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Of Interest to All

How Eagles Deal with Turbulence Could Save Airline Passengers’ Lives

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Russell Schilling|November 4th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My other children, the orphan gorillas of Virunga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vibeke Venema|BBC World Service

Column: Americans love Keystone pipeline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, question answered.

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

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

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

But about the pipeline.

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

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

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

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

We’d all be incredibly impressed. Honest.

GAIL COLLINS|NY Times Syndication|November 10, 2014

Slow down as manatees start their swim to warmer waters

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips on how to spot manatees:

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

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

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

Troubled Waters in the Arctic Ocean

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

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

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

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

From the Audubon Advisory, November 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anastasia Pantsios|November 14, 2014

Calls to Action

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

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

  4. Save Borneo’s Pygmy Elephants – here

  5. Stop an Investment Firm from Destroying Rainforests – here

Birds and Butterflies

Dirty Legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The title of my Outside piece is “The High Cost of Oil.” It’s a price we might all pay, if the tar sands are fully developed and our climate faces the consequences. But for now, the First Nations of northern Alberta are covering the costs for the rest of us.

See the video, “Paying the Price”

See the videoTar Sands Dirty Legacy”

Ted Genoways|3 days 4 hours ago

Secret Lives of Hummingbirds Revealed by Scientists

We’ve learned a lot about some of the tiniest birds in the world: they have incredibly fast wings, they steal spiderwebs to build nests, they are the only birds capable of sustained hovering that can beat machines, and they have adapted to detect sweetness. Even still, there are a lot of questions about hummingbirds that are slowly being answered, thanks to the efforts of master bird banders who tag and track them.

“We’re learning a lot about hummingbirds through banding we never would have learned otherwise,” said Bruce Peterjohn, chief of the bird banding laboratory for the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Md., told the Associated Press.

Hummingbird bands are only issued to banders who have been specially trained on capturing and banding techniques. According to the USGS, unlike other bird bands, hummingbird bands must be cut to the appropriate sizes and formed by the bander, which requires specialized knowledge, skills and equipment that’s not required for other types of bird banding. They also need state and federal permits to capture hummingbirds, who are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

It’s not hard to see why specialized training is needed – the bands typically measure 1.27-1.52 mm in diameter and 1.6 mm high, with some so tiny they can fit perfectly on a safety pin.

According to Peterjohn, even though the number has grown, there are only an estimated 225 hummingbird banders in the U.S., while 125 are considered master bird banders because of the years they have put into perfecting the technique.

Their careful work has paid off with new insights into the secret lives of these tiny little birds. Through banding, they’ve learned new things about their lifespans and travels. One Rufous hummingbird who was originally spotted in Florida was later found more than 3,500 miles away in southeast Alaska the following summer, while others have been discovered spending winters in areas where temperatures drop below zero degrees.

They’ve also found hummingbirds can live much longer than the previous two to three year lifespan that was once thought to be the norm, with some living up to 10 years.

Yet what they’ve learned has still only led to more questions. Peterjohn said it’s still not clear if they make their migrations hundreds of miles at a time, or whether they’re taking short flights with stopovers, but he added that with more being banded they may get more answers.

Still others who are studying them have provided more insights, including a new study that found their sharp beaks are for far more than just delicately sipping nectar.

For the study, published in the journal Behavior Ecology, researchers looked at long-billed hermits native to Central and South America and found their beaks double as dagger-like weapons the males use to fight with and stab their opponents in the neck when it comes time to establish territory and pick a mate.

While scientists knew males and females had beaks that were shaped differently, they thought it was because they have different feeding habits.

Alejandro Rico-Guevara, research associate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut and lead researcher of the study, called it the first evidence that bills are also being shaped by sexual selection through combat.

Alicia Graef|November 12, 2014

New Eagles Have Landed

Three new eagles are now n display at the Center.

Audubon Center for Birds of Prey is excited to announce that we have added three new members of our Bird Family here at the Center for Birds of Prey. Three non-releasable Bald Eagles now have permanent homes in an aviary exhibit for guests to see and learn about threats Bald Eagles face in the wild. Be sure to stop by to see these magnificent birds in person and learn about what caused their injuries. These three non-releasable eagles will help spread Audubon’s conservation message and act as education ambassadors for their species.

Florida Raptor News – November 2014

We Are Thankful

Audubon Center for Birds of Prey is thankful for many things. We are lucky to have dedicated supporters, volunteers and staff committed to the conservation of Florida’s raptors.

A special thanks to our volunteers, who without them our daily operations would not be possible.

We are grateful to the volunteers who help clean, feed, weed, scrub, rescue, educate, greet, and care for our patients and permanent display birds at the Center. Thank you to the many groups and partners, who contribute projects at our location. Thank you to the citizen scientists in the field, who help us monitor and keep watch on Florida’s eagles.

Beyond our doors, there are many Audubon ambassadors who help spread Audubon’s conservation message. This is important work. As we head into the holiday season, bring your friends and relatives for a visit to learn about Audubon and the majestic birds that reside at our Center. We look forward to seeing you.

Florida Raptor News – November 2014

Audubon EagleWatch

Notes from the field:

Bald Eagle nesting season is ramping up in Florida, and eagles all over the state are busy refurbishing last year’s nests. Eggs are often laid in late November and early December, and are incubated by the adults for 30-33 days. This means that we often have a lot of newly hatched eaglets just in time for Christmas! Currently, more than 250 Audubon EagleWatch volunteers are monitoring 200+ active eagle nests during this especially sensitive time in the nesting process. Eagle nesting season runs from October 1 through May 15.

This season, Audubon’s EagleWatch program is set to debut our new web portal. This new, purpose built website will make data entry easier, faster, and more accessible. This online database will later be integrated with powerful online GIS tools to help us better understand and protect Florida’s Eagles. For more information on the EagleWatch program, visit or email Matt Smith at

New agreements will help to save migratory bird species

Cuckoos are just one bird species that will benefit from this agreement

Hundreds of species of migratory birds will benefit from two historic agreements that were reached on Sunday 9 November at the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS).

The Resolution Preventing Poisoning of Migratory Birds and the Landbird Action Plan will set out to save more than 400 bird species.

The Resolution Preventing Poisoning of Migratory Birds agreement outlined a set of guidelines to tackle the causes of bird poisoning and ratified a groundbreaking plan of action to protect birds against this threat. The agreement supports guidelines to prevent the risk of poisoning and encourages parties to reduce and minimize the poisoning of migratory birds. It identifies five poisons as being the most significant risk to migratory birds, and therefore recommends a ban on veterinary diclofenac, the phasing out of all lead ammunition, and action on rodenticides, insecticides and poison baits.

Commenting from the RSPB, Director of Conservation Martin Harper says: “Although the agreement is not legally binding it clearly signals governments’ commitment to ending poisoning from lead ammunition, diclofenac and other key sources. This is a great day for our migratory birds and other wildlife.”

The Landbird Action Plan focuses on ways to improve the conservation status of the birds that use the African-Eurasian flyway, and identified a need for landscape-scale protection.

“For more than four decades, migratory water birds have been protected, showing that effective, international cooperation for the conservation of migratory birds is possible.” Commented Harper. “I’m delighted the Action Plan for land birds has now been adopted and work that considers the conservation needs of the birds’ whole lifecycle, across an international flyway – from breeding grounds in the UK to wintering areas in West Africa – will be undertaken.

“Birds such as the turtle dove, cuckoo, nightjar, vultures and many more will all benefit from these two positive and historic agreements.  It’s a good day for conservation.”

Rare warbler on the increase in USA

Numbers of the rare songbird, the Swainson’s warbler, are increasing in the US, particularly on private pine plantations along the coastal plain from eastern Texas to southeastern Virginia.

The results of the study, which compiled data from 20 years of field studies, suggests that if current trends continue, forests managed as short-rotation pine plantations will support the majority of Swainson’s warbler breeding populations by the end of the 21st century.

The Swainson’s warbler has been a high conservation concern for decades as its 90,000 breeding individuals are sparsely distributed across 15 states in the USA.

The rarity of the Swainson’s warbler was previously blamed on its finicky preference for large areas of densely vegetated breeding habitat in the southeastern U.S. and wintering range in the Caribbean basin. However research carried out in the 1990s revealed that this warbler could be found in a surprisingly wide spectrum of habitats, including young loblolly pine plantations in eastern Texas.

The researchers believe the short-rotation pine plantations have a seven-to-eight-year window when the plantations are dense enough to support populations of Swainson’s warbler. Once this period ends and the plantations thin out, Graves believes that the warblers will likely relocate to nearby younger plantations that exhibit the desired foliage density.

“The Swainson’s warbler is becoming a conservation success story in a habitat that was once feared to be a biological desert,” said lead author Gary Graves from Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in the USA.

“This is a prime example of how intensive management of forest lands for industrial purposes can have a direct impact on bird populations in a positive way.”

The Swainson’s warbler a small olive-brown bird with pale yellowish-white underparts that measures approximately 5.5 inches long and is known for its loud, distinctive song and secretive behaviour. Despite its small size, male Swainson’s warblers defend large territories that range in size from 3 to 18 hectares.

 Florida Panthers

19th panther road death reported, matching record

A record set in 2012 for the number of endangered panthers killed by vehicles has been matched in southwest Florida.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials say a panther whose carcass was found Thursday in Collier County is the 19th big cat killed by a vehicle this year. That matches the statewide record for panther road deaths set two years ago.

Officials say the panther was a female between 3 and 4 years old. The carcass will be taken to the wildlife commission’s lab in Gainesville for a necropsy.

Road collisions account for the vast majority of the two dozen panther deaths reported this year.

Florida panthers once roamed the entire southeastern United States, but only around 100 to 180 remain in the wild.

  Invasive species

Invasive lionfish threaten Gulf of Mexico ecosystem

GALVESTON, Texas – It sounds like something from a horror film: A beautiful, feathery-looking species of fish with venomous spines and a voracious appetite sweeps into the Gulf of Mexico, gobbling up everything in its path.

Unfortunately for the native fish and invertebrates it’s eating, this invasion isn’t unfolding on the big screen. In recent months, news has been spreading of lionfish, a maroon-and-white striped native of the South Pacific that first showed up off the coast of southern Florida in 1985. Most likely, someone dumped a few out of a home fish tank.

With a reproduction rate that would put rabbits to shame and no predators to slow its march, the fish swept up the Eastern seaboard and down to the Bahamas and beyond, where it is now more common than in its home waters. “The invasive lionfish have been nearly a perfect predator,” says Martha Klitzkie, director of operations at the nonprofit Reef Environmental Education Foundation, or REEF, headquartered in Key Largo, Fla. “Because they are such an effective predator, they’re moving into new areas and, when they get settled, the population increases pretty quickly.”

The lionfish population exploded in the Florida Keys and the Bahamas between 2004 and 2010. As lionfish populations boomed, the number of native prey fish dropped. According to a 2012 study by Oregon State University, native prey fish populations along nine reefs in the Bahamas fell an average of 65 percent in just two years.

Lionfish first appeared in the western Gulf of Mexico in 2010; scientists spotted them in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, a protected area about 100 miles off the Texas coast, in 2011. Now scuba divers spot them on coral heads nearly every time they explore a reef.

So far, significant declines in native fish populations haven’t occurred here, but the future is uncertain. “It’s kind of this impossible battle,” says Michelle Johnston, a research specialist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Galveston, who manages a coral reef monitoring project at the Flower Garden Banks. “When you think how many are out there, I don’t think eradication is possible now.”

Lionfish are fascinating, beautiful creatures. Two nearly identical species are found in the Gulf. They grow to about 18 inches and have numerous venomous spines. Their stripes are unique, like those of a zebra. They hover in the water, hanging near coral heads or underwater structures where reef fish flourish. Ambush predators, they wait for prey fish to draw near, then gulp them down in a flash. The fish mature in a year and can spawn every four days, pumping out 2 million eggs a year. They live about 15 years.

In the South Pacific, predators and parasites keep lionfish in check. But here, nothing recognizes them as food – those feathery spines serve as do-

not-touch warnings to other fish. The few groupers that have been spotted taste-testing lionfish have spit them back out, Johnston says. In the basement of the NOAA Fisheries Science Center on the grounds of the old Fort Crockett in Galveston, Johnston sorts through a rack of glass vials. Each one contains the contents found in the stomach of a lionfish collected in the Flower Garden Banks. She points to a fish called a bluehead wrasse in one jar. “This little guy should still be on the reef eating algae, not here in a tube,” she says.

Other jars contain brown chromis, red night shrimp, cocoa damselfish and mantis shrimp, all native species found in lionfish bellies. “The amount of fish we find in their guts – it’s really alarming. They’re eating juvenile fish that should be growing up. They’re also eating fish that the native species are supposed to be eating.” Lionfish can eat anything that fits into their mouth, even fish half their own size. They eat commercially important species, such as snapper and grouper, and the fish that those species eat, too. They’re eating so much, in fact, that scientists say some are suffering from a typically human problem – obesity. “We’re finding them with copious amount of fat – white, blubbery fat,” Johnston says.

They can adapt to almost any habitat, living anywhere from a mangrove in 1 foot of water to a reef 1,000 feet deep. They like crevices and hidy-holes but can find that on anything from a coral head to a drilling platform to a sunken ship. They can handle a wide range of salinity levels, too.

Their range seems limited only by temperature – so far they don’t seem to overwinter farther north than Cape Hatteras, N.C. – and their southern expansion extends to the northern tip of South America, although they are expected to reach the middle of Argentina in another year or two. “As long as they have something to eat, they’ll be there,” Johnston says.

The impacts of their invasion could become widespread, scientists warn. In the Gulf, lionfish are eating herbivores like damselfish and wrasse – “the lawnmowers of the reef,” Johnston calls them – that keep the reef clean. “When you take the reef fish away, there’s not a lot of other things left to eat algae,” she says. That creates a phase shift from a coral-dominated habitat to an algae-dominated one. “When you take fish away, coral gets smothered, the reef dies, and we lose larger fish. It’s a snowball effect of negativity.”

Pam LeBlanc|Austin American-Statesman (MCT)

Endangered Species

Will Polar Bears Become Extinct?

Behind the controversy, what’s the real story about the future of polar bears?

It’s November and that time of year when the sleepy town of Churchill, Manitoba, on the western shore of Hudson Bay in Canada, turns into polar bear central.

Hundreds of polar bears, lean but lethargic – their last full meal eaten in the late spring – pass the hours wandering around aimlessly, mock fighting, or simply lying belly-up catching the dim rays of the Arctic gloaming. They are waiting until the ice freezes over and they can go and hunt seals.

Outnumbering them are the tourists who’ve flown in from around the world to get a unique “up close and personal” view of one of the Arctic’s most iconic species.

And last, but not least, there’s the scientists. While some scientists visit the “Polar Bear Capital of the World” to study the bears, others, such as Polar Bears International’s Steven Amstrup, are there because they also see a unique opportunity to inform people about the plight of polar bears.

Because polar bears, most scientists agree, are in trouble.

Human-caused global warming is causing the Arctic sea, the bears’ habitat and hunting ground, to melt and decline. If the trend of sea ice decline continues as it has done, at the rate of about 13 per cent a decade, then polar bears would suffer a loss of habitat, and consequently food.

“The best estimates we’ve got indicate that we’ll probably lose somewhere around two-thirds of the world’s bears somewhere around mid-century, just based on the simple fact that we’re losing sea ice,” says Andrew Derocher, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Alberta and past chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Polar Bear Specialist Group.

The bears simply depend on sea ice to make a living, Derocher says. “No sea ice means no seals. And no seals means no polar bears.”

Despite its size, Ursus maritimus, the largest member of the bear family, is ideally suited to life on ice, its double-layered coat and its furry-undersided paws insulating it from the chilly Arctic temperatures. A polar bear can stand up to 3 metres tall and weigh up to 600 kilograms – hardly the physique of a figure-skater – but it can move with grace and stealth across the ice surface and sneak up on its prey of ringed and bearded seals.The bears just run out of energy.

There are 19 subpopulations of polar bears in the world, 13 of which can be found in Canada. Some of these bears live year-round on the ice, but for populations such as the Hudson Bay bears, the ice proves an ephemeral habitat.

In this region, bears spend the winter months on the ice gorging their prey but, when the ice melts each year, they’re forced onshore where they have insufficient food until the sea ice refreezes in the fall. And as the temperatures in the Artic have risen, the sea ice has begun to melt sooner and refreeze later, leaving the polar bears stranded on land for longer lean times.

“When I first started working in Hudson Bay in the early 1980s, the sea ice would have already formed along the shore quite nicely by now,” Derocher says. “There were years when the bears were gone in the first week in November, but this year it is unlikely that we see any significant sea ice for at least a couple of weeks.”

In the last 30 years, bears have increased the amount of time they are on land by almost 30 days – staying another day longer each year – according to Amstrup. That means the bears are coming ashore to face food shortages before they have stored enough fat to last through the season, he says.

“The bears just run out of energy,” Derocher says. The longer summer fasting time impacts bear health and resilience, and influences reproduction rates, he says.

According to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), ice coverage is likely to fall below one million square kilometers by 2050. The current changes, and predictions such as these, led to the listing of polar bears in the US as an endangered species in 2008.

Already the numbers of bears in the western Hudson Bay have declined, Amstrup says. “This population is near the southern extreme of the polar bears’ range and so it is one of the most vulnerable populations,” Amstrup says. “If we don’t get our act together soon we may not be able to save these bears.”

Although most scientists appear to agree with Derocher’s grim outlook for the polar bear, there are a few that question it. One of the most vocal of these is Mitch Taylor who spent more than two decades as a polar bear researcher and manager for the Nunavut government

“Are we just about to lose our polar bears? No we are not,” Taylor says. “We are seeing 130 years of climate warming that has increased temperature of about 0.75 degrees and that has obviously affected the sea ice, but the polar bears don’t seem to have been affected so far.”

The crux of Taylor’s argument is that the world’s polar bears are thriving, at least in terms of numbers. The current scientific consensus places the worldwide polar bear population between 20,000 and 25,000 animals, more polar bears than existed prior to the 1973 International Agreement worldwide restriction on polar bear hunting.

“This is the time the Inuit call ‘The one with most bears’,” Taylor says.

Back in the early 1800s there was commercial harvesting of polar bears, which led to a steady decline in their numbers, he says. The numbers may have increased since the hunting restrictions but they are still greatly depleted from pre-hunting levels.

In the Hudson Bay, when Derocher first started doing research in the region there were 1200 bears. Now there are barely 800. “The current status is the numbers have dropped by about a third,” Derocher says. “It certainly doesn’t seem like it’s on a continuous precipitous climb.”

Overall, the number of bears that scientists can adequately monitor appears to be on a downward trajectory, Derocher says.

And what about the health of the bears? Research shows that the bears are becoming leaner and that fewer cubs are being born and surviving in the western Hudson Bay. “A population can’t be healthy for long if its cubs aren’t surviving,” Amstrup says.

Not all the bear populations are suffering though, Amstrup says. Bears in the higher latitudes, such as those in the Davis Strait, are thriving. With warming, annual ice cover replaces the thick multilayer ice, making it more suitable for seals, the polar bears’ main food supply. “We think that maybe many of the populations are still doing OK and we aren’t seeing those effects yet,” Amstrup says. “But you could liken it to the passengers on the Titanic. They were fat and happy until the Titanic slipped under the waves.”

None of us in the polar bear community are standing up and saying it is a catastrophe right now, what we are talking about is the threat for the future

Current bear population numbers aren’t really the problem. It is what is going to happen to bears in the future, Derocher says. He cites the international standard to consider conservation of a species, that of using the “three generation rule” looking forward in time. For polar bears, three generations is somewhere in the 36- to 45-year timeframe. In this timeframe, scientists predict rapid declines in sea ice.

Amstrup agrees. “There are none of us in the polar bear community that are standing up and saying it is a catastrophe right now, what we are talking about is the threat for the future,” Amstrup says. “In the places where the ice has dramatically changed, we are seeing effects and, if we allow those changes to continue on to the higher latitudes, then it will affect all polar bears.”

An additional argument against polar bear extinction lies in the theory that, as a species, polar bears have already survived warming periods. Using molecular genetics, Matthew Cronin, a genetics professor at the University of Alaska, in Fairbanks, US determined that polar bears split from brown bears, and became an independent species, about 2 million years ago.

“These results, combined with the fossil record, indicate that polar bears have been around as polar bears for at least 125,000 and maybe as long as several million years,” Cronin says. “That means they’ve survived their loss of habitat previously so they could very well survive loss of their habitat in the future.”

It is a theory that Taylor also embraces, and one that Amstrup is quick to counteract. “We don’t have any evidence that polar bears have experienced anything more than about a degree and a half temperature rise during their whole evolutionary history,” Amstrup says.

And, according to most of the predictive models we will be close to 2 degrees Celsius warmer for a global mean temperature within 50 years, and certainly within 100 years, Amstrup says. “Polar bears just simply haven’t experienced warming like this,” he says.

Taylor argues that polar bears could survive warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius although he seems unable to articulate exactly how they would do that on an ice-less tundra. “I am not one of those that think that polar bears can just adapt to a terrestrial environment and eat goose eggs and vegetation and other carrion that they might find,” Taylor says, “but I do think they would survive.”

But how could they survive temperatures even warmer still? Such as 2 degrees Celsius? Taylor argues polar bears wouldn’t see them. “I think that the climate models have exaggerated the warming that we are going to see from fossil fuels,” he says.

And consequently, although some polar bear populations would suffer, there wouldn’t be dramatic declines in numbers across all the populations, Taylor says. “Declines would be slow and incremental and we’d have to do adaptive management in these populations,” he says. “Then when fossil fuels stopped being burned the planet would get cooler again.”

But it is not just the extent of warming, it is the speed at which warming would take place that poses a problem, Amstrup says. It took nearly 10,000 years to raise temperatures by 1 degree Celsius in the last interglacial period, he says. But the warming now is taking place over decades, leaving polar bears little time to adapt to the changing conditions.

“It makes it ridiculous for some people to say they have survived warm periods in the past so they’ll survive warm periods now,” Amstrup says. “It is a totally different ball game now.”

In reality, any argument about polar bear extinction reveals itself as being more about climate change than the extinction of the bears themselves.

“The polar bear is the fuzzy face of climate change,” Amstrup says. “So a lot of people who don’t believe that global warming is occurring, or deny that it is going to be a problem, like to cherry pick different things about polar bears, because if they can make it look like polar bears will be OK then by proxy they are kind of saying ‘we don’t have to worry about global warming’.”

It is really quite simple and I come back to it time and time again: It’s just the habitat loss issue

Taylor professed that he believed that climate warming and sea ice loss are reality. But closer inspection reveals that, in 2008, he signed the Manhattan Declaration on climate change, which argued that there was no conclusive evidence that emissions from industrial activity were causing climate change. However, Taylor’s feelings for the bears he worked with for more than 30 years are evident.

“I don’t think anyone has ever worked on polar bears who wouldn’t rather cut off their arm than say something to harm polar bears, or let his personal feelings or his career interfere with getting what he thought was the best information out there for polar bears,” Taylor says.

“I think that we all want to believe that things aren’t so bad,” Amstrup says.

That could be why, although the science doesn’t appear to back up bear extinction denialist theories, so much media space and public attention is given them.

But, if we move the distraction of climate wrestling aside: What about the bears? Will the bears be around in 50 or 100 years’ time?

Other areas in the Arctic and sub-Arctic that have sea ice in winter, but don’t have polar bears, tell the story, Derocher says. In such regions the ice doesn’t persist for long enough each year to sustain polar bears, he says. He points to areas in the southern parts of Norway and Sweden where the fossil records show that bears existed about 11,000 years ago. But now these regions are both ice free and bear free.

“It is really quite simple and I come back to it time and time again: It’s just the habitat loss issue,” Derocher says. “If there’s not enough ice, we won’t have bears. I think it’s very clear that we’re going to lose the vast majority of them, not within my lifetime, but certainly within the lifetime of children of mine.”

Jane Palmer

An STD Vaccine Could Save Koalas From Extinction

Thinking about factors that tend to cause animal extinction, from deforestation to climate change, the plight of the koala’s might be a little more surprising. Among other problems, they’re being threatened by chlamydia.

In the last 10 years, koala populations have dropped by about 80 percent, according to a report by the BBC, and in 2012, the Australian government placed them on an endangered animal list.

Koala chlamydia (a different strain from the human kind) can lead to blindness and infertility in koalas, which worsens their population declines.

Scientists in Australia are working on a solution: developing a vaccine. In a five year trial, researchers observed 30 vaccinated koalas and compared them to 30 un-vaccinated koalas. They found that that vaccinated koalas, even the ones who were already infected with chlamydia, did much better than the un-vaccinated koalas. The vaccine even seemed to lessen the symptoms for infected koalas.

The vaccine would be a much better alternative to the current mode of treatment: antibiotic treatments. Koalas are captured and held in captivity for months in overworked animal hospitals. These centers can’t always keep up with all the koalas that need attention and many koalas are so sick, they have to be put down.

While the chlamydia vaccine seems very promising, there are other factors which are killing off koalas which also need to be addressed. Many get hit by cars or chased by dogs and expanding cities are pushing them out of their homes. Koalas are also plagued by an HIV-like virus which can go straight into koala sperm and eggs, making it hard to prevent infection.

But the chlamydia vaccine is a start.

“It’s all very promising and it’s not just that it’s doing the right thing from an immune response point of view, but it’s actually protecting a significant number of them out in the wild climbing around trees,” Professor Peter Timms, one of the lead researchers, told Agence France Presse. “The vaccine would actually make a difference.”

Manon Verchot|Kara|TreeHugger|November 8, 2014

Manage Honey Bees Now to Prepare for Next Year’s Nectar Flow

Over everything the beekeeper does hangs the honey producer’s main objective: maximizing bee populations in time for major nectar flows. The next major nectar flows in north Florida will be spring; but beekeepers need to start working now in order to be ready for them next spring. Proper management of your bees in late summer and autumn provides for successful colony winter survival.  This in turn will ensure strong populations of bees to work the 2015 nectar flow.

The objective of management at this time of year is to ensure that a viable population of honey bees goes into winter with a good chance of surviving. Young bees are important, but a good, healthy population of “winter bees” is even more important. Winter bees, bees reared in late summer/early fall, are adapted to storing nutrients for a long period of time. Summer bees do this less well.

The queen is the origin of this vital population of winter bees. The beekeeper must, therefore, take pains to ensure she is up to the job. There is a natural slowdown of brood rearing at this time, so a failing queen may not be detected by the beekeeper. If there is any doubt about the queen’s condition, one should seriously consider re-queening the colony. In fact, some beekeepers re-queen in late summer or early fall on a regular annual basis. New queens lay eggs at higher rates than older ones, and the resultant population is larger. In addition, a first year queen is much less apt to swarm the following spring.

Below is a list of Beekeeping Best Management Practices for late summer and fall:

  • Late summer is the time of year in North Florida when Varroa populations begin to grow. Monitor your colonies closely and treat if necessary. Treatment options include: Apiguard, Apilife VAR, Apistan, Mite Away II, Hopguard and Apivar. Follow the product labels when applying these miticides.
  • As a preventive measure, consider treating colonies with Terramycin or Tylan dust to help control American and European foulbroods.
  • September is a good time to treat for Nosema disease using Fumigillin. Always follow product labels.
  • October – December are peak periods for hive beetle infestations. Options for treatment are: Beetle Blasters, Checkmite, GardStar, Hood traps, West beetle traps, and more.
  • Tracheal mites are of little concern to the Florida beekeeper. However, colonies can be treated if there is evidence of tracheal mite infestations during the autumn season. Grease patties are a simple treatment that can be used against tracheal mites. To make the patty, mix vegetable oil and powdered sugar until doughy but not sticky to touch. Place a pancake sized patty on the top bars of frames in the brood chambers.
  • There is a nectar dearth in many areas this time of year. Check colony food stores and feed colonies if they are light. Some areas may be home to plants that bloom in late summer/fall and provide enough nectar for bees to make and store honey. Check the Florida Beekeeping Management Calendar to see if these plants grow in your area.
  • August and September are very hot months. Make sure colonies are adequately ventilated and close to sources of fresh water.

Roy Carter|UF/IFAS Extension|August 8th, 2014

More bad news for bees: The new “F” word

Have you heard of flupyradifurone? Probably not, unless you work for the federal government agency poised to approve this new pesticide for use in Canada. But take note: This new “F” word is bad news for bees.
Flupyradifurone is an insect-killing systemic pesticide similar to the controversial neonicotinoid, or neonic, family of bee-killing chemicals. When applied to seeds or soil, it’s absorbed by plant roots and travels to leaves, flowers, pollen and nectar, making the plant potentially toxic to insects.

This past summer, the international Task Force on Systemic Pesticides analyzed 800 scientific studies and concluded that systemic pesticides like neonics are harming bees, butterflies, birds and worms and should be phased out globally. The European Union banned three neonics for “crops attractive to bees”, but the European Environment Agency says that’s just a starting point, and recommends regulators look at similar pesticides and take into account potential harmful effects on aquatic invertebrates, birds and other insects. The EEA also found “mounting scientific evidence has been systematically suppressed for many years and early warnings were ignored.”

Inexplicably, Canada’s Pest Management Regulation Agency has yet to respond to the Task Force findings and now wants to approve a new systemic pesticide. What’s especially troubling is that, in its description, the PMRA states flupyradifurone “may pose a risk” to bees, birds, worms, spiders, small mammals and aquatic bugs, and that it doesn’t readily break down in water, air or sunlight and may carry over to the following growing season. When it enters streams, rivers and wetlands, “it may persist for a long time.”
Like neonics, flupyradifurone is a nerve poison, acutely toxic to bees if ingested. As in the past, we don’t fully understand the cumulative effects of the increasing amounts of today’s insecticides, pesticides, fungicides and other chemicals being applied to crops across the country.
Neonicotinoids are showing up more frequently and in higher concentrations than the harmful chemicals they replaced. A study last year found 90 per cent of
Saskatchewan prairie potholes contained residual neonics in the spring, before farmers planted their fields. Research from the U.S. Midwest found neonics in all 79 samples taken from nine rivers. Similar results have been found in wetlands, streams and rivers in the southwest U.S., Georgia and California.
It’s not even clear whether the widespread use of neonic seed treatments increases agricultural yields. A
recent report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding soy crop treatments concluded, “these seed treatments provide little or no overall benefits to soybean production in most situations. Published data indicate that in most cases there is no difference in soybean yield when soybean seed was treated with neonicotinoids versus not receiving any insect control treatment.”
The European Environment Agency also found a 2004 ban on neonicotinoid chemicals by France for sunflower and maize crops hasn’t negatively affected productivity. In fact, yields were higher in 2007 than they’d been in a decade.
You’d think we’d learn from past experience with persistent and bioaccumulative pesticides like
DDT and organophosphates, and the more recent research on neonicotinoids. DDT was widely used until Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring drew attention to its negative impacts on ecosystems, wildlife and humans. Many, but not all, organophosphate pesticides have also been pulled from widespread use because we learned their neurotoxic effects posed serious risks to humans and wildlife.
Rather than approving new pesticides that may harm pollinators, birds and other animals, including humans, we need better ways to protect crops. A recent report, “
Alternatives to neonicotinoid insecticides for pest control“, published in the journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research, suggests further research and methods including “diversifying crop rotations, altering the timing of planting, tillage and irrigation, using less sensitive crops in infested areas, applying biological control agents,” and other lower-risk alternatives.

We need to stop contaminating the environment with neonics and related systemic pesticides. Approving flupyradifurone would take us in the wrong direction. Canada’s Pest Management Regulation Agency is accepting comments on flupyradifurone approval until November 3. You can submit through the PMRA or David Suzuki Foundation websites.
Putting bees and ecosystem functioning at risk endangers us all. It’s time to find a better way.

Florida Celebrates High Sea Turtle Nest Count This Season

~Conservation efforts reduce human impact on sea turtle nesting~

Researchers are again seeing a high number of sea turtle nests on Florida’s beaches this year. The number of nests in Florida has increased over the past several years as a result of increased conservation efforts and decreased detrimental storms throughout the state.

More than 1,800 biologists, interns and trained volunteers patrol Florida’s 199 nesting beaches to identify, mark and monitor nests. Researchers at Florida’s three National Estuarine Research Reserves (NERRs), located in Naples, Apalachicola and Ponte Vedra Beach, gather evidence to track sea turtle populations and document the success of the nests.

This year, 960 total nests have been reported in Florida’s three NERRs. Researchers at Guana Tolomato Mantanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve have reported 134 nests, including 10 rare green turtle nests. The nest count in Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve has increased from 475 in 2013 to 560 nests this year. At the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, 266 nests have been identified.

“We are very pleased to see the sea turtle population increased this year within our managed areas,” Kevin Claridge, director of DEP’s Florida Coastal Office. “There are many variables that can affect population numbers, but a key component to species management is good data, which in this case would not have been possible without so many excellent partnerships and volunteer hours.”

In addition to more total nests, Rookery Bay Reserve also had more hatched nests this year, totaling 360 this season, compared to just 287 last year. The increase in hatched nests reflects the improvement of statewide nesting productivity. Additionally, Cape Romano, within Rookery Bay Reserve, is reporting the highest number of sea turtle nests since 2006. An estimated 6,000 hatchlings from those nests have made it to the Gulf – more than double last year’s reported 2,500 and soaring above the count of 678 in 2012.

Sea turtles spend the vast majority of their lives in the open ocean, only coming inland to nest. Florida is a vital area for sea turtle nesting, with nesting areas running along both the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. The nesting season spans from early May until the end of October.

During sea turtle nesting season, those visiting beaches are asked to keep lights off at night, avoid any interaction with nesting turtles and avoid all marked sea-turtle nests. When beachgoers leave lights on at night, sea turtle hatchlings may become disoriented and head toward those lights, instead of the moonlight over the ocean.

Simple actions beachgoers can take to ensure they are not hindering hatchlings from successfully making it to the water are listed below.

            • Remove all belongings from the beach, flatten sand castles and fill in holes.

            • Properly dispose of litter in designated receptacles on the beach.

            • Stay off dunes and use the designated walkovers for crossing.

            • Shield any artificial lighting that may shine toward the beach.

For more information on Florida’s National Estuarine Research Reserves, click here.

Latashawalters|Oct. 30, 2014

Salamanders Around the World Could Be in Trouble

If you love salamanders, you may be disturbed to know that a recently-discovered fungus, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, is getting ready to devastate global salamander populations. It’s actually the second species in this genus to be discovered (the first tore through a number of amphibian species, causing extinction of some 40 percent in some regions of the world), with both posing significant risks to the long-term survival of salamanders. In addition to being a tragedy for those who adore these cute little amphibians, it’s also bad news for biodiversity and the delicate ecological chains that keep us all thriving.

This fungus causes a skin disease called chytridiomycosis, which can ultimately cause nerve damage and hemorrhage. Some salamanders and other amphibians can become carriers without showing any sign of infection, which is one reason why the fungus has spread from its native China. Thanks to an era of globalization, amphibians and other small animals routinely hitch their way on cargo loads, where it’s easy for them to enter the natural environment. The fungus has already been identified in Europe, where it’s caused drastic species decline for some rare salamanders, and there are fears that it may reach North America, with its huge and very diverse salamander population. If it does, it could be horrific.

Sadly, the fungus doesn’t just reach new ground by accident. It’s also carried along with exotic pets — another reason to put a stop to the trade in exotic animals. Infected frogs, salamanders and other amphibians, both bred and captured, are being carried around the world legally as well as illegally. Along the way, they leave a trail of devastation, though sellers and exporters claim that they treat animals before shipment and sale. The EU is planning on enacting a control law to address concerns about exotic pets, while Congress is considering an expansion of the Fish and Wildlife’s authority to oversee incoming animals and fight wildlife diseases more effectively, but that’s only one piece of the puzzle.

While no signs of the disease have been detected in the U.S. yet, it could be only a matter of time, and some worry that it might already be here, carried by Asian newts. Popular pets for those who keep amphibians, the newts could be silent carriers of the fungus, spreading it when they escape to the wild or when their enclosures are cleaned. Improper disposal of bedding and deceased specimens could also inadvertently introduce the fungus to the outside world, where it would be difficult to control once it gained a foothold.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity:

Scientists have developed a DNA-based test for detecting Bs, and infected animals held in captivity can be effectively treated with antifungal baths. But once the disease enters wild populations, it is nearly impossible to stop its spread to new populations. Environmental groups are calling for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to suspend all imports of salamanders into the United States unless they are certified to be free of the fungus.

In addition to acting to regulate the legal trade in exotic animals, Fish and Wildlife officials also need to be thinking about the black market and illicit trade, an issue that has long plagued this and other U.S. agencies committed to protecting endangered species and the environment. While those conducting legal exports may be willing to abide by new regulations, such concerns aren’t as important to those who want to move animals quickly through the pet trade, trading in such high volumes that a few diseased individuals aren’t a matter for concern. If the infection does enter the United States, it seems likely that it will arrive on the back of an innocent salamander smuggled into the country to satisfy the demand for exotic pets — and it’s terrifying to think that a single individual could be responsible for the deaths of millions.

s.e. smith|November 10, 2014

31 Species Just Received Protection From the UN

Over the weekend, the eleventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS COP11) concluded in Quito, Ecuador, and conservationists from around the world extended protection to dozens of migratory species including birds, fish and mammals after a week of “intense negotiations.”

“The Conference in Quito has generated an unprecedented level of attention for the Convention,” said Bradnee Chambers, the Convention’s Executive Secretary, “Like never before in the 35-year history of CMS, migratory animals have become the global flagships for many of the pressing issues of our time. From plastic pollution in our oceans, to the effects of climate change, to poaching and over exploitation, the threats migratory animals face will eventually affect us all.”

In all, 31 new species were extended various levels of protection under the treaty, which works a little bit like CITES – an Appendix I listing bans hunting or killing endangered species by nations that participate in the agreement, while Appendix II will bring countries together to create stronger conservation plans.

Big winners this year were 21 species of shark and ray species. With an estimated 100 million sharks being killed every year mostly for their fins, conservationists fear there’s no time to lose and tougher protections need to be put in place now to keep them from disappearing.

Now countries will begin working on conservation plans to protect six species of sharks and 15 species of rays including three species of thresher sharks, two hammerhead species and the silky shark, in addition to reef manta rays, nine species of devil rays and five sawfish species, who are among the most threatened species on earth.

Most notable on the list of migratory marine mammals were protections extended to polar bears under Appendix II, which conservationists are applauding as another important step for the survival of an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 left in the wild.

“What gives us hope is that this listing means that 120 countries are now recognizing the threats that polar bears face from the shrinking of their ice habitat to pollution and hunting. This is an important first step, but it must not be the last if we wish to save the polar bear,” said Dr. Masha Vorontsova, Director of IFAW Russia & CIS, and polar bear expert.

The elusive Cuvier’s beaked whale, who is the world’s deepest diving whale found in oceans around the world, was also added to Appendix I, which will hopefully offer greater protection from threats including ship strikes and ocean noise. In an effort to keep our oceans healthy, resolutions were also passed concerning plastic and other debris, cetacean culture and boat-based wildlife watching.

Even better for marine mammals, according to Whale and Dolphin Conservation, is a resolution brought by Monaco that will encourage nations to end the capture of whales and dolphins from the wild for commercial use/public display in aquariums and theme parks, in addition to urging them to stop imports and international transit of live whales and dolphins for commercial purposes.

According to a statement, three Species Action Plans were approved for the Argali Sheep in Central Asia, the Pacific Loggerhead Turtle and the Saker Falcon. The Saker Falcon ranges from Eastern Europe to Western China and is already listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List and on Appendix II of CITES, due in large part to trapping for the falconry trade, a loss of habitat and poisoning.

For bird species, the Semi-palmated Sandpiper, the Great Knot, the European Roller and the Great Bustard were listed on Appendix I, while the Canada Warbler has been confirmed for Appendix II. The semi-palmated sandpiper is a tiny shorebird who is classified as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List and continue to face threats from hunting, habitat loss and pollution in areas they use when migrating.

A regional initiative covering large migratory mammals in Central Asia, including the Bactrian Camel, Snow Leopard and the Saiga Antelope, was also launched together with an accompanying publication called “Central Asian Mammals Initiative: Saving the Last Migrations.” The red-fronted gazelle will benefit from full protection, while international cooperation was recommended for the White-eared Kob.

The Saiga antelope once created a spectacle in mass numbers, but their population has dwindled as a result of unsustainable hunting and poaching for their horns. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, their numbers in the wild have dropped from over 1,000,000 in the early 1990s to fewer than 50,000 today.

For the first time in the history of the convention, members also looked at the threat posed by renewable energy technologies to bats, birds and cetaceans and guidelines were adopted on how things like wind turbines, solar panels, dams and other forms of renewable energy developments can be used in wildlife-friendly ways.

“The unprecedented representation of the world’s nations at this CMS Conference reflects the growing awareness that the responsibility for protecting wildlife is a shared one, and that the threats to wildlife can be tackled most effectively through global cooperation, ” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNEP.

Alicia Graef|November 11, 2014

Florida Celebrates High Sea Turtle Nest Count This Season

TALLAHASSEE – Researchers are again seeing a high number of sea turtle nests on Florida’s beaches this year. The number of nests in Florida has increased over the past several years as a result of increased conservation efforts and decreased detrimental storms throughout the state.

More than 1,800 biologists, interns and trained volunteers patrol Florida’s 199 nesting beaches to identify, mark and monitor nests. Researchers at Florida’s three National Estuarine Research Reserves (NERRs), located in Naples, Apalachicola and Ponte Vedra Beach, gather evidence to track sea turtle populations and document the success of the nests.

This year, 960 total nests have been reported in Florida’s three NERRs. Researchers at Guana Tolomato Mantanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve have reported 134 nests, including 10 rare green turtle nests. The nest count in Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve has increased from 475 in 2013 to 560 nests this year. At the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, 266 nests have been identified.

“We are very pleased to see the sea turtle population increased this year within our managed areas,” Kevin Claridge, director of DEP’s Florida Coastal Office. “There are many variables that can affect population numbers, but a key component to species management is good data, which in this case would not have been possible without so many excellent partnerships and volunteer hours.”

In addition to more total nests, Rookery Bay Reserve also had more hatched nests this year, totaling 360 this season, compared to just 287 last year. The increase in hatched nests reflects the improvement of statewide nesting productivity. Additionally, Cape Romano, within Rookery Bay Reserve, is reporting the highest number of sea turtle nests since 2006. An estimated 6,000 hatchlings from those nests have made it to the Gulf – more than double last year’s reported 2,500 and soaring above the count of 678 in 2012.

Sea turtles spend the vast majority of their lives in the open ocean, only coming inland to nest. Florida is a vital area for sea turtle nesting, with nesting areas running along both the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. The nesting season spans from early May until the end of October.
During sea turtle nesting season, those visiting beaches are asked to keep lights off at night, avoid any interaction with nesting turtles and avoid all marked sea-turtle nests. When beachgoers leave lights on at night, sea turtle hatchlings may become disoriented and head toward those lights, instead of the moonlight over the ocean.

Simple actions beachgoers can take to ensure they are not hindering hatchlings from successfully making it to the water are listed below.

• Remove all belongings from the beach, flatten sand castles and fill in holes.
• Properly dispose of litter in designated receptacles on the beach.
• Stay off dunes and use the designated walkovers for crossing.
• Shield any artificial lighting that may shine toward the beach.

Press Releases|30 October 2014

Lawsuit Fights 38 Years of Delay for Southwestern Wolves

For nearly 40 years, the Southwest’s population of endangered Mexican gray wolves has been without a federal recovery plan, which acts as a blueprint for rebuilding it to sustainable levels. In the absence of that plan, there are just 83 wolves (and five breeding pairs) in the wild, and they remain at serious risk of extinction.

On Wednesday the Center for Biological Diversity and allies — including a retired federal wolf biologist — sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its failure to finalize a recovery plan for these wolves, some of the most endangered mammals in North America. Also on Wednesday the Center released a report, called Deadly Delay, outlining years of foot-dragging and appeasement of states and others with no interest in allowing more Mexican wolves on the landscape.

“It’s shameful that the very people charged with recovering our wildlife have turned their backs on these beautiful creatures, leaving them to battle inbreeding and a host of other threats pushing them to the brink of extinction,” said the Center’s Michael Robinson.

Read more in the Los Angeles Times and check out our report in our press release

Scottish wildcat benefits from six new protection sites

Six sites in Scotland have been identified by Scottish Natural Heritage as key areas for Scottish wildcats following research into the endangered cat species.

The sites; Angus Glens, northern Strathspey, Morvern, Strathavon, Strathbogie (around Huntly) and Strathpeffer, have been designated as potential wildcat strongholds worth preserving after evidence of cats showing strong wildcat features were found.

“The survey findings support that there are wild-living cats displaying many of the typical wildcat features in these areas,” said Dr Rob Ogden, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Head of Science. “Although some of the best examples caught on camera were not tested for their DNA, some of the cats tested had a high proportion of wildcat genetic markers. Hence a pragmatic view is that our wildcats remain distinctive and are worthy of protection.

The main threat to the Scottish wildcat is hybridizing with domestic cats and therefore the next stage is to reduce the risk of further hybridisation in these six important areas by:

• Co-coordinating an ambitious trap, neuter and release (TNR) program to neuter all feral and hybrids.

• Encouraging cat owners to neuter and vaccinate cats; micro-chipping will also help to make pet cats easily identifiable.

SNH and its partners in The Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan will also be working with gamekeepers, farmers and foresters to reduce the risks to wildcats from predator control; and monitoring populations to see the benefits of this work.

Jenny Bryce, SNH’s wildlife ecologist, said: “These priority areas give us real opportunity to halt the decline of the Scottish wildcat and preserve its distinctive identity.

The Action Plan partners take a pragmatic view – there are good examples of wildcats out there, displaying many of the characteristics of this species. And this is very much the focus of the new Wildcat Action project.

“We have been encouraged by the number and the quality of wildcats that have been observed, given the relatively short duration of the surveys. We think this is indicative of populations persisting more widely.

“But the threats are ever-present and we need to act now to preserve animals that are distinctive as Scottish wildcats. And with the help of people in these communities we aim to do just that.”

This news follows the creation of a Scottish wildcat sanctuary on the west coast of Scotland in July 2014

Scientists find Sea Turtles suffer from the bends like humans

Loggerhead Sea Turtles have been found to suffer from the bends

It has been discovered sea turtles, like humans, can suffer from decompression sickness (DCS), also known as the bends.

The research, carried out by a team of international scientists, shows for the first time that DCS occurs in the loggerhead sea turtle. DCS was previously thought to only occur in humans and some whale and dolphin species.

Sea turtles are often caught accidentally in commercial fishing nets and those that appear to be active are usually released. This study suggests that these turtles, while appearing initially active, possibly have DCS and may die following release.

“This is the first time that the bends has been confirmed in a marine reptile,” said Dr Paul Jepson, co-author and marine vet at the Zoological Society of London.

“It also shows that endangered sea turtles accidentally caught in fishing nets are at risk of dying, even if they initially appear to be still alive when brought up to the sea surface.

“Ideally we want to avoid sea turtles being caught in commercial fishing activities but, if they are, I hope that this research will make fisheries more vigilant about unintentionally catching sea turtles and the risks of DCS from rapid ascent.”

The scientists studied 29 sea turtles that were accidentally caught in commercial fishing nets off the coast of Spain and diagnosed with DCS. Two were treated with human recompression protocols carried out at Oceanographic, Valencia, and responded well. They were subsequently released back into the Mediterranean Sea.

This potentially means that numbers of sea turtles dyeing as a direct result of commercial fishing could be higher than previously thought.

Marine turtle populations are declining in the Mediterranean Sea, and six out of seven sea turtle species are endangered worldwide.

DCS occurs when dissolved gases form bubbles inside the body on depressurization and most commonly refers to problems from underwater diving. In humans, DCS can produce many symptoms from joint pain to paralysis and death.

1 million raised to save Snow Leopards

Snow Leopard Enterprise works with local communities to protect the big cats in the wild.

Snow Leopard Enterprises has reached a milestone sum in the amount of money it has raised toward saving the endangered Snow Leopard. A total of $1 million has been raised in the past 10 years by local herders who create handicrafts to sell for the cause, and thanks to the support of its many partners and donors. The money directly benefits the endangered animals as well as poor local communities.

“Snow Leopard Enterprises is not an aid program

me, but a conservation and economic development initiative,” explains Brad Rutherford, Executive Director of the Snow Leopard Trust, “It changes lives and empowers local communities to become stewards of the ecosystems they live in.”

Over the years, Snow Leopard Enterprises has grown from just a handful of communities to including over 1000 families across three countries; Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, and Pakistan.

In these areas, people who rely on their livestock for their livelihood often live on less than $2 a day. When their lose their livestock to a predator, such as the Snow Leopard, their action is to retaliate against the cat. Snow Leopard Enterprises is working to help break the circle of poverty and conflict between humans and wildlife, providing local herder women with training and equipment to make rugs, felted toy cats, and other crafts made from the wool of their animals.

The income these women make from this in turn helps to improve their lives, and in order to participate in the program the participating communities sign agreements to protect the Snow Leopards living in their areas. If no cats are hurt during the course of a year, the communities receive an additional bonus.

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) have had a long standing partnership with the organisation.  “We are delighted to have been part of this amazing initiative right from the start,” says CEO of DSWF, Sally Case. “What once was a small handicrafts program with just a few women participating has just reached a major milestone and today helps protect more than 17 per cent of Mongolia’s snow leopard habitat. We’re incredibly proud to be part of that success which is bringing communities together to protect their local landscapes and wildlife.”

Continuing its success, Snow Leopard Enterprises will be expanding with its launch of an India program in 2015. Rutherford comments, “We hope our customer base will expand with us, so we can reach even more cats and communities in the future.”

We Just Lost 2 More Mexican Gray Wolves, But Wolf Advocates Aren’t Giving Up

Mexican gray wolves have suffered yet another blow with a recent announcement from wildlife officials that they’re investigating the deaths of two more who were shot and killed in New Mexico last month, but their advocates aren’t giving up the fight to see them return to their rightful place in the wild.

This week conservation organizations and a former Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator came together to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for failing to come up with a solid recovery plan since efforts began save them almost 40 years ago.

Mexican gray wolves were once abundant in vast portions of the Southwest and Mexico, but were eradicated by the 1900s. In 1976 they were listed as an endangered species and bi-national recovery efforts began. In the late 1970s five wolves were captured and used to start a captive breeding program, but despite starting a temporary recovery plan in 1982, there are still only an estimated 83 left in the wild as of the last official count, which is still far short of the 100 there were supposed to be by 2006 and drastically short of the number needed to ensure their survival.

Their advocates fear that despite some of the efforts that have been undertaken to save them, they still face a serious risk of extinction in the wild. The few in the wild now remain vulnerable to a host problems ranging from a lack of genetic diversity, diseases and natural disasters to being killed by humans; at least 50 illegal killings have been documented since reintroduction efforts began in 1998. They’re also suffering as a result of having a restricted range that doesn’t allow them to naturally expand to new areas where they could thrive, which have been identified in New Mexico, Arizona, southern Utah, southern Colorado and Texas.

Currently, any wolves who leave the recovery area to establish a new territory are captured and put back. Not only does this stop them from establishing new territories and moving between different populations, but captures can be traumatic and end in death.

“For three decades now, Fish and Wildlife officials have been dragging their feet on completing a recovery plan simply to appease state leaders and special interest groups opposed to sharing the landscape with wolves,” said Michael Robinson, a wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s shameful that the very people charged with recovering our wildlife have turned their backs on these beautiful creatures, leaving them to battle inbreeding and a host of other threats pushing them to the brink of extinction.”

In a new report, the Center runs through the government’s repeated efforts to come up with a plan and how it has shut down every single one before they were complete. In the most recent attempt in 2012, scientists recommended adding areas to their range and ensuring a population of at least 750 wolves, but that plan was never finished.

Through their lawsuit, wolf advocates are seeking to have the court compel the FWS to complete its recovery plan, arguing that the agency’s lack of progress is in violation of the Endangered Species Act, which legally requires a recovery plan for imperiled species.

This July, the FWS proposed changes to rules governing Mexican gray wolf management, with a few beneficial changes that were widely supported by the public, but their advocates fear the benefits won’t be enough to help without a long-term recovery plan in place to ensure their survival.

“Only by developing and implementing a comprehensive and legally compliant recovery plan reflecting the best available scientific information can Fish and Wildlife Service secure the future of the Mexican wolf, and establish management sufficient to restore this irreplaceable part of our wild natural heritage to the American landscape,” said Virginia Busch, Executive Director of the Endangered Wolf Center in Missouri.

Hopefully the court will rule for wolves in this case to ensure action is taken on their behalf before it’s too late.

Alicia Graef|November 14, 2014

Wild & Weird

Wild & Weird: 17 Lions Defeated by Porcupine — Watch Video

A lion attack often goes like this: Several lionesses encircle a chosen target in the night, their body language purposefully casual; one lioness closes in slowly, and then comes a sudden leap with bared teeth and claws and a powerful blow that disables the prey. This mode of attack might be the same for an elephant, a zebra or even a giraffe, and it’s one of the reasons lions are called the kings (and queens) of the jungle.

You’d think 17 hungry lions circling a porcupine would mean the end of the poor critter. But as a new video by a gamekeeper in South Africa shows, you might be wrong.

Watch this video of a tenacious porcupine fending off an entire pride of lions, and read more at The Independent.


Vast reservoir expected to prevent Everglades pollution

A gigantic above-ground reservoir — the largest in Florida at 24 square miles — is rising above sugar cane fields in southwest Palm Beach County to help cleanse polluted water before it rushes into the Everglades.

More than 100 construction workers each day are blasting rock and moving earth to build 12-foot walls and gates around a shallow basin bigger than the cities of Sunrise or Boynton Beach.

A lot is riding on the $60 million project — the health of the Everglades, the survival of endangered species and the settlement of a legal battle over the state’s failure to meet federal water standards.

But will it work?

On a recent tour through the vast expanse, soon to be filled with 4 feet of water, state engineers said they were confident the reservoir and related projects will solve a pollution problem that now sends fertilizer-laden water into the Everglades after heavy rainfalls. Big doses of phosphorus pour into a delicate ecosystem, creating toxic mercury harmful to fish, birds, reptiles and mammals, including the endangered Florida panther.

“By the time the Everglades sees that water, it will be nice and clean, with the phosphorus taken out of it,” said Alan Shirkey, who oversees the project for the South Florida Water Management District.

Skeptics who joined a lawsuit to enforce water standards are not so sure. They fear that Obama administration officials — under pressure to relax environmental restrictions during the 2012 election campaign — were too quick to accept the state’s plan to settle the suit.

“This idea is a completely new one that has not been road-tested,” said David Guest, an attorney in Tallahassee for Earthjustice.

Gov. Rick Scott sold federal officials on the idea — officially known as a “flow basin” — as the centerpiece of an $880 million plan to remove pollutants that wash off farmland and urban developments. The agreement in June 2012 spared the state from a federal proposal that would have cost nearly twice as much.

The basin taking shape on farmland acquired by the state on U.S. Highway 27 will cover more than 15,000 acres and store up to 20 billion gallons of water. That’s enough to fill 45,000 football fields a foot deep.

Pump stations already draw polluted water from the New River and Miami canals into “stormwater treatment areas” — shallow pools lined with underwater plants that filter out phosphorus before the water seeps into conservation areas and flows south into the Glades.

But to prevent heavy rains from overwhelming the system, water managers sometimes must divert dirty water around the treatment areas and send it south, polluting wetlands, jeopardizing wildlife and violating federal water-quality standards.

The new flow basin is designed to solve that problem by temporarily storing all the water from the canals, drawing it in through supply canals and gated structures. Cattails along the bottom will filter out some phosphorus. But the main purpose is to hold water, especially during wet seasons, and release it slowly into the treatment areas.

The construction is marked by explosions that send clouds of dirt and rock into the air as crews blast out sections of limestone to carve out spaces for water to flow in or out. Giant dump trucks haul this material to the perimeter to help form 12-foot levee walls.

Solar-powered gates will help control the flow. Supply canals will be built at a higher elevation so that water runs downhill into the basin when the gates are opened. And gravity will pull the water through the basin to be released into the treatment areas.

Anthony Rosato, the project manager, said contractors are on track to complete the flow basin by July 2016.

A spokeswoman said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is satisfied the plan will meet water-quality standards but that it’s too early to comment on the results.

Those who work on the site seem confident.

“I’m a critter lover. And if you go out there, you’ll see the wildlife, the hogs, the deer, the coons. The birds are unbelievable,” said Lori Fox of Clewiston, a pump station operator.

She fishes south of the treatment areas, where the water is clean and the bass have a golden color, rather than to the north, where the fish are as dark as the water they swim in.

“To me, you are what you eat. You are what your environment is,” she said “I had no idea of the concept of what they were doing out here. But when you see it, you know it works.”

William E. Gibson|Washington Bureau|Sun Sentinel|March 29, 2014

A New Northern Everglades Water Quality Project Breaks Ground

Last week, the Spring Lake Improvement District (SLID) broke ground on a new project that will clean up water before it flows to Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades. This innovative project will store and treat stormwater from their property before it enters Arbuckle Creek, on its way to Lake Istokpoga, and then on to Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades.

The ground-breaking was initiated by (left to right) Highlands County Commissioner Don Elwell, Gene Schriner,  project engineer, Brian Acker of SLID, Marty Mielke, Senator Grimsley’s office, Representative Cary Pigman, and Highlands County Commissioner Greg Harris.

Currently, polluted stormwater from Lake Wales Ridge, Sebring Regional Airport and U.S. 98  flows the residential areas around Spring Lake. The new project  will capture this water and treat it in stormwater ponds  before it flows on to Arbuckle Creek and areas throughout the Everglades. In addition to these water quality benefits,  Spring Lake Improvement District plans to manage the area for wildlife viewing and enjoyment for its residents.

The 70-acre system is funded through a $416,000 legislative appropriation to the SLID with $625,000 of matching funds from a DEP grant. Sen. Denise Grimsley and Rep. Cary Pigman helped obtain legislative funding, with support from Audubon. This project is part of an admirable $4 million effort on the part of this small District to improve water management.

The  Spring Lake Improvement District is an independent special district that provides services to Spring Lake, a community on the northern shore of Lake Istokpoga in Highlands County. The Spring Lake community was designed 50 years ago and has experienced stormwater runoff problems in recent years.

Audubon scientist Paul Gray has been following this project in its development and notes, “This project has the type of vision that helps meet stormwater goals for this community, by adding an amenity for its residents and protecting Arbuckle Creek and Lake Istokpoga, which are the natural beauty that attracted the development in the first place.”

Beautiful Arbuckle Creek will be a beneficiary of the Spring Lake project.

For more information on this project, please click here.|November 5, 2014

Water Quality Issues

EPA and Army Corps to Clarify Muddy Definitions of Wetlands and Water

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency have proposed a new rule clarifying Clean Water Act protections for many streams, wetlands, and other waters critical to Florida’s and the nation’s water resources, wildlife and economy.  Because of confusion created by two Supreme Court cases in 2001 and 2006 over what waters are protected or not, many have been at increased risk of pollution and destruction for more than a decade.  The sad result is wetland losses have been increasing nationwide for the first time since the 1980′s.  Just as sad is a torrent of misinformed objections to this very reasonable, science-based rule from development interests who want to keep this confused status quo.

Audubon Florida summarizes this important habitat and resource issue in a new “Clean Water Act Rule” Fact Sheet – click here to read it.  To read a two-page EPA summary of the proposed rule’s clarifications of what water resources are protected by the Clean Water Act, click here.

Clean drinking water, flood protection, downstream fisheries, wildlife habitat and everyone’s local economy depend on clear standards and rules leading to healthier water and wetlands. Please send a letter of support for this proposed rule to EPA before the end of the public comment period on November 14, 2014.  If the rule is not approved, wetland losses and degradation of water will continue to accelerate in Florida and across the United States.

Audubon of Florida News Blog -

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

EPA, MDEQ and UP Officials Celebrate Removal of Lake Superior Area of Concern from Binational List of Toxic Hotspots

Ishpeming, Michigan (Nov. 13, 2014) – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 Administrator/Great Lakes National Program Manager Susan Hedman today joined Ishpeming Mayor Mike Tall, state officials and local residents at Deer Lake in Ishpeming, Michigan, to mark the removal of this toxic hotspot from a binational list of “Areas of Concern” targeted for cleanup in the 1987 U.S.-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

After decades during which only one U.S. Area of Concern was delisted, federal agencies have accelerated cleanup actions during the past five years by using Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding. Deer Lake is one of three Areas of Concern that have been delisted since the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative was launched in 2010. The United States and Canada designated 43 Areas of Concern under the 1987 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, in an effort to target sites contaminated primarily by industrial activity that occurred before modern environmental laws were enacted.

The Deer Lake Area of Concern on the southern shore of Lake Superior was contaminated by mercury that leached into water flowing through an abandoned iron mine and by other sources of pollution. High levels of mercury contamination in fish and reproductive problems in bald eagles were documented in the Area of Concern. EPA Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grants ($8 million) were used to complete the final work required for delisting: projects that diverted water from the underground mine to the surface and to restore a trout steam known as Partridge Creek.

“The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative accelerated cleanup work needed to protect Lake Superior and to delist the Deer Lake Area of Concern,” Hedman said. “Our work in the Deer Lake Area of Concern has reduced threats to public health and will enhance recreational opportunities and the UP economy.”

“The Partridge Creek Project stands out as an excellent example of the terrific results that may be achieved when business, citizens, and government work together to accomplish important environmental goals,” said Mayor Tall. “The local community and the global community are the beneficiaries of this great project. The City of Ishpeming is grateful to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the EPA, DEQ, and the many individuals who all labored for many years to remove the beneficial use impairments at Deer Lake.”

“As a lifelong resident of Northern Michigan, I am so pleased to see Deer Lake removed as an Area of Concern,” said U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek. “I grew up here, and I want our Great Lakes and waters to stay clean for our children and grandchildren. That’s why I’ve been a big supporter of the GLRI, which really made today’s event possible. I look forward to continuing to work to remove other areas in Northern Michigan off the list as well.”

“The restoration of Deer Lake is not only a good news story for all the communities involved, but also a testament to what can be accomplished through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative,” said U.S. Senator Carl Levin. “I am proud of our progress so far and look forward to the restoration of other contaminated areas in the Great Lakes.”

“Today’s celebration marks a major achievement that reflects the decades of hard work by the Deer Lake Public Advisory Council, City of Ishpeming, and local stakeholders, and the importance of federal funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative,” said U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow. “Deer Lake is one of the first areas in Michigan to get a clean bill of health thanks to this federal partnership, which invests in the health of our Great Lakes and waterways. Today’s event shows once again the urgent need to invest in partnerships that clean up, restore, and protect our Great Lakes for generations to come.”

“This announcement is the capstone on years of work to clean up our Great Lakes shorelines,” said Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant. “We appreciate the support from federal partners through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to make this happen, and we appreciate the continued support and hard work of local groups to restore Michigan’s natural resources in our Areas of Concern. We look forward to more good news from this program in the years ahead.”

“This is a phenomenal achievement for Deer Lake, the Ishpeming Area, and especially, Lake Superior,” said Diane Feller, Chair of the Deer Lake Public Advisory Council. “If someone told me thirty years ago that fish from Deer Lake would be safe to eat in my lifetime, I wouldn’t have believed it. PAC Members, Cliffs, State Agencies and EPA have all been instrumental in getting this result. Thanks to the EPA for spearheading the final push to delisting.”

Last summer, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality formally asked EPA to start the process to delist the Deer Lake Area of Concern. EPA reviewed environmental monitoring data submitted with MDEQ’s request and determined that this Area of Concern was eligible to be delisted. Notice of intent to delist the Area of Concern was provided to the government of Canada, tribal nations, the International Joint Commission and the general public. MDEQ will continue to monitor ecological conditions in the delisted Deer Lake Area of Concern, with support from EPA.

In 2013, the Presque Isle Bay Area of Concern (Lake Erie, Pennsylvania) was delisted, the first since GLRI was launched in 2010 and only the second U.S. Area of Concern delisted since the 1987 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. This fall, the White Lake Area of Concern (on Lake Michigan, in Muskegon County, Michigan) Areas of Concern was also delisted. Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding has been used to complete all necessary remediation and restoration actions at three additional Areas of Concern: Waukegan Harbor (Lake Michigan, Illinois), Sheboygan Harbor (Lake Michigan, Wisconsin), and Ashtabula River (Lake Erie, Ohio). Environmental monitoring is ongoing at those Areas of Concern to assess their eligibility for delisting. Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding is also being used to accelerate cleanup work in all remaining Areas of Concern on the U.S. side of the border.

For more information (including high-resolution photos) on the Deer Lake Area of Concern:

For more information on the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative:

Offshore & Ocean

Groundbreaking Maps Detail Acidity of the Earth’s Oceans

A team of scientists at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the University of Colorado at Boulder have published a groundbreaking set of maps that offer a comprehensive picture of the acidity of the Earth’s oceans as they absorb climate change-causing carbon emissions, causing changes to marine ecosystems.

Feb 2005 ocean map 960(1)In northern winter, the Bering Sea, dividing Alaska and Siberia, becomes the most acidic region on earth (in purple) as shown in this February 2005 acidity map in pH scale. Temperate oceans are less acidic. The equatorial Pacific is left blank due to its high variability around El Niño and La Niña events. Map credit: Taro Takahashi

“We have established a global standard for future changes to be measured,” said Lamont-Doherty geophysicist Taro Takahashi, one of the team that developed the maps, which were published in Marine Chemistry. The maps take a month-by-month look at the increases and declines in ocean acidity in different seasons and locations, as well as  saturation levels of calcium carbonate minerals used by shell-building organisms. They utilize four decades of measurements by Lamont-Doherty researchers and others.

Among other things, the maps show that the northern Indian Ocean is 10 percent more acidic than the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and that ocean water as far north as Iceland and as far south as Antarctica are acidifying by about 5 percent per decade, corresponding to the increase in carbon emissions.

caco3 ocean map 960The saturation state of the mineral aragonite, essential to shell-builders, tends to fall as waters become more acidic. The South Pacific Ocean is heavily oversaturated with respect to aragonite (in red) while the polar oceans (in blue) are less saturated, as shown in this February 2005 map. The pink lines represent approximate polar sea ice edges. Map credit: Taro Takahashi

While the chemistry will be over the heads of the average non-chemist, the maps are fascinating for how they make visual the impact we’re having on our oceans and what that might mean for cultures and economies that depend on them.

Anastasia Pantsios |November 11, 2014

Lawsuit Filed to Protect Struggling Walruses from Arctic Oil Drilling

Threats to walruses in the Arctic are in the spotlight again, as six environmental and conservation groups have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) challenging a rule that would allow oil companies to begin drilling in key walrus feeding areas in the Arctic’s Chukchi Sea by next year. Shell has already announced its intention to do so.

Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands, Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council. According to the plaintiffs, oil operations could force walruses out of their feeding areas, trigger stampedes, harm them with loud seismic blasts and put them at risk from the impacts of catastrophic oil spills which would be difficult to clean up in Arctic conditions.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service needs to do a much better job of protecting walrus mothers and calves struggling to survive in the dramatically changing Chukchi Sea,” said Earthjustice Attorney Erik Grafe.  “Today’s challenge seeks to protect walruses from suffering potential serious harm and harassment at the hands of companies like Shell Oil, which crashed and burned during its Arctic Ocean drilling efforts in 2012. Walruses are already under tremendous stress from climate change—their sea ice home is literally melting away. Without adequate analysis, the challenged rules would add to walruses’ woes by allowing drilling and risking oil spills in the areas most important for food and resting. What’s more, drilling would accelerate the climate change already causing so much trouble for walruses.”

Grafe is referring to the stress already on walruses in the region as the ice from which they hunt and on which they raise their young has been melting due to climate change. The ice edge has receded north into water to deep for the walruses to fish in. This has forced the animals onshore where they have gathered in huge masses on beaches on both flanks of the sea in Alaska and Russia. About 35,000 walruses came ashore in Alaska a month ago, with another 10,000 finding solid ground in Russia, as September sea ice extent shrunk to its sixth-lowest extent since satellite measurements began.

The lawsuit has much wider implications than just protecting the habitats of some big, beautiful animals.

“Walruses are the Arctic’s canary in a coal mine,” said Cindy Shogan, executive director for Alaska Wilderness League. “We can’t ignore the signs and impacts of climate change in the Arctic. The Interior Department must better protect walruses and the fragile Arctic Ocean with its disappearing shoreline from harm by big oil companies like Shell. Adding drilling into this already dangerous mix is reckless and irresponsible.”

“The danger to walrus is one more in a long list of serious risks posed by drilling in the Arctic Ocean,” said Dan Ritzman, Alaska program director for the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign. “We should not sacrifice the Arctic’s amazing wildlife, the subsistence culture that depends on it, or our climate to dirty drilling. The effects on walrus and other wildlife will only worsen if we don’t begin keeping dirty fuels in the ground.”

Anastasia Pantsios|November 10, 2014

In Hawaii’s Colorful Reefs, a Harrowing Death Knell

It’s no secret that the world’s corals are in trouble. And right now in the waters surrounding Hawaii, some of the rarest corals on Earth are getting hammered. In recent weeks warming ocean temperatures have set off widespread bleaching. Some corals will survive, but others — especially those barely hanging on — will be a step closer to extinction.

The Center for Biological Diversity has been working for years to save corals from bleaching and ocean acidification. As the Center’s Miyoko Sakashita points out in a new op-ed, we’re happy to see new federal protection for 20 species of corals, but there’s much more work to be done.

“It’s easy to turn a blind eye to what’s happening, especially because it’s taking place out of our daily vision in places where few of us will ever see in person,” Miyo writes. “But our negligence of the plight of corals — willful or not — will come at a steep price, exacted in the loss of the magical undersea worlds that we allowed to disappear.”

Read Miyo’s piece in The Huffington Post and learn more about our work to save corals.

New coral species discovered off the coast of California

The new species of white coral found off the coast of California in an area known as The Football. Most likely it is closely related to gorgonian corals. © NOAA.

Scientists on a mission led by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have made new discovers in waters off California’s coast, including a new species of deep sea coral and a nursery area used by both catsharks and skates.

The research was a result of the first intensive exploration of the areas north of Bodega Head, which took place in September 2014 aboard NOAA’s R/V Fulmar. The team of scientists focused on two main sites: the head waters of Bodega Canyon, and an area known as ‘the Football’ west of Salmon Creek and north of the canyon, so-named for its oval shape.

While investigating in these areas, the researchers discovered a new species of deep sea coral, and a nursery area for both catsharks and skates located in the underwater canyons close to the Gulf of Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries off Sonoma coast.

The team of scientists undertook multiple dives during which they made the discovery of hundreds of skate egg cases on the sea floor, and in bundles on rocks surrounding a catshark nursery area.

Commenting on this finding, deep sea biologist at NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science Peter Etnoyer said: “This is a highly unusual nursery because rarely, if ever, are shark nurseries in the same area as skate nurseries.”

The significant discovery of the new coral species was made by the second team to embark on the mission, led by California Academy of Sciences’ Gary Williams. His team found corals at around 600 feet deep and confirmed them to be a new species of deep sea coral. “Deep-sea corals and sponges provide valuable refuge for fish and other marine life,” said Maria Brown, Farallones sanctuary superintendent. “Data on these life forms helps determine the extent and ecological importance of deep sea communities and the threats they face. Effective management of these ecosystems requires science-based information on their condition.”

The mission was also significant for being the first time that video surveys were recorded in the area. Previously this region had only been documented through sonar imaging.

“The video surveys from this research mission verified the extent of rocky habitat estimated from sonar data collected several years ago, and the quality of rocky habitat in some areas exceeded expectations.” says US Geological Survey geophysicist Guy Cochrane.

The scientists used small submersibles in their investigations along with other innovate technologies, documenting the marine life that has adapted to survive in offshore waters reaching depths of 1000 feet by filming and photographing it. Prior to this research, scientists knew little about these areas except they were thought to contain nutrient-rich and biologically diverse marine life.

“Surveys of the seafloor in these waters reveal an abundance and diversity of life in new habitats,” commented Danielle Lipski of the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary. “This work helps inform our knowledge and understanding of the deep sea ecosystems north of Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones national marine sanctuaries, areas that are extremely important to the ocean environment.”

Pew Praises Adoption of Protections for Antarctic Krill

China and Russia block action on marine reserves in Southern Ocean

Hobart, Australia—The Pew Charitable Trusts commended the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) for acting to expand protections for krill, a critical species in the Southern Ocean’s food web, but noted the commission’s continued failure to designate what could have been the world’s largest marine reserve in Antarctica’s Southern Ocean.

Because of objections from China and Russia, the commission could not reach consensus for the fourth time in three years on proposals to designate permanent marine reserves within the Ross Sea and waters off East Antarctica.

Made up of 24 countries and the European Union, CCAMLR did extend protections for Antarctic krill: a time extension of the current krill fishing limits that can occur close to the coasts where nesting penguins live. Krill, shrimp-like crustaceans, are the base of the Southern Ocean food web and a crucial food source for seals, fish, whales, and penguins.

For the fourth time in three years, CCAMLR members could not reach consensus on proposals to protect areas in the Ross Sea and off East Antarctica. China and Russia blocked efforts by the commission to agree on designations that would have restricted industrial fishing in some of the most pristine marine environments on Earth. Together, the two designations would have protected 3.2 million square kilometers (1.2 million square miles).

Andrea Kavanagh, who directs Pew’s efforts to protect penguins and the Southern Ocean, issued the following statement:

“We are pleased that CCAMLR took positive steps to keep some krill fishing away from nesting habitats of penguins, but disappointed that politics trumped the advice from the Scientific Committee to increase observer coverage on all fishing vessels.

Since 1959, Antarctica has been recognized as a special place for peace and science. It is regrettable that CCAMLR, faced with objections from China and Russia, cannot live up to that promise.  Another year of inaction means another year that these near-pristine waters and their remarkable biodiversity are open to the threat of industrial fishing. The proposed designations would have ensured the long-term protection of many species, including penguins, seals and whales.”


New laws may turn Brazil’s forests into mines

Areas of land the size of European countries stand to have protections revoked for development

With the world’s largest system of protected areas and a 70 percent drop in the deforestation rate of the Amazon over the past decade, Brazil has made huge strides in safeguarding what’s left of its wilderness. However, this progress now hangs in the balance, with new laws threatening to turn many of the country’s protected areas into mines and dams.
A report released today in Science details the impacts of the legislation, which is currently under debate by the Brazilian Congress. One proposal is calling for 10 percent of the country’s most stringently protected areas (PAs) to be developed for mining, which would affect an area the size of Switzerland encompassing national parks, biological reserves, and wildlife refuges. Brazil’s indigenous-held land would be even more impacted, with 281,000 square kilometers —an area bigger than the UK—at risk of mining development. Proposed hydroelectric dams stand to disturb downstream PAs, limiting the movement of aquatic species and flooding out terrestrial ones.

The proposals include plans for mitigating and reducing environmental damage from development. However, the authors of the report caution these plans do not go far enough to address the scope of impact.
“Our concern is that even if the proposed mitigation actions were put in place they are oversimplified because they fail to take account of the indirect effects of mega-projects,” said coauthor Dr. Luiz Aragão. “These projects can involve thousands of workers and lead to rapid local population growth. This, combined with new roads and access routes, is a recipe for the emergence of new deforestation frontiers.”
boasts more than 12 percent of the world’s PAs, with 17.6 percent of its land granted federal, state, or municipal protection. However, since 2008, Brazil had already reduced safeguards for 44,100 square kilometers of PAs to facilitate development, calling into question the efficacy of such “protection.”
Brazil has had great success in reducing deforestation in the past decade, effectively sparing 86,000 square kilometers of rainforest from the chainsaw and thereby preserving wildlife habitat and preventing the release of 3.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions, according to
a study published in Science earlier this year. However, while forest loss has been stymied in the country, it definitely has not been stopped. The state of Pará, for example, lost nearly 8.1 hectares—more than 7 percent—of its forests from 2001 through 2012, according to data from Global Forest Watch. This, despite an abundance of protected areas occupying almost half the state’s land area.
While most of Pará’s forest loss occurred outside its PAs, deforestation happened within them in several places. For instance, Global Forest Watch shows the Triunfo do Xingu Environmental Protection Area in the middle of the state experienced more than 361,000 hectares of deforestation from 2001 through 2012.

In addition to threatening its own biodiversity and resources, the authors of the report worry Brazil’s PA reductions may have global repercussions.
“Beyond the conservation and stewardship of its own biodiversity and environmental resources, so vital to the wellbeing of its citizens, Brazil plays a vital role in motivating and supporting the adoption of more sustainable development trajectories around the world,” said coauthor Toby Gardner. “Yet this standing is now in jeopardy.”
The population of Brazil
nearly quadrupled in 60 years, from 54 million in 1950 to 195 million in 2010. Balancing the needs of a growing human populace with those of the environment can be a tricky issue, one the authors of the report say Brazil’s government should address more thoughtfully.
“The purpose of this analysis is not to say that Brazil´s development should not benefit from its abundant natural resources,” said Dr. Joice Ferreira, lead author of the report, “but that we should not squander our hard-won record of success and leadership in favor of fast-tracked and poorly planned development projects that leave a long legacy of environmental damage.
“It is possible to manage our development in a more sustainable way.”

Morgan Erickson-Davis||November 07, 2014

New Citrus Trees Resist Greening

The varietals only show superior tolerance in soils on the East Coast

LAKELAND | The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released five new citrus varieties that appear to tolerate the fatal bacterial disease citrus greening better than existing varieties.

All five new releases are rootstocks, or citrus varieties bred primarily for specific soil conditions. The canopy of a commercial citrus tree comes from other varieties of oranges, grapefruit or tangerines grafted onto the rootstock just above ground level.

However, all five new rootstocks show superior tolerance to greening only on flatwood soils in the Indian River and Gulf Coast growing regions along the Florida coasts, according to USDA documents. Results of field tests showed no advantages over existing rootstocks grown in the sandier soils along the Central Florida Ridge, which includes Polk County.

Kim Bowman, a research geneticist at the USDA Horticultural Research Laboratory in Fort Pierce, developed all five rootstocks.

The new releases join four other rootstocks, all among the 10 most widely planted in Florida, Bowman developed earlier, said David Hall, the Fort Pierce lab’s interim director. Bowman could not be reached on Wednesday.

“We’re really excited about this release,” Hall said. “It’s really exciting to have rootstocks that show increased resistance to greening.”

Citrus is a fatal bacterial disease that threatens the future of Florida’s commercial citrus industry. Infected trees produce fewer, smaller fruit and have difficulty holding onto the fruit before it can be harvested.

In the five citrus seasons before greening was discovered in 2005, Florida growers produced an average of 225 million boxes of oranges. In the 2013-14 season, the orange harvest fell to 104.6 million boxes and is expected to fall below 100 million when the USDA releases its initial 2014-15 crop forecast on Friday.

The USDA decided to release the new rootstocks earlier than usual because of pleas from Florida citrus growers for new measures against greening, Hall said.

According to the USDA documents, the field trials for the five new rootstocks were limited to about 20 Hamlin orange trees, each at experimental groves near the Fort Pierce lab, which has flatwood soils, and in Orange County along the Ridge. Hamlin is Florida’s most widely planted early orange variety, harvested from October to March.

The new rootstocks could perform differently when they are more widely planted in commercial groves across Florida, Hall said.

In the field tests, all five rootstocks showed superior tolerance to the effects of greening, the documents said. Tolerance means the citrus tree can still be infected with the disease but shows a greater ability to cope with the infection.

The new rootstocks particularly outperformed Swingle, the most widely planted rootstock in Florida, the documents show.

From 2008 to 2012, infected trees on the new rootstocks produced two to three times more oranges when compared with infected trees on Swingle. Fruit size generally was larger and with more juice than Swingle trees, although the differences were not statistically significant in some cases.

Researchers also sampled the trees for bacterial levels, which could also account for the improved performance, but found no significant differences between the new rootstocks and Swingle. That supports the inference the rootstocks are naturally resistant to greening.

Mike Sparks, chief executive at Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual, the state’s largest growers’ group, expressed confidence that the release of the new rootstocks represents an advance in the fight against greening.

“We are very optimistic the new rootstocks will really help growers,” Sparks said in an email to The Ledger. “It’s another tool for them in the battle against (greening). With several incentive programs out there designed to get growers to re-plant, these releases couldn’t have come at a better time.”

Kevin Bouffard|THE LEDGER\October 8, 2014 .

Destruction of Carbon-Rich Mangroves Costs up to $42 Billion in Economic Damages Annually

Globally Coordinated Action and Policy Interventions Required to Stem Loss of One of the Planet’s Most Threatened Ecosystems

ATHENS – Mangroves are being destroyed at a rate 3 – 5 times greater than the average rates of forest loss, costing billions in economic damages and denying millions of people the ecosystem services they need to survive, according to a new report launched today by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

The Importance of Mangroves: A Call to Action launched today at the 16th Global Meeting of the Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans, describes how emissions resulting from mangrove losses make up nearly one-fifth of global emissions from deforestation, resulting in economic damages of some US$6 – 42 billion annually. Mangroves are also threatened by climate change, which could result in the loss of a further 10 – 15 per cent of mangroves by 2100.

Found in 123 countries and covering 152,000 square kilometers, over 100 million people around the world live within 10 kilometers of large mangrove forests, benefiting from a variety of goods and services such as fisheries and forest products, clean water and protection against erosion and extreme weather events.

UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, “Mangroves provide ecosystem services worth around US$33 – 57,000 per hectare per year. Add to that their superior ability to store carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and it becomes clear that their continued destruction makes neither ecological nor economic sense.”

“Yet, the escalating destruction and degradation of mangroves – driven by land conversion for aquaculture and agriculture, coastal development, and pollution – is occurring at an alarming rate, with over a quarter of the earth’s original mangrove cover now lost. This has potentially devastating effects on biodiversity, food security and the livelihoods of some of the most marginalized coastal communities in developing countries where more than 90 per cent of the world’s mangroves are found.”

“By quantifying in economic terms the value of the ecosystem services provided by mangroves as well as the critical role they play in global climate regulation, the report aims to encourage policymakers to use the tools and guidelines outlined to better ensure the conservation and sustainable management of mangroves,” he added.

The report argues that in spite of the mounting evidence in support of the multitude of benefits derived from mangroves, they remain one of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet. The report describes financial mechanisms and incentives to stimulate mangrove conservation, such as REDD+, private sector investments, and the creation of Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions for developing countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while increasing national capacity.

Mangrove degradation and loss is predicted to continue into the future if a business-as-usual scenario prevails. The Importance of Mangroves: A Call to Action offers readers and especially policymakers many management and protection measures and tools that are available for use at national, regional and global scales to help ensure a sustainable future for mangroves.

Policymakers, it says, should consider several of these, including integrating mangrove-specific goals and targets into the post-2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals agenda, as well as better coordination of global action on mangroves through the development of a Global Mangrove Commission, and the streamlining and coordination of Multilateral Environmental Agreements.

Protecting these long-term reservoirs of carbon, and preventing their emissions from being released back into the atmosphere is, the report says, a sensible and cost-effective measure that can be taken to help mitigate climate change.

Key Findings

Ecosystem Services

· By 2050, South-East Asia will potentially have lost 35 per cent of the mangrove cover it had in 2000, with associated negative ecological and socio-economic impacts.

· Ecosystem service losses in South-East Asia from the destruction of mangroves has been estimated at more than US$2 billion a year over the period 2000 – 2050, with Indonesia predicted to suffer the highest losses at US$ 1.7 billion per year.

Climate Change Regulation and Mitigation

· Research is increasingly pointing to the role of mangroves as significant carbon storage systems, sequestering vast amounts of carbon – about 1,000 tons per hectare – over thousands of years, making them some of the most carbon-rich ecosystems on the planet.

· One study carried out in the Potengi Estuary in Brazil on 1,488 hectares of mangroves found that the forest trees and sediments were retaining concentrations of heavy metals that would otherwise cost US$13 million to treat in a zeolite plant.


· A large number of commercially important fish species such as snapper, mullet, wrasse, parrotfish, sharks and rays utilize mangroves during all or part of their lives, with the mangrove providing critical food, shelter and refuge functions.

· It has been estimated that 30 per cent of the fish caught in South-East Asia are supported in some way by mangrove forests; a figure approaching 100 per cent for highly mangrove-dependent species including some species of prawn.

· It was estimated that the annual average landing of mangrove-associated fish and blue crab in the Gulf is 10,500 tons, with an estimated total value of US$19 million to local fisheries.

Extreme Weather Events

· The complex network of mangrove roots can help reduce wave energy, limit erosion and shield coastal communities from the destructive forces of tropical storms, cyclones and tsunamis.

· The mangrove-lined “hurricane holes” in the Caribbean have been a well-known safe haven for vessels for centuries, and of the 20-odd established hurricane holes recommended for boaters needing to ride out storms in the Antilles, 16 gain such a reputation because of the presence of mangroves.

· In Vietnam, extensive planting of mangrove has cost of US$1.1 million but has helped reduce maintenance cost of the sea-dyke by US$7.3 million per year.

Biodiversity Hotspots

· Mangroves form the foundation of a highly productive and biologically rich ecosystem that is home to a spectacular range of species of birds, mammals, invertebrates and fish which help to support people through fisheries, tourism and cultural heritage.

· The combination of clearance and degradation has meant that globally about 16 per cent of mangrove tree species and some 40 per cent of the animal species dependent on these ecosystems are now considered vulnerable and/or at risk of extinction. The mangroves of Australia are home to over 200 species of birds, and at least 600 different fish species are known to occur in mangroves across the Indo-Pacific region.


Policymaker guidelines for the improvement, management and protection of mangroves include the development of protocols to Regional Seas Conventions that promote protection and sustainable use of mangroves, and the implementation and enforcement of national laws and policies relevant to mangrove protection and management. Others include:

· Create a Global Mangrove Fund to support “climate resilience” actions that conserve and restore mangroves, and protect the carbon stored within them;

· Encourage mangrove conservation and restoration through carbon credit markets such as REDD+, the “Bio-Rights” mechanism and corporate and private sector investments;

· Promote economic incentives such as Payments for Ecosystem Services as a source of local income from mangrove protection, sustainable use and restoration activities and ensure beneficiaries of mangrove services can find opportunities to invest in mangrove management and restoration planning;

· Explore opportunities for investment into Net Positive Impact biodiversity offsets by the corporate and business sectors as a way to finance the protection and sustainable use of mangroves;

· Ensure that mangroves are addressed in wider Marine Spatial Planning and policy frameworks.

Access full report here

‘Guns kill trees too’: overhunting raises extinction threat for trees

Landmark study finds that hunting and trapping also hurts tropical trees

A new paper confirms what ecologists have long feared: hunting birds and mammals drastically raises the risk of extinction for tropical trees. Following the long-lifespan of a single canopy tree, Miliusa horsfieldii, researchers discovered that overhunting of animals could increase the chances of extinction for the species fourteen times over a century, from 0.5 percent to seven percent.

“Our study is the first to quantify the decades-long effects of animal seed dispersal across the entire tree life cycle, from seeds to seedlings to adult trees,” said co-author Jeremy Lichstein with the University of Florida.

But how could hunting birds and mammals impact trees? The vast majority of trees in rainforests are not dispersed by wind, like those in temperate areas, but by animals, which eat the fruit and spread the seeds far-and-wide when they defecate. These “seed dispersers,” as they are known, include a wide-variety of species from birds to bats to bigger mammals like monkeys, civet cats, bears, and even rhinos and elephants. In fact, some tree species in the tropics depend on just a few animal species for dispersal. Given this, scientists have long suspected that overhunting of mammals and birds would lead to a decline in some tree populations.

“Past studies have mostly shown short-term effects of hunting on communities of small trees and seedlings,” lead author Trevor Caughlin, also with the University of Florida, told “Many of these studies reveal a shift in species composition in hunted areas from tree species that are dispersed by animals to tree species that are wind-dispersed. What’s been missing is a way to predict the long-term consequences of these changes for tropical forests.”

While some research had even predicted little impact on tree populations over the long-term, Caughlin’s paper, published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, finds the opposite. In order to determine this, Caughlin and his colleagues looked at 15 years of data from populations of Miliusa horsfieldii in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, a protected area in Thailand which is still home to many seed dispersing animals. The team focused on something called “negative density dependence,” or NDD, which basically means that seeds spread further from the parent tree—by a mammal or bird—fare better than those that fall and grow up near the parent tree.

Working in the park for three years—and armed with 15 years of data—Caughlin found that when Miliusa horsfieldii were crowded-in by others of their own kind, they faced increased challenges, and not just at the beginning of life. This crowding has “long term effects that go far beyond the seed stage to affect survival of seedlings, saplings and adults,” explained Caughlin, including reducing seedling and tree growth. Ultimately, tree survival suffered.

“Studying all life stages in a tree is important due to the long, complex life cycle of a tree,” noted Caughlin. “A single tree can live for hundreds of years and produce hundreds of thousands of seeds, most of which will die long before reaching adulthood. Yet, trees only move a single time during their entire life cycle: during seed dispersal. Understanding the importance of seed dispersal for tree population requires measuring the importance of the spatial pattern established by seed dispersal for all life stages.”

Once the team had established how crowding impacted the species, they modeled how this would decrease long-term survival in an environment where seed dispersers had been hunted out. This isn’t a theoretical scenario: many forests in the tropics have become known as “empty forests” where even though trees are standing, nearly all medium and large-bodied birds and mammals have been wiped out by relentless hunting and trapping. No-where is the problem more severe than in Southeast Asia where the study took place. The computer model found that extinction became 14 times more likely for Miliusa horsfieldii when its seed dispersers were killed off.

While the study focused on a single canopy tree, Caughlin said he expected results to be similar for other animal-dispersed tree species in the region.

“Many studies have shown that effects of crowding (NDD) are pervasive across tree species, and the majority of tropical trees are dispersed by animals,” he told Though he also added that more research is needed on the interplay between seed-dispersers and seed predators—those species that destroy seeds when they eat them.

“Tropical plant-animal interactions are complex and we are just beginning to understand how these interactions translate into long-term changes for tree populations. For example, overhunting of seed dispersing animals and overhunting of seed predators and herbivores (like deer and peccaries) often occur simultaneously. In these cases, the loss of seed predators may compensate for the loss of dispersal and buffer the tree population from extinction. Nevertheless, it is increasingly clear that loss of animal seed dispersal will change the composition and structure of tropical forests.”

Tropical biologist, Richard Corlett, who is a well-known expert on hunting and seed dispersal in the Southeast Asia, said the study “fills in a major gap” on the implications of overhunting.
“We knew hunting was bad, but we were not sure why it was bad, and therefore could not predict the long-term impacts. Now we know it is really, really bad and will get worse. The message that ‘guns kill trees too’ should help put overhunting at the top of the conservation agenda, where it deserves to be,” added Corlett, who was not involved in the study but is currently the director of the Center for Integrative Conservation at the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Gardens in Yunnan, China.

Caughlin said the message for policy-makers was simple.

“Unless steps are taken to reduce hunting pressure on animal seed dispersers, the integrity of tropical forests is at risk,” he noted, adding that “the threat of overhunting to tropical forests is particularly worrisome, because overhunting could degrade even forests that are protected from logging, fire and other disturbances. And if animal-dispersed trees decline, we risk losing valuable ecosystem services, including carbon storage, biodiversity, and wild populations of important commercial tree species.”

Jeremy Hance||November 12, 2014

Save Our Southern Forests

We at Coal River Mountain Watch know the devastation of our forests as one of the many impacts of mountaintop removal. Our friends at Dogwood Alliance are fighting another huge and growing threat to Southern forests.

That threat is the expanding biomass industry that is currently targeting Southern forests at a rate that is impossible for these forests to sustain. Our beautiful forests are being clear-cut, processed into pellets, and then shipped to Europe to be burned for electricity. We know that our forests aren’t fuel, and that’s why we’re taking part in a National Day of Action to oppose the growing biomass industry. Today, November 13th, as the wood products industry meets in Chesapeake, VA, to celebrate the destruction and export of our incredible forests, people from across the U.S. are coming together for a National Day of Action to send an SOS to Save Our Southern forests. With 20 existing wood pellet facilities, and 33 proposed, now is the time to increase pressure on corporate executives and EU policymakers. Today, we’re sending more than 10,000 messages to EU policymakers.

Help us reach our goal of 10,000 messages! Share the SOS National Day of Action with your social media networks using the hashtag #SOSForests.

Speak up! Hobet Mountaintop Removal Public Hearing Nov. 20

Mark your calendars. The coal industry has for generations relied on the silence, apathy, and despair that they’ve instilled in the citizens of Appalachia. Here’s your opportunity to stand up and speak out against the many hazards imposed by mountaintop removal.

The WV Dept. of Environmental Protection is holding an informal conference/public hearing on the expansion of the 20-square-mile Hobet Mine in Boone County and Lincoln County, WV. The hearing will be November 20, 2014 at 6 p.m. at the Morrisvale Community Center, 6545 Horse Creek Rd., Boone County, Morrisvale, WV.

If you’re unable to attend,Please follow our Facebook page here for specific points to make and how to comment. Stay tuned…

Send an SOS now to EU policymakers asking them to Save Our Southern forests.

Vernon Haltom|Executive director|Coal River Mountain Watch

Global Warming and Climate Change

Huge News on Climate

China and the United States of America, the world’s biggest greenhouse gas polluters, announced a historic agreement to curb carbon emissions. President Obama and President Xi Jinping have been quietly negotiating for nine months — a gestation that means a rebirth of hope. Working together, the world can slow the climate chaos we have unleashed. Bravo to both leaders, and thank you.

The emissions reductions from both countries are ambitious — and can be more so. Amazingly, China announced that 20% of its energy will come from renewable sources in fifteen years. Given the viral way in which new technologies spread — when they aren’t hampered by antiquated utility regulations like ours — this target will be quickly surpassed in China.

The announcement will spur political backlash here. So far, not a single Republican leader has offered an alternative plan for ending carbon and methane emissions. I am hopeful that this will change. We must not let willful ignorance and cynicism win the day. Republicans have long said, correctly, that the United States cannot act alone in curbing climate pollution. Now is their chance to show leadership here at home. There are enormous business opportunities ahead; America should seize them.

Consumers, both here and around the world, will demand new energy technologies to harness the power of the sun and wind — and who knows what else. America can, and should, maintain the creative design and engineering edge that has made us a leader for so many years. The 600 billion dollars — annually! — of subsidies for the wealthy fossil fuel industry should end.

Mothers the world over thank you, President Obama and President Xi Jinping. You are making the world safer for our families.

Dominique Browning|Co-Founder and Senior Director|Moms Clean Air Force

US and China strike deal on carbon cuts in push for global climate change pact

Barack Obama aims for reduction of a quarter or more by 2025, while Xi Jinping sets goal for emissions to fall after 2030

The United States and China have unveiled a secretly negotiated deal to reduce their greenhouse gas output, with China agreeing to cap emissions for the first time and the US committing to deep reductions by 2025.

The pledges in an agreement struck between President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jingping, provide an important boost to international efforts to reach a global deal on reducing emissions beyond 2020 at a United Nations meeting in Paris next year.

China, the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, has agreed to cap its output by 2030 or earlier if possible. Previously China had only ever pledged to reduce the rapid rate of growth in its emissions. Now it has also promised to increase its use of energy from zero-emission sources to 20% by 2030.

The United States has pledged to cut its emissions to 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025.

The European Union has already endorsed a binding 40% greenhouse gas emissions reduction target by 2030.

Speaking at a joint press conference at the Great Hall of the People, Obama said: “As the world’s largest economies and greatest emitters of greenhouse gases we have special responsibility to lead the global effort against climate change. I am proud we can announce a historic agreement. I commend President Xi, his team and the Chinese government for their making to slow, peak and then reverse China’s carbon emissions.”


He said the US emissions reductions goal was “ambitious but achievable” and would double the pace at which it is reducing carbon emissions.

“This is a major milestone in US-China relations and shows what is possible when we work together on an urgent global challenge.”

He added that they hoped “to encourage all major economies to be ambitious and all developed and developing countries to work across divides” so that an agreement could be reached at the climate change talks in Paris in December next year.

Xi Jinping said: “We agreed to make sure international climate change negotiations will reach agreement as scheduled at the Paris conference in 2015 and agreed to deepen practical co-operation on clean energy, environmental protection and other areas.”

China’s target to expand energy from zero-emission sources to around 20% by 2030 was “notable”, a White House statement said. “It will require China to deploy an additional 800-1,000 gigawatts of nuclear, wind, solar and other zero-emission generation capacity by 2030 – more than all the coal-fired power plants that exist in China today and close to total current electricity generation capacity in the United States.”

The UN’s climate chief, Christiana Figueres, said: “These two crucial countries have today announced important pathways towards a better and more secure future for humankind.”

Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, and Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, urged other countries to show their hand on emissions cuts: “We welcome the announcement today by the presidents of the United States and China on their respective post-2020 actions on climate change.

“The announcements to date cover around half of the global emissions. We urge others, especially the G20 members, to announce their targets in the first half of 2015 and transparently. Only then we can assess together if our collective efforts will allow us to fulfil the goal of keeping global temperature increases well below 2C.”

The new US goal will double the pace of carbon pollution reduction, though the Republican-controlled Congress is likely to oppose Obama’s climate change efforts.

The US Senate’s new Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, was quick to criticize the Beijing pact. “This unrealistic plan, that the president would dump on his successor, would ensure higher utility rates and far fewer jobs,” he said.

Administration officials argue the new target is achievable under existing laws.

Jeremy Hance||November 12, 2014Emissions of G20 countries. Emissions of G20 countries. Photograph: Nick Evershed/Guardian Australia

Frances Beinecke, president of US-based environmental group the Natural Resources Defence Council, said: “These landmark commitments to curtail carbon pollution are a necessary, critical step forward in the global fight against climate change. We look forward to working with both governments to strengthen their efforts because we are confident that both can achieve even greater reductions.”

Senior US administration officials said the commitments, the result of months of dialogue between the world’s top two carbon emitters, would encourage other nations to make pledges and deliver “a shot of momentum” into negotiations for a new global agreement set to go into force in 2020.

Tao Wang, climate scholar at the Tsinghua-Carnegie Center for Global Policy in Beijing, said: “It is a very good sign for both countries and injects strong momentum [into negotiations] but the targets are not ambitious enough and there is room for both countries to negotiate an improvement.

“That figure isn’t high because China aims to reach about 15% by 2020, so it is only a five percentage point increase in 10 years, and given the huge growth in renewables it should be higher.”

Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute, which promotes sustainable resource management, said the announcements would “inject a jolt of momentum in the lead up to a global climate agreement in Paris”.

“It’s a new day to have the leaders of the US and China stand shoulder to shoulder and make significant commitments to curb their country’s emissions,” he said.

Li Shuo, of Greenpeace East Asia, said the announcement showed that the world’s “two biggest emitters have come to the realization that they are bound together and have to take actions together”.

At the Warsaw climate talks in 2013 nations were encouraged to draw up post-2020 climate plans by the first quarter of 2015, ahead of the final negotiations for a post-2020 global pact late in the year.

The White House statement said: “Together the US and China account for over one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Today’s joint announcement, the culmination of months of bilateral dialogue, highlights the critical role the two countries must play in addressing climate change.

“The actions they announced are part of the longer range effort to achieve the deep decarbonization of the global economy over time. These actions will also inject momentum into the global climate negotiations on the road to reaching a successful new climate agreement next year in Paris.”

Lenore Taylor|political editor,Guardian Australia|Tania Branigan|Beijing agencies|12 November 2014

Senate’s Biggest Climate Change Denier to Head Environmental Committee?

With Republicans set to become the majority in the Senate this January, that means there will be a lot of shuffling of top positions. The most frightening impending change is the likely appointment of Senator Jim Inhofe to head of the Environment and Public Works Committee. We’ve created a petition to urge the Republican party to pick someone – perhaps literally anyone – else for the job.

At the moment, Inhofe is declining to discuss future leadership roles he will take in the Senate, but back in March, Inhofe said he intended to take over the environmental committee if and when the Republicans regained control of the Senate. His goal is not to bolster existing environmental policies, but to dismantle them.

As we’ve discussed at Care2 previously, the reasons that Inhofe is the worst man for the job are plentiful:

  • He chooses to protect corporations’ bank accounts over the environment
  • He has a 5% rating with the League of Conservation Voters
  • He wants to reallocate money spent on the environment to the military
  • He is the biggest climate change denier in Congress, calling global warming a “hoax”

Essentially, the plan is to give one of the world’s most influential environmental roles to a man who is hell-bent on annihilating the EPA. I realize that I’d be expecting too much to hope conservatives would appoint a pro-environment senator to the job, but I’d settle for someone who is indifferent to the health of the planet over someone like Inhofe. How can we trust our future with someone who just two years ago wrote that “climate change conspiracy theories” pose the biggest threat to humanity?

RL Miller, an attorney and anti-climate change advocate, doesn’t anticipate Inhofe being as outspoken as usual. “I expect we are going to see less headline-grabbing efforts on the EPA and more of simply throttling their budget,” Miller told the Guardian. “If he touches climate denial at all, he is going to be ridiculed in public and in the media. If he is smart, he is going to be very quiet publicly, and it will be death by a thousand cuts in the kind of budget battles that people like Jon Stewart don’t pay attention to.”

Inhofe may strategically choose to keep his mouth shut, but that doesn’t mean his opinions have gotten any less detrimental. Only a decade ago, Inhofe stated that “increases in global temperatures may have a beneficial effect on how we live our lives.” He also believes that humans cannot alter the climate because that’s something God controls.

Republicans need to realize that by choosing Inhofe for this role, they’re not just being apathetic toward the environment, they’re waging war against it. We don’t have time to waste on a leader who wants to take us backwards on these critical issues.

Tell the Republican Party they need to choose someone who cares at least a little bit about the environment for this position and to leave Inhofe off the committee by signing our petition.

Kevin Mathews|November 11, 2014

Disappearing Islands: How Sea Level Rise Impacts Communities

Scientists predict that Kiribati—a remote Island Republic in the Central Pacific—could be lost to rising sea levels in the next 50 years. A recent study by researchers at the University of California Irvine and NASA finds that six massive glaciers in the Amundsen Sea sector “have passed the point of no return,” clearly showing how melting glaciers greatly impact low-lying islands like Kiribati.

Tinau (My Mother), by filmmaker Victoria Burns, provides an intimate family portrait of a Kiribatese mother that left her disappearing homeland of Kiribati and is now settled in the UK.

Tinau was one of two films to win a special prize in the Action4Climate video competition for its ability to present a local story that also has a profound global impact.

In an interview with filmmaker Victoria Burns, she shared her reasons for making this film. “My mother’s home island of Kiribati is predicted by some scientists to be one of the first countries to disappear due to rising sea levels,” said Burns. “Generally speaking most people aren’t familiar with Kiribati because of the country’s remoteness. Due to its relative seclusion, it would be so easy for people to think who cares? With the issue so close to my heart, I felt it my responsibility to share my mother and family’s story to raise awareness on the situation.”

When asked about future plans, Victoria replied, “I hope in the future to make a longer form documentary on climate change shot out on location in Kiribati and the Pacific. My film Tinau is just the beginning of the story and I believe there is still so much more to say. The potential impacts of climate change are widespread and varied throughout the world, Kiribati’s fate just one strand of many.”

Victoria shared the impact the Action4Climate video competition has had on her career, “I’ve personally found the Connect4Climate campaign and the Action4climate competition as the biggest impact with my engagement with the climate change movement. As a result of the competition I tuned into a community of peers, watched an array of stories from across the world and been inspired to become a better filmmaker and advocate in the climate change movement!”

The Action4Climate video competition received more than 230 entries from 70 countries from students inspired to share their climate change stories. To watch other Action4Climate videos, click here.

Stefanie Spear|November 13, 2014

IPCC report is clear: We must clean up our act

Germany, the world’s fourth-largest economy, now gets a third of its energy from renewable sources, and has reduced carbon emissions 23 per cent from 1990 levels and created 370,000 jobs. (Credit: David via Flickr)

It’s become a cliché to say that out of crisis comes opportunity. But there’s no denying that when faced with crises, we have choices. The opportunity depends on what we decide to do.

What choices will we make when confronted with the fact that 2014 will likely be the hottest year on record? According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, global land and sea temperatures up to September’s end tie this year with 1998 as the warmest since record keeping began in 1880. “If 2014 maintains this temperature departure from average for the remainder of the year, it will be the warmest year on record,” a NOAA statement says.

The world’s warmest 10 years have all been since 1998, and last year carbon dioxide levels rose by the highest amount in 30 years.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Synthesis Report, released November 2, summarizes three reports released over the past year on the physical science; impacts, adaptation and vulnerability; and mitigation. It offers a stark choice: Unless we quickly curtail our fossil fuel dependence, we face “further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.

As a broadcaster, I’ve interviewed hundreds of scientists over the years, but I’ve never heard so many speak so forcefully and urgently as climatologists today. It’s a measure of the seriousness of the crisis.

What choices will we make? Will politicians close their eyes while fossil fuel industry executives shovel money at them and enlist propagandists to spread misinformation and lies? Will we listen to those who, in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence, continue to say the global warming they once claimed never existed stopped 18 years ago, or that human activity doesn’t contribute to climate change?

Or will we heed scientists from around the world who offer evidence that we still have time to do something about this very real crisis — and that confronting the challenge presents more opportunities than pitfalls?

Believing our only choice is between a strong economy and a healthy environment is absurd. Yet that’s the false option many political leaders and fossil fuel industry proponents present. Never mind the insanity of thinking we can survive and be healthy if we destroy the natural systems on which we depend; research shows taking measured steps to address global warming would have few negative economic effects and would offer numerous benefits. Failing to act would be disastrous for the economy and environment.

Energy conservation and clean fuels offer the greatest opportunities. Conserving energy makes precious, non-renewable resources last longer, reduces pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, saves consumers money and offers many economic benefits. More than 100,000 Canadians are directly employed in improving energy efficiency, with total wages estimated at $8.27 billion for 2014.

The fast-growing clean-energy and clean-technology sectors offer similar benefits. Improved performance and cost reductions make large-scale deployment for many clean-energy technologies increasingly feasible. By focusing on fossil fuels, Canada is clearly missing out. Worldwide spending on clean energy last year was $207 billion. Canada spent $6.5 billion — a start, but we could do much better.

Germany, the world’s fourth-largest economy, now gets a third of its energy from renewable sources, and has reduced carbon emissions 23 per cent from 1990 levels and created 370,000 jobs.

In contrast, Canada subsidizes the fossil fuel industry to the tune of $1.3 billion a year, despite a 2009 G20 agreement to phase out subsidies. The federal Environment and Sustainable Development Commissioner’s recent audit found Canada has no detailed plan to shrink carbon pollution and meet its international commitment, and has failed to release or enforce oil and gas sector emission regulations for our fastest-growing source of emissions, the oil sands, promised since 2006. Expanding oil sands and liquefied natural gas development will only make matters worse.

People around the world want leadership from elected representatives on climate change and pollution. Business leaders are getting on board. Will we take advantage of the numerous benefits of energy conservation and clean energy or remain stuck in the old way of just blindly burning our way through? The choice is clear.

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington

Extreme Weather

Coast-to-coast cold temps gripping much of the US

Some states to see 40 degrees below average for a week

“We’re locked into a below normal weather pattern for at least the next week or so, perhaps even up to the 10-day time frame,” said AccuWeather meteorologist Tom Kines.

From a blizzard in Oregon to arctic cold in Denver to lake-effect snow in the Great Lakes and a hard freeze along the Gulf Coast, two-thirds of the U.S. is enduring a freakish cold snap.

In addition, sleet and light snow fell before dawn over portions of western and central Tennessee. In Memphis, a thin sheet of white covered the windshields of parked cars and left some highways and over­passes icy. Officially, the city picked up 0.1 inch of snow, the earliest the city has received snow, the National Weather Service reported.

“Temperatures associated with the cold air mass will be 20 to near 40 degrees below average from east of the Rockies to the Mississippi Valley,” the weather service said.


Residents in the Northwest should prepare for significant travel problems and disruptions through Friday along the Interstate 84 corridor in Oregon, Washington and Idaho because of a storm that AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski calls “highly unusual” for this time of year.

A blizzard warning is in effect for the Columbia River Gorge region between Oregon and Washington, where up to a foot of snow and 55 mph wind is forecast.

In Denver, Thursday morning’s low of minus-14 degrees smashed the record for the date, set at minus-3 degrees in 1916. That comes a day after the mile-high city’s high temperature Wednesday reached just 6 degrees, a whopping 47 degrees below the average high of 53 degrees for this time of year.

Looking to escape the cold? You might consider a trip to Barrow, Alaska. Temperatures in that tiny town on the edge of the Arctic Ocean reached a balmy 31 degrees Wednesday, 24 degrees above normal. But visitors should note Barrow only has about three hours of daylight right now, and total darkness descends for two months starting Nov. 20.


The wild contrast in temperatures is actually related: The unusually curvy jet stream is pulling warm air into Alaska and arctic chill down into the 48 contiguous states.

Elsewhere, morning lows plunged well below zero Thursday across Montana, Wyoming, northeastern and central Colorado and the western parts of Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota, WeatherBug reported.

In the Deep South and along the Gulf Coast, freeze watches and warnings are in place all the way from Houston to Tallahassee, Florida. Temperatures were expected to possibly bottom out Thursday night in the 20s, which may kill crops and other sensitive plants.

Meanwhile, lake-effect snow will continue to bury areas around all five of the Great Lakes. In northern Michigan, the additional snowfall will just pile on top of the 2 to 3 feet the region received earlier in the week. Snow will also fly in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York state.

Doyle Rice|USA TODAY |Contributing: The Associated Press

Genetically Modified Organisms

37 Million Bees Found Dead in Canada After Large GMO Crop Planting

The makers of neonicotinoids, the bee-killing insecticide that was banned all over Europe, won’t be able to refute this latest phenomenon. Millions of bees were found dead after GMO corn was planted in Ontario, Canada. This isn’t new news, but it should be known news.

The keeper of these bees, Dave Schuit, who produces honey, reported that he lost over 600 hives – around 37 million bees.

“Once the corn started to get planted our bees died by the millions,” Schuit said.

With increasing bee deaths and consumer petitions targeted to places like Home Depot and Lowe’s who sell neonics, the US Department of Agriculture has failed to ban neonicotinoids, manufactured primarily by Bayer CropScience Inc., as well as other biotech companies.

Two of Bayer’s best sellers are suspect this time around: Imidacloprid and Clothianidin. They are both known to seep into pollen and nectar, damaging beneficial insects such as bees.

The more widely they are used, the more bees seem to die.

Schuit’s report of dead bees is corroborated by other farmers, too. Nathan Carey is another local farmer who noticed a disappearance of bees on his farm this past Spring. There were so few that he could not count on them as he normally did to help pollinate his crops. He correlates their absence to the use of these toxic insecticides.

While many scientists are still unconvinced that “colony collapse disorder” (CCD) is caused by neonicotinoids, there has been a consecutive die-off of bees in the U.S. for seven years now – directly correlated to higher insecticide spraying.

Even US scientists have found 121 different pesticides in samples of bees, wax and pollen, lending credence to the notion that pesticides are in fact a problem.

Jeffery Pettis, of the ARS’s bee research laboratory, says:

“We believe that some subtle interactions between nutrition, pesticide exposure and other stressors are converging to kill colonies.”

A recently released study published in the Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences described that neonicotinoid pesticides kill honeybees by damaging their immune system, making them unable to fight diseases and bacteria.

The study abstract concluded:

“The occurrence at sublethal doses of this insecticide-induced viral proliferation suggests that the studied neonicotinoids might have a negative effect at the field level. Our experiments uncover a further level of regulation of the immune response in insects and set the stage for studies on neural modulation of immunity in animals. Furthermore, this study has implications for the conservation of bees, as it will contribute to the definition of more appropriate guidelines for testing chronic or sublethal effects of pesticides used in agriculture.”

A third of everything we eat is pollinated by bees and other beneficial insects. This accounts for over 30 billion in the global economy. If bees die, our food supplies die, too. Here is a list of foods we would lose without the bees.

Bayer denies that their insecticides are causing CCD. Will they be responsible for feeding the world when 30% of our food supply is gone with the bees?

Christina Sarich|November 9, 2014

Poorly Tested Gene Silencing Technology to Enter Food Supply with Simplot Potato

A New Form of Genetic Engineering will soon be sold to unsuspecting consumers

November 7, 2014 (Washington, DC)–Center for Food Safety (CFS) is today warning consumers about a new genetically engineered (GE) potato that may soon enter the food supply. Because GE foods are not required to be labeled, the new GE potato will be sold to consumers without their knowledge. The GE potato was one of two new crops approved today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that uses a new, little understood form of genetic engineering called RNA interference (RNAi). The other is a new low-lignin alfalfa from Monsanto. Despite the unprecedented nature of these approvals, USDA has inexplicably failed to undertake the legally required rigorous and overarching analysis of the GE crops’ impacts or reasonably foreseeable consequences.

“We simply don’t know enough about RNA interference technology to determine whether GE crops developed with it are safe for people and the environment.  If this is an attempt to give crop biotechnology a more benign face, all it has really done is expose the inadequacies of the U.S. regulation of GE crops.  These approvals are riddled with holes and are extremely worrisome,” said Doug Gurian-Sherman, Ph.D., CFS director of sustainable agriculture and senior scientist.

Analysis of RNAi by a panel of independent scientists requested by the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that there were many significant uncertainties about potential risks from this technology, and that current risk assessment procedures were not adequate. Despite such cautions USDA is rushing the technology forward.

Unlike earlier genetic engineering techniques that splice in segments of DNA, the new technique used in the Simplot potato and Monsanto’s low-lignin alfalfa is based on the manipulation of the plant’s RNA-based control mechanisms.  RNA interference (RNAi) induces the plant to silence or dial back expression of the plant’s own genes, such as those responsible for natural processes like browning or lignin production.. However, RNA manipulations may end up turning down, or off, genes other than those that were targeted because many genes contain similar, or even identical, stretches of DNA. Current testing requirements do not reliably  detect such effects on other important crop genes.

Developed by the J.R. Simplot Company, the potato would be the only GE potato variety on the U.S. commercial market. The Simplot potato has been genetically engineered with RNAi technology to reduce browning by silencing the expression of one of five polyphenol oxidase genes, which is normally highly expressed in potato tubers. This is attractive to the potato processing industry because bruised potatoes are culled for cosmetic reasons. However, bruised potatoes have not been associated with health risks.

These potatoes are also silenced for genes affecting sugar production and the amino acid asparagine, which during frying and baking lead to the production of acrylamide, a probable carcinogen. However, it is unclear whether the observed reductions will lead to positive health outcomes, given that acrylamide is found in many other foods. In addition, fried potato products have other serious negative health effects.

“In light of the obesity crisis, there has been an important national push to discourage children and adults from eating large quantities of fried foods like french fries or chips. In creating the false illusion that fried potatoes are now healthy, the Simplot potato sends the absolute opposite message,” said Elizabeth Kucinich, policy director at CFS. “Claims of health benefits by USDA and Simplot are short sighted, misleading, and in the light of the science, could actually be potentially dangerous.”

The asparagine gene has also been shown in recent research to be important in plant defenses against pathogens. The Simplot potato was not adequately tested for a possible weakening of its ability to defend itself against disease.  If this occurs in the field, it could lead to increased fungicide use, greater farmer expense, and possibly reduced productivity. The latter effect was seen in several tests of these potatoes.

“We need answers to these questions before these potatoes are commercialized,” said Gurian-Sherman.

Monsanto and Forage Genetics International (FGI) have genetically engineered alfalfa for reduced levels of lignin through the suppression of a key enzyme in the lignin biosynthetic pathway. It represents the first non-regulated GE crop with reduced lignin levels.  Lignin and its building blocks perform many functions in plants, including structural stability and plant defense.  Lowering lignin levels could make the alfalfa more prone to attack by insects or diseases, and potentially increase pesticide use.  Moreover, there are still many unknowns about how plants make lignin, making it premature to manipulate this important pathway.  Additionally, alfalfa is a perennial crop and can cross-pollinate at great distances, allowing it to interbreed with other types of alfalfa. Any adverse impacts of the new variety will therefore be spread rapidly through much or all of the alfalfa seed supply

Regulatory Failures:

USDA assessed the risk from these crops under the inadequate plant pest provisions of the Plant Protection Act (PPA) of 2000. USDA has ignored the noxious weed provision of the PPA, which would allow a more thorough risk assessment. By failing to develop reasonable regulations under the PPA 14 years after its passage, USDA continues to fail in its mandate to protect the public and the environment. 

Read CFS’s full comments to USDA here.

Center for Food Safety|November 7th, 2014

GMO salmon’s future in question after producer fined over violations

Panama fined a US biotechnology company’s local facility that “repeatedly violated” the nation’s permitting and regulatory laws as it worked to develop the world’s first genetically-modified salmon. The 2012 infractions were first made public on Tuesday.

AquaBounty Technologies, a company licensed by the US government to foster what could be the world’s first genetically-modified (GM) meat, is carrying out GM-salmon research in Panama. Neither Panama nor the US has given clearance to sell GM salmon, but, if regulators approve its application, AquaBounty may become the first to sell GM meat in the US.

“AquaBounty is really out front on this – the current case will set an important precedent,” Dana Perls, a food and technology campaigner at Friends of the Earth, told Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency.

“From what we know, there are about 35 other genetically modified species in the development pipelines in other companies. So depending on what happens in this case, we’ll likely either see a flow of other permits or this will demonstrate that there isn’t room on the market for GM meat or seafood.”

The company’s breeding facility in Panama, however, has come under scrutiny from local regulators, IPS reported, casting doubt on GMO meat’s future in the US.

A 2012 investigation of AquaBounty’s Panama facilities found that the company, in working to develop GM salmon, did not attain required permits for water use and pollution of the surrounding environment, which is important based on the possible ramifications of GM species invading natural ecosystems.

The company “repeatedly violated” Panamanian regulations, authorities said, and problematic practices continued into 2013. The violations yielded the maximum fine allowed against AquaBounty.

The decision to fine AquaBounty was made in July 2014 and was first announced to the public on Tuesday, IPS reported.

AquaBounty insisted that the violations were mainly administrative and that all problems have been corrected by now.

“It is important to emphasize that none of the issues in the Resolution questioned the containment, health of the fish, or the environmental safety of the facility,” the company said in a statement to IPS.

“When AquaBounty was informed of issues at our Panama facility, we immediately contacted Anam, the Panamanian agency for the environment. We initiated a program to remedy the deficiencies and the issues were formally resolved in August of 2014.”

AquaBounty added that its Panama facility “continues to operate with no sanctions or restrictions.”

It is yet unclear how these infractions will affect AquaBounty’s application with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A spokesperson for the agency noted that the violations occurred in 2012, and that the FDA would “consider all relevant information as part of the decision-making process.”

Without offering an estimated conclusion date, the spokesperson said the FDA is in the process of reviewing AquaBounty’s application.

The regulatory infractions stoked frustration and concern among groups dissatisfied with the FDA’s regulatory structures.

“This decision is also even further proof that FDA is dangerously out of touch with the facts on the ground, advancing AquaBounty’s application based on its promises, not reality,” George Kimbrell, a senior attorney with the Center for Food Safety, told IPS.

The FDA’s review of GM salmon is based solely on AquaBounty’s development in Panama, according to Perls.

“The FDA is going forward with its review based on the premise that this facility will be in compliance with regulations, yet now we’re seeing it’s not,” she said.

“It is increasingly clear that there is inadequate regulation: the FDA is trying to shoehorn this new genetically engineered animal into a completely ill-fitting regulatory process.”

Many environmentalists are concerned about the introduction of GM species into the wild, where the genetically-engineered crop could dominate the natural population or usher in new diseases. Anti-GMO and consumer advocates are worried that regulators are moving too fast, echoing the GMO-labeling debate in the US.

There is currently no GMO-labeling requirement in the US, though major biotech and food manufacturing groups are working feverishly to stem the tide of state-based labeling laws, such as the one passed but still pending in Vermont.

A poll conducted by the New York Times last year found that 93 percent of respondents want GMO ingredients to be properly labeled. Seventy-five percent of respondents also said they would not eat genetically-engineered fish.

Meanwhile, around 60 major US retailers, according to Friends of the Earth, have said they will not carry genetically-engineered salmon if and when approved. That list includes Safeway, the second-largest US grocer, which said in February that “should [genetically-engineered] salmon come to market, we are not considering nor do we have any plans to carry GE salmon.”

In Guatemala, indigenous communities prevail against Monsanto

Late in the afternoon of September 4, after nearly 10 days of protests by a coalition of labor, indigenous rights groups and farmers, the indigenous peoples and campesinos of Guatemala won are rare victory. Under the pressure of massive mobilizations, the Guatemala legislature repealed Decree 19-2014, commonly referred to as the “Monsanto Law,” which would have given the transnational chemical and seed producer a foot hold into the country’s seed market.

“The law would have affected all indigenous people of Guatemala,” said Edgar René Cojtín Acetún of the indigenous municipality of the department of Sololá. “The law would have privatized the seed to benefit only the multinational corporations. If we didn’t do anything now, then our children and grandchildren would suffer the consequences.”

Originally passed on June 26, the Monsanto Law was written to protect the intellectual property rights of multinational companies in their investments within Guatemala. The law also allowed Monsanto an entrance into the Guatemalan seed market and set in place stiff penalties for any farmer that was caught selling seed to another farmer without the proper permits. The response was a massive mobilization of a coalition of labor, indigenous groups and campesinos.

For 10 days, the streets in front of the legislature of the capital Guatemala City were clogged with thousands of protesters demanding the repeal of the law. Demonstrators also gathered in the rural departments of Guatemala to protest the law and the congressmen who had voted in favor of the law.

The changes to the seed market would have heavily hit the campesinos of the department of Sololá, which is a major production area for seed corn for the rest of the country. On September 2, 25,000 to 30,000 people from the around the communities of the department of Sololá shut down the Inter-American Highway in protest of the Monsanto Law. Protesters set up blockades along the highway in three places and shut down all traffic for nearly nine hours.

“The communities are organized against any law that privatizes their seed,” said Griselda Pocop of the Association of Women Moving Sololá. “They are also demanding the respect of the traditions and of their livelihoods.”

Sololá is one of the agriculture centers of Guatemala, with a majority of the population relying on the growing of maize, beans, coffee and other crops. The department also has one of the highest indigenous populations in the country, with 96 percent of the population identifying as Kaqchikel, T’zutujil, or Kiche Maya. Maize is sacred to the Maya; their cultures and societies revolve around it. According to the Kiche Maya creation story, the Popol Vuh, the gods made humans by grinding the different colors of maize.

As is written in the Popol Vuh, “There was a consensus (among the gods), and it was decided what would come of the red, yellow, black, and white maize; it is from these that they made our bones, our blood, and our flesh.”

The protection of seed is thus of the utmost importance for the indigenous peoples of Guatemala and across Mesoamerica. “We cannot live without our corn,” said Acetún of the indigenous municipality. “It makes up all of our lives. We consume it for our food, we sell it, it is us.”

Rafael, a campesino from the Kaqchikel Maya community of Pixabaj, Sololá, explained, “The people here are Maize … We are not French. We are not anything else. We are Maize; we are Maya.”

As the protests mounted, women took the lead in organizing for the defense of maize. In Sololá, women created a seed bank to archive and protect the various varieties of heirloom corn for future generations. “The women of Sololá have taken the lead in organizing to save and protect our heirloom seeds,” said Pocop. “It is our responsibility to preserve our traditional seed, and to pass along the traditional ways of doing things.”

Decree 19-2014 was written to comply with the requirements of the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Like the North American Fair Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA, the agreement opens up the economies of Central American countries and the Dominican Republic to cheap imports from the United States.

From the moment the trade agreement was proposed, the indigenous and farmer communities protested the law. They argued that since NAFTA had ravaged rural Mexico, CAFTA would have the same affect in the Central American countries. Despite the protests, CAFTA was ratified by Guatemala in 2006.

These trade agreements have opened up the Guatemala corn market to the importation of corn from the United States and tied the internal market to the global pricing. The results have been devastating. In the years since the agreement was signed, the price of corn has steadily increased. For years, one quetzal (roughly 12 cents) could purchase eight large tortillas. But today, for the same price, one can only purchase four smaller tortillas.

Many farmers have not been able to benefit from the increased prices of corn, because they have had to compete with cheaper imports from El Salvador, Mexico and the United States. “The trade agreement opened up Guatemala to the importation of corn and the prices went up,” said Pocop. “But the imported corn is still cheaper than that produced here.”

On the heels of this trade agreement, Decree 19-2014 would have opened up the Guatemala seed market to allow Monsanto’s modified and proprietary seeds into the country. Guatemala is not alone in the region in having to combat the privatization of seed by multinationals; campesinos in El Salvador too have had to defend their livelihoods from the privatizing effects of the trade agreement.

A week prior to the protest against the Monsanto law the Guatemalan Constitutional Court declared that articles 46 and 50 of the legislation, the two that most violated the rights of farmers, were unconstitutional.

Then, in a landslide vote of 117 in favor, 3 against, and 38 abstaining, the Guatemala legislature repealed Decree 19-2014. Soon after learning about the repeal, communities rejoiced. In Sololá alone, more than 5,000 people celebrated the elimination of the law.

Yet, just because the law has been repealed does not mean that the indigenous communities and campesinos of Guatemala are in the clear. According to Congressman Amlicar Pop, one of the few indigenous members of the legislature, legal loopholes exist in the bill that allow similar legislation to resurface under a different name.

“For the moment, there are legal loopholes that need to be resolved,” Pop told to the Guatemalan newspaper La Hora.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department declined to comment on any steps that might be taken to bring Guatemala in line with requirements of the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

Jeff Abbott|November 4, 2014

Largest international study into safety of GM food launched by Russian NGO

Thousands of rats will be fed Monsanto maize diets in a $23m, three-year ‘Factor GMO’ study into long-term health effects of GM food and associated pesticides

A Russian group working with scientists is set to launch what they call the world’s largest and most comprehensive long-term health study on a GM food.

The $25m three-year experiment will involve scientists testing thousands of rats which will be fed differing diets of a Monsanto GM maize and the world’s most widely-used herbicide which it it is engineered to be grown with.

The organizers of the Factor GMO [genetically modified organism] study, announced in London on Tuesday and due to start fully next year, say it will investigate the long-term health effects of a diet of a GM maize developed by US seed and chemical company Monsanto.

“It will answer the question: is this GM food, and associated pesticide, safe for human health?” said Elena Sharoykina, a campaigner and co-founder of the Russian national association for genetic safety (Nags), the co-coordinator of the experiment.

According to the Nags, the experiment will try to establish whether the GM maize and its associated herbicide cause cancers, reduce fertility or cause birth defects. The scientists also want to know whether the mixture of chemicals present in Roundup (Monsanto’s trade name for its glyphosate herbicide) are more or less toxic than its active ingredient glyphosate.

Farmers, governments, scientists and consumers around the world have been involved in an intense debate since GM foods were introduced in 1994. But while there have been many thousands of studies conducted, mostly by GM companies, which show that there is no health risk, government regulators have not required evidence of long-term safety and deep mistrust has built between different “sides”.

“We would clearly support well-conducted, hypothesis-driven science. If the science is conducted according to OECD guidelines and shows that there are hazards with a particular event, then the public will understand that,” said Prof Huw Jones, senior research scientist at Rothamsted Research, which specializes in agricultural research and is the only research institute in the UK currently carrying out a GM crop trial.

Oxana Sinitsyna, deputy science director at the Sysin research institute of human ecology and environmental health which is part of the Russian ministry of health, one of the three scientists on the Factor GMO study’s review board, said: “The scale and format of this research project will allow us to create a really objective and comprehensive data set on the mechanics of the impacts of a GM diet on the health of living organisms over the long term.

“From a scientific point of view the ‘Factor GMO’ project is highly ambitious, which makes it very interesting, for both the public and for the scientists involved.”

Bruce Blumberg, another board member, who is a biology professor at the University of California, Irvine, said: “The cultivation of herbicide resistant crops is widespread in the US, and the use of the herbicides to which these crops are resistant has increased many-fold in the decades since they were introduced. There is a notable lack of published, peer-reviewed data on their safety, as well as data on the safety of the increased use of herbicides with which they are grown.”

The planned study will have no input from the biotech industry or the anti-GM movement, said Sharoykina.“Comprehensive scientific safety studies on GMOs and their related pesticides are long overdue. All previous studies caused controversy for various reasons: choice of animal, insufficient statistics, duration of tests, research parameters, and researchers’ connections to the anti-GMO movement or the biotech industry.

“This study is intended to remedy the situation. The project organizers have considered all of the points of disagreement and distrust surrounding this subject.” She added that Nags would not have any involvement in the scientific process.

Most of the $25m has been raised, say the organizers, but the names of sponsors and funders will not be revealed until the experiment starts fully next year.

Fiorella Belpoggi, a cancer specialist with the Ramazzini institute in Italy and a board member of the study said: “This is not at all an anti-GM study. We are being neutral. We don’t know if it’s good or bad. Maybe in the future I will be a cheerleader with Monsanto. But I want science to find out”.

The experiment, which will be conducted in western Europe and Russia, was cautiously welcomed by both GM sceptics and proponents of the technology. However, Monsanto did not respond to invitations for an interview.

Karl Haro von Mogel, a public research geneticist in Madison, said on the Biofortified website: “If they conduct the study and publish it in the peer-reviewed literature, it can make a contribution to the existing literature. They frame the need for this study by saying that ‘there has never been a scientific study that is comprehensive enough to give them a clear answer regarding the safety for human health of any one GM food – until now’. The study has not been done yet, so this is putting the cart before the horse.”

Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace UK, said: “There is still scientific uncertainty regarding what effects GM crops could have on the environment and the health of consumers, especially in the long term. If this is a well-designed, transparent and accountable study, then hopefully it can help to fill some of the major gaps in our knowledge of the impacts of GM glyphosate resistant maize and glyphosate on health.”

Peter Melchett, policy director with the Soil Association, said: “I welcome this. It has been a scientific fraud that no scientific study like this has been done in the past.”

Monsanto was contacted for a response but did not reply. In the past it has claimed that trillions of meals have been eaten by consumers without ill effects.

The announcement of the experiment came as British anti-GM campaigners delivered a letter to Downing street signed by US environment groups representing over 50m people, as well as celebrities including Susan Sarandon, Daryl Hannah and Robert Kennedy. The letter warns Britain that the intensive growing of GM crops has caused major environmental problems in the US.

“GM crops have never delivered on their promises to increase yields and profits or to decrease pesticide use. In fact, they have done the opposite with the cost of growing GM crops now greater than conventional crops in the US and pesticide use 24% higher amongst GM farmers than non-GM farmers planting the same crops”, says the letter which was delivered by former Labor environment minister Michael Meacher and Tory MP Zac Goldsmith.

Separately on Tuesday, MEPs voted to allow national bans on GM food crops for environmental reasons.

John Vidal|11 November 2014


    Can the world be powered With 100 percent renewable energy by 2050?

    New research says yes!

    Renewable Energy Life Cycle: Cleaner and Cheaper

    Results of a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) presents a life cycle assessment (LCA) on an array of electricity generation sources, from fossil fuels to solar power.  The conclusions indicate that renewable energy is cheaper, less environmentally damaging, and has more potential for growth in the next few decades than any conventional electricity generation source. Renewable energy can even power our entire grid by 2050 if we use our resources wisely.

    The study is being hailed as the first ever global-scale LCA of a mix of renewable energy sources. Until now, studies have focused on one energy source at a time in LCAs, if they have been done at all.

    A life cycle assessment is a method of study used to estimate the environmental impact caused by all stages of the life of a product, or in this case, energy source, from production to end-use. Finally, we have a better idea of how exactly renewable energy integration will affect our environment, electric grid, and energy bills. Surprisingly, we’ve never studied several renewable resources at once to find an answer. This data gives us solid evidence that renewable energy is fully capable of powering our grid and reducing pollution. The authors conclude, “Our analysis indicates that the large-scale implementation of wind, PV [photovoltaic], and CSP [concentrated solar power] has the potential to reduce pollution-related environmental impacts of electricity production, such as GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions…”

    Green energy does come with some environmental impacts, which is why this LCA is so valuable.  For the first time, we have information that presents the combined environmental costs of materials, land, manufacturing, and related emissions in one analysis.  The raw materials required to manufacture renewable energy generation is not insignificant, but the authors find that materials, emissions, and pollution of renewable energy pale in comparison to the alternative,

    The pollution caused by higher material requirements of [renewable] technologies is small compared with the direct emissions of fossil fuel-fired power plants.

    In terms of materials required, the study estimates that,only two years of current global copper and one year of iron production will suffice to build a low-carbon energy system capable of supplying the world’s electricity needs in 2050.”

    Demand Response for Renewable Energy

    Renewable resources are intermittent in their ability to generate energy; that is always the main argument heard from opponents of wind and solar. The sun does not always shine and wind does not always blow. So, what will happen when a shortage of available power occurs?

    Maybe the same thing that happens today: utilities and system operators can trigger a demand response event.

    If renewable energy can supply 100% of the world’s power by 2050, as the PNAS study claims, then demand response (DR) will be the best carbon-free asset we will have to keep power stable.

    Demand response events are typically triggered during extreme heat waves because energy use spikes (mostly for air conditioning) and stresses the electric grid. But, what if we had DR events on cloudy days instead?   Weather radars can predict the extreme overcast conditions that cause solar panels to generate less power.  Wind power output could be similarly predicted since air pressure and changes in cold and warm front weather patterns are already monitored.  Currently, demand response events can be forecast for days when extreme weather conditions are predicted. I don’t see why the same can’t be done for solar and wind power. Triggers for DR events would simply change in accordance with sustainable electricity generation patterns. This process wouldn’t be much more disruptive to the power grid than it is today, especially when you consider the fact that cloudy days are usually pretty windy.

    Demand response will get a technology upgrade too; by 2050, we’ll have better storage technology than we do now. Batteries can store any excess power generated by renewable energy systems. Such technology is already being developed; it won’t be long before it’s up and running.  This means even more grid stability. Batteries can replace generators for DR participants. Instead of firing up a diesel generator as backup power, facilities could switch over to batteries that store excess energy from on-site solar panels or windmills.

    Climate Change is Killer

    According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), without efforts to stop pollution, CO2 emissions from the energy sector will roughly double by 2050. Considering that the earth is already showing effects of climate change, that statistic is chilling. In a 2010 report, the IEA published a graph estimating the CO2 emissions poured into the atmosphere by 2050 if we do nothing (baseline scenario), versus the lesser amount if we act to stop carbon pollution (BLUE Map):

    CO2 Emissions

    Graph depicting the CO2 emissions of the IEA’s estimated BLUE Map and Baseline Scenarios Image credit: IEA Energy Technology Perspectives 2010

    The baseline scenario will emit almost 60 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by 2050. There’s no doubt that will wreak havoc on Earth’s climate and all aspects of human livelihood.

    Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is vitally important, as we all already know. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) tells us in its Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report that,

    It is virtually certain that there will be more frequent hot and fewer cold temperature extremes over most land areas on daily and seasonal timescales, as global mean surface temperature increases. It is very likely that heat waves will occur with a higher frequency and longer duration. Occasional cold winter extremes will continue to occur.

    Virtually certain environmental disasters should be enough to motivate us all to make some changes in how we think about energy. It’s time to shake up the electric grid and stop pouring carbon into the atmosphere before we reach the point of no return.

    Jessica Kennedy|November 6, 2014

    EPA Takes First Step Toward Regulating Fracking Chemicals

    Water samples are logged and stored at a treatment plant that separates oil, sediment and water mixed during the hydraulic fracturing process, near Shreveport, Louisiana. The EPA today announced the start of a process that could result in companies being forced to report to the government, and possibly the public, the chemicals they add to sand and water to break apart shale rock and release oil and gas trapped deep underground.

    Water samples are logged and stored at a treatment plant that separates oil, sediment and water mixed during the hydraulic fracturing process, near Shreveport, Louisiana. The EPA today announced the start of a process that could result in companies being forced to report to the government, and possibly the public, the chemicals they add to sand and water to break apart shale rock and release oil and gas trapped deep underground.

    The Obama administration began a process that may result in the first federal regulation of chemicals used in fracking, a drilling technique that has transformed energy production while eluding oversight sought by environmentalists.

    After three years of delay, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said today it’s considering rules requiring oilfield service companies such as Halliburton (HAL) Co. to send it details on the health and safety of the chemicals used. The agency said it may decide to stop short of rules, and use incentives or voluntary steps.

    “It’s unfortunate that this process has taken so long, as it addresses a critical need to ensure the safety of chemicals used in fracking,” Richard Denison, the lead scientist of the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a blog post. “This is only the first baby step toward initiating the rulemaking process EPA said it would undertake.”

    Environmental groups have been pressing the agency to collect information on the fluids injected with water and sand to break apart underground rocks, saying they may be a danger to human health or the environment. The oil and natural gas industries have tried to fend off any federal oversight of the practice, saying states can best oversee it. Oilfield service providers also say their recipes are trade secrets.

    The EPA earlier said it would consider gathering the information under a provision of the toxic substances act. The action today is the next step, and it came without a specific guarantee of a regulation that the environmental groups sought.

    “Today’s announcement represents an important step in increasing the public’s access to information on chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing,” James Jones, the EPA’s assistant administrator, said in a statement. The plan will “complement but not duplicate existing reporting requirements,” he said.

    Industry, which has fought to preempt federal oversight of oil and gas drilling, reacted cautiously to EPA’s announcement.

    “Our members are committed to the continued safe and responsible development of America’s abundant natural gas resource and to being good neighbors in communities in which we operate,” Dan Whitten, a spokesman for the America’s Natural Gas Alliance, said in an e-mail. “We look forward to engaging with EPA to see that any new regulatory or voluntary program employ a common sense, workable and effective approach.”

    Fracking has led to a natural-gas boom in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas, sparking opposition among some residents who say the technology may contaminate drinking water and add to air and soil pollution. Many drilling companies are disclosing chemical information on the industry website Some states require drillers to submit data to the site.

    Critics say the website allows too many exemptions that keep ingredients secret and doesn’t permit easy aggregation of information. And drilling companies may not know the full list of chemicals used in their fracking fluids, they say. The EPA has the authority to make more broad demands, and, if necessary, keep the information private.

    “The presumption should be on behalf of disclosure,” Deborah Goldberg, a lawyer at Earthjustice which, along with EDF, petitioned the EPA in 2011 to require the chemical disclosure. “One of the best incentives for safer chemicals is forcing disclosure of toxic chemicals.”

    Already, one supplier to the drilling industry is acting.

    Baker Hughes Inc. (BHI), the world’s third-largest oilfield services provider, in April said it will disclose all the chemicals used in fracking fluids after negotiating with suppliers and customers.

    Halliburton reports its fracking fluids to FracFocus, said Susie McMichael, a spokeswoman for the company.

    “Halliburton has been working and continues to work with the EPA and other regulatory agencies in answering questions and providing them with information as requested,” she said in an e-mail.

    Schlumberger Ltd. (SLB), the world’s largest oilfield services provider, declined to comment.

    The EPA, in its notice of proposed rulemaking today, is giving companies, environmentalists and interested members of the public 90 days to respond, and will subsequently decide on its next step.

    Mark Drajem|May 9, 2014

    Second Canadian Company Completing Tar-Sands Pipeline into the U.S.

    State Department agrees to 800,000 barrels per day

     For six years, TransCanada has negotiated federal and state laws, and contended with the opposition of environmental organizations and landowners, to build the Keystone XL: a 36-inch-diameter, 1,700-mile pipeline that, if completed, would transport 830,000 barrels per day (bpd) of Canadian tar-sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast.

    The U.S. State Department has not issued the required presidential permit, which would declare the importing of tar-sands oil in the “national interest.” And the Nebraska Supreme Court just heard oral arguments on a landowners’ lawsuit that could cost TransCanada another year if it has to reapply for its permit in the state.

    The stalled process has led one equities analyst to observe that, “Keystone XL doesn’t look like it will ever get fully up and running.”

    Yet TransCanada’s fight, and the Keystone XL pipeline, might be moot—along with the campaign that brought together a broad coalition of environmental groups working to block the project and contain the import of tar-sands oil.

    According to State Department documents, annual corporate reports, and interviews with company officials and attorneys, Enbridge Inc. and its U.S. subsidiary have circumvented the pipeline permitting process. By the middle of next year, the Calgary-based company will be transporting 800,000 bpd of tar-sands oil from western Canada into the U.S.

    Enbridge intends to … increase the flow of oil on the Line 67 south of border segment, whether or not a new Presidential Permit is issued by the State Department.
    —Letter to the State Department from Enbridge attorney David Coburn

    Barring litigation, or action by the State Department, Enbridge will achieve what has eluded TransCanada. And it will have done so with scant attention from the media and without the public debate generated by campaigns against the Keystone XL.

    Enbridge will be transporting the same tar sands described by former NASA climate scientist James Hansen as one of the “dirtiest most carbon-intensive fuels on the planet.” Mining and burning Alberta’s tar-sands oil alone, University of Saint Thomas (Minnesota) engineering professor John Abraham warned in Scientific American, will result in a global temperature increase that’s equivalent to “half of what we’ve already seen.”

    “It’s a complicated story,” an environmental lawyer said of Enbridge’s pipeline, “so it’s not getting much media coverage.” Also lacking media attention is Enbridge’s role in the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, the result of a ruptured pipe in 2010.

    How They Did It

    In November 2012, Enbridge’s U.S. subsidiary applied for a presidential permit that would allow the company to import tar-sands oil, requesting authorization for “full capacity” operation (800,000 bpd) of its “Alberta Clipper Pipeline.”

    The Alberta Clipper begins in Alberta, crosses the Canadian border, and continues for 327 miles, ending at a tank battery in Superior, Wisconsin. From there, the oil would flow to Cushing, Oklahoma, then to the Gulf Coast for refining and export.

    After 18 months, Enbridge lost patience with the State Department.

    In a June 16, 2014, letter to the State Department’s Office of Environmental Quality and Transboundary Issues, a lawyer representing Enbridge announced that the company was changing course. (The Alberta Clipper Pipeline is also known as the “Line 67 Project.”)

    “As we explained, the unforeseen Line 67 Project permitting delay at the Department of over a year has led Enbridge to recently assess options for achieving this additional capacity … Enbridge intends to construct the interconnections and Pump Upgrades, and to operate those facilities to increase the flow of oil on the Line 67 south of border segment, whether or not a new Presidential Permit is issued by the Department” (emphasis added).

    Enbridge wasn’t asking.

    It was informing the State Department of its plans to press ahead.

    With or Without Permission

    The State Department has authority over construction within three miles of international borders. Enbridge has already built one stretch of the Alberta Clipper Pipeline in Canada. It has built another stretch in the U.S. What it lacks is permission to connect them.

    Yet Enbridge has another permitted line, though not for tar sands, that crosses the border. In a bewildering paragraph in the permit application, Enbridge attorneys describe a series of “interconnector” pipelines leading to the existing trans-border pipeline. By diverting tar-sands oil to the pipeline that already crosses the border, Enbridge circumvents the State Department permitting process.

    The trans-border pipe was built in 1967, long before the exploitation of tar-sands oil was commercially viable. Terri Larson of Enbridge Energy Partners, in Houston, said in an email that the older pipe has recently been replaced with 17 miles of new 34-inch pipe. And that the “maintenance was allowable under the existing presidential permit.”

    “The State Department has been fully briefed on the interconnection and provided Enbridge with a letter on July 24, 2014, concluding that, ‘Enbridge’s intended changes to the pipeline outside of the border segment do not require authorization from the U.S. Department of State,’” Larson said.

    What they are doing violates the National Environmental Policy Act and also violates the existing presidential permits.
    —Sierra Club staff attorney Doug Hayes

    An attorney from Enbridge’s law firm, Steptoe and Johnson, also responded by email to the legality of using an existing pipe to move tar-sands oil across the border.

    “The answer to your question on whether Enbridge can expand daily capacity to 800,000 bpd … using an already permitted line to move the oil across the border, without a new presidential permit is yes,” David Coburn said.

    Enbridge Vice President Leigh Kelln told investors on a September 13, 2014, conference call: “We’re expanding the capacity of our Alberta Clipper system from 450,000 barrels a day to 800,000 barrels a day. This capacity is expected to be permitted and available by the middle of next year.”

    As far as Enbridge is concerned, a “Keystone XL Clone” is a done deal.

    It’s Illegal

    Environmentalists, unsurprisingly, disagree.

    “The State Department is charged with determining if the importing of Canadian tar-sands oil is in the national interest,” Sierra Club Staff Attorney Doug Hayes said in a telephone interview.

    “Enbridge applied for a permit a year ago [sic], then in June informed the State Department that the process was taking too long. So they came up with their scheme to avoid, to try to avoid, the State Department permitting process and expand the pipeline immediately. And the State Department basically looked the other way and said, ‘That’s fine with us.’

    “But what they are doing is illegal. First of all, it is illegal because it violates the National Environmental Policy Act. It also violates the existing presidential permits for the Alberta Clipper and the adjacent Line 3 Pipeline.

    “They are borrowing a 1967 permit and saying that, ‘For the Alberta Clipper, we are going to divert the flow over to this pipeline [to cross the Canada-U.S. border],” Hayes continued.

    In March, the Sierra Club filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the State Department, asking for permit-application information and State Department correspondence with Enbridge.

    The request was denied.

    “This is all happening behind closed doors,” Hayes said, “It is a deliberate effort to keep the public out of the process.”

    The Kalamazoo River Spill

    Minnesota is one of four states that Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper will cross. Environmentalists, and some Minnesota legislators, have opposed the pipeline, and a second proposed Sandpiper Pipeline, for which Enbridge is attempting to secure a state permit.

    “I have serious concerns about the safety of Enbridge’s pipelines after the Kalamazoo River spill,” Minnesota state Representative Frank Hornstein (D) said in a phone interview.

    Part of the Kalamazoo River 100 miles east of Detroit was the site of the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history. A $1 billion-plus cleanup is still not complete four years later.

    The details are spelled out in the “accident summary” in a National Transportation and Safety Board report (NTSB):

    On the evening of Sunday July 25, 2010, at approximately 5:58 p.m., a 4-foot- long pipe segment in Line 6 B, located approximately 0.6 miles downstream of the Marshall, Michigan, pump station ruptured. The Line 6 B is owned and operated by Enbridge Energy Inc. …

    The accident resulted in an Enbridge reported release of 20,082 barrels (843,444 gallons) of crude oil. … The rupture location is a high consequence area within a mostly rural, wet, and low-lying region. The released oil pooled in a marshy area before flowing 700 feet south into Talmadge Creek, which ultimately carried it into the Kalamazoo River.

    NTSB investigators found that technicians working at Enbridge’s control center in Alberta did not respond to the spill and activate remote-control valves until nearly 17 hours after the pipe ruptured.

    According to related testimony at a September 15, 2010, House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure hearing, 13 alarms in the control center had been ignored or misinterpreted. Enbridge technicians in Alberta were informed of the spill by a utility worker from another company who called from Marshall, Michigan.

    The late Jim Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat who chaired the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s September 2010 hearing, stated that Enbridge had requested a two-and-a-half-year extension from the Department of Transportation to repair 329 defects, of which the company had been aware for two years.

    Oberstar also said that inspections Enbridge conducted in 2005, 2007 and 2009 had detected a defect in the pipe that ruptured at Marshall. No repair was made because in the company’s judgment, the problem did not reach the repair criteria defined by the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA).

    None of this information, Oberstar said, had been provided to members of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazmat, when at an earlier hearing they questioned an Enbridge executive about pipeline integrity and spill-detection. That hearing, as it turned out, was held exactly 10 days before the Kalamazoo spill.

    State-Level Challenge

    In a telephone interview, Hornstein, who represents a Minneapolis district in the Minnesota Legislature, said that considering what is known about the Kalamazoo spill one would expect Enbridge to agree to reasonable environmental safeguards.

    That, however, was not the case.

    Hornstein was one of four legislative committee chairs who signed a letter to Minnesota’s Environmental Quality Board, protesting Enbridge’s failure to agree to safety requirements in proposed legislation.

    Among the requirements:

    • Provide monitoring equipment within three hours of a discharge or to develop an annual plan to deliver monitoring equipment to a discharge site;
    • Provide containment booms from land across sewer outfalls, creeks, ditches and other places where oil and other hazardous substances may drain in order to contain leaked material before it reaches those resources;
    • To have capability to deliver containment booms, boats, oil recovery equipment and trained staff within eight hours of a confirmed discharge to recover 10% of a worst case discharge;
    • Deliver equipment to protect sensitive environmental areas and drinking water intakes, within 60 hours of a major spill.

    Hornstein said that representatives of Enbridge met with members of the Minnesota House of Representatives to discuss the proposed safety requirements.

    “Then they went to work in the Senate and had the word ‘pipeline’ stripped from the [transportation safety] bill. If the railroads can agree with these safety measures, why can’t Enbridge?”

    The Alberta Clipper passes through Minnesota. A second Enbridge pipeline, the Sandpiper, has been put on hold by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, after environmentalists and legislators, including Hornstein, protested.

    “Enbridge ignored our requests to consider a southern route for the pipeline, which would have avoided wetlands and lakes and Native American’s rice beds where a spill would be a disaster,” Hornstein said.

    Tar-Sands Spigot Opens

    In September, three of the five members of the commission directed Enbridge to consider six alternate routes for its Sandpiper Pipeline.

    Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper Pipeline is unlikely to encounter any such administrative delays. At least not at the federal level.

    A State Department spokesperson said that, “In the case of Line 3, the department determined that Enbridge’s proposed replacement of the border segment was consistent with the authorization in the existing presidential permit.”

    He added that the State Department issued a Federal Register notice on August 18, 2014, which includes new information provided by Enbridge regarding the company’s intention to use its existing line to move oil across the border and ramp up pumping beyond the border. And that in both cases, he stressed that he was not speaking for state and local entities, which could exercise their own authority.

    While Terri Larson in Enbridge’s Houston office described using an existing pipeline to move oil across the border a “short term” solution “that does not address the longer term need,” David Coburn, the D.C. attorney handling the permit, says the company can import 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day “with no additional permit.”

    Whether that is a contradiction or a distinction without a difference, in six to eight months the Canadian tar-sands spigot opens to full capacity.

    Lou Dubose|November 11, 2014

    Court Rejects Shell’s Lawsuit Against Center — Thank You

    A huge victory against Big Oil: The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals just struck down a lawsuit filed by Shell against the Center for Biological Diversity and 12 other environmental groups that have been fighting for years to keep oil drillers out of the Arctic. The decision this week should end a lawsuit filed in 2012 by the oil giant after we stopped Shell multiple times from drilling in fragile ecosystems, putting polar bears, walruses, seals and whales directly in harm’s way.

    Shell’s lawsuit was a blatant attempt to intimidate all of us fighting for the Arctic and the species that rely on it. We’re happy to have this ruling in our favor, and we’ll be redoubling our efforts to keep the Great North safe from those wanting to exploit it for profit.
    Thanks so much to all of you who donated for our legal defense in this case. We share this victory with you.

    Read more in Alaska Dispatch News

    Suit Targets Secretive Decision to Ramp Up Tar Sands Transport

    The Center for Biological Diversity went to court Wednesday, along with our conservation and tribal allies, to fight the U.S. State Department’s secretive approval of a plan to allow Canadian oil giant Enbridge to nearly double the amount of tar sands oil in the Alberta Clipper pipeline.
    The approval this summer happened without public notice and without legally required reviews meant to protect air, water, wildlife and public health.

    The scheme would put the Alberta Clipper pipeline — which runs from Alberta, Canada, through Minnesota to Superior, WI — on par with the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, significantly ramping up the amount of dirty tar sands moving into the United States. If the Obama administration is serious about tackling the climate crisis, it can’t be approving these kinds of disastrous projects, which only make things much, much worse.

    Read more in the Star Tribune.

    Groups Sue U.S. State Dept. to Stop Alberta Clipper Tar Sands Pipeline

    Yesterday the Washington Spectator ran an investigative piece tearing the veil of secrecy from the Alberta Clipper pipeline project, a plan by Canadian mining company Enbridge to build a pipeline nearly equal in length and capacity to the Keystone XL to transport tar sands crude oil to the Gulf of Mexico for refining and exporting. With the U.S. State Department’s cooperation, Enbridge found a loophole to circumvent the legal approval process needed to cross the international Canadian/U.S. border. And, by keeping a low profile, it managed to avoid the public outcry that has stalled Keystone XL for six years.

    The lawsuit against the secretive process used to Enbridge to get approval for its tar sands pipeline will likely bring it exactly the type of attention it doesn’t want.

    That period of operating off the public radar may be coming to an end. Today a coalition of eight environmental, conservation and indigenous groups announced that they have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. State Department and Secretary of State John Kerry in a Minneapolis federal court. The suit charges that approval was granted despite lack of public notice or the legally required review of environmental and public health impacts. The groups filing the lawsuit include White Earth Nation, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Honor the Earth, National Wildlife Federation, Minnesota Conservation Federation, Indigenous Environmental Network and MN350, being represented by the Vermont Law School Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic. Their intention is intended to force the State Department to reverse its approval and ensure that a full environmental review takes place.

    “This lawsuit challenges the State Department’s illegal approval of Enbridge’s tar sands expansion plans,” said Sierra Club staff attorney Doug Hayes. “Rather than stick to its ongoing review process that the National Environmental Policy Act requires, the State Department green-lighted the expansion before the process is complete.”

    The publicity from the Washington Spectator piece and lawsuit will most likely awaken a host of activists and organizations who have worked tirelessly to oppose Keystone XL and its plan to extract, refine and ship the carbon-intensive tar sands oil, a prime driver of climate change. And publicity is most likely precisely what Enbridge doesn’t want.

    “The only thing worse than dirty oil is dirty oil backed by dirty tricks,”said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is the fossil fuel equivalent of money laundering. The Obama administration should be ashamed of itself for letting Enbridge illegally pump more dirty tar sands oil into the United States.”

    The approval allows Enbridge to upgrade its cross-border connecting pipeline between two already existing pipeline by calling it “maintenance,” even though it lets them change the product that flows through the pipeline from light to heavy tar sands oil and double its capacity to 800,000 barrels a day—nearly equivalent to the amount that would be carried by Keystone XL. The company said it intends to have the pipeline ready to ship tar sands oil to the U.S. by the middle of next year.

    “To establish the U.S. as a real international leader in tackling the climate crisis, the State Department must stop turning a blind eye to Big Oil schemes to bypass U.S. laws and nearly double the amount of corrosive, carbon-intensive tar sands crude it brings into our country,” said Sierra Club deputy national program director Michael Bosse. “Enbridge has been allowed to play by their own rules for too long at the expense of our water, air and climate, and the Sierra Club is taking legal action to stop this abuse.”

    Among  other things the pipeline would pass through three Native American Reservations.

    “Honor the Earth represents Anishinaabeg people and the earth,” said Winona LaDuke, program director for Honor the Earth and a member of the White Earth Nation.

    “We believe that nations should abide by their agreements, treaties, and laws. The Anishinaabeg continue to harvest and live the life the Creator gave us, within the north country and within the treaty areas, protected and recognized under federal law, including the 1837, 1854, 1855 and 1867 treaties. We know that new oil pipelines will not bode well for the fish, the wild rice and the medicines of this Akiing, this land. We also know that the U.S., through the State Department, should uphold its own laws and regulations, and not issue permits under the pressure of oil interests, over the interests of our country, people and land. Federal law requires environmental impact assessments, and the U.S. must uphold its own laws. New pipelines by the Enbridge Company and this illegal switching of lines do not serve our state or our country. We ask the U.S. State Department to uphold the law.”

    Anastasia Pantsios|November 12, 2014

    Fossil Fuels Reap $550 Billion in Subsidies, Hindering Renewables Investment

    LONDON — Fossil fuels are reaping $550 billion a year in subsidies and holding back investment in cleaner forms of energy, the International Energy Agency said.

    Oil, coal and gas received more than four times the $120 billion paid out in subsidy for renewables including wind, solar and biofuels, the Paris-based institution said today in its annual World Energy Outlook.

    The findings highlight the policy shift needed to limit global warming, which the IEA said is on track to increase the world’s temperature by 3.6 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. That level would increase the risks of damaging storms, droughts and rising sea levels.

    “In Saudi Arabia, the additional upfront cost of a car twice as fuel efficient as the current average would at present take 16 years to recover through lower spending on fuel,” the IEA said. “This payback period would shrink to three years if gasoline were not subsidized.”

    Renewable use in electricity generation is on the rise and will account for almost half the global increase in generation by 2040, according to the report. It said about 7,200 gigawatts of generating capacity needs to be built in that period to keep pace with rising demand and replace aging power stations.

    The share of renewables in power generation will rise to 37 percent in countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to the IEA.

    It said that globally, wind power will take more than a third of the growth in clean power; hydropower accounts for about 30 percent, and solar 18 percent. Wind may produce 20 percent of European electricity by 2040, and solar power could take 37 percent of summer peak demand in Japan, it said.

    The IEA singled out the Middle East as a region where fossil fuel subsidies are hampering renewables. It said 2 million barrels per day of oil are burned to generate power that could otherwise come from renewables, which would be competitive with unsubsidized oil.

    “Reforming energy subsidies is not easy, and there is no single formula for success,” the report said.

    Alex Morales|Bloomberg |November 12, 2014|Copyright 2014 Bloomberg

    Obama Stands Firm on Keystone XL, Veto Likely if Passed by Congress

    As Republicans have made clear their desire to rush approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and the Senate prepares to vote next week under pressure from pipeline-favoring Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu, President Obama is strongly suggested this morning the legislation won’t get past his desk.

    Traveling to Myanmar following an economic conference in Beijing where he joined with Chinese President Xi Jinping to announce a historic agreement on climate change earlier this week, Obama made one of his strongest statements yet about Keystone XL.

    “Understand what this project is: it is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land, down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else,” he said. “It doesn’t have an impact on U.S. gas prices. If my Republican friends really want to focus on what’s good for the American people in terms of job creation and lower energy costs, we should be engaging in a conversation about what are we doing to produce even more homegrown energy? I’m happy to have that conversation.”

    The President’s press secretary Josh Earnest backed up the President’s statement at his own press availability in Myanmar, outright suggesting the President was likely to veto any attempt to push through Keystone XL at this time.

    Asked by a reporter if the President would sign the Keystone XL approval should it pass Congress, Earnest said, “The President, as you’ll recall in a speech that he delivered last summer, indicated that one of the factors in that review should be the degree to which a project like this would substantially contribute to the causes of climate change. So this is a project that is still under review by the State Department to determine whether or not it’s in the national interest. One of the things that is impeding the progress of that review is some ongoing litigation in Nebraska about the route of the pipeline. So it’s important in the view of this administration that this review be conducted consistent with past practice and in a way that reflects the national interests that are at stake. It is the view of the administration that that process should continue and that that’s the proper venue for determining whether the project should move forward. There has been other legislative proposals that have been floated to try to influence the outcome of this decision about the construction of the pipeline.The administration, as you know, has taken a dim view of these kinds of legislative proposals in the past. I think it’s fair to say that our dim view of these kinds of proposals has not changed.”

    When pressed for a definite answer on a potential veto, Earnest said, “It’s not a yes or a no because I haven’t reviewed the specific proposal. But there have been previous proposals that I expect would be consistent with proposals that have been discussed overnight. And in evaluating those earlier proposals, we have indicated that the President’s senior advisors at the White House would recommend that he veto legislation like that. And that does continue to be our position. If that changes, I’ll obviously let all of you know. I know there’s a lot of interest in this.”

    Praising the President’s words, climate advocacy group posted a statement encouraging him to stay the course.

    “The strategy by some oil-soaked Senators to try and approve the Keystone XL pipeline is already backfiring,” it said. “The last time Congress tried to force the President’s hand on KXL, he sent the project back the drawing board because of concerns over the route in Nebraska. The Keystone XL pipeline is all risk and a no reward. We’ve been pushing President Obama for years to make the right call on Keystone XL and it looks like he might be gearing up to do it. We’ll continue to make the case that the real homegrown energy that America needs is 100% clean power, not dirty pipeline projects and other dangerous fossil fuels.”

    Anastasia Pantsios|November 14, 2014

    Shell lawsuit against environmental groups ruled unconstitutional

    After its drilling rig ran aground on New Year’s Eve in 2012, Shell halted exploration plans for the following year.

    After its drilling rig ran aground on New Year’s Eve in 2012, Shell halted exploration plans for the following year. (Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis / U.S. Coast Guard)

    Shell’s legal strategy to defend Arctic drilling is ‘novel’ but unconstitutional, federal appeals court rules

    Two years ago, in a preemptive move, Shell sued a host of environmental and advocacy groups to prevent them from suing Shell over its plans to drill for oil in the Arctic.

    On Wednesday, a federal appeals court called Shell’s legal strategy “novel” and ruled it unconstitutional.

    A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said Shell could not sue environmental and Alaska Native advocacy groups on the chance that those organizations might challenge offshore drilling permits granted to the oil giant by the U.S. government.

    “Shell may not file suit solely to determine who would prevail in a hypothetical suit between the environmental groups” and the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, one of several agencies overseeing offshore drilling, the panel wrote in its 12-page ruling.

    Shell has spent more than $6 billion purchasing oil leases and pursuing exploration in Alaska’s environmentally sensitive Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

    As part of the offshore drilling efforts, Shell was required to submit plans to the bureau detailing what the company would do in the event of an oil spill. The bureau approved Shell’s oil spill response plans in late 2011 and early 2012.

    Arguing that 13 environmental and advocacy groups were certain to challenge those approvals, Shell filed three separate suits against them in federal court in Anchorage in 2012. Using the Declaratory Judgment Act, Shell wanted the court to rule that the government’s approvals of its spill response plans were legal.

    Today David beat Goliath- Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League

    On Wednesday, the three-judge panel ruled against the oil company in one of those three suits. A second suit was dismissed earlier. The third suit also was dismissed earlier, but that dismissal is under appeal.

    “We believe this was a legitimate use of the Declaratory Judgment Act,” said Curtis Smith, a spokesman for Shell. “However, we respect the court’s ruling.”

    Michael LeVine, Pacific senior counsel for Oceana, one of the groups sued by Shell, called the decision “good news for the oceans and for those of us who believe in the rule of law and our ability to speak out for what we believe in.”

    Shell’s waste of time, energy and money on these lawsuits further reinforces the problem with its Arctic Ocean exploration program,” he said.

    The Natural Resources Defense Council was another of the organizations sued by Shell. Chuck Clusen, the group’s director of national parks and Alaska projects, said in a statement that the oil company was “attempting to quash dissent and circumvent due process” but failed.

    “As multiple accidents have already shown, Shell’s drilling plans in the Arctic are severely flawed,” Clusen said. “Shell is not equipped to handle offshore drilling in some of the world’s most treacherous waters, and we’ll continue to do all we can to stop them from endangering the precious wildlife and local fishing economies that they’re putting at risk.”

    Said Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, another defendant in the case: “Today David beat Goliath.”

    Soon after its drilling rig ran aground on New Year’s Eve in 2012, Shell halted exploration plans for the following year. It withdrew drilling plans for 2014 after a federal court ruled that the government violated the law when it held Chukchi lease sale 193 in 2008. The company bought all of its leases in that sale.

    Shell has submitted an expanded, multi-year drilling plan that it hopes to kick off in 2015. But the government cannot approve that plan until it completes the 193 lease sale process, which is expected in April.

    Maria L. La Ganga |Environmental, Pollution, Environmental Issues

    Land Conservation

    Floridians spoke clearly, with three-quarters of all voters approving of the constitutional amendment to dedicate money for conservation and recreation.

    The 2014 midterm election exposed some sharp divisions among Floridians. Gov. Rick Scott won re-election by drawing fewer than half of the votes cast, only 1.1 percentage point ahead of challenger Charlie Crist. Gwen Graham knocked U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland out of office by just a little more than 2,000 votes. Even in the one-sided CFO and agriculture commissioner races, Jeff Atwater and Adam Putnam each got less than 60 percent of the vote.

    Then there was Amendment 1.

    Floridians spoke clearly, with three-quarters (74.95 percent) of all voters approving of the constitutional amendment to dedicate money for conservation and recreation. We might be divided on medical marijuana and Obamacare and any number of other issues, but Floridians realize the importance of land and water to our health, to our tourism industry and to the quality of life we enjoy in the Sunshine State.

    Protecting Florida’s natural resources has been a bipartisan concern since 1963, when the Legislature created the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to support the purchase of parks. Over the years, the state’s land-purchasing efforts changed in name, funding sources and approval processes. Yet, as the pressures to develop lands increased, so did the state’s efforts to protect them — through Preservation 2000 and then Florida Forever.

    But with the start of the recession in 2008, that effort ground to a halt. And even as the economy rebounded, the spending on conservation did not. Florida now has more than 6 million acres of protected land, but it also is losing about 165,000 acres of land to development every year, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

    Floridians were not happy, and Amendment 1 — a citizen initiative — was born.

    Amendment 1 directs that the state dedicate 33 percent of net revenues from doc stamps on property purchases over the next 20 years to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund, to acquire and improve forests, wetlands and other sensitive habitats. The money can be used only for these purposes and may not be “commingled with the General Revenue Fund.” Translation: No more raids.

    The language that will now be part of the Florida Constitution says these acquisitions will include “lands that protect water resources and drinking water sources, including lands protecting the water quality and quantity of rivers, lakes, streams, springsheds, and lands providing recharge for groundwater and aquifer systems.”

    It’s a powerful mandate.

    What Amendment 1 does not do is change behavior.

    Nearly 20 million people live in Florida, and short of kicking them all out and building a fence around the state, we and our neighbors will continue to have an impact on the environment.

    Every time we flush a toilet or scatter fertilizer on the front lawn, we add to the pollution that is strangling our springs and rivers and even poisoning our drinking water. In his exhibition “Springs Eternal,” photographer John Moran has documented the ill health of Florida’s springs, from out-of-the-way spots to tourist destinations such as Ichetucknee Springs.

    Mr. Moran calls for a new “environmental patriotism.” That can be simple, for example refraining from fertilizing or watering your lawn. It can be expensive, when forgoing septic tanks for central sewer systems. It can be politically dangerous, when it’s time to put pressure on big agriculture to clean up its act.

    But we can change. Mr. Moran points to the way recycling has become an everyday activity or the way littering, once common, now is frowned upon. And we have success stories, such as cleaning up Tampa Bay and Lake Apopka.

    At stake is not just the beauty we Floridians love but the tourism industry that attracted 90 million visitors and $65 billion last year. If sunshine alone were enough, Mr. Moran points out, then the Sahara Desert would be a prime tourist destination. In a 1972 speech, Gov. Reubin Askew said, “Ecological destruction in Florida is nothing less than economic suicide.”

    It’s wonderful that three-quarters of those who voted last week don’t want our state to commit ecological or economic suicide. It’s a significant step. But keeping our waters clean will require a lot more than just checking “Yes” on a ballot.

    - Tallahassee Democrat|Gannett newspaper.


    A Sea Full of Trash: Tackling the Plastic Problem

    Beyond the landfills and trash heaps moldering in almost every town and city across the globe, manmade garbage has found its way into the natural landscape on a mind-boggling scale. It seems as though there are virtually no places left on Earth free of our rubbish. Junk can be found everywhere – from the bellies of animals and the tissues of our own bodies to the world’s vast oceans.

    The gigantic mess currently swirling around our oceans is ever-growing. There are so many manufactured items floating around the briny deep that marine currents have formed sprawling expanses of crud in the water. One of the most disheartening of these disasters is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; a field of debris formed by wind and wave action and discovered by Captain Charles Moore in 1997. While there are no literal islands of trash, the vortexes are gargantuan concentrations of waste located in two major areas, with one midway between Hawaii and California and another off the coast of Japan. The overall amount of debris is still unknown, but scientists estimate the entire Patch encompasses nine million square miles of watery real estate, and is just one of five major garbage clusters occupying the world’s oceans. A majority of this pollution is made up of plastic, leaving scientists scrambling to invent methods to remove the non-biodegradable hazards.

    Plastic Build Up in Our Oceans

    Global Distribution of Plastic Pollution

    The Plastic Paradox

    During the 20th century, synthetic plastics became the material of choice for industries from consumer packaging to fashion. Practically indestructible and with the ability to mold into virtually any shape, plastic polymers could withstand the elements and remain intact longer than their organic counterparts. With plastic, perishable food could be transported and preserved longer, electronics insulated and made more efficient, and medical supplies kept sterile and disposable. Unfortunately, the physical tenacity that makes plastics so desirable as grocery store packaging or dishware also creates a gigantic problem for the environment. Most plastics produced today are formed from petrochemicals, which means it takes an enormous amount of time for each straw, water bottle, and single-use fork to break down and disappear. To make matters worse, extracting oil as a basis for these textiles adds fuel to the global warming fire by sustaining a demand for fossil fuels and toxic contamination.

    So how do we halt the spread of plastic into the sea and remove what is already there? The first step toward keeping trash from entering the ocean is to reduce the amount created on land and repurpose what we chuck into trash bins.

    Unfortunately, there are very few large-scale projects able to tackle the magnitude of our plastic predicament. To begin with, plastic manufacturing companies have little incentive to switch from oil-based polymers to more sustainable, biodegradable options, or to use recycled material. This is in part because it is still cheaper to produce items out of raw, fossil-based feedstock. The major forces driving the conversion to corn, potato, or soy bioplastics come primarily from consumer demand and regional campaigns in cities like Los Angeles and Concord, Massachusetts, where there are efforts to ban plastic bags and water bottles.

    Help Keep Plastic from Reaching Waterways

    Even if synthetic plastics were outlawed altogether by every nation on Earth, the challenge of removing what is still suspended in the ocean would remain a major dilemma. Scientists are just beginning to quantify the amount of plastic hanging out in the water column, how sunlight breaks down large pieces into smaller fragments called “microplastics,” and in what way these bits affect the food chain. The plastic can block sunlight from reaching algae and, in turn, negatively affect organisms that feed on this most basic and important level. Humans rely on that food chain for survival, so plastics (and the hazardous chemicals they contain) can eventually damage our dinners and poison our ecosystems.

    To put oceanic plastic into perspective, consider this: In a 2014 study expedition conducted by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, a sample from a one-hour trawl 260 miles from the center of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch pulled up thousands of times more plastic by weight than plankton, meaning that more synthetic materials were present in one scoop of seawater than the animals that are supposed to live there. Deep-sea explorers such as those working with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Institute in California were amazed to find crud thousands of meters down with a full third of the messy makeup consisting of plastic. Not just eyesores, the materials concentrate dangerous chemicals and act as sponges for toxins such as DDT, PCBs, and PBDEs.

    A Solution for Synthetics

    As researchers struggle to understand the scope of the situation, local governments, non-profits, and universities are working on a host of creative solutions. Since the physical problem is situated far from the jurisdiction of any one nation, the responsibility to find a fix seems to have fallen on committed organizations and stewards of the environment. Most focus on land-based initiatives such as The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s regional action plans that coordinate cleanups around the U.S. through their Marine Debris program. The agency is also working with the fishing industry and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to reduce the damage done by derelict fishing gear.

    Prototypes for marine robots – such as the Veolia Drone developed by French International School of Design student Elie Ahovie or the Protei invented by Cesar Harada – could one day scour the ocean for trash. Larger groups that employ booms and filters, like the Ocean Cleanup system proposed by entrepreneur Boyan Slat, could be placed in areas of concern to help trap trash. However, most of these technologies are still firmly situated on the drawing board, and have not adequately addressed logistics (like how the machines would determine the difference between tiny bits of plastic and living critters of a similar size). They would also have to be durable enough to withstand the destructive effects of seawater, storms, and physical stress.

    In recent years, scientists have observed various species of bacteria colonizing rafts of plastic debris, making up what they have dubbed the “plastisphere.” Scanning electron microscopy from researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution revealed thousands of organisms creating an almost reef-like ecosystem on the surfaces of floating flotsam. It is still a mystery how the byproducts of their digestion affect the rest of the ecosystem. Bioengineers have proposed manufacturing bugs that could act in a similar way to their naturally occurring relatives to mop up the mess, both on land and sea. But releasing any new element into an incredibly complex web of life carries enormous risk. Considering at least one of the species of bacteria chomping on the particulate plastic occupies the same genus as one that causes cholera, no one wants to make any rash decisions. For the plastic that remains solely on land, students from Yale University’s Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory discovered a fungus in the Amazon in 2012 that likes to dine on polyurethane without the need for oxygen. Adding a heap of plastic into a strictly controlled digester along with Pestalotiopsis microspora may one day be a way to reduce the amount of plastic reaching the ocean from land.

    How You Can Take Part

    On a smaller scale, communities can do their part by organizing beach cleanups and switching from petrochemical plastics to organic-based alternatives. Simple changes in everyday habits, such as swapping plastic water bottles for reusable containers and opting for cloth bags instead of flimsy carryout sacks, would make a sizable dent in reducing the trash reaching our waterways. Choosing personal care products that do not contain tiny plastic scrubbing beads or seeking out packaging made from a percentage of recycled material help send a message to corporations: The health of the environment and human safety are important factors consumers are prepared to pay a little extra for. Supporting non-profits such as the All One Ocean Campaign, Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff, and expands efforts to spread awareness, mobilize citizens, and establish lobbying interests with enough power to influence legislation. Like climate change or air pollution, removing the plastic from the planet’s oceans will involve stakeholders that occupy positions in government, media, and the scientific community. Although the immensity of the situation may seem overwhelming at first, it is possible for a species clever enough to engineer such feats of chemistry to also help deal with its consequences.

    How to Plan a Beach Clean-up

    Morgana Matus|Care2 Causes Editors|October 30, 2014

    Edible Packaging is the Ultimate in Zero Waste

     Some companies have come up with brilliant solutions to the excessive packaging waste in the food industry, but the big question is whether customers are ready to make the mental shift to eating their food wrappers.

    It doesn’t make sense that a single food item that gets consumed within minutes or even seconds should leave behind a piece of packaging that will linger on Earth for years. Think of a granola bar and its plastic wrapper, a mini yogurt container, a bag of chips, or a bottle of juice. These items, together with countless others, offer such fleeting satisfaction at a long-term cost, whether the destination is a landfill site or the convoluted, unreliable processes of a recycling facility.

    Fortunately there is a growing number of conscientious shoppers who care about the amount of waste they generate, and who would choose not to buy the above-mentioned items precisely for the fact that packaging would go to waste following consumption. While these “Zero Wasters” make a big difference in their own lives, unfortunately their influence on the rest of society is limited.

    That is where the packaging industry could step in and reinvent food packaging to be far more sustainable, perhaps even non-existent. According to an article in The Guardian, there are some really fascinating advances in the world of “waste-free, Willy Wonka packaging,” but the big question is whether consumers are psychologically ready for it. Buying apples and bagels directly from a bin at the supermarket is one thing, but sifting through a display of yogurt balls in edible skins is a different kind of experience.

    Or is it? Shoppers are simply unaccustomed to seeing certain foods being sold without packaging, although they’re perfectly comfortable with other items, such as produce and baked goods, being sold loose. It’s time to get over that mental barrier.

    The Guardian describes a company called WikiFoods that “wraps a vast range of foods and beverages in plastic-free and edible packages made of natural ingredients,” like the protective skins on fruits. The first commercial WikiPearls (little balls of ice cream and frozen yogurt with edible skins) launched in the U.S. and France in 2013. (TreeHugger contributor Kimberley Mok gives a more detailed description of how it works here.)

    A Swedish company called Tomorrow Machine has come up with a series of food packages “where the packaging has the same life span as the foods they contain.” One is an “oil package” made of caramelized sugar coated with wax; you crack it like an egg to open. The “smoothie package” is made of agar seaweed and water, and withers at the same rate that you drink its contents. Another package made of beeswax is peeled to open and can hold dry ingredients such as rice or flour. Unfortunately, a company employee told me that none of the series is available yet commercially.

    While these innovations are fascinating and sensible, it will likely be a while before they hit the mainstream food market or become available anywhere other than Whole Foods. In the meantime, the best thing consumers can do is avoid wasteful, unnecessary packaging like the plague, buy in bulk whenever possible, and always take your own reusable containers and bags to the store.

    This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.

    Katherine Martinko|TreeHugger|November 12, 2014


    In Ballona Wetlands preserve, homeless are unwanted intruders

    Homeless encampments cause damage to Ballona Wetlands

    Arrests are temporary fix to homeless encampments in Ballona Wetlands.

    As land manager of the Ballona Wetlands just south of Marina del Rey, ecologist Richard Brody thinks he has a “dream” job — but one that comes with an unusual caveat.

    Along with being able to name nearly every type of flower, tree and animal dotting the 600-acre state preserve, he must fight a seemingly endless stream of homeless people who try to take root there.

    Brody was hired in October 2013 to manage the preserve and address the growing number of encampments and the problems they have created. Parts of the wetlands have been littered with syringes and liquor bottles that can endanger wildlife. And the underbrush can serve as a hiding place for suspected vandals and thieves, such as those who periodically plague the nearby Culver-Marina Little League field.

    Culver-Marina Little League Vice President Matthew Wind recalls arriving at the field one day in August to find that nearly everything that wasn’t bolted down had been stolen, including a heavy pitching machine and several banners and trophies. The walls of the snack bar and equipment room were covered with profane, satanic graffiti.

    A few days later, the league received a water bill for $3,000. The pipes servicing the fields had been smashed, causing a huge leak. The field now remains dry and barren as the league looks for a way to pay for damage estimated at close to $50,000.

    “We have minor vandalism incidents in the offseason nearly every year,” Wind said. “But this is the worst it’s ever been.”

    The Ballona Wetlands are closed to the public unless accompanied by Brody, 51, or an approved volunteer, but it’s easy to gain entry illegally through holes in the chain-link fences that surround its 11-mile perimeter. Only a few areas are actually low-lying, marshy wetlands. The rest — including the land leased by the Little League — is upland and full of tall vegetation, creating shaded pockets of land where encampments often pop up.

    The vandalism was easily traced to the encampments, Brody said, because thieves had dragged stolen equipment across the sandy field, leaving tracks that took LAPD officers directly to encampments surrounding the baseball field. After finding much of the stolen equipment, two arrests were made.

    However, Wind believes the arrests are only a temporary solution.

    A large water bottle contains used syringes collected from homeless encampments in the Ballona Wetlands. (Marcus Yam, Los Angeles Times)

    “Until these camps are out for good, [the arrests] are like putting lipstick on a pig,” he said.

    Concerted efforts to address the homeless issue began last year after a member of the Friends of Ballona Wetlands, a nonprofit group dedicated to restoration of the wetlands, happened upon a debris-filled encampment off a bike trail that runs past Ballona Creek. Some of those living in the camp were also siphoning electricity from nearby power boxes, said Lisa Fimiani, executive director of the Friends of Ballona Wetlands.

    In the following months, crews from the state and the city of Los Angeles conducted several cleanups, at one point removing 300 bags of trash from a particularly entrenched encampment.

    But law enforcement agencies can’t do it all, Fimiani said: “If it’s between breaking up a homeless camp in the wetlands and dealing with a homicide, the priority is the homicide. We need someone — the City Council, the state — to provide more funding for patrols and outreach.”

    Removing an encampment is laborious — first, Brody enters with a member of the Sheriff’s Department and delivers a 72-hour eviction notice with a list of resources for homeless people living on the Westside. After the homeless leave, he and a trained crew clear out whatever is left behind.

    Brody usually finds dozens of syringes (he has a water bottle in his office containing several hundred that he has collected), pornographic magazines, bottles and batteries, which he says are particularly damaging to the wetlands’ ecosystem.

    Until these camps are out for good, [the arrests] are like putting lipstick on a pig- Ecologist Richard Brody

    Everything must be removed by hand to avoid further damage to the preserve, a process that requires a skilled crew that is able to deal with potentially hazardous materials.

    “I can’t just take any crew of volunteers with me — they have to know what they’re doing, or they could get sick,” Brody said.

    In the last year, Brody says, he has brought the number of camps down from 30 to about two or three.

    “Right now, I’m just playing a game of cat and mouse,” he said. “If I ask a camp to leave, sometimes they’ll just move to a different part [of the wetlands]…. I always tell them, ‘These may be your belongings, but this isn’t your home.’”

    In search of a long-term solution to the homeless problem, PATH Ventures, an affordable housing service in Los Angeles, has broken ground on a 23-unit affordable-housing building that will be completed in Marina del Rey next year. Although Joel Roberts, PATH’s chief executive officer, hopes the building will attract people living in the wetlands, they haven’t had much luck so far.

    “You can’t really sell people on something that’ll be done in six months,” he said. “You have to be able to offer a better solution than that.”

    Homeless activists from several organizations on the Westside have taken trips into the wetlands to meet and work with individuals living there, but they say that success will take a sustained, prolonged effort.

    “To get people out of these places, you have to build trust,” said Booker Pearson, a commissioner for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. “That takes more than a few trips.”

    Priya Krishnakumar

    Veterans Love the Environment Too!

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Veterans Day Celebration on November 6 gave participants the pleasure of hearing an inspiring speech by Admiral Michelle Howard, the first woman to achieve the rank of admiral in the Navy and the first African-American woman to achieve a 4 star ranking in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Listening to the Admiral talk about her military experiences as well as her proud interest and commitment to our environment inspired the Office of Environmental Justice to begin exploring how other veterans, inside EPA, in other federal agencies, and in other sectors, are putting their love for the environment and for their communities into action.

    What we found was that here at EPA, more than 1,500 of our colleagues are veterans or continue to serve as reservists in the U.S. armed forces.  Starting in 2012, EPA developed a series of videos about some of our home grown champions.  These EPA sheroes and heroes share their love for the military, their love for the Agency, and their love for the environment.

    As daughters of veterans, we have seen first-hand the dedication and commitment of veterans who came home to make our world better for others. We’re also keenly aware of national environmental justice champions who served our country. Many of you may know the story of Hilton Kelley, who served in the Navy before serving his Port Arthur, Texas community.  Dr. Robert Bullard, author of more than 18 books about environmental justice, served two years in the U.S. Marine Corps after college.

    In addition to these leaders of the environmental justice movement, many new veterans are joining the fight for healthy environments in their neighborhoods by working in the non-profit sector.  Take a look at Kelly Carlisle, a Navy Veteran, who founded Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project, a non-profit urban farm focusing on serving at-risk youth, who also plans to establish a farmers market with educational opportunities for involved youth in basic gardening and composting.  To learn more about what Kelly is doing, please visit the Farmer Veteran website.

    Former Army and National Guard Veteran Sonia Kendrick founded Feed Iowa First, a nonprofit with a mission of combatting food insecurity by raising food and farmers, and was honored earlier this year at the White House as one of 10 leaders who are White House “Champions of Change – Women Veteran Leaders.”  The event highlighted the incredible contributions of women veterans to our nation’s business, public, and community sectors.  Go here to find out more about Sonia and Feed Iowa First.

    As a local Washington DC veteran, Joe Wynn, President of Veteran’s Enterprise Training and Services Group, recently remarked “veterans are people too!”  The EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice wants to learn about the other veterans who “love the environment too!” and are working on social justice and environmental concerns in communities across the country.  Please let us know who you are, which branch of the military service you served in, and what work you are doing to make a visible difference in environmentally overburdened, underserved, and economically-distressed communities.

    Please post in the comments section below because we want to hear from our homegrown sheroes and heroes.  We thank you for your service abroad and here at home.

    About the authors:  Victoria Robinson currently is the Acting Communications Director for EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice.  Recently she served 5 years as Designated Federal Office (DFO) of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council.  She also works as the OEJ point of contact for climate change.  She has been served EPA in the Office of Environmental Justice for more than 11 years.

    Marva E. King, PhD, a U.S. Air Force veteran, recently rejoined the staff of EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice where she had worked for over 10 years as a Senior Program Analyst in EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice managing the EJ Collaborative Problem-Solving (CPS) Cooperative Agreement Program and the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council.  Previously she served as Program Co-Chair for the Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE) Program.  She also serves as a community expert on several EPA teams across the Agency. Dr. King holds a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Delaware and a Ph.D. in Public Policy at George Mason University.

    Victoria Robinson and Dr. Marva E. King|2014 November 13

    Coal Mines Keep Operating Despite Injuries, Violations And Millions In Fines

    Jack Blankenship was pinned facedown in the dirt, his neck, shoulder and back throbbing with pain.

    He was alone on an errand, in a dark tunnel a mile underground at the Aracoma Alma coal mine in Logan County, W.Va., when a 300-pound slab of rock peeled away from the roof and slammed him to the ground. As his legs grew numb, he managed to free an arm and reach his radio. For two hours, he pressed the panic button that was supposed to bring help quickly.

    “I couldn’t hardly breathe,” Blankenship remembered four years later. “I’d black out and come to. I was waiting to die. I’d already had my little talk with God.”

    Aracoma Alma and then-owner Massey Energy had a history of serious safety problems, including falling rock. In the two years before Blankenship’s accident, the mine was cited by federal regulators more than 120 times for rock fall violations, according to records from federal regulators. That included inadequate roof support and deficient safety checks for loose rock.

    Citations and the fines that go with them are key components of the federal law designed to protect miners. They are supposed to make violations expensive — costing hundreds of thousands of dollars for the most serious offenses — and create an incentive for mine owners to keep workers safe.

    Yet on that December day in 2010, as Blankenship lay pinned and in pain, Aracoma Alma owed $200,000 in overdue mine safety fines, federal records show. The penalty system that is designed to discourage unsafe practices failed Blankenship, and his story is not unique.

    Dangerous Delinquents

    A joint investigation by NPR and Mine Safety and Health News found that thousands of mine operators fail to pay safety penalties, even as they continue to manage dangerous — and sometimes deadly — mining operations. Most unpaid penalties are between two and 10 years overdue; some go back two decades. And federal regulators seem unable or unwilling to make mine owners pay.

    Our joint investigation looked at 20 years of federal mine data through the first quarter of 2014, including details about fines, payments, violations and injuries. We used raw Department of Labor data and delinquency records provided by the Mine Safety and Health Administration to calculate the number of injuries and injury rates, and violations and gravity of violations, at mines with delinquent penalties while they were delinquent.

    Among the findings:

    • 2,700 mining company owners failed to pay nearly $70 million in delinquent penalties.
    • The top nine delinquents owe more than $1 million each.
    • Mines that don’t pay their penalties are more dangerous than mines that do, with injury rates 50 percent higher.
    • Delinquent mines reported close to 4,000 injuries in the years they failed to pay, including accidents that killed 25 workers and left 58 others with permanent disabilities.
    • Delinquent mines continued to violate the law, with more than 130,000 violations, while they failed to pay mine safety fines.

    Most mine operators pay their penalties, our investigation found. Delinquents account for just 7 percent of the nation’s coal, metals and mineral mining companies. But that small subset of the industry is more dangerous than the rest, federal data show.

    The violations at delinquent mines included 40,000 that are labeled in government safety records as “Significant and Substantial,” which means serious injury or illness were likely if inspectors hadn’t intervened. More than 15,000 violations were the kind found in fatal accidents, major disasters or mining deaths, the records also show.

    And when those safety records are compared with other government data on coal production, it shows that some of the top delinquents continued to mine coal and reap millions of dollars in revenue while their safety fines remained unpaid.

    “Most folks out there, including me, are totally shocked when they find out that … you can actually just sit around and not pay the fine and keep producing coal and put money in the bank,” said Tim Bailey, Blankenship’s attorney and a West Virginia native with three generations of coal miners in his family.

    A Formula For Catastrophe

    Mine safety advocates say the mix of delinquency, violations and injuries is a formula for catastrophe.

    “To the people who continue to run an operation that puts people at risk on a daily basis, this is a bonanza,” said Davitt McAteer, a former assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health and an independent investigator of three recent mine disasters.

    “This is to them, ‘I can beat this system,’ ” McAteer added. “This is the kind of attitude that leads to mine disasters.”

    Officials at the National Mining Association, the industry’s lobbying group, declined to be interviewed, but NMA said in a written statement that it “believes that all truly delinquent fines should be paid.”

    The group also said the government, not industry, should address this issue.

    About This Investigation

    This story was reported by correspondent Howard Berkes and data reporters Anna Boiko-Weyrauch and Robert Benincasa of NPR, together with Ellen Smith, the managing editor of Mine Safety and Health News, an independent publication focused on the mining industry.

    NPR’s Barbara Van Woerkom contributed research to this report.

    The federal agency responsible for regulating mines is the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) in the Department of Labor. MSHA conducts regular inspections — four a year for underground mines — looking for safety hazards such as excessive and explosive coal dust, loose rock, electrocution threats, volatile methane gas and weak ventilation.

    Serious violations must be fixed before mining can continue. But even minor violations can result in citations and fines, which can range from $112 to $220,000, depending on the violation.

    An appeals process gives mine owners the chance to challenge fines they consider unfair. Any fine that is unchallenged or upheld on appeal but still not paid is deemed delinquent by regulators.

    When a fine becomes delinquent, MSHA sends out letters requesting payment. If necessary, the Treasury Department follows up with letters, phone calls and referrals to collection agencies. Sometimes, the Justice Department is asked to seek federal court orders demanding payment.

    Joe Main, the current head of MSHA, said the delinquency problem looks worse than it really is, because the agency’s records don’t include payments that may take time to process. To compensate, NPR and Mine Safety and Health News excluded from the analysis any delinquency less than 90 days old.

    Main also said his agency is focused more on rooting out and correcting dangerous workplace conditions than on collecting fines.

    Howard Berkes|Ana Boiko-Weyrauch|Robert Benincasa|November 12, 2014

    Listen to Part 1 All Things Considered 12 min 5 sec
    Listen to Part 2 8 min 22 sec

    Amish And Mennonite Farmers Are Polluting Lancaster County

    The old farming techniques used by some Amish and Mennonite farmers may be traditional, but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily environmentally friendly. The government recently had to step in and make some changes to prevent pollution from seeping into Lancaster County waterways.

    The legal status of Amish and Mennonite farmers is delicate and tricky; mostly, the government leaves the farmers alone, and the farmers leave the government alone, in stark contrast to the way most agriculture is done in this country. But in the past few years, that’s all gone out the window, as the Environmental Protection Agency has begun to crack down on violations from farmers that pollute the environment. The first major grant has just come through: about $400,000 to help farmers clean up their act.

    Typically, some Amish and Mennonite farmers (we’re using these terms loosely; there are a lot of subtleties and variations, but we’re talking about what are more specifically called “plain sect” families, those who follow a doctrine of separation from the rest of the world) opt out of government entirely. They do not accept government subsidies, nor do they pay into or receive benefits like Social Security, and mostly, the government is fine with that. But as of around 2009, the EPA has begun cracking down, because the Chesapeake Bay watershed area, which abuts the heaviest concentration of plain sect farmers, is heavily polluted.

    Of all the counties that farm this area, the worst offender is Lancaster County, the home of many plain sect farmers. According to the New York Times, the county as of 2010 generated about 61 million pounds of manure per year, far, far more than any other county in the area. Runoff from that manure, organic or not, can pollute the water systems in disastrous ways, spiking nitrogen and phosphorous rates while reducing oxygen, thus killing off wildlife. When the EPA visited farms in this area back in 2009, they found, says Grist, violations in 85% of the farms, ranging from improperly stored manure, improperly contained cows, and high levels of E. coli in the wells. Another problem: the traditional methods of farming, like horse-drawn plows, tear up the soil and promote erosion much more than more modern methods.

    The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation issued a grant in the odd number of $383,744 to help farmers clean up the Pequea (pronunciation: “peek-way”) Creek Watershed on the Susquehanna River. That money will go toward proper fencing to keep cows out of the creeks, better cattle crossing, and more efficient and safer storage methods for manure. Hopefully it’ll help the plain sect farmers do what they’ve always set out to do: protect the land.

    Dan Nosowitz|November 10, 2014

    Environmental Links

    SFAS International Wildlife News Audubon Advocate Audubon Restore Eco-Voice South Florida Wildlife Care Center Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital The Turtle Hospital The Marathon Wild Bird Center Climate change info Audubon’s Coastal Strand Audubon of Florida News Blog Bioenergy News Climate Progress – climate science, politics and solutions Collins Center for Public Policy Comprehensive Everglades Restoration News EcoWatch – feeds from the WaterKeeper Alliance Everglades Foundation – press releases Everglades Hub Fort Myers News – Press Green Front Pages from Florida Newspapers Herald Tribune Newspapers -  Environmental News Naples Daily News  – Environmental News National Public Radio Eco-News Riverwatch News about the Caloosahatchee Sierra Club Sierra Club Florida South Florida Watershed  Journal South Florida Water Management District Union of Concerned Scientists – news Yahoo News Search: Everglades NASA Climate Information American Littorial Society log NASA Climate Information Sun Newspapers – Lake Okeechobee News Everglades City News  – Mullet Wrapper IFAW’s World of Animals Magazine

    Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

    ConsRep 1114 A

    The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself. Franklin Delano Roosevelt


    We won! ‏

    Vote YES on 1

    We are humbled and grateful for this victory that you, the people, made possible.

    Thank you for all your hard work and dedication to achieve this milestone in Florida’s history.

    For future generations and for Florida!

    The Campaign Team — Will, Pegeen, Aliki, and Laura

    We did it – Amendment 1 APPROVED

    Voters today approved Amendment 1. After two years of volunteer petitions, thousands of contributions, and great effort at the polls, we did it!  

    Voters made a decision to invest billions in protecting Florida’s water and land. We will leave a true legacy for future generations. For all those, including Audubon staff and chapter leaders, thank you for caring about Florida. 

    We made a real difference today. Tomorrow we have to start pushing the Florida Legislature to listen to the voters.

    But for now, enjoy this sweet victory.  


    Eric Draper
    Executive Director         
    Audubon Florida

    2015 Hog Island: Send Someone to Camp

    Audubon’s historic Hog Island Camp in Maine is accepting registrations for next summer’s one-of-a-kind programs for adults, teens, and families.

    Last year more than 60 people were given the opportunity to learn from instructors such as Scott Weidensaul, Pete Dunne, and Steve Kress because of Chapter sponsorship.

    Please consider continuing the tradition by sponsoring a camper. Information and forms can be found online or by contacting Hog Island at 607-257-7308 x2 or

    Hold a spot by December 15th to save $50!

    Newly sponsoring organizations also qualify for $250 in matching funds.

    Save the Date:  Everglades Coalition 2015 Conference

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

    Click here for more information

    Annual Right Whale Festival

    January 8-10, 2015

    Annual Right Whale Festival
    Jacksonville Beach
    January 8 – 10, 2015

    Everglades Coalition Annual Conference
    Hilton Key Largo Resort
    January 23-25, 2015

    Arthur R Marshall Foundation for the Everglades

    River of Grass Gala

    Date:  December 6, 2014

    Location:  Lady Windridge Yacht, launching from Palm Beach

    For more information about this or any of these events call the Foundation at 561-233-9004 or email

    The 4th Annual Florida Panther Festival
    Saturday, November 15
    10am – 4pm
    North Collier Regional Park
    15000 Livingston Road, Naples, FL
    Field Trips
    Sunday, November 16th
    Various Locations
    Click here for more information!

    Walk the
    Panther Mile
    2-hour guided trail walk
    Tours begin 9am & 9:30am
    Nov. 15th
    Reservations Required
    Click here to sign-up!

    Exotic Pet Amnesty Event
    Surrender your exotic pet, no questions asked, to be adopted by a qualified individual.
    Nov. 15th
    For more information

    Rural Residents Meeting
    Nov. 15th
    Join us at 2:30 for a special presentation for rural residents and landowners in the Festival’s “Living with Wildlife Pavilion”
    For more information CLICK HERE!

    Volunteer to Help Coral Reefs! ‏

    Are you interested in volunteering in your community to help our Florida reefs?

    We are looking for new members of our Volunteer Speakers Bureau to let more people know about the amazing resource in our backyards. 

    Volunteers will:

    • Attend a volunteer training;
    • Reach out to organizations within their community;
    • Speak at local group meetings a minimum of six times a year.

    There are many groups that want to learn about the reefs in southeast Florida and with your help, they can! 

    Our next volunteer trainings are Wednesday,

    November 12 from 6-8 pm or Thursday, November 13 from 12 -2pm at the Biscayne Bay Environmental Center in Miami.

    Email today to reserve your spot as space is limited! 

    Thanks and we look forward to seeing you this month!

    The Coral Reef Conservation Program

    Join Defenders of Wildlife at the 4th Annual Florida Panther Festival on November 15th!

    Saturday, November 15th, 2014
    10:00am – 4:00pm
    North Collier Regional Park
    15000 Livingston Road
    Naples, FL 34119
    This family-friendly event is aimed at promoting coexistence between people, pets, livestock and panthers by fostering appreciation and understanding of these beautiful big cats.

    The Panther Festival is a free and fun way to learn about these amazing creatures! We need you to help panthers thrive!
    Activities will include:

                                                                                                                                                                                                       Children’s games                          Indoor & outdoor exhibits

                                                                                                                                                                                                       Guided walks                                Speaker presentations

                                                                                                                                                                                                       Food vendors                                Live music

                                                                                                                                                                                                       Arts and crafts sales                    and much more!

                                                                                                                                                                                                            We look forward to seeing you on Saturday!

    Shannon Miller
    Florida Program Coordinator
    Defenders of Wildlife

    Of Interest to All

    For a Crystal Clear View, Dial in Your Binoculars

    Migrants are migrating, days are cooling down, and winter birds are getting ready to flock around your feeders. Now’s the time to make sure your binoculars are giving you the best possible view. For some fast tips on setting up your binoculars (including the mysterious “diopter”), and how to find and focus on birds, watch this video.
    More Ways to Get the Most From Binoculars:

    From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology eNews

    Rubber Dodo Award Goes to … USDA’s Wildlife Services

    Wildlife Services, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s notorious animal-killing program, is the lucky recipient of the Center’s 2014 Rubber Dodo Award, given each year to a notable eco-villain. The program killed more than 2 million native animals in 2013, including 320 gray wolves, 75,000 coyotes and 419 black bears.

    “No other government program does more every day to annihilate America’s wildlife than Wildlife Services,” said Kierán Suckling, the Center’s executive director. “This rogue program does much of its dirty work far from the public’s view, so millions of animals disappear from our landscapes every year with little accountability.”

    Most of Wildlife Services’ killing is done on behalf of the livestock and agriculture industries, along with other powerful interests. Its methods are gruesome, including aerial gunning, traps and exploding cyanide caps. Pets and sometimes people have also been inadvertently harmed.
    Thanks to all 12,500 of you who voted. Read more in our
    press release and get details on our campaign against Wildlife Services.

    Center for Biological Diversity

    DEP, SFWMD Issue 2014 South Florida Environmental Report

    Fall migrations in full swing

    The Germans call it “zugunruhe” – the insatiable urge to travel with seasonal changes.

    The word is typically used to describe birds, particularly those that fly in search of warmer conditions, better food sources or breeding grounds.

    Changing seasons in South Florida causes quite a bit of zugunruhe – from female loggerhead sea turtles leaving the Gulf of Mexico to the 25,000 sandhill cranes arriving from the Great Lakes.

    More seasonal visitors also means more chances of a wildlife encounter with alligators or panthers. Traffic is always a concern with panthers, and this year is no different as 18 have died from vehicle accidents – one shy of the state record.

    Throw in the fall mullet run, manatee migration, wood stork nesting season and the arrival of various songbirds and you get a plethora of wildlife viewing opportunities that even National Geographic photographers covet especially with the cooler temperatures and less humidity this weekend.

    Sandhill crane

    Cranes are some of the most majestic birds in North America. Two subspecies are found in Florida starting in late October or early November. Year-round, or common sandhill cranes, number 4,000 to 5,000, and they are joined each year by 25,000 or so great sandhill cranes, which nest in the Great Lakes during the summer.

    “One thing that really stands out is the prehistoric-sounding call they have,” said Craig Faulhaber with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “You’ll often hear that call when they’re feeding or flying over.”

    Faulhaber said the greater sandhill crane is the subspecies most often seen during the winter, due mostly to the sheer volume of Great Lakes cranes that winter here. Year-round cranes also nest starting in winter, but the greater subspecies nests near lakes of the Midwest in the summer.

    American alligator

    Alligators become nearly catatonic at times because of their metabolism, which is regulated by the sun. Active, spirited and hungry during the summer, alligators feed heavy in the fall.

    “The mating season is over with, and the young ones have hatched,” said Jesse Kennon, owner of Coopertown airboats. “They’ll try and lay up in the sun as much as possible.”

    He said alligators are still more active during the night than during day hours, even during the winter.

    “Right now they’re moving quite a bit because it’s cooling down, and they realize that so they’re trying to feed more,” Kennon said. “But they still move at night time (during the winter), and they’ll move to the shallows – where the water will be warmer.”

    Winter also coincides with the dry season, and shrinking water levels will force alligators to congregate in shrinking lakes and ponds – which makes for easier alligator observing.

    Migratory birds

    South Florida is home to hundreds of bird species – from tiny piping plovers nesting on local beaches to the magnificent wood stork. Biologists have documented about 350 species just inside Everglades National Park.

    Some species come here for the winter, while others are moving further south. Some migratory birds aren’t all that pretty either – like the red-headed turkey vulture.

    “Fall migration is often slow, late and builds up over time,” said Jerry Jackson, a bird expert and Florida Gulf Coast University professor. “Migrant turkey vultures are slowly arriving right now, but will continue to show up over the next few weeks.”

    Birds like the American robin and killdeer arrive later in the year, Jackson said. Those species, he said, can often be tracked by watching snow patterns and levels in northern states. As the snow blankets the food sources, these birds head south for the winter.

    “The same kind of pattern is typical of American goldfinches and fruiting eating birds – they will stay farther north as long as food is available and often slowly make their way here,” Jackson said.

    Species leaving the region include, among others, swallow-tailed kites and some purple martins.

    Florida panther

    Panthers were almost lost to extinction in the 1990s but now there about 180 roaming South Florida.

    They don’t pack on pounds like black bears, but they do tend to hunt for longer hours in the morning during winter, said Mark Lotz, a panther biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

    “They tend to be active for longer periods after sunrise, when it’s cool out,” Lotz said. “In the summer time it’s so hot, they lay down quickly. They sneak away to the hammocks and shady areas and settle down pretty early.”

    The big cats breed year-round, although most kittens are born in late spring, according to FWC records. Kittens will stay with their mothers for about two years before searching out their own territories.


    Gulf of Mexico water temperatures have been hovering around 75 degrees. Cold fronts will cause water temperatures to drop to 60 degrees or lower – which is too cold for sub-tropical animals like manatees.

    “When water drops to upper 60s, they need to be close to warm water for periods so they can warm up,” said Scott Calleson with FWC. “When it gets cold they stay in those areas for days and won’t feed. But they still have to go out feed at some point. And that varies with the individual and how long they’ve been holed up in a particular area.”

    Manatees roam coastal areas across the state during the summer. Cold spells in the winter send them inland, to warm-water refuges like the Florida Power & Light plant on the Orange River east of Fort Myers.

    Callesson said some manatees are more tolerant of cold than others. Eventually, though, all will have to seek out warm water or face health issues that stem from cold-stress, including death.

    “We’re probably still on the warm end of things,” Calleson said. “We haven’t yet seen a change to winter behaviors yet.”


    * Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest: 6265 County Road 832. Information: 863-612-0776.

    * Everglades National Park: Everglades City, Flamingo and Shark River Valley entrance along Tamiami Trail. Information: 305-242-7700.

    * Harnes Marsh Preserve: Near Veterans Park in Lehigh Acres. Information: 239-386-0044.

    * Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park: 137 Coastline Drive, Copeland. Information: 239-695-4593

    * Manatee Park: 3410 Palm Beach Blvd., Fort Myers. Information: 239-690-5030

    Chad Gillis||October 31, 2014

    DEP’s Florida Coastal Office Debuts Interactive Map of Aquatic Preserves

    ~Take a virtual tour through some of Florida’s most outstanding coastal habitats~

    The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Coastal Office presents an online interactive story map that takes visitors on a virtual tour of the state’s 41 aquatic preserves through pictures, videos and website links.

    Florida’s aquatic preserves encompass approximately 2.2 million acres. All but four of these “submerged lands of exceptional beauty” are located along Florida’s 8,400 miles of coastline in the shallow waters of marshes and estuaries that serve as a critical nursery for many of the nation’s recreationally and commercially important fish and shellfish.

    “The aquatic preserve story map provides a captivating way for the public and government officials to learn about each aquatic preserve and the great things being accomplished by Florida Coastal Office staff and volunteers across the state,” said Chris Robertson, GIS coordinator for the Florida Coastal Office. “This map is an incredible tool that can be used to teach Florida residents about the natural beauty found right in their backyard.”

    This interactive mapping project was created to educate the public about the diverse ecosystems found across the state and to encourage public support and community involvement in the aquatic preserves.

    Approximately two-thirds of Floridians live in counties that border an aquatic preserve.

    The creation of this interactive map takes promoting the aquatic preserves further than just handing out a pamphlet or pointing to a storyboard. It allows guests to get a closer look at the research, resource protection, education and community outreach that is taking place at each site.

    The map is hosted on the Florida DEP’s ArcGIS online gallery, found here.

    latashawalters|Nov. 7, 2014

    Calls to Action

    2. Help Nevada State Mustangs – here
    3. Protect Florida’s Wetlands – here
    4. Help Protect Cabo Pulmo’s Coral Reef – here
    5. Tell India’s government to stop its plans to expand palm oil production and help save India’s wild tigershere

    Birds and Butterflies

    November Offers Plenty of Birds. Here’s Where to Look

    For much of North America, the rush of confusing fall warblers has passed—but there’s still plenty of great bird watching to be done in November. Chances are, a weedy field near you is hosting throngs of beautiful sparrows; ponds are coming alive with migrating waterfowl; mudflats are like magnets for shorebirds; and raptors are passing overhead. Check out our full set of fall tips.

    From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology eNews

    Rare Raven Flies Free After Getting a Feather Transplant

    Thanks to the kindness of a caring citizen and the expertise of wildlife rehabilitators in Virginia, a common raven has been successfully returned to her home in the wild after being rescued and receiving months of care and a feather transplant.

    The raven was first spotted by Maureen Bergin, an IT specialist at Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield earlier this spring in the parking lot where she worked in Henrico County with missing feathers that left her unable to fly.

    According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch Bergin tried for two months to get professional help for her as her condition deteriorated, but it wasn’t until the bird was identified as a raven, who usually stick to the mountains and are rare in the area, that anyone responded.

    In the meantime the raven’s mate had been bringing her food, while Bergin also fed her and attempted to lure her into a carrier so she could take her to get help.

    “You sing to it and it would make these clucking sounds back at you,” Bergin said. “It was really cool. As long as I didn’t make eye contact, she would talk to me.”

    Still she had no luck catching her. Finally in June, she was officially identified by Barbara Slatcher who is a local rehabber, caught by officials from the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and taken to a vet for an initial exam before being transferred to the Wildlife Center of Virginia where she was an unusual patient. According to the center, it’s admitted fewer than 10 ravens since 2000.

    Though rescuers say she was still lively when she showed up, tests confirmed that she was covered in mites that were responsible for causing her feather loss and treatment began. She responded well and some of her feathers had started to grow in by September, but there were still too many broken and damaged ones for her to be safely released so the staff decided to do a “feather transplant” to help get her on her way home.

    For birds, a feather transplant is called “imping” and involves attaching flight feathers from a donor bird onto the shafts of feathers of the bird who needs new ones by inserting small splints between the two. Donor feathers in this case came from Avian Haven in Maine and the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota and resulted in six new feathers on her right wing and one on the left.

    Fortunately, the procedure was a success and after carefully monitoring her new feathers and helping build her strength after one last health check she was cleared for release this week. About 100 people gathered at Bryan Park in Richmond to hear her story and see her off.

    No one knows whether she’ll stick around the area or whether she’ll find her mate, but Randy Huwa, executive vice president of the center said if he’s still in the area, she shouldn’t have any trouble catching up to him.

    Alicia Graef|November 7, 2014

     Florida Panthers

    Florida hunters, ranchers challenge state’s method of counting panthers as more wildlife killed

    NAPLES, Fla. – A growing movement among cattle ranchers and hunters is challenging the way Florida counts panthers, the state’s official mammal and one of its most iconic endangered species.

    More than 50 hunters and ranchers from all over South Florida flocked this week to a rare public meeting in Naples of the federal and state team guiding Florida panther recovery efforts. The hunters and ranchers pushed back against recovery goals they say are causing panthers to run amok.

    They told stories about fearless panthers getting too close for comfort. They said a burgeoning panther population is causing native wildlife declines. They worried that panthers killing calves will ruin their livelihoods.

    “I just wonder if we’re trying to put a square peg in a round hole,” said Collier County ranch owner Liesa Priddy, who Gov. Scott appointed to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

    She questioned as unwise the goal of creating two distinct populations of 240 panthers each, which would move them from the endangered status to threatened. Creating three distinct populations would take the panthers off the endangered list altogether.

    “Not every single species can be recovered,” she said. “I think that’s something we need to hold out there and consider.”

    Collier County is ground zero for panther recovery because it covers the best of what’s left of their habitat on public lands, like the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Big Cypress National Preserve and Fakahatchee Strand, and on private ranches around Immokalee.

    In the mid-1980s, Florida panther trackers counted as few as 30 left in the wild. A controversial plan to introduce eight female Texas cougars into the South Florida population is credited with restoring panther’s genetic diversity and boosting the population.

    A 2013 count put the minimum population at 104 panthers, and scientists say a steady increase has leveled off, indicating that panthers may have no more room to grow. Male panthers have ventured north of the Caloosahatchee River, but there is no proof that females are there.

    Panther tracker Roy McBride, a Texas-based predator control expert who does Florida’s annual counts, made the case for basing population estimates on facts.

    McBride uses hounds and his team’s own expertise to find panther signs – scat, urine markers, tracks, panther prey kills. He then is careful to distinguish between males and females and time and distance between signs to avoid double-counting.

    “If we’re going to count panthers, let’s at least use verifiable evidence or nobody’s going to believe us,” he said.

    For years, Florida reported only a minimum population size, but amid questions about the real size of the population, the Conservation Commission reported its first population range estimate in 2011. Scientists estimated the population at between 100 and 160 panthers. The top number was increased to 180 earlier this year.

    The range estimate uses minimum count data to figure out many panthers roam per square mile in areas where they are most plentiful and then multiplies that figure over the panther’s entire reproductive range.

    But minimum counts and population range estimates are not the same as statistically valid population size estimates that can hold up to scientific scrutiny. Scientists are still looking for ways to do that.

    “Not one of them has popped up and said, ‘Hey, this is the one you want to use,’” said Darrell Land, Florida’s panther recovery team leader based in Naples.

    One count method from a 2012 study suggests the Florida panther population grew to 272, but the margin of error in the count methodology is so large and the calculation method is considered biased toward panthers around public lands.

    Most hunters and ranchers attending this week’s meeting weren’t buying any of the numbers being tossed around.

    “Perhaps these animals aren’t reading our books,” said Mike Elfenbein, 37, of Port Charlotte, a Florida native and outdoorsman who says he’s been stalked by a panther four times.

    Increasing conflicts between panthers and people is “on the radar” of state and federal wildlife agencies, said Larry Williams, regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

    “They’re showing up on porches, they’re showing up on ranches and we need to do something differently,” Williams told the at-times belligerent crowd at the extension office.

    He hinted at a loosening of endangered species rules that prohibit harassing and hazing and suggested it might be time to relax the measures used to determine whether the panther should be downlisted to threatened and eventually taken off the endangered list.

    Florida Wildlife Federation field representative Nancy Payton said resolving the issues surrounding a growing panther population is key to the panthers’ future, and that includes converting hunters and ranchers into “missionaries” for panther conservation rather than critics.

    “They’re not there yet,” she said.

    Eric Staats|Oct 31, 2014

      Invasive species


    Endangered Species

    Conservation Groups Sue Federal Agency to Protect Wolverines

    After more than a century of trapping and habitat loss, wolverines in the lower 48 have been reduced to small, fragmented populations in Idaho, Montana, Washington, Wyoming and northeast Oregon.

    The wolverine is a famously tough creature that doesn’t back down from anything, but even the wolverine can’t overcome a changing climate by itself. To survive, the wolverine needs the protections that only the Endangered Species Act can provide.

    Missoula, MT Eight conservation groups joined forces today in a legal challenge of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to abandon proposed protections for the wolverine, a rare and elusive mountain-dwelling species with fewer than 300 individuals remaining in the lower 48.

    In February 2013, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to list the wolverine as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act after the agency’s biologists concluded global warming was reducing the deep spring snowpack pregnant females require for denning.

    But after state wildlife managers in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming objected, arguing that computer models about climate change impact are too uncertain to justify the proposed listing, in May 2014 the Service’s Regional Director Noreen Walsh ordered her agency to withdraw the listing, ignoring the recommendations of her own scientists. The reversal came despite confirmation by a panel of outside experts that deep snow is crucial to the ability of wolverines to reproduce successfully. The agency formalized that withdrawal in a final decision issued Aug. 13.

    The coalition of eight conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice, is suing to overturn that decision filed the lawsuit today in federal district court in Missoula, Mont.

    “The wolverine is a famously tough creature that doesn’t back down from anything, but even the wolverine can’t overcome a changing climate by itself,” said Earthjustice attorney Adrienne Maxwell. “To survive, the wolverine needs the protections that only the Endangered Species Act can provide.”

    The groups bringing the lawsuit are the Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Friends of the Clearwater, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Idaho Conservation League, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, and Rocky Mountain Wild.

    “The denial of protection for the wolverine is yet another unfortunate example of politics entering into what should be a purely scientific decision,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “All of the science and the agency’s own scientists say the wolverine is severely endangered by loss of spring snowpack caused by climate change, yet the agency denied protection anyway.”

    “The best available science shows climate change will significantly reduce available wolverine habitat over the next century, and imperil the species,” said Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance’s Siva Sundaresan. “As an agency responsible for protecting our wildlife, FWS should not ignore science and should make their decisions based on facts and data.”

    “Wolverines in the Clearwater region are particularly vulnerable because the elevations here are less than those elsewhere in the Northern Rockies,” said Gary Macfarlane of Friends of the Clearwater. “It would be a great loss if this fearless critter were to disappear from the wild Clearwater country.”.

    “One of the most important things that we can do to get wolverines on the road to recovery in the face of a warming climate is to get them back on the ground in mountain ranges where they once lived,” said Megan Mueller, senior conservation biologist with Rocky Mountain Wild. “We are disappointed by the Service’s decision not to list wolverines under the Endangered Species Act as protections would have helped to facilitate such efforts in Colorado and beyond.”

    “The remote, rugged, and snowy North Cascades are ideal wolverine habitat,” said Dave Werntz, Science and Conservation Director with Conservation Northwest. “Protection under the Endangered Species Act will help wolverine survive a warming climate, shrinking snowpack, and increasingly fragmented habitat.”

    Read the legal document.


    The wolverine, the largest land-dwelling member of the weasel family, once roamed across the northern tier of the United States and as far south as New Mexico in the Rockies and Southern California in the Sierra Nevada range. After more than a century of trapping and habitat loss, wolverines in the lower 48 have been reduced to small, fragmented populations in Idaho, Montana, Washington, Wyoming and northeast Oregon.

    With no more than 300 wolverines remaining in these regions, the species is at direct risk from climate change because wolverines depend on areas that maintain deep snow through late spring, when pregnant females dig their dens into the snowpack to birth and raise their young. Snowpack is already in decline in the western mountains, a trend that is predicted to worsen. Wolverine populations also are threatened by trapping, human disturbance, extremely low population numbers resulting in low genetic diversity, and fragmentation of habitat.

    The groups challenging the Service’s determination pointed out that the agency disregarded well-established scientific evidence, including the recommendations of its own scientists, in speculating that the wolverine might be capable of withstanding the projected loss of 63 percent of its snowy habitat in the lower 48 by the year 2085. Contrary to the Service’s speculation, every one of the 562 verified wolverine den sites in North America and Scandinavia occurred in snow; 95 percent of worldwide summer wolverine observations and 89 percent of year-round wolverine observations fell within areas characterized by persistent spring snowpack. Elimination of this snowy habitat due to warming temperatures presents a direct threat to the wolverine’s survival — a danger compounded by the increasing isolation and fragmentation of wolverine habitats that threatens remaining populations with localized extinctions and inbreeding.

    On May 17, the assistant director for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Rocky Mountain region recommended protection for the wolverine, concluding that the agency’s scientists had not found “any other peer-reviewed literature or other bodies of evidence that would lead us to a different conclusion. While we recognize there is uncertainty associated with when population effects may manifest themselves, any conclusion that there will not be population effects appears to be based on opinion and speculation. In our opinion that would not represent the best available scientific or commercial data available.” Despite these strong conclusions, the Fish and Wildlife Service reversed course and withdrew proposed protection for the wolverine.

    Adrienne Maxwell|Attorney|Earthjustice|October 13, 2014

    First Gray Wolf Sighted at the Grand Canyon in Decades Offers Hope

    Several recent sightings of what’s believed to be a gray wolf at the Grand Canyon in Arizona have wolf advocates hopeful that its presence, which marks the first time one has been seen in the state in 70 years, is yet another a sign of recovery for this iconic species.

    The lone wolf in question was first spotted in early October by visitors at the Kaibab National Forest north of the Grand Canyon National Park and described as a wolf-like animal, but photos made public by the Center for Biological Diversity – in an attempt to ensure it wasn’t mistaken for a coyote and killed – have led wildlife and park officials to believe it’s a gray wolf.

    While endangered Mexican gray wolves live in the area, the wolf who was spotted was larger and has the signature rounded ears of their relatives. It’s also wearing an inactive radio collar, which essentially rules out the possibility that it’s a wolf-dog hybrid, and has led wildlife officials to believe the wolf may have traveled all the way from the Northern Rockies.

    Officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) said they’ll be DNA testing its feces for confirmation and further stated, “Until more is known about this animal, visitors to the area are cautioned that this may be a wolf from the northern Rocky Mountain population and is fully protected under the Endangered Species Act. Our immediate concern is for the welfare of this animal.”

    While gray wolves once roamed vast portions of the U.S., they’ve only returned to an estimated 10 percent of their historic range. They’ve been absent from the Grand Canyon region since the last one was killed in the 1940s making this one’s adventure a significant success for the species.

    Like the story of Oregon’s lone wolf OR-7, this sighting has offered hope for conservationists and wolf advocates that wolves are continuing to expand their range and has raised more calls to continue federal protection. While we’ve had some victories in the West, they continue to face exactly the kind of persecution that led to federal protection in the first place.

    “I’m absolutely thrilled that a wolf managed to travel so far to reclaim the Grand Canyon as a home for wolves,” said Michael Robinson, a wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This wolf’s journey starkly highlights the fact that wolf recovery is still in its infancy and that these important and magnificent animals continue to need Endangered Species Act protections.”

    While this individual is still protected as an endangered species, a proposal to strip them of federal protection could change that and is still looming over their future. Losing protection would further threaten their ability to safely expand to new territories that are suitable for them, which their advocates believe is essential to their continued recovery.

    “The possibility that a determined wolf could make it to the Canyon region is cause for celebration, and we must insist that every effort be taken to protect this brave wanderer,” said Kim Crumbo, conservation director for Grand Canyon Wildlands Council

    Alicia Graef|November 4, 2014

    Iberian Lynx reintroduced to Portugal

    The plan to reintroduce the rare Iberian lynx to the wild in Portugal has taken a giant step forward the country’s environment ministry has announced.

    The lynx has been allocated 2,000 hectares in Mertola, 180km southeast of Lisbon to live, hunt and breed thanks to the land owners signing contracts with The Institute for Nature Conservation and Forestry (ICNF).

    “It is a decisive step in the project, starting the definition of the geographic setting, working closely with the owners and managers, of the reintroduction site of the lynx in Portugal,” said Miguel Castro Neto, Portugal’s Secretary of State for Planning and Nature Conservation.

    The agreement allows the lynx to live and, hopefully, thrive in a protected area, while the land owner will be able to attract tourists hoping to see one of the most endangered feline in the world.

    The Iberian Lynx is the world’s most threatened species of cat and is classed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN. Numbers have declined by more than 80 percent over the last 20 years.

    Florida Celebrates High Sea Turtle Nest Count This Season

    ~Conservation efforts reduce human impact on sea turtle nesting~

    A sea turtle hatchling makes its way to the ocean.

    Researchers are again seeing a high number of sea turtle nests on Florida’s beaches this year. The number of nests in Florida has increased over the past several years as a result of increased conservation efforts and decreased detrimental storms throughout the state.

    More than 1,800 biologists, interns and trained volunteers patrol Florida’s 199 nesting beaches to identify, mark and monitor nests. Researchers at Florida’s three National Estuarine Research Reserves (NERRs), located in Naples, Apalachicola and Ponte Vedra Beach, gather evidence to track sea turtle populations and document the success of the nests.

    This year, 960 total nests have been reported in Florida’s three NERRs. Researchers at Guana Tolomato Mantanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve have reported 134 nests, including 10 rare green turtle nests. The nest count in Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve has increased from 475 in 2013 to 560 nests this year. At the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, 266 nests have been identified.

    “We are very pleased to see the sea turtle population increased this year within our managed areas,” Kevin Claridge, director of DEP’s Florida Coastal Office. “There are many variables that can affect population numbers, but a key component to species management is good data, which in this case would not have been possible without so many excellent partnerships and volunteer hours.”

    In addition to more total nests, Rookery Bay Reserve also had more hatched nests this year, totaling 360 this season, compared to just 287 last year. The increase in hatched nests reflects the improvement of statewide nesting productivity. Additionally, Cape Romano, within Rookery Bay Reserve, is reporting the highest number of sea turtle nests since 2006. An estimated 6,000 hatchlings from those nests have made it to the Gulf – more than double last year’s reported 2,500 and soaring above the count of 678 in 2012.

    Sea turtles spend the vast majority of their lives in the open ocean, only coming inland to nest. Florida is a vital area for sea turtle nesting, with nesting areas running along both the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. The nesting season spans from early May until the end of October.

    During sea turtle nesting season, those visiting beaches are asked to keep lights off at night, avoid any interaction with nesting turtles and avoid all marked sea-turtle nests. When beachgoers leave lights on at night, sea turtle hatchlings may become disoriented and head toward those lights, instead of the moonlight over the ocean.

    Simple actions beachgoers can take to ensure they are not hindering hatchlings from successfully making it to the water are listed below

    • Remove all belongings from the beach, flatten sand castles and fill in holes.
    • Properly dispose of litter in designated receptacles on the beach.
    • Stay off dunes and use the designated walkovers for crossing.
    • Shield any artificial lighting that may shine toward the beach.

    DEP News Room|Oct. 30, 2014

    Center Report: 350,000 Square Miles of Potential Wolf Habitat

    It’s time to think bigger about wolf recovery.
    A first-of-its-kind analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity identifies 359,000 square miles of additional habitat for gray wolves in the lower 48 states that could significantly boost the nation’s 40-year wolf recovery efforts. Habitat including areas in the southern Rocky Mountains, on the West Coast and in the Northeast could double the wolf population to about 10,000.
    Monday’s report follows the incredible news last week that a gray wolf, likely a wanderer from the northern Rockies, has been spotted on the Grand Canyon’s North Rim; it also comes as the Obama administration moves to strip Endangered Species Act protection from wolves by the end of the year.
    “There’s still so much more room for wolves in the lower 48 states,” said the Center’s Amaroq Weiss. “Rather than pulling the plug on wolf recovery before the job is done, we ought to be looking at ways to bring these animals back.”
    Learn more about our
    report and check out a map of potential wolf habitat in 19 states.

    Wolves Victorious in Michigan Election

    Following a Center for Biological Diversity action alert this week, our Michigan supporters showed up in force at the polls to support the state’s wolves — helping tip the scales on Election Day against two dangerous anti-wolf measures. Michigan voters roundly rejected Proposals 1 and 2, which would’ve removed wolves from the state endangered list and allowed the Natural Resources Commission to decide whether wolves should be hunted as game. These measures would’ve been disastrous for these wolves, which already lost their federal Endangered Species Act protections before their population was stable enough to withstand hunting pressure.

    A third anti-wolf measure is already set to take effect in spring — but the group Keep Michigan Wolves Protected plans to challenge that law as unconstitutional. Meanwhile the Center and allies have litigation pending to restore federal protection to all Great Lakes wolves.
    Thank you to all who helped defeat the two proposals.

    Get more from MLive Media Group.

    Manatee season about to begin as protections questioned

    Manatees may be upgraded from endangered status

    As the weather cools, manatees will start streaming into South Florida for a few months of basking in warm water, munching seagrass and trying to avoid getting hit by boats.

    Manatee season officially begins Nov. 15, when seasonal boat speed limits take effect along rivers, canals and the Intracoastal Waterway. The huge marine mammals typically arrive in large numbers in late December, although one biologist says recent cold fronts could bring them here sooner.

    The main action for the manatee this season, however, may not be in the lagoons and canals of Florida but in the offices of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency is expected to make a decision early next year whether to strip the manatee of its “endangered” label, moving it to the lesser status of “threatened.”

    The proposal came from waterfront property owners on the Gulf coast and has the support of coastal developers and the boating industry, whose members have complained for years about speed limits and restrictions on dock building.

    Nearly 50,000 comments have been received by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, of which 42,212 were submitted by the Humane Society of the United States, which solicited comments from its members.

    Among the organizations advocating the removal of the endangered label are boating and marine industry organizations, including BoatUS, Citizens for Florida’s Waterways and the Marine Industries Association of Collier County.

    They point to the big increase in manatees counted in aerial surveys, with the numbers rising from 1,267 in 1991, the first year they were counted, to 5,077 in 2010, with 4,844 counted earlier this year. They say the increase shows the success of protection efforts, which they say should be acknowledged by upgrading the manatee’s status.

    “We are confident this recovery is due in part to the actions of Florida’s boaters who have learned how to share their environment and the habitat with manatees,” wrote BoatUS. “Recreational boaters have an abiding interest in the protection of manatees and the ecosystems on which they depend. One of the joys of boating is being able to appreciate and enjoy the natural beauty of being on the water.”

    Opposed are the Humane Society of the United States, Florida Wildlife Federation, South Florida Wildlands Association and The Save the Manatee Club, who have asked their members to write to the wildlife service expressing their opposition.

    We are confident this recovery is due in part to the actions of Florida’s boaters who have learned how to share their environment and the habitat with manatees- BoatUS

    They point to the high death counts of the few years, with 282 killed by the cold in 2010 and a record 830 dying last year, largely from red tide algae blooms and a mysterious die-off of marine life around the Indian River Lagoon. They note that boats are still killing manatees, with 130 confirmed dead from watercraft in the past two years.

    “These beautiful, PEACEFUL animals SUFFER unmentionable injuries due to boaters who speed (without penalties) on our waterways ignoring posted speed and manatee zones, abuse from swimmers who think they can jump on their backs or ride them like a horse, harassment from fishermen, and more,” wrote Linda Hodoval, of Orlando. “They do no one any harm — can we not do the same for them?”

    Although advocates on each side emphasize their favorite statistics, none of these numbers can be taken at face value, said Chuck Underwood, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

    “The high numbers — we don’t know what that represents,” he said. “Obviously when you go from 1,800 at listing to a high of 5,000-plus, that tells us something. Were there just 1,800 animals then, or did we just get better at finding these animals?”

    No one doubts that high numbers of manatees have died in the past two years. But he said, it’s important to determine whether these deaths represent unique events or the beginning of a trend.

    “We ask ourselves what the mortalities mean,” Underwood said. “It raises a flag, the question is what does that flag mean? Is it a one-time event or are we going to see more? Does the species show a resilience to it?”

    If the manatee is reclassified from endangered to threatened, he said, its level of protection would not change, since it will retain its protection under the Endangered Species Act. But he said the reclassification of a species can be a step toward removing it from the list altogether.

    These beautiful, PEACEFUL animals SUFFER unmentionable injuries due to boaters who speed (without penalties) on our waterways ignoring posted speed and manatee zones- Linda Hodoval, Orlando

    Although manatees can be found throughout South Florida’s waterways, they congregate on the coldest days at the warm-water discharge zones of the power plants in Riviera Beach, Port Everglades and inland in Fort Lauderdale.

    In the past two years, four were killed by boats in Broward County, five in Miami-Dade County and five in Palm Beach County. In addition, there were 26 deaths in the three counties for which the cause could not be determined, and some of these are assumed to be from watercraft.

    In order to prevent boats from speeding through manatee-protection areas, Palm Beach County will open what’s called Operation Mermaid on Nov. 15. Under the direction of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, boat patrols from several cities will begin stepped-up enforcement, with the extra patrol taking place weekends and holidays through the end of the season, said Alessandra Medri, the county’s manatee coordinator.

    One young manatee found injured by a boat last year will be released within the next few months. The manatee, just over five feet long, was discovered in the Loxahatchee River with a broken rib and punctured lung. Taken for rehabilitation to the Miami Seaquarium, he has recovered, gained weight and will probably be set free in January, said Tom Reinert, research administrator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

    “When there are a lot of people in the water and manatees start to congregate in South Florida, you have the potential for manatees to encounter watercraft, which usually doesn’t go well for the manatee,” he said. “So we ask that people obey posted speed zones and keep a lookout on the water.”

    Anyone who sees an injured or distressed manatee is asked to call the state’s wildlife alert line at 888-404-3922.

    David Fleshler|Sun Sentinel|November 7, 2014

    2014 Smalltooth Sawfish Abundance Survey,October Report & End of the Year Summary

    In October, for the first time in 9 years, the field crew for the NOAA Smalltooth Sawfish Abundance Survey was stationed in both Chokoloskee and Flamingo.

    In the northern portion of Everglades National Park, scientists captured and tagged two new young-of-the- year smalltooth sawfish; (one on the west-side of Chokoloskee Island, 130 cm STL, and one in Mud Bay, 140 cm STL).

    The team also recaptured one young-of-the-year in Mud Bay that was originally tagged in Mud Bay on April 4; it grew from 77 to 124 cm STL in six months.

    Using social media and a sightings report from a hiker on the Guy Bradley Trail, scientists sampled behind the amphitheater at the Flamingo Campground and captured one young-of-the-year smalltooth sawfish (78.5 cm STL). This animal is the only animal
    to have an open umbilical scar in the 6 years that the survey has been underway.

    An open umbilical scar means the animal was likely born in the previous 1-2 weeks. Unfortunately, inclement weather kept the scientists from finishing out the remainder week at Flamingo; however, there are plans to continue sampling in the southern portion of Everglades National Park next year.
    The October Survey was the last trip for this year.

    Thirty-seven young-of-the-year and 5 juvenile smalltooth sawfish were captured and tagged in 2014 in all areas combined. The survey will begin again in February 2015.

    Smalltooth sawfish were listed as endangered in 2003 under Section 9 of the Endangered Species Act. Remember, it is illegal to “take” (harass, harm, pursue, target, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap or capture) this animal.

    The current core population is limited to waters off the coast of southwest Florida and incidental encounters between smalltooth sawfish and fishermen do occur. If you incidentally hook or net a smalltooth sawfish, do not remove the animal from the water, cut the line or gear as close to the
    animal as possible, and release the animal immediately.

    Please exercise caution and never remove the saw. If you see or encounter a smalltooth sawfish, please contact the International Sawfish Encounter Database at (352) 392-2360. All input and cooperation from the public is greatly valued.

    If you are driving around southwest Florida, look for the smalltooth sawfish educational billboard on I-75 southbound just before you drive over the Caloosahatchee Bridge. The billboard is designed to promote the safe handling of this endangered elasmobranch.

    Dana M. Bethea|Research Ecologist|NOAA Fisheries Panama City Laboratory|Panama City, FL [from the Mullet Rapper]

    Help Stop India’s Palm Oil Plans and Save Bengal Tigers

    India is planning to take its reliance on palm oil to a whole new level by clearing areas of forest and growing oil palm on an area of land that in total is close to the size of Connecticut. Now, campaigners warn this could be deadly for India’s endangered wildlife.

    India’s use of palm oil has rocketed since the 1990s with imports increasing from 100,000 metric tons to over 8.8 million in 2014. Palm oil is a versatile product that can be used in baking and the preparing of food, as well as in a range of beauty products like soaps and even in animal feed products.

    Palm oil is also one of the easiest crops to cultivate, and for that reason represents a lucrative market prospect. Until now, India has relied on importing palm oil to meet skyrocketing demand but in the mid-2000s, India’s government introduced a scheme that would expand oil palm cultivation to six more states. This didn’t increase production as much as was hoped and India continues to import palm oil at a massive rate (making up 17 percent of all total global palm oil consumption according to recent figures).

    However, India’s government is not satisfied with this situation and plans to expand its oil palm growing capabilities even further. The Ministry of Agriculture has suggested that India could accommodate oil palm plantations up to 1.03 million hectares of land which, as mentioned above, is nearly the size of the U.S. state of Connecticut.

    With this land cleared and made ready for oil palm production, the government hopes to produce between four and five million tons of palm oil per year. The government plans to increase its already high spending ($50 million in investments were made to shore up this program in 2012) to provide subsidies for seeds and processing plants.

    When looking purely at the figures, this could make sense. Palm oil is the cheapest vegetable oil to produce. Oil palm groves can also provide farmers an incredibly high yield in a relatively small space, especially when compared to other vegetable oil grains like rapeseed and sunflower. As such, some farmers in India are keen to make this transition as they believe it will breathe new life into the farming industry.

    However, wildlife campaigners point out that the scheme could cause severe damage to the country’s wildlife, and in particular to several endangered species.

    The land slated for clearing through much of east and north east India houses a number of important species, including the Bengal tiger. While Bengal tigers are one of the most numerous of the tiger family, they have been hunted aggressively and their territories have been dramatically reduced to the point that their population has dropped below 2,500 and is probably somewhere in the range of 1,700-1,900. That brings the Bengal dangerously close to population collapse, and it is feared that as forests are cleared for palm oil production, this problem will only worsen. Even if the government manages to skirt Bengal territory — which, critics say, the government hasn’t undertaken adequate planning to ensure — the encroachment will create more human and wildlife conflicts and likely lead to more hunting of tigers whether for game or out of fear.

    There are also concerns surrounding how this land clearing effort might affect Indian elephants whose forest corridors (the land they use to move from one area to another) will be squeezed and, if the government does not plan carefully, even cut off. The same concern applies for a number of other predator species besides the tiger, including the leopard, and rodent species whom it is feared will attempt to exploit the oil palm groves only to be killed by disgruntled farmers.

    In addition, there are concerns about how this plan could threaten food security in the region. Currently, farmers use some of the land slated for development to grow a variety of crops, but should the ground be cleared for palm oil production, this versatility will be lost. Furthermore, some of the regions marked for palm oil development suffer long periods of drought. While oil palm is relatively hardy, it does require large amounts of water. The government has reassured land owners that it can help to meet that need, but obviously trafficking in water will come with its own environmental costs.

    Lastly, critics suggest that the government should be providing subsidies to farmers who are pursuing sustainable agricultural practices, creating a more stable overall economy and reducing land mismanagement, rather than trying to employ a quick fix like oil palm cultivation that has so many drawbacks with no guaranteed return.

    In short, there are many reasons why the government’s announced plans appear unworkable, and why campaigners say they should be resisted in favor of more careful agricultural spending and engagement.

    Steve Williams|October 31, 2014

    Wild & Weird




    Water Quality Issues

    Sunderbans’ water getting toxic: Scientists

    Climate change is causing toxic metals trapped in the sediment beds of the Hooghly estuary in the Indian Sunderbans to leach out into the water system due to changes in ocean chemistry, say scientists, warning of potential human health hazards.

    They predict that after about 30 years, increasing ocean acidification – another dark side of spiked atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide – could in fact unlock the entire stock of metals like copper and lead gathered in the sediment layer, and release them into the water system, leading to health issues.
    Sunderbans is the world’s largest mangrove forest and home to the endangered Royal Bengal tiger. More than two-thirds of the forest lies in Bangladesh and the rest in West Bengal.

    Oceans act as cleansers by taking up a chunk (around one-fourth) of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. As atmospheric carbon dioxide levels shoot up, the levels absorbed by oceans increase, lowering their pH (indicator of acidity) and making them more acidic (ocean acidification).
    Through the water, toxic metals are finding their way into the muscles and tissues of certain edible finfish, popular in the Indian Sunderbans area in West Bengal and because of the food chain, they pose a threat to human health as well, say researchers.

    “This ocean acidification is leading to release of the toxic, carcinogenic metals into the water. Our study based on 30 years of real-time data (from 1984 to 2013) forecasts a significant lowering of pH after a period of 30 years due to ocean acidification. This is an offshoot of climate change.
    “As a result, this will lead to the movement of entire biologically available copper and lead (but not zinc) from the underlying sediment compartment to the overlying aquatic phase,” Abhijit Mitra, advisor, Oceanography, Techno India University (TIU) here, told IANS.

    Existing data shows global oceanic pH has decreased by 0.1 pH units (25 percent increase in acidity) since the onset of the industrial revolution and is projected to decrease by up to another 0.4 pH units by 2100.

    Published in the Journal of Energy, Environment and Carbon Credits, it confirms the role of ocean acidification in the funnel shaped Hooghly estuary bordering the western fringes of Indian Sunderbans – the world’s largest continuous mangrove forests.

    The Unesco World Heritage Site is known for its exceptional biodiversity in flora and fauna with as many as 334 plant species and 693 species of wildlife which include 49 mammals, 59 reptiles, eight amphibians, 210 white fishes, 24 shrimps, 14 crabs and 43 mollusks species.

    The selected study station lies 2.8 km off the Namkhana island, located almost at the confluence of the Bay of Bengal and the estuary.

    The study was a collaborative effort between researchers TIU, Calcutta University, Jadavpur University, Dhruba Chand Halder College, Barasat, Chanchal College, Malda and University Putra, Selangor, Malaysia.

    Researcher Sufia Zaman, who studied the bioaccumulation of the toxic metals in edible fish species such as Goldspot mullet (commonly called parshe), noted an aberration: though there was “no significant increase” in industrial activities in the area over the years, there was an “increasing trend” of toxic metals in the coastal water.

    The explanation: ocean acidification causing the metals to leach out from the sediment bed.

    “The other sources are trawlers, which have lead paints on their underside, shrimp farms that release ammonia from the waste water and tourism activities,” said Zaman, associated with TIU.

    Mitra warned high levels of copper and lead could cause intestinal disorders and brain damage.

    “The forecast values of dissolved zinc, copper and lead will touch 698.98 ppb (parts per billion), 497.65 ppb and 76.60 ppb respectively after a period of 30 years,” said Pardis Fazli of Malaysia’s University Putra.

    Often referred to as another carbon dioxide problem besides global warming, ocean acidification is being implicated across the world for its impact on coral reef formation.

    “For Indian Sunderbans, the present forecast values strongly justify the consideration of acidification phenomenon in order to develop a sound management action plan in context to heavy metal pollution monitoring and control,” said Prosenjit Pramanick of TIU.

    Sahana Ghosh|Kolkata|Nov 2

    Know What Comes From Your Tap!

    “Is my tap water safe?” I get this question from friends and family a lot because I work in EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water. Just recently, my parents moved to a new city and asked me if there was anything in the drinking water that they should be worried about. My response was, “Go read the latest Consumer Confidence Report!”

    Many Americans get their water from a “community drinking water system,” including people living in cities, towns, manufactured housing communities and other institutions where people live full-time, such as nursing homes.  Each spring, all community water systems in the United States send an annual water quality report, or consumer confidence report (CCR), to their customers (either by mail or online). After explaining that to my parents, we hopped on the computer and quickly found the CCR for their city posted online. We learned that their city had performed a total of more than 150,000 tests for different contaminants in their drinking water – and none were found to exceed EPA’s drinking water limits.

    This year is the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act, which was passed in 1974. In 1996, the Safe Drinking Water Act was amended to require all community water systems to provide consumer confidence reports to their customers. Every CCR must contain information about the water system’s drinking water source, possible contaminants and health effects, and other relevant information. Systems are required to deliver this information to every consumer.  Sometimes the CCR contains other useful information, too. My best friend is an avid fish collector who appreciated the information in her CCR about using her drinking water for her fish tank.

    Water systems are also able to link to their online CCR on EPA’s website. Not all systems do that, but you can check for yours at:

    Like my parents, I also rely on my CCR to keep me informed about my city’s water. The Safe Drinking Water Act has strict standards for water quality in order to protect public health, and you have the right to know what’s in your drinking water. As we mark the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act, take a moment to review your CCR!

    Adrienne Harris|November 6,2014

    Great Lakes & Inland Waters

    Nutrient Pollution: A Persistent Threat to Waterways

    Passage of the Clean Water Act of 1972 brought many improvements to surface waters by curbing much of the toxic and organic pollution going into waterways. But 42 years later, we have yet to make significant reductions in two major pollutants in our rivers, lakes, and coastal sounds—the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus. Although nitrogen pollution overall has gone down in U.S. streams and rivers since 2004, it remains a serious problem in many waterways, and phosphorus pollution has gone up significantly. The problem is especially challenging in that the deleterious effects of nitrogen and phosphorus often occur hundreds or thousands of miles from where the nutrients originate.

    Why have these two nutrients proven so tough to get under control? And are current regulatory and programmatic efforts enough to turn this situation around?

    The basics of nutrient pollution are simple enough. Nitrogen and phosphorus occur naturally in soil and water and, with respect to nitrogen, in the air we breathe. They also are added to the environment by humans, principally as fertilizers. These fertilizers enhance the growth not just of crops on land but also of algae and aquatic plants in the waters where they end up.

    Above certain levels, nitrogen and phosphorus cause algae to grow faster than ecosystems can handle. When algae die, the decomposition process consumes oxygen. Nutrient pollution also affects submerged aquatic vegetation, but in a different way: The nutrient-enriched sediment that comes off fields and impervious surfaces decreases the light available for these plants, and the shading leads to their death. Then they, too, consume oxygen as they decompose.

    Large algal blooms can entirely eliminate the oxygen in a body of water, a condition known as hypoxia that kills virtually all aquatic organisms unable to escape these so-called dead zones. According to an ongoing analysis by the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, the area of oceanic dead zones increased by one-third between 1995 and 2007.4 The hypoxic zone that forms in the Gulf of Mexico each summer varies in size from year to year but averages approximately 5,500 square miles, or roughly the size of the state of Connecticut.

    Toxins produced by harmful algal blooms (HABs) can also directly threaten human health. If ingested or contacted, these toxins can cause skin irritation, stomach cramps, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, blisters of the mouth, and liver damage. Local water treatment plants may not have the equipment necessary to rid drinking water of these toxins. In that case, the only safe course of action is to find other sources of drinking water for however long the toxin persists in the water supply, as was demonstrated in August 2014, when hundreds of thousands of Toledo residents found themselves without potable water.7 HABs can also have severe economic impacts on recreational and commercial fishing, business, and tourism. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that U.S. tourism alone loses close to $1 billion a year through losses in fishing and boating activities.

    Map of EPA ecoregions showing percentages of river and stream miles rated good, fair, and poor for phosphorus pollutionPhosphorus Pollution in U.S. Rivers and Streams Source: EPA

    In eight of the nine ecoregions defined by the EPA, phosphorus levels are consistently rated poor (i.e., high) in at least a third of river and stream miles.

    According to the EPA’s latest National Rivers and Streams Assessment, some 40% of the nation’s river and stream length has elevated levels of phosphorus, and 28% has elevated levels of nitrogen, putting these waters at risk for poor quality as measured by their ability to support aquatic life. Where are the nutrients coming from? The principle source of phosphate and nitrogen is nonpoint-source pollution—the diffuse pollution from myriad inputs that accumulates into a problem at the watershed level.

    Although relative amounts vary from watershed to watershed, the fertilizer and animal waste that leach off farmed land generally contribute the most nonpoint-source nutrient pollution to U.S. waterways. Other nonpoint sources include stormwater runoff carrying lawn fertilizers and pet waste, and atmospheric deposition, much of it from vehicle exhaust and coal- and oil-burning power plant emissions.

    Individual farms also may be considered point sources of pollution, depending on what they directly discharge into waterways. Point sources of pollution are regulated by the federal government through the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System and overall have dramatically reduced their releases of nutrients since the 1970s. However, wastewater contains large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus from human waste, food, and some soaps and detergents, and not all of it is removed in the treatment process. Wastewater treatment plants with less advanced technology can therefore still be significant point-source contributors of nutrient pollution.

    With such widespread pollution caused by so many different sources, it’s no wonder the United States is challenged politically, technologically, and financially to solve the problem of nutrient pollution. The Clean Water Act of 1972 and its various amendments set numeric limits for a variety of chemical pollutants emitted from point sources. However, phosphorus and nitrogen are not among the regulated chemicals. Furthermore, the law does not include regulation of nonpoint-source pollution.

    Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act does require states to submit a list of impaired and threatened waters within their jurisdiction and establish priorities for the development of total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) of pollutants for these water bodies. A TMDL is a calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant that a water body can receive and still meet federal water quality standards. The TMDL is tailored to reflect how that specific water body is used. For example, a lake used for drinking water might have more stringent limits on phosphorus than one used just for recreation. Thus, while there are no overall federal limits on nitrogen or phosphorus pollution, these nutrients can be managed as part of a TMDL implementation plan.

    The TMDL approach was largely overlooked in the 1970s and 1980s as governments focused on bringing point sources into compliance with the Clean Water Act. More recently, however, attention has turned to the establishment of TMDLs to address other sources of pollution.

    But the steps involved in developing a TMDL are time-consuming and costly. States must first identify waters not in compliance with the Clean Water Act, then prioritize water bodies for the development of TMDLs. Due to a lack of money and personnel, most state agencies are able to monitor only a small percentage of their waters consistently enough to detect water-quality problems.

    A third step involves developing a TMDL for each pollutant. This step can take years, especially for a large water body like the Chesapeake Bay, whose watershed encompasses 64,000 square miles in six states and the District of Columbia. Stakeholders in affected jurisdictions meet to hammer out goals, actions, and timetables. Proposed limits must be submitted to the EPA for approval. Planning for the Chesapeake Bay TMDL began in 2000 and was not approved by the EPA until December 2010. (The Bay TMDL is actually a combination of 92 smaller TMDLs for individual Chesapeake Bay tidal segments.)

    Map of EPA ecoregions showing percentages of river and stream miles rated good, fair, and poor for nitrogen pollutionNitrogen Pollution in U.S. Rivers and Streams Source: EPA

    Many regions show less severe impacts from nitrogen than from phosphorus. The highest proportions of miles in poor condition for nitrogen are found in the Northern Plains (60%), the Temperate Plains (58%), the Northern Appalachians (42%), and the Xeric (36%). In four ecoregions (Coastal Plains, Southern Plains, Southern Appalachians, and Western Mountains) the majority of river and stream miles are rated good for nitrogen.

    Finally, the TMDL must be implemented. Again, this can take years following the EPA’s approval of a plan, with pollution reduction goals being targeted in stages. With respect to the Chesapeake Bay’s TMDL, 60% of the plan’s goal for reducing nutrients and sediment is anticipated to be met by 2017, and 100% should be met by 2025. As with most complex plans of this nature, however, actual implementation may take much longer, and the costs can be staggering. For instance, estimates for the state of Maryland to fully implement its portion of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL total $928 million for farmers, $2.37 billion for municipal wastewater systems, $7.39 billion for stormwater systems, and $3.72 billion for septic tank upgrades.

    TMDLs are not the only vehicle being used to address nutrient pollution. Federal programs including the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provide direct rental payments to farmers who remove environmentally sensitive acreage from agricultural production and implement conservation practices. The EPA awards grants to states to build or upgrade wastewater treatment plants and to support various state-level nonpoint-source management programs.

    Various best management practices (BMPs) are being employed to reduce nutrient pollution from urban sources. Technologies such as detention basins, constructed wetlands, vegetative swales, and bio-retention facilities (e.g., rain gardens) can all be used to slow down stormwater and biologically degrade the nutrients before they reach waterways. Practices that reduce nutrient runoff from developed areas include leaf collection in the fall, bagging of dog waste, and prohibitions on phosphorus in lawn fertilizers. Agriculture employs a whole different array of proven BMPs ranging from planting cover crops in winter, to better timing and amounts of fertilizer application, to the establishment of vegetated buffers along streams.

    Yet, even after decades of research, much remains unknown about how phosphorus and nitrogen interact in the environment. For instance, recent studies in Lake Superior suggested that reducing phosphorus loads may actually lessen the ability of aquatic organisms to remove nitrogen from the water. The authors pointed out this should “in no way be considered as a rationale for relaxing [phosphorus] control measures.” Instead, they wrote, the results suggest more attention should be paid to controlling nitrogen in tandem with phosphorus—which will be challenging, they added, given that sources of nitrogen tend to be even more diffuse than those of phosphorus.

    With respect to farmers, the emphasis has been on use of incentives to encourage voluntary adoption of less-polluting practices. These approaches commonly use financial, educational, and technical assistance as a stimulus. However, surveys suggest that in key farming states such as Iowa, overall participation is low, and among farmers who do participate, the investment in conservation tends to be small. Referring to a 2011 poll of Iowa farmers, a report by the nonprofit Iowa Policy Project noted that 51% of respondents reported making no conservation expenditures in the past 10 years, and more than one-third were unaware of many of the conservation programs available in the state.

    The report authors further pointed out that farmers were enrolling fewer of their acres in the federal CRP. “Iowa CRP acres are decreasing, falling by almost one-fourth, from 1,970,486 acres in 2007 to 1,525,012 in 2012,” they wrote. “The drop in CRP enrollment has coincided with the ethanol boom and the rise in the price of corn, suggesting that the economic bottom line does affect a farmer’s willingness to adopt conservation measures. When [government] subsidies pay less than cash rent, the conservation practices disappear.”24

    Map showing which states have numeric criteria for nitrogen and/or phosphorusStates with Numeric Criteria for Total Nitrogen (N) or Total Phosphorus (P) Source: EPA

    This map shows a national summary of current numeric total nitrogen and total phosphorus EPA-approved criteria. More criteria are expected to be added in the near future, according to state-provided information. ”Watertypes” refers to three types of water bodies: lakes/reservoirs, rivers/streams, and estuaries.

    Nutrient trading between point and nonpoint sources is an idea that is promoted as an alternative to cost-sharing. In this voluntary system, farmers accumulate and sell credits by implementing conservation measures that reduce nutrient loads. Wastewater treatment plants in the same watershed buy the credits from farmers instead of investing in new technology to meet federal requirements for reducing nutrient output.

    Nutrient trading has worked well in the Long Island Sound, where there are many wastewater treatment plants and farms in the same watershed. Patrick Parenteau, a professor of law and senior counsel to the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at Vermont Law School, notes this program currently operates between point sources, mainly publicly owned treatment works in Connecticut. “There has been talk about including nonpoint sources,” he says, “but it hasn’t gotten there yet.”

    But in other watersheds such as the Maumee Valley in western Lake Erie, farms contribute vastly more nutrients than do the few wastewater treatment plants, so opportunities for trading are limited. Further, nutrient trading programs can be complex, and they take time to establish.

    “There is a lot of both hope and frustration [among farmers] with nutrient trading,” says John Bell, government affairs counsel for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. “Pennsylvania set a reasonable set of ground rules for nutrient trading, but even with this, it’s hard for farmers to get enthusiastic because of the limited credit given to their conservation practices.” He explains that a farmer may implement a practice that reduces a hundred pounds of nitrogen at the stream flowing past his farm, but will only receive nutrient trading credit for the impact that action has in waters possibly hundreds of miles away. “Very few practices to reduce nonpoint-source pollution have an immediate impact on a watershed,” he says. “Often, the impacts are not measurable for a number of years after the [practice] was first implemented.”

    Some experts believe that without setting numeric water-quality standards for nitrogen and phosphorus, efforts to combat nutrient pollution will fail. For now, almost half the states have established statewide numeric limits on nitrogen and/or phosphorus in at least some water bodies. Hawaii is the only state with a complete set of nitrogen and phosphorus criteria for all types of water bodies. Whether these states are able to maintain and enforce meaningful standards remains to be seen.

    Click here for a PDF version and sources

    John Manuel

    Lawsuit over Apalachicola flows gets green light

    Florida’s lawsuit against Georgia over the use of water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system may proceed, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Monday.

    Upstream water usage and drought has left the Apalachicola River parched for decades, threatening its ecosystem and that of its namesake bay, which has seen its oyster population collapse because of a lack of freshwater.

    “This is huge news and a major victory for Florida, and marks the first of many important victories for the families and businesses of Apalachicola,” said Gov. Rick Scott in a written news release. “For 20 years, Florida has tried to work with Georgia, and families have continued to see their fisheries suffer from the lack of water. The Supreme Court takes up so few cases, and their willingness to hear Florida’s demonstrates the merits of our case before the court.”

    Florida asked the court for leave to sue Georgia last fall. Florida wants the court to order Georgia’s overall water use be capped at 1992 levels and for a special master to be appointed to “equitably” divide the waters in the river basin, which drains about 20,000 square miles in both states and Alabama.

    U.S. solicitor general recommended earlier this year that the high court delay taking the case until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completes a revised master manual for operating the river system. That new management plan is expected to be compete next year and implemented in 2017.

    The U.S. Supreme Court order allows Florida’s complaint to be filed and gives Georgia 30 days to respond. The new lawsuit is the latest in more than two decades of failed legal maneuvering by the state to see more freshwater make its way down from Atlanta and south Georgia farmlands through a series of federally controlled dams to the Apalachicola.

    “This is a continuation of 20 years of litigation,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest. “Georgia is sucking out so much water it is destroying Apalachicola Bay. It’s a shame we had to go to the Supreme Court, because Georgia should knows it should be doing better.”

    In the news release, Attorney General Pam Bondi said Georgia has delayed long enough.

    “This lawsuit is essential to protect Florida from the environmental and economic harms caused by Georgia’s over-consumption of water,” Bondi said. “We look forward to continuing our fight to protect Florida’s fair share of water in the United States Supreme Court.”

    Jennifer Portman|Tallahassee Democrat|November 3, 2014

    Offshore & Ocean

    The mounds of kelp washing up on O.C. beaches? It’s a good thing, experts say

    The mounds of kelp that recently washed onto local beaches point to a thriving offshore ecosystem created by restoration efforts over the past decade, experts say.

    Ten years ago, there was practically no kelp off Orange County’s coast. Pollution and an overabundance of predators such as sea urchins had decimated the kelp forests, killing 80 percent of what Southern California had a century ago.

    But over the past decade, environmentalists and others planted nearly 5 acres of kelp along coastal Southern California. They planted lab-grown kelp, transplanted healthy kelp from existing beds, released kelp spores and removed kelp predators, namely sea urchins, which can take over and obliterate a kelp forest if left unchecked.

    Those efforts seem to have paid off: The kelp is back.

    “This is just a sign of how healthy our kelp forest has become. Just 10 years ago, there was almost no kelp on the Orange County coast,” said Ray Hiemstra, associate director of programs for Orange County Coastkeeper, who has worked on kelp restoration for 15 years.

    When hurricane-force storms in summer and autumn struck Southern California, the kelp, already weakened by warmer-than-usual-water, was ripped from the rock beds and deposited onshore. More than 95 percent of the kelp off Laguna Beach washed ashore. It looked like restoration efforts might have been for naught.

    Not to worry.

    Kelp shoots already are growing back off the coast, according to Nancy Caruso, an independent marine biologist who monitors the kelp and worked for years on restoration.

    “Right now, it’s growing back, so in an area where there used to be one kelp plant, now there’s 75 and they’re all competing for sunlight,” Caruso said after a recent survey dive.

    Still, the restored kelp forests – and the resulting beach kelp – don’t please everyone.

    The moldering kelp smells and has left many tourists and beachgoers who are accustomed to kelp-free beaches miffed.

    But healthy beaches are supposed to have drying and decomposing plants, which return nutrients to the ecosystem.

    “Now they have a whole generation of people who don’t understand what their beaches are supposed to look like,” Caruso said.

    In the water, kelp forests provide habitats for hundreds of species of fish and often are dubbed “the rainforests of the ocean” because they are so rich with life.

    Restored and revived kelp forests aren’t the only reason kelp piled up on the beaches this summer: It was the first time the city didn’t use heavy machinery to haul away kelp sitting below the high tide mark.

    That’s because the city of Laguna Beach decided to heed years of warnings from scientists that running machinery on the beach during grunion season – which stretches from March through August – threatens the iconic beach-spawning fish.

    So the city tried to remove the kelp by hand, a process that took much longer and left kelp on the beaches for days.

    “A lot of people were very unhappy because they sometimes travel from around the world to see our beaches, and there was stinky kelp and flies,” said Laguna Beach Public Works Director Steven Man.

    By removing less kelp, and by not driving machinery low on the sand to preserve the grunion, Laguna Beach is ahead of the curve. Beach managers in many other cities avoid driving machinery over grunion spawning grounds, but few have official regulations.

    “I think they’re leading the charge here,” said Carrie Wilson, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

    AARON ORLOWSKI |STAFF WRITER|Orange County Register 

    Deep Dredge Critics File Emergency Demand to Stop “Destruction of Endangered Species”

    Sludge from dredge ships is killing Miami’s corals.

    The deep dredge could be in very deep trouble. Miami’s most controversial public works project has been under the microscope in recent months as environmentalists have complained the dredge is killing precious coral colonies.

    This morning, however, those same environmentalists are filing a request for an emergency injunction that could bring the $200 million dredge to a grinding halt.

    “The damage is continuing 24/7 since they’ve been dredging 24/7,” said Rachel Silverstein, executive director of Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper. “We can’t afford to wait any longer.”

    The request for an injunction has been a long time coming.

    Three years ago, Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper and other activists filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the government agency overseeing the project. The environmentalists argued that not enough was being done to protect Biscayne Bay wildlife from years of dredging and underwater dynamiting.

    The dredge went ahead anyway, but environmentalists were able to obtain more money for mitigation and greater monitoring.

    In July, the environmentalists filed a formal notice of their intent to sue the corps and its contractor once again, arguing that the corps hadn’t lived up to its promises.

    The activists provided New Times with evidence that silt from the Deep Dredge had spread across Biscayne Bay, burying coral under a deadly layer of dirt, sand, and bacteria.

    Much of that damage has since been confirmed by both the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    Michael E. Miller|Oct. 2 2014

    Hotspots for the Ocean’s Giants Need More Protection, Say Conservationists

    Conservationists are calling for legal protections for a number of areas off of British shores in an effort to protect the ocean’s giants, including whales, dolphins, porpoises and basking sharks, from continued threats that range from fishing and development to tourism.

    In a new report, the Wildlife Trusts has identified 17 ‘megafauna hotspots’ that it says are critical to the survival of a number of species who live in waters off the coasts of England and Wales. According to the organization, there are currently no areas in English waters protected for them, and only one in Wales.

    “Many people are surprised to discover that in the waters surrounding our shores you could encounter 29 different species of whale, dolphin and porpoise and the second largest shark in the world – the basking shark. However, there’s an urgent need to create protected areas at sea for our ocean giants and ensure a network of sites to safeguard these species for generations to come,” said Joan Edwards, The Wildlife Trusts’ Head of Living Seas.

    While the government is working on creating 27 marine conservation zones, according to The Guardian the number is four less than the number ministers proposed and just one-fifth of the 127 zones that were recommended by the government’s own consultation.

    Conservationists are also concerned that while these protected areas will help marine habitats to recover, which will help a number of species, they only cover habitats and the seabed and won’t do enough to protect megafauna found off the coast.

    According to the report, the Wildlife Trusts hopes that protecting what are considered highly productive, nutrient rich areas where a variety of species from common dolphins to humpback whales come to feed, breed, socialize, give birth and raise their young will help their survival.

    The areas they identified in the report will help protect a number of species including white-beaked dolphins, harbour porpoises, minke whales, common dolphins, fin whales, humpback whales, basking sharks, bottle nose dolphins and Risso’s dolphins.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      1.    Farnes East, Coquet to St Marys
                                                                                                                                                                                                      2.    Mid St George’s Channel
                                                                                                                                                                                                      3.    Bideford North to Foreland Point
                                                                                                                                                                                                      4.    East of Celtic Deep
                                                                                                                                                                                                      5.    Celtic Deep
                                                                                                                                                                                                      6.    South of Celtic Deep
                                                                                                                                                                                                      7.    Western Channel
                                                                                                                                                                                                      8.    Manacles
                                                                                                                                                                                                      9.    Lizard, Western channel
                                                                                                                                                                                                    10.    Lyme Bay
                                                                                                                                                                                                    11.    North and west coasts of Anglesey
                                                                                                                                                                                                    12.    Lleyn Peninsula and the Sarnau
                                                                                                                                                                                                    13.    Cardigan Bay
                                                                                                                                                                                                    14.    Pembrokeshire Marine
                                                                                                                                                                                                   15.    North of Celtic Deep
                                                                                                                                                                                                    16.    Eastern coastline including Silver Pit
    17.    Dogger bank

    In a statement, Edwards cited a number of threats that megafauna face that range from the direct and indirect impacts of fishing, boat traffic, development and the long-lasting effects of pollution that can bioaccumulate and affect generations of animals. Even boat traffic from wildlife watching has become a problem, but as Edwards explained to The Guardian, “One of reasons we want these areas protected is so we have a way of explaining to people they can carry out their activities without harming the animals.”

    Turning these areas into Marine Protected Areas (MPA) would limit human activity and even though some are criticizing their ability to help, other organizations including Whale and Dolphin Conservation support the report and argue that while a lot of species travel, MPAs provide valuable protection where they’re known to repeatedly return.

    The Wildlife Trusts is now campaigning to get the government to protect these areas so these species will be able to flourish. For more information on how to support protection, visit the Wildlife Trusts Ocean Giants campaign.

    Alicia Graef|November 6, 2014

    Wildlife and Habitat

    Sacrificing Wildlife for Big Coal in Appalachia

    Mountaintop removal is destroying one of the world’s hot spots for salamander biodiversity.

    When most people think about a biological hot spot—a mother lode of species—the Amazon may come to mind, along with certain regions in West Africa and Southeast Asia. Hardly anybody thinks about the Appalachians. But more species of salamanders and freshwater mussels live in the streams and forests of this region, stretching from upstate New York to northern Alabama, than anywhere else in the world. Those temperate, deciduous forests are more diverse than anywhere else in the world, too, apart from those in central China.

    Unfortunately, seams of coal also run through the Appalachian Mountains, often buried deep within the range. To extract it, coal companies have been literally blowing the tops off of these mountains in a practice called mountaintop removal coal mining. Not only does this method change the landscape and leave swaths of barren rock in place of forested mountainsides, but the mining companies also take the millions of tons of dynamited rock and dump them in the valleys next to the decapitated mountains. These valleys usually have streams in them, and those streams are where the salamanders, mussels, and other freshwater species of the region live. As you might imagine, these animals don’t love having chunks of mountain dumped on their habitat.

    A new study confirms that salamanders, in particular, fare poorly in these streams. Researchers from the University of Kentucky visited sites where mining companies had dumped the so-called “overburden” (or “spoil”) and looked for salamanders just downstream of the dumped mountain debris, comparing the abundance of five salamander species in those streams with nearby streams that hadn’t been disrupted.

    Overburdened streams averaged about half as many species of salamander, and far fewer individual salamanders, as the undisturbed streams. Across 11 streams with mountain rubble, researchers found just 97 salamanders, compared with 807 salamanders in a dozen control streams.

    How do mining companies get away with it?  The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 requires miners to certify that these sites have undergone restoration and reclamation. The sites in this study were mined in the late 1990s and certified as “reclaimed” in 2007 by the Kentucky Department for Natural Resources. But all that really means, said Steven J. Price, a University of Kentucky professor and coauthor of the paper, is that the mining companies “were able to get some primarily nonnative grasses to grow on these sites,” preventing some erosion. “It’s not as if this is a highly diverse central Appalachian forest anymore,” he said.

    As expected, being smothered under a broken mountain also wrecked the water quality of these mountain streams. Specific conductance—a general measure of the amount of electricity-conducting particles in water—was about 30 times higher in overburdened streams, and concentrations of sulfate ions were 70 times higher. Satellite imagery also showed that these streams had only about a quarter tree cover, compared with the thickly forested control streams.

    With so many changes to the habitat, it’s hard to say for sure what exactly is causing the decline in salamanders, said Price. “The water quality issues seem to be really important,” he said. Two of the salamander species studied—the red salamander and the southern two-lined salamander—live in the forests during the non-breeding season, so deforestation would also hit them hard.

    The practice of mountaintop removal began almost 40 years ago in Kentucky and West Virginia and has since spread to Tennessee and Virginia, destroying 450,000 acres of Appalachian countryside without much serious consideration of the effects on wildlife. “The study was long overdue,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It makes sense that amphibians would be very sensitive to the water pollution from surface coal mining. It increases the saltiness of the water; it puts metals into the water.” Nor is it just stream-dwelling animals that suffer, she added. “In the last couple years, there’s been a ton of science coming out about health impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining on human communities,” she noted, including increased rates of lung cancer and heart disease.

    “I love the Appalachian Mountains,” said Curry, who grew up in a mountaintop removal area of Kentucky. “I think that they’re the most beautiful place on Earth, and as a scientist, I’m aware of how precious they are. It’s really heart-wrenching to see the land that I love being blown to bits.” She called Appalachia a “sacrifice area” to satisfy the nation’s ravenous hunger for coal. “It wouldn’t happen anywhere else in the country,” she said. But the poverty rate in some parts of the region is more than twice the national average, and the people there lack the political clout to stand up against the powerful forces behind the coal industry.

    Curry detailed, with palpable frustration, the loopholes that have allowed mountaintop removal mining and the dumping of overburden on streams to continue. For instance, the Clean Water Act should protect these streams. But a 2002 regulatory change under the Bush administration specifically exempted the dumping of mining waste.The Endangered Species Act should protect species such as the hellbender, the giant salamanders that are quickly disappearing from their Appalachian habitats. But in 1996, said Curry, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service basically gave mining companies a free pass, requiring them only to meet the SMCRA reclamation requirements. “It’s a ridiculously broad document,” she said.

    What will it take to stop mountaintop removal mining? In 2013, more than 20 members of Congress introduced the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act, to “place a moratorium on permitting for mountaintop removal coal mining until health studies are conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services.” But a similar bill died in committee in 2012, and the bill-tracking service gives this one just a 4 percent chance of passing.

    A coalition of groups called continues to fight mountaintop removal mining. Getting individual investments out of coal, and fossil fuels generally, can be effective. But be aware that divesting is complicated for the individual. Some cities and towns outside the region have also recently passed policies preventing power companies from buying coal or energy that comes from mountaintop removal. But big coal has well-paid lobbyists and plenty of campaign contributions to protect its privileged status. Against that kind of power, the only force strong enough to make a difference is an outcry from people everywhere that destroying a global heritage like the Appalachian Mountains is simply wrong.

    Richard Conniff|October 31, 2014

    Lost at Sea: Northern Fur Seal Pups Separated From Mom Struggle to Survive

    Fall is fur seal pup season at the Center as young animals born in June and July get swept ashore or struggle to find food on their own after being weaned.

    Rarely spotted near shore, northern fur seals spend most of their time swimming in the open ocean or on offshore islands. So when our 24-hour rescue hotline got a call about a tiny northern fur seal pup on a flat, sandy beach in Central California, we knew something was wrong.

    The tiny pup, named “Kadiddlehopper” by rescue volunteers, weighed just over 10 pounds when she arrived at our hospital. Based on her body condition and size, our veterinary experts determined that she was only a few months old and had likely been separated from her mother. Recent high seas could have swept her off the nearby Channel Islands before she was fully weaned from her mother’s milk.

    Kadiddlehopper hadn’t yet learned how to catch fish before being swept away, so volunteers at the Center began making fish smoothies around the clock to keep her fed. During multiple tube-feedings throughout the day and night, Kadiddlehopper received a nutritious mixture of ground-up herring, salmon oil and vitamins, as well as antibiotics to treat any infection.

    Just a week after Kadiddlehopper’s rescue, another northern fur seal pup arrived. The male pup, named “Fructus,” was found at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, south of San Francisco, in an emaciated state. Rescue volunteers described him as “active, growly and vocal”—a good sign—but he was clearly suffering from malnutrition as well as minor bite wounds on his face.

    Like Kadiddlehopper, Fructus was tube-fed fish smoothies when he first arrived at our hospital, but unlike her, he quickly showed interest in fish and began eating herring on his own. When animal care volunteers offered both pups fish in the pool, Fructus ate his share and then gobbled up hers as well.

    After three weeks in our care, Kadiddlehopper finally started to get the hang of eating herring too. The two pups have both put on weight since their rescues and seem to be improving, though it may be several months before they are strong enough to be released. For now, Kadiddlehopper and Fructus are spending a lot of time swimming in the pool and grooming regularly—an important natural behavior for an animal that counts on its furry coat to keep it warm in the cold waters of the open ocean. These pinnipeds have 325,000 hairs per square inch—more than three human heads!

    Once hunted for their luxurious pelts, northern fur seal populations are still recovering and are considered “depleted” under the Endangered Species Act. Our dedicated volunteers and veterinary experts are doing all they can to ensure that these young animals are able to return to the wild.

    Marine Mammal Canter|November 6, 2014

    Bear Necessities

    Wolves and cows in the wild are a recipe for constant conflict. Aldo Leopold knew that. We know it and I suspect you know it too. We’re working to resolve those conflicts in the landscape that inspired Aldo Leopold—the Greater Gila Bioregion—by finding common ground with public lands ranchers who are willing to voluntarily relinquish their national forest grazing permits. Our innovative strategy of compensated grazing permit retirement benefits willing ranchers and it gives wolves the freedom room. For 25 years WildEarth Guardians has fought for the intrinsic right of species to exist and we are committed to realizing Aldo Leopold’s ethical commitment to keep wild lands wild on the remaining national forests of the Greater Gila.

    Please enjoy this most recent online edition of our Wild at Heart which features our Greater Gila: America’s First Wilderness Campaign. In addition, this season’s Wild at Heart updates you on our current efforts, successes, and challenges. We profile inspiring members and Wild Bunch monthly donors who are making a difference for the wild.

    Be sure to check out our regular feature, Postcards from the Field on page five, highlighting our organizer Bob Brister’s summer long efforts to engage adults and children about the ecological value of wolves and other native carnivores on the landscape. Read our feature article Leopold’s Legacy and the Next Great Conservation Landscape that starts on page six and learn more about our historic grazing retirement agreement freeing up nearly 50 square miles for Mexican wolves to thrive. And don’t miss some inspiration from our Good News from the Guardians on page eleven including your contributions to our first 25 years of success for the climate, water, wildlife and wild places.

    We hope you enjoy our online newsletter and appreciate you being a Guardian. Email our Office Manager Claire Nickel if you prefer to receive the newsletter in the mail.

    WildEarth Guardians



    Global Warming and Climate Change

    Hillsborough among counties using tool to assess sea-level rise

    MIAMI — A few Florida counties are testing a computer mapping tool that details how vulnerable their roads are to rising sea levels, and perhaps the most surprising thing about it is where it came from.

    The state’s Department of Transportation funded the map’s development, something James Cromar, of the Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization, called “a pleasant surprise,” given Gov. Rick Scott’s skepticism over whether human behavior is affecting the climate.

    The Republican governor’s assertion earlier this year that he is “not a scientist” has drawn ridicule from his political opponents, and earlier this month at a regional conference on climate change, White House officials praised local government leaders in attendance for their practicality in addressing sea level rise themselves. Citing a lack of leadership from Tallahassee, a Miami-area suburb recently adopted a resolution calling for South Florida to form its own state to deal with the issue.

    But FDOT senior policy analyst Maria Cahill said the mapping tool, which has been available online since late 2013, is consistent with other state initiatives to help local governments plan for community resiliency, including efforts led by the Department of Economic Opportunity. The state’s Department of Environmental Protection also has touted various monitoring programs collecting data that could be used to study climate change.

    The mapping tool, which visualizes areas of transportation infrastructure that might be vulnerable to rising seas and inland flooding from 2020 through 2100, is intended for local governments to use as they make long-term plans for their infrastructure needs, Cahill said. There are no plans yet to use it to evaluate the potential vulnerability of state transportation assets.

    “I think the state recognizes that whatever their feeling is on climate change, they’re interested in protecting our economic assets, which is our infrastructure,” said Allison Yeh, sustainability coordinator for the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission. “They care about vulnerability from the economic standpoint.”

    Hillsborough and Broward counties are testing the mapping tool through a Federal Highway Administration climate resilience pilot project. Broward also is testing the tool for three other South Florida counties that have also signed a compact to address climate change adaptation strategies.

    FDOT funding through the mapping tool’s development and current testing phase has totaled $230,000, said Crystal Goodison, of the University of Florida GeoPlan Center, which has made its animated maps and data publicly available online.

    The mapping tool developed from a 2012 study that the FDOT also funded, incorporating sea level rise projections developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

    Monroe County, which encompasses the low-lying Florida Keys that are linked to the mainland by just one major road, independently used the tool to run flooding models for its 875 miles of state and county roads. The small Atlantic Coast community of Satellite Beach also is working with the GeoPlan Center to customize the tool for its own roads assessment, Goodison said.

    The results in Monroe County: maps highlighted with widening splotches of red that show where the Keys are likely to see increased nuisance flooding over the next several decades.

    The tool’s value lies not in its potential for drama, but in its reliance on state and federal data, which will help the county secure funding for its transportation projects, said Rhonda Haag, Monroe County’s sustainability program manager.

    No state transportation policies have developed from the tool so far, but most of Florida has time to carefully plan for any effects from sea level rise, Cahill said.

    “What we’re doing is focusing on the research and better understanding what data limitations there are,” Cahill said. “We’re not there yet to make any inferences from the model itself.”

    Research is good and valuable, as is establishing a consistent methodology, but that research soon has to translate into policy, said Cromar, planning director for the Broward MPO.

    “The goal is not a perfect data set — it’s to have sufficient data to make smart recommendations and to take action,” he said.

    Associated Press|Tampa Bay Times|November 2, 2014

    Climate Change Threatens NASA Space Operations

    According to the new Climate Risk Management Plan issued by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), climate change is threatening its operations in space which in turn threatens its ability to gather information on how climate change is impacting the Earth.

    “NASA has an important responsibility to the nation and to the world with regard to climate change,” it declares. “NASA builds the satellites that collect weather and climate data, contributing to a robust research program dedicated to understanding how the Earth and its systems behave.”

    But those programs are being put in jeopardy by the impacts of climate change, including rising sea levels, high temperatures and humidity, wind, heat waves and extreme storms, which could impact such high-profile NASA sites as its Kennedy Space Center on Florida’s east coast which, along with nearby Cape Canaveral, is a major site of space launches. Those are just some of the NASA facilities threatened by climate change.

    The report says, “NASA recognized as early as 2005 that ‘regional climate variability’ could pose a risk to its operations and missions and identified it as a risk within NASA’s risk management framework. Many agency assets—66% of its assets when measured by—are within 16 feet of mean sea level and located along America’s coasts, where sea level rise and increased frequency and intensity of high water levels associated with storms are expected, and in other parts of the country where long-term changes in temperature and precipitation intensity are expected to impact potable water supplies.”

    NASA identifies a number of potential risks, including damaged infrastructure, power failures that threaten communications systems, delayed launches, employee health and safety concerns, contamination and even threats to endangered species. It says it could expect the loss of land essential to launch operations, experience extensive downtime when its systems are disrupted, and asks “Given the already degraded condition of much of NASA’s infrastructure portfolio, how will NASA find the money to conduct necessary adaptations, repair failing infrastructure, and maintain mission tempo?”

    “In general, NASA anticipates short-term risks to result from extreme weather such as heat waves, precipitation, wind, flooding and drought, each of which will become more difficult to manage because of changes in event intensity, duration and frequency. Over a longer time horizon, NASA anticipates a continuation of extreme weather challenges experienced in the short-term, possibility exacerbated because of longer term gradual trends such as sea level rise and increased average temperatures.”

    The report is one of two dozen released by the federal government Friday that address what steps various government agencies are taking to address climate change.

    Anastasia Pantsios|November 3, 2014

    IPCC Sounds Fresh Alarm as Fossil Fuel Interests Tighten Grip on Congress

    The contrast between the increasingly partisan American political divide and the increasingly solid international scientific consensus couldn’t be starker.

    The leading international network of climate scientists is urging a rapid shift away from fossil fuels, just as allies of coal, oil and natural gas industries in the United States appear poised to tighten their grip on Congress—where opposition to cleaner energy is already entrenched.

    That outcome of Tuesday’s midterm election would spell trouble for advocates of a strong international climate accord. Treaty negotiations are supposed to pick up in the next few months and culminate in Paris just over a year from now.

    This weekend, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a synthesis report that sums up its years-long review of the climate crisis and what to do about it. The report called for the near-complete elimination of fossil fuel-burning by the end of the century. This, it said, is what is needed to have a reasonable chance of avoiding the most severe risks of man-made changes to the world’s climate.

    Nothing could be further from the agenda of Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the coal-state Republican who on the eve of the election appears to have significantly better than even odds of becoming the next majority leader. (Though, as the IPCC might put it, until the last votes are tallied any forecast of which party will prevail deserves only “medium confidence.”)

    Even if the Republicans don’t gain a majority in the Senate on Nov. 4, they are likely to gain strength in that chamber as well as in the House—an election outcome that would undermine President Obama’s entire climate agenda, not just his influence in the Paris talks.

    John H. Cushman Jr|InsideClimate News|Nov 3, 2014

    NextGen Florida director: the fight against climate change in FL is just beginning

    NextGen Florida spent $19.8 million in Florida between Aug. 7 and Oct. 22 this year with the infusion of cash coming from California billionaire and former hedge fund investor Tom Steyer. Their goals: to defeat Gov. Rick Scott,  raise awareness about climate change and bring young people to the polls. They failed on the first, succeeded on the second, and the report card on the third goal appears to be mixed.

    Here’s the campaign wrap-up by Florida  Director Jackie Lee:

    “Like many Floridians, we are concerned by Governor Scott’s denial of science and his cozy relationship with corporate special interests, like Big Sugar and Duke Energy. With his victory last night, we are hopeful that he will heed the thousands of voters calling for climate action and take concrete steps to represent the interests of all Floridians. 

    “NextGen Climate Florida played a key role in raising awareness of the challenges Florida will continue to face if we don’t begin to address climate change. NextGen Climate is proud of the 100,000 committed Climate Action Voters that we identified who recognize that climate change is a serious problem. Our organizers have worked tirelessly to bring together these voters and build a robust, grassroots movement through over 1,854,000 door knocks and phone calls.

    “We also ran an aggressive mail, television, radio and digital campaign across the state highlighting what was at stake in this election. We opened 21 offices in Florida, from Tallahassee to Miami, and NextGen Climate’s presence—both on the ground and on the airwaves—has forced Governor Rick Scott to answer to Florida voters. After studiously avoiding mentions of the environment and climate change for four years, Scott is now on the defensive about these critically important issues, and Floridians will be watching.

    “NextGen Climate Florida and our Democratic allies ran a solid ground game and organized a block of drop-off Democratic voters who committed to vote on climate in the Sunshine State this election, and in the future. The fight against climate change in Florida is just beginning, and NextGen Climate will remain engaged and continue to keep climate on the ballot.”

    Mary Ellen Klas|Nov. 5, 2014

    Climate Change Warnings Abound as Politicians Cover Their Ears

    A report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made one thing crystal clear: Climate change is here, humans are to blame and if we don’t cut down our carbon usage, we are looking at catastrophic damages to our environment.

    Now, the idea that climate change exists isn’t news to most people who believe in things like science. However, what is interesting about this report is that the IPCC has been known in the past for actually playing down the threat of climate change. Numerous accusations have been levied against the IPCC for their conservative estimates and ‘lowest common denominator’ advisories.

    The IPCC has warned that if we don’t change (a relatively low) percentage of our carbon emissions, the world will heat up by about 7-9 degrees Fahrenheit in the upcoming century. This will lead to “substantial species extinction, global and regional food insecurity, consequential constraints on common human activities, and limited potential for adaptation in some cases.”

    In other words, our contribution to climate change will be irreversible and not something the Earth will recover from.

    Even worse, the consumption of carbon that needs to change to keep mass extinctions, food insecurity and natural disasters at bay, is unbelievably small. We would have to bring down our consumption from 2.4 to 2.34.

    Yet despite that this was agreed on by a panel of well respected scientists, policy-wise it is simply not sinking in. A number of politicians still deny climate change with 58% of Republicans pretending it doesn’t exist and/or humans have not contributed to it.

    Of course it’s hardly shocking that politicians receive campaign contributions for their anti-science stance. However, what is interesting is who exactly is funding them. While Exxon Mobile has been reported to have financed 9 out of 10 ‘scientists’ who deny climate change, and the Koch Industries have given millions to anti-climate change politicians, a recent article in The Guardian illuminated companies that are using some serious double-speak:

    “General Electric (GE) – which donated $1,756,457 [in campaign contributions] – announced plans last year to reduce the energy intensity of its operations by 50% by 2015. Similarly, Google, whose efforts to fight climate change have included a $1bn contribution to developing renewable electricity, contributed $699,195 to congressional climate deniers, including US senator James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, and US representative Darrell Issa, a Republican from California.”

    Adding to these politicians are some so-called ‘experts’, such as John Coleman, the former CEO of the Weather Channel. During a recent diatribe on CNN, he told the host, “Science isn’t a vote. Science is about facts, and if you get down to the hard, cold facts, there’s no question about it. Climate change is not happening.” It should be noted, however, the Weather Channel issued a statement following Coleman’s interview stating that they believe in climate change and that humans have contributed towards recent shifts.

    Yet the news gets even worse: with a new Republican majority in the US Senate, it could just mean that attempts to create laws and policy to curb our carbon consumption will be met with pushback and hostility. And as a new article by The Carbon Brief points out, chairs in the Senate that have the power to veto or table environmentally friendly legislation will likely be taken over by climate ‘skeptics’ such as James Inhofe, who has called climate change a “hoax.”

    This means that now, more than ever, we must use our power as a constituency to ensure policy is drafted and passed that will, at the very least, meet that .06% goal and keep our Earth somewhat livable for future generations.

    Lizabeth Paulat|November 6, 2014

    10 Countries Facing Extreme Climate Risk

    Global risk analytics company Maplecroft has just released its Climate Change and Environmental Risk Atlas for 2015, and what it says isn’t very comforting. It finds that the impacts of climate change and food insecurity could lead to increased civil unrest and violence in 32 of the 198 countries it assessed. Those at risk include emerging markets like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Nigeria and the Philippines.

    Maplecroft finds that risks related to climate change “have the potential to destabilize regional security, hurt national economies and impact the operations and supply chains of business.”

    The report ranked those 32 countries at “extreme risk,” with Bangladesh in the top spot, followed by Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Nigeria, Chad, Haiti, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Central African Republic and Eritrea. It finds that these economies are heavily dependent on agriculture, which is on the front lines in feeling the effects climate change.

    Maplecroft finds that risks related to climate change ”have the potential to destabilize regional security, hurt national economies and impact the operations and supply chains of business. In addition, military resources, which have traditionally focused on security-based missions, are increasingly being drawn into disaster relief efforts.”

    The result is a downward spiral of poverty, limited access to education and increased refugee population. Maplecroft cites the example of Nigeria where drought and food insecurity created a fertile environment for the rise of the rebel group Boko Haram, which was in the headlines last spring for its kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls.


    “With one in four people still undernourished in sub-Saharan Africa, climate change impacts make it even more difficult for governments across the region to improve food security and help reduce tensions,” it says.

    It also points to the Middle East, where food insecurity and increases in food prices have led to the so-called “Arab Spring” in Egypt and the current violence in Syria.

    “Unlike policy makers who often ignore or politicize the science in seeking short-term objectives, global business and the military now view climate change as an important risk management imperative,” says Maplecroft’s head of environment Dr James Allan. “Identifying future flashpoints will help proactive organizations and governments make strategic decisions.”

    The report offers some hope, if only people will pay attention to the effects of climate change and begin to mitigate them with strategies such as drought-resistant crops, more resilient infrastructure, economic diversification and poverty reduction. Programs like these are already having an effect in countries like China, Indonesia, Malaysia and even some of the at-risk countries like the Philippines, Bangladesh and India, which all improved in Maplecroft’s Adaptive Capacity Index. But, it adds, the $100 billion a year that global leaders promised in 2010 to help developing nations adjust to climate change hasn’t yet materialized.

    Anastasia Pantsios|EcoWatch|November 1, 2014

    Extreme Weather


    Genetically Modified Organisms

    GMO Labeling Defeated in Colorado, Too Close to Call in Oregon

    Monsanto‘s heavy spending netted it a victory over Colorado’s attempt to institute a mandatory labeling law for genetically modified (GMO) foods, one of two states to have such a measure on the ballot. While two-thirds of the voters in Colorado rejected the measure, Proposition 105, a similar labeling issue in Oregon was too close to call this morning, although it was trailing.

    The grassroots effort Right to Know Colorado was supported by grocers like Whole Foods and Natural Grocers, but they were drastically outspent by opponents, led by Monsanto. Corporate food and biotech interests spent $17 million against less than $1 million spent by labeling supporters.

    “Every day, Coloradans took to the streets and to social media to talk to their neighbors, friends and family about why Colorado should offer families the same transparency afforded families in 64 countries worldwide—the right to know what’s in our food,” said Lisa Trope, Colorado organizer for Food & Water Watch, which worked with Right to Know Colorado on the issue.

    “But Goliath prevailed over David; the biotech industry poured $11 million into a flood of television propaganda to drown out the voice of the people. Corporate interests can only keep people in the dark about what we’re eating for so long, and Food & Water Watch will continue to fight to make sure Coloradans know if their food in genetically engineered.”

    In Oregon, supporters of Measure 92 were also outspent, though less drastically, with $7 million invested by supporters and more than $20 million pouring in from Monsanto, DuPont, Pepsi, Coca-Cola and Kraft Foods to push their claims that GM labeling would be costly for food producers and increase the price of groceries. (The measure did not apply to restaurant food).

    In Hawaii, Maui County voters passed by a slim margin to temporarily ban genetically engineered crops, which goes far beyond labeling.

    “The county’s first-ever ballot initiative targeting global agriculture companies Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences attracted nearly $8 million from opponents,” Honolulu Civil Beat reports, “making it the most expensive campaign in Hawaii’s history.”

    The expense for the campaign equates to “more than $75 per registered voter in Maui County, which has a population of just around 160,000.”

    Humboldt County, California also passed a GMO crop ban, joining bordering Mendocino and Trinity counties in prohibiting the growing of GMO crops.

    Anastasia Pantsios|November 5, 2014

    GMO Crops Are Destroying Farmland, And Monsanto Doesn’t Want You to Know

    The European Association for bio-industries, EuropaBio, wants you to believe that “GM crops can protect soils from erosion through less ploughing, conserving soil moisture, too. GM herbicide tolerant crops reduce the need to plough fields in preparation for planting crops. This saves fuel because less tilling is necessary. GM insect resistant crops require less treatments with insecticides, which also decreases the need for tractor use.” But these statements are completely false.

    This is essentially the requisite lie told by all of biotech – including:

    • Monsanto – Known for creating or helping to create 13 highly carcinogenic and toxic products including saccharin, PCBs, Polystyrene, DDT, the atom bomb, nuclear weapons, dioxin, Agent Orange, Petroleum based fertilizers, Round Up, rGBH, aspartame, GMOs, and terminator seeds. Monsanto sues everyone to keep dealing their dirty products, but the most recent suit, involving Dustin Barca, a surfer-turned mixed martial arts fighter in Hawaii is of special note. He is taking it personally that Monsanto poisons him, and bringing activism to a new level.
    • Dow Chemical Company (also Union Carbide) – This wonderful company helped to release methyl isocyanate and other chemicals in 1984 by their pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, causing one of the worst industrial disasters in history. They are also one of the five corporations completely dominating the seed market, making food sovereignty precarious for farmers and families around the world. Along with three other companies they also helped to create Dibromochloropropane (DBCP), a known carcinogen, reproductive toxin, and endocrine disruptor that contaminates ground water. They continued to produce and sell DBCP even after it was banned due to strong evidence linking the chemical to sterility.
    • Syngenta – Known for suing Kaui’i County when they wanted to keep herbicide and pesticide spraying away from their school children, homes and hospitals, and also for covering up the true toxicity of Atrazine. This company has also been implicated with colony collapse disorder, killing off our bees, and other important pollinators.
    • Bayer – This company is especially fond of selling you and your children ‘vitamins’ full of toxic GMOs, aspartame, and carcinogenic chemicals, yet they call themselves ‘pediatricians number one choice.’ They have also been accused of coating 90 percent of their GMO corn seeds with bee-decimating pesticides, and they are in development for a new GM soybean that is highly toxic.
    • DuPont Pioneer – This ‘trustworthy’ company had a market monopoly on gunpowder during the US Civil War, has developed nuclear weapons, and created Agent Orange, PCBs, and DDT, just like Monsanto.

    These defenders of genetically modified crops regularly claim that GM varieties of soy, corn, and other pestilence-inducing crops actually conserve soil because farmers don’t have to practice tilling in a way that causes erosion. They also lie that GMOs ‘conserve water.’ Well now, let’s look at those claims a little more closely, shall we?

    The fact remains that GE varieties of seed have done absolutely nothing to minimize soil erosion or conserve water. Even major media publications are now coming back and apologizing about their original support of companies like Monsanto. Monsanto’s unsavory behavior even resulted in Forbes Magazine’s retraction of naming Monsanto “Company of the Year” in 2009, admitting they were “wrong on Monsanto… really wrong.”

    GE scientists paid by Monsanto were also found to have committed fraud in India. ‘Experts’ from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS) have been found guilty of infecting and subsequently hiding the fact that indigenously created Bt cotton contained a Monsanto gene.

    These GE companies have secretly and stealthily planted poison crops all across our world, and our soil and water are being affected. Most alarming is the fact that GE crops affect soil fertility. In one gram of productive soil there is a complex web that can exceed over 100 million microorganisms that may represent over 1000 species. Monsanto and the biotech bullies are messing with those numbers.

    GE crops DO NOT conserve water. In fact, as super weeds develop, GE crops inspire farmers to try to irrigate their desirable crops, as any grower would – only they end up watering the super weeds. Water – from ground water to well water to lakes, rivers, streams, and even oceans – is contaminated with copious amounts of pesticides and herbicides that are used to grow GE crops as well. This practice ruins the water that we do have on this planet, making it nearly impossible for farmers in water-poor countries to grow anything. GE crops are in fact one of the biggest sources of water pollution in the U.S. and elsewhere.

    No matter how you slice it, the agricultural cake reeks of GM corruption and overt propaganda. GMO crops don’t save our water – they contaminate it. They don’t protect our soil – they kill off the millions of tiny organisms that account for soil health. GMOs are not necessary to feed the world, and they have no place in our food supply. No more GMO!

    Christina Sarich|November 5, 2014

    53 Real Reasons We Cannot Support Monsanto & GMOs

    Would you ever support Monsanto’s GMOs?

    A man named Brett Wilcox and his son have taken to country roads, running over 3000 miles, 20 miles at a time, in order to bring attention to the GMO monopoly that has taken over our country. They started from Huntington Beach, California on January 18, 2014, and arriving in Ocean City, New Jersey on July 19, 2014. The race has helped generate awareness over GMOs, and it also led to Wilcox bringing up a great point — could Monsanto ever ‘get their act together’ enough to convince the public to eat their GMOs?

    According to Wilcox, there are around 53 reasons we simply cannot support GMOs that would need to individually be met before we could even consider doing so:

    “53 Reasons We Cannot Support Monsanto & GMOs”

    1. I’d need to believe that pesticide companies have a right to contaminate our biological & cultural heritage with GMOs. Petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides are absolutely raping US farmlands. Corporate farming just doesn’t work.

    2. I’d need to believe that as government and industry leaders have concluded, U.S. consumers are too stupid to understand GMO food labels. We’re smarter than they think. And getting angrier all the time.

    3. I’d need to agree with the U.S. Supreme Court that organic & conventional farmers have no legal recourse or protection from genetic contamination. Since when did we decide to give corporations more rights than people?

    4. I’d need to believe that GMOs really are needed to feed a hungry world. Many countries have already proven that you don’t need GMOs to feed the world. Small-scale, organic farms are the way to go.

    5. I’d need to believe that GMOs really are substantially equivalent to their natural counterparts. Which means, of course, I’d need to believe they no more merit patent protection than their natural counterparts.

    6. I’d need to believe that GMOs should be pushed & promoted onto world markets before long term environmental, animal & human feeding studies have been conducted. In other words, I’dneed to believe that the Precautionary Principle is poppycock. If you want to know more about this concept, Nassim Nicholas Talib does a great job of explaining it and also why he calls the EU chief scientist a ‘dangerous imbecile’ for telling us we should all ignore the Precautionary Principle.

    7. I’d need to believe that super weeds and superbugs are beneficial byproducts of GMO-based agriculture.

    8. I’d need to believe that horizontal gene transfer is no different than traditional crossbreeding & hybridization processes. Farmers and gardeners have NOT been cross-breeding seeds like this for thousands of years, as they will claim within many a comment-section on anti-GMO articles. You can learn more about the difference between cross-breeding and GMO hybridization, here.

    9. I’d need to believe that small-scale agro ecological family farms and their communities are best relegated to the history books.

    10. I’d need to believe that Roundup is safe. Or if not safe, I’d need to believe that drinking and breathing Roundup, and feeding Roundup-contaminated breast milk to babies is more beneficial than not doing so. The stuff is 125 times more toxic than regulators admit. Enough said.

    11. I’d need to believe that agrichemical poisons cease to be poisonous when we eat them. This one is one of the reasons I love Wilcox. In what world do the things we eat not affect us? From MSG to high fructose corn syrup, leafy greens to Vitamin C, everything has an effect on our biochemistry. Agrichemicals are no different.

    12. I’d need to believe that good science includes bullying, shaming, belittling, intimidating, and silencing scientists and others who oppose GMOs.

    13. I’d need to believe that good GMO related science includes sham research methods that produce sham research results.

    14. I’d need to believe that pesticide companies have the right to control the editorial boards of scientific journals.

    15. I’d need to believe that industry-influenced scientific journals have the right

    16. I’d need to believe that killing super weeds and superbugs with ever more toxic chemicals makes moral, environmental, and fiscal sense.

    17. I’d need to believe that GMOs really do have identifiable consumer benefits.

    18. I’d need to believe that GMOs have never and will never contaminate their natural counterparts.

    19. I’d need to believe that genetic contamination of native and natural plant and animal varieties benefits farmers, the environment, and human health.

    20. I’d need to believe that chemical giants have no moral, ethical, or legal liability to the farmers’ whose crops and livelihoods are destroyed by GMO contamination.

    21. I’d need to believe that turning plants into EPA-registered pesticide-producing factories provides lasting benefits to farmers, consumers, animals, and the environment.

    22. I’d need to believe that privatizing seed through patents is ethical, responsible, and in the best interest of farmers, consumers, and the environment.

    23. I’d need to believe that farmers have no right or business saving and replanting seeds.

    24. I’d need to believe that Roundup resistant GMO crops really are safe for the environment, animals, and human health.

    25. I’d need to believe that plant and animal biodiversity is of little value or importance.

    26. I’d need to believe that agricultural imperialism that results from GMO patents benefits poor servant farmers more than it benefits chemical company masters.

    27. I’d need to believe that turning GMO corn into ethanol is ethical and provides sound fiscal and environmental policy.

    28. I’d need to believe that farmers should continue to grow GMOs in spite of the overwhelming consumer rejection of GMOs.

    29. I’d need to believe that it makes sense for the government to burden organic farmers with fees, rules, and bureaucratic nonsense while subsidizing GMO farmers and the chemical companies that own the GMOs with U.S. taxpayer dollars for products that U.S. taxpayers neither need nor want.

    30. I’d need to believe that pollinators are dispensable members of the web of life.

    31. I’d need to believe that monocultures benefit the environment and reduce global warming.

    32. I’d need to believe that doing business with and/or purchasing products containing GMOs is morally defensible.

    33. I’d need to believe that Monsanto and the other chemical giants’ place the public good over their bottom line.

    34. I’d need to believe that industry executives and scientists are wiser than Mother Nature and/or God.

    35. I’d need to believe that the Earth’s seven billion inhabitants should trust Monsanto and gang.

    36. I’d need to believe that agrochemical companies have the right to control political figures and processes through bribes, donations, and lawsuits.

    37. I’d need to believe that regulation of the GMO industry is best performed directly by the GMO industry or only slightly less directly through the industry/government revolving door.

    38. I’d need to believe that chemical companies have the right to control the GMO story spun by the mainstream media.

    39. I’d need to believe that agrochemical companies have the right to fashion international trade agreements such as the TPP and TAFTA, agreements that are favorable to the GMO industry, agreements that supersede member nations’ rights to govern the industry.

    40. I’d need to believe that parents who choose to feed their kids organic, non-GMO foods are fear-based and irrational, and it’s good that the mainstream media exposes them to public ridicule, name calling, and shame.

    41. I’d need to believe that pesticide industry executives routinely feed GMOs and associated poisons to their own children.I’d need to believe that a proper function of the U.S. State department includes the promotion of GMOs around the world.

    42. I’d need to believe that the U.S. government and the World Bank have the right to provide aid to developing countries only when those countries agree to accept and promote GMOs.

    43. I’d need to believe that labeling GMOs must be avoided at all costs, even if that means subverting the American democratic process as the industry has done in California, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Vermont, and indeed the entire nation. Why? Because GMOs are a skull and crossbones to the GMO industry. And if the market shrinks and dies, then millions of people will also die because GMOs are necessary to feed a growing world.

    44. I’d need to believe that it’s good that Monsanto—the same company that produced and profited from PCBs, DDT, and Agent Orange—has seized control of much of our food supply.

    45. I’d need to believe that agrochemical companies and/or farmers have no moral or legal obligation to disclose what, when, and where they spray Roundup and other toxins.

    46.  I’d need to believe that agrochemical companies and/or farmers have no moral or legal obligation to disclose where their GMO crops are planted.

    47. I’d need to believe that the animals that refuse to eat GMOs don’t know what’s good for them.

    48. I’d need to believe that killing the soil with repeated applications of Roundup and other poisons is the foundation of sound modern agricultural practices.

    49. I’d need to believe that agrochemical companies have the right to enter public schools to indoctrinate our children regarding GMOs.

    50. I’d need to believe the U.S. government has the right to destabilize foreign countries such as Ukraine in order to expand the U.S. corporate empire including the Biotechnology Industry with its patented, chemically dependent, genetically modified seeds.

    51. I’d need to believe that the U.S. government has the right to use war and foreign occupation to force foreign farmers to use GMOs as it did in Iraq through Paul Bremer’s infamous Order 81.

    52. I’d need to believe that we’re better off without the birds, fish, and other animals impacted by GMO-based agriculture.

    53. I’d need to believe we can’t live without GMO.

     Christina Sarich|November 5, 2014

    Community prevails over Monsanto and Dow ‏

    Maui has been ground zero for the agro-chemical industry’s outdoor experimentation of plants that are genetically engineered to withstand heavy spraying of toxic chemicals.

    That is until this week when Maui voters decided to suspend these experiments until the companies behind them start to disclose more information about the chemicals they’re using.

    This is not just a victory for the people and the environment of Maui. This is a victory for our democracy as our grassroots, community-based food movement was able to prevail against impossible odds.

    Opponents of the moratorium, Dow Chemical and Monsanto, outspent grassroots supporters 87 to 1. While they succeeding in making this the most expensive campaign in Hawaii’s history, they failed to hear the legitimate concerns of Maui residents whose homes, schools and businesses are downwind of these experiments.

    Hawaii Center for Food Safety stood shoulder to shoulder with the grassroots movement of Maui residents behind this initiative. But, our work isn’t done yet.

    While we hoped that this industry would respect the will of the citizens who fought door-to-door to win this campaign, Monsanto has already declared that they plan to “file a lawsuit challenging the legality of this harmful ban.”

    Let’s make one thing clear: The only thing harmful in this situation are the unknown chemicals that Monsanto, Dow Chemical and the agro-chemical industry are spraying all over Maui.

    Center for Food Safety isn’t going to back down from this fight.

    Together, we’ll send an even stronger message to the agro-chemical industry that our movement is a force that even their money can’t reckon with.
    Ashley Lukens, PhD|Program Director|Hawaii Center for Food Safety

    Lizabeth Paulat|November 6, 2014

     Can Genetic Engineering Save the Florida Orange?

    Genetically modified oranges might save Florida’s blighted groves-if Americans will drink the juice.

    Citrus greening, the plague that could wipe out Florida’s $9 billion orange industry, begins with the touch of a jumpy brown bug on a sun-kissed leaf.

    From there, the bacterial disease incubates in the tree’s roots, then moves back up the trunk in full force, causing nutrient flows to seize up. Leaves turn yellow, and the oranges, deprived of sugars from the leaves, remain green, sour, and hard. Many fall before harvest, brown necrotic flesh ringing failed stems.

    For the past decade, Florida’s oranges have been literally starving.

    Since it first appeared in 2005, citrus greening, also known by its Chinese name, huanglongbing, has swept across Florida’s groves like a flood. With no hills to block it, the Asian citrus psyllid-the invasive aphid relative that carries the disease-has infected nearly every orchard in the state.

    By one estimate, 80 percent of Florida’s citrus trees are infected and declining.

    The disease has spread beyond Florida to nearly every orange-growing region in the United States. Despite many generations of breeding by humanity, no citrus plant resists greening; it afflicts lemons, grapefruits, and other citrus species as well. Once a tree is infected, it will die.

    Yet in a few select Floridian orchards, there are now trees that, thanks to innovative technology, can fight the greening tide. These trees have the potential to keep Florida orange juice on your breakfast table-provided you are willing to drink the juice of oranges that have been genetically modified to contain genes from spinach.

    The trees are the work of Erik Mirkov, a plant pathologist at Texas A&M University who has spent his career applying the tools of biotechnology to citrus. Over the past few years, his research on genetically modified oranges has gone from an academic sideshow to one of the great hopes of the industry.

    It’s highly unlikely, researchers and growers agree, that oranges will remain in Florida unless new, modified strains like Mirkov’s are widely grown-a view endorsed by the National Research Council several years ago.

    Paul Voosen|National Geographic


    How Hydropower Contributes to Climate Change

    Methane has been attracting attention recently as the “It” greenhouse gas. It’s been exposed as being almost 35 times the driver of climate change as carbon dioxide emissions. And while that doesn’t mean we should stop acting on carbon, researchers have begun taking a closer look at where the methane is coming from. And while stories about methane blowholes in the Arctic are dramatic, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ranks oil and gas operations as the top source of methane emissions in the U.S. followed by livestock.

    The manmade Harsha Lake provides watch and flood abatement to southwestern Ohio but may also be a major source of methane emissions. Photo credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

    But there’s another source that doesn’t readily come to mind and may be emitting far more methane than previously thought. That’s manmade reservoirs, including those built to generate supposedly clean hydropower, the largest source of renewable energy in the world.

    Precisely how much they contribute to methane pollution is a mystery though. It was estimated for a long time that 20 percent of all manmade methane emissions were generated from the surface of reservoirs. But now scientists think it may be even higher than that, although few studies have been done so there’s not enough data to attach a number to it. The EPA doesn’t even bother to estimate reservoir-generated methane.

    Now a small-scale study published in late August offers some clues. Researchers from the EPA’s National Risk Management Research Laboratory in Cincinnati and the University of Cincinnati studied methane emissions from Harsha Lake near Cincinnati during a 13-month period spanning 2012. They found that Harsha Lake emitted more methane than had ever been recorded at any reservoir in the U.S., perhaps, one of the study authors suggested, because it’s located in an agricultural area.

    “When you compare the annual scale of the methane emission rate of this reservoir to other studies, it’s really much higher than people would predict,” EPA research associate and study lead author Jake Beaulieu told Climate Central.

    “Reservoirs are a globally significant source of methane (CH4), although most measurements have been made in tropical and boreal systems draining undeveloped watersheds,” said the study’s summary. “We measured CH4 and carbon dioxide (CO2) emission rates from William H. Harsha Lake, an agricultural impacted reservoir, over a 13 month period. The reservoir was a strong source of CH4 throughout the year. … We estimate that CH4 emissions from agricultural reservoirs could be a significant component of anthropogenic CH4 emissions in the U.S.A.”

    Extrapolating from the methane they found at Harsha Lake, the researchers estimated that worldwide, all large reservoirs could emit as much as 104 teragrams of methane each year, compared to estimates of 80-120 teragrams of methane from fossil fuels.

    The source of the methane is bacteria feeding on carbon-based organic plant material and breathing out methane. Agricultural runoff, such as that found in Harsha Lake, contains nutrients that allow algae to thrive, providing a wealth of food for microbes.

    “There are a very large number of these reservoirs in highly agricultural areas around the U.S.,” Amy Townsend-Small, another of the study’s authors, told Climate Central. “It could be that these agricultural reservoirs are a larger source of atmospheric methane than we had thought in the past.”

    And there’s little information yet about how the amount of methane generated by reservoirs varies in different parts of a reservoir. But Beaulieu said the EPA will undertake a more comprehensive study next year, looking at emissions from 25 reservoirs across the Great Lakes region and the south.

    Anastasia Pantsios|EcoWatch|November 3, 2014

    Fracking Bans Pass in Denton, Texas, Two California Counties and One Ohio Town

    With a record number of fracking issues on local ballots in California, Texas and Ohio, the outcome was decidedly mixed. Of the eight measures—three in California, four in Ohio and one in Texas—four passed and four failed.

    Denton became the first city in Texas—a state where fracking has become big business—to pass such a ban, despite threats from the oil and gas industry to sue to overturn it. And it passed overwhelmingly, 59-41 percent, despite heavy spending by the industry.

    The biggest victory came in Denton in north Texas, located atop the lucrative Barnett shale play. After citizens demanded action from city council on a fracking ban and council punted last July, the issue went to the ballot where it passed last night.

    “As I have stated numerous times, the democratic process is alive and well in Denton,” said Denton mayor Chris Watts. “Hydraulic fracturing, as determined by our citizens, will be prohibited in the Denton city limits. The city council is committed to defending the ordinance and will exercise the legal remedies that are available to us should the ordinance be challenged.”

    Denton became the first city in Texas—a state where fracking has become big business—to pass such a ban, despite threats from the oil and gas industry to sue to overturn it. And it passed overwhelmingly, 59-41 percent, despite heavy spending by the industry.

    “This is a victory for the citizens of the city of Denton, for our families, for our health, for our homes and for our future,” said Cathy McMullen, president of citizens group Frack Free Denton. “This ban is the voice of the citizens of Denton speaking directly to the fracking industry, and local, state and national government: WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH. So try to overturn it if you will. But know that if you do, you are on the side of corporate interests and against the people.”

    “Denton, Texas, is where hydraulic fracturing was invented,” said Earthworks energy program director Bruce Baizel. “It’s home to more than 275 fracked wells. It’s a place that knows fracking perhaps better than any other. If this place in the heart of the oil and gas industry can’t live with fracking, then who can? The answer, at present, is ‘no one.’ That’s why fracking bans and moratoria are spreading like wildfire across the country. And the oil and gas industry has no one but itself to blame. Perhaps banning fracking in Denton, Texas will finally force the oil and gas industry to clean up its act. Because blaming the impacted community is a losing strategy. It lost them Denton, and it will lose them the hearts and minds of the country.”

    It has also lost the hearts and minds of Mendocino and San Benito counties in California and Athens, Ohio, while California’s Santa Barbara County and the cities of Kent, Gates Mills and Youngstown, Ohio weren’t ready to put a ban in place.


    “Mendocino County joins more than 150 communities across the U.S. that have adopted the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF)-drafted Community Bills of Rights to secure their unalienable rights to clean air and water, the rights of nature to exist and thrive and the rights of communities to local self-governance,” CELDF said in a statement.

    “CELDF has assisted these communities to ban shale gas drilling and fracking, factory farming, and water privatization, and eliminate corporate “rights” when they violate community and nature’s rights. This includes assisting the first communities in the U.S. to establish Rights of Nature in law, as well as the first communities to elevate the rights of communities above the “rights” of corporations.”

    The oil and gas industry spent nearly $2 million in sparsely populated San Benito County, outspending ban supporters 15-1. Although there is currently no fracking in the county, fossil fuel interests were clearly concerned about the precedent it would set. In total the industry spent about $7.7 million, most of that in Santa Barbara, which is a major oil producer.

    “Fracking is a dirty and dangerous way to drill for oil and natural gas,” said Dan Jacobson of Environment California. “What’s worse is fracking keeps us addicted to fossil fuels at the exact time we need to move to clean renewable energy. As world leaders travel to Lima Peru in December of 2014 and as more and more local cities and counties ban fracking, we need Governor Brown to reconsider his position on fracking and stop fracking in California.”

    Athens joins the Ohio communities of Yellow Springs, Oberlin, Mansfield and Broadview Heights, which have previously banned fracking within their city limits. That measure passed overwhelmingly with 78 percent of the vote.

    “Ohio communities are challenging the corporate claimed ‘right’ to frack, as well as the claims of our state government that communities have no right to protect their own health, safety and welfare,” said Tish O’Dell, Ohio community rights organizer at the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which worked with Athens in drafting its ballot measure. “They are joining dozens of other communities across the country who are securing their inalienable right to local self-governance and to a sustainable future.”

    Anastasia Pantsios|November 5, 2014

    Texas energy group asks court to halt fracking ban

    Industry says voters lacked authority to restrict drilling

    DENTON, Texas A north Texas city that sits atop a natural gas reserve is preparing for an extended court battle after voters made it the first in the state to ban additional hydraulic fracturing — a fight that cities nationwide considering similar laws will likely be watching closely.
    An energy industry group responded quickly to the measure approved Tuesday in Denton, filing a petition Wednesday morning in district court seeking an injunction to stop it from being enforced.

    The ban could have a domino effect in Texas, threatening an “energy renaissance” in shale gas from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, said David Porter, a commissioner on the Texas Railroad Commission, the state’s oil and gas regulator. Scores of cities in other states have considered similar bans over health and environmental concerns. But the proposal in Denton, a university town about 40 miles north of Dallas, was a litmus test on whether any community in Texas — the nation’s biggest oil and gas producer — could rebuff the industry and still thrive.

    The courts must “give a prompt and authoritative answer” on whether Denton voters had the authority to ban fracking, said Texas Oil and Gas Association attorney Tom Phillips, a former chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court. “We believe the city of Denton lacks authority to ban the only commercially viable method of producing oil and gas in their locality,” he said. Industry groups have warned the ban could deliver a severe hit to Denton’s economy. The gas fields under it have produced $1 billion in mineral wealth and pumped more than $30 million into city bank accounts. Property rights in Texas are split between the land and the minerals below.

    Phillips says the ban violates the Texas Constitution. City spokeswoman Lindsey Baker says that’s for the courts to decide.

    Nationally, courts have come down on both sides of the issue. New York’s highest court determined local governments have landuse powers to say where oil and gas wells can be located, even to the extent of an outright ban. A judge in Boulder ruled a fracking ban interfered with the state’s interests, which take precedence in Colorado.

    Associated Press

    Public Opposition Costs Tar Sands Industry a Staggering $17B

    Once viewed by those in the fossil fuel industry as one of their brightest hopes for more big profits, tar sands extraction is looking riskier and costlier.

    As Republicans in the U.S. continue to look for ways to ram through the Keystone XL pipeline after years of persistent and intensifying resistance from community and environmental groups, farmers and Native tribes, and TransCanada, the biggest company developing the Alberta tar sands, moves forward with a proposal for the even longer Energy East pipeline, there are signs that extracting oil from tar sands bitumen, one of the dirtiest forms of energy extraction, may be hitting some hard times.

    And the protests may be a big part of the impact, along with plummeting oil prices, which are making both tar sands extraction and fracking less lucrative. Anti-tar sands actions have cost the industry $17 billion in revenue from 2010—about the time the anti-fracking campaign started—and 2013, according to a report published by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) and Oil Change International. It assesses for the first time how much the opposition has cost the industry—and what the carbon impact of that has been.

    “The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is one of the most talked-about North American energy and political issues of the era. Once thought inevitable, the project and Canada’s plan to expand tar sands production have been confronted by an accumulation of economic and political risks creating a veritable ‘carbon blockade,’” it says.

    The report, Material Risks: How Public Accountability Is Slowing Tar Sands Development, revealed that tar sands exploration and extraction has lost almost $31 billion in that time period. It estimated that 55 percent of that was due to protests against tar sands development. Another $13.8 billion has been lost due to changes in the oil market.

    “Industry officials never anticipated the level and intensity of public opposition to their massive build-out plans,” Oil Change International’s executive director Steve Kretzmann told the London Guardian. “Legal and other challenges are raising new issues related to environmental protection, indigenous rights and the disruptive impact of new pipeline proposals. Business as usual for Big Oil—particularly in the tar sands—is over.”

    It pointed out that lack of access to a market for its product “caused in large part by public accountability actions driven by pipeline campaigns,” played an important part in the cancellation of three major tar sands projects so far in 2014, projects that would have released 2.8 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere.

    And, as Big Oil salivates over the possibility of a Republican-controlled Congress pushing President Obama to the wall to approve Keystone XL—possibly even with threats of impeachment if he does not give in to industry wishes—they’re facing the unimpeachable reality of an oil glut and price drops, making investment in tar sands extraction still more unprofitable. The study said that nine of the ten leading Canadian tar sands producers underperformed the stock market in the last five years.

    The report concludes, “It is expected that sometime during late 2014 or early 2015 the United States government will make a critical decision that could move the project forward or cause [Keystone XL's] cancellation or further delay. Whatever the decision, the storyline of unfettered growth attached to Keystone and other tar sands projects has been permanently altered. Growing public sentiment to find alternatives to fossil fuels will drive much of the dialogue.”

    “This falling price—coupled with the growing grassroots mobilization against tar sands and—means that actually it’s the anti-oil movement who, for once have reason to be cheerful, no matter what happens in the midterm elections,” wrote Oil Change International contributing editor Andy Rowell.

    Anastasia Pantsios|November 4, 2014

    Keystone XL Will Fail Obama’s Climate Test If Plunge in Oil Prices Persists

    The State Department found that with low oil prices, KXL would act as a key driver of tar sands development and increased carbon emissions.

    Soaring production in the United States, slack international demand and increased fuel efficiency have produced a glut in the past few weeks that has left the benchmark WTI grade bouncing around $80 a barrel. Futures markets are pointing even lower and some analysts, most recently Goldman Sachs, are predicting a price of $75 or even less in the months ahead.

    Already, Canadian tar sands producers appear likely to put off at least some of the new projects they had on the drawing board.

    This slackening of Canadian production would seem to lessen the urgency of opening up the Alberta-to-Texas Keystone XL tar sands line, which has been delayed for years.

    But it is also true that in a world of cheaper oil, the industry would need the Keystone XL more than ever. Without it (or some other pipeline to export markets) the Canadians’ only shipping alternative to move its landlocked product would be costlier rail transport.

    Just ten months ago, the State Department, brushing off the possibility of cheaper oil, found that the Keystone XL would have little impact on Canada’s tar sands oil production—and by implication, little effect on greenhouse gas emissions. As long as oil prices stayed high enough, the reasoning went, the industry could afford to ship its output by rail to the Gulf Coast markets that the Keystone XL is intended to serve.

    But the market analysis in that final environmental impact statement acknowledged that if oil prices went below $75 for a long time, the Keystone XL would indeed become a crucial factor for expanding the tar sands enterprise. And in that case, however unlikely, the report said the pipeline would enable a significant increase in emissions of greenhouse gases.

    In other words, low oil prices mean the Keystone XL fails the Obama administration’s carefully hedged litmus test, set by the president himself when he said in June 2013 the pipeline’s impact on climate change would be the deciding factor in whether to approve the project.

    John H. Cushman Jr.|InsideClimate News|Oct 28, 2014

    Posted On October 31, 2014 by Alexis Baldera

    BP Oil Disaster leaves “Bathtub Ring” the Size of Rhode Island

    Scientists determined that an oily patch created by the BP oil disaster remains on the Gulf seafloor, stretching across roughly 1,250 square miles. They came to these conclusions using data collected as part of the Natural Resources Damage Assessment at over 500 sampling locations in the Gulf. The source of the oil is most likely the subsea oil plumes that moved underwater—oil that spewed from the Macondo wellhead but never made it to the surface. As oiled particles fell out of the plume and settled on the Gulf seafloor, they created what the researchers are calling a “patchwork mosaic” of contaminated sites. The patches get more spread out the further they are from the wellhead, leading the scientists to conclude that there is still more oil lying beyond the edge of the bathtub ring, but it probably just hasn’t been detected yet.

    The U.S. government estimates the Macondo well’s total discharge was 210 million gallons. The lead researchers of this study, Christopher Reddy and David Valentine, recognize the challenge of tracking millions of gallons of oil in the deep ocean. “Keep in mind that we’re trying to track 30,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 carbon atoms (and twice that number of hydrogen atoms) in a hostile, ever-moving environment,” the authors said in a recent blog. Their research sheds light on the mystery of the submerged oil that never came ashore or reached the Gulf surface.

    You might remember earlier studies that supported the hypothesis that microbes in the water column and deep sea consumed large amounts of the BP oil and gas. At first glance, this new study seemed to contradict those findings, but in reality they are complimentary. To understand how all of these pieces fit together, we need to be thinking about two types of hydrocarbons, or the chemical structures of oil and gas particles. First, there are the water-soluble hydrocarbons, which are what the oil-consuming microbes eat. Second, there are the water-insoluble, non-digestible hydrocarbons, which are the types of oil products reported on for this new study. Both studies are helping us understand the fate and distribution of the oil and gas released during the BP oil disaster.

    “The evidence is becoming clear that oily particles were raining down around these deep-sea corals, which provides a compelling explanation for the injury they suffered,” said Valentine. “The pattern of contamination we observe is fully consistent with the Deepwater Horizon event but not with natural seeps–the suggested alternative.”

    In light of recent attempts by BP to minimize the oil disaster, this study is another link that ties BP to the impacts in the deep waters of the Gulf. As science progresses and new findings emerge, more and more studies are reminding us that this was an offshore disaster, and projects to restore the Gulf are needed offshore, as well as on the coast. So far the vast majority of restoration projects have targeted damaged coastal habitats or lost recreation days due to closed fisheries and beaches. These projects are no doubt important, but in order to achieve full restoration to the Gulf ecosystem there needs to be a shift to a more balanced portfolio that addresses the marine resources, such as fish, sea turtles, dolphins and deep-sea corals, in addition to our beaches, marshes and fishing piers.

    Geothermal Visual: Resource Potential in the Caribbean

    The Caribbean is well primed to expand in geothermal production. Most countries in the Caribbean rely on expensive oil for their energy needs, but the islands are situated on continental plate boundaries that indicate geothermal potential. Estimated potential in the area is 850 MW.

    The figure compares current installed geothermal capacity to “announced developing capacity,” the estimated power plant capacity reported for a specific site by a private company, government agency or contractor associated with the site. Read more on geothermal in the Caribbean and other developing nations here:  “The Status of Geothermal Power in Emerging Economies.”

    Leslie Blodgett|November 04, 2014

    The information and views expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of or the companies that advertise on this Web site and other publications. This blog was posted directly by the author and was not reviewed for accuracy, spelling or grammar.

    The Waorani Beat Chevron, But Their Water is Still Contaminated

    What happens when you beat out the oil company that destroyed your land in court, but your land is still destroyed? That’s the question being faced by Amazonian tribes in Ecuador who may have finally received some justice on the legal side of things, but who still need environmental justice.

    After decades of ravaging the Amazon, leaving pollution behind them, oil and gas companies are refusing to take responsibility for tainted air, water and soil; moreover, they’re continuing operations, adding to the already existing environmental problems in the region.

    The Waorani are among a number of indigenous tribes-people who inhabit the northern reaches of the Amazon in Ecuador. The region they have called home for thousands of years is ecologically fragile, and their culture is complex, built upon centuries of living in and with the forest. That began to change in the 20th century with the advent of oil and gas exploration that started to penetrate deeply into the Amazon as Ecuador’s easily-accessible reserves dwindled and companies like Texaco (now owned by Chevron) began putting their feelers out into the jungle.

    Oil companies pressured the Waorani, along with neighbors like the Cofan, Siona, Kichwa and Secoya, to shuffle themselves into small reserves near roads and settlements, in a radical departure from their former way of life. Many were forced into poverty and dependence on the outside, rather than living on their own as hunters and gatherers, and the rate of environmental illnesses also began to increase as their rivers ran black and sludgy, making the water impossible to drink; even touching the water created peculiar rashes and sores.

    In a complex, multi-year suit, Amazonian tribes took the matter to court, demanding justice from oil companies for the damage done to their lives. Their entry into the courts was accomplished by banding together as a group with farmers as well as legal advocates, and eventually, they won a substantial judgment, one Chevron refuses to pay, arguing that it shouldn’t be forced to bear environmental liability to anything Texaco might have done before the acquisition.

    Legal, and physical, battles have raged back and forth in the oil-torn region, but one thing has remained consistent: The once-clean air, soil, and water are no longer safe for the people who count on them for survival.

    After years of pleading for justice, the Waorani have taken at least one thing upon themselves: They’re working to rectify the clean water situation on their own, instead of relying on makeshift rainwater collectors, dangerous river water or supplies rationed out by Repsol, the Spanish oil company that now controls much of their lands. Repsol, in addition to paying out paltry benefits to members of the tribe, also claims that it’s tried to provide water filtration in their village only to be rebuffed. The tribe’s demands for clean water tell a different story.

    In conjunction with ClearWater, an organization working with tribes in the Amazon to provide clean water sources, the Waorani are building their own water collection, filtration and storage systems. Intriguingly, ClearWater is one of a new wave of organizations working on the ground in disadvantaged communities.

    Rather than taking a top-down philosophy, the group approached the Waorani, asked them what they needed and worked side by side with them to meet the goal of providing clean, fresh water for the community. Their goal is to help the tribespeople create their own sustainable clean water systems, so they can live independently, without having to ask for outside support — a departure from the often colonialist and patronizing approaches used historically to “help” communities like the Waorani.

    Empowered by the ability to create their own water source, Amazonian tribes-people are better prepared to take on the fight for environmental remediation and the assignation of liability for same; because the people who looked after the rainforest for generations should hardly be held responsible for the damage done in just a few decades of oil and gas exploration.

    s.e. smith|November 6, 2014

    First-Ever Footage of Aging Tar Sands Pipelines Beneath Great Lakes

    This past July, National Wildlife Federation (NWF) conducted a diving expedition to obtain footage of aging oil pipelines strung across one of the most sensitive locations in the Great Lakes, and possibly the world: the Straits of Mackinac. Footage of these pipelines has never been released to the public until now.

    Line5Spill1This NWF map simulates a 3, 6 and 12 hour spill from the tar sands oil pipeline based on Enbridge spill response plans, average current speeds and “worse case” discharge estimates.

    The Straits of Mackinac pipelines, owned by Enbridge Energy, are 60-years-old and considered one of the greatest threats to the Great Lakes because of their age, location and the hazardous products they transport—including tar sands derived oil.

    For nearly two years, NWF has been pressing pipeline regulators and Enbridge to release information about the integrity of these pipelines, including inspection videos showing how the pipelines cross the Straits of Mackinac. These requests have gone largely unanswered from both Enbridge and the Pipeline Hazards Safety Administration (PHMSA), who regulates pipeline operations. Because Enbridge hastily moved forward with plans to increase pressure on the aging pipelines, and has bypassed critical environmental permitting for changes in operation, NWF decided we needed to obtain our own:

    The footage shows pipelines suspended over the lakebed, some original supports broken away—indicating the presence of corrosion—and some sections of the suspended pipelines covered in large piles of unknown debris. This visual is evidence that our decision makers need to step in and demand a release of information from Enbridge and PHMSA.

    Heightening our concern around this pipeline and the company that owns it: despite having cleared our dive work with the U.S. Coast Guard, several Congressional members and Homeland Security, our staff and the dive crew had uncomfortable interactions with Enbridge representatives. As soon as our team set out on the water, we were quickly accompanied by an Enbridge crew that monitored our every move. This monitoring did not stop at the surface: Enbridge also placed a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) into the water to watch our team.

    These actions and our video have raised our level of concern for the general operational behavior of this company and their overall safety culture—including the way they treat the concerned public living near their pipelines. If these aging pipelines rupture, the resulting oil slick would cause irreversible damage to fish and wildlife, drinking water, Lake Michigan beaches, Mackinac Island and our economy.

    To make matters worse, the recent shutdown of our federal government has left communities and wildlife with an increased risk of oil spills and failed response because pipeline safety and responding agencies have been scaled back or closed all together. The recent oil spill in North Dakota, of approximately 800,000 gallons, is living proof.

    See the video “Sunken Hazard”

    Beth Wallace|National Wildlife Federation |October 15, 2013

    This article was originally published on National Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Promise.

    Land Conservation

    First Participants in Conservation Stewardship Program Can Renew for Five More Years

    Producers with expiring U.S. Department of Agriculture Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) contracts have from July 11 until Sept. 12, 2014 to renew and add conservation activities that will support their natural resource improvement activities and fine-tune their conservation plans.
    “CSP farmers are conservation leaders and go the extra mile to conserve our nation’s resources,” said Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Jason Weller. “The 2014 Farm Bill continued that strong commitment and heightened the program’s focus on generating conservation benefits. This program allows landowners to reach the next level of conservation and opens the door to trying new conservation activities.”
    About 20,000 CSP contracts are reaching the end of their initial five-year contract period and may be renewed for an additional five years when participants agree to take additional conservation actions.

    The program provides opportunities for farmers and ranchers who are already established conservation stewards, helping them improve water quality and quantity, soil health and wildlife habitat. Renewal applications will be accepted beginning on July 11, 2014. There will also be another signup in fiscal year 2015.
    More than 58 million acres were enrolled in the program – an area the size of Indiana and Wisconsin combined, following the launch of the program in 2009. CSP participants boost their operations’ conservation benefits by installing new conservation activities that make positive changes in soil, water, air quality and wildlife habitat.
    For example, the program helped Kentucky cattle farmers, Jake and Jondra Shadowen, improve the health of their cattle as well as the surrounding environment.
    Through CSP, the Shadowens send manure samples to a laboratory for analysis six times a year to gauge cattle health and see how their cows are responding to forage. They also built wildlife-friendly fences, escape routes in water troughs, and added
    pollinator habitat to the farm.
    The farm is now a model for the community and has been used for soil health demonstrations to help others see the benefit of rotational grazing and added conservation practices.
    To learn about technical and financial assistance available through CSP, visit, the Conservation Stewardship webpage or local USDA service center. For more on the 2014 Farm Bill, visit

    USDA|July 2nd, 2014

    Air Quality

    Subsidiaries of the World’s Largest Fertilizer Producer to Reduce Harmful Air Emissions at Three North Carolina Plants

    ATLANTA – In a settlement with the United States, three subsidiaries of the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan (PCS), the world’s largest fertilizer producer, will take steps to reduce harmful air emissions at eight U.S. production plants—including three in Aurora, N.C.—the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Justice announced today. The settlement resolves claims that these PCS subsidiaries violated the Clean Air Act when they modified facilities in ways that released excess sulfur dioxide into surrounding communities.

    The settlement requires PCS Nitrogen Fertilizer, AA Sulfuric Inc., and White Springs Agricultural Chemicals Inc. to install, upgrade and operate state-of-the-art pollution reduction measures, as well as install emissions monitors at eight sulfuric acid plants across facilities in Aurora, North Carolina (three plants), White Springs, Florida (four plants), and Geismar, Louisiana (one plant). The three companies will spend an estimated $50 million on these measures, and will pay a $1.3 million civil penalty.

    “Large industrial facilities that break the law and pollute the air will be held accountable,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This case will bring these companies into compliance and require additional action to cut pollution to benefit communities, especially those most vulnerable to air pollution.”

    “This agreement, the largest so far in our ongoing Clean Air Act enforcement efforts against sulfuric-acid producers, will ensure cleaner air for citizens across the Southeast and will send a strong signal to the industry that noncompliance has serious consequences,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Sam Hirsch for the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

    EPA expects the actions that the companies have agreed to take will reduce harmful emissions by over 13,090 tons per year, which includes approximately 12,600 tons per year of sulfur dioxide, 430 tons per year of ammonia and 60 tons per year of nitrogen oxide. In the future, the companies can also retire plants to comply with the settlement.

    The settlement also includes a “supplemental environmental project,” estimated to cost between $2.5 and $4 million, to protect the community around a PCS Nitrogen nitric acid plant in Geismar, Louisiana, and requires PCS Nitrogen to install and operate equipment to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide and ammonia. This project is part of EPA’s commitment to advancing environmental justice by reducing the disproportionate environmental impacts on communities near industrial facilities – in this instance, by reducing fine particulates that can aggravate respiratory disease.

    Sulfur dioxide, the predominant pollutant emitted from sulfuric acid plants, has numerous adverse effects on human health and is a significant contributor to acid rain, smog and haze. Sulfur dioxide—along with nitrogen oxide—is converted in the air to particulate matter that can cause severe respiratory and cardiovascular impacts, and premature death.

    This settlement is part of EPA’s national enforcement initiative to control harmful emissions from large sources of pollution, which includes acid production plants, under the Clean Air Act’s Prevention of Significant Deterioration requirements. It is the 10th settlement reached under EPA’s National Acid Manufacturing Plant Initiative and the 7th settlement addressing pollution from sulfuric acid plants. Today’s settlement covers more sulfuric acid production capacity—roughly 24,000 tons per day or approximately 14 percent of total U.S. capacity—than all previous sulfuric acid settlements under this initiative combined.

    The settlement also resolves alleged violations based on Louisiana law at the Geismar, Louisiana, facility, and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality will receive $350,000 of the $1.3 million penalty.

    The settlement was lodged with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana and is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.

    Davina Marraccini|EPA

    Massive Methane Hot Spot Detected by Satellite

     One tiny section in the U.S. is responsible for a significant amount of the country’s methane emissions, according to new information released by scientists from NASA and the University of Michigan.

    MethaneThe Four Corners area seen in red produces the largest concentrated amount of methane emissions in the U.S. On this map, lighter colors are higher than average; darker colors are lower.

    Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Michigan

    In a study published this week, they analyzed satellite-gathered data and found that an area about 2,500 square miles, near the “Four Corners” where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah connect, produces the largest concentration of these greenhouse gas emissions ever found in the U.S., more than triple the previous estimate based on ground-gathered information. While carbon emissions are more plentiful and have attracted most of the attention as the driver of climate change, methane has been found to be an even more potent greenhouse gas.

    The researchers looked at data from 2003-2009 and found that in that time, that area released 590,000 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere annually, nearly three and a half times the previous estimate for the area. That’s about 10 percent of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s official estimate for the whole country during those years. The hot spot persisted during the entire observation period.

    Fracking has been widely identified as a culprit in boosting methane emissions. But this new analysis indicates that older methods of fossil-fuel extraction are just as harmful, with methane emissions added to carbon emissions to multiple the environmental damages from fossil fuels. Fracking wasn’t widely used in the area during the period studied; the boom didn’t kick off there until 2009. But it is a major coal-mining center. And New Mexico’s San Juan Basin is the most active coalbed methane production area in the country, a process in which methane-heavy natural gas (composed of about 95-98 percent methane) is extracted from pores and cracks in coal to use for fuel. In the process, it produces significant leaks (and well as coal mine explosions.)

    “The results are indicative that emissions from established fossil fuel harvesting techniques are greater than inventoried,” said the study’s leader author Eric Kort of the University of Michigan. “There’s been so much attention on high-volume hydraulic fracturing, but we need to consider the industry as a whole.”

    In March, President Obama announced a blueprint for methane emission reduction that included addressing emissions from coal mines.

    Anastasia Pantsios|October 10, 2014




    Leading Edge Aviation Services Sentenced for Unlawful Handling of Hazardous Waste at Greenville, Miss. Facility

    ATLANTA Felicia C. Adams, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Mississippi, together with Maureen O’Mara, Special Agent in Charge of the Environmental Protection Agency’s criminal enforcement program in the Southeast, announces:

    Leading Edge Aviation Services, Inc. (Leading Edge), a corporation headquartered in Costa Mesa, California, was sentenced today by United States District Judge Glen Davidson, in Aberdeen, Mississippi, following a guilty plea to one felony count of treating, storing, or disposing of hazardous waste without a permit at Leading Edge’s now shuttered Greenville, Mississippi, facility.

    Leading Edge operated a commercial aircraft painting facility at Greenville’s Mid-Delta Regional Airport until mid-2013. The process of stripping paint from aircraft in preparation for repainting generated large volumes of hazardous wastes that Leading Edge was required to properly manage. However, an investigation by the government revealed that from April 23, 2010 to May 16, 2010, Leading Edge failed to properly manage its hazardous wastes when it stored them in an open pit without a permit.

    Judge Davidson sentenced Leading Edge to pay a criminal fine in the amount of $700,000. Leading Edge will pay a separate $275,000 civil penalty to the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and a $25,000 community service payment to the Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials, a non-profit corporation. Leading Edge was also ordered to serve a term of probation of 12 months. The sentence further requires Leading Edge to complete cleanup of its Greenville facility, implement a corporate wide hazardous waste training program, hire an Environmental, Health and Safety Manager, obtain ISO 14001 environmental management certification for its operating facilities, adopt a corporate code of ethics policy, and conduct ethics training for senior management.

    The activity to which Leading Edge plead guilty occurred prior to the company’s purchase by a new ownership group in April 2012. The company, under the direction of its new ownership, cooperated fully with the EPA’s investigation of this matter.

    Felicia C. Adams, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Mississippi, said, “The former owners of Leading Edge flouted the law by failing to properly manage its hazardous waste. Today’s sentence ensures that these illegal practices will not continue. The United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Mississippi is committed to maintaining the health and safety of our citizens.”

    “Our nation’s environmental laws help ensure that human health and safety is not endangered by companies looking to cut costs illegally,” said Maureen O’Mara, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Mississippi. “The defendant’s actions callously placed the health of nearby residents at great risk. The paints and solvents used in this case were especially hazardous, requiring proper handling and disposal. This case sends a clear message that corporations that fail to properly manage hazardous wastes will be prosecuted and held accountable for their actions.”

    This case was investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division, and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.

     Davina Marraccini (EPA|William C. Lamar (DOJ)

    DEP Launches ‘Recycling Selfie’ Challenge

    Submit photos to the DEP Facebook page for a chance to win state park passes~

    The Florida Department of Environmental Protection wants to see how you recycle. Submit a selfie to our Facebook page between Nov. 5 and Nov. 25 and “like” the page to be entered to win four state park entrance passes. In your selfie, show us how you recycle – the more creative the better. We would love to see all forms of recycling, from re-purposing water bottles to decorating with shoe boxes.

    To submit your selfie, send it in a private message to the DEP Facebook page. We will post the pictures we receive online daily.

    At the end of the month, all submissions will be entered into a random drawing to determine the winners. Participants can boost their chances of winning by submitting multiple selfies over the course of the month, but only one photo per day will be entered into the drawing.

    Different ways to recycle include:

    • Refilling plastic water bottles;
    • Reusing materials to create home decorations/school projects;
    • Buying recycled material; and
    • Reusing boxes from purchases.

    For more information or to participate in the event visit the DEP Facebook page here.

    WHAT: “Recycling Selfie” Challenge

    WHEN:   Nov. 5 – 25

    WHERE: Florida DEP Facebook page

    latashawalters|Nov. 6, 2014


    10 Scenic National Park Drives (Slideshow)

    Deadly Fungus Could Snuff Out Salamanders

    A new study in Science documents a terrifying threat to salamanders across the globe: a lethal, skin-eating fungus related to the killer chytrid fungus that has devastated frog populations.

    The fungus, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, is sweeping through salamander populations in Europe — practically wiping out the Netherlands’ fire salamanders, for example. Imports of infected animals from Europe (which are already extensive) could spell disaster for our own nearly 200 U.S. native salamanders. The fungus kills these delicate creatures by eroding their skin and exposing them to fatal bacterial infections, and it’s especially deadly for newts, several species of which live in the United States. One of those, the striped newt of Florida and Georgia, is already a candidate for Endangered Species Act protection.

    Once this gruesome fungus enters wild populations, it’ll be nearly impossible to stop the spread. The Center and other groups are calling for the Fish and Wildlife Service to suspend all salamander imports into the United States unless they’re certifiably fungus-free.

    Center for Biological Diversity

    Read more and watch videos at the Christian Science Monitor.

    The movement for environmental rights is building

    The idea of a right to a healthy environment is getting traction at Canada’s highest political levels. Federal Opposition MP Linda Duncan recently introduced “An Act to Establish a Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights” in Parliament. If it’s passed, our federal government will have a legal duty to protect Canadians’ right to live in a healthy environment.

    I’m travelling across Canada with the David Suzuki Foundation’s Blue Dot Tour to encourage people to work for recognition of such a right — locally, regionally and nationally. At the local level, the idea of recognizing citizens’ right to live in a healthy environment is already taking hold. Richmond and Vancouver, B.C., The Pas, Manitoba, and the Montreal borough of Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie all recently passed municipal declarations recognizing this basic right.

    Our ultimate goal is to have the right to a healthy environment recognized in the Constitution’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and a federal environmental bill of rights is a logical precursor. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms itself was preceded by a federal statute, the Bill of Rights, enacted under Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservative government in 1960.

    This isn’t a partisan issue. It appeals to people across the political spectrum and has broad support among Canadians. An earlier attempt to pass a Canadian environmental bill of rights (also led by Linda Duncan) gained the support of MPs from various parties before its passage through Parliament was interrupted by the 2011 federal election. In France, conservative leader Jacques Chirac championed the idea of environmental rights during his presidency. After more than 70,000 French citizens attended public hearings, the Charter for the Environment was enacted in 2005 with support from all political parties.

    I’ve seen so many positive changes in our legal systems and social safety net in my 78 years — including adoption of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982. My family was incarcerated in the B.C. Interior during the Second World War, just for being of Japanese descent, even though we were born and raised in Canada. Like other people of color, my parents didn’t have the right to vote until 1948. First Nations people on reserves couldn’t vote until 1960. And women weren’t even considered “persons” under Canadian law until 1918, when they were given voting rights. Homosexuality was a crime punishable by prison until 1969! I’m convinced that legal recognition for environmental rights will be the next big change.

    Progress is possible when enough people recognize its necessity and come together to make it happen. Protecting our country and planet, our health and the future of our children and grandchildren is absolutely necessary. We can’t live and be well without clean air and water, nutritious food and the numerous services that diverse and vibrant natural environments provide.

    Even in Canada, where our spectacular nature and abundant water are sources of pride, we can no longer take these necessities for granted. More than 1,000 drinking-water advisories are in effect in Canada at any time, many of them in First Nations communities. More than half of us live in areas where air quality reaches dangerous levels of toxicity. And from Grassy Narrows and Sarnia’s Chemical Valley in Ontario to Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, people are being poisoned because industrial interests and profits are prioritized over their right to live healthy lives.

    It’s not about hindering industry; it’s about ensuring that companies operating in Canada, as well as our governments, maintain the highest standards and that human health and well-being are always the priority. Evidence shows strong environmental protection can benefit the economy by spurring innovation and competitiveness and reducing health-care costs. This is about giving all Canadians greater say in the democratic process and looking out for the long-term prosperity of Canada.

    More than half the world’s nations already recognize environmental rights. It’s time for Canada to live up to its values and join this growing global movement.

    There’s no date yet for a vote on Bill C-634, but its introduction has started a conversation among politicians in Ottawa. Let’s hope people from across the political spectrum will recognize the importance of ensuring that all Canadians have the right to a healthy environment.

    By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

    In Memoriam

    Ruth Campbell. My loving wife of nearly 53 years, Ruth Ann Jeanette Campbell entered peaceful eternity November 3rd, 2014, after a protracted battle with multi-drug resistant infections of the kidneys and liver. She was my life’s partner, my business partner and a loving mother to our 2 sons. Anything I am or ever will be is because of her. I will miss her deeply.

    Environmental Links

    SFAS International Wildlife News Audubon Advocate Audubon Restore Eco-Voice South Florida Wildlife Care Center Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital The Turtle Hospital The Marathon Wild Bird Center Climate change info Audubon’s Coastal Strand Audubon of Florida News Blog Bioenergy News Climate Progress – climate science, politics and solutions Collins Center for Public Policy Comprehensive Everglades Restoration News EcoWatch – feeds from the WaterKeeper Alliance Everglades Foundation – press releases Everglades Hub Fort Myers News – Press Green Front Pages from Florida Newspapers Herald Tribune Newspapers -  Environmental News Naples Daily News  – Environmental News National Public Radio Eco-News Riverwatch News about the Caloosahatchee Sierra Club Sierra Club Florida South Florida Watershed  Journal South Florida Water Management District Union of Concerned Scientists – news Yahoo News Search: Everglades NASA Climate Information American Littorial Society log NASA Climate Information Sun Newspapers – Lake Okeechobee News Everglades City News  – Mullet Wrapper IFAW’s World of Animals Magazine

    Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

    So sad

    On the afternoon of Monday, November 3rd,  I lost my loving wife of nearly 53 years, after a protracted battle with multi-drug-resistant infections of the kidneys and liver.

    Ruthie was my child bride, my life partner and my business partner and a doting mother to our 2 sons. She was a talented professional chef and artist, combining her talents as a garde-mange chef at the Weston Hills Country Club for several years before retiring.

    Anything I am today or ever will be, is because of her. I will miss her deeply.


    Grant Campbell

    Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

    ConsRep 1014 C

    Why are ecologists and environmentalists so feared and hated? This is because in part what they have to say is new to the general public, and the new is always alarming. Garrett Hardin


    Public Webinar to Review RESTORE Act Projects

    Join the online presentation on Wednesday, October 22.

    On Wednesday, October 22, from 6pm to 8pm EST, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)

    and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will host a online public webinar focusing on oil spill restoration projects.

    Florida officials are in the process of identifying project proposals that qualify for “pot 2” of RESTORE Act money, controlled by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council.

    This Council, comprised of federal agencies and the five Gulf states, will control 30% of RESTORE funds, to be used to restore the Gulf and protect natural resources.

    This is your chance to get the very latest about Gulf Coast restoration in Florida. You are encouraged to attend this virtual meeting.

    Registration is required, please click here to visit the webinar website.

    A brief presentation by Justin Ehrenwerth, executive director of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, will open the program.

    For more information, please click here to see an article about this webinar from the Pensacola News Journal.

    Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve Offers Wading Trips Through the Estuary

    ~Participants learn about ‘cradles of the ocean’ during unique adventure~

    Participants will get an up-close look at wildlife in Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve.

    Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve will host its final wading trip of 2014 in November, inviting visitors to discover first-hand why estuaries are known as “cradles of the ocean.”

    Now open for registration, the trip is scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon on Nov. 5.

    The trip will be led by environmental specialists from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve (EBAP).

    Participants will take a refreshing journey into the waters of the bay, wading into mudflats and seagrass beds at low tide to find many of the plants and animals that call this estuary home.

    Dip nets and seine nets will be provided for participants to collect organisms such as fish, shrimp, crabs and snails, which will be placed in buckets or magnifiers for a closer look.

    Participants will be required to wear closed-toe shoes that can get wet, such as old tennis shoes or diving booties, and a swimsuit or shorts.

    This trip is free of charge, but registration is required. Call EBAP at 239-463-3240 for more information and to sign up.

    WHAT:    Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve Wading Trip

    WHEN:    Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014, 10 a.m. – noon

                                              WHERE:  Call Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve for directions (239-463-3240)

    latashawalters|Oct. 21, 2014

    Arthur R Marshall Foundation for the Everglades Presents:

    Family-Friendly Fun in the Everglades
    Join the Marshall Foundation team for the Annual Cypress Seed Harvest and Trail Cleanup at the ARM Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, 10216 Lee Road, Boynton Beach, on Saturday, October 25th from 9 a.m. to 12 noon.

    As your family, scout troop or youth group joins the fun of hunting for and harvesting cypress seeds, the natural riches of the Everglades will surround you.

    You will see herons and egrets, alligators, turtles, and so much more! The seeds you harvest will eventually become cypress trees that filter our water and protect the future of the Everglades.

    As you search for seeds, you’ll be protecting the Everglades by helping to clear its trails. If your teenagers need service hours, the Cypress Harvest is a great solution. For more information, and to register, click here.

    Call for Cypress Seed Harvest Team Leaders
    We are in need of additional Team Leaders. Leaders are responsible for guiding groups of volunteers safely through the refuge to harvest seeds, remove exotic plants and clean up trails.

    If you are interested in becoming a team leader for the event, please email our volunteer coordinator at

    Cruising the Intracoastal – The 2014 River of Grass Gala December 6, 2014
    The Marshall Foundation is launching its 10th holiday gala aboard the beautifully appointed, 170 foot Lady Windridge this year.

    We would love to have you join us for a glorious evening cruise on the Intracoastal highlighted by memorable water views of twinkling holiday lights.

    There are still sponsorships remaining for you and your friends.

    Don’t miss this opportunity for a fabulous evening of food, music by Monique McCall and Jeff Taylor, a very special live auction, and fun with friends on the water.

    Dust off your yachting attire and board beginning at 6 p.m.

    You will enjoy an unforgettable evening as your sponsorship benefits the Marshall Foundation’s education programs, and brings your sponsorship dollars a one-to-one match from the Batchelor Foundation.

    To learn more about how you can join us aboard the Lady Windridge see here.

    NEW! Everglades Speaker’s Bureau Now Online
    The Marshall Foundation is available for presentations to your club or organization.

    Learning more about the Everglades is important to everybody living in South Florida.

    Crucial issues like Everglades restoration and protection, water policy, advocacy and the impact of Sea Level Rise are among the most critical ongoing discussions happening right now!

    The Everglades needs our attention! Contact the Marshall Foundation and schedule a presentation today.

    Spotlight on a Marshall Foundation Star
    Bonnie Lazar, this year’s River of Grass Gala Chair, is a tireless crusader for the Everglades and for the Marshall Foundation’s social events and fundraising efforts.

    Her status as a longstanding Ambassador of the Everglades proves her generosity and commitment to the cause of environmental education, Everglades restoration and protection.

    Bonnie says, “I invite all my fellow Marshall Foundation fans to make a stretch gift for environmental education this year. The beautiful Gala Cruise will be our thank you for your generosity.”

    Although her busy schedule means she is rarely able to relax and enjoy it, Bonnie loves her home in West Palm Beach and its ocean views.

    She is a busy member of the Realtors Association, who began her career New York State, and her affiliation with the Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches in 2001.

    Bonnie is currently past president of the Regional Multiple Listings Service.

    In addition to championing the Marshall Foundation in her spare time, Bonnie is vice president of the West Palm Beach Lions Club and a member of the board of directors for Executive Women of the Palm Beaches.

    We are very grateful to Bonnie for her support and leadership of our 2014 River of Grass Gala.

    • October 25 – Annual Cypress Seed Harvest & Trail Cleanup
    • December 6 – River of Grass Gala – Lady Windridge Yacht, Launching from West Palm Beach

    For information about upcoming events visit or call 561-233-9004.

    We look forward to greeting you in the coming months.

    ~Ann E. Paton|Editor

    Everglades National Park seeks comments on Environmental Assessment for updated Fire Management Plan

    I am pleased to announce the availability of an Environmental Assessment (EA) for an updated Fire Management Plan (FMP).   The National Park Service (NPS) is updating the park’s FMP due to changes in federal fire management policies which have evolved since the last FMP EA was prepared in 1991 and the last FMP update in 1995. The NPS invites public comments on the FMP EA though November 25, 2014.

    The 2014 FMP EA evaluates two alternatives for the implementation of a comprehensive fire program including wildland fire response, fire protection, and fuels management utilizing prescribed fire treatments.  The proposed fire management plan supports National Park Service goals to restore fire’s natural role in the ecosystem. Both alternatives include a continuation of active management of fire and fuels within Everglades National Park. The main difference between the alternatives is the manner in which prescribed fire treatments are planned and where they would occur. 

    The preferred alternative, Alternative B- updated FMP, includes a multi-year fuels treatment plan that calls for prescribed fires to be planned and implemented on a multi-year rotation of fuels treatments (see Appendix C). Prescribed fires would take place in wilderness and non-wilderness areas. The prescribed fire treatments would be prioritized annually based on public safety and ecological goals.

    In Alternative A, current management, fire management would continue under the 1995 FMP.  Prescribed fire treatments would be planned and approved on an annual basis.  Since the 1995 FMP and its associated EA are out of date, prescribed fire treatments are limited to only two types of prescribed fires that are currently authorized under National Environmental Policy Act Categorical Exclusions (CEs).  Prescribed fires authorized under CEs include treatments to reduce hazardous fuel build-up and treatments to manage exotic plants.  Hazardous fuel reduction treatments would be limited to areas outside of designated wilderness and a maximum of 4,500 acres annually until completion of a new FMP EA, or until April 2015 when hazardous fuel reduction fires will no longer be allowed under a CE.  Exotic vegetation treatments would occur in wilderness and non-wilderness areas.

    Wildfire response remains unchanged in both alternatives; however, Alternative B accommodates advancements in wildlife management and allows for adapting to changes in fire policy and emerging scientific knowledge.

    The FMP EA analyzes the effects of fire management actions on the natural and human environment. It also assesses the effects of fire management on cultural resources in accordance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.
    We welcome public input on this project and encourage you to review the EA and submit comments through the NPS’s Planning, Environment, and Public Comment website:

    You may also mail or hand-deliver written comments to:

    Brien Culhane                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Planning and Compliance Office                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Attn:  Fire Management Plan EA                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Everglades National Park                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  40001 State Road 9336                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Homestead, FL 33034        

    A limited number of compact disk(CDs) of the FMP EA are available upon request by contacting Everglades National Park at 305-242-7700.

    All comments must be received or postmarked by November 25, 2014.

    For more information or questions, contact Rick Anderson, Fire Management Officer, at 305-242-7853 or

    Exploring Alaska’s Coastal Wilderness

    Date: May 30 – June 6, 2015

    NPCA Member Price From: $6,290 per person

    Are you looking for a distinctive way to see the Alaskan coastline and Glacier Bay National Park?

    Then join NPCA on the Exploring Alaska’s Coastal Wilderness journey next June onboard the 62-guest National Geographic Sea Bird with Lindblad Expeditions.

    The National Geographic Sea Bird will take you where others can’t go with the experts who know Alaska best.

    This intimate journey features:

    • Unique access to Glacier Bay National Park with unparalleled views of the area’s magnificent scenery.
    • Naturalist-led wildlife viewing in search of bald eagles, harbor seals, humpback whales, orcas, puffins, and sea lions.
    • Opportunities to kayak and spend time in an expedition landing craft to get even closer to iconic wildlife.
    • Free round-trip airfare from Seattle if you book by December 31.

    Want to see even more of Alaska’s national parks?

    Then be sure to check out the optional seven-day post-tour land extension to Denali National Park.

    Due to high demand, our spaces on this Alaska small-ship journey will only be held until November 7.

    So please visit our online trip page, or contact us at 800.628.7275 or, as soon as possible if you have any questions or want to reserve space on this extraordinary tour.

    See you in the parks!

    Ben Sander|Travel Program Manager

    P.S. Here’s one more great reason to travel with us:

    Every time you join a ParkScapes tour, a percentage of the proceeds helps support NPCA’s work to protect our national parks for current and future generations.

    Of Interest to All

    Bird Regains Sight After First-Ever Falcon Cataract Surgery

    For the first time ever, a falcon has undergone eye surgery to remove cataracts and has received new synthetic lenses.

    Banner is a 4-year-old lanner falcon who lives at the New Hampshire School of Falconry in Deering. She has had cataracts in each eye for nearly two years, and hasn’t been able to fly or hunt for the past two years.

    Help finally arrived for the bird three weeks ago. On September 29, a veterinary team at Caves Animal Hospital in Deering carefully drugged her, and for each eye, cut into her cornea, removed the cloudy protein and implanted a uniquely designed artificial lens, and sewed her cornea shut again.

    Banner was under the knife for about an hour, in the care of veterinary ophthalmologist Ruth Marrion, who performed the surgery. The procedure went off perfectly, reported The Concord Monitor. Marrion was one of several people who donated their services to help Banner.

    A team of specialists from around the world designed the artificial lenses that were placed in Banner’s eyes. Canadian ophthalmology equipment manufacturer I-Med made the lenses and donated them to the surgical team in New Hampshire. The lenses themselves are only about six millimeters wide.

    When a cataract is removed, so is the lens, so vision will be blurry unless a manufactured lens is implanted.

    Banner will need anti-inflammatory eye drops for a few weeks to make sure her eyelids don’t become too irritated by the sutures in her corneas. Hmmm — I wonder how easy it is to put eye drops into a falcon’s eyes?

    Banner obviously has special connections that enable her medical condition to receive the best possible care, but what happens to other animals and birds who are suffering?

    Animal and bird hospitals, staffed by veterinarians, are pretty common, and mostly deal with domesticated animals. For example, each day 70,000 puppies and kittens are born in the U.S. As long as these birth rates continue there will not be enough homes for these animals. As a result, every year four to six million animals are euthanized. These hospitals may also perform surgery for cancer, soft-tissue surgery and orthopedic surgery.

    Zoos also have their own medical facilities to take care of their animals. The Wildlife Conservation Society plays an active role in caring for zoo and aquarium animals, as their website explains:

    “From baby wellness exams to geriatric care, our zoo and aquarium animals receive routine health check-ups throughout their lives. Our wildlife health specialists also conduct research to improve animal care in new and innovative ways. When necessary, they perform surgeries and treatments on many kinds of animals—perhaps a root canal for a tiger, an eye exam for a frog, even acupuncture for a camel.”

    But what about creatures that are out in the wild? These animals can get hurt too, but most of the time it’s worse for them, since they don’t belong to anybody. So there’s usually no one to pay a veterinarian to take care of them. That’s where wildlife rehabilitators come into the picture: to take care of hurt or orphaned wild animals. These experts have special training and, in the United States, have to be specially licensed by each state and the federal government in order to do this.

    Wildlife rehabilitators are like the ambulance team that first sees accident victims and treats them for shock and immobilizes fractures so they don’t get any worse before the doctor can see them. They may take blood and analyze it, look for parasites and treat them, give shots or other medications, clean wounds and bandage them.

    They also work very closely with veterinarians, who take the x-rays and perform any necessary surgery, but there are so many wild animals that get hurt every year that often there just aren’t enough veterinarians to treat them.

    So Banner, you are one lucky falcon. Here’s to a swift recovery from your operation!

    Judy Molland|October 21, 2014

    DEP and Collier County Enter Into Agreement on Dan A. Hughes Enforcement

    ~Collaborative approach strengthens efforts to protect Collier County residents~

    Today, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) finalized a stipulated agreement with Collier County, clearing the way for the county to join DEP in its lawsuit against the Dan A. Hughes Company. The lawsuit, filed in July, requests the court’s enforcement of the requirements under the Consent Order between DEP and the Dan A. Hughes Company and seeks monetary penalties in excess of $100,000 as a result of the company violating the terms of the Consent Order and other regulations.

    “We applaud the county’s collaborative approach and are committed to working jointly with them in holding the Dan A. Hughes Company accountable,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “I have a deep appreciation for the critical role local government plays in protecting the health, safety and welfare of Florida’s residents and the environment.”

    In keeping with the intent of this agreement, DEP has already begun work at its own expense on numerous additional protective measures to ensure residents are safe. Efforts currently underway include:

    • DEP has drilled shallow groundwater monitoring wells near the Collier-Hogan site and continues to monitor them for contamination.
    • DEP has hired a team of independent third-party experts approved by the county and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida – ALL Consulting of Tulsa, Oklahoma – who have begun a full assessment of the activities that took place at the Collier-Hogan well.
    • DEP has initiated a thorough investigation of the flowback material produced at the Collier-Hogan well to ensure the material was treated and disposed of properly.
    • At the end of this month, DEP will begin work to install a deep groundwater monitoring well to the base of the underground source of drinking water (approximately 1,850 feet).

    A copy of the stipulated agreement can be found here.

    To access Secretary Vinyard’s Sept. 12 letter to Collier County, click here.

    latashawalters|Oct. 21, 2014

    Florida population surging again

    For young job-seekers, South Florida has become a hip beach-side destination

    Florida’s foreign-born population increased by 140,000 from 2010 through 2013

    People from other countries and other states are pouring into Florida again, a sign of the state’s recovery from a long period of economic doldrums and slow growth.

    Recently released U.S. Census numbers show that Florida’s foreign-born population increased by 140,000 from 2010 through last year. And movement within the United States left Florida with a net gain of 105,000 residents last year and 109,000 in 2012 — 84 percent more than in the previous two years.

    The population surge has accelerated this year, according to state estimates, growing at a rate of about 700 new residents a day. That’s a healthy increase, though still less than the big migrations during the Sunbelt boom of past decades.

    For many job seekers, South Florida has become a hip beachside destination with a nexus of entrepreneurs, investors, a big consumer market and a gateway to Latin America.

    “You are getting a lot of young professionals and a buzz starting to happen down here,” said 23-year-old Shea O’Donnell, who moved in August from Seattle to Fort Lauderdale fresh out of college. She landed a job last week for a new company that promotes a mobile-device app for finding parking.

    “When you launch successful startups, it feeds the ecosystem, and that brings in more young professionals and investors,” she said. “So you rock as a community, because you’re putting something back in. There’s a huge potential here.”

    Older transplants from the North, frozen in place by the Great Recession, say the recent recovery makes it easier to sell their homes — or come up with enough money to buy a second home — and make that long-awaited move to sunny Florida.

    “From a financial standpoint, a year earlier would have been ideal, but we weren’t ready at that time,” said Donna Nahum, 54, of Cherry Hill, N.J., who bought a condo in Boca Raton as a second home. “My husband is in commercial real estate, so we had a few leaner years. I feel like we may not have gotten in on the lowest part of the real estate market in Florida, but we got in while it’s on the rise.”

    In the decades following World War II, Florida’s population had been growing by as much as a thousand a day, fueling a construction boom.

    But the Florida dream of owning a home in semi-tropical paradise was badly shaken by a sharp rise in property taxes and a batch of hurricanes in 2004 and 2005 that raised insurance rates. A housing crisis in 2007, marked by a plunge in home values and widespread foreclosures, led to double-digit unemployment rates, a financial meltdown and the Great Recession.

    Immigration from abroad and migrations from the North slowed to a trickle. According to state estimates, Florida gained just 75,000 people from July 2008 through June 2009. Five years later, in the 12 months ending in June 2014, the population shot up by 253,000.

    “What you are seeing is pent-up demand,” said Mason Jackson, CEO of CareerSource Broward, a job-placement service. “People are saying, ‘I can move now. I want to go where it’s warm. And I might be able to find a job there more easily than before.’”

    A fierce winter in much of the North early this year helped motivate people to follow the traditional pathway to Florida.

    “We’re getting a big influx of people from the Northeast again. The harsh winter has really caused a lot of people to re-think where they want to live,” said Kim Bregman, buyer agent for Optima Properties, a real estate and relocation service based in Boca Raton. “And more people are able to work in a virtual [computer-linked] office, so they are able to live here and continue to work regardless of where their main job may be.

    “Miami is on fire, and it moves up the coast. People are coming from Brazil, Venezuela, Israel. I just put in an offer, sight-unseen, from an investor in China. The world still sees Florida real estate as a good investment.”

    Partly as a result, the state’s foreign-born population reached 3.8 million in 2013, a 140,000 increase from 2010, according to a compilation of census numbers by the Center for Immigration Studies, an advocacy group in Washington.

    “The high [tourist] season is coming, so people are hiring now, in hotels and resorts, in the kitchen and housekeeping,” said Sandro Cristian Arotinco, 37, who moved from Peru in January and got a job this month as a chef at a Fort Lauderdale beach resort.

    “We are not rich,” he said, “but are living in a nice way.”

    All these trends have made it possible for Florida to resume its traditional role as a magnet for people who seek warm weather and a leisurely lifestyle.

    “When the weekends come, it’s like vacation — palm trees and a beach,” said O’Donnell, the transplant from drizzly Seattle. “I’m not used to that. I think I’m adjusting just fine.”

    William E. Gibson, Washington Bureau|Sun Sentinel|October 20, 2014

    Calls to Action

    1. Save the Arctic refuge for birds and wildlifehere
    2. Tell President Obama and his administration to step up and clamp down on methane – here
    3. Give panthers a brakehere
    4. Audubon’s Top Ten Tips to Protect Beach Birdshere
    5. South Africa- Call Off the Rhino Auctionhere
    6. Help Save Utah’s Greater Canyonlands – here 

    Birds and Butterflies

    Birds and Warming: It’s Personal

    Among the 314 North American bird species threatened by climate change are avian residents of every state. Nine state birds, including the Baltimore Oriole, Common Loon and Brown Pelican, are threatened in the states that have adopted them, and some could disappear locally. Use our local effects calculator to see which birds in your state are threatened and just how bad things might get for each affected species.
    Search your state.→
    State birds in trouble.→

    Starlings on Prozac: It’s a Real Problem

    Concern over the amount of antidepressants we’re using as a society has grown in recent years, but new research suggests that it’s not just humans that are being impacted by this, but also our bird populations too.

    A research team from York University, England became interested in what effect antidepressants might have on birds when they inadvertently ingest trace amounts by feeding on worms that have digested human waste.

    To do this, the team measured the level of the common antidepressant Prozac, which is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), that could be found in earthworms living in sewage work sites where birds will often go to feed. In terms of human dosage, the amount of the drug was very small at about just three to five percent, but that was still significant enough to warrant further investigation.

    As such, the research team fed Prozac-carrying worms to 24 captive European starlings to gauge their reactions compared to a group of control birds who were fed worms who didn’t carry the drug. What the researchers found was interesting for a number of reasons.

    For one, the birds passively given Prozac quickly began to display reduced appetites, eating much less but snacking throughout the day. Of itself this behavior isn’t necessarily bad, but in the wild it would put a huge amount of strain on a starling and, come winter time, would probably lead to starvation because it would cause them to miss the prime foraging times of daybreak and sunset.

    The researchers also found that the starlings who passively ingested Prozac were less likely to show an interest in mating — that has obvious implications for overall starling numbers.

    One other thing the researchers tested was whether the passive dose of Prozac affected the starlings’ mood. They tested this by measuring boldness, or how the birds reacted when a new object was introduced into their environment. Due to the fact that there are a lot of variables in measuring boldness and anxiety levels, and the fact that you can’t just ask the birds how they’re feeling, the researchers can’t give a definitive answer on this yet, but it seemed that Prozac didn’t make the birds more bold or relaxed, or have impact on mood at all.

    Now it may be this wasn’t a task that carried enough stress to elicit a measurable response, and the researchers are keen to look at this more, but it might be that avian brains are different enough from human brains that SSRIs don’t change their behavior in the same way as they do in humans.

    In the UK, starling numbers have fallen sharply, with a 66 percent decline in Britain since the mid-1970s. A number of reasons have been offered for this, but until now antidepressant use among humans has not been on the radar.

    In recent years, antidepressant use has increased across Europe, creating a number of media scare stories. However, there is evidence that of itself this increase might not be a bad thing: taking a look at national figures, we’ve seen a decline in overall suicide rates. As such, we might say antidepressants are appropriate. If we accept this, the question then becomes how we stop our antidepressant use affecting other animals.

    Lead researcher Dr. Kathryn Arnold has said that this research shouldn’t be seen as an attack on Prozac, but rather a call toward further research on this important issue.

    “I’m not saying that if you’re depressed, don’t take Prozac. Sewage treatment works are really good sources of food for birds. We’re certainly not saying they should be covered over. Science needs to deliver better estimates of the environmental risks posed by pharmaceuticals. The effects we’ve measured so far are quite subtle. These aren’t big die-offs but they could have a negative impact on wildlife. We need to find out whether they are. It’s going to get worse so we need to get a handle on it.”

    It’s important to put these findings in a proper context as well. The researchers aren’t saying that Prozac use might be solely responsible for the decline in starlings, but are simply offering that it might be one factor that has gone unnoticed until now.

    Furthermore, this comes at a time when researchers are also busy studying the wider environmental effects our other commonly used medications might produce, for instance, what our over-use of antibiotics might be doing, particularly in marine environments where antibiotic resistance among marine bacteria could present real problems for marine species and for communities that rely on fishing as their main source of food and commerce.

    Once again, then, we are reminded that what we do for our own health can have a much broader impact on other species and our environment than we had perhaps realized.

    Steve Williams|October 22, 2014

      Invasive species

    Lionfish-reporting app successful, plus 250 users sporting new lionfish shirts

    See or catch a lionfish? Report it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Learn more about lionfish at; click on “Marine Life.”

    Amanda Nalley|August 20, 2014


    Endangered Species

    Plastic mistaken as food blocks up hawksbill turtle

    One of three turtles fighting for life after being found on Northland beaches appears to be slowly but surely moving in the right direction.

    The hawksbill, found in a critical condition near Baylys Beach on September 22, has a bowel blockage, probably caused by eating plastic debris it mistook for a jelly fish.

    X-rays show the messy mass is shifting, thanks to decent doses of laxatives being first administered at Auckland Zoo and now at Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life. The young male hawksbill has passed small pieces of plastic in the last few days and vets expect the bulk of the problem, a backlog of sand and debris, to pass within the week.

    That turtle was transferred from the zoo this week for ongoing care at Kelly Tarlton’s, where it joins another young hawksbill also found on Northland’s west coast in September. A green sea turtle rescued around the same time is still critically ill at Auckland Zoo, and its future hangs in the balance.

    “When Department of Conservation [DoC] staff brought these turtles down from Dargaville and Kaitaia, they were in a seriously bad way,” Auckland Zoo senior vet James Chatterton said.

    “They were all severely emaciated, dehydrated, suffering from bacterial infections and covered in algae and barnacles.”

    Dr Chatterton said the zoo and Kelly Tarlton’s team also worked together last year treating turtles that had ingested plastic.

    “It’s pretty distressing to see the impact we humans are having on marine life like this. A recent WWF report suggests 50 per cent of aquatic species have been lost in the past 40 years, with sea turtles one of the most affected, and significantly impacted by plastic in the ocean.”

    Hawksbill and green sea turtles, both endangered species, are generally found in warmer waters but can be washed up on to New Zealand’s shores during colder periods if they are weak and ill.

    Kelly Tarlton curator Andrew Christie said these turtles often mistook plastics and other rubbish for staple food such as jellyfish and sponges.

    “Once they swallow them, this causes a blockage and begins a slow, agonizing death,” Mr Christie said.

    If well enough, the turtles could be released back to the wild later this summer when the water off Northland’s coast has warmed.

    Lindy Laird|Oct 18, 2014

    Victory! World’s Largest Bat Colony Protected From Development

    The home and futures of up to 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats have been at the center of a controversy surrounding a proposed housing development for the past two years. Luckily, their advocates won a major victory this month.

    Every year these bats make their annual migration North from Mexico to Bracken Cave in central Texas to give birth and raise their young among the largest colony of bats in the world. Every evening from spring to fall, millions of them emerge from the cave to hunt night-flying insects in what’s been called one of the most vivid natural phenomena in North America. Not only do they offer an amazing sight to behold, but they provide us with a vital service.

    “For 10,000 years, Bracken Cave has been a sanctuary for millions of Mexican free-tailed bats. Bracken’s bats consume more than 100 tons of agricultural insect pests, mosquitoes and other insects each night, saving Texas farmers millions of dollars annually in reduced crop damage and lower pesticide use,” said Andrew Walker, executive director of Bat Conservation International (BCI). “It’s a true natural treasure.”

    While the cave and hundreds of acres of surrounding land are owned and protected by BCI, a proposed development project from Galo Properties that included plans to build nearly 4,000 homes just south of the cave on a property known as Crescent Hills  –  right in the flight path these bats travel twice a day – put their future in jeopardy.

    Bat and wildlife advocates raised concerns about how a housing development would lead to conflicts with humans, how activity in the area would threaten the bats’ survival, and how these problems would impact other wildlife, including endangered golden-cheeked warblers.

    Bracken also lies over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone, which raised concerns that the project could threaten the water supply in San Antonio and surrounding communities.

    Last week, those who have been fighting to protect Bracken’s bats, wildlife and water won a major victory when the San Antonio City Council approved a deal that will protect the 1,500 acre Crescent Hills property from any development in the future.

    “San Antonio is one of the fastest growing cities in the country, in part because of the vast natural resources of the region. It’s our responsibility to ensure we protect and conserve what makes this region incredibly special,” said Ron Nirenberg, San Antonio District 8 City Councilman.

    The city will now join public and private partnerships to purchase the property and authorized $10 million towards that goal as part of a conservation easement, while additional funds will also be coming from Bexar County, the Edwards Aquifer Authority and the U.S. Army.

    BCI and the Nature Conservancy, which will jointly own and manage the property, will cover the last $10 million and they’ve raised about half of it to date thanks to private donations.

    “Working to secure Crescent Hills was actually one of the more complex conservation deals we’ve done in San Antonio, but our collective efforts will result in incredible dividends: safeguarding Bracken Bat Cave, protecting the Edwards Aquifer and preserving important habitat for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler. It’s a conservation trifecta,” said Laura Huffman, Texas state director for The Nature Conservancy. “Once this contract closes, nearly 5,000 contiguous acres will be protected by the Conservancy and its partners. We’re practicing smart conservation on a scale that truly makes a difference.”

    For more information on how you can help, visit BCIBCI and The Nature Conservancy.

    Alicia Graef|October 21, 2014

    Only Six Northern White Rhinos are Left in the World

    The northern white rhino is in a perilous situation. Only seven existed in the world, but on Friday, that number was brought down to six when Suni, one of only two males who was of age to breed, was found dead in his pen.

    Although there have been no reports as to what caused the death, conservationists note that it wasn’t poaching. Living at the Ol Pejeta conservancy park in Kenya, he was 34 years old at the time of his death. Most northern white rhinos live up to 40-50 years, although it’s not unheard of for them to die in their mid-thirties.

    The situation gets even worse: even though there are six northern white rhinos left in the world, only three are able to breed. One male rhino and two females are the only hope this subspecies has left.

    Rhinos are notoriously difficult to handle when it comes to procreating. The females don’t reach sexual maturity until 6-7 years of age, while the males generally have to wait until they are 10-12. If they mate, offspring is not always produced. If the female does become pregnant, gestation can take up to a year and a half and only produces a single calf.

    In an interview with CNN, the conservationists at Ol Pejeta said they would persevere with their mating programs, “in the hope that our efforts will one day result in the successful birth of a northern white rhino calf.”

    The northern white rhino was indigenous to the East/Central African region, primarily located in South Sudan, Uganda, The Central African Republic and the DRC. However, poaching has put these animals in severe danger of extinction. Rhino horn, smuggled off the continent and shipped to Asia via illegal trade, is said to cure a number of ailments, despite the fact it is primarily made of keratin (i.e. not that different than your fingernail or hair).

    Although efforts are constantly made to curb illegal poaching, equipment and methods have become sophisticated, with many poachers better funded than the wildlife authorities that are sent to protect the animals.

    The conservancy released a statement after the death of Suni, calling the decrease in northern white rhinos, “a sorry testament to the greed of the human race.”

    The Ol Pejeta Conservancy also houses black rhinos and uses a number of anti-poaching methods to try to keep intruders at bay. Earlier this year, they launched the use of trained dogs to sniff out poachers. They note that dogs, unlike bullets, can weave around bushes and track poachers quickly and efficiently.

    The dogs are also given advanced protective gear to keep them safe. “[Poachers] are coming into the conservancy with AK-47 assault rifles and if we do actually come upon them or try to apprehend them, they will open fire every time on us,” said one of the conservationists.

    “So what we’re doing with the dogs is giving them the latest ballistic body armor which is stab-proof, kick and punch-proof and also ballistic to AK-47 with plates in it…And we are also giving them the latest FIDO head gear, which is a piece of camera equipment we put on their head which actually films as the dog is going in for the attack. It has night vision and also has a GPS system as well.”

    This will help ensure that the rhinos remaining at the conservancy are kept alive and well, while evoking a rather satisfying animal vs. poacher scenario.

    Yet for the northern white rhino, it may turn out to be a lost cause. Even if we do have a best case scenario and both remaining females give birth to calves, this will be a long, hard march and it will likely be decades before we see northern white rhino numbers above the double digits.

    Lizabeth Paulat|October 22, 2014

    Already close to extinction, last male white rhino capable of breeding dies in Kenya

    One of the last northern white rhinos on the planet has died in a reserve in Kenya, leaving the sub-species on the verge of extinction, experts said Saturday.

    The male, called Suni, “was probably the last male capable of breeding”, according to Dvur Kralove zoo in the Czech Republic, where the rhino was born in 1980.

    There are only six of the very rare rhinos left, having been hunted by poachers in central and east Africa for their horns, which are highly prized for traditional Chinese medicine.

    The Czech zoo is the only one in the world to have succeeded in breeding the sub-species in captivity.

    Suni — who is thought to have died from natural causes in the Ol Pejeta reserve — was one of two males and two females from Dvur Kralove zoo reintroduced into the wild in Kenya in 2009, in an operation dubbed “the last chance of survival”.

    It was hoped that the females’ hormones would normalize in the wild, but even attempts at assisted conception failed.

    “One can always believe in miracles but everything leads us to believe that hope they would reproduce naturally has gone,” the zoo’s spokeswoman Jana Mysliveckova told AFP.

    Sperm from the males born at Dvur Kralove has been conserved at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) in Berlin.

    Another pair of the rhinos, too old to reproduce, live at the Wild Animal Park in San Diego in the United States, with another aged female remaining at Dvur Kralove, close to the border with Poland.

    “The number of rhinos killed by poachers has increased incredibly in the past few years,” Mysliveckova said. “According to some scenarios, there will be no rhinos left in the wild in Africa in 10 years or so.”

    Agence France-Presse|18 Oct 2014

    Wealthy People Eat Endangered Pangolins as Status Symbol in Asia

    What drives someone to eat an endangered animal? For some, it might be the taste, but for many it seems to be the exclusivity. Knowing that an endangered animal’s meat is rare, expensive and illegal seems to be a main draw.

    That’s why pangolins seem to be winding up on so many plates in parts of Asia. Since this delicacy is too unaffordable for most people to order, richer individuals are gobbling up the threatened creature as a symbol of their elite status. One diner in Vietnam was spotted paying $700 for four pounds of cooked pangolin.

    Although eating pangolins is illegal, not much is being done to stop this practice. A reporter at Global Post visited a restaurant in Myanmar and observed how the business didn’t even attempt to conceal that it had pangolin on the menu. Signs advertised the dish and the building had a cage with some live pangolins to entice affluent customers. The waitress even recommended ordering pangolin, calling the meat “delicious.”

    It seems like poor pangolins can’t catch a break. The adorable and unusual-looking animal has already had its population decimated thanks to its use in traditional Eastern medicine. The animal is also hunted for its soft scaly skin, which similarly gets sold on the black market. On its current trajectory, the pangolin faces extinction, a fate that should be avoidable if they’re left off of restaurant menus.

    Unfortunately, the pangolin is not the only endangered creature that humans eat. It turns out a variety of cultures like to consume some of their most threatened species, though it certainly seems more egregious when done to show off to friends rather than to provide necessary nourishment.

    Growing awareness of illegal pangolin trade isn’t entirely beneficial in this particular case. Realizing the value of these creatures, poorer individuals in certain African countries have taken to snatching the remaining pangolins from the wild in order to earn some quick big bucks. This practice is already big in Asia – in Cambodia, someone who catches a pangolin alive can earn up to $400, meaning that a lot of disadvantaged people are actively on the hunt.

    While law enforcement agencies do arrest pangolin hunters, it’s generally only these desperate people at the bottom of the totem pole being caught. For the most part, no one is arresting the kingpins behind the illicit pangolin trade, something that will be necessary in order to sufficiently protect the mammal.

    To do its part, the Chinese government has increased pressure by threatening to jail those who consume endangered animals for a full decade. That’s a start, but in order to have a meaningful impact, China will need to do more to block the trade altogether – sign a petition to encourage China to boost their efforts and protect this vulnerable creature.

    Kevin Mathews|October 20, 2014

    Sign the petition to secure more protections for pangolins.

    Water Quality Issues

    Florida Utility Seeks Public Funds to Fight Clean-Water Rules

    Environmental groups object to Florida Power and Light’s request for public funds to fight Clean Water Act regulations

    October 22, 2014TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Today, Florida Power and Light (FPL) will appear before the state’s Public Service Commission to ask for Florida tax dollars to fund its efforts to fight an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal to close existing loopholes in the Clean Water Act. The utility is asking for almost $230,000 to fight the rules, which would affect regulation of cooling ponds at its plants in the state.

    Susan Glickman, state director, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, explains why her organization is asking the state to deny the power company’s request: “Water is our most precious resource, and to think that the utility would not only want to weaken water protections, but would want to use ratepayer money against our own interests is really outrageous.” An FPL spokesman says the additional regulation would cost the utility company millions of dollars it would ultimately have to pass on to consumers.

    The EPA is expected to issue a final decision on its proposal in November. If approved, it would reinstate rules placed in limbo after two Supreme Court rulings. The court’s decision impacted the protection of small streams and wetlands, which can be found throughout the state.

    George Cavros, energy policy attorney, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, says the intended purpose of the taxpayer funds for which FPL is applying is to help it comply with environmental regulations, not change them. “What’s different here is that Florida Power and Light, the biggest power company in the state, they are preemptively attacking a draft Clean Water protection rule – and that’s just simply not allowed under Florida law,” explains Cavros.

    Glickman says she hopes the state refuses the utility’s request for the money, bucking what she calls a historical trend. “Utilities seem to get, under this Public Service Commission, everything that they ask for, so why wouldn’t they ask for the moon and expect it?” she says. So, we can only hope that the Public Service Commission will understand that this is an outrageous request.” The Florida Public Service Commission is expected to make a decision on the funding request by the end of October.

    Stephanie Carson|Public News Service|October 2014

    Clean Water, a Smart Investment

    Why reduce pollution in local rivers and streams? A new report, commissioned by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, found that cleaning up local waterways in the Chesapeake Bay region would provide nearly $130 billion annually in economic benefits. That’s the estimated value of natural benefits like cleaner water, cleaner air, hurricane and flood protection, recreation, and fresh, healthy food and seafood.

    But 21 attorneys general from across the country have joined the American Farm Bureau Federation and others to try and stop efforts to restore water quality in the Chesapeake Bay region.

    The Chesapeake, just like other waterways around the country, suffers from vast dead zones, where the water has too little oxygen to support aquatic life. Those dead zones are created by nitrogen and phosphorus pollution.

    After years of failed commitments to restore water quality, the region’s states and the District of Columbia developed a Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. The plan includes pollution limits set jointly by the states and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, individual plans developed by each jurisdiction to achieve those limits, and two-year milestones that ensure transparency and accountability.

    And it is under attack, both in the courts and in Congress.

    Why? Critics like The Fertilizer Institute and the American Farm Bureau are suing in federal court to stop the blueprint. They have actually said that if we are successful, other parts of the country might have to reduce pollution too. In other words, if the blueprint improves the health of the bay, a similar effort could be coming to a watershed near them before too long. That’s a problem only if you fear clean water.

    The blueprint is working. Governments, businesses and individuals are rolling up their sleeves, working together, and making things happen to reduce pollution. Almost every sector of pollution is declining. Nature is responding and producing benefits for our health, the environment and our economy.

    The report, The Economic Benefits of Cleaning Up the Chesapeake, found that the benefits nature provides to us will increase in value by more than $22 billion, a 21 percent increase as a result of fully implementing the blueprint. And we will reap those added benefits every year.

    The peer-reviewed report, produced by economist Dr. Spencer Phillips and Chesapeake Bay Foundation water quality scientist Dr. Beth McGee, compared the value of those benefits in 2009, the year before the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint began being implemented, to the benefits that can be expected as a result of fully implementing the bay restoration plan.

    The report estimates that the value of natural benefits from the pre-blueprint bay watershed, even in its polluted and degraded condition, at $107 billion. Once the blueprint is fully implemented and the benefits realized, that amount grows by 21 percent to $129.7 billion a year. Equally telling, if the region relaxes efforts and does little more to clean up the bay than what has been done to date, pollution will worsen and the value of bay benefits will decline by almost $6 billion.

    The costs of inaction are serious. Think Toledo, where nitrogen and phosphorus pollution sparked a toxic algae bloom that contaminated the water supply. Residents were warned not to drink or have any physical contact with tap water.

    The report addressed benefits, not costs. While there are no recent estimates of the total costs of bay cleanup implementation, a 2004 estimate put costs in the range of roughly $6 billion per year. Considering federal, state, and local investments in clean water in the 10 years since that time, Chesapeake Bay Foundation estimates the current number is closer to $5 billion annually. And once capital investments are made, the long-term annual operations and maintenance costs will be much lower. The result—the blueprint will return benefits to the region each year at a rate of more than four times the cost of the cleanup plan.

    Clean water is important to the citizens of this region, and clean-up efforts have enjoyed the support of politicians of all stripes. While we are concerned about the opposition from national lobbying groups, we are confident that the Blueprint will succeed. The Chesapeake is the nation’s estuary, with Washington, DC at the center of the watershed. Failure to save the bay is not an option. So we ask, if not here, where? And if not now, when?

    William Baker|President|Chesapeake Bay Foundation|October 22, 2014

    Great Lakes & Inland Waters

    Why is Florida Reshaping an Entire River?

    Why in the world would Florida try to reshape the Kissimmee River? An ongoing attempt to give the river more “curves” seems both drastic and expensive – isn’t it best to leave Mother Nature alone?

    Actually, the current plan isn’t exactly messing with Mother Nature, explains NPR. If anything, it’s an attempt to put nature back to the way she was before human intervention 50 or so years ago. At that time, Florida officials decided to “straighten” the river by eliminating its natural curves in order to speed the waterway along for commercial interests. In the long term, though, the state realized the damage this plan had on the ecosystem.

    The Kissimmee River was originally modified to help drain the swamplands, but ultimately it did the job too successfully. As a result, in dryer periods, the area lacks the water necessary for humans and animals to comfortably survive. Additionally, several dams were constructed to control the flow; these, too, are now marked for destruction to help return the river to normal.

    Although there have been deliberate plans to reengineer rivers around the world, a project of this size has never been attempted previously. The plan will ultimately cost Florida more than $1 billion, but that cost seems worthwhile since the Kissimmee River is a main water source for 6 million people in the region. This move is especially important since experts already anticipate a major water shortage in Central Florida within another two decades.

    Despite still being another three years from completion, the early stages have already yielded noticeable improvements. Paul Gray, a prominent Florida conservationist, is already impressed with the progress. “Birds are back, both wading birds and ducks. They’re all over the place. The oxygen levels in the river are better. There’s a lot more game fish in the river like bass and bluegill and stuff. Most of the biological perimeters, the goals of the restoration we’ve already met.”

    Returning the river to its former slow, windy pathway is not conservationists’ only goal for the Kissimmee at the moment. Another ongoing effort includes getting the river’s water designated for protection in order to limit how much of it can be used for commercial interests. If environmentalists are able to establish a “water reservation,” that designation will similarly prevent the Kissimmee from drying out at certain points.

    The debate on that effort continues to rage on, with many expecting the upcoming local elections to determine how the issue will ultimately shake out. In the meantime, eco-activists and residents alike will have to take comfort in knowing their once majestic river is returning to its curved glory. Let this story be a lesson to other regions of the world – “fixing” nature isn’t always a great idea. In the end, you might just wind up wanting to “fix it” back.

    Kevin Mathews|October 22, 2014

    Offshore & Ocean

    Drive to Mine the Deep Sea Raises Concerns Over Impacts

    Armed with new high-tech equipment, mining companies are targeting vast areas of the deep ocean for mineral extraction. But with few regulations in place, critics fear such development could threaten seabed ecosystems that scientists say are only now being fully understood.

    Hydrothermal vents create rich mineral deposits that companies are eager to exploit. For years, the idea of prospecting for potentially rich deposits of minerals on the ocean floor was little more than a pipe dream.

    Extractive equipment was not sophisticated or cost-effective enough for harsh environments thousands of feet beneath the ocean’s surface, and mining companies were busy exploring mineral deposits on land. But the emergence of advanced technologies specifically designed to plumb the remote seabed— along with declining mineral quality at many existing terrestrial mines — is nudging the industry closer to a new and, for some environmentalists and ocean scientists, worrying frontier.

    More than two-dozen permits have been issued for mineral prospecting in international waters. And in April, after years of false starts, a Canadian mining company signed an agreement with the government of Papua New Guinea to mine for copper and gold in its territorial waters. That company, Nautilus Minerals, plans to begin testing its equipment next year in European waters, according to the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a regulatory agency established in 1994 under the auspices of the United Nations. A Nautilus spokesman, John Elias, said the plan is to award a construction contract in November for a specialized mining vessel. “All other equipment has been manufactured and is in final assembly,” he wrote in an email.
    Chief among critics’ concerns is that seabed mining will begin without comprehensive regulatory oversight and environmental review. They say dredging or drilling the seafloor could potentially obliterate deep-sea ecosystems and kick up immense sediment plumes, which could temporarily choke off the oxygen supply over large areas. And powerful international companies, they add, could take advantage of the lax or non-existent review and enforcement capabilities in many small island nations of the Pacific Ocean — precisely where seabed mineral deposits are thought to be highly concentrated.

    “Communities are concerned that our governments don’t know enough about the ecology or the implications” of seabed mining, said Maureen Penjueli, coordinator of the Pacific Network on Globalization, a Fiji-based non-profit that has tracked seabed prospecting in the region since 2009. “We haven’t seen much benefit from land-based mining, let alone fisheries or tourism — and here we are entering a new frontier.”
    But industry proponents say no extractive industry is free of environmental impacts, and that only a fraction of the seabed covered by exploration permits would actually be mined. Companies and governments, they say, are carefully studying both deep-sea ecosystems and emerging mining technologies in order to prevent or mitigate ecological damage.
    “We are committed to using ecologically sound, deep-seabed mineral recovery methods,” said Jennifer Warren, the regulatory director at
    UK Seabed Resources, a subsidiary of the U.S. defense giant Lockheed Martin’s British arm. “Toward that end, we are working closely with research institutions and scientists to understand any potential environmental impact of commercial recovery efforts.”

    Gaining that kind of understanding is a work in progress. As late as the 1950s, the deep sea was still viewed as a dark and barren place with little or no biodiversity worthy of protection. But in the 1960s, new sampling technologies prompted the discovery of new deep-sea species, and by the late 1970s, scientists had discovered bacteria that could thrive amid hydrothermal vents in deep, volcanically active regions. Those bacteria are turning out to be food for a number of “beautiful and strange” invertebrates, according to Cindy Van Dover, a marine biologist at Duke University. By the early 1990’s, scientists were speculating that the deep sea played host to as many as 10 million species of small invertebrates.
    It is amid this awakening to deep-sea biodiversity that interest in seabed mineral mining is heating up. While investing in seabed-mining operations remains comparatively expensive, “the equation is turning,” according to Michael W. Lodge, legal counsel with the ISA. “People are starting to think that upfront investment is worth it for the long term payoff.” The ISA has issued seven new seabed exploration permits this year, Lodge noted, bringing its global total to 26, stretching across an area of international waters roughly the size of Mexico.
    Nautilus Minerals’ planned operation in the territorial waters off Papua New Guinea, however, is widely expected to be the world’s first commercial-scale deep-seabed mine. Several neighboring countries have begun to issue export permits — and in some cases, are drafting seabed-specific mining legislation. New Zealand has also been weighing applications for two seabed mines in its waters, which would target iron sands and phosphate, respectively.

    In an email message, James Hein, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and the president of the International Marine Minerals Society, a non-profit organization linking industry, government, and academic institutions, suggested that the global rush to mine so-called “rare earth” elements – which are used to manufacture cellular phones, wind turbines, solar panels, electric cars and other applications – is a key driver in moving the industry forward.
    Other sought-after resources include sulfide minerals — a source of precious metals like silver, gold and copper — that accumulate around gaps in the seafloor where chemical-rich fluids leak into the ocean at temperatures nearing 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The Nautilus Minerals project in Papua New Guinea
    plans to mine a sulfide deposit by cutting the seabed with a remote-control machine that is 26 feet tall, 42 feet wide, and 55 feet long. According to the company, the ore will be extracted with an “associated suction mouth” and pumped to the surface — a distance of about a mile.
    Manganese nodules — palm-sized chunks of rock containing copper, nickel and cobalt — are also prized, and in shallower areas, mining companies plumb for rocks containing phosphates, a key ingredient in agricultural fertilizers. “The process itself is essentially a large vacuum cleaner on the end of a hose,” said Chris Castle of Chatham Rock Phosphate, the company behind the phosphate-mining
    application pending in New Zealand.
    Here and elsewhere, however, environmental battle lines are now being drawn. In June, a New Zealand court, citing environmental concerns, riled the mining industry by
    rejecting a proposed plan for an iron sands mine about 15 miles off the coast of the country’s North Island. The company behind the proposed mine, Trans-Tasman Resources, says it has spent over seven years and more than $50 million studying the potential impacts. An appeals hearing is scheduled for next March.

    Meanwhile, the New Zealand advocacy group Kiwis Against Seabed Mining has argued that the mines would pose risks to iconic mammals — including blue whales and Maui’s dolphins — that outweigh any potential economic benefits.
    Castle, Chatham Rock Phosphate’s project director, said the environmental impacts on the seabed would be far less than those that fishing trawlers regularly inflict. But Les Watling, a biology professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa,
    argued that sediment plumes from the phosphate mine could stress or kill an entire species of local coral, Goniocorella dumosa, leading to wider impacts because the coral’s branches are a habitat for smaller organisms. And Liz Slooten, a zoologist at New Zealand’s Otago University, said the sounds from seabed mining in that area could damage or destroy the hearing of blue whales, causing them to flee and perhaps even beach themselves.
    Ultimately, the exact impacts of deep-sea mining in New Zealand or beyond won’t be entirely clear until the mines actually open, said Phil Weaver, a geologist and the coordinator of a three-year project called
    Managing Impacts of Deep Sea Resource Exploitation, which launched in 2013 with a $11.4 million grant from the European Commission. “We need |to put in place some criteria and protocols which will at least try to control those impacts based on available information.”

    In March, the ISA began soliciting public comments for its first-ever Mineral Exploitation Code. A voluntary environmental code drafted by the International Marine Minerals Society in 2001 will inform the new ISA document, according to Hein, the society’s president. David Billett of Britain’s National Oceanography Centre, who sits on the ISA’s legal and technical commission, said environmental matters are “regularly raised” at the committee’s meetings, and that the ISA has strict guidelines for the sort of ecological data that prospective miners must collect along seabeds.
    Still, individual countries are free to choose their own regulatory approaches to seabed mining, and permits in the South Pacific have already been issued in waters that cover an area the size of Iran, according to the
    Deep Sea Mining Campaign, an international coalition of non-profit groups. A 2010 study in the journal Marine Policy said the “absence of a clearly defined regulatory regime” in international waters was encouraging seabed prospectors to pursue projects in territorial waters, where legal risks were smaller. It named Tonga and its neighbor Papua New Guinea as two countries that would struggle to balance economic development against the need to protect marine ecosystems.

    Environmental groups are watching carefully as the Nautilus Minerals project gathers speed in Papua New Guinea. The company says its mine will not contaminate coral or fisheries, and Jonathan Copley, a prominent marine ecologist at Britain’s University of Southampton, has said that the project’s design appears to be environmentally sensitive. Yet Nautilus and other international firms have other mining applications scattered across the South Pacific, and Van Dover of Duke University said scientists’ biggest concern is the cumulative impacts of multiple mines opening in the same area.
    “A single mining event — at the scale of a single hydrothermal vent field — would be no worse than the most extreme natural disturbance,” Van Dover said in an email message. “But multiple mining events in a region in a short period of time — i.e. within a decade — would be unwise without good environmental knowledge of the ability of the system to recover.”

    mike ives|October 20, 2014

    Time-Lapse Videos You Have to See to Believe

    Have you ever seen a coral reef move? When nine months’ worth of images are condensed into three minutes of sped-up footage, a seemingly stationary ecosystem comes alive with growth and change.

    Watch this video and three other amazing works of time-lapse photography to see fog that appears like a rushing river, glaciers that shrink in minutes, and forests that turn into cities. Some of these videos are beautiful representations of nature’s force; others are terrifying reminders of climate change. They all provide a perspective that needs to be seen.


    Mangrove Restoration Study Underway in Rookery Bay Reserve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve encompasses 110,000 acres of coastal lands and waters between Naples and Everglades National Park. It is managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Coastal Office in cooperation with NOAA.

    Press Releases|02 September 2014

    Read more about Fruit Farm Creek  

    ‘No forests, no cash’: palm oil giants commit to sustainability, but will they follow through?

    Indonesia Chamber of Commerce plans to lobby for expansion of sustainable business practices

    Four of Indonesia’s largest palm oil producers signed a landmark commitment in New York in September to further implement sustainable practices across one of the country’s largest commercial sectors.

    Then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the Indonesia Chamber of Commerce (KADIN) witnessed the undertaking, which is hoped to expand the country’s palm oil industry while making it more environmentally friendly.

    Wilmar, Golden Agri Resources, Asian Agri and Cargill all signed on to the agreement. Although nonbinding, their commitments emphasized greener palm oil development policies, more social benefits for workers and further cooperation in forming an implementation mechanism for the pledge.

    World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia CEO Dr. Erfansjah was among those who lauded the gesture.

    “Amidst the grim pictures in the market of how oil palm development has been impacting forests and people, WWF believes the commitments presented today by the top palm oil leaders of industry and KADIN sheds light to the global market that Indonesia is seriously making step-wise journey towards sustainability in the ways palm oil is produced,” he said in a statement.

    Glenn Hurowitz, the chairman the Forest Heroes campaign, echoed this sentiment, saying that such pledges make significant waves on the international palm oil market.

    “Investors are increasingly wary of providing finance to companies engaged in deforestation,” he said. “The message is clear: no forests, no cash.”

    Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil, a commodity that can be found in a variety products ranging from cooking oil to shampoo. Although it is important for Indonesia’s economy, the country’s palm oil sector has also contributed to Indonesia’s status as the world’s biggest deforester in terms of annual rate. According to Global Forest Watch data, Indonesia lost more than two million hectares of forest cover in 2012 alone, of which 840,000 hectares was primary, natural forest.

    Furthermore, slash and burn land clearing tactics associated with palm oil plantations spur a yearly haze on Indonesia’s island of Sumatra. The smog, stemming mostly from palm oil-rich provinces such as Riau, has at times completely blanketed local communities as well as neighboring countries such as Singapore. Singapore recently passed a measure to hold both foreign and domestic companies responsible for creating haze that has at times choked the city-state for weeks at a time.

    While all of the companies in question had previous policies aimed at reducing deforestation, this newest pledge is significant due to KADIN’s participation. Though many of its member corporations have yet to adopt green policies, the body has stated openly that it will now lobby the Indonesian government to expand sustainable business practices.

    “KADIN has recognized the potential global demand for deforestation-free palm oil,” Greenpeace Indonesia forest campaigner Annisa Rhamawati told “While the signatory companies have their own individual policies with timelines and detailed implementation plans, the KADIN pledge presents a challenge to other palm companies to turn their destructive practices into zero deforestation policies.”

    However, Greenpeace noted in its press statement that while Cargill, Golden Agri and Wilmar are actively “taking steps to ensure that their operations and supply chains no longer contribute to deforestation, peatland destruction and social conflict,” the fourth signatory has yet to prove to the international community that they are doing the same.

    Asian Agri is part of the Royal Golden Eagle Group, a conglomerate with longstanding ties to the Suharto regime run by Sukanto Tanoto. The group owns both Asia Pacific Resources International Ltd. (APRIL) and Toba Pulp Lestari — two firms that have lagged behind in sustainability commitments and have consistently been linked to heavy deforestation in Indonesia.

    “Greenpeace welcomes the commitment by another big Indonesian palm oil company to stop clearing forests and peat lands, but we regret that the Sukanto Tanoto’s RGE Group has failed to seize this opportunity to address all of the group’s impacts on the rainforests of Indonesia and to commit to support wider forest conservation initiatives,” said Bustar Maitar, Greenpeace’s global head of its Indonesian forest campaign. “If Mr. Tanoto was serious about forest protection he would be stopping the bulldozers immediately in Indonesia.”

    Attempts by to contact Asian Agri were unsuccessful.

    WWF’s Irwan Gunawan said that despite the nonbinding and individual nature of each commitment, he believes the global stage on which the agreement was made will force the companies to make great leaps toward sustainable practices.

    “For the companies and KADIN to make such a public commitment at a global forum… [it] will tie them with a huge responsibility, and to some extent put their reputation at risk… if they fail to meet what they pledged,” he told

    Ethan Harfenist| correspondent|October 21, 2014

    Global Warming and Climate Change

    Climate Change and the Dry, Wild West

    I grew up in a small town in California called Placerville (population 10,000), located near Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada foothills. There, in the mountains, snow days were frequent in the winter, and for fun in the summer we’d kayak on the Sacramento River.. When I call my family, I get updates on how things are going in Placerville, but I also get regular updates on the ongoing drought in California.

    Drought has become a bigger and bigger problem for Californians since I moved to the East Coast four years ago. Just this January, the Governor of California declared a state of emergency and the state has been classified as an Exceptional Drought area (the highest rating of drought possible). As a Fellow with EPA’s Climate Change Division, I wanted to learn more about the causes and effects of drought in my home town, and how climate change may be playing a role.

    Under the Palmer Drought Severity Index, the Southwestern United States, which includes Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah, have been experiencing drought conditions since 2000. Low precipitation is part of the problem. Higher temperatures are also playing a role, increasing the rate of evaporation and contributing to drying over some land areas. While much of the American Southwest generally has low annual rainfall and seasonally high temperatures, every part of the Southwest experienced higher average temperatures between 2000 and 2013 than the long-term average (1895–2013). Some areas were nearly 2°F warmer than average.

    Caption: A picture of mid- September drought conditions from the past 10 years. While drought is not something new to California, continued periods of drought have significant impacts on the state.  Image: U.S. Drought Monitor

    Caption: A picture of mid- September drought conditions from the past 10 years. While drought is not something new to California, continued periods of drought have significant impacts on the state.
    Image: U.S. Drought Monitor

    Higher temperatures have also prompted early spring melting and reduced snowpack in the mountains in some parts of California. This can result in decreased water availability during hot summer conditions. Snowpack, through runoff, provides about one-third of the water used by California’s cities and farms. Snowmelt from the Sierra Nevadas to the Sacramento River, which provides drinking water to about 30 percent of California’s residents, irrigates key crops in the San Joaquin valley, and runs hydroelectric power plants that supply at least 15 percent of the state’s electricity, has decreased by about 9 percent over the past century. The importance of conservation has not gone unnoticed and restrictions were implemented by the State Water Resources Control Board in July, which limits outdoor water use in an attempt to conserve water.

    As you can imagine, the drought is having an impact on the daily lives of my family in Placerville, and every Californian. Fortunately, the policymakers in California and at EPA are taking action to help protect against the worst impacts. Check out my next blog for part 2 of this story, looking at some of the impacts of the drought in California, and policy initiatives to address the problem.

    Krystal Laymon|2014 October 21

    Gov. Scott Receives More Than 90,000 Petitions Demanding Climate Leadership

    More than 92,000 petitions arrived at Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s office today urging the governor to announce his plan for fighting climate change. The petitions also call for Scott to cut carbon emissions and invest in solar power, actions that would help the state comply with the federal government’s proposed Clean Power Plan.

    Children pulled red wagons piled with boxes into the governor’s office. Florida State University student and ReThink Energy intern Daniel Corbett spoke in Scott’s waiting room during the petition drop.

    “It doesn’t matter whether you identify as a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent, what faith you follow, where you call home, what language you speak or how much money you make, because climate change, pollution, whether our energy is dirty or clean, that is all of us,” he says.

    The timing of the drop, weeks before the midterm election, is no accident, says Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Florida Director Susan Glickman.

    “For the very first time ever, climate and energy issues have become a central issue in the elections, so people are paying attention, and we believe they will use these important issues as they make up their mind and who they’re going to vote for,” she says.

    The federal Environmental Protection Agency wants states to come up with their own plans for lowering carbon emissions by the year 2030. The agency is taking public comment on that plan until December 1. 

    Climate Movement Spans Generations

    Scores of Audubon members from across the country joined the more than 400,000 marchers participating in the September 21st People’s Climate March in New York. What was perhaps more remarkable than the sheer numbers of marchers was the diversity of the crowd. The many young and multi-ethnic faces in the crowd inspired hope among the grizzled veterans of past movements.

    Read more.→

    Genetically Modified Organisms

    Los Angeles City Council seeks to ban GMOs

    Citing fears of the impact on the environment and public health, the Los Angeles City Council called Tuesday for a measure to ban the sale and planting of any genetically modified seeds within the city boundaries.

    “I want to see all 503 square miles of Los Angeles be a GMO-free growing zone,” said Councilman Paul Koretz, who has been working on the proposal for more than a year.

    “We are promoting urban farmers, and having a GMO-free zone would help them produce a crop that I think we can market as a Grown in L.A. brand.”

    The council approved the proposal on a 13-1 vote, asking the City Attorney’s office to draft the measure. Councilman Joe Buscaino was the lone opposing vote, saying he believed it was beyond the city’s scope of authority.

    The measure, if finally adopted. would also ban the planting and sale of fruit plants that are genetically modified.

    “Let’s see what this does for our health, for soil health, for pollination — and let’s see what it does for economic development.” Koretz said.

    He has argued genetic modification reduces the diversity of seeds, makes food unsafe to eat and is linked to the decline of the bee population.

    Supporters of GMO — genetically modified organisms — deny the presence of any harmful effects and say the process has helped increase the world food supply.

    The National Center for Policy Analysis said GMO crops are part of a worldwide strategy to combat the deficit between food supply and hunger.

    “Global hunger will only continue to increase, and combating it will not be easy, yet the world is fortunate in that a wealth of research is dedicated to the advancement of farming,” said David Weisser, a researcher at the center.

    “Through advanced research and new farming methods, hunger can be fought and conquered.”

    Rick Orlov|Los Angeles Daily News|10/21/14

    If $10 million isn’t enough to buy a NO vote on GMO labeling, how about $14 million?

    With more than $25 million poured in to defeat statewide GMO labeling ballot initiatives in 2014, a small cabal of multi-national biotech, pesticide and junk food companies seeks to buy the elections in Colorado and Oregon.

    Seeking to crush a groundswell movement in America to label genetically modified or GMO foods, a small group of multi-billion-dollar pesticide, biotech and junk food companies have poured more than $14 million into Colorado in September and October to defeat Proposition 105, a grassroots voter initiative to label GMO foods.

    Just 10 corporations, including Monsanto, DuPont, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Kraft, General Mills, Hershey, J.M. Smucker, Dow and Kellogg, are responsible for more than $13 million of the $14.3 million total contributed to kill the Colorado GMO labeling bill.

    Also of note among the donors seeking to defeat the Colorado GMO labeling bill are Abbot Nutrition and Mead Johnson, companies that make nutritional formulas for infants and the elderly – companies that do not want mandatory GMO labeling on their packaging.

    In contrast, while more than 170,000 Coloradans signed petitions to place the bill on the November statewide ballot – nearly twice the number of signatures needed – the underdog Right to Know Colorado campaign has raised less than $1 million in cash and pledges, mostly through small business donations along with hundreds of $5, $10, and $25 contributions to the campaign from primarily Colorado citizens.

    “I can’t understand why these corporations would put over $14 million into a Colorado campaign where the pro-labeling side has less than $1 million,” said Larry Cooper, Co-chair of the Right to Know Colorado campaign. “What are they trying to hide?”

    Ironically, while a similar GMO labeling voter bill in Oregon, Measure 92, has been able to raise significantly more funding – $6.3 million in total – biotech has pumped more into Colorado than Oregon to defeat the GMO labeling measure – although that gap is closing rapidly as Election Day approaches. Monsanto, PepsiCo, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Land O’Lakes, General Mills, Hershey and other chemical and food multinationals top the list of donors to the No on 92 campaign in Oregon. To see the list of donors to both the Yes and No sides in Oregon, visit

    Delayed until the Colorado Supreme Court finally cleared the initiative to move forward in March following a complaint filed by the anti-labeling opposition, the Right to Know Colorado campaign got a late start but surprised industry followers by collecting more than twice the number of signatures needed to place the bill on the November ballot.

    The Yes on 105 campaign has received important media endorsements from the Daily Camera, Colorado’s second largest newspaper, and BizWest, one of the state’s leading business journals. Additionally, in September, a 20-member Citizens Initiative Review panel endorsed Colorado’s Prop. 105 to label GMOs by a vote of 11-9. (A similar panel in Oregon voted 11-9 against Measure 92.)

    In Colorado, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, and Whole Foods Market have provided significant support for the Yes on 105 campaign, helping to get out the vote through their stores and via endorsements and social media.

    Major contributors to Colorado’s Yes on 105 and also the Oregon pro-labeling campaign include Presence Marketing/Dynamic Presence, Food Democracy Now, Organic Consumers Association, Annie’s Inc., Dr. Bronner’s, Boulder Brands and others. For a complete list visit and

    Grassroots organizations endorsing the Right to Know Colorado ballot initiative include Moms Across America, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, Colorado Moms for GMO Labeling, Conservation Colorado, Alliance for Sustainable Colorado, Hazon, and others.

    Seeing this rising tide of grassroots consumer and citizen support for GMO labeling as a threat to profits, Monsanto, Dow, DuPont, Pepsi, Coke, Kraft, Grocery Manufacturers Association, and other pesticide, biotech and junk food companies have teamed up to spend more than $125 million over the past three years to defeat GMO labeling ballot initiatives in California and Washington in 2012 and 2013, and in Oregon and Colorado this year.

    More than 93% of Americans want GMO labeling, according to a 2013 New York Times survey, and in late September, before the anti-labeling ad blitz on TV, 71% of Colorado voters favored GMO labeling, yet less than three dozen chemical, pesticide and junk food companies continue to fight history with a withering amount of cash to barrage the airwaves in Oregon and Colorado with deceptive advertising to confuse voters about GMO labeling – and to buy our elections.

    Steven Hoffman|Managing Director|Compass Natural

    Beware the Corporate Takeover of Seed Under Many Guises

    New and existing legislations and treaties are increasingly restricting people’s food rights and eroding agricultural biodiversity in favor of a handful of big seed corporations that are already monopolizing the world’s seeds.

    The UK hosted a festival across the country to celebrate and honor the humble seed. In London, the Lambeth Garden Museum hosted farmers, growers, food sovereignty campaigners, artists and chefs for 2 days of workshops, talks, storytelling sessions, artists, games and film screenings. The festival acknowledged the importance of seeds and our responsibility to protect all their biodiversity from corporate theft if we are to protect the health of our children and the planet. The event rightfully acknowledged the growing community of small farmers and gardeners who are safeguarding thousands of years of knowledge in food production and seed saving still vital in feeding the world today. As stated in the recent UN Commission of Trade and Development report, small holder farming is what is needed to feed the growing global population, not industrial systems.

    October is Food Sovereignty month, and October 16 was World Food Day, both coming at a time when recognizing the importance of the seed is more critical than ever.

    In UK and much of the rest of Europe, the industrialized farming system means that farmers are no longer saving seed as they had done for millennia, maintaining local varieties and cultivating regional biodiversity. High yielding and hybrid varieties now dominate the market, designed for large-scale high input industrial farms. A 2005 study found that on the European seed market, 74 % of cauliflower varieties were hybrids, as were 80 % of carrots, 85 % of calabrese, 87 % of spinach, and 89 % of tomatoes. Hybrid seeds are not worth saving as the yield goes down after the first year of planting due to the loss of ‘hybrid vigor’, the increased yield of hybrid seeds from crossing two inbred varieties. These hybrids have replaced open-pollinated varieties. Seminis, a European seed company bought by Monsanto in 2004, had previously deleted 2000 open pollinated varieties from their stocks, but these varieties still remain available to Monsanto for their breeding programs.

    Monopolization of seed is not just a European issue but a global one, with international agritech giants buying out independent companies and leaving farmers with little choice but to purchase hybrid or genetically modified seeds in countries like the US. Monsanto bought 200 US independent seed companies over 10 years, with the corporation now estimated to own 23 % of the proprietary seed market. A similar drive for seed monopoly is taking place in the African continent, with SeedCo, one of Africa’s largest home-grown seed companies being bought out by transnational corporations Limagrain, the biggest seed and plant breeding company in the EU. Limagrain is investing US$60 million for a 28 % stake in SeedCo. SeedCo has sold 49 % of its shares in Africa’s only cottonseed company Quton to the Indian company Mayco, a Monsanto subsidiary. Syngenta in 2013 took over Zambia’s MRI seed, which is said to have the most biodiverse collection of maize seed varieties in Africa. South Africa’s largest seed company Pannar Seed was recently taken over by Pioneer Hi-Bred, a subsidiary of DuPont. These acquisitions of seed companies by a handful of corporate giants pose great threats not only to seed biodiversity, but also food sovereignty and people’s access to fresh foods, giving GM companies the chance to spread their patented seeds across the world.

    Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont already own 53% of the global commercial seed market and the following legislative proposals and treaties are set to increase their monopoly.

    Proposed changes to the EU seed laws (EU Plant and Reproductive Material Law) will further restrict the varieties of vegetables that can be saved and sold, threatening small and independent seed companies as well as small-medium scale commercial farmers. The proposed changes have been considered a gift to industry, allowing unrestricted marketing of patented seeds, favoring large companies with an expensive process of seed registration. A draft of the proposals was rejected earlier this year, and it is as yet uncertain what new drafts will be put on the table.

    Patrick Mulvany, a policy advisor involved in the negotiations of the treaty said at the October 15 meeting in UK’s Houses of Parliament, “it’s not that we don’t want laws, but we want the right ones” for protecting biodiversity. Previous drafts of the proposals make clear that the legislation is designed for big industry which is being called the “consumer”, not small-medium commercial seed companies and farmers which would likely go out of business if the price for registering each seed variety is set at £2 000. New proposals also favor distinct, uniform and stable varieties such as hybrid seeds which due to their uniformity, are also the most vulnerable to unpredictable climate change and pest attacks. As Patrick later emphasized, “we need to re-imagine new rules that realize farmer’s rights and regulate industry”.

    Biodiversity is also threatened by offsetting schemes that are supposed to charge companies for the biodiversity they destroy. This type of scheme not only encourages the destruction of land and biodiversity, but gives contentious green credentials to development strategies and companies that commodify nature and send out the message that nature is replaceable. As stated in an open letter to the EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik protesting the latest EU proposals for biodiversity in the region, signed by 67 organizations and over 9 000 people, it provides a ‘license to trash’ and the UK government has been quite open that it will speed up planning permissions. The UK government has already carried out small pilot schemes that have failed miserably, with not a single company involved making a single offset in the six counties that participated.

    In another threat to food sovereignty, countries are being pressured to implement stricter plant variety protection regimes and adhere to the 1991 International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants Act of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties, known by its French acronym UPOV. This act is officially designed to give acknowledgement to breeders for new plant varieties, offering intellectual property (IP) rights for breeders and farmers. UPOV is an intergovernmental organisation based in Geneva. The act was first created in 1968 and has been revised since then, with most countries now being members of the 1978 Act or 1991 Act of UPOV. The latest version differs significantly from previous ones, covering all plant varieties instead of just national varieties; IP protection lasts for 20 years instead of 15, and governments are entitled to decide whether farmers shall be allowed to harvest material from a protected variety for any purpose, while previously they were permitted to use them for any purpose. Crucially, under the 1991 UPOV Act farmers would not be allowed to exchange or sell such material. This 1991 version of the act may function to some extent when applied to already commercialized farming systems but when applied to small farmers across the world who rely on informal seed exchanges and saving for food production, this new act will impact on the human rights to access to food and further erode the biodiversity that farmers depend on to deal with exigencies such as pest attacks and the vagaries of climate change.

    Ghana is one country that is currently being pressured into implementing UPOV-1991. The Agribusiness Transnational corporations will not release GM foods in Ghana until this UPOV-91 Plant Breeders Bill is passed as when in place, it would protect the IP rights of the corporations’ seeds. As stated on the Food Sovereignty Ghana website: Ghana, the bill if passed “gives away control of its agriculture, and gives away control of its own food supply for nothing but empty promises. The Plant Breeders Bill makes a gift of Ghana’s land and agriculture to the Agribusiness TNCs. With this law, the TNCs can flood Ghana with GMOs and demand Ghana pay the price they set.”

    A recent human rights impact assessment of UPOV 1991 Act presented case studies in Peru, Kenya and the Philippines, stating that “Concerns have … been raised that UPOV 91-type PVP [Plant Variety Protection] laws overly restrict the traditions of seed management and sharing among farmers, thereby reducing the effectiveness and integrity of the informal seed system.” An open letter from 214 NGOs from around the world is also asking Dr Shakeel Bhatti, the Secretary to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture on Farmers’ Rights, to reconsider his approach to implementing UPOV-1991 in the Treaty of Farmer’s Rights. Instead, the letter invites UPOV and WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation) to agree to setting up an independent commission that will investigate its implementation with respect to recognizing the enormous contribution that local and indigenous communities and farmers across the world have made to conservation and development of plant genetic resources which “constitute the basis of food and agriculture production throughout the world”; protecting traditional knowledge relevant to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture; farmers’ rights; and the farmer’s right to participate in making decisions at national levels.

    A yet further threat to African farming and food sovereignty is the New Alliance for Food and Nutrition, a G8 initiative disguised as a development initiative but in reality facilitates private sector investment. Ten African countries are so far involved, the majority not the most vulnerable to food issues in the continent. Companies that have invested in this initiative include Monsanto, Coca-Cola, Syngenta, Cargill and Unilever. The UK government has invested £600 million of aid money for the initiative, and as Polly Jones of the World Development Movement explained at the Parliament meeting, this initiative will be used to develop export markets, change policies and make it easier for companies to access land, seed markets and supply chains. Investing aid money to change policies of sovereign nations may even contravene the British government’s aid policy which states “We will not make our aid conditional on specific policy decisions by partner governments, or attempt to impose policy choices on them.” However, the ten nations that have so far signed up — Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Malawi, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal and Tanzania — have made more than 200 policy commitments that will make it easier for multinationals to do business in their countries. Some of these policy commitments include implementation of UPOV-91. The UK government should not be pressuring other nations to make these changes. The World Development movement has set up a petition to write to local MPs telling them that the people do not want our governments to interfere in sovereign nations for the benefits of corporations. Policy changes will have vast implications for people’s sovereignty, not just food but land rights, water rights, labor rights, and to a healthy livelihood as these new policies push for more chemical inputs into farming systems.

    But people are fighting back.

    Seed cooperatives are springing up, including one just being established now, with representatives from Biodynamics Association, Garden Organic and The Organic Research Centre, and based in Willow Hall Farm in north Essex. This builds on Stormy Hall Seeds based in North Yorkshire, which will eventually become a part of the cooperative that will produce, process and store seeds for retail and dispatch. These initiatives provide a practical hands-on resistance to the corporate takeover of seeds, something widely discussed at the event as one of the methods we need to support, expand as well as acknowledge as a practice already growing in the UK and in Europe. The challenges lie in scaling up these initiatives, providing seeds and resources for commercial scale farmers, not just gardeners and amateur growers.

    The Open Source Seed Initiative is an example of something larger that is currently lacking in the EU; it is a US resource for the conservation of seed that started in 2011. The initiative released its first sets of seeds in 2014, and was hugely popular, with nation-wide requests for 36 varieties of seeds from 14 different crops and even international requests from 8 different nations, highlighting the public demand for an alternative to patent-protected seeds. These examples are providing a successful framework to follow in the EU.

    On a larger scale, scientists such as Dr Melaku Worede in Ethiopia who won the Right Livelihood Award in 1989 have provided a great example to the world on how to save seeds, generate new varieties and connect the scientists to farmers, the people who know the most about the importance of seed. Instead of keeping a few seeds that are only useful as a genetic library and conservation effort, Worede has scaled-up the initiative with small-scale farmers to collectively revive and conserve large amounts of traditional indigenous seeds in the face of drought that could then be freely distributed among farmers. Creating community seed banks conserve genetic diversity at the level of local farmers, where seeds are dynamically and frequently exposed to changing environmental conditions, instead of being held in suspension in sub-zero temperatures for conservation instead of active use. A new film by Jess Phillimore for The Gaia foundation to be released in December explores the achievements of Dr Worede in resisting further erosion of seed biodiversity and food sovereignty.

    The Landworker’s Alliance, the UK arm of La Via Campesina along with WarOnWant have organised protests and have been campaigning against the EU seed policies as well as the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a free-trade agreement between the US and the EU. The TTIP will see the EUs legislation on a wide variety of areas eroded down to US standards, including food safety deregulation, environmental deregulation, in addition to other areas such as workers’ rights, public services and personal privacy, and will likely see the spread of GM foods and seeds in the EU markets. The biggest lobbyists of this trade agreement are indeed agribusiness corporations. The negotiations are all held in secret so the implications of this deal remain completely uncertain at this time. A growing resistance to this agreement is becoming more visible, with for example a stop TTIP petition garnering 600 000 signatures in under a week in the EU. To sign this petition go to the website.

    Social mobilization in the form of protests and campaign work have brought important international gains recently, and provide inspiring examples of what can be done to protect seeds by wider society at large. On the 5th of September, the Congress of Guatemala successfully repealed the Plant Breeder’s Variety Act UPOV-91 following mass protests from farmer’s organizations, local indigenous campaign groups and civil society. The Act should have come into force in September following signing by the Congress in June. This is a great victory in the fight for protection of farmer’s rights versus that of the plant breeder, an example that broad alliances between farmer’s, activists, civil society and wider society can challenge the giant corporations to successfully protect the rights of the seed and the farmer. Protests against UPOV-91 and the New Alliance have been growing across the African Nations involved, including Ghana and Ethiopia, providing hope that they will follow in the footsteps of Guatemala in resisting the corporate takeover of their food supply.

    The London Great Seed Festival and similar events across the country provide much needed resistance against the corporate takeover of seeds. The event included seed swapping, seed donations as well as workshops and seed guides to provide growers with a diverse variety of vegetables and the knowledge needed to successfully grow them. Providing seeds were the Seed Freedom Food Bank, Open Pollinated Seeds and Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library. In response to the looming threats on EU seed laws, these groups are seeing rising interest and participation in seed swapping, saving and home growing, as well as huge concern for the future of seed biodiversity and food sovereignty. The concern for their children’s health is another driving factor for people to take food production into their own hands or into local sustainable systems that they can trust. The pleasure of learning more about produce was also a key in drawing in the crowds. Adults and children participated in workshops on soil fertility and planting with the use of beneficial organisms like worms.

    Urban areas are increasingly seeing urban gardens springing up, as well as community gardens and school gardens to keep children in touch with food production. Food Growing Schools, also represented at the festival, is a recent project in London to bring together growing expertise with children, equipping schools with the tools they need. These initiatives are vital as traditional knowledge on seed saving and crop production has been lost to industrial farming.

    Events are popping up all over the country in local communities. These movements need to be supported and encouraged to grow, and more importantly, they need to be acknowledged. Biodiversity is in the hands of small farmers and gardeners, not registered in national reports that essentially analyze only industrial agriculture. As Patrick Mulvany said, only 1-2 % of UK citizens are farmers, but at least 4 times are growers, in gardens and allotments, and is an unacknowledged source of the UK’s biodiversity, providing already existing alternatives that can be expanded on. Bringing awareness to the rich resources that are on offer from nature and ours by right is the answer to food security.

    Dr Eva Sirinathsinghji|October 22, 2014

    Where’s GMO?

    Recently Consumer Reports went to the supermarket and bought more than 80 different processed foods made with corn or soy, then sent them to a lab to be tested for the most common GMO DNA signatures. All the conventional products and all the ones labeled “natural” were found to contain 17.8 to 100 percent GMO corn and/or soy. All of the organic and Non-GMO Project Verified products contained no more than a trace (which is permitted). So, as most of us suspected, if it has corn or soy in it and it isn’t certified GMO-free or organic, it’s almost guaranteed to have GMO in it. And you might want to leave it on the shelf.

    Jean Nick|Contributing Editor|Environment|Greener Choices

    Read More >


    Keystone XL Oil Pipeline Owner Wins Climate Leadership Award

    WASHINGTON -– The company that wants to build the Keystone XL pipeline was recognized this week for leadership on climate change -– to the shock of environmental activists.

    Alberta-based TransCanada, which has been seeking permission to build the 1,660-mile pipeline from Canada’s oil sands to refineries in Texas, was included as a corporate climate leader on the Carbon Disclosure Project’s Climate Performance Leadership Index 2014. The Carbon Disclosure Project, or CDP, is a United Kingdom-based nonprofit that works with companies to tally and report their greenhouse gas emissions. TransCanada was one of five energy sector companies included on the “A List” in this year’s report.

    The report notes that the company has set targets for emission reductions, and includes a quote from TransCanada: “Our business strategy is informed by the risks and opportunities from climate change regulations, physical climate parameters and other climate-related developments such as uncertainty in social drivers … we anticipate that most of our facilities will be subject to future regulations to manage industrial [greenhouse gas] emissions.”

    In a blog post, TransCanada said the listing “presents those companies identified as demonstrating a superior approach to climate change mitigation.”

    “Recognition at the highest level by the CDP — the international NGO that drives sustainable economies — is very significant to us,” TransCanada president and CEO Russ Girling said in a statement Thursday. “For us, our CDP ranking helps us continue to challenge ourselves in terms of protecting the environment at every level of our organization.”

    But environmental groups, which have raised concerns about the pipeline’s potential contributions to climate change, deplored the listing for a company whose primary business is building energy infrastructure for fossil fuels. “The only thing TransCanada is a leader in is exploiting the world’s dirtiest oil,” Friends of the Earth’s Luísa Abbott Galvão said in a statement Friday sent by The Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, and the state-based group Bold Nebraska. TransCanada has made a “relentless push to foul our land, water, and climate,” said Bold Nebraska’s Jane Kleeb.

    Final approval for the pipeline would have to come from the State Department, because it crosses an international border. A decision is on hold while a legal dispute over the proposed route through Nebraska is resolved.

    The State Department released an environmental analysis earlier this year that found that the greenhouse gas emissions directly tied to the pipeline would be negligible, as the oil would still likely be developed without Keystone XL.

    But others have questioned that logic, arguing that emissions linked to the pipeline would be significant and that its construction would facilitate greater development of the tar sands. Environmental groups also have pointed to the fact that other proposed pipelines have generated opposition in Canada, potentially limiting options for exporting the crude.

    Kate Sheppard|10/17/2014

    Paying the Price of Tar Sands Expansion

    Despite all the reasons to keep tar sands in the ground, the refining equipment tax credit has helped put tar sands development in the US on the rise, accelerating climate change at the expense – in every sense of the word – of American taxpayers.

    Carolyn Marsh was in her living room watching television on a Wednesday night in August when she heard a loud boom from somewhere outside. Having lived in the industrial town of Whiting, Indiana––just south of Chicago––for nearly three decades, she wasn’t terribly shaken. “There’s a lot of noise constantly,” she explains.

    But when the news came on an hour later and reported an explosion at the nearby BP refinery, Marsh was incensed. It was the second serious incident since the recent completion of BP’s Whiting Refinery Modernization Project, which Marsh had fought to prevent.

    In December 2013, after six years of community pushback, court battles, Environmental Protection Agency citations, and ongoing construction in spite of it all, BP’s $4.2 billion retrofitted facility came fully online.

    A little-known tax break allows companies to write-off half of the cost of new equipment for refining tar sands and shale oil. According to a report by Oil Change International, this subsidy had a potential value to oil companies (and cost to taxpayers) of $610 million in 2013.

    Tar sands are petroleum deposits made up of bitumen mixed in with sand, water and clay. Their production is extremely destructive at every stage: from strip mining indigenous lands in Canada, to disastrous accidents along transportation routes, to dangerous emission levels produced by refining the heavy crude, to the hazards imposed on communities saddled with tar sands byproducts like petroleum coke (“petcoke”), and finally to the greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere when the end product is used for fuel.

    Despite all the reasons to keep tar sands in the ground, the refining equipment tax credit has helped put tar sands development in the U.S. on the rise, accelerating climate change at the expense––in every sense of the word––of American taxpayers.

    Heavy speculation and investment in Canadian tar sands extraction have been going on since at least 1995, when the oil industry set a production target of 1 million barrels per day by 2020. That goal was reached far ahead of time, in 2004. Now the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers predicts a rate of 4.8 million barrels per day by 2030 if currently planned expansion holds.

    In order to take full advantage of Canada’s tar sands-driven energy boom, American refineries would need to make costly retrofits to century-old facilities designed for the light crude that once flowed plentifully from domestic oil wells––not heavy tar sands crude with a consistency like molasses.

    Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) gave the oil industry a kick in that direction when he introduced a tar sands refinery equipment tax break to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, a bill that funneled $85 billion worth of subsidies to the energy sector.

    A report by The Pew Charitable Trust estimated that, between 2005 and 2009, this refinery equipment tax break alone cost the government $1.2 billion and increased emissions by more than two million metric tons of carbon.

    In the years since Grassley incentivized tar sands retrofits, refineries across the Midwest have sprung into action, undertaking massive overhauls to accommodate the tar sands crude that already flows into the U.S. through the original Keystone pipeline and Enbridge’s sprawling network of pipelines.

    State and municipal governments have jumped on the tar sands subsidy bandwagon as well, offering tax breaks and other incentives to refineries considering tar sands retrofits.

    One of the biggest handouts came, astonishingly, from the cash-strapped city of Detroit, whose city council approved a whopping $175 million tax break to Marathon for a tar sands upgrade in 2007. Earlier this year, city council members expressed dismay that the massive subsidy created only 15 new jobs for Detroit workers.

    “In a city with double-digit unemployment, any company that’s receiving a tax abatement of nearly $180 million should be giving more back, including hiring residents,” Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins told the Detroit Free Press.

    “They’re dangling carrots in front of minorities in the city of Detroit,” a worker rejected by Marathon told the Detroit Free Press. “They feel like they can do that. It’s a renegade refinery running over poor people.”

    BP’s Whiting Refinery Modernization Project got a significant boost from local coffers as well. In 2008, Indiana’s state development agency awarded BP a $400,000 tax break in a deal that required the company to train 1,583 Indiana employees and hire 74 new ones by 2013. Strangely, in 2012, the same agency gave BP an additional $1.2 million with the same stipulation of hiring 74 people by 2013, but without the training.

    This cozy relationship between BP and Indiana’s government was solidified several years earlier, before the Whiting Refinery Modernization Project was ever on the table. In 2003, BP successfully pushed for a tax reform law that shifted the company’s tax burden directly onto Indiana residents and paved the way for the refinery expansion.

    Carolyn Marsh remembers the shock when her property taxes tripled. “I had been paying less than $1,000––my house is 105 years old––and suddenly I owed almost $3,000.”

    With no children, a frugal lifestyle, and union wages, Marsh had saved quite a bit, though not enough to live in one of the Windy City’s lakefront neighborhoods. She was an avid birdwatcher, and living within walking distance of Lake Michigan, where migratory birds and waterfowl commingle, was Marsh’s dream.

    Whiting, just 17 miles south of downtown Chicago, had parks along the lake and a wilderness area that Marsh would later save from development by pressuring city leaders to designate it as a bird sanctuary. Because it was an industrial area, property taxes were low, and the older homes were affordable.

    But Marsh says it was a trade off. “If I wanted to live cheaply and have a house, I would have to tolerate living near a refinery,” she explains. “It’s dangerous. Refineries leak all the time and this whole area has a huge asthma problem.”

    For 16 years, Marsh lived with that trade off, until BP threatened to seek out lower property taxes elsewhere and state lawmakers kowtowed to the corporation’s demands. The resulting legislation cut industrial property taxes by 14 percent, shifting hundreds of millions of dollars of taxes onto residential property owners like Marsh.

    “Living cheap is no longer the situation for me or for others,” Marsh says. “But we still live with the pollution and the results of accidents at the plant.”

    When the company announced its plans to refine tar sands in 2006, a BP executive credited the 2003 tax reform, saying the expansion would have been “much less likely,” under the old tax structure.

    Marsh was instrumental in challenging the modernization project, testifying in a lawsuit concerning BP’s air permit. A 2012 settlement forced the company to pay an $8 million fine and spend an additional $400 million dollars on technology to reduce pollution.

    Marsh was also involved in the public outcry against BP’s water permit, which originally allowed the refinery to discharge 54 percent more ammonia and 35 percent more industrial waste into Lake Michigan.

    But, in Marsh’s view, these hard-won mitigations have had a minimal impact.

    Only three months after BP’s Whiting Refinery Modernization Project was complete, the facility spilled what BP estimated to be between 15 and 39 barrels of oil, very likely the heavy tar sands crude, into Lake Michigan, a source of drinking water for millions of people. Five months after that, the explosion Marsh heard caused a fire inside the refinery. It was quelled by the end of the night, with one reported injury, according to BP.

    “They should shut the damn thing down,” Marsh says. “We can’t keep exploiting our natural resources to put gas in our cars. It’s insane.”

    Accidents like these are run of the mill for BP. With annual profits in the tens of billions of dollars, the corporation has a long history of opting to pay big fines rather than clean up its act.

    The company also uses its war chest to exert influence over policymakers. According to The Center for Responsive Politics, BP has spent $95 million lobbying Congress since 1998. Individuals and PACs affiliated with BP have contributed a total of $7 million to Congressional election campaigns.

    When the Energy Policy Act made its way through Congress in 2005, BP threw down $1.6 million to lobby for a number of provisions, including, ““issues with expanding refining capacity” according to their lobbying disclosure.

    Though BP’s SEC filings don’t specify which tax credits the company has taken advantage of, its 2013 annual report does say that BP not only had $200 million in U.S. tax benefits that year, it also had $1.7 billion in U.S. tax credits stored up.

    Corporations are allowed to carry over tax credits from one year to the next in order to use them at the most opportune time––generally those years when profits are high.

    A footnote in the filing further explains that BP accumulated the $1.7 billion in tax credits between 2005 and 2011, which is both within the time window of eligibility for the refining equipment tax credit and within the time that construction at the Whiting refinery was underway.

    All in all, it seems that BP got a big bang for its buck, spending $1.6 million to push through a plethora of self-serving provisions and likely writing off huge chunks of its $4.2 billion refinery upgrade as a result.

    But they were hardly the only ones. On the long list of corporations that poured lobbying money into the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the infamous Koch Industries stands out. They too had something to gain in pushing for the refinery equipment tax break, which was among the many provisions they spent nearly $1.58 million lobbying for.

    In the coming months, Bautista’s husband would pressure wash a sticky black film off their home multiple times. Her young daughter would come in from playing in the backyard, her face smudged with a sooty-looking substance that didn’t wash off easily.

    Shortly after Bautista gave birth to her second daughter, a friend visited, bringing news from a meeting of the Southeast Environmental Task Force, where both women volunteered. The huge mounds were something called petcoke, the friend told Bautista.

    “We started to make the connection,” she says.

    They learned that petcoke, or petroleum coke, is a byproduct of oil refining that looks and burns like coal, but is much dirtier, emitting 5-10 percent more carbon dioxide per unit of energy. Refining tar sands bitumen requires a process called coking that produces far more petcoke than conventional oil refining.

    Thus, as the Whiting Refinery Modernization Project gradually came online, petcoke began piling up on the banks of the Calumet River, awaiting shipment to countries where emissions standards are lower. The middleman? KCBX, a subsidiary of Koch Industries.

    Yet, the neighborhoods that make up Southeast Chicago are some of the most underserved, particularly South Deering, one of the areas nearest to the petcoke piles.

    “It’s a transit desert, it’s a food desert,” Bautista says. “They had one Laundromat that has recently burned down. People are washing their clothes in their bathtubs.”

    Southeast Chicago is predominantly Latino. As the city’s industrial corridor, it’s long borne the brunt of environmental racism. The Southeast Side has higher rates of asthma, heart disease, stroke, and cancer than the Chicago area as a whole.

    After years of living with pollution, Bautista says, many residents were initially unfazed by the petcoke piles. But then a particularly windy day in August, 2013 catalyzed the community into action.

    After that, a number of community groups formed Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke and began a campaign to pressure city government to force out KCBX and it’s waste piles.

    Last March, Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued regulations that ban new petcoke facilities and require KCBX terminals to fully enclose its petcoke piles by 2016.

    KCBX says they need at least four years to accomplish this––and they’ve threatened to sue to get their way. They’re also demanding permission to pile the petcoke fifteen feet higher.

    Meanwhile Illinois’ Attorney General has filed suits against KCBX for pollution violations, and in June the US EPA found KCBX to be in violation of the Clean Air Act.

    While these moves constitute some modest progress, a Chicago city webpage about petcoke casts doubt on how seriously elected officials are treating the issue. The patronizing Q and A actually instructs residents to just stay inside and clean their homes in order to avoid exposure to petcoke dust.

    “This is the kind of violence we’re under,” Bautista says. “We’re risking our lives just by breathing the air while these corporations are using tax loopholes to abuse us and make a profit. We’re financing our own misery.”

    Bautista suspects that this is a tactic to minimize the issue of the petcoke piles in the upcoming elections. It’s unlikely to work, since she’s running for Alderman.

    Her platform isn’t only about opposition to KCBX storing petcoke, though. Bautista is part of a growing movement for climate justice that demands broader systemic change from corporations and governments. In September she spoke in the closing plenary of the NYC Climate Convergence, held in conjunction with the historic People’s Climate March.

    Her speech connected the struggles of people in Whiting, Southeast Chicago, Detroit, and so many other communities suffering the consequences of massive corporate welfare for the fossil fuel industry.

    “BP and Koch industries are polluting our community, and it’s time they and companies like theirs pay up big time or get out,” she told her audience.

    “This is what is meant by class warfare, but it’s only war when we rise up and fight against the forces that have hijacked our lives…Win or lose there is something about living a life with dignity––with our heads held high and exposing these systems that tear us down everyday while only a small minority profits in any way…Our backs are already against the wall. The only way to move is forward.”

    Anna Simonton|Oil Change International|19 October 2014

    DEP AND FWC Seek Public Input to Help With Oil Spill Recovery

    The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will host a Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast Act of 2012 (RESTORE Act) funding and projects webinar on Oct. 22 at 6 p.m. EST. There will not be a public meeting in Panama City on Oct. 22, as this webinar replaces the public meeting originally scheduled. The webinar format will allow for broader participation across the state.

    WHAT:                Deepwater Horizon RESTORE Act Webinar

                                                                                                                                                                                              WHEN:                Oct. 22, 2014, 6 – 8 p.m. EST

                                                                                                                                                                                              REGISTER: Deepwater Horizon RESTORE Act Webinar

    The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council recently announced the process by which council members may submit projects for funding consideration under the Council-Selected Restoration Component. The submission window for council members to submit projects and proposals closes on Nov. 17. The council has noted that the initial projects to be funded will focus on water quality and habitat restoration. DEP and FWC are considering many project proposals that align with these focus areas, such as watershed restoration. All the projects submitted through DEP’s online portal will be considered, but any new project proposals or updates to existing proposals should be submitted through the portal as soon as possible. More information can be found at

    latashawalters|Oct. 21, 2014

    U.S. Fracking Boom Prompts Oil Industry to Push for Crude Exports

    Oil and coal producers in the U.S. are planning to use mile-long tanker trains to transport vast quantities of fossil fuels to the coast through areas that environmental groups believe should be protected.

    The change in world fossil fuel production, consumption and costs caused by tar sands exploitation in Canada and the fracking boom in the U.S. is causing what Bill McKibben—author, environmental activist and co-founder of the international climate campaign group—calls a “chokepoint” in the unspoiled Northwest of the country.

    Coal is already being exported in even larger amounts from the U.S. because it cannot compete with cheaper gas from fracking. Now campaigners fear that the oil industry also wants to export cheap oil to Asia—although so far the companies deny it, saying it will be sent by sea to other parts of the U.S.

    The largest of the 11 proposals to build new or expand existing crude-by-rail terminals is that of Tesoro-Savage at the Port of Vancouver, Washington, just across the Columbia River from Portland.

    The company wants the capacity to transfer crude oil from the North American interior to seagoing tankers and barges. Four “unit trains,” each a mile long and comprising up to 100 tanker cars, would arrive at the terminal daily, delivering 360,000 barrels of oil. This would be the largest such terminal in the region.

    The Columbia River is the lifeblood of the Pacific Northwest ecosystem, and was once home to what were claimed to be the world’s largest salmon runs. It is already stressed by 14 hydroelectric dams and barge traffic hauling grain and other products from the interior, as well as radiation leaking from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Richland, Washington.

    The oil and coal trains must pass through the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, a protected section of the river and its environs where hundreds of waterfalls create micro-habitats for species of plants found nowhere else on Earth.

    Rail tracks run along very narrow routes on both sides of the river, sometimes on causeways on the river’s edge. They have already seen traffic increases. According to a report in the Oregonian newspaper, there was a 250 percent increase in the number of tankers passing through Oregon between 2006 and 2013.

    Locations of the Pacific Northwest refineries and terminals under discussion.Locations of the Pacific Northwest refineries and terminals under discussion.

    Since the Arab oil embargo in the 1970s, the U.S. government has banned the export of crude oil. This means that, for the time being, crude oil from North Dakota will go to refineries in Washington state and California, replacing the declining supply from Alaska.

    In addition, the Vancouver terminal “would have the capacity to displace 30 percent of the crude oil currently imported to West Coast refineries from foreign countries,” according to an email written by Elizabeth Watters, a spokesperson for Tesoro. She added that this would “increase U.S. energy security in an uncertain world.” Watters also said Tesoro-Savage has no plans to export oil.

    Claims that oil interests aren’t planning to export is “all bovine scatology, smoke and mirrors,” says Eric de Place, policy director for the Washington-based Sightline Institute, a not-for-profit sustainability think tank.

    “I think it’s likely that in the near term they might transport some of the fuel to west coast refineries in Washington or California, but it’s pretty clear that they have their sights set on a robust export market.”

    In addition, De Place says, the terminals “could be receiving Canadian tar sands oil on day one” and exporting it immediately, because tar sands oil from Canada isn’t under U.S. export jurisdiction.

    Coal can already be exported. In fact, U.S. coal exports have nearly doubled since 2007, and three coal terminals are currently under consideration in Oregon and Washington. If all were built, about 100 million tons of coal would depart from the Pacific Northwest annually.

    There is remarkable resistance among disparate political and economic interests to expansion of the fossil fuel industry in the region.

    The International Longshore and Warehouse Union objects to the Tesoro-Savage terminal on worker safety grounds because Bakken crude is far more flammable than other oil types, and there is opposition from local real estate developer working because he fears that the terminal would make his riverfront office/restaurant project untenable.

    Potential spills

    The city of Vancouver has passed a resolution against the terminal because of concerns about potential spills or explosions and traffic congestion. The state of Oregon rejected Australian corporation Ambre Energy’s coal terminal proposal at the Port of Morrow, and the Port of Portland has declined to consider adding oil-by-rail and coal terminals for the time being.

    Governors of both Columbia River states have expressed concerns about climate impacts from the expansion of fossil fuel transportation in the region.

    The Pacific Northwest region. Image: Google MapsThe Pacific Northwest region. Image: Google Maps

    In a recent election debate, Oregon governor John Kitzhaber said: “It makes no sense to me to subsidies the burning of fossil fuels in Asia while we adopt state and federal policies that do just the opposite.”

    Washington governor Jay Inslee is the sole person who will decide the Tesoro-Savage project’s fate. According to Inslee’s spokesperson, Jaime Smith, the governor believes that if “we are trying to wean ourselves off carbon-based fuels and use more clean energy technologies—if that is our intended goal as a state, as a nation—shouldn’t we be taking a look at that?”

    But none of the political entities involved in deciding whether Tesoro-Savage can move ahead is obligated to consider climate impacts, leaving objections to the fossil fuels mostly to environmental campaigners. However, the states do have to consider issues of rail safety and the impact of possible spills.

    If oil traveling to the Vancouver terminal is not exported, it wouldn’t necessarily add to the CO2 emissions already occurring in the U.S. because it would just “top up” the domestic supply—provided that U.S. consumption doesn’t rise.

    But fossil fuels exported from the Pacific Northwest to Asia would certainly add to those emissions as Asia’s economies grow. Moreover, it would hoist the west coast by its own petard by increasing the hydrocarbon air pollution that already travels eastward across the Pacific from oil and coal burned in Asia.

    Watters, asked whether Tesoro is concerned about climate change, wrote: “Tesoro recognises that climate change is an important global issue, and we are committed to reducing [greenhouse gas] emissions from our refineries to below 1990 levels.” He did not comment on the global warming potential of the fossil fuels Tesoro-Savage would be transporting.

    What lifting the crude oil export ban would do to international and domestic crude oil and fuel prices is unclear. Brookings Institution analysts calculate that doing so would lower the price of gasoline by about $0.09 per gallon if the ban were lifted in 2015, and that U.S. exports would not affect the behavior of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

    But De Place says: “The prevailing view among industry analysts is that that would raise the price of oil domestically.” He also warns that “the history of energy analysts predicting what the price of oil will do is the history of people going to the casino”.

    The planning and permitting process for all the proposed Columbia River facilities will take several years.

    Tesoro-Savage must submit a detailed environmental impact statement (EIS) to the Washington Department of Ecology, and a release of the draft EIS is expected in the spring of 2015, at which time public comment will be solicited.

    The Washington energy facility siting agency will then make a recommendation to Governor Inslee, after which he will make his decision.

    Other Pacific Northwest proposals are also in various stages of the process.

    Until the oil and coal proposals are approved or rejected, it is still an open question whether the Pacific Northwest chokepoint will close to fossil fuels or be opened wider.

    Valerie Brown|Climate News Network|October 22, 2014

    Washington Post Editorial Board Damns Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

    In light of a new study finding that particulates kicked up by mountaintop removal (MTR) are connected to the lung cancer epidemic in the regions where this form of coal mining is rampant, the Washington Post‘s editorial board added up all the evidence and came out with a powerful editorial damning the practice for its health and its environmental impacts.

    “For decades, coal companies have been removing mountain peaks to haul away coal lying just underneath,” said the paper. “More recently, scientists and regulators have been developing a clearer understanding of the environmental consequences. They aren’t pretty.”

    MTR, which involves blowing the tops of mountains or using massive earth movers to remove them to extract the coal inside them, has grown in popularity in the last several decades since it allows the mining of coal seams that otherwise would not have been cost-effective to mine and it requires fewer workers than underground coal mining. It’s become a big business, particularly in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky where the process became common in the 1990s.

    “The technique made it economical for them to extract more coal from troublesome seams in the rock, which might be too small for traditional mining or lodged in unstable formations,” said the Post. “Environmentalists were appalled, but the practice spread and now accounts for more than 40 percent of West Virginia coal production.”

    Not only environmentalists but surrounding communities were appalled for good reason. MTR leaves behind ravaged landscapes, with forests stripped bare and debris dumped in streams and valleys. The Post also connects MTR with a loss of biodiversity in the mined regions, referring to a study released this summer by the U.S. Geological Survey that compared streams in MTR areas with those farther away, finding changes in stream chemistry and decimated fish populations.”

    “Mountaintop mining affects chemical, physical and hydrological properties of receiving streams, but the long-term consequences for fish-assemblage structure and function are poorly understood,” the study said. “Exposure assemblages had fewer species, lower abundances and less biomass than reference assemblages across years and seasons.”

    The Post editorial doesn’t stop at blasting MTR for its impact on health, the landscape and biodiversity. It goes on to connect the burning of the extracted coal with climate change, saying, “It produces both planet-warming carbon dioxide and deadly conventional air pollutants.”

    Responding to the Washington Post editorial, Thom Kay of Appalachian Voices said, “We’re glad one of the largest newspapers in the country is paying attention, even when many policymakers are not. The editorial does, however, give a bit too much credit to the Obama administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for their actions to reduce the environmental and human toll of mountaintop removal. Actions have been taken, certainly, but mountaintop removal is still happening in Appalachia.”

    Anastasia Pantsios|October 23, 2014

    Mountaintop Removal Linked to Cancer

    We know what a mess mountaintop removal makes when the tops of mountains are literally blown off to access the coal inside them. Forests are stripped and debris is dumped into streams and valleys, leaving behind a ravaged landscape. It’s partly responsible for the loss of jobs in the coal industry since it requires only a handful of workers to operate the huge machines involved. Now we’re learning that the process, which has been touted by advocates as cleaner and safer than below-ground coal mining, is the direct cause of a lung cancer epidemic in the Appalachian communities—primarily in West Virginia, Kentucky and southwestern Virginia—where mountaintop removal coal mining is taking place.

    A new peer-reviewed study by researchers from West Virginia University’s Mary Babb Cancer Center found that the coal-dust particulates it blows into the atmosphere has fueled an epidemic of lung cancer.

    “Epidemiological studies suggest that living near mountaintop coal mining activities is one of the contributing factors for high lung cancer incidence,” the study states unequivocally in its introduction.

    “This study shows that dust collected from mountaintop-removal communities promotes lung cancer,” the University of Indiana’s Dr. Michael Hendryx, who published earlier studies showing health problems linked to mountaintop removal, told the Ashland, Kentucky Daily Independent. ”Previous studies have shown that people who live in these communities have higher lung cancer rates, not due just to smoking. But with this study we now have solid evidence that dust collected from residential areas near mountaintop-removal sites causes cancerous changes to human lung cells.”

    As Dr. Hendryx suggests, the study, Appalachian Mountaintop Mining Particulate Matter Induces Neoplastic Transformation of Human Bronchial Epithelial Cells and Promotes Tumor Formation, moved beyond simply the evidence that lung cancer rates (as well as rates for birth defects and Parkinson’s disease) are greatly elevated in mountaintop removal communities (MTR), studying the cancer-causing potential of the specific particulates in the dust created by such mining.

    The study provides more ammunition to those fighting the impacts of MTR on their communities. In August, for instance, a federal judge overruled complaints by environmental groups about the issuing of a MTR permit in West Virginia, saying the evidence they presented of human health impacts was not compelling. The study advises implementing programs to limit exposure to the coal dust particulates.

    “The coal industry and its allies in Congress have always been eager to dismiss claims that air and water pollution caused by mountaintop removal mining have any link to the high rates of lung cancer, cardiovascular disease and birth defects, or the decrease in life expectancy that counties with heavy mining have experienced over the past two decades,” Thom Kay of Appalachian Voices posted on the environmental group’s blog. “Will this study get them to finally change their tune? It’s almost certain it won’t. It will be up to those of us who care about the health of Appalachian communities to raise our voices and simply drown them out.”

    Anastasia Pantsios|EcoWatch|October 20, 2014

    Exxon: Destroying Planet Necessary to Relieve Global Poverty

     The fossil-fuel divestment movement has been on a roll lately to the tune of $50 billion, but one of its biggest successes happened last month: The world’s most profitable oil company squirmed. ExxonMobil’s vice president of public and government affairs published a critique of divestment that concluded by saying that destroying our planet’s climate by recklessly extracting and burning fossil fuel reserves is necessary to relieve global poverty.

    This sudden concern is interesting from a company that holds the record for the highest corporate profits ever posted in the U.S. and whose CEO made more than $100,000 a day in 2012 (including Sundays). ExxonMobil hasn’t earned those kinds of profits by worrying overmuch about the poor of the world. As the Sierra Student Coalition‘s Anastasia Schemkes put it: “This is the oil industry saying ‘please don’t be mean to me’ after bullying vulnerable communities around the globe for decades.”

    The real message of ExxonMobil’s blog post was unintentional. The fossil fuel divestment movement, which started on college campuses but has since spread to foundation boardrooms and beyond, is achieving its principal goal, which is to raise awareness of how morally indefensible the actions of companies like ExxonMobil really are. I’m not just talking about its core business of extracting as much oil as it can, wherever it can, while it can. This is a company that pretends to care about climate disruption (with lots of talk about “mitigation,” which is code for “do whatever it takes to keep burning fossil fuels”), while simultaneously funding the climate-denial industry and lavishing its largesse on obstructionist legislators.

    How can we begin to get companies like this to change? It’s tough to beat such a Goliath through financial pressure alone. Even the most wildly successful divestment campaign is unlikely to dent this mega-corporation’s profits in the near term. But let’s not forget that even the hugest corporation is made up of real people. And real people start to get uncomfortable when it’s clear that not only is what they are doing terribly wrong—but that other people are taking note.

    That’s when they start to get defensive—and we can see that divestment really is making a difference.

    Michael Brune|October 21, 2014


    Australian rock art is threatened by a lack of conservation

    Australian rock art is under threat from both natural and cultural forces impacting on sites. But what saddens me the most is that there is so much government lethargy in Australia when it comes to documenting…

    Australian rock art is under threat from both natural and cultural forces impacting on sites. But what saddens me the most is that there is so much government lethargy in Australia when it comes to documenting and protecting Australia’s rock art.

    The Weekend Australian reported that 1,700 engraved boulders were removed to make way for the North West Shelf gas plant on Western Australia’s Burrup Peninsula in the early 1980s were relocated to a ridge.

    They sat in a fenced compound for 30 years alongside others damaged due to neglect. Although the original landscape context of the art was destroyed at least they are now out of what was called the “the graveyard”.

    But now, impending changes to the Aboriginal Heritage Act by the Western Australian government means Aboriginal heritage will be worse off than ever before. This is because one person, possibly without relevant expertise, will be given the power to say yes or no to site destruction for development rather than a committee of experts.

    Our article last week on the discovery of Indonesian rock paintings and hand stencils almost 40,000 years old generated much interest. Many comments focused on the need to better conserve and look after our shared rock art heritage.

    The importance of rock art

    Rock art sites are museums and art galleries embedded in natural landscapes, with ongoing cultural connection for contemporary Indigenous peoples. Despite this, and unlike built museums and galleries, the ability to continue to care for many of these important places is limited.

    Some well known sites include Djulirri, in Arnhem Land, Eagle’s Reach in Wollemi National Park in New South Wales and the famous Laura-Quinkan sites of far north Queensland. But none of them have high security, protection from the elements or lots of financial support like built art galleries.

    Australian rock art is extremely significant for Indigenous peoples of Australia, with its preservation important for Indigenous well-being. But it also should be a part of Australian national identity and World Heritage pride.

    The earliest Australian rock art has been dated to almost 30,000 years ago and there may be older rock art given the new dates from nearby Indonesia. As many as 100,000 rock art sites lie across Australia and new discoveries are made each year.

    But Australia has never had coordinated approaches to rock art documentation, conservation and management so the full extent of rock art is unknown.

    Rock art is in peril because of development pressures, graffiti, vandalism, poor tourist management and several natural impacts. Some rock art sites have already been vandalized such as the rock engravings on the Burrup Peninsula, in Western Australia.

    Current conservation methods fail because of a lack of a coordinated approach, lack of cultural context, reactionary methods, lack of training, minimal research and mismanagement.

    Part of the problem is that rock art sites are key components of cultural landscapes and Indigenous Australians argue for a cultural landscape approach to their preservation so that development will have minimal impact on sites.

    Non-Indigenous Australians prefer a more site-specific approach so that heritage preservation can have minimal impact on development.

    Rock art sits in an ambiguous place – is it art, part of the environment, heritage, archaeology or is it something else? This lack of clear classification has allowed rock art to slip through the cracks of government portfolios.

    For instance, although it is “art” it is not in generously funded arts portfolios. It usually is considered “heritage” but is always the poor second cousin of the natural and built heritage of Australia.

    Australia’s National Heritage Strategy has recently been under review by both Labor and Liberal-led federal governments but rock art barely gets a mention in draft documents. Australia has never had a national rock art research or conservation strategy.

    Recent and impending changes to legislation to reduce so-called “green tape” and new development plans for northern Australia could impact severely on rock art.

    Both the final report from Inquiry into the Development of Northern Australia, released in September, and the Cape York Regional Plan for Northern Queensland, released in August, fail to say much, if anything, about the risks to rock art, let alone how these will be minimised.

    Tourists are interested in rock art and there are a number of sites open to the public across Australia. And many Indigenous communities would like to develop well-managed rock art tourism ventures.

    But we need to study rock art sites already open to tourists to see what is working and what is not, as well as to develop new inexpensive and sustainable rock art experiences.

    Unfortunately, rock art conservation research has difficulty attracting Australian funding because many people do not see this as “sexy” research or research at all.

    But rock art should never be destroyed or removed to compounds to make way for any new development.

    Prof Paul Taçon (PERAHU, Griffith University) discusses the importance of rock art conservation.

    So I am working with a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to develop Australia’s first national rock art conservation strategy.

    This follows from a 10-day workshop in Kakadu National Park in August during which many Aboriginal participants became visibly emotional talking about threats to their sites. The strategy and an associated implementation plan will be available early next year.

    But it can only be undertaken with widespread government and community support, and significant funding.

    Paul S.C.Taçon|Chair in Rock Art Research and Director of the Place, Evolution and Rock Art Heritage Unit (PERAHU) at Griffith University|October 16 2014

    Judy Molland|October 21, 2014

    Elephants Can Detect Rain From Hundreds of Miles Away

    If we want to know the whether a storm is imminent, it turns out that we just need to look to elephants who can sense if they are coming even if they’re hundreds of miles away, according to a new study.

    An international team of researchers from Texas A&M, the University of Virginia, the University of New South Wales and the University of Utah wanted to learn more about the strange migration patterns of elephants during seasonal shifts in Africa to determine whether they were related to weather.

    As they note in their study, which was just published in the journal PLOS One, the relationship between elephants and rainfall has been been a part of the myths and legends of African and Indian cultures who live with them. Many believe seeing them is a sign that rain is coming, but very little research has been done on how elephants respond to rainfall.

    Over a seven year period, they tracked the movement of nine elephants from different herds in Namibia using GPS trackers and compared the data they pulled to rainfall in the area. They found that sudden changes in direction that seemed to be made for no reason were actually their attempt to move towards rain.

    More interestingly, they were changing directions to move towards storms they could sense even though some were as far as 150 miles away, and they were able to predict rain several days in advance. In some instances elephants from different areas were seen moving at the same time, which researchers believe was unlikely to be caused randomly by chance.

    “The onset of the rainy season there is very abrupt and lasts just a few weeks, and the rest of the time, there is little or no rain at all,” Oliver Frauenfeld, assistant professor in the Department of Geography at Texas A&M, explained in a statement.

    “With the GPS device attached to them, we learned that the elephants can detect thunderstorms at great distances. We don’t know if they can actually hear the thunder or if they are detecting other low-frequency sounds generated by the storms that humans can’t hear. But there is no doubt they know what direction the rain is.”

    The researchers say more work is needed to give us a better understanding about how the weather is inspiring their movements and while their ability to find life-sustaining water is clearly a critical part of their survival, researchers hope what they’ve learned so far will lead to better protections for them.

    As another recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences illustrated, poaching has reached a crisis level with the deaths of 100,000 elephants in Africa in the last three years alone due to the demand for their ivory, while heartbreaking stories of their plight continue to make headlines.

    Researchers now hope their work will have an impact on conservation by allowing wildlife officials to better predict where elephant herds will be so they will be able to better prepared to protect them from poachers.

    Alicia Graef|October 21, 2014

    Can you believe someone shot a sea lion?

    Armstrong is an adult female sea lion rescued on Avila Beach in California. She was suffering from a number of health issues, including malnutrition, a urinary tract infection, and an old fracture and infection in her right hind flipper due to a shark bite.

    But x-rays also revealed the unmistakable outline of a bullet in her chest. Thankfully, the bullet got stuck in her muscle tissue and never reached her internal organs. After treating her infections and getting her to a healthy weight, we were able to release her back to the wild.
    Unfortunately, most of the gunshot animals we rescue aren’t so lucky. In fact, we rescued two other victims just in the last month who sadly didn’t survive their injuries.

    You may not be able to stop this senseless gun violence, but you can still help. Your support enables us to care for hundreds of marine mammals every year—including those harmed by human carelessness and cruelty.
    Only together can we will give gunshot survivors like Armstrong a second chance at life.

    Marine Mammal Center|October, 2014

    Environmental Links

    SFAS International Wildlife News Audubon Advocate Audubon Restore Eco-Voice South Florida Wildlife Care Center Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital The Turtle Hospital The Marathon Wild Bird Center Climate change info Audubon’s Coastal Strand Audubon of Florida News Blog Bioenergy News Climate Progress – climate science, politics and solutions Collins Center for Public Policy Comprehensive Everglades Restoration News EcoWatch – feeds from the WaterKeeper Alliance Everglades Foundation – press releases Everglades Hub Fort Myers News – Press Green Front Pages from Florida Newspapers Herald Tribune Newspapers -  Environmental News Naples Daily News  – Environmental News National Public Radio Eco-News Riverwatch News about the Caloosahatchee Sierra Club Sierra Club Florida South Florida Watershed  Journal South Florida Water Management District Union of Concerned Scientists – news Yahoo News Search: Everglades NASA Climate Information American Littorial Society log NASA Climate Information Sun Newspapers – Lake Okeechobee News Everglades City News  – Mullet Wrapper IFAW’s World of Animals Magazine

    Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

    ConsRep 1014 B

    “Away, away, from men and towns, To the wild wood and the downs, — To the silent wilderness, Where the soul need not repress — Its music.” Percy Bysshe Shelley


    Project FeederWatch

    Project FeederWatch is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada.

    ID numbers are mailed to first-time participants in their instructional kits.

    The number is printed above the mailing label (for U.S. participants, the number is printed on a letter in the kit, not on the envelope).

    From October through February, it takes about three weeks from when you join or renew for an ID number to be activated online.

    If you signed up more than three weeks ago and do not have your ID number, contact the FeederWatch office in your country.

    Instructional kits start shipping in October to participants who sign up between March and September and can take 3-4 weeks to arrive.

    If you are giving FeederWatch as a gift, you may download and print a gift recipient notification certificate to give immediately.

    Full Moon Guided Canoe Trips

    Friday, November 7, 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
    Saturday, December 6, 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

    Meet at the Lee Road Boat Ramp to enjoy a guided moonlight canoe tour through a portion of the Refuge interior. 

    Wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants and bring a flashlight and bug spray.

    Canoe rental from Loxahatchee Canoeing is $32; you may not bring your own. 

    (One canoe seats 2 to 3 people.)

    ‘Ding’ Days to celebrate 25th

    There must be 25 ways to celebrate “Ding” Darling Days, happening at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island October 19-25, 2014.

    This year celebrates 25 years for the annual eco-festival, which started in 1989 as a one-day Family Fun Day and has grown week-long with

    free and discounted tours, free nature presentations, and, still, its ever-popular Sunday Family Fun Day kick-off.

    Here are 25 ways the refuge is celebrating its silver anniversary in October.

    1. The debut of the Discover Ding GPS-based game app – the first of its kind in the refuge system with an unveiling at 11 a.m. on Family Fun Day, Oct. 19, and tutorials throughout the day and at 9:25 a.m. daily during the week. Look for the walking cell phones!
    2. 25 “Ding” Things Silver Scavenger Hunt weeklong with 25 fun prizes.
    3. Free Silver Anniversary reusable tote bags filled with books and other goodies, while supplies last, on Sunday Family Fun Day.
    4. Free 25-minute archery demonstrations and clinics on Family Fun Day.
    5. Special free 25th anniversary presentations by Heather Hensen’s Ibex Puppetry troupe on Sunday, featuring a new surprise refuge creature.
    6. Free admission to Wildlife Drive on Sunday.
    7. Free naturalist-narrated refuge tram tours Sunday on a first-come basis.
    8. Free weeklong traveling exhibit of 2014-2015 Federal and Junior Duck Stamp art work in the free Visitor & Education Center.
    9. 25% off all Tarpon Bay Explorers tours Monday through Saturday – including tram, paddling, and nature cruise excursions.
    10. 25 stunning images of mating great blue herons at a special free photographic presentation by Sallie Rich on Coastal Bird Day, Monday, Oct. 20.
    11. Free Great Florida Birding Trail presentation by Mike Kiser on Monday.
    12. Free Beach Walk at Perry Tract on Beach & Water Day, Tuesday, Oct. 21.
    13. Free 25-minute stand-up paddleboard clinics on Tuesday and Thursday.
    14. Free wilderness paddles into the Refuge’s Lady Finger Lakes to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act on Monday and Wednesday (experience necessary).
    15. Free Calusa presentation and walk on Calusa Day, Thursday, Oct. 23.
    16. Free birding tram tours to Bunche Beach on Thursday and Friday. (Reservations required: 239-472-8900)
    17. Free Estuary Exploration tram tours on Thursday and Friday. (Reservations required: 239-472-8900)
    18. Free refuge admission to bikers and hikers only on Trails Day, Friday, Oct. 24. (Wildlife Drive is closed to all vehicular traffic other than special Tarpon Bay Explorers tram tours.
    19. First 25 bike rentals free at Tarpon Bay Explorers on Friday.
    20. Free Scat & Tracks program with walk to the new Wildlife Education Boardwalk on Friday.
    21. Free Animal Olympics throughout Friday at Bailey Tract.
    22. Free admission to Wildlife Drive for everybody on Saturday’s Conservation Art Day, Oct. 25.
    23. Plein-air artists along Wildlife Drive on Saturday.
    24. 25-cent Silly Photo Booth pictures on Saturday.
    25. Free meet-and-greet with federal duck stamp artists on Saturday.

    For more information and a full “Ding” Darling Days schedule, visit

    The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail Facebook page

    The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail Facebook page is becoming more popular than ever.

    We now have over 5,300 fans who enjoy daily posts about Florida’s amazing wildlife and top quality birding and wildlife viewing opportunities.

    Stay in touch and visit our Facebook page TODAY and please click the Like icon to receive our daily posts in your news feed.

    If you are already a fan of page, thank you.

    Please help us spread the word and make MyGFBT the most popular birding and wildlife viewing Facebook page in Florida!  

    Sign-up for Hog Island 2015

    Registration begins Wednesday for Project Puffin’s 6-day birding and nature programs for adults, teens, and families at the legendary Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine.
    Instructors include: Pete Dunne, Stephen Kress, Scott Weidensaul, and Paul Winter
    Perennial favorites such as Field Ornithology, Joy of Birding, and Family Camp return alongside exciting new programs:
    Hands-on Bird Science and Breaking Into Birding.

    Visit the Hog Island website for the full schedule and detailed program information. 

    Spaces can be reserved with a $100 deposit as soon as sign-up links go live Oct. 15th. 
    Involve your Organization
    In 2014, over 50 Audubon chapters and other organizations offered scholarships to inspire their members with new experiences and leadership training.

    If you are affiliated with such a group, please consider sending someone to a Hog Island program in 2015.

    Space can be reserved in the organization’s name until you choose a participant.

    2015 Schedule and Information

    Save $50 by typing “EARLYBIRD” into the code field during registration (expires Dec. 15th)

    Always dreamed of working on Hog Island?  We are currently accepting applications for a full time Program Manager.  

    Get your calendar today!

    Our first ever Cornell Lab calendar is full of gorgeous photographs and fascinating facts about our feathered friends.

    As you use your calendar throughout the coming year, I hope you’ll enjoy the stunning images of the birds that endlessly inspire us with their beauty, songs, and fascinating behaviors.

    Support the Cornell Lab today and bring these birds into your home!

    Of Interest to All

    Port Everglades announces $1.6B improvement plan

    Port Everglades released its 20-year master plan, which promises to create thousands of jobs and pour $1.6 billion into infrastructure improvements.

    The plan encompasses eight projects that expect to create nearly 15,000 direct jobs. Most are temporary construction, but about 7,000 are estimated to be permanent. Overall, the plan can possibly support 135,000 indirect jobs statewide over the next 15 seven years, it estimates.

    Currently, the port supports 11,700 direct jobs locally and about 201,000 jobs statewide.

    Major improvements would add more space for ships by adding five new berths and widen and deepen the channel by 50 feet to allow for more freight to enter the port.

    One of the port’s capital improvement projects will be delivered in December when it will open its newly renovated, $24 million Cruise Terminal 4, which will allow for larger cruises to dock at the port. The terminal has a revamped transportation area, 172 parking spaces, and 50 check-in counters for passenger embarking and debarking.

    Construction is already underway for a $14.9 million improvement to the port and convention center’s security checkpoint on Eisenhower Boulevard and a $42.5 million overpass for Eller Drive to carry traffic over neighboring rail tracks to expedite cargo to the port.

    The largest project, expected to be delivered in 2016, is the Florida Power & Light Next Generation Clean Energy Center. The $1 billion project will replace FPL’s Port Everglades Power Plant that was demolished in July 2013 and is expected to be fuel-efficient. It’s estimated to create 650 construction jobs.

    Deepening and widening the navigation channels to Port Everglades by 50 feet is expected to be completed in 2022 at a cost of $368.7 million. It’s projected to create 2,222 direct construction jobs, 2,567 indirect jobs and 1,491 permanent jobs.

    Port Everglades is a self-supporting Enterprise Fund and uses its profit to pay for its planned capital improvements, said port officials. The port had revenue of $143 million in fiscal year 2013

    Emon Reiser|Reporter|South Florida Business Journal|Oct 8, 2014

    Florida, South Carolina ports continue to prep for Panama Canal expansion

    Port Everglades executives on Monday met with Panama Canal Authority (ACP) officials to review their strategic alliance and receive an update on the canal’s expansion program.

    About 79 percent complete, the Panama Canal expansion involves the construction of a third lane of traffic to accommodate the passage of bigger ships and double current capacity. The port and ACP signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in 2011 to renew their alliance first forged in August 2009. The MOU commits both parties to share best practices, marketing activities and various data.


”Our partnership with Port Everglades further strengthens our shared goal of promoting trade growth in the region,” said Panama Canal Administrator Jorge Luis Quijano in a press release. “As we approach the completion of our expansion program, we look forward to pursuing even more mutually beneficial activities with [the] port.” 

    The port provides service to 70 countries, is a U.S. gateway for trade with Latin America, and has the shortest, straightest entrance channel in the Southeast, Port Everglades officials said. Florida East Coast Railway recently opened an intermodal container transfer facility at the port that can provide even greater ship-to-rail connectivity from South Florida to points throughout the United States, they said.


”The future expansion plans at both Port Everglades and the ACP are destined to give each of our residents and visitors better access to the growing global economy,” said Broward County Commissioner Barbara Sharief.

    Meanwhile, the Port of Charleston, S.C., marked a milestone with a project aimed at serving larger ships. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has released a draft integrated feasibility report and environmental impact statement for a harbor deepening project at the port, which is served by CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Railway.

    Launched in 2011, the project calls for deepening the harbor to 52 feet to handle post-Panamax vessels. Following the completion of the Panama Canal expansion and raising of the Bayonne Bridge in New Jersey, larger vessels are expected to call on the East Coast more frequently, port officials said in a press release.

    “The port’s ability to handle post-Panamax vessels 24 hours a day without tidal restriction is critical to the future competitiveness of our state port system,” said Jim Newsome, president and chief executive officer of the South Carolina Ports Authority. “Completion of our harbor deepening project ensures that [we] will continue to grow above the market average and remain a top 10 port.”

    Rail News|10/8/2014

    [Still, there is no guarantee that the Post-Panamax ships will stop at any Florida port. There are approximately 450 land miles that freight must travel just to get out of Florida; Ports such as Savanna, Charleston and Port Elizabeth are much more centrally located and their overland infrastructure is already in place. Probably, the only freight that will come to Florida is that which is destined for consumption in Florida.]

    University of Hawai’i at Mānoa
    Published October 7, 2014 08:09 AM

    Sea Turtles in Hawaii getting tumors and we are the cause

    Hawai’i’s sea turtles are afflicted with chronic and often lethal tumors caused by consuming non-native algae, “superweeds,” along coastlines where nutrient pollution is unchecked. The disease that causes these tumors is considered the leading cause of death in endangered green sea turtles. The new research was just published in the scientific journal PeerJ.

    Turtles that graze on blooms of invasive seaweeds end up with a diet that is rich in a particular amino acid, arginine, which promotes the virus that creates the tumors. Scientists at the University of Hawai”�i at Mānoa and their NOAA colleague estimate that adult turtles foraging at high-nutrient grazing sites increase their arginine intake 17—26 g daily, up to 14 times the background level.

    “For years, local ocean lovers have known that our green turtles have had awful tumors on their heads, eyes and front flippers,” said UH Mānoa Marine Biology Professor Celia Smith, who worked with Kyle S. Van Houton of NOAA’s Turtle Research Program on this study. “Many hypotheses were offered to explain the tumors, but we kept coming back to the observation that urban reefs – those near dense populations – are the sites with greater numbers of sick turtles. We had no mechanism for this disease.”

    More than 60 percent of turtles in Kāne”ohe Bay have been observed to bear tumors. Kihei, Maui, has been called a “ground zero” for fibropapillomatosis, the disease that is caused by a herpes virus and manifests as tumors in turtles. Humans appear unaffected by the disease.

    Van Houtan and colleagues previously described an epidemiological link between tumors and coastal eutrophication, that is, the enrichment of coastal waters with nutrients from land-based sources of pollution such as wastewater or agricultural fertilizers. This new study analyzed the actual tissues from tumored green turtles and the amounts of arginine in the dominant algae forage species from across Hawai’i.

    The analysis revealed remarkably high levels of arginine in tissues of invasive seaweeds harvested under nutrient-rich conditions, such as those affected by nitrogen from land-based pollution. These are the same conditions that promote algal blooms. The non-native algae “superweeds” grow so quickly when fertilized that some can double their weight in a period of two days.

    University of Hawai’i at Mānoa|October 7, 2014

    Read more at University of Hawai’i.

    Earth’s Magnetic Pole Could Reverse Within A Single Human Lifetime

    Over the course of millions of years, the Earth’s magnetic field can reverse, so that compasses point south rather than north. There has been plenty of speculation that we’re heading for another such event quite soon. Now evidence suggests that the last such event happened much faster than previously thought – suggesting the next one could too.

    The records of these events, known as geomagnetic reversals, is written in magnetized volcanic rocks that maintain the polarization of the Earth’s field at the time they cooled. On average, they happen every 450,000 years, so at 786,000 years since the last one, we’re overdue – although a brief reversal that almost immediately undid itself happened around 40,000 years ago.

    One outstanding question has been how rapidly these reversals can occur. While one study estimated change measured in degrees per day for one ancient event, most calculations suggest such events take 1,000-10,000 years.

    So the publication in Geophysical Journal International of the claim that the last reversal, known as the Brunhes-Mutuyama event, happened in under a century represents a challenge to orthodoxy.

    The authors, including Berkeley graduate student Courtney Sprain and her supervisor Professor Paul Renne, are not the first to suggest the last flip was unusually fast, but Sprain says the evidence they have found in the Suilmona Basin, east of Rome, is very clear. “The paleomagnetic data are very well done. This is one of the best records we have so far of what happens during a reversal and how quickly these reversals can happen,” says Sprain.

    Volcanoes upwind of the basin, including Sabatini and Vesuvius, erupted frequently during the reversal, and the changing magnetic field can be seen in the sediments laid down. Argon-argon isotopic dating allowed Sprain and Renne to date the ash layers far more precisely than has been done before.

    “What’s incredible is that you go from reverse polarity to a field that is normal with essentially nothing in between, which means it had to have happened very quickly, probably in less than 100 years,” said Renne. “We don’t know whether the next reversal will occur as suddenly as this one did, but we also don’t know that it won’t.”

    Prior to the reversal, the team detected a 6,000 year period of instability. In light of the evidence that the Earth’s magnetic field is currently weakening and that changes in orientation are accelerating, it’s possible we are about to experience something similar, although we still have no idea what drives such events.

    University of California – Berkeley. The path of the Earth’s North Magnetic Pole as it moved from Antarctica 789,000 years ago to its current home in the Arctic at a rate of 2° a year.

    A forthcoming geomagnetic reversal looms large in the minds of catastrophists who predict all sorts of disasters as the next one, such as widespread deaths from cosmic radiation while the planet’s magnetic shield is down. The fact that past events have not been associated with mass extinctions seems not to register in these theories. However, the electrical grid could become far more vulnerable to solar storms.

    Stephen Luntz|October 15, 2014

    Collier County settles lawsuit against state over unauthorized oil drilling near Immokalee

    NAPLES, Fla. – Collier County commissioners agreed Tuesday to end a fight with the state’s environmental agency, securing installation of a deep monitoring well and the hiring of experts to ensure there was no contamination from unauthorized oil drilling at a well near Immokalee.

    Commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the settlement with the state Department of Environmental Protection, and 3-2 to join the DEP in its lawsuit against the Dan A. Hughes Co., a Texas-based oil driller caught using unauthorized procedures at the well.

    Document: Stipulated settlement agreement between Collier County and Florida Department of Environmental Protection

    The Hughes’ Co. was caught late December injecting a dissolving solution at a high pressure into the ground to force openings in rock formations before state regulators had a chance to review the procedure, according to the DEP.

    The technique, never before used in Florida, has concerned regulators about potential groundwater contamination and environmental damage.

    In exchange for the county withdrawing its June petition challenging DEP, the state agreed to install an 1,850-foot groundwater monitoring well – to the base of the county’s drinking water – to ensure there was no contamination from the drilling. The monitoring well is deeper than those outlined in a separate agreement the state made with Hughes.

    The state also agreed to hire experts not tied to Dan Hughes or Collier Resources to study whether there was any contamination. The experts also will study any possible impact on nearby wells that have been plugged.

    In addition, DEP will seek more authority to address “new technologies and include greater protections,” which includes an increase in fines, authority to consider an operator’s past history in other states while permitting, new technology to monitor active wells in real-time, and higher bonds required of operators to cover cleanup costs.

    “The department commits to work collaboratively with the county to address its concerns as the legislative process moves forward,” the settlement agreement states.

    There is still an element of mistrust between county officials and state regulators, stemming from the way regulators notified the public about the unauthorized drilling several months after the fact and handled the incident before enforcing tougher sanctions against the driller only after months of mounting public outcry and pressure.

    Commissioners Fred Coyle, Donna Fiala and Tim Nance said they voted to join the state in its lawsuit against the drillers so they could have a voice in the matter.

    If there’s is a modicum of doubt that state regulators would change course or drop the litigation, then joining the suit gives the county a seat at the table, County Attorney Jeff Klatzkow said.

    The county ought to hold the environmental department’s feet to fire, Coyle said.

    “I have concerns about FDEP,” he said.

    “The Hughes people have said on the record that they kept FDEP informed about what they were doing and I have a feeling they’re right,” Coyle said. “I really believe we don’t know what went on between the state and Hughes and that we’re going to be surprised and disappointed when we find out.”

    Conservancy of Southwest Florida leaders endorsed the agreement between the county and the state, saying it accomplishes what the group hoped to do.

    “We’ve got meaningful investigation, enforcement and have a legally binding agreement,” said Jennifer Hecker, conservancy director of natural resources. “Now a lot more needs to be done with actually regulating oil operators to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

    The Hughes company agreed in an April consent order with DEP to a $25,000 fine and to hire an independent expert to monitor the area’s groundwater. That’s when the state informed the public of the procedure.

    County officials, with the support of the conservancy, filed a petition with DEP in June to demand the state include provisions for more oversight, safeguards and accountability at the oil well. Commissioners argued that the DEP allowed Hughes to frack and deposit chemicals in the ground that weren’t disclosed on permits. Despite multiple requests for information, the state kept Collier County in the dark.

    Herschel Vinyard, secretary of the DEP, has made several trips to Collier County talk to commissioners, the public and the media. Vinyard and the DEP have pulled all of Hughes Co.’s permits in Florida and filed a lawsuit in Collier County, arguing the company must comply with its consent order.

    Document: Letter from DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard to Collier County commissioners

    The Hughes Co. counter sued, saying it has met every state requirement. The company answered all regulators’ questions before moving ahead with the procedure. The company agreed to put forward a $1 million bond in case any environmental damage is discovered.

    Commissioner Georgia Hiller, who with Commissioner Tom Henning voted against joining the state’s lawsuit, said the focus needs to be on regulatory changes in the state legislature.

    “That’s where the issue really will get addressed,” Hiller said. “Looking for home rule on this matter is critical.”

    The major concern with the Hughes Co. is whether there has been any groundwater contamination and those tests are ongoing, she said.

    “Hughes has already agreed to set $1 million aside, so when there is real evidence of injury we can pursue a suit against them,” Hiller said. “Let DEP do what they have to do. I care about what happen to the environment and what potentially could happen to citizens.”

    Greg Stanley |Naples Daily News|Oct 14, 2014

    This proposed pipeline would be even bigger than Keystone XL

    Meet Energy East: It will be 2,858-miles long, putting it right up there with some of the longest pipelines in the world. It would pump about a third more crude than Keystone XL was intended to. It’ll be bigger than the Druzhba pipeline, which carries oil 2,500 miles from Southeast Russia to the rest of Europe.

    “Bigger” is the point. There’s no sense in extracting crude from Canada’s tar sands if you can’t sell it in extreme bulk, and a big part of selling it is figuring out how to get it to people. The fight against Keystone XL complicated plans to sell it to the U.S., so the crude had to be moved through preexisting channels instead.

    Canada’s other big pipeline hope, the Northern Gateway, would pipe crude from the Alberta tar sands out to the energy markets in Asia. But it was first stalled by protests from Canada’s First Nations (which were ignored), and then kneecapped in a surprise ruling by the Canadian Supreme Court that gave First Nations living on the land the pipeline was going through the right to veto it. That has proved harder to ignore.

    With the Asian and the U.S. markets sidelined, Canada is now aiming for Europe. TransCanada announced this week that it is close to submitting its federal application to build Energy East: $12 billion dollars of pipeline, all set to pump Alberta crude to the refineries and export terminals of Quebec and New Brunswick. Execs hope to have the pipeline approved by early 2016.

    If it’s built, it will be the longest pipeline in North America, and the third largest in the world. Boosters say that unlike those other loser pipelines, Energy East is actually going to get built, because in a way it’s already been approved: It’s a massive retrofit and expansion of a natural gas pipeline that was already there to begin with.

    Will it work? The practice of retrofitting an old pipeline instead of building a new one has already been used with some success, as in the case of Enbridge’s Line 9B reversal project. But wait, that’s also been delayed — probably not forever, but delayed nonetheless.

    Tar sands crude is still making it to market; one analysis of recent Energy Department data claims that U.S. oil imports have soared 60 percent since TransCanada first applied to build Keystone. Producers have just moved it into the country using alternative channels, especially oil-by-rail.

    Meanwhile, Energy East has other problems. There’s the matter of Arthur Irving, the billionaire who controls the refinery and much of the port at the pipeline’s terminus in St. John, New Brunswick. TransCanada was so nervous about being gouged by Irving that the company considered ending the pipeline several miles inland, though the two have since reached an agreement.

    More uncertain is the business of Quebec: The pipeline will have to pass through the province in order to reach the coast, and Quebec is not a fan of tar sands. The province passed a fracking moratorium two years ago, despite being sued for the decision under NAFTA. A Quebec judge already temporarily shut down TransCanada’s exploratory work at the site of the proposed export terminal so that beluga whales could leave the area and migrate further south.

    How much sway do whales hold with Quebec in the long term? Is Energy East just another pipe dream? We’re about to find out.

    Heather Smith|16 Oct 2014

    Calls to Action

    1. Tell President Obama: Stop the approval of 2,4-D – here
    2. Stop Destructive Mountaintop Removal Mininghere
    3. Stand up for clean water by adding your namehere
    4. Keep the East Coast off-limits to Big Oil & Gas – here
    5.  Tell The Shopping Channel- No More Real Furhere
    6. Clean up a billion tons of toxic waste with one new rule – here
    7. Tell the BLM to deny Idaho for Wildlife’s permit – here

    Birds and Butterflies

    The danger to birds from open pipes

    Open pipes, widely used for a variety of purposes across the western U.S. landscape, have been reported as a “potentially very large” source of bird mortality according to research by scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The finding was part of a peer-reviewed study accepted for publication by the “Western North American Naturalist” and authored by Charles D. Hathcock and Jeanne M. Fair.

    “Based on these preliminary findings …  open bollards and pipes pose a potentially large-scale threat to birds, and research on the impacts of this threat, especially to cavity-nesting birds, should be encouraged and considered in management plans,” the scientists said.

    The study looked at pipes in three circumstances and documented cases of the pipes causing bird deaths in northern New Mexico. In one study area, the scientists looked at a 25,303-acre site at LANL on the Pajarito Plateau on the eastern flanks of the Jemez Mountains. More than 100 uncapped, 4-inch open bollards (short posts) were examined. About 27, or more than 25 percent, of the open pipes contained dead birds. Also within LANL, the scientists looked at 88 open pipes used to anchor gates. These pipes had diameters of 3.5 inches or 4 inches, and 11 percent contained dead birds.

    In the third scenario, the scientists conducted a preliminary assessment of open pipes on gates along a highway on federal land north of LANL; 14 percent of these open pipes contained dead birds. This gate configuration—with open pipes anchoring the gate on either side – is very common in the western United States.

    Western Bluebirds accounted for 61 percent of the identifiable affected bird species. Other species identified included: Ash-throated Flycatcher, Acorn Woodpecker, Spotted Towhee, House Finch, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Western Scrub-Jay.

    American Bird Conservancy|October 9, 2014

    Read more at American Bird Conservancy.

    Building Collisions Kill Millions of Birds Every Year. What Can We Do About It?

    If you’ve ever heard the “thock” of a bird crashing into a window before falling lifeless to the ground, you know how sickening and terribly sad that sound is.

    Collisions with buildings kill somewhere between 365 million and 988 million birds each year, according to a February 2014 estimate from researchers at Oklahoma State University and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center in Washington, D.C.

    Birds just don’t see clear glass as an obstacle. When they’re looking at the window, they’re seeing the reflection of sky or trees instead of a pane of glass. They think they’re following a clear flight path. That mistake can be deadly; at least half of the birds who hit windows die from their injuries or because another animal killed them while they were stunned and couldn’t escape or protect themselves.

    There are also other factors.

    Did you know that most birds’ eyes are on the sides of their heads? “Birds have got this fantastically comprehensive visual field,” says vision scientist Graham Martin of the University of Birmingham in England. “But the best vision for most birds is actually out sideways.”

    Martin has made some other fascinating discoveries about birds: in some big birds, such as eagles and some vultures, he has found a gap between the visual fields of the left and right eyes that leaves a blind spot roughly above where birds’ “foreheads” might be.

    As a result of this gap, the birds may not even see a building or a wind turbine ahead. “They’re flying with the assumption—that has been a pretty good one for the last God knows how many millions of years—that there won’t be anything sticking up in the way,” Martin says.

    The Humane Society of the United States has a list of ways to make windows visible to birds, which is an excellent start.

    Daniel Klem, a biology professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Penn., helped establish what’s now known as the two-by-four rule: most birds won’t fly through a space less than two inches high between horizontal stripes or four inches wide between vertical stripes. Now it’s important that the people responsible for the construction of new buildings start paying attention to this rule.

    Christine Sheppard, who serves as bird collisions campaign manager for the American Bird Conservancy, agrees.

    “You have to get to the architects,” says Sheppard. Five years ago, she helped the U.S. Green Building Council develop a way to calculate a building’s lethality to birds. In 2011 the council launched a pilot program to give credit for collision deterrence as part of its Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) program, which certifies buildings as environmentally responsible.

    Several companies now offer ways to make windows safe for birds. Many involve the application of various patterns of visual markers of a specific size, color and spacing to the exterior glass surface to provide the necessary visual signals for birds to avoid impact. Others sell perforated film, which covers the entire window and makes the glass opaque from the outside.

    Hopefully, beginning with these small steps, the world can eventually become a safer place for birds.

    Meanwhile, the Humane Society has a list of what to do if you find a bird who has flown into a window:

    • Gently cover and catch the bird with a towel and place her in a paper bag or cardboard box (with air holes) that is securely closed.
    • Keep the bird in a quiet, warm, dark place, away from activity.
    • Check on the bird every 30 minutes, but don’t touch the bird.
    • If the bird seems to recover, carry the container outside and open it. Then step back, remain quiet, and see if the bird flies away. If she doesn’t fly away, carefully take her back inside.
    • If the bird doesn’t recover within a few hours, but is still breathing, contact a wildlife rehabilitation representative.

    Judy Molland|October 14, 2014

    Eight Intriguing Migration Mysteries Solved With BirdCast and eBird


    Artwork by Luke Seitz

    Scientists are learning more than ever about autumn bird migration, but there are still plenty of unsolved mysteries. What forces dictate their departures and arrivals? Why do they choose the routes they do? And why do some birds end up far off course?

    In the past, rare sightings have been chalked up as vagrants—anomalies of bird movement that couldn’t be predicted and might never happen again. But as time and data points have piled up, it’s become clear that many rare sightings are the result of regular, if infrequent, patterns. As we gain an understanding of these patterns, we can use them to unravel migration mysteries and know when and where to look for rarities.

    Two of the programs leading the way in this effort are BirdCast and eBird. The eBird project provides the raw sightings data (when bird watchers like you report your sightings to the project). BirdCast combines the sightings data with meteorological data and weather surveillance radars (which can “see” birds just as they can “see” raindrops—as in the map above). These data sources allow BirdCast’s team to develop weekly, region-specific predictions to let North American birders know which birds to look for and when—as well as to understand rarer phenomena like these eight migration mysteries:

    What’s that “peep” in the night? Ever go outside on a crisp September evening and hear what sounds like a spring peeper in the sky? Except, it’s fall… and frogs don’t fly? Lots of songbirds migrate at night and call to each other with very short, faint notes. The calls of Swainson’s Thrushes are among the most distinctive of these “night flight calls,” and they are loud enough that you can actually hear the birds as they fly overhead. Your best bets for hearing this peep in the night sky will come immediately after a cold front passes, particularly when birds fly into areas with poor visibility (like fog) and light pollution where calling increases dramatically (birds tend to call more frequently when disoriented). See this post to
    hear the call notes and learn how to identify them.


    Where did all those Northern Lapwings come from? After Hurricane Sandy in late October, 2012, dozens of Northern Lapwings showed up in the northeastern U.S. Never before had a tropical system’s passage brought such a bounty of this visitor from Eurasia. In fact, most hurricanes tend to take American birds and deposit them in Europe, not the other way around. But by analyzing meteorological data, the BirdCast team discovered that the hurricane’s counterclockwise circulation was augmented by high pressure over the North Atlantic and winds blowing from Europe. The result was east-to-west winds that delivered many American birders a new species for their life list. See the full story on vagrants from Sandy in the BirdCast archives.


    What drives cameo appearances of Fork-tailed Flycatchers in fall? These spectacular birds are one of the species birders look forward to seeing when they plan a trip to Central or South America, where they are fairly common. But almost every autumn (especially in September) the tables turn and a few Fork-tailed Flycatchers come to visit birders in the eastern U.S. On closer examination, these rarities usually belong to the savana subspecies, which breeds from Brazil to Argentina and winters in Amazonia. In other words, these birds don’t belong in the U.S. The evidence suggests that when most Fork-tailed Flycatchers are migrating, some individual birds overshoot and wind up over the ocean, where they then fly downwind and end up making landfall in the U.S.

    Where did all the Blackpoll Warblers go? Blackpoll Warblers are fairly common spring migrants all the way up through the eastern states. Not so in fall, when they are rarely sighted in states south of the mid-Atlantic. That’s because their main fall migration route takes them out over the open ocean. The birds often fly nonstop over the Caribbean en route to their winter grounds in South America.


    Why do Chipping Sparrows migrate twice? We often think of migration as a straight shot from breeding grounds to wintering grounds. But quite a few species—including the familiar Chipping Sparrow—take a detour to accommodate their molt. These so-called molt migrants take a short migration trip to one area where they grow new feathers. Then they resume their migration to wintering grounds. For instance, Chipping Sparrows in the Front Range of Colorado migrate eastward to molting sites such as the Pawnee National Grasslands, then continue to Mexico.


    What are Purple Gallinules doing in Newfoundland? When Purple Gallinules—which typically live in subtropical and tropical marshes—began showing up in Portugal, Maine, Newfoundland, Iceland, and Ireland, the BirdCast team took notice. They think an autumn drought in the Caribbean caused many gallinules to disperse in the winter of 2013–2014. Because Purple Gallinules are very strong fliers, and sensitive to changes in wetlands, they are very prone to wandering way out of their traditional range. And thanks to the now worldwide network of birders entering their sightings into eBird, the BirdCast team is able to convert these unusual sightings into data.

    What’s a Blue-footed Booby doing in California? The Golden State boasts a huge collection of cool birds, but the Blue-footed Booby is not usually one of them. It’s a tropical seabird typically found along the Mexican coast and south to South America—but in fall of 2013, many dozens of Blue-footed Boobies were
    reported along the California coast. When the BirdCast team looked into meteorological patterns, it appeared that unusually warm sea surface temperatures may have caused the move, along with a similar pattern in Elegant Terns. The suggestion is that prey fish moved north to find cooler waters, and so the boobies moved with them.

    Why do Long-billed Curlews winter in both California and Mexico? Long-billed Curlews breed in grasslands and open country of the central and western U.S. In winter, you can find them in coastal and interior California, as well as in landlocked wetlands of the Southwest and Mexico. By putting together species distribution models from eBird data, it appears these two populations may employ different migration routes. Curlews from the Great Basin may travel westward to winter in California, while Great Plains curlews travel south to reach Mexico.


    (Illustrations by Luke Seitz|joint project of computer scientists and bird biologists|Cornell Lab|Oregon State University|University of Massachusetts, Amherst|other partners.)

    victoria|October 9th, 2014

    The Laysan Albatross Made an Amazing Comeback. Will It Be Enough?

    They survived tremendous losses from feather hunting in the 1910s. Despite dangers from industrial fishing and plastic pollution, Laysan Albatrosses are today the second most abundant albatross in the world. But virtually all of them nest on tiny, flat coral atolls, where rising sea levels caused by climate change pose a real danger. The main Hawaiian islands of Kauai and Oahu may represent the brightest hope for the species—but only if they can survive alongside humans. Read the article and find out what you can do to help.
    Watch an Albatross Grow Up in
    this highlight video of Kaloakulua, the chick from our 2014 Laysan Albatross camera. Browse the full timeline here.

    Let Them Eat Berries

    When the leaves fall and the insects vanish, birds turn to berries and other native fruits to get through the season. Planting native shrubs and trees is a great way to augment your bird feeders—and now is a good time to plant. Our Citizen Science blog has a list of top 5 native berries plus recommendations specific to your area. 

    The West’s Beleaguered “Rain Crows” Finally Get Protection

    Yellow-billed cuckoos used to be a common sight along rivers all over the West, until dams, livestock grazing, water withdrawals and other factors devastated their populations. Back in 1998 the Center for Biological Diversity’s Noah Greenwald wrote his first Endangered Species Act petition seeking protection for yellow-billed cuckoos — and last week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to grant it. (The agency had already proposed to protect more than 500,000 acres of critical habitat for the bird in nine states.)

    Sometimes called “rain crows” for their habit of singing before storms, these birds were once found from the shores of Lake Washington in Seattle to the mouth of the Colorado River. Today they live only in small, scattered populations in the West.

    Their new Endangered Species Act protection is the latest final decision resulting from our historic agreement to speed decisions for 757 species around the country; 138 species have been protected so far.

    Read more in The Press-Enterprise and act now to protect yellow-billed cuckoos’ critical habitat.

    [Maybe there is still hope for critical habitat designation for the Florida Panther.]

    Audubon Works to Save Critical Piping Plover Habitat

    Last month, Audubon filed a lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers to protect rare nesting habitat for the threatened Piping Plover in New York.

    Fewer than 3,600 Atlantic Coast Piping Plovers survive today, with 20 percent of them relying on the shores of New York for nesting and breeding. With work on the well-intentioned but misguided Fire Island Inlet to Moriches Inlet Stabilization Project slated to begin imminently in September, Audubon New York stepped in and was granted a Temporary Restraining Order to protect this critical and rare plover habitat.

    Audubon supporters like you have been pressing for an improved plan to ensure the plovers are protected and the plan is in compliance with federal law. Unfortunately, the Corps has ignored us and government scientists who recommended that the project be revised. The US Army Corp of Engineers has a responsibility to make sure this project is done right from the start.

    You can still help urge the Corps to modify their plan. More than 20,000 Audubon members have already stepped up to help out, and it’s not too late for you to send a letter to the Corps!

    The case is being reviewed by the courts, with the next conference with the judge scheduled for December 16.

    Audubon Advisory|October, 2014 

    Bird Cam Super Fans

                                             Exclusive Raptor Rapture Sign-up

    Hog Island Audubon Camp, home of osprey pair Steve and Rachel, is now offering early enrollment to Bird Cam Super Fans.  Public registration begins Oct. 15th for Raptor Rapture, which runs July 15-19th 2015.  As a loyal fan of the inspiring nest group, you are eligible to reserve a space today. 

    Thirty fortunate adult campers will have the opportunity to live on Hog Island, with Rachel and Steve, while taking part in our six day session called Raptor Rapture. Because you have been a devoted Bird Cam Super Fan we are pleased to give you the very first opportunity to sign up for the camp—one week before registration is open to the general public. For those who have already fallen in love with Ospreys and puffins, I can think of no better way to build on your passion than by attending Raptor Rapture and seeing the birds you’ve been watching on up close.
    Osprey biologist Dr. Rob Bierregaard will direct the session with other raptor biologists on the instructor team.  

    Questions?  Contact the Hog Island office at 607-257-7308 ext. 314 or

    Live cams are made possible by a generous grant from

    Thousands of Care2 Members Fight to Save Britain’s Nightingales

    While there’s no doubt that there is a pressing need for affordable housing and the regeneration that often comes with it, that shouldn’t come at the expense of established wildlife. Unfortunately, a new house building venture in Kent, South East England, threatens to displace the UK’s largest nightingale population, something that Care2′s international community is passionately fighting against using our petition site.

    The plan, which was approved by the local Medway Council, is to build 5,000 new homes on the Lodge Hill site in Chattenden, Kent, which is internationally recognized as a key area for nightingales. This scheme, which has also received backing from the Ministry of Defense, comes despite the objections of key wildlife groups, including the Kent Wildlife Trust, the RSPB and Natural England.

    This is particularly controversial because the new home plan is actually part of the Medway Council’s Core Strategy. That 15-year housing plan was withdrawn at the end of 2013 because an independent review found that the housing plan at Lodge Hill was in direct conflict with the government plans to protect what are known as SSSIs or Sites of Specific Scientific Interest. Lodge Hill was once again affirmed as an SSSI as recently as March of this year. The SSSI status is provided for within the law, and so this isn’t some meaningless title and should have meant the site is protected.

    Despite this, the MoD submitted a revised plan that it contends eschews the problem by relocating the birds. The MoD therefore continues to support allowing the site to be built on, something that on Thursday the 4th of September, Medway Council’s Planning Committee approved. The council contends that this is a vital regeneration effort that will bring thousands of new jobs into the area and, as above, that these revised plans would allow for an alternative nightingale habitat on a 304-hectare site 14 miles north of Lodge Hill.

    Wildlife campaigners remain skeptical, however, chiefly because there is no evidence that relocating nightingales is even possible as this has never been tried before. As such, this is a gamble, and one that conservationists say could do serious damage to the nightingales and to this precious habitat as a whole.

    The nightingale is a songbird classed as an “amber list” species in the UK. This means that while it is not considered the highest conservation priority, which would be a red status, it has an “unfavorable” conservation status throughout Europe and so is seen as a sensitive population. In addition, nightingales have seen a moderate decline in breeding numbers in the past 25 years. In fact, a 2012 survey suggested that there may be as few as 3,300 breeding pairs left in the UK.

    This is doubly as concerning because, according to the RSPB, the birds’ UK population is internationally important due to the fact that about a fifth of the world’s population of nightingales actually resides for part of the year in the UK and a great many of them at Lodge Hill.

    However, it’s not just nightingales that are at risk. The area contains a number of badger setts, bat roosts and foraging sites, populations of crested newts, slow worms, grass snakes and adders, as well as fauna that is classed as declining in the UK. The planners would not know this, though, Kent Wildlife Trust alleges, because they failed to carry out a thorough invertebrate and botanical survey.

    John Bennett, Chief Executive of Kent Wildlife Trust, told the Telegraph: “This development will result in the mass destruction of habitat and wildlife that cannot be replaced. The country cannot afford to lose out most previous highly protected wild places like Lodge Hill, which after all is supposed to be protected in law.”

    There is a chance to stop the plans going forward, however. The Committee’s green light for these plans is subject to the approval of the Secretary of State and Minister for Housing, Eric Pickles. The Conservative-led coalition government has also been keen to bill itself as the greenest government ever, despite evidence such as the badger cull that might say the contrary. For this reason, Prime Minister David Cameron is also being petitioned by campaigners to directly intervene and speak out against these plans.

    Steve Williams|October 8, 2014

    South Florida butterflies win federal protection

    Two South Florida butterflies won federal protection as endangered species Monday, with wildlife managers planning to scorch their former habitats with fire to clear the way for the return of the plants they eat.

    The Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak and Florida leafwing butterflies once ranged as far north as Broward and Palm Beach counties. Today they pollinate and lay eggs only in isolated pine rocklands in extreme South Florida, with the Florida leafwing found only in one section of Everglades National Park.

    They join other South Florida butterflies, such as the Schaus swallowtail and Miami blue, as species struggling to survive the loss of habitat and other threats, from mosquito spraying to disease. Of the 160 butterfly species in Florida, about 20 have declined significantly, with most of those found in South Florida, said Mark Salvato, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

    “We have butterflies from a variety of habitats becoming imperiled in South Florida,” he said. “By blinking out, they’re telling us that something is wrong in these habitats.”

    Monday’s announcement came as part of the settlement of a lawsuit with the Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson, Arizona-based environmental group that had gone to court against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over delays in deciding whether to protect species under the Endangered Species Act.

    “This is an important victory for these two struggling Florida butterflies,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida attorney for the Center. “This designation should help protect the rare and disappearing pine rocklands that are important habitat for a host of Florida species.”

    The government announced that it would designate 11,539 acres in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties as critical habitat for the Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak and 10,561 acres for the Florida leafwing. Most of the land is already under federal control, such as parts of Everglades National Park and the Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge.

    The primary reason for the two butterflies’ decline is the loss of pine rockland habitat to development and an absence of fire in the habitat that remained. Without fire, either caused by humans or by lightning, fast-growing vegetation will crowd out the pineland croton plants on which these insects depend for food.

    The three-inch Florida leafwing, which looks like a dead leaf when its wings are closed, has vanished from 96 percent of its historical range. The one-inch Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak is gone from 93 percent of its range. Both butterflies had only been discovered in the 1940s.

    The best way to restore them to some of their old habitat is with fire, Salvato said, using prescribed burns in places such as Everglades National Park, Big Pine Key and various patches of pine rocklands under the control of the Miami-Dade and Monroe county governments. His recovery outline will be ready in two months or so, he said, and will set out prescribed fires as the key step in returning the butterflies to lands on which they used to live.

    “First and foremost, we need to get habitat restoration going,” he said. “These butterflies occur exclusively in pine rockland habitat, and there’s not much of that left. Everywhere their habitat is, it’s degraded. The first thing is prescribed burns. That’s going to be the big one.”

    Once habitat is restored, they will consider reintroducing the butterflies to their old territory, possibly through captive breeding, he said.

    Other reasons for their decline include parasites, disease, butterfly collectors and the use of pesticides for mosquito control. Most recently, a new Walmart has been announced for some of the land in southern Miami-Dade County used by the Bartram’s hairstreak. Federal wildlife officials are in talks with the developer.

    A future threat is sea-level rise, since both species live only at low elevations. But Salvato said that if land managers act quickly, they can save both butterflies.

    “I’m pretty optimistic,” Salvato said. “The population in the Everglades of the Florida leafwing is doing well. The hairstreak has a number of populations. It’s something to work with.”

    David Fleshler|Sun Sentinel

    [Next, we need critical habitat designation for the Florida Panther.]

    About 75% of flowering plants rely on pollinators, such as the graceful monarch butterfly.

    But sadly, pollinators-especially monarchs-are on the decline worldwide. In fact, in California alone, the number of overwintering monarchs up and down the coast since the mid-1990′s has declined by nearly 90 percent.

    Since Pollinator Week is June 16-22, there’s no better time than now to help these beautiful, hard workers and a great way to do so is to turn your yard or garden into a welcoming haven.

    The best way to both help monarchs and attract them to your yard is to provide milkweed-an important host plant and food source for their caterpillars.

    There are many different types of milkweed plants, so be sure to check which are indigenous to your region before planting. Here are five types that are native to the eastern two-thirds of North America, except for showy milkweed, found from the central states west to California and Oregon.

    • Whorled milkweed prefers really dry and sandy soils. Its white flowers appear between July and September and also entice native bees.
    • Butterflyweed’s orange flowers attract many butterfly species in addition to monarchs, including tiger, spicebush and pipevine swallowtails.
    • Common milkweed blooms purplish flowers from early to mid-summer. Be sure to plant with caution, as this plant’s aggressive nature can take over a garden.
    • Swamp milkweed prefers wet conditions in the wild but many gardeners find that it will also take to the average garden soil.
    • Showy milkweed boasts clusters of pink, star-shaped flowers and thrives in most western habitats, except deserts and high mountains.

    Five Top Spots for Birding in Florida 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     Florida Panthers

    Partnership to protect panthers solidified

    Big cat reality TV is coming to a zoo near you.

    Naples Zoo and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida announced a $150,000 partnership Monday that will help fund a panther research program built around wildlife video cameras. The zoo is donating the money and will use videos from the research to educate the 360,000 or so visitors it sees each year.

    “The study at the panther refuge is going to bring us into the future and advance those techniques,” said David Shindle, a panther biologist at the Conservancy’s North Naples campus. “This study is very intense. We currently have 67 cameras on the refuge and more to the south. It’s labor intensive and it’s large-scale, but it needs to continue.”

    The Conservancy, with help from government agencies such as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, monitors panther activities in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge near Immokalee and at Picayune Strand State Forest. These Collier County preserves are home to dozens of adult panthers and kittens.

    The money will fund three years of research, allowing scientists such as Shindle to gather more information on these reclusive predators.

    “I’ve always been involved in trying to explore better ways, more cost-effective ways, and, more importantly, non-invasive ways to monitor the panther population,” Shindle said.

    The Naples Zoo is adding a panther exhibit that will feature the video research as well as other wildlife activities captured throughout the preserves.

    The research will be shared with FWC, the Florida Wildlife Research Institute, Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Panther Capture Team, a group of scientists and wildlife experts who track and sometimes capture panthers for research.

    The Florida panther population has rebounded over the last 15 to 20 years, from a few dozen in the 1990s to as many as 200 today. The recovery was based largely on introducing several female Texas cougars into the Florida population, which increased the genetic diversity in the South Florida cats.

    The partnership will also fund research into the habitat and habits of white-tailed deer in South Florida. Monitoring deer populations, Shindle said, will help biologists understand panther habitat and prey needs.

    “Partnering with the Conservancy to ensure sound and important research on panthers will not only provide important message points as we prepare to introduce a new panther exhibit at the zoo, but it will serve as a powerful tool to connect guests with wildlife native to Southwest Florida,” Naples Zoo President Jack Mulvena said in a statement.

    Conservancy President Rob Moher said the partnership comes at a time when pressure to develop roads, neighborhoods and commercial corridors on panther habitat is increasing with the recovering economy.

    The research may help establish protocols for feline research and recovery efforts across the world.

    “Not only is this research the framework for the future of understanding future panther recovery efforts, but this is published research that will be looked at all around the world,” Moher said. “This is not the only big (or little) endangered cat in the world.”

    David Shindle and Rob Moher from the Conservancy of Southwest Florida speak about panther research. Video

    Chad Gillis||September 8, 2014


    Puma concolor coryi

    Appearance: Coloration is fawn but can vary from a grayish to reddish yellow. Adult females weigh between 70 and 100 pounds, with males growing to 100 to 160 pounds. Long tail.

    Feeding: Solitary predators that typically hunt during dusk and dawn hours. Prey includes white-tailed deer, wild hogs and other animals. Ambush prey, typically digging claws into flank and breaking spinal cord with their powerful jaws. Can consume 30 pounds or more per feeding.

    Habitat: Once found throughout most of the Southeastern U.S., the Florida panther is now found only in South Florida, largely in Collier County.

    Reproduction: Females can breed as early as 18 months old, males typically at 3 years. Gestation is 92 to 96 days, producing one to four kittens.

    Sources: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Wildlife Research Institute

    Florida Panthers Leaving Their Marks Across More of Polk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    To submit photographs of panthers or panther tracks, go to

    In southwest Florida, man and panther vie over goats and state’s true nature

    It’s not the Florida he or hundreds of other nervous Collier County residents ever imagined. Florida is supposed to be about shopping centers, golf courses, theme parks and watching pelicans at the beach. Cardinals are pretty and welcome, but tree frogs are noisy unless you turn up the air conditioning.

    Five years ago, Freyre and his wife retired to a spacious patch of southwest Florida that borders wilderness teeming with animals that make the couple think twice about nighttime walks — bears, coyotes, snakes.

    And panthers, those sleek nocturnal hunters that Freyre calls “lions.”

    Freyre, 77, knows the panthers lurk in those woods because he wakes regularly to find that sometime in the night some beast has dragged off another one of his goats.

    August was a bad month. A big cat was using his yard like a Taco Bell.

    Freyre called Mark Lotz, the panther sleuth. He ought to have him on speed dial.

    Lotz, whose last name happens to rhyme with “goats,” is a panther biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. In the winter, he helps catch the endangered species to fit them with radio collars that track their every movement.

    When he isn’t catching panthers, Lotz patiently coaches a growing number of Floridians about how to live with the rising population of lions in their midst. For many, the panther is the wild heart of Florida. Remove it and Florida is gone. Others would be happy to see the cats removed from the neighborhood, if not the wild entirely.

    Freyre, a New Jersey resident for most of his life, is a member of the latter group.

    He lives in Golden Gate Estates, a development that was born as a real estate swindle in the 1960s to trick Yankees into buying swampland. The state eventually bought back the dampest acreage and turned it into a state forest. The dry part, north of Alligator Alley, became home to the Freyres and 22,000 other people.

    The 4-square-mile development is suburban yet wild to the extreme. Glittery Naples lies to the west. The Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, the Fakahatchee Strand, Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park are just east. Just around the corner from Freyre’s homestead is a Walgreens and a Hungry Howie’s.

    And so, apparently, are the panthers. They’re 7 feet long from nose to tail and can weigh as much as 150 pounds. They normally eat deer, opossums, small alligators and hogs. But they don’t shy away from gift chickens and unprotected herds of domestic livestock.

    “Cat food,” Lotz says.

    Lotz is 44, divorced, quiet, athletic and funny. During panther-catching season he is often the biologist tapped to climb the tree where a tranquilized panther might have fallen asleep. His job is to secure the panther by rope and lower it gently to the ground. He is the only known Floridian to have been injured by a panther: During one exciting capture a panther fell from a tree onto his knee, resulting in surgery.

    “Are panthers dangerous?” he is often asked.

    Lotz has been trained not to sugar-coat his answer. Mountain lions, the close panther relative, have attacked and killed hikers in Colorado and California. It has never happened in Florida.

    “But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t,” Lotz says.

    In the 19th century, the panthers wandered almost to Texas. Feared by settlers, they were often shot on sight.

    They steadily vanished from their multistate range and by 1980, scientists weren’t confident that panthers existed anymore. But a tracker hired by the state found them. Government agencies bought wilderness land to protect habitat.

    Panthers had been isolated in southwest Florida for so long they suffered from birth defects that threatened to doom them anyway. In 1991, biologists released a few Texas cougars into South Florida so they could refresh the gene pool. Afterward, the cougars were removed. The panther population has since climbed from about a dozen feeble animals to more than 150 healthy ones.

    All the while their habitat has continued to shrink, giving way to golf courses, shopping malls and subdivisions. Looking for new wild land, some young male panthers have roamed into Georgia. But more have headed west into Golden Gate Estates, where kids ride bicycles, climb monkey bars and play soccer. And home­owners sometimes claim tax exemptions by raising a few goats or chickens in the back yard.

    In 2005, nobody in southwest Florida reported losing any livestock, according to a government report. In the year that ended June 2013, panthers killed 25 goats, cows, lambs and house cats.

    Arturo Freyre’s telephone rang at 6:30 a.m. recently. It was a neighbor telling him that two of his goats were running in a panic down the street.

    He had lost four goats the previous week and had spent a lot of time with Mark Lotz, who had even set up motion-sensitive cameras around the property.

    Freyre shook a can of goat food in the direction of his pasture. That usually brings them running. Two came. Two didn’t.

    He made the usual call.

    “Mr. Lotz, I know you probably don’t want to hear from me again, but . . .”

    Lotz headed over. He knew he would be little comfort to a man bewildered about what it sometimes means to live in Florida. Freyre came from Cuba in 1948 to learn how to fly airplanes. He enjoyed a long career in commercial aviation and lived in a place with sensible buildings and no lions. These days he looks at the world through the prism of Fox News. “I loved America when it was America,” he said.

    “I don’t understand why you environmentalists don’t just move the panthers to public land,” he told Lotz. “That would solve the problem.”

    Lotz explained that panthers, bears, bobcats and alligators come and go. A decade ago, biologists relocated a panther. That night the panther trotted 30 miles back to its favorite chicken coop. It’s better, Lotz says, to protect your livestock. Then the panther will move on.

    When he retired to Florida in 2009, Freyre built his house, planted squash, raised chickens and got himself a dozen goats to qualify for his tax write-off. With money from a wildlife organization intended to help livestock owners cope with panther and bear predation, he actually started building a shelter. But he never quite finished it — there are a few gaps in the fence.

    “Anyway, I’m an old man,” he said. “It’s very hard for me to round up my goats and get them into the shelter.”

    Lotz is no Sherlock Holmes. But he is pretty good.

    He followed a turkey vulture’s circling shadow into the woods and then tracked a foul scent to a fly-covered goat killed last week.

    His real target were the goats that had disappeared the night before. Now Lotz crept through thickets of ferns and palmettos. He inched through tall grass like a golfer looking for a lost Titleist. He stopped. Pointed at grass lying at an angle as if something large had been dragged across.

    He found the goat 10 feet away, below the branches of a Brazilian pepper. Freyre backed away in horror. “A lion must have done this!” he yelled.

    Lotz described the attack: Springing, the cat had grabbed the 80-pound goat’s flanks with its powerful claws, then reached under with its massive jaws to clamp shut the wind pipe. The goat died from suffocation.

    “Oh, my God,” Freyre cried.

    They’re not his pets, he said, but he really enjoys having them around. His young niece in New Orleans loves them — she has given them names like Bambi.

    Lotz never found the second goat. Perhaps the panther had buried it for a later dinner. Perhaps the panther was in the vicinity guarding its kill.

    “Are we in any danger?” asked Freyre.

    One last chore. Mark Lotz collected the memory cards from the four cameras in the woods. At Freyre’s picnic table he popped them into his laptop.

    An image appeared — the nose of something brown sniffing the camera lens.

    “Is that one of those mountain lions from Texas that are in the wild?” Freyre wanted to know.

    Lotz avoided sighing. It’s a common question. If the animals now wandering southwest Florida are Texas cougars, goes the logic, they aren’t panthers and therefore deserve no protection. They can be moved or killed.

    “No,” Lotz said. “It’s a Florida panther. Anyway, Texas cougars and Florida panthers mated centuries ago.”

    “Are you sure that’s not a mountain lion? It must be 200 pounds. Maybe bigger.”

    “No, the largest panther we’ve ever caught was 154 pounds. This is a young male. About 100 pounds.”

    Unconvinced, Freyre removed his straw hat and held it in front of stomach like a shield.

    “What am I going to tell my niece?” he asked. “I can’t tell her that Bambi is dead.”

    JEFF KLINKENBERG|Staff Writer|Tampa Bay Times|September 13, 2014

      Invasive species

    spot an invasive species? I’ve Got 1

    Invasive species in Southwest Florida have a huge potential to negatively impact our native ecosystems and we need your help to thwart that problem. Now, it’s easier than ever to report an invasive species if you spot one. All you need to remember is “I’ve Got 1.”

    The Conservancy is a member of the Southwest Florida CISMA – Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area – and we’re working together to document and study all reported sightings of invasive animals like the Burmese python.

    If you spot what you believe to be an invasive species, there are three easy ways to report your find!

    • The web:
    • The app: I’ve Got 1
    • The hotline: 1.888.IVE.GOT.1

    Once your sighting is pinpointed on the map, researchers will be able to use that information to determine the areas into which these invasive animals are expanding.

    So if you think you spot an invasive species, just remember… “I’ve Got 1!”

    Endangered Species

    New report: 100,000 elephants killed ‏

    Words we live by: Stop the killing, stop the trafficking, and stop the demand.

    A recently released report confirms poachers slaughtered 100,000 elephants in Africa in the last three years.

    100,000 elephants: their majestic bodies and intelligent eyes reduced to lifeless heaps. Entire herds destroyed. Mothers, young, all killed in cold blood.

    More elephants are now being killed in Africa than are being born. This is what the path to extinction looks like.

    Is this grim? Yes. Is it heart-wrenching? Absolutely. Is it a reason to give up hope?

    No. Not now. Not ever.

    Here at WCS we’re determined to win the war to save elephants – and we’re on the ground, battling to do so. We already have a clear goal and action plan: Stop the killing, stop the trafficking, and stop the demand. Supporters across the globe have rallied around us and we’ve accomplished amazing things in the last year.

    Here’s what we’ve accomplished and where we’re headed.

    Stopping the killing.
    Thanks to our generous 96 Elephants donors, we hired 12 new ecoguards in Conkouati-Douli National Park in the Republic of Congo – they just started their 6 week training course on October 1. Protection by vigilant ecoguards means that elephants are now venturing into areas of the park they were once too scared to access.

    Now, the Nigerian government has asked us to take over management of Yankari Game Reserve, home to the last viable elephant population in that country. Start up costs, plus recruiting, training, and supplying ecoguards all need to be covered – but one thing’s for sure – when the resources are secured, we know how to protect those elephants on the ground.

    Stopping the trafficking.
    We’re working hard to protect elephants at every step in the supply chain. Just last month, we helped catch six suspected poachers in a late night raid in Niassa National Reserve in Mozambique. After carefully gathering intelligence on this gang for more than 10 months, the raid recovered more than $150,000 worth of elephant tusks, as well as five guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

    We continue to ramp up law enforcement efforts to catch traffickers smuggling ivory out of places such as Ruaha Park in Tanzania. Right now, we’re in the process of selecting and training sniffer dogs to assist various law enforcement agencies with tracking down cashes of ivory, ammunition, and other illegal materials.

    In less than a year, our 96 Elephants campaign has helped pave the way for bans on ivory sales in New York and New Jersey. Plus, the federal government has announced its intention to implement a ban. In the meantime, we’ve set our sights on our next U.S. target: California – the second largest market for ivory in the country. We’re gearing up with local partners to not only close loopholes that allow for the sale of illegal ivory, but also stiffen the penalties for those caught doing so.

    Stopping the demand.
    We’re actively working in China – the number one consumer of ivory – where our innovative awareness-raising campaign is educating consumers that ivory products mean dead elephants. Key to this is a website where citizens can go to learn more about the crisis and share their photo along with a pledge not to buy ivory. And along with many other tactics, we’ve set up ads in Beijing International Airport, blanketing a corridor that carries millions of passengers between Africa and China.

    And that’s only a sampling of what we can accomplish for elephants in the next year!

    This movement has come incredibly far in a year and together I hope one day we count down from 96 elephants killed each day…to 90…to 10…to 0.

    Liz Bennett|Vice President|Species Conservation|Wildlife Conservation Society

    Destruction of Carbon-Rich Mangroves Costs up to $42 Billion in Economic Damages Annually

    Globally Coordinated Action and Policy Interventions Required to Stem Loss of One of the Planet’s Most Threatened Ecosystems

    ATHENS – Mangroves are being destroyed at a rate 3 – 5 times greater than the average rates of forest loss, costing billions in economic damages and denying millions of people the ecosystem services they need to survive, according to a new report launched today by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

    The Importance of Mangroves: A Call to Action launched today at the 16th Global Meeting of the Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans, describes how emissions resulting from mangrove losses make up nearly one-fifth of global emissions from deforestation, resulting in economic damages of some US$6 – 42 billion annually. Mangroves are also threatened by climate change, which could result in the loss of a further 10 – 15 per cent of mangroves by 2100.

    Found in 123 countries and covering 152,000 square kilometers, over 100 million people around the world live within 10 kilometers of large mangrove forests, benefiting from a variety of goods and services such as fisheries and forest products, clean water and protection against erosion and extreme weather events.

    UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, “Mangroves provide ecosystem services worth around US$33 – 57,000 per hectare per year. Add to that their superior ability to store carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and it becomes clear that their continued destruction makes neither ecological nor economic sense.”

    “Yet, the escalating destruction and degradation of mangroves – driven by land conversion for aquaculture and agriculture, coastal development, and pollution – is occurring at an alarming rate, with over a quarter of the earth’s original mangrove cover now lost. This has potentially devastating effects on biodiversity, food security and the livelihoods of some of the most marginalized coastal communities in developing countries where more than 90 per cent of the world’s mangroves are found.”

    “By quantifying in economic terms the value of the ecosystem services provided by mangroves as well as the critical role they play in global climate regulation, the report aims to encourage policymakers to use the tools and guidelines outlined to better ensure the conservation and sustainable management of mangroves,” he added.

    The report argues that in spite of the mounting evidence in support of the multitude of benefits derived from mangroves, they remain one of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet. The report describes financial mechanisms and incentives to stimulate mangrove conservation, such as REDD+, private sector investments, and the creation of Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions for developing countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while increasing national capacity.

    Mangrove degradation and loss is predicted to continue into the future if a business-as-usual scenario prevails. The Importance of Mangroves: A Call to Action offers readers and especially policymakers many management and protection measures and tools that are available for use at national, regional and global scales to help ensure a sustainable future for mangroves.

    Policymakers, it says, should consider several of these, including integrating mangrove-specific goals and targets into the post-2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals agenda, as well as better coordination of global action on mangroves through the development of a Global Mangrove Commission, and the streamlining and coordination of Multilateral Environmental Agreements.

    Protecting these long-term reservoirs of carbon, and preventing their emissions from being released back into the atmosphere is, the report says, a sensible and cost-effective measure that can be taken to help mitigate climate change.

    Key Findings:

    Ecosystem Services

    · By 2050, South-East Asia will potentially have lost 35 per cent of the mangrove cover it had in 2000, with associated negative ecological and socio-economic impacts.

    · Ecosystem service losses in South-East Asia from the destruction of mangroves has been estimated at more than US$2 billion a year over the period 2000 – 2050, with Indonesia predicted to suffer the highest losses at US$ 1.7 billion per year.

    Climate Change Regulation and Mitigation

    · Research is increasingly pointing to the role of mangroves as significant carbon storage systems, sequestering vast amounts of carbon – about 1,000 tons per hectare – over thousands of years, making them some of the most carbon-rich ecosystems on the planet.

    · One study carried out in the Potengi Estuary in Brazil on 1,488 hectares of mangroves found that the forest trees and sediments were retaining concentrations of heavy metals that would otherwise cost US$13 million to treat in a zeolite plant.


    · A large number of commercially important fish species such as snapper, mullet, wrasse, parrotfish, sharks and rays utilize mangroves during all or part of their lives, with the mangrove providing critical food, shelter and refuge functions.

    · It has been estimated that 30 per cent of the fish caught in South-East Asia are supported in some way by mangrove forests; a figure approaching 100 per cent for highly mangrove-dependent species including some species of prawn.

    · It was estimated that the annual average landing of mangrove-associated fish and blue crab in the Gulf is 10,500 tons, with an estimated total value of US$19 million to local fisheries.

    Extreme Weather Events

    · The complex network of mangrove roots can help reduce wave energy, limit erosion and shield coastal communities from the destructive forces of tropical storms, cyclones and tsunamis.

    · The mangrove-lined “hurricane holes” in the Caribbean have been a well-known safe haven for vessels for centuries, and of the 20-odd established hurricane holes recommended for boaters needing to ride out storms in the Antilles, 16 gain such a reputation because of the presence of mangroves.

    · In Vietnam, extensive planting of mangrove has cost of US$1.1 million but has helped reduce maintenance cost of the sea-dyke by US$7.3 million per year.

    Biodiversity Hotspots

    · Mangroves form the foundation of a highly productive and biologically rich ecosystem that is home to a spectacular range of species of birds, mammals, invertebrates and fish which help to support people through fisheries, tourism and cultural heritage.

    · The combination of clearance and degradation has meant that globally about 16 per cent of mangrove tree species and some 40 per cent of the animal species dependent on these ecosystems are now considered vulnerable and/or at risk of extinction. The mangroves of Australia are home to over 200 species of birds, and at least 600 different fish species are known to occur in mangroves across the Indo-Pacific region.


    Policymaker guidelines for the improvement, management and protection of mangroves include the development of protocols to Regional Seas Conventions that promote protection and sustainable use of mangroves, and the implementation and enforcement of national laws and policies relevant to mangrove protection and management. Others include:

    · Create a Global Mangrove Fund to support “climate resilience” actions that conserve and restore mangroves, and protect the carbon stored within them;

    · Encourage mangrove conservation and restoration through carbon credit markets such as REDD+, the “Bio-Rights” mechanism and corporate and private sector investments;

    · Promote economic incentives such as Payments for Ecosystem Services as a source of local income from mangrove protection, sustainable use and restoration activities and ensure beneficiaries of mangrove services can find opportunities to invest in mangrove management and restoration planning;

    · Explore opportunities for investment into Net Positive Impact biodiversity offsets by the corporate and business sectors as a way to finance the protection and sustainable use of mangroves;

    · Ensure that mangroves are addressed in wider Marine Spatial Planning and policy frameworks.

    Access full report here

    UNEP|October 7, 2014

    Snow Leopard Catches Marmot (Photos & Video)

    One of our research cameras in Kyrgyzstan has captured amazing photos of a snow leopard carrying a freshly killed marmot. See the pictures and video below!

    [scroll down to see the video]

    Like the author of a good suspense novel, this Kyrgyz snow leopard spares us the gruesome details of what’s to come.

    Photos   Video

    This California Highway Is Hindering Puma Genetic Diversity

    Interstate 15 is big. It stretches across 10 lanes through the Santa Ana and Santa Monica mountains. It also keeps puma populations away from each other.

    A study of 354 pumas in California by scientists from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine found that pumas in Santa Ana and Santa Monica had significantly lower genetic diversity than pumas in other parts of the state. This lack of genetic diversity was caused by human developments like the I-15. Over time, pumas have been forced to inbreed and their genetic diversity has plummeted.

    “The lack of diversity is likely to cause serious problems within the next 20-50 years,” said Dr. Paul Beier, of North Arizona University, who works on the science-based design of wildlife corridors. “We know this because the Florida panther (same species as puma) also suffered lack of genetic diversity in the 1980s and 1990s that caused serious heart defects, sterility in many males, and susceptibility to infections.”

    During the study, one puma got lucky and managed to cross Highway 101. He re-invigorated some of the genetic diversity among the pumas he encountered on the other side. But this is rare, especially as human populations around San Diego and Los Angeles grow and continue to develop the landscape.

    Preventing a lack of genetic diversity in land-bound species will require urban planning that takes animal movements into consideration. One solution is to leave large pieces of land undeveloped. Another is to create crossing structures so animals can get past highways and railways with no danger of being struck by a moving vehicle.

    “I suspect that lack of genetic diversity is a problem only for a handful of populations today, and that most puma populations are genetically healthy,” added Beier. “But this could become a problem in more places as human footprint on the landscape grows.”

    Manon Verchot|TreeHugger|October 11, 2014

    This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.

    Marijuana Farms Are Poisoning This Mink-Like Animal With Rodenticides

    As the market for legal weed has blossomed in some states, so too has the use of rat poison on pot farms deep in the western woods, to keep rodents away from the aromatic plants. These are the same woods where a rare cat-sized mammal called the fisher lives in the cavities of trees and feeds on smaller animals—animals whose little bodies are full of the pot farmer’s rodenticide.

    The fisher, whose numbers and range are already precariously low due to two centuries of trapping and logging, has been relegated to the same patches of public land in California, Oregon and Washington where illegal pot farming has taken hold. The threat of rodenticide has become widespread enough for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to announce Monday a proposal to add the fisher to the national list of endangered species.

    When biologists assess the grow sites after raids, they often find packaging for large quantities of potent commercial rodenticides and other toxins, which are being used without regulation and in large quantities at grow sites. Rats and squirrels can survive three to seven days after eating the rodenticide, so the doomed animals roam around, falling prey to the fisher. One or two poisoned meals won’t kill a fisher, explains Mourad Gabriel, executive director of the Integral Ecology Research Center. But eating like that regularly will.

    “It’s filling up slowly with these anti-coagulant rodenticides,” Gabriel says. Without immediate human intervention, like a vitamin K injection, “that fisher is going to succumb to the exposure levels and die.”

    A study published in 2012 in the journal PLOS One found rat poison in the bloodstream of 79 percent of fishers they tested. More recent studies have put the number above 80 percent.

    Environmental groups have pushed for years for protection for the fisher under the Endangered Species Act. Groups like the Center for Biological Diversity see its listing as key to the fight against plans to increase logging of public forest lands known as the “O&C lands” in western Oregon. Logging is also a significant stress driving down fisher populations, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

    “In addition to Endangered Species Act protection, the strong protections provided by the Northwest Forest Plan for old forest habitat need to be maintained, including on O&C lands,” Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement following the listing announcement. “And the dangerous rodenticides being used by illegal marijuana growers that have poisoned fishers need to be completely banned.”

    The threat to the fisher is the latest of a string of recent news of ecosystem damage caused by marijuana farms. Streams are frequently diverted, without permit, to irrigate marijuana crops, using copious amounts of freshwater and posing a threat to the water supply in drought-ravaged states like California. In other waters, fertilizer and pesticide runoff is sparking blooms of toxic blue-green algae.

    Zoë Schlanger|Newsweek|October 7, 2014

    Florida manatees on collision course with extinction

    The news last week that yet another endangered Florida manatee was struck and killed by a boat created barely a ripple in the media cycle.

    The reports read like just another police blotter item, verifying that the 10-year-old female manatee had died from “blunt force trauma” after being struck by a boat off Riviera Beach.

    It marked at least the 53rd time this year one of the charismatic marine mammals has been killed by a watercraft.

    The sad truth is that despite their protected status, manatees continue to be relentlessly assaulted by habitat destruction, cold-stress mortality and red tide events.

    But watercraft strikes continue to be the leading cause of death for manatees, killing, on average, more than 80 a year — a fatality count that by itself represents more than seven times the number of manatees the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates can be killed without impairing the species’ recovery.

    Despite this disturbing trend, new research reveals that regulators not only have failed to keep track of how many permits they issue every year for the new docks, piers and boat ramps that increase watercraft access to Florida’s waterways, they have failed to determine the cumulative impacts of the thousands of projects they approve on manatees.

    A Center for Biological Diversity study reveals that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued more than 4,000 permits for watercraft structures from 2008-13 without giving any consideration to the projects’ cumulative impacts on manatees. And possibly thousands more were granted by the state of Florida. Over the same period, more than 500 manatees died after being struck by watercraft and countless others sustained injuries.

    The study details how the Fish and Wildlife Service and Army Corps have purposefully sidestepped analyzing the cumulative impacts of permitting these projects in favor of a streamlined permitting process designed to expedite the permits.

    Under the Endangered Species Act, the Army Corps is required to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure actions it permits, individually and cumulatively, do not result in harm to individual manatees or jeopardize them as a species.

    To skirt this legal requirement, the Army Corps and Fish and Wildlife Service developed the Manatee Key, a streamlined process for quickly identifying those projects with serious affects to the manatee while letting all other projects proceed with minimal analysis.

    Evaluated individually the impacts of these projects may appear to be minimal, but when considered together the true environmental impacts are clear — the projects result in the preventable deaths of manatees.

    Use of the Manatee Key should be suspended until a full investigation can offer a true picture of impacts to manatees. And the evidence suggests there’s much to be learned.

    The Center for Biological Diversity study reviewed records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. However, there’s strong indication the information provided by the corps likely represents only a portion of the permits issued for watercraft facilities.

    For example, the National Marine Fisheries Service reported that during a similar time-frame, 2006-10, the corps authorized 9,195 permits just to construct docks, and from 2000-09, the state of Florida authorized 10,266 facilities allowing watercraft access.

    The report makes evident that the federal and state regulators responsible for permitting new structures in Florida’s waterways have virtually no idea how those structures are impacting endangered manatees.

    And especially in this year when officials are evaluating whether to downlist manatees from endangered to threatened, it’s imperative that regulators do everything in their power to ensure a true accounting of the growing threats to these treasured marine mammals.

    Jaclyn Lopez|Florida director|Center for Biological Diversity.

    Rare fern in Miami proposed for endangered species list

    A small, rootless fern found only in Miami’s rock ridge and one other place on the planet may be added to the endangered species list, U.S. wildlife managers announced Wednesday.

    The Florida bristle fern, discovered a century ago growing in dense mats in shady hammocks near Coral Gables, once flourished in the pocked rock of the coastal ridge. Botanists found it clinging to the limestone floor and in sinkholes in at least 12 hammocks between Everglades National Park and Miami. But as early as 1938, they began to note its disappearance, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report.

    In 2009 when federal wildlife officials nominated the plant for protection, biologists found it in just 10 spots in Miami-Dade County and two in Sumter County west of Orlando, where it sprouted from boulders. An inventory concluded there were fewer than 1,000 individual plants.

    Botanists now worry the moss-like fern may vanish entirely as development continues to shrink its dwindling habitat and rising seas make that habitat more inhospitable.

    “We have to rethink how we build our communities and where we build,” said Jaclyn Lopez, a Florida-based attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, which sued in 2011 to speed the protection of endangered species including the fern. “Florida is not making new land.”

    Because the fern grows in such a specific place, it can also be considered an important measure of the health of the habitat, Lopez said.

    In South Florida, the fern sprouts from pockets of limestone where water collects, making it susceptible to changes in groundwater. As seas rise, the fern’s coastal habitat will likely shrink. Saltwater may also push further inland through the region’s porous rock, making groundwater salty. Planners and water managers are now wrestling with how to control saltwater intrusion, from updating canal pumps to redistributing water through Everglades restoration projects. Those projects, ironically, are supposed to reverse drainage work that helped speed the fern’s disappearance decades ago when canals were dredged.

    The public will have until Dec. 8 to comment on the proposal. Federal officials will then review the comments along with recommendations from scientists and agency staff before deciding whether to list the fern.

    If the fern is listed, the agency will consider designating a critical habitat and coming up with a plan for saving it.

    Jenny Staletovich||10/08/2014

    Firefighters Save Two Adorable Bear Cubs Trapped Inside a Tree

    Hearing desperate cries coming from a wooded area nearby, a concerned cabin owner in Milltown, Wisconsin, ventured out to find the snouts of two baby bear cubs sticking out of a hole in a huge cottonwood tree.

    Unsure as to whether the cubs were truly stuck, the woman decided to return to check on them the next day — and the snouts were still there.

    After calling the authorities to help, two wardens from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, along with Tammi Larson, who runs a wildlife rehabilitation facility in the area, went to the scene.

    When they arrived they discovered the pair of bear cubs who appeared to have crawled into the tree, but were unable to crawl out.

    “In 15 years of being a warden I haven’t seen bears caught in a tree before. I’ve seen lots of bears, just none that were trapped like that,” warden Jesse Ashton said.

    Ashton believed that when the cubs had climbed into the tree, some dead debris had fallen down behind them, sealing the hole and trapping them inside.

    As mother bear was nowhere to be found, Larson said that she had likely been killed by hunters or a vehicle, but thankfully the cubs were old enough to survive on their own.

    “They couldn’t get out, but they had chewed a little hole so one of them could stick his snout through and cry,” Larson said.

    Knowing that they didn’t have the equipment to free the cubs, the wardens asked for the help of the local Milltown Fire Department. Armed with a chainsaw, the firefighters carefully cut an opening in the base of the tree, while one of the baby bears looked on from his hole.

    “We cut a hole in the tree and then we all backed off and waited,” warden Phil Dorn said. “The cubs crawled out and ran back into the woods.”

    Although in pretty good shape considering, Larson could see that the bears were dehydrated so she offered them some watermelon to help quench their thirst, which they ate right away. The cubs stuck around the scene for a while checking out the onlookers before eventually scampering off.

    With all three of North America’s bear species, the black bear, the grizzly bear, and the polar bear, threatened by habitat loss and other human-created issues, these two babies are fortunate to have such a lucky escape.

    Bears play an important role in the ecosystem, and protecting them is everyone’s responsibility.

    Abigail Geer|October 8, 2014

    India’s Tiger Protection Squad Ensures No Poaching

    “Tyger, tyger, burning bright,” wrote William Blake in his famed poem. And now it appears that thanks to a dedicated team belonging to the Special Tiger Protection Force(STPF), tigers will once again shine bright in the forests of Maharashtra.

    The expertise of these trained hands was on display in February at the Ashta village which falls in the buffer zone of the Tadoba- Andhari tiger reserve of the state.A tiger had strayed into the village in the buffer zone of the reserve. This team managed to lure away the tiger from the village without any damage to human lives, while simultaneously managing a crowd of villagers who had gathered out of curiosity as well as fear. This was probably the first time that a tiger venturing into a human inhabited area was spared from being mauled by the crowd.

    Since 2012, the STPF has been deployed in two tiger reserves in Maharashtra, one at Tadoba and the other at Pench tiger reserve. Tadoba is believed to be home to about 50 tigers, according to experts.

    The tiger population in India was 1706 in the last survey conducted in 2011by the National Tiger Conservation Authority; over half the total tiger population of the world.

    Swapnil Ghure, who heads the STPF says, “There has been no poaching incident in Tadoba since the STPF has been inducted. In a conflict situation they are helpful in two ways: to control the mob and ensure safety of wild animals besides monitoring wildlife.”

    Instances of poaching are usually more common in summer when tigers approach water bodies and become easy targets for poachers. The summer of 2012; when the STPF was first introduced in Tadoba witnessed three instances of suspected poaching. In 2013, two incidents had evidence of poaching, but was not confirmed. The summer of 2014 showed brighter results with not one occurrence of poaching in Tadoba.

    The STPF was formed following guidelines from the government to protect the tigers. Funds were released by the Government as early as 2008 to raise, arm, train and deploy the special tiger protection force in 13 sensitive tiger reserves. Karnataka was the first state to deploy the STPF in 2012. Other states soon followed.

    The main duty of the STPF members is to protect the tigers and their cause by taking anti-poaching measures in the park. Controlling mobs of villagers is just one of the other tasks to facilitate the main objective of protecting tigers.

    “We patrol the forests; our strength is in our numbers. We can take on a big group that is doing illegal activity inside forests and ensure the safety of wildlife animals from poachers, “said a female officer of the force.

    Ramya Naresh|October 12, 2014

    Are Cheetahs Dying Because We’re Making Them Walk Too Far?

    Cheetahs are marvels at sprinting, but new research says that it’s not the cheetah’s natural predators that are pushing them dangerously close to population collapse, but the fact that mankind’s intrusion into their territories is making the cheetah have to walk father to find its prey.

    Previously, scientists had assumed that because hyenas and lions are often seen stealing a cheetah’s prey, they might be one of the main factors responsible for the cheetah’s decline. Yet a new study shows that it might be humans encroaching on cheetah territory that’s really to blame here.

    The study, which was conducted by researchers at Queen’s University Belfast, focused on how cheetahs burn their stores of energy and what effect environmental factors might be having on this ability.

    Traditionally, it’s been thought that to achieve the impressive speeds cheetahs can reach–up to 120 km/h in short bursts and 93km/h for more sustainable short-term running–there is a heavy cost in terms of the energy the cheetahs use up. Therefore, holding on to every precious calorie would count. Except that’s not what this latest study found.

    By studying 19 wild cheetahs from two separate reserves, one in the Kalahari Desert and the other from the wetter Karongwe Private Game Reserve, the researchers found that the cheetahs don’t actually burn much more energy when running than other mammals of their size.

    The researchers could tell this by the fact that, prior to following the animals over a two week period, they put tracking collars on the animals and injected the cheetahs with what’s known as heavy water, water that has an abundance of the isotope deuterium and for that reason is traceable. As such, and as well as making behavioral observations, the researchers were able to collect the cheetahs’ feces and figure out how much water, and therefore how much energy, the cheetahs were expending each day.

    What the scientists found, however, was that while the cheetahs weren’t expending much more energy during the actual hunting of prey (because they sprint relatively infrequently), they were being forced to walk many, many miles–sometimes cheetahs traveled up to nearly 30.6km a day–and expend relatively large amounts of energy in order to just reach their hunting grounds–and that’s likely due in part to human encroachment where we have either contributed to habitat loss and driven the prey further afield, or have put up barriers that the cheetahs must navigate around, adding many kilometers to their journeys.

    Lead researcher Dr Michael Scantlebury from Queen’s School of Biological Sciences is quoted as saying:

    “What our study showed was that their major energy costs seem to be incurred by travelling, rather than securing prey. If you can imagine walking up and down sand dunes in high temperatures day in, day out, with no water to drink you start to get a feel for how challenging these cats’ daily lives are, and yet they remain remarkably adapted and resilient. They can even withstand other species, such as lions and hyenas, stealing their prey. The reality may be that human activities – for example erecting fences that inhibit free travel or over-hunting cheetah prey – are forcing cheetahs to travel ever-increasing distances and that this may be compromising their energy more than any other single factor. Our study, which is the result of ten years’ of research, seriously questions previously held assumptions about the factors affecting population viability in large predators threatened by extinction.”

    To be sure, this is only a small study but its findings do indicate that we at least need to pause and reassess how we set about preserving cheetahs. Currently, there are between 9,000 to 12,000 cheetahs remaining in Africa (though some reports put that figure as low as 7,500). In the 1900s there were more than 100,000. That shows a staggering decline in a species that, unfortunately, already has a limited gene pool, and now conservationists fear that the cheetah’s numbers have dwindled so low that, without intervention, population collapse may not be far off.

    The bright side is that this study shows that some of the ways we can help the cheetahs may be relatively simple. For instance, removing barriers like heavily guarded livestock holdings so that the cheetahs have a more direct route to their prey might be one option–this could also be managed to benefit farmers by keeping their livestock away from more direct routes to prey and therefore out of danger. There’s also the fact that this research may go some way to warding off more extreme interventions, like culling hyena populations in a misspent effort to help the cheetahs.

    To be sure though, there is a need to keep gathering data like this because it’s through such studies that we’ll get a true and accurate picture of the cheetah’s habits and needs, and be able to do the most good with our conservation efforts.

    Steve Williams|October 7, 2014

    When Bees Go Extinct, These 10 Foods Will Follow [INFOGRAPHIC]

    Humans often overlook the vitally important role that bees play in our lives. Bees are seen as pests or a nuisances that are too be avoided lest one land on your arm and sting you! But, we rarely consider the bigger picture and recognize that without bees, some of the foods we eat every day would disappear. Every third bite of food we take is made possible thanks to our pollinator friends. That measures out to 90 percent of agricultural crops in the United States, which contributes an average of $19 billion to our economy. So, as you can see – without bees the agricultural system in the U.S. would virtually collapse.

    Which is a bit troubling seeming as bee populations have been on a rapid decline since 2006. It is estimated that for the past decade, beekeepers have seen a steady decrease of their bee populations by 30 percent each year. The average beehive can include 60,000 worker bees, so a 30 percent decline would mean a loss of 18,000 bees. When you consider the fact that it takes 1.6 million domesticated bee colonies to pollinate California’s almond crops every year, this massive loss across the nation’s bee colonies should not be taken lightly.

    The Bulletin of Insectology definitively named the pesticides (specifically neonicotinoids) which are sprayed on our agricultural crops as the prime cause of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) which has lead to the disappearance of bees. Among the many species we stand to lose due to human activity, the bee is intrinsically linked to our own survival, and it is imperative that we do all we can to protect the bee species.

    To illustrate how dire nature of this, here are the top 10 foods we stand to lose, if we lose the bees.

    When Bees Go Extinct, These 10 Foods Will Follow

    Kate Good|OneGreenPlanet|Earth Monster|October 13, 2014

    What You Can Do To Save Bees

    The good news is there is still time to save the bees, but it requires fast, pointed action. To learn more about what you can do to save bees and to get started, check out these resources – and share what you’ve learned with all your friends!



    Project Title: Technical Review of Options to Move Water from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades

    Principal Investigators:

    Wendy Graham, Director, UF Water Institute (Project Leader); Karl Havens, Director, Florida Sea Grant College Program; Thomas Frazer, Director, UF School of Natural Resources and Environment; K. Ramesh Reddy, Chair, UF/IFAS Department of Soil and Water Science

    Mary Jane Angelo, Director, UF Environmental and Land Use Law Program; Peter Frederick, Research Professor, Wildlife Ecology and Conservation

    Project Period: Start Date; Execution; End Date: March 1, 2015


    The south Florida regional landscape has been engineered to provide flood protection and water supply for (1) a population that has grown to over 8 million residents and that contributes hundreds of billions of dollars annually to the Florida economy; and (2) a large and productive agricultural area south, east, north, and west of Lake Okeechobee. The regional hydrologic system, called the Central and Southern Florida (C&SF) Project, functions well in meeting its primary intended purposes, which were identified when the project was authorized in 1948.

    Today it is recognized that this flood control and water delivery system that serves Florida’s human population effectively also has caused considerable adverse impacts to the natural ecosystems of south Florida, including the St. Lucie Estuary, Caloosahatchee Estuary, Lake Okeechobee, and the Florida Everglades.

    Such impacts stem from large deviations in the quantity and quality of freshwater delivered to these systems relative to a pre-engineered time period. The main location for surface water storage in the C&SF system is Lake Okeechobee, which was designed with two large canals that now have the capacity to carry large volumes of water to the St. Lucie Estuary and the Caloosahatchee Estuary.

    Historically, no water flowed from the lake to the St. Lucie, and only a small amount of (much cleaner) water flowed to the Caloosahatchee. Currently, movement of water to the south is constrained by the capacity of much smaller canals, and by other factors including a need to prevent overtopping of levees in the Water Conservation Areas (a flood risk) and by legal limits for phosphorus loading to the Everglades.

    Water in Lake Okeechobee has become highly polluted with phosphorus and other nutrients from agricultural sources north of the lake. In spite of Best Management Practices (BMPs) implemented in the watersheds, high nutrient loads to the lake continue, in large part due to legacy nutrients accumulated in the system.

    The result of all of these factors is that when there is excessive rainfall in the northern basin and rapidly rising water levels in the lake, large discharges are made to the two estuaries. Large freshwater discharges reduce the salinity of the estuaries, harming biota that are adapted to higher salinity conditions. They have also been associated with algal blooms fueled by the nutrient-rich water from Lake Okeechobee.

    For decades, planning has been underway to develop solutions to these problems, and most notably, this resulted in a program called the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) that is being implemented by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), its local partner the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), and the US Department of Interior (USDOI). Recently, these agencies have been focusing their efforts on a component of CERP, the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), which was designed to expedite restoration in the Central Everglades.

    Recently, after a particularly wet season in the region and large regulatory discharges to the estuaries, concerns arose about the timing of completing CERP, especially about the timing of construction and completion of projects that would reduce damaging estuary releases and increase the flow of clean water south to the Everglades. Stakeholders have questioned whether there are more immediate solutions especially to the problem of high discharges of poor quality freshwater to the estuaries. In response to the recommendations of the Florida Senate Select Committee on Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin, the Florida Legislature recently appropriated $232 million of funds to accelerate projects that are intended to take pressure off the estuaries and send clean water to the Everglades. The Florida Senate also recognized the value of an independent review of agency-adopted and other proposed plans to move even more water to the Everglades to:

    (1) ensure that existing evaluations of plans by the agencies are technically sound; and

    (2) possibly identify innovative, new approaches that have not previously been considered.


    (1) An interdisciplinary academic review team from the University of Florida Water Institute will review relevant reports and documents and interview scientists and engineers at the lead management agencies. The UF review team will also gather information from other agencies, organizations, and other individuals with expertise on issues related to reducing regulatory discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the estuaries and increasing the flow of water from the lake to the Everglades.

    (2) The UF review team will develop a report for the Florida Senate that provides a summary and an independent assessment of this regional water management issue. The final synthesis document will include the following sections:

    A Historical Perspective of the Regional System - this section will be a concise overview of the pre-C&SF hydrology and water quality and how and why the C&SF system was constructed. This section of the report will include a discussion of the historic approach to manage water without considering the environmental needs for variation in hydrology, amount of water delivery or nutrient content of the water and nutrient loads.

    The Current State of the System - this section will focus on how water is managed now and the current state of water quality in the context of the current legal and institutional environment.

    Restoration Plans - this section will include an inventory and assessment of current and proposed restoration plans developed by the state and federal agencies, as well as other plans proposed by stakeholders or identified by the review team. Examples of these plans include, dispersed water storage, Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) wells, Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs), the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), Plan 6, and River of Grass planning process. Constraints to solving hydrologic, water quality, and habitat issues will be identified as well as potential solutions. Review of plans will include breakdown of legal and institutional constraints that may limit or impact the feasibility of particular plans. Evaluations will be conducted based on readily available information. No new data collection or modeling will be conducted. However, recommendations for additional data collection or modeling to further evaluate new restoration options may result from the analyses.

    Future Uncertainties – this section will consider uncertainties regarding rainfall, evapotranspiration, temperature, sea level rise, land use, population demographics, and legal and institutional framework that could affect the outcome of any restoration programs.

    Options – this section will identify policy and project options for improving water management and note advantages and disadvantages associated with each option.

    The final report will include references to all sources of material used to develop assessments and evaluations.

    Approach – The UF review team will meet these objectives by thoroughly reviewing existing documents that have evaluated water storage, water quality, dispersal, and treatment options in the regional ecosystem by holding fact finding meetings to view presentations and ask questions of experts from the SFWMD, USACE, DOI, other agencies, and interested parties, and through closed review team meetings. The review of plans will consider an assessment of whether they meet their stated objectives, whether they may have unintended consequences, and what constraints exist to them achieving their desired outcomes.

    The review activities will occur in fall 2014 and early winter 2015, with production of the final report in February 2015.

    Support of relevant agencies to provide needed scientific information is critical for this project. The Florida Senate will make special requests of the agencies to support this activity in a timely manner.

    National Park Service Prepares To Search Everglades For ‘Lost’ Ancient Settlements

    Archeologists are heading to the Everglades this week to look for the remnants of a Native American settlement. The National Park Service is trying to find the location of a settlement discovered back in the late 1960’s and then lost.

    For centuries, the Everglades has been home to a wide array of plants and animals, but it has also been home to humans. In the 1968, a dredging operation of Anhinga Slough revealed artifacts like bone tools that may have been used as hunting weapons.  But Margo Schwardon with the National Park Services’ Southeast Archeological Center says both the site, and the artifacts, were eventually lost to time.

    “The site didn’t get recorded as we would today,” Schwardon says. “We didn’t have GPS. And we basically just have the ranger’s old field notes that talk about this discovery and we don’t know where the site was, other than what he drew on some sketch maps.”

    Everglades officials now preparing to rebuild a bridge that winds through Anhinga Slough, but before any construction gets underway, the National Park Service wants to have a look at the area and see what lies beneath the water. Using the old notes and sketch maps, they’re hoping to find the site where the artifacts were originally found in 1968.

    Meanwhile, the Southeast Archeological Center rediscovered the missing artifacts about seven years ago. They now reside at the Center’s Tallahassee location.

    Water Quality Issues

    H.R. 5078 - Waters of the United States

    The bill passed the House Sept. 9th  by a vote of 229-179.

    The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 5078, which would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers (COE) from finalizing specified draft regulations and guidance needed to clarify the jurisdictional boundaries of the Clean Water Act (CWA). The agencies’ rulemaking, grounded in science, is essential to ensure clean water for future generations and reduce regulatory uncertainty, and is responsive to calls for rulemaking from Congress, industry, and community stakeholders as well as decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Clean water is vital for the success of the Nation’s businesses, agriculture, energy development, and the health of our communities. More than 115 million Americans get their drinking water from rivers, lakes, and reservoirs that are at risk of pollution from upstream sources. The protection of wetlands is vital for hunting and fishing. When Congress passed the CWA in 1972, to restore the Nation’s waters, it recognized that to have healthy communities downstream, we need to protect the smaller streams and wetlands upstream. Clarifying the scope of the CWA helps to protect clean water, safeguard public health, and strengthen the economy.

    H.R. 5078 would derail current efforts to clarify the scope of the CWA, hamstring future regulatory efforts, and create significant ambiguity regarding existing regulations and guidance. It would deny businesses and communities the regulatory certainty needed to invest in projects that rely on clean water. In addition to vitiating the specified draft regulations and already withdrawn guidance, the bill would call into question “any successor document” or “substantially similar” proposed rule or guidance, even if all stakeholders reached consensus. If enacted, H.R. 5078 could also incite further litigation that would only magnify confusion and uncertainty among affected stakeholders.

    Furthermore, H.R. 5078 would further delay any action to clarify the scope of the CWA for up to two years by requiring State and local governments to engage in further consultations even though they were engaged and consulted during the development of the proposed rule and they continue to be consulted as the agencies proceed with rulemaking.

    In the end, H.R. 5078 would sow more confusion and invite more conflict at a time when our communities and businesses need clarity and certainty around clean water regulation. Simply put, this bill is not an act of good government; rather, it would hinder the ongoing rulemaking process and the agencies’ ability to respond to the public as well as two Supreme Court rulings.

    If the President were presented with , his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill.

    Oil Industry Wastewater Dumped Into California Aquifers

    Documents obtained by the Center reveal that nearly 3 billion gallons of oil industry wastewater have been illegally dumped into Central California aquifers — the same ones that supply drinking water and crop irrigation. The wastewater was injected directly into the aquifers through at least nine injection disposal wells, which are used by the oil industry to get rid of waste contaminated with fracking fluids and other pollutants.

    “Clean water is one of California’s most crucial resources, and these documents make it clear that state regulators have utterly failed to protect our water from oil industry pollution,” said the Center’s Hollin Kretzmann.

    While much more testing is needed to understand the full threat to the environment and public health, there’s certainly enough evidence for Gov. Jerry Brown to halt fracking and rein in this surge in oil industry wastewater that California clearly isn’t prepared to dispose of safely.

    Read more in our press release.

    [It wasn’t problem enough to suffer the worst drought in California’s recent history, now someone comes along and contaminates the little water there is left.]


    You have all received previous action alerts from the Izaak Walton League urging you to support the rulemaking effort to restore some of the wetland and stream protections under the Clean Water Act. (Click here for a short “Clean Water” video.)

    The protections for upstream wetlands and streams were lost as a result of two Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. The Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers are proposing to restore some of those protections. A short description for this process is that it is simply an effort to clarify for ALL parties which wetlands and streams remain protected, and which need case-by-case evaluation.

    Both of us have worked on this subject since the first unfortunate Supreme Court decision. Neither of us are scientific experts, but we are well informed on the specifics of this issue. Please add your voice to those of the over 280 Ikes and friends who have already weighed in.

    You know as well as any citizens in the USA today that our wetlands and headwaters play a vital role in our overall natural resource index of wellness. You also know that we’ve lost far too many wetlands, and that the destruction of over 50% of our original wetlands nationally has hurt us financially with flooding, soil losses, and degraded surface and groundwater resources.

    You also know the price we continue to pay in the loss of biodiversity and sustainability; amenities that feed our souls and enrich us while we are here.

    The proposed rulemaking process does not attempt to restore all the protections our wetlands had prior to the Supreme Court decisions. From 1974-2001, while the more protective regulations were in force, we farmed, we managed our forests, we met our construction needs, we planned and built our communities. During that period (1974-2001) our economy was generally strong, and our employment robust.

    Some groups appear to have forgotten these facts, as well as their responsibility to be factual. A campaign has been launched that vilifies EPA, screams out in language that portrays this as the biggest government land grab in history and that it would prevent routine farming practices. Talk about emotional, and unsubstantiated, hysteria. Yet this campaign of fear and misinformation unfortunately seems to be working. The wetlands destroyers just succeeded in passing a bill against this rule in the U.S House.

    Ikes like farmers! Many of us are connected to families with farm histories. For decades, Ikes have recognized the need to support taxpayer participation in the cost of private land conservation. Many Ikes work in construction and in diverse ways in our communities. All of us understand the need to recognize the rights of property owners and individuals AND the rights of the broad community. Since our country was founded, we’ve debated and we’ve balanced these rights. Balancing and discussing these diverse needs contributes to what makes us a great nation.

    That is what this issue is all about; framing a modest set of regulations and allowing the exemptions that originated with the Clean Water Act, until the Supreme Court decisions threw the process into confusion and exposed millions of acres of our remaining wetlands and nearly 60% of our nation’s streams to destruction.

    It is time to call a halt to allowing us to be out-worked by a national campaign of misinformation and outright lies! Let us stand up, work together, and let our government and our political partners know that we want our water protected. Commerce is integral to a strong economy, but without vital natural resources, commerce is lessoned. Clean water is vital to life itself. Remember, less than one-half of one percent of all the water in the world is available for human consumption, and today there are over 7 billion of us on this planet that must share that small percentage.

    Can we count on you to send in a comment to the EPA supporting this clean water rule? And please, let your elected representatives know you care and ask your neighbors to help out as well.

    Please note, the comment period to the EPA has been extended through November 14. Sample comments are under the yellow button below, but you are also able to edit and/or write your own, as well.

    Jim Madsen|Dave Zentner|Past Ike Presidents

    Great Lakes & Inland Waters

    A Restored Kissimmee River in Sight

    Also, a new fact sheet from Audubon explains the danger of too many nutrients in the Lake Okeechobee Ecosystem.

    The remarkable Kissimmee River Restoration Project is approaching completion after decades of construction. Agencies are preparing to operate the finished project in the coming years.

    The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) is moving forward with a rule to protect water for the restoration project. The rule, known as a water reservation, is a tool under Florida law to protect water for fish and wildlife or public health and safety. Once the rule is developed, it will legally protect the quantity and timing of water flowing into the Kissimmee River, Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, and floodplain for the natural system 

    At a public SFWMD meeting last week, Audubon advocates and environmental partners told water managers that water for Kissimmee Restoration must be fully protected. Water for our ecosystem cannot be siphoned away to utilities and other thirsty water users in the Central Florida area. Click here for more information about this meeting.

    Once complete, Kissimmee River Restoration Project will be the largest functioning restoration project of its kind in the world. The project restores 40 miles of the river and floodplain and almost 25,000 acres of wetlands. The benefits of the project are already unmistakable, and it isn’t even fully operating yet.

    Earlier this month, Audubon’s Everglades Conservation Team joined our environmental partners in the Everglades Coalition on a trip to see the Kissimmee River Restoration project first hand. The group saw Swallow-tailed Kites, Everglade Snail Kites, Limpkins, Crested Caracas, and much more!

    Click here to read more about this trip.

    Excessive Nutrients Threaten Health of Lake Okeechobee Ecosystem

    Just a little south of the Kissimmee River, Lake Okeechobee is in need of help. Pollution continues to enter the Lake at alarming rates from fertilizer, stormwater, and wastewater in the Okeechobee watershed. Audubon has produced a new fact sheet that explains why high phosphorus is a problem for our treasured lake and gives a vision to fix it. Click here to download.

    What happens to a river when a dam is removed?

    A study of the removal of two dams in Oregon suggests that rivers can return surprisingly fast to a condition close to their natural state, both physically and biologically, and that the biological recovery might outpace the physical recovery.

    The analysis, published by researchers from Oregon State University in the journal PLOS One, examined portions of two rivers – the Calapooia River and Rogue River. It illustrated how rapidly rivers can recover, both from the long-term impact of the dam and from the short-term impact of releasing stored sediment when the dam is removed.

    Most dams have decades of accumulated sediment behind them, and a primary concern has been whether the sudden release of all that sediment could cause significant damage to river ecology or infrastructure.

    However, this study concluded that the continued presence of a dam on the river constituted more of a sustained and significant alteration of river status than did the sediment pulse caused by dam removal.

    “The processes of ecological and physical recovery of river systems following dam removal are important, because thousands of dams are being removed all over the world,” said Desirée Tullos, an associate professor in the OSU Department of Biological and Ecological Engineering.

    “Dams are a significant element in our nation’s aging infrastructure,” she said. “In many cases, the dams haven’t been adequately maintained and they are literally falling apart. Depending on the benefits provided by the dam, it’s often cheaper to remove them than to repair them.”

    Oregon State University|October 9, 2014

    Read more at University of Oregon.

    Moving forward for a healthy Flint River

     When Georgia’s Flint River appeared on our America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2013 list, American Rivers and our allies were in the middle of a legislative battle that spanned two full sessions of the Georgia General Assembly. It was a long, hard fight, but in the end, Flint Riverkeeper and many Georgia Water Coalition partners including American Rivers were successful in bringing about major improvements to a bad piece of legislation, the Flint River Drought Protection Act. A vastly improved bill (though not an entirely necessary piece of legislation) passed the Georgia House and Senate in March of this year.

    That said, there is plenty of work still to do to set the Flint on a path toward recovery. The Most Endangered listing called attention to the over-allocation of the Flint’s waters—a fundamental problem that the Drought Protection Act doesn’t really address. But as soon as another dry year arrives, it will become even clearer that a long-term solution needs to be found.

    Thankfully, this year has been relatively normal on the rainfall gauge so far. But now that it’s midsummer, the river is dropping. In the upper Flint, this means that very soon, the river will be too low to be worth paddling. In the past, this point typically arrived closer to autumn, but due to the damage the river system has suffered, it now arrives earlier in the year—even in a year with normal rainfall.

    And that’s just one of many storylines we highlighted in our Running Dry report on the upper Flint River, which came out last year. What we’ve seen since then is that the Running Dry report has very effectively changed the conversation. It’s begun to focus decision-makers’ attention on the low-flow problems plaguing the upper Flint. We’re hard at work right now on taking the next steps, mapping out ways to begin restoring healthy flows in the river in collaboration with the water suppliers in the basin and a wide array of other partners.

    It’s our hope that State of Georgia officials will see the need for a holistic, basin-wide, science-based approach to restoring flows in the Flint. We’ve got to manage the waters of the Flint River basin sustainably, and keep all of the many people who depend on the Flint in mind, for today and future generations.

    Ben Emanuel|July 8th, 2014

    River restoration bids come in over budget; timelines have changed, but projects will be completed

    Bids for three of five shoreline restoration projects along the St. Clair River are over budget, changing the timeline for completion of the projects.

    “The whole reason for the projects is the removal of beneficial-use impairment for fish and wildlife habitats,” said Melanie Foose, area of concern coordinator with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

    “Whether those projects are done this fall or this spring, we’re still looking at getting those projects finished.”

    Bids for habitat restoration projects at Cuttle Creek in Marysville and the Marine City dredge cut in Algonac were over budget, but officials hope construction on the projects still will move forward this fall.

    Bids for a habitat restoration project encompassing four miles of Crispin Drain on Harsens Island were almost $2.5 million over budget. Construction likely won’t start this fall.

    “The EPA and the DEQ decided to go ahead with Marine City dredge cut and Cut­tle Creek drain and they’re going to seek more funding and, hopefully, do Crispin Drain at a later date,” Clay Township Supervisor Artie Bryson said The three drain projects, and shoreline restoration projects in Port Huron and Cottrellville Township, are being funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

    The projects are being spearheaded by the EPA and DEQ to restore fish and wildlife habitat and remove the St. Clair River as an area of concern. The St. Clair River was listed as an area of concern in the 1987 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the United States and Canada.
    The five projects will include dredging, construction of habitat, removal of impediments to habitat and planting natural vegetation.

    Bryson said the Crispin Drain project was expected to cost $850,000, and the lowest bid was about $3.4 million.

    Bryson said he expects contractors anticipated delays since construction season was scheduled to run concurrent with duck hunting season. He’s hopeful future construction could take place during the summer.

    Marysville City Manager Randy Fernandez said the Cuttle Creek habitat restoration received a grant of a little more than $1.4 million, but the lowest bid was slightly more than $2.3 million. “We’re potentially underfunded by around $900,000,” Fernandez said. “This week, we have been in contact with the DEQ, who has in turn been in contact with the EPA, to see what the next steps would be. … We’re still very positive that the project will be up and going before the end of the year, hopefully in November at the latest.”

    Fernandez said the delay in construction could push the finish date into the late spring. He said the city is working with the DEQ to avoid any conflicts with golfers, because the creek runs through the city golf course.
    “Given that we’re dealing with a golf course, we need the majority of this work to be done on or before April 1,” Fernandez said.

    St. Clair County Drain Commissioner Bob Wiley said the estimated cost for work on the Marine City dredge cut — which runs from the St. Clair River in Algonac inland and north to Cottrellville Township — was about $800,000.

    Wiley said the lowest bid was just under $1 million.

    Wiley said small changes to the planned restoration and some extra EPA funding will make up the difference between the estimated and actual cost.

    He expects to sign an agreement with contractors and start work within about three weeks.

    “What this project’s going to do, it’s going to basically stabilize the outlet of the drain in the river,” Wiley said. He said crews also will remove phragmites and restore fish habitat.

    Wiley said crews will continue to work on the project while weather permits and finish what’s left in the spring. Rose Ellison, an EPA environmental scientist, said crews have started to prepare shoreline stretches in Port Huron and Cottrellville Township.

    The $320,000 project just north of the Municipal Office Building in Port Huron will include the removal of invasive species and the addition of rocks and logs in the water to create fish habitat.

    Ellison said crews will plant native plants and develop a more natural shoreline. “There’s a little shallow shelf there, which is not very common in the upper part of the river,” Ellison said. “It’s been eroded, and the shoreline is steep.” Ellison said the work at Cottrellville Township Park between Marine City and Algonac also is underway. The cost of the project is about $2.5 million. “They’re getting ready to start placing stone in the water,” Ellison said.

    She said the submerged rocks will create fish habitat. She said crews also will remove some metal docks and sea wall, replacing those with a softened, more natural shoreline.
    She said submergent and emergent native vegetation will be planted.

    Beth LeBlanc|Times Herald

    Offshore & Ocean

    Satellite Imaging Helps Us See the Ocean Floor

    Our oceans remain largely a mystery to us, even though 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water. Roughly 95% of the ocean is unmapped, and we still have a great deal to learn about all of the wildlife that lies beneath the waves.

    Case in point: The massive tube worms discovered deep underwater in an area where scientists previously believed life was impossible. The creatures didn’t seem to get that memo, as they were in fact thriving…and they were found only 25 years ago, illustrating how much we don’t know about what’s hiding in the ocean’s depths.

    No wonder, because exploring the depths of the ocean is extremely challenging. Humans can’t breathe underwater, and there’s only so far we can dive. In the pitch-black environment beneath the sea, pressure is extreme. The amount of time people can spend below the surface, even in pressurized submarines, is limited, and their health must be monitored carefully.

    Consequently, much of the research done on the ocean occurs not through direct observation, but instead through the use of technology like remotely operated vehicles, cameras, radar, sonar, and now, satellites.

    Satellites, it turns out, are changing the game when it comes to deep-sea mapping, which has long been a goal of researchers, yet something that’s remained stubbornly out of reach. Historically, it’s been accomplished by trolling ships back and forth, a slow, painstaking process that still leaves huge swaths of the ocean floor unmapped because it’s just not feasible to get the coverage needed to get detailed specifications of the entire ocean floor.

    Satellites, however, can take in a much broader picture, and thanks to multiple passes over the Earth, their imagery can be refined and sharpened to remove artifacts and create a crisp, clear, fascinating, and, it turns out, revolutionary image of what lies beneath.

    The equipment used by researchers measures very fine variations in the Earth’s gravitational field, which yields information about the structure of the Earth’s crust even when it’s buried under silt (as is the case for the ocean floor). Instead of measuring what’s happening beneath, they actually look at sea surface topography; the bumps and troughs created by gravitational pull from features far below. While these changes might not be apparent to the naked eye, they can be read by scientific equipment, revealing seamounts, long-d