While scientists have recently worked out reliable data sets for losses of ice mass in its interior, this task is trickier at the island’s edges, where glaciers tend to be warmer, thicker and full of crevices. Achieving a precise understanding of the mass of these glaciers will form another major part of the Oceans Melting Greenland project.

“NASA has an extensive fleet of aircraft that we can use and this project has been created to exploit these vehicles and give us an improved picture of how ice loss will be affecting the Arctic over the next 100 years,” says Willis. “By then, of course, we expect considerable changes will be affecting the planet’s polar regions.”

Robin McKie|9 August 2015

My Sea Level Rise.org

There’s a lot we have to do today, as a society, to prepare for the demands of sea level rise (SLR) in coastal communities.

We start with smart and reasonable financial legislation from Washington. With additional input from Main Street all the way to Wall Street, we can create the financial tools which will empower average homeowners and business interests to responsibly adapt to expanding oceans. 

We can also find new ways to adapt agriculture to peer-reviewed projections of intruding waters. In areas threatened with repeated and ultimately permanent inundation within the next 30 years (and less) we can devise new growing platforms to tackle the challenges of sustaining our fields while dealing with extended extreme heat episodes.

We can also prepare our legal system for the rigors of climate change, especially in populated states who will need to redesign their land use and zoning laws for altered coastlines. 

What’s in your future? If we work hard now, and plan creatively, we can handle challenges never before confronted in human history. 

You are not powerless. You have opportunities.

MySeaLevelRise.org is designed to promote intelligent thought on how we can shape the future of you, your family, and your job. Here we link to serious websites to explore each topic, present ideas and promote concepts for your introspection.

Climate change will kill high-altitude cloud forest plants

A lot of tropical, mountain-top plants won’t survive global warming, even under the best-case climate scenario, Australian scientists are warning.

Scientists from James Cook University and Australian Tropical Herbarium have found many of the species they studied will likely not be able to survive in their current locations past 2080 as their high-altitude climate changes.

The Wet Tropics World Heritage Area in Queensland, Australia is predicted to almost completely lose its ability to host the endemic plants that grow 1000 metres or more above sea level.

Lead researcher, Dr Craig Costion says the findings have important implications for some rare and ancient species. “They already live on mountain tops, they have no other place to go,” he says.

The scientists looked at 19 plant species in the tropics found at least 1000 metres above sea level. They modeled three climate change scenarios in the region, ranging from conservative to extreme.

They found that by 2040 the climate niche the species grow in would decline anywhere between a minimum of 17% and a maximum of 100%.

By 2080, even using conservative assumptions, nearly half of the plants would not have what the scientists believe is a survivable climate.

The data show that between 2040 and 2060 eight to 12 species will be at risk of extinction.

Predictions indicate that by 2080 no suitable habitat will exist within the region for 84% of the species studied under any emissions scenario.

Dr Costion says there were some caveats on the findings.

“Our study indicates that the current climate on Queensland’s mountaintops will virtually disappear. What we don’t know is if these plants can adapt.”

The researchers looked only at endemic trees and shrubs found solely above 1000 metres and for which there were the best records.

They didn’t consider reasons for their presence on mountaintops apart from climate suitability. But Dr Costion said he was confident the scientists were not being alarmist.

“The 19 species represent most of the plants that are restricted to that habitat. It’s highly likely they are found only there because of the climate,” he says.

“There are plenty of other similar soil and substrate environments at lower elevations where they could grow but the climate is unsuitable.”

Dr Costion says plans are underway to confirm and expand on the findings.

Co-author Professor Darren Crayn says the findings show well managed conservation reserves may be safe from many threats, but not from climate change, with the Wet Tropics World Heritage area seriously exposed.

“The tropics contain most of the world’s biodiversity, and tropical mountains are particularly rich in unique and rare species,” he says.

“Managing for global threats such as climate change requires much better information – a redoubling of research efforts on these poorly understood landscapes would pay great dividends.”

He says without a suitable environment, the survival of the threatened species may depend on them being grown in botanical gardens under controlled conditions.

From Wildlife Extra

Environmental groups vow to challenge sea wall approvals

RIVIERA BEACH (CBS12) – There’s a new salvo in the long-running battle over seawalls on our beaches.

Four environmental groups just put the state Department of Environmental Protection on notice they intend to sue the agency.

The organizations say they plan to sue over the Department issuing a series of permits for sea wall construction on Singer Island.

The condos on the island are responsible for several new sea walls in recent years, and with the state’s blessing, more are set to be built.

Singer Island condo residents tell CBS12, as their beaches and dunes have disappeared over the years, they have no alternative but to install costly sea walls, to protect their properties.

But sea walls are known to speed the erosion process.

“When we have a sea wall constructed, you’re basically cutting off that natural system of sand,“ said Todd Remmel of Surfrider Foundation, one of the groups filing the intent to sue.

“It’s unfortunate we turn to a solution like seawalls,” said Remmel.  “The notice will help us open up a communication.”

In recent years, Singer Island residents and county staffers proposed installing experimental break water structures in the water just offshore.

But Surfrider and other groups feared the effort would impact sea turtle nesting, and opposed it, eventually convincing county commissioners to abandon the idea.

Chuck Weber/CBS12|Riviera Beach

Sunspot science throws wrench in favorite climate denialism claim

The moon landing was fake! Aliens did crash in Roswell! Tupac and Elvis are living in your basement! Chemtrails are causing your Netflix addiction! AHHH!!!!

Sorry — just giving climate change deniers a bit of a warm-up. Last week, at a meeting of the International Astronomical Union, Frédéric Clette, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory of Belgium in Brussels, announced that sunspot activity has not, in fact, increased over the past century, as some scientists believe. According to Clette, those little bursts of magnetism on the sun’s surface have actually remained pretty constant since 1715.

If true, this news would be a huge downer for people who don’t believe in anthropogenic climate change. After all, if there was a gradual increase in sunspot activity culminating in a peak sometime near the end of the 20th century, then obviously that would’ve been causing global warming this whole time, not humans (scientists would disagree, but who cares?).

Scientists have been tracking sunspots ever since Galileo pointed a telescope at the sun back in 1610. Since then, there have been two major sunspot records in human history: one that tracks individual spots and one that tracks groups of spots. Clette and his colleagues set out to reconcile some well-known discrepancies between the two records and in the process found that there may not have actually been a recent rise in sunspot activity after all. Here’s more from Nature:

Clette and his team identified several sources of systemic error in the two lists, such as the fading eyesight of an ageing observer in Switzerland who was seeing fewer sunspots over time. In other cases, sky watchers were focused on making other solar observations, so if their notes do not mention sunspots this does not necessarily mean that none were present.

The team developed a method for choosing a main sunspot observer for a given interval of time, while ensuring that observers from adjacent periods overlapped to give smooth transitions. Recalibrating the two lists caused the suggested Grand Maximum in the latter half of the twentieth century to disappear ― a change largely due to the correction of data collected around 1893, when the Zurich Observatory switched directors.

If it turns out that a major error in scientific understanding resulted (in part) from “the fading eyesight of an aging observer,” then it would be at once an epic face palm moment for science and an awe-inspiring reminder of how incredibly low-tech early astronomy was. Either way, this really sucks for that guy.

Of course, the study has already met with opposition. Douglas Hoyt, a solar physicist, told Nature that the new findings were “not very convincing” and that he’s not down with tossing aside that old man’s observations.

Whatever happens to the sunspot record, one thing’s for sure: Climate change deniers will keep on keepin’ on until the day that Miami sinks beneath the sea and Alaska starts to burn (oh wait …).

Suzanne Jacobs|10 Aug 2015

Clean Power Plan Takes Aim at Climate Change

The much-anticipated release of EPA’s Clean Power Plan final rule to reduce dangerous carbon emissions from power plants arrived on August 4. This is the boldest move by any administration to reduce the carbon pollution that causes global warming.

The case for urgent action has never been stronger. Last year was the hottest on record, according to an international report. The first six months of this year were even hotter. And 14 of the 15 hottest years ever recorded have occurred in this century. As temperatures go up, sea levels rise and extreme weather disasters multiply. Extreme heat kills more Americans than hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and lightening combined. Audubon’s science dramatically shows that global warming puts 314 North American birds at risk from climate change. So for Audubon, it’s a bird issue.

Electric utilities contribute almost 40 percent of the United States’ carbon pollution fueling global warming, the largest source in the country. The Clean Power Plan will require utilities to reduce emissions by 32 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. That will keep nearly 900 million tons of carbon pollution from being spewed into our atmosphere each year. It will provide the same benefits to the climate as taking 70 percent of our cars off the road. Other health and environmental benefits will be realized as well, as the Clean Power Plan creates cleaner, healthier skies.

Each state has the flexibility to find the best, lowest-cost approach to meeting their carbon reduction goals, using a mix of building blocks that include energy efficiency measures, switching to cleaner fuels, or creating regional approaches with neighboring states.

Audubon is working hard to ensure that birds survive a warming world. Our efforts just got some much-needed help with the first-ever federal effort to reduce carbon pollution through the Clean Power Plan.

From Audubon Advisory

10 Coastal Destinations Most at Risk From Sea Level Rise

Many of the U.S.’s loveliest national parks—favorites for tourists, families and recreational athletes—lie along its shores. They attract millions of visitors a year and they are under threat from rising sea levels caused by climate change.

Just ahead of the two-year anniversary of the announcement of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, as well as the heavy summer tourist season, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell released a study, Adapting to Climate Change in Coastal Parks: Estimating the Exposure of Park Assets to 1 m of Sea-Level Rise, compiled by the National Park Service and Western Carolina University’s Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines. It looked at 40 parks in the contiguous 48 states considered most threatened and found that more than $40 billion in park infrastructure and historic and cultural assets is at risk of being damaged by rising sea levels. And those comprise only a third of those considered at risk—the study is ongoing and an analysis of an additional 30 parks will be released later this summer.

“National Park Service (NPS) coastal units contain the last remaining large stretches of relatively undeveloped shorelines in the nation,” says the study. “These parks contain a wide range of natural resources, cultural resources and recreational facilities. The parks also contain infrastructure providing access to each unit. Over the next century (and beyond), more NPS resources will be exposed to and threatened by rising ocean waters. Numerous coastal units, particularly low-lying barrier parks, are already dealing with sea-level rise (SLR) threats to resources and assets.”

Most endangered are the low-lying barrier parks on the country’s southeastern Atlantic seacoast. The cost of rebuilding or replacing historic structures such as lighthouses and tourist centers at North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina alone is estimated at nearly $1.2 billion—without even factoring in loss of lands and tourist income.

Ten NPS national seashores listed most at risk are popular destinations for millions of Americans including some of its most visited and beloved beach areas.

They include:

1. Assateague (Maryland/Virginia)

2. Cape Cod (Massachusetts)

3. Fire Island (New York)

4. Cape Hatteras (North Carolina)

5. Cape Lookout (North Carolina)

6. Canaveral (Florida)

7. Cumberland Island (Georgia)

8. Gulf Islands (Florida/Mississippi)

9. Point Reyes (California)

10. Padre Island (Texas)

Other popular parks under threat include Redwood National Park in California, Florida’s Everglades National Park and Maine’s Acadia National Park, as well as heavily visited urban parks such as Gateway National Recreation Area and the Statue of Liberty National Monument in New York City and Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco.

“Many coastal parks already deal with threats from sea-level rise and from storms that damage roads, bridges, docks, water systems and parking lots,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “This infrastructure is essential to day-to-day park operations, but the historical and cultural resources such as lighthouses, fortifications and archaeological sites that visitors come to see are also at risk of damage or loss.”

And rising sea levels aren’t the only threat to these parks. As Hurricane Sandy showed, the bigger and more destructive storms connected to climate change can wreak havoc on the coastal parks as well. That storm closed the State of Liberty for eight months.

“When we look back at Hurricane Sandy, a quick reassessment of the methodology in this report suggests that we were conservative in labeling an asset as ‘high exposure’,” said NPS lead scientist on coastal geology Rebecca Beavers. “Although reality may deal even more harsh circumstances as Sandy illustrated, information from this report provides a useful way to help determine priorities for planning within coastal parks.”

“Coupled with sea level rise, big storms have that extra volume of water that can damage or destroy roads, bridges and buildings, and we saw what that looks like—again—with Hurricane Sandy in 2012,” added Jarvis.

The study concludes with a call to action, saying that it hopes to “bring attention to the serious need for broader guidance related to climate change adaptation.”

“Climate change is visible at national parks across the country, but this report underscores the economic importance of cutting carbon pollution and making public lands more resilient to its dangerous impacts,” said Jewell. “Through sound science and collaboration, we will use this research to help protect some of America’s most iconic places—from the Statue of Liberty to Golden Gate and from the Redwoods to Cape Hatteras—that are at risk from climate change.”

Anastasia Pantsios|June 29, 2015

Extreme Weather

Deadly Heat Waves Sweep the Globe

This summer is undoubtedly one for the record books. Brutal heat has literally melted roads, ignited forest fires and affected millions around the planet. Extreme weather has scorched the Middle East, Asia, Europe and the U.S, as weather experts predict that this year will surpass last year as the hottest in recorded history.

“I’d not be surprised if 2015 ends up the warmest year on record,” said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) climate monitoring chief Derek Arndt in June.

The Middle East

Death tolls are currently climbing in Egypt as temperatures soar to 114 degrees Fahrenheit. The Associated Press reported that more than 60 people—mostly elderly—have died from the heat and high humidity. An additional 581 people have been hospitalized for heat exhaustion.

The entire region has been devastated by the relentless heat. Earlier this week, Iran hit a sweltering 164 degrees—just a few degrees shy of the highest ever record heat index. Pakistan’s devastating heat wave in June killed 1,233 and hospitalized more than 1,900 due to dehydration, heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses. In neighboring India, 2,500 people succumbed to heat a month earlier.

Asia

Japan is experiencing heat-related deaths in 29 out of its 47 prefectures, with Tokyo currently experiencing an “unprecedented” streak of temperatures over 95 degrees, according to Weather.com. The week of July 27 through Aug. 2—where 25 people died from heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses—was considered the “deadliest” week in the country and nearly equaled the death toll of 30 in the preceding three months combined, Weather.com added in its report.

Elsewhere in Asia, Chinese weather authorities have issued heat wave alerts as some parts of the country experienced temperatures in the triple digits. The Guardian also reported in July that North Koreans were ordered to start work at 5 a.m. in order to cope with temperatures around 104 degrees Fahrenheit in Pyongyang.

Europe

The heat has smashed records across the continent, reminding some of the devastating summer of 2003 that claimed 30,000 lives. “Europeans have been painfully aware of the dangers of extreme heat since the killer heat wave of July 2003,” said Weather.com senior meteorologist Nick Wiltgen.

“This July 2015 was the warmest July on record for Spain, Italy, Switzerland and Austria,” Dr. Jeff Masters, Weather Underground’s director of meteorology, told the website.

Eastern Europe is also seeing temperatures up to the mid-90s, when highs around 75 are more common this time of year, AccuWeather wrote. And Poland is also experiencing the mass extinction of one very unsuspecting victim: IKEA meatballs.

North America

Although summer is coming to an end, many parts of the U.S. will still be baking in the sun’s rays. Some Los Angelenos, for instance, will feel temperatures in the 100s this week, the Los Angeles Times reported. Stuart Seto, a weather specialist with the National Weather Service, told the publication on Monday that while the city’s temperatures are not record-breaking, they are still about 10 degrees above average for this time of year.

The American summer of 2015 has also been marked by destructive wildfires that have burned through the West. So far, flames have burned nearly 5 million acres (an area the size of Connecticut) in the state of Alaska. Climate Central even created an interactive map that shows in real time the active wildfires in the U.S.

Climate change?

Global warming has been suggest as one of the possible culprits of this extreme heat.

“The heat wave is still ongoing and it is premature to say whether it can be attributed to climate change or whether it is due to naturally occurring climate variability,” stated Omar Baddour, who coordinates the World Meteorological Organization’s World Climate Data and Monitoring Program.

“But climate change scenarios predict that heat waves will become more intense, more frequent and longer. It is notable that the time between major heat waves (2003, 2010 and 2015) is getting shorter,” he added.

Lorraine Chow|August 13, 2015

It’s So Hot in Texas That Shoes Are Literally Melting

Summer is coming to an end but the relentless heat has not. Temperatures soared to 106 degrees in the city of Allen, Texas this week, causing a high school football player’s shoes to literally melt.

According to USA TODAY, Eagles defensive back Anthony Taylor’s Nike cleats melted during practice. The image above was captured by Taylor’s athletic trainer, Mike Harrison.

The Dallas News reported that Monday was the hottest first day of high school football practice in the last 13 years, and local coaches have advised players to prepare accordingly for the searing temperatures.

“Make sure you go home and drink plenty of water,” Duncanville coach Reginald Samples told his Panthers.

The area’s high school teams were also prohibited from practicing from Noon to 6 p.m. when practice would have been prohibitively hot.

“We researched literature and talked to institutions and universities,” Phil Francis, the head athletic trainer for the Dallas Independent School District athletic department, told Dallas News. “[Noon-6 p.m.] is getting to be the hottest part of the day. This is preseason. Kids need to get used to the hot weather.”

It’s not the first time that an athlete’s shoes have melted from the oppressive heat. Tennis player Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s shoes also melted during delirious 107.6 degree temps at the 2014 Australian Open. And with this year on track to be the hottest in recorded history, other folks have also taken to Twitter to express dismay about the shoe-melting phenomenon.

Lorraine Chow|August 13, 2015

Genetically Modified Organisms

Scotland Bans the Growing of Genetically Modified Crops

In an effort to protect its “clean, green status,” Scotland will prohibit the growing of genetically modified (GM) crops.

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead (the country’s minister for the environment, food and rural affairs) said in a statement on Sunday that Scotland is taking advantage of new European Union rules that allow its member countries to opt out of growing EU-authorized GM crops, including GM-maize (corn) and six other GM crops that are awaiting authorization.

“Scotland is known around the world for our beautiful natural environment—and banning growing genetically modified crops will protect and further enhance our clean, green status,” Lochhead said. “There is no evidence of significant demand for GM products by Scottish consumers and I am concerned that allowing GM crops to be grown in Scotland would damage our clean and green brand, thereby gambling with the future of our £14 billion food and drink sector.”

GM crops (also known as GMOs) are living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially altered in labs, making it resistant against pests, herbicides, pesticides and even browning in apples. Despite claims from manufacturers and many in the scientific community that these products are safe and would help feed the world’s growing population, the topic is fraught with contention due to environmental and health concerns.

For instance, glyphosate—the active ingredient in Monsanto’s flagship herbicide Roundup that’s sprayed on GM crops—was classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans” by the World Health Organization.

At least 64 countries around the world require labeling of foods containing GMOs, including the 28 nations in the EU, as well as Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia and China. The U.S. does not, despite the overwhelming majority of Americans who want to know what’s in their food.

“The Scottish Government has long-standing concerns about GM crops—concerns that are shared by other European countries and consumers, and which should not be dismissed lightly,” Lochhead continued in his statement. “I firmly believe that GM policy in Scotland should be guided by what’s best for our economy and our own agricultural sector rather than the priorities of others.”

According to The Guardian, Scotland’s move does not restrict scientific research of GM-products. A spokeswoman for the Scottish government said, “These changes would not affect research as it is currently carried out in Scotland, where the contained use of GM plants is permitted for scientific purposes, for example in laboratories or sealed glasshouse facilities.’’

The BBC reported that environmental groups have applauded the decision. However, Scott Walker, the chief executive of farming union NFU Scotland, told the news organization: “Other countries are embracing biotechnology where appropriate and we should be open to doing the same here in Scotland.”

He added, These crops could have a role in shaping sustainable agriculture at some point and at the same time protecting the environment which we all cherish in Scotland.”

Lorraine Chow|August 10, 2015

Energy

Is Tidal Energy the World’s Next Renewable Powerhouse?

A British company has announced plans for an array of unique marine turbines that can operate in shallower and slower-moving water than current designs.

One of the new marine turbine rotor blades is floated in on a barge, ready for installation. Photo credit: Kepler Energy

One of the new marine turbine rotor blades is floated in on a barge, ready for installation. Photo credit: Kepler Energy

Kepler Energy, whose technology is being developed by Oxford University’s department of engineering science, says the turbines will in time produce electricity more cheaply than off-shore wind farms.

It hopes to install its new design in what is called a tidal energy fence, one kilometer long, in the Bristol Channel—an estuary dividing South Wales from the west of England—at a cost of £143m (US$222m).

The fence is a string of linked turbines, each of which will start generating electricity as it is completed, until the whole array is producing power. The fence’s total output is 30 megawatts (MW) and 1MW can supply around 1,000 homes in the UK.

Power Outputs

Peter Dixon, Kepler’s chairman, told Reuters news agency: “If we can build up to, say, 10 kilometers’ worth, which is a very extended fence, you’re looking at power outputs of five or six hundred megawatts. And just to visualize that, it’s like one small nuclear reactor’s worth of electricity being generated from the tides in the Bristol Channel.”

The new Transverse Horizontal Axis Water Turbine (THAWT)—whose design is compared to that of a water mill—will use the latest carbon composite technology and should be suitable for the waters around Britain, as well as overseas.

How the rotor blades look installed in a tidal fence configuration. Photo credit: Kepler Energy

How the rotor blades look installed in a tidal fence configuration. Photo credit: Kepler Energy

Because the turbines sit horizontally beneath the surface of the sea, they can be sited in water shallower than the 30-metre depth typically required by current designs. And because the water is slow-moving, the company says, fish can safely avoid the turbines’ blades.

Although the technology is regarded as environmentally benign, Kepler says it will still undergo a rigorous environmental impact assessment during the planning process to ensure that it poses no significant risk to marine life and to other users of the sea.

There is more good news for proponents of renewable energy after the UK government—which is no longer encouraging onshore wind and solar energy—gave the go-ahead for a large offshore wind farm that could provide power for up to two million homes.

The new wind farm is to be built near the Dogger Bank in the North Sea and will have 400 turbines.

Its developers say it could create almost 5,000 jobs during construction. And, earlier this year, they obtained planning consent for another installation nearby which, with the new development, will form one of the largest offshore wind farms in the world.

North Seas Assets

But the fossil fuel industry is far from abandoning its own interest in British waters as the energy giant BP has announced that it is to invest about £670m (US$1,040m) to extend the life of its North Sea assets.

It said it would be drilling new wells, replacing undersea infrastructure and introducing new technologies to help it to produce as much as possible from the area, whose future would be secured “until 2030 and beyond.”

In November, delegates to the UN Climate Change Convention annual negotiations will gather in Paris to try to conclude an ambitious and effective agreement on preventing the global average temperature rise caused by greenhouse gas emissions exceeding 2˚C above its pre-industrial level.

Last year, the Convention’s executive secretary, Christiana Figueres, said the world’s long-term goal was to reduce greenhouse gases to zero by 2100—a target she said would require leaving three-quarters of fossil fuels in the ground. “We just can’t afford to burn them,” she said.

Alex Kirby|Climate News Network|August 10, 2015

[Waves, tides and ocean currents are all potential sources of energy that need further development.]

Mounting Concerns Plague FPL’s Flawed Turkey Point Nuclear Expansion Proposal
There’s still time to sign petition in opposition to expansion

FPL’s proposal to potentially build two costly, water-intensive new nuclear reactors at their existing Turkey Point plant about 25 miles south of Miami is facing increased opposition as cost estimates rise and the environmental risks increase.

At the federal level, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) extended the public comment period on the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for FPL’s licensing application by two months at the bequest of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the EPA and the National Parks Service. The public raised serious concerns, such as threats to the region’s drinking water supply and impacts from sea level rise, from a diverse spectrum of interests, including the City of Miami and other officials, including mayors and state lawmakers. Due to deficiencies in the drat EIS, SACE and our partners in multi-year legal challenge of the federal licensing filed a new contention regarding insufficient wetland mitigation measures. Despite objections from FPL and the NRC staff, the NRC’s three-judge panel granted us an opportunity for oral argument led by Jason Totoiu of the Everglades Law Center. We now await a decision. If accepted, this will be the second accepted contention. The other deals with the possible contamination of the Biscayne aquifer given the convoluted FPL proposal to provide cooling water for the new reactors.

And it’s that time of year again – hearings on the annual nuclear cost recovery docket before the Florida Public Service Commission will happen later this month in which FPL and Duke are again seeking to charge their customers in advance because of Florida’s controversial, anti-consumer “nuclear tax.” SACE is again intervening and we are not alone, as the City of Miami has also intervened providing expert testimony. The Office of Public Counsel’s expert witness, Dr. William Jacobs (who is also the Vogtle Construction Monitor for the Georgia Public Service Commission, which is tracking Southern Company’s troubled, under-construction new reactor project) provided compelling testimony that underscores that FPL’s cost estimates are far too low and that the utility fails to provide an accurate feasibility analysis.

You can voice your concerns by signing the online petition opposing the nuclear expansion at Turkey Point. Take the next step by sharing it widely. It’s time to send FPL a clear message that more reactors at Turkey Point are not wanted when safe, affordable energy choices such as solar power and energy efficiency are available.

SACE|8/11/15

Good News: Power Plant Carbon Emissions Are At Quarter Century Low

Most of the environmental news we hear today is disheartening information about the consequences we’ll soon be facing thanks to climate change. Let’s take a momentary break from that sadness to focus on some good news: U.S. power plants are currently releasing the lowest amount of carbon emissions in 27 years. It seems like we might be making some progress!

The low mark occurred in April of this year, when U.S. power plants generated just 141 million tons of carbon dioxide, a figure we haven’t seen since April of 1988. Because power plants produce roughly one-third of the country’s emissions, this measurement is one of the biggest indicators we have to see how we’re doing at tackling global warming.

While some of this carbon success can be attributed to a rise in renewable resources, experts admit that a lot of the shift is a decreased reliance on coal. Considered dirty energy, burning coal releases more carbon dioxide than other forms of fuel. Instead, more power companies have turned to burning natural gas, which – though still harmful to the environment – creates less carbon emissions. The reason for this shift is not only that power companies are becoming more conscious of their eco-footprint, but also that the price of natural gas has decreased nearly 40 percent in the past twelve months alone making it a much more affordable option.

Though it’s likely that April’s number will rebound a little over the summer months since the heat prompts a surge in air conditioning use, the trend is encouraging overall. Though the amount of carbon emissions have been dropping (fairly) steadily since 2008, the initial drop was attributed mainly to the economic crash and a decline in manufacturing that necessitates power. While the economy has since rebounded and, in turn, required more power, a change in what power plants are burning has kept carbon emissions trending in a downward trajectory anyway.

A 27-year low in power plant emissions is worth celebrating, but it’s still not time to coast on this success. Though burning natural gas is better than coal, switching to wind and solar power on a large scale will be the real victory. To protect the planet, carbon emissions from power plants will eventually need to hover around zero.

President Barack Obama hopes to get the country closer to that number with the new clean energy program he announced at the beginning of the month. The Clean Power Plan aims to reduce power plant emissions by a full third by the year 2030. Calling his plan a “moral obligation,” Obama boasted that reducing these emissions would be the equivalent of removing 166 million cars from the road.

Kevin Mathews|August 10, 2015

Fracking Chemicals Linked to Cancer, According to New Report

The fluids used for hydraulic fracturing in California oil wells contain dozens of hazardous chemicals linked to cancer. hormone disruption and reproductive system damage, according to a new report by Environmental Working Group (EWG).

In the analysis, “California’s Toxic Fracking Fluids: The Chemical Recipe,” EWG deconstructs drilling companies’ use of 200 unique chemicals in nearly 700 wells across the state, with each company deploying around two dozen chemicals. These chemicals have the potential to contaminate drinking water, air and soil and to harm human health.

“Fracking is inherently problematic because of the chemicals used in the fluid,” said Tasha Stoiber, EWG senior scientist and a co-author of the report. “Since California has one of the most comprehensive and transparent disclosure programs in the nation, it’s the best window we have on the specific chemicals drillers are injecting into the ground. Disclosure of these hazardous or little-known chemicals to the public is necessary to gain much needed information on the risks of fracking.”

Fracking fluid is a mixture of water, chemicals and sand that is pumped into underground shale rock formations to crack them and release oil and natural gas trapped there. Of the chemicals added to fracking fluid in California, 15 are listed under the state’s Proposition 65 as known causes of cancer or reproductive harm, 12 are listed under the Clean Air Act as hazardous air pollutants known to cause cancer or other harm and 93 are associated with harm to aquatic life.

In March, EWG released its report Toxic Stew to bring attention to California’s contaminated fracking wastewater. The analysis released today gives a fuller picture of the process by revealing what is pumped down fracking wells, the likely origin of some contaminants in wastewater and the array of hazardous chemicals used, stored or transported at fracking sites.

EWG’s analysis shows why other state governments must require drilling companies to disclose the chemicals they are deploying. It underscores the urgent need for independent oversight of drilling in California and elsewhere.

The EWG report recommends that state officials:

  • Determine where less harmful alternatives can replace toxic chemicals currently used;
  • Immediately halt operations that are injecting drilling wastewater into potential sources of drinking or agricultural water;
  • Monitor groundwater in oil and gas areas and properly enforce model criteria developed under the California disclosure law.

“California leads the nation when it comes to providing more information about fracking chemicals to the public,” said Bill Allayaud, EWG’s California director of government affairs and co-author of the report. “But full disclosure is only the first step. Now it’s time for state officials to act aggressively to make sure these hazardous substances don’t jeopardize human and environmental health.”

Environmental Working Group|August 12, 2015

10 Years Later: Fracking and the Halliburton Loophole

This past Saturday, marked a notable 10th anniversary. But it was certainly nothing to celebrate. Ten years ago, President George W. Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The giant energy bill included massive giveaways for the fossil fuel, nuclear and ethanol industries and provided only token incentives for renewables and improved energy efficiency. But the most infamous piece of the law was what is now commonly known as the “Halliburton Loophole,” an egregious regulatory exemption that ushered in the disastrous era of widespread oil and gas fracking that currently grips our nation.

Fracking—the extreme oil and gas extraction method that involves blasting millions of gallons of water mixed with toxic chemicals underground at enormous pressures to break apart subterranean rock—has exploded in the last decade. More than 270,000 wells have been fracked in 25 states throughout the nation. More than 10 million Americans live within a mile of a fracking site. This means that 10 million Americans—and truly many more—have been placed directly in harm’s way. Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies have connected fracking to serious human health effects, including cancer, asthma and birth defects.

For this we can thank the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the law that holds the Halliburton Loophole. Named after Dick Cheney and the notorious corporation he led before becoming vice president, the law (championed by Cheney and disgraced Enron founder Kenneth Lay, among others) explicitly exempted fracking operations from key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act. These exemptions from one of America’s most fundamental environmental protection laws provided the oil and gas industry the immunity it required to develop a highly polluting process on a grand national scale.

One of the most troubling repercussions is how fracking companies hide the contents of their toxic water and chemical solutions pumped into the ground. Contamination of underground drinking water sources from fracking fluids is a glaring threat to public health and safety. Yet even doctors responding to fracking-related health complaints can’t access data on what particular chemicals their patients may have been exposed to.

But the Halliburton Loophole wasn’t the only fracking enabler in the Energy Policy Act. The act granted the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) sweeping new authority to supersede state and local decision-making with regard to the citing of fracked gas pipelines and infrastructure. It also shifted to FERC industry oversight and compliance responsibility for the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, another key law. This was akin to putting the fox in charge of the hen house.

As it stands, FERC is entirely unaccountable to public will. It is unaccountable to Congress and even the White House. Commissioners are appointed to five-year terms and can do as they please. Until a law reigning in FERC is passed, the commission will continue to act as a rubber-stamp for the fossil fuel industry.

Additionally, the Energy Policy Act repealed an important anti-monopoly law, the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935 (PUHCA). PUHCA safeguarded consumers from the overreach of the oil and gas industry and banks that did business with those companies. It prevented the formation of giant state and regional energy cartels that could manipulate energy costs, engage in profiteering and exert undue influence over political debate. The Energy Policy Act transferred most of this oversight to FERC. Since then, the largest American energy companies have grown significantly more powerful and spent almost a billion dollars on federal lobbying, according to OpenSecrets.org.

The 10th anniversary of the Energy Policy Act is indeed a sad occasion, but it provides us with a ripe opportunity to reexamine our nation’s disastrous policy of doubling-down on fossil fuels over the last decade, thanks to the extreme process of fracking. For the sake of countless Americans who are currently suffering health effects caused by fracking and the countless more who will suffer in the future, we must immediately curtail our dependence on oil and gas and turn decisively toward a truly clean, renewable energy future.

Wenonah Hauter|August 11, 2015

Japan Restarts First Nuclear Reactor Since Fukushima Disaster, Protests Erupt

Japan has restarted its first nuclear reactor to generate power since 2013. And that’s really bad news.

Remember what happened in 2013? Why Japan closed all of its reactors abruptly and why we’re still tracing the spread of radioactive material across our Pacific Coast and into the atmosphere?

First there was an earthquake that did significant damage to that island country—and then a tsunami quickly followed. And what happened next was the largest nuclear meltdown in the history of the world and the evacuation of 160,000 locals who lived in the area of the Fukushima power plant. We know now that Tepco—the owner of the Fukushima plant—had been warned years earlier about the dangers of an earthquake and a tsunami hitting the plant. No one did anything about it then—but even if they had—do we have any reason to believe it would have been enough? Because that’s the gamble that the Japanese nuclear industry is making with all of our futures right now. The simple fact about nuclear power generation—is that the risks and the costs dramatically outweigh any benefit. We’ve seen some of the risks—in Chernobyl we saw how human error can cause a meltdown. In the Three Mile Island incident we saw how the private corporations aren’t afraid to cut corners to pad their bottom line—even if that risks a partial nuclear meltdown. And in Fukushima we saw what happens when corporate negligence meets a natural disaster.

Considering nuclear power’s track record and the staggering risks involved—it’s amazing that anyone will insure the projects—and the simple fact is that without government backing, like the Price-Anderson Act here in the U.S., nuclear power would be impossible, because no private insurance company will cover them.

And to add insult to injury, nuclear power is actually not an “alternative energy” source—it’s an incredibly fossil fuel intensive process.

We can start with how much cement is required to contain and protect the reactors and other sensitive parts of the plants. Cement and concrete are hugely greenhouse gas intensive to produce—and the only way we know how to protect our power plants is to use more concrete.

Beyond that—the size of the projects require tons of truckloads of materials being hauled in and away—adding to the toll of carbon costs. Even if we just look at the material inputs used in nuclear power—it is carbon intensive to mine uranium—it is carbon intensive to enrich the uranium—and we still don’t know what to do with the nuclear waste.

The reality is that there are economically viable and truly clean energy alternatives—geothermal, solar, wind and tidal wave power are all options for Japan, for example. And they’re options that have none of the risks and none of the costs associated with enriched radioactive material. And bringing those renewable options online isn’t nearly as costly in terms of carbon as it is to bring a nuclear power plant online.

The reality is—the only reason anyone wants to bring these power plants back online is that when for-profit companies like TEPCO run nuclear power with massive government subsidies and insurance, it can be hugely profitable.

Nuclear is not a bridge fuel—it is not a clean alternative—and it can’t be our future. In the 1940’s scientists marveled at the idea of using fission to safely create large amounts of energy indefinitely—and they were wrong.

The only reason we’re clinging to that fantasy today is that the for-profit nuclear owners—think Montgomery Burns from the Simpsons—don’t care about the costs of nuclear power to society.

They’ll happily sell the future of life on Earth—just to make a buck today. Which is why both Japan and the U.S. should “just say no” to nuclear power.

Thom Hartmann|August 12, 2015

Solar Revolution? ‏

President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency just announced a huge step to ensure America is on a path to reducing climate-altering pollution from power plants.

One of the most exciting parts of the Clean Power Plan is that it incentivizes states to prioritize pollution-free solar and wind energy, along with energy saving measures for low-income households.
This is great news! It gives a boost to the cleanest energy options and discourages states from taking the easy way out by building polluting gas plants.

The EPA’s Clean Energy Incentive Programs1 would give states extra credit for putting wind and solar, along with low-income energy efficiency programs, upfront in their Clean Power Plan.

The Clean Energy Incentive Program can ensure that pollution-free options have a starring role in the Clean Power Plan, while expanding access to energy saving initiatives for low income Americans

The CPP is a historic step toward reducing our carbon pollution and will decrease emissions 32 percent below 2005 levels in the next 15 years. It’s crucial we make sure that all citizens of FL and all Americans have access to clean renewable sources of energy, and continue to transform our energy system to one that protects our health, environment, and future.

Elizabeth Ouzts|Regional Program Director|Environment Florida

This video about the aging pipeline below the Great Lakes should be this summer’s top horror flick

You know that feeling you get when you’re watching a scary movie, and something bad is about to happen? The music gets weird, the action starts to slow down, someone says something meaningful like “I’ll always be there for you.” That’s the feeling you might get watching this video from Motherboard about an aging oil pipeline lying at the bottom of the Great Lakes.

Here’s the gist: A company called Enbridge (appropriately evil-sounding) owns a 62-year-old pipeline running between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan along the Straits of Mackinac. The pipeline was originally built to last 50 years and is in questionable shape, but don’t worry — Enbridge says they have everything under control. Sure, the company had 800 spills between 1999 and 2010, according to Motherboard, and yes, one of those spills was the worst inland spill in U.S. history, causing more than 800,000 gallons of oil to spew into the Kalamazoo River in 2010. But no matter — there’s a very nice Enbridge employee in the video who says that the company doesn’t want to have any more spills.

Now, there’s no one I trust more than a giant oil pipeline operator, but this 17-minute video still feels like a teaser for an impending catastrophe. David Schwab, a scientist at the University of Michigan who spoke with Motherboard, says that when currents are at their peak, the amount of water flowing through the strait is 10 times the amount flowing over Niagara Falls. If a rupture occurs, he says, oil will quickly spread into both lakes. And even if Enbridge takes action immediately, Motherboard reports, the best-case scenario would end in a 1.5 million gallon spill.

So let’s consider ourselves warned. Now if there is a spill, we’ll all be that stupid character who went down to the basement to check up on a mysterious noise, when she knew full well that there was a killer on the loose.

Suzanne Jacobs|11 Aug 2015

Carbon Emissions Falling Fast as Wind and Solar Replace Fossil Fuels

Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions are falling fast, mainly because of the rapid spread of the wind turbines and solar panels that are replacing fossil fuels for electricity generation.

European Union (EU) data shows that once countries adopt measures to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs), they often exceed their targets—and this finding is backed up by figures released this week in a statement by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The Convention’s statistics show that the 37 industrialized countries (plus the EU) that signed up in 1997 to the Kyoto Protocol—the original international treaty on combating global warming—have frequently exceeded their promised GHG cuts by a large margin.

Beacon for governments

The UNFCCC statement says, “This is a powerful demonstration that climate change agreements not only work, but can drive even higher ambition over time.”

“The successful completion of the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period can serve as a beacon for governments as they work towards a new, universal climate change agreement in Paris, in December this year.”

In the EU, the leading countries for making savings are Germany, Sweden, France, Italy and Spain, which account for two-thirds of the total savings on the continent. But most of the 28 countries in the bloc are also making progress towards the EU’s own target of producing 20 percent of all its energy needs from renewables by 2020. It has already reached 15 percent.

Part of the EU plan to prevent any of the 28 member states backsliding on agreed targets to reduce GHGs is to measure every two years the effect of various policies to achieve the reductions.

All states have to submit details of savings achieved through the introduction of renewables in electricity production, heating and cooling systems and transport.

Because of the time taken to compile the figures, the latest report from the EC Joint Research Center goes up only to 2012. However, it shows that each year in the three years up to the end of 2012 GHGs emitted by the EU fell by 8.8 percent as a result of replacing fossil fuels with renewables.

Two-thirds of the savings came from the widespread introduction of wind and solar power. Renewables used for heating and cooling achieved 31 percent of the savings and transport 5 percent. Most transport renewables came from the use of bio-fuels instead of petrol and diesel.

Measuring the progress towards targets is vital for mutual trust between nations in the run-up to the Paris climate talks. It also gives politicians confidence that they can make pledges they can keep.

Ambitious goal

The knowledge that the EU is likely to exceed its target of a 20 percent reduction of all emissions on 1990 levels by 2020 has led ministers to a more ambitious goal—total reductions of 40 percent by 2030. A large part of this will come from the installation of more renewables and energy-efficiency measures.

Across Europe, emissions vary widely from country to country, with Germany having the highest and Malta the lowest. Germany also had the greatest absolute reduction of emissions—a total drop of 23 percent on 1990 levels by 2012.

The highest emissions per capita were in Luxembourg (20 tons of carbon dioxide per person), followed by Estonia (12.7), the Czech Republic (10.2), Germany (9.8) and the Netherlands (9.7).

Just five member states—Germany, Poland, the UK, Italy and Romania—together produced two-thirds of the EU’s emissions in 1990. The only change by 2012 was that Romania had been overtaken by Spain.

Paul Brown|Climate News Network|August 12, 2015

Land Conservation

Unique Alliance Between Gauchos and Environmentalists Protects Argentina’s Pampas

“National parks leave people out of the equation,” said Gustavo Marino, with the local environmental organisation Aves Argentinas (Argentine Birds). “We tried to come up with a way to integrate people, as well as human activity, as just another component of the ecosystem.”

Aves Argentinas and the Argentine Wildlife Foundation (FVSA) are carrying out the project “Grasslands and Savannas of the Southern Cone of South America: Initiatives for Their Conservation in Argentina Project”.

“We also saw that the grasslands of the pampas are almost all privately owned, there is very little public land, and we necessarily had to work with producers,” Marino told IPS.

The project receives financing from the World Bank’s Global Environment Facility (GEF) and support from the National Institute of Agricultural Technology and National Parks Administration.

The initiative in Argentina forms part of the Southern Cone Grasslands Alliance. (The Southern Cone sub-region is made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.)

The grasslands “gave rise to a culture represented by the gaucho, but which permeates our entire society, with traditional meals like ‘asado’ (beef roasted over a wood fire) and the need we Argentines feel of open spaces, of being able to see the horizon and the sky,” said Marino.

The pampas are also at the heart of this country’s economy.

“Grasslands provide a wide range of environmental goods and services, as well as the beef, milk, wool and leather produced by the pasture systems,” environmentalist Fernando Miñarro, the head of FVSA’s Pampas and Gran Chaco Program, told IPS.

The pampas ecosystem, which is home to more than 370 species of gramineous plant species (mainly types of grass), 400 species of birds, and roughly 100 species of mammals – several of which are threatened, such as the pampas deer – is essential in maintaining the ecological balance.

“The pampas contribute to the maintenance of the composition of the atmospheric gases through the sequestration of CO2 (carbon dioxide) and soil erosion control, and they are a source of genetic material for a large number of plant and animal species which currently constitute the basis of the global diet,” he said.

They also play a fundamental role as a supplier of pollinating insects and natural enemies of crop pests, he added.

According to Marino, Argentina has lost 60 percent of its grasslands, due to the expansion of intensive agriculture (such as soy and rice production) and commercial forestry, and the urbanization of the most valuable portions – the areas not prone to flooding.

The initiative, which involves 70 producers on 200,000 hectares of land, seeks to salvage traditional livestock-raising techniques of the pampas, perfected by means of new agricultural methods and ecological practices.

Marino mentioned rotational grazing and spelling of pastures for part of the peak growing season, and prescribed burning – practices that boost the growth of high-quality forage, he explained.

Another technique being used is the creation of small dikes, to retain water during the rainy season.

Using these methods they have curbed the growth of exotic plants and stimulated high-quality grass species for the cattle which, at the same time, attract birds like golden plovers (Pluvialis dominica).

“This is our most illustrative example. On one hand we are focusing on beef production and on the other we are thinking about the plovers’ quality of habitat,” said Marino, referring to precision livestock farming, adapted to each kind of pasture.

Marino, an agronomist and bird-watcher, said that when the project began eight years ago, stockbreeders looked at them as if they were oddballs.

But he said stockbreeders have increasingly turned to them for advice because “we offer a middle way where they earn money while maintaining biodiversity at the same time.”

Miñarro said that “When biodiversity is lost, the stockbreeder has to buy forage or nutrients. These inputs are expensive, and are tied to market prices. Preserving natural grasslands benefits breeders because it’s nothing short of the natural capital that their economic activity is based on.”

And thanks to the changes introduced, their products also fetch higher prices since they now have the grass-fed beef stamp, which open up export markets as well.

“Consumers increasingly want to know what the production system is like, and this stamp tells them that the beef is pasture-raised in an ecological fashion that respects biodiversity, and that it has the flavor of traditional Argentine beef, which made us famous around the world,” Marino said.

The participating stockbreeders also earn income from bird-watchers, as the program advertises, provides advice, and trains guides for this ecotourism activity.

Tiziana Prada owns the San Antonio hacienda – a 4,918-hectare estate with some 2,000 head of cattle in the Esteros del Iberá wetlands in the northeast province of Corrientes, where she is practicing sustainable stockbreeding.

“We started out by converting old rice paddies to pasture land for cattle,” she told IPS. “We began seeing more wildlife; there are many more deer, and black howler monkeys, yacaré caiman, and many species of birds have come back.”

This was thanks to the new techniques introduced.

“If you know about the growth cycles of the good-quality grass species, you can manage them according to the seasons….always keeping in mind the nesting and breeding seasons of the birds and other animals that inhabit the grasslands,” she said.

She believes caring for the environment and keeping productivity up “go hand in hand.”

“Stockbreeders, especially now that they are moving into marginal areas, where the ecosystem is much more fragile, have to practice conservation because otherwise our resources are destroyed, our activity won’t be sustainable in time, and we also fervently believe that it is possible to produce sustainably without compromising our efficiency.”

Prada believes stockbreeders are increasingly interested because they can see “there is a growing urban market that is demanding that we preserve the environment so their kids will have a better world tomorrow.”

Moreover, it’s not just about business, she said. “Love of nature is something that rural people carry inside them,” she said.

Marino sums up that spirit with a stanza from a song, “El payador perseguido”, by legendary Argentine folksinger Atahualpa Yupanqui: “Estoy con los de mi lao cinchando tuitos parejos, pa hacer nuevo lo que es viejo y verlo al mundo cambiao” (I’m with those on my side all of us pulling together, to make the old new and see the world change).

“It’s about returning to traditional stockbreeding, but using today’s technologies,” he said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

275,000 More Acres Safeguarded for Wildlife and Our Outdoor Heritage

On Tuesday, August 4, 2015 the U.S. Senate unanimously passed “The Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act” championed by Idaho’s Congressman Mike Simpson and Senator Jim Risch. Already passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, the legislation is now on its way to President Obama’s desk for signing into law. The law will permanently protect 275,665 acres of wildlife-rich areas in central Idaho.

Spangle Lake, Sawtooth Wilderness

Spangle Lake in the Sawtooth Wilderness. Photo by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Mark Hayward.

This is a huge deal for three reasons:

  • The area provides a wide range of essential habitat for fish and wildlife, from bighorn sheep, moose, elk, mule deer, mountain goats, black bear, pronghorn, and sage grouse to chinook salmon and steelhead, native west-slope cutthroat trout and bull trout.
  • The region provides some of the most important hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, and canoeing/kayaking experiences in the entire inter-mountain west.
  • It’s the first standalone Congressional Wilderness designation since 2009.

I’m proud that the Idaho Wildlife Federation helped lead the charge on the ground for permanent federal protection and that together our teams helped make a final push in Washington, D.C. to get the bill across the finish line.

Collin O’Mara|7 8/6/2015

[Still nothing for the Florida Panther.]

Air Quality

This could be a huge move for air-pollution monitoring

A few years ago, I moved to a cool neighborhood. It didn’t seem cool at first; it was in a sprawling, industrial area. But I soon found out that the neighborhood had its charms –- and a reputation. “I’d love to buy a place there!” a friend gushed. “Except for the air.”

“The air?” I said. The air seemed fine.

“Your neighborhood has some of the highest rates of asthma in the Bay Area. It’s all the trucks coming to and from the port.”

I’d done plenty of research before I moved. How long would it take to get to my job in the city? Where would I buy groceries? But I hadn’t thought to look up anything about the air. If I had, I could have found the EPA’s website where you can search air by zip code, or found public health stories about my neighborhood. But it would have taken more than casual research to assess the risks.

But what if it was as easy to assess air quality, block by block, as it is to find grocery stores? An experimental collaboration between Google and Aclima, a tech company that specializes in networking environmental sensors, has big dreams of doing just that.

“It’s like a human body,” said Davida Herzl, Aclima’s CEO, when I talked to her recently. “When they let you into the hospital, they take your vital signs, try to treat you, and keep watching them to see if they are helping. For the first time, we’ll be able to take the vital signs of our environment.”

One thing that I’ve learned while writing about air quality: Often, the hardest part is interpreting the data accurately. Environmental sensors are tricky to calibrate; they need multiple backups and skilled technicians to maintain and interpret them. This is one of the reasons that the air quality monitoring stations set up by the EPA look for air quality averages, rather than anomalies. They’re deliberately located at a distance from freeways, for example, because a consistent source of pollution like a freeway would skew that average and make a city seem more polluted than it actually is.

Aclima’s workaround for this problem is something that wouldn’t have been possible even a few years ago, because it would have taken too much storage space and processing power. Aclima hooks up huge numbers of different sensors — some cheap, some expensive. Then it sifts through the enormous amount of data they generate, looking for patterns, as well as potential breaks in the network. Is a sensor broken? Are local weather patterns interfering with the data? With a resilient enough network, sensors can continue producing good data even in less-than-ideal conditions. And it can notice details that a simpler system might not, like how the air quality in the blocks closest to the freeway changes from hour to hour, and block to block.

The first large network Aclima built was for Google. Starting in 2011, Aclima began installing what are now 6,000 air quality sensors in Google’s offices around the world – 21 buildings, on four continents. In this case, Aclima was processing half a billion data points a day, looking for patterns and anomalies in the weather inside Google.

What did it find? Both Google and Aclima were reluctant to talk specifics, though carbon monoxide levels and productivity seems to have been one focus. Google is built on a well-known toxic waste site — the former location of manufacturing plants owned by Fairchild Semiconductor, Intel, Raytheon, and other computer chip makers. It is true that in 2012 Google reworked the ventilation systems of two of the buildings in its Mountain View headquarters after it found dangerous levels of vapor from the solvent TCE, or trichloroethylene in both. According to Aclima, that particular discovery wasn’t theirs — Google has multiple air quality collaborations in the works.

For Aclima, measuring indoor air quality was what Melissa Lunden, Aclima’s director of research and a former atmospheric scientist at Lawrence Berkeley Labs, describes as “crawling before we could walk” — a prelude to the great outdoors, and a knitting together of pre-existing and recent technology. “Partly it’s sensors,” says Lunden. “You need hardware and sensors. But you also need to be able to send a lot of data quickly over a 3G network. You need to process and store large amounts of data. You need the cloud. You can see these things reflected in the ‘internet of things’ discussions that are occurring everywhere.”

Last summer, the company spent a month driving three Google Street View cars through Denver, Colo. Aclima is in the second year of a five-year Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with the EPA, where the two organizations work to build low-cost portable sensors to detect fine and coarse particulate matter in the air in real-time.

What Aclima found was that the data from Google’s cars matched up with that of the local EPA monitoring stations, but also provided more detail. For instance: Concentrations of ozone and nitric oxide were higher near freeways and major traffic arteries. And ozone levels spiked right around 4 p.m., when children were getting out of school.

The next test site is the Bay Area — inconvenient because of its strange weather patterns, but convenient because it’s where Aclima is located. Test runs of Street View cars tricked out with sensors have already begun. The goal is to add the information they gather to Google maps of the area. After that, Aclima plans to expand to the point where the project can do what its very earnest founders have been promising — make the link between planetary health and human health visible, by helping people actually see pollution as it flows and ebbs around the world. “It’s the best possible thing,” says Lunden. “We can say ‘Now, here’s the air quality in your neighborhood, here’s where you work, here’s where you live.’ Every person can make a data-driven decision.”

But then, if you’re in an expensive business like global-scale local data collection, it’s hard to make a living giving it away for free. Aclima has – so far – worked with clients who have chosen to keep their data private. When the company’s representatives talk about the future, though, it sounds a lot bigger than just an audience of just a few private clients. “Our vision is to wrap the world in a layer of environmental data, much the way that GPS came about back in the ’50s,” says Kim Hunter, Aclima’s director of communications. “GPS used to just be used by the government. It became more accessible over the last 50 years. And now the location awareness is embedded into everything we do.”

There’s a critical difference, though. GPS owes its ubiquity to political decisions that kept it in the public realm. In 1983, when Korean Air Lines Flight 007 was shot down after accidentally veering into Soviet airspace, killing 269 passengers, including then-Rep. Larry McDonald (D-Ga.), President Reagan publicly vowed to make GPS available to civilian aircraft as soon as it became operational in 1988. Then, in 1994, the FCC required all wireless carriers to implement GPS in cellphones, so emergency responders could track 911 callers.

Without mandates like that, your cellphone might never have been able to find the closest nearby coffee shop, give you directions to Reno — or track your movements and sell them to advertisers. The financial and political life of technology is strange, and long. In the decades that the U.S. has promoted collaborations between private companies and public research, we’ve played out just about every kind of tension between the public good that follows from public data and the private gain that can be had from charging for and restricting access to that kind of information.

It’s possible that Google will be willing to pay for Aclima’s data, the same way that it was willing to buy satellite images for Google Maps — because it helped them sell more ads and search referrals. It’s also possible that Aclima won’t find enough buyers for their data, and the whole project will need to find some other financial model, or win public support, or fold.

All of this is in the future. In the meantime, says Lunden, there is a lot of data, which is the exciting part. “We’re just trying to figure out how to get it into the hands of people who can make sense of it.”

Heather Smith|11 Aug 2015

China is exporting ozone pollution to the U.S. — which is only fair

It’s no secret that the U.S. imports a lot from China, and according to a new study in Nature Geoscience, now we can add ozone pollution — our old pal smog — to the list. “The dominant westerly winds blew this air pollution straight across to the United States,” said lead researcher Willem Verstraeten of Wageningen University in the Netherlands, in a statement.

Up in the stratosphere (between roughly 10 and 50 kilometers above the earth’s surface), ozone is a good thing: It protects us from the sun’s UV radiation. But in the troposphere, or lower atmosphere, it’s a central component of unhealthy smog, and we’d generally prefer not to inhale it. Down here, it also acts as a greenhouse gas — another climatic no-no.

Ozone concentrations in a given spot tend to vary with changes in ozone precursor emissions (like nitrous oxides) and changes in baseline ozone levels that enter an area on the wind. As Verstraeten and colleagues report, despite air-quality legislation that has led to falling ozone precursor emissions in the United States, a growing (and drifting) cloud of ozone from China likely accounts for the fact that ozone levels in the troposphere didn’t actually fall in the U.S. between 2005 and 2010.

Of course, the ozone in question probably isn’t exclusively from China. As Agence France-Presse reports:

“China itself lies downwind from India and other parts of Asia,” notes Roth Doherty of the University of Edinburgh in a commentary, also in Nature Geoscience.

“It remains to be established how the free tropospheric ozone trend over China is in turn influenced by emissions upwind.”

Verstraeten concludes by suggesting that local or national efforts to improve air quality will have limited impact unless dealt with on an international scale.

“Our atmosphere is global rather than local,” he said by email.

But maybe the drifting smog is only fair. After all, we’re the ones buying so much of the stuff produced in China’s polluting factories. The traditional environmental principle is “polluter pays,” but many academics have recently turned to a “beneficiary pays” concept, in which the onus for cleaning up the atmosphere is distributed proportionately across all who benefit from the pollution-causing production. China exporting ozone to the U.S. might be a tangible implementation of the cost-sharing necessary for solving our global environmental problems. Don’t like the pollution? Stop buying so many counterfeit iPhones. Or, you know, so many genuine iPhones.

Clayton Aldern on 10 Aug 2015

20 Houseplants That Remove Airborne Toxins From Your Home

Bringing a bit of nature into your home does more than brighten the atmosphere. Introducing houseplants into various rooms in the house can help reduce the chance of getting seasonal sicknesses (such as the common cold), remove airborne contaminants (volatile organic compounds or VOCs), reduce the chance of headaches, lift your mood, decrease your blood pressure, reduce allergies, improve sleep and much more.

Golden pothos. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Golden pothos. Photo credit: Shutterstock

The 20 plants listed below are specifically known for their air purifying properties. And while an open window may feel like all the fresh air you need, did you know that everything from toilet paper to common household cleaners can contain chemicals and release toxins like formaldehyde? Or that VOCs like benzene can be released into the air by everything from the paint on your walls, to the printed material found in your home?

So why not breathe a bit easier and enjoy the beauty of a new houseplant at the same time.

(All plants listed will clear CO2 and may clear more VOCs than noted).

1. Golden pothos (Scindapsus aures): Clears formaldehyde and other VOCs.

2. Ficus alii (Ficus maeleilandii alii): Good general air purifier.

3. Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum): Clears benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and xylene.

4. Lady Palm (Rhapis Excelsa): Good general air purifier.

5. Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’): Clears formaldehyde.

Aloe. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Aloe. Photo credit: Shutterstock

6. Aloe: Clears formaldehyde and benzene.

7. Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis): Clears formaldehyde.

8. Dwarf / Pygmy Date Palm (Phoenix roebelenii): Clears formaldehyde and xylene.

9. Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema Crispum ‘Deborah’): Clears air pollutants and toxins.

10. Chrysanthemum (Chrysantheium morifolium): Clears benzene.

Gerber daisy. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Gerber daisy. Photo credit: Shutterstock

11. Gerber daisy (Gerbera jamesonii): Clears trichloroethylene and benzene.

12. Red-edged dracaena (Dracaena marginata): Clears xylene, trichloroethylene and formaldehyde.

13. Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina): Clears formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene

14. English ivy (Hedera helix): Clears airborne fecal-matter particles.

15. Azalea (Rhododendron simsii): Clears formaldehyde.

Heart leaf philodendron. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Heart leaf philodendron. Photo credit: Shutterstock

16. Heart leaf philodendron (Philodendron oxycardium): Clears formaldehyde and many other air pollutants.

17. Warneck dracaena (Dracaena deremensis ‘Warneckii’): Clears pollutants such as those associated with varnishes and oils.

18. Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata Bostoniensis): Clears formaldehyde.

19. Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea sefritzii): Clears benzene, trichloroethylene and formaldehyde.

20. Peace lily (Spathiphyllum): Clears formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene, toluene and xylene.

Alisa Rutherford-Fortunati| Care2 | August 11, 2015

Transportation

Methane-powered tractor could cut farming costs

VENARIA REALE, Italy Luca Remmert’s dream of running a self-sustainable farm is within sight. He produces energy from corn and grain near the northern Italian city of Turin and hopes in the not too distant future to run all of his eight tractors on methane generated at the farm.

Remmert’s1,100-acre La Bellotta farm has been testing a second-generation prototype of what will be the first tractor to run on methane, the T6 by New Holland Agriculture.

Methane would be 30 percent cheaper than diesel. And for farms that produce their own bio-methane, the costs of fuel would drop to nothing. Bio-methane is a type of gas that is produced by the processing of organic waste — something farms have a lot of.

The technology will likely be attractive to farmers in many developed economies, particularly those that are turning to the production of biofuel because of a squeeze on profits on food products.

“When the machinery is ready, I will be among the first customers,” Remmert said as New Holland showed off the technology, scooping fermented biomass into the plant.

The methane-run T6 would hit production in about five years, according to New Holland, a subsidiary of CNH Industrial NV, a company spun off from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.

Beyond cost savings, the new technology would be more environmentally friendly. The prototype produces 80 percent less pollution than a standard diesel tractor and would help fulfill future EU greenhouse gas targets, which are expected to require a 20 percent reduction a cross Europe by 2020.

Carlo Lambro, the brand chief at New Holland Agriculture, said the methane tractor requires little industrial investment to convert the normal diesel engine.

There are, however, a few hurdles to bringing the new tractor to market.

For a farm to get the most savings, it would have to produce bio-methane, which has significant up-front equipment costs. So its success will depend on financial incentives, with northern European governments, particularly Germany, being most supportive to date.

Such investments make more sense for larger farms than small, family-run farms that characterize agriculture in countries like Italy.

I n addition, the drive toward biofuels is being slowed by the sharp drop in the cost of fossil fuel over the last year, energy analysts say, as well as environmental concerns about the transformation of farmland into energy production.

Remmert says that in his case, he literally would have lost the 50-year-old farm if he hadn’t converted five years ago.

COLLEEN BARRY|ASSOCIATED PRESS

Recycling

How Student Activists Are Battling Plastic

At colleges in Senegal, Puerto Rico, and New Zealand, students fight to phase out the non-biodegradable stuff

WHEN DONALD BAMBARA AND SIX classmates established their university’s first plastic-recycling program in 2013, they were initially met with incomprehension. The students at the Higher Institute of Management in Dakar, Senegal, live in a seaside city where floating plastic is as common as floating fish—but recycling is rare. 

“The whole community was against us,” Bambara, 21, says over a crackling Skype connection. “Everyone was laughing and calling us garbage collectors. It was a big joke to them.” As Bambara picked up trash, he wore his business school’s uniform, a suit and tie.

In the streets of Dakar, Bambara sees “plastic everywhere, to the left, to the right.” Clear bottles, blue caps, pink cups. Most of the cups once held Cafe Touba, Dakar’s signature brew, which blends coffee with sugar, cloves, and djar, a type of black pepper said to be an aphrodisiac. The coffee sells quickly because the people of Dakar like their coffee as much as they like their fish—that is, as Bambara says, “a lot, a lot, a lot.” 

The problem is that when people finish their drink, they just toss the cup. These plastic containers take hundreds of years to decompose, an amount of time that carries significance in this city bordered on three sides by the Atlantic Ocean. The cups contribute to the 18 billion pounds of plastic discarded into the world’s waters every year. Since fish nibble on them and die from digestive blockage, the cups may also be partly to blame for the decline of Dakar’s fisheries. 

In recent years, local fishermen have had to paddle into deeper and deeper waters to get good hauls. Every evening, they pull their brightly colored boats onto the city’s beaches and lay their catch on wooden tables: red carp, sardines, lobsters, sea urchins. Nearby grillers welcome them by firing up hot coals, and vendors start brewing extra coffee.

Recycling infrastructure is so new to Dakar that Bambara and his fellow activists had to collect and process their school’s plastics themselves. To make recycling bins, they plastered green tape on the covers of trash cans around campus.  

He didn’t hold a grudge when other students teased him for his efforts: “People laughed at us,” he says, “because they didn’t know about all the environmental factors involved. When people don’t have knowledge, you cannot blame them.”

During their first semester, the group collected 440 pounds of plastic. Once the bins were full, the students sorted the items, unscrewing caps from bottles and categorizing by plastic type. The recycler who picked up the materials, Bambara says, “wanted reduced volume, so we used our feet and jumped.” The popping plastic sounded to him like distant fireworks. 

THREE THOUSAND MILES AWAY, in Puerto Rico, 24-year-old Amira Odeh had no problem getting peers on her side. She did clash with her university’s administration, however. 

In 2013, Odeh delivered a proposal to administrators at the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras, challenging them to ban bottled water and install new drinking fountains. They didn’t respond for more than a year, maybe because they mistakenly thought that Odeh and her student group, No Mas Botellas, would give up. 

Or perhaps they simply couldn’t imagine living without plastic bottles. To many Puerto Ricans, bottled water is a reminder of the drought that afflicted the island in the mid-1990s. 

Since she was only four years old at the height of the drought, some of Odeh’s first memories formed around it: a dry bathtub, a quiet washing machine, a dying bird. She remembers seeing filthy water sputter from the tap, and waiting in long lines for the bottled stuff. 

As a preschooler, she learned that she lived in a finite world, on an island the size of Yellowstone National Park, where even the seawater lapping at the shores couldn’t save her if the land dried up. “It really shocked me,” she says. 

People got so used to drinking out of plastic bottles that university students “forgot that water fountains existed,” Odeh says. “So the administration forgot to take care of the school’s drinking fountains, and those fountains were so horrible. They were moldy!” Rumors of E. coli spread around campus. “For years, you had to be brave to drink from them.”  

The drought habituated Odeh to plastic bottles but also inspired her to rally against them. In college, she began to ask questions about the bottles. She wondered, where do they go when empty? That’s a sore subject in Puerto Rico, where the island’s 14 landfills are filling up; some predict they’ll top out by 2018. Meanwhile, the recycling rate is stuck at 11 percent. 

Odeh also looked into where plastic bottles come from. When she learned that a liter of bottled water requires three liters of water to produce, she calculated how many bottles her 15,000 classmates consumed. Every month, they bought 60,000 bottles from the school’s cafeteria and vending machines. She also realized just how little her peers knew about environmental issues: “In the science departments, there were a lot of people who didn’t even know what a water footprint is. I was like, ‘But you study science. And you live on this planet. What happened?'”

Ultimately, Odeh convinced her school to replace its old drinking fountains and to pass a bottle ban—the first in Latin America. Her victory required grit: She campaigned for four years, both on campus and online, and completed a summer training program with the Sierra Student Coalition to hone her leadership skills. It also required luck, which came in the form of a new, eco-minded chancellor. 

Though the ban won’t go into effect until late this year, Odeh is already noticing changes on campus. As a result of her club’s educational outreach, 70 percent of students are aware of the mission of No Mas Botellas. 

“Back when we started,” Odeh says, “no one had reusable bottles. Now I see about half the students carrying one in their backpacks.” 

To refill their metal containers, they lean into new drinking fountains decorated with stickers that read, “FREE AND CLEAN WATER”—a statement so simple that it invites students to wonder why things would ever have been otherwise. 

ON A MUCH BIGGER ISLAND on the opposite side of the world, 23 young activists gathered in New Zealand’s Abel Tasman National Park last March to launch a three-day sea voyage. They got no pushback from their community. In fact, they enjoyed a cascade of encouraging comments on the Plastic Bottle Kayak group’s Facebook page. But they did face a stormy and choppy sea. They were confident that they wouldn’t sink—even though four of their kayaks were handmade from discarded bottles, zip ties, and bamboo. 

When it started to pour, Bokyong Mun, an 18-year-old student at the University of Otago, welcomed it. “I was actually really excited. We were sitting in the open sea with beautiful wildlife around us, and I felt all this rain falling on my face,” she says. Through the water coming down, Mun could make out the park’s stunning granite outcrops and golden beaches. The view inspired her to believe in the possibility of a greener future. 

Though Abel Tasman was heavily farmed before earning protected status in 1942, its forests are regenerating, evidenced in part by the pukeko’s loud crowing and the bellbird’s ringing notes. The fur seals that the adventurers spotted sunbathing on rocks were on the brink of extinction back in the 1970s but now number in the hundreds of thousands.

As the activists paddled, they counted their strokes in Maori, a salute to the native people who lived there for centuries. “Tahi, rua, toru, whā!” they yelled. One of the leaders of the group, Florence Reynolds, tried standing on her plastic-bottle kayak, fluttered, laughed, and fell.

Three years earlier, Reynolds, 22, a dual psychology and ecology major at the University of Auckland, had gotten interested in plastic on a more serious trip—a beach cleanup during which her environmental science class collected 10,883 pieces of plastic. She was assigned to write a paper about the trip and got emotional reading the scientific journals, which described animals slowly dying of starvation after filling their bellies with plastic. 

“Single-use plastic is just really stupid,” she says. “We design it to be used once, but because it’s plastic, it lasts forever.” The next summer, whenever she visited a beach, she picked up trash. Then she dared herself to live without single-use plastic for a year.

She couldn’t do it. “I would buy something that looked like paper, and then I’d discover that it was plasticized on the inside. It was just impossible to avoid all plastic,” she says. “We’re often told that consumers are to blame for making bad choices, but I realized that I didn’t really have a choice.”

In 2013, Reynolds and two fellow Auckland students, Shruthi Vijayakumar and Daniel Cullum, brainstormed ways to call attention to the absurdity of single-use plastic. At one party, Vijayakumar and Reynolds spent the entire evening googling plastic-bottle boats. The idea stuck. That May, they tested their first handcrafted rafts on a 60-mile expedition down the Whanganui River.  

Last March, they went out on an even sturdier fleet of plastic-bottle crafts and added an educational component to their journey: Before taking to the sea, they set up a Facebook page and blog and invited university students from across the country to join the journey, including Mun, who lives 900 miles away from Reynolds. 

Some of the kayaks’ 1,040 bottles—donated by a recycling facility—contained notes from children. “Take out the pollution to make the turtle happy,” one kid wrote. “Mermaids are my favorite sea animals. As are narwhals,” another scrawled in red marker. 

On the first day of the trip, two bottles detached from one of the kayaks, though nobody sank. In fact, the team had the opposite problem: The kayaks sat too high on the water, forcing their navigators to paddle harder.

“If we can make these awesome kayaks out of waste products, what else can we do?” Reynolds wonders. “Could it be possible to go without plastic if businesses and consumers come together? We want to prove that it’s not impossible to rethink the status quo.”

Natalya Savka

Miscellaneous

Alligator bites off swimmer’s arm in Florida

LONGWOOD, FLA. An alligator attacked a woman swimming in a river Saturday near Orlando, biting off her arm below the shoulder, witnesses say.

The attack happened on the Wekiva River near Wekiva Island, where businesses rent out canoes about 15 miles northwest of Orlando. When nearby kayakers realized the woman, who appeared to be in her late 30s or early 40s, was being attacked, they started hitting the alligator with their paddles.

“We see the jaws just chomp down on her arm, and it starts spinning around, pulls her underwater, goes back up,” canoeist Jakob Frick of Orlando told the Orlando Sentinel. “She’s just screaming.”

He and his friends had already seen a few alligators mostly resting near the river’s banks, he said. They had called out to tell the woman to get out of the water before the attack.

The woman, whose name hadn’t been released, was taken to a hospital. Her condition was not immediately available.

Alligator attacks in the state resulted in seven major bites in 2013, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

WTSP-TV, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla.

GARDENING IN THE FACE OF CHANGE

Your backyard can be part of a national movement

Recently published research suggests that climate change is contributing to the disappearance of bumble bees from southern parts of their ranges in Europe and North America. The latest study from Britain predicts that the combination of drought and habitat fragmentation puts a half dozen species of butterflies at risk of being lost from that country within the next three decades.

Faced with such a situation, you might wonder what can be done. We can all find ways to reduce our carbon footprint to help address the root causes of climate change in the long term. Also, we can all help build resilience into our landscapes by creating habitat that will support insects. The more habitat there is and the better its quality, the better chance bees and butterflies will have to adapt to a changing environment.

The Xerces Society’s Bring Back the Pollinators campaign promotes four principles that can be adapted to any location – grow flowers, provide nest sites, avoid pesticides, and share the word. Fill a window box with flowers. Add planters to a deck. Create a colorful garden border. Mix flowers with the vegetables in a community garden. Enhance the grounds of a school or church. You can do this is a city park, golf course, corporate or university campus, or farm.

Insect habitat doesn’t need to be big, but it should offer a mix of nectar-rich flowers and be free of insecticides. The importance of flower choice was underscored during a recent visit to a large show garden. There were acres of gardens but butterflies and bees were limited to a very few plants. Woodland skippers loved the Pacific aster, as did a variety of bees and flies. Bumble bees were happy on purple coneflower, English lavender, and catnip. Black-eye susans and sneezeweed were humming with all sorts of bees. In between, the brightly colored bedding plants and flower-less shrubs were quiet, devoid of interest for passing bees.

Another important consideration is ensuring that your landscape is drought tolerant. My own garden offers some hints on which plants need less water during a dry summer. Aster, coneflower, goldenrod, coreopsis, and bear grass are among the plants that have coped best, deep-rooted perennials that reach below the parched surface layers. Of course, this varies by region, so please check out our regional plant guides.

If you are creating a pollinator garden, you’re not alone. In June, First Lady Michelle Obama issued the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge on behalf of the newly created National Pollinator Garden Network. One million pollinator gardens (or other habitat patches) scattered across the U.S. will provide a safety net for bees, butterflies, and many other insects.

To make your garden count, go to Bring Back the Pollinators and sign the Pollinator Protection Pledge. Your garden will be added to the one million. If you’ve already signed the Pledge (and some 3,500 people have), don’t worry, your garden will still count; existing gardens are being grandfathered in.

Matthew Shepherd|Communications Director|Xerces Society

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

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ConsRep 1508 A

Man is a blind, witless, low brow, anthropocentric clod who inflicts lesions upon the earth. ~Ian McHarg

Announcements

Meetings on Dade County Shore Protection

The USACE, Jacksonville District, has invited the public to provide comments on the draft Environmental Assessment and draft Finding of No Significant Impact for the Identification of Alternative Sand Sources for the Remaining Period of Federal Participation, Dade County Beach Erosion Control and Hurricane Protection Project.

The Limited Reevaluation Report is available for informational purposes only. Both the Limited Reevaluation Report and the Environmental Assessment contain the same information regarding recommendations of the Corps.

The Corps plan recommends utilizing sand from borrow sources in federal waters outside of Miami-Dade County, including one source in Martin County and one in St. Lucie County. The plan allows for upland sources to be used for smaller renourishment projects such as those with requirements of less than 200,000 cubic yards.

Two small Miami-Dade County sand sources, Bakers Haulover Inlet ebb shoal and Lummus Park will continue to be used.

One of our key objectives is to keep information transparent so our partners and the public are well-informed and engaged. These upcoming public meetings are part of this collaborative process, so we can present new information, answer questions and receive comments,” said Corps project manager Jason Harrah.

The public comment period on the draft Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact begins Friday, July 31 and closes Friday, October 2, 2015.

The Corps will host three public meetings:

  • Miami-Dade County:  Tuesday, August 25, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.at the Miami Beach Commission Chambers, 1700 Convention Center Drive, Miami Beach, Florida, 33139;
  • Martin County:  Tuesday, August 26, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.at the Jupiter Island Commission Chambers, 2 Bridge Road, Hobe Sound, Florida, 33455;
  • St. Lucie County:  Wednesday, September 2, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.at the St. Lucie County Commission Chambers – Roger Poitras Administration Annex, 2300 Virginia Avenue, Fort Pierce, Florida, 34982.

“Parks: The Heart of Natural Florida”

Audubon Assembly 2015

October 23-24, Maitland, Florida

Audubon Florida is pleased to invite you to Florida’s premier conservation event and conference – the Audubon Assembly in Maitland, Fla.

This year’s gathering will take place on October 23-24, 2015 at the Sheraton Orlando North, just 10 minutes north of downtown Orlando.

The theme for this year’s Assembly is “Parks: The Heart of Natural Florida.

If you have visited a park or other publicly-accessible green space in Florida (like Corkscrew Swamp!) then you know first-hand the incredible value they have in our communities.

From urban oases with playgrounds and ballparks to remote wilderness preserves that offer solitude and serenity, every park plays a role – for our birds, our citizens and our economy.

If you love Corkscrew and other incredible natural places in Florida, consider attending this year’s Audubon Assembly. Early-bird tickets are on sale now.

Check out the Assembly website to learn more about the exciting field trips, workshops, and special guest speakers we have planned for this year’s event.

Keynote Speaker: 

Rafael Galvez, celebrated artist, birding tour leader, director of Florida Keys Hawkwatch

For more information and tickets:

Special hotel rates available at Sheraton Orlando North hotel

The Seal Island Team Talks Puffins Live!

The Puffin and Guillemot chicks nesting on Project Puffin’s Seal Island will soon fledge, leaving their comfy burrows behind for a few years upon the open ocean.

To mark the event, explore.org is hosting the Seal Island Research Team led by Keenan Yakola for a live chat this Thursday, August 6th at 4pm ET / 1pm PT on the Puffin Burrow Cam.

The Seal Island crew has spent the summer taking seabird census, banding chicks, and camping out on the remote wildlife refuge off the coast of Maine.

Here’s your chance to ask them about their work, their findings, their interests, as well as the life cycle of these adorable seabirds.

Where will Puffin chick Joy go now? Will she ever see her parents again?

How do chicks know it’s time to leave home?

Ask the experts these and any other seabird research questions you may have when you join the chat!

See Photos

Help Audubon seabird biologists improve nesting habitat.
September 6-11, 2015
Maine Seabird Biology and Conservation

Enjoy 6 days on Hog Island with Dr. Stephen Kress and Dr. Kevin McGowan and …

  • Improve habitat for puffins, terns and storm-petrels
  • Clean up island shorelines from marine debris
  • Learn about seabird behavior, ecology,  and conservation

This session provides the unique opportunity to land on Eastern Egg Rock, an island off-limits during the seabird breeding season.

With the puffins departed for their wintering areas, participants can work with Audubon biologists to perform critical habitat

improvements to ensure the long-term survival of colonies of terns, puffins and storm-petrels

During this program you will learn about seabird identification, adaptations, migration, and ecology while participating in active restoration work on Maine  seabird nesting islands.

In addition, this program is scheduled to coincide with the fall landbird and hawk migration. 

Join us next month to have fun and make a difference!

Sign up online at hogisland.audubon.org or register for the program by calling Road Scholar at (toll-free) 1-800-454-5768.

ARTHUR R. MARSHALL LOXAHATCHEE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

Public Meeting on Recreational Use of Strazzulla Marsh

Monday, August 17, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Location: Wellington Branch Library, 1951 Royal Fern Drive, Wellington, FL 33414

               (just west of the Wellington Mall on Forest Hill Boulevard)

Deadline for Public Comment:   Friday, September 25, 2015

The Refuge is seeking public comment on proposed recreational uses of the Strazzulla Marsh, a 2,586-acre tract of fresh water marsh, sawgrass and cypress swamp on the eastern edge of the Refuge.

It is the newest addition to the Refuge and was acquired through a land swap agreement between the Refuge and the South Florida Water Management District.

A draft version of the Environmental Assessment, which includes maps of the area and evaluates potential public uses of it, can be viewed here:

http://www.fws.gov/southeast/planning/EA/StrazullaPublicUseDraft.html

A public meeting has been scheduled to give you a chance to comment on the Environmental Assessment and provide input on the types of recreational opportunities you would like to see in the Strazzulla Wetlands.

We respect and appreciate your input. Comments and suggestions can be submitted to Deputy Refuge Manager Steven Henry at Steven_S_Henry@fws.gov, Subject: Strazzulla EA, or by FAX at 561-369-7190.

The public comment period is scheduled to run through Friday, September 25, 2015.

To request a printed or e-mailed copy of the Environmental Assessment for review, or to provide written comments, write to:
Steven Henry
          Attn: Strazzulla EA
                                                                                         Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge
     10216 Lee Road
                         Boynton Beach, FL 33473

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is committed to providing access to this meeting for all participants.

Please direct all requests for sign language interpreting services, closed captioning, or other accommodation needs to Steven Henry with your request by close of business August 10, 2015.

Steven can be reached by mail or e-mail as described above, or by phone at 561-734-8303 or TTY 800-877-8339.

Public Comment Invited on Expanded Hiking & Biking on Refuge

Deadline for Public Comment: Monday, August 31, 2015

The Refuge is seeking input on the proposed expansion of public access in the form of walking, hiking, and biking on the A, B and C impoundments,

as well as on the L-40, L-39 and L-7 Levees that surround the Refuge interior.  

The proposed expansion would provide visitors additional areas to experience the myriad of wading birds,

waterfowl, hawks and alligators that use the Refuge and surrounding natural areas.

The Refuge has put forth a Compatibility Determination, finding that the proposed uses will not interfere with or detract

from the fulfillment of the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System or the purpose of the Refuge.

A draft version of this Compatibility Determination can be viewed here:

http://www.fws.gov/uploadedFiles/Draft%20CD%20-%20Walking,%20Hiking,%20and%20Bicycling%207-23-2015%20(1).pdf

We respect and appreciate your input. Comments and suggestions can be submitted to armloxahatchee@fws.gov, Subject: Compatibility Determination, or by FAX at 561-369-7190.

The public comment period is scheduled to run through Monday, August 31, 2015.

To provide written comments, write to:

                                     Attn: Compatibility Determination

                                                                                   Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

10216 Lee Road

                   Boynton Beach, FL 33473

And the Keynote Speaker at the Audubon Assembly is… ‏

We are delighted to announce that Rafael Galvez, celebrated artist, birding tour leader,

and director of Florida Keys Hawkwatch, will be the keynote speaker at this year’s Audubon Assembly Awards Banquet!

More about Rafael Galvez:

Access to wilderness should be available to all, but as is the case with many first-generation immigrants and children from inner city communities,

Rafael spent his childhood disenfranchised from nature. 

His exploration of urban ponds and canals during formative years in South Florida awakened an innate interest in birds.

Rafael’s evening presentation will enthrall and inspire Assembly attendees with stories from his unique career

contributing to several initiatives designed to introduce children and others from underserved communities to nature. 

Rafael Galvez is the current director of Florida Keys Hawkwatch – the southernmost migration project in the continental U.S,

strategically positioned to count birds as they fly southward into the Caribbean.

He travels widely as a guide for Victor Emanuel Nature Tours and the Leica Sport Optics team.

You can see many of his field sketches and paintings by visiting his website: GalvezBirds.com

Purchase your early-bird ticket now to reserve your spot at Rafael’s presentation.

Assembly attendees will also participate in interesting workshops with leading guest speakers,

join local Audubon chapter leaders for field trips to their special places, take part in Audubon Florida’s unique conservation agenda setting session…and much more!

Do not delay – click here to register online to reserve the special early-bird rate. Only a limited amount of these tickets are available.

Sheraton Orlando North

This 2015 Audubon Assembly is being held at the Sheraton Orlando North located in Maitland, Florida.

Please note, you must book your hotel room by October 1, see below for more information. 

Please stay tuned to the official Audubon Assembly website for updates on this event.

Audubon staff and chapter leaders are hard at work to ensure that this year’s Assembly will inspire you to protect our parks – the heart of natural Florida.

Do not miss Florida’s premiere conservation event! 

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

Hotel Information: Sheraton Orlando North

You must book your hotel room separately. 

Click here to book your group rate online or call 1-407-660-9000 (mention you are with Florida Audubon)

and book by October 1, 2015 to reserve your room. Group rate is $109 a night.

Of Interest to All

EPA limits power plant carbon emissions and boosts renewables ‏

The EPA Combats Climate Change and Boosts Renewables

Together our hard work has paid off. Earlier today the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its final Clean Power Plan, setting first-ever limits on power plant carbon emissions and taking a critical step forward in tackling climate change. These new limits, developed under the Clean Air Act, represent the most significant opportunity in years to help curb the emissions that contribute to worsening climate change and to advance renewable energy such as wind and solar.

What’s more, the EPA listened to UCS supporters like you who called for a stronger rule. In this final plan, the EPA strengthened the role that renewable energy can play in helping states to meet their global warming emissions limits and limited the risk of a rush to natural gas—critical improvements that will hasten our transition to a clean energy future.

Over the past year, the Union of Concerned Scientists and supporters like you have built a powerful case for strong limits on power plant emissions and an increased role for renewable energy in helping meet those limits. Armed with 42,000 comments from people like you and our independent analysis, we met repeatedly with top EPA and White House officials to persuade them to strengthen the proposed standard. Our analytically rigorous proposal to strengthen the Clean Power Plan by ramping up cost-effective renewable energy was endorsed by 13 U.S. senators, a dozen state attorneys general, and leaders in the rapidly growing clean energy sector. We called out the naysayers by demonstrating that many states are already on track to cut emissions affordably and reliably by ramping up renewable energy and energy efficiency, reducing their reliance on coal, and avoiding a rush to overdependence on natural gas. Today it is clear that we have prevailed despite forceful attempts from the fossil fuel industry and their allies to slow down and weaken these historic limits.

This is a truly historic moment—congratulations on this hard won victory! And thank you for everything you do to combat climate change and advance science-based solutions.

Angela Anderson|Director, Climate & Energy Program|Union of Concerned Scientists|8/03/15

Get the facts on the Clean Power Plan at WhiteHouse.gov/Climate-Change.

View the full PDF of the President’s climate plan

Success! Delta Airlines Changes Animal Trophies Policy

After a Care2 petition asking Delta Airlines to stop transporting endangered animal carcasses as “hunting trophies” garnered more than 150,000 signatures, combined with outcry from a number of other advocacy organizations, Delta has officially changed its policy!

The airline announced that it is banning the transportation of animals not even officially yet listed as endangered. “Effective immediately, Delta will officially ban shipment of all lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and buffalo trophies worldwide as freight,” the company said in a statement.

Delta went on to say it will review its other trophy hunting policies as well:

“Prior to this ban, Delta’s strict acceptance policy called for absolute compliance with all government regulations regarding protected species. Delta will also review acceptance policies of other hunting trophies with appropriate government agencies and other organizations supporting legal shipments.”

Delta was reportedly among the last holdouts among airlines to adopt new rules around the shipment of threatened animals who were killed for sport. Let’s hope they find it in their hearts to ban all trophy hunting shipments, despite grotesque demand.

According to The New York Times:

“Americans make up the bulk of non-African hunters. About 15,000 American tourists visit Africa on hunting safaris every year, according to Conservation Force, a nonprofit group that advocates responsible hunting.”

The death of Cecil the lion has sparked both renewed interest in both the conservation of threatened species and strong distaste for the concept of trophy hunting. A Care2 petition around Cecil’s death currently has more than one million signatures.

Some members of the U.S. Senate, including notable vegan and friend to animals Sen. Cory Booker, are also proposing the Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large (CECIL) Animal Trophies Act. The CECIL Act would serve to extend protections to animals not yet approved for endangered status to prevent further destruction of their species.

Care2 applauds Delta Airlines for listening to compassionate customers and thanks them for putting the entire animal trophy policy under review.

Chris Sosa|August 3, 2015

Bee and Bird-Toxic Pesticides Found in Food Served at Congressional Dining Hall

(Beyond Pesticides, August 4, 2015) Nearly every food available for purchase at the U.S. Congressional Dining Hall contains detectable levels of neonicotinoids (neonics), chemical insecticides implicated in the global decline of wild and managed pollinators. The results of a new study, performed by the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, reveals how reliance on these toxic chemicals can both directly and indirectly affect our food supply. Authors of the study hope the results will build Congressional support for the Saving America’s Pollinators Act of 2015, which would suspend the use of neonics while an independent review analyzes the chemical’s effects to birds, pollinators, and other wildlife.

Researchers for the study conducted two rounds of food testing, the first in January, and the second in May 2015. Approximately half of samples were taken from the House Longworth Cafeteria and half from Senate Dirksen Cafeteria in Washington, D.C. In total, 66 food samples were tested for the presence of neonicotinoids. Of that, 60, or 91% of samples tested positive for one neonic, and 47, or 71% of samples had two or more neonics present. “We were surprised to find that most foods contained multiple neonicotinoids, with as many as five in samples of fresh-squeezed orange juice and green bell pepper,” said Cynthia Palmer, Director of Pesticides Science and Regulation for ABC.

Although the investigation was limited to fruits and vegetables at Congressional cafeterias, neonics are used on a wide range of crops, including soy, cotton, corn, canola, and sunflowers. However, studies continue to question the efficacy of these chemicals in pest control, showing no yield increases as a result of their use. Beyond food production, neonics are frequently detected in nursery plants sold at big box home and garden centers throughout the United States. And recent research also produced by the Harvard School of Public Health finds these chemicals to be ubiquitous in our environment during flowering season, present in a vast majority of pollen samples taken throughout the state of Massachusetts.

Although the impacts these chemicals have on birds (a single kernel of neonic-coated corn is enough to kill a songbird), honey bees, wild pollinators, and other beneficial organisms is clear and has been well-researched, data on the impact of these pesticides to human health is still not well understood. Studies that have been performed do elicit cause for concern, however. An analysis from the European Food Safety Authority in 2013 identified concerns with regard to the impact of neonics on childhood brain and nervous system development. And, as the ABC study indicates, while none of the residues levels found in Congressional cafeteria food exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s reference dose, or level which the agency considers acceptable based on laboratory studies, research from Japan indicates that adverse effects may occur at amounts lower than those EPA deems adequate. Moreover, thiacloprid, a common neonicotinoid, is considered “likely to be carcinogenic to humans” by EPA as a result of thyroid tumors in male rats, and ovarian tumors in mice tested in the laboratory.

“It is almost impossible to avoid eating foods that are contaminated with neonicotinoids in the cafeterias on Capital Hill. We can reasonably assume that the likelihood for humans to be exposed to neonicotinoids through dietary intakes is the same as for birds, bees, and other pollinators in the environment,” said Chensheng Alex Lu, Ph.D., Associate Professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Research has found that bees prefer foods treated with neonicotinoid insecticides, but do members of Congress? Localities within the U.S., as well as other countries and regions throughout the world have taken action to restrict or eliminate the use of these pesticides. In 2013, the European Union imposed a moratorium on a number of agricultural uses of neonics. This decision will undergo review and analysis in late 2015. Earlier this year the Canadian province of Ontario implemented new rules aimed at curbing the acreage planted with neonic-coated seeds by 80% in the next two years. In the U.S., President Obama announced a National Pollinator Health Strategy in attempts to reverse pollinator losses, but the plan has been widely criticized by environmental health and beekeeper groups for not adequately addressing pollinator exposure to toxic pesticides. Hopes remain in Congress for the Saving America’s Pollinator’s Act of 2015, which would impose a suspension on the most toxic uses of neonics until a review can prove that the chemicals do not present a hazard to bees.

Take action by asking your member of Congress to support the Saving America’s Pollinator’s Act. To view which food crops have harmful pesticides used on them, view Beyond Pesticides’ Eating with a Conscience webpage here. To avoid neonic chemicals in your food, seek out and purchase certified organic products, which never allow toxic synthetic insecticides, and take steps to improve soil and habitat for wildlife such as pollinators.

Source: American Bird Conservancy Press Release

[Poetic Justice?]

Call to US and EU governments to ban trophy hunting following the death of two Zimbabwean lions

Following the tragic and reportedly illegal killing of two lions in Zimbabwe, the Born Free Foundation and Born Free USA have called on the US Government and the European Union to take urgent steps to end the import of lion trophies and for an international moratorium on lion hunting.

There has been a global outcry following the killing of the first lion, nicknamed Cecil, by American dentist Walter Palmer, which has further fuelled the political and public debate on trophy hunting and the plight of wild lions in Africa. 

President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron have both made very public declarations on the need to stop the illegal wildlife trade, but there are concerns that these intentions may not be implemented fast enough.

Current estimates suggest there are barely more than 30,000 lions remaining across Africa and localized or regionalized extinctions are a real possibility in the next 10 years.

Across Africa, lion populations have reduced by more than 50 per cent since 1980. They have disappeared altogether from at least 12 African countries, and possibly as many as 16, and only inhabit a fragmented 8 per cent of their historic range. 

President of the Born Free Foundation, Will Travers OBE, says: “Cecil’s story has sickened and saddened us all.

“We can no longer accept that hunting magnificent wild animals for ‘sport’ can be deemed acceptable.

“Trophy hunting is no sport; it is merely a disguise for killing to massage an ego.”

Born Free is calling on the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to release its Final Rule on the petition to list the lion as ‘endangered’ under the United States Endangered Species Act (ESA), first submitted in March 2011.

Listing under the ESA would prohibit wounding, harming, harassing, killing, or trading in lions, except under certain very limited conditions, and would add significant protection for lions across their range.

Further, Born Free is calling on US Government prosecutors to explore whether legal action against Walter Palmer is warranted under the Lacey Act, which prohibits transport of wildlife specimens if they were taken illegally in their place of origin.

According to Adam M Roberts, CEO of Born Free Foundation and Born Free USA, “The US Government has a responsibility to take decisive action to prevent another incident such as this from ever happening again.

“For four years we have waited for a final decision on our petition to list the lion – there is no more time to wait.”

Roberts addressed the issue of trophy hunting specifically, saying, “The figures don’t stack up. The value to Africa’s economy from wildlife tourism vastly outpaces any sum accrued from hunting.

“Trophy hunting is an elitist activity practiced by very wealthy people, with the income benefiting a small number of stakeholders. The future is in conserving Africa’s wildlife, not destroying it.”

There is very little evidence that the proceeds of trophy hunting benefits conservation or local communities in the hunting areas, with as little as 3 per cent or less of the revenue generated trickling down.

Lions and other charismatic wildlife are worth far more alive than dead to Zimbabwe’s tourism industry. In Zimbabwe it is estimated that trophy hunting generates only 3.2 per cent of total tourism revenue.

Virginia McKenna OBE, a name synonymous with lions and star of the wildlife classic Born Free summed up the feelings of millions around the world: “This whole story is like some terrible nightmare.

“The power of money, the ego of man, the lack of compassion for and real understanding of wild creatures, the concept of hunting as a “sport”.

“I thought we tried to instill kindness and respect in our children. Perhaps Mr. Palmer thinks differently.

“But if what I heard today is true – that after killing Cecil he asked if they could find him an elephant – the future he faces is bleak indeed.”

From Wildlife Extra

National Parks Threatened by Energy Transmission

The permanent scars of energy transmission do not belong in our national parks, the natural landscapes that attract millions of visitors each year. Unfortunately, parks all across the country are at risk of being damaged by oil and gas pipelines and electric transmission lines.

Energy infrastructure proposals are popping up like weeds in our parks, and the potential harm is serious. Heavy machinery and development from construction causes erosion of hillsides and the heavy sedimentation of stream beds, damaging spawning habitat for species like the endangered Atlantic sturgeon of the James River. Changes in the landscape can cause a loss of biodiversity and an influx of invasive species. Corridor clearings frequently create a barrier to species movement, inhibiting wildlife migration and isolating animal populations. These projects also create light and noise pollution that diminish the pristine views that we’ve worked so hard to preserve for future generations. Even worse, oil and gas pipelines can explode or leak, threatening human health and safety in addition to the health of these natural spaces.

Pressure to expand electric and fossil fuel transmission infrastructure has increased as a result of growing energy demands and greater resource extraction ability. Transmission lines, oil and gas pipelines, and other projects are being proposed across the country, sometimes, as crazy as it sounds, right through national parks.

National parks have preserved America’s most treasured environmental, cultural, and educational sites for nearly a century. Construction of pipelines or transmission lines through these places poses substantial risks to their ecological and recreational characteristics. This Map Journal highlights 13 national park units that are threatened by the construction of energy infrastructure. 

Everglades and Biscayne National Parks & Big Cypress National Preserve

Everglades and Biscayne National Parks, and Big Cypress National Preserve, together create an unparalleled ecosystem home to rare species such as the West Indian manatee, Florida panther, and American crocodile. 

There are currently proposals to begin large-scale seismic testing for oil underneath one-third of Big Cypress. This area is one of the last permanently-protected habitats of the Florida panther, of which there are only ~120 left. The seismic testing “thumper trucks” would drive across the Preserve wetlands to vibrate the earth below. Pipelines built to carry oil out of this area may cause habitat abandonment due to disturbance, increased animal-vehicle collisions, and risk of spills and leaks into this essential habitat that result in fatal ingestion of oil or chemicals. These cumulative impacts may cause insurmountable damage to the panther population and that of nine other federally endangered species in Big Cypress.

In addition, NPCA is fighting a proposed transmission line through the eastern border of the Everglades by Florida Power and Light (FPL) as a component of the larger effort by FPL to expand their nuclear power generation at Turkey Point. Currently, FPL operates a natural gas and nuclear power plant on the shoreline of Biscayne National Park. The use of water to cool the plant’s towers are causing several problems, including impacts to threatened crocodiles, algae blooms, and a plume of polluted, hyper-saline water below Biscayne that is inching closer to Everglades. FPL is requesting a nuclear expansion which would require the diversion of more water away from Biscayne at the very time we are supposed to be restoring water flow to the Bay. NPCA filed a legal challenge to FPL’s current plans to ensure that the plan is either abandoned or significantly changed so as not to harm Biscayne National Park.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is a geological wonderland and is home to an astonishing diversity of plant and animal species due to the fact that its boundaries include two distinct deserts: the Mojave and the Sonoran. In 1950, the park was reduced by nearly 300,000 acres to allow mining in the northeast and southeast regions of the park. Iron mining took place at Eagle Mountain until 1983 when operations were shut down. NPCA celebrated a huge victory in 2013 when a landfill proposal that would have filled the open-pit mine with trash was rejected after a 15-year fight. Recently there has been a push to return more than 30,000 acres in the Eagle Mountain region back to the park.

Unfortunately, despite the significant victory, a new proposal has surfaced to repurpose the Eagle Mountain mine as a pumped storage hydroelectric project. The “water battery” would function by sending water from an upper reservoir down through turbines to a lower reservoir to generate power during periods of peak energy demand and pump water back upwards during periods of low energy demand. The project would actually use more electricity than it would generate, however, due to the high disparity between peak and non-peak energy prices, the utility would see a profit. Construction of a large transmission line would be required to transmit the electricity generated. Click the pinpoints for more information on these reservoirs.

Eagle Mountain Mine

This project would operate less than a mile from the border of Joshua Tree and would require the removal of 8 billion gallons of water from the sensitive desert aquifer, enough to serve 48,000 families for a year. High water usage during this historic drought could hurt desert springs, the species that depend on them, and nearby desert communities. This area is important habitat for desert bighorn sheep, golden eagles, and the desert tortoise, and should be managed for the protection of these iconic species, as well as the important cultural and natural history of this region.

Colonial National Historical Park and Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail

Colonial National Historical Park and the nearby Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail offer unspoiled views of the culturally, historically, economically and educationally rich region where Captain John Smith sailed and established the first permanent English settlement on the continent over 400 years ago.

Dominion Virginia Power has proposed a 500 kilovolt transmission line comprised of towers nearly as tall as the Statue of Liberty through the James River. This would permanently scar the evocative setting and impact scenic views from at least 7 sites on the National Register of Historic Places–click on the red dots for more information on the sites. This line would compromise the $1 billion annual regional tourism industry as well as further threaten the endangered Atlantic sturgeon, a species of fish that is over 120 million years old. The sturgeon spawn twice annually in the James River, and habitat damage as a result of the transmission towers may impact their ability to breed and consequently reduce the population. 

Dominion claims that this area is already industrialized, and see no reason for re-siting the massive transmission line. Take a look at this viewpoint, virtually unchanged from how Captain Smith saw it in 1607, and decide for yourself if you think that compromising this culturally and environmentally significant view deserves further thought. Dominion must seek public analysis of alternatives and consider additional options, such as building the line 15 miles south near an existing transmission line.

Nina Berlin|August 3, 2015

Shell to Leave ALEC

Shell has just announced that it plans to sever ties with the climate science denying American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)!

You helped make this happen by sending more than 130,000 emails to Shell’s CEO and creating public pressure on social media. Combine that with UCS staff members working to expose ALEC’s climate disinformation and meeting with Shell executives—as well as the efforts of several partner organizations and shareholder groups—and Shell clearly felt the pressure!

Today, Shell’s spokesperson said that ALEC’s “stance on climate change is clearly inconsistent with our own.…As part of an ongoing review of memberships and affiliations, we will be letting our association with ALEC lapse when the current contracted term ends early next year.”
When even big oil companies publicly accept the science and cut ties with climate denial front groups, you know we are making progress.

Shell’s decision to leave ALEC—a leading front group giving voice to climate deniers and attacking clean energy policies—is an important victory toward stopping the spread of climate disinformation. Shell joins BP, ConocoPhillips, and dozens of technology corporations who have recently left ALEC, further marginalizing this climate denial group and reducing its influence over climate and energy policy.

Severing ties with ALEC is a small but important step by Shell to align its actions with recent public statements about “not aligning with skeptics” and the fact that climate change is “a threat we want to act on;” however, there is more for the company to do. So stay tuned for additional opportunities to encourage Shell to both live up to its statements and help combat climate change.

But for now, thanks again and congratulations on a job well done!

David Anderson|National Field Organizer|Climate and Energy Program

Amid Drought, Think Tanks Warn Of U.S. ‘Eco Deficit’

The U.S. deficit gets voters riled up all over the country. Can the so-called “ecological deficit” do the same?

The nation reached a milestone last month: It hit an ecological deficit, according to a new paper by think tanks Global Footprint Network and Earth Economics. Water scarcity, drought, and rapid use of water resources are chief parts of the problem.

According to these groups, July 14 marked “the date the United States has busted its annual ecological budget, utilizing more resources and services than U.S. ecosystems can regenerate within the full year.”

In other words, “everything from [July 14] until December 31 is deficit environmental spending,” Fortune reported, citing the research paper. The U.S. ranks as the third wealthiest country in the world for natural resources, behind Brazil and China. But the States “are using resources nearly twice as fast as they can be naturally sustained.”

Water was a major part of the groups’ calculation.

Water scarcity threatens our ecological assets. Climate change is contributing to drought, particularly in California. Some states with the greatest natural capital wealth, including Texas and Michigan, are vulnerable to drought and water shortages, which then reduce the productivity of crop and grazing lands. An analysis of baseline water stress shows states in the western half of the United States are likely to face the greatest competition for water.

In California, for instance, the drought is exacerbating the problem. The state is “using resources eight times faster than they can be renewed and in the midst of a severe drought. According to the report, it would take eight Californias to support the state’s large population, voracious appetite for water, and carbon footprint. But Texas and Florida also have high ecological deficits,” Fortune reported.

How is an ecological deficit calculated? The research report states:

Just as a bank statement tracks income against expenditures, Global Footprint Network measures a population’s demand for and ecosystems’ supply of resources and services. On the supply side, a city, state, or nation’s biocapacity represents its biologically productive land and sea area, including forest lands, grazing lands, cropland, fishing grounds, and built-up land. On the demand side, the Ecological Footprint measures a population’s demand for plant-based food and fiber products, livestock and fish products, timber and other forest products, space for urban infrastructure, and forest to absorb its carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels. Both measures are expressed in global acres—globally comparable, standardized acres with world average productivity.

The groups believe that raising awareness through papers like this one is a key part of the solution, according to David Batker, executive director of Earth Economics.

“People need nature. Economies need nature. Securing prosperity in the 21st century requires using informed measures, like the Ecological Footprint, to improve policy, shift investment and fix our ecological budget,” he said.  “This report reveals problems and provides solutions.”

For more drought stories, visit Water Online’s Water Scarcity Solutions Center.

Sara Jerome|8/8/15

Zoning issue may halt Everglades oil drilling plan

Broward commission not likely to agree to zoning change for oil drilling in Everglades

A controversial proposal to drill for oil in the Everglades west of Miramar has run into trouble.

The Everglades

The Everglades|Mike Stocker|Sun Sentinel

An attorney for Broward County says the land carries a strict conservation zoning classification that would exclude oil drilling, according to documents released this week as part of the proposal’s environmental review.

Absolutely not. This commission has been very clear about its position on drilling in or near the Everglades,- Broward County Commissioner Barbara Sharief

The Kanter family of Miami, which owns 20,000 acres in the Everglades, would have to ask the Broward County Commission for a zoning amendment, a dubious proposition, considering the growing opposition to the proposal.

Commissioner Barbara Sharief, who represents the district closest to the site, said Friday the commission “absolutely” would not consider such a change. “This commission has been very clear about its position on drilling in or near the Everglades. We’re against it, and I don’t see that changing.”

County Mayor Tim Ryan said he would need to see a detailed study of the risks. But based on the site’s proximity to residential areas and the possible impact to the region’s water supply, said, “I would be very, very concerned, and I am initially very reluctant to allow such a rezoning.”

A spokeswoman for the family declined comment.

The zoning issue was raised in an email from senior assistant county attorney Michael Owens, released this week by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, along with comments from other government agencies on the Kanters’ application for an oil drilling permit.

He said the land is zoned Conservation – 1, Conservation District-Water Supply Areas.

“Permissible uses are limited to utilities, transportation and communications facilities, specifically excluding hazardous liquid pipelines and electrical power plants,” he wrote, adding it “does not include exploratory oil well drilling.”

The land was accumulated by family patriarch Joseph Kanter, a Miami banker and real estate developer who helped found Lauderhill and several other communities. He acquired the Everglades land with plans to found a community there, too, but the plans never materialized.

The family has applied for a permit to drill a single exploratory well more than two miles deep. The land, located about five miles west of Miramar, sits along a series of oil deposits called the Sunniland Trend, which runs from east of Fort Myers to Miami and sustains a series of modest oil wells, the first of which were established during World War II.

Since the announcement of the family’s plans last month, opposition has arisen among the cities along the Everglades. Miramar and Sunrise adopted resolutions in opposition to the plan, and Pembroke Pines commissioners directed their attorney to draft one. A town hall meeting on the proposal will be held 7 p.m. Aug. 20 at the Pembroke Pines Theater of the Performing Arts, sponsored by Pembroke Pines and the South Florida Wildlands Association.

State regulators are giving the application an extremely detailed review, and are asking for technical details on the proposed drilling process, what evidence there is for the existence of oil at the site and for further explanation of environmental safeguards that would be put into place.

David Fleschler/Sun Sentinel|8/9/15

Calls to Action

  1. Support the ivory ban – here
  2. Say no to GMO apples todayhere
  3. Help save Africa’s forest elephants.  – here
  4. Reauthorize the critical Land and Water Conservation Fund – here
  5. Just say NO to Monsanto & Syngenta – here

Birds and Butterflies

Historic step forward for birds

The Environmental Protection Agency took a historic step forward for birds, and for people, yesterday with sweeping new rules limiting climate pollution from existing power plants. Nearly 40 percent of our nation’s carbon pollution comes from these power plants. The Clean Power Plan is a critical part of the solutions we need to reduce pollution and protect our birds from climate change.

You had a hand in this victory! More than 26,630 Audubon members and activists sent messages in favor of strong climate action. We have no doubt your voice has made an important difference for the birds you love.

Our science shows that climate change is the single greatest threat to North American birds and their habitats. As many as half of all North American bird species could face serious climate-related challenges to their survival in the coming decades.

There’s more work to be done—in your community, nationwide, and globally. But take a moment to savor this historic win. It’s not only a critically important step to reduce the threat of climate change, it’s a reminder of the progress we can make when we pull together!

Thank you for helping to make this happen.

Read more about the new Clean Power Plan at our website.

David Yarnold|President & CEO|National Audubon Society

A bad year for Baby Plovers ‏

Piping Plover chick

Barely two months have passed since the Cape Hatteras National Seashore rolled back protections for nesting shorebirds and sea turtles. And now they’re talking about reducing protections even more.

Worse still, nest watchers are reporting one of the worst breeding seasons for Piping Plovers in more than a decade.

As you know, Cape Hatteras National Seashore is one of America’s most critical habitats for a wide variety of nest and non-nesting bird species and sea turtles. It’s a globally significant Important Bird Area. But it has also become a battleground between conservationists and off-road vehicle (ORV) enthusiasts who would prefer the barrier islands become a barren playground for four-wheelers.

We were making progress. Since 2008, off-road vehicles have been restricted from small portions of the beach for small portions of the year to protect nesting plovers, terns, oystercatchers, other birds, and sea turtles.

Wildlife has rebounded since 2008. But opposition by extremist ORV interests has been mean-spirited and unrelenting. Last year Congress intervened in favor of the off-roaders, leading to the current round of conservation cutbacks.

Amidst this controversy, Seashore staff report that only two Piping Plover chicks fledged this year, the lowest count since 2004. The news is a stern reminder of how quickly hard-won conservation gains can be lost.

With your support, Audubon’s advocacy teams in DC and North Carolina, along with legions of concerned members nationwide, are turning up the pressure to protect this magnificent wild habitat.

That’s the power of Audubon — we’re as local as your backyard, but when the need arises we can speak with one voice.

But we’re only as strong as our membership. Please join us today!

Audubon Wingspan|8/05/15

Butterfly Bushes Aren’t Good for Butterflies

Butterfly Bushes Aren’t Good for Butterflies

If you’re trying to create a butterfly sanctuary in your garden, adding butterfly bushes seems like a no-brainer—but you might want to rethink those pretty purple flowers this year.

Planting a butterfly-friendly garden is about more than having pretty butterflies and plants in your yard. Butterflies—like the monarch—are disappearing just like other pollinators. A butterfly garden is a habitat where these endangered species can eat, rest, reproduce and thrive.

According to a recent report from Rodale’s Organic Life, the butterfly bush—also known as summer lilac—is an invasive species that steals space, water and sunlight from the native plants that butterflies really need to thrive. Even in places where butterfly bushes grow naturally, they tend to take over, which limits your garden’s biodiversity. Butterflies and pollinators need a diverse buffet of plants to truly thrive.

Butterfly bushes provide butterflies with food, but unfortunately that’s all they provide. The butterflies in your garden also need somewhere to rest and reproduce. And their larvae need plants that support their growth. Butterfly bushes do not fulfill any of these needs, so you end up with a garden that has a lot of food for butterflies, but little to no viable habitat.

Those pretty butterfly bushes are not native plants anywhere with a temperate climate, and they take up space that you could be using to grow native plants. According to Doug Tallamy, PhD, professor and chair of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware, “If you don’t choose natives, right away you’re removing at least 75 percent of the food that is supporting the biodiversity that’s out there.”

Finding Butterfly-Friendly Plants

If you want to ditch the butterfly bush in favor of native plants, it takes some planning and research. Native flora is different depending on where you live.

For gardeners in the U.S. and Canada, there’s a great resource called Find Native Plants. The site is broken out by region, so you can find the page listing plants native to your area. These are the plants that will provide the best food and shelter for butterflies, birds and pollinators in your area.

The Australian Cultivar Registration Authority Inc. has compiled a straightforward list of native plants in Australia. The list doesn’t appear to be searchable, but it’s organized alphabetically by the plant’s scientific name.

I had a tougher time finding a native plants database for the EU, but there is a site where you can see whether plants you’re considering are invasive. There don’t seem to be online native plant databases out there for India, Asia, South America, or Central America, but you can check plants you’re considering to see if they’re listed on the Global Invasive Species Database.

If you know of any country- or continent-specific resources for finding native plants that we missed here, drop a comment and let us know!

Becky Striepe|August 4, 2015

Florida Raptor News August 2015

Florida Panthers

HELP PANTHERS: Urge Congress to Save America’s Best Conservation Fund

What are the 3 most important things for protecting endangered Florida panthers from slipping back near extinction?

Habitat. Habitat. Habitat.

be Florida’s panther’s biggest threat. Yet the conservation fund that created the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge may fall victim to politics.

The federal Land and Water Conservation Fund will expire in September, and with it critical habitat funding for struggling wildlife species such as Florida panthers.

This is the fund that made possible the permanent protection of nearly 5 million acres of America’s most cherished natural lands and wildlife habitats, including additions to Rocky Mountain National Park and protection of the Appalachian Trail!

It’s America’s most important conservation program. But it will wither and die if Congress does not renew it by September 30th.

SEND THIS MESSAGE TO CONGRESS: Reauthorize the critical Land and Water Conservation Fund, permanently and immediately—for the wildlife and wild lands we cherish. See #4 in “Calls to Action” above.

  Invasive species

 

Endangered Species

Secret South African orphanage cares for baby rhinos

The Rhino Orphanage takes extreme measures to protect its rhinos from poachers, barring all but selected visitors and not advertising its exact location.

A baby rhino runs in the bush at the Rhino Orphanage, which is near a lodge at the Entabeni Safari Conservancy in the northern part of South Africa.

Poachers who kill rhinos for their horns sometimes leave rhino orphans who struggle to fend for themselves in the wild.

ENTABENI SAFARI CONSERVANCY, South Africa — They are the most vulnerable victims of South Africa’s rhino poaching scourge, the baby rhinos that survive the shooting deaths of their mothers.

Many probably die of dehydration or other perils in the wild, but some lucky ones end up at The Rhino Orphanage, where workers become mothers to the traumatized young ones, feeding, walking, and comforting them until they are ready to return to the bush. They learn to recognize voices, sleep in a stable, feed on a milk substitute, roll in the mud, and play with each other and their human minders, who try not to get knocked over by these big, rambunctious babies.

The orphanage takes extreme measures to protect its rhinos from poachers, barring all but selected visitors and not advertising its exact location. Managers say only that it is near a golf and safari resort at the Entabeni wildlife park in Limpopo Province, about a three-hour drive north of Johannesburg.

“These rhinos would be dead if there weren’t a place to send them,” Gabriela Benavides, a Mexican veterinarian at the orphanage, told The Associated Press.

Ms. Benavides spoke at an enclosure where three rhinos named Faith, Lunga, and Matthew, all less than one year old, lounged, trotted, and slurped water from containers. The rhinos approached visitors behind a low wooden barrier, allowing themselves to be touched and stroked on the rough skin of their heads.

South Africa, home to most of the world’s rhinos, has been under heavy pressure from poachers, who killed more than 1,200 of the country’s rhinos in 2014 and are killing them at a high rate this year to meet rising demand for their horns in parts of Asia. Consumers believe rhino horn, which is ground into powder, has medicinal benefits, but there is no scientific evidence to support that. The horn is made of keratin, a protein also found in human fingernails.

South Africa’s national parks service rescued 16 rhino orphans in 2014; a dozen were put in specialist care and four were placed with surrogate mothers in state-run enclosures, Edna Molewa, minister of environmental affairs, said in May.

“The ultimate aim is for the orphans to be integrated back into a normally functioning breeding population,” Molewa said.

The mothers of most rhinos at the orphanage were shot, though one young rhino’s mother died in a fight with another rhino. Poachers with machetes hacked another baby rhino more than two-dozen times as it stayed near the body of its mother, but it recovered at the orphanage.

Founded in 2012, The Rhino Orphanage says it has successfully raised and released nine rhinos back into the wild. Because of security concerns, the staff do not say how many rhinos are at the facility, which has no identifying signs at the entrance.

Poachers will “go for any little bit” of horn, even from a baby rhino whose horns are emerging, said Dex Kotze, a board director of the nonprofit orphanage. He said it can cost roughly $32,000 a month to maintain the orphanage, and that several similar centers have started operating elsewhere in South Africa.

On one occasion, poachers were on their way to the orphanage but their gang had been infiltrated by an undercover agent from South African intelligence and the suspects were arrested, according to Benavides, the vet.

International interns who have assisted with the rhinos turned off phone and camera location settings and did not post photographs or video onto social media websites while at the orphanage for fear of giving away its whereabouts, said Fortunate Phaka, project leader of the group called Youth 4 African Wildlife.

“We try to keep it as secret as possible while at the same time raising awareness,” Phaka said. “It’s kind of hard trying to raise money for something people are not allowed to see.”

Limited human contact with the rhinos also assists in their return to the wild, which happens when they are two or three years old, the age at which they would usually become independent.

Benavides said it was rewarding to rehabilitate rhino orphans, but also stressful because, “you don’t know what’s going to happen to them when you finally let them go.”

Christopher Torchia|Associated Press|July 22, 2015

Africa’s Forest Elephants in Crisis

African elephant populations are crashing. Every 14 minutes an elephant is killed as another vicious wave of ivory poaching sweeps the continent.

Poachers slaughter entire elephant families for their ivory tusks — and much of that ivory ends up in the United States, the second-largest ivory market in the world. Full protection under the Endangered Species Act will help stop the sale of elephant parts in this country. That’s why the Center for Biological Diversity is taking action now — petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect elephants as endangered.

Unfortunately the local regimes responsible for protecting these noble animals fail to recognize Africa has two species of elephants — forest and savannah. Forest elephants are smaller and darker, with more rounded ears, than savannah elephants. And they are more vulnerable than their larger cousins from the bush — their ivory is harder, and thus more prized by poachers. Because of this, forest elephants are being decimated — their population is down more than 60 percent in recent years, and they are the most at-risk of extinction.

The Center is the only group seeking protection under the Endangered Species Act specifically for forest as well as savannah elephants.

We’ll need your help, though. Getting both species of elephants protected under the Endangered Species Act will be a long and costly battle — but a necessary one if but a necessary one if we are to ensure both savannah and forest elephants have a future.

We’re specialists at using the Endangered Species Act to save wildlife. We’ve gotten more than 550 species of imperiled animals and plants protected under the Act, which has a 90 percent success rate in saving wildlife from extinction. By acting now and together, we can do our best to keep Africa’s elephants from disappearing. We can’t stand by while the brutal ivory trade wipes out 100 elephants every day.

With your support, the Center will fight to save Africa’s most endangered elephant populations. If you would care to help the Center in this effort, please see item 3 in “Calls to Action” above.

Kierán Suckling|Executive Director|Center for Biological Diversity

World’s rarest ape: new family group found

The future of the world’s rarest apes look just a little bit brighter given the recent discovery of a new family group in Bawangling National Nature Reserve in China.

Until last month, it was thought that there were just 25 Hainan Gibbons (Nomascus hainanus) living in three social groups on an island off the Chinese mainland.

The discovery of a new fourth group, by a team led by international conservation charity the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), has increased  the known population by almost 12 per cent.

The group consisted of a mating pair with a young baby, sighted within Bawangling National Nature Reserve, Hainan Province, increases 

The existence of this fourth breeding group increases the reproductive potential of the population, which could be vital for the long term survival of the Critically Endangered gibbons.

ZSL researcher Dr Jessica Bryant, who led the expedition that made the discovery, says: “Finding a new Hainan Gibbon group is a fantastic boost for the population.

“We had hoped to locate at least one or two solitary gibbons, but discovering a whole new family group complete with a baby is beyond our wildest dreams.”

The new social group brings the estimate of the total population of Hainan Gibbons to around 28 individuals.

The ZSL-led project team, including international gibbon experts along with staff from Bawangling National Nature Reserve Management Office, set out to try and find any surviving lone gibbons in the reserve to gain a greater understanding of the total number of Hainan Gibbons that remain.

Gibbons are typically located by the sound of their daily song. Due to the low population density of the Hainan Gibbon, they are less likely to sing as there are few other gibbons to advertise their territory to, making detection of solitary individuals or groups extremely challenging.

By utilizing new acoustic techniques that prompt gibbons to investigate and call, the team were able to locate this new group.

Dr Bryant adds: “The success of our discovery is really encouraging. We now want to learn more about this new group, and also hope to extend the investigation to perhaps even find additional solitary gibbons or other groups.

“Today is a great day for Hainan Gibbon conservation.”

From Wildlife Extra

68 Garden Pesticides to Avoid in Order to Help the Bees

Man versus insect. It’s a story that has been playing out forever, at least since humans and bugs first started competing for the same plants. But when man went to the lab and created synthetic pesticides, we gained the advantage … yet is the collateral damage worth the victory? The toxins released into the environment alone are enough to cause alarm. But the harm done to beneficial insects – namely the pollinators – is not only alarming but cause for concern. Honeybees, one of our most important allies in agriculture, our suffering from years of decline. Pesticides – these are chemicals meant to kill insects, after all – are decidedly not helping.

Without pollinators, we’re doomed.

“Pollinators are a critical link in our food system. More than 85 percent of earth’s plant species – many of which compose some of the most nutritional parts of our diet – require pollinators to exist. Yet we continue to see alarming declines in bee numbers,”said Eric Mader, assistant pollinator conservation director at the Xerces Society.

So what are we to do?

One of the best ways we can help support thriving hives and protect pollinators is to provide plentiful foraging by way of gardens that offer nectar, pollen and habitat. But just as important is that we decline the use of pesticides when we grow things, according to Beyond Pesticides, the nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C. that has been fighting the fight since 1981.

The most commonly used insecticides in home gardens – and farms and school yards, parks and urban landscapes – are a class of chemicals called neonicotinoids. As the Xerces Society explains, these chemicals are used to kill sap-sucking and leaf-chewing insects; they are systemic, meaning they are absorbed by the plant tissues and expressed in all parts, including nectar and pollen. Bees, butterflies, and other flower-hopping insects are harmed by the residues; even at low doses, honey bees’ ability to navigate, fly and forage is affected. What is most worrisome is the, “prolific inclusion of these insecticides in home garden products,” notes the Xerces Society. “Home garden products containing neonicotinoids can legally be applied in far greater concentrations in gardens than they can be on farms – sometimes at concentrations as much as 120 times as great which increases the risk to pollinators.”

To keep your lawn and garden happy, healthy, and teeming with life for pollinators, they say, you should avoid the products that contain neonicotinoids – look for members of the neonicotinoid family on the labels: acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, nitenpyram, nithiazine, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam.

And with that in mind, a few years ago Beyond Pesticides put together an important list of 68 common home and garden products that contain neonicotoids. Help save the bees by not using chemicals meant to kill insects in your garden! If not for their sake – which should be reason alone – then for the sake of our food supply.

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.

Melissa Breyer|TreeHugger|August 4, 2015

Gray Wolf Appears in California For the Second Time in Nearly 100 Years

Wildlife officials believe they have found evidence that a gray wolf has made its way into northern California, making it the second one to cross the border into the state in almost 100 years.

Officials from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) said in a statement released this week that they set up remote trail cameras in southeastern Siskiyou County in an effort to follow up on public sightings of a lone wolf that were made earlier this year.

They got some pictures in May of “a large, dark-colored, lone canid,” but couldn’t confirm for certain that it was a wolf. In June, they found tracks and put up more cameras. After downloading photos in July, the suspected wolf was captured in images again, leading biologists to conclude it is indeed a lone wolf based on its size and tracks, who is likely to have wandered down from Oregon.

They’ve since set up more cameras and aim to definitively determine it’s a wolf by collecting and DNA testing scat samples.

The sighting is exciting for wildlife advocates who want to see this iconic species return to their historic range. Wolves once roamed vast portions of the state, but before 2011, there hadn’t been a confirmed sighting since 1924 thanks to government sponsored extermination programs that wiped them out. That’s when collared wolf OR-7, now otherwise known as Journey, made headlines after crossing the border from Oregon on a mission covering hundreds of miles to find a mate and a place to settle down.

The CDFW confirmed it isn’t him, he’s since established territory in Oregon and is busy raising a second litter of pups. While he left the state, his venture there helped clear the way for others of his kind to safely return.

Spurred by a petition from conservation organizations following his appearance, last summer the California Fish and Game Commission voted to protect gray wolves under the state’s endangered species act, which makes it illegal to harm or kill wolves in the state.

The latest sighting also couldn’t have come at a better time, as the CDFW is preparing to release its wolf management plan for public comment, giving those who want to see wolves return to California’s landscape a chance to weigh in on their future there.

“With the potential confirmation of another wolf in California, it is all the more critical that the state wolf plan provide the management strategies that will best recover and conserve these magnificent animals,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer with the Center for Biological Diversity. “While it’s exciting to most Californians that wolves are returning, there are those who hate wolves and these animals will need all the protections they can get to successfully reestablish here.”

Alicia Graef|August 5, 2015

California Bans All Bobcat Trapping

A huge win in our work to save predators: The California Fish and Game Commission on Wednesday voted to ban commercial bobcat trapping throughout the state. A hard-fought bill sponsored by the Center for Biological Diversity and approved by the California legislature in 2013 stopped bobcat trapping on the borders of national and state parks and other protected areas, but this week’s vote took the final step to end commercial trapping of these beloved cats.

Over the past few years, a rising demand for bobcat pelts in China and Russia has driven up fur prices and caused a boom in bobcat trapping in California. The Center and allies have been working to stop this killing. The new ban was approved 3-2 by the commission.

Thanks to the tens of thousands of you who raised your voice to the wildlife commission in support showing that you value bobcats alive rather than as commodities. Every letter and voice counted in this victory.

Get more from KCET News.

Flooding Affects Pakistan’s Snow Leopard Habitat

Recent floods have wreaked havoc in northern Pakistan, affecting thousands of people who share the habitat of the endangered snow leopard. The floods appear to have been caused by melting glaciers and heavy rain, highlighting the emerging threat climate change poses to the survival of snow leopards in the Himalayas.

The most talked about challenges in snow leopard conservation include human-wildlife conflicts, habitat loss, and poaching.  However, climate change and global warming are posing an emerging threat to the survival of snow leopards in Pakistan. A recent study indicates that about 30% of snow leopard habitat in the Himalayas may be lost and heavily fragmented in the next decades due to rising temperatures. 

The recent floods appear to be at least related to climate change: According to some government officials, higher temperatures have been triggering snow melt, which has in turn triggered floods downstream. These led to the melting of lower-elevation glaciers at a faster pace, resulting into Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs). Other experts place most of the blame for the catastrophic flooding on heavy monsoon rains, whose patterns are also affected by changes in Earth’s climate. 

This disaster has affected large parts of northern Pakistan, including Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral, two of the areas we are working in with our local partner, the Snow Leopard Foundation. It has cost the lives of over 100 people, and has displaced thousands. Our local team is currently assessing the damage in our partner communities across the region. According to their sources, bridges roads, cattle and houses have been washed away in various villages.

The Snow Leopard Foundation (SLF) Chitral office is currently in a red zone and prone to heavy floods. According to Jaffer Ud Din, SLF’s Deputy Director of SLF and Head of the Gilgit Office, who is currently in Chitral, people have seen markhor, a prey species for the snow leopard, in nearby areas out of its normal habitat in the Chitral Gol National Park.  This will be something to continue to observe, because if prey species are being displaced from the National Parks, snow leopards could follow. Many markhors have also been reportedly swept up in the flash flooding.

We will continue to work with our local partners to find out more about the situation in Pakistan and ways to assist our affected partner communities.

Speak Up for Yellowstone Bison! ‏

Yellowstone National Park is home to the last remaining, continuously-wild plains bison herd in the world. Bison are icons of our National Park System and the United States. Although they are protected within Yellowstone, once bison cross park boundaries and travel into Montana, management drastically changes–often with deadly consequences.
Under the current, outdated management plan, bison are aggressively driven from habitat on public land in Montana where they are not currently allowed. Tragically, nearly 4,000 of these magnificent animals have been shipped to slaughter since 2000.

As the 100th birthday of the National Park System approaches in 2016, now is the time to create a better approach to bison management.

The National Park Service, in partnership with the State of Montana and other federal agencies and tribal governments, is developing a new Yellowstone-area Bison Conservation Plan. But each year that goes by without a new plan leads to the senseless destruction of these majestic animals. Last winter alone, more than 600 Yellowstone-area bison were shipped to slaughter.

Together, we can change this and better protect Yellowstone bison.

Please join NPCA in urging Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and the Obama Administration to provide a better future for bison by completing the new Yellowstone-area Bison Conservation Plan by 2016. Ask Secretary Jewell to decrease the senseless bison slaughter, to provide them with more room to roam on conflict-free land, and to implement a plan that will treat bison similarly to other native wildlife.

Thank you for taking a moment to speak up for Yellowstone’s wild bison herd. Your action is greatly appreciated!

Katie Eucker|NPCA|8/08/15

Water Quality Issues

5 Healthy Habits That Could Be Polluting the Water

You try to live a healthy lifestyle, but could some of your healthy habits be harming our waters? Here are 5 healthy habits that may have undesirable effects on the health of our water resources.

Washing your face
The little scrubbing beads that can be found in a lot of exfoliating cleansers are—believe it or not—made of plastic. Not only are they in your cleansers, but they sometimes show up in toothpaste as well. Besides the harmful effects of ingesting small plastic particles, these tiny beads absorb environmental toxins and end up in bodies of water where fish eat them. To avoid microbeads, look for polyethylene or polypropylene on the ingredients list, or check out Beat the Microbead for more info.

Walking your dog
It’s great to take yourself and your dog for a run in the morning out in the fresh, invigorating air. But, inevitably, your dog will have to do his business. Harmless, right? Not so much. Surprisingly, the EPA considers dog doody to be as toxic to our waters as actual toxic waste. The bacteria and nutrients in dog droppings can contribute to an imbalanced freshwater (or saltwater if you’re on the coast) ecosystem by promoting the growth of certain unwelcome algae and weeds. Any slight disruption in the balance of a delicate ecosystem can mean the death of fish due to overgrowth or changing pH levels. So what should you do when your dog poos? Your best bet is to bag it in biodegradable bags and toss it in the trash.

Using the bathroom
Whether it’s for your child or for the luxurious pleasure of your own bottom, wet wipes can do some serious damage to our water systems. Unfortunately, the wipes don’t dissolve in water, and can cause major blockages. A better choice? A dampened wad of toilet paper.

Cooking healthy meals
If you use oils like bacon fat or coconut oil, make sure you toss any excess cooking oil in the trash once you’re done with it. Not only can oils solidify to clog your pipes, but they can cause huge blockages down in the water system when combined with other water insoluble substances. Or, better than throwing it away, put that excess oil to use around your house.

Boating and hiking
Both hiking boots and boats can carry invasive species from one ecosystem to another. Make sure you clean your boat and boots thoroughly of plant matter after traveling to avoid transferring invasive species like rock snot. These invasive species can push out native plants, cause erosion and clog up waterways. Additionally, if you use a motor boat, fill your tank only 90 percent of the way to avoid fuel spills — a common and serious water contaminant. Otherwise, if you take the proper precautions, boating and hiking can certainly be fun outdoor activities with a light environmental footprint.

Being healthy means thinking about your own health, the health of those around you, and the health of the whole planet. Try to be conscious about how your actions affect water health as much as possible.

Jordyn Cormier|August 3, 2015

Arch Coal Subsidiaries to Make System-Wide Upgrades to Reduce Pollution Entering U.S. Waters

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced today that Arch Coal Inc., one of the nation’s largest coal companies, and 14 of its subsidiaries under the International Coal Group Inc. (ICG) have agreed to conduct comprehensive upgrades to their operations to ensure compliance with the Clean Water Act. The settlement resolves hundreds of Clean Water Act violations related to illegal discharges of pollutants at the companies’ coal mines in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. The states of West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania are co-plaintiffs in today’s settlement. The companies will also pay a $2 million civil penalty.

“Businesses have an obligation to ensure that their operations don’t threaten the communities they serve, especially those that are overburdened by or more vulnerable to pollution,” said Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This settlement will prevent future environmental and public health risks by making sure these companies comply with federal and state clean water laws.”

“This joint enforcement effort, with three states, has resulted in a settlement that will require changes that will benefit the health and environment of Appalachian communities for many years to come,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Environment and Natural Resources Division.

“Under the terms of the agreement, Arch Coal and its subsidiaries will pay a significant penalty, improve their pollution control systems and provide for independent monitoring and data tracking that will make it a better company and a better neighbor to these communities.”

In addition to paying the penalty, under the proposed consent decree the companies must implement measures to ensure compliance and prevent future Clean Water Act violations, which will help protect communities overburdened by pollution, including:

* Developing and implementing a compliance management system.
* Periodic internal and third-party environmental compliance audits.
* Maintaining a data management system to track violations, water sampling data and compliance efforts.
* Providing training for environmental managers and others responsible for the consent decree.
* Paying escalating stipulated penalties if violations continue to occur.

The government complaint filed concurrently with the settlement alleged that in the last six years, ICG operations have violated discharge limits for aluminum, manganese, iron and total suspended solids in their state-issued National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permits on more than 1,200 occasions, resulting in over 8,900 days of violations. Of those violations, 700 have been previously resolved by state enforcement actions in Kentucky and West Virginia.

EPA discovered the violations through inspections of ICG facilities and projects, reviewing various information provided by the companies and coordinating with the affected state governments.

The proposed consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.

For more information on this settlement and to read the consent decree, go to:

www2.epa.gov/enforcement/arch-coal-inc-and-international-coal-group-subsidiaries-settlement

Julia P. Valentine|August 6, 2015

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

1 Million Gallons of Mine Waste Turns River in Colorado Orange

The Animas River in southwest Colorado turned bright orange on Wednesday after a mining and safety team working on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spilled a million gallons of mine waste from the abandoned Gold King Mine in San Juan County.

According to the AP, the team was working with heavy equipment to secure an entrance to mine when they accidentally triggered the large gush that reportedly caused the Cement Creek’s water levels to rise two to three feet.

“The project was intended to pump and treat the water and reduce metals pollution flowing out of the mine,” EPA spokesman Rich Mylott said in a statement.

San Juan County health officials said that the acidic mine water associated with the release contains high levels of sediment and metals. EPA teams are conducting sampling and visual observations and monitoring river conditions over the next several days.

David Ostrander, director of EPA’s emergency response program in Denver, informed the AP there is no threat to drinking water from the spill, however downstream water agencies were warned to avoid Animas water until the plume passes. Ostrander noted that the acidic sludge could irritate the skin.

In a precautionary measure, nearby residents have been warned by local officials to avoid consuming the water as the deluge made its way to La Plata County, Colorado yesterday. In particular, the city of Durango—which uses the river as a secondary source of water during the summer—has been advised to stop pumping raw water from the river, the Durango Herald reported.

Steve Salka, Durango’s utilities director, told the publication that residents need to conserve as much water as possible over the next few days until the water is safe to use.

The Animas River has also been temporarily closed to all watercraft and other flotation devices from the north county line (San Juan County, Colorado) to the south county line (at the Colorado/New Mexico State line).

“This decision was made in the interest of public health after consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, San Juan Basin Health Department and representatives of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe,” advised Sheriff Sean Smith. “This Order shall remain in effect until it is determined that the river is safe. EPA test results of the Animas River are expected within 24-48 hours, and the Order will be re-evaluated at that time.”

As the spill heads down river to New Mexico, officials in the city of Farmington “have shut down water-supply intake pumps to avoid contamination and advised citizens to stay out of the river until the discoloration has passed,” according to the AP.

San Juan County Emergency Manager Don Cooper said residents should not panic because the EPA had told the county the spill would not harm people, adding that the primary pollutants were iron and zinc, The Farmington Daily Times reported.

“It’s not going to look pretty, but it’s not a killer,” Cooper told the paper.

The impact on wildlife is currently unknown, as there are no fish in the Cement Creek watershed because of longstanding problems with water quality, the EPA told The Durango Herald.

Still, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has placed fish inside cages in the Animas River to see if the pollution affects them. “We’ll see if those fish survive,” spokesman Joe Lewandowski told the publication. “We’re also monitoring to make sure we don’t get infiltration into the hatchery, because that could be a problem.”

Lorraine Chow|August 7, 2015

Offshore & Ocean

Ocean acidification will last long after carbon clean-up efforts begin

Hopes that future efforts to extract excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere could spare the planet the worst impacts of climate change have been dimmed by a new study finding the acidification of oceans could take centuries to reverse.

The world’s oceans have already become about 30 per cent more acidic since pre-industrial times as seas absorb about one quarter or more of the excess carbon dioxide, triggering a chemical reaction. Combined with heat stress caused by warming waters, the rising acidity levels are already affecting complex ecosystems from plankton to shellfish and corals.

Researchers at Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research examined the prospects for massive geo-engineering efforts to remove CO₂ from the atmosphere and say it would take centuries for the oceans to become less acidic.

Assuming carbon dioxide removal could be ramped up to 90 gigatons a year – or about twice current annual emissions – oceans would not be brought back to pre-1750 levels until at least 2700, the researchers said in a paper published this week in Nature Climate Change journal.

“Geo-engineering measures are currently being debated as a kind of last resort to avoid dangerous climate change – either in the case that policymakers find no agreement to cut CO₂ emissions, or to delay the transformation of our energy systems,” Sabine Mathesius, a Potsdam Institute researcher, said in a statement.

“[I]n a business-as-usual scenario of unabated emissions, even if the CO₂ in the atmosphere would later on be reduced to the pre-industrial concentration, the acidity in the oceans could still be more than four times higher than the pre-industrial level,” Ms Mathesius said. “It would take many centuries to get back into balance with the atmosphere.”

While more acidic conditions make it harder for creatures to form shells, warming waters were also likely to mix less, reducing oxygen and nutrient transfers, “factors that would tend to prolong the deep ocean ‘memory’ of anthropogenic changes”, the paper said.

Pete Strutton, an associate professor at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania, said the paper showed “what we should already realize”.

“What’s needed is aggressive efforts to reduce emissions now, rather than aggressive programs in 50 years’ time to remove it,” Professor Strutton said.

Ocean circulation can already be very slow – with some of the oldest water taking 1000 years to return to the surface. “Stratification impacts are relatively difficult to quantify right now but we’re definitely seeing the warming right now,” he said.

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a co-author of the paper and also the senior scientific adviser to Pope Francis for his recent climate encyclical, said “the chemical echo of this century’s CO₂ pollution will reverberate for thousands of years”. 

“If we do not implement emissions reductions measures in line with the 2 degrees Celsius target in time, we will not be able to preserve ocean life as we know it,” Professor Schellnhuber said.

The decarburization efforts considered included mass planting of biomass which would suck CO₂ from the atmosphere. That biomass would then be burnt and the emissions captured and stored.

Peter Hannam|Environment Editor|The Sydney Morning Herald|August 6, 2015

Starbucks, Destroyer of the Seas

Who knew that a Starbucks latte has the power to harm a baleen whale?

People everywhere are realizing that the way we’re raising food is impacting our natural world. Baby boomers voting with their dollars helped jump-start solar power. Now it’s the millennials’ turn to lead the way by supporting conscious food and beverage brands, along with the regenerative agriculture movement that counteracts carbon dioxide pollution.

For the health of our planet, we all need to shift to the compost, cover crops, crop rotation and planned grazing of “carbon farming.” To learn more about carbon farming, visit Kiss the Ground, Regeneration International and the Soil Not Oil Coalition, which on Sept. 4-5 will host the 2015 Soil Not Oil International Conference in Richmond, California, with keynote speaker Dr. Vandana Shiva.

A Whole Lot of Killing Lattes

Yes, the millions of lattes sold monthly directly correlate with the carbon-intensive industrial dairy production that’s overloading the atmosphere with carbon dioxide (CO2) at now over 400 ppm. Besides atmospheric and ocean-polluting nitrogen fertilizers, Starbucks’ “Monsanto milk” suppliers rely on carbon-centric RoundUp pesticide, sprayed on the GMO crops fed to confined cows whose manure wastes contaminate local waterways and off-gas into the atmosphere. Regenerative farmers grow nitrogen-fixing cover crops, while conventional farmers inject synthetic fertilizers that release an air-polluting NOX gas nearly 400 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2.

While the public’s climate attention is focused on CO2 levels in the atmosphere, a far greater planetary threat is ocean acidification. The burning of oil and coal, along with the heedless agricultural practices of big agriculture with its huge carbon dioxide emissions, are devastating marine ecosystems. The Natural Resources Defense Council’s YouTube film Acid Test shows how, when excess carbon falls into the sea, it adversely affects all oceanic life—from the tiny plankton now struggling to form their shells in acidified waters to the whales that feed upon those plankton.

Also, excess atmospheric carbon is causing ocean temperatures to drastically rise.

Starbucks, the iconic global coffeehouse chain, wears a veneer of corporate social responsibility. Ironically, its mermaid logo was chosen, more than 40 years ago, because Starbucks wanted a nautical theme to capture the seaport spirit of its Seattle headquarters. But the company’s ethical behavior falls short of its image, and the Starbucks supply chain is now an oceanic disaster—a killing machine contributing to the acidic seawater now threatening marine life.

Given the company’s location in majestic Puget Sound, it’s sad that CEO Howard Shultz is ignoring science to do business in a way that’s contributing to ocean acidity and causing the impending deaths of Pacific oysters, Coho salmon and Orca whales.

Did you know that Starbucks is a bigger purveyor of industrial dairy products than of coffee? Yes, the lattes sold by the chain make use of far more industrial milk than they do coffee beans, and people are waking up to this fact. Rocker Neil Young’s latest album, The Monsanto Years, features lyrics declaring: “Yeah, I want a cup of coffee but I don’t want a GMO; I like to start my day off without helping Monsanto.”

By switching to organic milk, Starbucks could show leadership and help shift the nation away from its dangerous reliance on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Click here to urge Howard Shultz to make the switch.

Acidifying Our Way to an Ocean Apocalypse

Something’s already horribly wrong with our oceans. In 2015, thousands of emaciated baby sea lions have washed up along the California coastline, and West Coast starfish are in a massive die-off.

The ongoing decrease in the pH of the Earth’s oceans, caused by the uptake of CO2 from the atmosphere, is what’s creating the ocean acidification that’s wreaking these kinds of havoc.

Leading ocean scientists agree that acidification is killing off the algae that provide 66 percent of the planet’s oxygen supply. Our acidic oceans (30 percent more so in the last 50 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) are making it hard for creatures like lobsters and oysters to form their shells.

The crustacean states of Maine (lobsters) and Washington (crab) have already initiated ocean acidification advisory boards.

What’s not being widely reported is the actual main source of the massive amounts of CO2 falling into the sea and causing acidification. Industrial agriculture, with meat and dairy enterprises the leading villains, releases more greenhouse gas emissions than Chevron, Exxon, and the transportation sector combined.

Will Starbucks take the high road and support the regenerative agriculture that works to sequester carbon back into the soil where it belongs? Otherwise, I have to ask: What will Starbucks shares be worth when all the fish are dead and our oxygen supply has been reduced by half? Let’s not wait to find out.

John W. Roulac|August 6, 2015


U.S. Army Corps of Engineers short $1.7 million for dredging

Other government entities reluctant to front the money.

Plans for the next dredging of the Lake Worth Inlet are in limbo because of a $1.7 million shortfall, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says.

The Corps has invited the town, Palm Beach County and the Port of Palm Beach to put up the $1.7 million so the project can happen in January as scheduled. The town and county have been talking about ways to help but, so far, neither has put up the money. The major hurdle appears to be the Corps’ position that it cannot guarantee the aid would be returned.

The port relies on periodic dredging off the inlet to protect the flow of vessels and commerce. The town has an agreement with the Corps to have the dredged sand placed on its northern shoreline to help combat erosion caused by the inlet jetties.

The Corps, which maintains the inlet shipping channel, says is has $3.8 million of the $5.5 million needed to dredge the channel and a nearby sand-settling basin.

An emergency dredging in March exceeded the budget when they brought up 100,000 cubic yards of sand instead of the 40,000 anticipated, said Tim Murphy, deputy district engineer for programs and project management for the Corps’ Jacksonville district. The Corps is seeking federal funds to cover the shortfall but so far has not found them, Murphy said.

At a June meeting between representatives of the Corps, the town, the port and the county, the Corps said it needs the $1.7 million before it can legally solicit bids from contractors to do the dredge work. It said the $1.7 million would be placed in a reserve account, and it’s likely it would be reimbursed within the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, 2016.

But it’s possible the Corps might not find the money for the reimbursement, Murphy said.

“We are always looking for money, but there are no guarantees,” he said in an interview.

‘This is a Corps obligation’

Mayor Gail Coniglio said the town is hesitant to hand over such a large sum without a legal agreement binding the Corps to return it.

“I feel this is the Corps’ responsibility,” she said. “This is a Corps obligation, to keep the port navigable.”

The port is the primary beneficiary of the dredgings, and the town and county are secondary beneficiaries because of the placement of the dredged sand on the beach, she said.

In a July 23 email to Coniglio, County Administrator Robert Weisman wrote that the county doesn’t have money available to earmark for the dredging. He suggested the town advance the $1.7 million to the Corps out of $2.4 million in Tourism Development Council proceeds that the county had already pledged to the town to help pay for the $16.9 million renourishment of Reach 7, including Phipps Ocean Park, next winter.

If the $1.7 million is reimbursed, it could then be applied to the Reach 7 project, Weisman wrote.

But if it isn’t, then the town will have lost a significant chunk of aid for Reach 7. Coniglio said that’s a risk she doesn’t want to take.

“This ($2.4 million) is not a gift from the county,” she said. “This is an obligated source of money directed to be part of the Reach 7 renourishment, as part of a countywide coastal restoration effort.”

William Kelly|Staff Writer|Daily News

DEP faces future legal battle over seawalls that interfere with turtle nesting

Four conservation groups notified the state Department of Environmental Protection on Thursday that they intend to sue over its permitting of seawalls that block sea turtles from nesting on Florida beaches.

The agency has already been under fire from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over its permitting because all sea turtles are legally protected species.

The notice, filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, the Florida Wildlife Foundation and the Surfrider Foundation, contends the DEP is violating federal law by handing out seawall permits in nesting territory with no regard for the turtles. Earthjustice is representing the groups.

“The state of Florida is recklessly permitting seawalls that destroy Florida’s beautiful beaches, harm sea turtles and do nothing to protect Florida from rising seas,” said Jaclyn Lopez of the Center for Biological Diversity.

She expressed hope that negotiating with the groups for a resolution might provide an “opportunity for Gov. Scott to take sea level rise seriously and work with scientists to come up with a comprehensive plan to protect Florida’s environment and economy.”

But the barrier island specifically mentioned in the lawsuit, Singer Island in Palm Beach County, has suffered major beach erosion that in some cases threatens the stability of expensive condos.

Geologists call barrier islands “dynamic.” They are constantly moving as they erode in one place and build back up in another. Singer Island’s beach has been losing about 15 feet a year since 2001, but the dunes where it might have built back are covered with concrete. Some condos were built near the shoreline even as older buildings nearby were obviously teetering on the edge of disaster.

Six years ago, state and federal politicians were pushing for a $30 million taxpayer-funded project to build 11 rock walls about 200 feet off Singer Island’s beach. Experts said the walls would only slow down the erosion, not stop it, while sea turtles would be blocked from nesting. In the end, county officials withdrew their application for a permit for the breakwater.

The Palm Beach County island, which protrudes farther into the Atlantic Ocean than any other part of Florida’s coastline, is one of the best places in the state for loggerhead, hawksbill and green sea turtles to lay their eggs. That’s why the DEP’s approval of new seawalls there has been such a concern for the federal agency in charge of protecting endangered species.

“Allowing additional seawall construction, especially if they are not constructed as far landward as technologically possible” could violate the Endangered Species Act’s rules against unauthorized killing, wounding or harassment of a protected animal, federal officials pointed out in a 2013 letter to the DEP.

Turtle conservation advocates have expressed fears that the DEP is allowing something similar to happen all around the state, creating a Great Wall of Florida.

Each permit the DEP issues for building seawalls, bulkheads and other beach structures contains a sentence that says it “will result in no significant adverse impacts to the beach/dune areas or to adjacent properties” and that it “is not expected to adversely impact nesting sea turtles, their hatchlings or their habitat.”

Agency officials say they coordinate permitting with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to ensure no harm ensues for the turtles.

Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared 685 miles of beaches around the South to be critical habitat for loggerhead turtles. Florida beaches account for about 300 of that 685 miles.

CRAIG PITTMAN|Staff Writer|Tampa Bay Times|August 6, 2015

[No one seems to be considering the fact that Florida’s substrate is porous limestone, which presents no barrier to water migration. A very deeply driven seawall could still allow sea water to pass under the bottom of the seawall and rise to the surface on the landward side of the seawall. Let us remember that water seeks its own level.]

Miami Beach residents say pumps are spilling trash, debris into Biscayne Bay

60 pumps installed to address city’s flooding issues

Miami Beach residents are concerned, claiming 60 pumps installed to help with flooding issues are dumping out into Biscayne Bay.

The pumps were installed as part of a five-year $300 million project to address the city’s  flooding issues.

“We’ve got manatees, dolphins and other marine life that’s living there, and if we’re having a negative impact on those waters it’s not only going to affect those creatures, but it’ll affect tourism, real estate values and other things,” Miami Beach resident Michael DeFilippi said.

Concerned residents said the dumping looks like oil sludge spewing into Biscayne Bay. Videos posted to a “Clean up Miami Beach” Facebook page are getting dozens of comments and being shared throughout social media. Many are asking the city to take a closer look at the pumps. 

“We just want to make sure this huge investment the city is making is done in an ecological way where we protect the environment, because if we don’t protect these waters in our environment, what do we have?” DeFilippi said.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine released a statement to residents, saying the only items they’ve noticed coming out of the outfall are small leaves, shreds of leaves and a few small plastic bags.

The mayor also claims the city is doing daily inspections and has not seen any oil spilled into the water.

The city has hired an independent environmental firm to test the water. Those results should be available in the next few days.

Jenise Fernandez| Reporter|Aug 06 2015

Wildlife and Habitat

6 wildlife to spot in Argentina

Introducing some of the best and strangest of Argentina’s creatures, great and small, you could expect to see on a visit to this South American country

1. Southern Elephant Seal

Mirouanga leonina

Standing on a beach beside a bull Southern Elephant Seal and his harem is an unforgettable experience. Males are around five metres in length and hit the scales at four tons. Females are much smaller; even so, they can still be twice the length (and ten times the weight) of their human observer. The harem is all about possession; the larger the group of females, the greater the male’s standing – and the wider his genes will spread. Should a rival male arrive, intent on stealing one or more females, the ‘beachmaster’ bull roars loudly at the interloper, inflating his elephantine muzzle and deploying it as a resonating chamber. Should vocal posturing not succeed as a deterrent, the dominant bull will hump like a cumbersome, gargantuan caterpillar to confront its rival. Should the aggressor still refuse to back down, the quarrel may turn bloodily visceral until one party retires, defeated.

Spotting tip: visit traditional breeding beaches on the Valdés Peninsula during September–November. From a respectful distance, spend several hours watching behaviours as diverse as nursing pups, mating and fighting.

2. Guanaco

Lama guanicoe

Standing well over a metre high, this relative of the camel is South America’s tallest mammal. It is stockier than the Vicuña (Vicugna vicugna), with a longer, thicker neck, and has a horizontal rather than rounded back. The Guanaco is more a creature of open plains than the Vicuña, and, whilst inhabiting the Andes from Tierra del Fuego northwards into Peru, rarely has the same head for altitude as its more delicate relative. The Guanaco was domesticated several thousand years ago, and, through hundreds of generations of selective breeding, its descendants evolved into what we now know as the Llama (Lama glauca) and probably the Alpaca (Lama pacos). Historically Guanaco populations have suffered from hunting, and still number less than 10% of their original level. Argentina forms the species’ stronghold today – but even here, it is common only in Patagonia, and has been lost from both the Chaco and the Pampas.

Spotting tip: a typical first sight of a Guanaco is of long neck and erect ears protruding above breast-high vegetation. Where there is one, there are typically others, for Guanaco travel in small herds.

3. Patagonian Mara

Dolichotis patagonum

There is no stranger Argentine mammal than the Mara. A relative of guinea pigs, the Mara’s appearance recalls hare and deer in equal measure. Stocky-bodied creatures, Mara typically amble while grazing. But they also hop like a rabbit, sprint like a hare, and even bounce on all fours like an antelope. There are two species of Mara, but visitors to the country typically only come across the Patagonian Mara, which occurs only in Argentina but is comparatively common on the Valdés Peninsula. Social structures are tight-knit, with pairs mating for life and colonies of up to 70 individuals having an inbuilt system of communal care for youngsters. Males serve as sentries, typically sitting alert at the edge of a grazing group, scanning the surroundings for predators such as foxes. A combination of habitat degradation, competition from non-native herbivores such as sheep and some hunting means that the Patagonian Mara is on conservationists’ ‘watchlist’.

Spotting tip: occurs in Patagonia’s sparsely vegetated terrain, particularly on the Valdés Peninsula. A telltale sign – easily seen even when driving – is large piles of earth outside entrances to the colonial burrow.

4. Strange-tailed Tyrant

Alectrurus risora

Bouncing above the grassland in exuberant display flight is a black-and-white bird which has spread two excessively long tail feathers and is whipping them up and down. This male Strange-tailed Tyrant, an undeniably well-named flycatcher is defending a territory housing the nests of up to three mates. The ‘Strange-tail’ has become a charismatic figurehead for the conservation of South America’s natural grasslands. This striking bird is now cramped into but a tiny fraction of its original range, the contraction resulting from the rampant spread of intensive agriculture. Perhaps as few as 10,000 birds may remain in northern Argentina and southern Paraguay. Unsurprisingly, the Strange-tailed Tyrant is classified as globally threatened with extinction. Yet there is hope. Conservation bodies such as Aves Argentinas (BirdLife International in Argentina) have demonstrated that sensitively managed cattle-ranching, intertwining the fates of gaucho cowboy and tyrant, can benefit both beef production and biodiversity alike. 

Spotting tip: in tall damp grassland of the humid Chaco or the Iberá marshes, tyrants perch prominently by the roadside. The species is gregarious, so where you find one, you should see others.

5. Magellanic Woodpecker

Campephilus magellanicus

Ta-dap! A loud, abrupt double drum betrays the presence of South America’s largest and most stunning woodpecker. Magellanic Woodpeckers inhabit old-growth, moss-laden temperate beech forest throughout Andean Patagonia and onto Tierra del Fuego. The far-carrying double drum is both a territorial marker and a means for family members to locate one another. Pairs, sometimes accompanied by one or two offspring, travel widely through their large home range. While not uncommon, this low density can make Magellanic Woodpeckers tricky to track down. Once located, however, they are typically confiding – oblivious to the attentions of their human admirer. Even bigger than the Green Woodpecker that frequents many British parks and gardens, the Magellanic Woodpecker is an elegant black-and-white creature. Both sexes have yellow, staring eyes; the male has a straight flame of a crest, whereas the female has a curly sooty quiff.

Spotting tip: upon hearing a loud double drum in Patagonian beechwoods, grab a stone lying on the ground and imitate the sound on a tree trunk. With luck, a Magellanic Woodpecker will come and investigate.

6. Magellanic Penguin

Spheniscus magellanicus

Named in honour of the Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, the Magellanic Penguin is one of a quartet of very similar-looking penguin species that occur in Africa and South America. Collectively known as ‘jackass penguins’ – on account of their braying, donkey-like display call – the four species share traits such as black bands on their underparts, un-feathered skin around their eyes and hefty black bills. The Magellanic Penguin breeds in large colonies around the coast of Argentina, Chile and the Falkland Islands. There may be as many as 20 nests – all in burrows – per 100 square metres. Typically tame, these penguins allow close approach; to sit amidst a breeding congregation of several hundred thousand birds is an experience like no other. After a winter at sea, males return to the breeding colony first, reclaim their burrow from the previous year. The female returns later – and listens for the call of her lifelong partner.

Spotting tip: on the Valdés Peninsula, road signs advertise the presence of breeding colonies that are open to visitors. Alternatively, head further south to Punta Tombo to witness the largest gathering of all.

From Wildlife Extra

Legal Victory Forces Killing Program Into Spotlight

They can run but they can’t hide.

That’s the message a federal appeals court sent this week to the U.S. Department of Agriculture regarding their rogue wildlife-killing program, euphemistically called Wildlife Services. 

For decades, the agency has killed millions of animals every year. They gun down wolves from helicopters and airplanes. They bait coyotes with horrific poisons. They use inhumane kill traps on cougars, bobcats and other carnivores. 

And in the face of increasing public outrage they’ve tried to continue to operate in the shadows, hiding behind arcane procedure, clouding the facts, and denying the public the opportunity to see their true nature. 

On Monday that changed in a big way when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco issued a ruling that is an important victory for wildlife, fairness and due process. The ruling comes in response to a WildEarth Guardians’ lawsuit that seeks to shine a national spotlight on the killing program and force the program to adopt and follow new science and ethics that underscore the importance and value of native carnivores. 

The opinion stands for the ideal that citizens—you, I, and Guardians—have the right to challenge the killing program and that the program can’t hide behind the cynical argument that states, like Nevada, would step in and kill the animals if the feds didn’t. That means we have legal “standing” to challenge the program’s horribly outdated and largely disproved science from the 1970’s and 80’s. 

The ruling is a significant victory not just in Nevada where we brought the case, but across the nation. We can now move forward with our Nevada case that challenges the program’s cruel killing activities, and our ongoing lawsuits in Idaho and Washington will move forward too. 

As more and more people learn about the inhumane and biologically unsound practices of Wildlife Services, public outrage grows and the likelihood that the program can continue without oversight diminishes. 

Our campaign and the work of this lawsuit are by no means complete. Together we must call on Wildlife Services to immediately conduct a nationwide environmental review of all of its barbaric killing programs. We need to win in the public arena as well as in the courts.

Today, we will celebrate the victory. Tomorrow, the work continues.  We will not stop until the killing is stopped and our tax dollars no longer fund these cruel killing programs. 

We started our campaign to end the war on wildlife over a decade ago and you can count on us to stay in the fight to realize our joint vision for compassion and coexistence with our nation’s native wildlife. 

Thank you for making this victory possible, we could not do it without you.

John Horning|Executive Director|WildEarth Guardians

Wildfires burn into Forest Service budget

Agency forced to tap prevention program funds

Costs to battle massive, explosive wildfires have decimated the U.S. Forest Service’s budget, a report released Wednesday shows.

For the first time in its 110year history, the Forest Service said it spends more than 50 percent of its annual budget on firefighting, at the expense of other programs to prevent the infernos.

Just 20 years ago, firefighting made up 16 percent of the annual budget for the Forest Service, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“This is a five-alarm fire,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “You’re no longer the Forest Service — you’re a fire department.”

The report comes as dozens of blazes scorch the parched West in one of the worst fire seasons in the nation’s history, with the typical heart of the wildfire season still to come in bone-dry California.

Nearly 6 million acres have been charred this year, mostly in the western U.S. and Alaska, the National Interagency Fire Center said. That’s an area about the size of New Jersey, about 2 million acres above average for this time of year.

‘TIPPING POINT’ Because of the firefighting costs, the Forest Service has been forced to tap other funds, such as forest-thinning projects, to keep up with the massive blazes.

“The agency is at a tipping point,” the Forest Service said in the report, adding its annual budget today is nearly half a billion dollars less than in 1995 when adjusted for inflation.

“To solve this problem, we must change the way we pay for wildfire,” the Forest Service said. “Instead of treating catastrophic wildfires as a normal agency expense, we must treat them more like other natural disasters, such as tornadoes or hurricanes.”

The report’s release comes as the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act makes it way through Congress and is mirrored by a similar proposal in President Barack Obama’s 2016 budget, the Forest Service said.

The plans would provide a fiscally responsible way to treat wildfires more like other natural disasters, end transferring money from other programs to battle the blazes and partially replenish the capacity to restore resilient forests and protect against future fires, the agency said.

FIRE SEASONS WORSEN

“Climate change and other factors largely beyond our control are causing the cost of fighting fires to rise every year,” Vilsack said, “but the way we fund our Forest Service, which we can control, hasn’t changed in generations.”

“It’s time for Congress to get serious about the budget,” he added, saying the service owes it to the 70,000 communities at risk from wildfire in the U.S.

Wildfires have only worsened in the past couple decades. The six worst fire seasons since 1960 have all occurred since 2000, the report said. Since 2000, many western states have also experienced the largest wildfires in their state’s history.

Fire seasons are now 78 days longer than they were in the 1970s, the report said.

“It’s a distressing trend,” said lead economist and climate policy manager Rachel Cletus of the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental group that issued a similar report last year but was not involved in the Forest Service report. “The trend is not going away and its getting worse, due to climate change and growing development near fire-prone areas.”

Doyle Rice|USA TODAY

Kentucky Prison Opposed Over Threats to Wildlife, Water, People

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Human Rights Defense Center are urging state officials in Kentucky to oppose a planned maximum-security prison in Letcher County. If it’s built it could subject surrounding communities to the prison’s wastewater discharges and likely expose prisoners to contaminated water. The prison would also destroy about 700 acres of wildlife habitat, including for two federally endangered bats as well as the eastern hellbender, Kentucky red-backed vole and sharp-shinned hawk.

“Kentucky’s leaders need to take a stand to protect forests, waterways and wildlife from this sprawling new prison,” said the Center’s Lori Ann Burd. “These endangered bats give us crucial ecosystem services by controlling insects, and this project could destroy the little habitat they have left.”

We’re calling on the Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Fish and Wildlife to oppose the federal Bureau of Prison’s plan for the project.

Read more in our press release and in The Atlantic.

Proposed Dam Will Destroy Over 10,000 Years of History

Ancient historical sites will be utterly destroyed along with thousands of homes and jobs due to the location of a new dam. The Ilisu Dam construction, which is set to complete by the end of 2015, is one of the most controversial dam projects. The Ilisu Dam project must be stopped to allow the people in the region to continue living peacefully and to preserve the history of the area.

Since much of the area has yet to be explored–many potential historical sights are still undiscovered. If the dam is successfully completed, dam water will drown the ancient town of Hasankeyf and all hope to discover new historical sights in the area will be gone.

The government of Turkey is seeking to implement the dam project to generate more energy for the area. Although energy concerns for the area were considered in the project planning, human rights and environmental conservation of the area were not equally considered. This puts an unfair burden on the people who will need to be evacuated from the area.

Mari Motsenbocker|8/8/15

The Double Market: How Legal Trophy Hunting Makes Poaching Worse

The killing of Cecil the lion by dentist Walter Palmer reveals just how far some sport hunters will go to satisfy their desire to kill an animal. It also provides an opportunity for the United States, Zimbabwe and other countries to re-evaluate the strength of laws intended to prevent such vile acts.

Unfortunately, some hunting organizations are using this event to argue that hunting of African lions and other animals can be a “useful conservation tool.” In their view, regulated hunting provides money to African governments for use on conservation projects. Unfortunately, this claim overlooks a simple fact: While legal sport hunting raises money in the short-term, it has not been shown to improve the overall survivability of the species in the wild.

The fact is, sport hunting creates a dual market for many threatened or endangered species, such as African elephants, lions and rhinos. A dual market occurs when both legal and illegal trade of a species exists. While it is generally illegal to kill or harm critically endangered African wildlife, exceptions are made for sport hunters. But it is naïve to believe that these two markets don’t interact to the detriment of endangered species. 

A dual market tends to reduce the stigma associated with the killing of endangered animals. For example, authorizing killing and export of sport hunted lions under the guise of “conservation” can falsely suggest that lion populations are recovering. At the same time, it reinforces the belief that lion parts as trophies and other uses should be highly desired.

A dual market can also directly undermine attempts to stop poaching by creating opportunities to “launder” illegally killed animals. “Laundering” is the act of bringing illegal goods to legal markets through transactional schemes aimed to conceal the identity, source, and destination of illicitly obtained items. Laundering is most often associated with stolen objects, such as money, guns, art and antiquities. Poached animals and their parts can also be laundered by identifying them as products of legal sport hunting. Even in the age of advanced crime fighting technology, it remains difficult — if not impossible — for law enforcement to distinguish between a legally killed and an illegally killed animal once it is in the market.

The problem with dual markets in protecting African wildlife is not speculation. Studies and field observations show that an increase in the number of legally killed animals is directly correlated to an increase in demand for that species and, thus, poaching. Therefore, it is impractical to assume that certain species are “managed” through the legal market because sport hunting inevitably creates a dual market. This is impossible to regulate. Realistically, even if all of the money from hunting actually goes to conservation efforts, the conservation efforts will be thwarted by the expansion of illegal trade in the black market. Furthermore, the recent rise in poaching in Africa suggests that hunting has done little to reduce poaching and protect the overall viability of certain species.

For nearly a decade, the advocacy group Friends of Animals has sought to raise awareness of the effects a dual market has on wildlife conservation. Today, agencies like the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service have acknowledged the problem, but have so far failed to consider changes to trophy importation laws. It is time for the United States, and other member countries of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, including Zimbabwe, to examine the myth of sport hunting and wildlife conservation.

Michael Harris|Director|Wildlife Law Center for Friends of Animals

Forestry

Deforestation in Peru

To reach the indigenous village of Puerto Luz in the Amazon rain forest of southern Peru, the first step is to get to the city of Puerto Maldonado, capital of the province of Madre de Dios. The next step is a three-hour drive on the Interoceanic Highway to the banks of the latte-colored Tambopata River.

“The sun is much stronger than it was 20 years ago. Now it burns our skin, we get headaches at night, get sick. Everything is smaller—fishes, birds.”

Andrés Moqui
Village President, Puerto Luz

Then comes a ride in a long, narrow water taxi, followed by a two-hour drive that includes a fording of the Rio Pukiri that leaves the vehicle’s footwells wet. In the apocalyptic mining town of Delta 1, motorcycle taxis wait to cover the final 30-minute leg through the jungle. The trail leads over ramshackle boardwalks; near the end, it winds through a virtual motocross course of house-sized mounds of dirt and rocks left behind by illegal gold mines.

  • In Puerto Luz, homes built of bare boards cluster in the midst of leafy, standing forest. Village president Andrés Moqui sits on a plastic chair and tells how the community’s 600 residents, members of the Harakmbut ethnic group, are finding themselves on the front lines of climate change.

The sun is much stronger than it was 20 years ago, he says. “Now it burns our skin, we get headaches at night, get sick.” The forest is different, too. Fruits are ripening and rotting faster, and the animals the villagers hunt in the surrounding Amarakaeri Communal Reserve are often full of worms. “Everything is smaller—fishes, birds,” says Moqui, who attributes the alterations to climate change. “It affects us greatly.”

A Green Stronghold

Peru holds the 10th-most-forested area of any country in the world; over half the country—some 260,000 square miles—is covered in trees. Only Brazil holds a larger area of Amazonian tropical forest. This helps make Peru one of the 10 most biodiverse countries in the world, with over 330,000 people who depend directly on the country’s forests for their livelihoods, and countless more who depend on the numerous product and ecosystem services those forests provide.

Slash and burn agriculture Peru

© Nicolas Villaume

At the edge of the Interoceanic Highway, slash-and-burn agriculture fractures forest ecosystems and eats away at their ability to provide.

At the same time, the Amazon has just been listed by WWF as a top deforestation front—one of the 11 regions expected to have more deforestation and forest degradation than anywhere else by 2030. In the Peruvian Amazon, the main culprits of deforestation are small-scale agriculture, commercial mining and related road construction; forest degradation is cause primarily by illegal logging. Roughly 1,100 square miles of Peru’s forests are cut down every year—around 80% of them illegally. This forest loss hurts much more than the trees and Peru’s amazing wildlife; it also accounts for nearly half of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. (Worldwide, deforestation and degradation are the largest source of CO2, after burning fossil fuels.)

The situation could be worse; many countries have higher rates of forest loss. But, ironically, that could change as Peru enters a second decade of relative prosperity and political stability. In Madre de Dios, for example, the Interoceanic Highway—a $2.8 billion, 1,600-mile paved road from the coast of Peru to Brazil—was completed in 2011 and has opened access to once-isolated forest regions. People are streaming down from impoverished Andean provinces, and other areas in Peru, in search of work. Many end up mining gold, which can pay up to five times as much as farm labor but often leaves behind a barren moonscape in place of thriving forests.

In economies centered on natural resource extraction, such boom times often mean growing environmental threats. But the finances provided by that development can also open up greater conservation opportunities. That’s absolutely the case in Peru.

“When it comes to forests and their effect on global climate,” says Patricia León-Melgar, who leads both WWF’s Peru office and the WWF Network’s forests and climate initiative, “the question is how to ride the wave in a sustainable way—how to enjoy the economic benefits without sacrificing social and ecological values.” From remote villages to businesses to the highest levels of governments, efforts are underway to do just that.

Home and Hearth

At ground level, indigenous communities throughout the Madre de Dios region and the rest of the Amazon are taking a customized approach to a global initiative called “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation,” or REDD+. The “+” expands the program’s scope to include conservation and sustainable management of forests, as well as an increase in the forests’ carbon storage capacity.

Fermín Chimatani Tayori, the Puerto Luz resident who is leading his community’s REDD+ effort and serves as president of the Amarakaeri reserve, sits on a porch as the rain points on the corrugated metal roofs of the village. Residents of the village were concerned about some elements of the standard REDD+ approach, he says, even as they agreed with its overall goal. So, in a joint effort with indigenous groups throughout the Amazon, they designed and proposed a new twist on it called Amazon Indigenous REDD+.

All REDD+ programs require the monitoring and measuring of carbon emissions from changes in the forest, in part so that progress can be compensated financially, but also to learn what conservation strategies are most effective. Indigenous communities in the Amazon take this one step further, as they also want to monitor and measure what is most important to them—things like changes in biodiversity and the spiritual elements of nature. Their approach to doing so is spelled out in a “life plan,” which provides conservation planning (as is required by REDD+) and more, such as how to manage tourism and the logging undertaken for subsistence reasons.

Their REDD+ activities also place particular emphasis on securing land rights and tenure. It’s a necessary addition: land rights, or the lack thereof, is a pervasive issue in the Peruvian Amazon, where the management and ownership of large swaths of territory are unclear at best. In Peru, indigenous communities have the legal right to manage approximately 27 million acres, which represents almost 16% of the country’s forested land. But they are managing another 24 million acres of forest land, too, even though it is technically unclear is they have the right to do so. They have formally asked the Peruvian government for legal authority to manage that land and are awaiting a response.

Most forest land in Peru is owned by the national government, which grants permission—often in the form of concessions—to applicants for temporary harvest of certain tracts of land. But indigenous communities, like the one where Tayori lives, want the land to be recognized as their own, permanently, in acknowledgment of their long-term use and stewardship.

“It’s our own proposal to show that we indigenous people are preserving the land,” Tayori says as the downpour grows stronger. “Its’ not just carbon-related. It included preserving clean water, wildlife, everything that lives in the forest. It also makes it clear to the world that we, this community, own this land.”

He explains that his village and other indigenous communities are motivated to do everything they can to keep their trees standing and their forests thriving. The World Bank’s Forest Investment Program has dedicated US $50 million to Peru’s indigenous communities, and the funding they receive for reducing carbon emissions is used to create and implement those life plans. WWF, a longtime advocate for indigenous rights, is responsible for administering these grants.

At a lumber mill near Puerto Maldonado, saws the size of kiddie pools fill the air with sawdust and the sour tang of fresh-cut wood. Clawed tractors stack tree trucks cut from the surrounding forests into huge piles.

The mill is owned by the Maderacre Group, which manages nearly 850 square miles of tropical forest, the largest such concession in Peru. Last year, these blades chewed through 40,000 cubic meters of wood from six species of trees. Counterintuitively, this is a good thing.

Maderacre’s focus is the responsible use of forest resources, says industrial manager Andrea del Pozo, and the company was the first in Peru to participate in a REDD+ project.

“It used to be that I didn’t think responsible forest management would be feasible in the long run. With REDD+, [I believe] that combining healthy forests with a healthy business model could work in the long haul.”

Andrea del Pozo
Industrial Manager, Maderacre

“When I first saw REDD+ as a concept 10 years ago, I said: ‘That is it.’ It used to be that I didn’t think responsible forest management would be feasible in the long run.” With REDD+, he says, he believes that combining healthy forests with a healthy business model can work over the long haul.

Maderacre already had a head start on the environmental aspects of REDD+: the business has been committed to responsible forestry through the Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN) since 2008. And WWF helped the company earn Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, which is given only to companies that meet global standards for managing their forests responsibly. This was a big step toward meeting the safeguards expected under REDD+. Meeting those standards also requires Maderacre to maintain good relations with the residents of the 600-square-mile buffer zone around the forest concession, del Pozo says, because social responsibility is an important component of responsible forestry.

Maderacre offers its employees full labor rights as well as insurance, room and board, and productivity bonuses. In fact, del Pozo says, Madre de Dios as a whole is known for having the best working conditions in Peru’s forest industry. This draws labor from as far as Iquitos, 700 miles north.

The long-range view reflects the company’s policy toward forest management, says Abraham Cardozo, who founded Maderacre with his brother in 2002. When they were looking to sell the company in 2011, they didn’t simply go with the highest offer. “We weren’t just selling Maderacre the business,” he says. Instead they went with a buyer who understood the local and global importance of keeping healthy forest ecosystems intact.

This was a particularly significant choice on their part; unfortunately, illegal logs are usually less expensive to buy (and produce) than are legally harvested logs. The global illegal timber trade, which is valued by the United Nations at between $30 billion and $100 billion annually, lowers the market price of timber, creating an uneven playing field for companies that follow the law. In the US, for example, the wood products industry loses as much as $1 billion annually to illegal logging. That pervasive problem is why WWF is working to make clear to consumers, producers, loggers and loyal communities that while these lower prices seem good in the short term, the long-term impact is negative, both for the environment and for the economic life of communities.

In the future, Maderacre hopes to sell more to the international market, which will offer more access to a growing pool of buyers that seek legal and responsible wood.

“Of course the goal is to be profitable,” del Pozo says. “But being sustainable makes us profitable.”

On the Rise

In the office in Lima, far from the forests and mills of Madre de Dios, Gustavo Suárez de Freitas directs the forest conservation and climate change programs of Peru’s Ministry of the Environment. He points to a graph on the wall showing acres of trees cut in Peru per year. “The fact is that deforestation is increasing,” he says. And indeed, the columns representing deforestation rates rise steadily from left to right. “Right now we have a lot of regulations that are totally impossible to fulfill.”

Part of the reason is that the ministry itself was only created in 2009. Another is the high rate of turnover in government positions at all levels—local, regional and national. Like Tayori, Suárez de Freitas says that the lack of land tenure also is a major stumbling block. “In parts of the country we have areas with no authority and no ownership. And if land is [effectively] free, small-scale agriculture operations pop up almost overnight.”

The Language of Forest Loss

Deforestation

Conversion of forest to another land use or the significant long-term reduction of tree canopy cover. This includes conversion of natural forest to tree plantations, agriculture, pasture, water reservoirs and urban areas; it excludes logging areas where the forest is managed to regenerate naturally or with the aid of silvicultral measures.

Forest Degradation

Changes within forests that negatively affect the structure or function of the stand or site over many decades, and thereby lower forest capacity to supply products and/or ecosystem services.

It starts as “lots of small dots,” Suárez de Freitas says, even in isolated places like Madre de Dios. “But then, over time, more dots appear and then they connect.” Farmers move in, cut down trees, plant crops like coffee or cacao, and then move on when the soil is depleted.

Still, a lot of progress has been made on the forest conservation front. Some of Peru’s most biologically and economically important protected areas have been created in the last 15 years, and a new national forest law was approved in 2011. And significant progress has been made toward creating the regulations needed to enforce the law. But there’s still more work to be done, and with WWF’s support, the national government is working hard on several new initiatives.

One is the National Pact for Legal Wood, signed in December 2014 by five Peruvian government agencies and several indigenous federations, private sector companies and nonprofits, including WWF. Signatories had agreed to create a plan to promote legal timber and eradicate illegal logging in Peru by 2021.

“This type of cooperation across government agencies and with the private sector has not happened before in Peru,” says Fabiola Muñoz-Dodero, director of the national forest agency, known as SERFOR. “But the political will is there now and we need to strike while the iron is hot—and before the next change of government in 2016.” To help bring the pact to life, WWF has directed money from its innovation fund to support the process, including clearly defining specific commitments and targets for each of the pact’s signatories.

Also new is an initiative to create a fund that can be used to secure the country’s protected areas in perpetuity. This initiative—led by the Peruvian park service with support from WWF and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation—is modeled after the successful ARPA for Life project in neighboring Brazil.

Finally, Suárez de Freitas’ ministry is working on a national strategy for forests and climate change. That effort, galvanized in part by Peru’s role hosting the last global climate change conference in Lima, will focus primarily on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. It also will clarify who has the right to manage what land, especially within indigenous communities like Puerto Luz. To do this, the ministry’s plan is to develop maps that designate land ownership, engage regional governments more actively in mapping the land within their jurisdiction, and more quickly review and approve proposals from indigenous communities to manage that land (currently, there are proposals that, if approved, would grant them rights to manage another 12 million acres).

“We agree that we need to reduce by at least 50% the land area without rights by 2020,” offers Suárez de Freitas. He then admits, “it is a huge task.”

A Family Affair

Back east, just outside Puerto Maldonado, recent downpours have left the Tambopata River swollen and surging in the sunshine. Entire trees sweep past the riverbank where Victor Zambrano Gonzáles describes how he created K’erenda Homet, a 40-acre private nature reserve on the outskirts of the city.

After 24 years with the Peruvian Navy (including a stint in the Special Forces), Zambrano returned to his family’s land in 1986 to find it almost unrecognizable. Illegal cattle ranching had turned what was once primary forest into acidic, compacted soil covered with invasive grasses. “What I’d left behind no longer existed,” he says.

At a wiry 76 years old, Zambrano still practically vibrates with energy, which makes what he describes next easier to imagine. “I took the land by storm,” he says as he strides down a narrow path through dense tropical vegetation as a light shower begins to fall. Applying the mindset he learned in the Peruvian Special Forces to restoring the property, he uproots all the grass and planted legumes to add nitrogen to the soil. Then came pioneer plant species, and eventually trees: Zambrano claims his land has 20,000 of them in all, representing 120 species. The soil slowly recovered and wildlife started to return.

Inside the refuge office, he proudly shows a framed certificate that the minister of the environment presented to him in 2010. It recognizes K’erenda Homet as the first private conservation area in Madre de Dios. Over a dozen other reserves have followed, including three more just along this stretch of the river; today, they draw a steady trickle of visitors—and the income such tourism provides.

Climate change has definitely had an effect over the past decade, Zambrano says: extreme temperature swings; plants fruiting for six months instead of two. “We have to start doing things differently than how we’ve always been doing them,” he adds. He believes the government wants to encourage private conservation areas but doesn’t yet have the resources, so they leave it up to people like him.

Zambrano acknowledges that not everyone shares his vigor and determination. That’s why adults have to transfer their experience and knowledge to succeeding generations along with the land itself, he says.

In his case, that involves welcoming visitors to the reserve—and naming it after his daughter, who has helped him with the project since she was old enough to walk. When she turned 16, he transferred full ownership of the reserve to her.

“I am optimistic,” Zambrano says. “One hundred percent optimistic. I say proudly: ‘I am a conservationist, an environmentalist, but with my feet firmly planted on the ground.'”

Julian Smith & Jill Schwartz

Global Warming and Climate Change

The Power Is in the Plan

For anyone who cares about stopping climate disruption, yesterday was a big deal. Most of the news we read and watch about climate change is dark. Bleak, even. Depressing. Many of the tweets, posts and stories we see reveal the consequences of government and corporate leaders’ inaction on climate—in the form of more intense wildfires, droughts, extreme weather and more.

But there’s another story that rarely gets told. Our movement is growing. It is becoming more diverse and more powerful. Clean energy is becoming cheaper every month and is displacing dirty fuels at an increasing rate. All of this momentum is creating a positive feedback loop: As we become more effective at advocating for clean energy, the costs of solar, wind and energy storage are all plummeting. As clean energy gets cheaper, it becomes easier and easier to put fossil fuels in our rearview mirror.

Yesterday’s announcement by President Obama gives our movement a shot in the arm. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has at last issued its Clean Power Plan in final form. Until now, power plants faced no real limitation on how much carbon pollution they dumped into our atmosphere. For an administration with many significant climate achievements, this is the crown jewel.

The journey to get here started years ago, in the dark days of the Bush administration. Twelve states, three cities and an array of environmental groups (including the Sierra Club) brought suit to force the administrator of the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases as pollutants under the Clean Air Act. Eventually, on April 2, 2007, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, reversed an earlier judgment and found for the plaintiffs.

Now we reap the rewards of that legal victory. If the Clean Power Plan plays out as the EPA expects it to, the net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants by 2030 will be 30 percent or more below 2005 levels—a big step toward meeting our current international climate commitments.

The genius of the Clean Power Plan is that there really is no single plan. Instead the EPA has set individual goals for each state (except Vermont, which has no power plants that qualify for regulation; no wonder my friend Bill McKibben lives there). Each goal is calibrated for what that state can reasonably achieve in reductions through measures like retiring coal power, increasing energy efficiency and encouraging the growth of renewable energy. Yet it’s up to each state to determine how it actually will achieve its goal; the EPA will remain hands off unless the state does nothing at all.

To be honest, the EPA has been conservative in putting this plan together. Each state is being asked to reach an attainable goal that is not just possible, but surpassable—and every state will end up in a better place than where it started. Our economy will benefit and so will workers—provided that the federal government and the states ensure that training and funding mechanisms are in place to support workers and communities that previously depended on fossil fuels.

Important as it is, though, the Clean Power Plan is only a first step in the race to stop climate pollution from power plants. This plan, by itself, does not solve climate change. It doesn’t even reach the potential for carbon savings in the electric sector—we will meet and exceed this goal.

But there’s a saying among marathon runners that nothing affects your average speed like zero miles per hour. The Clean Power Plan officially gets this country moving on the path to a carbon-free economy; we can and almost certainly will pick up the pace later. In fact, polls consistently show that, across party lines, Americans strongly support cutting carbon pollution from power plants. And a just-released poll from NextGen Climate of voters in presidential election swing states found that 70 percent of voters had a favorable reaction to a goal of at least 50 percent clean energy by 2030.

And while cutting carbon emissions is definitely great news for our climate, it also has profound benefits for our health, the environment and consumers. The EPA estimates that by 2030, electricity costs under the Clean Power Plan will drop by 8 percent, owing to the greater efficiency of renewable energy. What’s more, creating this more-efficient system for power generation has the potential to create thousands of new jobs in construction, manufacturing and other sectors.

Meanwhile, the cleaner air that results from reducing our use of dirty fuels will save thousands of lives and enable millions of Americans to lead healthier, longer lives. Many of the people who will be helped the most are the ones who need it most. Power plants that emit carbon pollution and other toxic pollutants disproportionately harm nearby low-income communities and communities of color.

The real beauty of this plan is that it enables us to achieve all of these things simply by committing to do what we already know is achievable to reduce carbon pollution. That may not be the ultimate solution to climate disruption, but it certainly is a sensible place to start.

Michael Brune|August 4, 2015

World’s Glaciers Melting at Record Rate

The world’s glaciers are melting fast—probably faster than at any time in recorded history, according to new research.

Many glaciers in the European Alps could lose about 50 percent of their present surface area. Photo credit: TonnyB / Wikimedia Commons

Many glaciers in the European Alps could lose about 50 percent of their present surface area. Photo credit: TonnyB / Wikimedia Commons

Measurements show several hundred glaciers are losing between half and one meter of thickness every year—at least twice the average loss for the 20th century—and remote monitoring shows this rate of melting is far more widespread.

The World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS), based at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, has compiled worldwide data on glacier changes for more than 120 years.

Drawing on reports from its observers in more than 30 countries, it has published in the Journal of Glaciology a comprehensive analysis of global glacier changes.

Pictorial Sources

The study compares observations of the first decade of this century with all available earlier data from field, airborne and satellite observations and with reconstructions from pictorial and written sources.

Dr. Michael Zemp, director of WGMS and lead author of the study, says the current annual loss of 0.5-1 meter of ice thickness observed on “a few hundred glaciers” through direct measurement is two to three times more than the average for the last century.

“However, these results are qualitatively confirmed from field and satellite-based observations for tens of thousands of glaciers around the world,” he adds.

The WGMS compiles the results of worldwide glacier observations in annual calls-for-data. The current database contains more than 5,000 measurements of glacier volume and mass changes since 1850 and more than 42,000 front variations from observations and reconstructions stretching back to the 16th century.

Glaciers provide drinking water for millions of people, as well as irrigating crops and providing hydropower. When they melt, they also make a measurable contribution to sea level rise.

The researchers say the current rate of glacier melt is without precedent at the global scale—at least for the time period observed and probably also for recorded history, as reconstructions from written and illustrated documents attest.

Long-term Retreat

The study also shows that the long-term retreat of glacier tongues is a global phenomenon. Intermittent re-advance periods at regional and decadal scales are normally restricted to a smaller sample of glaciers and have not come close to achieving the Little Ice Age maximum positions reached between the 16th and 19th centuries.

Glacier tongues in Norway, for example, have retreated by some kilometers from their maximum extents in the 19th century. The intermittent re-advances of the 1990s were restricted to glaciers in coastal areas and to a few hundred meters.

The study shows that the intense ice loss of the last two decades has resulted in what it calls “a strong imbalance of glaciers in many regions of the world.” And Dr. Zemp warns: “These glaciers will suffer further ice loss, even if climate remains stable.”

He told Climate News Network: “Due to the strong ice loss over the past few decades, many glaciers are too big under current climatic conditions. They simply have not had enough time to react to the climatic changes of the past.

“So they will have to retreat further until they are in balance with climatic conditions again. In the European Alps, many glaciers would lose about 50 percent of their present surface area without further climate change.”

Alex Kirby|Climate News Network|August 5, 2015

Extreme Weather

Heat Index in Iran Hits 164 Degrees: Among Hottest Urban Temperatures Ever Endured by Mankind

In the Iranian city of Bandar Mahshahr—a city of more than 100,000 people atop the Persian Gulf—the heat index, reached an astonishing 73C (164F) on Friday afternoon, according to the Weather Channel.

Temperatures were so high, the city almost broke a world record, just a few degrees lower than the highest ever record heat index, which was recorded at 81C (178F) in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia on July 8, 2003.

The heat index, or “feels-like temperature,” combines air temperature with relative humidity, which soars during the summer due to the city’s proximity to water.

Weather experts say the country could be enduring some of the hottest urban temperature ever endured by mankind.

In Iraq, scorching heat levels of 50C have already paralyzed cities, with the government forced to call a four day public holiday.

Air temperatures continued to exceed 49C (120F) on Sunday—the eighth day in a row that such highs were recorded.

Residents have been urged to drink plenty of water and stay out the sun, with experts warning of a “heat dome” rampaging across the Middle East.

Chronic electricity and water cuts in the country and other conflict-ridden countries make heat waves like the present one even more unbearable—particularly for the more than 14 million people displaced by violence across the region.

Tierney Smith|TckTckTck|August 3, 2015

Genetically Modified Organisms

A group of concerned citizens can be powerful in the fight to hold reckless corporations accountable. Together, we have stood up to some of the worst offenders: General Mills, Hershey, Starbucks, and Monsanto. That’s why I urge you to take action today with our allies at Food & Water Watch who, like Green America, strive for a more healthy and just world.

GMO apples are not on the market yet, and we don’t want them to ever be! Ask McDonald’s, Starbucks, Wendy’s, Subway, and Burger King to pledge not to buy or sell GMO apples. These fast food chains have the opportunity to protect farmers, consumers, and the planet, and keep genetically engineered apples out of the market.

Nicole McCann|Food Campaigns Director|Green America

Ban on neonicotinoid seed treatments has not affected rapeseed crop yields

The ban on neonicotinoids has been good news for our bee populations

ADAS, the UK’s largest independent agricultural consultancy, has confirmed the first harvest results of winter oilseed rape planted without neonicotinoid seed treatments have come in, and the crop has been better than usual – yields are higher than the 10-year average.

The report says that with 15 per cent of the oilseed rape harvested, yields are between 3.5 and 3.7 tons/ha, higher than the normal farm average of 3.4.

According to the charity Buglife, this makes a nonsense of the Government’s recent controversial decision to allow the banned bee-killing agrotoxins to be used in four eastern counties as an ‘emergency’ measure.

Particularly concerning to conservationists is the fact that most of the harvest data comes from eastern England where 40 per cent of the crop has already been brought in.

Matt Shardlow, Buglife’s CEO says: “This is further evidence that neonicotinoids are not essential to maintaining crop yields.

“While some farmers struggled to establish their oilseed rape crop because the weather last year was ideal for flea beetles, where they have persisted the results have been good.

“We seem to have forgotten that bees and other pollinators are essential to good crop yields, in the trade off this year pollinators may have had a bigger positive effect than any negative impact of flea beetles.”

Buglife is calling on the UK Government to reconsider its decision to allow the use of banned bee toxins now that it is clear that there is no ‘emergency’ and indeed that bees have helped farmers bring in a bumper crop.

 

Energy

Alpha Natural Resources files for bankruptcy.

Yesterday, the coal company that operates the mountaintop removal sites nearest to Coal River Mountain Watch filed for bankruptcy. A variety of articles tell the story, such as the ones here, here and here. Alpha’s press release states that “The Company will promptly seek the necessary immediate relief from the Bankruptcy Court that will allow normal business operations to continue uninterrupted while in Chapter 11, with coal being mined, customer commitments honored, and wages and benefits for Alpha’s affiliated employees paid.”

This means that Alpha will continue to use mountaintop removal methods to maximize extraction while minimizing labor costs, even while they claim to have stopped using mountaintop removal. From active sites such as the Edwight site above our office and new applications such as the Long Ridge #1 site on Coal River Mountain, the blasting dust coating our communities and lungs will continue to threaten our health.

While we would like to see Alpha operate responsibly, stop mountaintop removal, and put their employees to work repairing their damage, it is more likely that they will seek to shed their obligations. We hope that they will not do as Patriot Coal did in their recent second bankruptcy, paying executives fat bonuses while trying to cancel the retirement benefits that miners worked f